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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


~ Apple, Candied Pecan & Cheesecake Bundt Cake ~

IMG_4126Spice is always nice, but, let's all admit, when the cool weather hits, the aroma of spices baking in the oven or braising on the stovetop simply smell better -- they go from smelling mouth-wateringly good to ethereal.  In this over-the-top moist, tender, calories-be-damned cake you'll find a batter loaded with loads of diced tart apples and candied pecans sandwiched in between two slightly-sweetened cream cheese, cheesecake-esque layers.  The spice is right too: apple pie spice --

My grandmom used it, mom used it & I adore it:  apple pie spice.

IMG_4105Cheese-cake & candied pecans in their apple cake was my idea. 

IMG_4026For the cheesecake filling layers:

16  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1/2  cup sugar

2  large eggs

For the apple & candied-pecan cake batter:

1  cup vegetable oil

1 1/2  cups sugar

3  large eggs, at room temperature

1  teaspoon pure, all-natural apple extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoon apple pie spice

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

4  ounces candied pecans, diced, a scant 1 cup diced pecans

4  cups peeled and diced apples, about 3 apples

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8f38a50970b-320wiFor the cream cheese glaze & candied topping:

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons butter-rum flavoring

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

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

4  ounces candied pecans, ground, for sprinkling on cake

IMG_4055 IMG_4055~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, on medium, then medium-high, then high-speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar and 2 eggs together until smooth, about 1 1/2 full minutes.  Set aside.

IMG_4034 IMG_4034 IMG_4034 IMG_4034~Step 2.  In a large bowl, on medium-high mixer speed, beat the wet ingredients:  the oil, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 eggs and extracts, about 1 full minute.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, apple pie spice, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

IMG_4043 IMG_4043 IMG_4043 IMG_4043 IMG_4043~Step 3.  Using a chef's knife, small dice the candied pecans.  Peel and medium dice the apples.  Place apples and pecans in a medium bowl. Add and toss the apples and pecans with 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of the spiced flour mixture.  Set aside.  Tossing the apples and pecans with a bit of the flour keeps them from settling to the bottom of cake as it bakes.

IMG_4058 IMG_4058 IMG_4058 IMG_4058~Step 4.  To mix the cake batter, add the flour mixture to the oil and egg mixture.  Beat over medium mixer speed until thoroughly combined and a thick batter forms, about 1-1 1/2 minutes. Remove mixer.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in all of the the apple pecan mixture.

IMG_4072 IMG_4072 IMG_4072 IMG_4072 IMG_4072~Step 5.  Generously spray a 12-cup bundt pan with no-stick spray. Spoon 2 1/2-3 cups of batter into the bottom.  Give pan a few shakes to evenly distribute the batter.  Using a second spoon, dollop half of cream cheese filling over batter.  Do not shake pan.  Spoon another 2 1/2-3 cups of the batter over the cream cheese mixture, using the spoon to gently spread the batter over the cream cheese mixture and into the sides of the pan.  Dollop the last half of the cream cheese filling over the batter.  Spoon the last 2 1/2-3 cups of the batter over the top of the cream cheese filling, once again, spreading the batter into the sides of pan.

IMG_4093 IMG_4093 IMG_4093~ Step 6.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven, 52-55 minutes, or, until puffed through to the center and a cake tester inserted in several spots comes out clean.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool, in pan, 30-45 minutes, prior to gently inverting onto wire rack and cooling completely 3-4 hours.

IMG_4103To prepare the cream cheese glaze & candied pecan topping:

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

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

IMG_4105Step 3.  When cake has cooled completely, and with the cake on the wire rack: holding your hand 4"-6" above the surface of the cake and moving it (your hand) back and forth, in a slow, steady stream, drizzle glaze over cake, while turning the wire rack about 1/4" with every back-and-forth drizzle, until all the glaze is gone. While glaze is still moist/sticky, sprinkle the ground candied pecans evenly over the top. Allow glaze to dry (stiffen up) a bit prior to transferring cake to a serving plate, slicing and serving cake, about 1 hour or overnight.

Moist, tender apple & crunchy candied pecan cake...

IMG_4150... sandwiched between two creamy cheese-cake-esque swirls:

IMG_4134Apple, Candied Pecan & Cheesecake Bundt Cake:  Recipe yields 16-20 rich-as-heck servings.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; large rubber spatula; 12-cup bundt pan; cake tester; wire cooling rack; mini-food processor; food processor

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27d969e970cCook's Note:  Best described by me as "an extremely moist, banana and pineapple, cinnamon 'n spice cake containing toasted pecans and topped with cream cheese frosting", this absolutely scrumptious cake concoction is impossible for me to resist.  It's simply irresistible.  If you're like me, when you hear "bananas and pineapple", you likely say "that sounds tropical, akin to the Caribbean islands, more than it does Southern."  That's because it is: ~ Charmingly Southern: Hummingbird (Bundt) Cake ~.

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

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


~ Spanish-Style Garlic-Lovers Shrimp & Pappardelle ~

IMG_3998While pasta is not an ingredient any of us foodies would off-handedly associate with Spain or Spanish cuisine, it has been incorporated into their diets.  It's not commonly found on restaurant menus, but, in their home kitchens, it is used as an occasional substitution for Spain's claim-to-fame staple, rice, in some of their dishes.  Gambas al ajillo (gam-bus alla-jheero), is one of Spain's most popular tapas dishes, my personal favorite tapas, and, from the moment I tasted it, I knew it could be turned into an extraordinary Italian-pasta meets Spanish tapas main-course.

IMG_3632Gambas al ajillo is a Spanish classic, and, relatively speaking, it is pretty easy to make at home. It is also an example of a "ración" ("family-style meal") turned into one of Spain's most popular pub-grub tapas.  Sweet shrimp are sautéed on the stovetop (in a seasoned 10" terra cotta "cazuela" (ka-sway-la) -- a glazed, earthenware skillet shaped similar to a straight-sided chef's pan) in a goodly amount of Spanish olive oil that has been infused with lots of garlic (shaved and/or minced) and a sprinkling of sliced small red chiles, to taste, for heat. When the shrimp are just short of being cooked through, about 3 minutes, a splash of sherry vinegar, plus a pat of butter to finish off the sauce get added, and the dish, complete with the oily garlic-sauce and a parsley garnish goes on the table.  The dish is served ASAP, family-style, in the cazuela, with plenty of grilled rustic bread slices for sopping up the garlicy oil.

IMG_3958Pappardelle is a broad, 3/4"-wide flat ribbony pasta shape.  While this pasta is traditionally served with rich, thick heavy sauces, it handles the rich, highly-flavored chile-garlic-oil of gambas al ajillo perfectly. Typically, pappardelle is made with an egg-based dough, which renders it richer and fluffier.  The wide surface area of the ribbons render it very absorbent and sturdy, which means pair perfectly with the succulent extra-jumbo shrimp.

When a Spanish tapas dish meets Italian pasta, magic happens.

IMG_3534For the shrimp:

2  pounds extra-jumbo shrimp (16-20 count), peeled, deveined, tails left on (32-40 shrimp)

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sweet, smoked Spanish paprika

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  1/4  cups high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish, divided thoroughout recipe, 1/4 cup for tossing into shrimp and spices, 3/4 cup for infusing with the garlic and chile peppers

8-10  large whole garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

4  small red chile peppers, super-thinly sliced

1  tablespoon sherry vinegar

1  tablespoon salted butter, for stirring into finished dish

1/4  cup minced fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

rustic bread slices, toasted or grilled, for accompaniment

IMG_3958For the pasta:

12-16  ounces egg pappardelle pasta, cooked al dente, cooking time to be determined by package directions

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537~Step 1.  In a large bowl, using a large spoon, toss the shrimp with the baking soda, Spanish paprika, sea salt and 1/4 cup olive oil. Set aside at room temperature.  Slice the garlic cloves and the chile peppers, placing them in a small bowl as you work.  Add the remaining 1 cup olive oil to the garlic and chiles and set aside, to steep, at room temperature, 1 hour.  During this hour, stir the shrimp a few times.

IMG_3555 IMG_3555 IMG_3555~ Step 2.  Place the garlic-chile pepper-oil in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pans.  Heat over low heat, until garlic is softened, very fragrant, ever-so-gently sizzling and moving around in the pan by itself, but not browning, 8-10 minutes. The garlic and chile peppers "slow poach", in that, both soften and release their flavor without browning (which renders both bitter).  Turn heat off and cook pasta as directed in next step.

Note:  When preparing classic gambas al ajillo, you would not turn the heat of now.  You would add the shrimp, briefly cook them, and finish the dish -- a process that takes less than 5 minutes. In order for the shrimp to be tender and succulent when the finished pasta dish is taken to the table, the pasta must be ready and waiting for the shrimp the moment they are finished.

IMG_3963 IMG_3963 IMG_3963 IMG_3963 IMG_3963 IMG_3963~Step 3.  In a 4-5-quart stockpot, bring 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil and add the salt.  Add the pappardelle.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and cook until al dente.  In the case of my papparadelle, that takes 9-10 minutes.  Drain pasta into a colander then immediately return drained pasta to the still hot stockpot and place it back on the still warm stovetop.  Transfer and gently toss 6 tablespoons of the garlic-chili-oil from the skillet into the shrimp.  Partially cover the pot of pasta and finish the shrimp as directed.

IMG_3567 IMG_3567 IMG_3567 IMG_3567 IMG_3567 IMG_3567~Step 4.  Adjust heat under the skillet of chile-garlic-oil  to medium-high.  Once it is hot, add shrimp and cook, stirring constantly, until turning pink, firming up and just short of being cooked through, 3-4 minutes.  (There is no big sizzle when the shrimp hit the pan. The baking soda, gives the exterior of the shrimp the signature "pop", not to be confused with "crunch" and it works magic.  DO NOT, overcook the shrimp -- they will continue to cook while butter melts, parsley gets stirred in, and, while tossing into the pasta.)   Stir in sherry.  Turn heat off.  Stir in  butter.  When butter has melted, stir in half the parsley.

IMG_3987 IMG_3990 IMG_3990~Step 5.  Add all of the shrimp and all of its flavorful oil to the pot of pasta.  Gently toss, and continue to toss, on occasion, for about a full minute, to thoroughly enrobe the pasta in the garlic-chili oil.  Portion into 4-6 shallow bowls, garnish each portion with the remaining parsley and serve immediately.

Superb, succulent, extraordinary shrimp...

IMG_4001... & eggy pasta enrobed in garlic-chile-oil.  Divine.

IMG_4007Spanish-Style Garlic-Lovers Shrimp & Pappardelle:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon; 1-cup measuring container; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; 4-5-quart stockpot; colander 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d17d6a16970cCook's Note:  A shrimp with the tail left on is a very pretty presentation, and, depending upon the dish being served, if there is a chance the diner can enjoy the shrimp whole, it serves as a convenient "handle" -- especially if there is a sauce it can be dipped into.  There's more:  As all shrimp connoisseurs know, the last bite of shrimp (located inside the tail), is the most succulent, tasty bite of shrimp.  That said:  Whether in the home kitchen or in a restaurant, peeling shrimp is labor intensive. Leaving the tail on is an indication that the cook or chef cares about you and is serving you the best quality shrimp possible.

The only reason to remove the tail is when the shrimp, usually smaller size ones, are inclusive in the dish, meaning:  the diner needs a fork, spoon and/or knife to eat the dish.

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

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


~The Crispy Bits about Bruschetta, Crostini and Panini~

IMG_3899Bread comes in many forms.  I am of the opinion that bread IS the staff of life, and, I average one serving of bread per day.  Sans the occasional requisite soft-textured grilled-cheese sliced white, the hot-dog roll and the hamburger bun, any humble flatbread or pita pocket, along with the breakfast-y bagel and English muffin, the display here represents a sampling of my personal artisanal favorites.  Except for one, the delicate croissant, they are all firm-textured, and, by choosing the correct shape, I can make make one of three crispy Italian-style specialties.

IMG_3916Bruschetta (broo-skeh-tah) means "oiled slice" and comes from the word "bruscare" (broo-scar-ay), which means "to roast over coals". Bruschetta is the original garlic toast.  Traditionally, large, thick slices of firm, crusty bread are toasted over a wood fire, rubbed with plenty of garlic while they are still warm, drizzled with the finest olive oil available, sprinkled lightly with salt and pepper, then served warm.  They are classically served with freshly-picked basil, tomatoes and same-day-made buffalo-milk mozzarella, but when paper-thin slices of Italian meats, cheeses and vegetables (grilled, roasted or marinated) are added, they can turn into a hearty knife-and-fork open-faced sandwich meal.

IMG_3932Crostini in Italian simply means "little toast", and also means they don't always get drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic.  Just like bruschetta, crostini are topped with any number of savory toppings. Unlike bruschetta, they are usually made using smaller, cylindrical-shaped breads, like a baguette. Crostini are almost always served as a snack or an appetizer before a meal, but, a basket of them can be served as an accompaniment to the meal.  That said, in the case of both bruschetta and crostini, any size, color or flavor of rustic bread can be used, as long as it has a firm texture and have a good crust -- ciabatta, focaccia, michetta, baguette or batard, and sourdough are prime examples.

IMG_3862Panini is the Italian word for a grilled sandwich made with the same type of firm, crusty bread (or rolls) used to make bruschetta and crostini.  "One panino, two panini" are the singular and plural forms (which derive from the Italian "pane" and Latin "panis", referring to bread), but the use of panino is uncommon and almost never used. Panini sandwiches, served hot off the grill, were traditionally filled with the same thin-sliced specialty deli-meats and cheese served with or on bruschetta and crostini (capicola, ham, mortadella, salami, soppresatta, provolone, etc.), meaning they're associated with Italian fare, but, nowadays a panini can find itself fused with any cuisine.  

IMG_2214A panini press is basically a double-sided contact grill that cooks both sides of a sandwich at once. Much like a grill pan, the grids of a panini press give these sandwiches their signature grill marks.  There are several good brands, in all price ranges, on the market.  My Cuisinart Griddler is about 5 years old.  It doesn't take up too much space, controls heat perfectly, and, I love it. This gadget has earned its rightful place on my kitchen counter.

Crispy bruschetta, crostini or panini -- your choice!

IMG_3939"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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