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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

07/08/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

1/2  cup peeled and small-diced carrot

1/2  cup small-diced celery

1/2  cup small-diced red onion

2  tablespoons Dijon mustard

2  tablespoons sweet pickle relish

1/2  teaspoon celery seed

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stir, taste & add additional mayonnaise if desired:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07/06/2017

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

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

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

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

For every Jucy Lucy cheese-stuffed 'burger:

8  ounces lean ground beef (90/10)

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

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

Part One:  Forming the patties. 

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

Part Two:  Stuffing & constructing the 'burgers.

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

Part Three:  Cooking the 'burgers.    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07/03/2017

~ Creamy Dreamy No-Bake Strawberry Key Lime Pie ~

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

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

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

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

9" round by 1 1/4" deep = 4 cups 

9" round by 1 1/2" deep = 5 cups 

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

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

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

1  3-ounce box Jell-O strawberry gelatin

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

3/4  cup boiling water

1/2  cup key lime juice

1 1/2  cups heavy or whipping cream, chilled

3/4  cup Confectioners' sugar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06/30/2017

~Dare to be Square: Chocolate Chip Cookie Squares~

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

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

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

IMG_09102 cups + 2  tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  large egg + 1 large egg yolk

2  teaspoons pure chocolate extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1  cup lightly-packed light brown sugar

1/2  cup sugar 

12  tablespoons salted butter (1 1/2 sticks)  

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

1  cup chopped walnuts (optional)

no-stick cooking spray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06/28/2017

~ Sausage, Pepper and Onion Pasta or Pizza Sauce ~

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

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

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

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

IMG_07934  tablespoons olive oil

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

6  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

6  ounces diced green bell pepper

6  ounces diced red bell pepper

2  teaspoons dried oregano

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2   teaspoon sugar

1 1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

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

1  6-ounce can tomato paste

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

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

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

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

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

Remove from heat & use to sauce pasta or pizza.

IMG_0845Or portion into food storage containers & freeze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

06/25/2017

~ Seriously Simple & Sweet: Fresh All Strawberry Pie ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Seriously Simple & Sweet Strawberry Pie Filling:

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

1 1/2  pounds hulled fresh, whole strawberries

6  tablespoons sugar

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

1  tablespoon cornstarch

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

1  tablespoon pure strawberry extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 tablespoons water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06/23/2017

~ Simple & Sweet: Homemade Strawberry Topping ~

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

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

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

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

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

1/2  cup + 2 tablespoons sugar

1/2  cup + 2 tablespoons water

1  tablespoon pure strawberry extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

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

2  tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 3 tablespoons water

2  drops red food coloring (optional)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06/21/2017

~The Ninety Nine Vermonster Cheddar Cheeseburger~

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part One:  Making the Maple Mayonnaise

IMG_0482For the maple mayonnaise:

3/4  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup pure Vermont maple syrup

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

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

Part Two:  Making the Toppings:

IMG_0494For the bacon and the sautéed onion and apple topping:

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

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

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

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

1  tablespoon sugar

2  tablespoons pure maple syrup

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

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

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

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

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

Part Three:  Making the Cheeseburgers

IMG_0556For 4 cheeseburgers and the assembly:

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

8  slices yellow cheddar cheese

all the fried bacon

all the onion and apple topping

all the maple mayonnaise 

4  potato hamburger rolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06/18/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4  tablespoons salted butter

1/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/4  teaspoon white pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06/15/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To turn any of my pudding recipes into pie filling:

IMG_0056Add one extra egg yolk & one extra tablespoon cornstarch:

IMG_0309

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

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

06/12/2017

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

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

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

IMG_0317What's the difference between pudding & pie filling?

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

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

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

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

1  tablespoon each:  pure chocolate and pure vanilla extract

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3  tablespoons salted butter

3 large egg yolks

1  large egg

3/4  cup sugar

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

1  teaspoon espresso powder

4  tablespoons cornstarch (1/4 cup)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06/09/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_9897Using a knife, slice the pastry into 4 quarters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06/06/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3  tablespoons salted butter

2  large egg yolks

1  large egg

3/4  cup sugar

3  tablespoons cornstarch

1  tablespoon vanilla powder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06/04/2017

~ How to: Make Old-Fashioned Chocolate Pudding ~

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

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

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

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

1  tablespoon each:  pure chocolate and pure vanilla extract

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3  tablespoons salted butter

2  large egg yolks

1  large egg

3/4  cup sugar

6  tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

3  tablespoons cornstarch

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_9997Freshly-whipped cream and diced bananas on mine please:

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

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

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

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

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

06/02/2017

~ How to: Make Old-Fashioned Butterscotch Pudding ~

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

IMG_9884Something wonderful happens when brown sugar & butter team up:

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

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

1  tablespoon each:  pure butterscotch and pure vanilla extract

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3  tablespoons salted butter

2  large egg yolks

1  large egg

3/4  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

3  tablespoons cornstarch 

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_9824Freshly-whipped cream & chopped pecans on mine please:

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

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

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

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

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

05/31/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part One:  Let's Talk Tartlet Shells

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

Part Two:  Making the Pineapple Pie Filling

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

3/4  cup sugar

4  level tablespoons cornstarch

1/8  teaspoon salt

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

1  tablespoon pure pineapple extract

1  teaspoon lemon juice, fresh or bottled concentrate

1/4  cup cold water

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

3/4  cup water, heated to boiling

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_9665Part Three: Making the Meringue

IMG_96694  large egg whites, at room temperature

1/2  teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

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

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

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

Cool to room temperature prior to removing from tart tins:

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

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

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

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

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

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

05/29/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_9535Using your fingertips, pat, press & form the sides for each tart:

IMG_9545Rolling a small pastry roller across the top of each tin,

IMG_9549cut off the excess dough to form a smooth, flat-topped tart shell:

IMG_9552Place formed tart shells, well-apart, on 1-2 baking pans:

IMG_9560Bake on center rack of 425° oven, until golden, 8-9 minutes:

IMG_9569Cool completely, in pans, prior to proceeding w/recipe as directed:

IMG_9600Tartlet shells.  Fully-baked & ready for some fully-cooked filling: 

IMG_9605How to:  Cut, Form & Bake Pie-Pastry Tartlet Shells:  Recipe yields instructions to make 14, 3" round, unbaked or fully-baked tartlet shells.

Special Equipment List:  pastry board; rolling pin; 3 3/4"-round pastry cutter; 14, 3" round tartlet tins w/fluted sides & removable bottoms, w/ or w/o removable bottoms, preferably nonstick; wooden tart tamper; small pastry roller; 1, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan or 2, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans

IMG_3117 IMG_3156Cook's Note: While we're on the subject, let's not forget about  ~ Making Graham Cracker & Cookie Crumb Crusts ~.  Read it.

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

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

05/26/2017

~ Creamy Coconut & Spicy Jamaican Curry Chicken ~

IMG_9508My favorite curry is the one I am eating at any given time.  That said, the world is full of curries, they are all different, and, it's almost impossible to prepare an authentic curry outside of the region it's prepared in, within its country of origin.  Why?  Because outside of the United States, curry is not a store-bought dried spice blend or wet paste that produces a predictable end result.  They're hand-made, mortar-and-pestle pulverized, dry or pasty concoctions of spices or herbs, the amounts of which vary to suit the palate of each family or cook -- on a daily basis.

IMG_9503"Curry" is a catch-all English (British) term used in Western cultures to denote stewike dishes from Southern and Southeast Asia, as well as Africa and the Caribbean. Dishes called curry are relatively easy to prepare and can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish. Seasonal vegetables can be included, or, the dish can be made only of vegetables (vegetarian). Some curries cook quickly, others cook slowly, some are thick, some are thin, many are economical weeknight meals, while others are expensive and reserved for celebrations.  Most curries are cooked in large shallow skillets or woks with lids, and, most curries are paired with some type of white rice.  

Curries can be "wet" or "dry".  What is common to wet curries is the use of cream, coconut milk or yogurt, and occasionally stock, to prepare the sauce ("kari" is the Indian word for "sauce").  They don't tend to be overly-thickened (gravylike), and, they aren't spicy hot (although they can be). This evolved out of necessity.  Water was often scarce and/or its use in cooking had to be avoided, so, the "creamers" were used as a silky, rich, substitution for water, not as a thickener. Dry curries are cooked in very little liquid in sealed pots.  Almost all of the liquid evaporates during the lengthy cooking process, leaving the ingredients heavily coated in the spice mixture.

IMG_9501The case for using commercial curry powders or pastes.

There are kitchen decisions that only the cook can make, and, in the American kitchen, for the average American cook, convenience typically triumphs over authenticity.  That said, it's not because the average American cook is lazy or uncreative.  In my case, I purchase high-quality blends or pastes because, on any given day, all the ingredients necessary to make a dry blend or a wet paste are not always available at the same time.  There's more.  Some concoctions contain ten or more ingredients, which when mixed together, do not have a long shelf life, so, a portion of my hard work can end up being thrown away because I only make curry a few times a year.  

6a0120a8551282970b01a73dae3659970dCurry powders and pastes cannot be used interchangeably.

Curry blends and pastes are not created equal.  For example:  When I make curry, sometimes I make Thai curry (which requires green, red or yellow paste), sometimes I make Indian curry (which relies on garam masala), and, sometimes I make Jamaican curry, which has its own flavor profile.  Know the country of the curry you're preparing and don't substitute one type for another.

Jamaican-Style Curry Powder.

Jamaican curry powder contains allspice and Indian-style curry powder does not.  Indian curry powder contains cardamom and mace, Jamaican curry powder does not.  All Jamaican curries contain coconut milk, but only South Indian curries do.  Jamaican curries tend to be spicy and sweet while Indian curries are mild and slightly tart.

Tonight, creamy, spicy Jamaican curry is what I am craving:

This four-season recipe makes a good-sized quantity, twelve dinner-sized servings (or sixteen+ luncheon-sized servings). That sounds like a lot, but, leftovers reheat perfectly, so the little bit of extra slicing and dicing is well worth the extra effort.  There's more.  Like many stews, it tastes even better the second day, so, it can be made ahead and served with freshly-steamed rice without compromise -- which is convenient if you're entertaining.  That said, if you don't want leftovers, cut the recipe in half (and prepare it in a smaller skillet) because it does not freeze well.

IMG_94513  pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders, cut into bite-sized pieces

2  cups each:  1/2" diced green and red bell pepper

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

1  cup chopped cilantro leaves + plus additional leaves for garnish

2  14 1/2-ounce cans diced tomatoes, well-drained

6  tablespoons hot Jamaican curry powder

2  teaspoons garlic paste

2  teaspoons ginger paste

2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2  teaspoon habanero powder (Note:  Jamaicans typically use fresh Scotch Bonnet chilies for heat, which I don't always have access too, but, the slightly-citrusy flavor of incendiary habanero powder, which I keep on my spice rack, is a marvelous substitute.)

2  14-ounce cans coconut milk, shaken or stirred prior to using

4  tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil, for preparing skillet

6  cups uncooked jasmine rice, or, 8 cups steamed jasmine rice, cooked via your favorite method (Note:  I use an electric rice steamer, and, I steam the rice just before I start the cooking process.)

IMG_9458 IMG_9459 IMG_9463 IMG_9465 IMG_9471 IMG_9473~Step 1.  Prep the green and red bell peppers, onion and cilantro as directed, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  Using a large spoon, stir to combine.  Dice the chicken as directed, placing it in the bowl with the vegetables as you work.  Stir again.  Add the diced tomatoes, curry powder, garlic paste, ginger paste and sea salt.  Start until all ingredients are evenly coated.  Add the coconut milk and stir again, to thoroughly combine. Set aside, 15-30 minutes, to give all the flavors a bit of time to marry and penetrate the chicken.

IMG_9482~ Step 2.  Heat oil in a 14" chef's pan over medium-high heat.  Add all of the curry mixture to pan, increase heat to high and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently.  Once simmering, adjust heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently for 10-12 minutes, or until chicken is just cooked through (this will depend upon the size of the dice).  Turn heat off, cover pan, and allow the curry to rest on the warm stovetop for 5-6 more minutes.

Spoon chicken curry over freshly-steamed rice:

IMG_9484Enjoy every creamy-coconut spicy-curry bite:

IMG_9502Creamy Coconut & Spicy Jamaican Curry Chicken:  Recipe yields 3 quarts/12 cups chicken curry mixture/12 large dinner-sized servings or 16+ smaller luncheon-sized servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon; electric rice steamer (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fc44837c970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8fd6e3e970bCook's Note: To learn about Thai curries, which rely on pastes and shouldn't be confused with Indian or Jamaican curries, read my post ~ Demystifying Thai Curries: Green, Red & Yellow ~.

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

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

05/23/2017

~Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries~

IMG_9437Sweet potatoes can be cooked via all the same methods all-purpose spuds can.  Baked, boiled, pan-fried, grilled, oven-roasted, microwaved, and, last but not least, deep-fried.  When it comes to sweet potatoes, I am a bone fide lover of this healthy super-food, and, when it comes to cooking and eating them, I love them in any form, any time of year.  I am an equal-opportunity sweet potato eater.  Oven-roasted sweet potato fries, which pair great with so many things (especially poultry and pork) are easy to make, but I'm not going to lie, if they're not prepared correctly, "just so", they can be downright disappointing -- limp and lackluster.  It's exasperating.  It wasn't until I started tossing them with a bit of cornstarch (in addition to the dry spices), then a bit more cornstarch, then a bit more, that I landed on my "secret formula" for seriously-crispy oven fries.

IMG_94422  tablespoons cornstarch (in addition to dry spices as per recipe) tossed w/2 pounds fry-cut sweet potatoes + 1/4 cup vegetable oil = my secret formula for seriously-crispy oven fries.  

IMG_5635A bit about sweet potatoes:  Sweet potatoes were introduced to North America by Christopher Columbus, who brought them from the island of St. Thomas, where this large, edible root (which belongs to the morning glory family) is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most commercially grown are:  a pale-skinned sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety (that many Americans erroneously call "yam" -- the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato).  The pale sweet potato has a thin, light-yellow skin and pale yellow flesh.  Its flavor is not sweet, and after cooking, it's dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato.  The darker variety has a thicker, dark orange skin and vivid orange, sweet flesh. When cooked, it has a very sweet flavor and almost creamy texture and it's the only kind I use.

IMG_9442Mel's easy Caribbean-spiced sweet potato fries:

IMG_93862  large, even-sized sweet potatoes, about 1 pound each* 

2  tablespoons each:  cornstarch and light brown sugar

1  teaspoon each:  allspice and ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon each:  cayenne pepper, ground ginger, sea salt

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

4  tablespoons vegetable oil 

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

*Note:  Do not overcrowd the potatoes on the baking pan, meaning:  if you want to double this recipe, use two baking pans.

IMG_0902Step 1.  I like the classic "fry shape":  about 1/2" thick, 3"-3 1/2" long, square-tipped and boxy-looking. Why? Pointy tips burn.  I don't like fries with burnt ends. Using a sharp knife, trim the left and right ends from each potato, peel and slice ("fry-cut") as directed.

IMG_0916IMG_0920IMG_0925IMG_0927

 

 

 

Step 2.  Place the sweet potatoes in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Add the cornstarch and the dry spices.  Toss to thoroughly and evenly coat potatoes in the dry mixture.  Add the vegetable oil and toss again, until the potatoes look glistening and wet, with no dry, powdery spots.

IMG_0938IMG_0933Step 3. Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil.  Note:  I like to use Reynolds Release, no-stick foil.

Generously sprinkle the bottom of the pan with a coarse grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

IMG_9415 IMG_9409Step 4. Transfer the sliced and seasoned sweet potato fries to the prepared pan.  Using your fingertips, take a moment or two to make sure they are all positioned in a single layer with none of them touching.  

Sprinkle another (this time lighter) grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend evenly over all.

IMG_9428Step 5.  Roast the sweet potatoes on center rack of preheated 450 degree oven for 15 minutes.  

Remove from oven.  Using a large spoon or spatula, a few at time, scoop 'em up and flip 'em over.  

Return to the oven and continue to roast, about 15 more minutes, or until the sweet potato fries are golden brown and caramelized around the edges.

Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate & serve A.S.A.P. 

IMG_9450Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries:  Recipe yields 4 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  Cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; spatula; paper towels

IMG_9352Cook's Note:  I like to serve my Caribbean spiced sweet potato fries with my recipe for ~ Joe's Caribbean Chicken Dog w/Joe's Island Salsa ~ which you can find by clicking on this link or in KE Categories 2, 10, 11, 17 or 20.

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

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

05/21/2017

~ Joe's Caribbean Chicken Dog w/Joe's Island Salsa ~

IMG_9338Because a lot of Americans will be firing up their grills this weekend, there's no time like the present for me to talk about an experiment I conducted on myself this week:  chicken hot dogs. For years I've been telling people "I think I was a hot dog in a past life" (that is how much I love high-quality all-beef franks).  That said,  chicken hot dogs have been popping up (again) in stores of late.  For years I've been saying, "If you dislike something, you really ought to try it once every ten years, just to see if your taste has changed or the product has improved".  Would I love them or would I hate them.  My money was on the latter and I spared no expense (wink) to find out.

The first thing I set out to do was find the best quality chicken dog available to me (as the only one I ever ate was served to me by an over-the-top, health-conscious, extremist-nut job about 8-10 years ago and it tasted like sawdust in a chewy casing).  The second thing I set out to do was come up with a unique flavor profile (traditional toppings typically slathered and heaped on American-regional all-beef dogs were off limits).  My ideal chicken dog would be surrounded with a combination of sweet and savory flavors that enhance the mild flavor of chicken (not hide it in the hopes of passing it off as an alternative all-beef dog) -- all on a soft, slightly-sweet potato roll.

IMG_9306Meet the Trader Joe's all-natural uncured chicken hot dog:

IMG_9311Low-fat, full-flavored and made with boneless, skinless chicken (60% breast meat and 40% thigh meat), what they are not is:  made from mechanically separated meat of any kind, nitrites or nitrates, MSG, gluten or any fillers.  They contain simple spices like garlic, onion, black pepper and paprika, which boost the flavor without adding any fat or calories. They're fully-cooked too, so, they're fine with any method of cooking -- they just need to be heated up.  I cooked mine on the stovetop in a grill pan for 8-10 minutes and they emerged moist and juicy on the inside with a crispy casing, and, they tasted great.

IMG_9326 IMG_9315So simple: Place four Trader Joe's chicken hot dogs in a grill pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat.  Grill, using a spatula to roll them back and forth occasionally to create some nice grill marks, until nicely golden all the way around, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve hot.

Meet Trader-Joe's (chunky & thick) Island Salsa:

IMG_9318Let's face it, 90% of the condiments we put on our all-beef hot dogs are store-bought and ready-to-eat, and, those that are not require just a bit of easy hands-on slicing, dicing or chopping and/or minimal cooking. My goal was to find a store-bought condiment that enhances the mild flavor of chicken, and, to my glee, I did, right at Trader Joe's.  Their Island Salsa is savory, slightly-sweet and a bit spicy too.  It's chunky and thick and chocked full of Caribbean island flavors:  mango, pineapple, red jalapeño peppers, green and red bell pepper, onion, cilantro and lime. This high-quality product is pure perfection atop a Trader Joe's chicken hot dog.  Moving along:

Meet Mel's sweet & savory super-easy Island Slaw:

IMG_9277The next and last thing my newly-invented Caribbean chicken hot dog needed was a fresh, crunchy, easy-to-make cole slaw that DID NOT compete with the flavors in the Island Salsa.  To make my honey 'n lime dressing, I chose three pantry ingredients (all shaken together):

1/2  cup high-quality organic lime juice (not from concentrate)

1/4  cup + 2 tablespoons honey

1/4  cup vegetable oil

Once the dressing was made, I decided on four compatible but not competing ingredients (meaning IMG_9283the flavors are compatible with but not in competition with those of the Island Salsa) to make my Island Slaw:

1  8-ounce bag slaw mix (green & red cabbage & carrot)

1  cup thinly-sliced green onion (scallion)

1  cup chopped, salted macadamias

1  cup sweetened, flaked coconut

all the lime 'n honey dressing (from above recipe)

IMG_9286 IMG_9292Place slaw ingredients in a bowl, add the dressing and toss together. Refrigerate until well chilled, 1-2 hours or overnight, re-tossing a few times now and then, when convenient.  Recipe yields: 1 cup honey 'n lime dressing and 3 cups slaw.

Four components full of compatible flavors =

IMG_9298a truly great, moist & juicy, Caribbean chicken hot dog.

IMG_9352No need to tell 'em it's healthy -- just enjoy the Island flavors

IMG_9379Joe's Caribbean Chicken Dog w/Joe's Island Salsa:  Recipe yields:  1 cup honey 'n lime dressing/3 cups honey & lime slaw/1, 12-ounce jar Island salsa/enough for 16 Caribbean chicken hot dogs.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid & pourer top; cutting board; chef's knife; grill pan

IMG_9442Cook's Note:  "Would You Like ~ Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries ~ with that?" They are the perfect side-dish complement to these Caribbean chicken hot dogs.  Just click on the link to get my recipe.

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

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

05/18/2017

~Thai-Style Grill-Pan Chicken Tacos w/Peanut Sauce~

IMG_9238Over the years, like many other busy foodies, I've come to the conclusion that tacos should be referred to as a style of eating. Like two slices of bread, a tortilla is a great foil for anything that tastes great in a sandwich.  I keep corn and flour tortillas on hand in my refrigerator 365/24/7, and, on any given day, there's "no telling" what cold or hot leftovers I'm going to put in them -- anything and everything is "fair game".  That said, over the years, like many other foodies, I've started coming up with fresh, new-to-me ways to serve tacos that don't involve leftovers.

My love affair with all types of Asian food is no secret.  Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, etc. You name it, I adore it.  Give me a recommendation for an Asian restaurant in your locale, when I'm in your town, you can be sure I'm going there to eat.  I dabble in cooking a great deal of it too. I crave Asian and rarely does a week go by without my needing it.  Some of my recipes have been classically learned, while others are a product of my own creative cravings for Asian fare.

IMG_9254Today:  Thai-Asian flavor meets the Tex-Mex soft taco.

"Fusion cuisine" or "fusion food".  Popularized in the 1970's, these words describe the preparation of a meal that combines two different culinary styles and/or traditions to create a new dish. Today's recipe teams some of my favorite Thai-Asian flavors and traditional Thai-Asian ingredients with the Tex-Mex taco-style of eating grilled meat, poultry or fish.  My marinated chicken mixture is being prepared in a grill pan instead of a wok, it's being heaped into a soft flour tortilla atop a broccoli slaw (which is replacing the typical shredded lettuce mixture), and, a spicy peanut sauce gets drizzled over the top (instead of salsa and/or sriracha-infused crema).

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 broccoli slaw + 1/2 cup thinly-sliced scallions

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 broccoli cole slaw.

Spicy 5-minutes-to-fix creamy-crunchy peanut sauce too.

I especially love this spicy classic-Thai sauce incorporated into poultry or pork dishes, but, it's great drizzled on my Thai-chicken pizza (another example of a fusion meal), and, it's a fantastic dipping sauce for raw vegetables or a dressing for salads, noodles and noodle salads too.  My recipe yields 2 1/2 cups, and, while that might sound like a lot, it freezes great and thaws relatively fast.  A little goes a long way, so I typically portion it into 5, 1/2-cup containers. 

51ahAHfpozL._AA160_A bit about peanut sauce:  This sauce is widely used in the cuisines of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Africa.  The main ingredients are roasted peanuts or peanut butter (crunchy or smooth), coconut milk, soy sauce and palm sugar.  Pulverized spices (red chile peppers, coriander, cumin, garlic, galangal and /or lemongrass, are almost always added.  You can easily purchase your favorite brand, but, when you see how easy this is to make, I don't know why you would.  My recipe, which came from my Thai girlfriend Kanya, contains one small can of Thai-style red curry paste, which provides all of the above named pulverized spices.

IMG_9773For the peanut sauce:

2  tablespoons sesame oil

1  4-ounce can Thai-style red curry paste

1  13 1/2-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (briefly stir after opening the can)

6  tablespoons smooth or chunky-style peanut butter

2  tablespoons firmly-packed palm sugar (light or dark brown sugar may be substituted

IMG_9777IMG_9781IMG_9783IMG_9787IMG_9790~Step 1. Place the sesame oil and the red curry paste in a small 1-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, until the curry paste is bubbling rapidly and is very fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the coconut milk, peanut butter and sugar.  Continue to simmer steadily but gently, stirring almost constantly, until smooth and thickened, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  

IMG_9804Remove from heat, cover, and set aside, to cool slightly, about 15-20 minutes.  Serve slightly warm, or, place in a food storage container (or two) and cool, uncovered, until sauce is at room temperature.

Store indefinitely in the refrigerator and reheat gently in the microwave, stirring occasionally prior to serving.

Oh my Thai:  Marinated & grilled moist & juicy chicken strips.

IMG_9153I use chicken breast tenderloins because they stay juicier & moister than ordinary boneless, skinless chicken breasts do when subjected to the high, dry heat of a grill or a grill pan.  Feel free to use what you like best, but in either case, lightly-pound them with a flat-sided meat mallet for added tenderness.  That said, feel free to substitute thinly-sliced and lightly-pounded pork tenderloin for the chicken tender -- it'll be just as good.

IMG_9173For the chicken & the marinade:

2  pounds boneless chicken tenderloins, about 10 large tenderloins (pictured above)

1/4  cup each:  honey, lime juice (fresh or high-quality organic), &, Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons each: Thai fish sauce & sesame oil

1  tablespoon each:  garlic paste & ginger paste

1/4  cup minced cilantro leaves

1/4  cup thinly-sliced green onion, white & light green part only

1-2  small, hot, cayenne chile peppers, minced

IMG_9221For the assembly:

12, 6"-round flour tortillas

5 cups, chicken tenderloin strips, marinated and grilled as instructed below

4  cups Asian broccoli slaw, from above recipe

1  cup Thai peanut sauce, from above recipe

1  cup chopped & lightly-toasted unsalted peanuts, for garnish 

IMG_9164 IMG_9158~ Step 1. Sandwich tenderloins between two pieces of plastic wrap on a flat work surface.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, lightly pound them to a thickness of about 1/2" -- do not smash them to smithereens.

IMG_9190 IMG_9179~ Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container or a small bowl, stir together all of the marinade ingredients as listed.  Pour the marinade into a 1-gallon food storage bag, add the pounded tenderloins, seal the bag and toss to coat.  Set aside to marinate for about 2 hours at room temperature, or 4-6 hours in the refrigerator.

IMG_9193 IMG_9202 IMG_9211 IMG_9217~Step 3.  On the stovetop, heat a grill pan that's been lightly- with no-stick cooking spray over medium-high heat.  Add half of the tenders (5) and grill until golden and cooked through on both sides, turning only once, 6-7 total minutes, about 4-4 1/2 minutes on the first side and 2-2 1/2 minutes on the second side, regulating the heat carefully as the honey in the marinade (like sugar) can scorch.  Transfer the cooked tenders to a plate and repeat process with remaining tenders (5). Slice each tender into long thin strips, then, slice strips into thirds.  It's time to eat:

In each of 12, soft flour tortillas, place 1/3 cup Asian broccoli slaw & 1/2 cup grilled chicken strips.  Drizzle w/a generous tablespoon spicy peanut sauce & garnish w/a sprinkling of toasted peanuts:  

IMG_9247These are some rockin' & rollin' soft-taco, Thai-wrap sandwiches:

IMG_9262Thai-Style Grill-Pan Chicken Tacos w/Peanut Sauce:  Recipe yields 4  cups broccoli slaw, 1  cup peanut sauce, &, 5 cups grilled chicken strips/enough to fill 12 tacos/12 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; 1-gallon food storage bag; grill pan

IMG_0825Cook's Note:  This kid-tested mother-approved recipe was one of the ways I introduced my three growing boys to the flavors of Thai food.  You can find my recipe for ~ E-Z Thai-Style Ginger-Chicken Pizza w/Spicy Peanut Sauce ~ in Categories 2, 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)

05/15/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1/2  cup store-bought matchstick carrots

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

2  tablespoons minced cilantro leaves

2  tablespoons lightly-toasted and chopped unsalted peanuts

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

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

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

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

IMG_9109Serve & savor every seriously scrumptious bite:

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

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

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

4  tablespoons soy sauce

4  tablespoons rice vinegar

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

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

1  tablespoon ginger paste

1  teaspoon garlic paste (optional)

4  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon sesame oil

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

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

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

05/12/2017

~ Easy Chinese Dipping Sauce for Dumplings & Such ~

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

IMG_9089For the dipping sauce:

4  tablespoons soy sauce

4  tablespoons rice vinegar

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

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

1  tablespoon ginger paste

1  teaspoon garlic paste (optional)

4  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon sesame oil

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

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

IMG_8989Serve w/dumplings, potstickers or scallion pancakes:

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

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

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

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

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

05/10/2017

~ Savory Chinese-Style Scallion Pancakes (Flatbread)~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup very hot-to-boiling water

1  teaspoon sea salt

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

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

peanut oil, for frying pancakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4  tablespoons soy sauce

4  tablespoons rice vinegar

2  tablespoons sliced scallions

1  tablespoon ginger paste

4  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon sesame oil

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

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

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

05/07/2017

~ Sweet Potato, Pecan & Butterscotch Chip Muffins ~

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

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

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

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

IMG_8834For the sweet potatoes:

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

For the wet ingredients:

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

1 1/2  cups sugar

2  teaspoons each:  butterscotch flavoring and pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups milk + 2 tablespoons

For the dry ingredients:

4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

2  teaspoons baking soda

1/2  teaspoon salt

For the add-ins:

2  cups chopped and lightly-toasted pecans

1 1/2  cups butterscotch chips

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin cups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05/05/2017

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

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

To prepare this simple meal properly, understand the method: 

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

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

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

IMG_8722For two servings/1 cod fillet:

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

1/4  cup extra-virgin olive oil

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

1  teaspoon dried Mediterranean oregano

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

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05/02/2017

~ The Iwatani Twelve-Minute Tornado Cheeseburger ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_8616For 8 hamburgers (2 batches of 4):

3  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

16  slices American or Velveeta cheese, or cheese of choice

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

diced onion (optional)

8  soft hamburger rolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04/30/2017

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_8429For the cream cheese glaze:

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

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

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


IMG_8431IMG_8434IMG_8441IMG_8445
~Step 1.  In a food processor fitted with steel blade, place confectioners' sugar, cream cheese, vanilla extract, additional flavoring and 2 tablespoons milk.  Starting with 5-10 on-off pulses and then with motor running, process for 25-30 seconds until smooth and drizzly.  If necessary, through feed tube, add 1-2 teaspoons additional milk, until desired consistency is reached.

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

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

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

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

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

04/28/2017

~ Charmingly Southern: Hummingbird (Bundt) Cake ~

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

IMG_8478A Caribbean cake made famous by a Southern magazine.

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

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

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

My version of the Southern Living Hummingbird Cake:

IMG_8346For the cake:

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

3  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  cups sugar

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/16  teaspoon ground nutmeg

3  large eggs

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

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

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

3/4  cup canola, peanut or vegetable oil

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

IMG_8423For the cream cheese glaze & pecan topping:

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons butter-rum flavoring

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

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

1/2  cup lightly-toasted ground pecans

IMG_8357 IMG_8359 IMG_8368 IMG_8369~Step 1.  Coarsely chop 2 1/2 cups pecans.  Place the nuts in a small, shallow baking pan.  Roast nuts on center rack of preheated 350° oven until fragrant and lightly-toasted, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.  While nuts are toasting, in a medium mixing bowl, on medium speed of hand-held electric mixer, purée the sliced bananas*. Measure 1 3/4 cups of the bananas, stir in the vanilla extract and set aside.  In a small bowl, using fork, whisk the eggs.

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

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

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

IMG_8391 IMG_8392 IMG_8395 IMG_8400~Step 4.  Using the rubber spatula, fold in 2 cups of the lightly-toasted chopped pecans (set the remaining 1/2 cup aside).  Transfer/pour the batter into a 12-cup bundt pan that has been lightly sprayed with no-stick.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven 55-60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean.  Remove from oven, place on a wire rack and cool, in pan, 15 minutes.  Invert cake onto wire rack to cool completely, 2-3 hours.

IMG_8404To prepare the cream cheese glaze and pecan topping:

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

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

IMG_8456~ Step 3.  When cake has cooled and with the cake on the wire rack: holding your hand 4"-6" above the surface of the cake and moving it (your hand) back and forth, in a slow, steady stream, drizzle glaze over cake, while turning the wire rack about 1/4" with every back-and-forth drizzle, until all the glaze is gone. While glaze is still moist/sticky, sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top.  Allow glaze to dry a bit prior to slicing cake, about 1 hour.

Hummingbird cake.  Simply irresistible and...

IMG_8464... scrumptious from first bite to last:

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

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

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

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

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

04/26/2017

~ Open Sesame: Asian Sweet Chili Crockpot Chicken ~

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

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

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

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

For the sauce:

6  tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy)

6  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce

6  tablespoons American chili sauce

2  tablespoons hoisin sauce

2  tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1  tablespoon sesame oil

1  teaspoon garlic paste

1 teaspoon ginger paste

4  tablespoons light-brown sugar

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

For the slurry to thicken the sauce at the end:

1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons corn starch

2  tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy)

1  tablespoon Thai seasoning soy

1  tablespoon water

For the garnish:

thinly-sliced scallion tops, reserved from above scallions

lightly-toasted sesame seeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_8322Steamed rice is nice, ramen noodles are another option: 

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

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

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

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

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

04/23/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04/20/2017

~ Sour Cream and Dill Dressing for Cucumber Salad ~

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

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

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

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

IMG_8174For 1 cup dressing:

1  cup sour cream

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

1  teaspoon dried, minced garlic

1  teaspoon dried, minced onion

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04/18/2017

~ A Must Have Recipe: Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake ~

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

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

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

IMG_80642  1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4  cup cocoa powder

1  teaspoon baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1  3/4 cups sugar

3  large eggs

1  cup mayonnaise

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

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04/15/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2  tablespoons garlic powder

2  tablespoons dry English mustard

2  teaspoons sugar

2  teaspoons salt

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appetizers are served:  porketta sliders w/deviled eggs!

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

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

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

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

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

04/12/2017

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

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

Hidden Valley Ranch dressing has a fascinating history:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PICT2048For the dry spice blend:

1  teaspoon dried, minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon dried, minced onion

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

1  teaspoon dried parsley

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon celery salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

For the additions:

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

1  cup mayonnaise

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

IMG_0105Step 2. Whisk until mixture is smooth and drizzley.

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

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

Prepping & lightly-pounding the chicken tenderloin patties:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04/10/2017

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

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

IMG_7763Milanese requires just a few basic ingredients and a process.  

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

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

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

When did classic veal Milanese transition to chicken Milanese?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lemon and Pepper Seasoning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04/08/2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

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

1  cup milk

3  tablespoons salted butter

1 1/2  cups small diced yellow or sweet onion

1 1/2  cups small diced celery

3/4  cup minced parsley leaves

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

2  teaspoons salt

1 1/2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04/06/2017

~My Fully-Loaded Roast Beef Grilled Cheese Sammie~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grill pan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

04/03/2017

~Braaibroodjie: South African Grilled Cheese Sammie~

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

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

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

IMG_7326For four sandwiches