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07/24/2015

~ Succulent Crock-Pot Apple 'n Onion Pulled-Pork ~

IMG_0503As much as I adore all the fruits and veggies Joe grows, from mid-July until end of September, the quantities of produce I have to process can get overwhelming.  This is a "that's the facts Jack" statement of truth, not a complaint.  At present, my culinary focus is on eating what we can of the daily harvest and preserving as much of the rest as humanly possible for our cold-weather enjoyment.  It's no secret, I've never been a crockpot kinda gal, but, over the past few years I've mellowed.  I've made peace with mine.  I've learned:  a crockpot can be a gardener's wife's best friend.  At present, I have more than a few uncompromisingly yummy slow cooker recipes.

My recipe moved from stovetop to crockpot out of Summertime necessity!

IMG_0508This is crazy-easy to make.  It takes about 15 minutes to season and brown the pork, plus, 5 minutes to put it, along with the apples, onions and spices into the crockpot.  After slow cooking itself and 5 minutes of easy shredding -- you and yours are sitting down to a melt-in-your mouth dinner.  Joe and I love it on sandwiches, but, it's also delicious atop mashed potatoes or rice.  This recipe is not an attempt to imitate any type of real-deal pulled-pork barbecue with its crispy outer bark and smokey flavor.  It's neither Southern nor Southwestern either. There is no dry rub or barbecue sauce involved.  This pulled pork is a spinoff of my stovetop ~ Braised Pork Tenderloins w/Apple & Onion Puree ~, which is a spinoff of my mom's pork pot roast, both of which are two of our favorite cold-weather comfort-food meals.

Note:  Cut this recipe in half if using a crockpot smaller than 6 quarts. 

IMG_0312~ Step 1.  The succulent pork is the star of this show and I choose to use boneless pork loin. Conveniently, our grocery stores sell it cut into 3 pound pieces, each with a nice fat cap.  You'll need two.

IMG_0318If you can't find this cut, purchase a boneless pork loin and slice it yourself.

IMG_0319Generously season the fat sides with: freshly ground sea salt, peppercorn blend & garlic powder. Set aside for 15-30 minutes.

IMG_0332 IMG_0336 IMG_0343 IMG_0349 IMG_0364~Step 2.  In an electric skillet (or a 14" skillet on the stovetop) melt 4 tablespoons salted butter.  Adjust heat to 300 degrees (medium-high on the stovetop).  Place the seasoned roasts in the skillet fat side up.  Saute until browned on both sides, turning only once, about 8-10 minutes per side.  Remove pork roasts from skillet and deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup apple juice.

IMG_0382~ Step 3.  Coarsely chop:

2  medium yellow or sweet onions

2  unpeeled Granny Smith apples

IMG_0376Have ready:

8 each: whole allspice and whole cloves

2 each:  whole bay leaves and cinnamon sticks

IMG_0378 IMG_0387 IMG_0393 IMG_0403~Step 4.  Transfer all of the pan drippings from the skillet into a 6-quart crockpot.  Add the allspice, cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks to the drippings, followed by the chopped onions and apples.  Generously season the top of all with freshly ground sea salt, peppercorn blend and garlic powder.  Place the pork roasts, side-by-side, fat side up, on top of the apples.

IMG_0406 IMG_0419~ Step 5. Cover the crockpot and slow cook on high setting for 2 hours, then low setting for 6 hours.

IMG_0424~ Step 6. Transfer roasts (not the liquids) to a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish, cover and set aside until cool enough to handle with your hands, about 2 hours. Cover crockpot and allow liquids to remain on the warm setting while the meat is cooling down.

IMG_0440 IMG_0432~ Step 7. When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove and discard any large pieces of fat remaining on the tops.

IMG_0449Using your fingertips, pull/shred the pork, placing it back in the casserole as you work.

IMG_0451~ Step 8.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer all of the the large pieces of apples and onions to the pulled pork.  Toss, like you would a salad, until thoroughly combined.

IMG_0471~ Step 9. Using a soup ladle begin adding the liquids from the crockpot to the meat, tossing after each IMG_0476addition.  Stop when the meat is very most and no liquid is puddling in the bottom of the dish.  I added 4, 4-ounce ladlefuls today (2 cups).

~ Step 10.  Place the remaining liquid from the crockpot (2 cups) in a container and set aside.  Serve it at the table as a sandwich dipper.

Note:  Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to a week.  As for reheating leftovers,  I portion out as much as I need for 1-2-3 sandwiches and reheat them in the microwave.  As for freezing leftovers, I am sorry to report that while they taste fine, upon reheat they tend to get a bit mushy.

Have yourself a heaping helping of our hospitality:

IMG_0489It's delicious served hot, warm or at room temperature!

IMG_0511Succulent Crock-Pot Apple 'n Onion Pulled-Pork:  Recipe yields 12 large sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; electric skillet or 14" skillet; large spatula; 6-quart crockpot; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish/casserole; large slotted spoon; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0789654f970dCook's Note: For one of the most delicious twists on traditional Tex-Mex chili you're ever going to taste, try my "Winner Winner Crock-Pot Dinner":  A Scrumptious, Slow-Cooked Sweet Potato and Ground Beef Chili ~.  Along with the recipe, which you can find in Categories, 2, 3, 13, 19 or 20, you can read all about the invention and history of the original Crock-Pot!

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

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

07/21/2015

~ Dehydrated Pie Cherry & Pistachio Zucchini Bread~

IMG_0283You show me your recipe for zucchini bread and I'll show you mine.  Everyone who has ever planted a zucchini seed has a recipe for zucchini bread -- every last zucchini-growing one of us. This is my homegrown version and I only make it once or twice, at this time, each year.  Why? 'Tis the end of the sour cherry season and the beginning of the zucchini season.  While it's common to find dried fruits and nuts added to zucchini bread, I happen to think mine, made with my own dried sour cherries, plus toasted pistachios, is is one uniquely tasty combination!

IMG_0273Here in Happy Valley, 'tis the end of cherry season and the beginning of zucchini season! 

6a0120a8551282970b0192ac26e5f9970dPersonally, I prefer zucchini that are picked when small and tender, and, I like it served in an identifiable manner.  Plain and simple:  I am a zucchini snob.  That said, renegade zucchini, super-sized ones, are almost impossible to avoid -- they increase in size by the hour.  It's these monster-size zucchini I grate and use when I'm trying to sneak a vegetable into my family's diet without them knowing  it (zucchini bread, zucchini cake, zucchini muffins, zucchini fritters, zucchini pancakes, zucchini waffles, etc.).  

IMG_0175A bit about zucchini/corgette:  In the big picture, all squash fall into two categories:  Winter or Summer. Zucchini (both green and yellow) are Summer squash, they are a member of the Italian marrow squash family, and, were brought to the USA by Italian immigrants in the 1920's.  The most common zucchini is a dark green, cylindrical Summer squash which is best harvested around 8" in length, while the seeds are still soft and immature.

A small, "baby zucchini", with the edible flower/blossom attached, designates a truly fresh, immature fruit.  Baby zucchini are a delicacy and are sought by many for their sweet flavor.  

IMG_9689Aside from color, its hybrid relative, the golden yellow-orange zucchini, is identical to green zucchini (with yellow zucchini being slightly-sweeter but not enough for me to prefer one over the other).  While yellow zucchini are indeed a type of yellow squash, correctly labeled they are still: zucchini. They remain cylindrical in shape, do not taper at one end and get bulbous at the other, and/or have crook necks.

Today's big picture:  all ready for my zucchini bread!

6a0120a8551282970b019104d5e12b970cA bit about my recipe:  When it comes to zucchini bread, I was a very late bloomer.  Neither my grandmother nor my mother made it, so, I have no top-secret family recipe to share.  The first time I tasted zucchini bread the year was 1980 and I was 30 years old.  Our new neighbors, two doors away, were a retired couple, Don and Mary Barrett.  That Summer, Mary invited me to come to her house for coffee and chit-chat.  The warm 'quick bread' she served was moist and delicious.  I was astonished to find out it was the bland, watery zucchini that gave the bread its melt-in-your mouth texture (similar to what carrots do to carrot cake).  A few hours later, I arrived home with a loaf of bread and her recipe, which, over the years, evolved into my own recipe.

Most zucchini bread recipes fall into the "quick bread" category.

IMG_0258A bit about quick bread:  "Quick bread" is an American term that refers to bread that is quick to make because it doesn't require kneading or rising time.  It originated during the American civil war, when the demand for food and bread was high.  Innovative cooks began rapidly producing bread and baked goods that were leavened with baking soda rather than yeast. Nowadays, the leavening agent is predominately baking powder, or, a  IMG_0276combination of baking powder and baking soda.  In the case of baking powder, it is called "double acting" because the rising process starts the moment it makes contact with the liquids, and, gives a second burst of rising power when the bread enters the hot oven.  

Typically, quick breads contain eggs, flour, salt and fat (butter, margarine, shortening or oil) and leavening.  That said, they can be sweet or savory and contain sugar, fruits, fruit puree, vegetables, vegetable puree and various liquids (milk, buttermilk, fruit juice or stock).

The wet and dry ingredients are always mixed separately, in two different bowls, quickly stirred together (without over-mixing) to form a thick batter, then baked.  Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, scones, soda bread and waffles all fall into the quick-bread category too!    

IMG_0119For the dry ingredients:

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the wet ingredients:

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/4  cups sugar

2  teaspoons vanilla bean paste (Mary used pure vanilla extract)

3/4  cup salted butter, melted and cooled (1 1/2 sticks)

3-4  cups shredded green or yellow zucchini, or a combination of both (Mary used green), from about 1 1/2 pounds of zucchini

For the add-ins:

1  cup dehydrated (dried) sour (pie) cherries, coarsely chopped (Mary used raisins) (Note:  If you have fresh cherries, and, if you own a dehydrator, click on the Related Article link below ~ Culinary Jewels: Dehydrated Sour "Pie" Cherries ~ to learn how I do it.)

1  cup shelled pistachios, lightly-toasted and coarsely-chopped (Mary used walnuts)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

IMG_0178 IMG_0121Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Place pistachios in a baking pan and toast in 350 degree oven 8-10 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon every 3-5 minutes. Remove from oven, set aside to cool, then chop.  Chop cherries as directed then melt the butter.  Set aside.

IMG_0159 IMG_0162 IMG_0173 IMG_0186~Step 2.  Trim the stem ends from the zucchini, but do not peel it.  Drape a flour-sack-type towel over a colander.  Using a hand-held box grater, grate the zucchini, placing all of it in the towel as you work.  When finished grating, gather the towel up around the zucchini, twist, and, gently but firmly squeeze to remove excess moisture from zucchini.  Continue turning and squeezing until almost no moisture remains -- when the towel is unwrapped, if the zucchini will stay in a ball, you have properly squeezed the moisture from it.  You will have 3-4 cups grated zucchini.

IMG_0201 IMG_0209 IMG_0211 IMG_0214~Step 3.  In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla bean paste. While whisking vigorously, in a thin stream drizzle in and thoroughly incorporate the melted butter.  When you stop no butter should be laying on top of liquid.  Fold in the shredded zucchini.

IMG_0224 IMG_0230 IMG_0233 IMG_0235

IMG_0240~Step 4.  Put down the whisk and switch to a rubber spatula.  In two increments, begin incorporating the flour mixture, folding it just until a thick batter forms.  Fold in the cherries, followed by the pistachios.

~ Step 5.  Spoon and divide the batter equally between two 8" x 4" loaf pans that have been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  

Note:  I always like to weigh the filled pans on a kitchen scale to insure batter is divided equally.

IMG_0250~ Step 6.  Bake both loaves at once, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  Loaves will be lightly golden and spring back when gently touched.  Remove from oven and place pans on a rack to cool for about 10 minutes prior to removing from pans to cool completely, about 2 hours or longer, prior to slicing.

Tip from Mel:  Always bake two and freeze (or share) one.

IMG_0265All buttered up and beautiful -- serve warmed or toasted!

IMG_0292Dehydrated Pie Cherry & Pistachio Zucchini Bread:  Recipe yields 2, 8" x 4" loaves.

Special Equipment List:  8" x 8" x 2" baking pan; cutting board; chef's knife; box grater; cotton flour-sack-type towel; whisk; large rubber spatula; 2, 8" x 4" loaf pans; kitchen scale (optional); cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack

IMG_0351Cook's Note:  For one of my favorite savory uses for young, tender zucchini, my recipe for ~ Sauteed Summer Squash and Saffron Rice Stuffed Tomatoes ~ can be found in Categories 4, 14 & 20.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0f9ea69970cFor another one of my favorite quick bread recipes, click into Categories, 5, 9, 11, 12 or 22 for my ~ Macadamia-Mango Coconut-Rum Banana Bread ~!

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

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

07/19/2015

~ Sweet and Savory K.C.-Style Cherry BBQ Sauce ~

IMG_0075I'm a huge fan of real-deal barbecue, and, I'm well-acquainted with most of the conventional, regional styles too:  North and South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee (Memphis), Missouri (St. Louis and Kansas City).  That said, I neither pretend to be nor want to be 'a player' in this particular sport.  I'm merely in awe of the people I know who have mastered and excel at its preparation.  My participation is happily limited to being a free-thinking, cocktail drinking, fair-weather fan.  I'm content to stand on the sidelines, watch intently and learn -- independent of the ever-present, my-way-or-the-highway, holier-than-thou:  barbecue police. I gleefully partake in eating their finished products, relishing in the complex flavors of their rubs and/or mops, but:

IMG_0071More often than not, for me:  it's the sauce that turns me on! 

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times, "almost everything tastes better with a perfectly executed sauce on top of it, underneath it or to the side of it."  I stand by these words with barbecue being no exception.  When I'm eating barbecue, more often than not, it's the sauce that "turns me on".  For every style there is a sauce, and while I know what type of sauce to pair with which each style of barbecue, I also know when not to sauce at all (Texans are crazy).  

That said, when it comes to making barbecue sauces, I'm a hang-onto-the pot and enjoy the ride kinda gal.  I'm an advocate of the don't be afraid to think-outside-the-box "flavored-sauce" category.  The category in which, within each style of barbecue, within reason, it's acceptable to be creative and judiciously add underlying flavors (like chocolate, coffee or cola), exotic spice blends (like Jamaican curry, Japanese 7 spice or Middle Eastern Za'atar), and/or the taste-and-texture of fresh fruits (like berries, stone fruits and apples).  When done correctly, it's game on!  

IMG_7550 IMG_75983-4  tablespoons butter (3 tablespoons if using a round-sided saucier as pictured in this photo, or, 4 tablespoons if cooking in a typical flat-bottomed saucepan)

1  cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion

2-4  large garlic cloves, run through a garlic press

1  12-ounce bottle chili sauce (1, 12-ounce bottle = 1 cup chili sauce)

1  cup ketchup

6  tablespoons full-flavor molasses

6  tablespoons firmly-packed dark brown sugar

6  tablespoons apple-cider vinegar

2  tablespoons yellow mustard

1  tablespoon chili powder

1/2  teaspoon smoked paprika

1  teaspoon cracked black pepper

1/4-1/2  teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, to taste

1/4-1/2  teaspoon hickory-flavored liquid smoke, to taste

3  cups, pitted (absolutely no pits) and coarsely chopped sour cherries, chopped (from freshly picked or frozen and completely thawed cherries

6  tablespoons cherry juice

IMG_7558 IMG_7556~ Step 1. Melt the butter over low heat. Add the diced onion and pressed garlic.  Increase heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is very soft and just beginning to brown, about 6-8 minutes.  Do not over-brown the onion or the garlic.

IMG_7573~ Step 2.  Add all of the remaining ingredients, except for the cherries, and, when you get to the cayenne pepper and liquid smoke, only add 1/4  teaspoon of each initially.  Stir to thoroughly combine.  Bring mixture to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, stirring almost constantly.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue cooking and stirring for 10 minutes.

IMG_0020 IMG_0028Step 3. Stir in cherries and the cherry juice. Return to a gentle simmer and cook 10 more minutes.

IMG_0038Note:  After sauce has simmered 20 minutes, taste. Add additional cayenne & liquid smoke, if needed. Simmer 1-2 more minutes.

IMG_0061Step 4.  Sauce will be thick enough to coat  the spoon.  Turn heat off, cover pan and allow sauce to steep for 1-2 hours, to allow all of the flavors time to marry.  Don't skip this step -- it matters -- trust me.

Note:  Technically the warm sauce is ready to use, but, if you don't like your sauce with a slightly-chunky consistency, which my family insists on, feel free to process it in a food processor or with a stick blender.

Use immediately and/or refrigerate 2+ weeks.  Reheat prior to using.

IMG_0103Savory and Sweet K.C.-Style Cherry BBQ Sauce:  Recipe yields 6 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cherry pitter; cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; 3-quart saucier w/lid, or a 3-4-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; food processor or stick blender (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b0167671a1189970bCook's Note:  For another of my fruityBBQ-type sauces with a Tex-Mex flare, check out ~ Sweet Heat: Strawberry & Guajillo Chile Sauce, or:  Summer Strawberries Never Tasted Sooooo Good! ~ in Categories 6, 8, 13, 20 or 22!

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

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

07/17/2015

~ Andrew's Favorite: His Mom's Cherry Cookie Bars ~

IMG_9986Cherries and cherry desserts -- more specifically sour cherries and sour cherry desserts -- I don't know anyone who doesn't love cherries.  My husband picked 150 pounds of pie cherries from our backyard tree last week, and ever since, I've been "making hay while the sun shines" -- posting as many of my favorite cherry recipes  as I am physically capable in order to use up all of these culinary jewels.  Click on the Related Article links below to get the most recent ones.

IMG_9984Andrew is the Production Manager for WHVL-TV here in State College, PA.  He's the host of their For the Record show, and, the man behind the cameras for my Kitchen Encounters cooking segments on their Sunday morning Centre of it All show too.  For my segment last week, I made cheese-filled blintzes with sour cherry topping.  While chatting about cherries during a break, Andrew mentioned his favorite cherry dessert, he texted mom and she responded almost immediately with her recipe!

A cross between a little cake and a little cookie...

IMG_9965... simple, straightforward, easy-to-make, totally-tasty goodness:

IMG_9874A bit about the recipe and my version of it:  First of all, it is simple and straightforward goodness -- there can never be too many easy-to-make totally-tasty dessert recipes in my food world.  It's fun to watch the batter rise up around pie filling as it bakes, which, to my amazement, happens absent the aid of any leavening agents like baking powder or soda (which I honestly questioned at first).  As for ingredients:  Andrew's mom uses margarine, and I use butter, and, while I currently have a pint of homemade cherry pie filling on- IMG_9497hand in my refrigerator, and I am using it,  Andrew's mom uses a can of pie filling when she doesn't have the time to make, or the cherries to make her own (which, because of the short growing season for cherries, is ok by me).  For flavorings, I use my favorite trio of extracts, flavors that complement a whole host of cherry desserts. Lastly, Andrew's mom uses lemon juice in place of extract, which is pure, simple and classic too!

Andrew's Favorite:  His Mom's Cherry Cookie Bars! 

IMG_98798  ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 cup/2 sticks) 

1 1/2  cups sugar

4  large eggs, at room temperature

2  cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon pure cherry extract

1/2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon: almond extract 

2  cups of my homemade ~ Seriously Simple Stovetop Sour Cherry Pie Filling ~ (Note:  Just click on the Related Article link below to get my recipe.)

No-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting tops of cookie bars

IMG_9881 IMG_9886 IMG_9889 IMG_9895~Steps 1 & 2.  Place butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Starting on low speed of electric mixer and working your way up to high speed, cream the two together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Lower mixer speed to medium and, one at a time, beat in the eggs, beating well after each addition, then, add all of the extracts and beat well again, about 1 minute.

IMG_9898 IMG_9901~ Step 3.  Add flour and salt and continue to beat until a smooth, sticky, spreadable batter forms, about 2 more minutes.  The texture is best described as softer than the average drop-cookie batter and stiffer than the average cake batter.

IMG_9919~ Step 4.  Transfer batter to a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" x 1" baking pan (also known as a standard-sized jelly roll pan) that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  

IMG_9921Using an offset spatula, spread the batter across the bottom of the pan to form a thin, even layer.  

IMG_9930~ Step 5.  Using a sharp knife, lightly score (try not cut through to the bottom but it won't matter of you do as the batter closes up as it bakes) the top of the batter to mark the size  bars or squares you want.

Note:  I have divided the long side of the pan into 8, 2" wide sections and the short side of the pan into 4, 3" sections.  This will  yield 32, 4" x 2" bar shapes.

IMG_9937~ Step 6.  Spoon about 1 tablespoon of cherry pie filling into the center of each bar or square (I place 3-4 cherries on each bar).  Do not press the filling down into the batter.  The batter will bake up around the filling as it bakes.

~ Step 7.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 30-35 minutes, or until the batter is nicely golden and a cake tester or a toothpick inserted into the middle of the batter comes out clean.

Here's what they look like going into the oven:

IMG_9935Here's what they look like coming out of the oven:

IMG_9960Place pan on a cooling rack, about 1 1/2 hours, before slicing...

IMG_9978... and serving with a light dusting of Confectioners' sugar! 

IMG_0002Andrew's Favorite:  His Mom's Cherry Cookie Bars:  Recipe yields 32 bar cookies.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" x 1" baking pan (jelly roll pan); offset spatula; sharp knife; ordinary tablespoon; cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack

IMG_9891Cook's Note:  In the event the occasion you're baking for requires an entire cake, I'd like to suggest you give ~ My Buttery Sour-Cream Sour-Cherry Pound-Cake ~ recipe a try.  It's full of the same flavors and buttery goodness as today's cookie bars.  You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 6, 9, or 19!

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

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