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My Recipes-of-the-Week are featured here on my Home page. You can find 2000 of my kitchen-tested recipes using the Recipes tab, watch over 125 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

01/15/2022

~Spellcheck Chile, Chili, Chile Powder or Chili Powder~

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a04382970cChile, chili, chile powder and/or chili powder.  How these words are spelled is not a regional preference, meaning it doesn't vary willy-nilly from manufacturer to manufacturer, brand to brand or cook to cook.  That said, all too many times they are used interchangeably, but the reality is:  they should never be.  The spelling of these words is serious business, and, savvy, in-the-know shoppers are cognizant of exactly what they are purchasing.  I admit to having a several jars of carefully-chosen chile powders and chili blends on my spice rack at all times.   It really is all in the spelling, and, once you know what the spelling means, you will know what is is and what is in it.

Once you know what the spelling means...

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

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

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

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

... you will know what it is & what is in it! 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a04382970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)

01/12/2022

~ Thick-&-Zesty Kid-Friendly Ground-Beef Lasagna ~

IMG_4011All us cooks agree that every recipe does not have to be a rocket science recipe -- it simply has to taste, without compromise, great.  If the end justifies the means, there's no shame in a shortcut or three.  I'm not sure how many lasagna recipes one cook is supposed to have, but, I'm guessing most households have more than one.    Here in my kitchen, I make four different types of lasagna, each with its own unique sauce: Bolognese, seafood, vegetable lasagna (all of which are excellent but time-consuming), and, this easy-to-make kid-friendly, crowd-pleasing ground-beef lasagna.  It's so popular amongst my family and friends, I even have a gluten-free version.

Part One -- Making the meat sauce:

IMG_3885For the meat sauce:

3  tablespoons olive oil

2  generous cups diced yellow or sweet onion (12 ounces)

1  pound sliced white button mushroom caps

1  tablespoon McCormick garlic powder

3  packets McCormick Thick & Zesty spaghetti sauce mix

3  pounds 90/10 ground beef (90% fat free)

1  pound Hatfield sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

IMG_3882 IMG_3882 IMG_3882 IMG_3882 IMG_3896 IMG_3896 IMG_3896~Step 1.  Place the oil in a 12" chef's pan.   Prep onions and mushrooms as directed, placing them in pan as you work.  Place over low heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Increase heat to sauté, stirring frequently, until onion softens and mushrooms have lost almost all moisture, about 15-20 minutes, using a large spatula to chop up mushrooms a bit as they cook.  Stir in the garlic powder and packets of spaghetti sauce mix.  Continue to sauté for about 30-60 seconds.  Mixture will be thick and pasty.

IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3933~Step 2.  Add all of the ground beef and sweet sausage to onion/mushroom mixture.  Cook mixture over medium-high heat, stirring frequently and using the spatula to break up the meats into small bits and pieces, until the meat has lost its red color, is steamed through, and almost no moisture remains in the bottom of the pan, 25-30 minutes.

IMG_3934 IMG_3934 IMG_3934~ Step 3.  Add and thoroughly stir in the crushed tomatoes.  Adjust the heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue to cook, stirring constantly with a large spoon, about 15 minutes.  This meat sauce, which is also a great meat sauce for spaghetti, is ready to use.  That said, I like to remove the pan from the heat, cover it, and let it rest for about 30 minutes prior to assembling the lasagna, to give the flavors time to marry.  That said,  it is important to have the sauce warm-to-hot when assembling the lasagna as it will pre-soften the noodles before the lasagna goes into the oven.

Part Two -- Assembling & baking the lasagna:

IMG_3955For the assembly:

all the meat sauce,  from above recipe

1  10-ounce box ruffled-edge lasagna noodles, uncooked

1/2-3/4   pound thinly-sliced Cooper CV sharp cheese, or white American cheese

1/2-3/4   pound thinly-sliced provolone cheese

1/2-3/4  pound thinly-sliced mozzarella cheese

1/2-3/4  cup fine-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1-2  teaspoons Italian seasoning blend, or dried oregano

no-stick cooking spray

IMG_3957 IMG_3957 IMG_3957 IMG_3957 IMG_3957 IMG_3957 IMG_3957~Step 1.  Spray the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole with no-stick.  Spoon a thin but even layer of meat sauce in bottom of casserole dish.  Arrange lasagna noodles, side by side, over the sauce.  Four noodles will fit lengthwise.  Break one noodle to fit in the remaining space.  Arrange a single layer of Cooper CV cheese slices over the noodles.  Arrange a single layer of provolone slices over the CV.  Arrange a single layer of mozzarella slices over the provolone.  Spoon a second layer of meat sauce over the cheese layer.  Generously sprinkle Parmigianno-Reggiano over meat sauce.

IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3975~Step 2.  Arrange a second layer of lasagna noodles in the dish and repeat the above process (a second layer of cheeses, a third layer of meat sauce, plus a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano). Sprinkle Italian seasoning blend over all.  The lasagna is now ready for the oven or the freezer, or, it can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight, returned to room temperature (which takes about 3-4 hours) and baked the next day.  I highly recommend refrigerating it over night -- it's convenient, but more importantly, it gives all the great flavors time to marry.

IMG_3999 IMG_3999 IMG_3999~ Step 3.  Cover lasagna with a piece of foil that's been sprayed with no-stick.  Place foil, sprayed side down, over lasagna and cover tightly.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake 25-30 more minutes, or until browned and bubbly.  Remove from oven and rest, 30-60 minutes prior to slicing and serving -- 30 minutes if you want to eat your lasagna at that "ooey-gooey" stage, or, 60 minutes if you want nicer, neater slices and a more refined presentation. 

Ooey-gooey cheesy & easy too -- & oh so very, very good:

IMG_4043Thick-&-Zesty Kid-Friendly Ground-Beef Lasagne:  Recipe yields 8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid,; large spatula; large spoon;  13" x 9" x 2" casserole dish; plastic wrap (optional); aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d16c4a48970cCook's Note: Do you have a favorite casserole recipe?  You know "the one".  The one your family loves, the one you take to potluck, the one you donate to a good cause, the one you give to a sick friend -- the one you've made so many times you've got the recipe committed to memory.  Every really good cook or chef will admit they have at least two or three "go to" casserole recipes in their repertoire.  I'm no exception and this one is at the top of my short list.  Try my ~ Baked Ziti Casserole w/Sausage & Four Cheeses ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)

01/09/2022

~Eat Some, Freeze Some, Easy Chicken Soup Bowls~

IMG_4188Simply stated, every recipe does not have to be a rocket science recipe -- it simply has to taste, without compromise, great.  If the end justifies the means, and in the case of this recipe it does, there's no shame in a shortcut or three -- and, to prove my point, I now have eight, four-cup containers of chocked-full-of-chicken-and-vegetables soup in my freezer, which will see me nicely through the upcoming snowstorms until the Spring thaw.  This soup is every bit as tasty as grandma's old-fashioned chicken soup, it's just a lot less time consuming to make.

All I have to do:  Thaw, reheat & bring on some egg noodles.

IMG_4175For this easy chocked-full-of-chicken & vegetables soup:

IMG_4121For the soup stock:

3  pounds chicken tenderloins

12  cups water

1  32-ounce box each: Kitchen Basics original chicken stock and original beef stock*

1  tablespoon each:  Herb-Ox granulated chicken bouillon and beef bouillon*

1  tablespoon each:  garlic and onion powder and sea salt

1 1/2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

*Note:  You are not imagining things, I am adding beef stock and beef bouillon to this chicken soup recipe.  Yes, it is a bit unconventional, but, when one is making a quick chicken soup from boxed stock and boneless, skinless chicken (without the all-flavorful bones), one has to add a bit of strong base flavor -- and that comes in the form of beef stock.  While you shouldn't ever make chicken soup using all beef stock (it's just to strong), when its strength gets diluted with chicken stock, it is a great flavor enhancer.   Please trust this well-seasoned cook on this point.  

IMG_4131For the add-ins

2  generous cups diced yellow or sweet onion (12 ounces)

2  generous cups diced celery (12 ounces)

4  generous cups peeled and 1/4" coined carrots (1 1/2 pounds after trimming)

6  generous cups peeled and 3/4" cubed gold potatoes (3 pounds after peeling)

IMG_4119 IMG_4119 IMG_4119~ Step 1.  Place all of the ingredients for the soup stock, as listed, in a wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot (the chicken tenders, water, boxed stocks, bouillons, and all the dry spices).  Using a large spoon, give the mixture a thorough stir.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then, reduce heat to a gentle but steady simmer.  Partially cover the pot and continue to simmer for 1 full hour.  While the chicken is simmering in the stock, use this time to prep the add-ins as directed.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_4141 IMG_4141~ Step 2.  Using a large slotted spoon, remove the chicken tenderloins from the stock and place them on a plate.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow them to steam-cool until they can be handled with the hands, about 5-10 minutes.   Uncover the chicken tenderloins.  Using your fingertips, pull the meat into bite-sized bits and pieces .

IMG_4138 IMG_4138 IMG_4138 IMG_4138~Step 3.  Add all of the add-ins to the stock (onions, carrots, celery and potatoes).  Give the mixture a thorough stir, then, bring the mixture to a boil over high eat.  Reduce heat to a gentle but steady simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes, or until the carrots and potatoes are cooked through and tender. Add all of the pulled chicken and continue to cook for 5 more minutes, just to heat the chicken through.  If you have the time, turn heat off, cover pot and allow soup to steep for 1-2 hours, to allow all the flavors time to marry into the vegetables.

IMG_4173 IMG_4173~ Step 4.  Serve soup ladled over egg noodles, or, portion into 8, 1-quart freezer-safe containers with tight-fitting lids. Refrigerate several hours or overnight, then, freeze.  Tip:  Refrigeration prior to freezing prevents/eliminates freezer burn.

Eight quarts of clear-brothed, bold-flavored, rich, hearty soup:  

IMG_4170 2Ladle over cooked egg noodles & enjoy every last slurp:

IMG_4193Eat Some, Freeze Some, Easy Chicken Soup Bowls:  Recipe yields 8 quarts chicken vegetable soup.

Special Equipment List:  wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot w/lid; cutting board; large spoon; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; large slotted spoon; plastic wrap; soup ladle; 8, 1-quart size freezer and microwave safe food storage containers w/tight-fitting lids; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b0278806529d9200dCook's Note:  If you've ever envisioned yourself being a restaurant chef, be careful what you wish for:  the pots are big, the load is heavy.  There's more.  As a home cook, in terms of slicing, dicing, chopping and mincing, you won't have any line cooks to perform those menial tasks for you.  Don't get me wrong (I'm not trying to talk you out of this), big batch cooking isn't necessarily hard, but, more-often than not, it is time consuming -- in many instances, it's prudent to do the majority of the prep work on one day and the actual cooking the next, so, be sure to schedule enough time.  Past that, it's also necessary to invest in some big-batch restaurant-sized equipment.  When armed with the right recipe, the right mindset, and the right equipment, the big batch reward is great. That said, preparing a big batch of almost anything is a bit different from regular cooking.  To learn why it's different, read my post ~ What to Consider Before Cooking in Big Batches ~.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)