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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

04/18/2017

~ A Must Have Recipe: Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake ~

IMG_8129If I knew you were coming I'd have baked you a mayonnaise cake.  While that might not sound appetizing, I always say, "what happens in my kitchen, stays in my kitchen" and in my food world, there is no reason to reveal to anyone they are eating a mayonnaise cake unless they ask for the recipe.  In the event anyone rolls their eyes or turns up their nose, the joke's on them, as, they obviously don't know mayonnaise is a concoction of oil (which makes cakes tender), eggs and a bit of flavor-boosting acid (like vinegar or lemon juice) -- all common-to-cake ingredients.

2ee392b218c24743a31a0b007328fe58Most folks think this cake was invented by Hellmann's and that's a natural assumption.  The truth -- it was not.  The earliest recipe in print titled "Mayonnaise Cake" was published in 1927.  The Hellmann's brand didn't come along until 1937. That said, their aggressive ad campaign for "Mayonnaise Cake", sure did popularize it with World War II/depression era housewives, who were in the market for inexpensive substitutions for butter and milk. When you get right down to the common sense of it, a cake recipe containing mayonnaise is not much different than a cake recipe containing sour cream or buttermilk. < My recipe is neither Hellmann's vintage recipe pictured here nor the updated recipe on their website.  It is the recipe my grandmother used, and, while I wish I did, I have no idea where it originated.

For "those times" when you are tempted to use a boxed mix -- don't.  This super-easy scratch-made alternative is delightful. 

IMG_80642  1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4  cup cocoa powder

1  teaspoon baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1  3/4 cups sugar

3  large eggs

1  cup mayonnaise

1  cup + 6 tablespoons whole milk (Note:  My grandmother's depression-era recipe originally called for water.  I like the richness of whole milk better.)

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan (Note:  The original recipe calls for flouring 2, 9"-round cake pans.  When I prepare this cake, I prefer 1, 13" x 9" x 2" one-layer, rectangular cake and no-stick spray makes life a bit easier.

IMG_8065 IMG_8070Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda until thoroughly combined.  Set aside.  Note:  This "cake mix" can be made ahead and stored in the pantry.

IMG_8073 IMG_8076 IMG_8080 IMG_8083 IMG_8086 IMG_8089 IMG_8097~Step 2.  Place the sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl.  Starting on medium speed of hand-held electric mixer and working up to high, beat until mixture is smooth and light and pale yellow in color, about 1 full minute, while scraping down sides of bowl with a large rubber spatula.  Lower the mixer speed and blend in the mayonnaise, about 30 more seconds.  Stir the vanilla extract into the milk.  On medium mixer speed, blend in half of the milk mixture followed by half of the flour mixture, continuing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with the spatula.  Blend in the second half of the milk followed by the last of the flour, increase mixer speed to high and beat another 45-60 seconds.

IMG_8102 IMG_8111~ Step 3.  Transfer batter to a 13" x 9" x 2" cake pan or 3-quart casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven for 28-30 minutes, or until puffed through to the center with a slight spring on top when touched with index finger.  Remove from oven, place on a wire rack and cool completely, about 2 hours, prior to slathering with your favorite frosting or dusting with Confectioners' sugar.  Better yet:  A simple dollop of freshly-whipped cream or a generous scoop of ice cream will do nicely.

Light & moist & so easy even a cave man can bake it!

IMG_8116If you're going to eat cake, eat a great (mayonnaise) cake:

IMG_8152A Must Have Recipe:  Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake:  Recipe yields 1, 13" x 9" cake/12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart cake pan or casserole dish; wire cooling rack

IMG_6014Cook's Note:  When it comes to baking, even a recipe as easy as today's is a semi-precise to precise sport.  It's important to use the ingredients called for in the recipe, weigh or measure them accurately, and not make any substitutions or whimsical additions.  A complete understanding of  flour types is a great place to start.  Click into Categories, 5, 6, 7, 13 or 16 and read: ~ Flour Facts:  All-purpose, Bread, Cake and Pastry ~.  A successful baker is a happy baker!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017) 

04/15/2017

~ Mel's Petite Porketta for Joe's Jessup Sandwiches ~

IMG_8049It was the Spring of 1980.  That's when I had my first encounter with this unique roasted pork roll -- in the form of a cold sandwich.  Joe and I (newlyweds of four months) were visiting his mother Ann in his hometown of Jessup, (Northeastern) PA.  Joe's brother Tom and his wife Kathy walked through Ann's kitchen door on Wilson Street shortly after us, and, once the mandatory cocktails were poured, Ann placed a brown bag on her kitchen table.  It was quite informal and I had no idea what to expect, until Tom and Joe tore into it (which indicated her beloved sons knew exactly what was in it).  It was full of porketta sandwiches from their favorite Italian market:  Alunni's. 

IMG_8028Porketta (that's how it's spelled in the Scranton/Wilkes'Barre area) is extremely popular in all the Italian-American communities throughout NE PA, and, in pockets of the Philadelphia area too. The seasoned, rolled and tied pork loin can be purchased uncooked in the meat departments of local grocery stores, or, cooked and sliced at the deli-counter of the same stores.  At specialty markets like Alunni's, they make and sell the sandwiches too, as well as trays of sandwiches -- which show up at all sorts of large street festivals, church picnics and family gatherings.

Porketta is a cute Italian word for a small, stuffed suckling piglet.

IMG_7914 IMG_7903Traditionally, porketta/porkequetta/porchetta (all pronounced por-KAYT-tah), is an Italian dish prepared using a whole, small piglet.  Prior to roasting, the meat is stuffed with a mixture of salt, herbs and spices, which serve as the seasoning. During the roasting process, the meat is basted with olive oil to give it a golden, crispy skin.  That said, for ease of preparation, most home cooks simply butterfly, pound, roll and tie a boneless pork loin (although pork belly or shoulder can be used too). It can be sliced and served hot as a knife and fork meal, or, refrigerated and sliced cold in a deli sandwich, and, it is common to make porketta for the sole purpose the latter.

Nowadays, most cooks butterfly, pound, stuff & roll a pork loin.

IMG_7987My porketta is made from petite, stuffed pork tenderloins...

IMG_7919 (1) IMG_7896As Joe's mom started getting older, I slowly-but-happily, started taking over the holiday cooking responsibilities for her.  I thoroughly enjoyed it because it caused me to get to know the cooks in their family. Uncle Geno was the first.  He was a fabulous cook, and, on a trip to his San Cruz, CA home in 1981, I not only learned how to make polenta, I learned what a polenta board is. Aunt Anne's forte was baking, and I am grateful to her for passing along several traditional cookie recipes.  Aunt Susie cooked and baked, but, getting an exact recipe for anything from her proved futile.  She told me what she put in her porketta and I was expected to take it from there.  (The list goes on -- Aunt June, Teresa and Albina -- they all contributed to my recipe box over the years.)

Armed with a piece of porketta purchased in Jessup, for side-by-side taste-testing of Aunt Susie's ingredients list, it didn't take long for me to concoct the "right" herb and spice mix.  By "right" I mean the way they make it in Jessup, which means dill (not fennel or rosemary) takes center stage on the flavor profile.  There's more.  There came a time when I wanted to incorporate porketta into Joe's family's Easter celebration without serving it as part of the main meal.  That's when I decided to use small pork tenderloins, in order to serve small slider-sized sandwiches, along with deviled eggs, as appetizers.  Everyone loved the idea, so, I've done it every year since.

... to serve as slider-sized appetizers w/deviled eggs in the Spring!

IMG_79274  small, whole pork tenderloins, about 1-1 1/4-pound each

3  ounces minced, fresh dill, mostly feathery greens, some stems thinner stems are are ok, thick woody stems are not fine

2  tablespoons garlic powder

2  tablespoons dry English mustard

2  teaspoons sugar

2  teaspoons salt

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_7923~ Step 1.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with aluminum foil and place a sheet of parchment over the foil.  Set aside.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut 16 pieces cotton kitchen twine (it's necessary to have this twine) into 13"-14" lengths.

~ Step 2.  To prepare the herb/spice blend, mince the dill as directed and place it in a medium bowl along with the garlic powder, dry mustard, sugar, salt and black pepper.  

IMG_7929 IMG_7933 IMG_7935Using a spoon, toss, to incorporate the spices throughout the fresh dill. Set aside 13-15 minutes, stopping to restir the mixture every 3-5 minutes.  The salt will wilt the dill and spices will absorb moisture from the dill, resulting in a mixture that resembles clumpy, wet grass clippings.  Preheat oven to 500°.

IMG_7939 IMG_7942 IMG_7945 IMG_7951 IMG_7947~Step 3.  To assemble and tie each porketta, just like drawing vertical lines on a sheet of paper, place 8 lengths of the twine, spaced about 1 1/2" apart, on a clean, flat work surface (I use a sheet of parchment).  Place 1 tenderloin, the flattest "rough" side, facing up across the center of the strings. Spoon/distribute 1/2 of the dill mixture evenly over the top of the tenderloin.  Place a second pork tenderloin, the flattest "rough" side, facing down on top of the dill mixture. Starting in the center and working towards the ends, lift and tie each piece of twine into a simple, tight knot.  Using the kitchen sheers, snip off the loose excess ends of the twine.  Place the assembled porketta on the prepared baking pan.

IMG_7954 IMG_7968 IMG_7971~ Step 4.  Repeat this process a second time, placing the second porketta 1"-2" apart from the first one, on the same, IMG_7979prepared pan.  Examine each porketta, and, using the fingertip of your index finger, tuck/poke as much of any exposed dill mixture as possible back into the center. This will keep the dill a nice green color after roasting.  Using a pastry brush, liberally paint each porketta with olive oil, coating all of the exposed, visible surface.  Grind a generous coating of sea salt and peppercorn blend (or black pepper) over all.

IMG_7996~ Step 5.  Place porketta on center rack of preheated 500° oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 350°.  Roast, uncovered, about 65-75 minutes, or, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into 3-4 spots reads 155°-160°, checking the temperature diligently every 5 minutes after 55 minutes of cooking.

Porketta will be golden brown and juices will be running clear.

IMG_8008~ Step 6.  Remove from oven. Immediately cover and tightly seal pan with aluminum foil. If planning to serve hot, allow porketta to rest 30 minutes, prior to slicing and serving. For sandwiches, allow to cool until slightly warm, 3 1/2-4 hours, prior to individually wrapping each porketta with plastic wrap and refrigerating overnight prior to slicing.

Appetizers are served:  porketta sliders w/deviled eggs!

IMG_8055Mel's Petite Porketta for Joe's Jessup Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 2, 2-pound porketta, enough meat for 8-12 slider-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; kitchen shears; cotton kitchen twine; cutting board; chef's knife; pastry brush instant-read meat thermometer; plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07ce982b970dCook's Note:  When Ann served Alunni's porketta sandwiches, she served them with 'Luni's homemade-on-site potato salad.  To get my recipe for ~ GrandMel's Creamy Potato and Egg Salad Recipe ~, which tastes just as good as deviled eggs with porketta, click in Categories 4, 10, 17 or 20.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

04/12/2017

~ Happy-Valley-Ranch Deep-Fried Chicken Sandwich ~

IMG_7872One of my favorite all-weather meals is a piece or two of crispy and nicely-seasoned roasted, grilled or fried chicken.  Pair it up with a well-appointed salad drizzled with creamy Ranch dressing and I can't resist it.  It's gotta be Ranch dressing too -- no substitutions.  Save the blue cheese dressing for chicken wings, Buffalo-style chicken 'burgers and all things beef.  In my Happy Valley, PA kitchen, "if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy", and this is my sandwich.

Hidden Valley Ranch dressing has a fascinating history:

A little over 50 years ago no one had ever heard of ranch dressing and now it is America's most popular salad dressing.  We do much more than top our salads with it too.  It is our dip of choice for vegetables, a marinade for our meat or poultry, and, a flavoring in our favorite brands of corn and potato chips.  I buy very little bottled salad dressing in general (although I do keep a bottle of Wish-Bone Light Italian in my refrigerator at all times), but, when my boys were small, I was one of those mom's who kept a stack of Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning packets in my pantry at all times.  Why?  Like many of you, it was the only way I could get my kids to eat raw vegetables.

ImagesA bit about ranch dressing:  It is a wholly American invention with a bona fide rags-to-riches story.  In 1954, Nebraska-born Steve Henson (once a homeless child of the Great depression, former plumbing contractor and a cook in Alaska) and his wife Gayle, bought the sprawling, picturesque, 120-acre Sweetwater Ranch in Santa Barbarba, CA.  They renamed it Hidden Valley, opened a guest-type dude ranch and attempted to live out their life's dream of entertaining and cooking for their paying guests. But, due to the remote location and lack of funds for advertising, Henson found himself facing bankruptcy.  One thing the few guests he did have left the ranch talking about was:  the salad dressing.  Henson had developed the recipe back in Alaska: a garlicky emulsion of mayonnaise, buttermilk, herbs and spices.

Hvr_packetHenson knew how popular his dressing was when guests started asking to purchase jars of it to take home with them, but, it wasn't until one of them asked to take 300 bottles back to Hawaii that he saw a business opportunity.  Henson didn't have 300 jars, so he took a few hours to package his dry spice blend in a bunch of envelopes.  He instructed his customer to mix each envelope with 1-quart of buttermilk and 1-quart of mayonnaise.

In 1964, Henson closed his ranch to guests and entered into the salad dressing business full-time.  He assembled a small team of workers in his home and developed a small-scale mail-order business that mailed 75-cent packets of Hidden Valley salad dressing mix to the local community. It wasn't long before he moved into a larger manufacturing facility that produced 35,000 packets every eight hours.  In 1972, Henson sold his business to Clorox and the rest is history.

Mel's "Happy Valley" version of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing:

IMG_0129I developed my own version of these beloved seasoning packets here in my Happy Valley, PA kitchen to rival the original.  I must have done a pretty good job, because every time I make this dressing there is rarely any leftover and almost everyone asks me for the recipe.  It is a requested favorite at our Penn State tailgate every year.  If you have the time, prepare it a day before you serve it, to give all of the great flavors time to marry with the mayonnaise and buttermilk.

Can you add fresh ingredients (minced chives, parsley, garlic and onion) to it?  Well of course you can, and I often do, but, I add them as flavor enhancers after the fact, not in place of any of the dry spices and herbs.  Why?  Because, like Steve Henson, I like to make and keep a few small ziplock bags of my pre-mixed dry mixture on hand in my pantry at all times -- how convenient.

PICT2048For the dry spice blend:

1  teaspoon dried, minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon dried, minced onion

PICT21411  tablespoon dried chives (Note:  Dried chives are not pictured above because Joe dries chives from our garden for me and they are in a large mason jar that didn't fit nicely into this photo.)

1  teaspoon dried parsley

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon celery salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

For the additions:

1  cup buttermilk  (Note:  If this dressing is refrigerated for several hours or overnight, it will thicken to a creamy consistency, which I consider perfection. If you want a thicker, scoopable consistency, substitute sour cream for a portion or all of  the buttermilk.)

1  cup mayonnaise

IMG_0093IMG_0084Step 1.  In a medium bowl, place mayonnaise and all of the dry spices as listed.  Add the buttermilk.

IMG_0105Step 2. Whisk until mixture is smooth and drizzley.

IMG_0110Step 3.  Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate for several hours or overnight, until nicely thickened (for perfect taste and consistency, overnight is best).

Note:  Dressing may be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week (or the shelf life of the expiration date on the buttermilk).  If fresh ingredients are added, the shelf-life is shortened to 3 days.  For this reason, I stir any fresh ingredients in 1-2 hours prior to serving.  Stir prior to serving chilled.  Yield:  2 1/2 cups.

Prepping & lightly-pounding the chicken tenderloin patties:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1476096970c~ Step 1.  Cover a cutting board or work surface with a layer of plastic wrap.  Curl up, "doughnut-style"...

12  large boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins, no substitutions, close to room temperature (Note:  I remove them from the refrigerator 30-45 minutes prior to starting.  If the tenders are too cold, they will lose IMG_7788their "doughnut" shape when you pound them, and, they will not cook through to the the center in the time it takes to prevent the crispy outside coating from over-browning.)

IMG_7790... tightly overlapping their ends. Cover with a second layer of plastic and firmly press down on their tops w/the palm of your hand to "glue" them together.

~ Step 2.  Using the flat side of a meat mallet, gently-pound them, until they are half their original thickness and about twice their size.  Twelve pounded-patties appear in the small photo above. 

Setting up the assembly line (left to right) & deep-frying:

6a0120a8551282970b01901e68dca4970bOne 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 1 cup dry pancake mix.

One medium bowl containing 1 1/2 cups pancake mix whisked with 1 1/2 cups beer.

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 8-ounces panko breadcrumbs.

Deep-fryer w/peanut oil heated to 375° according to manufacturer's specifications.

Misc:  3-minute timer, tongs, cooling rack, paper towels, sea salt grinder.

6a0120a8551282970b01a73dfbc560970dStep 1. When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer. Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken 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 (or some water) to maintain a drizzly consistency.

IMG_7808 IMG_7811 IMG_7814 IMG_7819 IMG_7823 IMG_7827~Step 2.  Working in batches of 3 chicken patties at a time, dredge each one in the dry pancake mix to coat it on all sides.  Note:  I fry 3 at a time because that is what fits comfortably in the basket of my fryer without overcrowding it.  Next, move up the assembly line and dip each pattie into the batter. As you lift each one out of the batter, hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the batter to drizzle back into the bowl. As you batter dip each one, place it into the dish of panko.  Coat patties on all sides in the panko.

IMG_7829 IMG_7837Step 3.  By hand, carefully and gently, drop/lower each patty into the hot 375° oil (don't place them directly in the basket).  Close the fryer lid and fry 4-5 minutes. Chicken patties will be a deep golden brown.  Do not overcook.

IMG_7843Step 7.  Open fryer lid and slowly lift basket up and out of deep-fryer. Transfer patties to a wire rack that has been placed over a few layers of paper towels.  Tip:  To transfer the patties , I simply tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack.  Using tongs is tricky -- it can be done but it's an easy way to damage (rip, tear or poke holes in) their crust.

Immediately sprinkle chicken patties w/a grinding of sea salt.  

Repeat the dredging, dipping and coating process until all patties are deep fried.  Serve hot (almost immediately), warm (within 30 minutes), or at room temperature (within 1 hour).  There's more:  trust me when I tell you, chicken patties will remain crunchy well past the four hour mark, so, do not hesitate for one moment to fry them (and do your cleanup) well in advance of serving.

IMG_7848Super-crispy on the outside & super-tender on the inside:

IMG_7855I've yet to taste a better chicken patty in any sandwich:

IMG_7888Happy-Valley-Ranch Deep-Fried Chicken Sandwich:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups homemade Ranch dressing and 12 chicken sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  medium mixing bowl; whisk; 4-cup food storage container w/lid; 2 shallow 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes or 9" pie dishes;  medium-large bowl; whisk; cutting board; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; deep-fryer; 3-minute egg timer; tongs (use at your own risk);  paper towels; wire cooling rack 

IMG_7761Cook's Note:  For a classic Italian recipe for a delightfully-delicate, lightly-pounded, traditionally-breaded, pan-fried chicken cutlet bursting with buttery lemon flavor, click into Categories 3, 12 or 20 to get my recipe for ~ A Flash-in-Pan Dinner:  Chicken all Milanese ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)