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05/02/2016

~ Come on Over for Coffee & a Classic Coffeecake ~

IMG_6478Thanks to post WWII advertising campaigns by the American Coffee Bureau, by 1950, America was a country of coffee drinkers.  In the workplace, the 15-minute coffee break was born, and, if you were a housewife, once you got your husband off to work and the kids off to school, you likely participated in a daily, weekly or occasional mid-morning "coffee klatch" with neighborhood friends.  The term "coffee klatch" comes from the German word "kaffeeklatsch", meaning "coffee chat" -- a casual gathering for sharing coffee and conversation with close confidants.  Literally translated: kaffee = coffee, and, klatsch = gossip.  I like to think of this social activity as kitchen therapy, and, in today's super-busy world, almost nothing sounds more relaxing than a neighborly invitation for coffee and cake:  I'm feelin' the love.

IMG_6459Classic Coffeecake:  Simple, Straightforward & Not-Too-Sweet  

6a0120a8551282970b0163051076c8970dI grew up in the Lehigh Valley region of Eastern Pennsylvania.  Because of the large Pennsylvania Dutch influence in this area, I am no stranger to coffeecake.  Everybody bakes them, eats them and loves them.  There are many versions, but in this locale, almost all coffeecakes are rich buttercakes topped with a streusel of some sort.  The term "Dutch" is slang for the German word "Deutsch", so, when we say Pennsylvania Dutch, we mean Deutsch and are crediting the German people for their delicious recipes.

6a0120a8551282970b01630510cdb5970dBesides eating a lot of homemade coffeecakes, I also grew up during the heyday of the Drake's empire. Drake's (now owned by Hostess Brands) has been providing the Northeastern United States with snack-sized coffeecakes for over a century.  In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, they compete head-to-head with Tastykake.  Back in my elementary school days, my lunch box usually contained one of my two favorite desserts:  a small, round Drake's coffeecake, or, a rectangular, snack-sized, lemon pudding-filled Tastykake pie.

A bit about coffeecake: Coffeecakes are rich, sweet, cake-like breads which are usually eaten for breakfast or brunch.  While they are rich with butter and eggs, they are considerably less sweet than a standard cake, which is why they are perfect fare for breakfast or brunch.  Some are made with yeast, but those made with baking soda and/or baking powder, which take less time to prepare and fall into the category of "quick" coffeecakes, are just as delicious.  The batter is often made with with buttermilk, cream cheese, sour cream or yogurt, which adds a lovely tang. They often contain fresh or dried fruit or berries, jam, preserves, and, sometimes nuts, which adds even more delicious taste and texture.  They can be served unembellished or with a dusting of confectioners' sugar, a glaze, a frosting, or a crumb or streusel topping.  They can be round, square or rectangular, thick or thin, and, eaten at room temperature or slightly warm.

IMG_6372For the streusel filling and topping:

IMG_63743/4  cup small-chopped pecans, 3/4 cup after chopping (walnuts may be substituted)

2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

3/4  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

IMG_6387For the coffeecake batter:

3  cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2  teaspoons each:  baking powder and baking soda

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2  cups sugar

3/4  cup salted butter, softened

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3  large eggs

1 1/2  cups sour cream

IMG_6432For the vanilla glaze:

1 1/2  cups Confectioners' sugar

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

3-4  tablespoons milk

In a small bowl, stir the sugar, extract and 3 tablespoons of milk. Add more milk until a smooth, drizzly consistency is reached, cover with plastic wrap and set aside while preparing coffeecake.

IMG_6383 IMG_6374~ Step 1.  Prepare the filling. Chop the pecans as directed, placing them in a medium bowl as you work.  Note:  I like to chop the pecans on the "smallish side", but that choice is yours.  

Add the brown sugar and cloves. Stir to coat the nuts in the spices. Do this prior to adding brown sugar.

Add the brown sugar and stir to combine.  Set aside and prepare the cake batter as directed below.

IMG_6389 IMG_6391 IMG_6394 IMG_6398~Step 2.  Prepare the cake batter.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla extract together for a full two minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.  On low mixer speed, in three increments, add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream, beating well after each addition.

IMG_6399 IMG_6401 IMG_6404 IMG_6407 IMG_6413 IMG_6416~Step 3.  Layering the batter and the filling in the cake pan.  Spray the inside of a 10" angel-food-type 10" tube pan with no-stick cooking spray. Spoon about 2 cups of the batter into the bottom of pan and spread it around as evenly as you can. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the filling mixture over top of batter.  Repeat this process (2 cups batter, 1/2 cup filling, 2 cups batter, 1/2 cup filling) two more times, ending with a topping of filling.  Give the pan a few gentle shakes back and forth on the surface of the counter to even batter out a bit.

IMG_6422~ Step 4.  Baking the coffeecake. Bake cake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven until a cake tester inserted into the thickest part of the center comes out clean, about 50-55 minutes.  

Remove coffeecake from the oven and place it on a cooling rack to cool, in the pan, for 20 minutes.  

Remove the cake from the pan by using the center tube as a handle to gently pull it up and out.  Cool the coffeecake, on the bottom tube part of the pan, another 1-1 1/2 hours, prior to removing cake from the bottom tube part.

Cool cake on tube,1-1 1/2 hours, prior to removing from tube:

IMG_6429Using your hands, gently lift cake from tube & place it on a plate...

IMG_6436... &, using a spoon or a pastry bag, drizzle on the glaze!  

IMG_6440Come over, to the sunny side of the street, for coffee & coffeecake!

IMG_6476Come on Over for Coffee & a Classic Coffeecake:  Recipe yields 1, 10" coffeecake, and, depending on how thick you slice it, 16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  spoon; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 10" angel-food-type tube pan; wire cooling rack; spoon or pastry bag (I use a pastry bag)

6a0120a8551282970b0168eb0bc39c970cCook's Note:  Some people add berries or fruit to their coffeecake, while others prefer the rich taste of chocolate with their java.  My recipe for ~ Coffeecake:  Cinnamon-Orange, Chocolate-Chip, Pecan-Streusel ~ can be found in Categories 6 or 9.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016) 

04/30/2016

~ Unstuffed: Deconstructed Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ~

IMG_6346Deconstruct.  It is perhaps the oddest new-age foodie word I have ever encountered.  When the word "deconstructed" appears in front of a menu item, I find myself wanting to ask, "what was wrong with it to begin with?"  That's because, historically, in my kitchen, the reason for me to deconstruct, or, "dismantle a dish piece by piece", is usually to find out why a recipe doesn't work.  In today's world, it's trendy for some chefs to artfully arrange the wreckage on a plate, serve it "deconstructed", then, charge you twice as much to put it back together on your fork. 

Feel free to conclude I'm not a fan of deconstructed dishes.  I am, however, the first to admit there are exceptions to every rule, and, today's recipe is one such exception.  Why? Because the end justifies the means in a big, beautiful way:  Every forkful of the finished "deconstructed" version of the dish is uncompromisingly just as delicious as the classic original, and, the time saved by not cooking many of the components first and assembling them together in the typical manner is marked.  All I can say is:  Where has this "deconstructed" recipe been all my life?

IMG_6345It took years for mom to teach me how to make her stuffed cabbage rolls to perfection.  Yesterday, she taught me how to unmake them in one short afternoon. ~ Melanie.    

IMG_5770When we arrived at my parents, I immediately deduced we were having stuffed cabbage rolls for dinner on this visit.  Mom's 8-quart stainless-steel Farberware pot was on the stovetop, and, her extra-large yellow Pyrex bowl was sitting on the countertop with the big Farberware spoon in it, right next to her favorite wooden cutting board and all-purpose knife.  It's worth mention than all of these "vintage" items were bridal and wedding gifts to them -- and, on May 16th, 2016, that makes them all 63 years old.

IMG_5782Stuffed cabbage rolls, known as "holubki" to me and "golumpki" to many of you, are a beloved favorite in every Eastern European kitchen. Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), cooked rice or grain, steamed green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce. Because they are sort of labor-intensive,  they are often served for holidays or special occasions.

PICT0416It takes a lot of work to construct a traditional cabbage roll:  

First, the leaves must be removed whole, one-at-a-time from the head of cabbage -- this is usually done via steaming them off in a large pot of boiling water.  Next, in order to make the meat filling, in a saucepan, the rice must be cooked, and, in a skillet, the onion must be sautéed in some butter and spices.  Once the meat is mixed, the wrapping and rolling takes place.  After all of that is done (and cleaned up), the cabbage rolls get placed in a pot or a casserole, a sauce gets made and poured over the top of them, and, finally, it's onto the stovetop or into the oven they go.  It's a project, and, don't get me wrong, it's worth the effort.  That said, this new-to-me method that my mother just showed me rocked my stuffed cabbage world.   

Mom had a mischievous chuckle in her voice when she told me she was going to show me how to make her "Lazy Lady's Halupki".  It was the type of chuckle that that comes from a cook who is about to reveal a "well-guarded cheaters secret" to another cook.  Apparently, this is how she's been making stuffed cabbage for weeknight fare for herself and dad for years.  Trust me, I was all ears -- I decided to get out my camera, a notepad and a pen for the afternoon too.

IMG_57651  medium-sized head green cabbage (about 2 1/2 pounds)

2 1/2  pounds extra-lean ground beef (93/7 or 90/10) (Note:  While this photo shows a package of 85/15, underneath it is a second package of 95/5, and mom combined the two.  She also explained that on that day, her local grocery store did not have two packages of 93/7 or 90/10.)

2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1  cup uncooked long-grain white rice, not "Minute rice" (8 ounces)

2  medium-sized yellow onions, about 6-ounces each, finely diced (about 2 cups)

1  seasoning packet from 1  box of G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (1/2 teaspoon salt may be substituted)  (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand in my pantry so I can duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's readily available to me at my local grocery store and on-line as well.)

2  large eggs, beaten 

2  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (3 cans if you like your broth extra-tomato-y)

2 1/2  quarts water (10 cups)

2  additional teaspoons salt + 1/2-1 teaspoon additional coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_5795 IMG_5802 IMG_5803 IMG_5805 IMG_5809 IMG_5811 IMG_5772 IMG_5815 IMG_5816 IMG_5820 IMG_5835 IMG_5840 IMG_5848~Step 1.  Mixing the meat.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly over the top.  Using a large spoon or your hands, mix to combine. Measure and sprinkle the rice over the top, then, give that a thorough mix too.  Finely dice the onion, add it along with the G.Washinton's seasoning packet and mix again.  In a small bowl, using a fork, beat the eggs, add them, and, you guessed it, give the whole thing one last very thorough mix.  Easy enough so far?

IMG_5859 IMG_5872~ Step 2. Forming the meatballs. Between the palms of your hands, form the meat mixture into 3 1/2 dozen meatballs, approximately 1 1/2-ounces each, placing them on a large plate as you work.  Note:  In my kitchen, I use a kitchen scale which makes it really easy to insure the meatballs are all the same size.  My mom uses a round tablespoon.

IMG_5784 IMG_5892~Step 3.  Cabbage prep.  Remove a few soft, leafy outer leaves from the head of cabbage and layer them in the bottom of an 8-quart stockpot. Cut the head in half, remove the hard core section and coarsely chop the two halves.

IMG_5874 IMG_5896 IMG_5902 IMG_5903 IMG_5907 IMG_5910 IMG_5926 IMG_5933 IMG_5913~Step 4. Everybody into the pot. Arrange half the meatballs on top of cabbage in the bottom of the pot. Top meatballs with half the chopped cabbage.  Arrange the remaining half of the meatballs on top of the chopped cabbage and, top the meatballs with the remaining half of the cabbage.  Add the tomato soup, water, salt and pepper.  Cover the pot and bring to a steady simmer/almost boil over medium-high heat.  Remove the lid and, using a large spoon, gently push down on any cabbage floating on the top.  Cover the pot, adjust heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook for 1 1/2 hours.

Note:  If you have the patience to wait,  turn the heat off and allow your deconstructed stuffed cabbage rolls to "steep" in the brothy goodness for an hour prior to reheating a bit and serving.

My food world works in mysterious ways... 

IMG_6352... and for that, I am very grateful!

IMG_5981Unstuffed:  Deconstructed Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon; fork; round tablespoon or kitchen scale; 8-quart stockpot w/lid

6a0120a8551282970b0154356438eb970cCook's Note: If it is a tutorial on the traditional method for making stuffed cabbage, it's all in my post, ~ My Mother's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubki) ~, which can be found by clicking into Categories 3, 12, 17, 19 or 22.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

04/28/2016

~ Chinese Sweet & Sour Pork Meatballs w/Lo Mein ~

IMG_6318Chinese spaghetti and meatballs.  That's what my boys named this meal, they loved it, and, just saying it brings a reminiscent smile to my face.  In reality, it was just me serving some easy-to-make sweet-and-sour-sauced pork meatballs atop a package of store-bought fresh Chinese egg noodles for a change-of-pace dinner.  On occasion, I served the meatballs with cooked and drained, spaghetti-esque lo-mein noodles too, but, my kids preferred the yellow-colored fresh ones better, so, whenever my Asian market had them in stock, that's what I bought.

IMG_5559 IMG_5754 IMG_6152Doesn't this trio look yummy?  Having just spent the week writing a series of posts about and for sweet and sour sauce (just click into Category 13 to learn how I make ~ Sweet & Sour Sauce for Seafood, Poultry or Pork ~, ~ Stick It:  Sweet & Sour Shrimp & Pineapple Kabobs ~, and, ~ A Chinese Cantonese Classic:  Sweet & Sour Pork ~), I decided I'd be remiss if I didn't conclude with this kid-tested, mother approved fourth.

Part One:  Making the Sauce (+ a bit of sauce history too)

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1d22999970cThe first Chinese immigrants to the US were mostly Cantonese, and, Canton, China is the home of the famous "sweet and sour pork" dish eaten annually for Chinese New Year.  With the Cantonese came their love for bright, bold flavor and fresh ingredients -- their sauce is a perfect balance of sugar, vinegar, chile pepper and ginger. It was we Americans who added ketchup to it, and, don't laugh, it's so good, the Chinese adopted it.  If you've never tasted homemade sweet and sour sauce, prepare to be wowed, because:  unless you're eating it in a place that makes their own, sadly, it's a concoction of corn syrup, citric acid and food coloring.

Anyone, anywhere can do better than that in 3 easy steps in less than 10 minutes!

IMG_55051/2  cup each:  water and ketchup

1/3  cup each:  brown sugar, orange juice and rice vinegar

1 1/2  tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2  teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2-3  tablespoons, peeled, thinly-sliced, then minced ginger

1 1/2  tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water

IMG_5507IMG_5510IMG_5511IMG_5519~Step 1.  In a 1-quart measuring container, stir together the water, ketchup, dark brown sugar, orange juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce and red pepper flakes.  Set aside.  Peel, thinly-slice and mince the ginger as directed and set aside.  Stir together the cornstarch and water.  Set aside.

IMG_5521IMG_5522IMG_5526IMG_5532~Step 2.  Place the vegetable oil in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the ginger and sauté, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 45-60 seconds.  Add all of the liquid mixture from Step 1 and adjust heat to simmer steadily, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.

IMG_5534IMG_5550Step 3.  Add cornstarch/water mixture and simmer gently until nicely thickened, about 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a food storage container.  Use as directed in specific recipe or store in refrigerator 1-2 weeks.

Part Two:  Making Mel's E-Z as 1-2-3 Chinese Pork Meatballs

As far as meatball making goes, these are "as easy as it gets".  There's more:  the end result, is "as good as it gets".  In a matter of minutes, my food processor does all of the hard work.  It grinds the meat, then minces and mixes the remaining three ingredients and the spices.  I use an ice-cream scoop to quickly portion and form the mixture into meatballs, placing them on a baking pan as I work.  Into the oven they go and 15 minutes later:  they're done.  The process is so stress-free, I always make a double or triple batch and freeze them for 1-2-3 more meals.

IMG_6270This recipe yields 66-70 meatballs -- easily enough to feed 4-6 people for two meals.  For my husband and I, it's enough for four meals  -- one tonight, then I'll freeze three for later!

IMG_62012-2 1/4 pounds pork loin, trimmed of all visible fat, cut into 1/2"-3/4" slices, slices cut into 1/2"-3/4" cubes (boneless, skinless chicken breast may be substituted) (Note: I purchase a 3 pound piece of pork loin & after trimming the math works out right.)

4  ounces green onion, white and light green part only, cut into 1 1/2"-2" lengths

1   cup panko breadcrumbs

2  8-ounce cans sliced water chestnuts, well-drained

4  extra-large eggs

2  teaspoons ground ginger

2  tablespoons soy sauce

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons white pepper

IMG_6207 IMG_6209 IMG_6212 IMG_6215 IMG_6219 IMG_6221~Step 1.  Prep pork as directed, placing it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade as you work.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, grind meat, then transfer it to a large bowl.  Don't wash the work bowl or blade. Add onion, breadcrumbs and water chestnuts to the work bowl.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-of pulses, mince and combine all.  Add eggs, soy sauce, ginger, salt and pepper.  Turn motor on and process to a paste, 10-15 seconds.

IMG_6228 IMG_6233~ Step 2.  Transfer paste to the bowl with the ground meat.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine the two.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the panko breadcrumbs to absorb excess moisture for about 25-30 minutes.

IMG_6241 IMG_6246 IMG_6247~ Step 3.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, roll meatballs between the palms of your hands and place them,  IMG_6263slightly apart on each of 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.  Bake, one-pan-at-a-time on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 18-20 minutes.  Meatballs will be firm, sizzling a bit, and, turning a light golden brown in color. Remove from oven and use as directed in recipe or cool on pans prior to portioning and freezing.

IMG_6278Note:  Yes, of course you can fry the meatballs conventionally, in batches, in any large-size skillet containing a thin coating of corn or peanut oil.  When I do that, I use my 16" electric skillet.  It allows me to fry in two batches of 30-35, which is the same amount of meatballs that are on each of the baking pans.

Part Three:  The Pineapple, Veggies, Noodles, &, a Quick Stir-Fry

IMG_62806-8  tablespoons corn or peanut oil, for frying

6-8  tablespoons minced, fresh ginger

1 1/4-1 1/2 cups each:  1/2"-3/4" diced green & red bell pepper, and, yellow or sweet onion

3  cups 1/2"-3/4" chunked fresh pineapple

30-35  baked or fried pork meatballs, from above recipe, warm or at room temperature

1 1/2-2  cups sweet and sour sauce, from above recipe, warmed

1  16-ounce package fully-cooked, fresh Chinese egg noodles*, or, 1  16-ounce package dried Chinese lo-mein noodles, cooked according to package directions

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08b463ee970d*A bit about Chinese Egg noodles:  The Chinese have an almost overwhelming variety of noodles to choose from.  Fresh Chinese egg noodles (the four most common being thin and wide wonton noodles, and, Hong-Kong-style chow mein noodles and lo mein noodles), found in all Asian markets (and larger grocery stores) are made with wheat flour and eggs and are yellow in color (which is often attributed to the addition of yellow dye).  Fresh egg noodles are also cooked to the point of only needing to be briefly reheated in a pot of simmering water or broth, and/or, tossed into a stir-fry at the end of the cooking process.  If kept sealed, they keep in the refrigerator about a week, and, once opened, for best results, should be used within 24 hours.

IMG_6282 IMG_6285 IMG_6287 IMG_6290 IMG_6292 IMG_6293 IMG_6295 IMG_6297~Step 1.  In a 16" electric skillet or a large 14" skillet on the stovetop, heat 6-8 tablespoons corn or peanut oil over medium-high heat.  Add ginger and sauté until fragrant, but not browned, about 1 minute.  Add the diced bell peppers and onion and sauté, stirring constantly, until vegetables are starting to soften, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Add the pineapple chunks and continue to sauté, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Add the meatballs and sauté until heated through, about 1 minute.

IMG_6303~Step 2.  Cut a small 1" slit in the top of the package of fresh Chinese egg noodles and reheat them on high power in the microwave oven for about 1 minute.  Add the hot, reheated Chinese egg noodles, or, the cooked, drained and hot lo-mein noodles to the skillet.  Sauté, tossing constantly until heated through, about 1 minute.

Chinese noodle trivia:  The word "lo mein" comes from the Chinese Cantonese word "lou mihn" meaning "stirred noodles", with the word "lou" meaning "to stir".

IMG_6309Step 3. Adjust heat to very low or turn the heat off. Add 1 1/2 cups of the warm or reheated sauce, in 1/2 cup increments, tossing like you would a salad using two large forks or spoons after each addition, until all ingredients are evenly coated. Add the last 1/2 cup sauce, only if you think you need it.  Do not over sauce.  Portion into four warmed pasta-type bowls or onto plates and serve immediately.

Chinese Spaghetti & Meatballs:

IMG_6315Take the challenge & pick up those chopsticks.

IMG_6330You owe it to the kid in yourself to try!

IMG_6341Chinese Sweet & Sour Pork Meatalls w/Lo Mein:  2 cups of sweet and sour sauce, 65-70 meatballs and 4 servings of "Chinese spaghetti and meatballs".

Special Equipment List:  1-quart measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart saucepan; large spoon; 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; food processor; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop; 16" electric skillet or large 14" skillet on the stovetop

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fa9cb0f2970bCook's Note:  Another dish I learned to cook using fresh Chinese egg noodles was via a hands on lesson from Chef Martin Yan, in person. You can find my recipe for ~ Chinese Chicken Chow Mein a la Melanie ~ by clicking into Categories 3, 13, 19 or 26!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

04/25/2016

~A Chinese Cantonese Classic: Sweet & Sour Pork~

IMG_6155Sweet and sour pork is one of the most well-known Chinese dishes in the world, and, amongst Americans, it's extremely popular.  Marinated, crisply-fried cubes of pork butt or loin, and, stir-fried bell peppers, onion and pineapple -- the two unite at the end when they get tossed together in a perfectly-balanced sweet and savory, ginger-laced ketchup-based sauce to coat.  Pork, "the other white meat", is the Cantonese classic, but, if you prefer poultry over porcine, boneless, skinless chicken breast is a common substitution in Chinese and American kitchens. 

IMG_6199Classically served as a "sauced-pork dish" with fried rice for accompaniment, in American home kitchens, it's not unusual to see the pork, vegetable and pineapple mixture spooned atop a bed of freshly-steamed white rice.  The colorful end result is pretty to look at and a joy to eat -- it's a welcome change of pace from humdrum dinnertime fare.  It makes adults happy and kids tend to love it too, so, if you are looking to introduce Chinese flavors to your youngsters, experience has taught this mother and grandmother:  sweet and sour pork or chicken is a kid-tested safe bet.

Relatively speaking, sweet and sour pork is not hard to make and all of the prep (which is minimal compared to other Chinese dishes) can be done a day ahead.  While some basic deep-fry and stir-fry technique is helpful and fresh ingredients are important, the secret to this dish is achieving the perfect sugary sweet and vinegary sour balance in the easy-to-make sauce.  The sauce is the heart and soul of this dish -- it's the center of the sweet and sour pork universe! 

IMG_6146Part One:  Making the Sauce (+ a bit of sauce history too)

IMG_5575The first Chinese immigrants to the US were mostly Cantonese, and, Canton, China is the home of the famous "sweet and sour pork" dish eaten annually for Chinese New Year.  With the Cantonese came their love for bright, bold flavor and fresh ingredients -- their sauce is a perfect balance of sugar, vinegar, chile pepper and ginger. It was we Americans who added ketchup to it, and, don't laugh, it's so good, the Chinese adopted it.  If you've never tasted homemade sweet and sour sauce, prepare to be wowed, because:  unless you're eating it in a place that makes their own, sadly, it's a concoction of corn syrup, citric acid and food coloring.

Anyone, anywhere can do better than that in 3 easy steps in less than 10 minutes!

IMG_55051/2  cup each:  water and ketchup

1/3  cup each:  brown sugar, orange juice and rice vinegar

1 1/2  tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2  teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2-3  tablespoons, peeled, thinly-sliced, then minced ginger

1 1/2  tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water

IMG_5507 IMG_5510 IMG_5511 IMG_5519~Step 1.  In a 1-quart measuring container, stir together the water, ketchup, dark brown sugar, orange juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce and red pepper flakes.  Set aside.  Peel, thinly-slice and mince the ginger as directed and set aside.  Stir together the cornstarch and water.  Set aside.

IMG_5521 IMG_5522 IMG_5526 IMG_5532~Step 2.  Place the vegetable oil in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the ginger and sauté, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 45-60 seconds.  Add all of the liquid mixture from Step 1 and adjust heat to simmer steadily, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.

IMG_5534 IMG_5550Step 3.  Add cornstarch/water mixture and simmer gently until nicely thickened, about 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a food storage container.  Use as directed in specific recipe or store in refrigerator 1-2 weeks.

Part Two:  Cutting, Marinating and Frying the Pork 

IMG_5996For the pork, marinade & deep fry:

2-2 1/2 pounds pork loin, trimmed of all visible fat, cut into 1/2"-3/4" slices, slices cut into 1/2"-3/4" cubes (boneless, skinless chicken breast may be substituted) (Note: I purchase a 3 pound piece of pork loin & after trimming the math works out right.)

2  tablespoons soy sauce

2  tablespoons orange juice

1  tablespoon firmly packed cornstarch

1  tablespoon sugar

2  large eggs

additional cornstarch, for dredging, about 3/4 cup

IMG_6002 IMG_6010~ Step 1.  To slice.  Slice the pork as directed, placing it a 1-gallon food storage bag as you work.  I simply cut the loin into 8 slices, trim the fat from each, and cut each slice into 15 cubes.  

IMG_6035 IMG_6024~ Step 2.  To marinate.  In a 1-cup measuring container, whisk, the soy sauce, orange juice, cornstarch, sugar and eggs.  Add the marinade to the food storage bag containing the pork, seal the bag and toss to coat.  Set aside for about 1 hour.

While the meat is marinating, use your time wisely -- get your "mise en place".

IMG_6039"Mise en place" is a fancy French phrase meaning, "everything in its place" so no time gets wasted from the beginning to the end of the cooking process.  Preheat deep-fryer containing corn or peanut oil to 360 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.  The frying process goes fast so, set up a "deep-frying" assembly line in this order:  marinated pork, cornstarch, bowl for dredging, deep-fryer for frying and a baking dish lined with paper towels for draining.  

IMG_6044 IMG_6061 IMG_6047~ Step 3.  To fry.  When oil reaches temperature, dredge 15-18 pieces of pork in the cornstarch by tossing them with a fork.  

IMG_6055 IMG_6057 IMG_6068 IMG_6072 IMG_6091Load them onto an Asian spider (or large slotted spoon), lower them, all-at-once into the hot oil, and, deep-fry until just cooked through, about 2 minutes.  Repeat this process, adding about 2 more tablespoons of cornstarch to the bowl each time, until all of the pork has been dredged and deep-fried. Note:  The deep-frying can be done 2-3 hours in advance of preparing the stir-fried fruit and vegetables.

Part Three:  Prepping Pineapple & Veggies, &, a Quick Stir-Fry 

IMG_6103For the fruit, veggies & stir-fry:

4  tablespoons corn or peanut oil

1/4  cup minced, fresh ginger

1-1 1/4 cups each:  1/2"-3/4" diced green & red bell pepper, and, yellow or sweet onion

3  cups 1/2"-3/4" chunked fresh pineapple

6  cups deep-fried pork cubes, and, 1 1/2-2  cups sweet and sour sauce, from above recipe, both slightly-warm

IMG_6105 IMG_6107~ Step 1.  In a 12" stir-fry-type pan or a skillet, heat 4 tablespoons corn or peanut oil over medium-high heat on the stovetop.  Add ginger and sauté until fragrant, but not browned, about 1 minute.

Note:  Relax.  I'm here to tell you, you do not need a stir-fry-type pan or a wok to successfully stir-fry.  I am using a nonstick skillet to prove my point. 

IMG_6110 IMG_6114 IMG_6119 IMG_6122 IMG_6126 IMG_6128~Step 2.  Add peppers and onion and sauté, stirring constantly, until vegetables are starting to soften, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Add pineapple and continue to sauté, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Add pork and sauté until heated through, 1-1 1/2 more minutes.

IMG_6133 IMG_6141~ Step 3. Adjust heat to very low or turn the heat off. Add 1 1/2 cups of the warm sauce and toss until all ingredients are evenly coated.  Add more sauce, if needed, until  it's coated and tastes the way you want it to.  Serve immediately with fried rice or white rice to the side, or, with a bed of fried or white rice underneath each portion.

Whether you prefer a bowl or a plate, with or atop a bed of rice...

IMG_6152... this recipe, w/3 parts & 3 steps in each part = 1 memorable meal!

IMG_6194A Chinese Cantonese Classic:  Sweet & Sour Pork:  Recipe yields 2 cups of sauce and 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart saucepan; large spoon; 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; 1-gallon food storage bag; 1-cup measuring container; small whisk or fork;  deep-fryer; 12" stir-fry-type pan or skillet

IMG_5754Cook's Note: Once you start making your own yummy sweet and sour sauce, I'm certain you'll be looking for others ways to enjoy it. One of my favorites, made outdoors on the grill or indoors on a grill pan: ~ Stick It:  Sweet & Sour Shrimp & Pineapple Kabobs ~ can be found in Categories 3, 10, 13, 14 or 17.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)