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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

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; 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  teaspoons 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)

02/14/2017

~ How to Make Whole Buttermilk & Crème Fraîche ~

IMG_5774Once upon a time here in Happy Valley, circa the 1970's and into the 80's, crème fraîche wasn't an item one could find in the dairy case of any market.  Why?  Most folks had no idea what it was except for schooled chefs and those of us who scoured French cookbooks and/or read magazines like Bon Appétit, Food & Wine and Gourmet.  Yes indeed -- foodie life was very different pre- Food Network and the information superhighway we refer to as the internet.  

A bit about crème "fraîche" (pronounced "fresh" and meaning "fresh cream"):  In technical terms, it's a French-invented soured cream containing 30%-40% butterfat and a pH of about 4.5.  While its name is French, soured creams are common in most of Eastern and Northern Europe.  Similar to sour cream, which contains about 15%-20% butterfat, it's soured with bacterial culture found in buttermilk.  In cooking it's preferred over sour cream because its higher fat content prevents "breaking" or becoming unstable when stirred into sauces or soups.  Because crème fraîche is less tangy than sour cream, it can be sweetened with powdered sugar and flavored with vanilla and ladled over desserts or fresh fruit -- it can be whipped to soft peaks as well.  

IMG_5764Crème fraîche is seriously, astonishingly easy to make.  

Simply stir a bit of buttermilk into some heavy cream and let it sit at room temperature until it thickens, which takes 12-24 hours.  The standard ratio is 1:16, or 1 tablespoon buttermilk: 1 cup heavy cream.  Within reason, the ratio can be adjusted too.  For example:  If you want to hasten the thickening process or desire a more drizzly consistency (similar to Mexican-style crema), just add an extra tablespoon of buttermilk.  Every time the discussion of crème fraîche arises, someone always asks, "won't the cream spoil if left at room temperature?"  Worry not.  The good bacteria in the buttermilk multiplies and overtakes the bad bacteria which prevents that from happening.  And that is why I prefer old-fashioned buttermilk over lowfat to make crème fraîche -- which can be problematic since almost all of the buttermilk sold in the USA today is lowfat. 

How to Make Old-Fashioned Buttermilk from 1%- 2%- fat Buttermilk

IMG_5751Here in Happy Valley, home of The Pennsylvania State University, we have a place called the Berkey Creamery.  They make and sell all dairy products -- and are known for their ice cream.  No one visits campus without a stop there, they ship it to alumni all over the globe, and, people come from all over the world to learn how to make ice cream from them.  Over twenty-years ago, one afternoon I placed a call to them and asked to speak to the manager.  I explained my "lowfat" buttermilk problem.  An hour later, he called me with this formula, which their lab scaled down from giant, commercial-sized thousand-gallon vats to quarts and cups for my home kitchen.

To 1-quart, 2% buttermilk: stir in 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) heavy cream

To 1-quart, 1% buttermilk: stir in 16 tablespoons (1 cup) heavy cream

In a 2-quart saucepan, stir together the buttermilk and cream.  Partially cover and set aside at room temperature for 24-36 hours.  Do not stir.  Using a large spoon or ladle, carefully skim as much of the thickened buttermilk from the top as possible.  Discard the looser bottom liquid.  

Yield: 3 - 3 1/2 cups old-fashioned buttermilk.  Need less?  Do the math -- cut the recipe in half.

How to Make Crème Fraîche with Old-Fashioned Buttermilk

IMG_57673  cups heavy or whipping cream

3-6  tablespoons whole buttermilk (Note:  As discussed above, 6 tablespoons buttermilk thickens cream faster, but, yields a slightly creamier, drizzlier consistency.)

In a 2-quart saucepan, stir the cream and buttermilk.  Over low heat, stirring constantly, gently heat to 85°F.  Remove from heat, partially cover and set aside at room temperature 12-24 hours. Gently stir, cover and refrigerate for up to 10 days.  At any time during these ten days, leftover crème fraîche can be used in place of old-fashioned buttermilk to start a "fresh" supply.  Sigh.

Simply, scrumpious & slightly-sweet:  Happy Valentine's Day!

IMG_5796How to Make Whole Buttermilk & Crème Fraîche:  Recipe Yields 3-3 1/2 cups old-fashioned buttermilk and 3 cups crème fraîche.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan w/lid; instant-read thermometer

IMG_5742Cook's Note:  Another product that many folks don't know about and fits into this discussion, which is perfect for cooks who use so little buttermilk that all they need is an occasional cup to bake or cook with is: ~ Buttermilk Powder:  What it is and and How to use it. ~.  To get the details, just click on the Related Article link below and read.

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

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

02/12/2017

~ Powdered Buttermilk: What it is & How to use it. ~

IMG_5742Once upon a time, buttermilk was something I kept on hand.  As a cook and baker for our family of five, I used it regularly to make quite a few things:  pancakes, waffles, biscuits, scones, coffee cake, pound cake, fried chicken and salad dressing.  To breads and cakes it adds tangy flavor and volume and produces a fine, soft crumb.  Its acidity when used as a marinade is a natural tenderizer for poultry and meat.  There's more.  It does all this without adding a lot of extra fat.

IMG_5747Times change.  Our children grew up and left the nest.  That left me with buttermilk that went bad before I could use it, so, I stopped buying it. That also left me without buttermilk when I needed it. Then, for some reason I've never been able to figure out, real-deal buttermilk disappeared from the dairy cases of my local grocery stores -- true buttermilk is the liquid that remains when butter is churned from cream. It was replaced by, 1%- and 2%- fat, meaning:  it's made from skim milk with lab cultures added to replicate the acidity of old-fashioned, buttermilk.  While it might be healthier to drink, it poses cooking problems in recipes that require buttermilk to thicken them. For example:  the consistency of crème fraîche isn't ideal made with 1%- or 2%- fat buttermilk.

How to Make Old-Fashioned Buttermilk from 1%- 2%- fat Buttermilk

IMG_5751Here in Happy Valley, home of The Pennsylvania State University, we have a place called the Berkey Creamery.  They make and sell all dairy products -- and are known for their ice cream.  No one visits campus without a stop there, they ship it to alumni all over the globe, and, people come from all over the world to learn how to make ice cream from them.  Over twenty-years ago, one afternoon I placed a call to them and asked to speak to the manager.  I explained my buttermilk problem.  An hour later, he called me with this formula, which he had their lab scale down from giant, commercial-sized thousand-gallon vats to quarts and cups for my home kitchen.

To 1-quart, 2% buttermilk: stir in 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) heavy cream

To 1-quart, 1% buttermilk: stir in 16 tablespoons (1 cup) heavy cream

In a 2-quart saucepan, stir together the buttermilk and cream.  Partially cover and set aside at room temperature for 24-36 hours.  Do not stir.  Using a large spoon or ladle, carefully skim as much of the thickened buttermilk from the top as possible.  Discard the looser bottom liquid.  

Yield: 3 - 3 1/2 cups old-fashioned buttermilk.

Buttermilk powder, is made by drying buttermilk to a powder.

IMG_5759This nice man from the Berkey Creamery also told me about a product called dried buttermilk powder -- which he explained is ideal when you don't have use for 3 - 3 1/2 cups of real deal buttermilk. Buttermilk powder is made with old-fashioned buttermilk that has been pasteurized, then concentrated with an evaporator, and, spray or roll dried at a low temperature.  It can be used as a dried ingredient -- you’ll come across it included with flour mixtures in recipes for pancakes or bread, or with the coating mixtures in recipes for fried chicken or pork chops.  That said, it can also be reconstituted with water (although I often use whole milk), but, it is not meant for drinking.  It has a long pantry shelf life or longer freezer shelf life, which is perfect for me.  The brand that I use is organic and from Barry Farm Foods (http://barryfarm.com), in Ohio. The directions instruct to stir 1/3 cup powder w/1 cup water; 2/3 cup powder w/2 cups water; 1 cup powder w/3 cups water.  

Read and follow the directions on the label -- they can and do vary.  In the case of Barry Farms buttermilk powder, 1/3 cup dry buttermilk powder is equivalent to 1 cup buttermilk.  

IMG_5753Powdered Buttermilk:  What is is & How to use it.:  Recipe yields instructions for making old-fashioned buttermilk from skim buttermilk, and, instructions for reconstituting buttermilk powder.

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

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

02/10/2017

~ My Guys Italian-American Sicilian-Style Pizza Pie~

IMG_5715Americans eat over three billion pizzas a year and that doesn't include store-bought frozen pies or those made at home.  That is quite a statistic, and, a testament to the love affair we Americans have with pizza.  From sea-to-shining-sea, every region of our country has developed their own "style of pie", and, pizza shops and home cooks all proudly prepare their own version of it. I make several types of pizza.  That said, my guys (my husband and three sons) hands-down favorite is my Sicilian-style pizza, made and baked in the manner my husband grew up eating it --  in the small town, mom-and-pop pizza shops located in the areas surrounding Scranton, PA.

Sicilian pizza vs. Italian-American Sicilian-style pizza.

IMG_5720Many folks think Sicilian pizza is any pizza that is rectangular in shape, and, that's not true.  In Sicily, it's shockingly round, and, there are other noteworthy differences too:  

Let's start with the crust.  The best way I can describe the crust of a Sicilian pizza is:  It is thicker and the texture is breadier, similar to that of focaccia.  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.   

PICT0492Moving on to the sauce.  Tomatoes didn't arrive in Sicily until the 16th Century, so originally, Sicilian pie was basically a focaccia topped with a sprinkling of "leftovers".  That said, Sicily produces some of the world's best tomatoes, and, nowadays, sauce for sfincione (similar to marinara), contains  tomatoes along with: garlic, onion, anchovy and herbs.  But -- not a generous slathering, just a thin coating.  You can find my recipe for the sauce by clicking on the Related Article link below.

Let's talk toppings.  Sicilian pizza is not layered with copious amounts of grated cheese or heavy toppings.  Since sheep and goats produced almost all of the milk in Sicily, bolder-flavored, soft and hard, sheep and goats milk cheeses were chosen, while mild-flavored cows milk cheeses were rarely used.  As for cooked or cured meats, fresh or marinated vegetables, herbs, etc., they are traditionally thinly-sliced, diced or minced and lightly and lovingly sprinkled over the top.      

When you think "Sicilian", think "thick crust" & "moderation" -- thin layers of sauce & cheese w/light sprinklings of toppings.

IMG_5699I'm not going to lie, I always make four of my Sicilian-style pies -- even when it's just Joe and I. Why? Because after they are baked and cooled, left uncut, I freeze them. They thaw and reheat beautifully -- placed directly on a hot pizza stone that has been heated in a 350° oven  (as pictured here).  There's more.  I mix the dough for all four, all-at-once, in my 22-cup large-capacity Cuisinart DLC-X Plus food processor in less than 5 minutes.  If you don't have one, do the math and cut the recipe in half, or, mix the dough the traditional way -- with your hands.

PICT05369  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (2 3/4 pounds of unbleached flour)

6  packets granulated dry yeast, NOT rapid-rise

1 1/2  teaspoons garlic powder

1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning blend or Mediterranean oregano

1 1/2  teaspoons cracked black pepper (optional)

2  teaspoons sugar

2  teaspoons salt

3-3 1/2  cups hot tap water

6-8  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, for preparing pans, plus additional oil for brushing on tops of crusts

4-8  tablespoons additional extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing crusts

olive-oil no-stick cooking spray

PICT0539 PICT0537Step 1.  In the work bowl of a large-capacity food processor fitted with the steel blade, place all of the flour, the yeast, garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend, optional cracked black pepper, sugar and salt.

Step 2.  Place the top/lid on the food processor and, using a series of 10-15 rapid on-off pulses combine the dry ingredients thoroughly, about 10-15 seconds.

PICT0547Step 3. Measure and have ready 3 1/2 cups of very hot tap water.

PICT0551With processor motor running, add the water, in a thin stream, through feed tube. Continue to add water until a ball of dough forms.  This will take 3-3 1/2 cups of hot water.  Stop adding water the moment the ball of dough forms. Continue to knead dough in processor, with the motor running, for 30-45 more seconds. This means, the dough will spin around in the processor for 30-45 revolutions/30-45 seconds.

PICT0556~ Step 4. Spray the inside of a 2-gallon food storage bag w/no-stick.

PICT0557 PICT0564~ Step 5.  Transfer dough to bag, seal or zip it closed and rise until doubled in bulk, about 40-45 minutes.  Remove from bag. Using a kitchen scale, divide into 4 equal parts. Yield = about 4 pounds, 4 ounces total pizza dough.  

PICT0566Step 6.  Using a pastry brush or a paper towel, oil each of 4, 13" x 9" baking pans with 1 1/2-2 tablespoons olive oil.  Place one part of dough on each pan and allow to rest 10-15 minutes.

Note:  Allowing the dough to relax a bit is going to make it easy to pat and press into the pans, so, don't skip or shorten this rest period.

PICT0573 PICT0571~ Step 7. Using your fingertips, gently pat and press each piece of dough into and up the sides of the pan to form a flat bottom and a side crust.  

Using a pastry brush, drizzle and paint a light coating of additional olive oil over their surfaces.

PICT0579For the sauce and toppings:  This is why I call my pizza Italian-American Sicilian-style pizza.  My homemade pizza sauce is full of crushed garden tomatoes, onions, garlic and fresh basil.  I skip the anchovies. My family's favorite combination of cheeses are mozzarella, provolone and Locatelli, with a layer of sliced cheese on the bottom and some sauce sandwiched in between grated cheese on the top.  Don't PICT0581knock it 'till you've tried it.    

2  pounds thinly-sliced mozzarella or provolone cheese

4 - 6 cups pizza sauce (1 - 1 1/2 cups sauce per pizza)

2  pounds grated mozzarella or provolone cheese (Note:  I use a combination of both.)

4-6  tablespoons finely-grated Locatelli cheese (an Italian sheep's milk cheese similar in PICT0590texture to Parmigiano-Reggiano), for sprinkling over tops of pizzas

Italian seasoning blend or Mediterranean oregano, for sprinkling over tops of pizzas

~ Step 8.  Layer the pizzas as pictured in the photos and set aside, to allow the crust to rise up the sides of the pans, about 1 hour (and up to three hours if you want to make them slightly in advance). Bake one-at-a-time, as follows:

Place each pan on center rack of preheated 360° - 375º oven, 18-21 minutes, remove from oven, slide onto a wire cooling rack & allow to cool 6-8 minutes:

PICT0606Place on a cutting board, &, enjoy a slice or three ASAP:

IMG_5706Sicilian pizza in my kitchen gives Neapolitan a run for its money:

IMG_0466My Guys Italian-American Sicilian-Style Pizza Pie:  Recipe yields 4, 13" x 9", rectangular-shaped Sicilian-style pizzas/8 servings each pie.

Special Equipment List:  large-capacity food processor; 4-cup measuring container; 2-gallon food storage bag; kitchen scale (optional); paper towels; 4, 13" x 9" baking pans; pastry brush; wire cooling racks

IMG_0451Cook's Note:  When it comes to pizza in America, everyone has a favorite, and, even the pros gave up criticizing other peoples preferences.  The last I heard, creativity is still alive and well in every kitchen in this great country, and I for one enjoy exercising my right to it.  You can find my recipe for individual-sized ~ Pizz' alads: Salad Pizza (Pizza w/a Salad on Top) ~ in Category 2.  

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

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

02/07/2017

~ Chilled Asian Chicken, Broccoli & Lo Mein Salad ~

IMG_5692What do Italian-American spaghetti and Chinese lo mein have in common?  When you have a craving for a bowl full of noodles, you want them ASAP.  Now.  Immediately.  In Chinese, "lo mein" literally means "tossed noodles" and it implies a method of cooking in which cooked wheat noodles get tossed into almost any type of stir-fry at the end of the cooking process.  As a result, the noodles absorb some sauce and stay soft while the other previously-cooked ingredients (meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables) get distributed evenly throughout.

This recipe is based on the same lo mein principle, except, it's served cold.

IMG_5693Lo Mein.  Like spaghetti, I want it when I want it.  ASAP!

No pretense here.  They day I came across store-bought "broccoli cole slaw mix" (cole slaw mix made with crunchy green broccoli stems instead of green cabbage), my mind immediately raced to the flavors of soy sauce and sesame oil.  Why?  Broccoli is classic Asian.  There's more.  I didn't have to experiment with the perfect dressing for it -- I'd already come up with one.  After a quick mix of the pre-shredded store-bought raw slaw vegetables and my honey-sesame dressing, Asian slaw perfection was revealed.  The brand I use is organic, and, contains just three crunchy ingredients:  broccoli, carrots and red cabbage. It truly is a high-quality time-saving mixture that any busy cook can and should appreciate.  The addition of cooked and diced chicken was a no-brainer, and, it revealed Asian chicken and broccoli slaw perfection. The addition of cooked lo mein noodles (spaghetti can be substituted) was quick to follow, which turned my Asian side-dish slaw into a main-dish noodle salad full of crunchy vegetables.

Honey-Sesame Dressing + Broccoli Slaw + Cooked Chicken & Noodles.

IMG_09781/4  cup each: vegetable oil and white rice vinegar

1  tablespoon each: sesame oil and Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons honey

1, 12-ounce bag store-bought broccoli cole slaw

IMG_0977Step 1.  In a measuring container w/a tight fitting lid, combine all the liquid ingredients.  Shake vigorously.

IMG_0986IMG_0982

Step 2. Place the broccoli cole slaw in a medium bowl and add all of the dressing.  Give it a thorough stir.

Note:  This recipe yields 3/4 cup of salad dressing and 4 cups of my basic Asian broccoli slaw. 

Step 3.  To turn it into my chicken-broccoli slaw, toss in:

2 generous cups bite-sized diced or pulled, IMG_5598roasted chicken

1 cup thinly-sliced green onion

IMG_5602Place the chicken-broccoli slaw in the refrigerator for 2-6 hours (or overnight will work too), stopping to toss it about every 30-35 minutes in the beginning so the slaw gets to absorb the dressing equally.  The new yield will be a generous 6 cups of my Asian chicken-broccoli slaw.

~ Step 4.  To turn it into Asian chicken, broccoli & lo mein noodle salad, (now it will be a main-dish salad rather than a side-dish slaw), you'll need 8  ounces lo mein noodles, or spaghetti*.  

IMG_3870IMG_3887IMG_3884IMG_3889About 30-60 minutes before you plan to serve the salad, cook the lo-mein as directed, drain them into a colander and rinse them under cold running water until the lo mein is as cold as the water.  For a moment or two, give the colander several vigorous shakes to remove excess water.

*Note:  While spaghetti may be substituted for lo-mein noodles without any compromise in taste or texture, be aware that lo-mein noodles cook to al dente in a short 3-4 minutes  and  spaghetti will take a bit longer, 10-11 minutes.  Be sure not to overcook either one.  

IMG_5660 IMG_5663 IMG_5666 IMG_5668~Step 5.  To "dry" and season the noodles, place them on a large, cotton flour-sack-type towel, gather up the sides, and toss them around to blot up even more water.  Transfer noodles to a large bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce, or a bit more, to taste.  Using two large forks or spoons, toss, like you would a salad, until noodles are coated in the flavorful, salty soy sauce.

IMG_5671 IMG_5673~ Step 6.  Add all of the Asian chicken-broccoli slaw and toss it into the noodles, until all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated.  Serve the noodle salad immediately or chill for 1-2 hours prior to briefly retossing and serving chilled.  

Yummy -- This is one delish cold noodle dish:

IMG_5697Chilled Asian Chicken, Broccoli & Lo Mein Salad:  Recipe Yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-2-cup measuring container w/tight fitting lid & pourer top; cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander; 100% cotton flour-sack-type towel; salad servers or two large fork or spoons  

IMG_8322Cook's Note:    Skip the store-bought rotisserie chicken.  Roast two chickens in two hours.  Yep that's what I said, and, they come out moist and juicy with crispy skin every time.  ~ This Womans's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree "Carving for Dummies" Methodology ~ can be found in Categories 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)

02/04/2017

~Cold & Creamy Crab Rangoon Dip w/Wonton Cups~

IMG_5647Crab meat.  I love it.  Fresh, frozen or pasteurized, it's an ingredient that has rocked my food world.  With it, I make an array of hot and cold appetizers and hors d'oeuvres.  I use it to make steamy crab bisque and add it to several seafood soups and stews too.  I adore an ice-cold crab salad or crab salad sandwich, and, I can't resist a well-made crab cake or crab cake sandwich. There's more.  I can't count the of number classic main-course meals I make with crab.

IMG_5444If you've eaten in a Chinese-American restaurant you know what crab Rangoon is -- it's a staple appetizer on the menu.  It consists of: crab meat, scallions and seasoned cream cheese all wrapped up in a wonton, deep-fried and served with a sweet dipping sauce.  What some folks don't realize is:  All crab meat is fully-cooked and ready to eat.  That means:  The filling used to make crab Rangoon is delicious served chilled as a dip or spread.  

I use my food processor to make my dip in 3-4 minutes.  

IMG_5364To make enough dip to fill 2 or 4 dozen appetizers:

8 or 16 ounces jumbo lump or lump crab meat, well-drained, the best available

4 or 8  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1/4 or 1/2  cup 1/4"-sliced scallions, white and light-green parts only (1 or 2 ounces)

1 1/2 teaspoons or 1  tablespoon garlic paste

1  tablespoon or 2 tablespoons ginger paste

1 1/2 teaspoons or 1  tablespoon Chinese-style soy sauce*

2 or 4 dozen, 3"-3 1/4"-square wonton wrappers

duck sauce or sweet and sour sauce, for garnishing each appetizer

*Note:  To steer this appetizer in the direction of Thailand, add 2 or 4 tablespoons minced cilantro to the cream cheese mix, substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon Thai seasoning soy sauce for Chinese soy sauce, and, garnish with Mae Ploy (sweet chili sauce).

IMG_5366 IMG_5372 IMG_5374 IMG_5376 IMG_5379~Step 1.  Place crab meat on a paper-towel lined plate, to allow paper to absorb excess moisture. Prep and place the scallions in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process to minced bits and pieces, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice during the processing.  Add the cream cheese, garlic paste, ginger paste and soy sauce.  With motor running, process until thoroughly combined and smooth, about 25-30 seconds.

IMG_5384IMG_5386Step 2.  Transfer the cream cheese mixture to a medium or large bowl.  Add the well-drained crab meat.  Using the rubber spatula, gently fold the crab meat into the cream cheese, doing your best to allow the meat to remain in large lumps.

Note:  Dip is ready to serve now or can be covered and refrigerated several hours or overnight.

I use my oven to bake my wonton cups in 5-6 short minutes.  

IMG_5541IMG_5534For those who don't know, these small squares of flattened dough are very versatile. They can be boiled, steamed, pan-fried, deep-fried and/or baked. When I bake with them, I usually place them in mini-muffin cups. When they emerge from the oven, they are brown and crispy -- pretty little cups, each one ready and waiting for a dollop of an interesting savory or sweet filling.

IMG_5571IMG_5574IMG_5586IMG_5592Making mini-wonton cups is straightforward:  Lay one wonton skin on top of each of 12 mini-muffin cups.  Using a wooden tart tamper or your fingertips, push each skin down to form a flat bottom.  Bake in a 350° oven, until pretty golden brown around the edges, 5-6 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately remove from pans.  Cool and fill with a savory or sweet filling.

Note:  Wonton cups can be made several hours or up to one day in advance -- Do not cover.

Fill each wonton cup with 2 teaspoons of crab Rangoon dip & garnish with a bit of sweet & sour sauce or duck sauce:

IMG_5658Cold & Creamy Crab Rangoon Dip w/Wonton Cups:  Recipe yields enough dip to fill 2 or 4 dozen  appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; large rubber spatula; miniature-sized muffin tins, enough for 2-4 dozen appetizers.

IntroPageTip3Cook's Note:  Colossal-, Jumbo- and Lump- crabmeat all come from the two largest muscles  connecting the swimming legs of the crab. Colossal and Jumbo are whole, unbroken pieces with the latter being smaller.  Lump consists of broken pieces of jumbo lump. Backfin crabmeat consists of flakes of white meat from Lump and Special (meat from the body cavity). Claw Meat is pink meat from the swimming fins and Claw Fingers are pink meat tips of the pinchers.

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

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

02/02/2017

~ How to Make: Baked Mini- Wonton Cups & Tacos ~

IMG_5625In my food world, I associate fun food with small, two-three bite appetizers and snacks -- I don't think I'm alone.  Ever notice how folks always gravitate around a table, cocktail table or picnic table containing an array of small-bites, noshes and nibbles?  We are indeed all in this food world together, but, it's small food that makes the world go round.  It makes people smile.  Real world fact:  It is more fun to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if it is cut into four triangles.

Like French puff pastry, the Chinese wonton can be used as a foil for many of the fine flavors the food world has to offer:

IMG_9071Wonton skins (also called wonton wrappers, and, also spelled wantan, wanton or wuntun) are an essential ingredient to a number of Chinese cuisines -- Cantonese, Mandarin, Sichuan and Shanghai (to name four off the top of my head).  They use them to make a host of dumplings and potstickers that get served as appetizers or in soups.  That said, just because they were invented by the Chinese, they are not exclusive to Chinese fare. I liken them to French puff pastry because both of them adapt beautifully to fillings bursting with flavors from all around the globe.

Purchasing & storing wonton skins/wrappers.

IMG_9044A bit about wonton skins/wrappers. Just like larger-sized egg roll skins, they're made from eggs, wheat flour and water and come in 3"-3 1/2" squares or rounds, usually 50 per package.  I keep them on-hand in my freezer because opened or unopened they have an expiration date -- and a sort of short shelflife. 

IMG_9054Because they dry out quickly, my method is to take out half of the package (one stack) and wrap it in a dampened (not soaked) towel, keeping the rest wrapped in plastic until I am ready to use them.

Wonton cups & tacos?  Why not?  They're a ton of tasty fun.

IMG_5592A bit about making mini- wonton cups & wonton taco shells:

IMG_5541IMG_5534For those who don't know, these small squares of flattened dough are very versatile. They can be boiled, steamed, pan-fried, deep-fried and/or baked. When I bake with them, I usually place them in mini-muffin cups. When they emerge from the oven, they are brown and crispy -- pretty little cups, each one ready and waiting for a dollop of an interesting savory or sweet filling.

IMG_5571IMG_5574IMG_5586IMG_5592Making mini-wonton cups is straightforward:  Lay one wonton skin on top of each of 12 mini-muffin cups.  Using a wooden tart tamper or your fingertips, push each skin down to form a flat bottom.  Bake in a 350° oven, until pretty golden brown around the edges, 5-6 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately remove from pans.  Cool and fill with a savory or sweet filling.

IMG_5577IMG_5563IMG_5566IMG_5569Making mini-wonton taco shells requires a contraption:  Place a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan into which a smaller, oven-safe baking pan has been placed in order to elevate one side of the baking dish about 2" -- this elevation enables them to bake "open" (a la taco-style) rather than hanging straight down, which causes them to "close" or "clam up".  

Place the "contraption" in a preheated 350° oven about 10 minutes.  Working 3 wontons at a time, drape them over the low side of the baking dish.   Bake until golden around the edges, 5-6 minutes.  Using your fingertips, remove them from the side of the pan (I just place them on my pot holder).  Repeat this process until you've made as many wonton taco shells as you want.   

IMG_5596

Serving up crab Rangoon dip cups & Asian chicken salad tacos:

IMG_5643How to Make: Baked Mini- Wonton Cups & Tacos:  Recipe yields instructions to form and bake mini- wonton cups and mini- wonton taco shells.

Special Equipment List:  miniature muffin tin; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish

IMG_9174Cook's Note:  French onion soup dumplings came into my life late at night via a rerun of The Food Network Show:  The Best Thing I ever Ate.  The show visited a Lower East Side NYC restaurant located at the intersection of Stanton and Ludlow streets called The Stanton Social. The show's host,  Claire Robinson extolled the virtues of their signature "one bite wonders": French onion soup dumplings.  My recipe for ~ Ooh-La-La:  Beefy French Onion Soup Dumplings ~ is in Categories 1, 2, 11, 21. 

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

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

01/31/2017

~ Open Sesame Asian Chicken Slaw Wonton Tacos~

IMG_5616What in the wild-world-of-culinary-sports made me ponder turning wonton skins into mini-taco shells?  Over the weekend I made two popular deep-fried Chinese-American appetizers to celebrate Chinese New Year:  crab Rangoon and firecracker shrimp.  Yesterday, I roasted a chicken, for the purpose of making some Asian chicken salad today -- to use up a few of the miscellaneous Asian ingredients that were leftover, which, included some wonton skins.

Wonton tacos?  Why not?  They're a ton of tasty fun.

IMG_5592A bit about making mini- wonton cups & wonton taco shells:

IMG_5541IMG_5534For those who don't know, these small squares of flattened dough are very versatile. They can be boiled, steamed, pan-fried, deep-fried and/or baked. When I bake with them, I usually place them in mini-muffin cups. When they emerge from the oven, they are brown and crispy -- pretty little cups, each one ready and waiting for a dollop of an interesting savory or sweet filling.

IMG_5571IMG_5574IMG_5586IMG_5592Making mini-wonton cups is straightforward:  Lay one wonton skin on top of each of 12 mini-muffin cups.  Using a wooden tart tamper or your fingertips, push each skin down to form a flat bottom.  Bake in a 350° oven, until pretty golden brown around the edges, 5-6 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately remove from pans.  Cool and fill with a savory or sweet filling.

IMG_5577IMG_5563IMG_5566IMG_5569Making mini-wonton taco shells requires a contraption:  Place a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan into which a smaller, oven-safe baking pan has been placed in order to elevate one side of the baking dish about 2" -- this elevation enables them to bake "open" (a la taco-style) rather than hanging straight down, which causes them to "close" or "clam up".  

Place the "contraption" in a preheated 350° oven about 10 minutes.  Working 3 wontons at a time, drape them over the low side of the baking dish.   Bake until golden around the edges, 5-6 minutes.  Using your fingertips, remove them from the side of the pan (I just place them on my pot holder).  Repeat this process until you've made as many wonton taco shells as you want.   

IMG_5596

Indulge me in this delish 5-minutes-to-fix Asian slaw recipe.

No pretense here.  They day I came across store-bought "broccoli cole slaw mix" (cole slaw mix made with crunchy green broccoli stems instead of green cabbage), my mind immediately raced to the flavors of soy sauce and sesame oil.  Why?  Broccoli is classic Asian.  There's more.  I didn't have to experiment with the perfect dressing for it -- I'd already come up with one for my Asian chicken salad recipe.  After a quick mix of the pre-shredded store-bought raw vegetables and my honey-sesame dressing, Asian slaw perfection was revealed.  The brand I use is organic, and, contains just three crunchy ingredients:  broccoli, carrots and red cabbage. It truly is a high-quality time-saving mixture that any busy cook can and should appreciate.

IMG_09781/4  cup each: vegetable oil and white rice vinegar

1  tablespoon each: sesame oil and Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons honey

1, 12-ounce bag store-bought broccoli cole slaw

IMG_0977Step 1.  In a measuring container w/a tight fitting lid, combine all the liquid ingredients.  Shake vigorously.

IMG_0986IMG_0982Step 2. Place the broccoli cole slaw in a medium bowl and add all of the dressing.  Give it a thorough stir.

Place the slaw in the refrigerator for 2-6 hours (or overnight will work too), stopping to stir it about every 30-45 minutes in the beginning so that all the slaw gets to absorb the dressing equally.  Note:  This recipe yields 3/4 cups of salad dressing and 4 cups of basic broccoli slaw.

IMG_5598 IMG_5602~ Step 3.  To turn it into chicken-broccoli slaw, I toss in 2 cups bite-sized diced or pulled, roasted chicken and 1 cup thinly-sliced green onion and refrigerate as directed above.  The new yield will be a generous 6 cups of chicken-broccoli slaw.

Scoop a generous 1/4-1/3 cup into each wonton taco shell:

IMG_5604What a great snowy-day Asian "soup 'n sandwich" combo:

IMG_5606Open-Sesame Asian Chicken Salad Wonton Tacos:  Recipe yields enough filling to make about 18-24 appetizers.

Special Equipment List: 13" x 9 x 2" baking dish; 17 1/2" x 12" baking pan; 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid & pourer top; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_8322Cook's Note:    Skip the store-bought rotisserie chicken.  Roast two chickens in two hours.  Yep that's what I said, and, they come out moist and juicy with crispy skin every time.  ~ This Womans's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree "Carving for Dummies" Methodology ~ can be found in Categories 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)

01/28/2017

~ Have a Blast: Hot and Crispy Firecracker Shrimp ~

IMG_5531Start with really big shrimp (no alternative facts here).  Simmer down.  What's the point of having a blog and being on social media if you're going to lie -- about anything?  Here on KE, where I test, write and photograph my own recipes, it's easy to speak truth.  Experience has taught:  the bigger the shrimp the better the firecracker shrimp, and, since their count, which determines their size, is clearly-labeled, you will have no where to run or hide if you don't use 21-25 count (jumbo), or ideally, 16-20 count (extra-jumbo) shrimp, to make this appetizer.  No matter what you say or how hard you try to skew it, the end result will be obvious.  You've been warned.

IMG_5526So exactly how does shrimp-sizing work?

IMG_8530In a shrimp shell -- it doesn't.  There is no industry standard. One vendor's medium, may be another's extra-large. This explains why so many are confused by these words: small, medium, large, extra-large and jumbo.  When buying shrimp, the most important words to know aren't words, they're numbers.  To learn more, click on the Related Article link below: ~ Purchase Shrimp  by "Count", not "Size" ~.

Count = the number of shrimp per pound.  The smaller the number the bigger the shrimp.  16/20 = 16-20 shrimp per pound.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08975709970d-800wiThaw the shrimp if they are frozen, peel and devein them, and, be sure to leave the tails on.  Why?  A shrimp with the tail left on is a very pretty presentation, particularly if there is a chance the diner can enjoy the shrimp whole.  It serves as a convenient "handle" -- especially if there is a dipping sauce.  There's more:  All shrimp connoisseurs know the last bite of shrimp (located inside the tail), is the most succulent bite.  That said: Whether in the home kitchen or in a restaurant, peeling shrimp is labor intensive. Leaving the tail on is an indication that the cook or chef cares about you and is serving you the best quality shrimp possible.

The only reason to ever remove the tail from a shrimp is when the shrimp, usually smaller ones, are inclusive in the dish, meaning:  the diner needs a fork, spoon and/or a knife to eat the dish.

IMG_0912Ever wonder why the jumbo, batter-dipped or wrapped, deep-fried shrimp served in restaurants or seen on television look so much better than the ones most folks make in the home kitchen -- fingerlike looking, instead of curled up in tight little balls?

IMG_0755Here are the two steps that are going to result in that picture-perfect presentation.  On each of:

1  pound extra-jumbo (16-20 count) shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails left on and patted dry

Step 1.  Using a sharp paring knife or a pair of kitchen shears, trim the end tips off the tails at angle.

IMG_0758Next, stand each shrimp upright and use your fingertips to gently fan out the tail.  

Doesn't that look prettier already?

This little (Japanese) trick, which takes almost no time, works great when boiling, steaming, sautéing or broiling shrimp too. 

IMG_0762Step 2.  Flip/turn each shrimp over on its back and score two or three shallow slits in the belly (as if you were going to slice each shrimp into thirds or fourths).  Do not cut too deep, just "nick it" with the knife along the inside curve.  This allows the shrimp to "relax" and straighten out instead of curling up.

IMG_0766Notice how flat this shrimp is laying?  This nifty step is going to prevent the shrimp from curling up when they are deep-fried.

Note:  Both of these steps can be done up to one day prior to deep-frying shrimp.  Cover prepped shrimp with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated until ready to proceed.

Moving along to my easy six-ingredient Asian marinade.

Made from Asian staples I keep on-hand in my pantry and refrigerator, this is my favorite combination.  Some folks add some Sriracha sauce, others add chili-garlic sauce -- especially if those ingredients are to be used in their dipping sauce recipe too.  I add sweet chili sauce, because that is what I use as dipping sauce, and, because it's sweet, it serves as my substitute for palm sugar, light brown sugar or sugar (some form of sugar is common in most recipes).

IMG_54531  tablespoon garlic paste

1  tablespoon ginger paste

1  tablespoon soy sauce

2  tablespoons sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy) or palm sugar, light brown sugar or sugar

1  tablespoon sesame oil

2  teaspoons cornstarch 

~ Step 1.  In a shallow bowl with sloped sides and  a flat bottom (like a rimmed-soup bowl) stir all of the ingredients together.  Take a taste and feel free to adjust the seasonings to suit yourself.

Note:  Minus the cornstarch, this mixture makes a tasty dipping sauce for many Asian appetizers.

IMG_5458~ Step 2.  Working one-at-a-time, holding each shrimp by the tail, swish it in the marinade, to coat the meat while doing your best not to get marinade on the tail.  As you work, place shrimp, tails up, into a second, shallow-bottomed bowl with sloped sides and a flat bottom. Marinate for 30-45 minutes.  

Ready, set, go -- it's time to wrap, roll & deep-fry.

IMG_5463~ Step 1.  While the shrimp are marinating:  Heat peanut or vegetable oil in a deep-fryer to 365°-375° according to manufacturer's specifications.  In a small bowl, using a fork, whisk 1 large egg with 1 tablespoon water -- this egg wash will be used to seal the wraps on the firecracker shrimp. Slice 8-10, 5 1/2"-square egg roll wrappers, corner-to-corner, into triangles.  One-at-a time, pick each shrimp up by the tail, remove it from the marinade and blot the meat in a paper towel, to remove as much excess liquid as possible.

IMG_5465 IMG_5474 IMG_5477 IMG_5479 IMG_5481~Step 2.  To wrap and deep-fry each shrimp:  Starting at a lower corner of the egg roll wrapper, position the shrimp so that the point where the "shrimp meat meets the crunchy tail" is on the edge.  Begin rolling, cigar-style, as tightly as you can, until the shrimp is positioned directly below the pointy top of the triangle.  Using a pastry brush, paint the remaining open surface with the egg wash.  Lift and pull the pointy top of the triangle down over the top of the shrimp, then, continue rolling until a compact cylinder has formed. Continue rolling until all the "firecrackers" are formed.

IMG_5497 IMG_5483~ Step 3.  Open the lid of the fryer. One-at-a-time, using your fingertips, gently place 4-5 firecracker shrimp into the hot oil -- it's important not to crowd the fryer basket.  Close the lid on the fryer and allow to cook for 3-3 1/2 minutes until a pretty golden brown.

IMG_5503The timing, 3-3 1/2 minutes, will depend on whether you used jumbo or extra jumbo shrimp. Using an Asian spider, remove shrimp from fryer transfer to a cooling rack that has been placed over a layer or two of paper towels to catch the drips.  Repeat this process until all shrimp are deep-fried.

 Be patient.  Wait 1-2 minutes prior to  serving hot & crispy:

IMG_5508With your favorite dipping sauce (mine is sweet chili sauce): 

IMG_5516Have a Blast:  Hot and Crispy Firecracker Shrimp:  Recipe yields 21-25 or 16-20 appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; paper towels; deep-fryer; Asian spider or large slotted spoon; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01774381887b970dCook's Note:  Occasionally I serve firecracker shrimp as a main-course.  My recipe for ~ Leftover Rice?  Use it to Make Chinese Fried Rice ~, omitting the chicken or pork and made with vegetables alone, is the perfect accompaniment.  You can find the recipe in Categories 3, 14 or 26.

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

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

01/25/2017

~ Crab Rangoon w/More Crab than Cream Cheese ~

IMG_5437Crab meat, scallions and seasoned cream cheese all wrapped up in a wonton, deep-fried and served with a sweet dipping sauce (like duck sauce or sweet and sour sauce).  It's a staple appetizer on most Chinese-American restaurant menus, and, an appetizer I almost never order. Why? Because 99% of the time, both the sweet flavor and delicate texture of the crab (or worse -- imitation crab) is 100% lost to the cream cheese -- akin to seasoned cream cheese spread.

IMG_5444With Rangoon (the capital city  of Burma) in its name, most people think this is an authentic Asian specialty.  It's not.  It's claimed to be the creation of a chef at Trader Vic's, a California-based restaurant chain started by Victor Jules ("Trader Vic") Bergeron in Oakland in the 1950's. They became famous for exotic Polynesian cuisine, cocktails and atmosphere -- he was one of two people who claimed to have invented the Mai Tai.  During the Tiki-culture-fad of the 1960's (yes, there indeed was one), as many as 25 restaurants were in operation around the world.

Screen shot 2017-01-25 at 12.04.00 PMOn the Trader Vic's menus, crab rangoon was a pricey menu item -- $10.50 when I ate there in Atlanta in the '80's.  For the price, I should have loved it, but, I did not.  I did, however, come to the conclusion that crab Rangoon, which is not at all hard to make, could be a crowd-pleasing appetizer that should be made in the home kitchen, where the flavor and texture could be controlled -- by me.  

There's more:  The investment in 8 or 16 ounces of fresh or pasteurized crab meat (both work fine -- it just depends on where you live and availability) turns out to be surprisingly economical, as, the recipe turns out enough appetizers for a nice-sized get-together:  2 or 4 dozen.  When reading my recipe below, notice, I've done the calculations for you, for a small- or large-batch.

Next:  Everyone always asks if Rangoon can be made ahead and frozen.  Some folks say they freeze them, after assembly and short of frying, flat on a baking pan for 2-4 weeks.  Hear me:  I do not like the texture after freezing -- the filling gets a bit mealy, so, I don't do it.  That said, I do assemble them 4-6 hours in advance, cover the baking pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate prior to deep-frying.  After frying, if left at room temperature, uncovered, for a few hours (on the cooling rack placed in a baking pan), then, baked in a 350º oven for 3-4 short minutes, they will crisp up beautifully and taste wonderful.  They'll stay puffy too -- can't ask for more than that.  

Here's a bit more make-your-life-easier news:

IMG_5431I use the food processor to make the filling in 3-4 minutes!  

IMG_5364To make 2 or 4 dozen (a small batch or a large batch):

8 or 16 ounces jumbo lump crab meat, well-drained, the best available

4 or 8  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1/4 or 1/2  cup 1/4"-sliced scallions, white and light-green parts only (1 or 2 ounces)

1 1/2 teaspoons or 1  tablespoon garlic paste

1  tablespoon or 2 tablespoons ginger paste

1 1/2 teaspoons or 1  tablespoon Chinese-style soy sauce*

peanut oil or vegetable oil for deep-frying

2 or 4 dozen, 3"-3 1/4"-square wonton wrappers

IMG_5388 IMG_53891 or 2  large eggs, whisked with 1 or 2 tablespoons water, for sealing wontons

duck sauce or sweet and sour sauce, for dipping or drizzling

freshly-ground sea salt, for sprinkling on appetizers as they come out of the fryer

*Note:  To steer this appetizer in the direction of Thailand, add 2 or 4 tablespoons minced cilantro to the cream cheese mix, substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon Thai seasoning soy sauce for Chinese soy sauce, and, serve with Mae Ploy (sweet chili sauce) for dipping. 

IMG_5366 IMG_5370 IMG_5372 IMG_5374 IMG_5376 IMG_5379~Step 1.  Place the crab meat on a paper-towel lined plate, to allow the paper to absorb any and all of the excess moisture.  Preheat the oil in a deep-fryer to 365°-375°.  Prep and place the sliced scallions in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process to small, minced bits and pieces, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice during the processing.  Add the cream cheese, garlic paste, ginger paste and soy sauce.  With motor running, process until combined and smooth, about 25-30 seconds, again, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with the spatula during the process.

IMG_5384 IMG_5386~ Step 2.  Transfer the cream cheese mixture to a medium or large bowl.  Add the well-drained crab meat.  Using the rubber spatula, gently fold the crab meat into the cream cheese, doing your best to allow the meat to remain in large lumps.

IMG_5392 IMG_5394 IMG_5400 IMG_5402~Step 3.  Working in batches of 4-6 appetizers at a time (because it is important not to overcrowd the fryer basket, brush the edges of each of 4-6 wonton wrappers with the egg wash.  

Place 1 1/2-2 teaspoons of filling mixture into the center of each wrapper -- I use a small, 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure.  

Lift and fold one corner of the wrapper over the top of the filling, to create a triangle, then, using your fingertips, pinch the edges together to form a tight seal.

IMG_5410 IMG_5412 IMG_5417 IMG_5425~Step 4.  Open the lid of the fryer.  Using your fingertips, one-at-a-time, gently drop 4-6 filled rangoon down into the fryer basket.  Close the lid and fry until light-golden, about 3 minutes.  Do not overcook or the filling will being to ooze out.  Using an Asian spider or a large slotted spoon, remove from fryer, transfer to a wire rack that has been placed on a  layer or two of paper towels (to absorb the oily drips), and, immediately sprinkle with a fresh grinding of sea salt.  Repeat this process until all Rangoon (2 or 4 dozen) are filled, fried and ready to serve ASAP.

Rangoon:  filled, formed & awaiting a 3-minute deep-fry:

IMG_5406Rangoon:  fried, drained, salted & awaiting dipping sauce:

IMG_5421Crab Rangoon w/More Crab than Cream Cheese:  Recipe yields 2 or 4 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; large rubber spatula; pastry brush; 1-2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; plastic wrap; pastry brush; 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop; deep fryer; Asian spider or large slotted spoon; wire cooling rack.

6a0120a8551282970b017ee7540d14970dCook's Note:  You can find my recipe for making homemade ~ Sweet & Sour Sauce for Seafood, Poultry or Pork ~ by clicking on the Related Article Link below.  To get my recipe for ~ "Would You Like 'Duck' Sauce with That?" "Yes!" ~, just click into Categories 8, 13 or 26.

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

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

01/22/2017

~ A Plain, All-Purpose, No-Nonsense Muffin Recipe ~

IMG_5338Who bakes plain muffins and why?  I do and here's why.  I enjoy a lot of treats unembellished  -- doughnuts, cake doughnuts, cream cakes,  crumb cakes and coffeecakes to name a few.  Heck, I even like plain cheesecake.   That said, for those who prefer their muffins chocked-full of goodies (fresh or dried fruits, berries, nuts, chocolate- peanut butter- or cinnamon-chips and/or toffee bits), having a basic muffin batter recipe in your back pocket takes the guess and stress out of making all sorts of muffins exactly the way your family, friends and you like them -- simply by adding a cup or two of this or that and a pinch of spice and other things nice.

Similar to the low-key and friendly "welcome to my kitchen" ambiance of any of the aforementioned unembellished treats, a plain muffin is my own, personal, morning-comfort-food. I can't wait to open one up, use my fingers to pull it apart, eat it slowly, one lip-licking nibble at a time.  Afterward, I can feel good about having eaten this small, sweet indulgence for the entire day.  From start to finish, I can make ten simply-delicious, nothin'-muffins in 30 minutes or less.

From start-to-finish, 30-minutes or less, I promise:

IMG_5299For the wet ingredients:

4  tablespoons salted butter, melted

1/2  cup sugar

1  large egg

1  cup whole milk

1  tablespoon vanilla extract

For the dry ingredients:

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/4  teaspoon salt

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin cups

IMG_5301~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly-spray the cups in standard-sized muffin tins (enough for 12 muffins) with no-stick spray and set aside.  In a small bowl stir together the dry ingredients:  flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  Note:  If you are using unsalted butter, increase the amount of salt to 1/2 teaspoon.  

In a 1-cup measuring container, stir the milk and vanilla together.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, melt the butter in the microwave and set aside to cool a bit, 1-5 minutes.  Ready, set, go:

IMG_5305 IMG_5307 IMG_5309 IMG_5312 IMG_5314 IMG_5319~Step 2.  Add the sugar and the egg to the bowl of melted butter.  Using an old-fashioned hand-crank mixer, combine until thick and smooth, about 30-45 seconds.  Add the milk and blend again, until milk is thoroughly incorporated. Remove the mixer and add all of the dry ingredients.  Using a large rubber spatula, incorporate dry ingredients into wet ingredients.  Don't over mix.  Batter will be slightly-lumping looking.

IMG_5320 IMG_5326~ Step 3. Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, distribute the batter amongst each of ten of the prepared muffin cups.

~ Step 4.  Bake muffins, all at once, on center rack of preheated 350° oven, until puffed up, golden, and, a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 14-16 minutes.

IMG_5335 IMG_5346~ Step 5. Remove from oven to cool, in pans, on a wire rack for 2-3 minutes, just long enough for them to shrink from sides of cups.  Use a sharp paring knife to carefully and gently remove muffins from tins to cool on rack completely about 1 hour.

I just adore a simply-splendid nothin'-muffin in the mornin':

IMG_5352A Plain, All-Purpose, No-Nonsense Muffin Recipe:  Recipe yields 10 muffins.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; old-fashioned hand-crank mixer; large rubber spatula; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; standard-size muffin tins, enough for 10 muffins; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack; sharp paring knife

IMG_5228Cook's Note:  Feel free to add any combination of "your favorite things" to this muffin mixture -- chocolate chips and chopped, lightly-toasted walnuts are pictured here.  That said, limit the grand total of all add-ins together to 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cups. The new yield will be 12 muffins.  

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

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

01/20/2017

~ The Differences Between: Cupcakes and Muffins ~

IMG_5294Cupcakes and muffins.  Past their shape and portable-foodness, they have less in common than one might think.  The fast, simple generic answer is:  Cupcakes are fancy little cup-sized cakes and muffins are plain little cup-sized quick-breads.  Served with an ice-cold glass of milk or cup of piping hot coffee, rare is the person who would take a pass on either.  That said, I will always choose a muffin over a cupcake.  Sorry cupcake -- this post is going to be a bit biased.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1667c12970cShape. They're both baked in multiple-cupped pans, to produce individual-sized, portable portions. Prior to the invention of the pans, they were baked in cup-sized pottery ramekins. Sometimes, for ease of serving, paper liners are placed in the cups, except:  paper liners prevent browning on the outside (which I think is fine for cupcakes but not for muffins) so, I only use them for coarse, crumbly, bready corn and/or cheese muffins.

Cupcakes require a cake recipe.  Muffins require a bread recipe -- Never the twain shall meet.

IMG_7934A cupcake is made from a cake recipe, often with cake flour, rendering it light and soft.  Cupcake batter is the same smooth consistency of cake batter: thick enough to mound slightly when dropped from a spoon back into the bowl, and thin enough to pour from the bowl to the pan. Baking cakes and cupcakes is a precise sport:  for best results, all of the dry and wet ingredients should be weighed and measured carefully and at the proper temperature.

IMG_5225A muffin is made from a quick-bread recipe (a quick-to-mix bread leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda rather than yeast) with a dense, crumby texture. Once the dry ingredients are added to the wet ingredients, while it's important to incorporate them, it's important not to over mix them, even if the mixture appears a bit lumpy.  Each mixture looks a bit different and many recipes do not even require an electric mixer -- they just get stirred together.

Cupcakes get frosted &/or decorated.  Muffins do not.

IMG_7999Like cakes, cupcakes are piped or slathered with frosting on their tops -- like cakes, some cupcakes are elaborately decorated.  Muffins get nothing at all, a sprinkling of sparkling, coarse-textured sugar, and/or, a crumbly streusel sprinkled on their tops.  Both sugar and streusel will add a pleasant crunch to a muffin's top.  As a purist, I am here say:  muffins should never be glazed or frosted after-the fact (like cinnamon rolls or coffeecakes, which beg for a sweet, creamy enhancement), although there's always a bakery or coffee shop happy to do it and sell it.

IMG_4983A cupcake is sweeter than a muffin and a muffin is sweeter than a traditional loaf of bread with one caveat: Muffins (like corn or cheese muffins) can be savory too -- a cupcake is sweet 100% of the time. Cupcakes are dessert.  Muffins can surely be served for dessert, but, they are generally considered a breakfast fare. That said, savory muffins (like corn and/or cheese muffins) are great with chili or a stew for lunch, or, a juicy steak or a rack of ribs for dinner.

IMG_2563Savory corn and/or cheese muffins are muffins made from cornmeal and are popular all over the USA. Corn muffins are basicially muffin-shaped cornbread, but, are usually sweeter.  Common add-ins are corn kernels, cheddar cheese, bacon bits and or jalapeño peppers. Because corn muffins are made with a healthy amount of cornmeal, they will not have the signature domed-top that other kinds of muffins and their cupcake cousins, which are made with all-purpose flour or cake flour, do.

Muffins are healthier than cupcakes?  Add-ins = calories.

IMG_5181Cupcakes and muffins were originally baked at home and the home cook knew that muffins were not as sweet as cupcakes, so, in their basic form, muffins are healthier than cupcakes. When coffee shops and cafés became trendy, muffins were marketed as the healthier alternative to donuts and other pastries.  Nowadays, many muffins are so sugar-laden and chocked-full of add-ins, the calorie count is higher than the calorie count in the doughnuts and pastries -- it's seriously deceiving to the unsuspecting consumer.  It's lucky for me I like muffins made with bran or oatmeal a lot, so, in the face of danger, that's what I choose when in my local coffee shop.  

For anyone to say that muffins are inherently healthier than cupcakes is a misconception -- the muffins at your local bakery or coffee shop often have as many as 600+ calories.  Wow.

IMG_5228Fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice, fruit purée, nuts, seeds and grains (usually bran or oats) are common additions.  As mentioned above, in the recent history of muffins, chocolate, cinnamon, peanut butter, and/or toffee bits have become popular additions too. The latter list of sweets, while not my favorite, are not going to prompt me to call the food police.  Even I like a chocolate chip or a toffee bit thrown into my homemade mix  occasionally.

That said, when it comes to fruity add-ins to muffin batter, experience has taught me that dried fruits and berries work better than fresh, juicy and/or water-laden ones.  For example: Dried cherries or papaya work better than fresh cherries or fresh papaya, and, mashed fruit or thick fruit purées, like applesauce or mashed bananas, are preferable to all liquid fruit juices.

Given a choice between a cupcake or a muffin?  My winner is: 

IMG_5272"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

01/18/2017

~ Go Bananas: Banana-Nut Chocolate-Chip Muffins ~

IMG_5272Go bananas or gone bananas -- an idiom implying one is or has gone mildly crazy.  When it comes to well-made muffins, I am not mildly crazy about them, I am certifiably crazy about them. I prefer a muffin to a cupcake, and, to be clear, I personally would choose a banana-nut muffin over a banana chocolate-chip muffin.  That said, it's not always about me:  some folks dislike or have a bona fide allergy to nuts, and, unlike me, many others just love and crave chocolate.

IMG_5289"Let's meet for coffee." (Said by me never.)

"Let's meet for coffee."  It's something I rarely agree to, but, when I do, if I can order a muffin too, I do. The golden-domed banana-nut muffin I ordered at a local café yesterday sucked.  When I pushed it to the side after nibbling on two small pieces, my friend Bob offered to try a piece.  He agreed it had about as much taste as tofu, suggested that chocolate chips might taste better (than nuts), then made the questioning statement, "that's if chocolate chips can be substituted for nuts."  Bob's not a cook.  I replied, "One reason the muffin has no flavor is the bananas used were not ripe enough, and yes, chocolate chips can be substituted for nuts, or, you can add 'em both.  It's like making chocolate-chip cookies with or without nuts -- you do what you like best."

IMG_8010"So, what's the difference between a muffin & a cupcake?"  

"So, what's the difference between a muffin and a cupcake?"  One tasteless banana muffin turned into an interesting conversation (and this blog post).  Generally speaking, I like to keep the answer to this question simple.  A cupcake is a cup-sized cake with a light, soft texture, and, a muffin is a cup-sized loaf of "quick-bread" (a quick-to-mix-together bread leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda rather than yeast) with a denser, crumbier texture.  A cupcake is sweeter than a muffin and a muffin is sweeter than a traditional loaf of bread with one caveat:  a muffin can be savory too, a cupcake cannot.  Cupcakes are usually piped or slathered with frosting, while muffins get nothing at all, a sprinkling of sparkling, coarse-textured sugar, and/or, a crumbly streusel sprinkled on their tops -- sometimes they have a thin glaze too, but, that's not my cup-of-tea.  Cupcakes are, in fact: dessert.  Muffins can be dessert, but, they are generally considered a breakfast treat.  To say that muffins are inherently healthier is a misconception -- the muffins at your local bakery or Starbucks often have as many as 600+ calories.

IMG_2068Go bananas, but, PLEASE use over-ripe bananas when baking.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08141119970dI eat a pretty yellow banana almost every day of my life.  Pretty yellow: that is my favorite stage of ripeness for eating and it's one of my favorite snacks on a busy day.  I only buy bananas 2-3 at a time because I won't eat them past pretty yellow.

That said, when I know I'm going to be baking banana muffins or banana bread, I purchase my bananas about week ahead of time. The bananas pictured here took a full 7-8 days to get to the perfect banana-muffin ripeness.  Over-ripe bananas, are incredibly fragrant, sweet and flavorful -- a lot more than the pretty yellow ones.

Time to bake banana-nut chocolate-chip muffins.

IMG_5191For the bananas:

2 - 2 1/4  cups mashed bananas, from 5-6 large, over-ripe bananas (pictured above)

For the wet ingredients:

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

1 1/2  cups sugar

2  large eggs, at room temperature

2  teaspoons each:  banana and vanilla extract

1/2  cup + 2 tablespoons milk

For the dry ingredients:

4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

For the add-ins:

2  cups chopped walnuts or pecans

1 1/2  cups chocolate chips

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin cups 

IMG_5194 IMG_5204 IMG_5195 IMG_5198 IMG_5202~Step 1.  Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly-spray the cups in standard-sized muffin tins (enough for 24 muffins) with no-stick cooking spray and set aside.  Chop and place the 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.  

In a second medium bowl, on medium speed of hand-held electric mixer and working your way up to high speed, process the bananas until "mashed".  Measure and set aside 2-2 1/4 cups.

IMG_5207 IMG_5209 IMG_5211 IMG_5213 IMG_5215 IMG_5217 IMG_5218 IMG_5222 IMG_5224 IMG_5225 IMG_5228 IMG_5233~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 30-45 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 bananas.  In 2-3 increments,  thoroughly incorporate the dry ingredients.  Remove mixer and use the spatula to fold in the nuts and chocolate chips by hand.

IMG_5236 IMG_5239~ 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_5246~ 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, about 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 rack completely, about 1 hour.

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

IMG_5244Muffin(s) out of oven, cooling in pans, 5-6 minutes:

IMG_5254All muffins out of pans & on a rack to cool completely: 

IMG_5257Go Bananas:  Banana-Nut 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-size muffin tins, enough for 2 dozen muffins; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack; sharp paring knife

IMG_2563Cook's Note:  Corn muffins are an example of savory muffins that get served as a side-dish.  They taste spectacular with a bowl of chile, a rack of barbecued spareribs and Tex-Mex breakfast casseroles.  I take my recipe for ~ It's a Triple-Corn Jalapeno Corn-Muffin Kinda Day ~ very seriously.  You can find it in Categories 5, 9, 13 or 20. 

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

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

01/15/2017

~ Butter Me Up: Mel's Capellini a la Clams Casino ~

IMG_5180Classic and fantastic, I made clams casino over the weekend -- a retro Italian-American favorite appetizer that pleases everyone who loves clams.  Steamed clams, on the halfshell, slathered with an herby bacon-and-garlic compound butter, topped with a mound of crunchy bacon-and-breadcrumb mixture, baked until golden brown.  What's not to love.  There were just three of us, two guys and moi -- we ate two dozen and would have eaten more (and I stopped at four).  

IMG_5162Earlier in the afternoon, as I was preparing the compound butter and breadcrumb topping, it occurred to me how yummy the butter would be if tossed into a bowl of steaming hot pasta and topped with a sprinkling of crunchy breadcrumbs -- to serve as a side-dish to clams casino.  It was only natural for my foodie mind to take it one step farther:  toss steamed, shucked clams into the pasta too -- to serve as an entrée.  I slept on it, awoke with it, and decided to get on it.

IMG_5110It only took about 30 minutes to whip up another batch of compound butter and make the breadcrumb topping (that's how quick and easy they are to make), adjusting (cutting back) both recipes quantities a bit to accommodate 1 pound of pasta -- a family-friendly amount.  I sent Joe off to get more clams and here I am -- happy as a clam in Happy Valley writing about my latest creation.  It didn't take me long to come up with a name for it either, after Joe opined that I use capellini -- not spaghetti.

Part One:  Burping or Purging the Clams of Sand:

IMG_5086Soaking clams in cold water helps them burp out or purge the sand.   All clams, which live on the ocean floor, contain sand.  It's caused by their constant siphoning the sandy ocean water through their shells. One of the least appetizing foodie experiences is to eat a forkful of perfectly-cooked clams and end up with grit in your teeth -- a clear sign that the cook or chef didn't burp or purge the clams.  Its an easy process but requires a couple of hours, so include that in your game plan (or do it the day before).    

Gently tap each uncooked clam whose shell is open against your countertop. It should close immediately upon tapping. If it does not, it's dead and should be discarded.  Rinse the clams under cold running water and use a stiff brush to scrub the shells of dirt or grit.  Place the clams in a large bowl and cover with a mixture of 1 gallon of water + 1/4 cup sea salt per 2 pounds of clams.  Let for about 30-45 minutes, then remove the clams individually and place in a colander. Discard the water in the bowl, replace with a fresh water and salt mixture, then return the clams to soak for another 30-45 minutes. Repeat the process another two or three times, until the water is clear of sand and grit.  Drain and cook the clams in any manner you like.

Part Two:  Making Breadcrumb Topping & Compound Butter

IMG_50157  ounces finely-diced uncooked bacon or pancetta (total throughout recipe -- 4  ounces for breadcrumbs, 3 ounces for compound butter)

1/2  cup panko breadcrumbs, no substitutions

8  ounces salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (2 sticks)

1/2  cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion

1/4  cup each:  red and yellow bell pepper

2  tablespoons minced fresh garlic

2  tablespoons dried parsley flakes or tarragon leaves (total throughout recipe -- 1  tablespoon for breadcrumbs, 1  tablespoon for compound butter)

1 1/2  teaspoons fennel powder (total throughout recipe -- 1/2 teaspoon for breadcrumbs, 1 teaspoon for compound butter)

3/4  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper (total throughout recipe -- 1/4  teaspoon for breadcrumbs, 1/2 teaspoon for compound butter)

scant 1/2  teaspoon sea salt (total throughout recipe -- 1/8 teaspoon for breadcrumbs, 1/4 teaspoon for compound butter)

lemon wedges, for squirting each finished serving of capellini a la clams casino

IMG_5024IMG_5026IMG_5027IMG_5029IMG_5030IMG_5034IMG_5050~Step 1.  To make the breadcrumb topping, place 4 ounces of the finely-diced bacon or pancetta in a 3-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon fennel powder, 1/4 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper and 1/8 teaspoon sea salt.  Over medium-high, medium-, medium-low heat, stirring frequently, fry the meat until it is golden brown and crispy and has rendered its fat, about 6 minutes, lowering the heat as necessary if the mixture begins to smoke. Add the panko breadcrumbs and parsley or tarragon.  Stirring constantly, cook until breadcrumbs are lightly-toasted, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to thoroughly drain and cool.  You will have 3/4 cups of breadcrumb topping.

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