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My Recipes-of-the-Week are featured here on my Home page. You can find 1000+ of my kitchen-tested recipes using the Recipes tab, watch nearly 100 Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV segments using the TV Videos tab, join the discussion about all of my creations using the Facebook tab, or Email your questions and comments directly to me--none go unanswered. "We are all in this food world together." ~Melanie

05/22/2018

~ Buttery Candied-Pecan and Toffee Bit Shortbread ~

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

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

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

IMG_8193Candied pecans + English toffee bits = the perfect additions.

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

1/2  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  large egg, at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

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

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

1/2  cup English toffee bits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05/19/2018

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

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

IMG_8103A bit about making fresh fruit tarts in general: 

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

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

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

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

IMG_9602Sweet Dreams:  Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05/17/2018

~ Is there a Perfect Condiment for Sweet Potato Fries ~

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

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

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

6  tablespoons ketchup

3  tablespoons mayonnaise

1-2  tablespoons maple syrup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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