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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

05/15/2017

~ Cooking 101 for One: Asian Ramen & Steak Salad ~

IMG_9113Occasionally I'm left alone at "the palace".  This means I'm in the odd-for-me predicament of cooking for one.  This typically involves a bowl of raisin bran in front of the computer in the morning, a wrap sandwich on the deck in the afternoon sun, and, a bag of microwave popcorn in front of the TV at night -- certainly nothing to write home about.  Today, however, leftovers (a rare-cooked steak, Asian dipping sauce and diced scallions from my last blog post, a bag of matchstick carrots in the vegetable drawer of my refrigerator and ramen noodles in my pantry), inspired me to create, with little effort, a seriously tasty meal.  Tasty enough write this post.

Ramens-mainInterestingly enough, ramen noodles have only been a staple in my pantry for 5-6 years.  Perhaps all the stories, "when I was (in college, living in my first apartment, etc.), I was so broke I lived on ramen noodles", made them sound unappealing.  That said, on a trip to Japan in 1986, I got to experience 6a0120a8551282970b014e8b43cffd970dreal-deal ramen:  a wheat-noodle dish that consists of a bowl of rich soy- or miso- flavored broth, shredded vegetables and meat.  To learn more about ramen, check out this article A Guide to the Regional Ramen of Japan.  Instant ramen noodles were invented in 1958 by Momofuku Andu, the Taiwanese-Japanese founder of Nissan Foods, and, it's been named the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th Century.  If it's good enough for the Japanese, it's good enough for me.

IMG_9113Ramen has a fascinating history. Prior to World War II, in Japan, ramen was called "shina soba", or, "Chinese soba", and it was sold, along with dumplings, in street-food stalls owned by the Chinese living in Japan -- who made the noodles and wrappers from scratch.  Post WWII, cheap flour imported from the USA swept the Japanese marketplace at about the same time Japanese troops were returning home from China and East Asia (from their posts in the second Sino-Japanese War).  Many of the returnees, who had become familiar with Chinese cuisine, started opening Chinese restaurants across Japan.  That said, ramen, still required eating out.  When Momofuku Ando invented instant ramen, it allowed anyone to make a simplistic version by adding boiling water.  In the 1980's ramen became a worldwide foodie trend -- I was there in 1986. 

The single guy or gal's 10-minute Asian ramen noodle salad:

IMG_90971  3-ounce package, instant ramen noodles (seasoning packet discarded), cooked and drained according to package directions (about 3 minutes), rinsed under cold running water and patted dry (free of moisture) in a few paper towels

6-8  ounces rare-cooked beef top sirloin roast or grilled steak, very thinly-sliced and slices cut into very thin strips, about 3/4-1 cup

1/2  cup store-bought matchstick carrots

6  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions, diced yellow or sweet onion may be substituted

2  tablespoons minced cilantro leaves

2  tablespoons lightly-toasted and chopped unsalted peanuts

6-8  tablespoons recipe for ~ Easy Chinese Dipping Sauce for Dumplings & Such ~ (See Cook's Note Below -- "the secret's in the sauce", so, no complaints if you don't use my recipe.)

Prep & place ingredients (except sauce) in a medium bowl:

IMG_9103Add 6 tablespoons of MY dipping sauce to start, toss & taste:  

IMG_9105Toss in more sauce, in tablespoonfuls, if necessary, to taste:

IMG_9109Serve & savor every seriously scrumptious bite:

IMG_9134Cooking 101 for One:  Asian Ramen & Steak Salad:  Recipe yields 3 cups/1-2 servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan; small colander; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_9089Cook's Note:  For my ~ Easy Chinese Dipping Sauce for Dumplings & Such ~:

4  tablespoons soy sauce

4  tablespoons rice vinegar

2  tablespoons very-thinly-sliced scallions (green onions)

1/2-1  teaspoon finely-minced hot cayenne chile pepper (optional)

1  tablespoon ginger paste

1  teaspoon garlic paste (optional)

4  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon sesame oil

Stir all ingredients together in a small bowl.  Recipe yields 3/4 cup.

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

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

05/12/2017

~ Easy Chinese Dipping Sauce for Dumplings & Such ~

IMG_9076An easy, all-purpose dipping sauce for dumplings and such.  If you love Chinese dim sum, you know the one.  It sits alongside the shumai (steamed dumplings), jiaozi (potstickers) and congyoubing (scallion pancakes) -- small-bite, appetizer-type items made with Chinese hot water dough.  It's light, bright, bold and well-balanced -- slightly salty from soy sauce, pleasingly sweet from sugar, and, pungent from rice vinegar.  Hints of ginger and/or garlic and a splash of sesame are easily identified.  There are usually a few thin-sliced scallions floating around in it, and, sometimes, a minced hot pepper is added to heat things up.  If you're like me, you find this sauce so scrumptious, you're tempted to drink it.  There's more:  It takes just 5 minutes to make.

IMG_9089For the dipping sauce:

4  tablespoons soy sauce

4  tablespoons rice vinegar

2  tablespoons very-thinly-sliced scallions (green onions)

1/2-1  teaspoon finely-minced hot cayenne pepper (optional)

1  tablespoon ginger paste

1  teaspoon garlic paste (optional)

4  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon sesame oil

Place all ingredients in a 1-cup container, stir, and set aside about one hour or overnight prior to serving.  Cover and store in refrigerator for up to three days.

Stir all ingredients together & allow to rest about 1 hour:

IMG_8989Serve w/dumplings, potstickers or scallion pancakes:

IMG_9075Easy Chinese Dipping Sauce for Dumplings & Such:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup dipping sauce.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container

IMG_9065Cook's Note:  If you've never tried to make ~ Savory Chinese-Style Scallion Pancakes ~ at home, be not afraid.  Chinese hot water dough makes them really easy to roll.  You can find my super-simple processor method for mixing and kneading in Categories 1, 2 or 13.

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

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

05/10/2017

~ Savory Chinese-Style Scallion Pancakes (Flatbread)~

IMG_9065Crispy and flaky on the outside, tender and ever-so-slightly chewy on the inside, served hot out of the skillet or reheated in the toaster oven the next day, scallion pancakes are one of my favorite Chinese appetizers.  Unlike our Western pancake, which is made by pouring a thickened batter into a skillet, the scallion pancake is made with an unleavened bread dough -- a kneaded mixture of flour, very hot water and salt which gets rolled into the shape of a pancake.

In China, scallion pancakes are both a street food and a restaurant item.  They are on the menus of Chinese-American eateries specializing in dim sum and/or dumplings.  There is little printed history on the subject, but, it's a fact that Buddhist monks (who influenced cooking throughout China and East Asia) discovered gluten (the protein found in foods processed from wheat, barley and rye flour) in the 7th century (they were vegetarians trying to find a protein substitute for meat). A humble, unleavened, scallion- fennel-green- or garlic-chive- laced flatbread made from their elastic, chewing-gum-like invention is an easy scenario to imagine.  It makes logical sense.

There is a tale they tell in China that suggests pizza is a spin-off of the scallion pancake.  It's said that Marco Polo missed scallion pancakes so much when he went back to Italy, he tried to find a chef willing to make them.  He managed to persuade a chef from Naples to do it, and after half a day without success, Marco Polo suggested putting the filling on top rather than inside the dough, which, by chance, created a dish praised by everyone -- leading to the invention of the pizza. Historical evidence does not support this story, but, I thought it interesting enough to pass along.

Be not afraid. In the scheme of culinary things, these are easy.

IMG_8972Scallion pancakes = hot water dough + sesame oil + scallions.

Be not afraid.  In the scheme of culinary things, even if you have no idea what scallion pancakes are but want to try to make them, these are really easy.  Why?  Chinese hot water dough (which is used to make these pancakes, dumpling wrappers and other Chinese pastries) is dough made with hot water, instead of cold water.  It renders it remarkably easy to work with, meaning:  unlike leavened or unleavened cold water dough, it won't spring back very much when it gets rolled out. I'm making it even easier for you, by mixing and kneading the dough in the food processor.

IMG_8956For four scallion pancakes (yield 8 appetizers each pancake):

2  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup very hot-to-boiling water

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  cup sesame oil (for brushing on the rolled pancakes)

2  cups, thinly-sliced scallions, white and light green parts only (for scattering on the rolled and oiled pancakes)

peanut oil, for frying pancakes

IMG_8957 IMG_8964 IMG_8968 IMG_8977~Step 1.  Place flour and salt in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 5-10 rapid on-off pulses, incorporate the salt into the flour.  On stovetop or in microwave, heat 1 cup of water to steaming or boiling.  With processor motor running, in a slow, thin stream, add water, until the flour forms a ball of dough.  Stop adding water the moment it forms a ball -- this will happen after adding about 3/4 cup of water.  If it doesn't happen, add additional water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it does.  Continue kneading ball of dough in processor 45-60 revolutions. Remove dough from processor, place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and rest for 1 full hour.

IMG_8998~ Step 2.  While dough is resting, slice scallions as directed.  Ready a pastry board, a bit of bench flour and a small rolling pin (or any rolling pin).  You'll also need a pastry brush for brushing sesame oil on rolled pancakes, and, place a 10" nonstick skillet on the stovetop too.

~ Step 3.  Uncover dough, divide and form dough (1 total pound) into 4, 4-ounce balls, then, recover it.

IMG_9005 IMG_9011 IMG_9012 IMG_9016~Step 4.  Working one ball of dough at a time (keep others covered while working), place ball of dough on a lightly floured pastry board and roll into a 7 1/2"-8" circle.  Lightly brush the surface of the circle with about 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, then, sprinkle 1/2 cup scallions over the top.

IMG_9039 IMG_9021 IMG_9045 IMG_9051 IMG_9029~Step 5.  Tightly roll the pancake up (jelly-roll-style) into a log, tuck the two open left and right ends underneath the roll, then, spiral the log up like a snail, tucking the loose end underneath.  Using your hands, compact the disk, then, using your fingertips, gently press down on the surface.  Using the rolling pin, roll again to form a 7 1/2"-8" circle. It's normal to have a few scallions pop out during the rolling process.

Note:  Throughout the rolling process (Steps 4 & 5), keep the board lightly coated with a sprinkling of bench flour.  Not a lot -- just enough to be sure the pancake is at no time sticking to the board.  

IMG_9031 IMG_9034 IMG_9060~ Step 6.  On stovetop, heat 3 tablespoons peanut oil  + 1 teaspoon sesame oil in skillet over medium heat.  With the aid of a large spatula, lift and place the pancake in the hot oil and fry on medium heat, until golden brown on both sides, turning only once, about 3 minutes on the first side and 1-1 1/2 minutes on the second side.  Using the spatula, transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and cool 30-60 seconds prior to slicing into 8 wedges and serving with dipping sauce (See Cook's Note below). Repeat process with remaining 3 balls of dough, adding a bit of additional oil to pan each time.

Slice each pancake into 8 wedges & serve w/dipping sauce:  

IMG_9075These are addictive.  Everybody can eat just one (8 wedges):

IMG_9080Savory Chinese-Style Scallion Pancakes (Flatbread):  Recipe yields 4 pancakes and 32 appetizers (8 pieces per pancake).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 1-cup measuring container; plastic wrap; pastry board; small rolling pin; pastry brush; 10" nonstick skillet; large spatula

IMG_8987Cook's Note:  To make the dipping sauce, in a 1-cup measuring container, stir together:

4  tablespoons soy sauce

4  tablespoons rice vinegar

2  tablespoons sliced scallions

1  tablespoon ginger paste

4  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon sesame oil

Recipe yields:  3/4  cup dipping sauce.  Cover and store in refrigerator up to 3-4 days.

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

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

05/07/2017

~ Sweet Potato, Pecan & Butterscotch Chip Muffins ~

IMG_8917With a grilled steak, I enjoy a baked Russet potato.  With a grilled pork chop, I require a baked sweet potato.  On our deck, if we're "baking" potatoes on the grill, we always put an extra one or two on the grids.  With a cup or two of leftover baked and mashed Russet potatoes, I typically get out my skillet make pan-fried potato cakes.  With a cup or two of leftover sweet potatoes, I often get out my muffin tins.  If you didn't know that sweet potatoes (like pumpkin and zucchini), make great muffins or quick bread, you do now, and, lovers of sweet potatoes: find my muffins divine.

Golden, moist, not-too-sweet & laced w/crunchy, toasted pecans & the amazing flavor of slightly-salty butterscotch chips:

IMG_8935Please:  No cinnamon, clove, nutmeg or ginger -- save them for pumpkin muffins.

IMG_8946Unlike bland pumpkin, sweet potatoes are full of flavor -- they need little embellishment.

IMG_8834For the sweet potatoes:

2 1/4-2 1/2 cups baked and cooled sweet potato, mashed or smashed, from about 3 large sweet potatoes (Note:  In oven or microwave, bake sweet potatoes until soft.  Set aside until they are cool enough to comfortably handle with your hands, about 15-20 minutes.  Using a paring knife, an ordinary tablespoon and a fork, slice the potatoes in half, scoop out the soft centers, transfer them to a measuring container and mash them with a fork.  Set aside.  Many recipes instruct to peel, cube and boil the sweet potatoes until soft.  I find this makes them watery.)

For the wet ingredients:

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

1 1/2  cups sugar

2  teaspoons each:  butterscotch flavoring and pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups milk + 2 tablespoons

For the dry ingredients:

4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

2  teaspoons baking soda

1/2  teaspoon salt

For the add-ins:

2  cups chopped and lightly-toasted pecans

1 1/2  cups butterscotch chips

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin cups

IMG_8823 IMG_8827 IMG_8830~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 350°.  Lightly-spray the cups in standard-sized muffin tins (enough for 24 muffins) with cooking spray and set aside.  Chop and place nuts in a small baking pan and lightly-toast them for about 6 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  (Note:  If you are using unsalted butter, increase the amount of salt to 3/4 teaspoon.)  Mash the cooled sweet potatoes as directed above.

IMG_8837 IMG_8841 IMG_8847 IMG_8849 IMG_8853 IMG_8856 IMG_8861 IMG_8864 IMG_8868~Step 2.  Place butter, sugar, eggs and extracts in a large bowl. Starting on medium mixer speed and working up to high, cream these ingredients together, about 45-60 seconds, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula the entire time.  Lower mixer speed and blend in the milk, followed by the mashed sweet potatoes.  In 2-3 increments, thoroughly incorporate the dry ingredients.  Remove mixer and use the spatula to fold in the nuts and butterscotch chips by hand.

IMG_8873 IMG_8878~ Step 3. Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, distribute batter into each of 24 muffin cups whose tins have been sprayed lightly with no-stick cooking spray.  If there is any batter left in the bowl, use a teaspoon to distribute and dollop a bit of additional batter into the center of each muffin cup.

IMG_8888~ Step 4.  Bake muffins, all at once, on center rack of preheated 350° oven, until puffed up, golden, and, a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 20-22 minutes.  

Remove from oven to cool, in pans, on a wire rack, for 5-6 minutes.  Use a sharp paring knife to carefully and gently loosen and remove muffins from tins to cool on wire rack completely, about 1-2 hours.

Muffin(s) going into 350° oven to bake, 20-22 minutes:

IMG_8885Muffin(s) out of oven, cooling in pans, 5-6 minutes:

IMG_8894All muffins out of pans & on rack to cool completely:

IMG_8903My Sweet Potato, Pecan & Chocolate Chip Muffins:  Recipe yields 2 dozen muffins.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small baking pan; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; standard-sized muffin tins, enough for 2 dozen muffins; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack; sharp paring knife

IMG_5294Cook's Note:  I get asked a lot of foodie questions in the course of a week.  Here's one I got asked so many times, I decided to write a post about it.  If you've ever wondered what ~ The Differences Between Cupcakes & Muffins ~ are, you'll probably enjoy reading my post in Categories, 2, 5, 9, 16 or 23.

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

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

05/05/2017

~ Luxurious: Cod Bathed in EVOO w/Fresh Tomatoes ~

IMG_8789As a kid, I adored frozen fish sticks and canned stewed tomatoes -- I still do.  That said, as a grownup, I much prefer the taste of a sweet, fresh, white fish fillet paired with a few acidic, fresh tomatoes.  Sometimes I bake them together in parchment with thyme and some white wine, and sometimes I broil them drizzled with melted butter and a bit of lemon and pepper. Tonight I'm using a method similar to shallow poaching, except:  extra-virgin olive oil is used in place of the traditional liquid.  Today's recipe is simple enough to serve for a weeknight meal at the kitchen island, and, elegant enough to serve for a fancy-schmancy dinner in the dining room.

To prepare this simple meal properly, understand the method: 

The term "poach" is from the French verb "pocher" meaning to cook gently in water or seasoned liquid.  The liquid, called "court bouillon" or "short broth", is classically a mixture of water, an acid (such as lemon juice, wine, and/or vinegar or wine vinegar), aromatics (such as onion, celery and/or carrot), an herb or two (such as parsley, thyme and/or bay leaf), salt and peppercorns. That said, poaching fish is a worldwide sport and the liquid should be seasoned accordingly. For example: When I'm poaching fish for Asian fare, I use ginger, lemongrass and/or lime leaves, cilantro, soy sauce and/or fish sauce (in place of salt) and a cayenne chile pepper.

Shallow poaching involves placing the food to be poached, presentation side up, atop or in the center of the aromatics, herbs and spices in a shallow cooking vessel.  Cold or room temperature court bouillon is added until the food is partially-submerged in liquid.  The pan gets covered and the food gets cooked gently at a low temperature (barely simmering/shivering), which preserves both the flavor and the structural integrity of the food.  Deep poaching is almost identical, except the food is placed in a deep vessel and fully-submerged in liquid.  In both cases, depending upon the recipe, the liquid might require skimming at the start of or throughout the cooking process.

IMG_8797I am demonstrating how to shallow poach 1, 12-ounce cod loin fillet today.  I'm cooking it in an 8" nonstick skillet, and, it will yield 2, 6-ounce servings.  Placed atop a bed of steamed white rice or saffron rice, it's quite a filling meal.  To make 4, 6 or 8 servings at one time (2, 3 or 4 fillets respectively), increase the skillet size accordingly -- do not overcrowd the skillet under any circumstances:  4 servings/2 fillets = 10" skillet; 6 servings/3 fillets = 12" skillet; 8 servings/4 fillets = 14" skillet.  Common sense says to increase the amount of oil accordingly too, adding enough oil to the skillet to total a 1/8" puddle of oil in the bottom of the empty skillet -- no more, no less.   

IMG_8722For two servings/1 cod fillet:

1  12-ounce fresh, wild-caught, Icelandic cod loin fillet, cut in half to form 2, 6-ounce portions*

1/4  cup extra-virgin olive oil

6-8  small Campari tomatoes, cut into large chunks or wedges

1  teaspoon dried Mediterranean oregano

1/4-1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

* Note:  For best results remove the fish from the refrigerator 45-60 minutes prior to poaching. Why?  Poaching cold fish lowers the temperature of the oil, which affects the cooking time.

IMG_8728 IMG_8732~ Step 1.  Slice the fish fillet into two pieces. Season the tops with sea salt and peppercorn blend and set aside.  Prep the tomatoes as directed and set aside.  Heat the oil in an 8" skillet over medium-low heat for 1 1/2-2 minutes.

IMG_8737 IMG_8739 IMG_8749~ Step 2.  Gently place the seasoned fish into skillet. If there is a slight sizzle that it normal.  If you hear a big sizzle, or the oil sputters up, it's too hot.  Remove the fish and lower the heat.  Place the lid on the skillet and gently cook the fish for six minutes.  I like to use a pan with a glass lid when shallow poaching, because, it allows me to keep an eye on the process and adjust the temperature (up or down) if necessary. Remove the lid from the skillet.  Using a large spoon in one hand, while tilting the pan with the other hand, bathe the tops of the fish with spoonfuls of olive oil, for 45-60 nonstop seconds.

IMG_8754 IMG_8757~ Step 3.  Add the tomatoes to the skillet, placing them around, not on, the fish.  Sprinkle the oregano, optional red pepper flakes and a bit of salt over the tomatoes, doing your best to season the tomatoes, not the fish.  Return the lid to the skillet and continue to cook gently for 1-1 1/2 minutes, just until the tomatoes begin to soften.

IMG_8762 IMG_8764~ Step 4.  Using a spatula, carefully remove fish from skillet and place fillets on each of two serving plates (atop some cooked rice is nice).  Increase the heat under the tomatoes to a rapid simmer and cook 30-45 seconds, until the oil emulsifies with the tomato juices enough to form a nice chunky sauce (without turning the tomatoes to mush).

Spoon perfectly-cooked tomatoes over perfectly-poached fish...

IMG_8819... & enjoy the silkiest, luxurious T.G.I.Fish dinner imaginable:

IMG_8775Luxurious:  Cod Bathed in EVOO w/Fresh Tomatoes:  Recipe yields instructions to poach 1, 2, 3 or 4, 12-ounce fillets/2, 4, 6, or 8, 6-ounce servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 8", 10", 12" or 14" nonstick skillet w/lid (preferably glass); large spoon; slotted spatula

IMG_8271Cook's Note:  My method for ~ Poaching Bone-In Skin-On Real Chicken Breasts ~, which demonstrates the traditional method for shallow poaching in a traditional liquid, can be found in Categories 1, 2, 3, 15, 19 or 20.

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

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

05/02/2017

~ The Iwatani Twelve-Minute Tornado Cheeseburger ~

IMG_8708 (1)A not-so-funny thing happened last Monday.  Happy Valley, Centre County, PA got hit by a violent storm that rendered a great percentage of us without electricity, and in some cases water as well, for three days.  I've lived here for forty-three years -- this was longest we've ever been without power.  I'm no expert.  I can't prove it was a tornado that hit our street, but, I can't name one other "thing" that moves in a straight line snapping telephone poles and felling trees at their roots, doing virtually no other damage, except a tornado -- my deck and patio furniture didn't move an inch.

Not in the mood for my storm story?  Scroll through to the recipe!

IMG_8516As per our WTAJ news, "The storm will be in Bellefonte in about fifteen minutes and in State College in about half an hour.  It will come on fast, it won't last long, and, it will do damage." Unlike past severe storm warnings, this one seemed different.  All day, the air outside (which is hard for a layman to describe) had been warm and humid with a dry and chilly edge to it.  It was breezy with a mixture of clouds and sun.  At about the 25-30-minute mark, I started to wonder if we were going to get any storm at all, as nothing was happening outside my kitchen window.

IMG_8509I decided to go into my library to get another view.  The black mess coming over Mount Nittany was ominous -- the skies blackened quickly.  On my way back to the kitchen, I took a stop in the family room.  I've heard the sound of a tornado described as "the sound of an oncoming train", so, I stood still for a few seconds and listened.  It was hard to tell if the sound I heard qualified for "oncoming train status", but I did make a fast plan to take my three poodles into our lower level bathroom (a centrally located room) if it got any louder.  Moving along:

IMG_8521Back to my kitchen window -- to watch for  rain to start -- not a drop had fallen yet.  The WTAJ weatherman had spoken truth. This storm came on very fast, didn't last long and did do damage. From first second to last, the sky unleashed rain faster than I have ever experienced.  It was as if someone had covered my window with wax paper.  There was zero visibility.  In hindsight, it was super-stupid for me to stay standing in front of this huge window. Had debris been flying around in the air, it could have shattered the glass.  

IMG_8547Minutes later, through the last few raindrops, two things struck me:  #1) The damage, and; #2) The non-damage.  While poles were snapped, which caused power lines to fall, large trees were also felled from their roots, which blocked access to parts of Bear Meadows Road, yet, none of my deck furniture or anything surrounding my home was the slightest bit disturbed. There was no sleeping Monday night.  My puppies and I collapsed in comfort to listen to sirens and watch flashing lights.  We weren't scared -- relief works like that.

My perfectly-cooked, pan-seared, twelve-minute cheeseburger.

IMG_8571The next two days were "interesting".  Armed with a few pieces of just-in-case-of-emergency equipment (four battery operated lanterns, one battery operated AM/FM world-band radio and two Iwatani butane stoves), I read cooking magazines, listened to tunes, and, cooked.  My Sub-Zero freezers and refrigerators maintained their temperatures (seriously -- my ice cubes never melted and my butter never softened), and, the outdoor temperatures stayed a constant sixty-ish degrees, so, no food got tossed and heating or air-conditioning wasn't missed either. That said, my half-charged cell phone died early and I discovered that my garage doors, which have electric openers, have no handles to open them manually.  Hilariously, my digital bathroom scale and Shark cordless vacuum cleaner worked fantastic (oh joy).  All in all, we faired well.

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.

IMG_8616For 8 hamburgers (2 batches of 4):

3  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

16  slices American or Velveeta cheese, or cheese of choice

ketchup and/or mustard, or condiment(s) of choice

diced onion (optional)

8  soft hamburger rolls

IMG_8620 IMG_8628 IMG_8638 IMG_8647~Step 1.  Divide the meat into 8, 6-ounce portions.  Form each portion into a 4"-4 1/2"- round disc, approximately 1/2" thick.  Place four in the skillet and season them with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Turn the "click burner" on and adjust the heat to medium high.

IMG_8661 IMG_8665 IMG_8668 IMG_8673 IMG_8675~Step 2.  Cook four 'burgers on the first side for exactly six minutes. Using a spatula, flip them over on their second sides (do not season the second sides).  Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook on second sides another six minutes.  Place two slices of cheese on each 'burger, put the lid on the skillet and turn the heat off until the cheese melts, 30-60 seconds.  Wipe skillet clean and repeat process.

Transfer to rolls & top each perfectly-cooked cheeseburger w/your favorite condiments.  I vote for ketchup & onions:

IMG_8687Iwatani-fried Ore-Idas? You bet -- a post for the next power outage!

IMG_8692The Iwatani Twelve-Minute Tornado Cheeseburger:  Recipe yields instructions to make eight perfectly-cooked pan-seared cheeseburgers in a cast-iron or nonstick skillet over any gas or electric range.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen scale (optional); 12" cast-iron or nonstick skillet w/lid; spatula; Iwatani butane burner (optional)

IMG_8005Cook's Note:  Let's face it, the weather affects how every cook cooks.  It's one of the reasons I refer to cooking as a sport.  Where I live, Winter weather affects us the most -- we plan for and are always prepared to cook the occasional pantry meal.  One of my favorite recipes ~ Snowstorm Steak (How Mel Broils Steak Indoors) ~ can be found in Categories 3, 16, 19 or 20.

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

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

04/30/2017

~ Five-Minute Food-Processor Cream-Cheese Glaze ~

IMG_8464Everyone loves cream cheese frosting sandwiched between the layers and slathered on the sides and top of an applesauce, banana, carrot, coconut or pumpkin cake -- meet my short list of layer-, sheet-, or cup- cakes that require cream cheese frosting.  That said, certain quick breads and muffins (which traditionally don't get frosted), many bundt cakes, cinnamon rolls, pastries and even an occasional cookie, benefit from a smooth, drizzly, glaze, and, the tang that cream cheese adds to the classic confectioners'-sugar-and-milk mixture is:  a perfect finishing touch.

IMG_8573I've decided, in tandem with a few professionals, that making the ultimate smooth, creamy glaze is best done in the food processor -- NOT an electric mixer.  It is faster and cleaner than any mixer (hand-held or stand), and, it produces a superior result.  The processor blade whirs at warp speed, so, there's no need for sifting the confectioners' sugar, and, if you're pressed for time, the cream cheese doesn't have to be softened to the ideal room temp -- neither makes a difference.  There's more:  

Because there's a lid on the processor, none of the pesky powdered sugar flies out of the bowl onto the countertop.  With the processor motor running, via the feed tube, by adding an extra teaspoon or two of milk, to achieve a thinner extra-drizzly glaze (almost transparent) that spreads itself -- no problem.  By adding a bit less milk (one or two teaspoons less), the glaze can be made a tad thicker too -- NOT spreadable frosting thick -- one that flows effortlessly through a pastry bag fitted with even the smallest, plain, round pastry tip nozzle (to make pretty lines, cross hatch marks, or write a happy birthday wish).  My recipe is in between.  It drizzles freely from a cup and flows nicely through a pastry bag.  Adjust it accordingly to achieve glaze perfection:

IMG_6440Thick or thin, glaze is free flowing.  It's not frosting.

IMG_8429For the cream cheese glaze:

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2  teaspoons additional flavoring (Note: banana, butter-rum, butterscotch, coconut and maple are a few of my favorites.)

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


IMG_8431IMG_8434IMG_8441IMG_8445
~Step 1.  In a food processor fitted with steel blade, place confectioners' sugar, cream cheese, vanilla extract, additional flavoring and 2 tablespoons milk.  Starting with 5-10 on-off pulses and then with 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.

Transfer glaze to a 1-cup measure or a pastry bag and glaze away: 

IMG_8445Five-Minute Food-Processor Cream-Cheese Glaze:  Recipe yields 1 cup appropriately-flavored cream cheese glaze for 1 standard bundt or tube cake, 2 loaves quick bread, or, 2 dozen cinnamon rolls or muffins.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; rubber spatula; 1-cup measuring container; pastry bag (optional)

IMG_3452Cook's Note:  Cream cheese has a fascinating place in American history.  And yes, of course, American Neufchâtel can always be substituted without compromise in any recipe -- it contains a little less fat and has a slightly grainier texture, but that is that.  To learn the differences, read my in-depth post, ~ Neufchâtel vs. Cream Cheese: Are they the Same? ~ by clicking into Categories 15 or 16. 

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

04/28/2017

~ Charmingly Southern: Hummingbird (Bundt) Cake ~

IMG_8493Best described by me as "an extremely moist, banana and pineapple, cinnamon 'n spice cake containing toasted pecans and topped with cream cheese frosting", this absolutely scrumptious cake concoction is impossible for me to resist.  It's simply irresistible.  If you're like me, when you hear "bananas and pineapple", you likely say to yourself "that sounds tropical, akin to Caribbean, more than it does Southern."  That's because it is.  Hummingbird cake was created on the island of Jamaica during the 1960's and is named after their national bird, where the cake is also known as Doctor Bird Cake ("doctor bird" being their affectionate name for the hummingbird).  

IMG_8478A Caribbean cake made famous by a Southern magazine.

After air Jamaica was formed in 1968 and chose the beloved doctor bird as their logo, shortly thereafter, the Jamaican Tourist Board included the recipe in press kits destined for the United States as part of a marketing campaign aimed at getting American consumers to vacation on their island.  As per the March 29, 1979 issue of the Kingston Daily Gleaner (Jamaica): "Press kits presented included a Jamaican menu modified for American kitchens, and featured recipes like the doctor bird cake."  The first known publication of the recipe in the US was in the February 1978 issue of Southern Living magazine (which is how I came upon it as a young foodie bride).  But, even before then, references to it appear in county-fair baking-competition reports across Southern America (sometimes under the names Paradise Cake, The Cake that Doesn't Last, and Tropical Treat Cake).  Post publication, some Southerners chose to call it Doctor Byrd Cake, a prominent Southern family name dating bake to early Virginia.  In 1990, it was selected as Southern Living's all-time favorite recipe as well as declared the most requested recipe in the history of the magazine.  Over the years, Southern Living has published several variations of their original recipe, which are all together in this article: Six Ways with Hummingbird Cake.  

Bcd8e05068a662ac5c6d487798917cd4< (Photo courtesy of Southern Living website).  Typically the cake has two or three layers, with lots of cream cheese frosting sandwiched in between the layers and slathered all around the sides and on the top.  It's an impressive, beautiful-to-look-at layer cake, but, for my taste, it's simply too much frosting.  Even the smallest, indulgent slice leaves me with a guilty feeling (akin to eating three scoops of ice cream when one would have been just as satisfying). For that reason, skipping the layers and going with a bundt or a sheet cake was a wise compromise.

"The most beautiful bird in Jamaica, and some say the most beautiful bird in the world, is the streamer-tail or doctor hummingbird." ~ The opening line of For Your Eyes Only by Ian Fleming

My version of the Southern Living Hummingbird Cake:

IMG_8346For the cake:

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

3  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  cups sugar

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/16  teaspoon ground nutmeg

3  large eggs

1  3/4  cups mashed banana purée (from three very large, very ripe, peeled and sliced bananas)

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1  cup canned crushed pineapple, undrained (one half of a 20-ounce can)

3/4  cup canola, peanut or vegetable oil

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

IMG_8423For the cream cheese glaze & pecan topping:

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons butter-rum flavoring

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

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

1/2  cup lightly-toasted ground pecans

IMG_8357 IMG_8359 IMG_8368 IMG_8369~Step 1.  Coarsely chop 2 1/2 cups pecans.  Place the nuts in a small, shallow baking pan.  Roast nuts on center rack of preheated 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 1 3/4 cups of the bananas, stir in the vanilla extract and set aside.  In a small bowl, using fork, whisk the eggs.

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

IMG_8366 IMG_8373 IMG_8374 IMG_8377 IMG_8381~Step 2.  In a large bowl, using a large rubber spatula, place and stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.  Add the beaten eggs, banana purée and crushed pineapple, then, using the spatula fold the mixture together.

IMG_8387~ Step 3. Using a whisk or medium-speed of a hand-held electric mixer (I prefer the mixer to hand-whisking), thoroughly incorporate the oil.

IMG_8391 IMG_8392 IMG_8395 IMG_8400~Step 4.  Using the rubber spatula, fold in 2 cups of the lightly-toasted chopped pecans (set the remaining 1/2 cup aside).  Transfer/pour the 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_8404To prepare the cream cheese glaze and pecan 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 pecans 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, butter-rum flavoring, vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons milk.  Starting with 5-10 on-off pulses and then with 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_8456~ Step 3.  When cake has cooled and with the cake 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 glaze over 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 dry a bit prior to slicing cake, about 1 hour.

Hummingbird cake.  Simply irresistible and...

IMG_8464... scrumptious from first bite to last:

IMG_8507Charmingly Southern:  Hummingbird (Bundt) Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16-20 servings, depending upon how thick or thin you slice it.

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

IMG_9315 IMG_9306Cook's Note: For another "fruity" cake recipe with a fascinating history (this one containing pineapple with a coconut-macadamia topping), you can find my recipe for ~ Plantation Cake:  A Very Southern Vintage Cake ~ in Categories 6, 9, 10, 17, 19 or 26.  Perfect to take to a picnic, tailgate or a potluck.

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

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

04/26/2017

~ Open Sesame: Asian Sweet Chili Crockpot Chicken ~

IMG_8328Calling all faithful users of crockpots and couch potatoes with crockpots who crave Asian food.   Whether you're exhausted and trying feed a family of four after a busy day at the office or just lazily lounging on the sofa watching the NFL draft for two days, I've got a recipe for you.  I won't lie.  I don't use my crockpot on a regular basis, but I do know that really good recipes for slow-cooked Asian fare are few and far between.  There is a reason for that.  Aside from soup, when most of us think Asian, we think fast-and-furious stir-fries with crunch-tender vegetables and velvety-textured meat, poultry or seafood.  In our minds, it hard to associate Asian with the steamy one-textured food that emerges from the crockpot.  In the case of this recipe, that's a non issue.  Served over rice, ramen, or simply heaped on a sandwich roll, I promise you this:

Succulent chicken in a bold-flavored slightly-spicy sauce. 

IMG_8281For the chicken (not pictured in the above photo):

2 1/4-2 1/2  pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders or thighs

For the sauce:

6  tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy)

6  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce

6  tablespoons American chili sauce

2  tablespoons hoisin sauce

2  tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1  tablespoon sesame oil

1  teaspoon garlic paste

1 teaspoon ginger paste

4  tablespoons light-brown sugar

1/2  cup thinly-sliced scallions, white and light green part only, tops reserved for garnish 

For the slurry to thicken the sauce at the end:

1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons corn starch

2  tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy)

1  tablespoon Thai seasoning soy

1  tablespoon water

For the garnish:

thinly-sliced scallion tops, reserved from above scallions

lightly-toasted sesame seeds

Arrange the tenders or thighs in the bottom of a 6 1/2-7-quart crockpot:

IMG_8278Stir together all of the sauce ingredients and slice the scallions.  Pour all of the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle all of the scallions over the sauce:

IMG_8288Program the crockpot to slow cook on high for 4 hours:

IMG_8296After 3 hours of cooking, using a slotted spoon, transfer the fully-cooked tenders or thighs from the sauce to a cutting board (do not turn the crockpot off):

IMG_8308Using a fork, in a small bowl or 1-cup measuring container, whisk the slurry ingredients together and add them to the still simmering sauce in the crockpot:

IMG_8313Slice the tenders or thighs, return them to the crockpot and give the mixture a stir:

IMG_8319Put the lid back on the crockpot and continue to cook until the 4 hours are up:

IMG_8322Steamed rice is nice, ramen noodles are another option: 

IMG_8343Open Sesame:  Asian Sweet Chili Crockpot Chicken:  Recipe yields 5 cups, sliced-chicken mixture/4-6 servings when placed over rice or ramen.

Special Equipment List:  6 1/2-7-quart crockpot; 1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; large slotted spoon; fork

IMG_0984Cook's Note:  If it's a full-flavored Asian soup recipe you're interested in, you can find my one and only other Asian crockpot recipe for ~ Chinese:  Crockpot Chicken & Egg Noodle Soup ~ in Categories 2, 13 or 20.  Just microwave some fresh Chinese egg noodles, portion them into a few bowls and ladle the soup right over the top.

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

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

04/23/2017

~ Poaching Bone-In Skin-On Real Chicken Breasts ~

IMG_8271Leftover shredded or chopped chicken.  It's an ingredient we all come across on a regular basis in a wide variety of recipes for appetizers, salads, sandwiches and casseroles -- I've even seen it called for in some throw-together soup and stew meals.  That said, I rarely use true "leftover" chicken to prepare any of them.  Here's why:  Most times, when I have leftover chicken, it's been seasoned and cooked to suit a specific recipe.  Nine out of ten times, the flavor profile doesn't align with the recipe du jour.  Example:  The grilled chicken breast rubbed with fajita seasoning leftover from dinner last night, is hardly going to taste great in my Sour-Cream-and-Dill-Dressed Chicken Chef Salad today.  The perfect solution:  poach chicken on an as-needed basis.  

IMG_8277I rarely poach a whole chicken because when I need chopped or shredded chicken, I typically only need two-three-four cups.  There's more.  I never poach boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs.  Here's why:  The flavor is in the skin and the bones.  When you remove either, the end result is too sad to talk about. "Rubber chicken" did not get it's nickname for any other reason than:  Back in the 1990's, we were informed by the food police to cut back on eggs and well-marbled red meat -- two of my favorite foods.  Poultry processors began mass-marketing boneless, skinless chicken breasts to the newly-enlightened sheeple.  Tasteless, boneless, skinless chicken breasts began replacing fat, juicy steaks on dinner tables in homes and restaurants everywhere.  This was America's boneless-skinless rubber-chicken-dinner era.  

I did not buy into America's "rubber chicken" era -- I resisted.

IMG_8267Poaching vs. Roasting = Low Moist Heat vs. High Dry Heat.

IMG_8322"You can always judge the quality of a cook by their roast chicken."  ~ J. Child.  I roast chickens.  I have roasted many chickens in my life, and, I've been roasting chickens since before some of you were born. I've never served roasted chicken to a guest that didn't mention how moist and perfectly cooked it was and asks how I got it that way.  

Everyone and anyone who cooks has an opinion on roasting chicken, and, mine is quite basic: One 6-pound chicken, a 350° oven and 2 hours of the chicken's time.

6a0120a8551282970b019aff52d2b5970bTo learn everything I know about roasting an entire chicken, click here to read, This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree "Carving for Dummies" Methodology.  If it's roasted chicken breasts you prefer, My E-Z "Real" Roasted Chicken Breasts is another option: 2-4-6 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, a 350° oven and 1 1/2 hours of the chicken's time. Both yield perfectly-cooked, moist and juicy, fork-tender chicken.

Poaching = 30-45 minutes.  Roasting = 1 1/2-2 hours.

The term "poach" is from the French verb "pocher" meaning to cook gently in water or seasoned liquid.  The liquid, called "court bouillon" or "short broth", is classically a mixture of water, an acid (such as lemon juice, wine, and/or vinegar or wine vinegar), aromatics (such as onion, celery and/or carrot), an herb or two (such as parsley, thyme and/or bay leaf), salt and peppercorns. That said, poaching chicken is a worldwide sport and the liquid should be seasoned accordingly. For example: When I'm poaching chicken for Asian fare, I use ginger, lemongrass and/or lime leaves, cilantro, soy sauce and/or fish sauce (in place of salt) and a cayenne chile pepper.

Shallow poaching involves placing the food to be poached, presentation side up, atop or in the center of the aromatics, herbs and spices in a shallow cooking vessel.  Cold or room temperature court bouillon is added until the food is partially-submerged in liquid.  The pan gets covered and the food gets cooked gently at a low temperature (barely simmering/shivering), which preserves both the flavor and the structural integrity of the food.  Deep poaching is almost identical, except the food is placed in a deep vessel and fully-submerged in liquid.  In both cases, depending upon the recipe, the liquid might require skimming at the start of or throughout the cooking process.

Place two large 1-1 1/4 pound, bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves, skin-side-up, in a wide-bottomed 3 1/2-quart "chef's pan" w/straight deep sides:

IMG_8205Around the perimeter, arrange 6 ounces chunked onion (half a medium onion),  4 ounces carrot cut into 2" lengths (one large carrot), 2  ounces celery cut into 2" lengths (1 large stalk celery), 2 bay leaves, and, 2 teaspoons each coarse salt and whole peppercorns:

IMG_8210Add 1 quart water, or, 3 1/2 cups water + 1/2 cup white wine:

IMG_8214Cover and place on stovetop over high heat.  When liquid comes to a rapid simmer, adjust heat to a very gentle simmer/shiver and continue to cook until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 170°, 40-45 minutes (Note:  smaller breasts will cook more quickly):

IMG_8218^^^ Tip from Mel.  If you have a pot with a glass lid, it's ideal, as it allows you to watch the poaching process and regulate the heat as necessary.  Remove from heat.

IMG_8225Using a large spoon, transfer chicken from the liquid to a plate (Note:  There is no need to discard the liquid, it's quite tasty.  Simmer some egg noodles in it or strain and freeze it.):  

IMG_8232Gently and carefully loosen and remove the skin while it is soft and pliable (this insures a pretty presentation, particularly if the breast is to be thin-sliced):

IMG_8237Cover with plastic wrap and wait until the chicken has cooled until you can comfortably handle it with your hands, prior to gently removing the bones from the meat: 

IMG_8248Poached perfection, fork-tender, moist and juicy too.  Each breast yields 2-3 servings sliced and about 2 generous cups of chopped or shredded chicken:

IMG_8260Poaching Bone-In Skin-On Real Chicken Breasts:  Recipe gives instructions to poach 2 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves and yields 1 total pound of poached chicken/roughly 4 generous cups chopped or shredded chicken.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides and lid (preferably glass); instant-read meat thermometer; large slotted spoon; plastic wrap

IMG_2440Cook's Note:  The alternative to moist-heat poaching is dry-heat roasting, and, if done correctly, the end result is equally as delicious. My recipe for ~ A Peachy All-White-Meat 'Melanie' Chicken Salad ~ is in Categories 2, 12 or 26.

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

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

04/20/2017

~ Sour Cream and Dill Dressing for Cucumber Salad ~

IMG_8196Fresh, feathery and fragile dill "leaves" or "weed".  It's a bit early for it to be available to me in my Central PA garden, but:  big, beautiful bunches of it are showing up in my grocery stores.  In Eastern European kitchens everywhere, dill, along with chives, mint and/or parsley, are commonly used to flavor all sorts of heritage dishes:  fish (like salmon or sturgeon), various soups (notably red or white borscht), many vegetables (especially carrots or potatoes), and, classic dill pickles (or anything that can be pickled).  The sweet, subtle flavor of dill is delightful in many of our ethnic vinaigrettes, dressings, sauces, dips and spreads, and, it's even used to make a savory compound "dill butter", which dreamily spreads over or melts into almost anything.  Sigh.

IMG_8159While dill is native to Central and Eastern Europe, it's grown all over Scandinavia (Northern Europe) and Eurasia too, where its leaves and seeds are used as an herb or spice in  Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Lao, Arabian, Indian and Iranian cuisines too (to name a few from a long list).  

There are many variations to the Eastern European (Russian) sour-creamy dill dressing I am making today, but two things are common to IMG_8203all:  Fresh dill is used because the dried herb loses its flavor rapidly, and, the cool and creamy dressing is classically used to dress cucumbers and/or tomatoes freshly-picked from the Summer garden.  I drizzle the dressing over the cucumbers or tomatoes at serving time.  The common practice is to stir in enough dressing to enrobe them. In my opinion, the common practice alternative, no matter how judicious one is with the dressing, generally renders an over-dressed salad, plus, cucumbers and tomatoes (which lose their textural integrity quickly -- within 10-15 minutes), renders the dressing watery.  It's silly to do that.

My way renders perfectly-dressed, pretty-to-look-at cucumber or tomato side-salads.

IMG_8174For 1 cup dressing:

1  cup sour cream

2  teaspoons lemon juice, fresh or high-quality organic juice not from concentrate

1  teaspoon dried, minced garlic

1  teaspoon dried, minced onion

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

3-4  tablespoons minced-fresh dill leaves, or more, to your liking

IMG_8167 IMG_8177 IMG_8175 IMG_8180~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the  sour cream, lemon juice, garlic, onion, pepper and salt.  Mince the dill and stir it in.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or overnight.  

Dollop 2 tablespoons dressing over each 1/2-3/4 cup salad. 

IMG_8199It's a tasty dressing for a classic chef salad too:

IMG_8271Sour Cream and Dill Dressing for Cucumber Salad:  Recipe yields 1 cup dressing/enough to dress 8, 1/2-cup side-salads.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; spoon; 1-cup food storage container with tight-fitting lid

IMG_8049Cook's Note:  When I've got lots of dill, one of my favorite things to make is ~ Mel's Petite Porketta for Joe's Jessup Sandwiches ~ (pork stuffed w/a mix of dill and garlic. Today's salad(s) are a wonderful accompaniment to them.  Get my recipe in Category 2, 3, 10 12 or 17.

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

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

04/18/2017

~ A Must Have Recipe: Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake ~

IMG_8129If I knew you were coming I'd have baked you a mayonnaise cake.  While that might not sound appetizing, I always say, "what happens in my kitchen, stays in my kitchen" and in my food world, there is no reason to reveal to anyone they are eating a mayonnaise cake unless they ask for the recipe.  In the event anyone rolls their eyes or turns up their nose, the joke's on them, as, they obviously don't know mayonnaise is a concoction of oil (which makes cakes tender), eggs and a bit of flavor-boosting acid (like vinegar or lemon juice) -- all common-to-cake ingredients.

2ee392b218c24743a31a0b007328fe58Most folks think this cake was invented by Hellmann's and that's a natural assumption.  The truth -- it was not.  The earliest recipe in print titled "Mayonnaise Cake" was published in 1927.  The Hellmann's brand didn't come along until 1937. That said, their aggressive ad campaign for "Mayonnaise Cake", sure did popularize it with World War II/depression era housewives, who were in the market for inexpensive substitutions for butter and milk. When you get right down to the common sense of it, a cake recipe containing mayonnaise is not much different than a cake recipe containing sour cream or buttermilk. < My recipe is neither Hellmann's vintage recipe pictured here nor the updated recipe on their website.  It is the recipe my grandmother used, and, while I wish I did, I have no idea where it originated.

For "those times" when you are tempted to use a boxed mix -- don't.  This super-easy scratch-made alternative is delightful. 

IMG_80642  1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4  cup cocoa powder

1  teaspoon baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1  3/4 cups sugar

3  large eggs

1  cup mayonnaise

1  cup + 6 tablespoons whole milk (Note:  My grandmother's depression-era recipe originally called for water.  I like the richness of whole milk better.)

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan (Note:  The original recipe calls for flouring 2, 9"-round cake pans.  When I prepare this cake, I prefer 1, 13" x 9" x 2" one-layer, rectangular cake and no-stick spray makes life a bit easier.

IMG_8065 IMG_8070Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda until thoroughly combined.  Set aside.  Note:  This "cake mix" can be made ahead and stored in the pantry.

IMG_8073 IMG_8076 IMG_8080 IMG_8083 IMG_8086 IMG_8089 IMG_8097~Step 2.  Place the sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl.  Starting on medium speed of hand-held electric mixer and working up to high, beat until mixture is smooth and light and pale yellow in color, about 1 full minute, while scraping down sides of bowl with a large rubber spatula.  Lower the mixer speed and blend in the mayonnaise, about 30 more seconds.  Stir the vanilla extract into the milk.  On medium mixer speed, blend in half of the milk mixture followed by half of the flour mixture, continuing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with the spatula.  Blend in the second half of the milk followed by the last of the flour, increase mixer speed to high and beat another 45-60 seconds.

IMG_8102 IMG_8111~ Step 3.  Transfer batter to a 13" x 9" x 2" cake pan or 3-quart casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven for 28-30 minutes, or until puffed through to the center with a slight spring on top when touched with index finger.  Remove from oven, place on a wire rack and cool completely, about 2 hours, prior to slathering with your favorite frosting or dusting with Confectioners' sugar.  Better yet:  A simple dollop of freshly-whipped cream or a generous scoop of ice cream will do nicely.

Light & moist & so easy even a cave man can bake it!

IMG_8116If you're going to eat cake, eat a great (mayonnaise) cake:

IMG_8152A Must Have Recipe:  Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake:  Recipe yields 1, 13" x 9" cake/12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart cake pan or casserole dish; wire cooling rack

IMG_6014Cook's Note:  When it comes to baking, even a recipe as easy as today's is a semi-precise to precise sport.  It's important to use the ingredients called for in the recipe, weigh or measure them accurately, and not make any substitutions or whimsical additions.  A complete understanding of  flour types is a great place to start.  Click into Categories, 5, 6, 7, 13 or 16 and read: ~ Flour Facts:  All-purpose, Bread, Cake and Pastry ~.  A successful baker is a happy baker!

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

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

04/15/2017

~ Mel's Petite Porketta for Joe's Jessup Sandwiches ~

IMG_8049It was the Spring of 1980.  That's when I had my first encounter with this unique roasted pork roll -- in the form of a cold sandwich.  Joe and I (newlyweds of four months) were visiting his mother Ann in his hometown of Jessup, (Northeastern) PA.  Joe's brother Tom and his wife Kathy walked through Ann's kitchen door on Wilson Street shortly after us, and, once the mandatory cocktails were poured, Ann placed a brown bag on her kitchen table.  It was quite informal and I had no idea what to expect, until Tom and Joe tore into it (which indicated her beloved sons knew exactly what was in it).  It was full of porketta sandwiches from their favorite Italian market:  Alunni's. 

IMG_8028Porketta (that's how it's spelled in the Scranton/Wilkes'Barre area) is extremely popular in all the Italian-American communities throughout NE PA, and, in pockets of the Philadelphia area too. The seasoned, rolled and tied pork loin can be purchased uncooked in the meat departments of local grocery stores, or, cooked and sliced at the deli-counter of the same stores.  At specialty markets like Alunni's, they make and sell the sandwiches too, as well as trays of sandwiches -- which show up at all sorts of large street festivals, church picnics and family gatherings.

Porketta is a cute Italian word for a small, stuffed suckling piglet.

IMG_7914 IMG_7903Traditionally, porketta/porkequetta/porchetta (all pronounced por-KAYT-tah), is an Italian dish prepared using a whole, small piglet.  Prior to roasting, the meat is stuffed with a mixture of salt, herbs and spices, which serve as the seasoning. During the roasting process, the meat is basted with olive oil to give it a golden, crispy skin.  That said, for ease of preparation, most home cooks simply butterfly, pound, roll and tie a boneless pork loin (although pork belly or shoulder can be used too). It can be sliced and served hot as a knife and fork meal, or, refrigerated and sliced cold in a deli sandwich, and, it is common to make porketta for the sole purpose the latter.

Nowadays, most cooks butterfly, pound, stuff & roll a pork loin.

IMG_7987My porketta is made from petite, stuffed pork tenderloins...

IMG_7919 (1) IMG_7896As Joe's mom started getting older, I slowly-but-happily, started taking over the holiday cooking responsibilities for her.  I thoroughly enjoyed it because it caused me to get to know the cooks in their family. Uncle Geno was the first.  He was a fabulous cook, and, on a trip to his San Cruz, CA home in 1981, I not only learned how to make polenta, I learned what a polenta board is. Aunt Anne's forte was baking, and I am grateful to her for passing along several traditional cookie recipes.  Aunt Susie cooked and baked, but, getting an exact recipe for anything from her proved futile.  She told me what she put in her porketta and I was expected to take it from there.  (The list goes on -- Aunt June, Teresa and Albina -- they all contributed to my recipe box over the years.)

Armed with a piece of porketta purchased in Jessup, for side-by-side taste-testing of Aunt Susie's ingredients list, it didn't take long for me to concoct the "right" herb and spice mix.  By "right" I mean the way they make it in Jessup, which means dill (not fennel or rosemary) takes center stage on the flavor profile.  There's more.  There came a time when I wanted to incorporate porketta into Joe's family's Easter celebration without serving it as part of the main meal.  That's when I decided to use small pork tenderloins, in order to serve small slider-sized sandwiches, along with deviled eggs, as appetizers.  Everyone loved the idea, so, I've done it every year since.

... to serve as slider-sized appetizers w/deviled eggs in the Spring!

IMG_79274  small, whole pork tenderloins, about 1-1 1/4-pound each

3  ounces minced, fresh dill, mostly feathery greens, some stems thinner stems are are ok, thick woody stems are not fine

2  tablespoons garlic powder

2  tablespoons dry English mustard

2  teaspoons sugar

2  teaspoons salt

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_7923~ Step 1.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with aluminum foil and place a sheet of parchment over the foil.  Set aside.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut 16 pieces cotton kitchen twine (it's necessary to have this twine) into 13"-14" lengths.

~ Step 2.  To prepare the herb/spice blend, mince the dill as directed and place it in a medium bowl along with the garlic powder, dry mustard, sugar, salt and black pepper.  

IMG_7929 IMG_7933 IMG_7935Using a spoon, toss, to incorporate the spices throughout the fresh dill. Set aside 13-15 minutes, stopping to restir the mixture every 3-5 minutes.  The salt will wilt the dill and spices will absorb moisture from the dill, resulting in a mixture that resembles clumpy, wet grass clippings.  Preheat oven to 500°.

IMG_7939 IMG_7942 IMG_7945 IMG_7951 IMG_7947~Step 3.  To assemble and tie each porketta, just like drawing vertical lines on a sheet of paper, place 8 lengths of the twine, spaced about 1 1/2" apart, on a clean, flat work surface (I use a sheet of parchment).  Place 1 tenderloin, the flattest "rough" side, facing up across the center of the strings. Spoon/distribute 1/2 of the dill mixture evenly over the top of the tenderloin.  Place a second pork tenderloin, the flattest "rough" side, facing down on top of the dill mixture. Starting in the center and working towards the ends, lift and tie each piece of twine into a simple, tight knot.  Using the kitchen sheers, snip off the loose excess ends of the twine.  Place the assembled porketta on the prepared baking pan.

IMG_7954 IMG_7968 IMG_7971~ Step 4.  Repeat this process a second time, placing the second porketta 1"-2" apart from the first one, on the same, IMG_7979prepared pan.  Examine each porketta, and, using the fingertip of your index finger, tuck/poke as much of any exposed dill mixture as possible back into the center. This will keep the dill a nice green color after roasting.  Using a pastry brush, liberally paint each porketta with olive oil, coating all of the exposed, visible surface.  Grind a generous coating of sea salt and peppercorn blend (or black pepper) over all.

IMG_7996~ Step 5.  Place porketta on center rack of preheated 500° oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 350°.  Roast, uncovered, about 65-75 minutes, or, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into 3-4 spots reads 155°-160°, checking the temperature diligently every 5 minutes after 55 minutes of cooking.

Porketta will be golden brown and juices will be running clear.

IMG_8008~ Step 6.  Remove from oven. Immediately cover and tightly seal pan with aluminum foil. If planning to serve hot, allow porketta to rest 30 minutes, prior to slicing and serving. For sandwiches, allow to cool until slightly warm, 3 1/2-4 hours, prior to individually wrapping each porketta with plastic wrap and refrigerating overnight prior to slicing.

Appetizers are served:  porketta sliders w/deviled eggs!

IMG_8055Mel's Petite Porketta for Joe's Jessup Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 2, 2-pound porketta, enough meat for 8-12 slider-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; kitchen shears; cotton kitchen twine; cutting board; chef's knife; pastry brush instant-read meat thermometer; plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07ce982b970dCook's Note:  When Ann served Alunni's porketta sandwiches, she served them with 'Luni's homemade-on-site potato salad.  To get my recipe for ~ GrandMel's Creamy Potato and Egg Salad Recipe ~, which tastes just as good as deviled eggs with porketta, click in Categories 4, 10, 17 or 20.

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

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

04/12/2017

~ Happy-Valley-Ranch Deep-Fried Chicken Sandwich ~

IMG_7872One of my favorite all-weather meals is a piece or two of crispy and nicely-seasoned roasted, grilled or fried chicken.  Pair it up with a well-appointed salad drizzled with creamy Ranch dressing and I can't resist it.  It's gotta be Ranch dressing too -- no substitutions.  Save the blue cheese dressing for chicken wings, Buffalo-style chicken 'burgers and all things beef.  In my Happy Valley, PA kitchen, "if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy", and this is my sandwich.

Hidden Valley Ranch dressing has a fascinating history:

A little over 50 years ago no one had ever heard of ranch dressing and now it is America's most popular salad dressing.  We do much more than top our salads with it too.  It is our dip of choice for vegetables, a marinade for our meat or poultry, and, a flavoring in our favorite brands of corn and potato chips.  I buy very little bottled salad dressing in general (although I do keep a bottle of Wish-Bone Light Italian in my refrigerator at all times), but, when my boys were small, I was one of those mom's who kept a stack of Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning packets in my pantry at all times.  Why?  Like many of you, it was the only way I could get my kids to eat raw vegetables.

ImagesA bit about ranch dressing:  It is a wholly American invention with a bona fide rags-to-riches story.  In 1954, Nebraska-born Steve Henson (once a homeless child of the Great depression, former plumbing contractor and a cook in Alaska) and his wife Gayle, bought the sprawling, picturesque, 120-acre Sweetwater Ranch in Santa Barbarba, CA.  They renamed it Hidden Valley, opened a guest-type dude ranch and attempted to live out their life's dream of entertaining and cooking for their paying guests. But, due to the remote location and lack of funds for advertising, Henson found himself facing bankruptcy.  One thing the few guests he did have left the ranch talking about was:  the salad dressing.  Henson had developed the recipe back in Alaska: a garlicky emulsion of mayonnaise, buttermilk, herbs and spices.

Hvr_packetHenson knew how popular his dressing was when guests started asking to purchase jars of it to take home with them, but, it wasn't until one of them asked to take 300 bottles back to Hawaii that he saw a business opportunity.  Henson didn't have 300 jars, so he took a few hours to package his dry spice blend in a bunch of envelopes.  He instructed his customer to mix each envelope with 1-quart of buttermilk and 1-quart of mayonnaise.

In 1964, Henson closed his ranch to guests and entered into the salad dressing business full-time.  He assembled a small team of workers in his home and developed a small-scale mail-order business that mailed 75-cent packets of Hidden Valley salad dressing mix to the local community. It wasn't long before he moved into a larger manufacturing facility that produced 35,000 packets every eight hours.  In 1972, Henson sold his business to Clorox and the rest is history.

Mel's "Happy Valley" version of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing:

IMG_0129I developed my own version of these beloved seasoning packets here in my Happy Valley, PA kitchen to rival the original.  I must have done a pretty good job, because every time I make this dressing there is rarely any leftover and almost everyone asks me for the recipe.  It is a requested favorite at our Penn State tailgate every year.  If you have the time, prepare it a day before you serve it, to give all of the great flavors time to marry with the mayonnaise and buttermilk.

Can you add fresh ingredients (minced chives, parsley, garlic and onion) to it?  Well of course you can, and I often do, but, I add them as flavor enhancers after the fact, not in place of any of the dry spices and herbs.  Why?  Because, like Steve Henson, I like to make and keep a few small ziplock bags of my pre-mixed dry mixture on hand in my pantry at all times -- how convenient.

PICT2048For the dry spice blend:

1  teaspoon dried, minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon dried, minced onion

PICT21411  tablespoon dried chives (Note:  Dried chives are not pictured above because Joe dries chives from our garden for me and they are in a large mason jar that didn't fit nicely into this photo.)

1  teaspoon dried parsley

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon celery salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

For the additions:

1  cup buttermilk  (Note:  If this dressing is refrigerated for several hours or overnight, it will thicken to a creamy consistency, which I consider perfection. If you want a thicker, scoopable consistency, substitute sour cream for a portion or all of  the buttermilk.)

1  cup mayonnaise

IMG_0093IMG_0084Step 1.  In a medium bowl, place mayonnaise and all of the dry spices as listed.  Add the buttermilk.

IMG_0105Step 2. Whisk until mixture is smooth and drizzley.

IMG_0110Step 3.  Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate for several hours or overnight, until nicely thickened (for perfect taste and consistency, overnight is best).

Note:  Dressing may be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week (or the shelf life of the expiration date on the buttermilk).  If fresh ingredients are added, the shelf-life is shortened to 3 days.  For this reason, I stir any fresh ingredients in 1-2 hours prior to serving.  Stir prior to serving chilled.  Yield:  2 1/2 cups.

Prepping & lightly-pounding the chicken tenderloin patties:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1476096970c~ Step 1.  Cover a cutting board or work surface with a layer of plastic wrap.  Curl up, "doughnut-style"...

12  large boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins, no substitutions, close to room temperature (Note:  I remove them from the refrigerator 30-45 minutes prior to starting.  If the tenders are too cold, they will lose IMG_7788their "doughnut" shape when you pound them, and, they will not cook through to the the center in the time it takes to prevent the crispy outside coating from over-browning.)

IMG_7790... tightly overlapping their ends. Cover with a second layer of plastic and firmly press down on their tops w/the palm of your hand to "glue" them together.

~ Step 2.  Using the flat side of a meat mallet, gently-pound them, until they are half their original thickness and about twice their size.  Twelve pounded-patties appear in the small photo above. 

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

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

One medium bowl containing 1 1/2 cups pancake mix whisked with 1 1/2 cups beer.

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 8-ounces panko breadcrumbs.

Deep-fryer w/peanut oil heated to 375° according to manufacturer's specifications.

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

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

IMG_7808 IMG_7811 IMG_7814 IMG_7819 IMG_7823 IMG_7827~Step 2.  Working in batches of 3 chicken patties at a time, dredge each one in the dry pancake mix to coat it on all sides.  Note:  I fry 3 at a time because that is what fits comfortably in the basket of my fryer without overcrowding it.  Next, move up the assembly line and dip each pattie into the batter. As you lift each one out of the batter, hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the batter to drizzle back into the bowl. As you batter dip each one, place it into the dish of panko.  Coat patties on all sides in the panko.

IMG_7829 IMG_7837Step 3.  By hand, carefully and gently, drop/lower each patty into the hot 375° oil (don't place them directly in the basket).  Close the fryer lid and fry 4-5 minutes. Chicken patties will be a deep golden brown.  Do not overcook.

IMG_7843Step 7.  Open fryer lid and slowly lift basket up and out of deep-fryer. Transfer patties to a wire rack that has been placed over a few layers of paper towels.  Tip:  To transfer the patties , I simply tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack.  Using tongs is tricky -- it can be done but it's an easy way to damage (rip, tear or poke holes in) their crust.

Immediately sprinkle chicken patties w/a grinding of sea salt.  

Repeat the dredging, dipping and coating process until all patties are deep fried.  Serve hot (almost immediately), warm (within 30 minutes), or at room temperature (within 1 hour).  There's more:  trust me when I tell you, chicken patties will remain crunchy well past the four hour mark, so, do not hesitate for one moment to fry them (and do your cleanup) well in advance of serving.

IMG_7848Super-crispy on the outside & super-tender on the inside:

IMG_7855I've yet to taste a better chicken patty in any sandwich:

IMG_7888Happy-Valley-Ranch Deep-Fried Chicken Sandwich:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups homemade Ranch dressing and 12 chicken sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  medium mixing bowl; whisk; 4-cup food storage container w/lid; 2 shallow 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes or 9" pie dishes;  medium-large bowl; whisk; cutting board; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; deep-fryer; 3-minute egg timer; tongs (use at your own risk);  paper towels; wire cooling rack 

IMG_7761Cook's Note:  For a classic Italian recipe for a delightfully-delicate, lightly-pounded, traditionally-breaded, pan-fried chicken cutlet bursting with buttery lemon flavor, click into Categories 3, 12 or 20 to get my recipe for ~ A Flash-in-Pan Dinner:  Chicken all Milanese ~.

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

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

04/10/2017

~ A Flash-in-the-Pan Dinner: Chicken alla Milanese ~

IMG_7761I love it when I am inspired by something I eat in a restaurant -- when it's worth every penny and I can't stop thinking about it.  Adversely, I dislike it when I'm disgusted by something I eat in a restaurant -- a waste of money I can't stop thinking about.  I abhor it when I order a restaurant meal, fall in love with it, and a few weeks later, order it again and hate it.   Dining in a college town is a frustrating sport -- inconsistency seems to reign supreme.  With the exception of three now two establishments, I avoid it.  That said, it's the reason a great percentage of our college-town's locals are some of the finest home cooks you'll ever meet -- we've grown weary of visiting any number of eateries "on a wing and a prayer" (relying on hope to see us through).  Enough said.

IMG_7763Milanese requires just a few basic ingredients and a process.  

IMG_7736It's bright and frivolous -- delightfully delicate and elegant.

"Alla Milanese" (mee-lah-NEH-zeh) is Italian for "in the style of Milan" and refers to a thin-sliced and lightly-pounded protein dredged in flour, dipped in beaten egg and a light-coating of breadcrumbs.  It's quickly-sautéed in butter and/or olive oil until a pretty yellow-golden. It's crispy on the outside, fork-tender, and juicy on the inside.  It gets a squirt of fresh lemon juice, a parsley garnish and is served the moment it comes out of the skillet.  It is elegantly delicate. The original version of the dish, "la cotoletta (the cutlet)" or "cotoletta alla Milanese", a typical "secondo" (second course) to a meal in Milan, refers exclusively to a veal cutlet.  I am not a fan of grated cheese mixed into the breadcrumbs or used as a garnish, but, that choice is yours.

Milan is Italy's financial, industrial, cultural and fashion capital.  Home to the Italian stock exchange, it is to Italy what New York City is to the USA -- diverse and affluent.  The best way to define the cuisine is "rich" with milk, cream, butter and cheese.  Butter is the fat of choice and with it they love to prepare beef and veal dishes.  The famous Milanese saying, "La bocce l'è manga stracca sel la san ò de vacca", translates to, "the mouth is not tired enough if it doesn't taste of cow".  It means:  for lunch or dinner, the meal ends by eating a piece of cheese.  While pasta is popular, rice is more popular and they explain it's because rice absorbs more cheese, butter and broth than pasta (their signature rice and risotto dishes contain pricey saffron too).   

When did classic veal Milanese transition to chicken Milanese?

Veal milanese is what I grew up eating when my family went to Italian-American restaurants -- and loved every crispy-textured, lemony-buttery bite.  When I was in my early '20's, veal milanese is one of the first fancy-schmancy, cheffy "flash-in-the-pan" dinners I entertained guests with in the latter 1970's and '80's -- and in my electric skillet, I could make four servings at once. 

IMG_9428Then, in the 1990's, we foodies were told, by the powers-that-be, to cut back on eggs and red meat.  I had never encountered a boneless, skinless chicken breast prior to that, which is when they began mass-marketing them across America. The boneless, skinless chicken breast revolution had begun.  They began replacing fat, juicy chops IMG_9453and steaks everywhere.  I refer to this as America's "rubber-chicken dinner" period.  Milanese, which was an easy target, became a victim.

While the boneless, skinless chicken breast replaced the veal cutlet or escalope with ease, I was never quite satisfied with it.  Even when butterflied and/or pounded, I've always found the boneless, skinless breast to be a compromise in this dish.  Unlike naturally tender IMG_9595veal, chicken needs to be cooked to a safe 165 degree temperature*, which no matter how you slice or tenderize it, dries it out.  My solution was to use the naturally tender chicken breast tenderloin to make Milanese.  Once I 'switched', I liked the dish better prepared with thinly but lightly-pounded chicken tenders (chicken paillards) than my original and classic veal Milanese.

Note:  In the case of Milanese, the pounded chicken breast tenderloins should be slightly-firm to the touch and slightly-pink in the center when you are removing them from the skillet.  An internal temperature of 160°-162° is fine (actually perfect).  Once removed from the skillet and allowed to rest a few moments, carry-over heat will continue cooking them to the proper temperature.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08663848970dA bit about paillard (PI-yahrd):  This French word means "to pound", and, references a lightly-pounded portion-sized slice or medallion of meat, poultry or seafood that gets quickly sautéed.  A paillard is not smashed to smithereens.  Pounding should make it wider and thinner, with the point being to pound it in a manner that makes it even in thickness --  to break down the fibers, to tenderize it, and, to make it cook evenly.  It's usually done with a flat-sided meat mallet, not a sharp, pyramid-toothed gadget guaranteed to pulverize the subject-at-hand.  To those who smack away using the back of a heavy skillet, while your bravado is amusing, you can't concentrate the necessary force directly on the places that need it to do a truly expert job.

Are you ready to see how easy this 25-minute meal is to make?

IMG_15328  large boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins (Note: This is approximately equivalent to 2, boneless, skinless, chicken breast halves that have been butterflied, to form 4 pieces.)

Step 1.  Place the tenderloins between two large layers of plastic IMG_1537wrap and lightly pound with the flat side of a meat mallet to a thickness between 1/8" and 1/4".

Step 2.  Lightly season the tops of the pounded tenderloins with:

Lemon and Pepper Seasoning

Wondra Quick-Mixing flour for IMG_1540Sauce and Gravy, or, ordinary all-purpose flour 

IMG_7675~ Step 3.   Allow chicken to rest 5 minutes, so the flour can absorb moisture. During this time, sprinkle a light layer of flour in bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole, and, in a small bowl, whisk 4 large eggs with 2 tablespoons water.

IMG_7677 IMG_7682 IMG_7685 IMG_7690 IMG_7692~Step 4.  Pick the chicken tenders up and flip them  over, placing them, floured sides down in the lightly-floured casserole.  Season and flour the second sides (now the top sides) and set aside 5 additional minutes. Add the whisked eggs to the casserole, and allow the chicken to rest in the egg liquid, stopping to "flip-flop" the chicken around in the eggs 2 or 3 times for 5 last minutes.  

IMG_7698 IMG_7705 IMG_7708~Step 5.  In each of two, shallow 9" pie-type dishes, place 3/4 cup  dried breadcrumbs (I use either French-style breadcrumbs or Japanese-style panko for their extra-crispy texture).  Place four chicken cutlets in each dish and coat in the crumbs, taking the time, 2-3 minutes, to stop and "flip-flop" them 2-3 times, to make sure they are evenly and completely coated.  Taking a few minutes to do this insures the crumbs will stay in place as they sauté -- because they've absorbed moisture from the eggs. 

IMG_7701 IMG_7710 IMG_7716 IMG_7723 IMG_7719~Step 6.  In a 16" electric skillet over low heat (225°) melt 4 tablespoons butter into 4 tablespoons olive oil.

Increase heat to medium- medium-high (240º-250º).  Add all of the cutlets to the skillet.  Sauté, until they're a nice light-golden color on both sides, turning only once, about 4-5 minutes per side, adjusting the heat as needed to prevent over-browning (which will dry them out).  

Note:  If doubling or tripling the recipe to feed 8-12 people, transfer cooked cutlets to a wire cooling rack that has been placed on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking sheet lined with parchment in a modest 225°-250º oven (for up to 30 minutes) while continuing to dredge, dip, coat and fry.

Portion & sprinkle w/sea salt & garnish w/lemon & parsley:

IMG_7752A Flash-in-the-Pan Dinner:  Chicken alla Milanese:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 2, 9" pie dishes; 16" electric skillet; long-handled fork and/or spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; wire cooling rack

IMG_1616Cook's Note:  For a similar dish (a variation of the same theme without the crispy breadcrumb coating), containing white wine, capers and lemon, click into Categories 12, 20 or 26 to read my recipe ~ For those Times When Ya Just Gotta Have Piccata ~.  In Italian, "piccata" translates to "piquant" or "tangy" or "zesty", and, in the case of this recipe, a few pats of cold butter are stirred into the pan-drippings to make a tangy sauce for drizzling over the top of the finished dish.

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

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

04/08/2017

~ I Love My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf ~

IMG_7652The fabulous '50's may be gone forever, but they are certainly not forgotten.  Remember the stainless steel diner in your hometown that served up a thick slice of mouthwatering meatloaf smothered in a smooth, rich pan gravy alongside a big scoop of fluffy mashed potatoes? Remember meatloaf day in your school cafeteria with stewed tomatoes and macaroni and cheese?  Remember the Swanson frozen meatloaf dinner slathered with a thick brown gravy and French fries?  I remember them all, but, mostly, I remember my mom's "special" meatloaf.

Meatloaf-frozen-dinner-kid"Meatloaf."  Say the word aloud in the company of family or friends, even in the company of culinary professionals, and you'll find that almost everyone wants to share a fond memory, tell an interesting story, or, recite a favorite recipe or three.  Once a Depression era meal to help home cooks stretch precious protein to feed more people, everyone will nod in agreement that, nowadays, meatloaf can be whatever you want it to be: an economical family-style meal or a culinary masterpiece fit for a king.

The industrial revolution placed meatloaf squarely on America's foodie road map -- the invention of the hand-crank (and later the electric/automated), meat grinder was historic. 

IMG_7545According to The Oxford Companion to Food:  Meatloaf is a dish whose visibility is considerably higher in real life than in cookery books.  This situation might be changed if it had a fancy French name (pâté chad de viand hachée, préalablement marinée dans du vin de pays et des aromatiques).  In the USA, the term was recorded in print in 1899, in Britain, 1939.  The use of the word 'loaf' is appropriate as most recipes include a portion of a loaf of bread, usually in the from of soft, fresh breadcrumbs.  Also, meatloaf is shaped like a loaf of bread, typically baked in a loaf pan, and sliced like a loaf of bread.  It is a worthy dish that embodies the word peasant (rustic), but can also exhibit refinement associated with bourgeois (upper middle-class) cookery.  Meatloaf does not extend into the realm of haute cuisine (artful or imaginative cuisine).

6a0120a8551282970b0162ff840af2970dA bit about grinding meat:  While the thankless task of mincing meat has been going on since ancient times, Karl Drais, a German aristocrat, is credited with inventing the cast-iron, hand-crank meat grinder in 1785.  This portable, countertop appliance made it possible for frugal home cooks to take advantage of its economic, time-saving benefits:  

1) Ground meat feeds more people.  2) Grinding meat makes tough, lesser expensive cuts of meat more palatable and easier to digest.  3)  Combining and grinding small pieces of various types of meat together makes a meal of otherwise useless leftovers.

^^^ Nowadays, grinding your own meat is even easier than this.  Trim it of unnecessary fat, cut it into 1"-1 1/2" chunks and pulse it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.

IMG_7589By the 1950's meatloaf was in America to stay, and, recipes were in print everywhere.

IMG_7592A bit about meatloaf in America: American meatloaf originated in the form of scrapple, a grainy-textured mash of ground pork scraps and trimmings mixed with moistened cornmeal prior to baking in a loaf shape.  Scrapple has been served by German-speaking Americans in Pennsylvania (the PA Deutsch) since Colonial times. From this somewhat unappetizing, born-out-of-necessity beginning, savvy home cooks adopted the concept of combining ground meat(s) with milk-moistened bread, egg, onion, salt and pepper, thus, evolving meatloaf D73faa54f8f38aed16c7afe476067a1binto its current  state:  homey, great-tasting, old-fashioned comfort food. Because cows were butchered before Winter, as feeding them was difficult and expensive, the first modern recipes for meatloaf contained just beef.

SwansonmeatloafdinnerA bit about my family's "special" meatloaf: My grandmother and mother used saltine cracker crumbs in place of fresh or dried breadcrumbs in a whole host of recipes.  Truth told: Saltines, when moistened in milk until soft, are:  more flavorful than breadcrumbs, and, they maintain a bit of texture too. Their pantries were never without a box and neither is mine.  

There's more.  Both my mother and grandmother used beef exclusively, never a combination of beef, pork and veal.  My grandmother, who owned a mom and pop grocery store during the Depression era, simply did not like the gelatinous texture that comes from adding mild-flavored veal and did not approve of mixing pork and beef together -- no bacon strips were ever draped over a meatloaf baking in any of my family's kitchens.  To this day, we all prefer brown gravy to tomato-based glazes (ketchup, tomato sauce or barbecue sauce) too.  Meatloaf is personal. 

IMG_7477For 2, 1 3/4-pound meat loaves:

3  pounds lean or extra-lean ground beef (85/15 or 90/10)

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

4  ounces saltine crackers (1 sleeve of crackers from a 1-pound box), crumbled by hand into small bits and pieces, not processed to crumbs.

1  cup milk

3  tablespoons salted butter

1 1/2  cups small diced yellow or sweet onion

1 1/2  cups small diced celery

3/4  cup minced parsley leaves

1  .13-ounce packet G. Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand so I can duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's available at many local grocery stores and on-line.)

2  teaspoons salt

1 1/2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans 

IMG_7478 IMG_7483 IMG_7488 IMG_7490~Step 1.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl.  Using a fork, lightly beat the eggs and add them to the meat.  Using your hands (it's the most efficient way), thoroughly combine the two.

IMG_7491 IMG_7497 IMG_7500 IMG_7501 IMG_7511~Step 2.  Using your fingertips, crush the crackers into small bits and pieces, letting them fall into a medium mixing bowl as you work. Add the milk and stir to combine. Set aside about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the crackers to absorb all of the milk.  The mixture will be thick and pasty.  Add the cracker mixture to the beef/egg mixture, and once again, using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_7507 IMG_7512 IMG_7519 IMG_7520 IMG_7523 IMG_7528~Step 3.  In a 10" skillet melt butter over low heat. Add the diced onion and celery along with the G.Washington's Seasoning, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium- medium-high and sauté until both onion and celery are nicely softened, 4-5 minutes.  Stir in the parsley, remove from heat and allow to cool for 30 full minutes.  Add the cool but still-a-little warm vegetable mixture to the meat.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_7542~ Step 4.  Spray 2, 1 1/2-quart loaf pans with no-stick cooking spray. Note:  My grandmother and mother always baked meatloaf in clear glass dishes and so do I.  The advantage is being able to see exactly how fast and how well the loaves are browning.  Divide the meat mixture in half, form each half into a loaf shape and place it in dish. Note:  If you have a kitchen scale, now is the time to use it. There will be 3 1/2 pounds meatloaf mixture.

IMG_7561~ Step 5.  Bake meatloaves on center rack of preheated 350° oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer placed in the the thickest part of the center reaches 168°-170º.  Loaves will be bubbling and juices will be running clear.  Remove from oven and place, in pans, on a wire rack to cool about 15 minutes.  Use a spatula to remove loaves from pans.  Slice and serve hot, or, warm or cool to room temperature and refrigerate.

IMG_7570 IMG_7574 IMG_7579 IMG_7586~Step 6.  It is worth mention that ground beef loses moisture as it cooks, so, there will be some very flavorful drippings in the bottom of each loaf pan -- not a lot of them, but enough to run through a fat/lean separator, place in a saucepan and add 1, 18-ounce jar beef gravy to.

Humble & Homey, Old-Fashioned, Great-Tasting, Comfort-Food:

IMG_7597I Love My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf:  Recipe yields, 2, 1 3/4-pound meatloaves.

Special Equipment List:  fork; 1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; nonstick spoon or spatula; 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart loaf pans, preferably glass; kitchen scale; instant-read meat thermometer; wire cooling rack; fat/lean separator

IMG_7515 IMG_7515Cook's Note: For just about any time you want to have stuffing with your roasted meat or poultry, my mom has a unique recipe, which, is made using saltine crackers in place of bread cubes. ~ I Just Love My Mom's Cracker Stuffing Casserole ~ can be found in Categories 4, 12, 18 or 19.

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

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

04/06/2017

~My Fully-Loaded Roast Beef Grilled Cheese Sammie~

IMG_7434Calling all carnivores.  Gather round my table.  You've got a friend in Pennsylvania.  I love beef, and, when it comes to beef sandwiches, as much as I love a great cheeseburger with all the fixin's (on a cottony-soft white-sandwich-bread-type roll), I like a roast beef grilled cheese sandwich with all the fixin's (on two slices of firm-textured sourdough-type-bread) better.  There's more. I prefer my cheeseburger to be thick, juicy, medium-rare cooked and topped with a slice or two of American cheese, ketchup and caramelized onions.  I demand my roast beef grilled cheese be loaded with thinly-sliced rare-cooked beef (preferably home roasted, not store-bought) and a goodly amount of grated Monterey Jack cheese, horseradish sauce and raw, thinly-sliced, onions.

IMG_7466Fully-loaded doesn't mean a lengthy list of absurd ingredients.  Per sandwich it means:  8-ounces rare roast beef, 4-ounces ooey-gooey cheese, horseradish sauce & shaved onions.

6a0120a8551282970b014e8a73d347970dRoasting beef for sandwiches is easy, economical, and, tastes amazing.  I do it often -- for the sole purpose of having roast beef for weekday sandwiches.   While I won't call the food police if you purchase high-quality, deli-style roast beef to make these sandwiches, if chance allows you to taste one made with deli-meat alongside one made with home-cooked oven-roasted meat, I am certain you will take a page out of my playbook.  

For the beef roast:  Place a 5-6 pound eye-of-round roast, unseasoned, on a rack in a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish. Roast, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and rest 30 minutes prior to serving, or, for sandwich meat, after the rest period, wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Slice it thin and use it as directed in almost any roast beef sandwich recipe.

IMG_73744 large 1/2"-thick center-cut slices from a sourdough loaf (the largest slices), cut in half to make 8 total slices

4  ounces butter (1/2 stick/4 tablespoons/1 total tablespoon per sandwich)

4  tablespoons horseradish sauce, the best available, preferably Russian ZAKYCOH (Note: I buy this locally at my local Russian Market, but, it is available on-line at Amazon.com too.  If you like horseradish sauce, this is the one you will want to keep in your refrigerator at all times.

1  pound thinly-sliced, rare-roasted beef, prepared as directed above

8  ounces grated Monterey Jack cheese (2 cups/1/2 cup per sandwich) 

1/2-1  cup very-thinly-sliced, "shaved" yellow or sweet onion

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grill pan

I'm demonstrating making one fully-loaded sandwich today.

IMG_7380 IMG_7386 IMG_7391 IMG_7394 IMG_7395 IMG_7399 IMG_7402 IMG_7409~Step 1.  To assemble each sandwich working on a sheet of parchment or wax paper, butter the tops of 4 bread slices (1 1/2 teaspoons each) then flip them over, buttered sides down, on the paper. Slather tops of all 4 slices with 1 tablespoon of horseradish sauce.  On two of the slices, place 1/4 cup of grated cheese followed by a generous scattering of onions.  Arrange 4-ounces sliced beef atop the cheese on each half, followed by another 1/4 cup of cheese.  Flip the two unfilled slices of bread up and over the tops of the filled slices, placing them, buttered sides up, to form two sandwiches. Using your fingertips, gently press down on the top of each sandwich

IMG_7414 IMG_7426Step 2.  To grill two sandwiches, lightly-spray a grill pan with no-stick cooking spray and place pan over medium- medium-high heat -- give it a moment or two to heat up.  Add the sandwiches to the hot pan and cook until golden on both sides and cheese is melted, turning only once, about 4-5 minutes per side.  Remove from heat.

No fancy embellishments -- pickles & potato chips are grand.

IMG_7453Truly one of the best roast beef sandwiches you'll ever eat:  

IMG_7469My Fully-Loaded Roast Beef Grilled Cheese Sammie:  Recipe yields two, large, hearty grilled cheese sandwiches or 4 smaller-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; butter spreader; grill pan; spatula

IMG_0262Cook's Note:  Baked ham, paired with rye bread, Jarlsberg cheese and hot Russian mustard makes a dynamite grilled cheese sandwich too.  My recipe for ~ Melanie's Hot Russian Ham & Cheese Meltdowns ~ can be found in Categories 2, 12 or 20.

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

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

04/03/2017

~Braaibroodjie: South African Grilled Cheese Sammie~

IMG_7364Grilled cheese sandwiches.  They've been embedded in our American food culture since the 1920's.  That's approximately when affordable sliced white bread and inexpensive processed American cheese hit the market. Because this hunger-satifying sandwich was inexpensive, easy to make (under a broiler, on a flat-top griddle, or, in a skillet), and, met our government's nutritional standards, our Armed Forces began serving thousands of them to servicemen stationed all over the globe.  Post WWII, the institutional food service industry (hospitals, prisons, school cafeterias, etc.) started pairing grilled cheese with tomato soup to provide the required Vitamin C component in order to call it a complete meal.  That said, pairing bread and cheese and grilling it (initially open-faced -- two-sided sandwiches came along later), over an open flame until the bread toasted and the cheese melted has been going on since Ancient Roman times.

In South Africa, "braaing" is the word for "grilling", and, grilling (over open coals) is South Africa's culinary passion.  Braaibroodjie, is a real tongue-twister to say.  Pronounced "bra-ee-bro-ee--kee", it's their iconic version of the grilled cheese sandwich, and, it can be prepared, before, during or after the "braai" (barbecue) -- as a sweet and savory start, accompaniment, or end to the feast. The five components are:  bread (white sandwich or sourdough), butter (softened or melted), any nice melting cheese, with cheddar being traditional (grated or sliced), thin-sliced fresh tomatoes, paper-thin sliced sweet onion, and, fruit chutney (homemade or high-quality store-bought).

For lovers of sweet & savory, the combination of cheese & chutney is: A brilliant match made in heaven!

IMG_7326For four sandwiches:

8  slices white sandwich bread, or, 4 large 1/2"-thick center-cut slices from a sourdough loaf (the largest slices), cut in half to make 8 total slices

4  ounces butter (1/2 stick/4 tablespoons/1 total tablespoon per sandwich)

1/2  cup fruit chutney, homemade or high-quality store-bought (2 total tablespoons per sandwich)

8  ounces grated melting cheese (2 cups/1/2 cup per sandwich) (Note:  I'm using brick cheese today.  It's perfect for these grilled cheese sandwiches.  To learn more about it, read my Cook's Note at the end of this post.)

1  cup very-thinly-sliced, "shaved" yellow or sweet onion

8 medium-large-sized thin slices of tomato (2 per sandwich), or, 16 small-sized thin-slices of tomato (4 per sandwich)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grill pan

I'm demonstrating making two sourdough sandwiches today.

IMG_7330 IMG_7332 IMG_7337 IMG_7339 IMG_7342 IMG_7348~Step 1.  To assemble two sandwiches, working on a sheet of parchment or wax paper, butter the tops of 4 bread slices (1 1/2 teaspoons each) then flip them over, buttered sides down, on the paper. Slather tops of all 4 slices with 1 tablespoon of chutney.  On two of the slices, place 1/2 cup of grated cheese.  Arrange 2-4 (medium-large or small) tomato slices atop the cheese, followed by a generous scattering of onions.  Flip the two unfilled slices of bread up and over the tops of the filled slices, placing them, buttered sides up, to form two sandwiches. Using your fingertips, gently press down on the top of each sandwich.

IMG_7350 IMG_7353~ Step 2.  To grill two sandwiches, lightly-spray a grill pan with no-stick cooking spray and place pan over medium- medium-high heat -- give it a moment or two to heat up.  Add the sandwiches to the hot pan and cook until golden on both sides and cheese is melted, turning only once, about 4 minutes per side.  Remove from heat.

No embellishments necessary.  Serve and eat ASAP!     

IMG_7359Braaibroodjie:  South African Grilled Cheese Sammie:  Recipe yields 4 grilled cheese sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; butter spreader; grill pan; spatula

IMG_7188Cook's Note:  "What is brick cheese", you ask?  Brick cheese is white to pale yellow in color and can range from sweet, buttery and mildly-salty when young, to strong, sharp and savory when aged. It melts great, which means it can be used in a wide variety of dishes.  It goes great with crackers and fruit -- it loves chutney.  It is indeed the kind of cheese you want in any type of grilled-cheese sandwich!

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

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

03/31/2017

~ Detroit-Style Brick Cheese & Pepperoni Pan Pizza ~

IMG_7304Pizza.  It's one of my favorite foodie subjects.  Next to a cheese shop, a pizza shop is one of my favorite places to hang out.  Give me a slice and some suds and my day is made.  I like thick pizza, thin pizza, round pizza and square pizza.  I like pizza with just sauce and cheese, or, piled high with a melange of toppings.  I like white pizza and stuffed pizza too.  "No matter how you slice it, I've never met a pizza I didn't like", is one of my favorite sayings.  There's more.  I get downright giddy when I come across a new-to-me pizza -- one I've never heard of.  That happened four days ago.  I came across a recipe for Detroit-style pizza, so, on Amazon, I ordered the "special" cheese, and, the "special" pans too.  The cheese arrived yesterday, the pans today.

Detroit-Style Pizza =  A Rectangular, Deep-Deep-Dish, Pan Pizza.  Detroit-Style Pizza = A Descendant of Sicilian-Style Pizza.

The history of Detroit-style pizza is a tale about a man and his (idea of a) pizza pan, and, pizza-loving residents of the Motor City have been fighting over a corner slice of this pizza since 1946. Gus Guerra, owner of a neighborhood bar, Buddy's Rendezvous, decided to "throw" his wife Anna's mother's Sicilian-style pizza dough into a unique, rectangular-shaped, deep-sided, blue-steel pan that was originally used to hold auto parts. Topped with pepperoni, Wisconsin brick cheese and sauce (in that order), Gus's pizza emerged with a thick, soft, airy crust with a crispy exterior and caramelized edges.  It would soon be affectionately named Detroit Pizza. The legend is that Gus was given his initial pans from a friend and customer who worked in an auto factory.

IMG_7188Brick cheese is white to pale yellow in color and can range from sweet, buttery and mild when young, to strong, sharp and savory when aged.  It  melts great, which means it can be used in a wide variety of dishes.  For starters, it goes great with crackers and fruit. It's the kind of cheese you want on your pizza, in your mac n' cheese, in your grilled-cheese sandwich, and, potatoes gratin (scalloped potatoes).

Detroit-Style Pizza is all about the pan man -- the "man pan"!!!

IMG_7217Lloyd Pans & Kitchenware, a Wisconsin-based company, manufacturers several styles of pans for pizzerias all over the world, including all of the top 10 pizza chains in the USA.  Their pans revolutionized how pizzas are baked -- their pans improve the quality of the pizza by providing the ability to achieve excellent results by all who use them.  From thin crust to pan pizza, deep dish and flatbread, their pans make great pizza.  They require no seasoning, minimal or no oiling, and, the permanent, Dura-Kote, easy-release finish, safe to 700° F., will never flake or chip off.

IMG_7286A bit about my version of Detroit-style pizza:

Th(<Photos of "properly" charred pizza courtesy of Detroit Pizza Company.)

Admittedly, mine does not have the classic charred edges of a Detroit pizza -- I don't like charred cheese -- or anything, so, please excuse me if Loui3-500x375I didn't spread the cheese cubes to the point of touching the sides of the pan so they would melt and burn to make and bake a pizza I wouldn't eat for the sake of a few photos.

My Detroit-style pizza is simply deep golden, just the way I like it.  That said, everything else about my pizza is "as it should be".  My crust is crunchy on the outside and light and airy on the inside.  It is layered in the the traditional manner too:  sliced pepperoni first, cheese cubes second, and sauce third.  There's more: It's got just enough of the mandatory spicy pepperoni and pepperoni-grease layer below the buttery, rich taste of Wisconsin's one-and-only brick cheese (not to mention my homemade, spicy and garlicy pizza sauce).  Please:  Feel free spread that cheese to the edges of the pan if it is a classic, charred-around-the-edges pizza you crave

Making the dough, assembling & baking two pizzas. 

I love my recipe for Sicilian-style pizza dough.  Sometimes I mix it by hand, sometimes I make it in the food processor, and, other times, like today, I use my bread machine.  That said, I never change the recipe.  It's foolproof.  The best way I can describe the crust of a Sicilian pizza is:  It is thicker and breadier than Neapolitan-stype pizza.  The dough, which is proofed twice, the second time in the pan, gets a crispy, almost "fried" bottom due to an ample amount of oil in the pan -- yes, this is a pizza that gets baked in the pan.  In Sicily, it's called sfincione, which means "thick sponge", as the dough absorbs a bit of the oil on its bottom and a bit of sauce on its top.  

IMG_3835For the dough:

1 1/2  cups warm water

2  tablespoons olive oil

4 1/2  cups all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon each:  garlic powder, Italian seasoning and cracked black pepper

1  packet granulated dry yeast

2-4  additional tablespoons olive oil, for preparing baking pans

IMG_7233For the toppings:

1/2  pound pepperoni, sliced into 1/8"-thick coins, 24 slices per pie

1 1/2  pounds 1/2" cubed brick cheese, 12 ounces per pie

2  cups pizza sauce, preferably homemade (Note:  My recipe for ~ Preschutti Pizza, Part I:  Our Favorite Sauce ~, is in Categories 8, 12, or 22.)

a sprinkling of dried oregano 

IMG_3843Step 1.  To prepare the dough, place all of the items in pan of bread machine in the order listedexcept for the yeast.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation ("a well") on top of the dry ingredients, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer.  Place the yeast into the indentation.  Insert the pan into the bread machine, plug IMG_3846the machine in, press the "Select" button, choose the "Pizza Dough" cycle, then press "Start".  You will have 2 pounds of dough, proofed once and ready to use, in about 55 minutes.

IMG_7220While the dough is rising in the machine, using a pastry brush or a paper towel, generously oil 2, 14" x 10" Detroit-style pizza pans with the additional 2-4 tablespoons olive oil.

IMG_3859IMG_3869Step 2. Remove dough from bread machine pan and divide it in half.  The best way to do this is with a kitchen scale.  The dough will be slightly sticky, yet very manageable (easy to work with).

IMG_7227 IMG_7228 IMG_7239 IMG_7241~Step 3.  Place one piece of dough on each pan and let rest for 10-15 minutes.  Pat and push the dough evenly into the bottom and slightly up the sides of the prepared pans.

IMG_7246 IMG_7249 IMG_7253~ Step 4.  Place/arrange 24 slices of pepperoni on top of each crust.  Sprinkle 12 ounces of cheese cubes on top of the pepperoni on each pie.  Set aside 1 hour, to give the crusts time to rise for the second time. Using a tablespoon, dollop sauce over the top of each pie, about 3/4-1 cup per pie (I like to put a dollop of top of each slice of pepperoni).  Do not spread the sauce around.  Sprinkle with oregano.

~ Step 5.  Bake pizzas, one-at-a-time on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 20-22 minutes, or until bubbling and golden on top (and slightly charred around the edges if the cheese cubes have been spread to touch the edges of the pan as discussed above).  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack.  Using a large spatula placed under one side of the pie, gradually tip the pan and guide/slide the pizza onto a wire rack to cool about 5-6 minutes prior to slicing and serving.

Going into preheated 375° oven to bake 20-22 minutes:

IMG_7257Hot out of the oven & out of the pan:

IMG_7262The first crispy, crunchy, light & airy, spicy, cheesy slice: 

IMG_7315Detroit-Style Brick Cheese & Pepperoni Pan Pizza:  Recipe yields 2, 14" x 10" Detroit-Style Pizzas, 6-8 slices each pie.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; 2-cup measuring container; bread machine; 2, 14" x 10" Detroit-style pizza pans; paper towels; wire cooling rack(s)

IMG_4246Cook's Note:  For another truly unique deep-dish pizza that also requires a special pan and a specific type of dough to make the crust, ~ My Second-City Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza ~ recipe can be found in Categories 2, 17 or 19.

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

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

03/29/2017

~ Blessed are the Cheesemakers: Try Brick Cheese ~

IMG_7199Cheese.  It's one of my favorite foodie subjects.  I'd rather spend time in a cheese shop than a bakery any day of the week.  Give me a choice between a doughnut and a chunk of cheddar and I'm off to the pantry to get a box of crackers.  I like hard cheeses, soft cheeses, young cheeses and aged cheeses.  I like expensive imported cheeses, cheap American processed cheeses and a whole host of cheese balls and cheese spreads.  "Say cheese", is one of my favorite things to say from behind the camera.  There's more.  I get downright giddy when I come across a new-to-me cheese -- one I've never heard of.  That happened two days ago.  I came across a recipe that called for Wisconsin Brick Cheese, so, I ordered some on Amazon.  It arrived today.

"Say cheese!"  Meet my next-door neighbors -- the dairy cows! 

IMG_0279What is brick cheese?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Pic24Brick cheese is an all-American cows-milk cheese from Wisconsin dating back to 1877.  It was created by John Jossi, a 12-year-old, Swiss-born, cheese-making immigrant who came to America with his parents in 1857.  Two years later, at age 14, young Jossi was operating a small Limburger factory in Richwood, Wisconsin.  After marrying the daughter of a local cheesemaker, in 1873 he moved to New York, where he worked in a large Limburger plant.  There, he came up with the concept of making a cheese made with curd that was drier than that used for Limburger that could be pressed into the shape of bricks.  In 1877, he returned to Wisconsin where, in a newly-built plant, he started making Brick Cheese.  In 1883, he turned the factory over to his younger brother, who later sold it to Kraft, and fortunately, the legacy lives on. (Photo courtesy of cheesemaking.com.)

IMG_7188Brick cheese is white to pale yellow in color and can range from sweet, buttery and mild when young, to strong, sharp and savory when aged.  It  melts great, which means it can be used in a wide variety of dishes.  For starters, it goes great with crackers and fruit. It's the kind of cheese you want on your pizza, in your mac n' cheese, in your grilled-cheese sandwich, and, potatoes gratin (scalloped potatoes).

Store brick cheese in the warmest part of your refrigerator -- on the door or to the front of a shelf. If wrapped well and kept away from moisture, this cheese lasts for a long time -- several weeks or one-two months.  Once unwrapped, plan on using it within two weeks, and, if it develops a strong or offensive oder, discard it.  Recommended substitutions for brick cheese are Jack or Havarti.

IMG_7206Blessed are the cheesemakers @ Cheesers:

IMG_7214Blessed are the Cheesemakers:  Try Brick Cheese:   Recipe explains what brick cheese is and yields instructions for using and storing brick cheese.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife and/or cheese grater

IMG_0311Cook's Note:  "Juustoleipa" (hoo-stah-lee-pah), nicknamed "squeaky cheese", is another favorite of mine. Read my post: ~ Bread Cheese:  A Very Old Baltic Breakfast Treat ~ in Categories 9 or 16.

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

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

03/26/2017

~ Lidia's Big, Golden, Crunch-a-licious, Sugar Cookie ~

IMG_7147Question.  Have you ever been tempted to bake one giant cookie?  The one you're looking at here is an oval, about 12" long and 10" wide.  It's a thing of beauty.  It's sugar cookie perfection. No need to chill or roll dough or cut cookies.  No nothing.  It eliminates all the nonsense involved with baking sugar cookies.  Second question.  How many times have you bought sugar cookies to process, or sugar cookie crumbs to use ready-made, to make a cookie crust for a pie or a cheesecake or sprinkle between the layers of a parfait?  Admit it, we all do -- no one in their right mind bakes sugar cookies with the sole intent of processing them to crumbles or crumbs.  

IMG_7153What if I told you that, via a food processor, in 3-4 minutes, you could mix and have one big beautiful brown-sugar cookie baking in the oven for a short 11-12 minutes, and, after it cools, besides have a fantastic scratch-made cookie to break into snacks, with 1 additional minute of processing, you'd have 3 1/2-4 cups of superb, crumbles or crumbs.  Trust me, it's true.

IMG_7159In a word, this recipe is:  Brilliant.  Here's how I got it:

The year was 2007 and I had the pleasure of working for and with the one-and-only Lidia Matticchio Bastianich for a few days.  She was here in Happy Valley to promote her then latest book Lidia's Family Table along with her upcoming cooking series at our local PBS-TV station, WPSU.  As WPSU's cooking consultant at that time, my job was to manage all celebrity cooking demonstrations:  provide and organize all hardware, prep and ready all the ingredients for the chef's personal on-camera demonstration, plus, prep and cook all the food he or she was demo-ing for a studio audience of 85-100 people to taste, and, decorate "the set" as well.      

IMG_7106 IMG_7103In prep for Lidia's demo, behind the scenes, me and my team of two, in my home kitchen and on-site, prepared: 13 quarts Simple Vegetable Broth (p. 288) in order to prepare 12 quarts Basic Risotto (p. 224), and, 2 quarts Balsamic Vinegar Reduction Glaze (p. 39), in order to prepare Roasted Acorn Squash Salad (p. 38) which required slicing and roasting 3 dozen acorn squash.  For dessert we poached 24 pounds of apples for 95 Apple Crisp Parfaits (p. 404), which required 8 cookies/24 cups of Sugar Cookie Crumbles (p. 406) and 6 quarts of whipped cream.  

Get your mise en place -- this recipe moves fast!

IMG_7110Even though Lidia intended this recipe for making sugar cookie crumbles or crumbs, this is a great-tasting cookie.  It's buttery-rich, and delicately-crisp with cinnamon and vanilla undertones.  It hard to resist breaking it into pieces just to snack on. There's more. Baking one big sugar cookie is a ton of fun -- kids love it.  And, for those of you, like me, who hate rolling and cutting sugar cookie dough, trust me, you're gonna love this recipe.  And yes, of course you can make "normal" 3"- 5" -sized round cookies.

Tip from Mel:  If you want to make more than one cookie, two or three for example, don't double or triple the quantity in the food processor.  Process the ingredients for one cookie and put it in the oven to bake.  While the first one bakes, process the ingredients for the second one, and so on.

IMG_71143/4  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2  cup granulated sugar

2  tablespoons light brown sugar

1/2  teaspoon cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

4  ounces salted butter, cut into cubes and kept cold (1 stick)

2  tablespoons + 1 teaspoon cold water +  2 teaspoons vanilla extract, for a total of 3 tablespoons liquid

IMG_7117 IMG_7118 IMG_7120 IMG_7123 IMG_7126~Step 1.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with the steel blade, place the flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Using a series of 10-12 rapid on-off pulses, process to combine.  Remove butter cubes from refrigerator and sprinkle them over the sugar mixture in the processor.  Using a series of 35-40 rapid on-off pulses, process until sandy and grainy. Sprinkle the water mixture over the mixture.  Using a series of 10-12 rapid on-off pulses, process until mixture is just moistened but still grainy.

IMG_7131 IMG_7133~ Step 2.  Transfer/dump mixture onto a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Using your fingertips, do not press down.  Keep mixture loose.  Roll and spread the grains around to form and 10" x 8" oval, being sure to fill in any large "holes" with grains of dough -- small holes will fill in as the cookie bakes.

IMG_7144~ Step 4.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 8 minutes. Rotate pan, back to front (to insure even baking), and continue to bake an additional 4-6 minutes.  Read the following "Note" carefully:  

Note:  Four minutes longer will produce a cookie with crunchy sides and a chewy center, perfect for snacking on.  Six extra minutes will yield a crunchy cookie perfect for making crumbles  or crumbs.  

Cookie will be golden all over with deeper golden edges.  Remove from oven. Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely, 1-2 hours.  Transfer cookie to wire rack to expose the bottom to air and crisp up a bit more, 1-2 hours.  Cookie(s) can be prepared 1-2 days in advance and stored, uncovered, at room temperature.  Break into bite-sized snacks, crumble them or process them to crumbs to use in desserts.  Cookie crumbles or crumbs can be stored in the freezer.

One big golden sugar cookie?  Break it up.  Got milk?

IMG_7165Lidia's Big, Golden, Crunch-a-licious Sugar Cookie:  Recipe yields 3-4 cups crumbs or crumbles.

Special Equipment List:  paring knife; food processor; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; wire cooling rack

Cook's Note:  Traditional sugar cookies.

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

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

03/24/2017

~ Spring Forward: Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier ~

IMG_7078Known in Eastern European circles as "Salad Olivier" or "Salad Olivye", and, "Russian Salad", there are as many variations of this refreshing side-dish or main-dish salad as there are cooks who are willing to take the time to do a precise job of uniformly cubing, dicing and properly cooking the components.  What this salad looks like is as important as how it tastes.  For young Eastern European girls, who were almost always required to assist their mother and grandmother in the family kitchen, it was how they honed their knife skills for later in life in their own kitchens (while the menfolk were out and about teaching their boys how to fish, hunt, gather and farm).

IMG_7059A look back in this famous potato salad's history:

Hermitage_Restaurant_in_MoscowThe original salad was invented in the 1860s by Lucien Olivier, the chef of the Hermitage, one of Moscow's most prestigious restaurants.  The regular clientele's love for his salad caused it to become the Heritage's signature dish, and, before long, renditions were being prepared in kitchens all across Russia.  The recipe for his "Provençal dressing" (the mayonnaise concoction), a  well guarded secret, has never been revealed, although it is believed to have been made with French wine vinegar and Dijon mustard -- cooking in the style of France was quite trendy during that period.  (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

At the turn of the 20th century, one of Olivier's sous-chefs, Ivan Ivanov, attempted to steal the recipe.  Olivier was suddenly called away from the kitchen, which gave Ivanov the opportunity to take a look at the prepped ingredients (mise en place) and deduce with reasonable certainty, what to put in the famous dressing.  Shortly thereafter, Ivanov went to work as the chef at Moskva -- a restaurant of somewhat lesser prestige.  There, Ivanov started selling his version, "Russian Salad", then, sold his recipe for publication, which made "Russian Salad" a household term.   

The Hermitage restaurant closed in 1905, and the Olivier family left Russia, returning to Lucien's homeland of Belgium.  One of the first printed recipes for Olivier salad, appearing in 1894, called for half a poached grouse, two potatoes, one large cornichon, 1 teaspoon capers, 3-4 olives, 1/4 cup cubed aspic, and, 1 1/2 tablespoon Provençal dressing (the mayonnaise concoction), and, 3-4 lettuce leaves.  Because these ingredients were hard-to-come-by, expensive and seasonal, ordinary home cooks gradually replaced them with cheaper and more readily available ones.

Be creative, but try to stay-true to this recipe's humble past.  This vintage salad truly is on-hand farm-to-table fare.

IMG_7079In its basic form, this salad consists of a fork-friendly melange of cubed and cooked potatoes, carrots, peas and eggs -- all of the ingredients are previously cooked.  The creamy dressing, which is mayonnaise-based, contains finely-diced sweet or dill pickles or capers -- previously-cooked ingredients.  Occasionally an herb common to the Eastern European climate is added to it too (dill, chives, parsley).  All the ingredients were and still are inexpensive items found in Eastern Europe's rural farm communities. Because meat was and still is expensive, it is common for vintage recipes for this salad that contain protein to include wild game or game birds -- which they hunted in the countryside.  There's more.  For those lucky enough to raise cows, sheep or pigs, farm-raised meat or cured meats and sausages were and are commonly added as well.

Traditionally, this "salat" was reserved for large gatherings: religious or national holidays, special community events and/or family celebrations, and, it was served all year long.  With or without meat or poultry added to it, it was served as an hors d'oeuvre atop toast points, by itself as a light lunch or snack, or, as a starter-course or side-dish to a hearty meal.  For the most part, I associate it with Spring, so, I like to serve this pretty-to-look-at salad as a side-dish on my Easter buffet table, then, as a main-dish the next day -- by adding cubes of  leftover holiday ham to it.  

This salad is best prepared a day ahead and refrigerated overnight -- time for the potatoes to soak up the flavor of the dressing, and time for all the other flavors to marry too, is time well spent.

IMG_7037For the salad ingredients:

1 1/4  pounds peeled and 1/2" cubed gold potatoes (3 cups after peeling and cubing)

6  ounces frozen cubed carrots and peas (1 1/2 cups) (Note:  Most vintage recipes for this salad call for canned peas and carrots -- we can do much better than that nowadays.)

4  extra-large hard-cooked eggs, whites diced separately from the yolks

1-1 1/2 cups trimmed and 1/2" cubed previously-roasted meat or poultry (my two favorites are baked ham or roasted chicken), traditional but optional*

1-1 1/2 cups Provençal dressing, recipe below (Note:  Prepare the dressing prior to cubing and cooking the vegetables.)

freshly-ground sea-salt and peppercorn blend, for garnish

Libbys-vienna-sausage-41262*Note:  While I'm preparing this salad as a side-dish today, most recipes call for some type of meat or poultry to be added -- one type of meat throughout the salad, not a combination of different types.  In Russia, the meat that is most often added, and it is very popular so don't roll your eyes, is a mild-flavored, fine-grained, soft sausage that resembles bologna.  Here in the USA, the small, Vienna sausages (which come in cans) are the most common substitute for this type of bologna.

IMG_6409 IMG_6413 IMG_6424 IMG_7044~Step 1.  Peel cube and place the potatoes in a 4-quart stockpot with enough cold water to cover by 1".  Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt to the water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to gently simmer for 3-4 minutes, until potatoes are just fork tender.  Drain into a colander and immediately begin running cold water through the potatoes to halt the cooking process and return them to room temperature.  Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain thoroughly.

IMG_7048 IMG_7050~ Step 2.  Place the frozen peas and carrots in the 4-quart stockpot with enough cold water to cover by 1".  Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar to the water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to simmer and blanch, 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Drain into colander and immediately begin running cold water through them to halt the cooking process and return them to room temperature.  Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain thoroughly.

IMG_7055 IMG_7070~ Step 3.  In a large bowl, place the cooked and drained potatoes, peas, carrots.  Add 1 cup of the Provençal dressing.  Using a large spatula, toss to enrobe the vegetables in the dressing.  If you are adding meat, add it now, and toss it with the vegetables.  Add additional dressing, by tablespoonfuls, until the salad is dressed to your liking. Transfer to a 6-cup food storage container, cover and refrigerate several hours to overnight.

For the Provençal dressing (the mayonnaise concoction):

My recipe evolved over time, with the final "tweek" being:  I'm wed to adding dried or fresh dill (if it is in season) to the mixture.  It makes perfect sense, as dill pairs so well with the peas, carrots, potatoes and eggs.  Personally, I think that whatever recipe you are making:  mine, your grandma's, a friend's or a stranger's, dill is the ingredient that takes this recipe over the top.

IMG_7021For the Provençal dressing:

1  cup mayonnaise

1/2  cup finely-diced sweet gherkins or sweet pickle relish or a cominbation of both

1/4  cup very-finely diced shallot or sweet onion

1  tablespoon sherry vinegar

3/4 teaspoon dried dill weed

IMG_70161/2  teaspoon sugar

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_7017Step 1.  In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients as listed. Transfer to a food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours or overnight prior to using.  Overnight is best.  

Salad Olivier, when made as a side-dish, pairs great w/many of my favorite sandwiches, especially the Bierock:

IMG_7091Spring Forward:  Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups of Provençal dressing and 5-6 cups of potato salad (depending upon if you added the optional meat or not).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; colander; paper towels; large rubber spatula

IMG_7006Cook's Note:  Eastern Europeans know a thing or two about tasty sandwiches too.  To learn about a popular but obscure German-Russian classic,  just click into Categories 1, 2, 5, or 12 to read my post ~ Bierock:  A savory Meat, Cabbage & Onion Turnover ~.

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

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

03/21/2017

~Bierock: A Savory Meat, Cabbage & Onion Turnover~

IMG_7006In the case of the Eastern European bierock, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.  Unlike pizza, hot dog, hamburger and taco, the word bierock conjures up no image in the mind of many foodies.  It's worth mention there is no mention of it in The Food Lover's Companion or The Oxford Companion to Food.  There's more.  Even if you did grow up in or around an Eastern European household or community (I did), there is a good chance you have no idea if a bierock is animal, vegetable or mineral (I didn't).  The reason is:  the rather obscure bierock is credited specifically to the German-Russian Mennonites that lived along the Volga River of Russia.

Experts say we have Russia's most famous empress, Catherine the Great, to thank for the bierock.  In 1763, she offered incentives for Germans to settle in the portion of her empire along the Volga River. Things changed for them, when, in the 1870's, Alexander II decreed that these now German-Russian citizens would have to pay higher taxes than others and spend years serving in the military.  They moved to regions of Argentina and the Plains States of America (Nebraska, the Dakotas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas and Oklahoma).

IMG_6969Bierock (pronounced bürrock not beer-rock), is an enriched, sweetened yeast-dough, portable pocket sandwich.  The bread dough (similar to brioche because is contains milk, egg and sugar), fully-encases a savory filling containing seasoned and cooked ground or minced meat (usually beef or pork), shredded cabbage or sauerkraut, diced onions and sometimes grated carrots.  The loose-meat filled sandwich, approximately the size and  shape of a round hamburger bun, gets baked in the oven until golden, and, because the crust is bread rather than pastry, it can be eaten hot, warm, at room temperature, and, it reheats well too.  While a bierock can be shaped in almost any way the cook desires (to resemble a small elongated hot-dog roll, a half-moon or a crescent), it is worth mention that a square-shaped bierock is often referred to as a runza -- especially in Nebraska where it is trademarked by Nebraska-based Runza Restaurants.

IMG_6983A bit about my "byurek" recipe for "bierocks":

My first encounter with a bierock came in the 1990's, except, I had no idea I was eating a bierock. Joe and I were invited for cocktails by new acquaintances, a couple we met at the tennis courts. Ed hailed from Chicago.  Ed was a mathematician and a tournament level chess player, and, his father, who owned a butcher shop, was of this specific German-Russian heritage -- the meats, sausages and cheeses from Ed's dad were amazing.  Ed's wife served "byureks" that evening (her spelling), along with an amazing sour-cream dressed chopped potato salad -- both paired great together along with our beer and vodka-based cocktails. It wasn't until a few years later, while in a bar in Illinois, that I saw the word "bierock" on the pub grub menu and "put two and two together".  In retrospect, I now wonder if her spelling, byurek, was phonetic -- an intentional attempt to help me to pronounce the word properly.   My filling recipe (below) is the one Lubov gave to me.  The bread dough is my own, as, Lubov used frozen bread dough.

Part One:  Preparing the Bierock Filling

IMG_6900Whatever recipe you use, bierock filling, which contains just three basic ingredients and seasoning, is quite easy to make.  In the case of my recipe, it's easy to commit to memory "two" ("too" -- pun intended).  I have two tips to offer too:  #1)  Liberally season the mixture -- nothing is worse than a bland-tasting bierock.  #2)  Prepare the filling several hours in advance -- it's best if the filling is at room temperature at assembly time.  There's more.  The filling can be made in large batches, portioned into 1-quart size food-storage containers and frozen.  Once thawed and at room temperature, this is enough to fill 1 1/2 dozen bierocks (1/4 cup filling per sandwich).

IMG_6853For my easy-to-remember two of everything bierock filling:

2  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

2  pounds green cabbage, prior to coring and shredding

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion (1, 12-ounce onion)

2  teaspoons garlic powder

2  teaspoons each:  sugar & salt

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

Note:  If you've never tasted a bierock, think of it as a well-seasoned loose-meat sandwich. Purists like me will be the first to tell you NOT to add cheese to the sandwich under any circumstances -- it's just wrong.  That said, if, after the cabbage cooks down, you feel the need to add a bit of extra seasoning to the meat mixture, purists like me will look the other way if you add 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce to the filling mixture near the end of the cooking process.

IMG_6757 IMG_6760 IMG_6855 IMG_6860 IMG_6863~Step 1.  Note:  I'm using one-half of a 4-pound head of cabbage, sliced into 2 quarters today.  Alternatively, a 2-pound head, sliced into 4 quarters is the same thing.  

Using a large chef's knife remove the cores from the cabbage quarters.  Slice each quarter into 1/4" slices, then chop through the slices to cut the cabbage into chards and pieces.  This appears to be a lot of cabbage but it will lose most of its volume during the cooking process. Dice the onion as directed.

IMG_6868 IMG_6871 IMG_6872 IMG_6877~Step 2.  Place the ground beef, onion, and 1 teaspoon each of the the garlic powder, sugar, salt and pepper in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot over medium-high heat.  Cook until the beef, using a spatula to break it up into small bits and pieces as it cooks, until it's just cooked through -- until it has lost its pink color but shows no signs of browning -- about 8-9 minutes. Using a small ladle, remove and discard the liquid from the bottom of the pot, about 8-12 tablespoons.

IMG_6881 IMG_6885 IMG_6886 IMG_6889~Step 3.  Add the cabbage and season it with the remaining 1 teaspoon each of the garlic powder, sugar, salt and pepper.  Continue to cook, using a large spoon to keep the mixture moving, until cabbage has lost most of its volume, yet is green, sweet and tender, about 10-12 minutes. Taste after 8-9 minutes -- now is the time to add the optional 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce if you think it's necessary.  Do not allow the cabbage or the meat to brown. Cover the pot, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature, 4-6 hours.

Part Two:  Preparing the Brioche-type Bread Dough

Put down that package of frozen bread dough.  I am proud to say I have simplified this process so everyone, folks who don't have a clue how to bake bread and those who don't want to bake bread, can make beautiful bierocks from scratch.  In my opinion, the perfect bread for any type of soft sandwich roll is brioche -- an enriched dough made from butter, eggs, milk, salt, sugar and flour.  I make and rise my own recipe for brioche dough in the bread machine, which turns making bierocks (or any bread or rolls) from a chore to a breeze.  It doesn't get any easier than this.

IMG_68941  cup whole milk

6  tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes 

5  tablespoons sugar

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

2  extra-large eggs

4 1/4  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons granulated dry yeast (1 packet), not rapid-rise yeast 

IMG_9056Step 1.  Always follow the instructions that came with your bread machine -- they all vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer.  This is the rectangular-shaped bread pan that came with my machine.  The paddle (which will do the kneading), has been inserted.  The instruction manual states to always insert the paddle  in this exact  position before adding any ingredients, so I do.

IMG_9059IMG_9062IMG_9064IMG_9065IMG_9068IMG_9073~Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, heat the milk until steaming.  This is quickly and easily done in the microwave.  Add the sugar, salt and butter to the hot milk.  Using a fork, stir until butter has melted.  Pour  this mixture into the bread pan.

IMG_9076IMG_9083Step 3.  In the same 1-cup measure and using the same fork, whisk the egg to lightly beat it.  Add the beaten egg to the milk mixture in bread pan. Note:   "Wet ingredients first/dry ingredients second" is a rule in bread machine baking.

IMG_9085IMG_9087IMG_9099Step 4.  Add the flour to bread pan.  Do not mix or stir.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation in the top of the flour, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer.  Add/pour the yeast into the indentation.

IMG_9102IMG_9104IMG_9105Step 5.  Insert bread pan into machine and press down until it is "clicked" securely in place. Close lid and plug machine in. Press "select" and click through the list of options until you reach the "dough" option. Press "start".  In my machine, my dough will have been kneaded and have gone through a first rise in 1 1/2 hours.

IMG_6905Step 6.  While the bread machine is preparing the bread dough:

Line 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper, ready a pastry board, a small rolling pin, a 1/4 cup measure, and, if you have one, get out your kitchen scale. Preheat oven to 350° with oven rack positioned in the center.

Part Three.  Assembling & Baking the Bierocks 

IMG_9114 IMG_6911 IMG_6912Step 1.  When the dough cycle is done, lightly oil your fingertips with some vegetable oil, remove the dough from the bread machine's bread pan (which will not be hot), briefly knead the dough in your oiled fingertips to form it into a smooth ball, then, place it on a kitchen scale.  You will have 2 pounds, 4 ounces of dough.  Divide the dough into 18, 2-ounce pieces -- I simply tear it into pieces with my fingertips.

IMG_6925 IMG_6929 IMG_6930 IMG_6934~Step 2.  Do not over think this.  Using a small rolling pin or your fingertips, on a pastry board, pat and press each piece of dough into a 4 1/2'-5"-round, about 1/4" thick.  Measure and place 1/4 cup of firmly-packed filling mixture in the center.  Pick up the North and South sides of the dough and overlap them. Pick up the East and West sides of the dough and overlap them.

IMG_6935 IMG_6942 IMG_6945 IMG_6948~Step 3.  Arrange the bierocks, well-apart and seam side down, on the parchment-lined baking pans.  Allow to rise, uncovered, for 45 minutes.  Do not shorten or skip this second rising time.

IMG_6906 IMG_6951 IMG_6957 IMG_6968 IMG_6961~Step 4.  Just prior to baking, using a fork, whisk 1 large egg with 1 tablespoon water.  Using a pastry brush, paint the entire surface of each bierock.  Place pan of rolls in preheated 350° oven, until golden brown, 16-18 minutes -- the seams will seal themselves as they bake. Using a thin spatula, transfer rolls to a cooling rack to cool 15-20 minutes or longer, prior to serving hot, warm or at room temperature.

Attention Happy Valley residents.  "Beer-rocks" have nothing to do w/The All-American Rathskeller or Rolling Rock beer -- but they'd be perfect pub grub served in that iconic joint!

IMG_6996Bierock:  A Savory Meat, Cabbage & Onion Turnover:  Recipe yields 8 cups/2 quarts filling and 2 pounds, 4 0unces brioche bread dough.  One quart (4 cups) of filling and two pounds, 4 ounces of dough is enough to make 1 1/2 dozen sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; spatula; small ladle; large spoon; bread machine; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; kitchen scale; pastry board; small rolling pin; pastry brush; thin spatula; wire cooling rack

IMG_4021Cook's Note:  If you are wondering if pizza dough can be substituted in place of brioche bread dough, in honesty, it cannot.  If you want to stuff pizza dough with something, try my recipe for ~ Mel's Rotolo di Pizza (Stuffed Pizza Rolls/Bread) ~.  You can find this recipe in Categories 1, 2, 11, 12, 17, 18 or 22.

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

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

03/18/2017

~ Simply: My Butter-Braised Cabbage & Egg Noodles ~

IMG_6830Throughout Eastern Europe, cooks make a side-dish that basically consists of green cabbage and egg noodles.  It's quick-and-easy, totally-delicious, unpretentious, old-world comfort food.  I simply refer to it as "cabbage and noodles" or "cabbage noodles", because every country has their own ethnic name and spelling for it and every cook is adamant that "their people" invented it -- the Eastern Europeans are no different than the French or the Italians in that respect.  Sigh.

IMG_1863Wikipedia has an entire page devoted to halusky, haluski, halushki, haluska etc.  They define them as "thick, soft, dumplings or noodles", and, "the name can refer to the dumplings themselves or the complete dish.".  I grew up eating the old-world ~ Slovak Grated Potato & Onion Dumplings ~, and we called them haluski.  When we were eating today's recipe, the version containing egg noodles and cabbage, we called them "easy haluski". You can find my haluski recipe in Categories 4, 12 or 14.

Cabbage is a staple in the Eastern European diet.  It's cheap, available all year, and, it stays fresh in the root cellar or vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for a long time.

IMG_6742In any given Eastern European household, the cabbage is braised using the same basic stovetop method, but, past that, it's made to that family's liking.  Some cooks braise it in bacon fat and add crisply-fried chards of bacon to the dish.  Other cooks, like my mom and grandmother, braise the cabbage in butter, because, believe it or not, some folks don't think everything tastes better with bacon -- we think everything tastes better with butter. Almost everyone adds onions and some folks add bits of garlic too. Everyone seasons the dish with salt and pepper, and, occasionally a few caraway seeds.  In my family's kitchens, freshly-sliced or a jar of well-drained sliced mushrooms are often added -- because we are mushroom lovers. 

IMG_6750In any given Eastern European household, the egg noodles, which are cooked separately and often made from scratch, are typically flat, wide-ish strands.  That said, for a simple weeknight side-dish, cooking a bag of store-bought egg noodles isn't a compromise.  Please try to use egg noodles, not pasta, and, if you've got cooked noodles leftover from soup, this is a tasty way to use them up.  Once cooked, the noodles are tossed with the cabbage and the dish is served, many times with a dollop of sour cream on top.  In my grandmother's kitchen, it was her go-to side-dish for ham, roast pork, pork chops, pork sausage or kielbasa. Feel free to add sliced or diced cooked meat to the mixture to serve it as a main-dish as well.

IMG_6841My family's version of butter-braised cabbage & egg noodles:

IMG_67721  stick salted butter

8  ounces yellow or sweet onion, sliced into thin, half-moon shapes

1  4 1/2- or 6-ounce jar sliced mushrooms, well-drained (optional)

2  teaspoons garlic powder

2  teaspoons sea salt

1-2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

1  small, 2-pound head green cabbage or 1/2 of a large 4-pound head

12  ounces wide, flat egg-noodles, cooked and drained as package directs

sour cream, for serving tableside

IMG_4955Note:  I like to use my 16" electric skillet to make cabbage and noodles.  It controls the heat perfectly, and, has the capacity to hold a voluminous amount of raw cabbage (which shrinks as it wilts), along with the cooked and drained egg noodles when they get tossed in at the end.  If you don't have one, use a wide-bottomed, 8-quart stockpot on the stovetop.

IMG_6774 IMG_6777 IMG_6780 IMG_6783~Step 1.  Slice the onion, as directed into 1/4"-thick half moon shapes, then cut the half moons in half to shorten them up a bit.  In skillet over low heat (150°), melt the butter.  Add the sliced onions, optional mushrooms, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Increase heat (200°) to gently cook, stirring frequently until the onion begins to soften.  While onions and mushrooms are cooking: 

IMG_6757 IMG_6760 IMG_6763 IMG_6764~Step 2.  Cut the head of cabbage in half and cut each half into quarters.  Slice each quarter into 1/2"-wide strips, then, cut some of the particularly longs strips in half to shorten them into fork-friendly pieces, keeping in mind they will lose moisture and shrink a bit when cooked.

IMG_6786 IMG_6787~ Step 3.  Add the cabbage to the onion mixture. Using two large spoons, toss, like a salad, to coat the cabbage in butter and onions.  Put lid on skillet.  Adjust heat to medium (225º) and cook, stirring frequently until cabbage is tender and "to the tooth", about 15-18 minutes.  Lower heat if necessary to keep the cabbage from browning.

Note:  Some versions of this recipe do call for browning the cabbage a bit.  Feel free to do so, but know that unlike onions, which, due to their high sugar content get sweeter as they caramelize, cabbage, does not.  Cabbage which contains some sugar but not a lot, gets a bitter edge to it when fried -- I don't care for it.  I like my cabbage cooked until just tender, still sweet and green.

IMG_6789 IMG_6790 IMG_6795 IMG_6800 IMG_6808~Step 4.  While cabbage is braising, on the stovetop bring 2 1/2 quarts of water to a boil in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot.  Add 1 tablespoon salt to the water.  Add the noodles and cook, according to package directions, until "to the tooth".  Drain noodles into a colander and give it a few vigorous shakes to remove excess water.  Add the hot egg noodles to the cabbage mixture and toss to thoroughly coat the noodles in the buttery cabbage mixture.

Cover skillet & allow to rest 5 minutes prior to serving.  

IMG_6813Totally-delicious, unpretentious, comfort food:

IMG_6815Simply:  My Butter-Braised Cabbage & Egg Noodles:  Recipe yields 4-6 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife;  16" electric skillet or wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot; two large spoons; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; colander

IMG_2890Cook's Note:  Another side-dish I just love is:  ~ My Grandmother's Braised Cabbage and Carrots ~. In this recipe, the raw ingredients are placed in a casserole dish and and put in the oven to braise.  You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 4, 12, 19 or 20.

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

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

03/15/2017

~ Kids' Stuff: Mel's Copycat Wendy's Chili Con Carne ~

IMG_6712Quality time.  Sitting at Wendy's with one, two or all three of our kids for lunch.  When school was out for the Summer, I did that about twice a week.  We'd all get in my car to run errands, drive a short mile to the traffic light that exited our neighborhood and intersected with our town's busiest four-lane main thoroughfare, and there, to the left of that light sat:  Wendy's.  I've always contended its placement was purposeful.  Our Park Forest neighborhood was a well-planned maze of tract houses on tree-lined streets with sidewalks, and, almost every house contained: children.  On our cul-de-sac alone, six of the eight dwellings housed a total of 22 children, and, no matter what street you lived on, unless you were willing to travel in the opposite direction which added 4-5 miles to the trip, no one could escape the neighborhood without passing:  Wendy's.

F52b682e15cf90e54d18c7034905e46dThat meant, every mom or dad with kids in the car, every time they stopped at that light, got asked the same question, "can we eat at Wendy's?"  Most times we sat at a table inside and occasionally we used the drive-thru, but yes, promising my kids they could eat at Wendy's if they behaved themselves and physically helped me do the grocery shopping, etc., worked like a charm.  In terms of fast-food chains, which I am by no means a fan of, I rate Wendy's rather high.  Let's suffice it to say, if, to the left of that traffic light there had been a McDonald's or a Taco Bell instead of a Wendy's, my kids wouldn't have been so fortunate.  Period.

It's worth mention that to this day a large percentage of Wendy's employees are teenage kids from that neighborhood working part-time after-school or Summer jobs.  When he was sixteen years old, that included our youngest son too -- who was their employee of the month once!

Where's the beef?  Etched in American advertising history.

Clarapellar_1_Everyone's familiar with the Wendy's success story.  In 1968, at the age of 35, Dave Thomas sold his KFC restaurants back to Kentucky Fried Chicken and in 1969, fulfilled his lifelong dream by opening his own restaurant in Columbus Ohio:  Wendy's Old-Fashioned Hamburger Restaurant.  Named after his daughter Melinda "Wendy" Thomas, they got immediate attention from the industry because they sold made-to-order square-shaped hamburgers made from fresh, never frozen, beef -- a higher quality product at a competitive price.  They were the first to offer choices for health conscious folks, including salad bars (which came along in 1979).  In 1984, using an elderly actress named Clara Peller, Dave's "Where's the Beef" commercial took America by storm.  After appearing in over 800 Wendy's commercials himself, by 1990 Dave Thomas was a household name.

Wendy's chili:  chocked full of their beef, beans & veggies:

IMG_6659When I was lunching with my boys indoors on those lazy, crazy Summer days back in the 1980's, while they were eating their 'burgers and fries and slurping their chocolate Frosty(s), my meal consisted of the salad bar, a cup of chili and a diet cola.  I'd skip the salad dressing and spoon the chili right atop my heap of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions.  I loved it and I never felt that I was eating something that wasn't healthy.  Wendy's chili was something I genuinely enjoyed.

In the latter 1980's, my mom came across a copycat recipe for Wendy's chili in Women's Day magazine.  Except for the addition of the Tostitos salsa, which I added at the behest of our middle son, the recipe is unchanged.  I won't lie.  I have several recipes for chili in my repertoire, but, this one, kid-tested and mother approved, like Dave Thomas, is a success story.  It pleases everyone.

IMG_67012 - 2 1/2  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

IMG_65921 1/2 cups medium-diced yellow or sweet onion

3/4  cup medium-diced green bell pepper

3/4  cup medium-diced red bell pepper

2  teaspoons garlic powder

3/4  teaspoon each:  sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

1  15-ounce can tomato sauce

1  15 1/2-ounce jar Tostitos salsa, medium or hot, your choice (Note:  The original recipe did not call for salsa.  It called for 2, 15-ounce cans tomato sauce.  That choice is yours.)

1  40-ounce can red kidney beans, well-drained (Note:  The original recipe called for 1, 16-ounce can red kidney beans, well-drained, and 1, 16-ounce can pinto beans, well drained. Feel free to make that substitution, however, I personally like the flavor of red kidney beans better, and, in the case of the extra 10-ounces, more is better.)  

1  tablespoon chili powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1  teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

1/2  teaspoon black pepper 

IMG_6597IMG_6598IMG_6600Step 1.  In a 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot, place  ground beef, onion, bell pepper and garlic powder, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté, using a spatula to break the meat up into bits and pieces, until meat is cooked through and almost no liquid remains in bottom of pot, 15-20 minutes.

IMG_6602IMG_6605IMG_6607Step 2.  Add the undrained diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, drained kidney beans, chili powder, ground cumin, Mexican oregano, salsa and black pepper.  Adjust heat to a steady, gentle simmer, partially cover the pot and continue to cook, 30-45 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside, to steep, 30-45 minutes.  

Note:  If you have the time to make the chili a day ahead and reheat it, it tastes even better.

Where's the beef?  In this chili "con carne".  Chili "w/meat":

IMG_6715Truth.  I've always had a secret love affair w/Wendy's chili:

IMG_6723Kids' Stuff:  Mel's Copycat Wendy's Chili Con Carne:  Recipe yields 3-3 1/2 quarts chili con carne.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; spatula; ladle

IMG_6693Cook's Note: Whether your a fan of the show or not, everyone is a fan of chili mac.  My recently posted recipe for ~ Walking Dead:  It's Chili & Mac 'n Cheese. Together ~, has always been made with my copycat Wendy's chili recipe.  My boys claim it's the best chili mac around!

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

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

03/13/2017

~ Walking Dead: It's Chili & Mac 'n Cheese. Together. ~

IMG_6693On Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead, while scouting around in search of food and guns, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira), fall through a rooftop into a room filled with just that, guns and miscellaneous canned foods and military RTE (ready-to-eat) meals.  Rick goes full-blown romantic on Michonne.  After the obligatory sex, they eat a candlelit feeding-frenzy dinner and Rick presents her with a surprise, and it's not jewelry -- it's one last type of RTE meal. "I've been waiting to show you this one," Rick says, "It's chili. And mac 'n cheese.  Together." The scene wasn't over a moment when I told Joe I was going to write a blog post about chili mac.

IMG_6659Chile Mac:  Retro favorite of the RTE meal & Hamburger Helper.

Hamburger Helper entered the marketplace in 1970, and Chili Macaroni Hamburger Helper entered the marketplace in 1971.  Packaged by General Mills and sold as a part of the Betty Crocker brand line of products, the mascot is a "helping hand" named "Lefty" -- a four-fingered, left-handed, white glove with a face.  In its basic form, each box contains dried pasta and packets of powdered sauce and seasonings.  The contents get combined with browned ground beef and water or milk to create a meal.  Over the course of a short few years other flavors (Lasagna, Bacon Cheeseburger, Philly Cheesesteak, Beef Stroganoff etc.) were added, along with variations like Tuna Helper and Chicken Helper, and, Asian Helper (which contains rice in place of pasta). Others, like Fruit Helper (a dessert product made with canned or fresh fruit) and Pork Helper (pork fried rice and pork chops w/stuffing), were discontinued shortly after their introduction.

DSCF7973Hamburger Helper wasn't an option for me as a little kid.  It wasn't invented until I was 15. Hamburger Helper, although invented, wasn't an option for our three boys either.  I wouldn't allow it.  Mean, mean, me? Mean, mean them.  My kids would brag to me about every one of the great Hamburger Helper-flavored dinners they ate at their friends' houses after school.  They begged me to buy it. That infuriated me, mostly because I made a one-skillet hamburger and pasta dinner for them, mostly from scratch, just like my mom made it for them -- using her quick and easy A7e0c9a2-a041-4e8a-a8da-394e61edaeb2_2.47412931566ce0a4e5bb2914097704dbground beef chili recipe, canned beans and pantry staples, spices, cooked macaroni and grated cheese.  I served it to their friends after school in my kitchen too -- often.  I can only hope those kids went home and bragged to their mothers that I made my own Hamburger Helper from scratch. Mean, mean me.  Sad but true.

Today's recipe hasn't been 'out-of-the box' in at least 25 years.  

IMG_6646Pun intended.  Thank-you Rick Grimes for the inspiration!

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 8.48.26 AMEven though Hormel has been selling its canned chili since 1935 and Kraft has been selling their boxed macaroni and cheese since 1937, to this day I have never tasted either one.  During the 1960's my mom made her own version of macaroni and cheese on the stovetop for my brother and I who were entering our teen years.  For her mac 'n cheese she used one of two '60's era products:  Cheez-Whiz or Velveeta.  She didn't start making chili until the 70's, when she was a grandmother.  She made it for my sons when they came to visit.  The recipe she used was one she clipped out of a Women's Day magazine -- it was supposed to be a copycat of Wendy's chili (the fast-food chain founded by Dave Williams in 1969) -- she and my dad both love Wendy's chili. Because it is both simple and tasty, hers is the recipe I use to make my chili mac with one addition.  When Tostitos introduced their restaurant-style salsa in 1995, my sons couldn't get enough of it.  At the behest of our middle son, I began adding a jar of Tostitos salsa to the chili.

IMG_6655"It's chili.  And Mac 'n Cheese.  Together."  ~ Rick Grimes

IMG_6592For Mom's Wendy's-Style Chili (Recipe yields 3+ quarts -- use 1 quart today today, freeze 2 quarts  for two more chili mac meals):

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

1  cup medium-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup medium-diced green or red bell pepper, or a combination of both

2  teaspoons garlic powder

3/4  teaspoon each:  sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

1  15-ounce can tomato sauce

1  15 1/2-ounce jar Tostitos salsa, medium or hot, your choice

1  40-ounce can red kidney beans, well-drained

1  tablespoon chili powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1  teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

1/2  teaspoon black pepper

For Mel's Mom's Wendy's-Style Chili Mac:

1  pound elbow macaroni, cellentani, penne or other tubular pasta

4  tablespoon salted butter, cut into pieces and softened

1  15-ounce jar Kraft Cheez Whiz, softened in the microwave, or, Velveeta, cut into cubes

1  quart chili, from above recipe (4 cups)

IMG_6597 IMG_6598 IMG_6600~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot, place  ground beef, onion, bell pepper and garlic powder, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté, using a spatula to break the meat up into bits and pieces, until meat is cooked through and almost no liquid remains in bottom of pot, 15-20 minutes.

IMG_6602 IMG_6605 IMG_6607~ Step 2.  Add the undrained diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, drained kidney beans, chili powder, ground cumin, Mexican oregano, salsa and black pepper.  Adjust heat to a steady, gentle simmer, partially cover the pot and continue to cook, 30-45 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside, to steep, 30-45 minutes.  

Note:  If you have the time to make the chili a day ahead and reheat it, it tastes even better.  Yum.

IMG_6613 IMG_6622 IMG_6626 IMG_6628 IMG_6642 IMG_6652 IMG_6656~Step 3.  While the chili is steeping, in an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil, add 1 tablespoon salt to the water and add the pasta.  Cook, as the package directs, until al dente.  Drain the pasta into a colander and immediately add it to the the still hot stockpot and return the stockpot to the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter pieces and Cheez-Whiz or Velveeta cubes and stir or toss until cheese is melted.  Ladle 1-quart/4cups of the chili into the pasta, stir, and serve.

Winner, Winner Chili Mac Dinner:

IMG_6662Chile Mac.  Perhaps as great as a retro recipe can get.

IMG_6668Walking Dead:  It's Chili & Mac 'n Cheese.  Together.:  Recipe yields 3+ quarts, enough for 3 chili mac meals, 6-8 servings of chili mac per meal.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; spatula; ladle; 8-quart stockpot; colander; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b017c34d41d3e970bCook's Note:  Please don't confuse chili mac with ~ Cincinnati Chili: My Holiday Bowl Game Tradition ~.  In 1922, two Northern Greek immigrant brothers, Tom and John Kiradjieff, opened a small Greek restaurant in Cincinnati called "The Empress". The restaurant struggled until they began serving chili made with spices common to their culture, which was ladled over a mound of spaghetti, and called: "spaghetti chili".  They soon began serving it with a variety of toppings, or, "five 6a0120a8551282970b017d3f030e4a970cways".  When ordering Cincinnati chili, here is the protocol:

~ chili only ("one-way")

~ a mound of spaghetti topped with chili ("two-way")

~ spaghetti topped with chili and lots of shredded yellow cheese ("three-way")

~ spaghetti, chili, cheese and diced onions ("four-way")

~ spaghetti, chili, cheese, diced onions and separately cooked kidney beans ("five way").

Another popular way to serve it is called the "cheese Coney".  This consists of chili ladled onto a hot dog (in a steamed bun) and topped with cheese (topped with diced onion and/or mustard)!

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

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

03/11/2017

~ Irish Eyes are Smilin' on Mary's Irish Soda Bread ~

IMG_6538My Irish soda bread recipe was given to me 20-25 years ago by my close friend Mary.  Mary Teresa Howe and her husband Joe hailed from Buffalo, NY, then moved to and raised their family here in Happy Valley, PA.  For almost two decades, my husband Joe and I had the pleasure of sharing many good times with them.  From football tailgates to holiday cocktail parties and all sorts of family celebrations, the Howe's enjoyed entertaining and being entertained.

Mary and Joe were of proud Irish heritage and every year on St. Patrick's Day, all of us in their inner circle enjoyed being Irish too.  No matter where or how we celebrated, Mary's Irish soda bread was always on the menu, even if Mary didn't make it.  Why?  Because every one of us had Mary's recipe, which was passed down from her mother via her grandmother.  One couldn't taste this soda bread and not ask for the recipe.  I asked for it the first time I tasted it -- at an elegant sit-down Sunday brunch, with my husband and parents, in Mary and Joe's dining room.  

"May the road rise to meet you and the wind be always at your back.  May the sun shine warm upon your face, and, may the rain fall soft upon your fields.  Until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand." ~ An Old Irish Toast

IMG_6532A bit about Ireland's three traditional soda breads:

These traditional breads "came to be" as a result of the country's limited ingredients and economic hardships.  The climate supported the growth of soft wheat, which didn't work well in yeast breads, so, out of necessity, the soft wheat was mixed with buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) to leaven the dough.  Baking soda, when mixed with buttermilk, which contains lactic acid, acts as a rising agent.  The round-shaped, rustic-looking loaves were originally hearth baked, either free form on a griddle (a baking pan) or in a pot oven (a lightly-greased baking dish), at a high temperature.  In essence, soda bread is indeed an easy, quick and inexpensive method of basic bread baking with an absolutely delicious end result.

IMG_6543White, brown and currant.  White soda bread simply means the bread is prepared using white or unbleached all-purpose wheat flour. Brown soda bread means whole wheat or stone-ground wheat flour has been used exclusively, or, has been mixed with some of the white or unbleached flour.  Currant soda bread, which is my personal favorite, is white soda bread that has dried fruit, and/or raisins or currants added to it.  Mary always referred to currant soda bread as "spotted dog".  It was traditionally served with butter and jam for breakfast on special occasions or holidays because: dried fruits, raisins and currants were special treats that were hard to come by.

A bit about the signature cross on top & soda bread tips:

Just before going into the oven, soda bread is always marked with deep cross on the top. Depending on the recipe and how sticky the dough is, after baking, some crosses are distinctly more visible than others, but, trust me, everyone marks the bread.  Lore has it the cross is to ward off evil and release good fairies.  Culinarily, the cross allows for better air circulation, enabling the bread to get the best rise in the oven.  The key to making any type of soda bread is to work as fast as you can, doing as little as possible to the dough.  Unlike yeast breads, kneading is virtually unnecessary and the dough itself should reman a wet, sticky, ragged mess right up until the moment it goes into the oven -- a hard concept for us non-Gaelic gourmets to grasp.  As per Mary, "Don't linger and don't overwork the dough.  Mix it and keep it a sticky mess. If the dough isn't sticking to your hand and fingertips, you've added too much flour and the loaf will be dry."

What about recipes containing eggs, baking powder, vegetable shortening or yeast?  They're out there, &, they are delicious, but they are not traditional Irish soda bread.

IMG_64822  pounds unbleached, all-purpose flour, weighed not measured, plus 6-8 additional tablespoons

2  tablespoons sugar

4  teaspoons firmly-packed baking soda

2  teaspoons salt

4  tablespoons salted butter, cut into small pieces and kept cold

1  quart buttermilk, whole is best, but 1%- 2% will work

1  15-ounce box golden raisins

IMG_6484 IMG_6489 IMG_6495~ Step 1.  Place the raisins in a medium-sized mixing bowl and add all of the buttermilk to the bowl.  Set aside for 30-60 minutes.  Note:  You can skip this "soaking" step, but this will indeed soften and plump the raisins a bit.

IMG_6500 IMG_6497 IMG_6504~ Step 2.  In a large mixing bowl, briefly stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.  Add the cold butter pieces, and, using a pastry blender and a paring knife, quickly "cut" the butter pieces into the dry ingredients, until evenly dispersed throughout flour mixture.  This process should take less than 1 minute.

IMG_6507 IMG_6510~ Step 3.  Using a large spoon or spatula, form a large well in the the center of the flour mixture.  Do your best to make it large enough to hold all of the buttermilk/raisin mixture.  Using the same spoon or spatula, working as quickly as you can, gradually incorporate/fold the dry ingredients in the liquid center.  A wet dough that resembles a very thick oatmeal will form.  Again, this entire process should take less than 1 minute.

IMG_6515 IMG_6517~ Step 4.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the additional flour over top of the dough.  Using the heel of your hand, begin gathering and pushing down on the dough, giving the bowl a quarter turn each time you gather and push.  Continue process of adding flour, just until you can manageably pull and split the still sticky and ragged dough into two equal parts and lift each one from bowl.  Don't overwork it.  This too should take less than 1 minute.

IMG_6519 IMG_6521 IMG_6526~ Step 5.  Form each dough half into a rough looking round loaf.  Place them well apart on a large, parchment-lined baking pan, or, in 2, 9" round, parchment-lined pie dishes.  I prefer the pie dishes, but, there is no wrong decision here.  Using a very sharp knife, slash a deep X, about 3/4" into the top of each loaf.

IMG_6535~ Step 8.  Bake on center rack of preheated 400° oven, 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° and continue to bake an additional 20-22 minutes.  The bread will be quite brown, crusty, and, have a hollow sound when tapped with your knuckle.  Remove the bread from the oven and allow the loaves to rest, on a rack on the pan or in the dishes, 10 minutes, prior to transferring to the rack to cool completely. Cool for at least 1 hour prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.

No matter how you slice it, Mary's bread is just as it should be:

IMG_6553A cripsy crust on outside w/a chewy & moist center.

IMG_6578Irish Eyes are Smilin' on Mary's Irish Soda Bread:  Recipe yields 2, 10"-round loaves and 16-20 slices each loaf. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; pastry blender; large spoon or spatula; 2, 9" round pie plates or 1, 17 1/2" x 11 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; chef's knife

IMG_4496Cook's Note:  Doesn't this photo look succulent?  It is, and, I made it in the crockpot too!  To get my recipe for ~ Another Crockpot Corned Beef & Cabbage Recipe ~, just enter "Corned Beef & Cabbage" as Search words, or, click into Categories, 2, 9, 11, 19 or 20.

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

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

03/08/2017

~ Happy at Last: Crispy Deep-Fried Hashed Browns ~

IMG_6467Has anyone ever met a plate of hashed browns they didn't like?  Quite frankly, I've never met anyone, when faced with a plate of these crisply-fried, golden-brown potato morsels, who is ambivalent about them.  In fact, my encounters with hash browns in homes and eateries reveal: One can never make enough.  Folks eat them first and they eat them all.  Therein lies the problem for home cooks.  How to make a decent-sized quantity of these potatoes, per person, in a timely manner without compromising their signature restaurant-quality crispy texture.

IMG_6448"Hash" is derived from the French "hacher" meaning "to chop".

Hashed brown potatoes are personal.  They mean different things to different people. It revolves around how the potatoes are prepped:  shredded, cubed, julienned or riced.  I prefer the prettier--to-look-at fork-friendly cubes to the semi-stuck together others.  Perhaps that's because I prefer the task of cubing potatoes to the others.  Perhaps it's because when my mother made potato pancakes, she shredded the potatoes, when she made French fries she julienned them, when she made home fries, the potatoes were cut into thin, round slices, and, when she riced potatoes, that meant potato cakes were showing up on the dinner table.  Last but not least, when mom made hashed browns or potatoes for corned beef hash, she cubed the potatoes. That was that. I'm guilty as charged:  a culinary creature of habit who does it the way I was taught.

Restaurants with large flat top griddles have a big advantage over the home cook in that the large flat surface gives the potatoes all the room they need to spread out in a single layer, which allows the moisture to evaporate from them very quickly.  This, plus the minimal amount of butter and/or oil needed on this surface, renders them crispy on the outside with a fluffy, creamy inside. I'm not going to lie -- this type of perfection is hard to duplicate in a skillet in the time kitchen.

PICT5244My decision to move my cubed potatoes for hashed browns from the skillet to the deep-fryer was an easy one.  I had guests coming for a relaxing Sunday brunch -- three couples that had traveled to Happy Valley the previous day for a Penn State football game.  My game plan was to serve made-to-order omelettes, sausage links and bacon strips, and, hashed brown potatoes. The egg mixture for the omelettes was whisked together, my omelette filling options were ready, and, the sausage links and bacon strips were staying warm in the oven.  I was cubing my potatoes for the hashed browns, when my husband Joe walked into the kitchen.

"Why don't I just deep-fry those for you and make twice as many in half the time?" ~ Joe

IMG_6424My husband deep-fries a lot of things for me and he is very good at it.  We refer to ourselves as "fearless fryers".  Truth be told, I use my deep-fryer more than I use my crock pot.  In the case of too many appetizers and snacks to mention,  if they're not deep-fried, the end result is compromised.  That said, I long ago gave up deep-frying in a pot of oil with a candy thermometer clipped to it on the stovetop.  The relatively inexpensive investment in a countertop deep-fryer was a wise one.  It controls the temperature, and, there's no smell, stress or mess either.

"Will deep-fried hashed browns still be hashed browns?  Oh heck, give it a try."  ~ Mel

IMG_6430Over the years I'd read every word the experts had to say about making hashed brown potatoes. I learned a lot from giving many of their tips a try.  I made hashed browns with gold, red and Russet potatoes.  Sometimes I peeled the potatoes, sometimes I didn't.  I soaked potatoes in cold water, squeezed excess water out of potatoes, and, pre-cooked potatoes via par-boiling and microwaving.  I dabbled in using bacon fat, duck fat, clarified butter, butter and/or extra-virgin olive oil with an occasional splash of truffle oil.  Sometimes I added onions or caramelized onions.  All versions were good, some were better than others -- none were a disappointment.

I rarely experiment on my guests, but, the end result was a great success.

IMG_6436The end result was a success.  In the time it took me to make two omelettes in two pans, about 5-6 minutes each, two servings of potatoes cooked to perfection in 12 minutes.  I savored the freedom of not having to babysit a third skillet.  Instead, my potatoes swam happily in the oil and emerged evenly browned, crispy and golden on the outside and creamy on the inside. Because they were not double-fried (like classic French fries), they really were the texture of hashed browns.  I did indeed make twice as many in half the time, and, they were fresh out of the fryer just as my omelettes were coming off the stovetop.  My guests ate them all without a question.  

To soak or not to soak:  On that particular morning, the potatoes did soak in a bowl full of cold water for 15-20 minutes, as I wanted them prepped before my guests arrived, but, even that is not necessary.  On any given day for just Joe and I, I simply cube and fry without any soak at all.

IMG_6409 IMG_6413 IMG_6424~ Step 1.  For every two servings, peel & 1/2" dice 1 pound gold potatoes. Golds are my favorite. Use what you like best.

IMG_6430 IMG_6436 IMG_6438~ Step 2.  Preheat corn or peanut oil in a deep-fryer to 365°-375°.  Add 1 pound of cubed potatoes to the fryer basket.  Close the lid, set the timer and fry for 12-14 minutes, until gloriously golden to your liking.  The timing will vary as per your deep-fryer and the type of potatoes you choose to use.  Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and sprinkle IMMEDIATELY with freshly-ground sea salt.

Two half pound servings of hashed browns comin' right up!

IMG_6464Happiness:  Deep-Fried Hashed Brown Potato Cubes:  Recipe yields instructions to make 2, 8-ounce servings of hashed browns at a time in 12 minutes with no stress and no mess.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; deep-fryer; paper towels

IMG_3779Cook's Note:  Making authentic French fries is an art.  To learn how I do it, read my post ~ Do You Want (Perfect "French") Fries with That? ~.  Enter the search words "French fries" or click into Categories 2, 4, 15, 20 or 21.

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

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

03/05/2017

~ For those times when you just gotta have: Frittata ~

IMG_6383Breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or late night snack, a frittata is a relatively-easy quick-to-make, hunger-satisfying meal.  It tastes great served hot, warm, at room temperature or cold, and, leftovers reheat beautifully in the microwave, which make it perfect for those who brown bag lunch.  A bit of slicing, dicing or chopping is typically required, but it's minimal, and, since frittata can be a tasty way to use up yummy leftovers, there are times when no knife is necessary.

IMG_6402As per my Italian girlfriend Eileen, her mom and grandmother made frittata to stretch leftovers -- to turn them into a family-friendly meal. There was no set recipe, and, sometimes it resembled a big mess that tasted really good.  "Hai fatto una frittata", loosely translates to "something like a mess", "you've made quite a mess", or "something a bit crazy". She went on to explain that while frittata was never a formal meal that would be served to guests, in their community, meatless versions were regularly served for dinner during lent.

Learning to make a frittata is a valuable culinary lifeskill.

Commonly referred to as "the Italian version of an omelette", a frittata is a concoction of whisked eggs and cream, sliced, diced or chopped previously-cooked vegetables, meat or seafood and/or grated cheese.  I prefer to compare it to a custard-like quiche without a crust rather than an omelette because, like a quiche, a frittata is traditionally round and rather thick -- not at all elongated and comparatively flat (like the French and American omelettes I've encountered).  There's more.  I think of an omelette as something that goes from stovetop to table in a few short moments -- that's not the case with a frittata, which takes 30+ minutes.

IMG_6345Start it on the stovetop in a oven-safe skillet & finish it in the oven, or:

assemble the ingredients in a casserole & bake it in the oven. 

IMG_6358The egg mixture is poured into the same oven-safe skillet (usually cast-iron), the vegetables and or meats have been cooked or placed in.  The Frittata is started on the stovetop for a few moments, just long enough to allow the bottom of the mixture to solidify a bit, then finished in a moderate oven for 30-45 minutes depending on its size and the recipe.  That said, a frittata can be prepared in the skillet entirely on the stovetop, or, in a casserole entirely in the oven (usually to make a large-size frittata).  Frittata can be served directly from the pan, but, family-friendly-sized frittata is often inverted onto a platter, to reveal its golden crust, then sliced into wedges.

IMG_6362Add vegetables or a combination of vegetables, as long as they are cooked first.

Sautéed vegetables or a medley of vegetables, any kind you like, can be added, as long as they are cooked in some manner first.  Why?  Vegetables, particularly those that contain lots of liquid, unless cooked first, will render the frittata watery.  Root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, won't fully-cook if not given a head start on the stovetop.  Onions and/or garlic are almost always added. Other options include asparagus, broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, peas, and/or mushrooms.  They all work great.  Extremely watery vegetables, like tomatoes, summer squash and and zucchini work well too, but the extra step of seeding prior to sautéing is recommended.

Add previously cooked & diced or shredded meats or seafood too. 

When it comes to meat or seafood, the same rules apply:  if it's cooked first it can be added. Leftover diced porcine, like ham or sausage crumbles, along with crispy-fried bacon bits are my three meaty favorites, and, crab meat or shrimp, or both, are divine.  My teenage boys liked frittata made with diced salami or pepperoni as a late night snack.   That said, if you like to eat steak with your eggs, by all means, throw in slivers of that leftover roasted or grilled red meat. Feel free to disagree, but, for my taste, poultry has no place in a frittata -- there is just something about chicken or turkey in an egg dish like this that I find unappealing (save it for a sandwich).

With a formula, a frittata can be made for two, a few or a crew.

IMG_6287The Italian word "frittata" derives from the word "friggere", which roughly means "fried".  This is why frittata is traditionally associated with a skillet, namely a cast-iron skillet.  If a casserole dish is more convenient, by all means use one -- simply season and sauté your fillings ingredients in a skillet, and toss them into the bottom of a casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick spray, add the whisked egg and cream mixture and bake as directed.   To make three sizes of frittata in either an oven-safe, deep-sized cast-iron skillet or in a casserole, measure as follows:

10" cast-iron skillet or 3-qt. casserole = 12 ex.-large eggs, 1 cup cream, 6 cups filling*

8" cast-iron skillet or 2-qt. casserole = 9 ex.-large eggs, 3/4 cup cream 4 1/2 cups filling*

6" cast-iron skillet or 1 1/2-qt. casserole = 6 ex.-large eggs, 1/2  cup cream 3 cups filling*

*I don't include grated melting cheese (American, cheddar, gruyère, fontina or mozzarella) or crispy-fried bacon bits in the filling total because neither adds a lot of overall volume.  Add 1 cup, 3/4 cup or 1/2 cup cheese, &/or, 1/2 cup, 1/4 cup or 2 tablespoons bacon bits.

Bake @ 325º:  6" skillet/20 min.; 8" skillet/25 min.; 10" skillet/30 min.

Add 6-8 minutes extra baking time for any frittata baked in a casserole dish.  Why?  A frittata started in the skillet is hot -- a frittata assembled in the casserole is not. 

IMG_6400Tips from Mel:  You can substitute half and half or whole milk, but anything less than full-fat dairy renders a rubbery rather than an unctuous frittata.  The worst mistake to make is to overbake a frittata.  If it's deep-golden on top, it's over-cooked in the center.  It should light in color and barely set, so, be sure to check it often during the cooking process.  Season your filling ingredients appropriately when sautéing them, to taste, with salt, pepper and/or herbs or spices. The same goes for the egg mixture:  whisk in the salt and pepper before pouring it into the skillet or casserole. Adding cheese?  Choose one with a good melting quality.  Aged cheeses, like Parmesan or Pecorino, which add sharp, salty flavor, don't melt great, but work nicely grated over the top of the finished frittata.  Never stir the frittata after the egg mixture has been added.

For three sizes of my Italian Sausage, Peppers 'n Onion Frittata:

IMG_62912, 1 1/2 or 1  cup diced, previously cooked meat or seafood (Note:  In the case of  hot or sweet Italian sausage, start with 16-, 12-, or 8- ounces, prior to sautéing.)

1, 3/4 or 1/2  cup diced onion

3, 2 1/4 or 1 1/2   cups diced, cooked vegetables or a combination of vegetables, your choice (Note: I'm using green bell pepper, red bell pepper and mushrooms today.

sea salt and coarsely-ground black pepper, for lightly seasoning vegetables 

1, 3/4 or 1/2  cup grated melting cheese (Note:  I'm using yellow cheddar today.)

12, 9 or 6  extra-large eggs

1, 3/4 or 1/2  cup cream

3/4, 1/2, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and coarsely-ground black pepper, for seasoning egg mixture

diced grape tomatoes, for garnishing frittata

minced parsley, for ganishing frittata

finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnishing frittata

IMG_6295 IMG_6299 IMG_6302~ Step 1.  Using an old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater, whisk the eggs, cream, salt and pepper together.  Set aside.

IMG_6307 IMG_6311 IMG_6313 IMG_6316~Step 2.  Place the sausage in an appropriately sized skillet over medium-high heat.  Sauté, using the side of a spatula to break the meat into small bits and pieces, until cooked through, about 6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the sausage from the skillet to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain, allowing the flavorful drippings to remain in skillet.

IMG_6318 IMG_6321 IMG_6324 IMG_6325 IMG_6328 IMG_6329~Step 3.  Adjust heat on stovetop to medium.  Add the  onion, bell peppers and mushrooms.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Using the spatula to stir almost constantly, sauté until vegetables have lost about half of their volume and are just starting to show signs of browning (which means they are becoming very flavorful), about 6 minutes. Adjust heat to low.  Add and stir in the sausage, then sprinkle the grated cheese over the top.

IMG_6332 IMG_6335~ Step 4.  Drizzle in egg mixture and allow to cook on low for 2 minutes.  Do not stir.  Place in 325° oven to bake, until puffy and very lightly brown, about 20 minutes for a 6" skillet, 25 minutes for an 8" skillet and 30 minutes in a 12" skillet.

Inverted or not, cool in skillet about 15 minutes prior to slicing:

IMG_6376For those Times When You Just Gotta Frittata:  Recipe yields instructions to make 3 sizes of frittata.  In frittata language, each egg used = 1 serving.  In my kitchen:  12 egg frittata = 10-12 servings.  9 egg frittata = 6-8 servings.  6 egg frittata = 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 2-cup measuring container; old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater (optional); appropriately sized oven-safe skillet or casserole of choice; spatula; large slotted spoon; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01a5118fde1c970cCook's Note:  For a variation on the today's eggy theme, one of my family's favorite dinners is my recipe for ~ An End of Winter Ricotta & Spinach 'Pizza' Quiche ~.  You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 2, 3, 12, 14, 19 or 20.

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

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

03/02/2017

~ Pizza alla Puttanesca with Puddles of Mozzarella ~

IMG_6240Gutsy-flavored puttanesca and marinara sauce have always been my two favorite pasta sauces. They are both relatively quick-to-make and they freeze great, so, I always have them on hand. There's more.  When these two pasta sauces are allowed to simmer a bit longer than usual, until they reduce and get extra thick, both become my two favorite pizza sauces.  Marinara-based pizza sauce is my all-purpose pizza sauce because it plays well with all sorts of cheese and topping combos.  In the case of puttanesca-based pizza sauce, it is the star topping.  A homemade crust, puttanesca sauce and two-types of mozzarella cheese -- that's it.  Period.

Pizza gets made once a week in our household.  Usually Friday, sometimes Sunday.  Over the years, I've developed a few types of dough to make several types of pizza:  Neapolitan-, Sicilian, Chicago-, and St. Louis- style (to name four).  I also came up with an all-purpose dough to make short work of some uniquely-topped creations:  Philadelphia cheesesteak pizza, Buffalo chicken pizza, Pizz' alads, and, Puttanesca pizza.  The ingredients for the dough knead and rise in the bread machine in 55 minutes.  In the meantime, I simply prepare the topping du jour.  

Part 1:  Making My A-1 All-Purpose Bread-Machine Pizza Dough

This is my easy, all-purpose pizza dough -- although it wasn't easy for me to come up with it, as it took several rounds of experimentation.  Like my other 'za dough recipes, this one had to meet my requirements for this type of pizza.  What I wanted from this dough was a high-quality, quick-and-easy time-saving New York-Style pizza dough for those times when I want/need this popular type of pizza in a relative hurry with no worry -- if you have teenage kids, you know what I'm talking about.   Depending upon how large you want the pie, you can make it thicker, thinner, or somewhere in between.  It can be round or square and it can be baked in a pan or on a stone too.  It's versatile.  It is, simply put, a great all-purpose pizza dough for novice pizza makers and busy folks who want to skip pizza delivery, or worse, that horrible store-bought pizza dough.  

IMG_6209Thanks to the combination of all-purpose and high-gluten "00" flour, plus the addition of just the right amount of semolina flour to give it a bit of resilient chew, it turns out two crispy-bottomed pies with tender chewy centers -- it's pliable enough to hold and fold each slice in half too!

IMG_6458For the pizza dough:

1  cup warm water

1  tablespoon olive oil

1  teaspoon sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  cup all-purpose flour

1  cup "00" flour

1/2 cup semolina flour

1  packet granulated yeast, not rapid-rise yeast

IMG_6462IMG_6464                                      ~ Step 1Place the water, olive oil, sugar and sea salt in the the bread pan of the bread machine.

IMG_6472Add the all-purpose flour, "00 flour" and semolina. Using your index finger, make a well in the top of the flour and add the yeast to it.  Note:  When making any type of bread machine dough, always add the wet ingredients first and the dry ingredients last.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d16e1e61970cStep 2.  Insert the bread pan into the machine.  Close the lid and push the "select" button.  Then choose the "pizza dough" cycle. Push the "start" button.  While the machine is running, ready your kitchen scale and pastry board.

IMG_6481When the machine signals, remove pan of fully-risen dough from the machine.  In my machine this takes 55 minutes.

(During this 55 minutes, prepare the puttanesca pizza sauce as directed below.)

IMG_6492IMG_6483Step 3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured pastry board and briefly knead it into a smooth ball.

IMG_6488Place the ball of dough on a kitchen scale.  You will have 20-21 ounces.  Divide in half and form dough into 2, 10-10 1/2-ounce balls.

IMG_6683Step 4.  Using a paper towel, oil 2, 12" round pizza pans or 2, 12" x 9" rectangular pans with about 2 tablespoons olive oil on each pan. Place one ball of dough on each pan and allow to rest, about 10-15 IMG_6687minutes -- to give the gluten time to relax.  Thirty minutes is ok too.

Note:  For demonstration purposes, I'm make one round and one square pizza today, and, I'm not using fancy, expensive pans either.

IMG_6695Step 5.  Pat and press dough evenly across bottoms and evenly up sides of pans. I do this in 3 parts taking 15-20 minutes, allowing dough to rest 5 minutes each time before patting and pressing again.

IMG_6182Step 6.  To top each of two puttanesca pizzas, on each crust, place8 slices deli-style mozzarella cheese.  Add and spread 1 1/4 cups puttanesca pizza sauce (recipe below) over the top of the mozzarella. Arrange 8 ounces small, fresh mozzarella balls (that have been sliced in half), or, pieces of sliced fresh mozzarella over top. Lightly sprinkle dried oregano over tops.

IMG_6190Step 7.  At this point, pizzas can be baked, one-at-a-time on center rack of  a 375 degree oven that has been heated with a pizza stone in it, or, you can let them rise in the pans for 1 to 2 hours prior to baking, which, if you have the time, is worth the wait. This allows you to assemble the pizzas ahead, which is really nice, and, it allows the crust to rise a second time, rendering it nice and airy, which is nicer.

IMG_6201Step 8.  Place each pan of pizza on pizza stone for 6-8 minutes. Using a spatula, lift a corner of the pie up and using your other hand (via a pot holder or mitt), tilt pan and slide pie off the pan onto the stone. Continue to bake for 6-7 more minutes, for a total of 12-15 minutes baking time.  Crust will be lightly-brown and cheese will be molten. Using a pizza peel, transfer pizza to a rack to cool for 3-5 minutes, to allow the cheese to set up a bit, prior to slicing and serving.

Part 2:  Making My "Star Topping" Puttanesca Pizza Sauce

Garlic, onion, capers, anchovies, olives, red pepper & oregano!

IMG_60931/4  cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup medium-diced yellow or sweet onion

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon cracked black pepper

2  2-ounce cans anchovy fillets, packed in oil, well-drained & diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2  tablespoons tomato paste

1  teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1/4  cup large non-pareil capers

1 cup sliced or chopped pitted black olives

1  teaspoon sugar

1  tablespoon minced, fresh oregano leaves

zest of 1/2-3/4 lemon for adding to sauce + the additional zest for garnishing finished pizza

IMG_6095IMG_6096IMG_6098IMG_6101IMG_6104IMG_6108~Step 1.  Heat olive oil in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add onion, salt and black pepper.  Adjust heat to gently sauté, until the onion is soft, stirring frequently, about 6 minutes.  Add anchovy fillets and garlic.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until anchovies have disappeared into mixture and garlic is soft, about 3 minutes.  Add and stir the tomato paste and red pepper flakes into the mix.  Cook for 1 more minute.  Add the crushed tomatoes, capers, black olives and sugar.

IMG_6111IMG_6113Step 2.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially cover the pot and continue to cook until thickened and pizza saucelike, about 15 minutes. Stir in the oregano and lemon zest and continue to cook an additional 5 minutes.  Yield:  6 cups.

Puttanesca pizza.  From first gutsy-flavored slice...

IMG_6249... to last gutsy-flavored last bite.  You get the picture:

IMG_6277Pizza alla Puttanesca with Puddles of Mozzarella:  Recipe yields 2 pizzas, and, 5 cups puttanesca pizza sauce, enough to sauce 4 pizzas. 

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; bread machine; kitchen scale (optional); 2, 12"-round pizza pans or 2, "13" x 9" baking pans (or one of each); paper towel; pizza stone; large metal spatula; pizza peel; large cooling rack; cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan

IMG_6123Cook's Note:  Puttanesca sauce: Called "sugo" alla puttanesca, meaning, "sauce" in the stye of a prostitute.  The word "puttanesca" derives from the Italian word "puttana", meaning "whore".  Puttana comes from the Latin word "putina", meaning "stinking". Whether truth or myth, research revealed three stories that, when referencing "whores" and "stinking", most couldn't resist mentioning: 1) Puttanesca was a cheap dish "working girls" could cook from the cupboard between "customers".  2) When referencing "stinking", the sauce's strong aroma would lure men from the streets into houses of ill repute.  3)  The dish was served to men awaiting their turn.  

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

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

02/28/2017

~ What the Heck are Capers & Non-Pariel Capers? ~

IMG_6162Culinarily speaking, capers are a small, round, dark-green condiment pickled in a salty brine. Similar to green olives, the curing process brings out their tangy, pungent, lemony flavor which pops in your mouth.  Technically, they are the flower buds of the shrubby caper bush (Capparis spinosa), which grows in and around regions of  the Meditterranean.  The buds are picked before they flower, dried in the sun, and then packed in salt.  It's a labor-intensive process, as they can only be harvested by hand.  The buds range in size from that of a tiny baby pea to that of a small olive.  They are sold by size and they are priced accordingly.  They've been around since ancient times, and, for cooks then and now, they are an ingredient essential to the kitchen.

I am never without them, as they are common to many cuisines.

Caper-bush_medium^^^ All parts of a caper bush are shown in the above photo: the round, fleshy leaves, the white-purple flowers, and the small, round buds. Capers are the pickled bud of this bush.  This photo is courtesy of Dr. Roy Winkelman and was taken at the Bontanical Garden of Munich, Germany.

IMG_6160As per wikipedia, capers are categorized and sold by size, defined as follows:  non-pariel (up to 7 mm), sufines (7-8 mm), capucines (8-9 mm), capotes (9-11 mm), fines (11-13 mm) and grusas (14+ mm).  If the caper bud is not picked and allowed to flower and produce fruit, it is called a caper berry, which bears some resemblance to an olive, and, is mostly eaten like an olive -- as a snack.  Caper leaves, which are extremely hard to find outside of the immediate areas where they are grown, are also pickled and preserved, and, are mostly added to salads or fish dishes.

Non-pariel.  Is it a candy, a confection, or, a caper?  Read on:

White Maxi NonParelsWhen I was a kid, non-pariel referred to small, round, domed chocolate candies (about the size of a quarter) sprinkled on their tops with white sugar dots.  I used to buy them at Paperman's.  Barney Paperman ran a specialty shop in our town that sold newspapers and magazines along with cigars, deli-meats and cheeses, and, a grand assortment of penny candies.  The dots themselves, were and are sold separately, and were also called non-pariels.  My mom always had a container of them and sprinkled them on all sorts of baked goods.

"Non-pariel" is a French term meaning "without equal", or "has no equal".  Calling something "non-pariel" means, "it's the best".

When purchasing capers, those labeled non-pareil (non-puh-REHL) have been designated the best in flavor and texture -- they are also the most expensive.  Others are good too, but, they tend to be a little tougher, larger, and not as delicate -- the smaller the caper, the more delicate in texture and intense in flavor it is.  When cooking with capers, in most culinary applications, capers are added to cooked dishes near the end of the cooking process, which allows them to maintain their shape and taste. That said, if using larger capers, it's often recommended to chop them prior to adding them to cooked dishes.  Always follow the recipe as directed.

Capers add flavor to vinaigrettes, salad dressings and creamy sauces, like horseradish, tartar and remoulade.  They're common additions to egg, potato, pasta or tuna salads, not to mention the famous Niçoise salad.  Egg dishes galore, like deviled eggs, eggs Benedict and plain scrambled eggs, benefit from a garnish of a caper or two or a few.  They're a perfect topping for fish, chicken, meat or meatless meals -- one can't make chicken piccata or puttanesca without capers.  Exotic soups and stews from all over the globe, especially those containing fish or seafood include capers.   With lox and cream cheese on a bagel -- capers are non negotiable.  

Capers -- an ingredient no kitchen should be without. 

IMG_6174"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

02/26/2017

~ Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (Prostitute's Spaghetti) ~

IMG_6144Say what?  Yep.  "Alla puttanesca" literally means "in the style of a prostitute".  The day I heard that, I hit the streets -- in search of more history behind this delicious dish's sordid-sounding name.  Not growing up in an Italian household or in the company of a lot of Italian-Americans, I was in my early 30's in the early '80's watching Mario Batali make it and translate the name on TV.  I did a double take.  Before that, I thought puttanesca was just a quick-to-make pasta dish with a vibrant sauce that one could throw together using a few pantry staples.  Chuckle.

Try think to of it as a "happy meal" -- for everyone involved.

IMG_6150Three cheers for Italy's ladies of the evening!!!

The sauce is called "sugo" alla puttanesca, meaning, "sauce" in the stye of a prostitute.  The word "puttanesca" derives from the Italian word "puttana", which means "whore".  Puttana comes from the Latin word "putina", which means "stinking".  Whether truth or myth, research revealed three stories that, when referencing "whores" and "stinking", most couldn't resist mentioning: 1) Puttanesca was a cheap dish "working girls" could cook from the cupboard between "customers".  2)  When referencing "stinking", the strong aroma of the sauce would lure men from the streets into houses of ill repute.  3)  The dish was served to men awaiting their turn.  

Personally, I don't care if the harlots of Italy invented the dish.  Good for them.  The reality is, puttanesca is a WWII war- and post-war era dish, born at a time when fresh ingredients were in short supply everywhere and subsequently popularized when tomato-based sauces for pasta were gaining in popularity, especially here in the USA due to the soldiers returning home.

Puttanesca = BOLD flavors packed into an inexpensive meatless meal.

One thing is certain, the components (a canned tomato product, olive oil, garlic and/or onion, dried red pepper flakes, oregano, basil or parsley, and, salt in the form of anchovies, black olives and/or nonpareil capers), packed a whole lot of flavor into an inexpensive meatless meal when people craved it the most.  Experts disagree on the finishing addition of grated parmesan or pecorino -- I personally dislike cheese on my spaghetti alla puttanesca.  That said, like all Italian and Italian-American dishes, recipes vary from region to region and cook to cook, so put in it what you like, in quantities you like, within the parameters.  After all, it's "comfort food".  Sigh.

Garlic, onion, capers, anchovies, olives, red pepper & oregano!

IMG_60931/4  cup extra-virgin olive oil

1  cup medium-diced yellow or sweet onion

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon cracked black pepper

2  2-ounce cans anchovy fillets, packed in oil, well-drained & diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2  tablespoons tomato paste

1  teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1/4  cup large non-pareil capers

1  cup sliced or chopped pitted black olives

1  teaspoon sugar

1  tablespoon minced, fresh oregano leaves

zest of 1/2-3/4 of a lemon for adding to sauce + the additional zest for garnishing individual portions

1  pound spaghetti, cooked al dente, as package directs*

*  Note:  Spaghetti is traditional, but, other stranded pastas, like linguine work nicely too, so feel free to substitute.  That said, puttanesca is a quick-to-make sauce.  Cooks who make it often, meaning they have the recipe committed to memory, will tell you that as they are bringing a pot of water to a boil, and, cooking and draining the spaghetti, they prepare the sauce.  Feel free to cook your pasta while making the sauce or do it afterward, whichever is most convenient.  

IMG_6095 IMG_6096 IMG_6098 IMG_6101 IMG_6104 IMG_6108~Step 1.  Heat olive oil in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add onion, salt and black pepper.  Adjust heat to gently sauté, until the onion is soft, stirring frequently, about 6 minutes.  Add anchovy fillets and garlic.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until anchovies have disappeared into mixture and garlic is soft, about 3 minutes.  Add and stir the tomato paste and red pepper flakes into the mix.  Cook for 1 more minute.  Add the crushed tomatoes, capers, black olives and sugar.

IMG_6111 IMG_6113~ Step 2.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially cover the pot and continue to cook until thickened and saucelike, about 15 minutes.  Stir in the oregano and lemon zest and continue to cook an additional 5 minutes.

IMG_6123 IMG_6134~ Step 3.  In an 8- quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil and add 1 tablespoon salt.  Add and cook the spaghetti, until al dente.  Drain cooked pasta into a colander and immediately return pasta to still hot stockpot.  Return the stockpot to the still warm stovetop.

Ladle sauce into pasta, a cup or two at a time, until pasta is generously coated in puttanesca sauce, but not drenched in the bold-flavored puttanesca sauce, about 2 1/2-3 cups of sauce.

Portion & serve ASAP garnished w/additional lemon zest:

IMG_6157Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (Prostitute's Spaghetti):  Recipe yields 5 cups of puttanesca sauce and, once tossed into cooked pasta, 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; 8-quart stockpot; colander

IMG_3267Cook's Note:  Fall, Spring, Summer or Winter, every good cook has a couple of go-to "pantry cooking recipes".  The list of reasons to need or want to cook something fast, that tastes like you cooked all day, is endless.  Another one of my favorites, ~ Pantry Cooking: Chicken & Rice (Arroz con Pollo) ~ can be found by clicking in Categories 3, 13, 19 or 20.

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

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

02/24/2017

~ My Buttery Sour Cream & Buttermilk Pound Cake ~

IMG_6087No embellishments necessary.  There is nothing like the first slice of a perfectly baked, slightly-warm pound cake.  With or without a dusting of Confectioners' sugar or a drizzling of sweet creamy glaze, it's the perfect foil for berries, ice cream, whipped cream or all three.  For me, just as pictured here, it is all I need for breakfast or brunch with a cup of coffee or tea.  It's irresistible.

Pound cake is personal.  I'd never proclaim to have the best recipe because almost everyone's mother or grandmother made the best pound cake they ever tasted.  I'm no exception:  My grandmother made the best pound cake I ever tasted.  Like all pound-cake-baking grandmas, she used the same basic ingredients as everyone (flour, sugar, butter and eggs plus vanilla), then she incorporated two tangy ingredients common to her Eastern European heritage:

Sour cream & buttermilk teamed up w/a double dose of vanilla.

IMG_9649My grandmother didn't own a bundt pan, she owned a tube pan.  Why? Because she was baking long before two women from Minneapolis approached the Nordic Ware founder, H. David Dalquist (in the 1940's), to ask him if he would produce a modern version of the IMG_9683German Gugelhupf pan.  In 1950, the bundt pan (the "t" was added to the name for trademarking purposes) was sold for the first time. My mom bought one sometime in the latter 1950's and this is her pan -- one of the originals -- cast in unembellished aluminum.

The bundt pan itself, didn't gain in popularity until a woman by the name of Ella Heifrich won second place in the 1966 Pillsbury Bakeoff with her "Tunnel of Fudge" cake.

I only remember my mom using this  IMG_9688pan during the 1960's to make bundt cakes from recipes she clipped out of magazines like Redbook and Women's Day.  She never made my grandmother's pound cake in a bundt pan, and, until today, neither did I.

IMG_5995I just bought a Nordic Ware Platinum Collection "Anniversary" 10-15  cup nonstick bundt pan and I can't wait to try it.

To learn the difference between a bundt pan and a tube pan, read my post ~ Bakeware Essentials:  A Bundt Pan & A Tube Pan ~ simply by clicking on the Related Article link below.

A bit about pound cake ("quatre-quarts" in French, meaning "four fourths":  Originally, this fine-textured loaf-shaped cake was made with 1-pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs, plus a flavoring, most commonly vanilla.  That is the original recipe, nothing more, nothing less.  Over the years, variations evolved, mostly adding leaveners like baking powder and baking soda to encourage rising, resulting in a less dense cake.  Vegetable oil is sometimes substituted in place of some of the butter, to produce a moister cake.  "Sour cream pound cake" and "buttermilk pound cake" recipes substitute sour cream or buttermilk in place of some of the butter to produce a moister cake with a pleasant tang too.  My grandmother's recipe uses a bit of both.

IMG_6074It's time to bake an old-school pound cake in my new bundt pan!

This is an easy cake to bake.  That said, it's important to make sure that the butter is very soft and the eggs are at room temperature.  I remove the butter 2 1/2-3 hours prior to baking the cake and my eggs about an hour in advance.  The extra step of separating the eggs and whipping the whites before folding them in the batter is well worth the extra few moments it takes.  That said, before whipping those whites, be sure to wash and dry the beaters or they won't whip. 

IMG_60006 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

1  cup salted butter (yes, salted butter), at room temperature, very soft (2 sticks)

3  cups sugar 

3  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1/2  cup sour cream

1/2  cup buttermilk

1  tablespoon vanilla extract (Note:  Sometimes I add a tablespoon of butter-rum flavoring too. Yes, that's correct:  1 tablespoon each vanilla and butter-rum -- yum.)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

IMG_6006Step 1.  Place the egg whites in a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.  In a second medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.  In a 1 cup measuring container, stir together the sour cream, buttermilk and vanilla extract, until smooth.  Set aside. Spray a 15-cup bundt pan with no-stick cooking spray and preheat oven to a moderate 325°-330°.

IMG_6009 IMG_6012 IMG_6016~ Step 2.  In a large bowl, place butter, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla.  Beat on medium-high speed of mixer for three minutes. Reduce mixer speed to medium and in a thin stream add and thoroughly incorporate the sour cream and buttermilk mixture, increase speed to medium-high and beat another minute.  

IMG_6018 IMG_6023~ Step 3.  Lower mixer speed.  In 3 increments, incorporate the flour mixture, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula constantly.  Increase mixer speed to medium-high again and beat three more full minutes.  Set batter aside.

IMG_6024 IMG_6028 IMG_6027 IMG_6034~Step 4.  Wash and  thoroughly dry beaters.  On  high speed, whip the egg whites until soft curly peaks form, about 3 minutes.  Using the spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

IMG_6039 IMG_6040~ Step 5.  Transfer batter by large scoopfuls to prepared pan.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven 50-55 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool, in pan, 10-15 minutes.  Invert cake onto rack to cool completely, about 2-3 hours.

Pound cake going into 325° oven to bake for 50-55 minutes:

IMG_6040Pound cake out of oven, cooling in pan for 15 minutes:

IMG_6051Poundcake inverted on rack to cool completely, 2-3 hours:

IMG_6054That very first irresistible slightly-warm slice:

IMG_6064My Buttery Sour Cream & Buttermilk Pound Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16-20 servings, depending on how thick or thin you slice it.

Special Equipment List:  plastic wrap; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 12-cup bundt pan; wire cooling rack; cake tester

IMG_0270Cook's Note:  When it comes to dessert, I don't like things overly sweet or over embellished.  For example, when I want a chocolate cookie, I keep it simple. My recipe for, ~ I'm in the Mood for:  Plain-Jane Chocolate Cookies ~ can be found in Category 7.

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

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

02/22/2017

~ Pretty in Pink: Thousand Islands Salad Dressing ~

IMG_5978No 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.  They fascinate me.  I'd like to think that, like myself, if one knows the story, it's more fun to prepare and eat the dish.  Let me explain it this way:  Part of the fun of eating a Caesar Salad or a Toll House cookie is pondering what part of their story is documented fact, romantic fiction or a combination of both.  

IMG_5960Growing up in the latter 1950's, '60's and into the 1970's, Thousand Islands dressing was a common condiment option for all sorts of salads and sandwiches -- besides Italian, it was the only dressing my dad would eat, so we always had a bottle on the door of our refrigerator.  As a kid and a young adult,  I found a thousand ways to love it.  I ordered it on wedge salads, chef salads, and, to this day I adore it in place of mayo on a turkey club.  It's a fantastic dressing for potato salad or cole slaw, and, like Ranch, is a great dip for veggies.  When fast food chains started offering a "special" or "secret" sauce, it was nothing more than a version of this iconic dressing.  I never gave its history much thought, until, a few years ago.  After returning from a trip along the upper St. Lawrence River between the United States and Canada, my parents handed me a copy of the following famous "Thousand Islands Dressing Legend" -- a handout at lunch during their boat ride.

Bolt Castle on Heart Island located in the Thousand Islands.

HelicopterIt was supposed to be a six story, 120 room dream of a castle  -- a symbol of George Boldt's love for his wife Louise.

Boldt-Castle-castles-543276_500_333Boldt Castle is the palatial Rhenish structure perched atop a high hill on Heart Island, in the 1000 Islands. George Boldt came to the United States as a poor immigrant boy at age 13 from Germany.  Through perseverance and hard work, he achieved fame and fortune as one time owner of the well-known New York Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and, the equally renowned Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia.

Boldt Castle OverviewAs a tribute to his wife, he decided to build a castle reminiscent of those he had admired as a youth in the Rhineland.  First, he had the then named Hart Island reshaped as a heart, and then, renamed it Heart Island.  Construction on his castle began, and materials started arriving from all over the world. With the outside shell of the building completed, and over $2,000,000 into the project, word came that his beloved wife had sadly and suddenly passed away.  

Grief stricken, Boldt halted work and never returned.  It stands today, just as it was left, with some restoration and interpretive work undertaken in recent years to preserve this unique and historic structure.  Tourists now wander in awe and and only imagine "what might have been".

Bits and tidbits about Thousand Islands salad dressing:

It's said to have been the creation of a fishing guide's wife, Sophia LaLonde.  After trying it, actress May Irwin requested and gave the recipe to her friend, another Thousand Islands part-time Summer resident, George Boldt.  While cruising on his yacht, Boldt requested the easy-to-make dressing be prepared by his steward and served on his luncheon salad.  After trying it, Boldt was so impressed, he decided to serve it in his hotel restaurants.  He named it "Thousand Islands Dressing" in honor of the beautiful area where it was first served to him.  Boldt's steward later became the internationally famous chef "Oscar (Tschirky) of the Waldorf".

All Thousand Islands dressings have bits of ingredients floating around in them.  Many think that's how it got its name -- the tiny bits represent the islands.

IMG_5970The two main ingredients in Thousand Islands salad dressing are mayonnaise and some type of tomato product (chili sauce, ketchup or tomato purée) and sometimes a splash of cayenne pepper or Worcestershire sauce. Past that, recipes vary quite a bit from region to region.  Minced onion and/or pressed garlic are common additions.  Some versions add minced green pepper or olives and/or pimento.  Others add minced hard-cooked egg and/or sweet pickles.  That said, all recipes contain tiny bits of minced something floating in the dressing.

My Favorite Thousand Islands Dressing Concoction:

IMG_59441  cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chili sauce, or a bit more, to taste

1/4 cup sweet pickle relish, or a bit more, to taste

1  hard-cooked egg, white and yolk separated and minced separately (optional)

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, or a bit more, to taste

IMG_5953 IMG_5958~ Step 1.  Place all of the ingredients in a 2-cup food storage container.  Stir to thoroughly combine the dressing.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.  Overnight is great because it gives the flavors time to marry.

Store in the refrigerator up to one week or indefinitely if egg is omitted: 

IMG_5964Pretty in Pink:  Thousand Islands Salad Dressing:  Recipe yields 1 3/4 cups Thousand Islands salad dressing.

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

6a0120a8551282970b019102066fb1970cCook's Note:  I love hard-cooked egg in my Thousand Islands salad dressing as much as I love them in a chef's salad, tuna salad or an egg-salad sandwich (as long as they are perfectly cooked with tender whites and bright yellow yolks).  I am so picky about how my eggs are hard-cooked, it was one of the first posts I published here on Kitchen Encounters back in September of 2010.  ~ A Little Thing Called: Boiling Eggs (Hard-Cooked) ~, can be found by clicking into Category 15.  Think Spring!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017.  Photos of the Thousand Islands, Boldt Castle and Heart Island courtesy of the Thousand Islands website.)

02/20/2017

~ All-American Presidents' Day Gingerbread Cake ~

IMG_5900Say "snack cake" and folks my age think "Twinkie" or "TandyCake".  Interestingly, snack cakes have been in America since Colonial times.  Recipes for gingerbread, both the hard cookie and the soft cake or loaf, came to the us with the English and German settlers.  Gingeroot was delivered by boat to the pilgims -- they used it fresh, dried it, and, made syrup from it. Ginger beer, made by pouring boiling water over brown sugar and pounded ginger combined with yeast proofed in warm milk was bottled and served as a refreshing beverage on hot days.

The first recipe for gingerbread is said to have come from Greece in 2400 BC (see Plebeian Ginger Bread recipe below).  Thanks to Crusaders returning from the Middle East with ginger and spices, by the middle ages, European countries each had their own version, although it was baked and served only by government recognized guilds at and for state-sanctioned events. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of handing out decorated cookies made to resemble the images of visiting dignitaries.  Gingerbread baking in home kitchens was allowed sometime in the 15th century, then made its way to the New World sometime in the latter 1600's.

IMG_5883Gingerbread generally refers to one of two desserts. It can be a dense, hard ginger-spiced cookie cut into fanciful shapes, or, particularly in the United States, it can describe a dense, moist cake flavored with molasses, ginger and other spices. In the US, the terms "gingerbread cake" or "ginger cake" are used to distinguish it from the harder forms.  American bakers usually sweeten gingerbread with molasses, while British bakers use brown sugar and German bakers use honey.  Aside from ginger (in fresh, preserved and/or powdered form), cinnamon is almost always included, with allspice, cloves and nutmeg being the next most common spices. 

IMG_5936Americans have been baking gingerbread for over 200 years.

IMG_5890  Washington, Jefferson & Lincoln all had a favorite family recipe.

IMG_58496a0120a8551282970b01a73dca8dba970dMary Ball Washington, George's mom, served her gingerbread to the Marquis de Lafayette when he visted her Virginia home -- soon afterward it was formally named Gingerbread Layfayette.

On pages 159 and 160 of The Virginia House-Wife (the first cookbook published in America and written by Mary Randolph, a relative of founding foodie Thomas Jefferson) three recipes for three types of Ginger Bread appear.

Abraham Lincoln said, "Once in a while my mother used to get some sorghum and ginger and made some gingerbread cake.  It wasn't often and it was our biggest treat." It's said that ginger cookies were used to sway Virginia voters to choose a favorite candidate too.

 "Once in a while my mother used to get some sorghum and ginger and made some gingerbread cake.  It wasn't often and it was our biggest treat." ~ Abraham Lincoln

99ebc650-4605-4eac-882a-435fa563d1dc_2.c58d70c3a9bff86e2c2235475fe9c196I'm not going to lie.  I do not have Abraham Lincoln's mother's recipe for gingerbread cake -- heck I don't even have my own grandmother's. There's more.  When my mom made gingerbread cake for a snack or dessert, she used a Betty Crocker mix.  Once again, I'm not going to lie. She served it warm with Cool Whip on top and our family of four would eat almost the entire 8" x 8" x 2" cake in one sitting.  During the latter 1970's and all through the '80's, my pantry was never without two boxed gingerbread mixes in it.  My kids loved it, and, no alternative facts here:  If someone called me to say they were stopping by, it got served to them too.  Haha -- If I could still buy it, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

IMG_6400 IMG_5854It should come as no surprise, the first place I looked to find a recipe was in a 1970's edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook.  Their recipe, found on page 180, was the one I tried first.  It was very good (and very easy too).  As Betty Crocker says in the book, "Measure everything into a bowl and beat.  It couldn't be easier except with a mix."  That said, as you shall see below, over time I did quite a bit of tweeking to the recipe, mostly in the form of additional spices.

"Fairly often, my mom would buy a Betty Crocker gingerbread mix and bake a gingerbread cake.  Served warm, topped with whipped cream, we adored it."  ~ Melanie Preschutti

IMG_58582 1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

6  tablespoons granulated sugar

2  teaspoons baking soda

2  teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon ground allspice

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon salt

1  cup dark or light molasses, or a combination of both, your choice

1/2  cup butter-flavored shortening, at room temperature, cut into pieces

1  large egg, at room temperature

1/4  cup hot water

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

IMG_5863 IMG_5866~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Starting on low speed of mixer and working your way up to medium- medium-high speed, beat a full three minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula frequently.

IMG_5871 IMG_5876~ Step 2.  Transfer mixture into a 8" x 8" x 2 " baking pan sprayed with no-stick.  Bake in 325° oven, 40-45 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and invert onto a wire rack to cool.

Note:  As often as I have baked and do bake this gingerbread cake, it always slumps a bit in the center as it cools.  I do not take it personally as its dense, moist texture and rich taste is divine.

Slice & serve, warm or at room temp, topped w/whipped cream. 

IMG_5911All-American Presidents' Day Gingerbread Cake:  Recipe yields 9-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack

IMG_6769Cook's Note:  I love ginger in all of its forms, so, it goes without saying I adore ginger cookies too.  To get my recipe, which I posted back in 2013,  for ~ My Favorite Spice-y Cookie:  The Ginger Snap ~, just click into Categories 7 or 26.

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

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

02/17/2017

~ In the Beginning: Basic Vinaigrette Demystified ~

IMG_5827I have no idea who prepared the first salad -- no one does.  Whoever it was, I'm guessing it was an accident, and more likely than not, as a result of hunger.  Gathered from fields, around streams and in wooded areas, a mixture of wild greens, an herb or two, wild mushrooms, flowers and a some berries and/or seeds would surely satisfy the appetite.  As time passed, a pinch of salt got added.  A little later, a squirt of citrus, then a splash of vinegar.  Last to the party: oil.  Yes indeed, he or she was definitely onto something.  That something, the well dressed salad, has become very sophisticated, but, basic vinaigrette has remained unchanged since ancient times.

Here's what one expert source has to say about vinaigrette:

As per the Oxford Companion to Food:  Vinaigrette (vihn-uh-greht), also known to Europe as French dressing, is probably the most common dressing for salad (barring commercial preparations) to the Western world.  It is essentially a 'mixture' (oil and vinegar are, strictly speaking, immiscible) of olive or other oil with vinegar (or lemon juice or a combination both), plus salt and pepper and optionally herbs, shallot and/or mustard.  The generically accepted proportion of oil to vinegar is 3 to 1, although some prefer 4 to 1.  If lemon juice replaces vinegar, the proportion is closer to 1 to 1.  Some authorities recommend that one should begin by dissolving the desired amount of salt in the vinegar, since it will not dissolve in the oil.

The main use of vinaigrette is for green salads, but it is also appropriate for other salads (e.g. tomato or potato salad).  It's also used as a dressing for avocado or artichoke hearts, and, meat preparations such as fromage de tête (pig's head terrine).  When a vinaigrette is destined for a green salad, it must be mixed immediately before serving, and, the salad should be tossed without delay.  This is because of the problem posed by the immiscibility of oil and vinegar, and because the green leaves will wilt after a while under the influence of the dressing.

IMG_5805Immiscibility is a big word for:  oil and vinegar don't mix.

IMG_5812Emulsion.  That's another big word for what happens when you force two items that don't play well together to form a homogeneous mixture.  In the case of vinaigrette, that would be oil and vinegar (or lemon juice).  Put them together in a bowl or in a blender and vigorously whisk or process them and they will indeed come together, but, within moments, they will go their separate ways -- each back to their own corner of the playground.

IMG_5823Surfactant.  Yet another big word for a third party that the two miscreants both are attracted to. Culinarily, common surfactants are egg yolks, mayonnaise, mustard and honey.  An egg yolk or a tablespoon or two of mayonnaise, mustard and/or honey whisked or processed into the oil and vinegar will stabilize the vinaigrette.  The love won't last forever, eventually they'll separate again, but it will last long enough to make your salad eating experience more enjoyable.

To make 1/2 or 1 cup of my favorite basic vinaigrette:  

IMG_58072 or 4 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar, or vinegar of choice*

1 1/2 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard or mayonnaise

1/2 or 1  teaspoon honey

1/8 or 1/4  teaspoon sea salt, more or less, to taste

1/8 or 1/4  teaspoon black pepper, more or less, to taste

6  or 12 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil or vegetable oil, or oil of choice*

*Note:  There are all sorts of oils and vinegars and flavor-infused oils and vinegars in our food world.  They can be combined to make all sorts of vinaigrettes.  Be creative, but, mix with caution as they vary in strength of flavor.  It's important when mixing them together to taste often to reach a pleasing balance.  For example:  When using a strong-flavored oil, like sesame oil or walnut oil, it's usually necessary to "tone it down" a bit by diluting it with a generically flavored oil, like peanut or some type vegetable oil.  When using a strong-flavored vinegar, like balsamic, depending on the brand and quality, it's wise to start with less and add more, to taste.

~ Step 1.  There are three ways to mix a vinaigrette.  In order of shortest- to longest-lasting emulsion:  1) In a bowl, in a thin stream, vigorously whisk the oil into all the other ingredients. 2) Place all ingredients in a jar, tightly cover and vigorously shake.  3)  In a blender with the motor running, in a thin stream, feed the oil into the other ingredients.  Note:  Number 2 is my favorite.

~ Step 2.  Shake, taste, and, adjust to your liking.  Use immediately or refrigerate until ready to use, and, always:  shake vigorously just before tossing judisciously, a little at a time, into salad -- just enough to lightly coat the greens.  Store leftover vinaigrette in the refrigerator.   

Vinaigrette is not salad dressing, it's a type of salad dressing: 

IMG_5840In the Beginning:  Basic Vinaigrette Demystified:  Recipe yields 1/2 or 1 cup basic vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List:  whisk or 1- 2- cup measuring container or jar w/tight-fitting lid or blender

IMG_5846Cook's Note:  When I am adding minced fresh herbs, shallot, or pressed garlic to basic vinaigrette,  I add them last -- 1-2 hours before serving.  I let the vinaigrette stand for those 1-2 hours at room temperature, to give the flavors time to marry.  There's more, once fresh ingredients have been added to a basic vinaigrette, leftovers should be discarded after 3-4 days, even if stored in the refrigerator, because of the possibility of the growth of harmful bacteria. 

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

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