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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

06/14/2022

~ Frank's RedHot Sauce and RedHot Wing Sauce ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d22f3f44970cFrank's RedHot is synonymous with Buffalo chicken wings.  Why? Frank's was the secret ingredient used in the original Buffalo chicken wing sauce recipe created at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY in 1964 by Frank and Teresa Bellisimo.  Fast forward to present day -- Simply wander into a bar, any bar, anywhere in America.  Buffalo wings are on the pub grub menu.  It's remarkable.  No description is necessary.  You know you're getting unbreaded, deep-fried wingettes and drumettes coated in a vivid-red vinegar-based cayenne pepper and butter sauce.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09489f1f970dThere are three stories regarding the invention of Buffalo wings and all come from members of the family, close friends and loyal bar patrons:

1)  Their son Dominic arrived late at night with a few hungry college buddies.  Teresa needed a fast snack and threw some chicken wings (which would normally be used to make chicken stock) in the deep-fryer and tossed them with some hot sauce and melted butter.  

2)  There was a mis-delivery of wings instead of backs and necks (which Teresa used to make the bar's spaghetti sauce.  Faced with tossing them out or taking up freezer space, Frank asked Theresa to come up with a use for them.  

3)  Dominic was working late in the kitchen on a Friday night and folks were still ordering a lot of drinks.  He wanted to do something nice for the patrons (who were mostly Catholic) and Teresa came up with the idea of wings, as it was after midnight and they were able to eat meat again.

In 1977, Buffalo officially declared July 29th, Chicken Wing Day.

By the 1980's, Buffalo wing sauce was being applied to a list of other food creations too: "Buffalo" chicken dip, "Buffalo" chicken quesadillas, "Buffalo" chicken salad (one of my personal favorites), "Buffalo" chicken pizza, "Buffalo" popcorn chicken and shrimp, and, "Buffalo" chicken fingers, nuggets and fries.  If it's got "Buffalo" in the name, it's got Buffalo sauce in it, on it, or alongside it. There's even "Buffalo"-flavored potato chips (sorry -- not one of my favorites).

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8a539ea970bIt was inevitable that Frank's would start bottling and mass marketing their wing sauce.  Several other brands followed suit too.  For my taste, Frank's is #1.  That said, my husband likes a brand called Texas Pete.  Crystal is popular with a lot of folks, and, of course, there's an Anchor Bar wing sauce too.

< I borrowed this photo from the Serious Eats website.  They conducted a taste test of seven brands and wrote an interesting, in-depth article about it.  Read it.

The difference between hot pepper sauce and wing sauce.

The four bottles pictured above were the top four in the Serious Eats wing sauce taste test.  Aside from their #1, Anchor Bar, (which I've not tasted), I have tried the other three (and their cayenne pepper sauces too).  I use Frank's because it is my favorite (and it's worth noting the winner of Serious Eats best hot pepper sauce taste test).  So, what is the difference between bottled hot pepper sauces and wing sauces?  Wing sauces simply have butter flavoring added to them.

While bottled wing sauce is convenient, you're getting butter flavoring rather than real butter.  If it is convenience you need, go for it -- bottled wing sauces taste just fine unless your tasting them side-by-side one made with real-deal melted butter.  Interestingly enough, if you take the time to read the back label on any bottle of cayenne pepper sauce, you'll find instructions for making wing sauce -- and it simply says to mix their hot sauce with some amount of melted butter.

Try my Frank's-Style Buffalo-Style Chicken Wing Sauce:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09482ff0970d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

06/11/2022

~Defining Neapolitan, New York & Sicilian-Style Pizza~

IMG_7184I never met a pizza I didn't like, and, pizza is one of my favorite subjects.  That said, a great pizza starts with a great crust, but, finding a pizza dough recipe to suit your requirements is not as easy as the ingredients list indicates:  flour, water, salt, yeast, and sometimes sugar and/or olive oil. Cooks who take pizza making seriously have more than one pizza dough recipe in their repertoire because certain pizzas require a certain type of crust -- there's no getting around it.  Beyond that, within each type, everyone who takes pizza making seriously, professionally or at home, makes their dough a bit differently -- there's no getting around that.  Pizza dough and pizza is personal -- there's no getting around that either.  That said, if you are new to pizza dough, sans a lot of the chemistry and science behind pizza dough, here's a bit of helpful background:  

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d16f592d970cThe three best-known Italian-style pizzas are:  1)  Neapolitan Pizza:  A simple dough containing high-gluten flour, water, salt and yeast that gets a long 2-3 day rise in the refrigerator.  Baked hot and fast, in 1-2 minutes, it's got a thin crispy bottom and a super-airy, chewy center.  2)  New York-Style Pizza: A more complex dough containing all-purpose or bread flour, water, olive oil, salt, sugar and yeast that gets a shorter 8-12 hour rise in the refrigerator.  Baked in a slightly more moderate oven for a longer period of time, 12-15 minutes, while crisp, it's tender, slightly-chewy center makes it pliable enough to fold in half.  While still a thin crust pizza, it is slightly thicker than its Neapolitan cousin.  3) Sicilian-Style Pizza:  Containing the same ingredients as New York-Style pizza, this distinctively thick-crust, square-shaped pizza gets baked with little or no rising time and is the easiest of the three to duplicate in the home kitchen.  It gets patted out into a rectangular pan or sheet tray that has been slathered with olive oil, which when baked in a moderate-for-pizza oven (350-375 degrees) for 12-15 minutes literally fries the bottom of the crust to a crispy state.  With a golden, crisp-fried bottom and a thick, soft, chewy center, this one is, perhaps, my favorite.

Try my favorite Sicilian-Style Semolina Pizza dough recipe:

6a0120a8551282970b026bdec0a27b200cTry my A-1 All-Purpose Bread-Machine Pizza Dough Recipe:

6a0120a8551282970b026bde9755bf200c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

06/08/2022

~Detroit-Style Brick Cheese Pizza is All About the Pan~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb098b4233970dLong story short, Detroit-style pizza is a rectangular-shaped deep-deep-dish pan pizza -- it is a descendent of the rectangular-shaped Sicilian-style pizza.  That said, in the case of this specialty pizza, it really is all about the pan -- the man pan.  Without the pan, one can't really appreciate the full experience.  Luckily, the pans are easy to fine online and very affordable too.  Read on:

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

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8e8a675970bThe history of Detroit-style pizza is a tale about a man and his (idea of a) pizza pan, and, pizza-loving residents of the Motor City have been fighting over a corner slice of this pizza since 1946. Gus Guerra, owner of a neighborhood bar, Buddy's Rendezvous, decided to "throw" his wife Anna's mother's Sicilian-style pizza dough into a unique, rectangular-shaped, deep-sided, blue-steel pan that was originally used to hold auto parts. Topped with pepperoni, Wisconsin brick cheese and sauce (in that order), Gus's pizza emerged with a thick, soft, airy crust with a crispy exterior and caramelized edges.  It would soon be affectionately named Detroit Pizza. The legend is that Gus was given his initial pans from a friend and customer who worked in an auto factory.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb098b4073970dBrick cheese, which is native to Wisconsin, is also available on-line, and, while you don't need it to make Detroit-style pizza, it's fun to order some and try it along with your new pan.  It's white to pale yellow in color and can range from sweet, buttery and mild when young, to strong, sharp and savory when aged.  It  melts great, which means it can be used in a wide variety of of other dishes too.  For starters, it goes great with crackers and fruit. It's the kind of cheese you want on your pizza, in your mac n' cheese, in your grilled-cheese sandwich, and, potatoes gratin.

Try my Detroit-Style Brick Cheese & Pepperoni Pan Pizza:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8e8a64b970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

06/05/2022

~Welsh Rarebit or Rabbit = the Original Cheese Toast~

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d01e02970cSay cheese please -- lots and lots of hot and bubbling, oooey, gooey cheese please.  If those words got you salivating, try these on for size:  a savory cheese sauce made from sharp cheddar cheese, egg yolk, Worcestershire sauce, English mustard and beer slathered onto thick-slices of toasted bread and broiled until bubbly.  Here in America, when a cheesy craving hits us, we treat ourselves to an all-American grilled cheese sandwich.  The British have a different twist on it, and Welsh rarebit is referred to as the original cheese toast (or cheese on toast).

Welsh rarebit (pronounced rabbit) is a traditional British dish made by ladling a thickened, sometimes roux-based, cheese sauce over crustless, thick-sliced ever-so-slightly-toasted bread, then quickly broiling the two until the sauce is bubbling and barely-light-golden.  Basic rarebit sauce is made by melting a hard English cheese (like cheddar, gloucester, cheshire or lancashire) with cayenne pepper, English mustard, a splash of Worcestershire sauce, milk and beer.  Another, easier (cheaters) method, it to simply melt sliced cheese atop lightly-toasted bread that has been slathered with mixture of softened butter, mustard, Worcestershire and cayenne pepper. 

Welsh rabbit is the original name, and, the dish is Welsh in origin, dating back to the 1700's.  The Welsh, who are famous for their love of cheese, claim to be among the first to use cheese in various dishes and sauces.  In their food world, the original name, rabbit, was an affectionate way to say, "we prefer eating cheese to eating rabbit".  In their real world, Wales was an impoverished nation and many a Welshman couldn't afford even the cheapest meat.  Others claim the original name, after making its way into English kitchens, was meant to cast aspersions on the Welsh, who were allegedly not adept at catching rabbits -- and "rabbit" changed to "rarebit" spurred by the need for political correctness.  Still others claim the Welsh peasants, who weren't allowed to eat the rabbits caught during the hunts on the estates of the nobles, eating melted cheese and bread as a substitute, named the dish.  Culinary authorities, like Auguste Escoffier, say the spelling was changed from "rabbit" to "rarebit" merely to emphasize it not being a meat dish.

Say Cheese Please -- Try my recipe for Perfect Welsh Rarebit:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d01ceb970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

06/02/2022

~My Frittata Formula -- To Feed Two, a Few or a Crew~

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d26904a1970cLearning to make a frittata is a valuable culinary lifeskill.  Commonly referred to as the Italian version of an omelette, a frittata is a concoction of whisked eggs and cream, sliced, diced or chopped previously-cooked vegetables, meat or seafood and/or grated cheese.  I prefer to compare it to a custard-like quiche without a crust rather than an omelette because, like a quiche, a frittata is traditionally round and rather thick -- not at all elongated and comparatively flat (like the French and American omelettes).  There's more.  I think of an omelette as something that goes from stovetop to table in a few short moments -- something that will get you fed in a hurry with no stress and little mess.  That's not the case with frittata, which takes 30+ minutes.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09809192970dThe Italian word frittata derives from the word friggere, which roughly means "fried.  This is why frittata is traditionally associated with a skillet, namely a cast-iron skillet.  If a casserole dish is more convenient, by all means use one -- simply season and sauté your fillings ingredients in a skillet, and toss them into the bottom of a casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick spray, add the whisked egg and cream mixture and bake as directed.   To make three sizes of frittata in either an oven-safe, deep-sized cast-iron skillet or in a casserole, measure as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09810388970d

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

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09810334970dThe egg mixture is poured into the same oven-safe skillet (usually cast-iron), the vegetables and or meats have been cooked or placed in.  The Frittata is started on the stovetop for a few moments, just long enough to allow the bottom of the mixture to solidify a bit, then finished in a moderate oven for 30-45 minutes depending on its size and the recipe.  That said, a frittata can be prepared in the skillet entirely on the stovetop, or, in a casserole entirely in the oven (usually to make a large-size frittata).  Frittata can be served directly from the pan, but, family-friendly-sized frittata is often inverted onto a platter, to reveal its golden crust, then sliced into wedges.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09810344970d

 

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

For those times when you just gotta have frittata, try my recipe for:  Italian Sausage, Bell Peppers 'n Onions Frittata:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8ddd4d0970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/29/2022

~ Mel's Savory Bread-Machine-Brioche French Toast ~

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a734c2200bBecause I make brioche in my bread machine about once a week, the long task of baking brioche from scratch is a non-issue for me.  Not only do I have great bread on-hand all the time, this enables me to make remarkably awesome French toast any damned time I want to.  That said, not being a sweet-seeking kinda morning girl, I love to make a savory version of French toast by soaking thick slices of the brioche (which is enriched with milk, eggs, butter, sugar and salt) in a tangy, whole-grain mustard-laced milk and egg mixture.  It's marvelous served with grilled ham slices, fried bacon or sausage, along with eggs cooked in any manner I fancy them.

In the event you haven't learned this by now, the French words for "French toast" are "pain perdu", meaning "lost bread", because it is a way of reviving bread which becomes dry after a day or two.  The basics of any French toast recipe are pretty simple:  Thickly-sliced, 2-3-day old bread is dipped into a flavored egg/cream sweet or savory mixture, then fried in a skillet containing a coating of oil or a combination of butter and oil.  When executed correctly, it emerges from the skillet crisp and golden brown on both sides with a creamy center.  It's a decadent indulgence.

Great bread + three easy-peasy steps = a terrific breakfast. 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4828282200dFor my savory French toast:

6,  3/4"-thick slices, 2-3 day old bread machine brioche

4  jumbo eggs

1  cup half and half

2  tablespoons whole-grain mustard

1  teaspoon each:  dry English mustard, Herbes de Provence and sea salt

1/2  teaspoon peppercorn blend 

4-6   tablespoons peanut or corn oil, for frying

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a722df200b 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a722df200bStep 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk the eggs, half and half, whole grain mustard, English mustard, herbes de Provence, sea salt and peppercorn blend.  For six slices of bread, the magic measurement is 2 cups of liquid.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a7259f200b 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4828818200d 6a0120a8551282970b0240a45958df200c 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4828bdf200d 6a0120a8551282970b0240a45958e7200c~Step 2.  Arrange bread slices in 13" x 9" x 2" casserole -- overlapping is ok.  Pour egg mixture over bread and wait 2-3 minutes.  Flip bread slices over on their second sides and wait another 2-3 minutes.  Flip the bread over again, then, maybe once more, to make sure each slice is thoroughly coated and almost all liquid has been absorbed.  Briefly set aside.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4828c78200d 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a72a3f200b 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a72a43200b 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a72a47200b 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a72a4b200b~Step 3.  Preheat just enough oil to thinly-coat the bottom (about 1/16") of a 16" electric skillet over 260°-275° (medium on the stovetop).  Add the egg-soaked bread and gently cook, about 2-3 minutes per side, using a spatula to flip it over only once, until golden on both sides.  Turn the heat off and transfer the French toast to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Great bread + 3 easy-peasy steps = great breakfast for dinner!

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4596295200cMel's Savory Bread-Machine-Brioche French Toast:  Recipe yields 3 large servings or 6 smaller servings. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 16" electric skillet; spatula; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b0240a48299aa200dCook's Note:  I won't lie, I don't love steak and eggs for breakfast.  I don't hate it, I just like bacon, sausage or ham better in the morning -- there is just something about porcine in the AM that makes me happy.  That said, I do like a steak omelette for dinner.  In fact, it's one of my favorite 'breakfast for dinner' meals. Don't try to psychoanalyze this -- it makes no sense.  Let's move on. ~ Steak, Peppers & Cheddar Chimichurri Omelette ~.

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

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

05/26/2022

~Curry-Up with a Summertime Curried Chicken Salad~

6a0120a8551282970b022ad36f72e5200cJust like I have preferences in movies, I have preferences in chicken salads. I prefer white-breast- over dark-thigh- meat, roasted chicken over poached, greasy rotisserie chicken makes me cringe, and, I want my chicken hand-pulled instead of diced or cubed, because the latter looks plasticy and fake.  Error on the side of under-dressing mine, as I want to taste the chicken, but yes, by all means, please add some lightly-toasted seeds or nuts for crunch.  I enjoy it served as a forkable salad or as a sandwich, but, if served as a salad I want it on tender soft lettuce leaves, and if served as a sandwich, I want it on soft-textured bread --  bibb lettuce and croissants are ideal.

When it comes to chicken salad, it's all about the chicken.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c92e1f14970bJulia Child said, "you can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by their roast chicken." I concur. If chicken is dry, I won't touch it.  It's gotta be moist, fork tender, nicely-seasoned, and, for chicken salad, snowy white. Poaching breasts or tenders in a mild court bouillon accomplishes that (and feel free to do it), but, there is nothing tastier than the juicy white meat pulled away from the breast bone of a perfectly-roasted whole chicken:  ~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken ~.

My recipe is written to make two servings.

Because I prefer to eat chicken salad after being chilled 2-4 hours or the same day it's prepared, although the next day is ok too, I don't much enjoy it past that point, so I only make as much as I need, which is enough for 2 days.  As written, my recipe makes two very generous servings -- three smaller servings.  Want to make more?  Do the math with the help of this:

1/2 of a whole chicken breast split in half = about 8-9 ounces

8-9 ounces chicken breast = about 2 cups pulled chicken

2  cups pulled chicken breast = about 2 servings

2  servings my curried chicken salad = about 2 3/4-3 cups

2 servings = enough to generously fill 4 mini or 2 large croissants

6a0120a8551282970b022ad36f67e4200c1/2 of a whole roasted chicken breast, pulled into bite-sized pieces, about 2 cups

1/2  cup medium-diced celery

6  tablespoons raisins, golden or dark, your choice

3  tablespoons  small-diced roasted & salted cashews

1/2  cup high-quality mayonnaise

2  tablespoons Patek's sweet mango chutney

2  teaspoons Madras curry powder

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated onion flakes

2-4  soft bibb lettuce leaves per salad or sandwich, depending on size of lettuce leaves

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3959bb1200d 6a0120a8551282970b022ad36f6ac6200c 6a0120a8551282970b022ad36f6ad3200c 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3959bbc200d 6a0120a8551282970b022ad36f6adc200c~Step 1.  Place chicken, celery, raisins and cashews in a medium bowl. Set aside.  In a small-capacity food processor fitted with steel blade, place mayonnaise, chutney, curry powder and onion flakes.  With motor running, process until thoroughly combined, 45-60 seconds.  Using a rubber spatula, transfer mayo mixture to chicken mixture and gently fold all the ingredients together.  Cover and place in the refrigerator until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.

Serve in a pretty bowl on a bed of lettuce leaves with a fork:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad36f94cc200cCurry-Up with a Summertime Curried Chicken Salad:  Recipe yields 2 3/4-3 cups curried chicken salad.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small capacity food processor; rubber spatula; 3-4-cup size food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b52270200bCook's Note:  ~ A Peachy All-White-Meat 'Melanie' Chicken Salad ~ is another example of how persnickety I am about my chicken salad.  This one is modeled after the famous Marshall Field's department store's chicken salad dressed with their Maurice dressing.

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

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

05/23/2022

~My Simon & Garfunkel Seasoning for Poultry or Pork~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb090a6a0d970dStore-bought seasoning blends and bottled sauces.  Every home cook has their favorite brands and there is no shame in that.  I am no exception.  When pressed for time, some days I reach for a container of Chef Paul Prudhomme's Meat Magic and other days a bottle K.C. Masterpiece will do just fine.  When correctly paired together, a high-quality store-bought spice blend and bottled sauce can be a busy cook's best time saver.  That said, all serious cooks make the time to prepare their favorite homemade concoctions too.  I am no exception, and, at any given time, if you peek into my pantry or refrigerator, you're bound to find a few that I keep on-hand.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1f01c61970cSimon & Garfunkel Seasoning.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme + a little granulated garlic, sea salt and pepper too.  Quickly mix them all together and you've got a dynamite seasoning blend for pork -- it's great on the other white meat, poultry, and, vegetables too.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0909c696970dPair it with any type of sweet and savory sauce and you've got the makings for all sorts of great grill-meals -- chops, ribs & kabobs (and I love it on potatoes too).  To be honest, it's a pleasant change-of-pace from the typical chile-powder-based blends that hook up with tomato-based barbecue sauces in the end to flavor our porcine and poultry. Everyone loves them, including me, but, let's face it, it's going to be a long, hot Summer.  It's time to add something new to your grill-meal rotation:  A unique seasoning blend with your favorite sauce combination

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0909c851970d2 teaspoons each: dried parsley flakes, rubbed dalmatian sage, crushed rosemary, thyme leaves, granulated garlic powder and cracked black pepper

4 teaspoons sea salt

Tip from Mel:  Don't throw those empty bottles of dried herbs and spices away.  Hang onto them to use for your own concoctions.

Try my Herbed Chicken or Pork Kabobs:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0909e769970dAnd my Herbaceous Simon & Garfunkel Roasted Potatoes:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1c1204b970cMy Simon & Garfunkel Seasoning for Poultry or Pork:  Recipe yields about 6 tablespoons herbed seasoning blend for poultry, pork or vegetables.

Special Equipment List: small bowl; spoon; shaker-type spice container container 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c87ff653970bCook's Note: While I like fruit desserts as much as the next person, I like savory fruit sauces just as much, and, peaches lend their sweet and tart flavor to barbecue sauce, which complements poultry or pork, amazingly well.  I make peach preserves every year, so I have them on-hand in my freezer all year -- it's a delicious way to make use of an overabundance in a hurry. Peach preserves, combined with bits of sweet onion star in my luscious recipe for ~ Peachy Keen BBQ Sauce for Poultry or Pork ~.

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

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

05/20/2022

~The Difference between Frozen-Custard & IceCream~

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3992021200bThe Summer holidays are just around the corner.  Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day -- they are indeed our country's Summertime patriotic big-three, but, all are also associated with laid-back atmospheres full of fun activities shared family, friends and, of course, food.  Whether it be an outdoor picnic in the grass under a shade tree at the park, or on a blanket on a sandy beach, or eating from grill-to-table around the backyard pool or on the patio, or, simply story-telling in the night-air gathered around the campfire, nothing screams Summer like a scoop or two of home-churned ice-cream or custard heaped into a crispy cone or atop a slice of pie.

During June, July and August and into September, we will all most likely eat more ice cream than we did during the past nine months.  In my kitchen, during the next few 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.

The difference between ice cream & frozen custard:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3992047200bStore-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.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39931a4200bFrozen 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:

Frozen 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.

Try my Old-Fashioned Vanilla-Custard Ice-Cream Base:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3794919200dAnd my Old-Fashioned Chocolate-Custard Ice-Cream Base:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39a9394200bOr, my Old-Fashioned Very Strawberry-Custard Ice-Cream Base:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad37bb114200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/17/2022

~Retro Casseroles: àla King, Divan, Tetrazzini & Tuna~

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d24259f9970cNow retro, chicken àla king, chicken divan, chicken tetrazzini and tuna-noodle casserole are four of my favorite vintage recipes.  When one writes a cooking blog long enough, one learns that sharing vintage recipes is as important as sharing trending, innovative new ones.  Experience has taught, "what's old is always new to someone", and cooks of all experience levels appreciate learning about it.  Experience has also taught: "what's old has often been lost to someone", as many times, these retro classics, which evoke fond memories, have been lost (grandma never taught it, shared it, or worse, never wrote it down), or, it got tossed (instead of being handed down from generation to generation).  I am grateful mom and grandma gave me their recipes.

My recipe for All-American Chicken à la King:

6a0120a8551282970b0278807e25c1200dÀ la king is a refined, American restaurant dish consisting of poached white-meat chicken or turkey stirred into a silky sherry-cream béchamel-type sauce containing mushrooms, and, green peppers (peas are substituted by people who don't care for peppers).  Classically, it's served served over toast points, puff pastry or rice (noodles or pasta are acceptable substitutions). 

My recipe for Classic & Comforting Chicken Divan:

6a0120a8551282970b0282e1551868200bChicken divan is a baked casserole containing poached white-meat chicken and blanched broccoli florets enrobed in béchamel sauce (it's called Morney sauce if cheese is added).  It was invented in the 1940's and was a popular, medium-budget chicken entrée on the menus of fine-dining restaurants and country club catering menus during the 1960's and 70's,

Get tangled up in my recipe for Chicken or Turkey Tettrazini:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c72478200dTetrazzini is a rich dish of cooked, stranded pasta (angel hair or thin spaghetti) tossed with chards of cooked poultry (all-white chicken or turkey breast) or pieces of succulent seafood (never red meat) enrobed in a sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce.  Lightly sautéed mushrooms (a requirement for the dish) get tossed in, along with some optional steamed peas and carrots too.

Tune into my Made-from-Scratch Tuna Noodle Casserole:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8b89322970bTuna Noodle Casserole is a classic 1950's retro dinner made from canned tuna, peas, onions, noodles and a creamy sauce (that in the past meant using canned cream of mushroom soup -- not in my recipe). Once in the casserole, it gets topped with with a crunchy layer of breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.  It was touted as a dish that was ready to eat in under 45 minutes.

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

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

05/14/2022

~ The Retro History of All-American Tuna Casserole ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8b89343970bTuna Noodle Casserole is a classic 1950's retro main-dish casserole dinner.  Casseroles became popular post WWII, and experienced their heyday in American home kitchens during the 1950's and into the 1960s (because the ingredients were inexpensive and readily-available at any supermarket).  The typical tuna casserole was made from a can of tuna, a can of vegetables, a package of egg noodles and a can of condensed cream-of-mushroom soup.  For the most part, the ingredients were quickly stirred together, right in the casserole dish, and were topped with with a crunchy layer of breadcrumbs, corn flakes or canned onions, and sometimes a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.  It was touted as a dish that, from start-to-finish was ready in 45 minutes.

The recipe most associated w/tuna casserole -- a can of tuna, a can of vegetables, a package of noodles & a can of soup -- was created by the Campbell's Soup Company in the 1940s.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8b891b4970bAlthough tuna noodle casserole is mainly associated with Middle America (the Midwest is known for its casseroles), the earliest printed recipes appeared two decades earlier in the Pacific Northwest.  The first, "Noodles and Tuna Fish en Casserole" appeared in 1930 in Sunset Magazine and was submitted by Mrs. W.F.S., who lived in Kennewick, Washington.  The same year, "Tuna Fish and Noodles Casserole" appeared as a menu item in The Modern Hospital Magazine (published by the American Hospital Association from 1913 to 1974).  Two years later, "German Noodles and Tuna Fish" appeared in The Cook Book of Many Lands (a cookbook published by the Americanization Department of Portland, Oregon's Parent-Teacher Association in order to help Portland women relate to their immigrant neighbors). All contain the same basic ingredients: tuna, vegetables, noodles and condensed soup.

FYI: The idea of flaking any type of white fish with a scratch-made white sauce and adding a buttery breadcrumb topping dates back to the late 1800s.  The name was: Cod à la béchamel.

A 1950s article referred to the dish as "as perfect casserole".

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d24259f9970cIt's no secret, there are no lukewarm feelings about tuna noodle casserole.  No one says, "I can take it or leave it".  Most people either passionately love it or passionately hate it.  My own mother fell into the latter category and flatly refused to prepare it.  I first encountered it in Home Economics class and developed an instant and unkind opinion of this "no skill required" meal. Decades later, writing my own cooking blog and producing a cooking segment on local television "forced my hand", meaning: it caused me to revisit the dish with a fresh outlook.  I set out to come up with a creamy and comforting made-from-scratch casserole (one that my husband Joe and I would enjoy).  I took the all the time necessary to create a rich, creamy, cheesy casserole topped with crispy, buttery bread crumbs, while taking into consideration it should be in keeping with the concept of this iconic, retro casserole.   

Try my recipe for Made-From Scratch Tuna Noodle Casserole:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8b89322970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/11/2022

~ The Retro History of All-American Chicken à la King ~

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a13fc6200cYou'd be surprised, perhaps not, how many folks think the same mixture that goes into pot pie, is the same mixture that gets used to make à la king.  It is not.  If the mixture it is similar to anything, it would be that contained in other all-American creations like chicken or turkey Divan, chicken or turkey Tetrazzini, and even tuna noodle casserole.  Read on to find out the difference:

À la king vs. pot pie -- À la king is not pot pie & vice versa.  

In its purest form, à la king is a refined, American restaurant dish consisting of perfectly-poached white-meat chicken or turkey stirred into a silky sherry-cream béchamel-type sauce containing mushrooms, and, green peppers (peas are commonly substituted by people who don't care for peppers).  Classically, it's served served over toast points, puff pastry or rice (with noodles or pasta being acceptable substitutions).  Pot pie is a very thick, gravy-like stock-based chicken stew that contains noodles or is topped with a pastry crust.  Worst case pot pie recipes are made using cream of chicken soup.  For those of you who are inclined to disagree with my assessment:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c84df5200dIn 1980, in a New York Times article, Craig Claiborne shared the original recipe for chicken à la king (reprinted from a brochure given to him by a reader).  Here is the original ingredients list:

butter, chopped green pepper, sliced mushrooms, flour, salt, cream,  poached chicken, egg yolks, onion juice, lemon juice, sherry, pimiento (for garnish), toast points (for serving)

Notice:  The original recipe contains no chicken stock, it is made with a cream-based béchamel-type sauce, and, pimientos are used as garnish, not a stirred-in ingredient (all of which are common misconceptions in modern day à la king recipes.

At the beginning of the 20th century, chicken à la king was the pinnacle of upscale comfort food in New York City.  In that era, almost anything with a vaguely-sounding French name was adopted by appetites of the rich and powerful.  That said, it's not French, and, there are several NYC restaurant chefs claiming the origin of the dish, most notably:  Delmonico's, the Brighton Beach Hotel, and, the Plaza.  The most credible account, however, is that it was created in the 1890's by a hotel cook, William "Bill" King, of the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia, as it appeared in his obituary in 1915, as well as a New York Tribune editorial written shortly thereafter.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49f1af0200cIn the 1950's, chicken à la king was a staple on the menus of elegant wedding receptions, expensive banquets, and, fancy sit-down in-home dinner parties all across America.  Sadly, as James Beard lamented in his 1972 book, James Beard's American Cookery, "chicken à la king, now usually prepared in a mediocre fashion, can be quite good if prepared with care, using fine ingredients."  This can be said of too many things we Americans eat, but, since I'm in the business of writing and publishing really-good, high-quality recipes, you'll find no mediocre shortcuts or ingredients in my version.

Dinner fit for a king.  Try my version of Chicken à la King:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4ca6a2e200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/08/2022

~The Retro History of All-American Chicken Tetrazzini~

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49def1d200cExperience has taught, "what's old is always new to someone", and cooks of all experience levels appreciate learning about it.  Experience has also taught: "what's old has often been lost to someone", as many times, these retro classics, which evoke fond memories, have sadly, been lost (grandma never taught it, shared it, or worse, never wrote it down), or tossed (instead of being handed down from generation to generation).  Tetrazzini, which is prepared in separate stages on the stovetop then finish-baked in the oven, is one such vintage recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49dec54200cTetrazzini is named after Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini.

A bit about Tetrazzini (teh-trah-ZEE-nee):  Tetrazzini is a rich dish combining cooked, stranded pasta (usually angel hair or thin spaghetti) tossed with chards of tender, cooked poultry (usually all-white chicken or turkey breast) or pieces of succulent seafood (never red meat) enrobed in a sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce.  Lightly sautéed mushrooms (a requirement for the dish) get tossed in, along with some optional steamed peas and carrots too.  Each individual-sized dish, or the entire casserole, gets sprinkled with sliced almonds and additional grated Parmesan, then broiled (individual dishes) or baked (a casserole) until a crunchy, bubbly and golden top forms. The airy combination of almonds and Parmesan (not heavy breadcrumbs) causes strands of exposed pasta to crisp up too, which makes this super-rich dish all the more charming.

All food historians agree that even though the dish contains pasta it is not Italian.  It is an all-American concoction.

All food historians agree on one thing: this dish is not Italian, it is an American concoction named after the Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini.  It is said to have been invented for her in 1908-1910 by chef Ernest Arbogast at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco, CA, where it is said she was either a regular guest or a long-time resident of the hotel.  I can find no specific documentation to say the dish prepared for her was made with poultry, as seafood, which is common to San Francisco, would make more sense.  A follow-up to this story is:  Luisa then gave the recipe for Spaghetti Tetrazzini to Louis Paquet, chef de cuisine at The McAlpin Hotel on Harold Square in NYC (the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1912), who made famous a chicken-based version. To muddle the dish's history up a bit, in October of 1908, Good Housekeeping magazine made references to Tetrazzini being served "in a restaurant on 42nd street" -- The Knickerbocker Hotel in NYC, located on the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street claims the rights to the recipe as well.

Tetrazzini = Stranded Pasta (Spaghetti) NOT Egg Noodles.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49d33c1200cUnfortunately, Tetrazzini took a slow downhill slide after that.  Spin-offs started turning it into a casserole made of of leftover poultry or canned tuna, which is totally, completely understandable, as we Americans love our casseroles.  I have no ax to grind with that, it's tasty and family-friendly, but it was not what the elegant Ms. Tetrazzini had in mind.   Read on, because the worst was yet to come.  The cream of mushroom soup, cream cheese and mayonnaise versions that replaced the silky sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce:  they were the death of the iconic dish.  

One last item:  Tetrazzini is made with stranded pasta/macaroni (any width will do but angel hair or spaghetti is most common), not egg noodles.  Egg noodles (a different product) = a noodle dish or a noodle casserole (example:  tuna noodle casserole) -- it's not Tetrazzini.  Got it? Good.

Get tangled up in my version of Chicken or Turkey Tetrazzini:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49def8e200c"We are all in this food world together" ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/05/2022

~The Retro History of Divine Divan Chicken Casserole~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bab6f0970bWhen I moved into my first apartment in 1974, Chicken Divan was the second meal I cooked -- lasagna was my first.  I didn't choose it randomly, it was a dish I loved to eat when I was growing up.  It was on page 306 of my bright red Betty Crocker's Cookbook.  "Betty" and the The Joy of Cooking were the only cookbooks I owned at the time and both served me, and continue to serve me, well.  Both contained wonderful recipes for my Divine Divan -- Betty Crocker's recipe was a bit less complicated, but, it was scratch-made (no cream of anything soup or mayonnaise).

6a0120a8551282970b01bb095d8e5e970dChicken divan is a baked casserole containing poached white-meat chicken and blanched broccoli florets enrobed in creamy béchamel sauce (it's called Morney sauce if cheese is added).  This rich-and-decadent creamy casserole was invented in the 1940's and was a popular, medium-budget chicken entrée on the menus of fine-dining restaurants and country club catering menus during the 1960's and 70's, which is where I originally encountered it. Chicken Divan is great served for brunch, lunch or dinner.  It can be baked in one large casserole and served family style, or, it can be baked in individual-sized casseroles to serve at a fancier gatherings.  It can be served with toast points, buttered noodles or steamed rice -- noodles are my favorite.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d243f1e0970cChicken divan is classic American. It was created in the 1940's in the Divan Parisienne Restaurant of New York City's Chatham Hotel by a chef named Lagasi.  He had entered his dish in a contest, and, after winning money for it, it became the hotel's signature dish.  In French the word "divan" means an elegant meeting place or great hall, and it was this meaning that caught the attention of the owners as they searched for a name implying continental elegance.  In America, the word "divan" had come to mean "sofa", and, in the 1940's and 50's, I have been told that in the Divan Parisien restaurant, diners ate at tables that were drawn up to small sofas (or divans).  Photo courtesy of Card Cow.

Try my Classic & Comforting Chicken Divan Casserole:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2447c33970cTry my Creamy & Comforting Retro Tuna Noodle Casserole too:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8b89322970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/02/2022

~ Kebab, Kabob, Shish Kabob and lots of Kababba ~

6a0120a8551282970b0278807b7ca5200d 2Kabbaba is the ancient Aramaic word meaning to char or to burn.  Medieval Persian soldiers, who used their swords as instruments to grill food over open fires in the field of battle, are credited with inventing kabobs.  It was only natural that this simple method of cooking food relatively fast on a "sikh" (a metal skewer), made its way into the kitchens of the royal houses, then onto the tables of the common folk and eventually into the streets, where vendors cooked and sold them for breakfast, lunch and dinner (where they untreaded them onto or inside some form of flatbread). 

Modern day kebabs are defined as sizzling, even-sized pieces of marinated-or-not skewered meat, poultry, seafood or vegetables that get grilled on a gas or charcoal grill, or over an open flame, or in a grill pan, or, any other heat source that floats your boat.   There's more.  Name a country or a culture and they have some form of skewered and grilled food on a wooden stick or metal skewer.  Think up a way to serve kabobs for breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner or midnight snack -- not a problem.  It it can be skewered, it can be done and it's lots of fun for all involved.

The words kebab, kabob and shish kabob all refer to the same thing -- say one or the other and folks know what to expect.  However, the spelling kabob is used mostly by North Americans (as we tend to spell as we pronounce -- phonetically).  That said, shish kebab is called shish kabob almost exclusively by just us Americans, who make it by threading a variety of meat, poultry, seafood and.or vegetable on each wooden stick or skewer -- it should go without saying, this method works, but, isn't ideal because like items cook uniformly, a variety of items do not. 

Try my Persian-Style Ground Beef or Lamb Kababba:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb092529f2970d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/29/2022

~ The History of the Italian-Style Spiedie Sandwich ~

6a0120a8551282970b0240a47ac9a0200dThe word Spiedie comes from the Italian word spiede, meaning skewered food that gets cooked on a spit.  As for their origin of this very unique marinated-then-grilled sandwich, three people seemed to have played a part in their creation and popularization.  An Italian immigrant, Camillo Lacovelli claims to have invented the original spiedie in Endwell, NY. Via his brother, Agostino "Augie" Lacovelli, who put spiedies on his Augie's Restaurant (located in Endicott, NY) menu in 1939, they gained local popularity.  Augie's son Guido Lacovelli, continued the family-owned business into the 1990's, operating as many as 26 restaurants at the peak of his career.

It was only natural for the spiedie sandwich to make its way to the big city of Binghamton -- its initial appearance was in 1947 at Sharky's Bar & Grill, owned by Peter Sharak.  The rest is history and Binghamton, is now the spiedie capital of the world, with an annual three-day Spiedie Festival and Balloon Rally that attracts over 100,000 people.  While the original Italian-style spiedie is still the most popular, spiedies have crossed cultural borders.  Variations in the marinade make it possible to make and serve them Asian-, Greek-, Jamaican-, Tex-Mex-, etc., style, and, eaten straight off the skewer or in salads or stir-fries, they're not limited to sandwiches anymore. 

As Philadelphia, PA = the cheesesteak capital of the world, &, Chicago, IL = the Italian-beef sandwich capital of the world...  Binghamton, NY = the spiedie capital of the world!

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4521163200cVisiting the Binghamton area not eating a spied sandwich would be like traveling to the Philadelphia or Chicago and not eating a cheesesteak sandwich or an Italian-beef sandwich.  Simply put, a spiedie consists of cubes of marinated chicken, pork, beef or lamb, skewered, char-grilled and served in a soft, hoagie-type roll (or a slice of Italian bread), with a bit of extra sauce (simmered marinade) drizzled on top.  The marinade is the star of the show and is similar to Italian dressing (containing oil, vinegar, paprika and a variety of Italian spices, including mint in many versions), which quickly caramelizes when it hits the grill, keeping the meat cubes tender on the inside.

 Use my Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Marinade:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4522254200cTo make my Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Sandwich:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a451a876200c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/26/2022

~ The History of Mexican-American Taco Bowl Salad ~

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4e5e79e200bServing taco salad in edible bowls is mealtime fun.  While they lend a festive, impressive "you cared enough to make the bowls" touch to the meal, they allow family and friends to add crunch to their salad as they work their way down, through and around all the goodies in the bowl. Speaking of goodies, taco salads come fully-loaded.  Pick and choose your favorite store-bought or made-from-scratch ingredients.  There's no right or wrong way to make taco salad -- just make it.

From a small tacup, the large taco salad was born. 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c05df9200dThe history of the taco-bowl salad, as per this book, Taco USA, How Mexican Food Conquered America:

The earliest record of taco salad dates back to the 1960's, with its predecessor being the small teacup-sized Tacup:  Ground beef, beans, sour cream and cheese served in a small bowl made entirely of Fritos.  

The Tacup was the creation of Fritos founder Elmer Doolin*, who invented all sorts of "strange stuff" spinned-off his Fritos: Frito sauce for meat, Frito Jell-O pie, Frito salad dressing, and, the Tacup (short for taco cup).  

Tacups were first served in Dallas, TX (where Doolin headquartered Frito), in the early 1950's, and by 1955, he was selling them in Fritos' flagship restaurant, Casa de Fritos, at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA.

The Tacup became popular enough that folks decided to make it bigger -- the taco salad, served in a full, main-dish-sized bowl was born.

*Doolin founded Fritos, bit its worth note that Fritos were a wholly Mexican creation, invented by an Oaxacon immigrant who sold his recipe and machine to Doolin in the 1930's.  It's also worth note that heading the Casa de Fritos were members of the Morales family, known for their XLNT tamale brand, and their family would go on to invent Doritos and the famous Doritos taco salad.

Try my version of the Taco-Tuesday Taco-Bowl Salad:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4980804200c"We are all in the food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/23/2022

~Hot Stuff -- Deep-Fried General Tso's Chicken Wings~

IMG_5487If you are a fan of Chinese-American cuisine and have a place in your heart for deep-fried chicken wings, welcome to this party.  This is not so much a recipe as it is a semi-homemade way to show ya'll a new crowd-pleasing twist on Buffalo-style chicken wings.  I'm not gonna lie.  All I do "for real" is deep-fry the chicken wings.  Past that I sauce them with my favorite store-bought General Tso's sauce then serve them over chicken-fried rice from my favorite Chinese restaurant.

General Tso's chicken, a Chinese-American creation of the latter 1970s, traces its roots to Pang's restaurant in New York City.  This spicy dish has a great history, and I for one am grateful to its creator, a Taiwanese Hunan-cuisine chef, Peng Chang-Kuei.  The dish also has a fun (but debunked) legend that claims the dish is named after Zuo Zongtang (1812-1885), a Qing Dynasty military leader and statesman, who lived with his wife in Xiangyin County the province of Hunan.

The secret to any General Tso's dish really is in the sauce:

6a0120a8551282970b0282e15259b8200bThe basic ingredients of General Tso's Chicken are indeed basic: dark chicken meat, shallots, rice wine vinegar, hot peppers, garlic and ginger.  The chicken pieces are breaded then deep-fried, then coated with a thick-ish slightly-sweet and spicy sauce.  The sauce, a bit more complicated, contains, water, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar, garlic and ginger.  The dish (mostly the sauce), varies depending on the cook or chef preparing it, meaning, creative license is usually taken to place the emphasis on sweet vs. spicy and vice versa.

Over time, inventive cooks and chefs have come up with creative variations on the original -- General Tso's meatballs, General Tso's chicken wings, and, General Tso's pork ribs (to name my favorites).  The secret to General Tso's  really is in the sauce, and, luckily, there are store-bought sauces and dry seasoning mixes and that turn a laborious task into a "walk in the park".

Three components + a deep-fryer  = dinner in 16 minutes.

IMG_54428  whole, unsectioned chicken wings

freshly-ground sea salt, for seasoning wings hot out of the fryer

1/2-3/4  cup store-bought General Tso's sauce, your favorite brand, for every batch of 8 whole, unsectioned chicken wings or 16-24 sectioned wings (flats and drumettes)

store-bought chicken fried rice, for accompaniment (optional)

IMG_5445 IMG_5445 IMG_5445 IMG_5445 IMG_5445 IMG_5445 ~Step 1.  Line any type of baking pan with several layers of paper towels.  Preheat oil in deep-fryer according to manufacturer's specs to 375º. Working in batches of 2-3 unsectioned wings or 4-6 sectioned wings (it's important not to overcrowd fryer basket), one-at-a-time lift each wing up and carefully lower it into the hot oil.  Close the lid on the fryer and fry wings for exactly 16 minutes.  Remove fryer basket to transfer wings to the baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Immediately season wings with a liberal grinding of sea salt.  Repeat this process until desired number of wings are deep-fried.

IMG_5473 IMG_5473 IMG_5473~ Step 2.  To sauce the wings, while the wings are still warm, use a pair of tongs to transfer them to a 1-gallon food-storage bag.  For every 8 whole, deep-fried unsectioned wings or 16-24 deep-fried sectioned wings (flats and drumettes), add 1/2-3/4 cup General Tso's sauce to the bag.  Seal the bag and toss the still-warm wings around in the sauce until wings are completely enrobed in the sauce.  Using the same pair of tongs, remove the wings from the bag.  Arrange wings on a serving platter or portion onto individual plates (atop a bed of optional chicken-fried rice) and serve immediately.  

Serve atop a bed of your favorite Chinese chicken-fried rice & turn General Tso's chicken wings into a full meal: 

IMG_5518Try My General Tso's Slow-Cooker Babyback Spareribs too:

IMG_5414Hot Stuff -- Deep-Fried General Tso's Chicken Wings:  Recipe yields instructions to make and serve as many chicken wings.

Special Equipment List:  deep-fryer preheated to 375° according to manufacturer's specification for preparing chicken wings; shallow baking pan; paper towels; 1 gallon food-storage bag; tongs

6a0120a8551282970b02942fa7050a200cCook's Note:  Chicken and waffles was a childhood favorite of mine.  Fast forward to adulthood -- it still is.  I love the Southern-style crispy-fried chicken kind and, the Yankee-style PA-Deutsch tender pulled-chicken w/gravy kind.  Cluck, cluck.  In my food world there's also a third variation:  Pub-grub-style deep-fried chicken wings and waffles.  On paper, this might sound like a rather strange duo, but, in reality, a steaming hot waffle with honey butter melting atop it is the ideal foil for some hot-out-of-the-deep-fryer RedHot-sauced Buffalo-style chicken wings.  Try my ~ RedHot & Honey Butter Chicken Wings & Waffles ~.

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

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

04/20/2022

~ My General Tso's Slow-Cooker Babyback Spareribs ~

IMG_5414General Tso's chicken, a Chinese-American creation of the latter 1970s, traces its roots to Pang's restaurant in New York City.  This spicy dish has a great history, and I for one am grateful to its creator, a Taiwanese Hunan-cuisine chef, Peng Chang-Kuei.  The dish also has a fun (but debunked) legend that claims the dish is named after Zuo Zongtang (1812-1885), a Qing Dynasty military leader and statesman, who lived with his wife in Xiangyin County the province of Hunan.

The secret to any General Tso's dish really is in the sauce:

6a0120a8551282970b0282e14fe6b3200bThe basic ingredients of General Tso's Chicken are indeed basic: dark chicken meat, shallots, rice wine vinegar, hot peppers, garlic and ginger.  The chicken pieces are breaded then deep-fried, then coated with a thick-ish slightly-sweet and spicy sauce.  The sauce, a bit more complicated, contains, water, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar, garlic and ginger.  The dish (mostly the sauce), varies depending on the cook or chef preparing it, meaning, creative license is usually taken to place the emphasis on sweet vs. spicy and vice versa.

IMG_5351Over the decades, inventive cooks and chefs have come up with creative variations on the original recipe -- General Tso's meatballs, General Tso's chicken wings, and, General Tso's pork ribs (to name my favorites).  The secret to General Tso's  really is in the sauce, and, luckily, there are  time-saving, store-bought sauces and dry seasoning mixes and that turn an otherwise laborious task into a "walk in the park".  These two are my favorites. 

Three components + Crockpot's casserole  = dinner in 4 hours.

IMG_53491  full rack baby back pork spareribs

1  packet General Tso's dry seasoning mix (about 3 tablespoons), your favorite brand

1  cup General Tso's sauce, your favorite brand

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing Crockpot casserole

IMG_5358 IMG_5358 IMG_5358 IMG_5358 IMG_5369 IMG_5369~Step 1. To prep the rack of ribs, remove them from the packaging and pat them dry in some paper towels and, using a paring knife, loosed then remove the silverskin from the underside of the 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 or quarters (3-4 portions).  Sprinkle both sides, top and bottom with the dry seasoning blend, then, walk away for about 15-30 minutes, to give the dry seasoning ample time to "work its magic" and absorb excess moisture from the surface of the rib sections.

IMG_5373 IMG_5373 IMG_5373 IMG_5373 IMG_5373~Step 2. Spray the inside of the crock casserole with no-stick cooking spray.  Arrange the ribs to fit, in one row and slightly overlapping.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle 3/4 cup  General Tso's sauce over the tops of the ribs.  Using the back of a tablespoon, "smoosh" the sauce around over the tops a bit.  Put the lid on the crockpot casserole.  

IMG_5386 IMG_5386 IMG_5386 IMG_5386~Step 3.  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 easily glide through and come out on the other side.

IMG_5401 IMG_5401 IMG_5401~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.  Open crockpot and remove the ribs, arranging them slightly apart on the baking pan.  Using a large pastry brush generously slather the the tops with the 1/4 cup additional barbecue sauce.  Finish ribs off under the broiler for 4-6 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and just starting to to show signs of light browning.  Watch carefully.  All barbecue sauces contain some form of sugar, which can and will go from lightly-browned to burned quickly.  Don't, just done, take your eyes off them after the 4 minute mark.

Plate & serve atop homemade or store-bought lo-mein:

IMG_5435My General Tso's Slow-Cooker Babyback Spareribs:  Recipe yields 1 rack spareribs/3-4 servings.

Special Equipment List: paper towels; paring knife; large chef's knife; Crockpot casserole; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; fork; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b02788040f2af200dCook's Note:  The machinations of making ribs in a slow cooker never seemed right to me -- kind of 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   Their rib abuse is why I never attempted it, but, there was never a doubt the slow cooker could achieve perfection.  Thanks to Crockpot's Casserole, I now have ~ The Best Way to Make Slow-Cooker Babyback Ribs ~. 

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

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

04/17/2022

~ The History & Four Recipes for Chicken & Waffles ~

IMG_5337
Chicken and waffles might be well-known and popular throughout our American South and the Midwest, but, it does NOT have its roots in either venue.  It indisputably has its roots in the early Pennsylvania Deutsch communities that settled along the Schuylkill River.  Growing up in Pennsylvania Deutsch county, tender pulled-chicken served atop steamy-and-light hot-off-the-waffle-iron waffles all drizzled with gravy, it was a childhood favorite of mine.  Read on:

When you say PA Dutch, we correctly say PA Deutsch:

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcafef88970bI am here to make it clear that Pennsylvania Dutch cookery does not belong solely to PA and it is not Dutch either.  The term "Dutch" was the early English settlers slang for the German word "Deutsch".  So:  When most people incorrectly say "Pennsylvania Dutch", they should be saying "Pennsylvania Deutsch", crediting the Germanic or German-speaking immigrants from Germany and Switzerland for this cuisine.  The majority of these people were either Amish, Mennonite or Brethren, all of which were considered "Anabaptist".  

In Pennsylvania Dutch country, chicken and waffles is a common Sunday supper (they call "dinner" "supper" there).  The concept most likely evolved from "fried catfish and waffle" dinners served in the Philadelphia area in eateries along the Schuykill River (whose supplying creeks were full of fresh catfish). The Schuylkill Hotel (founded in 1813) was the first well-known place, along with the Catfish and Waffle House, located at the Schuylkill Falls, which from 1848 into the early 1900's did a thriving business purely by word-of-mouth. It doesn't take much imagination to rationalize a reason for the people of the surrounding PA Dutch farming communities (a very close knit family-oriented people who kept to themselves and never went out to eat) to adopt this inexpensive style of hearty eating as their own by substituting perfectly-roasted or stewed farm-raised chickens served atop light and fluffy waffles.  It's a short leap to see them substituting fried chicken for fried catfish too -- to invent fried chicken and waffles --  and I am grateful for both.

Try my Pennsylvania Deutsch-style chicken & waffles...

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d6a5262970d... along w/my version of Southern-style fried chicken & waffles:

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcb142e9970bKids & adults adore my easy RedHot chicken wings & waffles:

IMG_5302For a different twist, Thanksgiving turkey & stuffing waffles!

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d23f7cf3970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/14/2022

~ RedHot & Honey-Butter Chicken Wings & Waffles ~

IMG_5302Chicken and waffles was a childhood favorite of mine.  Fast forward to adulthood -- it still is.  I love the Southern-style crispy-fried chicken kind and, the Yankee-style PA-Deutsch tender pulled-chicken w/gravy kind.  Cluck, cluck.  In my food world there's also a third variation:  Pub-grub-style deep-fried chicken wings and waffles.  On paper, this might sound like a rather strange duo, but, in reality, a steaming hot waffle with honey butter melting atop it is the ideal foil for some hot-out-of-the-deep-fryer RedHot-sauced Buffalo-style chicken wings.  Trust me, skip the French fries -- the switch to waffles with wings will change your life, so invite some friends to the party!

Chicken & waffles is indeed well-known throughout the South, but it undisputedly has it's roots in PA Deutsch country:

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d6a5262970dIn Pennsylvania Dutch country, chicken and waffles is a common Sunday supper (they call "dinner" "supper" there).  The concept most likely evolved from "fried catfish and waffle" dinners served in the Philadelphia area in eateries along the Schuykill River (whose supplying creeks were full of fresh catfish). The Schuylkill Hotel (founded in 1813) was the first well-known place, along with the Catfish and Waffle House, located at the Schuylkill Falls, which from 1848 6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcb142e9970binto the early 1900's did a thriving business purely by word-of-mouth. It doesn't take much imagination to rationalize a reason for the people of the surrounding PA Dutch farming communities (close knit family-oriented people who kept to themselves and never went out to eat) to adopt this inexpensive style of hearty eating by substituting roasted or stewed farm-raised chickens served on waffles.  It's a short leap to see them substituting fried chicken for fried catfish -- to invent fried chicken and waffles.

Four components, homemade or stress-free store-bought:

For each serving:

2-3 deep-fried unsectioned chicken wings, or, 4-6 deep-fried sectioned chicken wings, hot out of the deep-fryer

1-2 waffles, homemade or store-bought, hot out of the waffle iron or toaster

honey-butter, homemade or store-bought, for generously slathering on each waffle

Buffalo-style RedHot 'n honey wing sauce, homemade or store-bought, for drizzling over each serving of wings and waffles

Wing it -- serve dinner for breakfast or breakfast for dinner, wings & waffles make everyone happy anytime of day.

IMG_5317RedHot & Honey-Butter Chicken Wings & Waffles:  Recipe yields instructions to serve as many chicken wings w/waffles as you want to.

Special Equipment List:  deep-fryer preheated to 375° according to manufacturer's specification for preparing chicken wings; waffle iron or toaster for preparing waffles; hand-held electric mixer for preparing honey-butter; saucepan and whisk for preparing wing sauce 

IMG_5278Cook's Note:  There are two types of chicken-wing aficionados -- those who dredge their wings in a  flour-based blend of seasonings, and, those who do nothing at all -- the latter group is know as the wing purists.  Trust me on this next point: One method is not better than the other.  One method, no matter what the claim, does not produce crispier wings.  Dredging wings in a seasoned-flour mixture prior to deep-frying, vs. deep- frying wings in the classic manner, naked in a bath of seething hot oil, accomplishes only one thing:  a bit of seasoning on your wings and a few more calories on your hips.  It's a matter of  preference.  You really gotta try my Buffalo-style ~ RedHot Seasoning Dredge for Chicken Wings ~.

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

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

04/11/2022

~ My RedHot Seasoning Dredge for Chicken Wings ~

IMG_5278 2There are two types of chicken-wing aficionados -- those who dredge their wings in a  flour-based blend of seasonings, and, those who do nothing at all -- the latter group is know as the wing purists.  Trust me on this next point:  One method is not better than the other.  One method, no matter what the claim, does not produce crispier wings.  Dredging wings in a seasoned-flour mixture prior to deep-frying, vs. deep- frying wings in the classic manner, naked in a bath of seething hot oil, accomplishes only one thing:  a bit of seasoning on your wings and a few more calories on your hips.  It's a matter of  preference.  That said, if you are a person who prefers to eat your wings without them dripping in sauce, dredging your wings is the path you want to take.

If you like wings w/sauce to the side, the dry dredge is for you:

IMG_5273Feel free to make a big batch & keep it on-hand in your pantry:

IMG_52221  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon coarse sea salt

2-3  tablespoons RedHot seasoning blend, meaning less hot or more hot to your liking

8-12 unsectioned chicken wings, or, 16-24 sectioned drumettes and flats

freshly ground sea salt, for seasoning finished deep-fry-cooked wings

IMG_5233 IMG_5233 IMG_5233~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, place and stir together the flour, coarse sea salt and RedHot seasoning blend.  If you have a large cheese-shaker-type jar, transfer the mixture to it -- this will make it easy to apply.

IMG_5239 IMG_5239 IMG_5239 IMG_5239 IMG_5239 IMG_5239 IMG_5239~Step 2.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper.  Arrange the wings on the parchment.  Sprinkle the tops of the wings (liberally, but do not overdo it) with the flour mixture.  Flip the wings over and season the second sides.  Flip the wings back to their topsides and give the tops a second light sprinkle of the flour mixture.  Set pan aside, uncovered and at room temperature, for 30 minutes.

IMG_5260 IMG_5260 IMG_5260~ Step 3.  Preheat oil in deep-fryer according to manufacturer's specs to 375º. Working in batches of 2-3 unsectioned wings or 4-6 sectioned wings (it is very important not to overcrowd the fryer basket), one-at-a-time lift each wing up, give it a quick shake to remove any excess flour mixture, and drop it into the hot oil. Close the lid on the deep-fryer and fry wings for exactly 16 minutes.  Remove fryer basket from the hot oil and transfer wings to a baking pan or casserole dish that has been lined with several layers of paper towels.  Immediately, aka ASAP, season wings with a grind of sea salt.

Toss w/sauce or serve w/sauce for dipping or drizzling...

IMG_5277... or eat 'em w/no sauce at all -- they've got plenty of flavor:

IMG_5282Crispy outside & pull off the bone tender inside:

IMG_5291My RedHot Seasoning Dredge for Chicken Wings:  Recipe yields 1 1/4 cups seasoned flour dredge/eough for 12 unsectioned chicken wings, or, two dozen drumettes and flats.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; spoon; 2 cup cheese-shaker-type container; 17  1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; deep-fryer preheated to 375° according to manufacturer's specifications; 9" x 13" x 2" baking pan; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09482ff0970dCook's Note: Wander into a bar -- any bar, anywhere in America.  Buffalo wings are on the pub grub menu. No description is necessary.  You know you're getting unbreaded, deep-fried wingettes and drumettes coated in a vivid-red vinegar-based cayenne pepper and melted butter sauce.  They'll arrive with celery and carrot sticks, and either blue cheese or ranch dressing for dipping or drizzling.  You will likely be asked to specify if you want your wings coated in a mild, medium or hot version of their Buffalo-style sauce. Try my favorite version of ~ Frank's-Style Buffalo-Style Chicken Wing Sauce ~.

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

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

04/08/2022

~The Chinese-American General Tso's Chicken Story~

IMG_5195General Tso's Chicken is a staple on every Chinese-Americane eat-in and take-out menu.  I personally am grateful for that, as, every week or two I crave Chinese fare and rare is the occasion when sweet, savory and spicy General Tso's Chicken is not a part of my order. Sometimes I eat it with some chicken fried rice and steamed broccoli as a main course, other times I eat it as an appetizer or a snack, but, eat it I do -- it's addicting and I adore it.

The basic ingredients are easy-to-find & indeed basic:

IMG_5193The basic ingredients of General Tso's Chicken are indeed basic: dark chicken meat, shallots, rice wine vinegar, hot peppers, garlic and ginger.  The chicken pieces are breaded then deep-fried, then coated with a thick-ish slightly-sweet and spicy sauce.  The sauce, a bit more complicated, contains, water, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar, garlic and ginger.  The dish (mostly the sauce), varies depending on the cook or chef preparing it, meaning, creative license is usually taken to place the emphasis on sweet vs. spicy and vice versa.

The General Tso's legend & the real General Tso's story:

Legend has it this spicy dish is named after Zuo Zongtang (1812-1885), a Qing Dynasty military leader and statesman, who lived with his wife in Xiangyin County the province of Hunan.  It's said that the general's wife created the dish for him upon his return from a great battle, with the dish consequently becoming a favorite of his, which in turn got passed along to others in the local community and gained in popularity throughout Hunan province.  Unfortunately, there is no recorded connection of the dish to either the Province or to him, and, Zuo's descendants, who are still living in Xiangyin County, claim they've never heard of it.  That said, the legend is fun to know.

In actuality, this spicy dish was likely invented by Taiwanese Hunan-cuisine chef Peng Chang-Kuei, an apprentice to chef Cao Jingchen, a leading early 20th-Century Chinese chef.  Peng became and worked as the Chinese Nationalist Government's banquet chef, until he fled back to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War.  There he continued his career as the government's official chef until 1973, when he moved to New York City to open Peng's Restaurant on East 44th Street, where Peng made his newly created dish (made from commonplace ingredients), General Tso's Chicken, the house specialty.  A 1977 restaurant review of Pengs, mention's" "the General Tso's Chicken was a stir-fried masterpiece, sizzling hot both in flavor and temperature." 

General Tso's Chicken -- a stir-fried masterpiece -- sweet, savory & sizzling hot both in flavor & temperature.

IMG_5191"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/05/2022

~The Story Behind City Chicken -- aka Mock Chicken~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0915119b970dWhat looks like a chicken leg and tastes like chicken but isn't made from chicken?  City chicken. So, if it's not made from chicken, what is city chicken made from?  Coarse-ground pork and/or veal.  Still confused? You're not alone -- nowadays, many folks, even those who love to cook, have no idea what this intriguing, vintage, working-class main-dish is, or, the important part it played in our American culinary history.  Behind almost every recipe, there is a good story:

6a0120a8551282970b02788076d6bd200dDating back as early as the early 1900s, by the 1930s and '40s and into the '50s everyone knew what city chicken was.  Fast forward to present day, not so much, and even the iconic The Joy of Cooking, doesn't exactly clarify the dish for home cooks looking for a recipe.  

If one searches the index looking for "city chicken", and looks under "chicken", city chicken will not be there. That said, if one is looking for a generic pork or veal recipe, and looks under "pork or veal", they will stumble upon it referenced as "mock chicken or city chicken" (the recipe is on page 469).

City chicken -- A depression era meal born out of necessity. 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb091468d8970dA bit about chicken "sans volaille", which is French for chicken "without poultry":  City chicken is a depression era meal born out of necessity.  During the Presidential campaign of 1928, Herbert Hoover claimed that if he won, there would be "a chicken in every pot (and a car in every garage)" -- it was a promise of prosperity.  During that time period, unless you lived on a rural farm where you had the necessary space to raise a few chickens, chicken was very expensive to purchase, especially in the urban cities (chickens weren't raised in volume until the 1950's when refrigerated trucks could transport the poultry).  For city dwellers, it was only a wealthy man's family and guests that got to sit down to a well-appointed chicken dinner on a Sunday. That said, the slaughter houses (for pork, lamb, veal, and beef) were all located "in town", and the idea of fashioning the meat scraps into a makeshift faux-chicken drumstick became a cheap alternative.

Said to have originated in the city of Pittsburgh, butchers began placing inexpensive cubes of pork and veal along with a few wooden skewers in a package, so housewives could thread and fashion what (once dipped in an egg wash, dredged in breadcrumbs and baked or fried) mocked a chicken leg.  It was quite inventive.  Gravy was made from the pan drippings, mashed potatoes and a vegetable were served, and, the family enjoyed a very tasty, faux-chicken dinner.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09147e02970dIn Eastern Pennsylvania, where I grew up, my grandmother called it "chicken-on-a-stick", and she, in fact, did skewer cubes of pork and veal to make it.  In my lifetime, the cost of veal sky-rocketed, so I stopped including veal a while ago.

Back in the 1980's I became  friends with a meat-cutter here in Happy Valley who managed a popular mom and pop butcher shop.  While they 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09147ece970ddidn't sell city chicken "in the case", if you ordered it ahead, he and his wife would "make it up", and, a lot of caterers ordered large quantities to serve at big events.  Theirs was made from very coarsely ground pork (and veal too if you requested it and paid extra for it), and, it was formed in one of these nifty cast-aluminum gadgets (mine is pictured), with "chicken sans volaille" stamped on the side of it.

Coarse-ground pork &/or veal -- molded into the shape of a chicken leg, skewered, then sautéed in a skillet.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1fb5bc1970cTry my City Chicken -- It Literally is the Other White Meat:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09151a42970d 2"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/02/2022

~ Cheese-Stuffed Sausage and Mushroom Omelette ~

IMG_5154Nothing fancy, surely not gourmet, just three available-to-everyone ingredients, sausage, mushrooms and onions.  All three together as one, well, they're my favorite topping combo on a cheese- or double-cheese pizza, and, they're my favorite add-in combo to a cheese- or double-cheese omelette. For those two reasons alone I always keep my favorite brand of fully-cooked breakfast sausage, generic canned sliced-mushrooms and a sweet Vidalia onion or two on hand. Yes, my favorite toppings for my favorite pizza or bagel-bites snack pizza and my add-ins to my favorite omelette are indeed, always right at my fingertips -- and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Diced sausage, mushrooms and onion -- my favorite add-ins.  Feel free to substitute your three favorite add-ins.

IMG_5098For my favorite American-style omelette:

3  large eggs

4-6 tablespoons cup heavy cream

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon each:  freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend 

6  tablespoons fully-cooked small-diced breakfast sausage

4  tablespoons well-drained small-chopped sliced mushrooms

2 tablespoons small-diced yellow or sweet onion 

a generous 1/2  cup shredded Danish havarti cheese

1  teaspoon salted butter

IMG_5102 IMG_5102 IMG_5102 IMG_5102 IMG_5102 IMG_5102~Step 1. Prep the sausage, mushrooms and onions as directed, then use a box grater to shred the cheese and set it aside.  Crack the eggs into a 2-cup measuring container and add enough cream to total 3/4 cups total liquid (about 4 tablespoons). Add the spices:  the nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Using a fork, whisk vigorously, until thoroughly combined.  Add the add-ins:  the sausage, mushrooms and onions.  Whisk again.

IMG_5115 IMG_5115 IMG_5115 IMG_5115 IMG_5115 IMG_5115~Step 2.  In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Use the fork to briefly rewhisk the egg mixture, then pour it into the warmed skillet. By patiently manually lifting, lowering, and tilting the pan on and off the heat, allow the eggs to set a bit up and around the sloping sides of the skillet -- about 45 seconds w/no pressure to rush.

IMG_5130 IMG_5130Step 3.  Increase heat to medium.  In various spots around the entire perimeter of the skillet, slip a thin spatula under the setting eggs.  In each of those spots use the spatula to lift the eggs up, while, at the same time, tilting the pan in the direction of the spatula to allow the remaining liquid to flow down and into the setting eggs -- about 45 seconds over medium heat w/no pressure to rush.  The surface of the omelette should be semi-moist and glistening with no liquid or little liquid puddling on the top.

IMG_5136 IMG_5136 IMG_5136 IMG_5136~Step 4.  Decrease heat to low.  Scatter cheese, in a half-moon shape, over half the omelette. Give it 35-45 seconds to melt w/no pressure to rush.  Using a large spatula, lift the empty side of the omelette up and over the cheesy side.  Slide omelette from skillet to plate and serve.

Serve immediately -- the moment it hits the plate:

IMG_5158Dig in -- no omelette waits for any man, woman or child:

IMG_5172Cheese-Stuffed Sausage and Mushroom Omelette:  Recipe yields instructions to make one large, hearty American-style, fully-loaded cheese omelette/1 large serving or 2 smaller servings

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 8" nonstick skillet; large thin spatula; large wide spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0278805a86f6200dCook's Note:  I am a lover of omelettes.  I've always enjoyed a savory breakfast more than a sweet breakfast, and, the omelette easily turns two or three eggs into a satisfying meal.  That said, I am a much bigger fan of the fluffy American-style omelette vs the skinny French omelette,  Don't get me wrong, I do like them both, and, while a French omelette is iconic, in my opinion, miracle of miracles, we Americans improved it. ~ For the Love of Omelettes -- An Omelette Oration ~.

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

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

03/30/2022

~ Chick-fil-A -- Rave Review of Five-Dipping-Sauces ~

IMG_5092For the love of chicken sandwiches, I admit to being a fair-weather fan of our local Chick-fil-A fast-food chain restaurant.  All of THEIR not-my-cup-of-tea politics aside, on occasion, if it's a really nice day and I feel the need to relax and get away from my stove, I enjoy the drive across town to pick up one of their signature chicken sandwiches.  As one who loves chicken sandwiches many ways, their trademarked slogan, "We didn't invent the chicken, just the chicken sandwich,"  their "Eat more Chikin" cow commercials, and, Doodles, their mascot, all make me smile.

Chick_fil_A_LogoWhen one is perusing anything on the Chick-fil-A menu, it's important to know that whatever item you choose, the sauce you choose is equally, if not more, important. Chick-fil-A customers are cultishly dedicated to the condiments -- so much so, the chain has taken to selling them on the open market. Everyone has a favorite, everyone has an opinion and I am no exception.  That said, depending on what I'm cooking, all of them, from sweet to savory, have earned a place in my pantry.

Chick-fil-a-e1527184817408I'll just take them in alphabetical order and let which one you like best up to you.  The Chick-fil-A Barbecue Sauce, which is tomato- and brown sugar-based is slightly-sweet and very pleasant.  In addition to the smoke flavoring, it gets a bit of a citrusy tang from pineapple juice too.  Now, if you're a fan of ranch-type dressing, the buttermilk-based Chick-fil-A Garden Herb Ranch Sauce, which has just enough of garlic and onion flavor, is, well, absolution addicting -- just like your favorite ranch.  For honey-mustard aficionados, the Chick-fil-A Honey-Mustard Sauce is no slouch.  It's bold on mustard flavor and not as sweet as the typical honey-mustard dressing.  It gets its extra-tangy flavor from the addition of tamarind.  The Chick-fil-A Polynesian Sauce, which is a version of sweet and sour sauce, is a little more sweet than sour, getting its sweetness from both sugar and corn syrup, but in a tasty way.  If one is a fan of sweet sauces, this will not disappoint.  Last but not least, the signature creamy and flavorful Chick-fil-A Sauce has got it all.  It is literally a little bit over everything.  It's a lip-smacking combination of their barbecue sauce, a bit of honey-mustard sauce too, plus, the garden ranch sauce's creamy herbs and spices.

Chick-fil-A-Unveils-New-Grilled-Spicy-Chicken-Deluxe-SandwichMy personal recommendations for how to use these sauces:  Let's start with the signature Chick-fil-A Sauce -- to me, it reminds me of McDonald's special sauce, so, drizzling it on a 'burger is perfect.  That said, I like it slathered on deli-style turkey sandwiches too.  As for the Polynesian Sauce, I've found its sweetness a nice complement atop a salty soy-sauce marinated chicken sandwich or dipping my beer-batter-coated deep-fried shrimp into.  As for Honey-Mustard Sauce, in my food world, this honey-mustard was made for adding to my deviled-egg filling, and, a squire of it on a Philly-style soft pretzel is awesome.   Chick-fil-A's Garden Herb Ranch Sauce, which just might be my favorite, for me, goes with everything from chicken wings to garden salad to twice-baked potatoes.  Last, their slightly-sweet Barbecue Sauce , in the world of store-bought BBQ sauces, is a quality sauce, so, using it to glaze grilled ribs, chicken or chops is a natural choice. 

Choose one or all five -- there's one for everyone!

IMG_5092"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

03/27/2022

~ The Secret's in McDonald's Special Sauce Recipe ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95a416c970b 2Two 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, and, for me, the secret to the Big Mac's success really is in the sauce.  Back in 2017, McDonald's released 10,000 special-edition bottles of its Big Mac sauce for purchase at select locations, which created an on-line buying frenzy when many people began selling them on eBay for upwards of $100 a bottle.  I won't lie, given the chance, I would have bought one.

6a0120a8551282970b02788073eba7200dSeptember 1968 -- The Bic Mac was invented in Pittsburgh by a McDonald's Franchise Owner named Jim Delligatti.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95b0bf3970bThe 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 -- it cost 45 cents.  As for the "secret sauce", 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."

All-beef patties topped w/yellow American NOT cheddar.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95a3e3f970b-320wiAll 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.

Special Sauce.  Thousand Islands dressing -- it's not.

Screen Shot 2022-04-01 at 6.24.43 AMSince McDonald's special sauce remains "currently unavailable", take solace in knowing it is very easy to make a very close copycat version.  

Many 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 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.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e448b8970c1  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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e4490f970cWhisk all ingredients together, cover and refrigerate 1 hour.  Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Special sauce makes all sorts of sandwiches special:

Mcdonalds_big_mac_2018The Secret's in McDonald's Special Sauce Recipe:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups special sauce.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95a5bf5970b-800wiCook's Note:   When 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.  After trying the recipe, I concur.  Ya gotta try ~ The McDonald's-Style Big Mac Cheeseburger Salad ~.

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

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

03/24/2022

~The History behind McDonald's Big Mac Hamburger~

Mcdonalds_big_mac_2018Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.  I'm guessing that anyone who reads that sentence or hears those words is positively certain it references McDonald's and its Big Mac hamburger.  McDonald's introduced this flagship product to the greater Pitsburgh area in 1967.  One short year later, it went nationwide.  That said, the it had two previous trial names, both of which failed in the marketplace:  The Aristocrat and the Blue Ribbon Burger.  The third time was the charm -- the Big Mac was born and the rest is history.

6a0120a8551282970b02788073eba7200dThe Big Mac was created in Pittsburgh by McDonald's first Franchise Owner, Jim Delligatti.  It sold for 45 cents.

6a0120a8551282970b0282e14c947c200bThe 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 -- it cost 45 cents.  As for the "secret sauce", 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."

All-beef patties topped w/yellow American NOT cheddar.

6a0120a8551282970b02788073eb83200dAll 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.

Special sauce isn't a secret & NOT  Thousand Islands dressing.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95a416c970bMany 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 recipe for the special sauce, and, over a number of years it gradually grew "less special".  As a result, in 2004, the CEO scrapped the product completely and collaborated with the California supplier who had helped develop the original sauce recipe -- they reconcocted the sauce.  Long story short and end of story fact:  We now enjoy reconcocted special sauce, and, many of us make our own.

Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.  The best 'burger ever:

Mcdonalds_big_mac_2018"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

03/21/2022

~No Secrets in Hidden Valley Ranch's Secret Sauces~

IMG_4962I am a huge fan of Hidden Valley ranch dressing.  If you and yours are too, be it a picnic, potluck or party, Hidden Valley Ranch has a secret sauce ready and waiting on a shelf in a grocery store near you.  Labeled as Golden, Spicy, Smokehouse and Original, there is one that is guaranteed to be a great mate to whatever fare you're serving.   No one enjoys a scratch-made condiment more than me and no one enjoys a creamy scratch-made condiment more than me, but, I gotta be honest, when I come across one or four in my store, no one enjoys a high-quality time-saving product as much as me either.  It's as if these four were made just for me -- lucky me.

No secrets in these off-the-shelf sauces -- they're all delicious.

What’s in their Secret Sauces?  Long story short, nothing exotic --  that said, they are all gluten-free, which is important information if you are a Celiac.  Hidden Valley has released these four distinctly different and delicious sauces, all of which are Hidden Valley ranch-dressing-based, and, all of which will add a unique and complimentary flavor to almost anything you want to sauce or slather a dressing on -- they'e simply ranch dressing with some common spices and flavors stirred in.  Interestingly, the brand didn't categorizie the flavors in terms of specific sauce names (honey-mustard, sriracha, barbecue, etc.), but rather, used general descriptors to let us consumers explore their unique tastes and possibilities.  The names of this foursome:  Golden, Spicy, Smokehouse, and, of course, Original.  I've tried them all, and I have a few favorite uses:

If you're a fan of a Big-Mac-type burger, I predict you'll be making their Original secret sauce a staple in your pantry.  And, take it from me, their slightly-sweet Golden secret sauce, which contains honey, is divine drizzled over fried buttermilk-brined chicken or beer-batter-dipped deep-fried fish sandwiches.  It goes without saying their Spicy version, which contains habanero pepper, will add creamy-heat to anything you like your hot sauce on -- I particularly like this one on beef tacos and chicken quesadillas.  It goes without saying that Smokehouse has the smokey undertones associated with all things Southwestern with a touch sweetness which comes from molasses.  Do I think any of them are compatibly appropriate for Asian fare?  The answer is:  no, not really, but, I can only hope they soon come out with one containing soy sauce or wasabi!

To learn the Hidden History of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing:

6a0120a8551282970b02788053ea80200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

03/18/2022

~ Bagel-Bites Mini-Bagel Sausage & Mushroom Pizza~

IMG_5082While no one agrees on who made or sold the first pizza bagel, in 1985, Stanley Garcaynski and Bob Mosher invented Bagel Bites using custom-made mini-bagels.  They adapted the recipe from the back of a package of Lender's bagels, and that little schtick made these two a lot of money really fast.  They began by marketing their edible pub-grub invention to local restaurants, bars and hotels, and, after almost instant success, within six short years, they sold the company and brand name "Bagel Bites" to Heinz (owner of Ore-Ida) in 1991.  The American dream come true.

The 90s -- they were the decade of Bagel Bites, aka mini-bagel frozen pizzas.  They got served at all sorts of gatherings , but mostly, they were the trendy after school snack of teens of the era. For the most part, I emerged from this frozen-convenience-food-frenzy unscathed: I escaped the worst of it -- my kids were in their 20s by 1996.  That said,  I remember these freezer-to-toaster-oven treats for one reason: the uber-annoying theme song of the Bagel Bites commercials:

"Pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening, pizza at suppertime.  When pizza is on a bagel, you can eat pizza anytime!".

6a0120a8551282970b02788072ff4d200dBagel Bites were/are not rocket science food.  They begin on a split mini-bagel. The halves get topped with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and sometimes, another topping or two -- pepperoni was what most kids liked best, but, my kids liked the sausage-topped Bagel Bites MORE. Straight from the box, they got placed (while till frozen) on a small baking sheet, then got baked in the toaster oven (a manageable task for 10-14 year olds) until molten hot -- kids gobbled them up faster than mothers could buy them.  And, as any mother who knew how to cook will tell you, back then, we could not purchase mini-bagels anywhere or we happily would have made mini-bagel pizzas in our own kitchens -- we knew we could have made them MUCH better, and twice as many, for a third the price, with our hands tied behind our apronless backs. Why not just make them on standard-sized bagel?  Simply stated:  they're not as much fun.

No fancy high-end ingredients -- keep 'em simple & enjoy:

IMG_5070Mini-bagels & fully-cooked sausage = kid-approved bagel bites:

IMG_4975mini bagels, your favorite brand

pizza sauce, your favorite brand

fine-grated Parmesan cheese, the "stuff" in shaker-jar, your favorite brand

pre-shredded mozzarella cheese, your favorite brand*

fully-cooked sausage patties, diced, your favorite brand

canned mushroom pieces, well-drained and chopped

small-diced onion (optional)

IMG_4984* Tip from Mel prior to starting:  Pre-shredded mozzarella cheese is one of my favorite time-saving  ingredients.  That said, when scattering it "as is" onto mini-bagels (or small-sized anything else), its size is rather large in comparison to the subject at hand.  For that reason, I like to use a serrated knife and a light touch to briefly saw through it, to make the pieces smaller.  In turn, you get more cheese on each piece and less waste, aka, the cheese stays on top of bagels rather than dripping down their sides, which makes a pretty presentation.

IMG_5033 IMG_5033 IMG_5033 IMG_5033 IMG_5033 IMG_5033 IMG_5033 IMG_5033~Step 1.  Prep the sausage patties, canned mushrooms and onion as directed.  Depending on how many bagel bites you want to make, on an appropriately-sized baking sheet, arrange the split mini-bagel halves side-by-side.  Spread about 1 tablespoon pizza sauce evenly across the surface of each bagel half -- do not be inclined to use too much sauce or the bagels will get soggy.  Lightly-sprinkle the surface of all the bagels with the Parmesan -- simply shake the can over the entire pan.  Next, on goes a scattering of 1 1/2-2 tablespoons mozzarella per bagel half. Add the toppings:  a scattering of the optional onions, chopped mushrooms and diced sausage.

Bake in 375° oven 8-10 minutes & serve immediately:  

IMG_5059Bagel Bites Mini-Bagel Sausage & Mushroom Pizza:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many bagel bites as you want to make.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; serrated bread knife; appropriately-sized baking sheet (toaster-oven or conventional-oven sized; tablespoon

6a0120a8551282970b02942fa0c629200cCook's Note: The pita pocket is a great foil for quick-to-make snack pizza too. These take less than 10 minutes to assemble and everyone just loves my ~ Tomato-Basil Pita Pizza:  My Personal Favorite Snack Pizza ~.  Give 'em a try!

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

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

03/15/2022

~Bagel Bites Mini-Bagel Mini-Pepperoni Snack Pizza~

IMG_5029It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  It was the 90s -- the decade of Bagel Bites, aka mini-bagel pizzas.  They were the trendy after school snack of the era.  For the most part, I emerged from this unscathed, meaning: I escaped the worst of it -- my kids were in their 20s by 1996.  That said,  I remember these freezer-to-toaster-oven treats for one reason:  the uber-annoying theme song of the Bagel Bites commercials -- "Pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening, pizza at suppertime.  When pizza is on a bagel, you can eat pizza anytime!".

Bagelbites_logoBagel Bites were/are not rocket science food.  They begin on a split mini-bagel. The halves get topped with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and sometimes, another topping or two -- pepperoni was what most kids liked best. Straight from the box, they got placed (while frozen) on a small baking sheet, then baked in the toaster oven (a manageable task for 10-14 year olds) until molten hot -- kids gobbled them up faster than mothers could buy them.  And, as any mother who knew how to cook will tell you, back then, we could not purchase mini-bagels or we happily would have made mini-bagel pizzas in our own kitchens -- we knew we could have made them MUCH better, and twice as many, for a third the price, with our hands tied behind our apronless backs. Why not just make them on standard-sized bagel?  Simply stated:  they're not as much fun.

While no one agrees on who made or sold the first pizza bagel, in 1985, Stanley Garcaynski and Bob Mosher invented Bagel Bites using custom-made mini-bagels -- they adapted the recipe from the back of a package of Lender's bagels.  They began by marketing their edible pub-grub invention to local restaurants, bars and hotels, and, after almost instant success, they sold the company and brand name "Bagel Bites" to Heinz (owner of Ore-Ida) in 1991.

No fancy high-end ingredients -- keep 'em simple & enjoy:

IMG_5024Mini-bagels & mini-pepperoni = kid-approved bagel bites:

IMG_4966

mini bagels, your favorite brand

pizza sauce, your favorite brand

fine-grated Parmesan cheese, the "stuff" in shaker-jar, your favorite brand

pre-shredded mozzarella cheese, your favorite brand*

mini-pepperoni, your favorite brand

IMG_4984* Tip from Mel prior to starting:  Pre-shredded mozzarella cheese is one of my favorite time-saving  ingredients.  That said, when scattering it "as is" onto mini-bagels (or small-sized anything else), its size is rather large in comparison to the subject at hand.  For that reason, I like to use a serrated knife and a light touch to briefly saw through it, to make the pieces smaller.  In turn, you get more cheese on each piece and less waste, aka, the cheese stays on top of bagels rather than dripping down their sides, which makes a pretty presentation.

IMG_4985 IMG_4985 IMG_4985 IMG_4985 IMG_4985~Step 1.  Depending on how many bagel bites you want to make, on an appropriately-sized baking sheet, arrange the split mini-bagel halves side-by-side.  Spread about 1 tablespoon pizza sauce evenly across the surface of each bagel half -- do not be inclined to use too much sauce or the bagels will get soggy.  Lightly-sprinkle the surface of all the bagels with the Parmesan -- simply shake the can over the entire pan.  Next, on goes a scattering of 1 1/2-2 tablespoons mozzarella per bagel half.  Lastly, place 6-8 pieces mini-pepperoni atop each one.

Bake in 375° oven 8-10 minutes & serve immediately:  

IMG_5006Bagel Bites Mini-Bagel Mini-Pepperoni Snack Pizza:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many bagel bites as you want to make.

Special Equipment List:  serrated bread knife; appropriately-sized baking sheet (toaster-oven or conventional-oven sized; tablespoon

6a0120a8551282970b017c31c62a01970bCook's Note:  The pita pocket is a great foil for quick-to-make snack pizza too. These take less than 10 minutes to assemble and everyone just loves my ~ Tomato-Basil Pita Pizza:  My Personal Favorite Snack Pizza ~.  Give 'em a try!

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

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

03/12/2022

~The History of Deviled in Deviled Eggs & Other Food~

IMG_4949Everyone knows what deviled eggs are, most folks know what deviled ham and deviled crab is, and, what's up with devil's food cake?  I always say that behind every recipe there is a story or a history, and, foods referred to as "deviled" are no exception.  While the origin of deviled eggs or any other deviled delight can't be pinned down to one person or one location, one thing food historians know for sure is:  the name emerged in the 18th century and evolved over time.

The word deviled first appeared in print in 1786 and was used to describe any highly-seasoned fried or boiled dish.  By the 1800s it had evolved to be the commonly-used culinary term for any fiery-hot-spiced fare or condiment.  The obvious use of the word deviled was in reference to the symbolism of the devil and the excessive heat of hell.  Into the 19th century, the word deviled began to infer hot seasonings, like cayenne pepper or mustard -- deviled = hot and spicy.

Th-1In the context of modern day marketing, the word deviled has a much broader meaning.  Deviled eggs aside, it is applied to a number of spicy dishes, with deviled ham being a popular one.  According to the Underwood company, in 1868, Underwood's sons began experimenting with a new product made from ground ham and special seasonings, dubbing the process for preparing the ham "deviling". The little red Underwood devil was born shortly afterward and in 1870 the Underwood Company was granted a patent on the logo, which is the oldest existing trademark still in use in the USA.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c78f918f970b 2As for the devil being in dark chocolate devil's food cake, that simply refers to the cake's sinfully delicious nature, or, quite possibly, because its dark color and heavy texture is the direct opposite of the white and light angel food cake. Food historians are quick to point out, however, that due to a chemical reaction between early varieties of cocoa powder (today's cooks use processed cocoa) and baking soda, the original cake was red in color, hence the devilish name.

Try GrandMa's Incredible Edible Defiled Eggs:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7a52749970bOr, my Jamaican Curried Deviled Eggs w/Mango Chutney:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d12d650a970cOr, my Devilishly Hot-Russian-Mustard Deviled Eggs:

6a0120a8551282970b0282e1492434200bAnd, my Pretty-in-Pink Pickled & Piped Deviled-Pickled Eggs

6a0120a8551282970b0282e1490ffe200b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

03/09/2022

~Pretty-in-Pink Pickled-&-Piped Deviled-Pickled Eggs~

IMG_4942Pickled eggs can be made several ways, but the ones I love and the ones my family always made were the Pennsylvania Deutsch version, which are sometimes referred to as pickled-beet eggs or red-beat eggs.  My mom and grandmother served them but once a year as a side-dish on our Easter feast table, but, in local Pennsylvania Deutsch communities, pickled eggs were and still are a very popular tavern food -- they can be found marinating in large jars on bar tops next to beer taps all over Pennsylvania.  It takes about five days for hard-cooked eggs to pickle, so, if you want to make some pickled eggs or deviled-pickled eggs, be sure to plan ahead.

Pickling isn't just for cucumbers, onions and peppers.  Pickling dates back to medieval times and was used to preserve foods of many types, including meat.  Without refrigeration, food spoiled quickly. Pickling was the way of preserving it for out-of-season eating, or, transport on a long journey. The word "pickle" comes from the Deutsch (German) word "pekel", meaning "brine" -- a simple mixture of vinegar, water, salt, sometimes sugar and/or spices.  Depending on the brining solution, pickled foods can take on all sorts of colors and flavors.  Pickled food can be sweet, sour and/or hot-and-spicy, as well as subtly-flavored with fresh herbs such as dill or thyme.

6a0120a8551282970b01901ee05043970bPennsylvania Deutsch Pickled Eggs -- aka red-beet eggs:

IMG_48702  dozen extra-large eggs

3-4  16-ounce jars store-bought, sliced, pickled beets, or, home-canned pickled beets (Note: This quantity will depend on the size of the jar(s) you're using to pickle the hard-cooked eggs.)

~Step 1.  In a 3-4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot, hard-cook the eggs via your favorite method.  I cook the eggs one dozen at a time to avoid crowding the pot.

IMG_4875 IMG_4875~ Step 2.  Rinse the cooked eggs under cold water, to cool to the touch, then carefully peel them -- experience has taught the eggs are much easier to peel when they are warm.  Repeat process with the second dozen of eggs.  Layer the eggs into one or two tall, wide-mouthed jars, alternating eggs with slices of beets.  Pour the pickled beet juice into the jars, filling them to the top.  Seal and refrigerate for 4-5 days.

IMG_4909 IMG_4911 IMG_4911~ Step 3.  Open the jars. Remove the eggs.  Using a sharp paring knife, slice each egg in half, then, using a small spoon, carefully remove the yellow yolk.  Arrange the hollowed-out pickled-egg white portions on egg plates or on a large platter.  Repeat  process until all the eggs are sliced.  Tip from Mel:  For clean cuts and a pretty presentation, wipe the knife in a wet paper towel after slicing each egg in half.

For my Pennsylvania Deutsch deviled-pickled egg filling:

IMG_4919 2all egg yolks, from above eggs

1  cup mayonnaise

1/2  cup Bookbinder's creamy horseradish sauce (Note:  This is not prepared horseradish, which is too harsh-tasting and coarse-textured.  This horseradish sauce, which is creamy and refined.)

1/4  cup minced, fresh dill weed

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_4922 IMG_4922~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients in the work bowl of food processor fitted with the steel blade -- the egg yolks, the mayonnaise, the horseradish sauce, the minced dill and the sea salt.  Using a series of 30-45 rapid on-off pulses, followed by the motor running for 30-45 second, process the ingredients to a creamy texture.  If a creamier mixture is desired, add 1-2 tablespoons additional mayonnaise and process again, about 15-20 seconds.  If a creamier and spicier mixture is desired, add 1-2 tablespoons additional horseradish sauce.

IMG_4926~ Step 2.  If you have a pastry bag with a star tip, now is the perfect time to use it.  Piping the creamy filling into the cavities of the eggs couldn't be quicker, easier or cleaner -- and, the end result, the beautiful presentation, is well-worth the small investment if you don't have one.  Simply spoon the filling into the bag (no more than 1/2-2/3 full per batch), twist the top end to close it, and squeeze the bag.

Creamy dill-laced centers w/perfectly-pickled tender whites: 

IMG_4928Pretty-in-Link Pickled-&-Piped Deviled-Pickled Eggs:  Recipe yields 48 pickled-deviled eggs.

Special Equipment List:  3-4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot;  2  large wide-mouth jars (large enough to hold 1 dozen hard-cooked eggs each); cutting board; sharp paring knife; paper towels; small spoon; food processor; pastry bag fitted w/medium star tip 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d12c4568970c 2Cook's Note:  As far back as the 18th century, "deviled" was used to describe spicy food, specifically: cooked eggs whose yolks were prepared with mustard, pepper and other flavorful additions, then returned to the cavities, which were used as portion-sized serving vessels.  Culinarily, "devil" means: to combine any food with hot/spicy seasonings (pepper, mustard, Worcestershire or cayenne pepper sauces etc.), resulting in a "devilish" dish.  Try ~ My Devilishly Hot-Russian-Mustard Deviled Eggs ~.

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

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

03/06/2022

~ Easy Linguine and Shrimp w/Tomato-Cream Sauce ~

IMG_4903 2Easy should never be a compromise.  It should simply be:  easy.  When you take the first taste or bite, it shouldn't be a dead giveaway that you didn't slave behind your stove all afternoon.  This luscious pasta dish is a prime example.  In my food world, I don't think anyone appreciates a great scratch-made marinara sauce more than I do, but, truth told, if one adds a bit of cream to store-bought, it turns into a decadent super-quick-to-make tomato-cream pasta sauce.  If you're the family cook, you'd be lying if you couldn't admit:   all of us home cooks love a great shortcut.

IMG_4897 2Because all of us cooks love a good shortcut (or two):

IMG_4889For the pasta:

8-9  ounces fresh linguine pasta, it must be fresh pasta not dried

12  ounces large shrimp (28-30 shrimp), peeled, deveined, tails on or off, your choice

2  teaspoons salt, for seasoning pasta water

6  tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

For the tomato-cream sauce:

3/4  cup marinara sauce

1/2  cup heavy or whipping cream

For the garnish:

1  tablespoon finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

6a0120a8551282970b0263e98ad03e200b 6a0120a8551282970b0263e98ad03e200b 6a0120a8551282970b0263e98ad03e200b 6a0120a8551282970b0263e98ad03e200b~Step 1.  To prepare the tomato-cream sauce, place marinara in a 1-quart saucepan.  Add and stir in the cream.  Over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly, heat until sauce is steaming. Remove from heat, cover, and,  aside while preparing the pasta as directed below.

IMG_4817 IMG_4817 IMG_4817 IMG_4817 IMG_4817~Step 2.  In a shallow 3 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron casserole or 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, place 2-quarts of water and the 2-teaspoons of salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add all of the fresh pasta and all of the shrimp all at once.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until pasta is al dente, about 3-3 1/2 minutes -- the shrimp will cook perfectly in this same amount of time, which is why fresh pasta (not dried pasta) must be used to cook this dish.  Drain pasta and shrimp into a colander.  Do not rinse the pasta.

IMG_4836 IMG_4836 IMG_4892 IMG_4892~Step 3.  Working as quickly as possible, return still hot skillet to still hot stovetop.  Add the butter pieces and spices:  the garlic powder, red pepper flakes and salt.  Return the still steaming hot pasta and shrimp to skillet.  Using two large spoons or two large forks, toss until the pasta and shrimp are enrobed in a spicy butter mixture.  Add the warm tomato-cream sauce.   Toss again. Cover the skillet and allow to rest about 1 minute, to give the pasta time to soak up any excess sauce.  Remove the lid and give the mixture another thorough toss.  Portion into 2-4 pasta bowls and serve each portion immediately, garnished with a light sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Try my One-Skillet Creamy Parmesan Linguine & Shrimp too:

IMG_4853Easy Linguine and Shrimp w/Tomato-Cream Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 large or 4 smaller servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; paring knife; microplane grater; 1-quart saucepan w/lid; spoon; 3 1/2-quart shallow, wide-bottomed enameled cast-iron casserole or 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; colander; two large forks or two large spoons

IMG_4586Cook's Note:  The world is full of pasta-bilities.  Our modern marketplaces have supplied all of our demands with hundreds of shapes, sizes, and colors of dried and fresh pasta.  I suppose it is because pasta is relatively quick to cook that many cooks impulsively try to create their own versions of well-known pasta dishes having little knowledge of the tried-and-true principles and classic recipe techniques these recipes require. To learn more, read my post ~ Pasta - Choose, Portion, Cook, Sauce, Toss & Serve ~.

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

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

03/03/2022

~One-Skillet Creamy Parmesan Linguine and Shrimp~

IMG_4853 2If you're hankering for a seafood and creamy pasta dish for dinner -- no problem.  Splurge on a small, one-pound bag of flash-frozen, large shrimp, pick up a box of fresh linguine pasta, plus, a few other miscellaneous items -- fresh basil, sweet grape tomatoes and heavy cream (you've no doubt already got the cheese in your refrigerator).  Voila.  You and yours can be pouring a glass of wine and sitting down to a sumptuous, affordable, restaurant-quality dinner, from stovetop to table, in about 30-40 minutes (and there will be little cleanup afterward too).  This will be everything you'd craved all day:  a well-balanced mixture of buttery-rich and perfectly-cooked cream-enrobed, cheesy, garlicy, and, slightly-spicy pasta loaded with succulent shrimp.

IMG_4853Bring it on -- Buttery-rich & creamy, cheesy, garlicy & slightly-spicy perfectly-cooked pasta loaded w/succulent shrimp:

IMG_48108-9  ounces fresh linguine pasta, it must be fresh pasta not dried

12  ounces large shrimp (28-30 shrimp), peeled, deveined, tails on or off, your choice

2  teaspoons salt, for seasoning pasta water

6  tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  cup heavy or whipping cream

6  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

chiffonade of 5-6 fresh basil leaves, for garnish

12  grape tomatoes, sliced in half, for garnish

IMG_4817 IMG_4817 IMG_4817 IMG_4817 IMG_4817~Step 1.  In a shallow 3 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron casserole or 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, place 2-quarts of water and the 2-teaspoons of salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add all of the fresh pasta and all of the shrimp all at once.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until pasta is al dente, about 3-3 1/2 minutes -- the shrimp will cook perfectly in this same amount of time, which is why fresh pasta (not dried pasta) must be used to cook this dish.  Drain pasta and shrimp into a colander.  Do not rinse the pasta.

IMG_4836 IMG_4836 IMG_4836 IMG_4836~Step 2.  Working as quickly as possible, return still hot skillet to still hot stovetop.  Add the butter pieces and spices:  the garlic powder, red pepper flakes and salt.  Return the still steaming hot pasta and shrimp to skillet.  Using two large spoons or two large forks, toss until the pasta and shrimp are enrobed in a spicy butter mixture.  Add the cream and the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.   Toss again.  Cover the skillet and allow to rest about 1 minute, to give the pasta time to soak up any excess cream.  Remove the lid and give the mixture another thorough toss.  Portion into 2-4 pasta bowls or pasta plates and serve each portion immediately, garnished with a chiffanade of fresh basil leaves (or some torn basil leaves) and a few grape tomato halves.

Every bite = everything you were craving all day:

IMG_4859One-Skillet Creamy Parmesan Linguini and Shrimp:  Recipe yields 2 large or 4 smaller servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; paring knife; microplane grater; 1-cup measuring container; serrated tomato knife; 3 1/2-quart shallow, wide-bottomed enameled cast-iron casserole or 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; colander; two large forks or two large spoons

IMG_4586Cook's Note:  The world is full of pasta-bilities.  Our modern marketplaces have supplied all of our demands with hundreds of shapes, sizes, and colors of dried and fresh pasta.  I suppose it is because pasta is relatively quick to cook that many cooks impulsively try to create their own versions of well-known pasta dishes having little knowledge of the tried-and-true principles and classic recipe techniques these recipes require. To learn more, read my post ~ Pasta - Choose, Portion, Cook, Sauce, Toss & Serve ~.

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

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

02/28/2022

~ G. Washington's Instant Seasoning & Broth History ~

IMG_4808This granulated gluten-free, meat-free instant seasoning has been around for generations, and, interestingly, it's used as an ingredient in a surprising number of savory, vintage recipe.  It was a staple in my grandmother's pantry and my mother's pantry, and, for the love of making their recipes, it is a staple in mine too.  It's recognized as the very first seasoning and broth.  The brand has a strong loyalty amongst its users, but, because it contains MSG, it is not everyones cup-of-tea.  That said, if you've ever tasted anything made using it, you'd immediately recognize how special it truly is.  Easy to find?  It's readily available in most grocery stores and on-line too.

Washington_Coffee_New_York_Times_bIn 1908, Mr. George Washington, coincidentally a distant relative of General George Washington, established the G. Washington Coffee Refining Company, in Morris Plains, New Jersey -- he and his company were the pioneer of instant coffee.  Having successfully marketed his instant coffee, the company became interested in developing additional products.  In 1937, headquarter staff member, Paul J. Campbell, was served an exceptionally delicious dish while visiting friends.  Impressed with the flavor, he complimented the hostess, who was more than happy to him the seasonings she had used in its preparation.  He went right to work. 

Mr. Campbell almost immediately discovered these seasonings, when mixed with water, produced a pleasant meaty taste.  His idea was to add dehydrated onion, celery and other vegetables to the mix in the hopes of creating an instant broth that could be sold as a companion to instant coffee.

Working late night hours and having tried numerous failed experiments with the list of ingredients, Mr. Campbell awoke one night (morning) at 3 AM,  having had a dream in which he made certain changes that produced a successful formula.  Going to his kitchen, he recalled the changes made in his dream thus creating today's recipe for the broth.  One year later, in 1938, G. Washington's Seasoning & Broth was originally marketed as "Broth". It was distinctly packaged in tin foil packets called "Aces" with fifty Aces to a box.  Advertising via various mediums, including via the radio, made G. Washington's Seasoning & Broth a success right from the very beginning.

Initial distribution was in the New York City area.  This changed after the product was featured at the New York World's Fair of 1939 as the "Soup of Tomorrow".  During World War II, G. Washington's Seasoning and Broth was packed in "K" rations  for the troops, replacing bouillon paste.  As mentioned earlier, today it is recognized as the first of the "Instant Seasoning and Broths".  In 1945, American Home Foods acquired the G. Washington Coffee Refining Company. Under American Home Foods, packaging was improved and the product name changed from G. Washington's Broth to "G. Washington's Seasoning and Broth". This classification change added versatility and has contributed greatly to the product's success.  International Home Foods, purchased the brand from American Hot Foods and then sold it to ConAgra in August of 2000.  In October 2001, Homestat Farm, Ltd. purchased the brand from ConAgra.  In April, 2014, Homestat Farm was purchased from William Statlander vis family-owned Camden Holdings. 

Try it in My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf:

6a0120a8551282970b026bdefb190d200cOr in My Mom's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubki):

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4820d41200dOr, in My Deconstructed Crockpot Stuffed Cabbage:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a482096f200dAnd, at Thanksgiving in My Mom's Bundt-Pan Cracker Stuffing:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a1d75e200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

02/26/2022

~ All Politics Aside -- Laura Bush's Cowboy Cookies ~

IMG_4793All politics aside, former first Lady Laura Bush's recipe for cowboy cookies rocks.  Back in 1992, Family Circle magazine began the tradition of a friendly First-Lady Bakeoff contest during every presidential election year.  Hillary Clinton won the very first First Lady Bakeoff when her chocolate chip cookies beat Barbara Bush's chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Mrs. Clinton won again in 1996, with Hillary's same recipe for chocolate chip cookies winning over Elizabeth Dole's pecan roll cookie recipe.  Then, in 2000, Laura Bush debuted her Texas Governor's cowboy cookies, which won over Tipper Gore's ginger snap recipe.  While it's all in fun, unlike the other bakeoffs, Laura Bush's recipe became so popular, she gets credited for putting cowboy cookies on the map.

IMG_4800Sometimes called Ranger Cookies, the theory is, these HUGE 4"-5"-round cookies, loaded with a variety of add-in ingredients (much like kitchen-sink cookies), are hearty enough for a hard-working cowboy or a Texas ranger to appreciate. There are many versions of cowboy cookies -- Mrs. Bush's recipe simply made them famous.  I did very little to Mrs. Bush's original recipe -- mine contain an extra teaspoon of both baking powder and baking soda (for a better rise), a tablespoon of chocolate extract (an addition that takes the chocolate-flavor over-the-top), and, I make them smaller (it's a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop I use for 2 1/2"-round cookies).  

Laura Bush's recipe w/a few minor adjustments by me:

IMG_4729For the dry ingredients:

3  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder

1  tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking soda

1  tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

For the wet ingredients:

1 1/2  cups salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (3 sticks)

1 1/2  cups granulated sugar

1 1/2  cups firmly-packed dark brown sugar

3  large eggs

1  tablespoon pure chocolate extract

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

For the add-ins:

3  generous cups Nestlē Toll House semi-sweet chocolate morsels (22 ounces)

2  cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2  cups sweetened, flaked coconut

2  cups coarse-chopped, lightly-toasted pecans

IMG_4719 IMG_4719 IMG_4719 IMG_4719 IMG_4719 IMG_4719 IMG_4719~Step 1.  Preheat oven to 350°.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground cinnamon and salt.  Set aside.  In a second medium bowl, stir together the granulated sugar and brown sugar.  Set aside.  Coarse-chop the pecans, placing them in a shallow baking pan as you work.  Roast the pecans in 350° oven until lightly-toasted and fragrant, 6-8 minutes, stopping to stir them with a spoon halfway through the process.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.  Line 6-8 half-sheet baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.

IMG_4737 IMG_4737 IMG_4737 IMG_4737~Step 2.  Place wet ingredients in a large bowl:  the butter, sugar mixture, eggs and both extracts. On high-speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the until creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula constantly during the process, about 2 minutes.  Lower mixer speed, add the flour mixture and gradually incorporate it into the mixture, until a smooth, sticky dough forms, again, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula.

IMG_4750 IMG_4750 IMG_4750 IMG_4750~Step 3.  Remove the mixer.  Using the rubber spatula, thoroughly fold in the chocolate chips, followed by all remaining add-ins:  the oats, coconut and pecans.  Take as much time as you need to do a thorough job of incorporating all of the add-ins evenly throughout the cookie dough.

IMG_4768 IMG_4768 IMG_4768 IMG_4768 IMG_4768~Step 4.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, firmly-pack and drop balls of cookie dough, well-apart, on parchment lined pans, 12 balls of dough on each pan. Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time on center rack of preheated 350° oven, 12-13 minutes, until light-golden. Remove from oven and cool cookies on pan, about 1-1 1/2 minute to give them time to firm up a bit, prior to using a small spatula to transfer to a wire cooling rack, to cool completely.

Great cookies to keep on-hand in your Summertime cookie jar:

IMG_4786All Politics Aside -- Laura Bush's Cowboy Cookies:  Recipe yields 9 1/2-10 dozen, normal-size, 2 1/2"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List:  spoon; cutting board; chef's knife; shallow baking pan; 6-8, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop; wire cooling rack; small thin spatula 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09087c56970dCook's Note:  Similar to cowboy cookies, cookie bars or cook squares are also loaded with lots of add-ins.  Congo bars for example.   In most circles, Congo squares or Congo bar-cookies are made by spreading a batch of Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip cookie batter into a square or rectangular pan, then cutting the big cookie into smaller, cookie-sized squares or bars after baking.  They shouldn't be confused with layered or 'magic' cookie bars -- the kind with a graham cracker crust and held together with condensed milk.  The Congo square is a WWII era pan-cookie dating back to 1942.  Try my ~ Tropical Fruit, Nut and Chocolate Chip Congo Bars ~.

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

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

02/23/2022

~ The Story Behind Our Retro Sloppy Joe Sandwich ~

IMG_4636In a nutshell, this one really is all in the name -- the Sloppy Joe sandwich.  The colorful name alone should clue the participant in for what they are about to experience, and, it's a messy one. After all, they didn't name it the neat-Nick sandwich.   The hamburger-type bun gets heaped with a loose, spoonable ground-beef and onion concoction then a tomato-based sauce gets stirred in, making it possible for the contents to drip out of the bun during consumption (or should I say impossible for the contents to stay in the sandwich during consumption). Some folks skirt around this by laying the bun halves side-by-side on a plate, topping them with the meat mixture, then eating it using a knife and fork -- me thinks that kinda takes all of the sport out of it.

IMG_4632The All-American sloppy Joe sandwich -- it was one of the most popular comfort foods of the 1950s. Moms across America were making them for their families, they quickly made their way into school lunchrooms, and, sloppy Joes showed up at parties, picnics and potlucks for all occasions.  Whether you love 'em or you don't, one bite of this now-retro sloppy-mess of a ground-beef and savory tomato-sauced sandwich is certain to conjure up a childhood memory or three.   As for me, I loved them, and my mom made them just the way I liked them -- using celery instead of the more commonly used green bell pepper, plus an extra spoonful of brown sugar because I liked them extra sweet and savory.  Sloppy Joes made many snow days, Summer days, and yes, even sick days better.

Part of the charm of the Sloppy Joe is that it's adaptable to suit anyones palate.  If you hate onions, don't put 'em in.  If you love garlic, add it.  Some like it hot -- for you folks, add a dash or three of hot sauce.  Side dishes are pretty easy to decide on too.  The sandwich pairs great with potato chips, potato salad or coleslaw -- some folks even like bake beans with theirs.

6a0120a8551282970b0278806da191200dThe original term "sloppy Joe" had nothing to do with a sandwich.  It was slangy code for any cheap restaurant or lunch counter-type establishment with a very relaxed dress code.  As for how the sandwich came to be named "sloppy Joe" (as if its being sloppy to eat isn't reason enough), the most believable story is that, in 1926, a creative restaurant cook named Joe, working at Floyd Angell's Cafe in Sioux City, Iowa, added tomato sauce and green pepper to what midwesterners refer to as "loose meat" sandwiches (which are a mixture of seasoned sautéed ground beef and onions served on a hamburger bun and sometimes topped with mustard and ketchup). That said, by the mid 1940s, the sloppy Joe sandwich was firmly established in America, and, in 1950 Libby introduced its canned Barbecue Sauce and Beef Sloppy Joe, which was the first of several canned sloppy Joe concoctions that could be kept in ones pantry -- all anyone needed to do was open the can, heat the contents and spoon it onto hamburger buns.  The Manwich was introduced in 1969 and lives on today -- it's a tomato-based sauce that one adds to their own browned ground beef.

Try my version of the  classic ground-beef sloppy-Joe sandwich:

IMG_4632 2And then try my version of the sloppy-Joe grilled-cheese sandwich:

IMG_4684"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

02/20/2022

~Snowy-Day Sloppy-Joe Grilled-Cheese Sandwiches~

IMG_4687While I adore my sloppy Joes served in the traditional manner, spooned generously onto a soft, white all-American hamburger roll, it's more than ok to get creative with ways to use the filling other than the iconic sandwich.  To  name a few:  sloppy-Joe cheese dogs, sloppy-Joe mac 'n cheese, sloppy-Joe nachos, sloppy-Joe pizza, and, my personal favorite, sloppy-Joe grilled-cheese sandwiches.  Because the sweet-and-savory sloppy-Joe ground-beef mixture is a natural when paired with melted cheese, the end justifies the means in the case of all of them.

IMG_4632The All-American sloppy Joe sandwich -- it was one of the most popular comfort foods of the 1950s. Moms across America were making them for their families, they quickly made their way into school lunchrooms, and, sloppy Joes showed up at parties, picnics and potlucks for all occasions.  Whether you love 'em or you don't, one bite of this now-retro sloppy-mess of a ground-beef and savory tomato-sauced sandwich is certain to conjure up a childhood memory or three.   As for me, I loved them, and my mom made them just the way I liked them -- using celery instead of the more commonly used green bell pepper, plus an extra spoonful of brown sugar because I liked them extra sweet and savory.  Sloppy Joes made many snow days, Summer days, and yes, even sick days better.

Manwichad1980sThe original term "sloppy Joe" had nothing to do with a sandwich.  It was slangy code for any cheap restaurant or lunch counter-type establishment with a very relaxed dress code.  As for how the sandwich came to be named "sloppy Joe" (as if its being sloppy to eat isn't reason enough), the most believable story is that, in 1926, a creative restaurant cook named Joe, working at Floyd Angell's Cafe in Sioux City, Iowa, added tomato sauce and green pepper to what midwesterners refer to as "loose meat" sandwiches (which are a mixture of seasoned sautéed ground beef and onions served on a hamburger bun and sometimes topped with mustard and ketchup). That said, by the mid 1940s, the sloppy Joe sandwich was firmly established in America, and, in 1950 Libby introduced its canned Barbecue Sauce and Beef Sloppy Joe, which was the first of several canned sloppy Joe concoctions that could be kept in ones pantry -- all anyone needed to do was open the can, heat the contents and spoon it onto hamburger buns.  The Manwich was introduced in 1969 and lives on today -- it's a tomato-based sauce that one adds to their own browned ground beef. 

When your ooey-gooey grilled cheese sandwich has a sweet 'n savory sloppy Joe center -- the world is a better place.

IMG_4600For the sloppy Joe's:

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

1  generous cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion (6 ounces)

1  generous cup finely-diced celery, or, finely-diced green pepper (6 ounces)

1/2  teaspoon celery seed (omit if using green pepper)

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  cup ketchup

2  tablespoon yellow "ballpark" mustard

4  tablespoons dark brown sugar

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

IMG_4645For each sandwich:

2  tablespoons salted butter

2  slices soft, white bread

2-4  slices yellow American cheese, the pre-packaged slices are the right thickness

3-4  tablespoons sloppy Joe mixture, from above recipe

serve with suggestions:  cream of tomato soup, crunchy potato chips, potato salad or coleslaw, &/or, dill pickle spears

IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602~Step 1.  To make the sloppy Joe's, place the ground beef in a 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides. Prep the onion and celery (or green pepper), placing them in the pan as you work.  Add the celery seed, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Using a large spoon or spatula, give the mixture a thorough stir, making sure all of the vegetables and the spices are evenly incorporated into the meat.  Sauté, over medium-high heat, using a spatula to stir frequently and break up the meat into small bits and pieces, until meat has lost its red color and almost no liquid remains in the bottom of the pan, about 20-30 minutes.

IMG_4620 IMG_4620 IMG_4620 IMG_4620~Step 2.  Add and use a large spoon to stir in the ketchup ketchup, mustard, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is steaming, 1-2 more minutes.  Remove from heat, cover the pan and allow to steep, about 15-30 minutes, to allow some time for the sweet and savory tomato-sauce-flavors to soak into the ground meat.  

IMG_4651 IMG_4651 IMG_4651 IMG_4651 IMG_4658 IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4661~Step 3.  To assemble and cook the sloppy-Joe grilled-cheese sandwiches, melt two tablespoons butter in a 10" nonstick skillet over low heat.  Place 2 slices of bread in the skillet.  Top each slice with 1-2 slices yellow American cheese.  Gently and carefully, spoon and spread 3-4 tablespoons sloppy Joe mixture atop one slice of cheese-topped bread. Increase heat to medium- medium-low (error on the side of the heat being too low), place a lid on the skillet, and cook, watching carefully, 2-3 minutes (a glass lid allows you to keep an eye on things), until the cheese has melted and bread is lightly-and-nicely toasted.  Remove lid from the skillet.  Place the bread slice with the melted cheese on it, cheese-side-down, atop the bread slice with the sloppy Joe mixture on it.  Use a spatula to transfer the sandwich from skillet to plate. Using a serrated bread knife, slice and serve ASAP.  Repeat process with remaining sandwiches.

Bring on the tomato soup + a pickle -- & take that first bite:

IMG_4708Snowy-Day Sloppy-Joe Grilled-Cheese Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 6 cups sloppy Joe mixture/each 1 cup Sloppy Joe mixture is enough for 4 sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; 10" nonstick skillet/ lid; large spatula; large spoon; 10" nonstick skillet; spatula; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d26b186e970cCook's Note: On a 1917 episode of The Walking Dead, while scouting around in search of food and guns, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira), fall through a rooftop into a room filled with just that, guns and miscellaneous canned foods and military RTE (ready-to-eat) meals. Rick goes full-blown romantic on Michonne.  After the obligatory sex, they eat a candlelit feeding-frenzy dinner and Rick presents her with a surprise, and it's not jewelry -- it's one last type of RTE meal. "I've been waiting to show you this one," Rick says, "It's chili. And mac 'n cheese.  Together."  Try my ~ Walking Dead:  It's Chili & Mac 'n Cheese.  Together. ~.

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

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

02/17/2022

~ Snowy-Day Ground-Beef Sloppy-Joe Sandwiches ~

IMG_4636The All-American sloppy Joe sandwich -- one of the most popular comfort foods of the 1950s. Moms across America were making them for their families, they made their way into school lunchrooms, and, they showed up at parties, picnics and potlucks.  Whether you love 'em or you don't, one bite of this now-retro sloppy-mess of a ground-beef and savory tomato-sauced sandwich is certain to conjure up a childhood memory or three.   As for me, I loved them, and my mom made them just the way I liked them -- using celery instead of the more commonly used green bell pepper, plus an extra spoonful of brown sugar because I liked them extra sweet and savory.  Sloppy Joes made snow days, Summer days, and yes, even sick days better.

Manwichad1980sThe original term "sloppy Joe" had nothing to do with a sandwich.  It was slangy code for any cheap restaurant or lunch counter-type establishment with a very relaxed dress code.  As for how the sandwich came to be named "sloppy Joe" (as if its being sloppy to eat isn't reason enough), the most believable story is that, in 1926, a creative restaurant cook named Joe, working at Floyd Angell's Cafe in Sioux City, Iowa, added tomato sauce and green pepper to what midwesterners refer to as "loose meat" sandwiches (which are a mixture of seasoned sautéed ground beef and onions served on a hamburger bun and sometimes topped with mustard and ketchup). That said, by the mid 1940s, the sloppy Joe sandwich was firmly established in America, and, in 1950 Libby introduced its canned Barbecue Sauce and Beef Sloppy Joe, which was the first of several canned sloppy Joe concoctions that could be kept in ones pantry -- all anyone needed to do was open the can, heat the contents and spoon it onto hamburger buns.  The Manwich was introduced in 1969 and lives on today -- it's a tomato-based sauce that one adds to their own browned ground beef. 

Please skip the canned stuff -- making Sloppy Joe's from scratch is almost as easy, &, so very much tastier:

IMG_46002-2 1/2  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

1  generous cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion (6 ounces)

1  generous cup finely-diced celery, or, finely-diced green pepper (6 ounces)

1/2  teaspoon celery seed (omit if using green pepper)

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  cup ketchup

2  tablespoon yellow "ballpark" mustard

4  tablespoons dark brown sugar

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602~Step 1.  To make the sloppy Joe's, place the ground beef in a 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides. Prep the onion and celery (or green pepper), placing them in the pan as you work.  Add the celery seed, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Using a large spoon or spatula, give the mixture a thorough stir, making sure all of the vegetables and the spices are evenly incorporated into the meat.  Sauté, over medium-high heat, using a spatula to stir frequently and break up the meat into small bits and pieces, until meat has lost its red color and almost no liquid remains in the bottom of the pan, about 20-30 minutes.  

IMG_4620 IMG_4620 IMG_4620 IMG_4620~Step 2.  Add and use a large spoon to stir in the ketchup, mustard, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is steaming, 1-2 more minutes.  Remove from heat, cover the pan and allow to steep, about 15-30 minutes, to allow some time for the sweet and savory tomato-sauce-flavors to soak into the ground meat.

'Tis true:  Potato chips are to a sloppy Joe, what French fries are to a hamburger -- & in either case, hold my beer!

IMG_4642Snowy-Day Ground-Beef Sloppy-Joe Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 6 cups sloppy Joe mixture/enough for 12 sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spatula; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b026bdefb196d200cCook's Note: The fabulous '50's may be gone forever, but they are certainly not forgotten.  Remember the stainless steel diner in your hometown that served up a thick slice of mouthwatering meatloaf smothered in a smooth and rich pan gravy alongside a big scoop of fluffy mashed potatoes? Remember meatloaf day in your school cafeteria with stewed tomatoes and macaroni and cheese?  Remember the Swanson frozen meatloaf dinner slathered with a thick brown gravy and French fries?  I remember them all, but, mostly, I remember ~ My Mom's "Special" All-Beef Meatloaf ~, and, the story of humble, homey All-American meatloaf is fascinating.  

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

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

02/14/2022

~ GF Deconstructed Slow-Cooker Stuffed-Cabbage ~

IMG_4591Feel free to assume I'm not a fan of trendy deconstructed dishes.  I am, however, the first to admit there are exceptions to every rule, and, my mom's recipe for deconstructed stuffed cabbage rolls is one such exception.  Why?  Because the end justifies the means in a big, beautiful way: Every forkful of the finished "deconstructed" version is uncompromisingly just as delicious as the classic original, and, the time saved by not cooking many of the components first, then assembling them in the typical manner is marked.  All I can say is:  Where had this "deconstructed" method been all my life?  It took years for mom to teach me to make her cabbage rolls to perfection (it takes a lot of work to construct a traditional cabbage roll), then, in 2016, she showed me how she makes her deconstructed cabbage rolls -- and it made my life a lot easier.

When it comes to making cabbage rolls, like meatloaf or meatballs, most cuisines have a traditional recipe for them, and, all make use of on-hand ingredients.  For instance:  If they live in an area suited for raising sheep, lamb is in their cabbage rolls.  If they live in a climate where vegetables grow year round, you'll find veggies like bell peppers and chunky tomatoes in them.  I will, however, go out on a limb and state:  when I say "cabbage roll", you should say "Eastern European", because that is the cuisine they're hands-down most commonly associated with.

Here's my gluten-free twist on my mom's recipe:

IMG_44521 medium-sized head green cabbage (about 2 1/2 pounds)

3  pounds lean ground beef (90/10) 

2  medium-sized yellow onions, about 6-ounces each, finely-diced (about 2 cups)

1  cup uncooked long-grain white rice or basmati rice, not "Minute rice" (8 ounces)

1  seasoning packet from 1  box of  G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix  (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture is both gluten-free and meat-free.  It was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret ingredient of my grandmother's and I've keep it on-hand in my pantry specifically to duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's readily available at grocery stores and on-line.)

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2  extra-large eggs

1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 

3  32-ounce boxes + 2 cups gluten-free tomato soup tomato soup (Note:  Not all tomato soup, Campbell's for example, is gluten-free, so, be sure to check the label.)

2  additional teaspoons sea salt + 1 teaspoon additional coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_4458 IMG_4458 IMG_4458 IMG_4458 IMG_4458~Step 1.  To mix the meat and semi-form the meatballs, place the ground beef, diced onion, uncooked rice, G. Washington's seasoning, salt, pepper, eggs and Worcestershire sauce in a large bowl.  Mix thoroughly to combine -- the best and easiest way to do this is with your hands.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, form the meat mixtures into balls, dropping and dividing them equally between two plates, 24-26 on each plate.  Set aside.

IMG_4473 IMG_4473 IMG_4473 IMG_4473~Step 2.  To prep the cabbage, remove and reserve a few soft, leafy outer leaves from the head of cabbage.  Cut/remove the hard core from the center, then slice the head into two halves, then cut each half into two quarters.  Coarse-slice/1/2" shred the first two quarters, and set them aside.  Coarse-shred the second two quarters and set them aside (separate from the first two).

IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483~Step 3.  Everybody into the crockpot. Between the palms of your hands, roll half (give-or-take) the meatballs into actual balls, placing them, side-by-side and in a single layer, in the bottom of the cabbage-leaf lined crockpot. Scatter half of the coarse-shredded cabbage atop the meatballs -- do not press down or try to compact the layers.  Between the palms of your hands, roll the remaining meatballs into actual balls, placing them, side-by-side and in a single layer atop the coarse-shredded cabbage.  Scatter the remaining half of the coarse-shredded cabbage atop the meatballs.  Add the tomato soup, giving it time to drizzle down through the cracks and crevices.  Sprinkle on the additional salt and pepper.  Do not press down or try to compact the layers.  Place the lid on the crockpot.

IMG_4500 IMG_4500 IMG_4500 IMG_4500~Step 4.  Slow-cook on high for 4 hours, then on low for 2 hours.  Lift the lid and smell the wonderfulness.  I like to serve these family style, but feel free to plate for each person.  To serve, using a large slotted spoon, transfer all the shredded cabbage to a 4-quart casserole.  Using the same spoon, transfer and arrange all the meatballs atop the cabbage.  Using a soup ladle, transfer a generous half of the sauce to the casserole.  Serve the remaining sauce at table side.

Just like grandma used to make -- (wink, wink) almost! 

IMG_4595GF Deconstructed Slow-Cooker Stuffed-Cabbage:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; cutting board; chef's knife; 6 1/2-7-quart crockpot; large slotted spoon; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4820b9d200dCook's Note: Known as holubki to me and many of you*, stuffed cabbage rolls are beloved in every Eastern European household. Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), cooked rice, steamed green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce.  Because they are labor-intensive, too often they're reserved for holidays or special occasions. That said, those of us in Eastern European inner-circles know there are other ways to bring this knife-and-fork savory comfort food to the weekday table in almost half the time. Here's ~ Five Ways to Enjoy Slovak-Style Stuffed Cabbage ~.  Give 'em a try!

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

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

02/11/2022

~Pasta - Choose, Portion, Cook, Sauce, Toss & Serve~

IMG_4586The world is full of pasta-bilities.  Our modern marketplaces have supplied all of our demands with hundreds of shapes, sizes, and colors of dried and fresh pasta.  I suppose it is because pasta is relatively quick to cook that many Americans impulsively try to create their own versions of well-known pasta dishes having little or no knowledge of the tried and true, time-honored principles and classic recipe techniques these recipes require.  What's worse, many American restaurants do the same.  Trust me when I say, I'm happy to overlook a slightly over-cooked or over-sauced pasta dish served by a friend who forth their best effor,.  That said, some of the lifeless, lack-luster, overly-sauced, overly-salted pasta dishes served at many restaurants should be outlawed.

#1.  Choosing pasta -- fresh vs. dried & what shape works best.

IMG_4512There are two types of pasta:  dried and fresh. Dried pasta is commercially made using semolina (wheat) and durum flour (wheat).  Fresh pasta is made with flour and eggs.  Both are available in countless shapes and sizes.  Do not fall into the snobbish trap of only eating fresh pasta, or only eating dried pasta, or only eating one shape of pasta.  Each type and shape has a specific purpose and they are usually not interchangeable.  The basic rule for both dried and fresh pasta is:  the more delicate the sauce, the more delicate the pasta.  Dried pasta (spaghetti and penne for example), hold up under the weight of heavy sauces.  Dried pasta shapes are also great for baked casseroles, like mac & cheese or stuffed shells.  Fresh pasta, which breaks more easily, requires a light sauce and/or should be used to to make filled-pasta like tortellini or ravioli.  As with all cooking, there are exceptions to every rule so:  when in doubt, trust the recipe.

As for trendy dried or fresh pasta found colored or flavored with exotic items like squid ink and truffle, simply stated:  for the most part they are a waste of money because flour and the cooking process deaden the expensive flavors.  On the other hand, gourmet pasta that contains herbs like, cracked pepper, basil or rosemary impart lovely flavor into the dish being served, as long as it is chosen to complement the dish being served.  That being said, colored pasta is a lot of fun to serve, especially the colors of the Italian flag:  egg (white), spinach (green), and, tomato (red).

#2.  Portioning pasta -- people eat more than the experts say.

IMG_4010Authorities proclaim that one pound of pasta will produce 4-6 servings, depending upon whether it is served as a starter, entree or side-serving.  I, however, find that realistically, one pound of pasta produces 3-5 servings, and, in the case of thin strands, like angel hair, it is best to plan on one pound of pasta producing just 2-4 servings.  If you are adding meat, seafood or vegetables to the dish, that will, of course, stretch it farther.  It's  amazing to me just how much pasta people eat.

#3A.  Cooking pasta, part 1:  boiling -- get out the big pot.

IMG_4515Pasta needs a large pot filled with enough water so it can move freely.  My general rule for 1-1 1/2 pounds of pasta is:  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil. When the water reaches a rolling boil, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt.  Authorities say to add 1 or more tablespoons of salt, but I personally think that is too much -- I want my pasta to be mildly salted, not salty.  Many will tell you to add some oil to the water -- that's just wrong.  Never add oil to the pasta water.  Oil does nothing except enjoy a free ride on top of the water, which sticks to the surface of the pasta when it drains, which in turnprevents the sauce from sticking to the pasta. Once the salted water is boiling, gradually add the pasta to the water, in order to keep the water boiling and the pasta separated.  That said, once all of the pasta has been added, using a large spoon, stir it around until it has softened and is "swimming" freely around under the water.  Next, lower the heat to a steady simmer, as boiling damages even the heartiest pasta.

#3B.  Cooking pasta, part 2:  timing -- it's done when it's done.

IMG_4518Use the cooking instructions on the package combined with a reliable timer as a guideline.  The cooking time will vary with each type and shape of pasta, not to mention how you have the heat under the simmering pasta regulated.  Dried pasta will take considerably longer to cook than freshly made pasta, approximately 8-12 minutes depending upon the shape or thickness, with short pasta taking longer to cook than long, stranded pasta because short pasta is thicker.  Fresh pasta will cook quite quickly, in some cases as quickly as 1-2 minutes, but like dried pasta, shape and thickness will determine the time.  The longer fresh pasta dries, the longer the cooking time. When cooking dried or fresh pasta, be prepared to stand by the stove during the last 1-2 minutes and taste test as often as every 15-30 seconds. -- the difference between perfection and disaster.

IMG_4559Only a fool throws pasta against the wall to test for doneness.  The only test is "al dente", meaning "to the tooth", which means you have to taste it.  Pasta should be slightly resistant, yet cooked through and not soft or mushy.  Pasta continues to cook even after draining, so it is best to remove it from the heat slightly undercooked.  Also keep in mind that if pasta is to be baked after boiling, macaroni and  cheese for example, cook it even less.

#3C.  Cooking pasta, part 3: draining -- get out a colander.

IMG_4522Immediately and gently, transfer cooked pasta from the pot o a large colander -- for delicate or filled-pasta, use a hand-held colander to transfer the pasta into the large colander.   Give the colander a few gentle shakes to drain away all excess water.  Never rinse pasta in water, unless preparing a cold pasta dish, like macaroni salad, in which case it must be rinsed in very cold water to halt the cooking process.  Occasionally a recipe calls for reserved pasta water -- reserve this liquid (+ a bit extra) just prior to draining, then proceed with the recipe as directed.

#4.  Saucing pasta -- be judicious, less is more.

IMG_4547Be sure to have any sauce/and or other ingredients ready/warm and waiting for the pasta to cook, never vice versa.  Do not add all of the sauce at once.  The pasta may not need it, and extra sauce can be served at tableside to suit individual preferences.  A pasta dish that has been perfectly sauced and tossed has no sauce puddled on the plate or in the bottom of the bowl, before or after eating it.  Authentic Italian pasta is never soaked in or over-sauced.  This is typically the biggest mistakes Americans and American restaurants make.  As a guideline, for 12-16 ounces of spaghetti, I use 1-1/2-2 cups of sauce.  Depending upon the recipe or personal preference, consider stirring a bit of finely-grated cheese into the sauce too.  My favorite is Parmigiano-Reggiano and for 12-16-ounces of pasta you'll need about 3-4 tablespoons.  Other favorites of mine are Grana Padano (similar to Parm.-Regg.), Locatelli (Pecorino-Romano), or a well-aged Asiago.  Be sure to use a microplane grater to finely grate the cheese you are adding.

#5.  Tossing pasta -- transforming pasta & sauce into one dish.

IMG_4577Tossing is the step that transforms the sauce and the pasta into a single dish.  Immediately after draining the pasta into the colander, return the hot pasta to the still warm stockpot and place the stockpot on the still warm stovetop.  For every 2 ounces of pasta you have cooked, add 1 tablespoon of salted butter (preferably at room temperature). Give it a gentle but thorough stir, just until the pasta is evenly coated in the melted butter.  Cover and let it sit on stovetop 1-2 minutes, to allow the pasta time to absorb all of the butter.  The butter is going to impart rich flavor to your pasta (instead of just getting it from overly salted water) and it is actually going to encourage the sauce to stick to each buttery strand or piece of pasta.  My buttering trick complements any sauce you plan to add -- it is also why I am constantly asked why my pasta tastes better than everyones.  Add the sauce to the buttered pasta and toss until every piece or strand is enrobed.

Note:  If my "coat the hot pasta in butter" tip has you rolling your eyes or about to leave me a nasty comment, this is where we should part ways.  If you haven't tried it, you can't begin to understand, and, I could care less if you, your mama or your entire family hails from Italy.

IMG_4567 IMG_4571 IMG_4575To toss, use either two spoons or two forks, or, a pair of tongs -- I find that two spoons or two forks work best for short pasta (like penne and rigatoni), and tongs work best for stranded pasta (like linguini and spaghetti).

#6.  Serving pasta -- family-style vs. individual servings. 

IMG_4583 2Once the pasta is tossed, it is time to serve it.  There are two options. Family-style:  transfer pasta to a large, warmed serving platter; Individual portions:  transfer pasta to warmed, shallow pasta bowls. When serving individual portions, use tongs.  Twirl the pasta, to make it look like a bird's nest in the center of each bowl.  In either case, a wedge of cheese and a microplane cheese grater should be on the table -- along with any additional sauce for those who desire some. Always remember, from the minute the pasta is cooked, there is no time for pause or delay.

Would you like my recipe for meatballs with that?

6a0120a8551282970b02942f995e04200c-800wiChoosing, Portioning, Cooking & Saucing Pasta:  Recipe yields instructions to cook and sauce perfect pasta every time.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot w/lid (or stockpot sized appropriately for how much pasta is being cooked); colander; two large spoons or two large forks, or, a pair of tongs; microplane grater

6a0120a8551282970b027880115bbf200dCook's Note:  Even those of us who can and do make ravioli from scratch, don't typically serve them for a family-friendly weeknight meal. Why?  Making ravioli from scratch is a lot of work.  That's why these one-to-two-bite labors-of-love are usually reserved for holidays and celebrations. That said, high-quality store-bought ravioli can be found in the average grocery store.  Rana is my go-to brand, and, you won't find them in the frozen food aisle -- they're found in the refrigerated section where fresh pasta is sold.  When paired with an easy-to-make-from-scratch sauce, ravioli can be added to every pasta-loving family's weeknight meal rotation:  Try these three sauces!

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

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

02/08/2022

~Eat Some, Freeze Some -- A Big Batch of Meatballs~

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d909620970dEverybody loves meatballs, and, the night the family is eating spaghetti and meatballs for dinner is the most popular day in the weekly meal rotation.  For Italian-American families, that dinner is typically reserved for Sunday.  Tender, juicy, flavor-packed meatballs get slow-simmered in a pot of "gravy" (meaning red sauce), and, every Italian-American family claims to have the best, handed-down-for-generations, recipe for "polpette" (meaning "meatballs").  Enough said.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39a0a57200cMeatballs are a universal food, and, almost every culture has their own name for them and way to serve them using spices and sauces common to their cuisine.  They come in all sizes too:  tiny, pop-in-your-mouth sized ones served at coctail parties or put into soups; medium-sized ones served as an accompaniment to pasta or put in submarine-type sandwiches; and, large near baseball-sized ones served as a main course -- yep some people really do make them that large.  While meatballs aren't Italian per se, I'm pretty certain when most of us think of meatballs, we associate them with the pillowy-soft, melt-in-your-mouth, meatballs covered in red sauce of the Italian-American kind.  And, just like other cultures brought their meatball recipes with them, the Italian immigrants brought their traditional family meatball recipes to America with them.  That said, back in Italy, meatballs were not (initially) served with spaghetti.  They were served alone, as a meatball course, as was the pasta, as a pasta course, and the salad, as a salad course, etc.  These two items began being served together in Italian restaurants to appease Americans who wanted meat served with their pasta -- some changes really are for the better.

Here's my family's best Italian-American polpette recipe:

IMG_4382For the basic meat mixture:

4  pounds lean ground meat (90/10)

4  pounds pork tenderloin

12  ounces finely diced onion

For the wet mixture & seasonings:

12 ounces saltine crackers (6 crackers shy of 3 sleeves)

8  jumbo eggs

1  cup milk

2  teaspoons Italian seasoning blend

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

4  ounces fine-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1 cup)

For forming and frying:

1  24-ounce container plain, dry breadcrumbs

corn or peanut oil for frying

IMG_4388 IMG_4388~ Step 1.  To make the meat mixture, place all three ingredients in a very large bowl (the ground beef, ground pork and diced onion) and thoroughly combine.  The quickest and easiest way way to do this is with your hands.  Set mixture aside.

IMG_4393 IMG_4393 IMG_4393 IMG_4393 IMG_4393 IMG_4393 IMG_4393~Step 2.  To make the wet mixture, place crackers in a large-capacity food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of about 30 rapid on-off pulses, process the crackers to crumbs.  Open the lid of the processor and add the eggs, milk, Italian seasoning, sea salt and coarse-grind pepper.  Close the lid and with the motor running, process until the mixture is smooth, thick and pasty, about 15-20 seconds. Open the lid of the processor and add the fine-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Close the lid and process until the cheese is thoroughly incorporated, an additional 15-20 seconds.

IMG_4410 IMG_4410 IMG_4410~ Step 3. Transfer wet mixture to meat mixture. Using hands, thoroughly combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2-3 hours or overnight, to allow the flavors time to marry.  Uncover and briefly remix.

Forming, Frying & Freezing Meatballs:

The above meatball mixture, which is simple and straight-forward, makes a lot, about ten dozen. It takes no extra time to mix this big batch, just about 30 minutes of extra frying time, which is a small sacrifice considering the outcome.  Once the meatballs are fried, I portion and freeze them (unsauced), enough for 6-8 meals.  My method for frying meatballs, however, requires one extra, old and authentic step.  It is a step many American cooks don't know about, or skip.  The formed meatballs get rolled in breadcrumbs prior to frying.  This produces a lovely crisp, golden brown breadcrumb crust.  These are indeed, moist, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth incredible meatballs.

IMG_4417 IMG_4417~ Step 1.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place meatballs on 2 large, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans.  Cover with plastic wrap, and keep covered until you're ready to roll them in breadcrumbs and fry.  I fry my meatballs in my electric skillet -- it controls the temperature perfectly, and, is about the same size as a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, which makes this similar-sized perfect to use as a vessel to hold the breadcrumbs.

IMG_4427 IMG_4427 IMG_4427Step 2.  Place about 2 cups of breadcrumbs in the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish -- add additional breadcrumbs as necessary throughout the process.  Place a scant 1/4" of oil in the bottom of an electric skillet and preheat to 275°.  Note:  In the case of my electric skillet, you can see that a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish is the perfect gauge for how many meatballs to fry at one time.  Do not overcrowd the skillet.

IMG_4435 IMG_4435 IMG_4435~ Step 3.  Place about 12-16 meatballs in the breadcrumbs and roll to coat.  When all are coated, place them in the preheated skillet. Fry, until browned on both sides, but NOT completely cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side. Do not overcook meatballs.  Using a pair of tongs remove from skillet and place in a large, flat-bottomed, paper-towel-lined disposable aluminum roasting pan to drain.

IMG_4444 IMG_4444 IMG_4444~ Step 4. Refrigerate meatballs on parchment-lined baking pans for 1-2 hours -- chilling prior to freezing prevents freezer burn. To freeze, I portion and place them onto inexpensive, disposable food service plates or trays that I buy at our local Sam's club.  Each tray gets double or triple wrapped in plastic, then placed in a food storage bag.  Lastly, I stack the trays neatly on top of each other in my freezer.

Drop frozen meatballs into sauce & simmer 10-12 minutes:

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d90917c970dEat Some, Freeze Some -- A Big Batch of Meatballs:  Recipe yields 10+ dozen meatballs.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; very large mixing bowl; large-capacity food processor; 1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish; electric skillet or large nonstick skillet; small fork; tongs; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b0133f33a94bc970bCook's Note:  To cook freshly-made lightly-sautéed or frozen (unthawed) meatballs, drop them into your favorite red sauce that is simmering in a chef's pan, saucepan or stockpot.  Gently simmer until just cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Need a sauce recipe?  Try my recipe for ~ Mel's Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~.

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

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

02/05/2022

~ Super-Easy Light & Skinny Tuna or Chicken Salad ~

IMG_4357Tuna salad and chicken salad -- they're two of my favorites.  Tuna I have on-hand in my pantry all the time, chicken breast I have leftover on a regular basis.  Tuna or chicken salad is nothing fancy -- and it's ertainly not gourmet.  Just a quick and easy-to-make lunch made from ingredients you most-likely have on hand in your pantry -- and it'll keep you smiling all afternoon too.  Why? Because besides being loaded with fat-free protein (from tuna packed in water or the meat from leftover chicken breasts, plus hard-cooked eggs), it's filling and packed-full of flavor (from all the wonderful spices in your favorite "lite" Italian dressing).  There's more. It's light -- a refreshing break from calorie-packed carbohydrates.  It's never to early to "think Spring".

Filling, packed-full of flavor & texture -- & light on calories too:

IMG_43321  12-ounce can packed-in-water Starkist albacore tuna, well-drained and chunked, or, 12-ounces meat from leftover poached or roasted chicken breast, pulled into bite-sized pieces

3  ounces diced celery (about 1/2 cup)

2  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1/3 cup)

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2  extra-large eggs, hard-cooked, peeled and chopped

6-8  tablespoons Wishbone light Italian salad dressing

IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333~Step 1. To make the tuna salad, open and place the tuna on a paper-towel-lined plate, long enough to drain all excess liquid, 3-4 minutes.  Using your fingertips, pull the tuna into bite-size pieces, transferring them to a medium bowl as you work.  If making chicken salad, use your fingers to pull the breast meat into bite-sized pieces. Dice the celery and onion, adding them to the bowl with the tuna.  Add the black pepper and six tablespoons of the light-Italian dressing.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the mixture together, to thoroughly combine.  Add the chopped hard-cooked eggs.  Using the same spatula, gently fold the eggs into the mixture.  Refrigerate tuna salad until well-chilled, 2-4-6 hours or overnight.  Once chilled, give it a taste and add additional Italian dressing if desired.

Try it in my Super-Easy Skinny Tuna Salad Pita Sandwiches:

IMG_4367Super-Easy Light & Skinny Tuna or Chicken Salad:  Recipe yields 4 cups tuna or chicken salad.

Special Equipment List: paper towelsls; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0278806a4c30200dCook's Note:  Occasionally my dad would fix his version of tuna salad. On a large platter, he'd make a bed of soft lettuce leaves, then add a layer of tomato slices followed by a sliced cucumber.  He'd scatter a lightly-drained can of chilled tuna-packed-in-oil over the veggies, followed by a few dollops of cottage cheese.  His creation ended with a sprinkling of salt and black pepper. Mom would make some rye toast, put a pitcher of iced tea on the table and lunch was served.  It wasn't fancy, but our family of four loved it. Try my twist and mixed-up version of Dad's deconstructed tuna salad:   ~ Lighten Up w/a Refreshing Tuna-Mac Garden Salad ~.  It goes without saying, this recipe can be made substituting chicken breast for tuna too!

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

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

02/02/2022

~ Super-Easy Skinny Tuna Salad Pita Sandwiches ~

IMG_4367Nothing fancy.  Certainly not gourmet.  Just a quick and easy-to-make lunch made from ingredients you most-likely have on hand in your pantry -- and it'll keep you smiling all afternoon too.  Why?  Because besides being loaded with fat-free protein (from tuna packed in water and hard-cooked eggs) it's filling and packed-full of flavor (from all the wonderful spices in your favorite "lite" Italian dressing) and texture (from crunchy celery, onion and lettuce), plus, it's light -- a refreshing break from calorie-packed carbohydrates.  It's never to early to "think Spring".

IMG_4380Filling, packed-full of flavor & texture -- & light on calories too:

IMG_4332For the tuna salad:

1  12-ounce can packed-in-water Starkist albacore tuna, well-drained and chunked

3  ounces diced celery (about 1/2 cup)

2  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1/3 cup)

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2  extra-large eggs, hard-cooked, peeled and chopped

6-8  tablespoons Wishbone light Italian salad dressing

IMG_4364Four ingredients for the skinny-tuna pita sandwiches:

4  white or whole wheat pita pockets, cut into 8 halves

1 1/2-2  cups iceberg or romaine lettuce, chopped or torn into small bite-sized pieces

4-6  small thin-sliced Campari tomatoes

4  cups chilled skinny tuna salad, from above recipe

IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333~Step 1.  To make the tuna salad, open and place the tuna on a paper-towel-lined plate, long enough to drain all excess liquid, 3-4 minutes.  Using your fingertips, pull the tuna into bite-size pieces, transferring them to a medium bowl as you work. Dice the celery and onion, adding them to the bowl with the tuna.  Add the black pepper and six tablespoons of the light-Italian dressing.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the mixture together, to thoroughly combine.  Add the chopped hard-cooked eggs.  Using the same spatula, gently fold the eggs into the mixture.  Refrigerate tuna salad until well-chilled, 2-4-6 hours or overnight.  Once chilled, give it a taste and add additional Italian dressing if desired.

IMG_4375 IMG_4375~ Step 2.  To assemble the pita sandwiches, split the pita pockets in half and gently open each half. Add a bed of lettuce pieces, then 3-4 tomato slices to each half.  Scoop a few (4-6) generous tablespoons tuna salad into each half and serve. 

It's never to early to "think Spring":

IMG_4370Super-Easy Skinny Tuna Salad Pita Sandwiches:  4 cup tuna salad/enough for 4 full-size pita sandwiches/8 pita sandwich halves.

Special Equipment List:  paper towelsls; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49d3041200dCook's Note:  Occasionally my dad would fix his version of tuna salad. On a large platter, he'd make a bed of soft lettuce leaves, then add a layer of tomato slices followed by a sliced cucumber.  He'd scatter a lightly-drained can of chilled tuna-packed-in-oil over the veggies, followed by a few dollops of cottage cheese.  His creation ended with a sprinkling of salt and black pepper. Mom would make some rye toast, put a pitcher of iced tea on the table and lunch was served.  It wasn't fancy, but our family of four loved it. Try my twist and mixed-up version of Dad's deconstructed tuna salad:   ~ Lighten Up w/a Refreshing Tuna-Mac Garden Salad ~.

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

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

01/30/2022

~How to Prebake, Freeze, Thaw & Finish-Bake Pizza~

IMG_4235In terms of comfort food, pizza is at the top of the short list.  But, when the craving for a pizza hits, it's not exactly instant gratification -- eat-in requires a drive to your favorite pizza pub, delivery requires a wait to receive a less than idillic product, and, to make one from scratch requires even more time.  Tick, tock.  If you're looking for a way to work around this dilemma, you've come to the right place.  Here in my kitchen, when I make pizza, I make one and freeze one.  Keeping a few stored in my freezer means my family or friends can be enjoy a top-notch, ooey-gooey cheesy pizza whenever the mood strikes -- and it takes just twenty stress-free, mess-free minutes.

Start w/an unbaked, fully-topped pizza.

IMG_4198 IMG_4198 IMG_4198~ Step 1.  Start by making your favorite pizza dough. Pat it into a lightly-oiled 12"-round or 13" x 9"-rectangular pizza pan and top it with your favorite pizza sauce, cheese(s), and any additional meat or vegetable toppings.

Prebake pizza in pan, in 375° oven w/oven rack in center.

IMG_4206 IMG_4206 IMG_4206~ Step 2.  Bake the pizza on center rack of preheated 375° oven for exactly 18 minutes.  Cheese will be bubbling and melted, and crust will have puffed up.  Remove pizza from oven.  Using a large metal spatula, loosen/slide pizza from pan onto a cooling rack to cool completely, 1-1 1/2 hours. 

Tightly-wrap, refrigerate, then freeze pizza for several months.

IMG_4218 IMG_4218 IMG_4308 IMG_4308 IMG_4308~Step 3.  To avoid (at all cost) any type of freezer burn, first, triple wrap the completely cooled pizza in plastic wrap.  Next, seal the pizza it in a 2-2 1/2-gallon Ziplock bag, then, place it in the refrigerator for several hours to get it cold.  Once the pizza is cold, freeze it flat, and, if you continue to make additional pizzas, it is fine to stack them flat on top of each other.

Thaw & finish-bake directly on center oven rack, in 350° oven.

IMG_4327 IMG_4327 IMG_4327~ Step 4.  Thaw fully-wrapped pizza on the counter for about an hour, OR, gently and carefully on the defrost-cyle in the microwave oven for about 3 minutes.  Remove plastic wrap from thawed pizza.  Place pizza directly on center rack (or on a pizza stone placed on the center oven rack) of preheated 350° for 4-6 minutes, or, until the cheese is bubbly and the bottom of the crust has crisped up.

A freezer w/homemade frozen pizza = a family's best friend:

IMG_4323How to Prebake, Freeze, Thaw & Finish-Bake Pizza:  Recipe yields instructions fo prebake, freeze, thaw & finish-bake as many pizzas as you want to.

Special Equipment List: 1, 12"-round pizza pan or 1, "13" x 9"-rectangular baking pan; large metal spatula; pizza peel; pizza stone (optional); wire cooling rack; plastic wrap; 2 1/2-gallon Ziplock freezer bag 

6a0120a8551282970b0263e8602140200dCook's Note:  Wouldn't it be great if the moment the smooth, round ball of pizza dough was kneaded we could slap it on the pan, pat it out, slather it with sauce, layer it with toppings and pop it in the oven? It sure would, but, unfortunately, we can't -- well, we can, but the end result is somewhat less than palatable. "Proofing" meaning, "the time it takes for the dough to rise after it has been kneaded and bulk-proofed", is the most important step in the pizza making process. Sadly, it's all-too-often not taken seriously -- it gets rushed.  Great crust comes to those who wait. ~ How and Why to Proof Pizza Dough Two Easy Ways ~.

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

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

01/27/2022

~Beer-Batter-Dipped Deep-Fried Babyback Spareribs~

IMG_4291Yes, you read it right -- these ribs are beer-batter-dipped and deep-fried.  One could say strange things happen to people during a lengthy arctic-esque freeze stirred into a pandemic --  to name a few, we binge-watch way too much TV, eat way too many carbohydrates, and, push like to way too many Facebook memes.  BUT, as Cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs as it might seem to many, batter-dipping and deep-frying spareribs isn't one of them -- the Chinese have been deep-frying ribs for centuries, and they're a popular item on many Chinese-American restaurant menus.

That said, it should come as no surprise that South of the Mason-Dixon Line, on occasion, folks deep-fry spareribs too -- after all, by definition, the phrase "Southern-fried" is not limited to chicken. So, once you pause to think about it for a moment or two, it will come as no shock that, done in the manner of batter-dipped Southern-fried chicken or catfish, spareribs are no different -- they're delicious.  Suck-it-up, close the lid on that grill, get out the deep-fryer and live dangerously.

Crispy outside, perfectly-cooked & full-flavored juicy-tender inside -- they're simply irresistible...

IMG_4276 2... but, they're filling, so, they're a great way to stretch one rack of ribs to feed a family of four or serve as hors d'oeuvres.

IMG_2756

1 or 2  full-racks babyback pork spareribs

1 or 2  12-ounce bottles beer, your favorite kind (one bottle of beer per rack of ribs)

4 1/2 or 9  cups pancake mix, your favorite kind (4 1/2 cups total for 1 rack of ribs, 9 cups total for 2 racks of ribs) (Note:  I use pancake mix in place of self-rising flour or flour mixed with baking powder and salt.  It works great, tastes fantastic, and, it's always on-hand in my pantry.)

corn or peanut oil for deep-frying

freshly-ground sea salt, for seasoning ribs as they emerge from the deep-fryer

IMG_2760 IMG_2760 IMG_2760 IMG_2760~Step 1.  To prep one or two full racks babyback pork spareribs, pat them dry in some paper towels, and, use a paring knife to 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 between the rib bones to section each rack into 12-14 pieces.

IMG_4251 IMG_4251 IMG_4251Step 2.  For the dry dredge, in one medium-sized bowl, place 2 or 4 cups of pancake cake mix. Set aside.  For the beer batter, in a second medium-sized bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 or 5 cups of pancake mix along with 1 or 2 bottles of beer. Set aside for about 3 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken a bit, to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer to maintain a VERY drizzly consistency. For more info about beer batter, read my post ~ My All-Purpose Beer Batter for Deep-Frying Anything ~. Place a wire rack in a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Heat oil in fryer to 375° according to manufacturer's specifications.

IMG_4257 IMG_4257 IMG_4257~ Step 3.  To dry dredge and batter dip the ribs, working in batches of two or three ribs at a time (so as not to overcrowd the fryer basket), dredge each rib in the dry pancake mix to lightly-coat it on all sides. Next, drop each rib in the beer batter and swish it around a bit, until coated.  Lift each rib out of the batter and hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the excess batter to drizzle back into the bowl.

IMG_4264 IMG_4264 IMG_4264 IMG_4264~Step 4.  To deep-fry the ribs, working in batches of two or three ribs at a time (so as not to overcrowd the fryer basket, which should be submerged in the oil), gently lower each rib into the hot oil and into the fryer basket.  Close the lid on the deep-fryer and fry ribs for exactly 12 minutes per batch.  Open fryer lid and slowly lift basket up and out of deep-fryer. Transfer the ris to a wire rack in a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Tip:  To transfer the ribs, simply tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack in the pan.  Using tongs is a mistake -- it's an easy way to damage the crust.  Once out of the fryer, immediately sprinkle ribs with freshly ground sea salt and repeat process until all batches are dipped and deep-fried. 

Serve w/Southern-style rice, mac & cheese, baked beans, corn, creamy coleslaw &/or cornbread -- & barbecue sauce:

IMG_4300Beer-Batter-Dipped Deep-Fried Babyback Spareribs:  Recipe yields 12-14 spareribs/4-6 servings per rack of ribs.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; paring knife; cutting board; chef's knife; whisk; deep-fryer; wire cooling rack; large baking pan

6a0120a8551282970b02788040f2af200dCook's Note:  We all know there are several ways to cook spareribs, and, for those of us who are fair-weather grillers exclusively, there are ways to enjoy wonderful ribs in the warmth of our kitchens.  Here's my recipe for ~ The Best Way to Make Slow-Cooker Babyback Spareribs ~.

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

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

01/24/2022

~ Pearl Tapioca, Minute Tapioca and Tapioca Starch ~

IMG_4307Tapioca -- tap-ee-oh-kuh.  You've seen it in your grocery store.  Perhaps you keep some form of it in your pantry.  Tapioca is a starch commonly used as a thickener, and, because it was a staple in my grandmother's and mother's pantries, it is in mine too.  My grandmother used tapioca powder to thicken jelly, quick-cooking tapioca granules to thicken pie fillings, and whole tapioca pearls to make one of my favorite childhood comfort-food desserts:  tapioca pudding.

6a0120a8551282970b01910444e3e0970cA bit about tapioca:  The name tapioca comes from the South American, Brazilian Tupi name "tipi-oka", which means "starch".  Tapioca doesn't grow on trees like fruit or in the garden like vegetables.  It is extracted from the root of the shrub-like cassava plant (also known as manioc) via a complex process that leaches out the toxins (cyanide) to get to the usable starch.  

The starch is then processed into several forms: powder (flour), granules (flakes) and balls (pearls), with stick form being the least common in the USA.

Cassava is native to South America and the Caribbean, but is grown worldwide, with Brazil, Nigeria and Thailand being three of the biggest producers.  Many cultures, including us in the US, have adopted tapioca for culinary use in their own cuisine.  After rice and 6a0120a8551282970b01910444f050970cmaize, cassava is the world's largest gluten-free source of carbohydrates (it's basically pure unadulterated starch), but, sadly, because it contains no protein or other nutritional value (zero), this is problematic in countries with malnurished populations that rely upon tapioca as a hunger-statisfying staple.

The flavor is neutral, making tapioca powder (also marketed as flour or starch) and granules (which come in quick-cooking or instant form), a great thickener for  both sweet and savory foods.

6a0120a8551282970b01901e4f705b970bWhole pearls (which come sized S, M or L), become soft and chewy when cooked, and, lend a whimsical "squishy" texture to smooth puddings and creamy soups. If a recipe instructs to soak tapioca in water prior to cooking it, do it.  Upon soaking or cooking, tapioca rehydrates and doubles in size. Upon cooking, soaked or unsoaked tapioca turns translucent.  Soaking (or not) affects how long it will take to cook and how much liquid it will absorb from the mixture it is being cooked in.

6a0120a8551282970b01901e57e134970bA bit about instant "minute" tapioca: As per the MINUTE Tapioca company, tapioca pudding was born in 1894 in the kitchen of Susan Stavers.  Mrs. Stavers, a Boston housewife who took in boarders for extra cash, took in an ailing sailor who had brought some cassava roots from his journeys.  Hoping to soothe the sailor's upset stomach, she made a sweet, delicious pudding from the roots.  To create a smoother consistency, Stavers took the sailor's suggestion and processed the roots through a coffee grinder. The pudding turned out smooth, and Susan received rave reviews from her other boarders.  Soon, Stavers began regularly grinding tapioca, packaging it in paper bags and selling it to the neighbors.  John Whitman, a newspaper publisher, heard of Susan's process and pudding, bought the rights to Susan's recipe, and, the MINUTE Tapioca Company was born.  It became part of General Foods in 1926 and Kraft Foods in 1989.

Try my Tapioca Pudding --  Just like Grandma used to Make:

6a0120a8551282970b01901e5059fa970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

01/21/2022

~ A Bit about Vanilla Bean Paste and Vanilla Powder ~

IMG_4239Vanilla extract is the number one flavoring added to baked goods.  Vanilla extract, which is basically made by macerating ground vanilla beans in alcohol and water, is known for its enchanting scent and exotic taste.  Everyone who bakes stores high-quality pure vanilla extract in their pantry (not imitation vanilla flavoring), and usually a few precious vanilla bean pods too. Vanilla beans and vanilla extract are available everywhere, with extract being more economical than whole bean pods.  That said, there are two other lesser known, but not less important, vanilla-based products that I keep in my pantry too:  vanilla bean paste and vanilla powder.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c795181c970bVanilla bean paste is a sweet, syrupy mixture full of vanilla beans that have been scraped out of the pod.  Like vanilla extract, it's full of natural vanilla flavor, plus, it's got all the pretty speckled beans in it too.  

I think of it as a convenient cross between pure vanilla extract and the whole vanilla bean pod, and, I like to add it to cake batters because the syrupy texture ensures that the seeds distribute themselves evenly throughout the mixture.  

1 tablespoon paste = 1 tablespoon extract = 1 bean pod.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c79518ed970bVanilla powder is a free-flowing sugar which may be used in place of pure extract in any recipe.  It is great for stirring into beverages (like coffee and hot chocolate) and cocktails, (it's a great addition to  a chocolate martini) and, it loves to be sprinkled onto desserts.  

I particularly like it for making vanilla cake frosting because it doesn't affect the color like extract does, meaning it won't lend a brownish tinge to the finished product.  

1 tablespoon powder = 1 tablespoon extract.

For the Love of Vanilla Double-Vanilla Cupcakes:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c795ac09970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

01/18/2022

~About Aged Asiago Cheese & Fresh Asiago Cheese~

6a0120a8551282970b01a73dc3ddb0970dOpen the deli-drawer of my refrigerator and there's a good chance you'll find a wedge or two of Asiago cheese in it -- it's one of my favorite Italian cow's milk cheese.  If you've never tried Asiago, you should, but, it's important to know there are two types, and, the one you choose will determine how you will use it.  Simply stated, one is hard, dry and gratable, the other is soft, sliceable and meltable.  Both start out the same, but, change textures during the aging process. Aged Asiago is pale-to-amber yellow, compact and very firm with a nutty aroma and strong flavor. Fresh Asiago is white-to-pale yellow with small irregular holes throughout a slightly-spongy texture with a delicate buttery aroma and sweet flavor.  Both are all to often under appreciated. 

A bit about Asiago cheese (ah-zee-AH-go) in general:  Originally, Asiago was a sheep's milk cheese produced on the Asiago plateau in the Veneto foothills of Italy -- the cheese-making tradition in the provinces of Vicenza and Trento date back more than a thousand years. Nowadays it is made from pasteurized cow's milk (occasionally unpasteurized cow's milk) and produced in many countries.  During the aging process, Asiago changes textures.  The aged (dry) version is known as Asiago d'allevo.  The fresh (soft) version is known as Asiago Pressato.

Asiago Pressato (fresh Asiago), aged for just 1-2 months, is sold as softer, mild cheese.  Asiago d'allevo (aged Asiago), a firmer, harder, grating cheese is aged for different time periods: Mezzano (4-6 months); Vecchio (10+ months), and; Stravecchio (2+ years).  Any aged Asiago is similar to Parmesan or Romano, with Parmesan being a little sharper and Romano being a lot sharper than Asiago.  You can substitute either Parmesan or Romano for Asiago in any recipe and vice versa, IF the cheese is to be sprinkled over a finished dish at the end, but, IF the cheese is to be cooked into the dish or melted on top of it, as is the case of a cheese sauce, neither Parmesan or Romano melt as evenly and creamily as their Asiago cousin does.

Try ~My Basic Asiago Cheese Sauce for Pasta/Veggies ~:

6a0120a8551282970b01a511bd4aa6970cOr, my ~ Roasted Compari Tomatoes w/Asiago & Basil ~:

6a0120a8551282970b01a511c498c5970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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