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My Recipes-of-the-Week are featured here on my Home page. You can find 1000+ of my kitchen-tested recipes using the Recipes tab, watch nearly 100 Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV segments using the TV Videos tab, join the discussion about all of my creations using the Facebook tab, or Email your questions and comments directly to me--none go unanswered. "We are all in this food world together." ~Melanie

09/10/2017

~ Chicken, Cheddar, Bacon, Apple & Honey Mustard ~

IMG_3586Write this list of five ingredients down.  Why?  Together, they are a stellar Fall sandwich (or salad) combination.  Piled high between two slices of bread or tossed together in a bowl, along with some thinly-sliced onion and a few greens, they constitute a complete and salivatingly satisfying meal -- savory, sweet, and ever-so-slightly-salty, with plenty of meaty protein, tangy cheese, tart fruit and crisp vegetables.  It all gets pulled together with a drizzly dressing made of honey, mustard and mayonnaise, which complements each and every component perfectly.  

I like to stuff everything into a pita pocket, but, I have been known to serve 'em up on homemade cheddar biscuits, when I've got time and am inclined to bake biscuits.  Served on either, it's an exquisite sandwich.  That said, I put some thought into the "construction", meaning:  the order in which the ingredients would be layered.  While sandwiches can be as simple as "catch-as-catch-can", "grab the stuff and out the door you run", all sandwiches are not created equal:  

Some are hot and some are cold.  Some need to be eaten ASAP and some can be wrapped and transported long distances.  Some are neat and can be picked up to eat, others are sloppy and require a knife and fork.  In the case of this sandwich, I wanted it layered in a manner that kept it from deconstructing itself as I ate it -- I wanted it to stay relatively intact to the very last bite.  

IMG_3575A great sandwich is a properly-constructed sandwich:

For each sandwich:

1  pita pocket, sliced in half to form 2 half-moon shapes

2-3  tablespoons honey-mustard dressing, a generous 1 tablespoon per half sandwich

2  slices sharp yellow cheddar cheese, sliced in half to form 4 triangles, 2 triangles per half sandwich

2  very-thin slices red onion, sliced in half to form 4 half-moon shapes, 2 half-moon shapes per half sandwich

12 thin slices poached or roasted chicken breast, 6 thin slices per half sandwich

2  slices oven roasted bacon or pan-fried bacon, each slice cut into 4 pieces per half 

6  crisp and crunchy, in-season, unpeeled and thinly-sliced, half-moon-shaped apple slices, your favorite Fall apple, 3 half-moon-shaped slices per half sandwich 

4-6 generous tablespoons shredded iceberg lettuce (or your favorite crisp greens), about 2-3 tablespoons shredded lettuce per half sandwich

additional honey-mustard dressing, preferably homemade, for dipping or drizzling

potato chips or potato salad, for accompaniment

IMG_3545 IMG_3549 IMG_3555 IMG_3559~Step 1.  Slice 1 pita pocket in half and open each half up.  Using a teaspoon or a butter knife, slather the inside, top and bottom, of each pita half, with about 1 generous tablespoon honey mustard dressing.  Cut 2 slices yellow sharp cheddar cheese in half to form 4 triangles and layer 2 pieces of cheese in the bottom each pita half.  Cut 2 very-thin slices red onion in half to form 2 half-moon shapes.  Place/distribute 2 of the half-moons, atop the cheese in each half.

IMG_3563 IMG_3569 IMG_3570 IMG_3574~Step 2.  Atop the onion, arrange 6 thin slices poached or roasted chicken breast meat in each pita half.  Atop the chicken, arrange 4 quarter-pieces bacon (1 slice bacon cut into 4 pieces).  In each pita half, arrange 3 thin half-moon shaped apples slices atop the bacon.  Atop the apples slices in each pita half, "stuff" 2-3 tablespoons shredded lettuce.  It's pretty as a picture:

Drizzle w/additional honey-mustard dressing & serve:

IMG_3596Absolutely fantastic to the very last bite: 

IMG_3616Chicken, Cheddar, Bacon, Apple & Honey Mustard:  Recipe yields instructions to construct 1 pita sandwich/2 halves per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; teaspoon or butter knife

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd0c433e970bCook's Note:  Those of you who know me, know I love roasted chicken, and, I truly do roast two chickens almost every week, just to have the meat on-hand for sandwiches and salads.  It's so much better than salty, store-bought deli-meat chicken. During the Fall and Winter months, I love to bake focaccia too, to have on-hand for sandwiches.  Got roasted chicken and focaccia too?  Check out my recipe for ~ Roasted-Chicken Caesar-Salad Focaccia Panini ~. It's more than worth the effort.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017) 

09/07/2017

~ Hey, Honey -- Pass the Honey-Mustard Dressing ~

IMG_3523Honey mustard.  It's one of the simplest condiments in the food world to make, and, I bow to the mustard makers that invented it.  In my kitchen, I use it as a salad dressing, a sandwich spread, a dip for vegetables, and occasionally, a glaze for baked ham.  In the '80's, when my kids were in elementary school, there was always a jar of it on my refrigerator door.  When we were traveling, if an eatery had chicken tenders and honey-mustard sauce on their list of menu options, my three boys were happy campers -- given the choice, all three of them preferred it to ranch dressing, so, that's quite an endorsement.  As for me, I love it on onion rings and Philly-style soft pretzels.

IMG_3500A bit about honey:  The earliest written reference to honey dates back to the Egyptians in 5500 B.C., but, honeybees were making honey long before historical records were written.  Only relatively recently, mid 19th Century, did sugar become available and affordable to the average Westerner.  Prior to that, it was a very expensive luxury for the wealthy, because it had to be imported over long distances. Honeybees native to Asia, were brought to the New World by the Colonists in 1622, and honey was their primary sweetening agent for tea, cakes, cookies and candies. Once it got introduced to the Native Americans, honey became a popular item to trade too.

IMG_3502A bit about mustard:  Mustard is the world's oldest manmade condiment. There are recipes for mustard that date back to 42 A.D. in Roman writings, but, it wasn't popularized until their seeds were exported to Gaul (France).  By the 13th Century, food peddlers were selling their homemade mustard concoctions all over France, and, in the 16th Century, legal protection was given to the mustard makers and their secret recipes (which varied greatly from maker to maker).  In time, a few mustard makers began experimenting with substituting green grape juice ("verjus" -- "green juice") for vinegar, which produced a milder taste we now associate with their white-wine-made Dijon.

IMG_3514A bit about honey-mustard:  It was only a matter of time before the mustard makers added a bit of honey to sweeten their Dijon a bit, to gentle it down even further.  Next, French chef's began adding their mayonnaise (a French invention) to the honey-mustard, along with other ingredients:  various herbs (basil, dill, rosemary, thyme), garlic and even chile peppers for some heat. I'd say that was the unofficial start of the honey-mustard dressing/sauce industry, and, to this day, honey mustard dressing is typically made using just three ingredients: Dijon mustard, honey, and, mayo. That said, there are many types of honey-mustard because there are many types of honey and mustard.

Three seriously basic "staple" ingredients:

IMG_3490Honey + Dijon + Mayonnaise = Honey Mustard Dressing

IMG_3495To make basic honey mustard dressing, in a 2-cup size food-storage container, whisk together:

1/4  cup honey

1/4  cup Dijon mustard

1/4  cup high-quality mayonnaise

Taste.  If you want it sweeter, whisk in more honey, by the teaspoonful, to please your palate.  You've just made honey-mustard dressing.

IMG_3497My favorite add-ins, which are entirely optional, are:

1/8  teaspoon black pepper

1/8  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8  teaspoon paprika, or smoked paprika (if it's a smokey flavor I'm looking for occasionally)

Cover and refrigerate, for at least one hour, to allow the flavors to marry.  The dressing will thicken up a bit in the refrigerator too.

The perfect consistency to drizzle over salad or use as a dip:

IMG_3528Poached or roasted chicken chef salad anyone?

IMG_3534Hey, Honey -- Pass the Honey-Mustard Dressing:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup salad dressing or dipping sauce.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup size food storage container w/tight fitting lid; whisk

IMG_5989Cook's Note:  No matter how easy or complicated, recipes that have a history or a lore are always on my short list of blog posts to share because, for me, they are the most fun to write.  My recipe for ~ Pretty in Pink: Thousand Islands Salad Dressing~ is one such recipe.  It's also yet another salad dressing/sandwich spread/dipping sauce that I am never without.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

09/05/2017

~ Butter-Rum Frosted Banana-Walnut Spice Cookies ~

IMG_3470Spice is nice, particularly in spice cakes and spice cookies, and, when Summer turns to Fall, I find myself gravitating to spiced sweet treats.  I generically refer to them as the "apple pie spices" -- you know the ones -- spice rack essentials.  They're exotic and aromatic, and, they play oh-so-well together:  allspice, cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg.  Sometimes I choose just one or two, other times I use three or four, occasionally I use all five.  That said, I'm always reminding folks to use them judiciously, as, too much of any one, is overpoweringly wrong.

These spice cookies are puffy & light, &, cake-like.  

IMG_3439They soak up milk or coffee faster than crunchy cookies.

These cake-like cookies are lightly and nicely, yet noticeable spiced.  If you're not a fan of cookies with a soft cake-like texture, move along without expressing any criticism.  For a dunker like me, a cake-like cookie soaks up my milk or coffee faster than any crunchy cookie does, and, near the tailend my beverage, it has acquired a pleasant tinge of spice -- spiced milk or coffee -- yum.

IMG_3370For the dry ingredients:

3 3/4  cups all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon baking powder

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon ground ginger

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, place and stir together all of the above dry ingredients.  Set aside.

IMG_3379For the wet ingredients and add-ins:

1 1/2  cups sugar

1/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 stick)

1  large egg, at room temperature

2  teaspoons pure banana extract

1  teaspoon butter-rum flavoring

1 1/4-1 1/2  cups fork-mashed bananas, from 3 large, over-ripe bananas (Tip from Mel:  If the bananas are not soft enough to mash easily with a fork, they are not IMG_3397ripe enough to use for banana bread, cake or cookies.)

1 3/4 cups chopped, lightly-toasted walnuts (total throughout recipe, 1 1/2 cups to add to cookies, and a generous 1/4 cup, reserved and ground, for sprinkling on finished cookies as directed below)

~ Step 2. Chop and place walnuts on a small baking pan as you work.  Place on center rack of 350º oven or toaster oven for 5-6 minutes, until lightly-toasted and fragrant.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool, 20-30 minutes.  Remove and reserve a generous 1/4 cup walnuts.

IMG_3374 IMG_3383 IMG_3388 IMG_3392~Step 3.  Using a fork, in a 2-cup measuring container, mash 3 large, peeled overripe bananas. You should have 1 1/4-1 1/2 cups mashed bananas.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, place the sugar, butter, egg and extracts.  On medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream the ingredients together, constantly scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula for 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Add bananas, increase mixer speed to high and thoroughly incorporate.

IMG_3399 IMG_3401 IMG_3403 2 IMG_3408~Step 4.  Lower mixer speed to medium-low.  In two parts, add the dry ingredients (the flour/spice mixture), mixing thoroughly while scraping down the sides of the bowl with the spatula each time. Remove the mixer.  Add the nuts and use the spatula to fold them into the cookie dough.

IMG_3422 IMG_3423 IMG_3427 IMG_3429~Step 5.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place firmly-packed balls of cookie dough, well apart, 12 on each of three 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.  One-pan-at-a-time, bake on center rack of 350º oven, 12-13 minutes until puffed up through to the center and lightly-browned.  Remove from oven.  Using a thin spatula, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat this process two more times with remaining pans of cookies.  Prepare cream cheese frosting and frost/top cookies as directed below.

Remove from oven & transfer to wire rack(s) to cool...

IMG_3444... prior to frosting & topping cookies as directed below:

IMG_6408For the cream cheese frosting :

8  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1  cup Confectioner's sugar

2  teaspoons butter-rum flavoring

1  tablespoon milk

1/4  cup chopped lightly-toasted walnuts, reserved from above 

IMG_3447 IMG_3452~ Step 1.  In a small-capacity food processor, place the walnuts.  Using a series of of 12-15 rapid on-off pulses, followed by the motor running for 8-10 seconds, grind the walnuts to a fine-grained "sprinkleable" consistency.  Set aside.

IMG_3464 IMG_3453 IMG_3456 IMG_3462~Step 2.  Place the cream cheese, butter-rum flavoring and Confectioners' sugar in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 12-15 rapid on-off pulses, followed by the motor running for 8-10 seconds, process until it's got an ultra-smooth consistency, adding milk, by the teaspoonful, if necessary, to reach the desired consistency -- I added 1 teaspoon today.

IMG_3478~ Step 3.  Place the wire rack of cookies atop a piece of parchment or paper towels.  Using a knife, spread some frosting over the top of each cookie (do not dip the cookie top into the frosting).  While the frosting is still moist, sprinkle ground nuts over the the frosted cookies. The parchment paper or paper towels will collect the excess underneath.  Allow cookies to sit, uncovered, for several  hours, to give the frosting time to set.  

Spread frosting over tops of cookies & sprinkle w/ground nuts:

IMG_3476Fall has arrived.  Are you ready for some spice?

IMG_3482Butter-Rum Frosted Banana-Walnut Spice Cookies:  Recipe yields 3 dozen, 2 1/2"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; small baking pan; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 3, 17 1/2" x 11 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; wire cooling rack; butter knife; mini-food processor; food processor

IMG_6433 IMG_9233Cook's Note: It's never to early to start thinking about your holiday cooking baking.  For two more of my favorite lightly- and nicely-spiced cake-like cookie recipes, one for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas, click on the following links to my posts for:  pumpkin cookies and eggnog cookies.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

09/02/2017

~How to: Make Roasted Chicken Carcass Soup Stock~

IMG_3267As unappetizing as the two words chicken carcass sound, culinarily, those are the words that describe what's left of a boned chicken (what's left after the meat has been removed from the bones), and, truth told, whether the carcass is raw or has been roasted, there is a ton of flavor in those bones.  There's more, and this is important:  Discarding a chicken carcass without extracting the flavor from it is such a waste it should be a crime.  Whether I have raw ones (which I rarely do) or roasted ones (which I often do), even if I don't have time to "deal with them" immediately, I put them in a bag in the freezer and make a date with them for another time.  

IMG_8322One of the benefits of roasting two chickens each week, is my ability to make a lot of "roasted chicken carcass soup stock".  Yes, I really do roast two chickens almost every week.  Rotisserie chicken is not my "gig" -- I find it to be overly greasy and I don't feel well after I eat it. Instead, I choose to put two six-pound chickens on a rack in a pan in a 350º oven for two hours.  When they come out, we enjoy one hot meal (usually with gravy and mashed or roasted potatoes), and, for the rest of the week, I have leftovers for sandwiches and salads.

IMG_3084 IMG_3088 IMG_3091~ Step 1.  Carve and remove the white breast meat and dark leg/thigh meat from both roasted chickens.  Using your fingers, remove and discard as much of the roasted skin from the two carcasses.  Place the carcasses in a 16-quart stockpot.  If the chickens have been roasted as per my directions, there will be some flavorful dripping in the bottom of the roasting pan.  Pour the drippings into a fat/lean separator, add the lean portion only to the stockpot, then, discard the fat portion.

IMG_3096~ Step 2.  To the stockpot with the carcasses and drippings, add:

10  quarts cold water

1  1/2  pounds large whole, peeled yellow or sweet onions

1  1/2-2  pounds whole, peeled carrots*

3/4  pound whole celery stalks

4  tablespoons dried parsley

4  tablespoons sea salt & 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely-ground black pepper

*Note:  If this seems like a case of "carrot excess", it is.  I love lots carrots in my soup, and, since I use this stock to make soup, I cook a lot of them, all at once.  When portioning the stock into containers for the freezer, I place a few whole cooked carrots in each container.

IMG_3099 IMG_3104~ Step 3.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Unlike making soup with meat-on whole chickens or raw chicken carcasses, there will be very little of the whitish/gray foamy matter that floats to the surface.  That said, if some surfaces, use a large slotted spoon or skimmer to remove and discard it.  Adjust heat to a gentle ready simmer. Continue to simmer, uncovered for 3 hours.  The soup will have reduced quite and bit, which will render it tastily rich.  Turn the heat off, cover pot and allow soup to steep for 3 more hours.

IMG_3107~ Step 4.  There will be 7-7 1/2 quarts of perfectly-seasoned chicken-soup stock.  Ladle the stock through a fine mesh strainer into desired-sized food storage containers (for the freezer) or jars (for the refrigerator).  These are 2-quart sized containers into which some of the whole, cooked carrots have been placed.  Use immediately as directed in recipe, or, refrigerate stock for up to 1 week, or keep frozen for 6-8-12 months.

Loads of rich, roasted flavor from roasted chicken carcasses:

IMG_3086Liquid gold-- Perfect for an upcoming chilly day lunch: 

IMG_3257How to:  Make Roasted Chicken Carcass Soup Stock:  Recipe yields 7-7 1/2 quarts perfectly-seasoned chicken-soup stock.  Simply add some diced celery, onion, and/or potatoes and simmer until veggies are tender.  Add cooked homemade egg noodles and it's time to eat.

Special Equipment List:  16-quart stockpot w/lid; fat/lean separator; large slotted spoon or skimmer; soup ladle; fine mesh strainer

6a0120a8551282970b015392bcbb3e970bCook's Note:   Making chicken stock to use all year long is a big event in my kitchen.  I usually make it on one of the coldest days of the year, so that I can use the great outdoors (a secure area on my patio), to refrigerate the entire 24-quart stockpot overnight.  To get my recipe for chicken stock made with whole, meat-on-the-chickens chicken-soup stock, click this link to read my post ~ It's National Chicken Stock Day -- In Mel's Kitchen ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

08/31/2017

~ Say Cheese: How to Make Velveeta from Scratch ~

IMG_3351Scrootch over homemade mozzarella and ricotta -- make some extra space in the cheese section of the refrigerator.  Two days ago, my friend Teresa shared "a link to a link" for today's recipe on Facebook.  I could barely compose myself.  I,  Melanie Preschutti, almost always being of sound mind, always have, and always will be:  a Velveeta cheese lover.  Everything from its pale-orange color to its squeaky-smooth texture and tangy American-processed flavor appeals to me.  

Teresa's Facebook share couldn't have been more timely for me.  The college football season started this week, and, living in one of our nation's premier tailgating towns (State College, "Happy Valley", PA, the home of the Penn State University's Nittany Lions) I'd already proclaimed it "cheese feed week" here on Kitchen Encounters.  I immediately placed Homemade Velveeta on the top of my stack of upcoming blog posts to write, and, it is with great glee, I can report:  

IMG_3344Homemade Velveeta is everything it's "cracked" up to be.

Quoting the linked article written by P.J. Hamel (10/1/14 for the King Arthur Flour blog:  Flourish):  

"The New York Daily News reports Chef Michele Weber, of Manhattan's Upper West Side restaurant Good Enough to Eat, plows through four cases of it a week, making "Crack Dip" and her house special scrambled eggs.  Chef Ron Eyester, from Rosebud in Atlanta, uses it in his restaurant mac and cheese -- it's so creamy -- but doesn't say it on the menu description.  And, last winter, when there was a shortage of this key ingredient just before the Super Bowl, the Today show urged consumers not to resort to hoarding -- their favorite queso dip could be made with substitutes.  You've probably guessed we're talking about:  Velveeta cheese."

Pass or fail, I couldn't resist giving it a whirl today:

IMG_32956  tablespoons dry milk powder

1  1/4-ounce packet (one packet) Knox unflavored gelatin

1  cup boiling water

16  ounces mild orange cheddar cheese, shredded (Note:  I used mild shredded cheddar from a big, 5-pound bag that I purchase at Sam's Club, and, after weighing out 1 pound in a Ziplock bag, I set the cheese on the counter about 30 minutes so it would not be ice cold when I used it.)

IMG_3305 IMG_3307 IMG_3312 IMG_3313 IMG_3315 IMG_3318~Step 1.  Place milk powder and gelatin in a food processor.  Use a series of 5-6 rapid on-off pulses, to briefly combine the two.  With motor running, through the feed tube, add the boiling water in a thin stream and blend until smooth.  Immediately, open the lid, add all of the cheese, return the lid and process until ultra smooth, 20-30 seconds.

IMG_3321 IMG_3324 IMG_3329~ Step 2.  Immediately, using a large spoon or spatula, scoop and divide the mixture into and between 2, 5 3/4"L x 3 1/2"W x 2"D mini-loaf pans that have been lined with plastic wrap with a lot of excess draped over the sides of the pans.*  Gather up the excess plastic wrap and form an airtight seal across the surface of the cheese.  Refrigerate until set, 8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.

*Note:  I decided to use the empty cardboard box from a 2-pound block of Velveeta as my mold.  It worked perfectly, it's reusable, and it's more fun -- I even put the lid on it.

Remove cheese from refrigerator:

IMG_3331Open the box (this is so much fun):

IMG_3334Remove from box & remove plastic wrap:

IMG_3339Use a cheese wire to slice & eat, or, use as directed in recipe:

IMG_3357Tightly wrap leftovers in plastic & store in refrigerator:  

IMG_3368Say Cheese:  How to Make Velveeta from Scratch:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 pounds homemade Velveeta/2 small blocks or 1 large block.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; 1-cup measuring container, 2, 5 3/4"L x 3 1/2"W x 2"D mini-loaf pans, or, the cardboard box bottom from 1, 2-pound block Velveeta cheese; plastic wrap; large spoon or spatula

IMG_3031 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09bebca1970dCook's Note: "Cheese feed week" on KE consisted of recipes for: ~ Southern Comfort: Classic Pimento Cheese Spread ~, ~ Old English Cheese Spread & Crabmeat Canapés ~, ~ Creamy Old English and Pimento Cheese Crab Dip ~. Making homemade Velveeta cheese was the perfect ending -- eternal thanks to my girlfriend Teresa.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

08/28/2017

~ Creamy Old English and Pimento Cheese Crab Dip ~

IMG_3275During the college football season, I add a few staples to my pantry and refrigerator lineup.  When you live in a college town, you never (and I mean never) know when you're going to need to fix a quick appetizer.  I make sure I'm never without pasteurized crabmeat in my refrigerator and Kraft Old English and Pimento Cheese spreads in my pantry.  If the doorbell rings or the fans on the couch run out of wings, I can have crab dip on the cocktail table in about five minutes.

IMG_3284Give me five minutes, I'll make you some great crab dip:

IMG_32691-pound pasteurized crabmeat, drained of any excess moisture

8  tablespoons salted butter, melted (1 stick)

1/4-1/2  teaspoon (a generous/heaping 1/4 teaspoon) garlic powder

1/4-1/2  teaspoon (a generous/heaping 1/4 teaspoon) onion powder

1  5-ounce jar Kraft Old English Cheese Spread, softened-slightly in the microwave

1, 5-ounce jar Kraft Pimento Cheese Spread

1/2  cup high-quality mayonnaise, preferably Duke's or Hellmann's

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a5e3d2970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a5e3ec970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c91b744e970b 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09beb415970d 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a5e405970c~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, place the butter, garlic and onion powders.  In the microwave, melt the butter and set aside.  In a medium bowl, place the crabmeat, Old English cheese spread and pimento cheese spread and mayonnaise.  Drizzle in the melted butter. Using a spoon, thoroughly combine all ingredients together.  Serve immediately and/or keep stored in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.  Serve at room temperature.

Got leftover crab dip?  Try it hot:  

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09bec41d970dBroiled atop toasted English muffins for breakfast:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c91b82a6970bCreamy Old English and Pimento Cheese Crab Dip:  Recipe yields 4 cups dip or spread.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; spoon; 4-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid.

IMG_3031 IMG_3048Cook's Note: When I was a kid, my mom kept the Old English next to the Pimento Cheese  -- on the door of our refrigerator.  I adored them, but, was a young adult when I learned pimento cheese was Southern.  I thought it was Kraft. Live and learn -- I learned how to make my own ~ Southern Comfort: Classic Pimento Cheese Spread ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

08/25/2017

~ Old English Cheese Spread & Crabmeat Canapés ~

IMG_3224These appetizers were one of our Happy Valley tailgate traditions.  I fondly remember one of our members, Joan Reilly, making them for our early AM pre-tailgate tailgates -- prior to leaving for the stadium.  She and her husband Joe lived close to Beaver Stadium, and, it was not unusual for us to meet, as a group, on the cul-de-sac in front of their house, to wait for our friend with the RV to arrive from Harrisburg.  While we were all chatting and sipping Stan's Bloody Mary's, Joan would pass around a baking sheet full of her cheesy English-muffin-based crabmeat canapés.

IMG_3128Crab bites, crab melts, crab toasties, crab melt-a-ways, say-cheese appetizers, English muffin crab cakes.  These are just a few of the names you'll find associated with this vintage (circa 1970's) recipe.

All recipes for  these rely on an English muffin base and a concoction consisting of pasteurized crabmeat and Old English cheese spread.  Some recipes are baked, and others are broiled.  Mine (actually Joan's) is a combination of both.  I lightly toast the muffins first, heap them with the crab mixture, then broil them for a few short moments.  Some folks claim they can be assembled and frozen, to be baked and/or broiled at a later date, but, these "crab thingies" are so gosh darned easy to make, I've never been willing to risk compromising them by freezing.  When I was a kid, my mother kept Kraft Old English cheese spread in our refrigerator right next to their pimento cheese spread.  I like to use 1, 5-ounce jar of each to make my crabmeat canapés -- that choice is yours.

Steaming-hot & straight-out-of-the-oven --

IMG_3241What a yummy little way to start game day.

IMG_31351  1-pound can pasteurized crabmeat, drained of any excess moisture

8  tablespoons salted butter, melted (1 stick)

1/4-1/2  teaspoon (a generous/heaping 1/4 teaspoon) garlic powder

1/4-1/2  teaspoon (a generous/heaping 1/4 teaspoon) onion powder

2  5-ounce jars Kraft Old English Cheese Spread, softened-slightly in the microwave, or, 1, 5-ounce jar Old English + 1, 5-ounce jar Kraft Pimento Cheese Spread, which is my favorite

1/2  cup high-quality mayonnaise, preferably Duke's or Hellmann's

9  Thomas' English Muffins, split to form 12 pieces (Note:  I purchase 9-packs at our local Sam's Club.)

sliced grape or cherry tomato "coins", for garnish

IMG_3142 IMG_3144 IMG_3150 IMG_3154 IMG_3158~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, place butter, garlic and onion powders.  In the microwave, melt the butter and set aside.  In a medium bowl, place the crabmeat, Old English cheese spread and optional pimento cheese spread and mayonnaise.  Drizzle in the melted butter. Using a spoon, thoroughly combine all ingredients together.

IMG_3161 IMG_3168 IMG_3175 IMG_3178 IMG_3183~Step 2.  Using a serrated knife, slice muffins in half.  Don't split them with a fork. Slicing them will yield 12 even-sized halves.  Splitting them will not. In toaster or on rack of toaster oven, toast English muffin halves until nicely-browned.  Place toasted halves on baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.  Using a spoon, scoop 3 tablespoons filling onto the center of each muffin.  Use the spoon to flatten and spread the filling out across the top. Place pan of muffins, 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler, for 3 minutes, watching carefully during the last 30 seconds, as they will go from nicely-golden to horribly burned very quickly.

It's ok eat one whole too, as a breakfast or brunch entrée:

IMG_3194It's just a bigger, yummier way to start game day:

IMG_3211Old English Cheese Spread & Crabmeat Canapés:  Recipe yields 4 cups crabmeat & cheese filling,  enough to top 18 English muffin halves, and, 6 dozen bite-sized appetizers/72 bite-sized triangular-shaped pieces.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; serrated bread knife; toaster or toaster oven; 1, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan, or, 3, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans; parchment paper

IMG_3031 IMG_3048Cook's Note: As mentioned above, my mom kept the Old English next to the Pimento Cheese  -- on the door of our refrigerator.  I adored them, but, was a young adult when I learned pimento cheese was Southern.  I thought it was Kraft. Live and learn -- I learned how to make my own ~ Southern Comfort: Classic Pimento Cheese Spread ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

08/22/2017

~ Southern Comfort: Classic Pimento Cheese Spread ~

IMG_3031When I was a little kid, pimento cheese spread was a staple in our refrigerator -- right next to the Old English cheese spread.  I had absolutely no idea it was Southern.  I thought it was Kraft. To this day, if someone puts a jar on of the store-bought stuff on the table next to a box of Ritz crackers, I'm more than happy to sit down and dig right in.  Slather it between two slices of white bread and make me a pimento-cheese grilled-cheese sandwich and I'll follow you anywhere.

Known as "the caviar of the South, or, "Southern pâté",

IMG_2989pimento (or pimiento) cheese is a Southern thing.

Throughout my adulthood, I've had occasion to travel to various destinations in more than a few Southern states, and, whether I'm looking for it or not, more often than not, pimento cheese appears on pub grub or restaurant menus in some fashion.  Sometimes I don't even have to look or ask for it -- it shows up as a complimentary snack.  No two cooks or establishments make it the same way, some versions are better than others (I'm not a fan of those containing cream cheese), but, rare is the person who doesn't take a liking to it immediately given the chance to sample it.  

Pimentol.pictA bit about pimento cheese:  In its basic form, it consists of few ingredients:  shredded and mashed or processed yellow cheddar and/or processed cheese (like Velveeta), a jar or can of diced or sliced pimentos (a small, 2"-3" wide, 3"-4" long, red, heart-shaped, sweet, succulent pepper), high-quality mayonnaise (Duke's or Hellmann's -- more mayo than you think is necessary), Louisiana-style cayenne pepper sauce and/or Worcestershire sauce, plus, seasonings (like garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper.  Its consistency ranges from ultra-smooth to slightly-chunky. It can be soothingly mild or spicy hot.  

It can be used to make pimento cheese sandwiches or as a spread in all sorts of sandwiches or on crackers, a dip for vegetables (its especially good scooped into a stalk of celery), mixed into deviled egg filling, added to grits, or used as a yummy topping for hamburgers or hot dogs.  

IMG_3126Pimento cheese trivia:  Fancy pimento cheese, finger-food-sized tea sandwiches (with the crusts removed from the white bread) are a signature item served at the Augusta National Golf Club at The Masters Tournament every year.  Controversy arose in 2013 when the golf club switched food suppliers and the new supplier couldn't duplicate the previous supplier's recipe, resulting in sandwiches with a markedly different taste -- it didn't happen twice.  In an episode of AMC's Breaking Bad, Mike Ehrmantraut offers a pimento cheese sandwich to Jesse Pinkman on a stakeout together.  In an episode of AMC's Breaking Bad spinoff show, Better Call Saul, Mike (Ehrmantraut) brings a pimento cheese sandwich to a bodyguard job instead of a weapon.  After binge-watching Breaking Bad in reruns (for the second time) over the past few days, I've got pimento cheese sandwiches fresh on my mind.

IMG_29956  tablespoons high-quality mayonnaise, preferably Dukes or Hellmann's with Dukes being the traditional and Southern favorite

1  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2  teaspoon Louisianna-style cayenne pepper sauce, to taste (optional)

1/2  ounce diced yellow or sweet yellow onion

1  large garlic clove

1/2  teaspoon celery salt

1/4-1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

4  ounces shredded sharp yellow cheddar cheese

4  ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese, with or without Jalapeños, your choice

1  4-ounce jar pimentos, well-drained (Note:  Pimentos are sold sliced or diced, in 2-, 4- and 7-ounce jars.  A 4-ounce jar measures just shy of 1/2 cup, so, if you are measuring from a different size jar, use that amount.  A 2-ounce jar yields a generous/heaping 2 tablespoons.)

IMG_2996 IMG_2999 IMG_3000 IMG_3003~Step 1.  In the work bowl of a small-capacity food processor, place the diced onion and garlic clove.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses, process to just short of a purée, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a small spatula every 5-6 pulses.  Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate for a moment or two, to allow the paper towels to absorb excess moisture. You will have a generous tablespoon of onion and garlic mixture.  Place the pimentos on a paper-towel-lined plate to absorb excess moisture.  Grate the cheeses and set aside.

IMG_3006 IMG_3009 IMG_3014 IMG_3016 IMG_3021~Step 2.  In a large bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, Worcestershire, optional cayenne pepper sauce, celery salt and coarsely-ground black pepper.  Add the grated cheeses and well-drained pimentos.  Throughly fold and stir the mixture together, using the side of the spatula to chop up the cheeses as you work.  Transfer to a 2-cup-sized food storage container, cover, and refrigerate, 2-3 hours or overnight, prior to serving as it is, slightly chunky, or, whirring it in the food processor for a few seconds to give it an ultra-smooth consistency.

Slightly-chunky or ultra-smooth -- it's your choice:

IMG_3048This Yankee gal likes hers smooth -- slathered on a Rtiz:

IMG_3059

Southern Comfort:  Classic Pimento Cheese Spread:  Recipe yields a generous 1 1/2 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small-capacity food processor; paper towels; hand-held box grater; large rubber spatula; 2-cup-sized food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b017d41db380a970cCook's Note:  Next to pimento cheese spread, there is only one cheese concoction that I can't live without.  It's another blast-from-my-past, but I think, ~ Confessions from a Port Wine Cheese Ball Lover ~, is a post you might enjoy reading. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

08/20/2017

~Oatmeal Peanut-Butter Milk-Chocolate-Chip Cookies~

IMG_2969At 6:30AM I took my poodles outside and turned the sprinklers in our vegetable gardens on.  As the water droplets hit the leaves, I watched as the red tomatoes, green basil, purple eggplant and other prime produce started to glisten in the early morning sun.  While walking my pooches back to the house, I decided to bake cookies today.  A girl cannot live on tomato sandwiches and caprese salad forever.  The eggplant will live to see another day too.  It's cookies I crave.

This is the paragraph where I am supposed to divulge where I got this recipe, share a personal story about it and/or report its history.  Truth told, I have no recollection of how I got it (no record of my original source).  That's easy to understand.  Having raised three boys during the 1980's, I have numerous recipes for chocolate-chip-based cookies -- us moms who volunteered to bake for elementary school fundraising bake sales exchanged our cookie recipes freely.  It happened all the time, but, back then, I had no idea I'd be writing a cooking blog someday.  Trust me.  It's an excellent recipe.  Why?  Because it is still in my file.  It's kid-tested and mother approved.

Oatmeal, peanut butter & chocolate chip: 3 favorites in 1 cookie.

IMG_29071/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 stick)

1/2  cup lightly-packed light brown sugar

1/2  cup sugar

3/4  cup crunchy peanut butter

1  large egg

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1  cup unbleached-all-purpose flour

3/4  cup old-fashioned rolled oats, not instant oatmeal

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/4  teaspoon salt

1  cup milk-chocolate chips

IMG_2912 IMG_2916 IMG_2918 IMG_2922~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place butter, brown sugar, sugar, peanut butter, egg and vanilla.  On high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream ingredients together, while scraping sides of bowl down with a rubber spatula, about 1 full minute.  Lower mixer speed to medium and incorporate the flour, baking soda and salt, followed by the oatmeal, scraping down sides of bowl as you mix.

IMG_2923 IMG_2929 IMG_2932 IMG_2937~Step 2.  Remove mixer.  Using spatula, fold in the chocolate chips.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place balls of cooking dough, well-apart, on each of 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment.  Bake, one-pan-at-a-time on center rack of 340º oven, 12-14 minutes, until barely browned.  Remove from oven and cool, in pans, 3 minutes prior to using a spatula to transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely, 1-1 1/2 hours.

Bake in 340° oven, 12-14 minutes, remove from oven & cool in pans 3 minutes, transfer to wire rack to cool completely: 

IMG_2953Crispy outside & chewy inside w/a salty edge -- perfection:

IMG_2983Oatmeal Peanut-Butter Milk-Chocolate-Chip Cookies:  Recipe yields 2 dozen, 3"-round cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d29456a8970cCook's Note:  For generations, we Americans have had a love affair with chocolate chip cookies. Surveys unanimously and overwhelmingly place the chocolate chip cookie at the top of our all-time favorite cookie list for over three-quarters of our population, and, it all started with the all-American Toll House cookie.  Who do we thank for and what's the history behind this iconic cookie?  To find out, read my post  ~ The Original Nestlé's Toll House Cookie Recipe ~.  Trust me. I'm certain you'll find it fascinating.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

08/18/2017

~ Nice & Easy No-Nonsense Quick-Mix Apple Bread ~

IMG_2889Nice and easy, no-nonsense, quick-to-mix.  One bowl, a whisk and a spatula -- no mixer required. Yep.  Those words accurately sum up this recipe, and, the end more than justifies the means, meaning:  it's hard to believe something this easy can taste this divine.  While apple bread isn't the the most photogenic (brown food in general isn't), don't let its monochromatic appearance fool you.  It's dense but not heavy, has a delicately-moist crumb, and, it's bursting with apple flavor -- perfect for any Fall breakfast or brunch buffet table.  Me?  I love it toasted (on the rack of my toaster oven, not a conventional toaster) and slathered with soft, creamy butter.

IMG_2829A 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 double-acting baking powder, or, a combination 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 purée, vegetables, vegetable purée and various liquids (milk, buttermilk, fruit juice or stock).  The wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately, in two different bowls, then briefly stirred together just prior to baking.  FYI:  Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, scones, soda bread and waffles -- they all fall into the quick-bread category too.

IMG_27731  cup vegetable oil

3  large eggs

1  teaspoon pure apple extract (optional)

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  cups sugar

2 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon apple pie spice

3 cups peeled and medium-diced apples, about 3, 8-10-ounce apples

Sugan 'n Cinnamon, for topping loaves

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

IMG_2774 IMG_2780 IMG_2784~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk the oil, extracts and eggs together until smooth. Add the sugar and whisk again, to thoroughly combine.  Set aside 5-10 minutes, to give the sugar plenty of time to dissolve, then whisk again.

IMG_2789 IMG_2790 IMG_2793 IMG_2796 IMG_2799~Step 2.  While the oil mixture is resting, peel and dice the apples.  

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and apple pie spice.  Add half of the flour mixture to the oil mixture. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the flour into the oil.  Add the second half of the flour and repeat, folding until the ingredients are just moistened.  A thick batter will have formed.  Fold in all of the apples.

IMG_2803 IMG_2807 IMG_2808 IMG_2815~Step 3.   Spoon and divide batter between two loaf pans that have been sprayed with no-stick. Generously sprinkle top of each loaf with Sugar 'n Cinnamon.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven, 55-60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and place loaves, in pans, on a wire rack to cool for 15-20 minutes prior to inverting them out of pans onto rack to cool 1 1/2-2 hours, prior to slicing warm or at room temperature.

Bake in 325° oven, 55-60 minutes & cool in pans 15-20 minutes prior to inverting onto wire rack to cool completely:

IMG_2810Dense but not heavy, delicately moist & slathered w/butter:

IMG_2885Nice & Easy No-Nonsense Quick-Mix Apple Bread:  Recipe yields 2 loaves, approximately 10 slices per loaf, depending upon how thick or thin loaves are sliced.

Special Equipment List:  wire whisk; large rubber spatula; 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart loaf pans, preferably glass; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b017c32821725970bCook's Note:  Whether we want to admit it or not, Fall is just around the corner.  Pumpkins are synonymous with Fall, and, my husband Joe grows them in our backyard -- the little sweet "sugar pumpkins" as they are affectionately called.  If you're so inclined, check out my recipe for Joe's Favorite Roasted-Pumpkin Quick Bread.  Paired with today's apple bread, they're a dynamite duo on any breakfast or brunch table.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017) 

08/15/2017

~ Rich, Toasted Indian Basmati Rice Pudding (Kheer) ~

IMG_2650When it comes to worldly or exotic recipes, I always do my research and my best to keep them as close to authentic as I can.  When it comes to Indian food, I always reply upon the advice of my four Indian girlfriends, and the woman who owns Krishan, Happy Valley's Indian grocery store, because you're all such good cooks.  That said, when it comes to kheer, a delicately-spiced addictively-rich rice pudding dessert, if you're one of my Indian girlfriends, you might find yourself wincing in one or two spots while reading my recipe.  Why?  While the flavors in my recipe are authentic enough and the end result divine, I've strayed off the beaten path a bit in terms of the method, because you, my Indian girlfriends, all have a slightly-different way of making it. 

IMG_2656Kheer, also called payasam (which means "milk" in Sanskrit), is one of the oldest desserts in the world, having been made in Indian and neighboring cultures for over 2000 years.  It's a pudding made by boiling ghee-toasted rice, broken wheat, tapioca or vermicelli with cardamom-and-saffron-spiced milk and white sugar, and, it's additionally flavored with plumped raisins and toasted nuts (almonds, cashews and/or pistachios).  Some cooks add cream to the milk for added richness, and, in some regions of India, they use coconut milk to make kheer.  It's perfect at the end of a spicy meal.  In India, kheer is served at festivals, temple, weddings and all special occasions.  Kheer is believed to have come from the city of Puri.  Legend says:  A man who had loaned money and rice to a poor king, took pity on the king when he couldn't repay him in time. The lender requested that the king use whatever he had and make offerings to Krishna, instead of paying him back.  In many temples today, kheer is cooked daily, as an offering to the gods.

It's time to add this American girl's kheer recipe to the internet: 

IMG_26051/2  cup basmati rice

1/4  cup golden raisins

1/4  cup nuts (slivered almonds, chopped cashews &/or chopped pistachios)

2  tablespoons salted butter

3 1/2  cups whole milk, plus 1/2-1 cup additional milk, if necessary, to control consistency

1/2  cup sugar

IMG_26071/2  teaspoon cardamom powder, or, the seeds from 2-3 green cardamom pods, processed to a powder in a spice grinder or pulverized in a mortar and pestle

(Note:  Cardamom powder is traditionally used in kheer.  That said, I am not the biggest fan of the flavor of green or black cardamom -- and if you use too much, your recipe will taste like medicine rather than food.  I have found ginger powder to be a delightful substitution.)

pinch of saffron threads, crushed

additional lightly-toasted nuts (almonds, cashews &/or pistachios), for garnish

IMG_2610 IMG_2613 IMG_2615 IMG_2618~Step 1.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt butter over low heat.  Add rice, raisins and nuts of choice. Increase heat to medium-high and sauté, stirring constantly (like a stir-fry), until rice is lightly-toasted, raisins are plump and nuts are fragrant.  Remove from heat and set aside.

IMG_2620 IMG_2623 IMG_2627Step 2.  In a 4-quart saucepan, place the milk, sugar, cardamom or ginger powder.  Pick up a pinch of saffron threads, whatever you can pick up in your fingertips, and crush it into the milk too.  Take a moment to stir the mixture, to dissolve the sugar.  Over medium heat, bring milk to a boil, stirring frequently.  When boiling milk, it's important to keep an eye on it as it can and will boil over quickly.  Adjust heat to simmer for 15 minutes, to allow milk to reduce by 1/4, thicken a bit, and allow the spices to work their magic.  I started out with 1" of milk in this 4-quart saucepan and now have 3/4".

IMG_2633 IMG_2636~Step 3.  Add all of the toasted rice mixture to the simmering milk mixture and give it a good stir. When the mixture returns to a simmer, continue to cook, uncovered and stirring almost constantly, until rice is very tender and mixture is nicely-thickened, but still a bit soupy, about 30-35 minutes.  If, for any reason, the rice is not very tender, add an additional 1/2 cup of milk and simmer another 5-10 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside about 10-15 minutes, to thicken up a bit more, prior to serving warm.

Note:  Kheer can be served chilled, or it can be chilled overnight and reheated the next day.  To reheat, place 1/2 cup additional milk in a 1-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Stir kheer to the simmering milk and gently reheat, stirring constantly, 1-2 minutes.

Serve kheer warm or chilled -- your choice:

IMG_2661Rich, Toasted Indian Basmati Rice Pudding (Kheer):  Recipe yields 2 cups/4, 1/2 cup servings.

Special Equipment List:  10" skillet; large slotted spoon; 4-quart saucepan

IMG_0354Cook's Note:  I don't profess to be an expert at cooking Indian food, but, thanks to my girlfriends, what I do cook is very, very good.  For another "American girl's take on an Indian classic", I think you'll enjoy my recipe for ~ Easy Indian Curry in a Hurry w/No Worry ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017) 

08/13/2017

~ Hatch Green Chile Chicken Enchilada Tortilla Pizza ~

IMG_2720High-quality made-from-scratch crust, a fresh or slow-simmered sauce and some great melting cheese -- the three components of a well-made pizza.  I'm no slouch when it comes to making homemade pizza, it's one of my favorite past-times for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon -- especially during the football season.  That said, when I've gotta have "a slice", unfortunately, the world will only deliver the entire pie.  That's why I've come up with a few creative ways to make what I refer to as "snack pizza", aka snack-sized pizza, using pita bread, naan, or, flour tortillas.

IMG_2743Mexican-style snack pizza -- Taco Bell made me to do it.

I haven't eaten at a Taco Bell in years, but, it's worth mentioning the first time I ate a Mexican pizza was the first time I ate at a Taco Bell -- and I liked it a lot.    My personal-sized snack pizza came as a pleasant surprise.  It contained refried beans, nicely-seasoned ground beef, cheddar cheese, a few small-diced tomatoes and red enchilada sauce -- all sandwiched between two slightly-crispy flour tortillas.  It wasn't my choice to stop at their drive-thru window on that day, but, I must admit, it indeed inspired me to make many a Mexican snack pizza for our three boys.

IMG_2557 IMG_2385Having just finished cooking and writing two posts about New Mexico's Hatch Green Enchilada Sauce and the the ever-popular kid- and tailgate-tested New Mexico-Style Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, I have just enough of yummy "this" and "that" leftover in my refrigerator to make a really tasty "snack pizza", just for myself, about the equivalent of "two slices of 'za."

That said, when it comes to Mexican-style flour-tortilla pizza in general, I've often made several of them at once (four will fit on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking sheet lined with parchment paper).  Once they're cut into wedges, I place 'em all on a big plate and serve 'em up as super-wonderful appetizers at cocktail or tailgate parties. They're also a great idea for a kids party.  They're fun.

Use the following recipe as a template (a guide, a method).  Pick and choose your favorite toppings -- or use what you have leftover.  Taco Bell copycat recipes use all store-bought ingredients: ground beef or chicken seasoned with Taco seasoning, a can of red enchilada sauce (or a jar of salsa), refried beans and sliced black olives, and, a bag of shredded cheddar.  Don't roll your eyes -- all kids love Taco Bell Mexican Pizza, and, secretly, almost all adults do too.

IMG_2468Note that anything that you would roll up inside a quesadilla, will work in a tortilla pizza and anything you would put on a pizza will work in a tortilla pizza -- it doesn't have to be Mexican fare.  I just happen to have leftover homemade green enchilada sauce, grated Monterey Jack jalapeño cheese, diced tomatoes and minced cilantro, plus, ground chicken filling (from the enchiladas pictured above) -- it's going to be a terrific combination.  I can't wait.

It's easy being green:  Making a 6"-round Mexican tortilla pizza.

IMG_2682For each tortilla pizza (ingredients are in "layering order"):

1  flour tortilla  

1/4  cup refried beans

1 1/2-2  tablespoons Hatch green chile enchilada sauce, preferably homemade

1/2  cup seasoned and cooked ground chicken  

6  tablespoons grated jalapeño Jack cheese  

1  flour tortilla

1 1/2-2  tablespoons Hatch green chile enchilada sauce

6  tablespoons grated jalapeño Jack cheese

1  tablespoon minced, fresh cilantro, for garnish after baking pizza

spicy avocado crema (a mixture of avocado, Mexican crema and Sriracha sauce) and lime wedges, for topping/accompaniments

IMG_1967 IMG_1970 IMG_1974~ Step 1.  Spray an 8" nonstick skillet with no-stick cooking spray and place it over medium-high heat.  Place one flour tortilla in the skillet and spray the top of the tortilla too.  Cook, flipping the tortilla frequently (three-four times), until it is turning lightly-golden and puffing up in random spots across the surface, 1-1 1/2 minutes per side.  Repeat this process with second tortilla (or as many as you are making).

IMG_1965 IMG_2684 IMG_2685 IMG_2688 IMG_2691 IMG_2700~Step 2.  Line a pie dish with parchment paper. Place one tortilla on parchment.  Spread 1/4 cup refried beans across the surface, then spread 1 1/2-2 tablespoons Hatch green enchilada sauce atop the beans.  Sprinkle 6 tablespoons jalapeño Jack cheese over the sauce.  Distribute 1/2 cup chicken filling atop the cheese.

IMG_2693 IMG_2696 IMG_2705 IMG_2707~Step 3.  Place a second tortilla atop filling and spread 1 1/2-2 tablespoons enchilada sauce across the surface.  Distribute 6 tablespoons jalapeño Jack cheese atop the sauce. Bake on center rack of 350° oven 8-10 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly.  Remove from oven and cool for 4-5 minutes prior to garnishing with minced cilantro, slicing and serving.

Bake in 350° oven 8-10 minutes & cool 4-5 minutes:

IMG_2709Garnish w/cilantro, avocado crema & lime -- eat ASAP:

IMG_2727Hatch Green Chile Chicken Enchilada Tortilla Pizza:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1, individually-sized, 6"-round Mexican tortilla pizza/1 serving/4 small wedges per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 8" nonstick skillet; 9" pie dish (for 1 pizza) or 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan (for 4 pizzas); parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09b5cdd1970dCook's Note:  Flour tortillas, along with most types of flatbread, make a delicious base for pizza.  When our garden tomatoes and basil are at their peak (which is just about two weeks from now) I make a fantastic tomato-basil pita pizza to snack upon on an almost daily basis.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017) 

08/10/2017

~ Red or Green: New Mexico-Style Enchilada Sauce ~

IMG_2599Red or green?  That's the question you'll be asked in every New Mexican restaurant.  In fact, New Mexico is the only state in the USA that has an official state question:  "Red or Green?"  I learned that on my first trip through New Mexico, and, I was further told, "if you're not asked this question in a New Mexican restaurant, you're not eating New Mexican food."  While many of us out-of-staters (who love our Mexican and Texican fare) generically refer to this type of red or green chile pepper- or powder-based sauce as "enchilada sauce", and, mistakenly assume it's reserved for enchiladas, in New Mexico, you'll learn that almost everything gets smothered in it.  You name it, the dish gets sauced.  Can't decide?  Just answer "Christmas" -- they'll bring you both.

IMG_1907Enchiladas are one of those Tex-Mex specialties that taste a bit different everywhere you eat them.  In a Mexican-American restaurant or in the home kitchen, they are lightly-fried corn tortillas that have been dipped in either a deep reddish-brown chili-powder-based sauce, or, a roasted green chile and tomatillo-based sauce.  After that, they're filled, rolled up, topped with cheese and baked.  The filling can consist of a seemingly endless variety of meats (beef, chicken or pork), fish or seafood, cheese and/or beans and/or various other vegetables (for a vegetarian option).

IMG_2588The word "enchilada" comes from the Spanish word "enchilar" which means "to add chile pepper to" as well as "to season or decorate with chile pepper".  In English, the phrase "the whole enchilada" means "the whole thing" or "the entire situation".  In Mexico, they're sold by vendors in the streets, much like hot dogs are sold in the United States.  The practice of rolling maize (corn) tortillas around other food dates back to Mayan times.  In their original form, enchiladas were simply corn tortillas dipped in chili sauce and eaten without fillings. There are many varieties of enchiladas, which are distinguished primarily by the sauce (most commonly a red chile and/or tomato-based sauce or a green chile and/or tomatillo sauce). That said, if you're not using corn tortillas to make your enchiladas, technically speaking, you're not making enchiladas.

Chil"e" or Chil"i" -- know the spelling, know what's in it:

Depositphotos_1944824-Red-and-green-chili-peppersCHILE:  Spelled with an "e" at the end, refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod or fruit of any member of the pepper family (example:  chile peppers grow in the garden).

CHILI:  Spelled with an "i" at the end, refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers (example:  white chicken chili, chili con carne, chili sauce).

CHILE POWDER:  When spelled with an "e" at the end, means it is a powder made from one or more types of dried chiles exclusively.  This is sometimes referred to or marketed as POWDERED CHILES, or CHILE BLEND (if it contains more than one kind of chile powder).

CHILI POWDER:  When spelled with an "i" at the end means it is a mixture of chile powder and ground, dried spices (common examples:  ground cumin, garlic and/or onion powder), meaning: the manufacturer has added various spices to pure chile powder or a blend of chile powders.

A bit about Easy New Mexico-Style Red Chile Enchilada Sauce:

IMG_1650Red enchilada sauce, also referred to as "red chile gravy" is said to be the heart and soul of Tex-Mex cuisine, and, it isn't reserved solely for enchiladas -- it's often served with burritos, tamales and other Tex-Mex specialties.  As for its history, the rich, brownish-red flour-roux based gravy is described as neither truly Mexican nor American (it's Mexican-American).  It's said to have been invented by Anglo-owned Mexican restaurants in San Antonio, Texas.  Recipes for it have been in print since the early 1890's, and, by the 1900's, "enchilada sauce" was being sold in cans.

New Mexico is known for its fresh and dried red chile peppers, so, it should come as no surprise that any recipe for New-Mexico-style red enchilada sauce would revolve around high-quality chile powder, most commonly:  ancho, guajillo and/or New Mexico chile powder (which is pricier than generic chili powder).   Some versions of this sauce contain tomatoes, tomato sauce, or, tomato paste, which add acidy tang and gives it a brighter red color -- my version does not.  I fell in love with New Mexico-style red chile enchiladas in San Antonio, Texas, and, I was told the bold-flavored amber-red sauce (that I couldn't get enough of), got its tang from vinegar, and its color from chile powder -- not tomatoes.  I didn't question it.  I went shopping for chile powder.

I don't proclaim my recipe "easy" because I have an easy or easier version of a hard recipe. I'm saying it's "easy" because:  it is easy.  It's so easy, I don't understand why anyone who loves enchiladas with red sauce would purchase any of the brand name enchilada sauces (and there are plenty to choose from) -- unless they don't realize how quick and easy red enchilada sauce is to make.  I know, because for a number of years I bounced around from label to label, sampling store-bought brands, trying to find "the one just for me" in which "the spice was right". 

A bit about New Mexico's Green Hatch Chile Enchilada Sauce:

IMG_2385In New Mexico chile peppers grow in abundance everywhere.  It's believed they were brought to NM, from Central America, by the Spanish, in the 1500's.  The most common New Mexican chile is long, narrow and picked while green and is mostly grown from much-coveted heirloom seeds.  

Hatch-chile-split"New Mexico chiles" can be from anywhere in New Mexico, and, when buying any green or red NM chiles, they're usually offered up as mild, medium, hot, or extra hot, meaning:  not as a specific variety. That said, the Hatch chile is from Hatch, a small village in the southern part of the state, and, while it's not a variety of chile pepper, both inside and outside the state of New Mexico, it's sold as a "Hatch chile". It's become so popular that every Labor Day weekend, Hatch, known as the Chile Capital of the World, hosts the Hatch Chile Festival, which draws more than 30,000 people each year.

What's the difference between red & green enchilada sauce?

IMG_2311New-Mexico-style red enchilada sauce uses red ingredients: red chiles or red chile powder and/or red tomatoes. Their green enchilada sauce uses green ingredients:  green chiles or green hatch chiles and tomatillos.  Both contain spices, garlic and/or onion, and vinegar, and, like salsa, they can be enjoyed raw or cooked.  A common misconception is:  green chile sauce is mild and red chile sauce is hot.  Not true.  Both range from mild and soothing to knock-your-socks-off hot.

TomatilloTomatillo, also called "tomate verde", means "husk tomato" with "verde" meaning "green" in Spanish. The tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family, which, while related to the red tomato family, and remarkably similar in appearance to the green tomato, cannot be used interchangeably with green tomatoes.  It's a staple in every Tex-Mex gardener's garden.  The fruit of the tomatillo is green and relatively small compared to red tomatoes (about the size of a large, cherry tomato).  They grow to maturity inside of an inedible husk (which gets disgarded), and, range in color from pale green to  light brown.  The tomatillo is a staple in Mexican ethnic cuisine.

IMG_2303That said, here in Happy Valley, fresh tomatillos are sometimes hard to find, and, even when I find them, it's always a bit of a hassle to ask the produce manager if I can peel back the husks to insure the fruit is firm (not squishy) and ripe (green).  

In case you don't know, always look for tomatillos that have filled their husks or broken through their husks (photo to right) -- no matter their size, this means they're fully mature. Avoid tomatillos that look withered or dried out (see photo below).

IMG_2306Once you get them home, remove the husks and rinse the tomatillos off (because they will be sticky), then use them as directed (which typically requires simmering or broiling as the first step) and/or store in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life.  That said, high quality canned tomatillos are a staple in my pantry. They've already been simmered until soft -- all I have to do is thoroughly drain them. Speaking in approximations, I've deduced:

one 28-ounce can = 2 pounds fresh

New Mexico-style red & green "enchilada sauces" are both relatively simple to prepare w/the green sauce being more refined & requiring a tad (not much) more effort.

My green enchilada sauce starts out in the food processor, simmers on the stovetop, then, ends up back in the food processor at the end.  It's easy, it just takes more time than the 15 minutes it takes me to make red enchilada sauce.  I use chicken stock to make it, because I like green sauce served with chicken enchiladas, whereas I use beef stock in my red sauce, because I like it served with my recipes for beef and cheese enchiladas. In a stockpot:  Use beef, chicken or vegetable stock to make red or green enchilada sauce, depending on what filling you're making. 

Meet my Spicy Ground Beef Enchiladas:

IMG_1802Meet my Cheese Corn & Bean Enchiladas:

IMG_1917Meet my Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas:

IMG_2567"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipes, Commentary & Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

08/08/2017

~ New Mexico-Style Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas ~

IMG_2557Enchiladas are one of those Tex-Mex specialties that taste a bit different everywhere you eat them.  In a Mexican-American restaurant or in the home kitchen, they are lightly-fried corn tortillas that have been dipped in either a deep reddish-brown chili-powder-based sauce, or, a roasted green chile and tomatillo-based sauce.  After that, they're filled, rolled up, topped with cheese and baked.  The filling can consist of a seemingly endless variety of meats (beef, chicken or pork), fish or seafood, cheese and/or beans and/or various other vegetables (for a vegetarian option).

IMG_1803The word "enchilada" comes from the Spanish word "enchilar" which means "to add chile pepper to" as well as "to season or decorate with chile pepper".  In English, the phrase "the whole enchilada" means "the whole thing" or "the entire situation".  In Mexico, they're sold by vendors in the streets, much like hot dogs are sold in the United States.  

The practice of rolling maize (corn) tortillas around other food dates back to Mayan times.  In their IMG_1933original form, enchiladas were simply corn tortillas dipped in chili sauce and eaten without fillings. There are many varieties of enchiladas, which are distinguished primarily by the sauce (most commonly a red chile and/or tomato-based sauce or a green chile and/or tomatillo sauce). That said, if you're not using corn tortillas to make your enchiladas, technically speaking, you're not making enchiladas.

IMG_1650In my Happy Valley kitchen, the two kid- and tailgate-tested favorites for my New Mexico-style Red Chile Enchilada Sauced enchiladas are ground beef, lots of onion and green chiles, and, grated cheese, black beans and sweet corn -- the two pair well together on the same plate too. The favorite filling for my New Mexico-style Green Hatch Chile Enchilada Sauced enchiladas is coarsely ground chicken, lot of onions and green Hatch chiles. There's more.  While we IMG_2385prefer our chicken enchiladas smothered in green enchilada sauce, we also prefer our green sauced-chicken enchiladas made with flour, not corn tortillas.  For authenticity sake, feel free to to use corn tortillas -- they'll turn out great.  My green enchilada sauce starts out in the food processor, simmers on the stovetop, then, ends up back in the food processor at the end.  I use chicken stock to make it, but, feel free to use beef or vegetable stock, depending upon the filling you are using.

Part One:  Making the Chicken, Onion & Green Chile Filling

IMG_2468FYI:  I make 12 cups & freeze 8 cups for two more meals.

IMG_2417For 8 cups of the chicken mixture:

2  tablespoons neutral-flavored cooking oil (avocado, canola, corn or vegetable, etc.)

3  pounds chicken tenders

12  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

16  ounces Santé Fe Seasons Hatch green chiles, hot or medium, your choice, or, canned green chiles (your favorite brand) (Note:  The Hatch green chiles I order from Apple Canyon Gourmet, are roasted and contain garlic and lime juice, instead of vinegar, which I like a lot, and, their product is far and above better than other store-bought brands.)

IMG_2420 IMG_2423Step 1.  Cut the chicken tenders into 1"-1 1/2" chunks and place them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses, coarsely-grind the chicken.  Do not over process the chicken.  

Note:  My large-capacity Cuisinart DLC-X Plus food processor easily grinds 3 pounds of meat or poultry chunks in one batch.  If using a smaller food processor, grind the chicken in 2-3 batches. 

IMG_2425 IMG_2427 IMG_2430 IMG_2433~Step 2.  Place oil and chicken in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with straight, deep sides.  Dice the onion, adding it to pan as you work.  Add the garlic powder, cumin, salt and pepper.  Using a large spoon or spatula give the mixture a thorough stir (to incorporate onion and spices throughout).

IMG_2435 IMG_2438 IMG_2439 IMG_2441~Step 3.  Adjust heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is just cooked through, onions are very soft and there is almost no liquid remaining in the bottom of the pan, about 15-18 minutes, lowering the heat as necessary so the chicken remains steamy and moist.

IMG_2445 IMG_2448 IMG_2450~ Step 4.  Turn heat off. Add and stir the green Hatch chiles into the steaming hot meat mixture. Remove from heat. There's no need to cook the chiles, they were previously cooked during the canning process.

Go ahead, take a taste, it's scrumptious:

IMG_2455Part Two:  Assembling & Baking the Enchiladas

Before starting, it's worth mention that I use 2, 8" x 8" x 2" square casserole dishes, rather than 1, 13" x 9" x 2" dish, to make 12 enchiladas.  They fit in the two pans perfectly without squeezing them to oblivion, and, they bake up perfectly.  Next.  I don't dip my corn tortillas in the sauce, which gives them a heavy coating, because my homemade sauces are bolder-flavored than watered-down store-bought versions.  After frying the tortillas, I prefer to use a pastry brush to paint them, on both sides, with the sauce.  It works nicely.  One more item.  I fry my corn or flour tortillas one-at-a-time in a small skillet, not all-at-once on a griddle -- it controls the texture better.

IMG_2473For the assembly:

12  6"-round flour tortillas

1 1/2 cups my recipe for New Mexico's Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Sauce (store-bought enchilada sauce will be a compromise)

3  cups grated jalapeño Jack cheese

no-stick cooking spray

an array of your favorite toppings (shredded iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes, scallion tops, cilantro, Mexican crema or sour cream and/or guacamole)

IMG_2475 IMG_1967 IMG_1970 IMG_1974~Step 1.  Spray the inside of 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes with no-stick cooking spray, then, add and evenly distribute 1/4 cup of enchilada sauce into the bottom of each dish.  Spray the bottom of an 8" nonstick skillet with no-stick spray and place it over medium heat.  Place one flour tortilla in the skillet and spray the top of the tortilla too.  Cook the tortilla over medium heat, flipping it over once or twice, until it is soft, pliable and starts to bubble up in random spots throughout its center, about 1 1/2-2 total minutes.  Transfer the tortilla to a plate and repeat process with remaining tortillas (spraying and cooking), stacking the warm tortillas on the plate as you work.

IMG_2481 IMG_2483 IMG_2486 IMG_2488~Step 2.  Working one-tortilla-at-a-time and using a pastry brush, generously paint both sides of tortilla with enchilada sauce. Distribute 1/3 cup ground chicken filling lengthwise across the center.  Lastly, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of grated Jack cheese on top of the poultry.

IMG_2493 IMG_2495 IMG_2497 IMG_2501~Step 3.  Roll each enchilada up and place, seam-side-down, in baking dish.  Continue filling and rolling until six enchiladas are filled, rolled and placed side-by-side, seam-side-down, in each dish. Evenly drizzle and distribute 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce over the tops of enchiladas in each dish. Sprinkle a generous 1 cup of remaining grated cheese over the tops of enchiladas in each dish. Bake on center rack of 350° oven, until bubbling and cheese is melted, 18-20 minutes.

Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 18-20 minutes:

IMG_2519Serve ASAP w/your favorite "green stuff":

IMG_2567Go ahead, take a taste, they're scrumptious! 

IMG_2582New Mexico-Style Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas:  Recipe yields 12 cups filling (enough to fill 36 enchiladas (I freeze 8 cups, in 2, 4-cup containers, enough for two more meals)/12 enchiladas/4-6 servings/2-3 per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon &/or spatula; large slotted spoon; 8" nonstick skillet; pastry brush; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes

IMG_2177Cook's Note:  Can't make up your mind between guacamole or Mexican crema?  Whir them up together in a food processor with a bit of Sriracha sauce and give my recipe for ~  Spicy Avocado Crema: Avocado, Crema & Sriracha ~ a try. It's luxuriously smooth, refreshingly cool, and, there's just enough vinegary spice in the Sriracha to make it addictively interesting.  Live dangerously -- cha, cha, cha!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

08/06/2017

~ New Mexico's Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Sauce ~

IMG_2385Red or green?  That's the question you'll be asked in every New Mexican restaurant.  In fact, New Mexico is the only state in the USA that has an official state question:  "Red or Green?"  I learned that on my first trip through New Mexico, and, I was further told, "if you're not asked this question in a New Mexican restaurant, you're not eating New Mexican food."  While many of us out-of-staters (who love our Mexican and Texican fare) generically refer to this type of red or green chile pepper- or powder-based sauce as "enchilada sauce", and, mistakenly assume it's reserved for enchiladas, in New Mexico, you'll learn that almost everything gets smothered in it.  You name it, the dish gets sauced.  Can't decide?  Just answer "Christmas" -- they'll bring you both.

A bit about New Mexican chile (w/an "e") peppers:

RedGreenWebChile with an "e", is the fruit of the Capsicum plant and New Mexico is known for its fresh and dried red and green chile peppers -- they grow in abundance everywhere and it's believed they were brought to NM, from Central America, by the Spanish, in the 1500's.  The most common New Mexican chile is long, narrow and picked while green Hatch-chile-split(similar in appearance to the Anaheim) and is mostly grown from heirloom seeds.  "New Mexico chiles" can be from anywhere in New Mexico, and, when buying any green or red NM chiles, they're usually offered up as mild, medium, hot, or extra hot, meaning:  not as a specific variety.  That said, the Hatch chile is from Hatch, a small village in the southern part of the state, and, while it's not a variety of chile pepper, both inside and outside the state of New Mexico, it's sold as a "Hatch chile".  It's become so popular that every Labor Day weekend, Hatch, known as the Chile Capital of the World, hosts a Hatch Chile Festival, which draws more than 30,000 people each year.

"e" or "i" -- know what the spelling means & you'll know what's in it:

CHILE:  Spelled with an "e" at the end, refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod or fruit of any member of the pepper family (example:  chile peppers grow in the garden).

CHILI:  Spelled with an "i" at the end, refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers (example:  white chicken chili, chili con carne, chili sauce).

CHILE POWDER:  When spelled with an "e" at the end, means it is a powder made from one or more types of dried chiles exclusively.  This is sometimes referred to or marketed as POWDERED CHILES, or CHILE BLEND (if it contains more than one kind of chile powder).

CHILI POWDER:  When spelled with an "i" at the end means it is a mixture of chile powder and ground, dried spices (common examples:  ground cumin, garlic and/or onion powder), meaning: the manufacturer has added various spices to pure chile powder or a blend of chile powders.

What's the difference between red & green enchilada sauce?

IMG_2311New-Mexico-style red enchilada sauce uses red ingredients: red chiles or red chile powder and/or red tomatoes. Their green enchilada sauce uses green ingredients:  green chiles or green hatch chiles and tomatillos.  Both contain spices, garlic and/or onion, and vinegar, and, like salsa, they can be enjoyed raw or cooked.  A common misconception is:  green chile sauce is mild and red chile sauce is hot.  Not true.  Both range from mild and soothing to knock-your-socks-off hot.  

TomatilloTomatillo, also called "tomate verde", means "husk tomato" with "verde" meaning "green" in Spanish. The tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family, which, while related to the red tomato family, and remarkably similar in appearance to the green tomato, cannot be used interchangeably with green tomatoes.  It's a staple in every Tex-Mex gardener's garden.  The fruit of the tomatillo is green and relatively small compared to red tomatoes (about the size of a large, cherry tomato).  They grow to maturity inside of an inedible husk (which gets disgarded), and, range in color from pale green to  light brown.  The tomatillo is a staple in Mexican ethnic cuisine.

IMG_2303That said, here in Happy Valley, fresh tomatillos are sometimes hard to find, and, even when I find them, it's always a bit of a hassle to ask the produce manager if I can peel back the husks to insure the fruit is firm (not squishy) and ripe (green).  

In case you don't know, always look for tomatillos that have filled their husks or broken through their husks (photo to right) -- no matter their size, this means they're fully mature. Avoid tomatillos that look withered or dried out (see photo below).  

IMG_2306Once you get them home, remove the husks and rinse the tomatillos off (because they will be sticky), then use them as directed (which typically requires simmering or broiling as the first step) and/or store in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life.  That said, high quality canned tomatillos are a staple in my pantry. They've already been simmered until soft -- all I have to do is thoroughly drain them. Speaking in approximations, I've deduced:

one 28-ounce can = 2 pounds fresh 

New Mexico-style red & green "enchilada sauces" are both relatively simple to prepare w/the green sauce being more refined & requiring a tad (not much) more effort.

My green enchilada sauce starts out in the food processor, simmers on the stovetop, then, ends up back in the food processor at the end.  It's easy, it just takes quite a bit more time than the 15 minutes it takes me to make red enchilada sauce.  I use chicken stock to make it, because I like green sauce served with chicken enchiladas, whereas I use beef stock in my red sauce, because I like it served with my recipes for spicy ground beef enchiladas and cheese, corn and bean enchiladas. In a stockpot:  Use beef, chicken or vegetable stock, depending on the filling.

IMG_23232  tablespoons neutral-flavored cooking oil (avocado, corn or vegetable, etc.)

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

3  large,  whole, peeled garlic cloves, smashed & minced

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce & Gravy

1  14-ounce can tomatillos, well-drained

1  cup Santé Fe Seasons Hatch green chiles, hot or medium, your choice, or, canned green chiles (your favorite brand) (Note:  The Hatch green chiles I order from Apple Canyon Gourmet, are roasted and contain garlic and lime juice, instead of vinegar, which I like a lot, and, their product is far and above better than other store-bought brands.)

1  large, green jalapeño pepper, seeds and white rib sections removed, coarsely-chopped

1 cup minced cilantro leaves, some stems are ok

2  teaspoons fresh lime juice

1  14 1/2-ounce can chicken stock

2  teaspoons ground cumin

1  teaspoon dried Mexican oregano leaves

2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_2325 IMG_2327 IMG_2331 IMG_2333~Step 1.  Place the oil, diced onion and minced garlic in a 3-quart saucier or saucepan over medium-high heat.  Sauté until onion and garlic are tender, about 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for another full minute.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_2334 IMG_2338~ Step 2.  Place tomatillos, Hatch chiles, jalapeño, cilantro and lime juice in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, followed by the motor running for 15-20 seconds, process to a purée.

IMG_2341 IMG_2345 IMG_2352 IMG_2355~Step 3.  Stir the purée into the onion and garlic mixture in the saucier, then add the chicken stock, cumin, Mexican oregano, sugar, salt and black pepper.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, adjust heat to a steady simmer, and continue to cook until nicely thickened, 25-30 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover, and allow to cool 25-30 minutes.

Take a taste & adjust seasoning if necessary...

IMG_2363... but you won't have to.  It's divine.

IMG_2368 IMG_2370 IMG_2377~ Step 4.  Return sauce mixture to the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  With motor running, purée, 30-45 seconds.  You will have 3 cups of New Mexico-style green chile "enchilada" sauce.  Cha-cha-cha!

Enjoy a taste of New Mexico's finest.  Chips & dip tonight -- Green Hatch Chile Chicken Enchiladas tomorrow!

IMG_2404New Mexico's Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Sauce:  Recipe yields 3 cups "enchilada" sauce, which freezes well.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3-quart saucier or stockpot w/lid; large spoon; food processor

IMG_1650Cook's Note:  I don't proclaim my recipe for ~ Easy New Mexico-Style Red Enchilada Sauce ~ easy because I make an easy version of a hard recipe.  This chile powder-based sauce is so easy to make, I haven't a clue why folks purchase any watered-down canned versions.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

08/03/2017

~ She's Gone Bananas: Banana-Walnut Bundt Cake ~

IMG_2131How many bananas can a gal put into a bundt cake?  Every time I bake this banana cake, I push the envelope a little farther, and, today I used the entire bunch.  Six bananas.  It yielded a total of 3 cups mashed bananas, and, the recipe, which started out using 1 3/4-2 cups, came out super-moist and full-flavored -- just perfect.  Often times, this is how recipes are developed or improved upon (by trial, error and gutsy experimentation).  That said, me thinks I'll stop improving this one.

IMG_2140The original recipe came from my mother's recipe box and I'm pretty certain she got it from her mother.  Why?  Because my grandmother, a woman who cooked her way through the depression, used oil instead of butter to bake most of her cakes (even after the depression, she still used oil). If you're thinking oil is a compromise, you're wrong.  It makes for a very moist cake.  My mom made banana cake often because dad loved bananas and all things bananas.  Mom made it in a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan, so, if you'd rather a sheet cake than a bundt cake, it will work just fine.

Rather make a sheet cake?  Bake it in a 13" x 9" x 2" pan.

IMG_2054For the banana-walnut cake:

2 1/2  cups chopped walnuts, lightly toasted (total throughout recipe, 2 cups for the cake + 1 cup for the topping)

2 3/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  cups sugar

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon salt

3  large eggs

2 3/4-3 cups mashed banana purée  (from 5-6 large, very ripe, peeled and sliced bananas)

2  teaspoons pure banana extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4  cup vegetable oil

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8f38a50970bFor the cream cheese glaze & walnut topping:

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons butter-rum flavoring

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  tablespoons milk, plus 1-2 teaspoons more, if necessary

1/2  cup lightly-toasted and finely-ground walnuts

IMG_8357 IMG_8359 IMG_8368 IMG_8369~Step 1.  Coarsely chop the walnuts.  Place nuts in a small, shallow baking pan.  Roast nuts on center rack of 350° oven, until fragrant and lightly-toasted, about 5-6 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.  While nuts are toasting, in a medium mixing bowl, on medium speed of hand-held electric mixer, purée the sliced bananas.*  Measure 3 cups of the bananas, then add and stir both extracts into the bananas.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, using a fork, whisk the eggs.

*Note:  Bananas don't need to be a smooth purée.  Small bits of fruit laced throughout is perfect.

IMG_2059 IMG_2064 IMG_2067 IMG_2070~Step 2.  In a large bowl, using a large rubber spatula, place and stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the beaten eggs, followed by the banana purée, then, using the spatula fold the mixture together until roughly moistened.  On medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, add and thoroughly incorporate the vegetable oil, about 1 minute.

IMG_2073 IMG_2077 IMG_2085Step 3.  Using the rubber spatula, fold in 2 cups of the lightly-toasted chopped walnuts (set the remaining 1/2 cup walnuts aside and use as directed below).  Transfer/pour batter into a 12-cup bundt pan that has been lightly sprayed with no-stick.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven 55-60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean.  Remove from oven, place on a wire rack and cool, in pan, 15 minutes.  Invert cake onto wire rack to cool completely, 2-3 hours.

IMG_2091 2To prepare the cream cheese glaze & walnut topping:

IMG_8410 IMG_8412 IMG_8415 IMG_8420~Step 1.  To prepare the cream cheese glaze and pecan topping, if you have a small, "mini" food processor, now is the time to use it.  Place the remaining 1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts in the work bowl and using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process them to small bits and pieces.

IMG_8431 IMG_8434 IMG_8441 IMG_8445~Step 2.  In a food processor fitted with steel blade, place confectioners' sugar, cream cheese, banana and vanilla extracts and 2  tablespoon milk.  Starting with 5-10 on-off pulses and then with the motor running, process for 25-30 seconds until smooth and drizzly.  If necessary, through feed tube, add 1-2 teaspoons additional milk, until desired consistency is reached.

IMG_2100Step 3.  When the cake has cooled completely, and with the cake still sitting on the wire rack: holding your hand 4"-6" above the surface of the cake and moving it (your hand) back and forth, in a slow, steady, stream, drizzle the glaze over the cake, while turning the wire rack about 1/4" with every back-and-forth drizzle, until all the glaze is gone.  While glaze is still moist/sticky, sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top.  Allow glaze to harden a bit prior to slicing cake, 1-2 hours.

Go bananas.  Banana-walnut bundt cake.  Simply irresistible...

IMG_2107... & scrumptious from first bite to last:

IMG_2146She's Gone Bananas:  Banana-Walnut Bundt Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16-20 servings (depending upon how thick or thin you slice the cake).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small baking pan; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 2-cup measuring container; 1-cup measuring container; fork; whisk; 12-cup bundt pan; wire cooling rack; cake tester; mini-food processor; food processor

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27d969e970cCook's Note:  For another "fruity" cake recipe, this one containing pineapple, bananas and aromatic spices (cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg), check of my recipe for ~ Charmingly Southern: Hummingbird (Bundt) Cake ~.  Originating in Jamaica, this cake has got a fascinating history worth reading.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

07/31/2017

~ Spicy Avocado Crema: Avocado, Crema & Sriracha ~

IMG_2177If you like guacamole and crema Mexicana with or on your nachos, quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas, etc., whirring the two together in a food processor, along with a bit of Sriracha sauce to give it some cha-cha-cha, creates a creamy-dreamy condiment you'll be craving on a regular basis.  It's luxuriously smooth, refreshingly cool, and, there's just enough vinegary spice in the Sriracha to make it addictively interesting.  While Mexican crema is becoming easier to find, in the event your grocery store doesn't carry it, feel free substitute crème fraîche or sour cream.

I whip avocado crema up in small batches, in a small-sized food processor -- no more than my family will consume in one day.  Just like your favorite guacamole recipe, because it contains avocado, it will develop the same harmless discoloration.  That said, the vinegar in the Sriracha sauce, which replaces the citric acid in lime juice, does keep it fresh looking for up to six hours.

Mexican crema (& crème fraîche) vs sour cream:

IMG_2229Let's start with: All three are basically made the same way, by adding friendly bacteria to heavy cream, and, while the process yields three dairy products, all similar enough in taste and texture be used interchangeably in this particular culinary application, they are technically different.  

Sour cream has a rather low fat content (18%-20%) and added stabilizers (proteins like gelatin and/or animal or vegetable enzymes), which gives it a tangier, more acidic taste than crema and crème fraîche.  That said, its low fat/high protein content causes it to break or curdle when heated, so, sour cream is best used in cold applications, or, stirred into a hot dish at the end.  

Mexican crema is more akin to crème fraîche, having a higher fat content (28%-30%), which naturally gives them a richer, more buttery, slightly sweeter flavor.  That said, crema, depending on where you buy it, can be found in various forms, from very viscous and spoonable, to thin and drizzly (with my experience being that even in its thickest state, it is still thinner than crème fraîche and sour cream).  Because both crema and crème fraîche have a high fat/low protein content, they're ideal for adding to simmering soups and sauces because they won't break or curdle.

IMG_22361  cup (16 tablespoons) avocado, scooped from the inside of 2 ripe Hass avocados

6  tablespoons Mexican crema (crème fraîche or sour cream may be substituted)

1  tablespoon Sriracha sauce, more or less, to taste

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_2156 IMG_2158 IMG_2163 IMG_2165 IMG_2188~Step 1.  In work bowl of a small food processor fitted with the steel blade, place the Mexican crema, the scoops of ripe avocado, the Sriracha sauce and the sea salt. 

Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses, followed by allowing the motor to run for 15-20 seconds, process to a smooth, creamy purée.

Use immediately or refrigerate up to six hours as directed below:

IMG_2189 IMG_2191 IMG_2192~ Step 2.  Line the inside of a 2-cup food storage container with plastic wrap, allowing it to overlap by several inches on all sides. Add the avocado crema and pull the plastic wrap up and over the top surface of the crema to form an airtight seal.  Place the lid on the food storage container and refrigerate up to six hours.

Terrific atop my Beefy, Cheesy, Mexican Tortilla Pizza

IMG_2194Spicy Avocado Crema:  Avocado, Crema & Sriracha:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups avocado crema.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; spoon; food processor; rubber spatula; 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b017d41b52172970cCook's Note:  It's not always easy getting my family to eat their greens, but when our Happy Valley garden's cucumbers and tomatoes are ripe for the picking (like they are now), one of our favorite cool and creamy Summertime indulgences is ~ Tangy Avocado Salad Dressing a la Rick Bayless ~.  It requires a food processor and not much (but a little more) effort than avocado crema to make, but well worth it (as opposed to buying a store-bought brand).

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

07/29/2017

~ Beefy, Cheesy, Fully-Loaded Mexican Tortilla Pizza ~

IMG_2010I haven't eaten at a Taco Bell in years, but, it's worth mentioning the first time I ate a Mexican pizza was the first time I ate at a Taco Bell -- and I liked it a lot.    My personal-sized snack pizza came as a pleasant surprise.  It contained refried beans, nicely-seasoned ground beef, cheddar cheese, a few small-diced tomatoes and red enchilada sauce -- all sandwiched between two slightly-crispy flour tortillas.  It wasn't my choice to stop at their drive-thru window on that day, but, I must admit, it indeed inspired me to make many a Mexican snack pizza for our three boys.

IMG_2038Mexican-style snack pizza -- Taco Bell made me to do it.

IMG_1802After a week of cooking and blogging about New Mexico-style red chile enchilada sauce, plus two recipes for the ever-popular kid- and tailgate-tested New Mexico-style spicy ground beef, lots-of-onion and green chiles enchiladas, and, Jack cheese, black bean and sweet corn enchiladas, I have just enough of yummy "this" and "that" leftover in my refrigerator to make a really tasty "snack pizza" -- just for myself.

That said, when it comes to IMG_1917Mexican-style flour-tortilla pizza in general, I've often made several of them (four will fit on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking sheet lined with parchment paper). Once they're cut into wedges, I place 'em all on a big plate and serve 'em up as super-wonderful appetizers at cocktail or tailgate parties. They're also a great idea for a kids party as all kids love getting a personal-sized pizza.

Use the following recipe as a template (a guide, a method).  Pick and choose your favorite toppings -- or use what you have leftover.  Taco Bell copycat recipes use all store-bought ingredients: ground beef seasoned with a Taco seasoning packet, a can of red enchilada sauce (or a jar of salsa), refried beans and sliced black olives, and, a bag of shredded cheddar.  Don't roll your eyes -- all kids love it, and, at midnight, in secret, most adults do too.

IMG_1705Think of it this way, anything that you would put in a quesadilla, will work in a tortilla pizza (and it doesn't have to be Mexican fare).  I just happen to have leftover homemade enchilada sauce, grated Monterey Jack jalapeño cheese, diced tomatoes and minced cilantro, plus, meat filling and cheese filling (from the enchiladas pictured above) -- it's going to be a great combination. 

For each 6"-round Mexican pizza (ingredients are in "layering order"):

1  flour tortilla

IMG_18691/4  cup refried beans

1  tablespoon enchilada sauce

1/2  cup seasoned ground beef (Note:  I'm using 1/4 cup of both of my fillings today.)

1  flour tortilla

1  tablespoon red enchilada sauce, preferably homemade

1/4  cup grated jalapeño Jack & 2 tablespoons yellow cheddar

2 tablespoons diced tomato

1  tablespoon sliced black olives 

1  tablespoon minced, fresh cilantro or green scallion tops, for garnish after baking pizza

IMG_1967 IMG_1970 IMG_1974Step 1.  Spray an 8" nonstick skillet with no-stick cooking spray and place it over medium-high heat.  Place one flour tortilla in the skillet and spray the top of the tortilla too.  Cook, flipping the tortilla frequently (three-four times), until it is turning lightly-golden and puffing up in random spots across the surface, 1-1 1/2 minutes per side.  Repeat this process with second tortilla (or as many as you are making).

IMG_1965 IMG_1978 IMG_1982 IMG_1983~Step 2.  Line a pie dish (or a baking sheet for multiples) with parchment paper.  Place one (or more) tortilla on the parchment.  Spread 1/4 cup refried beans across the surface, then spread 1 tablespoon enchilada sauce atop the refried beans.  Distribute 1/2 cup filling mixture atop sauce (I'm using 1/4 cup beef filling and 1/4 cup cheese filling, for a total of 1/2 cup filling).

IMG_1989 IMG_1993 IMG_1995 IMG_1997~Step 3.  Place a second tortilla atop the filling and spread 1 tablespoon enchilada sauce across the surface.  Distribute 1/4 cup jalapeño Jack cheese atop the sauce followed by 2 tablespoons yellow cheddar.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons diced tomato atop the cheese.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven 8-10 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly.  Remove from oven and cool for 4-5 minutes prior to garnishing with minced cilantro, slicing and serving.

Bake in 350° oven 8-10 minutes & cool 4-5 minutes:

IMG_2026Garnish w/minced cilantro, slice & eat ASAP:

IMG_2052Beefy, Cheesy, Fully-Loaded Mexican Tortilla Pizza:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1, individually-sized, 6"-round Mexican tortilla pizza/1 serving/4 small wedges per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 8" nonstick skillet; 9" pie dish (for 1 pizza) or 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan (for 4 pizzas); parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09b5033b970dCook's Note:  Flour tortillas, along with most types of flatbread, make a delicious base for pizza.  When our garden tomatoes and basil are at their peak (which is just about two weeks from now) I make a fantastic tomato-basil pita pizza to snack upon on an almost daily basis.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

07/27/2017

~ New Mexico-Style Cheese, Corn & Bean Enchiladas~

IMG_1917Whenever we've been out of town for a few days, the moment we cross the Centre County line and are within 20-30 minutes of home, we discuss what we are most hungry for (what food we've missed the most on our trip), and, we order it, for pick up or eat in, at one of our favorite eateries. Typically, that revolves around stopping at a pizza shop, a Chinese takeout place, or, a Mexican joint.  When it comes to the latter, I'm usually ordering up a plate of seriously cheesy enchiladas.

IMG_1934Enchiladas are one of those Tex-Mex specialties that taste a bit different everywhere you eat them.  In a Mexican-American restaurant or in the home kitchen, they are lightly-fried corn tortillas that have been dipped in a deep reddish-brown chili-powder-based sauce before being filled, rolled up and baked.  The filling can consist of a seemingly endless variety of meats (beef, chicken or pork), fish or seafood, cheese and/or beans and/or various other vegetables (for a vegetarian option).  In my Happy Valley kitchen, the two favorite kid- and tailgate-tested fillings for my New Mexico-style Red Chile Enchilada Sauced enchiladas are spicy beef, lots of onions and green chiles (pictured in the next paragraph), and, cheese, black beans and sweet corn (which I'm making today).  The two pair well together on the same plate too, so make 'em both.

IMG_1803The word "enchilada" comes from the Spanish word "enchilar" which means "to add chile pepper to" as well as "to season or decorate with chile pepper".  In English, the phrase "the whole enchilada" means "the whole thing" or "the entire situation".  In Mexico, they're sold by vendors in the streets, much like hot dogs are sold in the United States, and, the practice of rolling maize tortillas around other food dates back to Mayan times.  In their original form, enchiladas were IMG_1843simply corn tortillas dipped in chili sauce and eaten without fillings.  

There are many varieties of enchiladas, which are distinguished primarily by the sauce (most commonly a red chile and/or tomato-based sauce or a green chile and/or tomatillo sauce). That said, if you're not using corn tortillas to make your enchiladas, technically speaking, you're not making enchiladas.

Red enchilada sauce, or "red chile gravy", is said to be the soul of Tex-Mex cuisine, and, it isn't reserved solely for enchiladas -- it's often served with burritos, tamales and other Tex-Mex specialties.  As for its history, the rich, brownish-red flour-roux based gravy is described as neither truly Mexican nor American (it's Mexican-American).  It's said to have been invented by Anglo-owned Mexican restaurants in San Antonio, Texas.  Recipes for it have been in print since the early 1890's, and, by the 1900's "enchilada sauce" was being sold in cans. 

 Part One:  Making the Cheese, Black Bean & Sweet Corn Filling

IMG_1853Unlike making ground beef or other meat, poultry, fish or seafood enchiladas, the filling for the cheese version is quick to make because there's no cooking of the the protein involved -- it just get folded together.  That said, it happens to be sweet corn season here in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania, so, I've shaved the corn kernels off two cobs of previously-cooked corn, but, feel free to substitute well-drained canned corn, or, frozen and cooked corn with little compromise.

3  cups jalapeño Jack cheddar cheese (12 ounces)

1  15 1/2-ounce can black beans, well-drained and rinsed

1  4 1/2-ounce can green chiles, slightly- lightly- drained of excess liquid

1 1/4-1 1/2  cups sweet corn kernels, preferably shaved from 2 large previously-cooked or grilled corn cobs

1  cup small-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup minced, fresh cilantro, total throughout recipe (3/4 cup for filling recipe + 1/4 cup reserved for garnish)

IMG_1859 IMG_1862 IMG_1864 IMG_1866~Step 1.  Grate  cheese and reserve 1 1/4 cups for topping the filled and rolled enchiladas.  In a large bowl, using a large spatula, fold together the black beans, green chiles, corn kernels, onion and 3/4 cup of the cilantro.  Add and gently fold in the 1 3/4 cups of cheese.  Set filling aside.

IMG_1869Part Two:  Assembling & Baking the Enchiladas

Before starting, it's worth mention that I use 2, 8" x 8" x 2" square casserole dishes, rather than 1, 13" x 9" x 2" dish, to make 12 enchiladas.  They fit in the two dishes perfectly without squeezing them to oblivion, and, they bake up perfectly.  Next.  I don't dip my corn tortillas in the sauce, which gives them a heavy coating, because, my homemade sauce is bolder-flavored than watered-down store-bought versions.  After frying the tortillas, I prefer to use a pastry brush to paint them, on both sides, with the sauce.  It works nicely.  One more item.  I fry my corn tortillas one-at-a-time in a small skillet, not all-at-once on a griddle -- it controls their texture better.

IMG_1877no-stick cooking spray

12  6"-round corn tortillas

1 1/2  cups my recipe for Easy New Mexico-Style Red Chile Enchilada Sauce (store-bought enchilada sauce will be a compromise)

all of the cheese filling (from above recipe) + 1 cup reserved cheese

an array of your favorite toppings (shredded iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes, scallion tops, cilantro, Mexican crema or sour cream and/or guacamole

IMG_1723 IMG_1725 IMG_1732 IMG_1734~Step 1.  Spray the inside of 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes with no-stick cooking spray, then, add and evenly distribute 1/4 cup of enchilada sauce into the bottom of each dish.  Spray the bottom of an 8" nonstick skillet with no-stick spray and place it over medium heat.  Place one corn tortilla in the skillet and spray the top of the tortilla too.  Cook the tortilla over medium heat, flipping it over once or twice, until it is soft, pliable and starts to bubble up in random spots throughout its center, about 1 1/2-2 total minutes.  Transfer the tortilla to a plate and repeat process with remaining tortillas (spraying and cooking), stacking the warm tortillas on the plate as you work.

IMG_1737 IMG_1738 IMG_1879 IMG_1882~Step 2.  Working one at a time, using a pastry brush, paint both sides of tortilla with sauce.  Next, distribute a generous (heaping) 1/3 cup of the filling mixture, lengthwise across the center.

IMG_1885 IMG_1890 IMG_1896 IMG_1899~Step 3.  Roll the enchilada up and place it, seam-side-down, in baking dish.  Continue filling and rolling until six enchiladas are filled, rolled and placed side-by-side, seam-side-down, in each dish. Evenly drizzle and distribute 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce over the tops of the enchiladas in each dish.  Sprinkle a generous 3/4 cup of remaining grated cheese over the tops of the enchiladas in each dish.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven, until bubbling and cheese is melted, 18-20 minutes.

Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 18-20 minutes:

IMG_1905Scoop 'em out & serve 'em up (ASAP) w/your favorite toppings:

IMG_1907Go ahead, take a taste, they're scrumptious: 

IMG_1951New Mexico-Style Cheese, Corn & Bean Enchiladas:  Recipe yields 5 cups filling/12 enchiladas/4-6 servings/2-3 per person.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held box grater; colander; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; 8" nonstick skillet; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09b26e07970dCook's Note:  The tortilla is Mexico's everyday bread.  Corn tortillas are made from corn flour (masa) and flour tortillas are made from wheat flour (all-purpose flour).  Burritos, chimichangas, quesadillas, enchiladas and tacos are classic Mexican specialties prepared using a wide variety of fillings.  Tacos and enchiladas distinguish themselves by being the two dishes made with corn tortillas, so please, do not substitute flour tortillas when making my beef or cheese enchiladas. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017) 

07/24/2017

~ Spicy New Mexico-Style Ground Beef Enchiladas ~

IMG_1802Enchiladas are one of those Tex-Mex specialties that taste a bit different everywhere you eat them.  In a Mexican-American restaurant or in the home kitchen, they are lightly-fried corn tortillas that have been dipped in a deep reddish-brown chili-powder-based sauce before being filled, rolled up and baked.  The filling can consist of a seemingly endless variety of meats (beef, chicken or pork), fish or seafood, cheese and/or beans and/or various other vegetables (for a vegetarian option).  In my Happy Valley kitchen, the two kid- and tailgate-tested favorites for my New Mexico-style Red Chile Enchilada Sauced enchiladas are ground beef, lots of onion and green chiles, and, grated cheese, black beans and sweet corn -- the two pair well together too.

The word "enchilada" comes from the Spanish word "enchilar" which means "to add chile pepper to" as well as "to season or decorate with chile pepper".  In English, the phrase "the whole enchilada" means "the whole thing" or "the entire situation".  In Mexico, they're sold by vendors in the streets, much like hot dogs are sold in the United States, and, the practice of rolling maize tortillas around other food dates back to Mayan times.  In their original form, enchiladas were simply corn tortillas dipped in chili sauce and eaten without fillings.  There are many varieties of enchiladas, which are distinguished primarily by the sauce (most commonly a red chile and/or tomato-based sauce or a green chile and/or tomatillo sauce). That said, if you're not using corn tortillas to make your enchiladas, technically speaking, you're not making enchiladas.  

Part One:  Making the Beef, Lots-of-Onion & Green Chile Filling

IMG_1709FYI:  I make 8 cups & freeze 4 for another meal.

IMG_1658For 8 cups of the meat mixture:

3  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

12  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

4  4 1/2-ounce cans green chiles, slightly-, lightly-drained of excess liquid

IMG_1663 IMG_1665 IMG_1676 IMG_1679~Step 1.  Place the ground beef in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with straight, deep sides.  Dice the onion and add it to the pan as you work.  Add the garlic powder, cumin, salt and pepper, and, using a large spoon or spatula give the mixture a thorough stir (to incorporate the onion and spices throughout the meat).  Adjust heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until meat has lost its pink color, onions are very soft and there is almost no liquid remaining in the bottom of the pan, about 25-30 minutes.  Do not brown the meat -- cook it so it remains steamy and moist.

IMG_1682 IMG_1684~ Step 2.  Turn the heat off.  Add and stir the slightly-, lightly- drained canned green chiles into the steaming hot meat mixture.  Remove from heat.  There's no need to cook the chiles, they were already cooked during the canning process.

Go ahead, take a taste, it's scrumptious:

IMG_1687Part Two:  Assembling & Baking the Enchiladas

IMG_1716

Before starting, it's worth mention that I use 2, 8" x 8" x 2" square casserole dishes, rather than 1, 13" x 9" x 2" dish, to make 12 enchiladas.  They fit in the two pans perfectly without squeezing them to oblivion, and, they bake up perfectly.  Next.  I don't dip my corn tortillas in the sauce, which gives them a heavy coating, because my homemade sauce is bolder-flavored than watered-down store-bought versions.  After frying the tortillas, I prefer to use a pastry brush to paint them, on both sides, with the sauce.  It works nicely.  One more item.  I fry my corn tortillas one-at-a-time in a small skillet, not all-at-once on a griddle -- it controls their texture better.

For the assembly:

12  6"-round corn tortillas

1 1/2 cups my recipe for Easy New Mexico-Style Red Chile Enchilada Sauce (store-bought enchilada sauce will be a compromise)

3  cups grated habañero cheddar cheese

1  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves

no-stick cooking spray

an array of your favorite toppings (shredded iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes, scallion tops, cilantro, Mexican crema or sour cream and/or guacamole)

IMG_1723 IMG_1725 IMG_1732 IMG_1734~Step 1.  Spray the inside of 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes with no-stick cooking spray, then, add and evenly distribute 1/4 cup of enchilada sauce into the bottom of each dish.  Spray the bottom of an 8" nonstick skillet with no-stick spray and place it over medium heat.  Place one corn tortilla in the skillet and spray the top of the tortilla too.  Cook the tortilla over medium heat, flipping it over once or twice, until it is soft, pliable and starts to bubble up in random spots throughout its center, about 1 1/2-2 total minutes.  Transfer the tortilla to a plate and repeat process with remaining tortillas (spraying and cooking), stacking the warm tortillas on the plate as you work.

IMG_1737 IMG_1738 IMG_1741 IMG_1743 IMG_1745 IMG_1747 IMG_1748~Step 2.  One tortilla at a time, using a pastry brush, paint both sides of tortilla with enchilada sauce. Distribute 1/3 cup ground beef filling lengthwise across the center.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of grated cheese on top of the meat, followed by "a pinch" (whatever you can pick up in your fingertips) of minced cilantro.

IMG_1750 IMG_1759 IMG_1768 IMG_1772~Step 3.  Roll the enchilada up and place it, seam-side-down in baking dish.  Continue filling and rolling until six enchiladas are filled, rolled and placed side-by-side, seam-side-down, in each dish. Evenly drizzle and distribute 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce over the tops of the enchiladas in each dish.  Sprinkle a generous 1 cup of remaining grated cheese over the tops of enchiladas in each dish.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven, until bubbling and cheese is melted, 18-20 minutes.

Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 18-20 minutes:

IMG_1777Serve immediately w/your favorite toppings:

IMG_1803Go ahead, take a taste, they're scrumptious!

IMG_1843Spicy New Mexico-Style Ground Beef Enchiladas:  Recipe yields 8 cups filling (enough to fill 24 enchiladas (I freeze 4 cups for another meal)/12 enchiladas/4-6 servings/2-3 per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon or spatula; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; 8" nonstick skillet; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09b26e07970dCook's Note:  The tortilla is Mexico's everyday bread.  Corn tortillas are made from corn flour (masa) and flour tortillas are made from wheat flour (all-purpose flour).  Burritos, chimichangas, quesadillas, enchiladas and tacos are classic Mexican specialties prepared using a wide variety of fillings.  Tacos and enchiladas distinguish themselves by being the two dishes made with corn tortillas, so please, do not substitute flour tortillas when making my beef or cheese enchiladas. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/2017) 

07/21/2017

~ Easy New Mexico-Style Red Chile Enchilada Sauce~

IMG_1650I'm not proclaiming this recipe "easy" because I have an easy or easier version of a hard recipe. I'm telling you it's "easy" because:  it is easy.  It's so easy, I don't understand why anyone who loves enchiladas with red sauce would purchase any of the brand name enchilada sauces (and there are plenty to choose from) -- unless they don't realize how easy red enchilada sauce is to make.  I know, because for a number of years I bounced around from label to label, sampling store-bought brands, trying to find "the one just for me" in which "the spice was right".

A bit about New Mexico-style red enchilada sauce:

Red enchilada sauce, also referred to as "red chile gravy" is said to be the heart and soul of Tex-Mex cuisine, and, it isn't reserved solely for enchiladas -- it's often served with burritos, tamales and other Tex-Mex specialties.  As for its history, the rich, brownish-red flour-roux based gravy is described as neither truly Mexican nor American (it's Mexican-American).  It's said to have been invented by Anglo-owned Mexican restaurants in San Antonio, Texas.  Recipes for it have been in print since the early 1890's, and, by the 1900's, "enchilada sauce" was being sold in cans.

New Mexico is known for its fresh and dried red chile peppers, so, it should come as no surprise that any recipe for New-Mexico-style red enchilada sauce would revolve around high-quality chile powder, most commonly:  ancho, guajillo and/or New Mexico chile powder (which is pricier than generic chili powder).   Some versions of this sauce contain tomatoes, tomato sauce, or, tomato paste, which add acidy tang and gives it a brighter red color -- my version does not.  I fell in love with New Mexico-style red chile enchiladas in San Antonio, Texas, and, I was told the bold-flavored amber-red sauce (that I couldn't get enough of), got its tang from vinegar, and its color from chile powder -- not tomatoes.  I didn't question it.  Later that afternoon, I went shopping.

IMG_2459 IMG_2481 6a0120a8551282970b017d4140e28d970cI made a small investment in some Mexican-style chili powder, and, for simplicity, I settled on one high-quality chile blend that's manufactured in New Mexico (Santa Fé Seasons via Apple Canyon Gourmet).  I added some Mexican-style oregano to my spice rack too.

Once you know what the spelling means, you'll know what's in it:

CHILE:  Spelled with an "e" at the end, refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod or fruit of any member of the pepper family (example:  chile peppers grow in the garden).

CHILI:  Spelled with an "i" at the end, refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers (example:  white chicken chili, chili con carne, chili sauce).

CHILE POWDER:  When spelled with an "e" at the end, means it is a powder made from one or more types of dried chiles exclusively.  This is sometimes referred to or marketed as POWDERED CHILES, or CHILE BLEND (if it contains more than one kind of chile powder).

CHILI POWDER:  When spelled with an "i" at the end means it is a mixture of chile powder and ground, dried spices (common examples:  ground cumin, garlic and/or onion powder), meaning: the manufacturer has added various spices to pure chile powder or a blend of chile powders.

End the oregano debate:  they're not the same.

MEDITERRANEAN OREGANO: is a member of the mint family.  It grows in Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey and Morocco.  It's sometimes called wild marjoram.  Mediterranean oregano has a robust, savory, peppery flavor, which makes it perfect for use in Greek or Italian cuisines.

MEXICAN OREGANO: is a member of lemon verbena family. It's native to Mexico and Central and South America.  Sometimes called Puerto Rican oregano, it has a vibrant, citrusy tang and slight licorice flavor, which makes it perfect for use in Latin American and Tex-Mex cuisines.

IMG_17142  tablespoons neutral-flavored cooking oil (avocado, canola, corn or vegetable, etc.)

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce & Gravy flour (or unbleached, all-purpose flour)

4  tablespoons Mexican-style chili powder

2  tablespoons Sante Fé Seasons Chile blend (Note:  This is a blend of New Mexico red chile powder, cilantro and saffron.  If you don't want to purchase it, which I highly-suggest you do, omit it and add 1 additional tablespoon Mexican-style chili powder to this recipe.)

1  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon ground cumin

1  teaspoon Mexican oregano leaves

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2  cups beef, chicken or vegetable stock (depending on what you're filling your enchiladas with:  beef, chicken or cheese)

1  tablespoon white vinegar

IMG_1601 IMG_1605 IMG_1607 IMG_1615~Step 1.  In a 1-quart saucier or saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat.  Add the 2 tablespoons of flour.  Whisking vigorously and constantly, cook until the roux is thick, smooth, bubbly and short of browning, 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Lower heat and whisk in the dry spices.

IMG_1617 IMG_1622 IMG_1630 IMG_1639~Step 2.  After the dry spices are added, the mixture will be, grainy, lumpy and bumpy.  Slowly and in a thin stream, whisk in the beef, chicken or vegetable stock, then add the vinegar.  Adjust heat to a steady, somewhat-rapid simmer and cook, whisking frequently but not constantly, until sauce is nicely-thickened and reduced by about 1/3, 15-20 minutes.  You'll have 1 1/2 cups.

Use as directed, or, refrigerate overnight (which I recommend):

IMG_1632Some things are simply better made from scratch:

IMG_1649Easy New Mexico-Style Red Chile Enchilada Sauce:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups New Mexico-Style red enchilada sauce.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; 1 quart saucier or saucepan; whisk

IMG_9033Cook's Note:  The tortilla is Mexico's everyday bread.  Corn tortillas are made from corn flour (masa) and flour tortillas are made from wheat flour (all-purpose flour).  Burritos, chimichangas, quesadillas, enchiladas and tacos are classic Mexican specialties prepared using a wide variety of fillings.  Tacos and enchiladas distinguish themselves by being the two dishes made with corn tortillas, so please, do not substitute flour tortillas when making my beef or cheese enchiladas. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

07/18/2017

~ A Very Berry Sour Cherry and/or Blueberry Cobbler ~

IMG_1543While I adore a traditional cherry or blueberry pie (who doesn't), sometimes, especially July thru September, the months when there is so much (too much) going on in our garden, I need to speed things in order to make use of all the fresh fruits and vegetables in a timely, manner.  When it comes "short shelf life" fruits like our sour cherries and blueberries, this cobbler is my solution. All I need is four cups of one or the other or a combination of both, along with 15 minutes of hands-on time, and:  dessert is in the oven.  There's more.  In the Winter months, I can make this cobbler using frozen cherries or blueberries without any compromise in flavor or texture.

4 cups sour cherries or blueberries, or a combination of both +

IMG_15065-6 pantry staples, &, in 15 minutes: dessert is in the oven.

IMG_15024  cups pitted sour cherries or blueberries  (Note:  If you are using frozen berries, thaw them for about 45-60 minutes and use them partially-frozen, not completely thawed.)

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

1  cup pancake mix

1  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1  cup milk

2  teaspoons pure cherry extract (for cherry cobbler), or pure blueberry extract (for blueberry cobbler, or, 1 teaspoon each (for cherry-berry cobbler)

Sugar 'n Cinnamon

IMG_1510 IMG_1515~ Step 1.  If the cherries and/or blueberries are frozen, thaw them as directed above.  Place butter in an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish a melt the butter in the microwave.  Tilt the dish to evenly coat the entire bottom with the melted butter.  Set aside.

IMG_1517 IMG_1523 IMG_1524Step 2.  In a large bowl, stir together pancake mix, sugar and cinnamon.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the milk and the extract(s).  Add milk mixture to pancake mixture.  Whisk until a thin, smooth batter forms.

IMG_1529 IMG_1531 IMG_1536 IMG_1550~Step 3.  Pour all of the batter into the baking dish, right on top of the butter.  Do not stir the batter into the butter.  Using a slotted spoon, spoon/distribute the cherries and/or blueberries evenly over the batter.  Sprinkle the top of the fruit with Sugar 'n Cinnamon.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven 40-45 minutes.  Note:  If fruit was frozen and partially-thawed, baking time will be slightly longer, 55-60 minutes.  Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool.

Note:  While the cobbler is baking, the cherries and blueberries (or any fruit) will sink to the bottom of the baking dish.  At the same time, the batter is going to bubble and bake up to the surface in random spots across the surface.  The cobbler will be golden brown and will spring back slightly when touched in the center.  Cool 1 hour or longer (3-6 hours) prior to serving.

Cobbler going into 350º oven to bake (40-45 minutes for freshly-picked fruit or 55-60 minutes for frozen, partially-thawed fruit):

IMG_1536Cobbler out of oven & cooling 1-6 hours prior to serving.

IMG_1550Serve slightly-warm or at room temperature:

IMG_1557With whipped cream or ice cream, your choice:

IMG_1563A  Very Berry Sour Cherry and/or Blueberry Cobbler:  Recipe yields 1,  8" x 8" x 2" cobbler/8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  4-cup measuring container; 1-cup measuring container; whisk; large rubber spatula; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish

IMG_4816 2Cook's Note:  Here in my Happy Valley backyard, sour pie-cherry season ended about three weeks ago, blueberries are ripe for the picking, and peaches, both cling stone and free stone, are beginning to ripen on our trees.  While I don't freeze peaches (they don't freeze as well as cherries and blueberries -- peaches get watery and mushy), I water-bath can them in glass mason jars. My recipe for  ~ Alice's Super-Simple Georgia Peach-Pie Cobbler ~, is a great use for them (freshly-picked or canned (even store-bought canned) -- it's divine.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

07/16/2017

~ Strawberry Chicken & Biscuits w/Strawberry Mayo ~

IMG_1490Over a period of five-six years, Joe and I had occasion to be in the San Diego area once or twice a year, and, on a few of those trips, we had the pleasure of spending time at the La Costa Resort & Spa.  Along with all of the amenities and services one would expect to find at a resort and a spa, they specialized in and excelled at serving lighter and healthier cuisine without being imposing.  On one visit there, I encountered a refreshingly-fruity strawberry-mayo concoction that showed up in a tossed strawberry chicken salad with bitty bits of bacon and blue cheese -- just enough salty, organic pork fat and tangy cheese to pleasure the palate, but not enough to make one feel guilty.  I had it for lunch, with a lovely glass of wine, both of the two days we were there.

IMG_1469La Costa's salad combo was delightful, but, it was the uniquely-fruity, slightly-spicy, thick, creamy mayo-based dressing that got my attention -- it was indeed a savory, rather than sweet use for strawberries that wouldn't have occurred to me on my own (even though I do use strawberries and raspberries to make vinaigrette).  That said, it works.  A tart and sweet purée of fresh strawberries stirred into some mayonnaise, along with some cracked black pepper and a pinch of salt, is simply wonderful.  FYI:  It works great with raspberries or peeled, chopped peaches too.

Turning a superb salad into a stellar sandwich.

While I never would have come up with the idea for the salad dressing on my own, it didn't take me long to come up with the idea to transition the salad into a sandwich. Served on warm, freshly-baked biscuits, I received more than a few quizzical looks when my family and tailgate friends (even the ladies) were presented with pink mayonnaise to top their sandwiches.  That said, not a one, not once, after the first few bites, expressed anything other than the desire for a second sandwich.  Live dangerously -- give this uniquely-different sandwich combination a try.

Part One:  Making the Strawberry Mayonnaise  

IMG_1437For the strawberry mayonnaise:

1  generous cup hulled and sliced strawberries

1  cup mayonnaise, your favorite brand

2  teaspoons dehydrated minced onion

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/16  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_1441 IMG_1444 IMG_1448 IMG_1451 IMG_1457~Step 1.  Hull and slice the strawberries as directed, placing them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade. With motor running, process to a purée, 30-45 seconds.  Add the mayonnaise, dehydrated onion, black pepper and sea salt.  With motor running, process again, until mayonnaise is thoroughly incorporated and mixture is uniform in color, 15-30 more seconds. Transfer to a food storage container, cover and refrigerate, 2 hours or overnight (overnight is best), to chill and thicken.  Keep stored in refrigerator 3-4 days.

Part Two:  Making the Strawberry Chicken & Biscuits

IMG_1477For the sandwiches:

8  biscuits, preferably freshly-baked and warm, sliced in half, or, small, soft sandwich rolls, sliced in half, your choice

12  slices crisply-fried bacon (1 1/2 slices per sandwich)

3/4  cup blue cheese crumbles (one generous tablespoon per sandwich)

3/4  cup each (all tossed together in one bowl):  shredded iceberg lettuce, diced fresh strawberries, and, diced sweet Vidalia onion (a generous 1/4 cup lettuce/strawberry and onion mixture per sandwich) 

2  roasted- or poached- chicken breast halves, pulled into bite-sized pieces

strawberry mayonnaise (from above recipe)

~ Step 1.  In the order listed, place 3 half-strips of bacon atop the bottom of each biscuit half, then scatter a generous tablespoon of blue cheese crumbles atop the bacon.  Top the blue cheese with a generous 1/4 cup of the lettuce, strawberry and onion mixture.  Heap a generous mound of pulled roasted or poached chicken atop the lettuce mix, then, top with the other half of the warm biscuit.  Serve each sandwich with additional strawberry-mayo to the side for dipping or drizzling.

IMG_1483Strawberry Chicken & Biscuits w/Strawberry Mayo:  Recipe yields 2 cups strawberry mayonnaise and instructions to make 8, 3"-round biscuit sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  strawberry huller (optional); cutting board; chef's knife; food processor or blender; rubber spatula; 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

IMG_7872Cook's Note:  In the event you're interested in a crispy-crunchy chicken sandwich instead, feel free to skip the roasting or poaching and try my ~ Happy-Valley-Ranch Deep-Fried Chicken Sandwich ~, topped with ~ Mel's "Happy Valley" Ranch-Style Salad Dressing ~.  I guarantee, it will make you "happy".

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

07/14/2017

~ Spreads go Bread to Bread: Hellmann's vs Duke's ~

IMG_1418Mayonnaise.  As a gal who loves deli-, tuna- and egg-salad sandwiches, I am never too far from my mayo.  During the picnic and tailgate season, when side-dishes like macaroni salad, potato salad, cole slaw and deviled eggs reign supreme, I purchase bigger jars, in two-packs.  When our garden tomatoes are ripe, I could (and will) eat a freshly-picked sliced-tomato sandwich, on white bread, with a big slather of mayonnaise, every day.  There's more.  I can't imagine my life without mayonnaise-based tartar and remoulade sauces in it, or, oh my Thousand Islands salad dressing, and, I'm very proficient at making homemade mayonnaise ("mayo") from scratch too.

What's the difference between mayonnaise & salad dressing?

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c766995c970bLong ago (way, way back in time) I decided I liked Hellmann's mayonnaise better than Kraft's, and, I prefer mayonnaise to its cousin: salad dressing (Miracle Whip).  In it's simplest form, non-commercially made mayonnaise is a thick, rich and creamy mixture made from the emulsion of raw egg yolks, lemon juice (or vinegar) and vegetable oil. In 1756, the French, under Louis François Armand de Vignerot du Plessis, doc de Richelieu, captured Mahón on the Spanish-held island of Minorca.  In honor of the victory, the duc's chef created a new dressing for his master:  "Mahónnaise". (Above photo is indeed homemade mayonnaise, made by me, in less than 5 minutes, in the food processor.)

HellmannsIn 1903, Richard Hellmann emigrated from Germany to New York City, where in 1904 he married Margaret Vossberg, whose parents owned a delicatessen.  In 1905 he opened his own deli on Columbus Avenue, where he developed the first ready-made mayonnaise. He complimentary served his condiment,  in small amounts, to all his customers.  It became so popular so fast, he was soon selling it in bulk to other stores, while constantly improving the recipe to lengthen the shelf life (to avoid spoilage).  In 1913, he built a factory and began selling mayonnaise under the name "Hellman's Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise".  In 1920, the New York Tribune asked chefs to rate commercial "salad dressing brands" and they unanimously voted Hellmans #1, which boosted sales and made Hellman's a staple in the American kitchen.

12945457In 1933, Kraft foods, via inventor Charles Chapman, patented an emulsifying machine which allowed mayonnaise to be evenly blended with lesser expensive brands of commercial mayonnaise and more than 20 different spices, plus, sugar. The result was Miracle Whip, which made its debut at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, promising to create "salad miracles with Miracle Whip Salad Dressing".  Their "whip" was an instant success.  To make a long story short, mayonnaise is mayonnaise -- salad dressing is a blend of mayonnaise plus other things.  From a side-by-side taste test standpoint, the most obvious difference between Kraft's Miracle Whip and all commercial brands of "mayo" is its sweetness.  Both high-fructose corn syrup and sugar are the fourth and fifth ingredients, respectively, on the back of a jar of Miracle Whip.

Mr. Hellman's mayo vs Mrs. Duke's mayo.  Both rich in history.

41wLfCC6iUL._SL500_SS500_Before I delve into comparisons, which are going to leave one side or the other feeling slightly-slighted, it is worth noting that, up until recently (about three weeks recently), Duke's was not available us Yankees -- it was a "Southern thing" exclusively. That said,  I've heard enough about this iconic mayo from my Southern friends, to know enough pick up a jar the moment I came across it in one of our local grocery stores (coincidentally, shortly after Duke's started advertising on national TV -- which caught my attention and put me on the lookout for it).  I'm always open to conducting a taste test -- especially if it stands half a chance of rocking my food world.  

In 1917, Mrs. Eugenia Duke of Greenville, South Carolina, because of the need to supplement her husband's income, started selling sandwiches for ten cents a piece, slathered with her homemade mayonnaise, to soldiers at Camp Sevier (near Greenville) -- her selection included pimento cheese, egg- and chicken- salad.  By 1919 she was selling over 10,000 sandwiches a day, soldiers were writing to her asking for her recipe (so their mother's could duplicate it), and, local grocers were selling bottles of her mayonnaise on consignment.  In order to handle the volume, she moved her operation out of her kitchen into an out-building, and, bought a delivery truck.  She also set up a small shop in the Ottaray Hotel, in downtown Greenville, where she sold dainty tea sandwiches to "the upper crust".  In 1929 she sold her recipes to C.F. Bauer, who established the first Duke's mayonnaise factory and sent her product out into the world.  As Andrew Smart, the President of Duke Sandwich Co. said, "Here's a woman, in 1917, who was an entrepreneur and a business leader -- in a time when she didn't even have the right to vote."

Mayonnaise:  It's regional.  There's no right or wrong brand.

IMG_1399< The Hellmann's ingredients list is straightforward -- as straight forward as an ingredients list for mayonnaise can be.  When I make mayonnaise, I use vegetable oil, no water, egg yolks (no whites), fresh lemon juice (not concentrate), Dijon mustard (I prefer the tang of Dijon to vinegar), sugar, salt and a pinch of pepper.

IMG_1397< The Duke's ingredients list is straightforward though slightly different.  They use whole eggs (no extra egg yolks), water + two types of vinegar (no lemon juice), no sugar, and oleoresin paprika (a natural food coloring, not a flavoring, used in orange juice, snack foods, etc. -- one of the most unique uses for it is in chicken feed, in order to give the yolks in chicken eggs a darker yellow appearance).

Taste, texture & color.  Mel's conclusions revealed.

Allow me to start by saying:  I tasted both, side-by-side, before reading either ingredients labels. No surprise here:  these are two great-tasting mayonnaises.  In fact, they taste so similar, if you are adding them to a "concoction" (macaroni- potato- tuna- or egg- salads, etc.), no one could possibly detect which one is which.  While Hellman's contains sugar, it is by no means sweet or sweeter than Duke's.  In fact, the sugar enhances the lemony flavor, which appeals to me more than vinegar -- Hellman's wins on this point.  Let's talk texture.  If you're slathering them on a slice of your favorite bread, there is a luxurious creaminess to Duke's, which is more indicative of homemade hand-whisked mayonnaise, the texture of which I suspect is due to extra oil rather than protein-rich, yellow egg yolks (which I would prefer).  Hellmann's, while indeed creamy, is aerated and slightly-gelantenous (similar to a mousse in which whipped egg whites have been folded into yolks) -- Duke's wins on this point.  As for color, while Duke's palest-of-yellow color is more attractive, it is enhanced by food coloring, so, Hellman's wins by default on this last point.

Mayonnaise:  It's personal.  There's no right or wrong brand.

IMG_1428"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

07/11/2017

~ Sweet, Savory & Spicy: Rhubarb-Ginger Chutney ~

IMG_1392 (1)Besides a store-bought jar of the beloved Major Grey's mango chutney, which I have on hand in my refrigerator at all times, in the Fall and Winter you will find a container of my homemade apple chutney, and, in the Spring and Summer, you will find a jar of my rhubarb-ginger chutney.  I make each one, once a year, every year, and freeze it in small containers so I'm never without this very-versatile sweet, savory and slightly-spicy flavor-boosting condiment -- it is a staple in my kitchen.  

IMG_8729 IMG_7359When I first encountered chutney, I was a young adult and it was served as a spread for cheese and crackers.  I loved it, and before long, I was using it as a topping or spread  atop small slices of toasted firm-textured bread with roasted meats and hearty cheeses (crostini), and, in my  South African grilled cheese sandwiches and Jamaican curried deviled eggs.

A bit about "Chutney":   Having its origin in India, the name comes from the East Indian word "chatni".  The chutney most of us Americans are familiar with is a preserved sweet and savory condiment containing fruit and/or dried fruit, vinegar, sugar and an array of different spices. Similar to its next of kin (jam, relish and salsa), it ranges in texture from chunky to smooth and in degree of spiciness from mild to hot.  Unlike its next of kin, chutney is  simmered low and slow for a lengthier amount of time.  In India, chutneys are commonly made and eaten fresh (originally with a mortar and pestle, nowadays a food processor), many are vegetable- rather than fruit-based and contain a wider array of ingredients (like mint or cilantro, ginger, tomatoes, yogurt or coconut milk and/or peanuts), and, are typically served as a side-dish/accompaniment to Indian curried dishes.  It's worth mention that even in India, chutneys are very diverse because Indian food varies greatly from region to region and is dependent upon locally available ingredients.

Pucker up baby:  tart rhubarb is perfect for chutney.

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd1e256e970bIs there a difference between green & red stalked rhubarb?

The color of rhubarb is not related to its suitability for cooking, however, the red rhubarb sold in the grocery store, unless marked "locally grown" is grown in hot houses.  I find this type of rhubarb to be a bit dry and subdued in flavor.  Outdoor varietes can vary from red, speckled with red, light pink or simply green (like mine).  Green stalked rhubarb is more robust (tart) and produces a higher yield, but, red is sure more popular with consumers.  I grew up eating green rhubarb and didn't realize it came in red until I was old enough to do my mom's grocery shopping for her.  The rhubarb we grow in our Happy Valley vegetable garden was transplanted from my father's garden, which was transplanted from his father's garden in Eastern Pennsylvania. 

No.  They are both perfectly ripe & ready to be cooked.

IMG_13091  cup apple cider vinegar

1  pound dark brown sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

2  tablespoons pink peppercorns, lightly crushed  (Note:  These "little peppery jewels." are not peppercorns or related to a peppercorn.  Originating in Peru, they are a dried, fragile-skinned berry that Amazon rainforest natives use to make homemade pink peppercorn beer.  Because their skin is fragile, they are easily crushed with the flat side of a chef's knife, to release their delicate, fruity, peppery flavor -- pop one into your mouth for a most enjoyable nibble.)

1  15-ounce box golden raisins

1  ounce garlic paste, or fresh garlic cloves, processed in a food processor (about 1 tablespoon paste)

8  ounces ginger paste, or fresh ginger, peeled, chopped and processed in a food processor (about 8 tablespoons paste)

4  pounds green or red stalked rhubarb, trimmed of woody ends & sliced into 1/2" pieces 

IMG_1310 IMG_1313 IMG_1317 IMG_1321 IMG_1328~Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot,  stir together the vinegar and brown sugar, until sugar is dissolved.  Stir in the salt and peppercorns, followed by the raisins.  Slice the rhubarb, as directed, placing it in the stockpot as you work.  If using garlic cloves and ginger root, prep them as directed, place them in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, and, using a series of 30-45 rapid-on off pulses followed by the motor running for 15-30 seconds, process to a paste.  Add the garlic paste and ginger paste to the stockpot.  Slice the rhubarb, as directed, placing it in the stockpot as you work.  Using a large spoon, take a moment to give the mixture and thorough stir.  Adjust heat to medium-high.

IMG_1331 IMG_1333 IMG_1335 IMG_1338 IMG_1355~Step 2.  Stirring frequently, bring mixture to a boil over medium-high heat.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until rhubarb has lost about half of its volume and mixture is thick, 30-40 minutes. Watch carefully and stir constantly during the last 10 minutes of the cooking process, as the mixture can and will scorch quickly.  Remove from heat, partially cover and set set aside to cool completely, 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally.  

Portion into 1-cup food storage containers & refrigerate...

IMG_1348... several hours or overnight, prior to serving chilled...

IMG_1366...  & freeze the balance for future chutney enjoyment:

IMG_1372Deli-ham & melted-cheese chutney-topped crostini anyone?

IMG_1384Sweet, Savory & Spicy:  Rhubarb-Ginger Chutney:  Recipe yields 10 cups. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor (optional); 8-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; 10, 1-cup food storage containers w/tight fitting lids

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c906d115970bCook's Note:  There is a certain satisfaction in teaching people how to love food made from a misunderstood ingredient.  Rhubarb, sometimes called "the pie vegetable" is one such ingredient. Whether it's green or red stalked, a slice of old-fashioned rhubarb pie is a favorite of mine.  For those of you who like your rhubarb pie unadulterated (no strawberries please), and that includes not too much sugar: ~ Pucker-Up for a Straight-Up Rhubarb Streusel Pie ~. Give my very special Pennsylvania Deutsch recipe a try -- oh my pie! 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

07/08/2017

~ One-Bowl Lunch on the Run: Tuna Macaroni Salad ~

IMG_1283I rarely make the time to sit down and eat lunch and almost never find the time to  go out to lunch. I prefer to munch and crunch, while working, standing in my kitchen or sitting at my computer.  For example: I am munching on some chopped cantaloupe, here at my desk, for breakfast, while writing this, at 6:30AM.  Whatever time I get my mid-day hunger attack today, I'm literally going to, "stick a fork in it":  tuna macaroni salad.  I made it yesterday, am writing about it today, and shall enjoy it, in a small bowl, as a light, satisfying, quick and tasty snack.  For me, it's just enough protein and carbohydrates to satisfy my hunger without squelching my appetite for dinner.

Nowadays, I'm mostly feeding just my husband and myself, and, since I'm typically the only person here in the afternoons, I never make a full batch of tuna macaroni salad (using an entire pound of macaroni).  I make just enough for one full, refreshingly-light Summertime meal for us two to enjoy together, and, three to four days of leftover light snacking for me. When it comes to tuna salad, macaroni salad and tuna-macaroni salad, I'd rather make it often, and eat it fresh, than make a lot and have it hang around too long.  That said, if you're feeding an entire family, do the math and turn my half batch into a full batch -- you'll end up 4 pounds/4 quarts/16 cups.

No peas please -- save 'em for your tuna noodle casserole.

IMG_12288  ounces mini-farfalle (or elbows, mafalda, shells, etc.), cooked al dente, according to package directions and well-drained

2  jumbo eggs, hard-cooked eggs, or, 3 large eggs, peeled and finely diced (Note:  I like to dice the whites and the yolks separately for a prettier presentation.)

1/2  cup peeled and small-diced carrot

1/2  cup small-diced celery

1/2  cup small-diced red onion

2  tablespoons Dijon mustard

2  tablespoons sweet pickle relish

1/2  teaspoon celery seed

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/2 cup mayonnaise (plus additional mayonnaise, if necessary or desired)

1  12-ounce can solid-white Albacore tuna, packed in water. well-drained

IMG_1237 IMG_1244~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart saucepan, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil.  Add 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Add the macaroni, briefly stir and cook, until al dente, about 6-7 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Drain into a colander and rinse under cold running water until macaroni is cooled to below room temperature.  Allow pasta to continue to drain and "dry" (free from moisture) about 30-45 minutes.  Gently toss occasionally during this "drying" process.

IMG_1221 IMG_1231~ Step 2.  While the macaroni is drying, in the same saucepan, prepare the hard cooked eggs, drain them under cold water to cool to the touch and peel.  Open the tuna and invert can onto a paper-towel-lined plate to thoroughly drain.

IMG_1250 IMG_1253 IMG_1255 IMG_1259~Step 3.  Fine dice the egg whites, egg yolks, carrot, celery and onion as directed, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  Add the Dijon mustard, pickle relish, celery seed, salt and pepper to the bowl and give the mixture a thorough stir.  Add and fold in the 1/2 cup mayonnaise.

IMG_1262 IMG_1266~ Step 4.  Add the now moisture-free macaroni to the bowl and gently fold it into the creamy vegetable mixture.  Using your fingers, pull the tuna into bite-sized chunks and pieces, placing it in the bowl as you work.  Gently and thoroughly fold the tuna into the macaroni salad.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until flavors marry and mixture is well-chilled, 4-6 hours or overnight (overnight is best).  Prior to serving:  

Stir, taste & add additional mayonnaise if desired:

IMG_1276Portion into 2, 1-quart containers & refrigerate 3-4 days:

IMG_1302When hungry, scoop into snack-sized bowl & stick fork in it:

IMG_1297One-Bowl Lunch on the Run:  Tuna Macaroni Salad:  Recipe yields 2 pounds/2 quarts/8 cups.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart saucepan; colander; paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; 2, 1-quart-sized food storage containers w/tight-fitting lids

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1b7b703970cCook's Note:  The ~ Creamy, Chunky, Crunchy "Classic" Tuna Salad/Sandwich ~ is often referred to as "the mainstay of everyones childhood", or, "the lunch staple of the office generation (of which both my husband and I are a part of)." As for me, like today's recipe (tuna-mac salad), tuna salad, with a few whole wheat crackers, is another one of my weekday afternoon favorite snacks.  For the record, when referencing "classic" tuna salad, I refer to the "classic" way all of our mother's and grandmother's made it -- just the way we like it.  There is no right or wrong way to make it, except the way you like it.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

07/06/2017

~ How to: Make a Jucy Lucy Cheese-Stuffed Burger ~

IMG_1213A big, thick, juicy all-American cheeseburger with American or Velveeta cheese.  I kid you not, I gotta have one "my way" about once a week -- topped with lots of onions, ketchup and a few dill pickle slices.  Over the 4th of July, I decided to celebrate with exactly that, except, with a twist:  I decided to try my hand at the iconic Jucy Lucy, a nifty Midwestern invention in which the cheese gets stuffed inside the 'burger instead of placed on top of it.  The second you bite into it or slice it, the 'burger juices squirt out and a molten core of melted cheese flows like lava out onto the plate.

If you know what a Jucy Lucy 'burger is, you know the above photo is a great photograph of a fun, delicious, mess of a 'burger.  If you are trying to take a photo of the grand opening a Jucy Lucy 'burger, you should know you're only going to get one very quick shot at it.

IMG_1194The trick to making a Jucy Lucy (or a Juicy Lucy as it is sometimes spelled) is keeping the cheese contained inside the meat.  That requires meticulously sealing two thin equal-sized slightly-wider-than-normal patties of ground beef around the cheesy center.  If the patties aren't sealed securely the cheese will ooze out in spots as the 'burger cooks, instead of turning into an oozy-gooey molten cheesy center.  As for the cheese, I'm of the opinion that nothing other than processed American or Velveeta will do because they melt to free-flowing perfection -- trust me on this point.

For every Jucy Lucy cheese-stuffed 'burger:

8  ounces lean ground beef (90/10)

1  slice American or Velveeta cheese (the two authentic choices)

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

Part One:  Forming the patties. 

IMG_1136 IMG_1141 IMG_1148 IMG_1153~Step 1.  For each 'burger, you'll need two, even-sized, even-thickness, firmly-compacted, perfectly-formed, intact, thin, slightly-wider-than-usual patties -- it's that specific, so put your detail-oriented hat on before proceeding.  The best way to insure uniformity (which insures the 'burger cooks and the cheese melts properly), is to take all of the guess work out of it.  Using a kitchen scale, for each burger, weigh 8 ounces of lean ground beef.  When it comes to the Jucy Lucy, I get foolproof results with 90/10.  Substitute at your own risk.  Using the scale, divide the meat into 2, 4-ounce portions.  Working on a piece of parchment paper and using a 4 1/2" round pastry cutter and a tart tamper, tamp the meat to form 2, 4-ounce, 4 1/2" round, 1/3"-thick patties.

Part Two:  Stuffing & constructing the 'burgers.

IMG_1156 IMG_1160 IMG_1166 IMG_1171~Step 2.  Cut one slice of American or Velveeta cheese into 4 quarters.  If you are thinking this is not enough cheese, trust me, it is more than enough.  Stuff in more at your own risk. Stack the cheese as pictured in the center of one patty.  Gently lift and place the second patty on top of the cheese.  Carefully pick the 'burger up, and, working your way around the perimeter, use your palm as a crimping tool, to seal the edges -- avoid turning the 'burger into a fat ball.  The burger should be 2/3"-thick and 4 1/2"-round, with a slight bump in the center where the cheese is.

Part Three:  Cooking the 'burgers.    

IMG_1179 IMG_1182 IMG_1183 IMG_1187~Step 3.  Cooking the Jucy Lucy, if you followed all of my directions,  is the easy part.  That said, I do not recommend the rough and tumble, tork and jerk, flip and flop lifestyle of the charcoal or gas grill grids.  The Jucy Lucy is a 'burger that responds perfectly to a kinder, gentler broiler pan, 5 1/2"-6" under the high-dry heat of the broiler, or over medium- medium-high heat, in a nonstick skillet, on the stovetop.  I'm demonstrating the broiler today, but, feel free to substitute a skillet.  In either case, generously season the top of the 'burger with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, and, cook as follows:  Cook 8 minutes per side, turning only once, for a total of 16 minutes. During the cooking process, do not press down on the top of the 'burger for any reason.

Place on a bun & top w/your favorite condiments: 

IMG_1188Get out lots of napkins & put on a bib -- it really does squirt*:  (*Table linens were damaged in the taking of this photo.)

IMG_1210How to:  Make a Jucy Lucy Cheese-Stuffed Burger:  Recipe yields instructions to construct and perfectly-cook a super-juicy, ooey-gooey, 8-ounce molten-cheese-stuffed 'burger.

Special Equipment List:  parchment paper; kitchen scale; 4 1/2" round pastry cutter; tart tamper; disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom

PICT2209Cook's Note:  Much like the rivalry between Pat's and Geno's over the iconic Philadelphia Cheesesteak Sandwich, two establishments, Matt's Bar and The 5-8 Club, about three miles from each other on Cedar Avenue in South Minneapolis, claim to have invented the Jucy or Juicy Lucy.  As one story goes, Matt Bristol purchased a bar in the latter 1950's (naming it Matt's Bar), in which a customer, after biting into one of the previous owner's unique  PICT2218cheese-stuffed 'burgers, remarked, "wow, that's juicy lucy."    Mr. Bristol is credited with adding the 'burger to the menu, thus popularizing it.  The 5-8 Club, originally a speakeasy during the 1920's, doesn't have a particular origin story, but spells their version correctly.  The Club's staff wears shirts that read "If it's spelled right, it's done right."  Matt's Bar says, "If it is spelled right, you are eating a shameless rip-off!" 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017) 

07/03/2017

~ Creamy Dreamy No-Bake Strawberry Key Lime Pie ~

IMG_1104Here's a pie I seldom get the opportunity to make because, after making strawberry shortcakes, a batch of strawberry preserves, and, some strawberry dessert topping, I rarely have leftover strawberries.  That said, I keep this super-simple go-to recipe in my repertoire for times when I do have a few cups of seriously-ripe strawberries at that "use 'em or lose 'em" stage.  Read on:

The combination of strawberry & key lime is delightfully grown up.

All of us have encountered recipes similar to this, and you've probably even tasted them once or twice -- it originated on the box of Jell-O brand strawberry-flavored gelatin (and if memory serves me correctly, back in the 1980's, it was called "strawberry dream pie").  Back then, we had an elderly neighbor, Connie (an expert cross-stitcher), who served it to Joe and I and our boys, on her patio, on more than a few occasions -- my boys loved it.  When she and Curt moved back to their home state of Connecticut, from time-to-time my kids would ask for it, so, I "played around with it" and, oh my pie, the combination of strawberries and key lime is:  delightfully grown up.   

IMG_1040Before starting, it's important to note that my recipe yields a total of 6 3/4-7 cups of pie filling.  This means the capacity of the 9" pie dish you own needs to be confirmed and you need to plan accordingly -- if it's small, make two pies or make half the amount of filling.  To measure the capacity, use a 1-cup measure to fill the pie dish with water.  I own three brands in three sizes: 

9" round by 1 1/4" deep = 4 cups 

9" round by 1 1/2" deep = 5 cups 

9" round by 2" deep (aka "deep dish") = 7 cups

************

1  9" deep-dish graham cracker or chocolate cookie crumb crust, prepared according to my recipe's directions (Note:  Feel free to use a store-bought crust, like I did "in a pinch" today, but be aware, store-bought crusts are typically 8" in diameter with a 3 cup capacity, so, there will be pie filling left over.  Even if you make two pies, you'll still have some filling leftover.  Worry not, it's just fine -- portion the leftover pie filling into small custard cups, like I did today, and refrigerate it -- they're a fantastic dessert on their own.)

1  3-ounce box Jell-O strawberry gelatin

2  cups crushed strawberries, chilled (from 1 pound very ripe hulled and sliced or quartered strawberries)

3/4  cup boiling water

1/2  cup key lime juice

1 1/2  cups heavy or whipping cream, chilled

3/4  cup Confectioners' sugar

IMG_1050 IMG_1057~ Step 1.  Slice strawberries and place in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Using 10 rapid on-off pulses, process strawberries into small bits and pieces.  Transfer to a 2-cup measure or food storage container and refrigerate.

IMG_1061 IMG_1065 IMG_1069 IMG_1071~Step 2.  Place Jell-O in a small bowl.  In a 1-cup measuring container, bring 3/4 cup of water to a boil in the microwave.  Add boiling water to gelatin and stir until until gelatin is dissolved.  Stir in the key lime juice.  Refrigerate until gelatin is thick but not set, 1 hour - 1 hour 10 minutes.

IMG_1074 IMG_1081~ Step 3.  When gelatin has been in refrigerator 55 minutes, place cream in a medium bowl along with the Confectioners' sugar.  Starting on low speed of hand-held electric mixer, gradually increase mixer speed to high and beat the sweetened cream to firm peaks.  Set aside and remove the 2 cups chilled crushed strawberries from the refrigerator.

IMG_1082 IMG_1086 IMG_1089 IMG_1094~Step 4.  Remove chilled and thickened gelatin from refrigerator and transfer to a large bowl.  On high mixer speed, beat until thickened and frothy, 4-5 minutes.  Remove mixer.  Using spatula incorporate all the whipped cream, followed by all the crushed strawberries, into the gelatin.

IMG_1096 IMG_1098~ Step 5.  Transfer the pie filling to prepared graham cracker or chocolate cookie crumb crust and refrigerate until well-chilled, 4 hours or overnight, prior to serving.  For clean cuts, place pie in freezer for 2 hours prior to slicing.

Chill 4 hours or overnight, then, freeze 2 hours prior to slicing:  

IMG_1115Thaw each creamy, dreamy slice 5 minutes, prior to serving:

IMG_1130Creamy Dreamy No-Bake Strawberry Key Lime Pie:  Recipe yields 2, standard-sized 9" pies/8 servings each, or, 1, 9" deep-dish pie/8-10 servings, or, 1, 8" pie/8 servings + 4 individual, 3/4-cup sized desserts, or 2, 8" pies/8 servings each + 2 individual, 3/4-cup sized desserts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 2-cup measuring container or 2-cup food storage container; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; soup-type ladle (optional)

IMG_4028Cook's Note:  "Mousse" is a fancy French term meaning  "froth" or "foam" because the technique involves incorporating whipped egg whites or whipped cream into a sweet or savory purée to give the end product its signature light, airy texture.  In the home kitchen, mousse is usually associated with an easy-to-prepare  dessert made from fruit or chocolate that is typically fortified with unflavored gelatin too.  Got strawberries?  Try my recipe for, ~ Pretty in Pink: Easy, Elegant Strawberry Mousse ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

06/30/2017

~Dare to be Square: Chocolate Chip Cookie Squares~

IMG_0990Pan cookies.  That's what I called this oldie-but-goodie recipe way back when my mom used to make them in the 1970's.  She made Magic Cookie Squares and a Wacky Cake in that 9" x 13" aluminum pan too, but, when I asked for pan cookies, or, when she announced she was making pan cookies, it meant one thing:  The Original Nestlé Toll House Chocolate Chip Pan Cookie -- the one printed on the back of their bags of semi-sweet chocolate morsels (and currently on their website).  It also meant that besides a few days of great after-school snacks, there'd be a freshly-baked warm one on all of our plates, with a scoop of ice-cream on top, for dessert after dinner.

Crispy on the outside w/a chewy soft chocolate center.  Sigh.

IMG_1027Baking chocolate chip cookies is easy, but baking chocolate chip pan cookie squares is even easier.  If you're in the midst of an uncontrollable chocolate chip cookie craving, bake pan cookies  -- in less time with less mess and zero stress, you'll be eating thick, chewy chocolate chip cookie squares loaded with lots of ooey gooey chocolate chips.  No electric mixer required and no need to chill the dough either.  There's more.  With my version of the classic recipe, you don't even have to wait for the butter to soften -- just melt it in the microwave.  Mix 'em, bake 'em, cut 'em and stack 'em up next to a big mug of your favorite coffee or a glass of milk and indulge. 

IMG_09102 cups + 2  tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  large egg + 1 large egg yolk

2  teaspoons pure chocolate extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1  cup lightly-packed light brown sugar

1/2  cup sugar 

12  tablespoons salted butter (1 1/2 sticks)  

2  cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels, or, 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate morsels + 1 cup milk-chocolate morsels

1  cup chopped walnuts (optional)

no-stick cooking spray

IMG_8827 IMG_0920 IMG_0912~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, using a spoon, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, using a fork, whisk the egg, egg yolk, chocolate extract and vanilla extract.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, place the brown sugar and granulated sugar.  In the microwave, melt the butter.

IMG_0923 IMG_0925 IMG_0926 IMG_0928 IMG_0931 IMG_0932~Step 2.  In the large bowl, using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly stir together the brown sugar, sugar and the melted butter.  Add and thoroughly incorporate the egg/extract mixture, then, add and fold in the flour mixture until just combined.  A thick cookie dough will have formed.  Fold in the chocolate morsels (and the optional walnuts too).

IMG_0936 IMG_0939 IMG_0940~Step 3.  Spray a 9" x 9" x 2" square baking pan w/a removable bottom (or a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan) with cooking spray.   Transfer the cookie dough to the pan.  Using the rubber spatula, spread the dough throughout the bottom of the pan, doing your best to form a smooth-topped layer of even thickness throughout.

IMG_0944 IMG_0947~ Step 4.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven, 24-26 minutes, until puffy and lightly-browned on top.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool, in pan, 1 hour.  Remove from pan by pushing up on the bottom and return to wire rack to cool completely, 1 hour, prior to slicing and serving.  Note:  It might be necessary to run a paring knife around the sides of the pan if cookie has not baked cleanly away from sides.

Mix, bake, slice & eat with your favorite mug of your favorite coffee (while reading your favorite cooking blog):

IMG_0995Dare to be Square:  Chocolate Chip Cookie Squares:  Recipe yields 32, 2 1/4"-square pan cookies, which after cooling, can be cut, individually wrapped and frozen.

Special Equipment List: spoon; fork; 1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula; 9" x 9" x 2" baking pan w/removable bottom, or, 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan; wire cooling rack; paring knife  

IMG_9703Cook's Note:  For generations, we Americans have had a love affair with chocolate chip cookies. Surveys unanimously and overwhelmingly place the chocolate chip cookie at the top of our all-time favorite cookie list for over three-quarters of our population, and, it all started with the all-American Toll House cookie.  Who do we thank for and what's the history behind this iconic cookie?  To find out, read my post  ~ The Original Nestlé's Toll House Cookie Recipe ~.  Trust me. I'm certain you'll find it fascinating.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

06/28/2017

~ Sausage, Pepper and Onion Pasta or Pizza Sauce ~

IMG_0874Spaghetti with ground meat sauce.  It's an all-American Italian-American classic that makes short work of pleasing all the people all the time (while feeding all of them at the same time) -- especially kids.  Ground beef, diced onion, crushed tomatoes, herbs and seasonings.  It might be basic and simple, but it's a meal everyone wants to come home to.  I raised three boys, and, in terms of spaghetti with meat sauce, there was one variation they enjoyed with equal enthusiasm: my bolder, fuller-flavored "sausage sandwich sauce"  -- that is what they affectionately named it.

"Sausage sandwich sauce."  That's what my boys named it.

IMG_0899If you're familiar with the fixings for the beloved and classic Italian-American sausage sandwich (sautéed or grilled sausage links or patties, bell peppers and onions), it's obvious why my kids astutely named it "sausage sandwich sauce".  My thick, rich, sausage, pepper and onion sauce is perfect for pasta and pizza -- it's like eating a sausage sandwich served on pasta or pizza (rather than heaped atop a sandwich roll or slathered over a pizza crust).  There's more.  Unlike traditional Italian meat sauces, which simmer low and slow for a long time to develop the flavor, this one can be made quickly -- about 15 minutes to prep the ingredients, 15 minutes to sauté the meat and veggies, and, 15 minutes to simmer the actual sauce.  Cook the pasta while the sauce is simmering and voila:  dinner is on the table in 45 short minutes.  Tell me -- what's not to love.

All the flavor of a sausage sandwich -- on pasta or pizza

IMG_07934  tablespoons olive oil

12-16  ounces sweet or hot Italian sausage (or a combination of both), casings removed, pulled into small bits and pieces

6  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

6  ounces diced green bell pepper

6  ounces diced red bell pepper

2  teaspoons dried oregano

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2   teaspoon sugar

1 1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/2  cup Chianti (an Italian red wine), or Port wine

1  6-ounce can tomato paste

2  28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes (6 cups crushed tomatoes)

IMG_0798 IMG_0802 IMG_0805~ Step 1.  Place the olive oil in the bottom of a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with straight deep sides. Using your fingertips, quickly pull and drop small bits of sausage into the pan -- it ok if they overlap or fall on top of each other. Sauté over medium-high heat, using a spatula to keep the meat moving constantly, just until sausage bits have started to firm up and have lost almost all of their pink color, about 2-3 minutes.

Note:  Why pull the sausage apart first rather than break it up with a spatula while it cooks (which is a bit easier)?  It's personal.  I like small, soft, succulent bits and pieces of cooked but unbrowned sausage swimming around in my sauce.  If it is put in the pan "as is" and broken up with a spatula as it cooks, a good deal of it starts to brown and crisp, which turns small, soft, succulent bits into bigger, harder, dried-out chunks and pieces.  My way is more refined.

IMG_0810 IMG_0814 IMG_0816~ Step 2.  Add onions and bell peppers to pan along with the seasonings (oregano, red pepper flakes, sugar, salt and black pepper).  Stir to combine and continue to sauté, stirring almost constantly, until vegetables are just softened, 5-6 minutes.  Do not overcook -- the bell peppers should still be colorful.

IMG_0819 IMG_0821 IMG_0825 IMG_0834~Step 3.  Stir the  wine into the vegetables, followed by the tomato paste.  When tomato paste is completely incorporated, add the crushed tomatoes.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently.  There's no reason to cook this full-flavored sauce longer.  

Remove from heat & use to sauce pasta or pizza.

IMG_0845Or portion into food storage containers & freeze.

IMG_0856Tread lightly.  A little of this bold sauce goes a long way.

IMG_0882My Sausage, Pepper & Onion Pasta & Pizza Sauce:  Recipe yields 10 cups/enough to sauce 3 pounds of pasta/enough for 3 meals, or, enough to sauce 6, 12"-round pizzas.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; spatula; 1-cup measuring container; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b017ee9a89cc2970dCook's Note:  Anyone who has raised children knows that Italian-American spaghetti and meatballs and many pasta dishes in general keep the complaints down to a minimum. Surely you didn't think I'd post today's sausage sauce without giving you the link to my ~ Pasta with Ground Meat Sauce ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

06/25/2017

~ Seriously Simple & Sweet: Fresh All Strawberry Pie ~

IMG_0773When it comes to freshly-picked, home-grown strawberries, past eating them out-of-hand, as a strawberry dessert lover, I'm a purest at heart.  Today's recipe is a perfect example.  I'd rather bake a smaller-sized pie that's loaded with lots of strawberries, than add another ingredient to them (because I don't have enough strawberries) to fill a bigger pie dish.  Note:  I have nothing (zero) against the quintessential strawberry-rhubarb pie concoction (we grow rhubarb in our garden too), I just prefer to indulge in a slice of pie containing all of one or all of the other.  Period.

IMG_4770My memories of fresh strawberry pie consist of two distinctly different versions.  The first, which I along with almost every other kid in 1960's America loved, was super-simple and made with strawberry-flavored Jell-O (gelatin).  This was the kind that was typically available in grocery stores during strawberry season (probably because the gelatin extended the pie's shelf life).  The second, which was more scratch made, was thickened with a pantry product called Sure-Jell (powdered pectin).  This was the kind made at home or found in bakeries during strawberry season.  For lack of a better word, the second pie was less gelatinous than the first, but, both pies were good in their own right.  That said, as a discerning adult, the latter is far superior to the first.

IMG_0690Today's pie is a 6 1/2" pie.  

When I bake half-sized pies I bake them in pie dishes that measure 5" across the bottom, 6 1/2" across the top, and, are 1 3/4" deep.  To make a full-sized, standard 9" pie, simply double my pie filling recipe.

Double my pie filling recipe to make a full-sized, standard 9" pie.

IMG_0682To make a half-sized pie pastry shell, you need pie pastry, and, to make 1, 6 1/2" round shell, you need two-thirds the amount you would use to make one, 9" single-crust pie.  Use your favorite recipe or click here to get my recipe for ~ Making Pâte Brisée: Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~.  That said, when I'm making a half-sized shell, the perfect size to feed four people, I feel no guilt in using a store-bought crust to save time.  It bakes up golden and no ever complains.

IMG_0683Blind-bake or bake-blind, is the English term for baking a pastry shell before it is filled.  There are two instances when you need to prebake your pie pastry:  #1)  A pastry shell that, once the filling is added, does not return to the oven for further baking, and, #2)  A pastry shell that will get filled with a custard, cream, mousse or fully-cooked/ready-to-eat filling and will return to the oven for further baking. In this application, the degree to which you prebake the pastry (barely brown, lightly brown, golden brown) is determined by the length of time it will take the filled pie to finish baking, meaning:  the longer it takes the pie filling to bake, the lighter in color the prebaked crust should be when it goes into the oven, so, always follow the recipe's instructions. For more specifics, read ~ How to: Blind-Bake a Pastry Shell (Baking Blind) ~.  Today's pie pastry: has been baked in a 425° oven for 8-9 minutes and has been completely cooled on a wire rack.

My Seriously Simple & Sweet Strawberry Pie Filling:

IMG_06981  6 1/2" pie pastry, homemade or store-bought, blind-baked & cooled completely

1 1/2  pounds hulled fresh, whole strawberries

6  tablespoons sugar

1  tablespoon low-sugar Sure-Jell (powdered pectin)

1  tablespoon cornstarch

1  tablespoon lemon juice, fresh or high-quality Organic bottled lemon juice

1  tablespoon pure strawberry extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 tablespoons water

IMG_0701~ Step 1.  Choose 10 of the prettiest, medium-sized hulled strawberries (about 4 ounces). Slice them on half and decoratively arrange them on a 6" dessert plate, or a plate roughly the size of the top of the pie dish.  Set them aside -- these are going to be the top of the pie.  Slice (the remaining) 1 pound, 4 ounces of strawberries to a thickness of 1/4" (about 4 cups sliced strawberries).

Place 2 cups of sliced berries in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade (to make the glaze) and set remaining 2 cups sliced berries aside (to make the filling).

IMG_0705 IMG_0708 IMG_0714 IMG_0722~Step 2.  To make the glaze,  to the 2 cups of sliced strawberries in the processor, add the sugar, powdered pectin, cornstarch, lemon juice, strawberry extract and vanilla extract.  Using a series of 10 rapid on-off pulses followed by the motor running for 30 seconds, purée the strawberries. Transfer the mixture to a 1-quart saucier or saucepan.  Over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, bring to a boil and continue to boil until glaze has thickened, about 1 full minute.

IMG_0726 IMG_0733 IMG_0734 IMG_0739 IMG_0742 IMG_0749~Step 3.  To make the pie filling, remove the glaze from the heat, transfer to a medium bowl and set aside to cool about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove 3 tablespoons of glaze from the bowl and place in a small bowl or ramekin. Add the remaining 2 cups of strawberries to the medium bowl of glaze.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly fold the strawberries into the glaze, to evenly coat the strawberries.  Using a tablespoon, stir the 1 1/2 tablespoons water into the 3 tablespoons remaining glaze.

IMG_0745 IMG_0754 IMG_0757~ Step 4.  Using a large spoon or spatula, spoon the pie filling into the prepared pie shell, leveling it so the strawberries remain flat.  Decoratively arrange the reserved strawberry halves over the top.  Using a pastry brush, paint the tops of the strawberry halves with the "watered down" glaze.  Refrigerate the pie, uncovered, until the glaze it set, about 2 hours, or until serving time (4-6 hours).  That said:  

This simply scrumptious pie is best served the day it's made.

IMG_0786Seriously Simple & Sweet:  Fresh All Strawberry Pie:  Recipe yields 1 half-sized pie/4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  strawberry huller (optional); cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 1-quart saucier or saucepan; large spoon; large rubber spatula; pastry brush

IMG_5400Cook's Note:  There is a certain satisfaction in teaching people how to love food made from a misunderstood ingredient.  Rhubarb, sometimes called "the pie vegetable" is one such ingredient. The green-stalked rhubarb we grow in our garden was transplanted from my dad's garden, which was transplanted from his dad's garden. For those of you who like your rhubarb pie unadulterated, and that includes not too much sugar: ~ Pucker-Up for a Straight-Up Rhubarb Streusel Pie ~.  Give my very special recipe a try!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

06/23/2017

~ Simple & Sweet: Homemade Strawberry Topping ~

IMG_0672Strawberries, one of the first fruits to ripen in the Spring, are considered to be the fruit that announces "Summer is here", and, here in Central Pennsylvania, we've been enjoying our own homegrown and locally-grown farmers-market strawberries for a couple of weeks now.  From pancakes, waffles and French toast, to cheesecake, shortcake and ice-cream (to name a few), the 20-30 minutes it takes to make strawberry topping is well-worth the effort.  It's luscious.

Those who scratch-make this pretty-to-look-at positively-yummy tart-and-sweet topping make it to their own liking.  Some folks hull and toss the berries in whole, then after it has cooked, mash the mixture so it contains uniform-sized bits and pieces.  Some remove and purée a portion of the cooked topping, then, stir the purée back into the chunkier topping for a multi-textural experience. Others strain the cooked topping, to produce a thick, chunky topping in one container, and, a thin, drizzly sauce in another.  In all cases, it can be served hot, warm or chilled.  It's personal.

IMG_4770Simple, sweet & straightforward, here's my version:

All recipes for strawberry topping contain sugar and almost all contain vanilla extract and a bit of lemon juice too.  My recipe contains all three plus a full tablespoon of organic strawberry extract for an even fuller-flavor.  I do, however, do one thing different.  I like to use cornstarch to thicken the mixture.  This shortens the simmer time from about 15 minutes to 3 minutes, which means my strawberries maintain more of their shape and texture.  Mostly I do nothing with my topping after it comes off the stove, except let it cool to room temperature 1-2 hours prior to refrigerating it.  That said, on occasion I purée it with an immersion blender -- halfway until it is almost smooth with little pieces of strawberry in it, or, all the way, until it is completely smooth.  It's your choice.

IMG_06094-5  cups hulled & 1/4" sliced straw berries (1 1/4-1 1/2 pounds after hulling)

1/2  cup + 2 tablespoons sugar

1/2  cup + 2 tablespoons water

1  tablespoon pure strawberry extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1  teaspoon lemon juice, fresh or high-quality Organic bottled lemon juice

2  tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 3 tablespoons water

2  drops red food coloring (optional)

IMG_0612 IMG_0618 IMG_0621 IMG_0615~Step 1.  Hull and slice the strawberries as directed, placing them in a saucier or saucepan as you work.  Add the sugar, water, extracts and lemon juice.  Stir to thoroughly combine.  Over medium- medium-high heat, bring to a boil, then adjust the heat to a steady, gentle simmer.  While mixture it coming to a simmer, in a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and water.

IMG_0624 IMG_0626 IMG_0629 IMG_0642~Step 2.  Drizzle the the milky-looking cornstarch/water mixture into the simmering strawberries -- it will change in appearance to clear and glistening as it simmers. Continue to gently simmer the strawberries until mixture is thick and syrupy, about 3 1/2-4 minutes. Stir in 1-2 drops of the optional red food coloring at this time -- not too much, just enough to boost the color a bit.

IMG_0642Remove from heat & serve warm, or, allow to cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, 1-2 hours, prior to refrigerating (which will thicken it a bit more) & serving cold.

IMG_0650Simple & Sweet:  Homemade Strawberry Topping:  Recipe yields 3 cups strawberry dessert topping.  Keep stored in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.  Do not freeze.

Special Equipment List:  strawberry huller (optional); cutting board; chef's knife; 3-quart saucier or 3-4-quart saucepan; large spoon

IMG_4966Cook's Note:  ~ Scrumptious Sweet-Cream-Biscuits & Strawberries (commonly referred to as Strawberry Short Cakes ~.  I grew up eating this classic dessert served on sponge cake -- which makes sense because sponge cake is a specialty of the Pennsylvania Deutsch.  If you grew up in New England, they put strawberries on short biscuits.  This makes sense because this type of short cake, called a biscuit by the British, was brought to America by the English settlers.  "Short" refers to their crumbly texture.  "Cake" refers to the fact that they sweeten them to make them more tender.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017) 

06/21/2017

~The Ninety Nine Vermonster Cheddar Cheeseburger~

IMG_0498Ninety Nine is a restaurant and pub chain headquartered in Massachusetts, with over 100 locations throughout the Northeast.  With 47 locations in Massachusetts, 10 in Connecticut, 3 in Maine, 12 in New Hampshire and 2 in Rhode Island and 2 in Vermont, they know a thing or two about New-England-Style pub grub and hospitality.  They boast no-nonsense food at down-to-earth prices and "a passion to serve".  My one-and-only experience with a Ninety-Nine restaurant was in Vermont, and it was a very tasty one, in the form of a Vermonster of a cheeseburger.

99-logoWhile a big juicy cheeseburger with cheddar and bacon on it was neither new or surprising to me, I won't lie, it was the thought of sweet and savory sautéed onions and apples piled on top of it with a creamy maple syrup-laced mayonnaise slathered on the slightly-sweet potato roll that hooked me.  Once I read those words, I stopped reading the menu.

Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 7.06.06 AMNinety Nine flame broils all of their burgers, and they are indeed juicy with the signature charred taste (a direct result of that cooking method). That said, I am an indoor/fair-weather outdoor kinda gal, and, even over an open flame, give me a cast-iron skillet with a lid and I'll make you a great burger that will compete with anyones.

Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 7.06.33 AMGive me a skillet w/a lid & I'll make a burger that'll compete w/any.

While everyone, including me, likes a 'burger made over the high, but dry, heat of a charcoal or gas grill, I love a 'burger that is pan-seared, in its own juices, in a skillet.  I grew up eating them prepared exclusively in that manner, and, truthfully, before everyone had a grill in their backyard, so did everyone else.  Our grandmothers knew how to make great burgers -- moist and juicy with no lighter fluid or propane required.  Quite frankly, it's a lost art, and, I'm here to show you how to do it on your stovetop.  That said, in the Summer and Fall, I like to make 'burgers on my portable gas burner.  Why?  I can make them on my deck, your patio, and, at tailgate any time.

IMG_8577 IMG_8586 IMG_8593 IMG_8601Meet the Iwantani 35F portable butane stove.  With 15,000 BTU's it's a high-quality workhorse that comes in a nifty protective carry case too.  If you've always wanted a gas stove but circumstances prevent it, this $75-$80 piece of equipment is, without compromise, as good as any residential gas stove and far superior to every electric stove.  It turns on and off with one easy click (which is why it's been given the nickname "click-burner" stove) and regulates heat perfectly. On high, it's hot enough to stir-fry like a pro, and, on low, it will keep sauce simmering gently without any boil overs or fear of scorching.  It runs on inexpensive butane canisters (about $20 for a case of twelve) which will last 45-60 minutes each, depending on how high the flame is set.

Part One:  Making the Maple Mayonnaise

IMG_0482For the maple mayonnaise:

3/4  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup pure Vermont maple syrup

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_0486~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, thoroughly stir together the mayonnaise, maple syrup and pepper.  Cover w/plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.

Part Two:  Making the Toppings:

IMG_0494For the bacon and the sautéed onion and apple topping:

8  slices thick-sliced bacon bacon, fried crisp, drained & cut in half to form 16 pieces

3 1/2-4  cups peeled and 1/4"-thick sliced, "half-moon-shaped Vidalia onions, or other sweet onion (about 12 ounces)*

3 1/2-4 cups peeled and sliced Granny Smith or Gala apples (3 apples, about 8 ounces each prior to peeling)*

4  tablespoons salted butter + 2 tablespoons bacon drippings (reserved from above)

1  tablespoon sugar

2  tablespoons pure maple syrup

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

*Note:  To insure even cooking, it is important to slice the onions and apples to a uniform thickness.  If you want them thicker, slice them thicker.  Also, don't worry if your apples turn a little brown while waiting to get added to the pan.  They are going to turn brown anyway in the skillet.

IMG_0528 IMG_0531 IMG_0534 IMG_0537~Step 1.  In 12" skillet, over medium- medium-high heat, fry bacon as directed.  Transfer bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.  Remove and discard all but about 2 tablespoons drippings from skillet.  Over low heat, melt butter into the bacon drippings.  Add and stir in the onions, until thoroughly combined.  Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions have lost a lot of their moisture, are limp, and steamed through, about 5-6 minutes.

IMG_0539 IMG_0542 IMG_0544 IMG_0548 IMG_0550~Step 2.  Add and stir the apples, sugar, maple syrup and pepper  into the onion mixture, until thoroughly combined.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the apples have lost their volume and are limp too, another 6 minutes.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Sauté, stirring constantly, like you would a stir-fry, 6 more minutes, until golden. Remove from heat and set aside (or, feel free to cook a bit longer if you want a deeper golden color*).

Note:  If deeper golden is desired, go another 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly, but watch carefully as the sugar and maple syrups in this mixture can and will go from brown to burned in an instant.  

Part Three:  Making the Cheeseburgers

IMG_0556For 4 cheeseburgers and the assembly:

1 1/2  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

8  slices yellow cheddar cheese

all the fried bacon

all the onion and apple topping

all the maple mayonnaise 

4  potato hamburger rolls

IMG_0524 IMG_8638 IMG_8647~Step 1.  Divide the meat into 4, 6-ounce portions. Form each portion into a 4"-4 1/2"-round disc, approximately 1/2" thick. Place hamburgers in the skillet and season them liberally with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Turn the "click burner" on and adjust the heat to medium high.

IMG_8655 IMG_8665 IMG_8668 IMG_8673 IMG_0561~Step 2.  Cook 'burgers on first side six minutes.  Flip them over on their second sides, and, this time, lightly season them (less than the first side) with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Reduce heat to medium- medium-low and continue to cook another six minutes.  Place two slices of cheese on each 'burger, put lid on skillet, turn heat off, and wait, for the cheese to melt, 1-1 1/2 minutes.

Slather each potato roll w/maple mayo, place a cheddar-'burger on top + two half-slices bacon & a big scoop of onion-apple sauté:

IMG_0506Enjoy every last delightful sweet, savory & slightly-salty bite:

IMG_0583The Ninety Nine Vermonster Cheddar Cheeseburger:  Recipe yields 4 large cheeseburgers.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon; 12" skillet w/lid; paper towels; cutting board; vegetable peeler; paring knife; large slotted spoon; spatula

IMG_8160Cook's Note:  For those who don't eat red meat, Ninety Nine will happily make you a turkey burger instead.  For those who want to ~ Know the Pros & 'Cons' of Ground Turkey or Beef ~, just read my post.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

06/18/2017

~ A Classic Cobb Salad: Open-Faced Sandwich-Style ~

IMG_0427 (1)A restaurant that serves a great Cobb or chef's salad for lunch is a restaurant I will frequent.  Like Seinfeld's Elaine, I like a big salad, light on the lettuce with a lot of perfectly-cooked good stuff in it, right down to more-than-a-few crunchy, buttery-rich croutons on top.  The Cobb and chef's salads are both "composed salads", meaning, they are a pretty-to-look-at, arranged-on-a-plate, high-quality, meal unto themselves -- a perfectly-balanced mixture of color, flavor and texture.  At the discretion of the chef, a combination of impeccably-fresh and perfectly-cooked ingredients (via poaching, simmering, boiling, marinating, roasting, broiling, baking, grilling, etc.) get carefully-selected and meticulously sliced, diced or minced, pulled, julienned or chiffonade.  

The making of a composed salad is:  a cooking lesson unto itself.

IMG_0455Cobb & chef's salad are two distinctly different composed salads.

250px-Chef_SaladWhile the Cobb and chef salad are both composed salads, they are distinctly different. Historically, the chef salad was the precursor to a 17th Century protein-packed meal called salmagundi.  It consisted of cooked meat, poultry or fish, various cheeses, fresh, blanched or marinated vegetables, cooked eggs and/or toasted nuts or seeds, served on a bed of greens with a vinaigrette.  That said, Chef Louis Diat of The Ritz is credited for popularizing it in the 1940's. (Photos courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Cobb_salad _21_July_2008The Cobb salad (affectionately called the California Cobb) was invented in 1937 at Hollywood's Brown Derby Restaurant by the owner, Robert Cobb.  It's said to have been composed for some hungry late night diners.  Mr. Cobb carefully chose from a variety of uniformly sliced and diced ingredients from the day's fare, arranging them in unusually neat lines atop a bed of lettuce as he plated.  Shortly thereafter, his work-of-art salad became a famous menu item.

While a chef salad can contain any number of ingredients, the Cobb salad is quite specific.  It starts with a lettuce mixture, typically, iceberg, romaine and a few bitter greens too, which dramatically afters the flavor profile of the salad, making it much more interesting.  While poached or roasted chicken breast is classic, ham is sometimes substituted, and crisply-fried bacon always makes an appearance.  Other must-haves are: hard-cooked egg, avocado, tomato, and, blue or roquefort cheese.  Buttery croutons add the crunch and a red-wine vinaigrette pulls it all together.

My favorite version of the perfect classic Cobb salad... 

IMG_0388Start with a chiffonade of ice-cold, crispy romaine lettuce topped with decoratively arranged thinly-sliced fork-tender, all-white meat poached chicken breast, and some chards of crispy oven-roasted bacon bits.  Arrange some tender hard-cooked eggs (with bright yellow yolks -- no horrid gray halos), acidy tomato, mellow Hass avocado and sharp red onion atop or around the chicken. Sprinkle with a generous amount of tangy blue cheese crumbles and a few buttery French-bread homemade croutons.  It's customary to serve it with red-wine vinaigrette and my recipe takes a back seat to none.  That said, my husband prefers his Cobb salad with blue cheese dressing

IMG_0445... is served atop one big, buttery, French bread crouton! 

IMG_0348"Crouton" is our English word for any small piece of plain or seasoned, sliced or cubed, toasted or fried bread used to accompany or garnish soups, salads and other dishes.  It is derived from the French word "croûton" (kroo-tawn) which the French define as a small piece of bread or snack bread usually served with drinks.  "Croûte" (kroot) is the French word for crust and "en croûte" refers to food wrapped in or IMG_0350topped with a pastry crust then baked until the pastry is golden.

1  3-ounce, 6" long French demi baguette, trimmed lengthwise through the center to form 2, 1/2"-thick slices of 6" long bread

4  tablespoons salted butter

1/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/4  teaspoon white pepper

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09a6f400970d IMG_0356Over medium heat, melt garlic powder and pepper into butter in a 10" nonstick skillet. Increase heat to medium-high and fry the bread, until lightly golden on both sides, turning only once, about 1 1/2 minutes per side.  Transfer bread to a paper-towel-lined plate to cool to room temperature, about 10-15 minutes.  Do not over-crisp.

Note:  Do not over-crisp the bread-slice crouton.  Unlike croutons used on  salad, these are best if they have a bit of chew to them, meaning:  crispy yet soft enough to cut through with a knife.

IMG_0394 IMG_0398 IMG_0401 IMG_0403Arrange about 1/2 cup chiffonade of romaine atop 1, 6"-long French bread crouton.  Place 5-6 small poached chicken slices alternately with 5-6 small red onion rings on top of the lettuce. On top of the chicken and onions, arrange 3-4 thin slices hard-cooked egg, 3-4 thin slices avocado and 6-8 slices grape tomato coins.  Garnish with some fried bacon bits or chards and blue cheese crumbles over all, drizzle with red wine vinaigrette and serve immediately.

Serve immediately with a nice glass of your favorite white wine: 

IMG_0454A Classic Cobb Salad:  Open-Faced Sandwich-Style:  Recipe yields instructions to make open-faced sandwich-style salads/1 serving each.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; chef's knife 10" nonstick skillet; paper towels

IMG_0869Cook's NoteThe 1905 salad.  Never heard of it?  You haven't traveled to Florida very often.  The Columbia Restaurant, now a chain of six or seven restaurants (I've lost track) throughout The Sunshine State, is a fourth-generation family business that specializes in really good Spanish food at reasonable prices. Their signature dish is a chef's salad with a lemony vinaigrette -- it's one of my all-time favorites.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

06/15/2017

~ In a Pie Shell: A Pie Filling is Thicker than Pudding ~

IMG_0286"What's the difference between pie filling and pudding?"  That was the question that came across my desk last week, and, when you ask, I always answer.  "I can't seem to find any recipes for pudding on your blog."  That was the comment that followed the question that came across my desk last week, and, when it is brought to my attention that my blog is lacking something, I fix it.  

Thank-you Missy.  You triggered my writing three pudding posts, ~ Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pudding ~, ~ Old-Fashioned Very Vanilla Pudding ~ and ~ Old-Fashioned Butterscotch Pudding ~, one pie post, ~ How to: Make a Better Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pie , and, as a bonus, ~ How to: Cut, Form & Bake Small Pie Pastry Shells.  This is my last post on the subject (for now at least) and I'm reasonably certain I covered the topic thoroughly.  It was a tasty week.

IMG_0317What is the difference between a pudding & a pie filling?

There are exceptions to every rule and a lot of overlaps, but, here in the United States, "pudding" is the word used to describe a creamy, smooth milk-based dessert that is thickened by a starch, usually cornstarch.  On the other hand, "custard" is a milk- or cream-based dessert thickened by eggs and/or egg yolks.  "Cream puddings" use a custard base and are thickened by cornstarch.

My grandmother made fantastic pudding.  Technically speaking, her pudding recipes are based on the French method for making egg custard.  That means they contain egg yolks, which result in a deeper shade of yellow and a creamier texture.  For added richness, she also used a mixture of milk and cream (half and half), instead of milk.  All good news for a pudding lover like me.

Her recipes for pudding are very similar to each other (except for the flavoring), which, makes them remarkably easy to commit to memory.  The only time she changed one was when she wanted to make pie filling instead of pudding.  For a pie, she added an extra egg yolk and an extra tablespoon of cornstarch.  Why?  In order to achieve that pretty-to-look-at cleanly-cut slice of pie, pie filling needs extra thickener. This, in a pie shell, is the easiest way to define the difference between a pudding and a pudding- or custard-based pie filling.

To turn any of my pudding recipes into pie filling:

IMG_0056Add one extra egg yolk & one extra tablespoon cornstarch:

IMG_0309

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

06/12/2017

~How to: Make a Better Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pie~

IMG_0283Chocolate pie.  The kind our grandmothers made before they had too-many-to-mention options for high-quality, super-expensive brands of chocolate, cocoa powder and extracts imported from all over the world.  Two generations ago, when a mom wanted to surprise her family with a chocolate pie for dessert, she simply opened her pantry door, and, without hesitation, reached for a can of Hershey's cocoa powder and/or a few squares of Baker's unsweetened chocolate.  She cooked the pie filling on the stovetop, poured it into a baked pie shell, chilled the pie in the "icebox" and served it with freshly-whipped cream on top.  Those were kinder, gentler times.

IMG_0309We've come a long way baby.  There are so many chocolates, chocolate products and products that pair perfectly with chocolate, it's impossible not to make a better chocolate pie -- and I'm not suggesting my grandmother's chocolate pie recipe take a back seat to any one.  Her pie was fantastic.  In the 1940"s, she simply didn't have all the options that I have available to me.

IMG_0317What's the difference between pudding & pie filling?

IMG_0286In a pie shell:  Pie filling needs to be thicker than pudding.

My grandmother made fantastic pudding.  Her recipes for ~ Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pudding ~, ~ Old-Fashioned Very Vanilla Pudding ~ and ~ Old-Fashioned Butterscotch Pudding ~ were very similar to each other (except for the flavoring), which, made them remarkably easy to commit to memory.  Technically speaking, her pudding recipes are based on the French method for making egg custard.  That means they contain egg yolks, which result in a deeper shade of yellow and a creamier texture.  For added richness, she also used a mixture of milk and cream (half and half).  

The only time she changed one was when she wanted to make pie filling instead of pudding.  For a pie, she added an extra egg yolk and an extra tablespoon of cornstarch.  Why?  In order to achieve that pretty-to-look-at cleanly-cut slice of pie, pie filling needs extra thickener. This, is the easiest way to define the difference between a pudding and a pudding-based pie filling.

IMG_02241  cup heavy cream + 1 cup whole milk, or, 2 cups half and half

1  tablespoon each:  pure chocolate and pure vanilla extract

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3  tablespoons salted butter

3 large egg yolks

1  large egg

3/4  cup sugar

4  tablespoons cocoa powder, your favorite brand (Note:  I'm using Droste, Dutch processed today.)

1  teaspoon espresso powder

4  tablespoons cornstarch (1/4 cup)

3 1/2-4  ounces 100% cacao unsweetened chocolate, your favorite brand, chopped or broken into bits and pieces (Note:  I'm using a 4-ounce bar of Ghirardelli today.)

IMG_9769IMG_9772IMG_9774IMG_9776~Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container, measure and stir together the cream and milk or half and half, both extracts and the salt.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, using a fork, vigorously whisk together the egg yolks and whole egg.  Set aside.  Cut the butter into small cubes and set aside.

IMG_0227IMG_0230IMG_0232IMG_0238~Step 2.  Place the sugar, cocoa powder, expresso powder and cornstarch in a 3-quart saucier or saucepan. Using a wire whisk, thoroughly combine the three.  Whisk in all of the flavored milk mixture, whisking constantly until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute.  Turn heat on to medium. Whisking constantly, heat until steaming, 2-3 minutes.  Do not simmer or boil.  Turn the heat off, add the butter and whisk until butter is melted and thoroughly incorporated.  Remove from heat.

IMG_0240 IMG_0246 IMG_0249 IMG_0254~Step 3.  Slowly and in a thin stream, while whisking the eggs constantly with a fork, add 3-4 tablespoons of the steaming liquid to the eggs.  (Note:  This is called "tempering" and it will raise their temperature slowly and just enough to keep them from scrambling upon contact with the steaming liquid.)  In a slow, steady stream, whisk the tempered eggs into the milk mixture.

IMG_0254IMG_0261IMG_0267IMG_0269~Step 4.  Return saucier to stovetop.  Over medium heat, whisking constantly, bring mixture slowly to a simmer, 4-5 minutes. Simmer gently, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 1 minute.  Turn the heat off, add the chocolate pieces and continue to stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is thoroughly combined.  Transfer pie filling to a 1-quart measuring container, place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the pie filling, and allow to cool and settle a bit, 30-45 minutes.  You will have 3 total cups of dense, rich and decadent chocolate pie filling.  

Spoon filling into a baked 9" pie shell or 4, 4 1/2"-5" pie shells.   IMG_0197Refrigerate pie(s), uncovered, 4-6 hours or overnight. 

IMG_0274How to:  Make a Better Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pie:  Recipe yields 3 cups chocolate pie filling/1, 9" pie = 8-10 servings/ 4, 4 1/2"-5" pies = 4 (one pie per person)-8 (two servings per pie) two)-12 servings (four mini-slices per pie -- which are quite pretty on a dessert tray), 

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; fork; paring knife; cutting board; chef's knife; 3-quart saucier or saucepan; wire whisk; 1-quart measuring container; plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28c2e10970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28c2e4b970cCook's Note: ~ Let's Talk Chocolate: All about Baker's Chocolate ~. Baker's chocolate is an All-American product with a fascinating history. There's more.  ~ The Baker's German's ('German') Chocolate Pie ~ isn't German either.  It's a spinoff of the famous German Chocolate Cake recipe, which was the invention of a Dallas, Texas homemaker, Mrs. George Clay, back in 1957.  Fun foodie facts!  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

06/09/2017

~ How to: Cut, Form & Bake Small Pie Pastry Shells ~

IMG_0200Equivalent to a very generous slice of pie, everyone loves a small sweet or savory pie or quiche all to oneself or to share with our significant other -- especially those of us who love to nibble on the crispy crust.  When it comes to desserts, more specifically pies, tarts and cheesecakes, for special occasions, individual sweet treats are just more fun -- they make people smile.  While a bit more labor-intensive up front, they're well worth the "fussy" extra effort.  Why?  They're perfectly-portioned and require no slicing.  Serving them is 100% mess-free and stress-free.

IMG_0197This post refers to shells made w/classic, rolled pie pastry:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8fdda4b970bTo make small pie pastry shells, you need pie pastry, and, to make 4, 4"-4 1/2" round shells, you need the same amount you would use to make one, 9" single-crust pie.  Use your favorite recipe or click here to get my recipe for ~ Making Pâte Brisée: Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~.  That said, when I'm making small shells, each one the perfect size to feed one or two people, I feel no guilt in using store-bought crusts to save time.  They bake up golden and 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09a0f82a970dcrispy, and, no one has ever complained.

Blind-bake or bake-blind, is the English term for baking a pastry shell before it is filled.  There are two instances when you need to prebake your pie pastry:  #1)  A pastry shell that, once the filling is added, does not return to the oven for further baking.  In this application the pie pastry must be fully-baked, nicely browned and completely cooled before you add the filling, and, #2)  A pastry shell that will get filled with a custard, cream, mousse or fully-cooked/ready-to-eat filling and will return to the oven for further baking.  In this application, the degree to which you prebake the pastry (barely brown, lightly brown, golden brown) is determined by the length of time it will take the filled pie to finish baking, meaning:  the longer it takes the pie filling to bake, the lighter in color the prebaked crust should be when it goes into the oven, so, always follow the recipe's instructions. For more specifics, read ~ How to: Blind-Bake a Pastry Shell (Baking Blind) ~.

61WM8GKxZUL._SL1000_To make small pastry shells, you need small pie dishes or pie tins.  I have long preferred baking pies in clear glass (it allows me to keep an eye on how the pie pastry is browning) and Libby makes a great product for a great price ($16.00 for a set of 10, 4 1/2"-round dishes on Amazon and available for free shipping with a prime membership). If you love to bake, they're well worth the modest investment and they make a great gift too.

Roll pastry to a thickness of 1/16" & a diameter of 12 1/2":

IMG_9889Position 4, 4"-4 1/2" round pie dishes as pictured here:

IMG_9897Using a knife, slice the pastry into 4 quarters:

IMG_9900Drape one quarter of pastry over the top of each pie dish & use your fingertips to press it into the bottom & up the sides:

IMG_9904Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim & form the edges:

IMG_9907Using the tines of a fork, prick the bottoms of each shell:

IMG_9916Place formed pastry shells, well-part on a baking pan:

IMG_9923Bake on center rack of 425° oven, until golden, 8-9 minutes:

IMG_9925Cool completely, on a wire rack, prior to proceeding w/recipe: 

IMG_0205How to:  Cut, Form & Bake Small Pie Pastry Shells:  Recipe yields instructions to make 4, 4"-4 1/2" round, unbaked or fully-baked small pie shells.

Special Equipment List:  pastry board; rolling pin; ruler (optional): chef's knife; 4, 4"-4 1/2" round pie dishes or tins; kitchen shears; fork; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2881604970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8fddef1970bCook's Note: While we're on the subject, let's not forget about these  ~ Making Graham Cracker & Cookie Crumb Crusts ~. They're super-easy to make and so much better than store-bought (not that there is anything wrong with that).  Give it a read.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017) 

06/06/2017

~ How to: Make Old-Fashioned Very Vanilla Pudding ~

IMG_0177Exotically fragrant, vanilla is said to be the world's most popular flavor (and is the second most expensive next to saffron).  One would be hard pressed to find an American kitchen pantry that doesn't contain at least one bottle of pure vanilla extract and/or a whole vanilla bean or two. Why? Something wonderful happens when any form of pure vanilla gets added to all sorts of sweet or savory dishes.  My very vanilla pudding recipe is a spin-off of my grandmother's vanilla pudding recipe, and, it is the base recipe and starting point for all three of my favorite pudding recipes.

IMG_0193My grandmother made fantastic pudding, none of which took much longer to prepare than boxed quick-cooking options.  Her recipes for vanilla, chocolate and butterscotch pudding were very similar to each other (except for the flavoring), which, made them remarkably easy to commit to memory.  The only time she changed one was when she was making pie filling instead of pudding.  For a pie, she added an extra egg yolk and an extra tablespoon of cornstarch, which, in a nutshell, is the easiest way to define the difference between a pudding and a pie filling.  That said, whether she was making vanilla, chocolate or butterscotch pudding or pie filling, she added vanilla extract to each one, in addition to any other extract or flavoring du jour.  Read on:

IMG_0100Something wonderful happens when exotically fragrant vanilla gets added to all sorts of sweet or savory dishes.

IMG_7867Vanilla is easy to love -- its scent is enchanting, its taste is exotic.  It can be used in an array of sweet and savory culinary applications, but, it is indisputably the number one flavoring in desserts. For my taste, most published recipes don't add enough vanilla.  I typically double the recommended amount -- yes, I double it and I have never once been disappointed.  Back in her day, my grandmother only had access to vanilla beans or vanilla extract.  Happily, since then, two other products have entered our vanilla world and all home cooks should know about them. 

IMG_7881A bit about vanilla bean paste and vanilla powder:  Everyone who bakes stores high-quality pure vanilla extract (not imitation flavoring) in their pantry along with a few vanilla bean pods too. They're available everywhere, with extract being more economical than whole pods.  You'll find two other vanilla products in my pantry too: vanilla bean paste & vanilla powder.

Vanilla bean paste is a sweet, syrupy mixture full of vanilla beans that have been scraped out of the pods.  Like vanilla extract, it's full of IMG_7887natural vanilla flavor, plus, it's got all the pretty speckled beans in it too.  I think of it as a convenient cross between the extract and the pod, and, I like to add it to pudding because the seeds distribute themselves evenly throughout the mixture.  1 tablespoon paste = 1 tablespoon extract = 1 bean pod.

Vanilla powder is a free-flowing sugar which may be used in place of pure extract in any recipe.  It stirs into beverages, and, gets sprinkled onto desserts.  I particularly like it for making pudding and cake frosting because it doesn't affect the color like extract does.  1 tablespoon powder = 1 tablespoon extract.

My very vanilla pudding recipe is a spinoff of my grandmother's recipe & is the base recipe for all of my pudding recipes.

My Old-Fashioned Very Vanilla Pudding recipe should technically be called Old-Fashioned Very French Vanilla Pudding.  For that matter, so are my other pudding recipes (~ How to: Make Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pudding ~, and ~ How to: Make Old-Fashioned Butterscotch Pudding ~). Why?  While there is little difference between different high-quality vanilla products used to flavor pudding (or ice cream and other desserts for that matter), French vanilla pudding is based on the French method of making egg custard.  This means it contains egg yolks, which results in a deeper shade of yellow and a creamier texture.  That's good news for pudding lovers like me.

IMG_00701  cup heavy cream + 1 cup whole milk, or, 2 cups half and half

2  tablespoons:  pure pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste, your choice

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3  tablespoons salted butter

2  large egg yolks

1  large egg

3/4  cup sugar

3  tablespoons cornstarch

1  tablespoon vanilla powder

IMG_9769IMG_9772IMG_9774IMG_9776~Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container, measure and stir together the cream and milk or half and half, extract or paste, and, the salt.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, using a fork, vigorously whisk together the egg yolks and whole egg.  Set aside.  Cut the butter into small cubes and set aside.

IMG_0072 IMG_0076 IMG_0082 IMG_0085~Step 2.  Measure and place the sugar, cornstarch and vanilla powder in a 3-quart saucier or saucepan. Using a wire whisk, thoroughly combine the three.  Whisk in all of the flavored milk mixture, whisking constantly until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute.  Turn heat on to medium. Whisking constantly, heat until steaming 2-3 minutes.  Do not simmer or boil.  Turn the heat off, add the butter and whisk until butter is melted and thoroughly incorporated.  Remove from heat.

IMG_0089 IMG_0093 IMG_0097Step 3.  Slowly and in a thin stream, while whisking the eggs constantly with a fork, add 3-4 tablespoons of the steaming liquid to the eggs.  (Note:  This is called "tempering" and it will raise their temperature slowly and just enough to keep them from scrambling upon contact with the steaming hot milk mixture.)  In a slow, steady stream, whisk the tempered eggs into the milk mixture.  Return saucier to stovetop.

IMG_0100 IMG_0113~ Step 4.  Over medium heat, whisking constantly, bring mixture slowly to a simmer, 4-5 minutes. Simmer gently, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and transfer to a 1-quart measuring container.*  Place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the pudding and cool about two hours.  Stir and portion into custard cups, cover and chill for several hours (or overnight), or, use as directed in recipe.

*Note:  A lot of pudding recipes instruct to pass the pudding through a fine mesh strainer (into the measuring container) at this point, to achieve an extra-silky-smooth consistency.  This is the type of unnecessary nonsense that causes people to not make pudding.  #1.  Pudding is too thick to pass through a fine strainer or any strainer.  Try it.  It'll make you want to jump off a bridge.

Portion 3/4 cup pudding into each of 4, 1-cup custard cups:

IMG_0123Freshly-whipped cream & butter toffee bits on mine please:

IMG_0144How to:  Make Old-Fashioned Very Vanilla Pudding:  Recipe yields 3 cups pudding/4 servings. 

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; fork; paring knife; cutting board; 3-quart saucier or saucepan; wire whisk; 1-quart measuring container; plastic wrap; 4, 1-cup custard cups

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c90084ab970bCook's Note:  About the only thing I like better than chocolate, vanilla or butterscotch pudding is all of them layered on top of each other with graham crackers separating each flavor.  This dessert, ~ Chocolate, Vanilla and Butterscotch 'Icebox' Cake  ~ was one of my mother's specialties.  I would sit motionless on the counterstool, eyes transfixed on the process, patiently waiting for my lick of the spoon as each pudding got cooked.  Once assembled, she'd put the 'icebox' cake in the refrigerator for what seemed like an eternity, but, it had to chill to set up properly -- well worth the wait.  Eat more pudding. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

06/04/2017

~ How to: Make Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pudding ~

IMG_0056When I was raising three boys in the '70's and '80's, chocolate was, hands down, their favorite pudding flavor.  Just like today, grocery store shelves were full of convenient pudding options (boxes and boxes of instant and quick-cooking pudding, and, ready-to-eat lunch-box-size pudding cups). While I was often tempted to succumb to their wishes and buy those boxes, I resisted. I grew up eating homemade, creamy, dreamy, rich real-deal pudding -- my memories prevented it. As for the pudding cups, I admit, I allowed them, on occasion, as a school lunchbox treat.

IMG_0028Don't succumb to boxes of instant or quick-cooking pudding.  Creamy, dreamy, rich & real-deal pudding is easy to make.

IMG_9973My grandmother made fantastic pudding, none of which took much longer to prepare than boxed quick-cooking options.  Her recipes for chocolate, vanilla and butterscotch pudding were very similar to each other (except for the flavoring), which, made them remarkably easy to commit to memory.  The only time she changed one was when she was making pie filling instead of pudding.  For a pie, she added an extra egg yolk and an extra tablespoon of cornstarch, which, in a nutshell, is the easiest way to define the difference between a pudding and a pie filling.

IMG_99341  cup heavy cream + 1 cup whole milk, or, 2 cups half and half

1  tablespoon each:  pure chocolate and pure vanilla extract

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3  tablespoons salted butter

2  large egg yolks

1  large egg

3/4  cup sugar

6  tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

3  tablespoons cornstarch

IMG_9769 IMG_9772 IMG_9774 IMG_9776~Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container, measure and stir together the cream and milk or half and half, both extracts and the salt.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, using a fork, vigorously whisk together the egg yolks and whole egg.  Set aside.  Cut the butter into small cubes and set aside.

IMG_9941IMG_9944IMG_9950IMG_9951~Step 2.  Measure and place the sugar, cocoa powder and cornstarch in a 3-quart saucier or saucepan. Using a wire whisk, thoroughly combine the three.  Whisk in all of the flavored milk mixture, whisking constantly until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute.  Turn heat on to medium. Whisking constantly, heat until steaming 2-3 minutes.  Do not simmer or boil.  Turn the heat off, add the butter and whisk until butter is melted and thoroughly incorporated.  Remove from heat.

IMG_9958IMG_9960IMG_9964Step 3.  Slowly and in a thin stream, while whisking the eggs constantly with a fork, add 3-4 tablespoons of the steaming liquid to the eggs.  (Note:  This is called "tempering" and it will raise their temperature slowly and just enough to keep them from scrambling upon contact with the steaming hot milk mixture.)  In a slow, steady stream, whisk the tempered eggs into the milk mixture.  Return saucier to stovetop.

IMG_9973IMG_9991~ Step 4.  Over medium heat, whisking constantly, bring mixture slowly to a simmer, 4-5 minutes. Simmer gently, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and transfer to a 1-quart measuring container.*  Place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the pudding and cool about two hours.  Stir and portion into custard cups, cover and chill for several hours (or overnight), or, use as directed in recipe.

*Note:  A lot of pudding recipes instruct to pass the pudding through a fine mesh strainer (into the measuring container) at this point, to achieve an extra-silky-smooth consistency.  This is the type of unnecessary nonsense that causes people to not make pudding.  #1.  Pudding is too thick to pass through a fine strainer or any strainer.  Try it.  It'll make you want to jump off a bridge.

Portion 3/4 cup pudding into each of 4, 1-cup custard cups:

IMG_9997Freshly-whipped cream and diced bananas on mine please:

IMG_0020How to:  Make Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pudding:  Recipe yields 3 cups pudding/4 servings. 

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; fork; paring knife; cutting board; 3-quart saucier or saucepan; wire whisk; 1-quart measuring container; plastic wrap; 4, 1-cup custard cups

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09a2d129970dCook's Note:  About the only thing I like better than chocolate, vanilla or butterscotch pudding is all of them layered on top of each other with graham crackers separating each flavor.  This dessert, ~ Chocolate, Vanilla and Butterscotch 'Icebox' Cake  ~ was one of my mother's specialties.  I would sit motionless on the counterstool, eyes transfixed on the process, patiently waiting for my lick of the spoon as each pudding got cooked.  Once assembled, she'd put the 'icebox' cake in the refrigerator for what seemed like an eternity, but, it had to chill to set up properly -- well worth the wait.  Eat more pudding.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

06/02/2017

~ How to: Make Old-Fashioned Butterscotch Pudding ~

IMG_9874My three favorite flavors of pudding are butterscotch, chocolate and vanilla (in that order). They're all creamy and dreamy, but something wonderful happens when brown sugar and butter team up to make real-deal butterscotch.  Homemade pudding (from scratch, not a box), was something my grandmother made often -- just for me.  I'm in my early 60's, that was back in the latter 50's, and: there is no letting go of homemade pudding memories.  Whether it was butterscotch, chocolate or vanilla, she'd always leave me an ample sample, in the bottom of her enamelware saucepan and on the wooden spoon, because:  I adored it warm and freshly made.   Homemade pudding is one of life's simple pleasures and making butterscotch pudding is one of my life's simpler pleasures.

IMG_9884Something wonderful happens when brown sugar & butter team up:

IMG_9811Originally, butterscotch was a hard candy made from brown sugar, butter and water, in which the sugar got boiled to the soft crack stage.  Since hard candy was hard to cut or break into pretty, even-sized pieces, the butterscotch got "scotched" or "scored", to make cleaner cuts after it hardened.  Nowadays, butterscotch is the word used to describe the flavor of brown sugar and butter cooked together with other ingredients (like corn syrup, cream and vanilla or butter rum flavorings, as well as cornstarch or flour and eggs/egg yolks) to make sauce, pudding, pie filling and cookies.  Butterscotch is also available in the form of baking chips and liquid flavoring too.

IMG_97651  cup heavy cream + 1 cup whole milk, or, 2 cups half and half

1  tablespoon each:  pure butterscotch and pure vanilla extract

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3  tablespoons salted butter

2  large egg yolks

1  large egg

3/4  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

3  tablespoons cornstarch 

IMG_9769 IMG_9772 IMG_9774 IMG_9776~Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container, measure and stir together the cream and milk or half and half, both extracts and the salt.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, using a fork, vigorously whisk together the egg yolks and whole egg.  Set aside.  Cut the butter into small cubes and set aside.

IMG_9779 IMG_9780 IMG_9787 IMG_9790~Step 2.  Measure and place the brown sugar and cornstarch in a 3-quart saucier or saucepan. Using a wire whisk, thoroughly combine the two.  Whisk in all of the flavored milk mixture, whisking constantly until the sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute.  Turn heat on to medium. Whisking constantly, heat until steaming 2-3 minutes.  Do not simmer or boil.  Turn the heat off, add the butter and whisk until butter is melted and thoroughly incorporated.  Remove from heat.

IMG_9795 IMG_9800 IMG_9804Step 3.  Slowly and in a thin stream, while whisking the eggs constantly with a fork, add 3-4 tablespoons of the steaming liquid to the eggs.  (Note:  This is called "tempering" and it will raise their temperature slowly and just enough to keep them from scrambling upon contact with the steaming hot milk mixture.)  In a slow, steady stream, whisk the tempered eggs into the milk mixture.  Return saucier to stovetop.

IMG_9811 IMG_9819~ Step 4.  Over medium heat, whisking constantly, bring mixture slowly to a simmer, 4-5 minutes. Simmer gently, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and transfer to a 1-quart measuring container.*  Place a piece of plastic wrap over the surface of the pudding and cool about two hours.  Stir and portion into custard cups, cover and chill for several hours (or overnight), or, use as directed in recipe.

*Note:  A lot of pudding recipes instruct to pass the pudding through a fine mesh strainer (into the measuring container) at this point, to achieve an extra-silky-smooth consistency.  This is the type of unnecessary nonsense that causes people to not make pudding.  #1.  Pudding is too thick to pass through a fine strainer or any strainer.  Try it.  It'll make you want to jump off a bridge.

Portion 3/4 cup pudding into each of 4, 1-cup custard cups:

IMG_9824Freshly-whipped cream & chopped pecans on mine please:

IMG_9845How to:  Make Homemade Butterscotch Pudding:  Recipe yields 3 cups pudding/4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; fork; paring knife; cutting board; 3-quart saucier or saucepan; wire whisk; 1-quart measuring container; plastic wrap; 4, 1-cup custard cups

IMG_3751Cook's Note:  About the only thing I like better than chocolate, vanilla or butterscotch pudding is all of them layered on top of each other with graham crackers separating each flavor.  This dessert, ~ Chocolate, Vanilla and Butterscotch 'Icebox' Cake  ~ was one of my mother's specialties.  I would sit motionless on the counterstool, eyes transfixed on the process, patiently waiting for my lick of the spoon as each pudding got cooked.  Once assembled, she'd put the 'icebox' cake in the refrigerator for what seemed like an eternity, but, it had to chill to set up properly -- well worth the wait.  Eat more pudding.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

05/31/2017

~A Few Bites of Summer: Pineapple-Meringue Tartlets~

IMG_9705During the Summer, our gas grill is the focal point for all sorts of fun, foodie get-togethers.  While I like a rare-cooked steak or a juicy cheeseburger accompanied by a baked potato and a garden salad as much as the next person, for me, 'tis the season to partake in poultry and pork. Big, meaty bone-on breasts, chops or ribs, slathered with sweet and savory sauces accompanied by grilled vegetable kabobs are amongst my favorites, and all are deserving of a light, bright Summer fruit dessert.  Pineapple-meringue tartlets are the perfect ending to a Summer evening.

I adore pineapple.  Spring and Summer, I'm rarely without some form of fresh pineapple in my kitchen or refrigerator.  Heck, my husband grows two or three in pots on our deck each year (see photo below).  Fall and Winter, I'm never without canned pineapple in in my pantry.  Fresh, it's my "go to" Summer tropical fruit, and canned (packed in 100% juice), it's not a compromise.

Columbian-Exchange1A bit about pineapple and pineapple pie:  Pineapple was introduced to the United States in the mid 19th Century via South American trade routes north to the Caribbean and into the West Indies, where Christopher Columbus found them. In Caribbean native tongue, the pineapple's original name was "anana", meaning "excellent fruit". The European explorers called it the "pine of the Indies", and, when the fruit started being PICT0002exported to English-speaking parts of Europe via The Columbian Exchange, the suffix "apple" was added (to associate it with their favorite "excellent fruit", the apple).  

From there, the pineapple spread to other parts of civilization and was placed on sailing ships because, like oranges, they were found to prevent scurvy.  It was on one of these voyages the pineapple arrived in Hawaii, and, was presented to King Kahehameha by his Spanish advisor, Don Francisco de Paula y Marin. On January 11, 1813 the first pineapples were planted in Hawaiian soil.  In 1901, James Drummond Dole founded the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, and, within a few short years, the pineapple symbolized Hawaii.

Canned pineapple entered the American marketplace in 1903 and it was a big deal.  It meant that pineapple was available to the home cook all year long -- it was no longer a rare, seasonal treat to be savored fresh.  It was very popular with the American housewife -- by 1925, recipes for pineapple pie and pineapple upside down cake began appearing on cans of Dole pineapple and Gold Metal flour.  To this day it is the most popular canned fruit next to applesauce and peaches.

Part One:  Let's Talk Tartlet Shells

IMG_9605Canned pineapple is not a compromise and store-bought pie pastry is not a crime.  When it comes to desserts in general, but especially desserts like pies, tarts and cheesecakes, if I'm baking for a large group of people or for a special occasion, small, individual-sized ones, while a bit more labor-intensive up front, are well worth the "fussy" extra effort in the end.  Why? They're perfectly-portioned and require no slicing.  Serving them is 100% mess-free and stress-free.  That said, when I'm making tartlet shells to feed a crowd, I feel no guilt in using store-bought crusts to save time.  They bake up golden and crispy, and, no one ever complains.  Click here to learn ~ How to: Cut, Form & Bake Pie Pastry Tartlet Shells ~.  Recipe yields, 14, 3"-round tartlet shells.

Part Two:  Making the Pineapple Pie Filling

IMG_9608For the tartlet filling (Note: To fill a standard, blind-baked 9" pie pastry, double the following recipe.):

3/4  cup sugar

4  level tablespoons cornstarch

1/8  teaspoon salt

1  8-ounce can crushed pineapple, undrained (1 cup crushed pineapple)

1  tablespoon pure pineapple extract

1  teaspoon lemon juice, fresh or bottled concentrate

1/4  cup cold water

2  large egg yolks, at room temperature, reserve whites for meringue topping

3/4  cup water, heated to boiling

1  tablespoon salted butter, at room temperature (very soft)

IMG_9616 IMG_9623 IMG_9625 IMG_9621 IMG_9627 IMG_9631 IMG_9636 IMG_9638~Step 1.  In a 2-quart saucepan, whisk the sugar, cornstarch and salt.  Whisk in the pineapple, extract, lemon juice and cold water.  In a small bowl, using a fork, beat yolks and whisk into the pineapple mixture.  In microwave, in a 1-cup measuring container, bring 3/4 cup water to a boil. Slowly, in a thin stream, whisk boiling water into the pineapple/yolk mixture.  Add the butter.

IMG_9651 IMG_9641~ Step 2. Place the saucepan on the stovetop over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, to avoid scorching.  As the mixture begins to thicken, reduce the heat and allow to simmer, whisking constantly, for 45-60 seconds.  Remove fully-cooked pie filling from heat.

IMG_9661~ Step 3.  Ladle a scant 1/4 cup filling into each of 14 tartlet shells (that are still in their tart tins) that have been placed on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan.  Set aside for 1 hour, to cool a bit.  During this time the pie filling will lose its wet, glossy appearance and look "dry" -- the dry, cool surface will make it easier to dollop and distribute the meringue.

Cool on pan, in tins, 1 hour prior to topping w/meringue & baking:

IMG_9665Part Three: Making the Meringue

IMG_96694  large egg whites, at room temperature

1/2  teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

IMG_9674 IMG_9671~ Step 1. Place egg whites in a large, clean, dry, bowl. On medium mixer speed, beat until frothy.  Add the cream of tartar. Increase mixer speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form.  Lower mixer speed to medium and gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla extract, beating until just incorporated.  Do not over beat.

IMG_9678~ Step 3.  Using an ordinary tablespoon drop dollops of meringue evenly over the tops of the pie filling in the center of each tartlet. Continue distributing and dolloping until all meringue has been piled atop the tarts, forming a decorative peak at the top of each tart.

Step 4.  Bake on center rack of 350 degree oven, 6-8 minutes, until meringue is golden, watching  IMG_9683carefully after 5 minutes as meringue can and will go from browned to burned quickly. Remove from oven and transfer tartlets (in their tins) to a cooling rack to cool completely, 3-4 hours, or longer prior to removing from tins and serving at room temperature, or (after cooling), refrigerate, uncovered, until chilled, 3-4 hours or overnight, prior to serving chilled.

Cool to room temperature prior to removing from tart tins:

IMG_9695Enjoy 4-6 bites of Summer, then enjoy 4-6 more (eat two):

IMG_9716A Few Bites of Summer:  Pineapple-Meringue Tartlets:  Recipe yields 14 tartlets/ 7-14 servings at 1-2 tartlets per person.

Special Equipment List:  14, 3"-round tart tins w/fluted sides & removable bottoms; 2-quart saucepan; wire whisk; fork; 1-cup measuring container; ladle; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; hand-held electric mixer; tablespoon

PICT0013Cook's Note:  Everyone who knows me knows that when given a choice between a chocolate dessert and a fruit dessert, I will always choose the fruit dessert.  That said, if lemon meringue pie is one of my fruit dessert choices, I will choose it, without exception, every time.  Click here to get my very special recipe for  ~ My Love Affair w/Lemons & Lemon-Meringue Pie ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

05/29/2017

~ How to: Cut, Form & Bake Pie-Pastry Tartlet Shells ~

IMG_9602When it comes to desserts in general, but especially desserts like pies, tarts and cheesecakes, if I'm baking for a large group of people or for a special occasion, small, individual-sized ones, while a bit more labor-intensive up front, are well worth the "fussy" extra effort in the end.  Why? They're perfectly-portioned and require no slicing.  Serving them is 100% mess-free and stress-free.

This post refers to tartlets made w/classic, rolled pie pastry:

6a0120a8551282970b01538fb34ac1970bTo make pie-pastry tartlet shells, you need pie pastry, and, to make 14, 3"-round shells, you need the same amount you would use to make one, 9" double-crust pie.  Use your favorite recipe or click here to get my recipe for ~ Making Pâte Brisée: Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~.  That said, when I'm making tartlet shells to feed a crowd, I feel no guilt in using store-bought crusts to save time.  They bake up golden and crispy, and, no one ever complains.

6a0120a8551282970b0176172f90f5970cBlind-bake or bake blind, is the English term for baking a pastry shell before it is filled.  There are two instances when you need to prebake your pie pastry:  #1)  A pastry shell that, once the filling is added, does not return to the oven for further baking.  In this application the pie pastry must be fully-baked, nicely browned and completely cooled before you add the filling, and, #2)  A pastry shell that will get filled with a stirred custard, cream, mousse or fully-cooked/ready-to-eat filling and will return to the oven for further baking.  In this application, the degree to which you prebake your pie pastry (barely brown, lightly brown, golden brown) is determined by the length of time it will take the filled pie to finish baking, meaning:  the longer it will take for your pie filling to bake, the lighter in color your prebaked crust should be when it goes into the oven, so, always follow the recipe's instructions. To get all the specifics, read my post ~ How to: Blind-Bake a Pastry Shell (Baking Blind) ~.  

Roll 2 pie-pastries to a thickness of 1/16" & a diameter of 11 1/2":

IMG_9578Using a 3 3/4"-round pastry cutter, cut each pastry into 7 circles:

IMG_9585Place 1 pastry circle, as pictured, in each of 14, 3" tart tins:

IMG_9531Using a wooden tart tamper, form a flat bottom for each tart:

IMG_9535Using your fingertips, pat, press & form the sides for each tart:

IMG_9545Rolling a small pastry roller across the top of each tin,

IMG_9549cut off the excess dough to form a smooth, flat-topped tart shell:

IMG_9552Place formed tart shells, well-apart, on 1-2 baking pans:

IMG_9560Bake on center rack of 425° oven, until golden, 8-9 minutes:

IMG_9569Cool completely, in pans, prior to proceeding w/recipe as directed:

IMG_9600Tartlet shells.  Fully-baked & ready for some fully-cooked filling: 

IMG_9605How to:  Cut, Form & Bake Pie-Pastry Tartlet Shells:  Recipe yields instructions to make 14, 3" round, unbaked or fully-baked tartlet shells.

Special Equipment List:  pastry board; rolling pin; 3 3/4"-round pastry cutter; 14, 3" round tartlet tins w/fluted sides & removable bottoms, w/ or w/o removable bottoms, preferably nonstick; wooden tart tamper; small pastry roller; 1, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan or 2, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans

IMG_3117 IMG_3156Cook's Note: While we're on the subject, let's not forget about  ~ Making Graham Cracker & Cookie Crumb Crusts ~.  Read it.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

05/26/2017

~ Creamy Coconut & Spicy Jamaican Curry Chicken ~

IMG_9508My favorite curry is the one I am eating at any given time.  That said, the world is full of curries, they are all different, and, it's almost impossible to prepare an authentic curry outside of the region it's prepared in, within its country of origin.  Why?  Because outside of the United States, curry is not a store-bought dried spice blend or wet paste that produces a predictable end result.  They're hand-made, mortar-and-pestle pulverized, dry or pasty concoctions of spices or herbs, the amounts of which vary to suit the palate of each family or cook -- on a daily basis.

IMG_9503"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. 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 only of vegetables (vegetarian). Some curries cook quickly, others cook slowly, some are thick, some are thin, many are economical weeknight meals, while others are expensive and reserved for celebrations.  Most curries are cooked in large shallow skillets or woks with lids, and, most curries are paired with some type of white rice.  

Curries can be "wet" or "dry".  What is common to wet curries is the use of cream, coconut milk or yogurt, and occasionally stock, to prepare the sauce ("kari" is the Indian word for "sauce").  They don't tend to be overly-thickened (gravylike), and, they aren't spicy hot (although they can be). This evolved out of necessity.  Water was often scarce and/or its use in cooking had to be avoided, so, the "creamers" were used as a silky, rich, substitution for water, not as a thickener. Dry curries are cooked in very little liquid in sealed pots.  Almost all of the liquid evaporates during the lengthy cooking process, leaving the ingredients heavily coated in the spice mixture.

IMG_9501The case for using commercial curry powders or pastes.

There are kitchen decisions that only the cook can make, and, in the American kitchen, for the average American cook, convenience typically triumphs over authenticity.  That said, it's not because the average American cook is lazy or uncreative.  In my case, I purchase high-quality blends or pastes because, on any given day, all the ingredients necessary to make a dry blend or a wet paste are not always available at the same time.  There's more.  Some concoctions contain ten or more ingredients, which when mixed together, do not have a long shelf life, so, a portion of my hard work can end up being thrown away because I only make curry a few times a year.  

6a0120a8551282970b01a73dae3659970dCurry powders and pastes cannot be used interchangeably.

Curry blends and pastes are not created equal.  For example:  When I make curry, sometimes I make Thai curry (which requires green, red or yellow paste), sometimes I make Indian curry (which relies on garam masala), and, sometimes I make Jamaican curry, which has its own flavor profile.  Know the country of the curry you're preparing and don't substitute one type for another.

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.

Tonight, creamy, spicy Jamaican curry is what I am craving:

This four-season recipe makes a good-sized quantity, twelve dinner-sized servings (or sixteen+ luncheon-sized servings). That sounds like a lot, but, leftovers reheat perfectly, so the little bit of extra slicing and dicing is well worth the extra effort.  There's more.  Like many stews, it tastes even better the second day, so, it can be made ahead and served with freshly-steamed rice without compromise -- which is convenient if you're entertaining.  That said, if you don't want leftovers, cut the recipe in half (and prepare it in a smaller skillet) because it does not freeze well.

IMG_94513  pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders, cut into bite-sized pieces

2  cups each:  1/2" diced green and red bell pepper

1-1 1/2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup chopped cilantro leaves + plus additional leaves for garnish

2  14 1/2-ounce cans diced tomatoes, well-drained

6  tablespoons hot Jamaican curry powder

2  teaspoons garlic paste

2  teaspoons ginger paste

2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2  teaspoon habanero powder (Note:  Jamaicans typically use fresh Scotch Bonnet chilies for heat, which I don't always have access too, but, the slightly-citrusy flavor of incendiary habanero powder, which I keep on my spice rack, is a marvelous substitute.)

2  14-ounce cans coconut milk, shaken or stirred prior to using

4  tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil, for preparing skillet

6  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 just before I start the cooking process.)

IMG_9458 IMG_9459 IMG_9463 IMG_9465 IMG_9471 IMG_9473~Step 1.  Prep the green and red bell peppers, onion and cilantro as directed, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  Using a large spoon, stir to combine.  Dice the chicken as directed, placing it in the bowl with the vegetables as you work.  Stir again.  Add the diced tomatoes, curry powder, garlic paste, ginger paste and sea salt.  Start until all ingredients are evenly coated.  Add the coconut milk and stir again, to thoroughly combine. Set aside, 15-30 minutes, to give all the flavors a bit of time to marry and penetrate the chicken.

IMG_9482~ Step 2.  Heat oil in a 14" chef's pan over medium-high heat.  Add all of the curry mixture to pan, increase heat to high and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently.  Once simmering, adjust heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently for 10-12 minutes, or until chicken is just cooked through (this will depend upon the size of the dice).  Turn heat off, cover pan, and allow the curry to rest on the warm stovetop for 5-6 more minutes.

Spoon chicken curry over freshly-steamed rice:

IMG_9484Enjoy every creamy-coconut spicy-curry bite:

IMG_9502Creamy Coconut & Spicy Jamaican Curry Chicken:  Recipe yields 3 quarts/12 cups chicken curry mixture/12 large dinner-sized servings or 16+ smaller luncheon-sized servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon; electric rice steamer (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fc44837c970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8fd6e3e970bCook's Note: To learn about Thai curries, which rely on pastes and shouldn't be confused with Indian or Jamaican curries, read my post ~ Demystifying Thai Curries: Green, Red & Yellow ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

05/23/2017

~Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries~

IMG_9437Sweet potatoes can be cooked via all the same methods all-purpose spuds can.  Baked, boiled, pan-fried, grilled, oven-roasted, microwaved, and, last but not least, deep-fried.  When it comes to sweet potatoes, I am a bone fide lover of this healthy super-food, and, when it comes to cooking and eating them, I love them in any form, any time of year.  I am an equal-opportunity sweet potato eater.  Oven-roasted sweet potato fries, which pair great with so many things (especially poultry and pork) are easy to make, but I'm not going to lie, if they're not prepared c