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08/01/2015

~ Love is Blue: Very Berry Blueberry Creme Brulee ~

IMG_0888Resisting a rich, creamy, vanilla-laced egg-custard topped with a crackly layer of caramelized sugar is not something many people can do.  I certainly don't have that kind of will-power.  For us custard lovers, creme brulee and its cousin, creme caramel (flan), are the definition of decadent.  Could anything possibly make it more tempting?  Heck yea.  Throw in a handful of freshly-picked blueberries, or, blackberries, or raspberries, or a combination of all three.  

IMG_0786A bit about creme brulee:  Literally translated, "burnt cream" is a silky-smooth egg custard that is gently baked/steamed in a porcelain mold or in individual ramekins at a moderate temperature in a "bain marie" (water bath).  Just before it is served chilled or at room temperature, the top is sprinkled with brown or granulated sugar which is quickly caramelized under a broiler or with a blow torch.  The caramelized sugar becomes a brittle, crackly shell -- a tasty contrast to the creamy custard below.  Cracking through the top with ones spoon gives this dish its rustic, fun appeal, which, is the direct opposite of it's more sophisticated, slightly-harder to prepare cousin: creme caramel -- which gets turned out of the mold onto a serving plate to expose the custard, elegantly-glazed and exquisitely-sauced with the golden caramel from the bottom.  Both desserts are eaten around the world but were made famous in the latter part of the 20th century in French restaurants.  FYI:  Here is the USA, July 21st is National Creme Brulee Day!

IMG_06782 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

1  large egg

3  large egg yolks

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

2  cups heavy or whipping cream

1  tablespoon vanilla bean paste

1  teaspoon pure blueberry extract

1/2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

IMG_08451/2-3/4  cup turbinado sugar, for topping, 2 tablespoons per ramekin (Note:  Turbinado sugar is a minimally-refined cane sugar. Because of its color, it's often mistaken for brown sugar, but it's made differently.  Many consider it healthier than regular sugar, but, that's not why I like it.  Its large crystals make it great for topping cookies and it's commonly used in graham crackers.  It also caramelizes beautifully.  Feel free to substitute light brown sugar.) 

IMG_0661 IMG_0660Step 1. Place 8, 6-ounce ramekins in the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan. Prepare a "bain-marie", or "water bath", by filling the baking pan with enough tepid water to half the height of the ramekins.

Note:  Cooking in a "bain-marie", or a "water bath", is a technique  IMG_0668designed to gently cook, either in the oven or on the stovetop, delicate dishes such as custards, sauces and savory mousses without separating or curdling them. It can also be used to keep delicate sauces and foods warm.

IMG_0674~ Step 2. Place a generous 1/4 cup (5 tablespoons) of blueberries in the bottom of each ramekin.

IMG_0689 IMG_0685~ Step 3.  In a 1-quart measuring container, whisk the egg, egg yolks, granulated sugar and salt.  

IMG_0695~ Step 4. Place cream in a 1-quart saucepan. Add vanilla bean paste and stir in the extracts.

IMG_0725 IMG_0704~ Step 5. Place cream mixture on the stovetop over medium-high heat, and whisking almost constantly, bring the mixture to a steaming, just short of simmering state.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly, 5 minutes.  

~ Step 6.  While whisking constantly, begin adding some of the cream mixture to the egg IMG_0734mixture in 2-3 small ladlefuls.

Note: Adding too much hot cream mixture at first can cause the eggs to "scramble", so error on the side of less for the first couple of additions. The technical term for this is called "tempering" the egg mixture.  It simply heats them up very slowly so they don't start to cook!

After tempering the eggs with 3, 1/4 cup ladlefuls, whisk in all the rest of the cream.  You will have 3 cups of flavorful egg custard base.

IMG_0749 IMG_0738~ Step 7. Slowly pour the custard into the ramekins, filling each to the "fill line" (the indentation located just below the top rim).

IMG_0744The creme brulee are ready for the oven!

IMG_0762 IMG_0788~ Step 8. Place baking pan on center rack of preheated 320-325 degree oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. Custard will be just set in the center and just beginning to brown, or, ever-so-slightly brown on top.

Do not over bake!

Remove from oven and cool completely, in bain-marie, about 2 hours.  Remove ramekins from water bath and dry them off.

~ Step 9.  Cover each one with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3-4 hours and up to 3-4 days.  On an as-needed or as-wanted basis, remove as many as you need or want from refrigerator.  Top with sugar and broil as directed below.  Do not re-refrigerate brulee with caramelized tops.

IMG_0832Top with 1 generous tablespoon turbinado sugar:

IMG_0850Give the ramekin a shake to distribute the sugar:

IMG_0853Place 3" under preheated broiler for 2 1/2-3 minutes: 

IMG_0865What are you waiting for?  Get cracking!

IMG_0871Experience instant gratification:

IMG_0879Love is Blue:  Very Berry Blueberry Creme Brulee:  Recipe yields 8 servings.

Special Equipment List: 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan; 8, 6-ounce ramekins; 1-quart measuring container; whisk; 1-quart saucepan

IMG_0060Cook's Note:  ~ Tapioca Pudding:  Just like GrandMa used to Make! ~ is another creamy favorite.  ~ There's Fruit on the Bottom of My Tapioca Pudding ~ is one of my berry delicious ways to serve it.  Get the recipes in Categories 7 or 12!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

07/30/2015

~ The Facts about ClearJel (Cook-Type vs. Instant) ~

IMG_0646On more than an occasional basis, everyone who enjoys the sport of cooking needs to thicken food, and, choosing the right thickening agent for the particular job can mean the difference between delight and disaster.  Because thickeners come in many forms and they all work a bit differently, depending upon what's being prepared (a savory sauce, gravy or stew, or a sweet preserve, pie filling or pudding), it's in one's best interest to be well-informed in this arena.   

I am not a rocket scientist, so when it comes to discussing thickening agents, I stick to discussing what I know:  how each one hands-on works in the home kitchen rather than the full-blown chemical processes.  I disuss them, in my own words to the best of my ability, on an as-needed basis -- just click on the Related Article links below to learn about pectin, flour, cornstarch, gelatin and eggs.  The pie baking season is here, which prompts me to discuss ClearJel today.

ClearJel: the professionals secret weapon for fruit pie fillings!

IMG_9439ClearJel (Cook-Type) is a powdered modified cornstarch commonly used by professional bakers and canneries.  Like cornstarch it produces a clear, glistening product without any of the aftertaste from thickeners like tapioca starch or flour.  Unlike cornstarch it tolerates high temperatures over a long period of time, and most importantly:  it doesn't begin to thicken until it cools, which makes it ideal for traditional water-bath canning (because it allows the heat to be more evenly distributed in the jar during processing).  That said, if you prefer freezing over canning, ClearJel Instant is your best friend.  

IMG_9457Pudding and pie fillings made with cornstarch begin to break down (get sauce-like) after 1-2 days in the refrigerator and cannot be frozen. Pie fillings made with ClearJel Cook-Type can be refrigerated but don't freeze and thaw well. Some say the ClearJels react better to acidic foods than cornstarch, but, I've not experienced problems using cornstarch in my small-batch/quick-batch/use-immediately pie fillings. To avoid clumping during cooking, mix either ClearJel product with sugar prior to cooking.

IMG_9497ClearJel (Instant) requires no cooking to thicken.  It thickens when liquid is added and remains smooth when hydrated.  It's excellent for refrigerated or frozen pie fillings.  It thickens a bit when heated, but doesn't like to be heated twice, so, instant is a no-no for canning.

Do not confuse ClearJel Cook-Type or Instant with liquid pectin or powdered pectin (like Certo or Sure-Gel).  They're very different and can't be used interchangeably.

ClearJel products are available on-line but not in the average grocery store, which I find odd.

How to measure and use ClearJel Cook-Type:

Large batch water-bath canning:  plan on using 1/4 cup ClearJel per 1 quart of liquid*

Small-batch quick-batch preserving: use 1 tablespoon ClearJel per 1 cup of liquid*

*Combine ClearJel with sugar and any dry spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.) before stirring into wet ingredients (water, juice, etc.).  Cook on medium-high heat until mixture thickens.  Fold in warm precooked, or room temperature uncooked, fruit (as per recipe) and proceed as directed.

How to measure and use ClearJel Instant:

For one pie:  Combine 3 tablespoons Clearjel Instant with 1/2 cup sugar and any dry spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc).  Add 1 cup liquid (water or juice) and enough room temperature precooked or uncooked fruit for 1 pie (about 6 cups).  Proceed with recipe as directed.

PICT0520"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

07/27/2015

~This Spuds for You: Loaded Twice-Baked Potatoes~

IMG_0599Everything tastes better with bacon, and, cheddar makes everything better too -- even broccoli. Everyone loves a steamy, creamy, buttered baked potato, and, twice baked potatoes are, well -- they're the Rolls Royce of the baked-potato world.  Men love them, kids adore them, and, from a mom's perspective, they'll get you as many accolades as a hot fudge sundae.  Every once in a while, I get so hungry for a twice-baked spud that I just gotta make 'em.  Today is such a day.

IMG_0593Making twice-baked potatoes is a method, not an exact recipe.

IMG_1696A twice baked potato is exactly what the name implies:  It's a potato that gets baked in the oven twice.  After the first bake, the potato is sliced in half and the light, fluffy soft-center is carefully scooped out, leaving the shell/the potato skin undamaged. The cooked center is then mashed, mashed-potato-style, with butter, salt, pepper and/or various IMG_0547seasonings and creamy options like sour cream, yogurt and/or cream cheese.  Then the fun begins:

"Add-ins", absolutely anything you want, usually family-friendly favorites (like today's combo of bits of bacon and blanched chopped broccoli topped with shredded cheddar cheese), get folded in.  The flavor-packed potato mixture is scooped back into the the potato skins and baked a second time, which makes the skin crispy and melts the cheese on top -- it's twice baked potato perfection.

IMG_0565From a method standpoint, the way I make them is not the quickest, but, that does't mean it's tedious.  I simply don't take short cuts, which are a definite compromise.  The microwave is a no-no (I want crispy, not soft steamed, potato skins), I use real-deal bacon (not store-bought bacon bits), and, my broccoli is freshly chopped (not frozen and thawed).  I have no exact recipe, but here's my estimated formula:  the mashed centers from 3-4 large Russet potatoes + 3-4 cups of add-ins, then sprinkle the tops of all with additional shredded cheese.

My recipe = cheese on the bottom, in the potato-y center & on the top too!

Tip from Mel:  I've tasted a lot of creative versions of twice-baked potatoes in my lifetime and the best combinations always contain some type of cooked meat or poultry, a vegetable, and, grated cheese.  Great twice-baked potatoes are not pot-luck or a place to throw your leftovers -- they are usually very-well conceived.  That said, I've never tasted a lo-calorie version of a twice-baked potato that had a purpose.  Who in the world counts calories when eating these?

IMG_0584When making twice-baked potatoes, the Russet potato reigns supreme:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c740aa5a970bA bit about the Russet potato: Known as the Idaho or Burbank (after their developer, horticulturist Luther Burbank), these potatoes are generically labeled "baking". They're long, slightly-rounded, and, have thick rough skins, which when baked are quite tasty. When cooked, they have pearly white, dry flesh. Their low moisture/high starch content gives them superior baking and frying qualities.  For more details, read my post ~ Dear Perfectly Baked Potato:  Your Crispy Skin and Fluffy Center, Make My Steaks Taste Even Better ~ in Categories 4, 15 or 20!

While they make great mashed potatoes and potato salad too, they don't do well when boiled, so bake them for use in those two culinary applications too.  For the best texture and most even cooking, always choose (preferably hand-pick), medium-large (10-12-ounce), even-sized, very firm potatoes. Stay away from ones that are spongy, have dark spots and/or a lot of eyes.  Store them singularly (not in a plastic bag), in a cool, dry, dark place, and, never, ever, refrigerate!

Whomever invented the twice-baked potato deserves a standing ovation!

PICT2736For the potatoes and the first bake:

3-4 large (10-12-ounce), whole, even-sized Russet potatoes  

3-4  tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon fat

3-4  tablespoons coarse sea salt

3-4  tablespoons salted butter, melted

6-8 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese

6a0120a8551282970b0163055c3d7f970dStep 1.  Using a vegetable brush, thoroughly scrub the desired number of potatoes under tepid water, to remove any dirt.  I'm making six today.  Pat them dry in a few paper towels.  Using a fork, prick the skin of each one 16-18 times evenly around the surface.  

Note:  Pricking the potatoes is the step that allows steam to escape as the potatoes bake, which results in light, fluffy centers.

PICT2736Step 2. One at a time, place each potato in a shallow bowl or on a plate.  Drizzle each with about 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil, and, using a pastry brush, paint the entire surface of each potato with oil.

Note:  If you are making any version of twice-baked potatoes that includes fried bacon, feel free to paint the potato skins with the bacon fat rather than the vegetable oil.  Or, if you keep bacon fat on hand, feel free to use it instead of vegetable oil throughout this recipe.

PICT2739Step 3.  Line a baking pan with parchment paper.  A 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" pan will hold 6 potatoes, a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" pan will hold 8-12. Depending upon the size of the pan, sprinkle  2-4 tablespoons of coarse sea salt over the parchment. Arrange the oil-coated potatoes, well apart, on the prepared pan. Sprinkle more salt over the tops, about 1/2-1 teaspoon atop each.

PICT2737Step 5.  Bake on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven about:

30-40 minutes for small potatoes

60-70 minutes for large potatoes

Potatoes should be very soft and tender when pierced with a fork, and, slightly-crisp on the outside. Remove from oven and let rest until cool enough to handle with your hands, about 20-30 minutes.

IMG_1686 IMG_1696Step 6. Using a serrated knife, cut potatoes in half horizontally and open them up like a book.  Using a paring knife and a tablespoon carefully scoop out the soft center from each half, leaving about 1/4" of potato around the sides and on the bottoms.  Note:  Use the knife to mark a 1/4" line around the sides -- not so deep as to pierce the skin, just to loosen the proper amount.

IMG_1702 IMG_1698Step 7. Return all of the potato skins to the pan, insides up. Melt butter in microwave.  Brush insides with butter, flip potatoes over and brush outsides.  Return to oven and bake, 6 minutes.  Note: I'm doing mine in two batches of six tonight because I have to take  a series of photographs.  It's complicated.

IMG_1714 IMG_1708                                            ~ Step 8. Remove potatoes from oven. Flip them over, insides up.  Return to oven and cook until edges are turning brown, 12-15 minutes.  This is an important step.  Give them all the time they need to crisp up.

IMG_1744 IMG_1719Step 9. Remove potatoes from oven and immediately sprinkle about 1 1/2-2 tablespoons of shredded cheddar into the cavities.  

IMG_1721Return to oven and bake briefly, just until the cheese melts, 3-4 minutes. Remove from oven and fill cavities with:

IMG_0551For the mashed potato filling, the add-ins and the second bake: 

Advance Prep Note:  The potato mixture stirs together in less than five minutes provided the bacon has been fried and diced, and, the broccoli has been blanched and chopped in advance.

4  cups potato flesh, scooped from the soft centers of above baked potatoes, hot

4  tablespoons salted butter, very soft or melted

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, to taste

1/2  cup sour cream

2  (generous) cups very very small broccoli florets, blanched in boiling water for about 45-60 seconds, until 'al dente', well-drained and cooled

1  (generous) cup crisply-fried and diced bacon, about 8 strips of thick-sliced bacon

1 (generous) cup shredded cheddar cheese, for stirring into potato filling

6-8 additional tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese, for topping

IMG_0546 IMG_0547 IMG_0565 IMG_0568~Step 10.  In a large bowl, using a fork smash the potatoes.  Add the butter and stir until thoroughly incorporated.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Fold in the sour cream, followed by the broccoli florets, bacon bits and the 1 cup of shredded cheddar.

IMG_0585 IMG_0587 IMG_0614~Step 11.  Fill potato cavities with  potato mixture and top with cheese.  Return to oven and bake for a second time, about 15 minutes.  Cheese will be melted and tops will be golden.

Serve hot or warm.  Love 'em with a knife and a fork...

IMG_0618... or pick'em up and enjoy 'em as an appetizer or a snack.

IMG_0636This Spuds for You:  Loaded Twice-Baked Potatoes:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable brush; fork; pastry brush; baking pan; parchment paper; serrated bread knife; paring knife; tablespoon; 1-cup measuring container; cheese grater; cutting board; chef's knife; skillet (for frying bacon); saucepan; for blanching broccoli

IMG_6481Cook's Note:  Twice-baked potatoes are a great side-dish to serve with all sorts of grilled chicken or steak, and, they pair nicely with a bowl of chili too.  That said, my family really loves them served with my ~ Chili Cheddar Cheeseburgers w/Chile-Lime Mayo ~.  You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 2, 10, 13, 17, 19 or 20.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)