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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

07/12/2018

~A Little Thing Called Gem Lettuce: A Leafy Treasure~

IMG_9720

Lettuce is not a subject people get excited about.  That said, everyone has a preference, nonchalantly placing their favorite variety in their shopping cart as they saunter through the produce department.  In our present day food world, it's understandable to take this humble, fragile and perishable vegetable for granted, but, prior to the 1920's, that was not the case. Americans relied primarily on seasonal leaf lettuces that were grown in their gardens or sold in their local markets for their salads -- salad eating in the colder regions was a seasonal pleasure. Out of season, the cook relied on rugged root vegetables like carrots, potatoes and cabbage.

Thankfully, along came the transcontinental railroad.

It became possible for iceberg to be shipped year round, in traincars, from California to every corner of the USA.  Each crate of this round-headed super-crispy lettuce, which has a longer shelf life than all other leafy greens, was topped with ice to keep it cold during the long trip.  As the traincars pulled into depots for delivery and unpacking, the rail workers would shout, "here comes the icebergs", or, "the icebergs are coming".  Then, along came refrigerated rail cars, trucks and airplanes.  The stage was set for the lettuce industry to boom, and boom it did.  Worldwide distribution of many varieties of lettuce, bagged lettuce mixes and micro greens was possible.  

Gem lettuce is a miniature, slightly-sweeter variety of romaine.

IMG_9724Described as the perfect cross between butterhead & romaine.

IMG_9750Originally native to France and Spain, this miniature variety of romaine has been around for a long time on the West coast of the USA.  Thankfully, its gain in popularity has finally resulted in my having easy access to it here on the East coast, more specifically, Central Pennsylvania.  Its scaled-down appearance is remarkably similar to its larger relative, having a green (sometimes reddish), oblong head with loose, crinkly leaves gathered around its crisp, more compact heart. Described as the perfect cross between butterhead (also known as butter, bibb or Boston bibb) and romaine, its crisp texture and compact size make it perfect for appetizer-size lettuce wraps and a great substitute for iceberg lettuce on any type of sandwich or wrap sandwich.

It's super-crispy, fork-friendly green leaves are often served in high-end restaurants, in a fancy-schmancy single-serving salad course.  Sliced in half or quarters and lightly painted with vinaigrette or olive oil, it holds up really well on the grids of a hot grill or grill pan too.  Like other leafy greens and lettuces, it won't hang around forever, but, if stored loosely wrapped in plastic in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator, I've found it easily lasts up to a full ten days.

These sexy little lettuce heads dress up any type of salad.

IMG_0021Try 'em halved, brushed w/EVOO & grilled to a nutty-golden brown...

IMG_0030... in my Grilled Gem Wedges w/Blue Cheese, Bacon & Filet salad:

IMG_0173Or "as is" in my Little Gems Caesar Salad w/Roasted Chicken

IMG_9842"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

07/09/2018

~Grilled Gem Wedges w/Blue Cheese, Bacon & Filet~

IMG_0167You can teach an old dog new tricks.  As a gal, who, for the most part, prefers her vegetables cooked in some manner to enhance their flavor and texture, grilling lettuce was a technique I learned just a few short weeks ago.  I haven't a clue why it eluded me for so long, except, in my own defense, I don't remember a chapter entitled The Art of Grilling Lettuce in my foodie manual. Grilling lettuce might not be for everyone.  After all, we eat with our eyes, and our eyes have been trained to seek bright green, crisp. lettuce leaves.  So, even though the concept may seem foreign, I'm here to report, there's a nutty deliciousness in this process that's hard to describe.

A grilled-lettuce salad is indeed a shabby-chic salad to look at.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39c52f6200bA bit about the classic wedge salad:  Culinary reference books say iceberg lettuce (also known as crisphead or Simpson) was popular with Americans as far back as the 1920's, but, it places it "at the top of its game" in the 1950's and 60's. During this period, "the classic wedge salad" (a wedge of iceberg topped with blue cheese dressing, blue cheese, bacon, and sometimes, tomatoes) ruled the salad world much like the chicken Caesar does today.  It was a staple on every steakhouse menu. While this undeniably delicious salad has been deemed unhealthy by current-day food police, this is an unfair criticism.  Back in my day, Americans weren't eating via the drive-thru, take-out or delivery several nights a week. "The big cold wedge" was simply an occasional, pleasurable indulgence.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad356794e200cA bit about iceberg lettuce:  Prior to the 1920's, Americans relied primarily on seasonal leaf lettuces that were grown in their gardens or sold in their local markets for their salads -- salad eating in the colder regions was a seasonal pleasure. Then, along came the railroad.  It became possible for iceberg to be shipped year round, in traincars, from California to every corner of the USA.  Each crate of this round-headed super-crispy lettuce, which has a longer shelf life than all other leafy greens, was topped with ice to keep it cold during the long trip.  As the traincars pulled into depots for delivery and unpacking, the rail workers would shout, "here comes the icebergs", or, "the icebergs are coming".

Gem lettuce is a miniature, slightly-sweeter variety of romaine.

IMG_9720Described as the perfect cross between butterhead & romaine...

IMG_9724... these sexy little lettuce heads dress up any type of salad.

IMG_9749Originally native to France and Spain, this miniature variety of romaine has been around for a long time on the West coast of the USA.  Thankfully, its gain in popularity has finally resulted in my having easy access to it here on the East coast, more specifically, Central Pennsylvania.  Its scaled-down appearance is remarkably similar to its larger relative, having a green (sometimes reddish), oblong head with loose, crinkly leaves gathered around its crisp, more compact heart. Described as the perfect cross between butterhead (also known as butter, bibb or Boston bibb) and romaine, its crisp texture and compact size make it perfect for appetizer-size lettuce wraps and a great substitute for iceberg lettuce on any type of sandwich or wrap sandwich.

It's super-crispy, fork-friendly green leaves are often served in high-end restaurants, in a fancy-schmancy single-serving salad course.  Sliced in half or quarters and lightly painted with vinaigrette or olive oil, it holds up really well on the grids of a hot grill or grill pan too.   Like other leafy greens and lettuces, it won't hang around forever, but, if stored loosely wrapped in plastic in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator, I've found it easily lasts up to a full ten days.

Halved & brushed w/EVOO, it does great on the grill or grill pan.

IMG_0041Part 1:  Make the dressing, preferably in day in advance.

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd253167970bBlue cheese dressing is undoubtedly one of America's most popular salad dressings -- especially with men.  As the only girl in a sea of four men in my kitchen, this has been proven true.  In any steakhouse you'll be offered their house salad, many times a classic wedge salad, with the option of their in-house-made blue cheese dressing on top of it.  Order chicken wings anywhere, and unless you request them served otherwise, they will arrive with blue cheese dressing. 

6a0120a8551282970b01a511d428b7970cMy recipe will rival any blue cheese dressing, anywhere.  Chocked full of chunky blue cheese crumbles and the right balance of sweet and savory spice with a touch of heat, I'm reasonably certain it will become your favorite version.  My favorite blue cheese comes from Denmark, but, if you've got a favorite, as long as it can be crumbled, use it.  If you have the time, prepare the dressing a day before serving, to allow it ample time to thicken and give all the wonderful flavors time to marry.

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd232464970bFor the salad dressing:

1/2  cup each:  buttermilk, mayonnaise and sour cream

1/2-3/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper sauce

1/2  teaspoon each:  lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce

3  tablespoons minced chives

1-1 1/2  cups crumbled blue cheese, 4-6 ounces

For the dried spice blend:

6a0120a8551282970b01a73dddf0f9970d1/2  teaspoon each:  minced garlic, garlic powder, sugar and celery salt

1/4  teaspoon each:  minced onion, onion powder, celery seed, cracked black pepper, white pepper

1/8  teaspoon salt

IMG_9886 IMG_9886 IMG_9886~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, vigorously whisk together the salad dressing ingredients, except for the blue cheese crumbles and chives.  In a small bowl, stir together the dried spice blend, add them to the bowl of wet ingredients and, once again, vigorously stir.  Fold in the blue cheese crumbles and chives.

Note:  Depending on how much blue cheese you added, you will have 2-2 1/2 cups of salad dressing.  Transfer to a food storage container, cover and refrigerate several hours to overnight.

Part 2:  Grill-pan a filet or four & let 'em rest 10-15+ minutes.

IMG_9975Feel free to take your filet mignon into the great outdoors to cook it on the grill, but, I don't recommend it. Why? The filet, cut from the tenderloin and leanest, tenderest cut of beef, is the least likely to succeed over the dry, open flame of any seething-hot charcoal or gas grill grids. That said, indoors, on a grill pan, where it has a solid, steamy surface to sear itself above its own bubbling juices, the filet graduates at the head of its class -- with perfect, 4.0 grill marks too.

IMG_9906 IMG_9912 IMG_9933~Step 1.  For even-cooking and a pretty presentation, tie a kitchen-twine rope-line around the waist of each of 4, 8-9-ounce, 2"-thick filet mignon.

IMG_9935 IMG_9935 IMG_9935 IMG_9935~Step 1.  Spray the grids of a nonstick grill pan with no-stick cooking spray and place over medium-high heat for 1 minute.  Once pan is preheated, place steaks on the grill grids.  Season their tops with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend*.  Continue to cook 5 full minutes. Using a spatula (not a fork), flip steaks over,  season the second sides and cook 5 more minutes. Flip steaks over and immediately give each one a quarter-turn, to form the signature cross-hatch grill-grid marks (note the direction of the marks in photos 3 & 4), then, cook 1 more minute.

*Note:  Steak-seasoning may be substituted for freshly-ground sea salt and/or peppercorn blend.

IMG_9950 IMG_9950 IMG_9950 IMG_9950~Step 2.  Flip steaks over one last time and cook 1 more minute.  Steaks will now have the signature cross-hatch marks on both sides.  Using the aid of a long-handled fork (without poking holes in meat), lift steaks onto their sides and use the sides of the grill pan for support as you work. Continue to cook steaks on their sides for another full minute, turning steaks methodically and constantly during this time, to brown all around their perimeters.  Transfer steaks from grill pan to a plate, loosely cover steaks with aluminum foil or plastic wrap (to keep moist), and, set aside to cool prior to slicing and serving slightly-warm or at room temperature.

Part 3:  For the salad, grilling the lettuce, &, the assembly:

IMG_0018Of course you can serve this salad without grilling the gem lettuce -- everyone loves a crisp and classic wedge salad.  That said, the slightly-sweet gem lettuce gets sweeter on the grill pan, and, because of its compact leaf structure it holds up really well.  Set your apprehension aside for a moment and try it once.  You just might like it, and, be surprised to find out your family does too.

16  gem lettuce heads, sliced in half, 4 gem lettuce heads per salad

1  tablespoon olive oil, for ever-so-lightly brushing on gem lettuce halves

4  grill-pan-grilled filet mignon, slightly-warm or at room temp, from above recipe

1 1/2-2  cups dressing, from above recipe

1  cup crumbled blue cheese

1/2-3/4  cup very-thinly-sliced red onion, cut into half-moons, half-moons cut into quarters

1/2-3/4  cup crisply-fried and small-diced bacon

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for garnish

IMG_0020 IMG_0020 IMG_0020~Step 1.  Slice each lettuce head in half lengthwise.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint the flat surfaces with olive oil. Spray grids of a nonstick grill pan with no-stick and place over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Once pan is heated, arrange gem lettuce halves, without crowding the pan, flat side down, on hot grill grids. Do this in two batches if necessary.  Grill lettuce, without turning, for 3-3/12 minutes. Turn heat off and remove lettuce from skillet.  Use ASAP to plate salads as directed below.

IMG_0138IMG_0138IMG_0138IMG_0138IMG_0138~Step 2.  To assemble the salads, on each of four salad/luncheon-sized plates, in the following order, decoratively arrange, sliced filet mignon, grilled lettuce halvess, red onion, blue cheese crumbles and bacon bits. Dollop a generous scoop of dressing in their centers, then, give each salad a light, even grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

The beauty is in the eye of the grilled-lettuce beholder: IMG_0173

Pick up a knife & a fork and cut in to nutty deliciousness: 

IMG_0132Grilled Gem Wedges w/Blue Cheese, Bacon & Filet: 2-2 1/2 cups salad dressing & four, hearty main-course salads.

Special Equipment List: 2-cup food storage container w/tight fitting lid; cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen twine; kitchen shears; aluminum foil or plastic wrap; grill pan; pastry brush 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad356791d200cCook's Note:  The perfect accompaniment to any wedge salad is a steak.  An extraordinary accompaniment to any wedge salad is ~ Steak au Poivre (Peppercorn-Crusted Filet Mignon) ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

07/07/2018

~ The Perfect 12-13-Minute, 2"-Thick, Grill-Pan Filet ~

IMG_9975Feel free to take your filet mignon into the great outdoors to cook it on the grill, but, I don't recommend it. Why? The filet, cut from the tenderloin and leanest, tenderest cut of beef, is the least likely to succeed over the dry, open flame of any seething-hot charcoal or gas grill grids. That said, indoors, on a grill pan, where it has a solid, steamy surface to sear itself above its own bubbling juices, the filet graduates at the head of its class -- with perfect, 4.0 grill marks too.

4, 8-9-ounce, 2"-thick USDA Choice Angus filet-mignon steaks.

IMG_9904To insure even cooking time & a pretty presentation...

IMG_9906... it's necessary to buck 'em up to hold their shape.

IMG_9912This is done by tightly-tying a rope-line around each waist.

IMG_9933

Tie 'em even if you are foolish enough to put 'em on an outdoor grill.  You can thank me later for that small piece of advice.

IMG_9935 IMG_9935 IMG_9935 IMG_9935~Step 1.  Spray the grids of a nonstick grill pan with no-stick cooking spray and place over medium-high heat for 1 minute.  Once pan is preheated, place steaks on the grill grids.  Season their tops with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend*.  Continue to cook 5 full minutes. Using a spatula (not a fork), flip steaks over,  season the second sides and cook 5 more minutes. Flip steaks over and immediately give each one a quarter-turn, to form the signature cross-hatch grill-grid marks (note the direction of the marks in photos 3 & 4), then, cook 1 more minute.

*Note:  Steak-seasoning may be substituted for freshly-ground sea salt and/or peppercorn blend.

IMG_9950 IMG_9950 IMG_9950 IMG_9950~Step 2.  Flip steaks over one last time and cook 1 more minute.  Steaks will now have the signature cross-hatch marks on both sides.  Using the aid of a long-handled fork (without poking holes in meat), lift steaks onto their sides and use the sides of the grill pan for support as you work. Continue to cook steaks on their sides for another full minute, turning steaks methodically and constantly during this time, to brown all around their perimeters.  Remove steaks from pan.

Rest steaks 5-10 minutes prior to slicing & serving: 

IMG_9977Would you like Superbly-Seasoned Steak Fries with that?

IMG_0325The Perfect 12-13-Minute, 2"-Thick, Grill-Pan Fillet:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen-safe twine; kitchen shears; grill pan; spatula; long-handled fork

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39e9e4c200bCook's Note:  A classic recipe to cook a filet indoors is ~ Steak au Poivre (Peppercorn-Crusted Filet Mignon) ~.  It gets cooked in a skillet and is served with a luscious sauce made from the pan juices -- one of my fancy-schmancy favorites.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

07/04/2018

~ Little Gems Caesar-Style Salad w/Roasted Chicken ~

IMG_9842Over the past four decades, the classic Caesar salad has:  #1)  Become America's most popular main-dish salad; #2) Altered the lettuce industry, as the demand for romaine has skyrocketed, and: #3) Turned the chicken-topped Caesar salad into the chicken item most frequently found on restaurant menus -- even more than wings and chicken fingers.  Now considered the all-American salad, it was in fact invented in Mexico in 1924 by an Italian-born immigrant to Mexico.

Now considered the all-American salad, the Caesar was invented on July 4th, 1924, by an Italian-Mexican chef & co-owner of a restaurant in Tijuana, who emigrated to & resided in America.

IMG_9803Caesar Cardini lived in San Diego, but worked as a co-owner in a Tijuana restaurant in order to avoid the restrictions of Prohibition. He concocted his now iconic salad late in the day on the Fourth of July, for some Hollywood celebrities, after the holiday crowd had depleted his kitchen of many ingredients.  He used romaine lettuce (which doesn't impress us today, but back then it was an uncommon ingredient) and tossed it with a dressing made from just six ingredients:  garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan cheese.  In the original salad, he used whole lettuce leaves, which were meant to be picked up and eaten with the fingers.  The original salad dressing contained no anchovies, but got its slight anchovy flavor from the Worcestershire sauce (which contains anchovies).  Later, the salad was tossed and served at tableside, and posh restaurants in Hollywood and LA, who catered to the upper class, soon began offering it.

CCardiniI've heard it said that a restaurant is only as good as its Caesar salad and a Caesar salad is only as good as its dressing.  A few decades ago, back in the 1970's, '80's and '90's, when people still had an appreciation for the snobbery of an elegant restaurant, that was true, and no one enjoyed the fanfare of watching a black-tied waiter prepare my Caesar salad, to my liking, at tableside, more than me.  If a Caesar salad was on a restaurant menu, I ordered it.  Nowadays -- not so much.  Fast forward.  In our present-day Olive Garden-, Carrabba's-type atmosphere, I'm betting most folks wouldn't know a good Caesar salad, or a good Caesar dressing from a bad one, even if they got hit on the head with an olive wood bowl.  I find this disheartening because the simple elegance of a well-prepared Caesar salad is indeed an extraordinary dining experience.

Cardini served his original salad arranged atop leaves of long, slender hearts-of-romaine.  Each leaf was intended too be picked up & eaten out-of-hand.  Cardini would have adored gem lettuce.

IMG_9864Gem lettuce is a miniature, slightly-sweeter variety of romaine.  

IMG_9720Described as the perfect cross between butterhead & romaine...

IMG_9724... these sexy gems will dress-up my July 4th Caesar salad.

IMG_9749Originally native to France and Spain, this miniature variety of romaine has been around for a long time on the West coast of the USA.  Thankfully, its gain in popularity has finally resulted in my having easy access to it here on the East coast, more specifically, Central Pennsylvania.  Its scaled-down appearance is remarkably similar to its larger relative, having a green (sometimes reddish), oblong head with loose, crinkly leaves gathered around its crisp, more compact heart. Described as the perfect cross between butterhead (also known as butter, bibb or Boston bibb) and romaine, its crisp texture and compact size make it perfect for appetizer-size lettuce wraps and a great substitute for iceberg lettuce on any type of sandwich or wrap sandwich.

It's super-crispy, fork-friendly green leaves are often served in high-end restaurants, in a fancy-schmancy single-serving salad course.  Sliced in half or quarters and lightly painted with vinaigrette or olive oil, it holds up really well on the grids of a hot grill or grill pan too.   Like other leafy greens and lettuces, it won't hang around forever, but, if stored loosely wrapped in plastic in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator, I've found it easily lasts up to a full ten days.

Part 1:  Caesar-Style Salad Dressing a la Melanie

IMG_9767The original dressing contained six ingredients:  garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire and Parmesan -- it did not contain anchovies, getting its slight anchovy flavor from the anchovies in the Worcestershire.  When it comes to making Caesar dressing, I play by the rules, bending them by adjusting the quantities to suit my own taste.  I want my dressing garlicy, peppery, and creamy, and, I want it to get creamy by using the traditional raw egg.  I want it slightly sweet and savory too, and, while I don't want to see anchovies, I want to taste their tang.  As for the Parmesan -- I omit it from the dressing, choosing instead to use a copious amount to garnish my salad.   

IMG_9707While store-bought dressing is a time saving ingredient, and, "hoaky-smokes Bullwinkle", there is a wide selection to choose from (and that includes the trademarked Cardini's brand, which is named after Caesar Cardini), when it comes to making this iconic salad, I don't take shortcuts -- and I'll put my dressing up against any of the bottle brands out there.  That said, I won't call the food police if you choose to use one, but, if you do, do not be afraid to "doctor it up a bit" to suit yourself.

IMG_96861  2-ounce can anchovy fillets (preferably rolled w/capers), well-drained

1/4  cup Dijon mustard

2  tablespoons red wine vinegar

1  tablespoon each:  garlic paste, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, sugar

1/2  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1/2  cup extra-virgin olive oil

IMG_9691 IMG_9691 IMG_9691 IMG_9691~Step 1.  Place all the ingredients, except olive oil, in work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Put the lid on, turn the motor on, and process for a full 30 seconds.  With the motor running, add the olive oil, in a thin, slow, steady stream, through the feed tube into the dressing. Transfer to a 1 1/2-2-cup size container, cover tightly and refrigerate one hour prior to using (to allow flavors time to marry), and, keep it stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Part Two:  Caesar-Style Croutons a la Melanie

IMG_9742Not too big, not to small, not too hard, not to soft, buttery-rich and bold-flavored from plenty of black pepper, garlic powder and Italian seasoning, I make my croutons from scratch, and, I make 'em using homemade bread, which I make in my bread machine.  Why?  Because, just like store-bought dressings, I take Ceasar salad-making seriously, and, that means: no short cuts.

1  pound loaf, 1/2"-cubed, bread-machine herbed-pizza-dough loaf

2  sticks salted butter

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95305a4970b-1For the dough:

3/4  cup warm water

1  tablespoon olive oil

2 1/4  cups all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon each:  garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend and coarse-grind black pepper

1  teaspoon granulated dry yeast

~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients, in order listed, in bread machine.

Follow the instructions in your machine's manual for baking a 1-pound loaf of white bread.  Got questions?  Click on the the link provided above to get my directions and step-by-step photos.

IMG_9608 IMG_9608 IMG_9608 IMG_9608 IMG_9608 IMG_9608 IMG_9608 IMG_9608~Step 1.  In a 12" skillet, melt the garlic powder into the butter over medium-low heat.  Adjust heat to medium-high and add the bread cubes.  Using two large, slotted spoons, tossing constantly until butter is all absorbed and almost constantly thereafter, brown and crisp the bread, about 15-18 minutes, lowering the heat as necessary toward the end of the cooking process.  Remove the skillet from heat and allow the bread to cool in the skillet for about 1 hour, where it will continue to crisp up.  Use one of the slotted spoons to transfer croutons to a shallow bowl that has been lined with paper towels, then remove and reserve the smaller crouton bread bits for plate garnish.  

Part Three:  Caesar-Style Gem Salad a la Melanie

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c92e1f14970bIt's been said that a restaurant is only as good as its Caesar salad. As a lover of Caesar salad, if a restaurant offers one, I'm ordering it. That said, with or w/o the chicken option, I ask that my Caesar contain three on-hand additions to the usual suspects: onion, tomato and hard-cooked egg. One last item of note, I roast two chickens almost every week.  I do it because I love having it on-hand for a quick salad or sandwich all week long.  Feel free to use poached- or grilled-, salt-and-pepper-seasoned- chicken.

When it comes to salad making, it is not an exact science.  I have estimated the quantities below to the best of my ability, based upon my preferences -- I encourage you to do the same.

IMG_9810For four, main-dish, gem-lettuce Caesar-style salads w/roasted chicken (in order of assembly):

10-12 Little Gem lettuce hearts, separated (a generous 2 1/2 hearts per salad)

1-1 1/2  cups red onion, peeled, quartered and very-thinly-sliced, shaved (a generous 1/4 cup per salad)

2 1/2  cups bite-sized, pulled- or diced, chicken breast (a generous 1/2 cup per salad)

4-6  hard-cooked eggs, peeled & wedged, wedges cut in half (1+ egg per salad)

1 1/2  cups grape tomatoes, halved (about 1/3 cup per salad) 

Caesar-style dressing, from above recipe

1/2-1  cup finely-shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese (a generous tablespoon per salad -- I shredded 5-6 ounces and will refrigerate what I do not use)

Caesar-style croutons, from above recipe 

freshly-ground black pepper, for garnishing salad

IMG_9814 IMG_9814 IMG_9814 IMG_9814 IMG_9814 IMG_9814 IMG_9814 IMG_9814~Step 1.  To assemble four hearty, individual-sized salads (or one large salad on a large platter), divide, layer and arrange the ingredients, in the the following order:  gem romaine leaves, red onion, chicken breast, hard-cooked egg, grape tomatoes, a drizzle of dressing, a sprinkling of cheese, crunchy croutons and, a generous grinding of black pepper.  Serve immediately.

Once assembled, serve salad(s) ASAP...

IMG_9847... & enjoy w/a fork, or, out-of-hand a la Caesar Cardini: 

IMG_9876Little Gems Caesar-Style Salad w/Roasted Chicken:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups dressing and 4 large, main-dish serving.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; 1 1/2 cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; cutting board; serrated bread knife; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; 2 large slotted spoons; paper towels; microplane grater

IMG_9803Cook's Note:  Looking for the perfect accompaniment to a Ceasar salad? ~ My Traditional Gazpacho: Fresh from our Garden ~ is it.  Just like steaming hot tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich go hand-in-hand in the Winter, so goes gazpacho and the Caesar salad.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

07/02/2018

~ Creamy, Garlicy & Peppery Caesar-Style Dressing ~

IMG_9767I've heard it said that a restaurant is only as good as its Caesar salad and a Caesar salad is only as good as its dressing.  A few decades ago, back in the 1970's, '80's and '90's, when people still had an appreciation for the snobbery of an elegant restaurant, that was true, and no one enjoyed the fanfare of watching a black-tied waiter prepare my Caesar salad, to my liking, at tableside, more than me.  If a Caesar salad was on a restaurant menu, I ordered it.  Nowadays -- not so much.  In our present-day Olive Garden, Carrabba's atmosphere, I'm betting most folks wouldn't know a good Caesar salad from a bad one if they got hit on the head with an olive wood bowl.

The Caesar salad, was invented on July 4th, 1924, by Caesar Cardini, an Italian-born Mexican immigrant & co-owner of a restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, who resided in San Diego. 

CCardiniCardini concocted his now iconic salad late in the day on the Fourth of July, for some Hollywood celebrities, after the holiday crowd had depleted his kitchen of many ingredients.  The original and easy-to-make dressing contained just six ingredients:  garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire and Parmesan -- it did not contain anchovies, getting its slight anchovy flavor from the anchovies in the Worcestershire.  When it comes to making Caesar dressing, I play by the rules, bending them by adjusting the quantities to suit my own taste.  I want my dressing garlicy, peppery, and creamy, and, I want it to get creamy by using the traditional raw egg.  I want it slightly sweet and savory too, and, while I don't want to see anchovies, I want to taste their tang.  As for the Parmesan -- I omit it from the dressing, choosing instead to use a copious amount to garnish my salad.

IMG_9707While store-bought dressing is a time saving ingredient, and, "hoaky-smokes Bullwinkle", there is a wide selection to choose from (and that includes the trademarked Cardini's brand, which is named after Caesar Cardini), when it comes to making this iconic salad, I don't take shortcuts -- and I'll put my dressing up against any of the bottle brands out there.  That said, I won't call the food police if you choose to use one, but, if you do, do not be afraid to "doctor it up a bit" to suit yourself.

IMG_96861  2-ounce can anchovy fillets (preferably rolled w/capers), well-drained

1/4  cup Dijon mustard

2  tablespoons red wine vinegar

1  tablespoon each:  garlic paste, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, sugar

1/2  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1/2  cup extra-virgin olive oil

IMG_9691 IMG_9691 IMG_9691 IMG_9691~Step 1.  Place all the ingredients, except olive oil, in work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Put the lid on, turn the motor on, and process for a full 30 seconds.  With the motor running, add the olive oil, in a thin, slow, steady stream, through the feed tube into the dressing. Transfer to a 1 1/2-2-cup size container, cover tightly and refrigerate one hour prior to using (to allow flavors time to marry), and, keep it stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Try my Italian-seasoned Caesar-style croutons w/my dressing:

IMG_9742Use them both on my house-special gem Ceasar-style-salad:

IMG_9864Creamy, Galicky & Peppery Caesar-Style Dressing:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups.

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

6a0120a8551282970b019aff58cbc0970dCook's Note:  Similar to the Caesar salad in that it is only as good as its dressing,  ~ My Big Fat Greek Lemon-y-Garlic Salad ~, is one of my favorite salad combinations.  Full of briny olives and feta, it's particularly good with grilled or poached seafood (crabmeat, lobster, shrimp and/or scallops) added to it.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

06/30/2018

~Italian-Seasoned Caesar-Style Salad/Soup Croutons~

IMG_9737Not too big, not to small, not too hard, not to soft, buttery-rich and bold-flavored from plenty of black pepper, garlic powder and Italian seasoning, I make all sorts of croutons from scratch, and, while I often use firm-textured and rustic store-bought bread, I also make them using homemade bread, which I use my bread machine to bake.  Being the Caesar salad snob that I am, without exception, I always bake my own bread for my croutons.  Why?  Because, just like store-bought dressings, I take Ceasar salad-making seriously, and, that means: no short cuts.

Baking bread in the bread machine is my secret to...

IMG_9713... simple, straightforward & spectacular Caesar-style croutons:

IMG_96051  pound loaf, 1/2"-cubed Bread Machine Herbed-Pizza-Dough Sandwich Loaf

2  sticks salted butter

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95305a4970bFor the bread:

3/4 cup warm water

1  tablespoon olive oil

2 1/4  cups all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1  teaspoon each:  garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend and coarse-grind black pepper

1  teaspoon granulated dry yeast

~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients, in order listed, in bread machine.

Follow the instructions in your machine's manual for baking a 1-pound loaf of white bread.  Got questions?  Click on the the link provided above to get my directions and step-by-step photos.

IMG_9608 IMG_9608 IMG_9608 IMG_9608 IMG_9619 IMG_9619 IMG_9619 IMG_9619~Step 2.  In a 12" skillet, melt the garlic powder into the butter over medium-low heat.  Adjust heat to medium-high and add the bread cubes.  Using two large, slotted spoons, tossing constantly until butter is all absorbed and almost-constantly thereafter, brown and crisp the bread, about 15-18 minutes, lowering the heat as necessary toward the end of the cooking process.  Remove the skillet from heat and allow the bread to cool in the skillet for about 1 hour, where it will continue to crisp up.  Use one of the slotted spoons to transfer croutons to a shallow bowl that has been lined with paper towels, then remove and reserve the smaller crouton bread bits for plate garnish.

Keep stored, uncovered & a room temperature, 4-5 days:

IMG_9710Make my Creamy, Garlicy & Peppery Caesar Dressing...

IMG_9767... & try my chilled gazpacho & gem Caesar-style-salad combo:

IMG_9803Italian-Seasoned Caesar-Style Salad/Soup Croutons:  Recipe yields 3 cups, fork- and mouth-friendly, croutons.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; serrated bread knife; 12" nonstick skillet; 2, large slotted spoons; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b016767f23475970bCook's Note:  If you've never been a fan of your bread machine, it's time to take it out the closet, dust it off, and give it another whirl.  I've developed several foolproof recipes for bread machine bread, pizza dough and fruit preserves. To learn more, click hear to read ~ Bread Machine Basics & Melanie's Brioche Recipe ~. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

06/28/2018

~ Simply-Scrumptious 3-Ingredient Strawberry Sauce ~

IMG_9664Strawberry sauce.  Drizzled on pancakes or waffles for breakfast, atop strawberry ice cream for dessert, or, used to flavor a strawberry milkshake, it's hard to find a person that doesn't love this sweet condiment.  I'm not here to tell you it's hard or time-consuming to make strawberry topping from scratch -- it's not.  That said, it can be made even easier without any compromise to the end result.  As we all know, sometimes there simply aren't even enough minutes in the day to make everything completely from scratch.  I am here to tell you, if you've got store-bought or homemade strawberry preserves on hand, you're only one or two ingredients away from strawberry sauce:  fresh or frozen strawberries, and, some optional strawberry extract.

IMG_9285For my puréed strawberry sauce (yields 2 cups):

1- 1 1/4  pounds hulled and 1/4"-thick sliced fresh strawberries (1-1 1/4 pounds after hulling)

1/2  cup strawberry preserves, homemade or high-quality store-bought

1  tablespoon pure strawberry extract

IMG_9256 IMG_9256 IMG_9256 IMG_9256~Step 1.  Slice (& weigh) the strawberries as directed, placing them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Add the preserves and extract to the work bowl.  Using a series of 10-12 rapid on-off pulses, chop the berries and incorporate the preserves.  

IMG_9268 IMG_9268 IMG_9268 IMG_9268~Step 2.  Transfer the mixture to a 3-quart saucier or a 4-quart saucepan.  Over medium heat, bring to a steady simmer.  Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, until mixture slightly-reduced and slightly-thickened, 8-9 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Transfer to a 2-cup food storage container, cover, and chill for several hours.  Keep stored in the refrigerator until it's gone.

Serve at room temperature or warmed in microwave:

IMG_9650Seriously Simple & Scrumptious Strawberry Sauce:

IMG_9679Simply-Scrumptious 3-Ingredient Strawberry Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; 3-quart saucier or 4-quart saucepan; 2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b01a73deb7c55970dCook's Note:  Happiness comes in many forms, and, for the better part of my life, it never occurred to me that strawberry shortcake, being the straightforward dessert that it is, has too many options.  I was wrong. This delicate, moist, almost-creamy cake, when used as the base for strawberry shortcake, ~ Luscious Lemony Strawberry Almond Coffeecake ~,  is, quite possibly the best rendition of classic strawberry shortcake you'll ever eat.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

06/25/2018

~ Summer Strawberry and Banana Breakfast Muffins ~

IMG_9571I rarely drink coffee, but when I do, a muffin is involved.  The humbly-crumbly and not-too-sweet muffin is the perfect accompaniment to my steaming hot cup of caffeine laced with cream.  In my muffin world, muffins are to be consumed for breakfast or brunch, bigger does not equate to better, mini-muffins miss the entire touchy-feely point, and, muffins containing chunks of fresh or dried fruit and/or toasted nuts are amongst my favorites -- even the most magnificent Chocolate-Chip Muffin top can't woo me away from an Apple, Raisin & Pecan Streusel Muffin.  As a gal who considers a banana a great breakfast all-by-its-lonesome-self and Special K without strawberries a crime, pairing the two in a muffin recipe didn't require me to wear my thinking cap.

IMG_9553No frosting on these muffins please, save it for your cupcakes.  

A cupcake is a cup-sized cake with a light, soft texture, and, a muffin is a cup-sized loaf of "quick-bread" (a quick-to-mix-together bread leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda rather than yeast) with a denser, crumbier texture.  A cupcake is sweeter than a muffin and a muffin is sweeter than a traditional loaf of bread with one caveat:  a muffin can be savory too, a cupcake cannot.  Cupcakes are usually piped or slathered with frosting, while muffins get nothing at all, a sprinkling of sparkling, coarse-textured sugar, and/or, a crumbly streusel sprinkled on their tops -- sometimes they have a thin glaze too, but, that's not my cup-of-tea.  Cupcakes are, in fact: dessert.  Muffins can be dessert, but, they are generally considered a breakfast or brunch treat.  

To proclaim that muffins are inherently healthier than a fully-frosted cupcake is a misconception -- the muffins at any local bakery, coffeeshop or Starbucks can contain as many as 600+ calories.

IMG_0810When baking banana bread or banana muffins:  If the bananas can't be easily mashed w/a fork, they are not ripe enough.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8cbeab9970bI eat a pretty yellow banana almost every morning -- I've been doing it all my life.  Pretty yellow: that is my favorite stage of ripeness for eating this fruit and it's one of my favorite ways to start a busy day.  I only buy bananas 2-3 at a time because I won't eat them past pretty yellow.

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

When adding strawberries to quick bread or muffins:  Use firm, ever-so-slightly-underripe to ripe, at-their-prime berries.  

IMG_4762firm strawberries + soft bananas = marvelous muffins 

IMG_94581/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 stick)

1  cup granulated sugar

2  large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1  teaspoon each: pure banana, strawberry and vanilla extract

1 1/2  cups mashed bananas (12 ounces banana after peeling, about 3 large bananas)

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour + 1/4 cup additional flour, for prepping strawberries as directed in ~ Step 5.

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2  cups 1/2" diced strawberries (8-10 ounces diced strawberries)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin tins

IMG_9463 IMG_9463 IMG_9463 IMG_9463~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place softened butter.  Microwave for 10-12 seconds, long enough to melt, without turning greasy.  Using a large rubber spatula add and stir the sugar into the butter.

IMG_9473 IMG_9473 IMG_9473 IMG_9473 IMG_9483 IMG_9483~Step 2.  In a small bowl, use a fork to vigorously whisk the eggs.  Add and use the spatula to fold the eggs into the butter/sugar mixture.  Add and thoroughly fold in the three flavor-boosting extracts (banana, strawberry and vanilla).

IMG_9487 IMG_9487 IMG_9487~ Step 3.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use the fork to mash the fruit from three bananas, stopping when you've reached 2 1/2 cups of mashed bananas.  Got more than 2 1/2 cups?  Use it at your own risk.

IMG_9501 IMG_9501 IMG_9501~ Step 4.  Add and fold the dry ingredients (the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt and ground cinnamon) into the chunky banana mixture, until all ingredients are just moistened -- some lumps and clumps are just fine.

IMG_9495 IMG_9495 IMG_9508 IMG_9508~Step 5.  In a medium bowl, take a moment to fold the diced strawberries into the flour.  This will keep the strawberries from sticking together when stirred into the batter, and, prevent them from sinking to the bottom as the muffins bake.  Add and fold coated strawberries into banana batter.

IMG_9518 IMG_9518 IMG_9518~ Step 6.  Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, distribute batter into each of 12 muffin cups whose tins have been lightly sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  There will be some batter left in the bowl.  Use a tablespoon to distribute and dollop/mound a bit of additional batter into the center of each cup.

IMG_9529 IMG_9529 IMG_9529~ Step 7.  Bake muffins, all at once, on center rack of preheated 350° oven, until puffed up, golden, and, a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25-28 minutes.  Remove from oven to cool, in pans, on a wire rack for 30 minutes.  To remove muffins from tins, use a sharp paring knife to carefully and gently loosen the edges, invert the pan and give it a gentle shake.  Cool completely, about 1 hour.

Muffin(s) going into oven to bake in 350° oven, 25-28 minutes:

IMG_9525Muffin(s) out of oven, cooling in pans, 30 minutes:

IMG_9536Muffin(s) out of pans & on a rack to cool completely:

IMG_9545Pick one up, pull it apart & have a great start to your day:

IMG_9599Summer Strawberry and Banana Breakfast Muffins:  Recipe yields 1 dozen standard-sized muffins.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; fork; 2-cup measuring container; standard-size muffin tins, enough for 2 dozen muffins; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack; sharp paring knife

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2575387970cCook's Note:  I enjoy a lot of treats unembellished  -- cake doughnuts, cream cakes,  crumb cakes and coffeecakes -- even plain cheesecake.   That said, for those who prefer their muffins chocked-full of goodies, having a basic muffin batter recipe in your back pocket takes the guess and stress out of making all sorts of muffins exactly the way you like them by adding a cup or two of this or that and a pinch of spice and other things nice. Here's ~ A Plain, All-Purpose, No-Nonsense Muffin Recipe ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

06/22/2018

~ Old-Fashioned Very-Strawberry-Custard Ice Cream ~

IMG_9387When it comes to ice-cream, store-bought or scratch-made, of the basic big-three choices, vanilla, chocolate or strawberry, strawberry is my favorite -- it always has been, even as a child. In my hometown, their's a place, Heisler's Cloverleaf Dairy, which, in my opinion makes the best strawberry ice-cream known to man- or woman-kind.  Whether scooped into a bowl or onto a cone, it is always served at the perfect frozen-anything temperature.  It's rich, creamy, not-too-sweet and full of bold-flavored bit's of to-the-tooth-textured strawberries -- not nasty clumps of ice.

A bit about adding fresh fruit to ice-cream or frozen custard:

IMG_4770When making ice-cream or frozen custard, to keep any fresh fruit (which is mostly water) from turning into fruity bits and clumps of hard ice cubes, before adding it to the churning ice-cream base, it needs to be cooked in a manner that removes some of its water content and concentrates its flavor -- usually by simmering on the stovetop, sometimes by roasting in the oven.  

Occasionally, a recipe will instruct to macerate the fruit in alcohol, meaning sweetened, fruit-flavored brandies and fruit-flavored schnapps.  The food science behind this:  Alcohol has a lower freezing point than water, so, once added to the churning ice cream or custard, the fruit won't turn into fruity ice cubes.  I'm here to tell you this does not work perfectly.  You see, I long ago learned: While the maceration of fruit renders it soft and tender, most of its flavor gets leached into the liquid, leaving semi-flavorless and soggy fruit to add to the ice cream or frozen custard.

The difference between ice cream and frozen custard:

IMG_9361Frozen-custard and ice-cream  recipes are not created equal.  Sometimes the consistency is too soft, sometimes it's too dense, or worse, sometimes it's full of nasty ice crystals.  Some recipes are cloyingly sweet, and other times, there's simply not enough flavoring added.  Frozen custard and ice-cream are both emulsions with two components (fat and water) that need lots of encouragement to meld, by adding components that absorb water (sugar, starch and protein). 

31173180Store-bought ice cream is made from milk or skim milk, or a combination of milk or skim milk with a bit of cream added, corn syrup or sugar, and flavorings.  Egg yolks are sometimes added, but are not required.  Ice cream is made in a machine that pumps lots of air into it while it churns, which yields a light mouthfeel.  It is federally defined as: a frozen dessert containing 10% milk fat. That said, the old-fashioned simplicity of making home-churned ice cream has been so convoluted by high-tech machinery (to insure its consistent, signature, hand-scoop-able texture), not to mention the additives, preservatives and stabilizers (for a long and palatable shelf life in the freezer), one couldn't reproduce it adequately at home, even if one was inclined to try.

IMG_9438Frozen custard is made from whole milk, or a combination of milk and cream, egg yolks, sugar and flavorings.  Egg-yolks are a requirement, and regulations require 1.4% egg yolks by weight. The higher fat content (from milk and/or cream) gives it a rich, luxurious taste.  Whether made in a hand-crank or commercial machine, frozen custard is churned at a slow pace, to incorporate little air, giving it its dense texture.  Because it melts almost on contact with the lips (similar to soft serve ice cream), it is best served immediately, directly from the machine it was made in.

A bit of rich & creamy frozen-custard history:

IMG_9371Frozen custard was invented on Coney Island, NY, in 1919.  Two ice-cream venders, Archie and Elton Kohr, discovered that when they added egg yolks to their home-made ice-cream base, they produced a richer, creamier, smoother ice cream.  On the first weekend they sold 18,460 cones. They had invented the precursor to our present-day soft-serve ice cream, with one exception: little air was pumped into their product.  As described above, true frozen custard is quite dense.  The mixture enters a refrigerated tube, and, as it freezes, blades scrape the frozen product from the sides of the barrel walls.  Unlike hand-scooped ice cream, the mixture stays in the machine, being discharged directly into cones or cups, on an as-needed basis, to be served immediately.

IMG_9287For my easy-to-make, foolproof strawberry-flavored custard-base:

2  cups heavy cream

2  cups whole milk

1  tablespoons vanilla extract

1  tablespoon strawberry extract

2  tablespoons firmly-packed cornstarch

8  large egg yolks

1 1/4  cups granulated sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_9285For my puréed strawberry sauce (yields 2 cups):

1- 1 1/4  pounds hulled and 1/4"-thick sliced fresh strawberries (1-1 1/4 pounds after hulling)

1/2  cup strawberry preserves, homemade or high-quality store-bought

1  tablespoon pure strawberry extract

IMG_9256 IMG_9256 IMG_9256 IMG_9256~Step 1.  Slice (& weigh) the strawberries as directed, placing them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Add the preserves and extract to the work bowl.  Using a series of 10-12 rapid on-off pulses chop the berries and incorporate the preserves.  

IMG_9268 IMG_9268 IMG_9268 IMG_9268~Step 2.  Transfer the mixture to a 3-quart saucier or a 4-quart saucepan.  Over medium heat, bring to a steady simmer.  Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly until mixture slightly-reduced and slightly-thickened, 8-9 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Transfer to a 2-cup food storage container, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

IMG_8948 IMG_8948 IMG_8948~Step 3.  Place cream, 1 1/2 cups of the milk and extracts in a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop. In a 2-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup milk and cornstarch.  Set aside.

IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957~Step 4.  In a medium bowl, use the fork to whisk egg yolks, sugar and salt. Add the egg yolk mixture to the 2-cup container with the milk/cornstarch mixture.  Use the fork to vigorously combine the two mixtures.  Set aside.

IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974~Step 5.  Heat the saucepan of milk mixture on the stovetop over medium heat.  Heat the mixture until almost steaming (not full-steaming, simmering or boiling), whisking occasionally, about 2-3 minutes.  Adjust heat to low.  While whisking constantly, gradually and in a slow steady stream, whisk the egg yolk/sugar/milk/cornstarch mixture into the almost-steaming milk mixture.  Increase heat to medium and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to thicken, about 2-3 minutes.  In the beginning, mixture will be foamy on top.  As foam subsides and when mixture begins to thicken, switch from whisk to a large spoon to stir.  Continue to cook gently until custard base is simmering gently, nicely-thickened, silky-smooth and ribbon like, about 3-4 minutes.

IMG_9003 IMG_9003~ Step 6.  Remove saucepan from heat and immediately transfer custard base to a 2-quart food storage container.  Cover the surface of the custard base with a layer of plastic wrap, meaning: don't cover the container, lay the plastic directly on the surface of the custard (to prevent a rubbery skin from forming on the top).  Cool for 1-2 hours prior to putting the lid on the container and refrigerating for several hours to overnight.

IMG_9328 IMG_9328~ Step 7.  Remove custard base and strawberry sauce from  refrigerator at the same time.  Once the base has been added to the chilled work bowl of the ice-cream machine (as described below) allow sauce to sit at room temperature.  

IMG_9012 IMG_9012 IMG_9012 IMG_9012~Step 8.  From here forward, for the rest of this recipe, follow the directions that came with your ice-cream maker.  Because mine has a built-in freezing system, I pour all of the cold custard base into the stainless steel work bowl (which has been pre-chilled by the machine for me).  The lid goes on the work bowl and the machine gets turned on to churn for 1 hour - 1 hour, 10 minutes.

IMG_9334 IMG_9334 IMG_9334 IMG_9334~Step 9.  Open lid of ice-cream maker.  As custard churns, working as quickly as possible, begin drizzling, with the aid of a teaspoon if necessary, the still-cold but nicely-softened strawberry sauce into work bowl, until all of the sauce has been gradually churned into the custard. Return lid to ice-cream machine and churn another 30 minutes, or until desired consistency is reached.

Scoop into a pretty bowl or favorite ice-cream cone...

IMG_9376... & enjoy your journey back to a kinder, gentler time.

IMG_9406Can you feel the rich & creamy strawberry dreaminess?

IMG_9418Old-Fashioned Very-Strawberry-Custard Ice-Cream:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 quarts frozen strawberry-flavored custard.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale; food processor; 3-quart saucier; 2, 2-cup food storage containers; plastic wrap; 2-quart food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; fork; 4-quart saucepan; whisk; large spoon; ice-cream maker; ice-cream scoop

IMG_9088Cook's Note:  There's one more way to add fresh fruit to ice cream and frozen custard -- one that doesn't jump out at 'cha.  The concept eluded me for a long time, now, I do it often.  As discussed above, fruit needs to be cooked prior to adding it -- by simmering, sometimes roasting.  That said, adding leftover fruit cobbler or fruit pie, along with bits of the cobbled crust or pie pastry, works great too.     To learn more, read post ~ Have a Blackberry Cobbler Ice-Cream Kind of Day ~.  I scream, you scream we all scream for ice cream!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

06/19/2018

~ Old-Fashioned Chocolate-Custard Ice-Cream Base ~

IMG_9213Rich and creamy chocolate ice-cream.  One dip or two, with or without bits of chocolate or  sauce swirled throughout, it's almost impossible to resist.  Kids love it, adults do too, and, I'm betting it's the favorite-flavor of at least one person in every family.  No banana split would be complete without a dip of chocolate, and, it's a requirement when making the perfect double-chocolate shake or malt too.  Whether it's firm scoops served in a bowl or swirls of soft-serve piled high atop a cone, the Summer heat is the perfect time to indulge in this cool and satisfying treat.

The difference between ice cream & frozen custard:

IMG_9201During June, July and August, we will all most likely eat more ice cream than we did during the past nine months.  In my kitchen, during the next three months, I'll be making more than I did during the past nine too.  Whatever flavor I've got churning, vanilla, chocolate or strawberry, everyone I know (myself included) will generically refer to it as ice cream.  That said, what I'll technically be making is frozen custard, and, if you make homemade ice cream, I'm betting you're most likely making old-fashioned frozen custard (or a version of it), too.  Read on.

Large_7f93e9cc-745d-4b8e-b498-5091f991cfcaStore-bought ice cream is made from milk or skim milk, or, milk or skim milk and cream, corn syrup or sugar, and flavorings.  Egg yolks are sometimes added, but not required. Ice cream is made in a machine that pumps lots of air into it as it churns, yielding a light mouthfeel.  It is federally defined as:  a frozen dessert containing 10% milk fat. That said, the simplicity of making old-fashioned ice cream has been so convoluted by high-tech machinery (to insure consistent, signature, hand-scoop-able texture), and additives, preservatives and stabilizers (for a long and palatable shelf life), one couldn't reproduce it adequately in the home kitchen, even if one was inclined to try.

IMG_9241Frozen custard is made from whole milk, or a combination of milk and cream, egg yolks, sugar and flavorings.  Egg-yolks are a requirement, and regulations require 1.4% egg yolks by weight.  The higher fat content (from milk and/or cream) gives it a rich, luxurious taste.  Whether made in a hand-crank or commercial machine, frozen custard is churned at a slow pace, to incorporate little air, giving it its dense texture.  Because it melts almost on contact with the lips (similar to soft serve ice cream), it is best served immediately, directly from the machine it was made in.

A bit of rich & creamy frozen-custard history:

IMG_9198Frozen custard was invented on Coney Island, NY, in 1919.  Two ice-cream venders, Archie and Elton Kohr, discovered that when they added egg yolks to their home-made ice-cream base, they produced a richer, creamier, smoother ice cream.  On the first weekend they sold 18,460 cones. They had invented the precursor to our present-day soft-serve ice cream, with one exception: little air was pumped into their product.  As described above, true frozen custard is quite dense.  The mixture enters a refrigerated tube, and, as it freezes, blades scrape the frozen product from the sides of the barrel walls.  Unlike hand-scooped ice cream, the mixture stays in the machine, being discharged directly into cones or cups, on an as-needed basis, to be served immediately.

IMG_9149For my easy-to-make, foolproof chocolate-flavored custard-base:

2  cups heavy cream

2  cups whole milk

1  tablespoons vanilla extract

1  tablespoon chocolate extract

1/2  cup firmly-packed cocoa powder

2  tablespoons firmly-packed cornstarch

8  large egg yolks

1 1/4  cups granulated sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_9151 IMG_9151 IMG_9151 IMG_9151 IMG_9151 IMG_9151~Step 1.  Place cream, 1 1/2 cups of the milk and extracts and cocoa powder in a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop.  With the heat turned off, take a moment or two to thoroughly whisk the cocoa powder into milk mixture.  In a 2-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup milk and cornstarch.  Set aside.

IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957~Step 2.  In a medium bowl, use the fork to whisk egg yolks, sugar and salt. Add the egg yolk mixture to the 2-cup container with the milk/cornstarch mixture.  Use the fork to vigorously combine the two mixtures.  Set aside. 

IMG_9161 IMG_9161 IMG_9161 IMG_9161~Step 3.  Heat the saucepan of milk mixture on the stovetop over medium heat.  Heat the mixture until almost steaming (not full-steaming, simmering or boiling), whisking occasionally, about 2-3 minutes.  Adjust heat to low.  While whisking constantly, gradually and in a slow steady stream, whisk the egg yolk/sugar/milk/cornstarch mixture into the almost-steaming milk mixture.  Increase heat to medium and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to thicken, about 2-3 minutes.  In the beginning, mixture will be foamy on top.  As foam subsides and when mixture begins to thicken, switch from whisk to a large spoon to stir.  Continue to cook gently until custard base is simmering gently, nicely-thickened, silky-smooth and ribbon like, about 3-4 minutes.

IMG_9177 IMG_9177~ Step 4.  Remove saucepan from heat and immediately transfer custard base to a 2-quart food storage container.  Cover the surface of the custard base with a layer of plastic wrap, meaning: don't cover the container, lay the plastic directly on the surface of the custard (to prevent a rubbery skin from forming on the top).  Cool for 1-2 hours prior to putting the lid on the container and refrigerating for several hours to overnight.

IMG_9012 IMG_9182 IMG_9182 IMG_9182~Step 5.  From here forward, for the rest of this recipe, follow the directions that came with your ice-cream maker.  Because mine has a built-in freezing system, I pour all of the cold custard base into the stainless steel work bowl (which has been pre-chilled by the machine for me).  The lid goes on the work bowl and the machine gets turned on to churn for 1 hour - 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Scoop into a pretty bowl or favorite ice-cream cone...

IMG_9207... & enjoy your journey back to a kinder, gentler time.

IMG_9220Pinch me -- this is almost too good to be true.

IMG_9230Old-Fashioned Chocolate-Custard Ice-Cream Base:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 quarts chocolate-flavored frozen custard.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; fork; 4-quart saucepan; whisk; large spoon; 2-quart food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; plastic wrap; ice-cream maker; ice-cream scoop

IMG_9069Cook's Note:  All frozen-custard and ice-cream base recipes are not created equal.  Sometimes the consistency is too soft, sometimes its too dense, or worse, full of nasty ice crystals.  Some recipes are cloyingly sweet, and other times, not enough flavoring is added.  Frozen custard and ice-cream are both emulsions with two components that need encouragement to meld (fat and water), by adding components that absorb water (sugar, starch and protein).  Meet my foolproof recipe for ~ My Old-Fashioned Vanilla-Custard Ice-Cream Base ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

06/17/2018

~ My Old-Fashioned Vanilla-Custard Ice-Cream Base ~

IMG_9069During June, July and August, we will all most likely eat more ice cream than we did during the past nine months.  In my kitchen, during the next three months, I'll be making more than I did during the past nine too.  Whatever flavor I've got churning, vanilla, chocolate or strawberry, everyone I know (myself included) will generically refer to it as ice cream.  That said, what I'll technically be making is frozen custard, and, if you make homemade ice cream, I'm betting you're most likely making old-fashioned frozen custard (or a version of it), too.  Read on.

The difference between ice cream & frozen custard: 

 

IMG_4242Store-bought ice cream is made from milk or skim milk, or a combination of milk or skim milk with a bit of cream added, corn syrup or sugar, and flavorings.  Egg yolks are sometimes added, but are not required.  Ice cream is made in a machine that pumps lots of air into it while it churns, which yields a light mouthfeel.  It is federally defined as:  a frozen dessert containing 10% milk fat. That said, the old-fashioned simplicity of making home-churned ice cream has been so convoluted by high-tech machinery (to insure its consistent, signature, hand-scoop-able texture), not to mention the additives, preservatives and stabilizers (for a long and palatable shelf life in the freezer), one couldn't reproduce it adequately in the home kitchen, even if one was inclined to try.

IMG_4284Frozen custard is made from whole milk, or a combination of milk and cream, egg yolks, sugar and flavorings.  Egg-yolks are a requirement, and regulations require 1.4% egg yolks by weight.  The higher fat content (from milk and/or cream) gives it a rich, luxurious taste.  Whether made in a hand-crank or commercial machine, frozen custard is churned at a slow pace, to incorporate little air, giving it its dense texture.  Because it melts almost on contact with the lips (similar to soft serve ice cream), it is best served immediately, directly from the machine it was made in.

Frozen-custard and ice-cream  recipes are not created equal.  Sometimes the consistency is too soft, sometimes its too dense, or worse, sometimes it's full of nasty ice crystals.  Some recipes are cloyingly sweet, and other times, there's simply not enough flavoring added.  Frozen custard and ice-cream are both emulsions with two components (fat and water) that need lots of encouragement to meld, by adding components that absorb water (sugar, starch and protein).

A bit of rich & creamy frozen-custard history:

IMG_4246Frozen custard was invented on Coney Island, NY, in 1919.  Two ice-cream venders, Archie and Elton Kohr, discovered that when they added egg yolks to their home-made ice-cream base, they produced a richer, creamier, smoother ice cream.  On the first weekend they sold 18,460 cones. They had invented the precursor to our present-day soft-serve ice cream, with one exception: little air was pumped into their product.  As described above, true frozen custard is quite dense.  The mixture enters a refrigerated tube, and, as it freezes, blades scrape the frozen product from the sides of the barrel walls.  Unlike hand-scooped ice cream, the mixture stays in the machine, being discharged directly into cones or cups, on an as-needed basis, to be served immediately.

IMG_8947For my easy-to-make, foolproof vanilla-flavored custard-base:

2  cups heavy cream

2  cups whole milk

2  tablespoons pure vanilla extract*

2  tablespoons firmly-packed cornstarch

8  large egg yolks

1 1/4  cups granulated sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

*Note:  To make vanilla-bean vanilla-custard ice-cream base, use 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (equivalent to the seeds from 1 vanilla bean). 

IMG_8948 IMG_8948 IMG_8948~ Step 1.  Place cream, 1 1/2 cups of the milk and vanilla extract in a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop. In a 2-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup milk and cornstarch.  Set aside.

IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8967 IMG_8967 IMG_8967~Step 2.  In a medium bowl, use the fork to whisk egg yolks, sugar and salt. Add the egg yolk mixture to the 2-cup container with the milk/cornstarch mixture.  Use the fork to vigorously combine the two mixtures.  Set aside.

IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974~Step 3.  Heat the saucepan of milk mixture on the stovetop over medium heat.  Heat the mixture until almost steaming (not full-steaming, simmering or boiling), whisking occasionally, about 2-3 minutes.  Adjust heat to low.  While whisking constantly, gradually and in a slow steady stream, whisk the egg yolk/sugar/milk/cornstarch mixture into the almost-steaming milk mixture.  Increase heat to medium and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to thicken, about 2-3 minutes.  In the beginning, mixture will be foamy on top.  As foam subsides and when mixture begins to thicken, switch from whisk to a large spoon to stir.  Continue to cook gently until custard base is simmering gently, nicely-thickened, silky-smooth and ribbon like, about 3-4 minutes.

IMG_9003 IMG_9003~ Step 4.  Remove saucepan from heat and immediately transfer custard base to a 2-quart food storage container.  Cover the surface of the custard base with a layer of plastic wrap, meaning: don't cover the container, lay the plastic directly on the surface of the custard (to prevent a rubbery skin from forming on the top).  Cool for 1-2 hours prior to putting the lid on the container and refrigerating for several hours to overnight.

IMG_9012 IMG_9013 IMG_9013 IMG_9013~Step 5.  From here forward, for the rest of this recipe, follow the directions that came with your ice-cream maker.  Because mine has a built-in freezing system, I pour all of the cold custard base into the stainless steel work bowl (which has been pre-chilled by the machine for me).  The lid goes on the work bowl and the machine gets turned on to churn for 1 hour - 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Scoop into a pretty bowl or favorite ice-cream cone...

IMG_9063... & enjoy your journey back to a kinder, gentler time:

IMG_9086My Old-Fashioned Vanilla-Custard Ice Cream Base:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 quarts vanilla-flavored frozen custard.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; fork; 4-quart saucepan; whisk; large spoon; 2-quart food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; plastic wrap; ice-cream maker; ice-cream scoop

IMG_9088Cook's Note:  In order to keep fresh fruit (which is mostly water) from turning into fruity bits and clumps of rock-hard ice cubes, before adding it to the churning ice-cream base, it needs to be cooked in a manner that removes some of its water content and concentrates its flavor -- this is usually achieved by briefly simmering on the stovetop, or sometimes roasting in the oven.     To learn more, read my recipe for ~ Have a Blackberry Cobbler Ice-Cream Kind of Day ~.  Use the same recipe to make a peachy-keen cobbler version too.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

06/15/2018

~ Have a Blackberry-Cobbler Ice-Cream Kind of Day ~

IMG_9088Newsflash.  Blue Bell, the Texas-based ice cream company, announced on Twitter, that its Southern Blackberry-Cobbler Ice Cream will be available in stores, for a limited time only, starting Monday, June 4th.  This popular seasonal flavor consists of a creamy, blackberry-flavored vanilla ice cream with flaky pie crust pieces and blackberry sauce swirled throughout.  Being a worshiper of the blackberry, under normal circumstances, this news would have caused me to race around town in an attempt to hoard as much of it as I could stuff into my freezer.  It didn't.  Why?

Homemade blackberry-cobbler frozen custard + tips on adding fruit to ice-cream:

IMG_8541 IMG_9069 2I decided to make my own version of blackberry-cobbler ice-cream (frozen blackberry-cobbler custard, to be more specific), by adding some of my own homemade blackberry cobbler to a batch of my frozen vanilla-custard ice-cream base, as it churned away in my ice-cream making machine.  This wasn't an experiment for me -- I just wish I had thought of this flavor-concept sooner.  I knew it would work perfectly.  You see, had I long ago learned:  

In order to keep fresh fruit (most commonly strawberries), which is mostly water, from turning into fruity bits and clumps of rock-hard ice cubes, before adding it to the churning ice-cream base, it needs to be cooked in a manner that removes some of its water content and its concentrates flavor -- this is achieved by briefly simmering on the stovetop, or sometimes roasting in the oven (which conveniently happens as fruit and berries bake away in cobblers, crisps, etc.).

Occasionally, a recipe will instruct to macerate the fruit in alcohol, meaning sweetened, fruit-flavored brandies and fruit-flavored schnapps.  The food science behind this:  Alcohol has a lower freezing point than water, so, once added to the churning ice cream or custard, the fruit won't turn into fruity ice cubes.  I'm here to tell you this does not work perfectly.  You see, I long ago learned: While the maceration of fruit renders it soft and tender, most of its flavor gets leached into the liquid, leaving semi-flavorless and soggy fruit to add to the ice cream or frozen custard.  

The difference between ice cream & frozen custard:

IMG_9046During June, July and August, we'll all most-likely eat more ice cream than we did during the past nine months.  In my kitchen, I'll be making more during the next three months than I did during the past nine too.  That said, while everyone (myself included) will generically refer to it as ice cream, what I'll technically be making is frozen custard, and, if you make homemade ice cream, I'm betting you're making old-fashioned frozen custard (or a version of it), too.  Here's why:

De2oQusVQAEmuuh.jpg-largeStore-bought ice cream is made from milk or skim milk, or, milk or skim milk and cream, corn syrup or sugar, and flavorings.  Egg yolks are sometimes added, but not required. Ice cream is made in a machine that pumps lots of air into it as it churns, yielding a light mouthfeel.  It is federally defined as:  a frozen dessert containing 10% milk fat. That said, the simplicity of making old-fashioned ice cream has been so convoluted by high-tech machinery (to insure consistent, signature, hand-scoop-able texture), and additives, preservatives and stabilizers (for a long and palatable shelf life), one couldn't reproduce it adequately in the home kitchen, even if one was inclined to try.

IMG_9431Frozen custard is made from whole milk, or a combination of milk and cream, egg yolks, sugar and flavorings.  Egg-yolks are a requirement, and regulations require 1.4% egg yolks by weight.  The higher fat content (from milk and/or cream) gives it a rich, luxurious taste.  Whether made in a hand-crank or commercial machine, frozen custard is churned at a slow pace, to incorporate little air, giving it its dense texture.  Because it melts almost on contact with the lips (similar to soft serve ice cream), it is best served immediately, directly from the machine it was made in.

Frozen-custard and ice-cream  recipes are not created equal.  Sometimes the consistency is too soft, sometimes its too dense, or worse, sometimes it's full of nasty ice crystals.  Some recipes are cloyingly sweet, and other times, there's simply not enough flavoring added.  Frozen custard and ice-cream are both emulsions with two components (fat and water) that need lots of encouragement to meld, by adding components that absorb water (sugar, starch and protein).

A little bit of rich & creamy frozen custard history:

IMG_9054Frozen custard was invented on Coney Island, NY, in 1919.  Two ice-cream venders, Archie and Elton Kohr, discovered that when they added egg yolks to their home-made ice-cream base, they produced a richer, creamier, smoother ice cream.  On the first weekend they sold 18,460 cones. They had invented the precursor to our present-day soft-serve ice cream, with one exception: little air was pumped into their product.  As described above, true frozen custard is quite dense.  The mixture enters a refrigerated tube, and, as it freezes, blades scrape the frozen product from the sides of the barrel walls.  Unlike hand-scooped ice cream, the mixture stays in the machine, being discharged directly into cones or cups, on an as-needed basis, to be served immediately.

IMG_8947For my easy-to-make, foolproof vanilla-flavored custard-base:

2  cups heavy cream

2  cups whole milk

2  tablespoons pure vanilla extract*

2  tablespoons firmly-packed cornstarch

8  large egg yolks

1 1/4  cups granulated sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

*Note:  Because my blackberry cobbler is doubly-flavored, with blackberry brandy and pure blackberry extract, there is no reason to add either to my vanilla-flavored custard base.

IMG_8948 IMG_8948 IMG_8948~ Step 1.  Place cream, 1 1/2 cups of the milk and vanilla extract in a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop. In a 2-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup milk and cornstarch.  Set aside.

IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957~Step 2.  In a medium bowl, use the fork to whisk egg yolks, sugar and salt. Add the egg yolk mixture to the 2-cup container with the milk/cornstarch mixture.  Use the fork to vigorously combine the two mixtures.  Set aside.

IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974~Step 3.  Heat the saucepan of milk mixture on the stovetop over medium heat.  Heat the mixture until almost steaming (not full-steaming, simmering or boiling), whisking occasionally, about 2-3 minutes.  Adjust heat to low.  While whisking constantly, gradually and in a slow steady stream, whisk the egg yolk/sugar/milk/cornstarch mixture into the almost-steaming milk mixture.  Increase heat to medium and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to thicken, about 2-3 minutes.  In the beginning, mixture will be foamy on top.  As foam subsides and when mixture begins to thicken, switch from whisk to a large spoon to stir.  Continue to cook gently until custard base is simmering gently, nicely-thickened, silky-smooth and ribbon like, about 3-4 minutes.

IMG_9003 IMG_9003~ Step 4.  Remove saucepan from heat and immediately transfer custard base to a 2-quart food storage container.  Cover the surface of the custard base with a layer of plastic wrap, meaning: don't cover the container, lay the plastic directly on the surface of the custard (to prevent a rubbery skin from forming on the top).  Cool for 1-2 hours prior to putting the lid on the container and refrigerating for several hours to overnight.

IMG_9012 IMG_9012 IMG_9012 IMG_9012~Step 5.  From here forward, for the rest of this recipe, follow the directions that came with your ice-cream maker.  Because mine has a built-in freezing system, I pour all of the cold custard base into the stainless steel work bowl (which has been pre-chilled by the machine for me).  The lid goes on the work bowl and the machine gets turned on to churn for 1 hour - 1 hour, 10 minutes. The frozen vanilla-custard is ready to be served.  It's done.  To add the blackberry cobbler:

IMG_9025 IMG_9025~Step 6.  While custard is churning, portion 1-pound of my blackberry cobbler recipe -- use another at your own risk -- which has been chilled in the refrigerator for several hours.  Use a teaspoon to cobble it up into blackberry-sized pieces.  Return plate of cobbler pieces to refrigerator until custard has churned for 1 hour.

IMG_9033 IMG_9033 IMG_9033 IMG_9033~Step 7.  Open lid of the ice-cream machine.  As  custard churns, begin dropping cobbler pieces from plate into work bowl, a few at time, until all have been individually churned into the custard. Return lid to machine and churn another 20-30 minutes, until desired consistency is reached.

Scoop atop a bowl full of cobbler or into an ice-cream cone...

IMG_9059 2... atop a bowl full of blackberry cobbler is da bomb...

IMG_9094... & enjoy your journey back to a kinder, gentler time. 

IMG_9113Have a Blackberry Cobbler Ice Cream Kind of Day:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 quarts blackberry cobbler ice cream.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; fork; 4-quart saucepan; whisk; large spoon; 2-quart food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; plastic wrap; ice-cream maker; ice-cream scoop

6a0120a8551282970b0168e4f037de970cCook's Note:  For another type of frozen treat, one that's perfectly-portioned and more kid-friendly than blackberry cobbler, check out my recipe for ~ Decidedly-Decandent Frozen-Hot-Chocolate Pops ~. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

06/12/2018

~ Have a Very-Berry Blackberry-Cobbler Kind of Day ~

IMG_8581Here today, gone today.  That's the lifespan of blackberries entering my kitchen.  I've been told their dark color makes them really good for me -- even more antioxidants than blueberries.  Rah-rah-sis-boom-bah, I'd eat them even if they were on on the not-so-good-for-me foods short list.   When I buy a box of blackberries, I eat a box of blackberries.  When I pick blackberries, they disappear on the walk to my kitchen door.  I do not share blackberries -- well, maybe, probably I would, but, I've yet to be tested on this point.  That said, because blackberries require no special treatment (peeling, chopping, slicing, dicing, etc.), if I buy an extra box, and I work very quickly, I can affectively manage to get the requisite four cups of berries into a cobbler while I eat the rest.

This cobbler goes together faster than I can eat berries!  

IMG_8541A bit about cobbler:  Cobbler is almost always associated with a baked, deep-dish fruit or berry dessert that emerges from the oven with a semi-crispy top that has been made with a batter, a biscuit dough or a pastry.  There is no right or wrong topping for a cobbler -- it depends on your preference, where you live, and/or who taught you how to make cobbler.  Cobbler recipes have been printed in European cookbooks since the 19th century and were originally main-dish, protein-based meals. Cobblers in the US originated in the Colonies because the English settlers were unable to make their traditional suet puddings for lack of ingredients and proper equipment. The name is said to derive from the finished product looking like a rough cobblestone street.

IMG_85244  cups blackberries (24-ounces)

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

1  cup pancake mix

1  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1  cup milk

1  tablespoon blackberry brandy and/or 1 teaspoon blackberry extract

Sugar 'n Cinnamon

IMG_4768 IMG_4768~ Step 1. Place the butter in an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish/2-quart casserole -- I like clear glass because I can keep an eye on the baking process.  Melt the butter in the microwave. Tilt the dish to evenly coat the entire bottom with the melted butter.

IMG_4772 IMG_4772 IMG_4772 IMG_4772~Step 2.  In a large bowl, stir together the pancake mix, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the milk and brandy and/or extract.  Add the milk mixture to the pancake mix mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula, stir until a thin, semi-lumpy batter forms.

IMG_8529 IMG_8529 IMG_8529 IMG_8529~Step 3.  Pour all of the batter into the baking dish right on top of the butter. Do not stir the batter into the butter.  Using a slotted spoon, spoon/distribute the blackberries evenly over the batter. Generously sprinkle the top of the berries with Sugar 'n Cinnamon.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven 35-40 minutes.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

IMG_8566Note:  While the cobbler is baking, the blackberries (or any fruit) are going to sink to the bottom of the baking dish.  At the same time, the batter is going to bubble and bake up to the surface in random spots across the surface.  The cobbler will be golden brown and will spring back slightly when touched in the center.  Walk away.  Cool at least 20-30 minutes prior to serving.

Serve steamy-hot, slightly-warm or at room temperature...

IMG_8552... w/homemade blackberry-cobbler ice-cream

IMG_9088Have a Very-Berry Blackberry-Cobbler Kind of Day:  Recipe yields 8-12 servings. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-cup measuring container; 1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish/2-quart casserole, preferably clear glass

IMG_4817Cook's Note:  My dad loves peaches the way I love blackberries, meaning:  they are his favorite fruit. This luscious peach cobbler, which can be made without compromise using home-canned or store-bought canned peaches (in place of fresh peaches), is my way of keeping his favorite fruit-dessert world a peachy-keen place to be even when peaches are out of season:  ~ Alice's Super-Simple Georgia Peach-Pie Cobbler ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

06/10/2018

~Love is Blueberry Oatmeal-Crumble Cookie Squares~

IMG_8921Blueberries are a fruit best served cooked.  Simmer down and read on.  When it comes to eating fresh, perfectly-ripe, high-quality, locally-grown berries hand-to-mouth, there are three seedier-types I enjoy more -- blackberries, strawberries and raspberries (in that order).  I love blueberries, but, it's my opinion that the blueberry is enhanced by cooking. Given a choice, I'll choose the blueberry jam, blueberry pie or blueberry bread pudding over the bowl of fresh blueberries any day of the week -- they even taste better after the little bit of cooking they get in pancakes.

Dare to be a buttery-rich & delicately-crumbly kind of square: 

IMG_8894Blueberries are only one of seven native North American food plants grown on a large scale and cultivated commercially.

Before I go any further, I probably should mention the other six:  Concord grapes, cranberries, strawberries, corn, beans and squash.  This means, these plants were in existence before any of our immigrant ancestors arrived in this new world and the Native Americans were eating them and creating their own recipes/uses for them long before they introduced them to the original Colonists.  That said, beloved blueberries were domesticated entirely in the 20th century and it did not take long for this "very American berry" to gain the unconditional love of the world. 

6a0120a8551282970b01538fd8320c970bThree types of blueberries supply over 90% of the market:  lowbush, highbush and rabbiteye.

Lowbush varieties (marketed as "wild blueberries" or "huckleberries") are very small, are harvested by machine and are sold almost exclusively to processing plants who make and sell blueberry products like "wild blueberry pie filling" or "wild blueberry preserves". While this sounds like they'd be at the top of the blueberry class, their flavor is actually disappointingly bland.

Highbush blueberries are the result of the hybridization of wild native plants. They are picked by hand and are sold fresh, representing over two-thirds of the total blueberries sold in our markets everywhere.  

Rabbiteyes, which are native to the Southeastern United States were/are called rabbiteyes because the berries turn pink before they turn blue -- the eye color of a white rabbit. They are very similar to highbush blueberries, which are native to northeastern North America. Rabbiteye bushes get quite high, up to 20 feet, and, they bloom earlier in the year than the highbush, which sadly, makes them susceptible to Spring frosts.  Highbush are smaller than rabbiteyes and were called highbush simply because they were/are taller than low bush varieties.

6a0120a8551282970b015433b0123c970cHighbush blueberries are what my husband Joe grows in our Central PA backyard.  The berries are larger and plumper than rabbiteyes and the fruit is juicier with a thinner skin. Their quality is compromised very little by freezing them (which is great for me because, every year, I have a lot to freeze), while the rabbiteye berry skin tends to get tough when frozen.  Rabbiteyes, eaten out-of-hand are a bit sweeter, but in my opinion: highbush berries are truly the best variety for the best price.

When selecting blueberries, it is noteworthy that size is not an indication of flavor, shrinkage is. Always choose blueberries that are plump and look like they are ready to burst. Berries that have begun to shrink and wrinkle, while usable, will be less flavorful.  AND, no matter what variety you choose to use, be generous -- cooked blueberry anything should be bursting with berries.

Part One:  The 5-Minute Oatmeal-Crumble Cookie Base

IMG_8830For the oatmeal-crumble cookie base:

1  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4  cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant oats)

1/2  cup granulated sugar

1/4  cup firmly-packed light brown sugar

3/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  cup salted butter (1 stick)

1  large egg yolk

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

IMG_8821 IMG_8821~ Step 1.  To prepare the baking pan, spray the inside of an 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan with no-stick spray, line the bottom with an 8" x 8" x 2" square of parchment paper, then spray the top of the parchment paper.  I use a baking pan with a removable bottom, which makes it easy to remove and slice the cookies squares after baking.

IMG_8832 IMG_8832 IMG_8832 IMG_8832 IMG_8832 IMG_8832~Step 2.  In a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, oats, both sugars, cinnamon and salt.  Melt the butter in the microwave and allow it to cool slightly, about 2-3 minutes.  Lightly beat the egg yolk.  Stir the melted butter and the egg yolk into the dry ingredients.  A crumbly but cohesive mixture will have formed. Remove and reserve a scant 1-cup of the crumble mixture (this will be used as topping).  

IMG_8848 IMG_8848 IMG_8848 IMG_8848~Step 3.  Transfer the remainder of the the mixture into prepared pan.  Use the fork to evenly distribute the mixture in the bottom, then use a tart tamper to press the mixture together.

Part Two:  The 5-Minute Blueberry Layer, Topping & Baking

IMG_8861 2For the blueberry layer:

2  pints fresh blueberries

2  tablespoons lemon juice, fresh or high-quality bottled not from concentrate

2  teaspoons pure blueberry extract

1/4  cup granulated sugar

1  tablespoon firmly-packed cornstarch

Sugar 'n Cinnamon, for sprinkling on top just prior to baking

IMG_8867 IMG_8867 IMG_8867 IMG_8867~Step 1.  In a medium bowl using a rubber spatula, gently but thoroughly stir together the blueberries, lemon juice, blueberry extract, sugar and cornstarch, making sure the cornstarch is incorporated throughout.  Scoop and evenly distribute the berry mixture atop the cookie base. Sprinkle and evenly distribute the reserved 1-cup of cookie crumbles atop the berries.

IMG_8878 IMG_8878 IMG_8878 IMG_8896 IMG_8896~Step 2.  Generously sprinkle Sugar 'n Cinnamon evenly over the top and bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven, 40-45 minutes.  The crumble topping will be light golden and berries will be bubbling mostly around the sides of the pan.  Remove from oven and cool completely, in pan on a wire rack, 3-4 hours.  Refrigerate, slice cold, and, store in refrigerator.  

Refrigerate 1-2 hours prior to slicing into squares:

IMG_8919Pour the milk, pick one up & dare to be square:

IMG_8935Love is Blueberry Oatmeal-Crumble Cookie Squares:  Recipe yields 16, 2" blueberry squares.

Special Equipment List: 8" x 8" x 2" square baking pan w/removable bottom; parchment paper; fork; 1-cup measuring container; tart tamper; wire cooling rack; large chef's knife; small spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d744130970dCook's Note:  Looking for a perfect companion to blueberry squares?  ~ Pucker up for:  Triple-Lemon Bars/Squares ~.  I am a lover of all things tart and citrusy, and, I consider the lemon the diva of all citrus.  Just call me a sourpuss.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

06/07/2018

~ Two Basic Marinades/Sauces for Chinese Stir-Fry ~

IMG_8807The definition of a stir-fry is straightforward:  To fry small morsels of meat, poultry, fish, shellfish and/or vegetables rapidly, in a wok or skillet, over a high heat, in a small amount of oil or fat, while stirring constantly.  The concept is an easy one to grasp.  Stir-fries were invented by the Chinese, but, it was Chinese Cantonese chefs, who specialized in stir-frying, that were amongst the first to immigrate to other Asian and European countries, our USA, then countries all around the world, where, over a relatively short period of time, they put the word stir-fry in the global vocabulary.

IMG_8745Chinese stirred-eggs or tomato-eggs is one of the earliest stir-fries of record.  Asian food came to the USA in the mid-1800's when the Cantonese immigrants began settling in CA, but, was consumed primarily in their communities.  In the 1920's, it became trendy with young cosmopolitan-types, who considered it exotic.  It wasn't until after World War II (at least as early as 1948), when soldiers returned from the war with a taste for the foods they had eaten abroad, that American housewives got involved. During the 1960's tiki bars and Polynesian restaurants were all the rage, and, by the 1970's, when I was a young bride, mainstream American cooks all owned a wok and a hibachi, and, Asian-fusion cooking began.

In the beginning, almost all Chinese restaurants here in the west were Cantonese.  Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and, to this day, for most American home cooks with a desire to dabble in stir-frying, it is these familiar flavors we crave in and associate with our stir-fries.  That said, for every ten Chinese cookbooks, I'll show you, at conservatively three per book, thirty different recipes for stir-fry sauces, some requiring one or two hard-to-find ingredients.  For the novice cook this is disheartently confusing, and, can lead to fear of stir-frying, with the conclusion being:

Every stir-fry requires its own specific sauce.  Not so.

I'm not here to tell anyone to screw the recipes in all those books.  I am here to tell everyone who just wants some stir-fry sanity in their life, with two basic stir-fry sauce recipes in your repertoire, you can start turning out quick-to-make, full-flavored "all-the-right-stuff" stir-fries using a handful of easy-to-find inexpensive pantry staples, and, a few time-saving, convenient-condiments too.

IMG_8811Feel free to mince garlic cloves and grate ginger root, but, high-quality garlic and ginger paste make weeknight stir-fries a breeze.  Chili-garlic paste, which adds heat, is a favorite of my heat-seeking family. I'm not one to purchase pre-sliced, pre-portioned meats, poultry and/or veggies labeled "stir-fry", but, those are available too, and, if it means skipping the take-out and cooking at home, by all means do it.

Note:  A common misconception is:  to marinate is to tenderize.  It doesn't work that way.  In the food world, marinades for proteins act as flavorizers, not as tenderizers, meaning:  the longer you marinate, the more flavor will be infused into the protein.  If you are pressed for time, even 15-minutes will go a long way to flavoring the finished dish.  Moral of the story:  The tenderness of the protein being cooked is dependent entirely upon knowing the proper cooking method.

For 2 pounds thin-sliced or bite-size diced chicken or seafood:

IMG_8783Five ingredients.  Light and bright with just enough soy sauce to flavor without overpowering the delicate flavors of chicken or seafood.  Stir 1  tablespoon garlic paste2 tablespoons ginger paste and an optional 1-3 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce, to taste, into finished stir-fry sauce.

IMG_8403For the stir-fry sauce:

1/2  cup high-quality unsalted vegetable stock

6  tablespoons soy sauce

2  tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar

2  tablespoons  Chinese rice wine

2  tablespoons sugar

2  tablespoons firmly-packed cornstarch

IMG_8406In a small bowl, using a fork, whisk ingredients thoroughly.

Place the chicken or seafood in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Stir the garlic paste, ginger paste and optional chili-garlic sauce into the sauce.  Give the stir-fry sauce a thorough stir and add 1/2 cup of it to the bag.  Seal the bag and squish the chicken or shrimp around until thoroughly coated in the sauce.  Set aside to marinate, 30-60 minutes at room temperature, or, 8-12 hours/overnight in the refrigerator.  Heat 1-2 tablespoons sesame or specified oil in a wok or a skillet, add the marinated chicken or seafood and proceed to stir-fry it (and the vegetables), timed as directed in specific recipe, adding remaining stir-fry sauce during last 30-45 seconds of cooking.

 For 2 pounds thin-sliced or bite-size diced beef or pork:

IMG_8777Six ingredients.  Dark brown sugar and ketchup contribute to a deeper, bolder flavor with a tangy edge that's just perfect for beef or pork.  Stir 1  tablespoon garlic paste2 tablespoons ginger paste and an optional 1-3 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce, to taste, into finished stir-fry sauce.  

IMG_8596For the tomatoey-stir-fry sauce:

1/2  cup high-quality unsalted vegetable stock (Note:  beef stock may be substituted, but vegetable complements tomato flavors better.)

6  tablespoons soy sauce

4  tablespoons ketchup

2  tablespoons  Chinese rice wine

2  tablespoons brown sugar

2  tablespoons firmly-packed cornstarch

IMG_8603In a 1-cup measuring container, stir all ingredients.

Place the beef or pork in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Stir the garlic paste, ginger paste and optional chili-garlic sauce into the sauce. Give the stir-fry sauce a thorough stir and add 1/2 cup of it to the bag.  Seal the bag and squish the meat around until thoroughly coated in the sauce. Set aside to marinate, 30-60 minutes at room temperature, or, 8-12 hours/overnight in the refrigerator. Heat 1-2 tablespoons sesame or specified oil in a wok or a skillet, add the marinated beef or pork and proceed to stir-fry it (and the vegetables), timed as directed in specific recipe, adding remaining stir-fry sauce during last 30-45 seconds of cooking.

Two all-purpose marinades/sauces = stir-frying sanity.

IMG_8799Two Basic Marinades/Sauces for Chinese Stir-Fry:  Recipe yields 1-cup stir-fry sauce each recipe, enough for 2 pounds chicken or seafood, or, 2 pounds beef or pork.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; 1-gallon food storage bag

IMG_8491 IMG_8667Cook's Note: ~ Chinese-American Restaurant-Style Pepper Steak ~, and, ~ Chinese-American Cantonese-Style Tomato-Beef ~ are two classic, very similar yet different, examples of how these two all-purpose marinades get used in an everyday stir-fry in my kitchen.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

06/04/2018

~ Chinese-Style Tomato-Eggs: For Any Time of Day ~

IMG_8745The incredible, edible egg.  For centuries, the Chinese recognized how good the protein-packed egg is.  So much so, eggs are their symbol of the principals-of-life:  "yin" being the white, "yang" being the yolk.*  Eggs, colored or marbled, celebrate birth, restoration of good health, continued good-luck and/or future prosperity.  Dating back to ancient times,  eggs of any kind (chicken, duck quail and pigeon) were incorporated into meals all day long (fluffy scrambled tomato eggs, flan-like steamed eggs, omelette-esque egg fu young, wispy egg drop soup, vinegary pickled eggs, tea-flavored smoked eggs, etc.), with mushrooms and/or seafood being common additions.

*Note:  Yin and yang is a Chinese theory on the perspective of continuous change and balance throughout the life cycle. The theory is that all things in the universe, big or small, have an opposing force, and although they are opposing, they are extremely interconnected.  Sigh.

Tomato-eggs -- humble, home-style, Chinese comfort-food. 

IMG_8755Eggs stir-fried with tomatoes is a humble, home-style, Chinese comfort-food dish requiring minimal technique (similar to preparing American-style scrambled eggs, one wants to avoid rubbery, overcooked, or watery, undercooked scrambled eggs) plus few on-hand ingredients:  eggs, tomatoes, rice wine, salt, pepper, sugar, scallion, and, a bit of controversial ketchup. Over time, just like the bottle of soy sauce became a staple in the pantries of almost all American kitchens, ketchup earned its spot in almost all Chinese and Chinese-American kitchens.  Example: 

Sweet & sour sauce.  The first Chinese immigrants to the USA were mostly Cantonese, and, Canton, China is the home of the famous sweet-and-sour-pork dish eaten for Chinese New Year. With the Cantonese came their love for bright colors, bold flavors and fresh ingredients -- their sauce is a perfect balance of sugar, vinegar, chile pepper and ginger.  We Americans added ketchup, and, chuckle, it was so good, the Chinese adopted it.  If you've never tasted homemade sweet and sour sauce made with ketchup in place of food coloring, prepare to be wowed.

The tomato -- a relatively new ingredient to Chinese cuisine.

6a0120a8551282970b01a511c4835a970cThe tomato is a relative newcomer to Chinese cuisine, arriving via ports like Hong Kong in the latter 1800's -- less than 150 years ago.  The Chinese embraced them, especially the Cantonese who are known for stir-fries full of crunch-tender fresh vegetables.  Tomatoes were easy to grow, producing fruit almost year round and were/are a great source of much-needed vitamins A and C -- important to a big land-mass country with an even bigger, mostly-poor population. As a tomato-lover, it's no surprise they added fresh tomatoes to soups, salads, stir-fries (like tomato-beef), egg, rice and noodle dishes.  Over the decades, China became one of the world's largest producers of American-style ketchup and tomato paste, with both beloved products being used to make some of their wonderfully tangy, mild, hot, sweet and sour sauces.

IMG_8700For the eggs (one serving tomato-eggs) & the stir-fry:

3  large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4  teaspoon white pepper

1  tablespoon Chinese rice wine

2  tablespoons sesame oil, divided

4-6  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions, white and light green part only

1/2  cup 1/2"-3/4" seeded tomato pieces (about 3-4  2"-round fresh, firm, Campari tomatoes, seeded)

IMG_8707For the ketchupy slurry:

2  teaspoons cornstarch

1  tablespoon water

2  tablespoons ketchup

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/2  teaspoon sugar 

IMG_8712~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, using a fork, whisk ingredients.

IMG_8701 IMG_8701 IMG_8701~ Step 2.  In a small bowl, using a fork, vigorously whisk the eggs, salt, pepper and rice wine together.  Set aside.  Slice the scallions and set aside, then, dice the tomatoes (as pictured), then, set tomatoes aside.

IMG_8714 IMG_8714 IMG_8714~ Step 3.  Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 10" nonstick skillet over medium-high - high heat. Add the scallions and stir-fry stirring constantly, until the scallions are softened but not browned, about 30-45 seconds.  

IMG_8720 IMG_8720 IMG_8720 IMG_8720~Step 4.  Briefly rewhisk the eggs and pour them into the skillet.  They are going to start to firm up around the edges almost upon contact.  Continue stirring until the the eggs are lumpy, tender and just cooked through, about 1 minute.  Transfer eggs to a plate and briefly set aside.

IMG_8732 IMG_8732 IMG_8732 IMG_8732 IMG_8732~Step 5.  Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to skillet.  Add the chopped tomatoes and stir-fry until tomatoes are softening, about 45-60 seconds.  Reduce heat to medim-low.  Briefly rewhisk and pour the slurry to the skillet.  Cook, stirring constantly, until bubbling  and thickened, then, amazingly, completely absorbed by the tomatoes, about 15-30 seconds.

IMG_8742 IMG_8742~ Step 6.  Return the eggs to the skillet and stir, just until the eggs and the tomatoes are combined and the eggs are reheated through, 30-ish seconds.  Serve immediately, garnished with a tomato rose if you are so inclined.

Humble & home-style?  Yep.  Extraordinary & exquisite?  You bet.

IMG_8751This dreamy & divine dish is hard to unwrap your lips around:

IMG_8772Chinese-Style Tomato-Eggs:  For Any Time of Day:  Recipe yields 1 large or 2 smaller servings.

Special Equipment List:  fork;  cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; spatula

IMG_6770Cook's Note:  For another quick-to-make Asian egg dish, but one that requires a special technique and a special pan, leave it to the Japanese to turn a plain omelette into a work of neatly-rolled edible art that's as good tasting as it is pretty to look at. "Tomago" means "egg" in Japanese and "yaki" means "to grill or grilled". Tomagoyaki is essentially:  the scrambled egg of Japan.  They eat them for breakfast, pack them into bento boxes for lunch, and, serve them alongside other foods, like sushi. ~ Tamagoyaki:  A Fried & Rolled Japanese Omelette ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

06/02/2018

~ Hong Kong's Cantonese-Style Tomato-Beef Stir-Fry ~

IMG_8668Sit down in any Chinese western-style restaurant in China, or, in any Chinese-American restaurant in the USA and peruse the menu.  Allow me to point out, there will be just as many, or almost as many beef options as there are poultry, pork and seafood choices.  Beef will priced accordingly too -- right up there with seafood, meaning more expensive than poultry and pork. This would lead anyone with an enthusiasm for Chinese fare to conclude:  the Chinese must eat a lot of beef.  They don't.  In fact, most Chinese diners prefer pork to the stronger flavor of beef.

The tomato -- a relatively new ingredient to Chinese cuisine. 

6a0120a8551282970b01a511c4835a970cThe tomato is a relative newcomer to Chinese cuisine, arriving via ports like Hong Kong in the latter 1800's -- less than 150 years ago.  The Chinese embraced them, especially the Cantonese who are known for stir-fries full of crunch-tender fresh vegetables.  Tomatoes were easy to grow, producing fruit almost year round and were/are a great source of much-needed vitamins A and C -- important to a big land-mass country with an even bigger, mostly-poor population. As a tomato-lover, it's no surprise they added fresh tomatoes to soups, salads, stir-fries, and, egg, rice and noodle dishes.  Over the decades, China has even become one of the world's largest producers of American-style ketchup and tomato paste, with both beloved products being used to make some of their wonderfully tangy, mild, hot, sweet and sour sauces.

IMG_8662Where's the beef?  Chinese vs. Chinese-American beef dishes:

In China, quality beef is a luxury for the working class.  That's mostly due to environmental circumstances.  China can't afford to dedicate large parcels of land for cattle grazing and roundups.  They've got a huge population to feed, and land as a commodity is best used to grow grains and vegetables.  It also explains why beef is somewhat more prevalent in the less-populated northern regions of China, but, even at that, cows and oxen in China mostly earn their keep as beasts of burden -- they're not what's for dinner tonight, unless it's an old, retired animal.  

America is the land of high-quality beef, and we began transitioning many of China's pork dishes to beef when soldiers began returning home from World War II (at least as early as 1948).  Due to our public's dissatisfaction with the wartime rationing of red meat, this transition from pork to beef was almost immediate -- red meat in the USA was considered the prime source of energy for the working man, and, its mere presence on a dinner plate with a starch and a vegetable, the definition of a proper meal.  Chinese-American restaurants were quick to pick up on this.

Not to be confused with pepper-steak, meet tomato-beef:

IMG_8605For the beef and tomato stir-fry:

2-2 1/2 pounds flank steak, thinly sliced as directed below

1  tablespoon garlic paste

2  tablespoons ginger paste

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground peppercorn blend (120 grinds)

1/2  cup tomatoey-stir-fry sauce, to use as marinade, from recipe below

2-3  tablespoons sesame oil

1 1/2  cups  large, 1"-diced green bell pepper 

1 1/2  cup large, 1"-diced sweet onion

IMG_85701  pound slightly-under-ripe and firm, 1" tomato chunks (ripe tomatoes of any size, cut into 1" wedges, each wedge cut into 2-3 1" chunks), error on the side of larger chunks rather than smaller ones

lo-mein, ramen or, steamed white rice, for accompaniment

IMG_8596For the tomatoey-stir-fry sauce:

1/2  cup high-quality unsalted vegetable stock (Note:  beef stock may be substituted, but vegetable complements tomato flavors better.)

6  tablespoons soy sauce

4  tablespoons ketchup

2  tablespoons  Chinese rice wine

2  tablespoons brown sugar

2  tablespoons firmly-packed cornstarch

IMG_8603In a 1-cup measuring container, stir all ingredients.

IMG_8410 IMG_8410 IMG_8410 IMG_8410~Step 1.  Using a large chef's knife, cut the flank steak, with the grain, in half lengthwise.  Holding the knife at a 30° angle, cut both halves, with the grain, into very thin, 1/8"-1/4" strips.

IMG_8435 IMG_8435 IMG_8435~ Step 2.  Place the beef strips in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Add the garlic paste, ginger paste and coarsely-ground peppercorn blend.  Give the stir-fry sauce a thorough stir and add 1/2 cup of it to the bag of sliced beef.  Seal the bag and squish the meat around until thoroughly coated in the sauce.  Set aside to marinate*, 30-60 minutes at room temperature, or, 8-12 hours/overnight in the refrigerator.

Note:  A common misconception is:  to marinate is to tenderize.  It doesn't work that way.  In the food world, marinades for proteins act as flavorizers, not as tenderizers, meaning:  the longer you marinate, the more flavor will be infused into the beef.  If you are pressed for time, even 15-minutes will go a long way to flavoring the finished dish.  Moral of the story:  The tenderness of the protein being cooked is dependent entirely upon knowing the proper cooking method.

IMG_8441 IMG_8610 IMG_8610 IMG_8610 IMG_8610~Step 3.  In a 12" nonstick wok, stir-fry pan or skillet, heat the oil over medium-high -- just enough to coat bottom and/or sides of pan you're using.  Add the beef, along with all of its marinade. Using a large slotted-spatula, stir-fry/sauté the beef strips until lightly-browned around their edges and a bit pink-tinged towards their centers, about 2 1/2-3 minutes maximum.  Use the slotted spatula to transfer steak to a medium-large bowl, allowing all of the excess juices to drizzle back into the skillet.  Do not overcook the beef strips.

IMG_8622 IMG_8622 IMG_8622 IMG_8622 IMG_8622~Step 4.  Add the bell pepper and onion to the beef drippings remaining in skillet.  Stir-fry/sauté for about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Do not overcook the peppers and onions.  Error on the side of undercooking them.  Using the slotted spatula, transfer and toss the veggies into the the bowl of beef, allowing those flavorful drippings to remain in the skillet.  

IMG_8635 IMG_8635 IMG_8635 IMG_8635~Step 5.  Add the tomato chunks and continue to stir-fry/sauté until just beginning to soften, about 45 seconds to 1 minute.  Using the slotted spatula, transfer the tomatoes to the beef mixture in the bowl (once again, allowing all of the excess juices to drizzle back into the skillet).  Do not overcook the tomatoes.  Do not toss the delicate tomatoes into the beef mixture just yet.

IMG_8647 IMG_8647 IMG_8647 IMG_8647~Step 6.  Thoroughly stir and add the remaining tomato-stir-fry sauce to the juices remaining in pan and stir until the sauce is bubbling, glistening and nicely-thickened, about 30-45 seconds.  

IMG_8657 IMG_8657~Step 7.  Transfer the thick tangy sauce over the beef and tomato mixture, then toss, like you would a salad, until beef and veggies are evenly coated. Serve atop steamed rice or tossed into lo-mein or quick-cooking ramen and serve immediately. 

Serve tossed into lo-mein or quick-cooking ramen...

IMG_8684... for an easy weeknight tomato-beef chow mein dinner.

IMG_8694Hong Kong's Cantonese-Style Tomato Beef Stir-Fry:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 12" wok, stir-fry pan or nonstick skillet; large slotted spatula

IMG_6152Cook's Note:  Sweet and sour pork is one of the most well-known Chinese dishes in the world, especially here in the USA. Marinated, crisply-fried cubes of pork, and, stir-fried bell peppers, onion and pineapple unite at the end of the cooking process when they get tossed together in a perfectly-balanced sweet and savory, ginger-laced ketchup-based sauce.  Click here to get my recipe for  ~ A Chinese Cantonese Classic: Sweet & Sour Pork ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos Courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/31/2018

~ Chinese-American Restaurant-Style Pepper Steak ~

IMG_8491A few days ago, one of my Facebook friends posted a photo of her dinner, Chinese pepper-steak, and, for a few days, just like that song that gets stuck in your head, I walked around wishing everything I ate was pepper steak.  As a kid in the 1960's, it was one of the first Chinese-American restaurant dishes I was introduced to, and, as a young bride in the mid 70's, it was the first Chinese-American dish I made in my own kitchen.  By the time the '80's rolled around, I had three boys in elementary school, and, pepper-steak was in our meal rotation several times a year.

#1.  Chinese-American pepper-steak = thinly-sliced beef steak, bell peppers & onion tossed in a pepper & soy-sauce-based stir-fry sauce.

Pepper-steak* features very thin strips of beef steak cooked with sliced green and/or red bell pepper and onion, seasoned with garlic, ginger, pepper and soy sauce -- more pepper than traditionally used in other Chinese dishes.  Bean sprouts and/or water chestnuts are common additions. The soy-sauce-based stir-fry sauce is thickened with cornstarch, and, the consistency of the finished dish, lightly-sauced to slightly-soupy, is determined by whether the pepper-steak will be served atop rice or noodles (which are, by design, there to absorb the excess sauce).

The dish originated in the Fujian Province in China where it was made with lightly-seasoned, readily-available, inexpensive pork -- in China, quality beef is a luxury for the working class. Americans began making the dish when soldiers began returning home from World War II (research reveals at least as early as 1948).  Due to the public's overwhelming dissatisfaction with the wartime rationing of red meat, the transition from pork to beef was almost immediate -- red meat in the USA was considered the prime source of energy for the working man, and, its mere presence on a dinner plate with a starch and a vegetable, the definition of a proper meal.

#2.  Chinese tomato-beef = thinly-sliced beef steak, fresh tomato, bell peppers & onion in a tomato & soy-sauce-based stir-fry sauce. 

*Note:  Any recipe for Chinese-American restaurant-style pepper-steak is effortlessly turned into Chinese-American beef with broccoli (by substituting broccoli florets for bell peppers), but neither should be confused with Chinese tomato-beef, a recipe similar to pepper-steak (containing bell peppers and onion) that includes fresh tomato and a tomato product, usually ketchup, in the stir-fry sauce mixture.  Tomatoes aren't native to China, but, the Chinese fell in love with them, and, Americans embraced China's tomato-containing dishes.  Tomato-beef = a signature example. 

IMG_8399 IMG_6400The 1972 Edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook was gifted to me at my bridal shower in 1974. The recipes can be considered basic, and relatively quick and easy, but, the most important thing to know is:  the recipes work -- a big motivating factor to a young cook.  Nowadays, it is my starting point for many now-retro recipes.  Their recipe for pepper-steak (p. 295), with minor changes over time, remained my go-to recipe for several years.  Then:

^^^ In 1987, Executive Chef Henry Haller, the chef at the White House for first families Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Regan, published The White House Family Cookbook, featuring favorite family meals and reminiscences from each of the five President's he served at the pleasure of. 

One menu, from a surprise Valentine's Day party Betty Ford hosted for her POTUS husband (who had been a Naval officer stationed in the Asiatic-Pacific during World War II), included her take on Chinese-American pepper-steak (p. 207).  Mrs. Ford's steak struck such a chord with public, the White House printed it on White House stationery, in order to meet the volume of requests.

IMG_8489Betty Ford's Pepper-Steak (mostly a la Melanie):

In the White house, Mrs. Ford's version was prepared with 2-2 1/2-pounds beef tenderloin/filet mignon, @ $15-$20 per pound, a costly $$40.00-$50.00.  That's AOK and definitely superbly-wonderful (and I'd use tenderloin in a heartbeat for a fancy-schmancy special occasion with an Asian theme), but, for my family's weeknight dinner table, @ $3.50-ish per pound, a properly-sliced $7.00-$8.00, 2-2 1/2-pound flank steak will do just fine.  There's more.  Mrs. Ford's recipe surprisingly did not contain any ginger, so I added it for her.  She, oddly, used dry sherry, which, for authenticity sake, I substituted equal amounts Chinese rice wine and Chinese rice vinegar for. I tripled the amount of soy sauce and added the water chestnuts too.  Haha.  Carry on.

IMG_8409For the steak and bell pepper stir-fry:

2-2 1/2 pounds flank steak

1  tablespoon garlic paste

2  tablespoons ginger paste

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground peppercorn blend (120 grinds)

1/2  cup stir-fry sauce, to use as marinade, from recipe below

3/4  cup thinly-sliced scallions, white and light green parts only

2-3  tablespoons sesame oil

1 1/2  cups  julienne of green bell pepper (1 large bell pepper)

1 1/2  cups julienne of red bell pepper (1 large bell pepper)

1  8-ounce can water chestnuts, well-drained (about 3/4 cup)

steamed white rice, for accompaniment

IMG_8403For the stir-fry sauce:

1/2  cup high-quality unsalted vegetable stock

6  tablespoons soy sauce

2  tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar

2  tablespoons  Chinese rice wine

2  tablespoons sugar

2  tablespoons firmly-packed cornstarch

IMG_8406In a 1-cup measuring container, stir all ingredients.

IMG_8410 IMG_8410 IMG_8410 IMG_8424~Step 1.  Using a large chef's knife, cut the flank steak, with the grain, in half lengthwise.  Holding the knife at a 30° angle, cut both halves, with the grain, into very thin, 1/8"-1/4" strips.  

IMG_8435 IMG_8435 IMG_8435~ Step 2.  Place the beef strips in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Add the garlic paste, ginger paste and coarsely-ground peppercorn blend.  Give the stir-fry sauce a thorough stir and add 1/2 cup of it to the bag of sliced steak.  Seal the bag and squish the meat around until thoroughly coated in the sauce.  Set aside to marinate*, 30-60 minutes at room temperature, or, 8-12 hours/overnight in the refrigerator.

Note:  A common misconception is:  to marinate is to tenderize.  It doesn't work that way.  In the food world, marinades for proteins act as flavorizers, not as tenderizers, meaning:  the longer you marinate, the more flavor will be infused into the beef.  If you are pressed for time, even 15-minutes will go a long way to flavoring the finished dish.  Moral of the story:  The tenderness of the protein being cooked is dependent entirely upon knowing the proper cooking method.

IMG_8441 IMG_8441 IMG_8441 IMG_8441 IMG_8441~Step 3.  In a 12" nonstick wok, stir-fry pan or skillet, heat the oil over medium-high -- just enough to coat bottom and/or sides of pan you're using.  Add the steak, along with all of its marinade and the scallions. Using a large slotted-spatula, stir-fry/sauté the beef strips until lightly-browned around their edges and a bit pink-tinged towards their centers, about 2 1/2-3 minutes maximum.  Use the slotted spatula to transfer steak to a medium-large bowl, allowing all of the excess juices to drizzle back into the skillet.  Do not overcook the steak.

IMG_8455 IMG_8455 IMG_8455 IMG_8455 IMG_8455~Step 4.  Add the bell pepper strips to the beef drippings remaining in skillet.  Stir-fry/sauté until crunch-tender and still brightly-colored, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Do not overcook vegetables.  Error on the side of undercooking them.  Using the slotted spatula, transfer the vegetables into the beef in the bowl, allowing all of the excess juices to drizzle back into the skillet.

IMG_8473 IMG_8473 IMG_8473 IMG_8473 IMG_8473~Step 5.  Thoroughly stir and add the remaining stir-fry sauce to the juices remaining in the pan and stir constantly until the sauce is bubbling, glistening and nicely-thickened, about 30-45 seconds.  Pour the luscious brown sauce over the steak and vegetable mixture and toss, like you would a salad, until steak and veggies are evenly coated.  

Serve immediately over steamed white rice or cooked lo-mein.

IMG_8500Pick up a pair of chopsticks -- practice makes perfect!

IMG_8507Chinese-American Restaurant-Style Pepper Steak:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 12" wok, stir-fry pan or nonstick skillet; large slotted spatula

IMG_1901Cook's Note:  In a food world full of famous Chinese dishes, chow mein and lo mein are two noodle dishes that every Chinese chef knows how to prepare, but, are hard for non-Chinese cooks to distinguish between.  It's commonly thought the difference lies in the type of noodle. It doesn't. The noodles are the same -- fresh Chinese egg noodles. Translated, "mein" means "noodles", "chow mein" means "fried noodles", and, "lo mein" means "tossed noodles" -- the exact same noodles. To learn more, read my post ~ The difference between Chinese Chow Mein and Lo Mein ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/28/2018

~ Happy Valley Spinach Dip for Your Vegetable Tray ~

IMG_8382In the mid-1950's and throughout the '60's, everybody who entertained was serving French onion dip with their celery and carrot sticks.  This simple concoction of Lipton dehydrated onion soup mix and sour cream was a year-round staple on picnic and cocktail tables.  Said to have been created by an unknown French cook somewhere in Los Angeles in 1954, as a kid, I loved the stuff.  In the 1970's, due to the invention of dehydrated ranch-dressing packets, another dip began appearing at gatherings all across America:  Hidden Valley Ranch spinach dip.  As a young bride, I loved the stuff.  Throughout the 1980's, as a mom, I used it as an enticement to attempt to get my kids to eat fresh vegetables.  Truth told, the less of it they ate equated to more for me.

IMG_8386Fifty years ago, Ranch Dressing or Ranch Dip didn't exist.

Ranch dressing packets quickly became a staple in home kitchens everywhere.  Over time, I created my own copycat version of these beloved seasoning packets here in my Happy Valley, PA kitchen.  I must have done a pretty good job, because every time I make my spinach dip someone asks for my recipe.  It's the dip-of-choice at our Penn State tailgate every Fall, and, it's on my Memorial Day munchie menu this afternoon.  If you have the time, prepare it a day ahead, to give all of the great flavors time to marry.  If you are inclined to make the spice blend from scratch (recipe below), you can make small adjustments to my recipe to suit your palate.  That said, whether the spice blend is home-concocted or out of a store-bought packet, there is no comparison between the flavor of my at-home made spinach dip and the pre-made under-seasoned glop sold in plastic containers in the deli-cases of most grocery stores.

The hidden history of Ranch Dressing & Ranch Dip:

6a0120a8551282970b0191045547dc970cA 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 Barbara, 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 at the ranch were talking about:  his salad dressing.  Henson had developed the recipe back in Alaska: a garlicky emulsion of mayonnaise, buttermilk, dried herbs and spices.

6a0120a8551282970b01901e5f6bb4970bHenson 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.

90982In 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 controlled facility that produced 35,000 packets every eight hours.  In 1972, Henson sold his business to Clorox, they developed ranch dip packets, and, the rest is history.

My Happy Valley version of the Hidden Valley ranch dip packet:

6a0120a8551282970b0192ac1ece24970dFor my dry spice blend (yields 3 tablespoons -- equivalent to 1, 1-ounce packet dry dip mix):

1  teaspoon dried, minced garlic

1 teaspoon dried, minced onion

1  tablespoon dried chives

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

IMG_8361For the additions to the spice blend or 1 seasoning packet store-bought:

2  cups sour cream or mayo, or, a combination of both

2  10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained, about 1 1/2 cups

1  8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained, patted dry and small diced, about 3/4 cup

1  4-ounce jar sliced pimientos, drained and small diced, 1/2 cup

IMG_8345 IMG_8345~ Step 1.  I can think of many instances to use fresh spinach, but spinach dip is not one of them -- frozen chopped spinach yields the right amount every time and there is no need to cook it.  Thaw the spinach overnight in the refrigerator or in a colander placed in the sink with cold water dribbling over it.  Once thawed, wad the spinach up in several layers of paper towels and squeeze it as hard as possible to remove as much liquid as possible.  Kept tightly covered in the refrigerator this task can be done a day in advance.

IMG_8348 IMG_8348~ Step 2.  Drain and dice the water chestnuts. Wad them up in some paper towels and pat and press them dry too.  Allow the pimientos to drain on a paper-towel-lined plate, then dice them about the same size as the water chestnuts. 

IMG_8366 IMG_8366 IMG_8366~ Step 3.  Place the spice blend, along with the sour cream and/or mayo, water chestnuts and pimientos in a 2-quart size food storage container.  Give the mixture a thorough stir.  Using your fingertips, pull the spinach into small, loose, bits and pieces, adding them to the bowl as you work.  Thoroughly stir the spinach into the dip.  Cover and refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight, to allow the flavors to marry.  Overnight is best.

No bread bowl please --  I dislike crumbs in my leftovers.

IMG_8380Scooped up with a veggie or slathered on a cracker -- dig in.

IMG_8392The Ultimate Spinach Dip for Your Vegetable Tray:  Recipe yields 4 cups spinach dip.

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

IMG_3031Cook's Note:  While I do not like versions of spinach dip containing cream cheese, I do like high-quality block cheeses, cheese logs or homemade cheese dips served alongside my spinach dip.  For a cheesy spread that pairs perfectly with spinach dip, vegetables and crackers, check out my recipe for ~ Southern Comfort:  Classic Pimento Cheese Spread ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/25/2018

~ Spring Chicken w/Garlic-Butter Pasta & Asparagus ~

IMG_8318This winner of a weeknight chicken dinner is taken straight from pages of my working parents' playbook.  Before heading out the door in the morning, my mom would put four chicken breasts, doused with store-bought Italian dressing, in a bowl, and, at the end of the work day, dad would dredge the breasts in bread crumbs and sauté them in a skillet, while mom cooked a box of kid-friendly pasta and readied some fresh green beans.  It was simple and straightforward, nothing fancy, but, it was a dinner we all liked, right down to the vegetable.  If we four could look back and critique our dinner menus, all of us would agree:  we were not an easy family to feed.

A family that sits down to dinner together, stays together.

IMG_8326A quirky family?  To say the least.  Dad loved Italian dressing -- it was suitable for anything.  My brother detested tomatoes and tomato sauces -- but loved ketchup.  I disliked macaroni and cheese -- but loved pasta and all cheeses.  Mom disliked heavily-breaded chicken, pork or veal cutlets -- but loved batter-dipped, deep-fried fish and seafood.  We all liked green beans and peas (cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes and mushrooms too) -- we ate green beans and peas a lot.  We all hated squash.  That said, we ate well, rarely argued, and, mom and dad cooked dinner together every night.  My job was to set the table.  My little brother was in charge of harassment.

Fast forward to present day.  Trying to get four people to agree on anything, let alone what to eat, how to eat it, when to eat it, and, who's going to cook it and/or clean up after it, is:  rocket science. Throw in an occasional vegan or self-imposed gluten-free nut job, well, enough said. That said, if you're courageous enough to give it a try, you have a lot more options available to you now than my mom and dad did back in the 1950's and '60's.  Fresh asparagus is a prime example.  

V_B0D9EDA444FC425C8932E0BE8198AAA5Asparagus, which came to America in the 1850's, wasn't available outside of its immediate growing areas until refrigerated trucks started rolling across our highways, and, even then, it was sold mostly to restaurant chefs because home cooks had no idea what to do with it. Click here to watch Julia Child, in a 1966 episode of the French Chef, Asparagus From Tip to Butt, show us how to properly prepare it.

Spring forward:  Eat more fresh asparagus.

Interestingly, I enjoyed this family meal so much when I was growing up, forty-five cooking years later, I've not changed it in any way, except for the green vegetable -- asparagus, broccoli, green beans or peas, depending on what's in season.  I kept my dad's favorite skip-the-eggs no-need-to-make-a-heavy-breading method for the chicken cutlets the same (for the traditional Italian-style method and recipe, check out ~ A Flash-in-the-Pan Dinner:  Chicken alla Milanese~), and, I make it in my electric skillet like he did too -- dad sautéed the chicken in the skillet on the countertop while mom simmered the pasta at the stovetop and the two components cooked in about the same amount of time.  Quirky?  Yes.  Yummy?  Yes.  The Italian dressing (along with its herbs and spices), is a great substitute for lemon juice -- a common pairing with asparagus.

IMG_82108-10  chicken tenderloins, lightly-pounded (2-2 1/2 pounds)

3/4 cup Wish-Bone light Italian dressing, for marinating chicken 

1  pound trimmed asparagus, from 2  pounds medium-thickness asparagus, trimmed as directed below, to yield 1 pound trimmed asparagus

1  pound fork-friendly, non-tubular pasta like rotini or bow ties

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning water to cook pasta

1/2  cup butter (1 stick)

1/4  cup additional Wish-Bone light Italian dressing

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

IMG_8217 IMG_8217 IMG_8217 IMG_8217~Step 1.  Arrange the chicken tenders inside a 2-gallon food storage bag.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, lightly-pound the chicken tenders to flatten them out a bit.  Do not smash them to smithereens.  Add the Italian dressing to bag and seal to close.  Using your fingertips, gently squish the chicken around in the bag to thoroughly coat the tenderloins in dressing.  Place in the refrigerator to marinate 1-2+ hours or overnight.  If you've got the time, overnight is best.

IMG_8212 IMG_8212~ Step 2.  Trim the tip ends of the asparagus to a length of 2-2 1/2 inches, then trim the stalk ends into 1" lengths, stopping when the sweet, tender part of the stalks meets the bitter, woody end stalks.  There will be 1-pound trimmed asparagus.

IMG_8230 IMG_8235 IMG_8235~Step 3.  In a 16" electric skillet, heat a little less than 1/4" of oil, about 1/2 cup.  Remove the chicken tenderloins from the marinade, allowing excess marinade to drain back into the bag, transferring the tenders to a 13" x 9" casserole as you work, arranging them in a single layer in the bottom.  Sprinkle a generous amount of breadcrumbs over their tops, patting the crumbs in with fingertips and let rest about 2 minutes.  Using a fork, flip the tenders over and do the same on their second sides.  

IMG_8249 IMG_8249 IMG_8249 IMG_8249~Step 4.  Add the bread-crumb-coated chicken tenders to the skillet, all ten will fit, just look at the photo.  Give them a light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt.  Adjust heat to sauté, 240°-250°, until nicely-browned and cooked through, turning once and salting the second sides too, about 6 minutes per side.  Using a fork &/or a spatula (not tongs), gently transfer tenders, so as not to disturb the delicate crumb coating, to a wire rack that's been placed atop a layer of paper towels.

IMG_8294 IMG_8294~Step 5.  Add the asparagus to the perfectly-seasoned drippings in skillet.  Sauté, using a spatula to keep them moving around constantly, until just cooked through and crunch-tender, about 3-4 minutes.  Do not overcook the asparagus.

IMG_8265 IMG_8265 IMG_8265 IMG_8265 IMG_8265 IMG_8265 IMG_8265~Step 6.  Meanwhile, back at the stovetop, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat and add 1 tablespoon sea salt.  Add the pasta, give the water a stir, and cook pasta as package directs, until al dente, 10-11 minutes. Drain pasta into a colander and immediately return it to the hot stockpot on the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter, Italian dressing, garlic powder and red pepper flakes.  Stir until butter melts and spices are incorporated throughout this tangy make-shift garlicy-butter-sauce.

IMG_8300 IMG_8300 IMG_8300~ Step 7.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the freshly-sautéd asparagus to the pasta, then give the mixture a gentle stir. Portion into 4-6 pasta bowls and serve with 1 or 2 sliced chicken tenderloins atop each portion.

Portion 1-2 sliced chicken tenderloins atop pasta & eat ASAP:

IMG_8320Garlic-butter pasta & asparagus -- a fantastic side-dish too:

IMG_8330Spring Chicken w/Garlic-Butter Pasta & Asparagus:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-gallon food storage bag; flat-sided meat mallet; 1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 16" electric skillet; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; fork; slotted spatula; wire cooling rack; paper towels; 8-quart stockpot; colander

6a0120a8551282970b01bb080c3d4d970dCook's Note:  The first time I ate classic Oscar was in 1983 in The Big Easy.  We were sitting in a fancy New Orleans French-Quarter restaurant, Arnoud's, listening to a jazz band.  My meal arrived and it was wonderful:  a lightly-pounded, gently-sauteed, fork-tender veal paillard, heaped with Louisiana crayfish, drizzled with buttery bearnaise and garnished with asparagus tips.  Click here to get my recipe for ~ All that Jazz Chicken Oscar w/Blender Bernaise ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/22/2018

~ Buttery Candied-Pecan and Toffee Bit Shortbread ~

IMG_8199Shortbread.  Melt-in-my-mouth, buttery-rich, slightly-salty and not-too-sweet, every bite of one of these humbly-crumbly understated cookies is akin to an extravagant indulgence -- the amuse bouche of the sweet treat kind.  From one or two sitting atop a paper napkin next to a cup of caffeine, to hundreds piled high on shiny trays at a celebration, shortbread has earned its place on the table of any occasion.  In my food world, every day and its accompanying problems has the potential to turn out ok, as long as there are a few shortbread to nibble on in the cookie jar.

A day w/shortbread in the cookie jar is a good day: 

IMG_8191Throughout the United Kingdom, shortbread has been a tradition at tea time since medieval days. As the name implies, shortbread contains shortening in the the form of butter, plus sugar and flour -- more specifically, one part sugar, two parts butter, and, three parts white flour.  After this super-easy to make dough is mixed together, it can be be baked in several forms.  Many home cooks pat the dough into one or two flat, round discs that get cut into wedges as soon as they emerge from the oven.  Most manufacturers bake it in rectangular molds then cut it into fingers.  Because the dough holds shapes very well, it's ideal for either cut- or drop- cookies that can be patterned/decorated with the simple tines of a fork or an elaborate stamp.  It's common for various extracts, citrus oils and/or aromatic spices to be used as subtle flavorings.  In all cases, shortbread is baked in a moderate oven to render its signature pale ever-so-slightly brown color.

IMG_8193Candied pecans + English toffee bits = the perfect additions.

IMG_81131  cup salted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature, very soft

1/2  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  large egg, at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 1/2  cups unbleached all-purpose flour + additional bench flour

1  cup  finely-chopped candied pecans (from 4 ounces candied pecans)

1/2  cup English toffee bits

IMG_8118 IMG_8118 IMG_8118 IMG_8118 IMG_8118 IMG_8118~Step.  In a large bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, salt, egg and extract, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula during the process, about 1 minute.  Reduce mixer speed to low.  Gradually, in 3-4 increments, thoroughly incorporate the flour, about 2 minutes.  Remove mixer.  Using the spatula, fold the candied pecans and toffee bits into the cookie dough.

IMG_8142 IMG_8142 IMG_8142 IMG_8142 IMG_8142 IMG_8142~Step 2.  Ready a pastry board with some bench flour, then get out a rolling pin and a 2"-round cookie cutter.  Line 3-4 large baking pans with parchment.  With no need for exacting accuracy, divide dough into three parts and form each part into a disc shape.  Sprinkle a bit of bench flour on the pastry board, place a disc of dough on top of the flour, sprinkle it with a bit of flour, then roll it to a thickness of about 3/8".  Cut the dough into rounds.  Place the rounds of dough about 1" apart on parchment-lined pan.  Set the scraps of dough aside.  Repeat this process with remaining two discs of dough, then, gather all the dough scraps together, form a fourth disc and repeat the process again, and again, using all dough.

IMG_8160 IMG_8160 IMG_8160 IMG_8160~Step 3.  Place one pan in the refrigerator for 18 minutes.  Remove it from the refrigerator and place on center rack of 325° to bake for 18-20 minutes, until cookies are light golden on the bottoms and sides.*  Remove from oven and cool on pan about 1-2 minutes.  Using a thin spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely, 1-2 hours.  Repeat this process until all cookies are baked.  *Note:  While one pan of cookies is baking, start chilling another one.

Make & bake a big batch & cool completely on a wire rack:

IMG_8175Pile 'em into your favorite cookie jar to nibble on until gone:

IMG_8206Buttery Candied-Pecan and Toffee Bit Shortbread:  Recipe yields 4-4 1/2 dozen, 2"-round cookies

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; pastry board; small rolling pin; 2"-round cookie cutter; 3-4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; thin metal spatula; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09614461970dCook's Note:  I developed a crush for English toffee in London the 1990's.  There was a Confectioner across the street from our hotel and it was the first place I wandered into on my way to take a bus tour of the city.  While the sweet treat in this photo is something that typically gets made around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, if you'd like to learn a bit more about English toffee, read my post ~ Old-Fashioned Chocolate & Almond Buttercrunch ~.  My freezer is rarely without a bag of English toffee bits in it.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/19/2018

~Summer's Coming Fresh-Fruit & Pastry-Cream Tarts~

IMG_8107One whirl around the produce section of the grocery store and it becomes crystal clear that Summer is coming to my Northeast.  There are fresh berries galore and they're plump, juicy and super-flavorful -- my indicator that our own locally-grown berries will be appearing in our farmers' markets in a few weeks. I couldn't decide between the blackberries or the strawberries, so I bought 'em both, then I picked up a fresh pineapple too.  My plan is to serve them as unadulterated and au natural as possible -- by using them "as is" in small, fresh fruit tartlets.

IMG_8103A bit about making fresh fruit tarts in general: 

IMG_8104The tart pastry.  It doesn't take too much longer to make 21-24 small, 3" individual-sized tartlets than it does to make two, large, 10-12" ones. Both are seriously pretty to look at, and they taste the same too, but when serving times rolls around, the individual-sized ones win.  That said, I won't call the food police if you use store-bought pie pastry.

The pastry cream.  Some people dream about chocolate.  I dream about pastry cream. It's both decadent and naughtily-seductive. Desserts containing this luxurious egg-custard are at the top of my favorite-sweet-things short list. To make 21-24 tartlets, cut the recipe provided below in half (to make 4 cups) and substitute banana extract for some of the vanilla extract.

The fruit & the glaze.  Choose the freshest, prettiest fruit available -- any kind or combination will work. To make 21-24 tartlets today, I used a pint each of strawberries, large blackberries and pineapple chunks. It's not an exact science, and, I had some of all three leftover.  The glaze is a concoction of 1/2 cup pineapple jam and 2 tablespoons water.

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

IMG_9602Sweet Dreams:  Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream):

IMG_8037A combo of berries &/or fruit + a light-colored jelly or jam:

IMG_8042To assemble & glaze 21-24, 3"round fresh-fruit tartlets:

IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8048 IMG_8048 IMG_8048 IMG_8048~Step 1.  Place the empty tart shells on a large baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.  Spoon and spread a generous two tablespoons pastry cream into each shell. Decoratively arrange the fruit atop the pastry cream, slicing or dicing fruit, if necessary and on an as-needed basis, to fit -- the fruit you choose will determine the configuration.  Each one of these tartlets contain: 1 large whole blackberry, 2 halves of 1 whole strawberry, 2 chunks pineapple diced. Place the tartlets in the refrigerator to chill, 1-2 hours prior to glazing as directed below:

IMG_8083 IMG_8083 IMG_8083 IMG_8083~Step 2.  To make the glaze, place 1/2 cup of a light-colored jelly or jam in a 1-quart saucepan with 2 tablespoons water.*  Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly.  Once simmering and thoroughly combined, 15-20 seconds, remove from heat and allow to cool about 10 minutes. Using a pastry brush and a light touch, dab glaze onto fruit to coat.  Refrigerate glazed tartlets, uncovered, 1-2 hours prior to serving.  Tarts are best served the same day they are assembled.  

*Note:  I used pineapple jam today, because I used pineapple to top my tartlets.  That said, for a clear, all-purpose glaze that complements all fruit, apple jelly is my go-to choice.

Refrigerate tartlets, uncovered, 1-2 hours prior to serving:

IMG_8106Summer's Coming Fresh-Fruit & Pastry-Cream Tarts:  Recipe yields 21-24 3"-round tartlets.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-2 large baking pans; parchment paper; 1-quart saucepan; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c906c921970bCook's Note:  When I've got a whole lot of plump and juicy store-bought or home-grown strawberries, when I'm finished eating them out-of-hand and before I make ~ Super-Easy Strawberry Preserves ~ in my bread machine, ~ Seriously Simple & Sweet:  Fresh All-Strawberry Pie ~ is my favorite use for these short-seasoned Summer berries.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/17/2018

~ Is there a Perfect Condiment for Sweet Potato Fries ~

IMG_8018No and yes.  Like the classic French fry, the perfectly-cooked sweet potato fry, with its crispy exterior and creamy interior, in an oddly chameleon-esque fashion, pairs well with almost anything that qualifies as a condiment-like dip or a vinegary sauce.  In my food world, sweet potato fries are also the ultimate side-dish to pork chops, ribs, and pulled-pork sandwiches.  Also, the flavorful sweet potato more-than-holds-its-own against any of the bold barbecue sauces used to complement porcine.  All that said, when I get a hankering to eat a small batch of sweet potato fries, all by themselves, just for their flavor and texture, I've got a go-to, mild and creamy, tangy and sort-of-sweet dip that turns a small basket of fries from a satellite side-dish into a meal.

Save the honey for mustard.  Mix maple syrup into the ketchup.

IMG_7935Just like honey and mustard go hand-in-hand, so goes maple syrup and ketchup.  Stir a bit of mayo into either:  it's a sweet-and-savory, lip smacking honey-mustard- or maple-ketchup- condiment or salad dressing you've got, and, it can be mixed-up in literal seconds.

6  tablespoons ketchup

3  tablespoons mayonnaise

1-2  tablespoons maple syrup

IMG_7921 IMG_7921~ Step 1.  This should be self-explanatory, but, I'll document the instructions anyway.  Measure and place all ingredients, as listed, in a small bowl. Give it a stir and use immediately or store in the refrigerator indefinitely.  Yield:  about 3/4 cup.

Try a basket of my pan-fried sweet potato fries for lunch:

IMG_8010Is there a Perfect Condiment for Sweet Potato Fries:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup maple-ketchup mayo.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0223c84b391f200cCook's Note:  When you need more sweet potato fries than one large skillet can hold, sweet potato fries can be successfully oven fried. Tossed in oil, they cook, all at once, in a single layer on a sheet pan. There's more.  Because oven-roasting is a dry-heat method, they can be seasoned with any spice blend to complement any meal.  To learn how I do it, read my post ~ Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/15/2018

~ Everybody in the Skillet: Perfect Sweet Potato Fries ~

IMG_8001Sweet potatoes -- of the kind that don't come out of a can and end up with marshmallows on top. I've had a love affair with this root vegetable since my first trist with a sweet potato that didn't come out of a can and have marshmallows on top.  While I have a high-enough I.Q. to discern why once-upon-a-time in-the-history-of-canned-vegetetables, cooked sweet potatoes were put in those cans, in my lifetime, I will never be smart enough to figure out why those marshmallows got purposefully or experimentally plopped on top.  Some answers are best left to the imagination.

A sweet potato is not a yam & vice versa.

A 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_8026Sweet potatoes can be cooked via all the same methods all-purpose spuds can.  Baked, boiled, deep-fried, grilled, oven-roasted, microwaved, and, last but not least, pan-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.  Pan-fried sweet potato fries, which pair great with so many things (especially poultry and pork) are relatively quick easy to make, but I'm not going to lie, if it's a big family you need to feed and need more than four side-servings, oven-roasting will get you the bigger batch.

One 1-1 1/4 pound sweet potato = 12-14-ounces fries.

IMG_7938 IMG_7938 IMG_7938 IMG_7938 IMG_7938~Step 1.  When making fries, for the least amount of waste, choose large potatoes with a long, plump, oval-ish shape -- the one in this photo weighs 1 pound, 2 ounces..  The sweet potato is a hard, meaning solid, vegetable to slice.  To shape the fries, using a large chef's knife, start by trimming the ends of the potato, to make a stable base at either end.  Once that's done, stand the potato up on the stable base and use the knife to work around the exterior, shaving the tough exterior skin from the orange flesh.  After that, with the potato still standing upright, slice the potato, lengthwise, down through the center, to split the potato into two halves. Slice each half, lengthwise into 1/4"-thick planks.  Slice the planks into 1/4" thick strips (fries).

IMG_7953 IMG_7953 IMG_7953 IMG_7953 IMG_7968 IMG_7968 IMG_7968 IMG_7968~Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, heat 3 tablespoons, corn, peanut or vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Add the cut fries.  After about two minutes, when they begin to sizzle, use a spatula to carefully turn them, to coat them in the oil -- at this point the potatoes will be softening. Continue to sauté the sweet potatoes, gently turning them every 45-60 seconds, until starting to brown on all sides, about 8-10 minutes.  Allow the process to continue, another 4-7 minutes (for a total cooking time of 12-15 minutes), turning the fries frequently, until they turn a deeper shade of brown, transferring them, a few at a time to a paper-towel-lined plate, on an as-needed basis -- this process will go quickly.  When all fries are on the plate, sprinkle generously with sea salt.

Is there a perfect condiment for the perfect sweet potato fry?

IMG_8018No and yes.  Like the classic French fry, the perfectly-cooked sweet potato fry, with its crispy exterior and creamy interior, in an oddly chameleon-esque fashion, pairs well with almost anything that qualifies as a condiment-like dip or a vinegary sauce.  In my food world, sweet potato fries are also the ultimate side-dish to pork chops, ribs, and pulled-pork sandwiches.  Also, the flavorful sweet potato more-than-holds-its-own against any of the bold barbecue sauces used to complement porcine.  All that said, when I get a hankering to eat a small batch of sweet potato fries, all by themselves, just for their flavor and texture, I've got a go-to, mild and creamy, tangy and sort-of-sweet dip that turns a small basket of fries from a satellite side-dish into a meal. 

Save the honey for mustard.  Mix maple syrup into the ketchup.

IMG_7935Just like honey and mustard go hand-in-hand, so goes maple syrup and ketchup.  Stir a bit of mayo into either:  it's a sweet-and-savory, lip smacking honey-mustard- or maple-ketchup- condiment or salad dressing you've got, and, it can be mixed-up in literal seconds.

6  tablespoons ketchup

3  tablespoons mayonnaise

1-2  tablespoons maple syrup

IMG_7921 IMG_7921~ Step 1.  This should be self-explanatory, but, I'll document the instructions anyway.  Measure and place all ingredients, as listed, in a small bowl. Give it a stir and use immediately or store in the refrigerator indefinitely.  Yield:  about 3/4 cup.

Try a basket of sweet potato fries for lunch:

IMG_8010Or some sweet-potato fries as a side to that pork steak:

IMG_7718Everybody in the Skillet:  Perfect Sweet Potato Fries:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1-2 large servings fries or 3-4 small side-servings, and, 3/4 cup maple-ketchup mayo.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; spatula; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01bb099f5ac0970d-800wiCook's Note:  When you need more sweet potato fries than one large skillet can hold, sweet potato fries can be successfully oven fried. Tossed in oil, they cook, all at once, in a single layer on a sheet pan. There's more.  Because oven-roasting is a dry-heat method, they can be seasoned with any spice blend to complement any meal.  To learn how I do it, read my post ~ Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/12/2018

~ The Perfectly-Broiled 22-Minute Pork Blade Steak ~

IMG_7718The pork blade steak is my new-to-me muse -- in my own words, it's a bone-fide kick-butt man-sized pork chop.  Known as pork steak, pork butt steak or pork blade steak, these bone-in steaks are cut from the shoulder of the pig -- the same part of the porcine used to make pulled pork. Similar in taste and texture to close-kin country-style spareribs*, they were invented in St. Louis, MO, and are a Midwest staple.  As a country-style spare-rib lover living in central Pennsylvania, I ask the Sam's Club butcher to custom-cut these inexpensive, lesser-to-unknown-to-our-locale steaks for me.  Perhaps this post will help them to catch on "out here in the counties".

*Country-style ribs are cut from the blade end of the loin close to the shoulder. They're meatier than other ribs.  They contain no rib bones, but contain parts of the shoulder blade bone.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d8b199970c"Pork butt" or "Boston butt", is a bone-in cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the "pork shoulder" from the front leg of the hog. Smoked or barbecued, Boston butt is a southern tradition.  This cut of meat got its name in pre-Revolutionary War New England:

Butcher's in Boston left the blade bone in this inexpensive cut of pork 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f1af75970dshoulder then packed and stored the meat in casks called "butts". They sold the pork shoulders individually to their customers, and, when they got popular, they began shipping "the butts" Southward and throughout the Colonies.  Simply stated:  the way the hog shoulder was butchered, combined with "the butt" they arrived in, evolved into the name "Boston butt".

IMG_7412Steaks cut from the pork shoulder are marbled with lots of fat and rich with collagen, which, like the roast, makes them extremely flavorful.  

Because overcooking renders them dry and tough, this quick-cooking cut is perfect for the grill, sauté pan or broiler.  Choose pinkish-gray steaks that are generally the same size and thickness (3/4"-1" thick is ideal), and, have been trimmed of excessive fat from the fat-cap-side.

The four steaks pictured above, weighing a total of 6.48 pounds, cost $10.87.  That's a whole lot of economical porcine wonderfulness -- especially if you've got a big family with big appetites. Depending on the recipe du jour, sometimes I marinate these steaks, sometimes I don't.  When it comes to pork blade steaks, absorb this: marination (which does not affect the cooking time), is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.  Please know: these steaks are super-tender with zero marination.

* Note:  I have electric ovens and none of mine have a hi or low setting for the broiler.  With the door cracked (which is how broiling, a from-the-top-down dry-heat-method of cooking, is done in an electric oven), an oven-thermometer reads 325-ishº throughout the cooking process.

IMG_7401 IMG_7401~ Step 1.  Place 2, 3/4"-1"-thick, bone-in pork butt blade steaks, about 1 1/2-1 3/4-pounds each on a corrugated broiler pan -- allow to come to room temperature, 20-30 minutes.  Season tops with freshly-ground sea salt & peppercorn blend.

IMG_7445 IMG_7445 IMG_7445 IMG_7445 IMG_7443 IMG_7443~Step 2.  Place steaks 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler for exactly 11 minutes -- 5 1/2"-6" is a key measurement when broiling pork blade steaks.  Remove steaks from oven, flip steaks over, season the second sides with a bit (not too much) more sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Return to oven and broil for exactly 11 more minutes.  Remove from oven, set aside, and allow steaks to rest, in pan, for 10-12 minutes.

IMG_7454IMG_7454IMG_7454IMG_7454Step 3.  To slice and/or dice steaks, in order to eat them or to use as directed in a specific recipe, slice each rested-but-warm blade steak, on a diagonal, in half lengthwise -- half bone-in, the other boneless.  If desired, thinly-slice the boneless half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips, then, if recipe directs, dice the strips.  Carve meat away from bone on the second half, then slice and/or dice that meat too.  Serve ASAP.

Goes great with Southwestern Slaw & Sweet Potato Fries:

IMG_7710To learn how how to perfectly pan-sear a pork blade steak:

IMG_4501The Perfectly-Broiled 22-Minute Pork Blade Steak:  Recipe yields instructions to broil a pork blade steak/1-2 servings per steak (depending on how it's served -- as appetizers, in sandwiches, on salads or as a main-dish -- and what it is served with).

Special Equipment List:  11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_6597Cook's Note: For another cut of meat, this time beef, that loves life under the broiler, check out ~ Melanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak ~.  In terms of taste, texture, versatility and price, without compromise, hands-down the flank steak wins on all points -- which is why I purchase one or two almost every week. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/09/2018

~Creamy, Cheesy & E-Z Chile-Lime Refried Bean Dip~

IMG_7906I love a starry night.  Sitting outside in the warm Summer air, watching the sun set and listening to my next-door neighbors, the dairy cows, lowing in the pasture -- it's peaceful.  That said, on some Summer nights, Thursdays during June, July and August, a band plays "up on the mountain" (the ski slope to the other side of the cow pasture).  Weather permitting, on those toe-tapping evenings, if you stop by, you'll find a snack or three on the table next to the cooler of Corona.

My neighbors, music on the mountain, &, bean dip. 

IMG_0279This easy bean dip is one of my favorite Summer appetizers and it's also one of the easiest to make -- a handful of ingredients that I always have on-hand.  Served alongside some homemade or high-quality spicy pico de gallo, citrusy guacamole and crispy tortilla chips, these four small-bowl Texican snacks, in place of one big dinner, are just fine by me.  There's more.  Bean dip is filling.  A little goes a long way.  That's why I make it in two smaller two-cup-size crocks rather than one bigger casserole -- one for tonight and a spare (to bake and serve over the weekend).

Summer nights are right for a simple snack like bean dip.

IMG_78261  16-ounce can refried beans

1  4 1/2-ounce can diced green chiles (undrained)

2  tablespoons salsa verde (green salsa), hot or mild

2  teaspoons lime juice

4  tablespoons Mexican crema (or sour cream)

1-1 1/2  teaspoons ground cumin

1/2-3/4  teaspoon each: garlic powder and onion powder

8  ounces shredded pepper Jack cheese, about 2 cups (Note:  Monterey Jack cheese is a great melting cheese.  If hot peppers in your cheese is not your thing, substitute plain Jack, but, refrain from block cheddars as they won't melt to the creamy consistency that Jack does.)

Mexican-style hot sauce, your favorite brand, for accompaniment

lime wedges, for garnish

Basic refried beans or frijoles refritos = well-fried beans.

Refried beans, or frijoles refritos, are a traditional Mexican side-dish made with twice-cooked beans.  The beans (pinto or kidney) are boiled, thoroughly drained, mashed or smashed while they're still warm, then cooked a second time.  Much like making mashed potatoes, basic spices are added, to taste, while mashing or smashing to the desired smooth to slightly-lumpy state. Once blended, the mixture is placed in a skillet containing melted lard, shortening or vegetable oil. The amount of fat added controls their thick-and-creamy to slightly-soupy texture.  Store-bought refried beans are mashed and ready-to-eat, use as directed in any recipe, or, reheat in a skillet to serve as a side-dish.  A common misconception is that refried beans are vegetarian -- not so, unless the can is clearly labeled "vegetarian".  Why?  Many store-bought brands do contain lard.

IMG_7828 IMG_7828 IMG_7828~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, place and stir together the beans, chiles, salsa, lime juice, crema and spices.  There will be 3 cups bean dip.  Divide the mixture between two 2-cup crocks or place into a shallow 1-quart shallow casserole.  Set aside about 15-30 minutes, to give the flavors a bit of  time to marry.  

IMG_7840 IMG_7835 IMG_7835 IMG_7835~Step 2.  Use a hand-held box grater to grate the Jack cheese and preheat oven or toaster oven to 325°.  If you are baking one crock of bean dip, top it with 3/4 cup of cheese, meaning: don't top the second crock with the shredded cheese until just prior to baking it.*  If baking the 1-quart casserole, distribute all the cheese, the full two cups evenly over the top of it.

*Note:  Store remaining crock and bowl of cheese, covered, in refrigerator for 1-3 days.  Return dip to room temperature, 30-45 minutes prior to topping with cheese and baking as directed. 

IMG_7871~ Step 3. Place on center rack of 325º oven or toaster oven and bake until cheese is melted and crock/casserole is bubbling and browning around the edges and heated through, 16-18 minutes.  Remove from oven, top with a splash of hot sauce and a few squirts of fresh lime juice.  Serve immediately, accompanied by lots of tortilla chips. 

A handful of ingredients, mixed in one bowl, come together to make this scrumptious Mexican-restaurant-style bean dip.

IMG_7876Creamy, Cheesy & E-Z Chile-Lime Refried Bean Dip:  Recipe yields 4 cups.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held box grater; large spoon; 2, 2-cup size crocks or ramekins or a shallow 1-quart casserole

IMG_7394Cook's Note:  In its earliest form, Monterey Jack was made by the Mexican Fanciscan friars of Monterey, Alta California during the 18th century.  California businessman David Jack sold their cheese locally, and, before long, this semi-hard, 1-2-month aged, mild, white, creamy cow's milk cheese came to be known as "Jack's cheese".  Eventually other ranchers began mass-producing "Monterey Jack".  A common misspelling is Monterrey Jack, in confusion with the Mexican city of  Monterrey.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018

05/06/2018

~ Mexican-Style Adobo Rice (Meatless Spanish Rice) ~

IMG_7804Mexican rice became a staple on our family's table back in the 1980's.  Whenever we ate in a Mexican restaurant, remarkably, our three kids would eat the side-dishes:  the muli-colored veggie-bejeweled rice, the murky-earthy slightly-soupy refried beans, and, the bright-green garlic-laced guacamole.  Without complaint or prodding, they'd slather and scoop 'em onto and into tacos, fajitas, carnitas (or whatever else they were eating), along with red or green salsa and the bottled hot-sauce du jour.  Go figure, and, "shut my mouth wide open."  I started stocking my pantry with whatever Texican-type ingredients I could find in our Central, PA grocery stores. 

The biggest difference between Mexican rice and Spanish rice (as per me) is akin to the difference between a side-salad and a chef's salad.  Both contain similar ingredients, but, the first gets eaten alongside the main course, while the latter is the main course. If anyone has a better description, I'm all ears, but, the bottom line:  both are Spanish.  When I think "Mexican rice", I think "tawny-red-tinged, onion-and-garlic laced, side-dish riddled with bits of vegetables (beans, corn and/or tomatoes, or peas and carrots)".  When I think "Spanish rice", I think "protein-packed Mexican rice, chocked full of chards or chunks of meat, poultry or shellfish as a main-dish".     

Kid-tested mother-approved Mexican rice (arroz Mexicano):

IMG_7807If anyone's got qualms with my definition of basic Spanish-type rice, simmer down. I'm not of Spanish heritage or related to anyone who is.  I am, however, savvy enough to know there are differences between Mexican- and Spanish- rice recipes.  While the word Mexican refers to one Spanish-speaking country, Spanish encompasses many countries, islands and territories on several continents, not to mention several states and cities right here in the USA.  That means, when you come across an authentic recipe for a specific dish follow the recipe as written.

IMG_76882  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil

1  cup diced sweet onion

2  cups extra-long-grain or long-grain white rice

1  teaspoon each:  garlic powder and sea salt

1/2  teaspoon each:  ground cumin and jalapeño pepper

3  cups vegetable stock* 

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

3/4  teaspoon Goya adobo all-purpose seasoning with pepper

1-1/4  cups cooked corn kernels

*Note:  I use high-quality unsalted vegetable stock to make Spanish rice -- it allows the flavors of the spices to take center stage.  Feel free to substitute beef or chicken or seafood stock, to complement the dish/meal being served, but, if the stock is salted, adjust my recipe, "to taste".

IMG_7743 IMG_7743 IMG_7743 IMG_7743 IMG_7743 IMG_7743~Step 1.  Heat oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium- medium-high.  Stir in the garlic powder, cumin  jalapeño pepper and salt.  Add the onion. Adjust heat to sauté, stirring constantly, until onion is softened, 4-5 minutes.  Add rice and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until grains are coated in oil and mixture is steaming, about 3 minutes.

IMG_7759 IMG_7759 IMG_7759 IMG_7759~Step 2.  Stir in the diced tomatoes, followed by the vegetable stock and the adobo seasoning. Stir thoroughly and bring mixture to a boil over high heat.  When mixture comes to a boil, adjust heat to a slow, steady simmer, cover the pot and continue to simmer gently until rice has absorbed the liquid, about 20-22 minutes.  Do not lift the lid during the simmering process.  

Tip from Mel:  When I cook rice I like to use a saucepan with a glass lid. This makes it easy to keep an eye on the progress without allowing the steam to escape -- and it works perfectly.

IMG_7771 IMG_7771 IMG_7771~ Step 3.  Turn the heat off and allow rice to sit, covered on the stovetop for 2-3 additional minutes. Uncover the saucepan. Using a fork, gently rake through the rice with a fork to gradually separate the grains, starting at the top and working down to the bottom of the saucepan.  Add the corn kernels and gently rake them into the rice.  The residual heat from the rice will heat the corn kernels through.  

Serve ASAP w/beef, chicken, pork, fish or shellfish:  

IMG_7793Mexican-Style Adobo Rice (Meatless Spanish Rice):  Recipe yields 8 cups rice/8, 1-cup servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart measuring container; 4-quart saucepan w/lid (preferably a glass lid); large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01a511add1cc970cCook's Note: The 1905 chef's salad. Never heard of it?  Read on.  The Columbia Restaurant, a chain of six or seven restaurants in The Sunshine State, is a 4th-generation family-owned business specializing in Spanish food.  To say it's a tourist attraction is true, we ate there and as tourists on the recommendation of a native Floridian.  Now, if I'm in Florida and there's a Columbia within striking distance, I'm going there just for the ~ 1905:  It was a very good year for a salad. ~

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/04/2018

~ Spicy Mexican Ahogada-Style Grilled Shrimp Tacos ~

IMG_7659If you're like me, an American cook with a fondness for Mexican fare, you most likely have a recipe-or-six for tacos (American-style ground beef tacos, grilled-beef tacos al carbonshredded-pork carnitas tacosshredded-pork tacos al pastorchicken tacosfish tacos, etc.).   Today I'm adding another one, and, the inspiration for my creation came from the signature sandwich of Guadalajara:  the Torta Ahogada (in Mexico, "torta" means "sandwich" and "ahogada" means "drenched", "drowned" or "drunken").  After eating these famous tortas for our Cinco de Mayo celebration, it occurred to me that making these shrimp tacos tonight might be a fine use for the leftover Mexican marinade and ahogada sauce.  I was, spot-on, right.

To glibly dismiss Cinco de Mayo as an all-American drinking-holiday: is a display of unresearched ignorance.  Read on:   

"Cinco de Mayo" (Spanish for "fifth of May") is a celebration held on May 5.  While it is celebrated nationwide in the United States, celebrations are also held in parts of Canada, the Caribbean, Australia, England, France, and South Africa.  In Mexico, "El Día de la Batalla de Puebla" ("The Day of the Battle of Puebla"), considered a military holiday, is primarily celebrated in the state of Puebla.  The date has been observed in the United States since 1863, as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride, and, to commemorate the cause of freedom and democracy during the first years of the American Civil War.  In Mexico, while it is not a National holiday (banks and schools stay open), in the state of Puebla, the date is observed to commemorate the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. Contrary to widespread popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day, the most important and patriotic National holiday in Mexico (September 16).  

The degree to which Mexico celebrates this holiday varies from community-to-community, which is no different than the degree to which we Americans celebrate some of our lesser holidays (example:  May Day).  Furthermore, to state (to me) that Mexicans in Mexico do not know what Cinco de Mayo is, is: stupid.  Those are the facts kiddies.  Got 'em in your head?  Let's cook.

Part One:  Making a crunchy Southwestern slaw.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d15c6b91970cFor the Southwestern slaw:

4  cups store-bought coleslaw mix, a mixture of green & red cabbage & matchstick carrots

3/4  cup each: thinly-sliced green onions, white and light green part only, and, minced cilantro

2-3  tablespoons finely-diced jalapeño pepper, 2-3 tablespoons after removing seeds and ribs

3  tablespoons each: fresh lime juice and honey

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7d2a9c2970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7d2a9c2970b 6a0120a8551282970b01bb0876d40e970d 6a0120a8551282970b01bb0876d40e970d~Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk the lime juice, honey and salt.  Using a rubber spatula, stir in the scallions, cilantro and jalapeños.  Fold in the slaw mix.  When mixture is thoroughly combined, refrigerate 4-6 hours, or overnight, stopping to stir every now and then, until serving chilled.

Part Two:  Marinating & sautéing/grill-panning the shrimp.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f32485970b2  pounds jumbo shrimp (16/20 count), peeled, deveined, tails off (Note:  To learn more, read my post, ~ Purchase Shrimp by their "Count" not their "Size" ~.)

1/2-3/4  cup my recipe for ~ A Basic Mexican Marinade for Beef, Pork or Poultry -- Great for Shellfish too. ~, which takes about 5 minutes to whisk together  

IMG_7610 IMG_7610 IMG_7610 IMG_7610~Step 1.  Prepare the marinade as directed in recipe.  Peel, devein and remove the tails from the shrimp, placing the shrimp in a medium bowl as you work.  Add 1/2-3/4 cup of the marinade and thoroughly stir.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to marinate, 2-4 hours or up to 6-8 hours, restirring the shrimp a few times during the process.  Remove shrimp from refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to sautéing/grill-panning, according to the following instructions:

IMG_7628 IMG_7628 IMG_7628 IMG_7628~Step 2.  Place a 12" nonstick grill-pan over medium-high heat.  Don't have a grill pan?  Use a 12" skillet.  Using a large slotted spoon transfer the shrimp from the marinade to the grill pan. Discard the remaining marinade.  Grill-pan the the shrimp over medium-high heat, using a nonstick spatula to flip and turn them, for 6 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Use a slotting spoon to transfer shrimp from the grill-pan to a bowl or a plate.  Discard any juices remaining in grill-pan.   

Part Three:  Making ahogada-crema & assembling the tacos.

IMG_76438  taco shells, preferably freshly deep-fried using high-quality store-bought fresh corn tortillas

all of the Southwestern slaw, from above recipe

all of the marinated and cooked shrimp, from above recipe

1/2  cup  recipe for ~ Ahogada Sauce for Mexican Drowned Sandwiches ~, stirred together w/1/2  cup Mexican crema (or sour cream)

IMG_7645 IMG_7645 IMG_7645 IMG_7645~Step 1.  Arrange deep-fried taco shells on individual plates or all of them on a platter.  Scoop some chilled Southwestern slaw into each shell, top the slaw with 6-8 still-warm and juicy shrimp, then, drizzle ahogada crema generously over all.  Garnish with a sprig of cilantro and enjoy.

Assemble as follows:  taco shell, a scoop of Southwestern slaw, 6-8 shrimp, & a generous drizzle of ahogada crema:

IMG_7666Celebrate a nicely-spiced ahogoda-shrimp-taco holiday:

IMG_7680Spicy Mexican Ahogada-Style Grilled Shrimp Tacos:  Recipe yields 8 large, hearty tacos.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; whisk; plastic wrap; large slotted spoon; 12" round or square nonstick grill pan; nonstick spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7d2d12e970bCook's Note: When it comes to fish tacos made with grilled or pan-fried fish fillets, you can make them with the fish you like best -- almost any type of fresh fish can be added to a fish taco.  That will not work for the batter-dipped, deep-fried fish taco -- thin filets and/or delicate fish will not hold up to the rigors of deep-fat-frying. For me, cod is hands-down my favorite.  You only live once, so, I suggest you these divine ~ Beer-Batter-Dipped, Deep-Fried, Cod-Fish Tacos ~.  Cinco de Mayo!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018

05/02/2018

~ Mexico's Torta Ahogada Drowned-Pork Sandwich ~

IMG_7564Torta ahogada.  Culinarily, torta can mean several things: in Spain it refers to a pancake, in Latin America it's a cake, in Central America it's an omelette, and, in Mexico it's a sandwich -- the kind that, unlike the taco, fits the culinary definition of anything edible placed between two slices of bread.  Generally speaking, in Spanish ahogada means drowned, drenched or drunk. Putting two and two together, today's recipe is:  a Mexican sandwich, drowned or drenched in sauce.  A traditional torta ahogada is a fried-pork and onion sandwich drenched in a spicy red sauce, and, this Mexican working-man's lunch has a reputation for being a sure-fire cure for a hangover.

IMG_7587Tacos and tortas -- two staples of Mexican cuisine.  They are to Mexico's culture what pizza and hamburgers are to America's -- you can't pass through a city or a town where you can't find either. If you're an American cook with a fondness for Mexican fare, like me, you most likely have a recipe-or-six for tacos (American-style ground beef tacos, grilled-beef tacos al carbonshredded-pork carnitas tacosshredded-pork tacos al pastorchicken tacosfish tacos, etc.).  That said, how many Mexican torta recipes do you have in your repertoire?  I'm guessing not too many, or none.  Sink or swim:  there is no time like the present to add one.

IMG_7122The drowned sandwich (torta ahogada) was invented in Guadalajara in the early 1900's.  It was literally a mistake, a "slip-of-the-hand", so to speak.  Don Ignacio "Nacho" Saldaña, was a thirty year old who just started working for one of the city's largest vendors, Luis De La Torre, at his central plaza location, which was managed by De La Torre's father. As per Saldaña, a customer requested extra sauce on his pork sandwich, and, senior De IMG_7367La Torre accidentally dropped the sandwich in the container.  "It's drowned", the customer cried, but, after eating it and declaring how good it was, the son began selling torta ahogadas in all of his eateries. Saldaña eventually saved enough money to open his own restaurant at the corner of Madero and Indepence Streets, where, now, five decades later and well into his 80's, he's still selling the iconic sandwiches.

By simple word-of-mouth this  IMG_7255humble, mess-of-a-pork and lightly-grilled- or raw-onion sandwich quickly grew in popularity.  Before long, vendors all across the city were touting their versions, by tweaking the recipes for the Mexican-style marinade for the protein and/or the firey, tawny-red ahogada sauce -- not a lot, just enough to claim them their own. Variations on the presentation followed, with some serving the sauce in a bowl to the side, while  IMG_7317others began slathering the all-important semi-firm textured bolillo roll with condiments like refried beans or guacamole prior to drowning.  Still others took it one step further, by offering beef, chicken or shrimp options as a substitute for pork.  The proper way to eat a drenched sandwich, served in a bowl (in a restaurant) or in a bag (on the street) is with the hands -- in Mexico, it often comes to you along with a pair of plastic gloves.

Two days ago I posted my recipe for ~ Sink or Swim:  Mexican Drowned-Beef Sandwiches ~ using flavorful, juicy, tender and perfectly-cooked flank steak (pictured above).  Today, I'm make the traditional torta ahogada, using pork blade steaks -- a pork butt (shoulder) cut into steaks.

IMG_7412Steaks cut from the pork shoulder are marbled with lots of fat and rich with collagen, which, like the roast, makes them extremely flavorful.  

Because overcooking renders them dry and tough, this quick-cooking cut is perfect for the grill, sauté pan or broiler.  Choose pinkish-gray steaks that are generally the same size and thickness (3/4"-1" thick is ideal), and, have been trimmed of excessive fat from the fat-cap-side.

Note:  These 4 steaks, weighing a total of 6.48 pounds, cost $10.87.  That's a whole lot of economical porcine wonderfulness -- especially if you've got a big family with big appetites.

Because overcooking renders them tough, this quick-cooking pork steak is perfect for the grill, grill pan, sauté pan or broiler.

IMG_7512For 6 hearty sandwiches:

2  3/4"-1"-thick, bone-in pork butt blade steaks, about 1 1/2-1 3/4-pounds each

1/2  cup my recipe for A Basic Mexican Marinade for Beef, Pork or Poultry

2  cups my recipe for Ahogada Sauce for Mexican Drowned Sandwiches

1  very large sweet onion (12-14-ounces), cut into 1/4"-thick rings

2  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil*

6  bolillo, ciabatta or other crusty, semi-firm, 6" long sandwich-rolls, halved, and if desired, lightly-toasted or grilled

additional achiote oil, for the diced-pork-and-onion sauté at assembly time

guacamole and tortilla chips, for accompaniment

*Note:  Achiote oil, which is readily available everywhere, has annatto added to it, which is what gives it its signature pretty orange color, and, ever-so-slight hint of earthy, musty, peppery flavor. Annatto is the seed of the achiote tree, which is indigenous to Central and South America.  The seeds are usually ground to a powder or steeped in oil prior to adding to all sorts of Spanish-style fare.  If you don't do a lot of this type of cooking, don't buy it, or, if you don't want the orange color added to the dish you are serving, simply substitute vegetable oil without compromise.

IMG_7408 IMG_7408 IMG_7408 IMG_7408 IMG_7408~Step 1.  Prepare the marinade as directed in recipe.  Place the blade steaks in a 1-gallon food storage bag and add all of the marinade. Seal the bag.  Using your fingertips, squish the bag a bit, to push the steaks and the marinade around enough to thoroughly coat the steaks in marinade.  Refrigerate for 6-12 hours or overnight -- overnight is best.

~ Step 2.  Prepare the ahogada sauce as directed in recipe.  It's easy to make, and, it freezes well too, so, make the whole batch and freeze the leftovers to have on hand for two more meals.

IMG_7477 IMG_7477 IMG_7477 IMG_7477~Step 3.  Remove steaks from refrigerator and return to room temperature, 30-45 minutes. Position oven rack 7 1/2"-8" under heating element and preheat broiler.  Remove room temp blade steaks from marinade and place on an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom).  Place steaks under broiler and cook 11 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Remove from oven and flip steaks over.  Return to broiler and cook 11 more minutes, using an instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness at 10 minutes. Remove steaks from oven when they reach an internal temperature of 140°-145°.  Allow steaks to rest 10-15 minutes.

IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235~Step 4.  While steaks ares resting, peel and slice onion into 1/4" thick rings.  Heat oil in a 10" skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions and lightly season them with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, about 15 grinds salt and 25 grinds pepper.  Continue to cook until onions are soft but not mushy, 4-5 minutes, gently flipping them in the skillet with a fork or two forks during the process.  Remove from heat and set aside.

IMG_7493 IMG_7493 IMG_7493 IMG_7493~Step 5.  Slice each rested-but-warm blade steak, on a diagonal, in half lengthwise -- half bone-in, the other boneless. Thinly-slice the boneless half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips, then dice the strips.  Carve the meat away from the bone on the second half, then slice and dice that meat too.  Place the diced meat in a bowl and repeat process with the second steak. Each steak, depending upon the size of the bone (large or small), will yield 2 1/2-3 cups diced pork, enough to amply fill (stuff) six, hearty, 6"-long sandwiches.

Note:  To this point, all the components for these unique sandwiches (the sauce, the onions and the pork) can be prepared several hours to one day ahead of assembling and serving.

IMG_7514 IMG_7514 IMG_7514 IMG_7514 IMG_7514 IMG_7514 IMG_7514~Step 7.  To prepare the spicy fried-pork-and-onion filling, in an appropriately-sized skillet (8", 10" or 12", depending on how many sandwiches you plan to assemble at one time), heat 1-2-3 tablespoons achiote oil over medium-high heat.  Add 1 cup diced pork per sandwich and sauté until meat is heated through and fat is crisping up, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Stir in 2 tablespoons of the ahogada sauce per cup of meat.  When steaming, fold in 1/3 cup (5-6 tablespoons) sautéd onions per cup of meat.  Remove from heat.  

IMG_7532 IMG_7532 IMG_7532 IMG_7532 IMG_7532 IMG_7532~Step 8.  To assemble each sandwich, choose a bowl, slice a roll in half, then place the bottom in the bowl.  Using your fingertips, pull a bit of the soft bread from the center of the top of the roll and set aside -- this forms a dome that helps keep the filling in place while eating (see photo below).  Slather the "bun bottom" with guacamole.  Heap the warm meat mixture evenly atop the guacamole.  I like to add extra guacamole to the bowl at this time.  Place the top on the sandwich.  Using a small ladle, drizzle a scant 1/2 cup warm sauce over the top, garnish with a few leftover onions, add some tortilla chips to the dish and eat.

Drizzle generously w/warmed sauce, garnish w/onions...

IMG_7575... &, serve, ASAP w/more guacamole & tortilla chips:

IMG_7601Mexico's Torta Ahogada Drowned-Pork Sandwichs:  Recipe yields 6 large, hearty sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; 1-gallon food storage bag; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; 2, 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pans w/corrugated bottom; instant-read meat thermometer (optional); appropriately-sized skillet

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d167b2a6970cCook's Note: The Portuguese people eat these pork sandwiches like we Americans eat burgers -- anytime and anywhere.  The bifana is so popular, McDonald's even launched the McBifana in Portugal. Never heard of the bifana? There's no shame in that -- we Americans don't always have access to authentic Spanish-style recipes. Click here to get my recipe for ~ The Bifana:  A Perfect Portuguese Pork Sandwich ~, and, here for the ~ Papos Secos: Portuguese Dinner/Sandwich Rolls ~ recipe.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

04/30/2018

~ Sink or Swim: Mexican Drowned-Beef Sandwiches ~

IMG_7307Tacos and tortas -- two staples of Mexican cuisine.  They are to Mexico's culture what pizza and hamburgers are to America's -- you can't pass through a city or a town where you can't find either. If you're an American cook with a fondness for Mexican fare, like me, you most likely have a recipe-or-six for tacos (American-style ground beef tacos, grilled-beef tacos al carbonshredded-pork carnitas tacosshredded-pork tacos al pastorchicken tacosfish tacos, etc.).  That said, how many Mexican torta recipes do you have in your repertoire?  I'm guessing not too many, or none.  Sink or swim:  there is no time like the present to add one.

Torta ahogada.  Culinarily, "torta" can mean several things: in Spain it refers to a "pancake", in Latin America it's a "cake", in Central America it's an "omelette", and, in Mexico it's a "sandwich" -- the kind that, unlike the taco, fits the culinary definition of anything edible placed between two slices of bread.  Generally speaking, in Spanish "ahogada" means "drowned", "drenched" or "drunk". Putting two and two together, today's recipe is:  a Mexican sandwich, drowned or drenched in a spicy sauce, with a reputation for being a sure-fire cure for the common hangover.

Savory marinade + spicy sauce + the proper roll + protein of choice. All the components for Mexican-style sandwich perfection.

IMG_7122The drowned sandwich (torta ahogada) was invented in Guadalajara in the early 1900's.  It was literally a mistake, a "slip-of-the-hand", so to speak.  Don Ignacio "Nacho" Saldaña, was a thirty year old who just started working for one of the city's largest vendors, Luis De La Torre, at his central plaza location, which was managed by De La Torre's father. As per Saldaña, a customer requested extra sauce on his pork sandwich, and, senior IMG_7367De La Torre accidentally dropped the sandwich in the container.  "It's drowned", the customer cried, but, after eating it and declaring how good it was, the son began selling torta ahogadas in all of his eateries. Saldaña eventually saved enough money to open his own restaurant at the corner of Madero and Indepence Streets, where, now, five decades later and well into his 80's, he's still selling the iconic sandwiches.

By simple word-of-mouth this IMG_7255humble, mess-of-a-pork and lightly-grilled- or raw-onion sandwich quickly grew in popularity.  Before long, vendors all across the city were touting their versions, by tweaking the recipes for the Mexican-style marinade for the protein and/or the firey, tawny-red ahogada sauce -- not a lot, just enough to claim them their own. Variations on the presentation followed, with some serving the sauce in a bowl to the side, while IMG_7317others began slathering the all-important semi-firm textured bolillo roll with condiments like refried beans or guacamole prior to drowning.  Still others took it one step further, by offering beef, chicken or shrimp options as a substitute for pork.  The proper way to eat a drenched sandwich, served in a bowl (in a restaurant) or in a bag (on the street) is with the hands -- in Mexico, it often comes to you along with a pair of plastic gloves.  

Today, I'm making mine using beef.   Flavorful, juicy, tender and perfectly-cooked flank steak

IMG_7400For 4 hearty sandwiches:

1  2-pound flank steak

1/2  cup my recipe for A Basic Mexican Marinade for Beef, Pork or Poultry

1 1/2  cups my recipe for Ahogada Sauce for Mexican Drowned Sandwiches

1  very large sweet onion (12-14-ounces), cut into 1/4"-thick rings

2  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil*

4  bolillo, ciabatta or other crusty, 6" long sandwich-rolls, halved, and if desired, lightly-toasted or grilled

guacamole and tortilla chips, for accompaniment

*Note:  Achiote oil, which is readily available everywhere, has annatto added to it, which is what gives it its signature pretty orange color, and, ever-so-slight hint of earthy, musty, peppery flavor. Annatto is the seed of the achiote tree, which is indigenous to Central and South America.  The seeds are usually ground to a powder or steeped in oil prior to adding to all sorts of Spanish-style fare.  If you don't do a lot of this type of cooking, don't buy it, or, if you don't want the orange color added to the dish you are serving, simply substitute vegetable oil without compromise.

IMG_7185 IMG_7185 IMG_7185 IMG_7185 IMG_7185~Step 1.  Prepare the marinade as directed in recipe.  Place the flank steak in a 1-gallon food storage bag and add 1/2 cup of the marinade. Seal the bag.  Using your fingertips, squish the bag a bit, to push the steak and the marinade around enough to thoroughly coat the steak in marinade.  Refrigerate for 6-12 hours or overnight -- overnight is best.

~ Step 2.  Prepare the ahogada sauce as directed in recipe.  It's easy to make, and, it freezes well too, so, make the whole batch and freeze the leftovers to have on hand for two more meals.

IMG_7219 IMG_7219 IMG_7219 IMG_7219 IMG_7219 IMG_7219~Step 3.  Position oven rack about 8" underneath heating element and preheat broiler.  Remove the room temperature flank steak from the marinade and place on an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom).  Place flank steak under the broiler and cook 8-9 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly. Remove from the oven and flip steak over.  Return to broiler and cook 8-9 more minutes, using an instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness after 8 minutes. Remove steak from oven when it reaches an internal temperature of 130°-134°.  Allow steak to rest 10-15 minutes.

IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235~Step 4.  While steak is resting, peel and slice onion into 1/4" thick rings.  Heat oil in a 10" skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions and lightly season them with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, about 15 grinds salt and 25 grinds pepper.  Continue to cook until onions are soft but not mushy, 4-5 minutes, gently flipping them in the skillet with a fork or two forks during the process.  Remove from heat and set aside.

IMG_7260~ Step 5.  Slice the rested-but-warm steak in half lengthwise, then thinly-slice each half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips. Yield: enough to amply fill (stuff) four, hearty, 6"-long sandwiches.

Note:  Broiling steak just before assembling the sandwiches is best, but, if it must be made ahead, reheat uncut steak gently in microwave 60-90 seconds.

IMG_7271 IMG_7271 IMG_7271 IMG_7271 IMG_7271 IMG_7271 IMG_7271~Step 6.  To assemble the sandwiches, slice the rolls in half, then place the bottom half of each in a wide, shallow bowl.  Divide and heap the meat evenly atop the four "bun bottoms", followed by an even layer of onions (reserve a few onions for garnish at the end).  I like to add the guacamole and tortilla chips to my "bowls" at this time.  Before placing the top on each sandwich, pull a bit of the soft bread from their centers with your fingertips -- this forms a dome which helps keep the meat and onions in place while eating these sandwiches (see photo below).  Using a small ladle, drizzle a scant 1/2 cup warm sauce over each sandwich, garnish with a few of the reserved onions and serve ASAP.

Drizzle w/sauce, garnish w/onions, &, serve ASAP:

IMG_7376Try the traditional Torta Ahogada Drowned Pork Sandwich too:

IMG_7575Sink or Swim:  Mexican Drowned-Beef Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 4 large, hearty sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; 1-gallon food storage bag; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; instant-read meat thermometer (optional); serrated bread knife; small ladle

IMG_6600Cook's Note:  A well done flank steak is not well done at all.  Flank steak, while it lends its succulent flavorful self to indoor cooking beautifully, if the lean and sexy flank steak is not quickly-cooked and served rare- medium-rare it is not worth eating. While I occasionally pan-sear it, my favorite method is to cook it under the broiler.  My foolproof method takes all the guesswork out of it too:  ~ Melanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak ~.  You're gonna love it.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

04/28/2018

~ Ahogada Sauce for Mexican Drowned Sandwiches ~

IMG_7356In Spanish, "ahogada" means "drowned", "drenched" or "drunk".  Culinarily it refers to a super-spicy, tawny-red sauce that gets poured over Mexican-style chopped, sliced or shredded, beef, pork, chicken or shrimp "tortas" ("sandwiches").  The working-mans-lunch is served on a semi-firm bolillo roll, in a bowl, "bien ahogada", "well drowned" (immersed end-to-end).  It has the reputation of curing the common cold or a bad hangover, and, is believed to be a way to sweat-out an infection too.  For those who can't handle the heat, the sandwich can be ordered "media" ("medium"), with a higher ratio of tomato sauce added to tame the peppery sauce.

Any sandwich that gets drowned or dunked in sauce...

The drowned sandwich (ahogada torta) was invented in Guadalajara in the early 1900's.  It was literally a mistake, a "slip-of-the-hand", so to speak.  Don Ignacio "Nacho" Saldaña, was a thirty year old who just started working for one of the city's largest vendors, Luis De La Torre, at his central plaza location, which was managed by De La Torre's father. As per Saldaña, a customer requested extra sauce on his pork sandwich, and, senior De La Torre accidentally dropped the sandwich in the container.  "It's drowned", the customer cried, but, after eating it and declaring how good it was, the son began selling torta ahogadas in all of his eateries.  Saldaña eventually saved enough money to open his own restaurant at the corner of Madero and Indepence Streets, where, now, five decades later and well into his 80's, he's still selling the iconic sandwiches.

IMG_7354... is a sandwich dependent on a great sauce.

By simple word-of-mouth this humble, mess-of-a-pork and lightly-grilled- or raw-onion sandwich quickly grew in popularity.  Before long, vendors all across the city were touting their versions, by tweaking recipes for the marinade and/or the sauce -- just enough to call them their own. Variations on the presentation followed, with some serving the sauce in a bowl to the side, while others began slathering the roll with condiments like refried beans or guacamole prior to drowning.  Still others, they took it one step further, by offering marinated beef, chicken or shrimp options as a substitute for pork.  My all-purpose recipe for ahogada sauce, which is made with vegetable stock, is hot-but-not-too-hot and pairs perfectly with any protein you choose to use.   

My all-purpose American-girl's version of the signature sauce:

IMG_71272  tablespoons achiote-vegetable oil, or plain vegetable oil

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

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1  tablespoon Mexican-style chili powder

1  tablespoon Mexican-style oregano leaves

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2  cups high-quality unsalted vegetable stock

2  tablespoons lime juice, fresh or high-quality bottled not from concentrate

2  tablespoons white vinegar

1  15 1/2-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained

1  15-ounce can tomato sauce, to taste, add more for less heat

1  4 1/2-ounce can green chiles, undrained

3  chipotle canned chiles in adobo, add more for more heat

1  tablespoon adobo sauce, from canned chipotles in adobo, add more for more heat 

IMG_7135 IMG_7135 IMG_7135 IMG_7135~Step 1.  In a small bowl, measure and place all of the dried herbs and spices as listed.  In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the flour.  Whisking vigorously and constantly, cook until the roux is very thick, smooth and bubbly, 1-1 1/2 full minutes.

IMG_7146 IMG_7146 IMG_7146 IMG_7146~Step 2.   Thoroughly whisk in the dried herbs and spices.  The mixture will be grainy, lumpy and bumpy.  Slowly and in a thin stream, whisk in the stock, followed by the lime juice and vinegar.

IMG_7166 IMG_7166 IMG_7166 IMG_7166~Step 3.  Add and stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, green chiles, chiles in adobo, and adobo sauce.  Using a large spoon (lose the whisk), give the mixture a thorough stir, adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, and, continue to simmer, stirring frequently for 10-12 minutes.  Turn the heat off.  Partially-cover the pot and allow to steep, to allow flavors to marry, 30-60 minutes.

IMG_7200 IMG_7200 IMG_7200 IMG_7200~Step 4.  Once the sauce has cooled a bit, using a hand-held immersion blender, or a food processor, or, a blender, process the sauce to desired consistency, smaller bits and pieces, or smooth, about 2 minutes.  That said, if you prefer chunky sauce, more like salsa, feel free to skip this step.  If you've followed my recipe, you will have a little over 5 1/2 cups.  There's more.  This sauce, freezes well.  I portion it into 2 cup containers, each enough to sauce 2-3 sandwiches.

5 1/2 cups, which freezes well = 4 meals of 2-3 sandwiches each. 

IMG_7217Sink or Swim:  Mexican Drowned-Beef Sandwiches. 

IMG_7307And the traditional:  Torta Ahogada Drowned-Pork Sandwich

IMG_7575Ahogada for Mexican Drowned-Style Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 5 1/2 cups sauce, enough to drown 8-12 hearty sandwiches/8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List: 4-quart saucepan w/lid; 2- cup measuring container; whisk; large spoon; hand-held immersion blender, or food processor, or blender (your choice)

IMG_7122Cook's Note:  In the food world, in every cuisine, the layering of flavors, or continuity of flavor throughout the dish being served, is extremely important.  In the case of Mexican-style torta ahogadas, the process begins with a marinade.  Check out my recipe for ~ A Basic Mexican Marinade for Beef, Poultry or Pork ~.  It can be made,  along with the sauce a day ahead, which renders sandwich-making-day a breeze.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018.

04/26/2018

~ A Basic Mexican Marinade for Beef, Pork or Poultry ~

IMG_7122As a fan of Mexican-Texican food, I find myself improvising occasionally.  Not, of course, when I'm preparing one of their many classic dishes (like low and slow roasted pork carnitas or tacos al pastor)  -- they require specific ingredients and a traditional method of cooking.  Improvisation enters my food world when I'm preparing one of my flash-in-the pan meals (a meal where the protein gets quickly grilled, grill-panned, pan-seared or broiled).  This all-purpose marinade, which contains many flavors basic to Mexican-Texican fare, is my secret to imparting that all-important extra-layer of flavor into into my meal -- without overpowering it or competing against it.

Simple, straightforward & scrumptiously to the point:

IMG_710212  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil (3/4 cup)*

6  tablespoons white vinegar

6  tablespoons lime juice, fresh or high-quality organic lime juice not from concentrate

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1  tablespoon dried Mexican oregano and Mexican-style chili powder

2  teaspoons each: garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  cup minced cilantro leaves

*Note:  Achiote oil, which is readily available everywhere, has annatto added to it, which is what gives it its signature pretty orange color, and, ever-so-slight hint of earthy, musty, peppery flavor. Annatto is the seed of the achiote tree, which is indigenous to Central and South America.  The seeds are usually ground to a powder or steeped in oil prior to adding to all sorts of Spanish-style fare.  If you don't do a lot of this type of cooking, don't buy it, or, if you don't want the orange color added to the dish you are serving, simply substitute vegetable oil without compromise.

IMG_7103 IMG_7103 IMG_7103 IMG_7103~Step 1.  In a small capacity food processor or blender, measure and place all ingredients as listed:  vegetable oil, vinegar, lime juice and all of the dry spices.  Mince and add the cilantro. Process or blend, until smooth and emulsified, about 15-20 seconds.  Marinate beef, pork or poultry for 6-12-24 hours, and, fish or shellfish, 15-30 minutes, or as recipe directs.

Note:  After marinating the protein, the leftover marinade may be transferred to a small 1-quart saucepan and gently simmered for 4-5 minutes to use as a very-flavorful sauce for dipping or drizzling over all sorts of steaks, pork chops, chicken breasts or thighs -- a little goes a long way. There's more.  For a sweeter version of the marinade (or the simmered sauce), add 2 tablespoons honey to the mixture -- be aware that sweet marinades can and will burn or boil over quickly on the grill or stovetop, so be sure to watch carefully under either circumstance. 

Stay tuned -- it's going to be a very tasty week on KE!

IMG_7115A Basic Mexican Marinade for Meat, Pork or Poultry:  Recipe yields 1 1/4 cups marinade.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small capacity food processor or blender, 1-cup measuring container; 1-quart saucepan (optional).

6a0120a8551282970b01a73df31934970dCook's Note:  When a recipe specifies a marinade, use it.  It's been developed to enhance that specific dish.  Example:  My recipe for ~ Tequila-Lime Skirt-Steak Fajitas (Tacos al Carbon) ~.  In this recipe, tequila and jalapeños get added to the marinade along with a generous amount of my homemade fajita seasoning blend.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

04/24/2018

~ Mexican-Style Shrimp Cocktail (a Salad in a Glass) ~

IMG_7071Cóctel de camarónes.  That's Spanish for cocktail of shrimp.  If you're a fan of Southwestern spice, but never tasted a shrimp cocktail prepared Mexican-style, I recommend giving this Southwestern perfect-for-Summer twist on the classic a try -- plenty of plump, tender, poached (sometimes lightly-grilled) shrimp, swimming around in a citrusy, tomato, cilantro and spicy-hot sauce, containing pieces of diced avocado, cucumber, onion and jalapeño.  It's a snazzy fork-friendly salad in a glass, not to be confused with its cousin, ceviche, which contains raw, cooked-via-marination fish and/or shellfish mixed with spices, citrus juice, vegetables and/or peppers. 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07aaa2a5970dTraditional shrimp cocktail, as we know it today, originated in the early 20th century, with oysters, not shrimp, being the original "cocktail hour" shellfish.  They were typically served in tiny cups as appetizers. The oysters were topped with a spicy ketchup-based sauce containing horseradish and Tabasco, which paired great with martinis and a handful of other pre-dinner cocktails.  Then, along came the 1920's:  the decade of Prohibition.  Bars and restaurants all across America were faced with a lot of idle stemware, until, a savvy bartender or restaurant owner somewhere got the idea to serve his/her shellfish appetizers in the cocktail glasses that were once used to serve alcoholic beverages.  The transition from oysters to whole shrimp did not happen in order to put the "tail" in "cocktail appetizer".  It came about to please the ladies.  The whole shrimp, complete with the pretty little red tail, served as a handle which enabled women to daintily pick-up, dip and eat.

6a0120a8551282970b0162fd15720a970dThe first mass produced shrimp cocktail was introduced to the American marketplace in December of 1948.  Sau Sea brand Shrimp Cocktail was invented in New York City by two entrepreneurs by the names of Abraham Kaplan and Ernest Schoenbrun.  The pair borrowed $1,500 dollars from relatives to start retailing individual, 5-ounce portions of ready-to-eat shrimp cocktail, packed in reusable, glass jars, for about 50 cents a piece.  It was just after WWII and frozen/pre-packaged foods and meals were just beginning to gain popularity.  Their timing could not have been better.   Their risky decision to try to take a restaurant delicacy and make it available to the masses paid off big time.

My experiences & my recipe for Mexican-Style shrimp cocktail:

I won't lie, I've only ever eaten Mexican-style shrimp cocktail in the Southwest three times, in this order: Tempe, AZ, Albuquerque, NM, and, San Antonio, TX.  Without being at all critical, because I know recipes vary from region to region, I least liked the Texican version.  The shrimp, lightly-grilled, were a bit dry, and, the sauce was ketchupy, meaning a tad too thick and sweet, not like what I'd experienced prior.  It wasn't bad, it was different, but, did result in my cutting back on the ketchup, then switching to chili sauce in my own version.  I simply preferred the sauces with a fresher-edge -- in the style of Mexican Pico de Gallo (Salsa Fresca/Fresh Salsa)

IMG_6990For the shrimp:

2  pounds extra-large shrimp (21/25 count) thawed if frozen, peeled, deveined tails left on  

(Note: I buy both fresh and frozen shrimp, but I always try to purchase tail-on, shell-on, deveined shrimp. To thaw frozen shrimp safely, place them in a bowl of very cold water and in about an hour they'll be completely thawed.)

3  cups water

2  cups white wine

1  large, juicy lemon, cut in half

4  medium-sized bay leaves

IMG_6993 IMG_6993 IMG_6993 IMG_6993~Step 1.  Place the wine and water in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan.  Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the pan, then throw in the rinds too.  Add the bay leaves.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the shrimp.  When the water returns to a boil, cook for exactly 1 minute.  Do not overcook.

IMG_7009 IMG_7009 IMG_7009~ Step 2.  Drain the shrimp into a colander and rinse under very cold water until shrimp are cool to the touch but still warm warm in their centers, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Transfer shrimp to a 6-cup food storage container. Squeeze whatever liquid is left in the lemon rinds over the shrimp, then place the rinds and the bay leaves in the bowl.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, several hours or overnight.

Note:  This cook-and-chill method is my secret to succulent, perfectly-cooked flavorful shrimp.

IMG_7020For the Mexican cocktail sauce:

1  15-ounce can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained

1/4  cup Heinz chili sauce

1-2  tablespoons Mexican-style hot sauce, your favorite brand

1-2  tablespoons lime juice, preferably fresh

2  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1  jalapeño pepper, seeds and white ribs removed, finely-diced

3/4  cup thinly-sliced scallions, white and light green parts only

3/4  cup diced sweet onion

1/2  cup minced cilantro leaves, mostly leaves, some stems ok

IMG_7024 IMG_7024 IMG_7024 IMG_7024~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the tomatoes and chili sauce.  Add the hot sauce and lime juice, 1 tablespoon each.  Stir, take a taste, then, add more of one, the other, or both, to taste.  Add the garlic, jalapeños, scallions, onion and cilantro.  Stir, cover, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, to allow flavors to marry.  There will be about 3 cups thick, chunky Mexican cocktail sauce.

IMG_7045For the add-ins and garnishes:

3  cups cooked and chopped shrimp, from above recipe

1  cup peeled, seeded and diced English cucumber 

2  ripe, Hass avocados, diced (add to bowl ofshrimp cocktail or each portion of shrimp cocktail at serving time)

1/4  cup minced cilantro leaves and lime wedges, for garnish

IMG_7037 IMG_7037 IMG_7037 IMG_7037~Step 1.  Remove the chilled shrimp from the refrigerator.  Sort through them, and, depending upon how many portions of shrimp cocktail you plan to serve, reserve a few of the prettiest ones, 2 per portion, and set them aside, to use as garnish.  Remove the tails from the rest and chop them into 2-3 bite-sized pieces each, placing them in the bowl of chilled cocktail sauce as you work.  Add the diced cucumbers.  Stir, cover and return the shrimp cocktail to the refrigerator again, to allow the flavors to marry, about 1 hour.  There will be 6 cups shrimp cocktail.

Just prior to serving, top w/fresh-diced avocado:

IMG_7065Serve garnished w/cilantro, lime wedge & whole shrimp: 

IMG_7073Mexican-Style Shrimp Cocktail (a Salad in a Glass):  Recipe yields 6 cups shrimp cocktail prior to adding the chopped avocado and garnishes/6-8 start-to-a-meal-sized 1-ish cup servings or 4 larger 2-ish cup luncheon-sized servings.

Special Equipment List:  3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; colander; 1-gallon food storage bag;  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7ee5f51970bCook's Note: Shrimp cocktail is not just an American delicacy.  The British refer to it as "prawn cocktail" and have been serving it as long as we have, but there it's served with a creamy cocktail sauce called Marie Rose sauce, or, Mary Rose sauce. My version of ~ The Prawn/Shrimp Cocktail w/Marie Rose Sauce ~ is fashioned after the one I fell in love with at Browns restaurant while in London in 1983. Give this "across the pond" recipe a try.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

04/21/2018

~ Easy Does It: Mexican Chicken & Spicy Rice Soup ~

IMG_6960For the most part, I find recipes made from a melange of leftover "this and that" to be a compromise.  With every forkful, they remind me I'm eating a week's worth of leftovers, repurposed to make me feel less guilty about their inevitable demise.  After a few bites, I find myself wishing I'd left well enough alone: made a sandwich out of the chicken, cooked a steak to go with last night's rice, or, eaten the blanched broccoli and carrots hand-to-mouth as a snack.  

"Waste not, want not."  It's admirable -- rah-rah-zis-boom-bah and count me in.  That said, it's my opinion that foodies with the need and/or desire to repurpose leftovers to feed themselves and their family need to be supplied with better recipes for leftovers.  This is not an elitist statement. It's hard-core-culinary honesty.  While generic chicken-rice-veggie casseroles with the standard cream-of-cheesy profile are tasty-to-a-degree, I long-ago vowed to turn my leftovers over to science -- so I could experiment creatively, with my own recipes that don't scream "leftover".

Got chicken?  Got Rice?  Got thirty minutes?

IMG_6963A great soup that doesn't taste one bit like leftovers.

IMG_6903For the soup:

2  tablespoons corn or vegetable oil

1 1/2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon each: ground cumin, granulated garlic powder, dried Mexican Oregano, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

1  4 1/2-ounce can chopped green chiles, undrained

1  15-ounce can fire-roasted, diced tomatoes, undrained

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

4  cups chicken stock

2  cups leftover cooked Goya yellow rice mix, prepared as package directs with the addition of 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes to the water while the rice cooks

2-3  cups generically-seasoned* poached- or roasted- and shredded chicken breast &/or thigh meat (*Note:  This recipe is full of Mexican-style flavor.  Obviously, last night's leftover Indian- or Thai-spiced chicken have no place here.)

IMG_6944For the toppings:

Mexican crema, about 1 tablespoon per serving (sour cream may be substituted without compromise)

1/4-1/2 cup minced cilantro leaves, about 1-2 teaspoons per serving

lime wedges, 1 per serving

tortilla chips, for accompaniment (optional but highly recommended for a crunchy side-snack to your soup-dinner)

IMG_6906 IMG_6906Step 1.  In a 4-quart sauce placed over low heat, heat, warm the oil.  Add the diced onion, ground cumin, granulated garlic powder, Mexican oregano, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper. Give the mixture a good stir, then increase heat to medium- medium-high and sauté until the seasoned onion is soft and translucent, 5-6 minutes.

IMG_6913 IMG_6913 IMG_6913 IMG_6913 IMG_6927 IMG_6927~Step 2.  Stir in the chopped green chiles, the fire-roasted tomatoes and the (drained and rinsed) black beans.  Add the chicken stock, adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue to cook for 15-20 minutes.  This is a well-seasoned broth.

IMG_6936 IMG_6936 IMG_6936~ Step 3.  Stir in the cooked rice and the shredded chicken.  The moment the soup is steaming and showing signs of returning to a simmer, turn the heat off.  Cover the saucepan and allow the soup time to steep on the still hot stovetop for 15-20 minutes, to allow the flavors just enough time to marry.

Ladle into desired-sized bowls & garnish each portion...

IMG_6968... w/crema, cilantro & lime is nice.  Leftovers?  No way.  

IMG_6973Easy Does It:  Mexican Chicken & Spicy Rice Soup:  Recipe yields 2 generous quarts of easy-to-make soup/4-6 hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; ladle

IMG_0749Cook's Note:  For another Mexican-style soup, one that's all it's crocked-up to be, my recipe for ~ Crockpot Chicken & Enchilada Soup ~, is one you gotta try.  Set it, forget it and six hours later, this enchilada-style soup is ready to be topped with habanero cheddar, deep-fried tortilla whisps and a dollop of crema.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

04/18/2018

~ Roasted Chicken, Strawberry and Brie Sandwiches ~

IMG_6876Looking for a pretty-as-a picture Spring-Summer sandwich to serve at a ladies lunch or brunch -- one that, once they taste it, will appeal to the men-in-your-life as well?  You found it.  Tender and juicy, sliced or pulled, poached- or roasted- chicken breast, served on freshly-baked buttermilk biscuits or toasted English muffins is divine.  Topped with a fresh strawberry vinaigrette, it's sublime.  There's more.  A woman, by the name of Helen Corbett, a food-service mananger for Neiman Marcus, is to thank for promoting several unique strawberry dishes in a big way:

IMG_6836During the 1970's, the chicken, spinach and strawberry salad with poppyseed dressing, and, the strawberry-chicken and Brie sandwich with strawberry mayonnaise were made famous in the Zodiac Room of Neiman Marcus's flagship store in Dallas. The Zodiac also featured giant popovers with a creamy-dreamy strawberry and herb butter. I had the pleasure of eating lunch there on several occasions, and it was those Neiman Marcus salads and sandwiches that caused me to experiment with strawberries, in place of tomatoes, in salad and sandwich recipes using a variety of other greens and proteins too.  It was only natural that I would experiment with sweet and savory salad dressings and vinaigrettes containing strawberries too.

The star of this sandwich is this dazzling strawberry vinaigrette:

IMG_6687For my strawberry vinaigrette:

8-10  ounces fresh strawberries, cut into quarters (8-10 ounces after removing leafy green tops)

10  tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup honey

1/4  cup strawberry jam or strawberry preserves

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

6  tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689~Step 1.  Place the strawberries in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses followed by the motor running for 15-20 seconds, puree the strawberries.  Add all the remaining ingredients, except for the vegetable oil.  With motor running, process until thoroughly combined and smooth.  With motor running, through the feed tube and in a slow, steady stream, drizzle in the vegetable oil.  Dressing will be smooth and emulsified, and, there will be a generous 2 1/2 cups.  Leftovers (if there is leftover vinaigrette) store great in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Before making my sandwiches, read this ground-rule carefully:

Please refrain from putting bacon on these sandwiches.  Contrary to popular belief, everything does not taste better with bacon and the refined flavors of this sandwich will be overpowered by it. Ok, go ahead, put bacon on it, but if you do, skip the herbed-Brie, head for the blue cheese, name it after any number of bacon and blue cheese sandwiches, and, don't tell anyone you got the inspiration for your generic sandwich from me.  No bacon.  Got it?  Good.  Now proceed.

IMG_6852For the sandwiches:

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

1/2-3/4-pound wedge of herbed-Brie, 1/4" sliced, then sliced to fit one layer of Brie on the bottom of each sandwich

1/2-3/4  cup chopped candied pecans, or lightly-toasted and coarsely-chopped, pecans or walnuts (1-1/2 tablespoons per sandwich)

1  cup each:  chiffonade of romaine lettuce (or iceberg lettuce), sliced or diced fresh strawberries, and, thinly-sliced red onion (cut into half-moon shapes, half-moons cut into thirds), tossed together, (1/3-1/2 cup lettuce/strawberry and onion mixture per sandwich) 

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

strawberry white-balsamic vinaigrette (from above recipe)

IMG_6856 IMG_6856 IMG_6856 IMG_6856 IMG_6863 IMG_6863~Step 1.  Slather the bottom of each biscuit with a scant tablespoon of strawberry vinaigrette. Place 4-5 small pieces of sliced herbed-Brie on the bottom of each biscuit half, sizing them to fit. Scatter a generous tablespoon of the chopped nuts over the cheese.  Top with a generous 1/3-1/2 cup of the lettuce, strawberry and onion mixture.  Heap a generous mound of pulled or thinly-sliced roasted or poached chicken, about 1/4 of a chicken breast, which a lot of meat) atop the lettuce mixture.  Drizzle with dressing and garnish with a few more nuts.  Top with the other half of the warm biscuit.  Serve each sandwich, as soon as possible, with additional strawberry-vinaigrette to the side for dipping or drizzling.

A pretty little sandwich with an interesting history.  Sweet.  

IMG_6895Roasted Chicken, Strawberry and Brie Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 2 cups strawberry vinaigrette and 8 biscuit- or English-muffin-sized sandwiches.

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

IMG_6809Cook's Note:  If it's something more carnivorous you crave, you can make today's chicken sandwiches substituting my perfectly-cooked 18-minute flank steak for the chicken, or, you can try my ~ Strawberry, Steak, Blue-Cheese and Arugula Salad ~ (which gets its sweet & savory crunch from candied pecans.  Trust me when I tell you, sweet, tart strawberries (used in place of tomatoes) hold their own quite well against bold-flavored meat like steak and lamb.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

04/15/2018

~Tangy-Sweet Strawberry White-Balsamic Vinaigrette~

IMG_6772Strawberries are no stranger to salads -- spinach and strawberry salads with poppyseed dressing were trendy on restaurant menus in the 1970's.  Those salads caused me to experiment with strawberries, when appropriate, in place of tomatoes, in salad recipes using a variety of other greens and proteins too.  It was only natural that I would experiment with sweet and savory salad dressings containing strawberries too.  This vinaigrette recipe is the one that captured my strawberry loving heart.  My Strawberry, Steak, Blue-Cheese and Arugula Salad (pictured in the background), is not only perfect for Spring, it's dazzling dressed with this vinaigrette:

IMG_6687For my strawberry vinaigrette:

8-10  ounces fresh strawberries, cut into quarters (8-10 ounces after removing leafy green tops)

10  tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup honey

1/4  cup strawberry jam or strawberry preserves

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

6  tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689~Step 1.  Place the strawberries in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses followed by the motor running for 15-20 seconds, puree the strawberries.  Add all the remaining ingredients, except for the vegetable oil.  With motor running, process until thoroughly combined and smooth.  With motor running, through the feed tube and in a slow, steady stream, drizzle in the vegetable oil.  Dressing will be smooth and emulsified, and, there will be a generous 2 1/2 cups.  Leftovers (if there is leftover vinaigrette) store great in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

For drizzling or dipping, even on an all-strawberry salad: 

IMG_6792Tangy-Sweet Strawberry White-Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups strawberry-balsamic vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; appropriately-sized food-storage containers with tight-fitting lids.

IMG_5827Cook's Note:  I have no idea who prepared the first salad.  Whoever it was, I'm guessing it was an accident, and likely a result of hunger.  Gathered from fields, around streams and in wooded areas, greens, an herb or two, mushrooms, flowers and berries and/or seeds would stave off hunger.  As time passed, a pinch of salt, later, a squirt of citrus, next a splash of vinegar, last: oil.  To learn what I know about vinaigrette, read:  ~ In the Beginning:  Demystifying Basic Vinaigrettes ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

04/13/2018

~ Strawberry, Steak, Blue-Cheese and Arugula Salad ~

IMG_6752Strawberries aren't just for dessert, and, if the Northeast ever gets a break in the weather, the local strawberry season will be just around the corner.  That said, the California-grown Driscoll's strawberries I found in the grocery store yesterday are plump and sweet, and, one of the man-sized flank steaks my husband picked up at Sam's Club today are going to team up for a hearty, sweet-and-savory, main-dish salad for a delightfully-carnivorous Sunday dinner this evening.

IMG_6671Strawberries are no stranger to salads -- spinach and strawberry salads with poppyseed dressing were trendy on restaurant menus back in the 1970's.  Because of those spinach salads, I began experimenting with strawberries, when appropriate, in place of tomatoes, in select recipes.  There's more.  When it's a main-dish salad I'm wanting, unlike many, who pair salads containing strawberries with mild-flavored proteins like chicken or shrimp, as a card-carrying carnivore, trust me when I tell you, the strawberry holds it own next to bold-flavored meats like beef and lamb.

Something sweet, savory, salty & super-crunchy too:

IMG_6682For the salad:

1  2-2 1/2-pound flank steak, broiled and rested as directed in my recipe for Melanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak

IMG_51303-4 whole heads hearts-of-romaine, the "hearts" being the inner leaves from the typical bushy head (about 12-16 ounces total weight), leaves torn into small, bite-sized pieces or cut chiffonade-style (into 1/2" strips or ribbons), washed, dried (preferably through a salad spinner) and chilled until very crisp

2-3  cups baby arugula leaves

1-1 1/2  cups very thinly-sliced (shaved) red onion, cut into half-moon shapes, half-moons cut in halves or thirds

2-2 1/2  cups ripe, hulled strawberries, sliced 1/4"-thick

1-1 1/2  cups blue cheese crumbles

1-1 1/2  cups (about 8-ounces) store-bought or homemade candied pecans

IMG_6571 IMG_6571 IMG_6571 IMG_6571 IMG_6595~Step 1.  Place a 2-pound flank steak on a disposable aluminum broiler pan and season with sea saltand peppercorn blend.  Place 5 1/2"-6" under preheated broiler for exactly 9 minutes.  Remove from oven, flip steak over (there's no need to season the second side), return to broiler and cook 9 more minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 9 minutes.  Holding a chef's knife at a 30º angle, slice steak into thin, 1/8"-1/4" thick strips. Note:  This is enough meat for one large or six individual, main-dish salads.  To make it ahead, wrap cooked, rested and unsliced flank steak in plastic and refrigerate overnight.  Return to room temperature, about 30 minutes, then warm it (warm not hot) in microwave, about 90 seconds.

IMG_5152~ Step 2.  Slice flank steak in half lengthwise, then, while holding the knife at a 30º oven, thinly-slice each half into thin (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips. Roll each strip up roulade-style*. *Note: A roulade (roo-LAHD) is a fancy French term for a thin slice of raw or cooked meat rolled around a filling then secured with some kitchen twine or a toothpick.  If the meat is raw, the roulade is cooked after rolling, if the meat is cooked, the roulade is ready for serving.

IMG_6712 IMG_6712 IMG_6712 IMG_6712 IMG_6732 IMG_6732 IMG_6805~Step 3.  To assemble one large or six individual-sized salads, on one large platter or six salad plates, layer and arrange the ingredients, in the following order:  The greens (romaine and arugula that have been briefly tossed together), red onion, strawberries, beef roulades, blue cheese and candied pecans. Drizzle with strawberry vinaigrette (recipe below) and serve with additional dressing at tableside:

IMG_6772All dressed up in a tangy & sweet, very-berry vinaigrette:

IMG_6687For the strawberry vinaigrette:

8-10  ounces fresh strawberries, cut into quarters (8-10 ounces after removing leafy green tops)

10  tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup honey

1/4  cup strawberry jam or strawberry preserves

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

6  tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689~Step 1.  Place the strawberries in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses followed by the motor running for 15-20 seconds, puree the strawberries.  Add all the remaining ingredients, except for the vegetable oil.  With motor running, process until thoroughly combined and smooth.  With motor running, through the feed tube and in a slow, steady stream, drizzle in the vegetable oil.  Dressing will be smooth and emulsified, and, there will be a generous 2 1/2 cups.  Leftovers (if there is leftover vinaigrette) store great in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

IMG_6809Tied-together in every delightfully-colorful Springtime bite:

IMG_6812Strawberry, Steak, Blue-Chees and Arugula Salad:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups dressing and 6-8 large, main-dish servings of salad.

Special Equipment List: 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom); cutting board; chef's knife; food processor

IMG_1104Cook's Note:  Want a super-easy super-strawberry Spring-Summer dessert to serve after your salad? Nothing could be finer than my super-special recipe for ~ Creamy-Dreamy No-Bake Strawberry Key-Lime Pie ~.  Think Spring.  Sigh.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

04/10/2018

~My 18-Minute Philly-Dilly Flank-Steak Cheesesteaks~

IMG_6664Knowledge is power.  As the 2018 "Dilly-dilly" Bud Light, Super Bowl commercial spiked in popularity, then filtered into the mantra for the Eagle's super-bowl victory parade in the form of "Philly-dilly", my curiosity caused me to research it -- and I'm glad I did.  I'm here to report "dilly" is a real word, and, as per Merriam-Webster, it's a noun that comes from an obsolete adjective that refers to something "delightful", "remarkable" or "outstanding", which describes with perfection:

My latest take on the cheesesteak -- The Philly-Dilly.

IMG_6532

If you have never eaten a cheesesteak sandwich in Philadelphia proper, you've never eaten a cheesesteak.  Like the soft pretzel, the iconic Philly cheesesteak just tastes better in The City of Brotherly Love.  Whether you're standing outside on a sticky-hot sidewalk next to a street vendor in Summer, or inside, doing the "Philly lean" over a counter in a sweaty-windowed sandwich shop in Winter, the experience, on several levels, cannot be duplicated elsewhere.  Many have tried, many have come remarkably close, but everyone agrees:  Philadelphia owns this sandwich.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07e2ba65970dA Philly cheesesteak is always made with high-quality, nicely-marbled, thinly-sliced, rib-eye steak. For example:  This 1"-thick rib-eye would be cut, while partially frozen, lengthwise into 5-6 thin steaks.  The meat gets cooked quickly, on a large lightly-greased flat-top griddle, getting chopped up as it cooks.

IMG_6562The flank steak, in terms of taste, texture and price holds its own next to any premium steak, plus, it's the perfect alternative for the home cook who wants to cook the steak indoors.  While I occasionally pan-sear it, my favorite method is to cook it under the broiler.  My foolproof broiler method takes all the guesswork out of it too.

Trust me when I tell you, my Philly-dilly's are dilly-dilly.

IMG_6600I'm only making one cheesesteak, in an 8" nonstick skillet today, because one is all I can eat, and, I'm on-my-own for dinner this evening.  I'll make more sandwiches tomorrow, with the leftover flank steak (enough for five more cheesesteaks), when Joe gets back home.  I've included my instructions for reheating leftovers in the recipe below. That said, to prepare multiple (2-4-6) sandwiches, be sure to use an appropriately-sized 10"-, 12"- or 14"-skillet to feed your family or friends.

While steak broils in the oven, onions caramelize on the stovetop.

IMG_6633For each 6" cheesesteak:

2  teaspoons salted butter

1/2  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

2-3  super-thin-slices deli-style provolone, or Velveeta if it's yellow cheese you crave

3/4  cup thinly-sliced rare-cooked and still-warm flank steak, prepared as directed in my recipe:  Melanie's 18-Minute Perfectly-Cooked Flank Steak

choice of optional toppings:  1/4 cup mild or hot, well-drained yellow pepper rings, sautéed bell peppers or mushrooms, &/or, 2-3  tablespoons red tomato-based pizza-type sauce

1  6"-8" high-quality, semi-firm Italian or brioche submarine-shaped roll

IMG_6571 IMG_6580 IMG_6580 IMG_6580 IMG_6595~Step 1.  Place a 2-pound flank steak on a disposable aluminum broiler pan and season with sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Place 5 1/2"-6" under preheated broiler for exactly 9 minutes.  Remove from oven, flip steak over (there's no need to season the second side), return to broiler and cook 9 more minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 9 minutes.  Holding a chef's knife at a 30º angle, slice steak into thin, 1/8"-1/4" thick strips. Note:  This is enough meat for six cheesesteaks.  To make it ahead, wrap cooked, rested and unsliced flank steak in plastic and refrigerate overnight.  Return to room temperature, about 30 minutes, then warm it (warm not hot) in microwave, about 90 seconds.  Slice and proceed with recipe as written.  While flank steak is broiling and resting, caramelize the onions as follows:

IMG_6628 IMG_6628 IMG_6628 IMG_6628 IMG_6531~Step 2.  In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt butter over low heat.  Add the diced onions.  Adjust heat to medium, medium-high, to gently and slowly sauté, stirring frequently until onions are caramelized to desired degree of pretty brown, 16-18 minutes, regulating the heat carefully during this process.  Adjust heat to low and arrange provolone slices over the onions, followed by the still-warm sliced flank steak.  

If desired, sprinkle a favorite topping or two over the top of the meat to customize your sandwich to your liking.  When cheese has melted, about 30-45 seconds, remove skillet from heat.

IMG_6532IMG_6532IMG_6532IMG_6532~Step 3.  Place your favorite roll (split open) on a piece of aluminum foil.  With the aid of a spatula, while tilting the skillet on an angle, slide/push the contents of the skillet directly into the roll, much like you would slide an omelette from pan to plate.  Wrap the sandwich tightly in the foil and set aside, about 1 minutes, to give the roll time to steam/soften a bit.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice the sandwich in half (a diagonal is nice), remove the foil and serve immediately. 

Delightfully, remarkably, outstanding?  You betcha.

IMG_6544It's a dilly of a cheesesteak -- It's a Philly-Dilly Cheesesteak!

IMG_6554My 18-Minute Philly-Dilly Flank-Steak Cheesesteaks:  Recipe yields 6, 6"-8" flank-steak w/caramelized-onion cheesesteaks.

Special Equipment List:  11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; cutting board; chef's knife; appropriately-sized nonstick skillet; spatula; aluminum foil; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7c6bf05970bCook's Note:  Another take on the cheesesteak, and a favorite here in my kitchen, is my recipe for  ~ Philadelphia-Style Cheesesteak-Pizza a la Mel ~.  While it is luscious topped with my recipe for ~ Melanie's 18-Minute Perfectly-Cooked Flank Steak ~, I've written it with other options too.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

04/07/2018

~ Melanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak ~

IMG_6600When I want a perfectly-cooked, rare- to medium-rare steak, one that gets cooked indoors, next to the elegant filet mignon, the rustic flank steak is my choice.  That said, in terms of taste, texture, versatility and price, without compromise, hands-down the flank steak wins on all points -- which is why I purchase one or two almost every week.  In my food world, there's plenty of room for premium Delmonicos, NY strips, porterhouse and T-bones too, but, in terms of cooking steak indoors vs. grilling steak outdoors, those cuts typically "just don't do it" for me like filet or flank.

IMG_6557About this flat, oval-ish,  1"-1 1/2"-thick, stringy-grained steak:

6a0120a8551282970b019b00f22770970bA well done flank steak is not well done at all.  Flank steak, while it lends its succulent flavorful self to indoor cooking beautifully, if the lean and sexy flank steak is not quickly-cooked and served rare- medium-rare it is not worth eating. While I occasionally pan-sear it, my favorite method is to cook it under the broiler*.  My foolproof method takes all the guesswork out of it too.  Read on:

My rule of thumb is to purchase the biggest flank steak I can find -- two pounds is perfect, but, if I come across one that's larger, into my cart it goes.  I'd be crazy not to spend the extra pennies, and, it's not because bigger is better.  It's because leftovers go into sandwiches and onto salads -- zero waste.  Depending on the recipe du jour, sometimes I marinate flank steak, sometimes I don't.  When it comes to flank steak, absorb this: marination (which does not affect the cooking time), is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.  Perfectly-cooked flank steak is super-tender with zero marination.  Example:  my marinated Greek-Style Flank Steak Salad or Pocket Sammies.

* Note:  I have electric ovens and none of mine have a hi or low setting for the broiler.  With the door cracked (which is how broiling, a from-the-top-down dry-heat-method of cooking, is done in an electric oven), an oven-thermometer reads 325-ishº throughout the cooking process.

Place a 2-2 1/2-pound flank steak on a corrugated broiler pan -- allow to come to room temperature, about 20-30 minutes:

IMG_6570Season top with freshly-ground sea salt & peppercorn blend -- alternatively, season with a favorite steak seasoning:

IMG_6571Place 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler for exactly 9 minutes -- 5 1/2"-6" is a key measurement when broiling a flank steak:

IMG_6576Remove flank steak from oven:

IMG_6580Flip steak over (season second side if you like more spice):

IMG_6581Return to oven & broil exactly 9 more minutes:

IMG_6585Remove from oven & allow steak to rest for 9-10 minutes.

IMG_6587Holding knife at a 30° angle, slice flank steak  across the grain -- into thin, 1/8"-1/4"-thick strips of succulent, beefy lusciousness:

IMG_6595Use hot or cold as directed in recipes for appetizers or main-dishes, &/or, in sandwiches, on salads & even pizza:

IMG_6597Melanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak:  Recipe yields instructions to broil the perfectly-cooked rare- medium-rare flank steak/4-6-8+ servings (depending on how it's served -- as appetizers, in sandwiches, on salads or as a main-dish -- and what it is served with).

Special Equipment List:  11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; cutting board; chef's knife

6a0120a8551282970b019b01135f38970dCook's Note:  My recipe for ~ Open-Sesame Flank Steak w/Garlic-Ginger Sauce ~, when served over steamed white rice with a simple vegetable stir-fry, is packed full of Asian flavors and classic flank-steak texture.  Two flanks steaks, with a marinade that gets simmered and served as a sauce for dipping and drizzling at serving time, easily feeds 6-8 people for a lot less money than Chinese takeout.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

04/05/2018

~ Pasta with Butter and Cheese and Sweet Sausage ~

IMG_6507The Italians came up with the cure for the late-night movie-watching snack-attack centuries ago: Pasta al burro con formaggino (pasta with butter and cheese).  It's a no-nonsense, feed-me-now-snack, a quick-to-make side dish, and, it's a delicious foil for flavorful pasta sauces too.  Choose any shape of pasta (short, fork-friendly shapes work best), and, if you have a link or a patty of breakfast sausage on-hand, not only do the flavors melt into the mixture like they were born to be there, without almost any extra effort, it transforms the dish into a hearty meal for one or two.

A simple, straightforward, feed-me-now snack or meal:

IMG_6453For 1-2 snack-attack servings:

6  ounces pasta of choice

1  teaspoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

4  ounces sweet or hot sausage, a patty (pulled into pieces), or, a link (cut into coins), your choice

4  tablespoons salted butter

3/4  teaspoon each: garlic powder & coarse-grind black pepper

1/4 cup finely-grated Parmigiana-Reggiano, + extra for garnish

IMG_6467 IMG_6467 IMG_6467 IMG_6467~Step 1.  Put a great movie on the kitchen TV or plug-in to your favorite tunes.  Reach into the pantry, pick a pasta (short shapes work better than strands in this dish) and simmer 6 ounces of it, according to package directions, in a 2-quart saucepan of boiling water to which 1 teaspoon of sea salt has been added, until al dente, about 10 minutes.  Drain cooked pasta into a colander.

IMG_6480 IMG_6480~ Step 2.  While pasta is cooking, place a small nonstick skillet on stovetop.  Adjust heat to medium-high, add the sausage pieces or coins and cook until golden, about 6 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside until pasta is cooked.

IMG_6476 IMG_6476 IMG_6489 IMG_6489~Step 3.  Immediately after draining the cooked pasta in the colander, return the steaming pasta to the still hot saucepan and place it back on the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter pieces, garlic powder, black pepper and grated cheese.  Using a large spoon, toss until butter is melted and spices are incorporated.  Add the cooked sausage and any of its drippings, and, toss again.

Transfer to a bowl, or, two smaller bowls (to share)...

IMG_6504... sit down, put your feet up, &, enjoy the rest of the movie.

IMG_6517Pasta with Butter and Cheese and Sweet Sausage:  1 hearty main-dish servings or 2, smaller snack-sized servings.

Special Equipment List:  microplane grater (for finely-grating cheese); 2-quart saucepan; small-sized colander; small, 8" skillet or omelette-type pan, preferably nonstick; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f6a67a970bCook's Note:  For another one of my "what I cook just for me" recipes, you'll be missing out if you don't check out my recipe for my ~ Dad's Eastern Europe Meets America Mac & Cheese ~.  Italians no-longer have the market cornered on all-things pasta, and, this one, while a bit quirky, is a to-die-for must-try.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018

04/02/2018

~ The Japanese Take on Salisbury Steak: Hambagu ~

IMG_6411Japanese hamburger steak.  If it doesn't sound very Japanese, it's because its origin is not.  It's an all-American-inspired dish that's been culinarily Japanized and popularized by Japanese home cooks and yoshoku chefs (restaurants that serve Japanese versions of American- and European-style food).  It's a spin-off of our American bunless hamburger steak (aka the plump mini-meatloaf-esque knife-and-fork salisbury steak smothered in savory gravy).  It's so popular with both children and adults, it has earned a spot in classic bento-boxed lunches throughout Japan. 

Make no mistake though, hambagu is Japanese cuisine, so, substitutions like American Worcestershire in place of Japanese Worcestershire, or American pepper in place of Japanese pepper, are simply not going to render an authentic hambagu experience.  Mind your "ga's" and "gu's" too -- a "hambaga" (hahm-bah-gah) is what you order at a Japanese McDonald's. "Hambagu" (hahm-bah-goo) is a get-out-your-chopsticks and pull-up-a-chair, family-friendly, melt-in-your-mouth-tender, juicy meat patty drizzled with a tangy sweet sauce and served over rice. 

IMG_6442Japanese hambagu patties = a 1:1 ratio of beef to pork.

IMG_6322The secret to the traditional, juicy, flavorful Japanese hamburger steak patties is a 1:1 ratio of beef to pork. I grind my own (which only takes a few seconds in the food processor), and, I use a combination of 1 pound well-marbled Delmonico (rib-eye) steak and 1 pound pork tenderloin.  

Note:  If you skip the pork and use only beef, the patties will be good, but noticeably different.  All-beef patties will be dryer and less flavorful  -- more like a hambaga than true hambagu.

"ソース" = "sauce" in Japanese. "とんかつソース" = Tonkatsu.

Tonkatsu = the Japanese take on American steak sauce.

IMG_6369If you've ever gone into a Japanese market (which I have), and said, “I'd like a bottle of sauce”, you'd be handed a bottle of dark sauce that you think you're familiar with.  This "ソース" ("sauce") is what's referred to as Worcestershire in Japan. Unlike “sauce” in English, in Japan ソース refers to a dark, semi-thick line of sauces, such as: ウスターソース (Worcestershire Sauce), 中濃ソース (Vegetable & Fruit Sauce Semi-Sweet), and, とんかつソース(Vegetable & Fruit Sauce/Tonkatsu Sauce.  Other sauces, like soy, teriyaki, tomato or mayonnaise, etc., are called by their names -- not referred to generically as "sauce".

IMG_6407Note:  The sauce popularly used on hambagu is store-bought tonkatsu. It's a 100% vegetarian, uniquely-flavored, dark-colored, tangy, sweet-and-savory thick-and-drizzly sauce containing water, corn syrup, sugar, distilled vinegar, tomato paste, salt, rice-starch, apple purée, soy, prune paste, carrot, onion, spices and lemon juice.  While there are many recipes for mimicking tonkatsu in the home kitchen,  I liken the task of attempting to do that: like trying to duplicate your favorite A-1-type steak sauce at home.  

That said, in the Japanese home kitchen and in Japanese restaurants, tonkatsu (the sauce) is also the traditional condiment for tonkatsu (the meal), which is a breaded and fried pork cutlet.

My 5-minute food processor method for mixing the meat:

IMG_6336For the hambagu pattie mixture:

3/4  cup Japanese panko bread crumbs

6  tablespoons whole milk

1  pound well-marbled steak, cut into 1" cubes

1  pound pork tenderloin, cut into 1" cubes

4  ounces small-diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1 cup)

1  large egg

1  tablespoon Bull-Dog brand Japanese Worcestershire sauce (Note:  American Worcestershire sauce is onion-, anchovy-, garlic- and tamarind-flavored.  Japanese Worcestershire, while the same thin consistency and dark color as American Worcestershire, is flavored using the same ingredients as  tonkatsu.  Japanese Worcestershire sauce and tonkatsu sauce are 100% vegetarian, American Worcestershire is not.)

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon Japanese green pepper

3-4  tablespoons vegetable oil, for frying hambagu patties

3/4-cup Bull Dog brand tonkatsu sauce, for drizzling on patties

steamed white rice, to accompany hambagu patties

choice of garnishes:  crispy Asian-style fried onions (my favorite), sautéed onions &/or shiitake mushrooms, grated daikon

IMG_6343 IMG_6343~ Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the panko breadcrumbs and milk.  Set aside, until the breadcrumbs absorb the milk, soften, and become pasty, about 5 minutes.  While the breadcrumbs are softening:

IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324~Step 2.  Cube the delmonico steak and the pork tenderloin, placing the cubes in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade as you work. Dice the onion and add it to the work bowl along with the beef and pork cubes too.

IMG_6353 IMG_6353 IMG_6353~ Step 3.  Using a series of 40 on-off pulses, grind the meat and mince the onion. Add the pasty panko, whole egg, Japanese Worcestersauce, salt and Japanese pepper.  Using a second series of 30 on-off pulses, incorporate the wet ingredients and spices into the meat mixture.  Transfer meat mixture to a 1-gallon food storage bag and refrigerate 1 hour and up to overnight, to allow flavors to marry.

IMG_6372 IMG_6372~Step 4.  There will be 2 3/4 pounds meat mixture. Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide the mixture into 8, 5 1/2-ounce, 3 1/2"-round, plump, smooth* discs.  Place a thin-coating of oil in a 12" nonstick skillet and add the patties.

*Hambagu patties are thicker than American Salisbury steak, and, they're more refined looking too. Generally speaking, their smooth, almost manufactured appearance, comes from the addition of the pork -- mixing the meat in the food processor adds to an even more-perfect presentation.

IMG_6387~ Step 5.  Fry the patties over medium-, medium-high heat, until lightly-browned on the first side, about 6-7 minutes, flip burgers over, place a lid on the skillet and cook until lightly-browned on the second side, about 6-7 minutes.  

Note:  Placing the lid on the skillet during the cooking of the second side is the Japanese secret to keeping the patties plump and juicy.

IMG_6390 IMG_6390 IMG_6390 IMG_6390~Step 6.  Using a spatula, transfer the patties to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.  Add and stir the tonkatsu sauce into the pan drippings in the skillet.  Adjust heat to simmer for about 30-45 seconds, then transfer/pour the sauce into a small bowl.  Serve over steamed white rice with steamed or blanched vegetables of choice and tonkatsu sauce for dipping or drizzling.

Serve atop white rice & vegetables w/a drizzle of tonkatsu:

IMG_6428The Japanese Take on Salisbury Steak:  Hambagu:  Recipe yields 8, hearty servings (if served over rice with vegetables) and 1 cup sauce for dipping and drizzling.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 1-gallon food storage bag; kitchen scale (optional); 12" skillet, preferably nonstick, w/lid; spatula; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08c2da5c970dCook's Note:  Once a week, when mom or dad went grocery shopping, my brother and I were allowed to pick one TV Dinner, which we would eat on Thursday.  To this day, I associate Thursdays with TV Dinners.  Happy Thursday,  my recipe for: ~ Upscale TV-Dinner-Style Salisbury Steak & Gravy ~. Some things can't be changed.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/30/2018

~Vegetarian Herb Gravy for Whatever Floats the Boat~

IMG_6314An all-purpose gravy that goes well on almost anything?  You betcha.  One basic recipe, made with a few pantry staples, and, in a few minutes (tick, tock), voila:  a great gravy that carnivores and vegetarians can sit down to enjoy, together, in harmony.  Yes indeedy, sans pan drippings, a luxurious gravy to drizzle over all things gravy goes on:  chicken-fried or smothered anything, meatloaf or hamburger steaks, open-faced bread-, biscuit- or waffle- sandwiches, French fries or poutine, rice or noodles, steamed or roasted vegetables, etc., etc., etc.  Read on:

Got drippings leftover from a roast?  Add them along w/the stock.

IMG_6287Like a chameleon adjusts its color to suit the environment, this gravy graciously accepts any carnivorous flavor you've got.  

If you've got meat-eatin' pan drippings leftover from your favorite roast beef, lamb, pork or chicken, run them through a fat-lean separator, discard the fat, and by all means, add them along with the vegetable stock.  Like a chameleon adjusts its color to blend in with its environment, this gravy graciously accepts any carnivorous flavor you've got to add.  Whether a vegetarian or not (and I am not), in a hurry with no worry, this recipe yields a luscious and generous two cups.  

IMG_62474  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper

1/2  teaspoon each:  garlic powder and onion powder

2  teaspoons herbes de Provence

2  cups unsalted vegetable stock, homemade or high-quality store-bought Kitchen Basics brand

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, or a favorite steak sauce

1  4-ounce can, sliced mushrooms, drained (optional)*

* Note:  1/2-1 cup sautéed fresh mushrooms may be added, if it's an extra step you want to take.

IMG_6249 IMG_6249 IMG_6249~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, place and stir together the flour, salt, pepper, garlic and onion powders, and, herbs de Provence.  In a two-cup measuring container combine the vegetable stock with the Worcestershire sauce.

IMG_6258 IMG_6258 IMG_6258 IMG_6258~Step 2.  In a small 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Add and whisk in the seasoned flour mixture until a thick paste forms.  Increase heat to medium- medium-high. Whisking constantly, cook the roux for 1-1 1/2-2 minutes, until bubbling and foamy.

IMG_6275 IMG_6275 IMG_6275~ Step 3.  Add the vegetable stock and Worcestershire mixture. Whisking constantly, bring to a boil over high heat.  If adding the optional mushrooms or pan drippings, add them at this time too.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until gravy is thickened, 4-5 minutes.  

Float your favorite vegetarian's boat & serve ASAP:

IMG_6288Vegetarian Herb Gravy for Whatever Floats the Boat:  Recipe yields 2 cups + more if mushrooms or pan drippings are added.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan; whisk; fat-lean separator (optional); gravy boat

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d08b91a3970c 7.07.19 AMCook's Note:  At some point, all cooks encounter a hot liquid that needs to be thickened -- a soup, a stew, a sauce or a gravy (sometimes even a pudding or pie filling).  Not knowing how to do this can ruin a recipe. This fundamental task is one I always try to teach in my cooking classes. Why? Because I've come to learn it confounds a lot of home cooks:  ~ How to:  Make a Roux or a Slurry (to Thicken Liquids) ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/27/2018

~Gone Bananas: Double Banana Pudding Poke Cake~

IMG_6159Retro recipes with a history to report or a story to share, are fun for me to write.  While plenty of versions for this particular cake are available on the internet, my reason for adding "mine" is two fold:  plenty of present day cooks have no idea what a poke cake is, and, this particular one is, one of three poke cake recipes my mom made when I was growing up in the 1960's and '70's. Because banana pudding is classic and traditional Southern fare (a layered dessert of vanilla cookies, sliced bananas, vanilla pudding and meringue), that would indeed qualify this banana-pudding poke cake for Southern-style status, but poke cakes in general are not Southern.

Banana-pudding poke cake is Southern-style.  Poke cakes per se are not Southern.

IMG_6166Jell-O's poke cake recipes were very trendy in the 1970's.

Thanks to some savvy, now-retro, Jell-O ads in various woman's magazines in the latter 1960's and early 1970's, poke cakes started showing up on dessert tables at America's picnics and potlucks.  My mother subscribed to Women's Day and Redbook, and, I know these publications to be the sources for her three poke cake recipes (banana, chocolate and lemon).  As a working mom, this type of crowd-pleasing cake was quick-and-easy for her to make using just a few store-bought convenience items:  a boxed cake mix, a compatible flavor of Jell-O pudding, and, a tub of non-dairy whipped topping.  Additionally (more-often-than-not), most poke cakes got garnished with crunchy cookies (ex: vanilla, chocolate or lemon), which were often crushed to crumbs.

As a family, all of us loved mom's pudding poked cakes.  

IMG_6056Poke cake per se:  It's a cake baked in a 13" x 9" x 2" cake pan.  While the cake is still quite warm (almost hot), the handle of a wooden spoon is used to poke a goodly-number of evenly-spaced holes into the surface -- like a drill boring holes in a block of wood.  Not-quite-set-yet pudding gets poured or ladled over the holier-than-thou surface, which drizzles down and settles in the holes, filling them up to the top.  The entire surface then gets slathered with a layer of non-dairy whipped topping -- as much as the cake pan has room left to accommodate. Served after a few hours in the refrigerator, my mom's poke cakes were so puddingly-rich and whipped creamily-delish, she often scooped portions into bowls rather than slicing and plating.

Jello-cake-recipe-1978-purple-poke-cake-1-630x850All that said, poke cakes aren't all poked with a wooden spoon and drizzled with a box of prepared pudding.  Some get poked with a toothpick and drenched with a box of prepared gelatin -- my mom never experimented with the creative color schemes of gelatin-themed poke cakes. There's more and fast forward to present day.  Bakeries and home cooks are starting to revisit retro poke cake recipes, updating them with impressive, high-quality buttery-rich scratch-made cakes drizzled with fancy French pastry creams, fruity mousses or chocolate ganache, finished with freshly-whipped real-deal cream. Whether store-bought or scratch-made: all poked cakes are a fun time waiting to happen. 

Dad's favorite:  Gone Bananas Banana Pudding Poked Cake.  

IMG_6030Mom amped up the banana-flavor in her version of the original Jell-O recipe -- which explains why my dad went bananas for this cake:

Besides the requisite 1 cup water, 1/3 cup vegetable oil and 3 large eggs, she added 1, 3.4-ounce box instant banana pudding, 2 teaspoons banana flavoring (I use pure extract), along with 1 additional egg (to add the extra moisture necessary for the dry pudding). Mom's favorite cake mix: 1 Duncan Hines yellow mix.

IMG_6032 IMG_6032~ Step 1.  Spray the inside of a 13" x 9" x 2" clear glass baking dish with no-stick cooking spray. Using a hand-held mixer and a large rubber spatula, prepare the cake mix as the package directs, adding the additional box of banana pudding, banana extract and egg.  Bake cake on center rack of preheated 325° oven 22-24 minutes, until puffed through to the center and a cake tester, when inserted in several spots, comes out clean.  Remove cake from oven and place on a wire rack to cool, for 5-6 minutes.

IMG_6051 IMG_6051~ Step 2.  Be brave.  Using the handle of a wooden spoon or the handle of a similarly-shaped spoon, poke holes, quite a few of them, in random but evenly-spaced spots, straight through to the bottom of the cake.  My cakes got poked 54 times.

IMG_6038Mom always amped up the flavoring in the banana pudding too:

2  3.4-ounce boxes instant banana pudding

2  teaspoon banana extract

1  quart whole milk, cold

IMG_6060~ Step 3. Whisk all ingredients together until smooth.

IMG_6064 IMG_6064 IMG_6076~ Step 4.  Do not wait for the pudding to fully thicken. Within 1 minute, begin ladling it over the surface of the poked cake, allowing it to drizzle down into the holes.  Allow cake to continue to cool, uncovered, for 1 hour. Cover baking pan with its lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

IMG_6105 IMG_6105~ Step 5.  Place 1, 11-12-ounce box Nabisco Nilla Wafers, in a 1-gallon food storage bag and zip or twist it closed.  Using your hands or a small rolling pin, crunch or crush the cookies into bits and pieces.  While there will be some fine crumbs, crunchy cookie pieces combined with some crumbs are ideal.  Remove about 1/2-3/4 cups of the cookie crumbs and pieces from the rest and set them separately aside to use at serving time. 

IMG_6129 IMG_6129 IMG_6129 IMG_6129~Step 6.  Spread 1, 8-ounce container Cool-Whip Non-Dairy Whipped Topping* over top of chilled cake, to top of baking dish -- an offset spatula makes this very easy.  Evenly sprinkle cookie crumbs over all and refrigerate, uncovered until serving time, several hours or overnight. Slice and serve cake, garnishing each portion with a few fresh banana slices and a sprinkling of the reserved crunchy cookie crumbs.  Store leftovers in refrigerator up to 3 days (the cookie crumbs on top of the cake get soft, but even 3 days later, this cake is still super-delicious).

*Note:  8 ounces heavy cream and 1 tablespoon sugar, whipped to a very stiff state using a hand-held electric mixer, may be substituted without compromise in any poke cake recipe.

Remove from refrigerator, slice & serve chilled...

IMG_6123... garnished w/banana slices & crunchy cookie crumbs.

IMG_6163Poke a fork in it & go bananas:

Gone Bananas Double Banana Pudding Poke Cake:  Recipe yields 16-20 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 13" x 9" x 2" cake pan, preferably clear glass w/lid; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack; handle of a wooden spoon or a similarly-shaped spoon handle; 1-quart measuring container; wire whisk; soup ladle; plastic wrap; 1-gallon food storage bag; small rolling pin; offset spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07e5756c970dCook's Note:  If you want to make today's banana pudding poke cake using a scratch-made cake instead of a store-bought mix, I must suggest my recipe for ~ A Sweet Cream Cake:  A Dream of an Easy Cake ~.  Simple, straightforward and scrumptious, this poundcake-ish yet light, dream-of-an-easy-cake recipe should be committed to the memory of every cook who ever entertained the thought of a boxed mix in a time of crisis.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/24/2018

~ How to: Perfectly Reheat a Leftover Slice of Pizza ~

IMG_6077Pizza is a staple in my kitchen, and, as a wife and mother who is well-known for craving a "slice of 'za" at midnight, leftover pizza is not something I throw away.  More often than not, it's a few slices of my beloved homemade pie, on rare occasions it's delivery, and, snack pizza, the kind we quickly put together on flatbread (like pocketless pita, Naan and English muffins) are, like bread, milk and eggs, omnipresent in my refrigerator or freezer.  That said, I am not a fan of cold pizza.

IMG_6084I prefer my serving of pizza to be hot with a crispy crust and ooey-gooey cheese melting on the top.  Sadly, it impossible to relive the glory of a freshly-baked hot-off-the-pizza-stone pizza.  One minute you're eating it crispy and pliably fresh, a half hour later, it has achieved leftover status -- and, it is impossible to roll back the clock on a slice of pizza.  Up until a few weeks ago, my pizza-fate was to buck up and talk myself into the joy of eating tasty but second-rate reheats.

IMG_6195Oven or toaster-oven reheats, besides taking to too long to preheat the oven, got me a crispy crust, but, as for the cheese and any toppings, they emerged funkily compromised and shriveled. Microwave reheats, which are fast as can be, rendered me ooey-gooey cheese and plump toppings, but, OMG, the crust -- a soggy shell of its former self for the first few bites transitions (frighteningly fast) to a stone tablet fitting for Moses by the last few bites.  What's a gal to do?

Place a lidded nonstick skillet on the stovetop.

The skillet method, which I came across accidentally, is, to put an appropriately-sized nonstick skillet on the stovetop, big enough for a slice or two to sit flat in the bottom.  There is no need for any no-stick spray or oil (although a splash of olive oil will render an extra-crispy crust, so use it if that's what you want).  Why it works:  A skillet on the stovetop heats up much faster than the oven, and, almost as fast as the microwave, and, while the bottom crust crisps up, the lid traps the steam which melts the cheese and keeps the toppings moist.  Tip:  If you have a glass lid, use it.  It's a great way keep an eye on the process without letting the precious steam escape.  

IMG_6133 IMG_6133 IMG_6133The specifics:  Place pizza slice in pan over medium heat and put a lid on it. Allow it to cook for 5-6 minutes, then check the bottom of the crust.  If you want the crust crispier or the cheese meltier, cook it 1-2 more minutes. Take into account:  A room temperature slice reheats faster than a cold slice, and, the type and thickness of crust, the quantity of cheese + toppings, and, the heat on stovetop all affect timing.

Making the leftover-pizza-world better one-slice-at-a-time.

IMG_6104How to:  Perfectly Reheat a Leftover Slice of Pizza:  Recipe yields instructions to perfectly reheat leftover slices of pizza on the stovetop.  It's brilliant!

Special Equipment List:  appropriately-sized nonstick skillet w/lid

IMG_6192Cook's Note:  Used in the making of the snack pizza in the photos (which I prepared and baked yesterday, then refrigerated overnight in order to write today's reheated post):  

1, 8"-round Boboli pizza crust; 8 deli-slices provolone cheese; 1/4 cup diced sweet onion; 4 small Campari tomatoes, thinly sliced; 1, 4-ounce jar sliced mushrooms, well-drained; a sprinkling of Italian seasoning blend.  

Assemble pizza in order listed and place directly on rack of 350° toaster oven and bake 8-9 minutes. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/21/2018

~The McDonald's-Style Big Mac Cheeseburger Salad~

IMG_5964When my foodie friends (people who like to cook, can cook and cook often), start talking about a yummy salad made in the style of McDonald's iconic Big Mac, I listen.  I listen because these are friends I listen to, and, because I have been known to indulge in an occasional Big Mac.  Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun is, in my opinion, the yummiest cheeseburger creation in the takeout-lane of the drive-thru fast-food circuit.

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 6.55.21 AMSeptember 1968 -- The Bic Mac was invented in Pittsburgh by a McDonald's Franchise Owner named Jim Delligatti.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2ddfc8a970c-800wiIt cost 45 cents.

IMG_6020The Big Mac, designed to compete with the Big Boy Restaurant chain's Big Boy Burger, had two previous names that failed:  Aristocrat and the Blue Ribbon burger.  The "Big Mac" was named by Esther Glickstein Rose, a 21-year old secretary working at corporate headquarters.  The "two-all beef patties" slogan was created by Keith Reinhard and his creative group at advertising agency Needham Harper and Steers.  The Big Mac, which contains two 1.6-ounce patties along with an array of other components was placed on a three-part bun because testing proved it too sloppy to eat otherwise.  As for the "secret sauce", which is indeed a variant of Thousand Islands dressing, in 2012 McDonald's stated, "the primary sauce ingredients are not really a secret, and have been available on-line for years (sans specifics -- cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc.):  mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish and yellow mustard whisked together with vinegar, garlic and onion powder and paprika."

As one who believes she invented the chili-cheddar-cheeseburger salad, I cannot believe it never occurred to me to transfer my beloved Big Mac from bun to bowl.  In my food world, if given a choice, I'm the kinda girl who prefers to plant my roasted chicken breast or grilled strip steak atop a well-appointed salad, rather than position it next to a twice-baked fully-loaded baked potato, creamy potato salad or crunchy cole slaw.  It has nothing (zero) to do with cutting carbohydrates (my homemade croutons make up for the carbs) -- I just love the combination of perfectly-cooked hot-and-juicy protein atop a cold-and-crisp full-of-greens-and-goodies salad.

Part One:  Two all-beef patties topped w/yellow American.

MaxresdefaultAll McDonald's hamburgers are 100 percent beef with an 80/20 lean-to-fat ratio. The beef used in the burgers comes from whole cuts of forequarter and flank meat from the cow. In their kitchen: The burgers are never flipped, as the flat-topped mechanism that cooks them has a matching flat-topped top which, when lowered, cooks them on both sides at once (clam-shell-type style). All McDonald's hamburgers are topped with deli-sliced yellow American-processed cheese blend made from milk, milk fats and solids -- it melts great and make no mistake, it is not yellow cheddar.

Note:  Beef is beef and patty means disc.  That equates to 'burgers, not ground beef crumbles -- in my kitchen, two 3-ounce slider-sized patties per salad -- it's not a Big Mac unless it's got two. Once topped with the signature American-processed yellow cheese, a lid goes on long enough to melt it (tick,tock) -- this keeps the 'burgers hot-and-juicy, a la McDonald's flat-top-cooked 'burgers.

IMG_6853Newsflash:  McDonald's is almost ready to release never-frozen burgers this Spring. They've already quietly rolled-out their “fresh” beef burgers to test in Dallas, Tulsa, Miami, Orlando, and Nashville. Over the next month, the rollout-test will expand to Los Angeles, Houston, and San Francisco.  The rest of us will get to try them sometime May. In the beginning, they will be limited to a just a few of their sandwiches, and while the Big Mac will not be one of them, I have no doubt that never-frozen burgers will be a popular menu item.  It's all I ever use in my kitchen and I'm sticking with never-frozen beef today:

IMG_5912 IMG_5912 IMG_5912~ Step 1.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, form and place 8, 3-ounce, 2 1/2"-round, all-beef patties (1 1/2-pounds total ground beef) over medium-high heat --  I use a fat ratio of 90/10.  Don't add any oil or butter to skillet -- ground beef contains enough fat to do its thing.  Ever-so-lightly, season the patties with salt and pepper, and cook until barely-browned and just short of being cooked through, turning only once, about 4 minutes per side.  Do not overcook.  Error on the side of slightly-undercooking.

IMG_5924 IMG_5924 IMG_5924 IMG_5924 IMG_5924 IMG_5924~Step 2.  Turn the heat off.  It's 8 slices American-processed yellow cheese you'll need next. It's quick to melt to the perfect state without browning or drying out. Cut or break each slice into four quarters.  Arrange four quarters (1 slice) to fit atop each burger.  Place lid on  skillet, adjust the heat to low, and wait for cheese to melt, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and place two patties atop each salad as directed below.

Part Two:  Special Sauce.  Thousand Islands dressing -- not.

Tmg-facebook_socialMany folks assume the special sauce is Thousand Islands dressing. It's an easy assumption to make, as the two are similar enough -- mayonnaise-based and pickle-relish laced.  That said, I write a food blog, which made it necessary for me to head to the Golden Arches, in order to deconstruct a few Big Macs, so I could taste-test secret sauce side-by-side bottled store-bought and homemade Thousand Islands dressing.  The special sauce is indeed different.  It's more yellow than pink and more pungent too, which, (just as McDonald's stated), results from some brand of ordinary yellow ballpark-type mustard.

Fun secret sauce fact:  In our recent past, McDonald's lost the formula to their secret sauce, and, for a number of years it gradually grew "less special".  As a result, in 2004, the CEO scrapped the product and collaborated with the California supplier who had helped develop the original sauce -- they reconcocted the sauce.  End of story fact:  We now enjoy reconcocted secret sauce.

IMG_59051  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup each: ketchup and sweet pickle relish

1  tablespoon yellow mustard

1  teaspoon white vinegar

1/2  teaspoon each:  garlic and onion powder and paprika

IMG_5901Whisk all ingredients together, cover and refrigerate 1 hour.  Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Part Three:  Lettuce, pickles, onion & sesame seeds sans bun.

IMG_5935For each salad (in each of 4, 6" salad plates, layer and arrange):

2  generous cups iceberg or romaine lettuce pieces

1/2  cup each: dill pickles, well-drained and 1/2"-diced, and, 1/2" chopped sweet onion

2  3-ounce hot-and-juicy burgers

1/2  teaspoon lightly-toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

1/4  cup secret sauce, for drizzling and dipping

IMG_5938 IMG_5938 IMG_5938 IMG_5938~Step 1.  Layer and arrange the veggies, plant the burgers, drizzle with dressing, then stick a knife and fork in it.  If you're thinking this salad could be more colorful, you'd be right, it could be -- but you would be wrong. This carefully-thought-through monochromatic melange of complex and conflicting flavors needs nothing else.  Adding anything else -- wouldn't be a Big Mac.

While special orders don't upset us, no tomatoes please:

6a0120a8551282970b01a511c4835a970c'Tis true and trust me, no one loves tomatoes more than me -- no one. So, if a tomato-loving Big Mac aficionado knows enough to not special order tomatoes on her sandwich, I'm sure not going to add them to my Big Mac salad -- nor am I going to write a recipe telling you it's a forgivable offense.  In all seriousness, the special sauce is all about contrasting flavors playing in harmony, and, the acidity in tomatoes just "breaks the spell".  

Dill pickles, not tomatoes, belong in a Big Mac salad.

IMG_5981Enjoy a homemade salad The McDonald's way today!

IMG_6002The McDonald's-Style Big Mac Cheeseburger Salad:  Recipe yields instructions to make 4, hearty main-dish salads.

Special Equipment List:  whisk; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" skillet w/lid, preferably nonstick; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0984a3a7970dCook's Note: Would you like chili instead?  As one who raised three boys with a Wendy's joint just a few miles down the street from us, my recipe for ~ Kids' Stuff:  Mel's Wendy's Chili Con Carne ~ was one of the first fast-foods I needed to find a way to duplicate at home.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/19/2018

~ Teriyaki-Style Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare-Ribs ~

IMG_5862How you cook spare-ribs is your business.  Here in Happy Valley, sometimes we smoke 'em, sometimes we grill 'em, occasionally I make them in the oven, and, recently, I've started experimenting with slow-cooking them.  Past that, even if you aren't a fan of crocket science, it might interest you to know that Japanese-seven-spice blend and teriyaki sauce, when substituted for traditional Tex-Mex rubs-and-mops is a delicious alternative to typical ribs -- give 'em a try.

IMG_5816Do not confuse spicy "Japanese-seven-spice" powder with aromatic Chinese five-spice powder.  They are completely different.  "Shichimi togarashi", originated in Japanese apothecaries in the 17th century after chiles were introduced to Japan as medicinal.  The ratios in each blend (like all homemade spice blends) vary a bit, but, all contain: cayenne, sesame seeds, orange peel, ginger, szechuan pepper, poppy seeds and seaweed.  While the cayenne and szechuan pepper aren't incendiary, once the blend is applied or added to food, it is anything but low-key or ho-hum.

I won't lie, the machinations of making ribs in a slow cooker never seemed right -- like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  I've seen people bend entire racks, slice and stack sections, even cut them into individual riblets   That type of rib abuse is why I never attempted it, but, as a person who likes my ribs fall-of-the-bone tender, there was never a doubt the slow cooker could achieve that.  After all, just like a Dutch oven placed on the stovetop or in the oven, it's what slow cookers do, tenderize meat -- especially the cheap, tough cuts.  The lid seals and traps the heat and moisture in the pot, preventing evaporation and heat loss, which provides plenty of time for everything-that-can-make-meat-tough (the muscle, connective tissue and fat) to break down.

IMG_3106Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for baby-back ribs (trimmed to fit into it's bottom), to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

IMG_3175I bought two.  Simmer down.  At about $45.00 each, it wasn't that big of an investment.  My rational was: Joe buys baby-back ribs vacuum-packed at Sam's club.  Each package contains three racks.  After eye-balling the dimensions of the Crockpot Casserole, I knew with certainty, that between the two of them, I could slow-cook all three racks -- to feed a crowd.  With basketball's March Madness in full-court-press and PSU still alive, I was happy to plug them in today.

Important Note:  Armed with two crockpot casseroles, for my own purposes, I am slow-cooking three very large racks of baby-back spare-ribs this afternoon.  That said, past this sentence, the recipe is written for one crockpot casserole which will accommodate two small racks of ribs.

IMG_3118Because the inside bottom dimensions of the casserole are approximately 11" x 6", that requires cutting each rack of baby-back ribs into either 2, 11" lengths (cut each rack in half), or, 3, 6" lengths (cut each rack into thirds).  Besides being more manageable, I chose 6" lengths because they are a perfect portion for each person.

IMG_5760 IMG_5760 IMG_5760 IMG_5760 IMG_5765 IMG_5765~Step 1.  To prepare the ribs for seasoning, pat them dry in some paper towels and remove the silverskin from the underside of each rack.  If you don't know how to do this, read my post ~ How to: Remove the Silverskin from Spareribs ~.  Using a large chef's knife, slice each rack into thirds.  Unless you like generally like food spicy (firey-hot), judiciously (lightly sprinkle) each section, top and bottom, with Japanese Seven-Spice.

IMG_3143 IMG_3143 IMG_3143Step 2.  Spray the inside of the crock casserole with no-stick cooking spray. Arrange the ribs to fit, in a single layer, slightly-overlapping in a spot or two if necessary.  (For my two-crock purposes, four of the largest sections and five of the smallest sections, fit snugly and nicely between the two crocks respectively.)

IMG_5775 IMG_5775 IMG_5775 IMG_5775 IMG_5775 IMG_5775~Step 3.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle 3/4 cup teriyaki sauce, homemade or thick-consistency store bought* over the tops of ribs. Cover crockpot. Cook on high for 2 hours, then, low for 2 hours. The tip of a knife or the tines of a fork, when pierced between any two ribs will glide through and come out on the other side.  If desired, adjust heat to keep ribs warm for up to 1 hour prior to finishing them as directed.

IMG_5807* Note:  Homemade teriyaki sauce is thick and drizzly.  At its thinnest, it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and, at the discretion of the cook, in many cases thicker than that.  That said, many store-brought brands are watery (similar in consistency to soy sauce), and, they will not work in this recipe.  Ideally, the teriyaki sauce should be similar in consistency to a hearty barbecue sauce.  What I keep on-hand and my store-bought recommendation is: Mandarin brand teriyaki sauce

IMG_5800 IMG_5800~Step 4.  Preheat broiler with oven rack positioned about 5" under the heat.  Line a large baking pan with aluminum foil, then place a sheet of parchment in the bottom of pan.  Remove lid from crockpot.  One-at-a-time remove the ribs.

IMG_5765 IMG_5765~Step 5.  Arrange ribs, side-by-side and slightly-apart (no overlapping) on prepared baking pan. Using a pastry brush generously paint the the tops with additional teriyaki sauce (about 3/4 cup). Place under the broiler 3-4 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and starting to show signs of light browning.  Watch carefully.  All teriyaki sauces contain some form of sugar, which goes from lightly-browned to burned quickly.  If a thicker coating of teriyaki is desired, brush tops a second time and return them to the oven for 1-2 more minutes.

Plate 'em & serve 'em for dinner (w/plenty of napkins)...

IMG_5858... atop teriyaki-dressed noodles tossed w/a veggie stir-fry:

IMG_5880Teriyaki-Style Slow-Cooker Baby-Back-Spare Ribs:  Recipe yields 2-4 servings per casserole (allowing 1/3-1/2-rack per person).

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; crockpot casserole; 1-cup measuring container; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; pastry brush

IMG_3220Cook's Note:  In the event you're looking for a traditional Tex-Mex-type barbecue rubbed-and-sauced recipe for spare-ribs, my recipe for ~ Bone-Suckin' Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare-Ribs ~ was not only the maiden-voyage of my crockpot casseroles, they were the inspiration for today's Japanese teriyaki-style ribs. There's more:  I've developed recipes for ~ Low & Slow-Cooked Crockpot Casserole Meatloaf ~ and ~ Warm & Cozy Crockpot Casserole Rice Pudding ~ too!  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/17/2018

~Fresh vs. Canned: How Pineapple Reacts w/Protein~

IMG_5757It's natural to assume fresh fruit is better than canned, and, if you're eating fresh pineapple, fresh not only tastes better, it is indeed better for you and your digestive system.  That said, nothing is more disheartening than taking the time to prepare a marinade for your favorite protein made from fresh pineapple juice, or, folding a cup or two of diced pineapple into a favorite casserole and have the protein rendered mushy. The cause is an enzyme found in fresh-cut pineapple.

No matter how you slice it, dice it, or hollow it out:

IMG_5885Why did my marinated meat (poultry, seafood or fish) turn to mush?

IMG_5589The enzyme's name is bromelain (in papaya it's called papain and does the same thing), and it is a powerful tenderizer.  It plays a key role in the digestive process, most notably, breaking down tough protein chains -- it's sold in supplement form in health food stores as a digestive aid. It's why:  1) Pineapple processors wear gloves and masks (as it eventually eats away at the flesh on the hands and face).  2) When cutting up pineapple, if poked by a spiny edge, it's common to develop itchy skin &/or a sore.  3) Pineapple, on its own, won't form a jam or jelly.

Bromelain, the enzyme in fresh pineapple, is a powerful tenderizer.

IMG_5684Tenderizing protein is good to a point, but, when fresh pineapple juice is used in or as the marinade, the enzyme works fast -- in as little as 30 minutes for poultry and meat, and, in the case of fish, 10 minutes. That's great if time is short and the clock is ticking.  That said, if fresh pineapple chunks are stirred into a casserole, if left to sit just 1-2 hours prior to baking, it renders the protein mushy -- a problem when things need to be done in advance.  While keeping the marinating protein or the casserole mixture refrigerated will slow the enzyme activity down:

Here's the information every cook needs to know:

IMG_5708Bromelain is heat-inactivated.  This means:  If fresh pineapple is cooked first, separately from the protein, (prior to marinating it with or stirring it into raw or cooked protein), the bromelain gets neutralized -- this neutralization is achieved during the canning process, and, can also be achieved by grilling pineapple chunks or pieces, or, simmering fresh pineapple juice, crushed pineapple or pineapple purée.  So, if you want to buy some time in order to marinate your protein a few hours ahead or put your casserole together the night before, either cook the fresh pineapple first, or, without compromise, bypass the fresh produce department and head to the canned-fruit aisle.

Oh My Thai Chicken and Pineapple-Fried-Rice Casserole:

IMG_5746"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018) 

03/15/2018

~ Thai Chicken and Pineapple-Fried-Rice Casserole ~