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04/22/2014

~ Melanie's Hot Russian Ham & Cheese Meltdowns ~

IMG_0213Does anybody besides me have leftover holiday ham in their refrigerator?  Raise your hands.  I thought so.  If you're like me, you bake a big ham for Easter, to insure you will have leftovers.  I do the same thing for 'that other' traditional feast -- I roast a really big turkey at Thanksgiving.  For a day or two after both of these holidays, I am the first one to make the first sandwich.  In case you didn't know, I consider a perfectly executed sandwich one of the greatest gifts to mankind!

IMG_0122Say cheese!

April 11th was National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day.  I didn't celebrate.  Ever since my kids grew up and moved away, I almost never make "the American moms special" anymore:  an ooey-gooey grilled cheese sandwich.  It's not because I don't like them (of course I do), it's because I like grilled ham and cheese sandwiches better and I like them made my way:  on rye bread, with really good ham (not deli-meat), grated Jarlsberg Swiss (or Danish Havarti w/caraway seed cheese), and, seething hot, real-deal Russian horseradish mustard!

Bread + Cheese + Butter + Hot Skillet = Grilled Cheese! 

IMG_0267Does anyone need a recipe to make a great grilled cheese sandwich?  Most people do not, some people do (I've been witness to some seriously depressing soggy, floppy, greasy disasters).  

I'm not trying to turn this humble and beloved sandwich into haute cuisine, but, a well-made grilled cheese sandwich does require a few things:  medium-firm-textured not-too-thickly-sliced bread, a good melting cheese, lots of butter, and, a nonstick skillet (no fancy panini press required, but, those gadgets do make a good grilled cheese sandwich) placed over just the right temperature to keep the bread from burning while the cheese melts. When you add ham to a grilled cheese sandwich, you have to insure that it warms through to the center too!

Crunchy outside, oozy cheese & smoky Berkshire ham inside.

IMG_0194MeAt:  Mel's Hot Russian Ham & Cheese Meltdowns!

IMG_01104  slices rye bread, seeded or unseeded, your favorite brand

719nI-zIbhL._SL1500_4  teaspoons hot, yellow horseradish mustard, the best available, preferably Russian ZAKYCOH (the nuclear reactors at Chernobyl never got this hot) (Note:  I can buy this locally at our Russian Market, but, it is available on-line at amazon.com too.  If you like mustard, this is one you will want to keep on the condiment shelf of your refrigerator!)

2  cups grated Jarlsberg cheese (or Danish Havarti w/caraway seed cheese)

4  real-deal ham slices, about 1/4" thick, preferably smoky Berkshire ham, at room temperature (room temperature ham is very important to this sandwich)

6  tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature, very soft and spreadable

IMG_0127 IMG_0134~ Step 1. Place four slices of rye bread on a work surface.  Spread 1 teaspoon of mustard over all four slices.

IMG_0143~ Step 2. Place 1/2 cup of the grated Jarlsberg over two bread slices.

IMG_0147 IMG_0156~ Steps 3, 4 & 5.  Place 2 slices of ham over the cheese on each slice of bread, IMG_0165then top the 2 ham slices on each slice of bread with another 1/2 cup of grated Jarlsberg.  Place tops on sandwiches, mustard sides down.

IMG_0171 IMG_0176~ Step 6. Spread 1 tablespoon of the softened butter evenly over the top of each sandwich (use 2 total tablespoons of the butter).

~ Step 7.  In a 12" nonstick skillet melt remaining butter over medium heat.  Note:  When making grilled cheese error on the side of your heat being a tad lower rather than a tad higher.  Time is on your side!

IMG_0199 IMG_0181~ Step 8. Place sandwiches in skillet buttered sides up.  Cook until bottoms are golden brown and cheese is melting nicely, about 4-5 minutes.  

~ Step 9.  Slide a spatula underneath each sandwich and carefully flip it over.  Lower the heat IMG_0197a bit and continue to cook until second side is golden and cheese is melted, about 3 minutes.

~ Step 9.  Remove pan from heat and allow sandwiches to rest, in pan, about a minute before removing them from pan.  Note: This short rest will insure the cheese will set up properly (gooey but not runny) and the ham will be heated through to the center.

Slice each sandwich in half and serve immediately:

IMG_0262Take a bite & have your own meltdown:

IMG_0240Melanie's Hot Russian Ham & Cheese Meltdowns:  Recipe yields 2 hearty sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; cheese grater; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; wide spatula; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b017d424f5820970cCook's Note:  Everyone has their own favorite way to bake ham.  My super-easy method  imparts it with the flavors of allspice, bay leaves and cloves.  You can find ~ "A, B, C", That's as Easy as Easter Ham Can Be! ~ in Categories 3, 11, 12 or 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 

04/20/2014

~ Happy Easter to You All: Enjoy Your Family Feast ~

PICT1824Happy Easter!  I've been cooking up a storm for the past few days in anticipation and preparation for my family's annual Russian Orthodox Easter feast.  Whatever your heritage, if you are of the Christian faith and the family cook, you are well aware of the organizational skills it takes to 'pull off' this yearly extravaganza.  If your heritage dictates that you serve the same traditional ethnic food each year, from time-honored recipes handed down from generation to generation, you didn't learn how to do this by osmosis.  Somewhere along the line you took it upon yourself to learn how to do it, or, while you were growing up, your grandmother and/or your mother took it upon themselves to lovingly insist you learn.  In my case, I preferred being in the kitchen to being on the playground, so, perhaps I did learn a great deal via osmosis!

In an Eastern European family, brightly-colored Easter baskets containing marshmallow chickens, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies and plasic eggs containing coins are reserved for the children!

IMG_0088A simple wicker basket, covered with a pristine, plain white cloth (representing the shroud of Jesus) and a candle, containing the family's 'celebration of food', are carried to church, by the family cook, on Holy Saturday afternoon or evening, to be blessed during a special service by the parish priest. Each basket contains a similar but varying list of prepared, cold foods, which vary from family to family, but they break down into three basic categories:  bread, meat and dairy (foods which the very religious people abstained from from during the recent Great Lent and/or the entire Holy Week prior to Easter).

PICT2721Paska (or Pascha)/Kulich.  A homemade, slightly-sweetened yeast bread enriched with milk butter and eggs.  It is golden in color, usually round in shape and sometimes contains raisins.  It is always decorated with the sign of the cross and the fanciest "bread art", the family baker has learned.  It represents "He (Christ) Who is the Bread of Life", and, a braided plait of dough around the perimeter represents a crown.  (BYI:  There is no  competition, but, this is a matter of great pride to the family baker.)

6a0120a8551282970b017d424f5820970c IMG_9866Ham, Sausages (& sometimes Bacon). Ham, because it keeps well cold, is the main dish at the Eastern European Easter table.  It, along with bacon, represents joy and abundance. Smoked sausages, like kielbasi (a spicy, garlicky sausage of pork, veal and/or beef), represent the rope or chain of death that Christ broke and rose triumphant over.

IMG_9898Hrutka (or Sirets) & Cheese.  Hrutka is a sweetened, custard-like egg-cheese that is shaped into a ball and sliced.  It's lightly sweetened with sugar, flavored with a hint of vanilla, and, some versions contain a few peppercorns.  It represents moderation in life, and, nowadays, other mild-flavored cheeses are often substituted or included.

IMG_9820Eggs, Pickled Eggs & Beet Horseradish: Eggs 6a0120a8551282970b01901ee05043970brepresent new life and The Resurrection.  They are, of course, hard-cooked.  Pickled eggs are hard-cooked eggs preserved in a briny solution of beet juice and sugar to give them a pink-red color which represents Christ's Passion.  

Horseradish gets mixed with the slightly-sweet pickled red beets to give it a bittersweet taste and blood-red color, which represents the blood and suffering of Christ.

IMG_0097A small container of salt (to flavor the world with), butter (to remind us of the pure goodness of Christ), and, sometimes a bottle of wine (for rejoycing) are blessed as well.

This Easter tradition, the foods, and even the names of the foods varies among every Slavic group, depending on the region one is from, a family's preferences, and, their financial means, although conspicuous displays of wealth are discouraged.  This post explains the traditions I grew up with in Eastern PA, explained in the most respectful way I can relay them. 

PICT1824Pysanky.  These are extremely complicated eggs containing symbols and colors which all have meaning. I made these. The one in the center represents our yellow sun shining upon green pastures. The word "pysanky" derives from the verb "pysat" meaning "to write". They are made by using a special styliss (pen) which gets dipped into melted bees wax. After each application of wax, the egg is dipped into a vibrant color of dye. When the wax is removed the glorious egg is revealed!

The cold food from the basket is sliced and served for the breaking of the fast, breakfast, anytime after the sunrise service on Easter Sunday morning!!!

(All of my recipes for Russian Orthodox Easter can be found in Category 12.)

Whatever your beliefs, enjoy your day today!

PICT2721"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

04/18/2014

~ E-Z Jamaican Shrimp Curry in a Hurry w/No Worry~

IMG_0029I'm no expert, but, I do know just enough about Jamaican cooking to NOT be dangerous.  I know that a dish consisting of ackee fruit and salt cod is their National Dish.  Since I've just spent the past week posting some luscious recipes for cod fish (I love cod), a lovely thought and tribute to Jamaica (I love Jamaican food) would have been to end the week with this uniquely tantalizing recipe.  Alas, even if I could get my hands on an ackee here in the states, I wouldn't touch it. Parts of the ackee are toxic, so, my better judgement tells me to leave this one to the experts!

IMG_9891But.  Once I started reminiscing about Jamaican fare (from barbeque to jerk, they make some of the best fish, chicken, pork, beef and lamb dishes in the world), I started salivating. They make some magnificent curries too, so, tonight, for our Good Friday dinner, I've decided to make Jamaican shrimp curry.  It's quick and easy to prepare (a 30-minute meal), full of great Caribbean flavor, and, the only "special ingredient" you'll need is:

Jamaican-Style Curry Powder!

Jamaican curry powder contains allspice and Indian-style curry powder does not.  Indian curry powder contains cardamom and mace, Jamaican curry powder does not.  All Jamaican curries contain coconut milk, but only South Indian curries do.  Jamaican curries tend to be spicy and sweet while Indian curries are mild and slightly tart.

"Curry" is a catch-all English (British) term used in Western cultures to denote stewike dishes from Southern and Southeast Asia, as well as, Africa and the Caribbean.  Curry powder (the commercially marketed blend of spices we buy in our American markets) doesn't really exist in any of these places.  Hand-made pulverized blends of dried spices, the amounts of which very to suit the palate of each family or cook are prepared in a mortar and pestle.  Dishes called curry are relatively easy to prepare and can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish.  Seasonal vegetables can be included, or, the dish can be made of vegetables (vegetarian). 

Easter is on my doorstep, and in the midst of all of my prep...

IMG_0012... this spicy, delightful, time-saving meal is just what I need!

IMG_99331 1/2  pounds peeled and deveined extra-large shrimp (26/30 count), tails off (about 2 pounds unpeeled shrimp to start)

1  cup green bell pepper, cut into 1/4" strips, strips cut into thirds (about 1 green bell pepper)

1  cup red bell pepper, cut into 1/4" strips, strips cut into thirds (about 1 red bell pepper)

1/2-3/4 cup green onions, cut into 1/4" pieces, white and light green parts only

1/2  cup chopped cilantro leaves + additional leaves for garnish

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, VERY well drained

3  tablespoons hot Jamaican curry powder, mild Jamaican curry powder may be substituted

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon habanero powder (optional) (Note:  Jamaicans typically use fresh, Scotch Bonnet chilies for extra heat.  I don't often have them on hand, but, the slightly citrusy flavor of incendiary habanaro powder, which I keep in my pantry, is a marvelous substitute.) 

1  14-ounce can coconut milk that has been well-shaken prior to opening

2  tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil, for preparing skillet

4  cups uncooked jasmine rice, or, 8 cups steamed jasmine rice, cooked via your favorite method (Note:  I use an electric rice steamer, and, I steam the rice before I start prepping.)

IMG_9922 IMG_9930~ Step 1. Steam the rice.  Once it is cooked rake through it to separate the grains (I use my vintage pasta fork to do the raking).

IMG_9954~ Step 2.  Prep the peppers, green onion and cilantro, placing in a large bowl as you work.

IMG_9940~ Step 3. Add the diced tomatoes, shrimp, curry powder, garlic powder, ground ginger and sea salt to the bowl.  

Using a large spoon stir until all ingredients are evenly coated.

IMG_9963 IMG_9960                                           ~ Step 4. Add the well-shaken can of coconut milk.  Stir again to thoroughly combine.

~ Step 5.  Set aside, 5-15 minutes, to give the flavors time to marry. Note:  30 minutes is ok too, but, any longer toughens the shrimp.

IMG_9985 IMG_9971                                        ~ Step 6. Heat the vegetable oil in a 12" nonstick skillet over medium-high.  Add shrimp mixture to skillet, increase heat to high, and continue to cook, stirring constantly for 5 full minutes. Turn the heat off, and rest, on the hot stovetop, 1-2 minutes to finish cook the shrimp. Thick sauce, perfectly cooked shrimp:

IMG_9989Portion rice into bowls, portion shrimp curry over rice.  

Serve immediately:

IMG_0052E-Z Jamaican Shrimp Curry in a Hurry w/No Worry:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board;  chef's knife; colander or strainer; large bowl; large spoon; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; electric rice steamer (optional)

IMG_9309Cook's Note:  If it is a more traditional 30-minute meal you want on Good Friday, click into Categories 3, 14, 19 or 20 for ~ Mel's 30-Minute "Brain Food" Meal:  Broiled Cod w/Spicy Saffron Rice, Peas & Stewed Tomato Sauce ~.  Happy Easter all!

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

(Recipe, Photos and Commentary courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)