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08/29/2016

~ Batter-Dipped & Deep-Fried Campari Tomatoes ~

IMG_0318Tossing and turning -- I couldn't sleep at all last night.  A lot of "stuff" rattles around in my brain on a daily basis.  Problem is, if I don't let go of "it" before I turn in for the night, I'd be better off not turning in, because: all that "stuff" seems worse -- magnified -- lying in bed in the dark. Last night was one such night, and, in the midst of a host of keep-me-up-all-night issues, wondering if I could deep-fry our homegrown* (read about this below) Campari tomatoes  entered into the mix.

The answer is heck yea:  deep-fried Campari's are great!

IMG_0313The always-in-season "tomato lovers tomato" tomato!

IMG_3536A bit about Campari tomatoes:  Known as "the tomato lovers tomato" (both the name and  slogan are trademarked), they are known for their juiciness, tart and sweet taste without being acidic, and, firm user-friendly texture.  They are deep red in color, round and smallish in size (a little bigger than a golf ball and much smaller than a tennis ball), and, more often than not, sold TOV (tomato on vine).  They've become very popular, especially with tomato lovers like me, because they are available all year long.  Unlike ALL other store-bought tomatoes, they pack all of the flavor of locally grown and backyard garden tomatoes at the height of the Summer season.

IMG_9778*I love Campari tomatoes, and, at some point during the past Winter I asked my husband Joe if it was possible for him to grown some.  He had no luck on an internet and catalog search to buy seeds -- our guess is their trademark prevents the sale of Campari seeds and plants.  So, my man with two green-thumbs dried seeds from a few store-bought Campari's and planted them in little egg cartons in our garage.  They ALL sprouted, and, right now as I type, we've got IMG_978024 plants that are producing about 6-8  pints of ripe tomatoes a day.

Either they are generally easy to grow or Joe's garden and our Central PA climate is the perfect habitat for them.

I'll be taking some to my mom and dad's house this week, have been sharing them with my tomato-loving neighbors (Dick and Carol), and, yes, now, staying awake nights trying to think of ways not to waste one single, solitary one of them.

Deep-fried ripe red or even green Campari tomatoes are diVINE:

IMG_0285When choosing red tomatoes for deep-frying, go with that-day-ripe to slightly-under-ripe, not over-ripe ones (save those past their prime for sauce making).  For lovers of fried green tomatoes, you'll be happy to know they can be batter-dipped and deep-fried too.  Allow me to add my two cents though:  In my opinion the best fried green tomatoes (even the traditional buttermilk, cornmeal and skillet fried ones) are made with green tomatoes that are just at the beginning stages of turning red.  When it comes to green Campari tomatoes, they will be slightly smaller than the red ones, but, that won't affect the deep-frying time at all (1/2-2 minutes).  In the case of both, to insure this even cooking time, choose tomatoes that are 1"-1 1/4" in size.

Setting up the deep-frying assembly line (left to right):

6a0120a8551282970b01901e68dca4970bOne 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 1 cup dry pancake mix.

One medium bowl containing 3 cups pancake mix whisked with 2 1/2 cups beer or buttermilk (Note:  Buttermilk is classic Southern, but both buttermilk and beer add a tangy flavor, and, because I enjoy drinking beer more than buttermilk, that is my choice.)

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 2 cups panko breadcrumbs.

Deep-fryer w/peanut oil heated to 360 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.

5-6 dozen 1"-1 1/4" Campari tomatoes, red or green or a combination of both

Misc:  3-minute timer, Asian spider, cooling rack, paper towels, sea salt grinder.

6a0120a8551282970b01a73dfbc560970dStep 1When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer. Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer (or some water) to maintain a drizzly consistency.

IMG_0288 IMG_0293 IMG_0297 IMG_0301~Step 2.  Rinse and pat the tomatoes completely dry.  Place them in the first dish of dry pancake batter.  Using a large spoon, toss them around to give them a light, dry, floury coating.  Place a toothpick about 1/4" into the stem end of each tomato and dip it in the batter, then dredge it in the panko breadcrumbs.  Note:  When coating the batter-dipped tomato in the panko, take the time to pat and press the crumbs evenly onto the tomato.  After I quickly get some crumbs lightly coated on the surface,  I  "cup" a palmful of panko in one hand, and, holding the skewered tomato in the other, work the tomato around in my palm-of-crumbs to press them firmly on.     

Immediately after coating, (do not wait until you have 1 or 2 more coated), drop the tomato into the hot oil of the deep fryer by removing the toothpick, and coat the next tomato.  Fry the tomatoes, in batches of 2-3 at a time until lightly golden, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.

IMG_0303~ Step 3.  Using an Asian spider or a large slotted spoon, transfer deep-fried tomatoes to a wire cooling rack that has been placed atop a few layers of paper towels. Immediately, grind  some sea salt over their tops.  Repeat this process until all tomatoes are deep-fried.  Note:  I made half a batch today, 2 1/2 dozen.  This recipe yields enough dry dredge, batter and panko to fry 5-6 dozen.

I prefer red to green -- that choice is yours -- green are great too:

IMG_0327Batter-Dipped & Deep-Fried Campari Tomatoes:  5-6 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  2 shallow 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes or 9" pie dishes;  medium-large bowl; whisk; toothpick(s): deep-fryer; 3-minute egg timer; Asian spider or large slotted spoon; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; paper towels; cooling rack

IMG_0129Cook's Note:  These tomatoes are a great appetizer or snack but they need a dipping sauce.  They lend themselves best to creamy, herby concoctions, and I enjoy them the most with my recipe for ~ Mel's "Happy Valley" Ranch-Style Salad Dressing ~ which you can find in Categories 1, 2, 8, 10 17, 19 or 20.

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

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

08/26/2016

~ I'm in the Mood for: Plain-Jane Chocolate Cookies ~

IMG_0270Hold the chocolate chunks, hold the chopped nuts and hold everything you think you can put in a chocolate cookie to impress me.  Don't bother sprinkling them with fancy sea salt, slathering them with caramel frosting or sandwiching them together with a layer of your best buttercream either.  It won't work.  As a well-seasoned foodie who lives in the blog world, where everyone strives to make each and every recipe unique in some way or another, in my kitchen, every once in a while, plain is the best flavor of all -- especially when it comes to these chocolate cookies.

Mostly crunchy, slightly chewy, just like mom used to make.

IMG_0280"Every once in a while, plain is the best flavor of all." ~ Melanie 

IMG_0266Generally speaking, when it comes to "chocolate anything", I don't crave it like most folks do -- I crave, for example, things like, mashed potatoes or french fries, fried chicken or hot dogs, and, rice pudding or a strawberry shake.  That said, I can't pass by a plate of basic chocolate cookies and not want one.  The kind I found in my lunch box at school or was given as a snack afterward. The kind that didn't take my mom five hours and a list of expensive ingredients to make.  The kind that doesn't get entered in a cookie competition but brings a smile to everyones face.  The one that was printed on the back of a tin of Hershey's cocoa powder back in the 1960's.  Sigh.

IMG_02061 1/4  cups salted butter, at room temperature (2 1/2 sticks)

2  cups sugar

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

IMG_02633/4  cup "sort of firmly-packed" cocoa powder (Note:  My mom, and everyone in PA during the '60's and '70's, used Hershey's. Why wouldn't we?  Hershey's is a very-respected Pennsylvania company.  That said, unless you're buying Hershey's Dutch process cocoa powder, Hershey's cocoa powder is not Dutch process cocoa powder, which is why baking soda is used as a leavening agent.  If you choose to use Dutch process cocoa powder in this recipe, that is fine, but, substitute baking powder in place of baking soda.)

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 1/2  teaspoons baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_0207 IMG_0209 IMG_0211~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  cocoa, flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  Line three 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

IMG_0214 IMG_0216 IMG_0219 IMG_0222 IMG_0224 IMG_0226~Step 2.  In a large bowl, place butter and sugar. On high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl almost constantly.

IMG_0226~ Step 3 (pictured above).  Add and beat in the eggs and vanilla extract, about 1 minute.  Mixture will be soft and creamy.  On low- medium-low mixer speed, add and thoroughly incorporate the dry mixture in 2-3 increments, scraping down the sides of the bowl with the spatula constantly, until a thick, pasty cookie batter forms.  Note:  If the batter gets too thick for your hand-held mixer to handle, remove the mixer and fold it in with the spatula.

IMG_0227 IMG_0234~ Step 4. Working one-pan-at-a-time and using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place scoopfuls of dough, well apart, 12 on each pan.  Place the first pan in refrigerator to chill, while scooping the next pan, about 10 minutes. Repeat this "chilling/baking" process with second pan while first pan is in the refrigerator and subsequently in the oven to bake, and, a third time with the third pan.

IMG_0243~ Step 5.  Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  Cookies will be puffed and cracks will appear across the surface. Do not overbake.  Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan for 5-6 minutes prior to transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.  Cookies will and should flatten as they cool.

A beautiful ball of cookie dough ready to go into the oven:

IMG_0235A beautiful puffed-up cookie coming out of the oven:

IMG_0238I'm in the Mood for:  Plain-Jane Chocolate Cookies:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 dozen, 3 1/2"-round, mostly-crunchy, slightly-chewy, plain, chocolate cookies.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 3, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; wire cooling rack; small spatula

IMG_9598Cook's Note:  For a completely-loaded chocolate cookie recipe, complete with chocolate chunks, dried cherries, aromatic spices and a bit of cayenne pepper too, check out my recipe for ~ Loco for Cocoa: Spicy Chocolate Cherry Cookies ~ in Categories 7 or 13.  They're a chocolate-lovers dream come true!

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

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

08/23/2016

~ Jalapeno, Cilantro, Lime & Yogurt Salad Dressing ~

IMG_0196It is salad season.  From the end of July through the end of September, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, onions, all sorts of herbs (and a host of other vegetables) get picked daily, right in my own backyard.  Rare is the day some sort of salad or crudités isn't on our table for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.  It's simply appropriate that a salad composed of the freshest, homegrown ingredients get enhanced by an equally bright and bold scratch-made dressing.

A quick scroll through Category 8 (Condiments, Sauces & Gravies) here on Kitchen Encounters will reveal many of my favorite salad dressings and vinaigrettes, each one appropriate for either a specific salad or a salad geared to pair with a specific cuisine.  I've carefully developed these recipes over a long period of time, as, I take my salad dressings seriously.  Trust me, when I post a salad dressing on my blog, it has my family's whole-hearted stamp of approval on it.

IMG_0197Today's dressing is one that I make often during the grilling and tailgate season, as, Tex/Mex fare is a particular favorite of my family and is very popular with a lot of our tailgating friends too. Almost anything Tex/Mex that can be conjured up requiring a side-salad to complement it, this five-minute-to-make dressing is the ticket for it.  There's more:  It can be used as a dip, a spread, and, it goes great with a variety of meat, poultry, fish, seafood and vegetable dishes too.

IMG_01591  cup plain yogurt

1-1 1/2 cups minced, fresh cilantro (Note:  Since the cilantro is going to be processed, including more stem in your minced cilantro than you normally would in other recipes is just fine.)

1  8-ounce jar sliced, pickled jalapenos, well-drained

1  large lime, all of its zest and all of its juice (Note:  You need 1 tablespoon lime juice.  In a pinch, bottled concentrate is ok.)

1  teaspoon sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

PICT0031Step 1.  Place all ingredients in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  With motor running, process until smooth, 30-45 seconds.  Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate 2-24 hours, and, up to one week.

Note:  This dressing thickens as it chills, and, its flavor intensifies if the flavors are given time to marry, so, if you have the time to make it a day in advance, yes, please do it.

A DIP for my Batter-Dipped Avocado Bites:

IMG_6726

A DRESSING on my Corn Cakes  & BLT Salad:

IMG_0171

A TOPPING for my Chili Cheddar Cheeseburger:

IMG_6481

Jalapeno, Cilantro, Lime & Yogurt Salad Dressing:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; food processor

IMG_0129Cook's Note:  For a kid-tested favorite, my recipe for ~ Mel's "Happy Valley" Ranch-Style Salad Dressing ~ is one that every mom should have in her repertoire.  I can't promise your kids will eat all of their healthy veggie snacks, but they will eat more of them!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie Preschutti/Copyright 2016)