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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


~ Teriyaki-Style Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare-Ribs ~

IMG_5862How you cook spare-ribs is your business.  Here in Happy Valley, sometimes we smoke 'em, sometimes we grill 'em, occasionally I make them in the oven, and, recently, I've started experimenting with slow-cooking them.  Past that, even if you aren't a fan of crocket science, it might interest you to know that Japanese-seven-spice blend and teriyaki sauce, when substituted for traditional Tex-Mex rubs-and-mops is a delicious alternative to typical ribs -- give 'em a try.

IMG_5816Do not confuse spicy "Japanese-seven-spice" powder with aromatic Chinese five-spice powder.  They are completely different.  "Shichimi togarashi", originated in Japanese apothecaries in the 17th century after chiles were introduced to Japan as medicinal.  The ratios in each blend (like all homemade spice blends) vary a bit, but, all contain: cayenne, sesame seeds, orange peel, ginger, szechuan pepper, poppy seeds and seaweed.  While the cayenne and szechuan pepper aren't incendiary, once the blend is applied or added to food, it is anything but low-key or ho-hum.

I won't lie, the machinations of making ribs in a slow cooker never seemed right -- 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   That type of rib abuse is why I never attempted it, but, as a person who likes my ribs fall-of-the-bone tender, there was never a doubt the slow cooker could achieve that.  After all, just like a Dutch oven placed on the stovetop or in the oven, it's what slow cookers do, tenderize meat -- especially the cheap, tough cuts.  The lid seals and traps the heat and moisture in the pot, preventing evaporation and heat loss, which provides plenty of time for everything-that-can-make-meat-tough (the muscle, connective tissue and fat) to break down.

IMG_3106Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for baby-back ribs (trimmed to fit into it's bottom), to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

IMG_3175I bought two.  Simmer down.  At about $45.00 each, it wasn't that big of an investment.  My rational was: Joe buys baby-back ribs vacuum-packed at Sam's club.  Each package contains three racks.  After eye-balling the dimensions of the Crockpot Casserole, I knew with certainty, that between the two of them, I could slow-cook all three racks -- to feed a crowd.  With basketball's March Madness in full-court-press and PSU still alive, I was happy to plug them in today.

Important Note:  Armed with two crockpot casseroles, for my own purposes, I am slow-cooking three very large racks of baby-back spare-ribs this afternoon.  That said, past this sentence, the recipe is written for one crockpot casserole which will accommodate two small racks of ribs.

IMG_3118Because the inside bottom dimensions of the casserole are approximately 11" x 6", that requires cutting each rack of baby-back ribs into either 2, 11" lengths (cut each rack in half), or, 3, 6" lengths (cut each rack into thirds).  Besides being more manageable, I chose 6" lengths because they are a perfect portion for each person.

IMG_5760 IMG_5760 IMG_5760 IMG_5760 IMG_5765 IMG_5765~Step 1.  To prepare the ribs for seasoning, pat them dry in some paper towels and 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 each rack into thirds.  Unless you like generally like food spicy (firey-hot), judiciously (lightly sprinkle) each section, top and bottom, with Japanese Seven-Spice.

IMG_3143 IMG_3143 IMG_3143Step 2.  Spray the inside of the crock casserole with no-stick cooking spray. Arrange the ribs to fit, in a single layer, slightly-overlapping in a spot or two if necessary.  (For my two-crock purposes, four of the largest sections and five of the smallest sections, fit snugly and nicely between the two crocks respectively.)

IMG_5775 IMG_5775 IMG_5775 IMG_5775 IMG_5775 IMG_5775~Step 3.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle 3/4 cup teriyaki sauce, homemade or thick-consistency store bought* over the tops of ribs. Cover crockpot. 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 glide through and come out on the other side.  If desired, adjust heat to keep ribs warm for up to 1 hour prior to finishing them as directed.

IMG_5807* Note:  Homemade teriyaki sauce is thick and drizzly.  At its thinnest, it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and, at the discretion of the cook, in many cases thicker than that.  That said, many store-brought brands are watery (similar in consistency to soy sauce), and, they will not work in this recipe.  Ideally, the teriyaki sauce should be similar in consistency to a hearty barbecue sauce.  What I keep on-hand and my store-bought recommendation is: Mandarin brand teriyaki sauce

IMG_5800 IMG_5800~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.  Remove lid from crockpot.  One-at-a-time remove the ribs.

IMG_5765 IMG_5765~Step 5.  Arrange ribs, side-by-side and slightly-apart (no overlapping) on prepared baking pan. Using a pastry brush generously paint the the tops with additional teriyaki sauce (about 3/4 cup). Place under the broiler 3-4 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and starting to show signs of light browning.  Watch carefully.  All teriyaki sauces contain some form of sugar, which goes from lightly-browned to burned quickly.  If a thicker coating of teriyaki is desired, brush tops a second time and return them to the oven for 1-2 more minutes.

Plate 'em & serve 'em for dinner (w/plenty of napkins)...

IMG_5858... atop teriyaki-dressed noodles tossed w/a veggie stir-fry:

IMG_5880Teriyaki-Style Slow-Cooker Baby-Back-Spare Ribs:  Recipe yields 2-4 servings per casserole (allowing 1/3-1/2-rack per person).

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; crockpot casserole; 1-cup measuring container; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; pastry brush

IMG_3220Cook's Note:  In the event you're looking for a traditional Tex-Mex-type barbecue rubbed-and-sauced recipe for spare-ribs, my recipe for ~ Bone-Suckin' Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare-Ribs ~ was not only the maiden-voyage of my crockpot casseroles, they were the inspiration for today's Japanese teriyaki-style ribs. There's more:  I've developed recipes for ~ Low & Slow-Cooked Crockpot Casserole Meatloaf ~ and ~ Warm & Cozy Crockpot Casserole Rice Pudding ~ too!  

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

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


~Fresh vs. Canned: How Pineapple Reacts w/Protein~

IMG_5757It's natural to assume fresh fruit is better than canned, and, if you're eating fresh pineapple, fresh not only tastes better, it is indeed better for you and your digestive system.  That said, nothing is more disheartening than taking the time to prepare a marinade for your favorite protein made from fresh pineapple juice, or, folding a cup or two of diced pineapple into a favorite casserole and have the protein rendered mushy. The cause is an enzyme found in fresh-cut pineapple.

No matter how you slice it, dice it, or hollow it out:

IMG_5885Why did my marinated meat (poultry, seafood or fish) turn to mush?

IMG_5589The enzyme's name is bromelain (in papaya it's called papain and does the same thing), and it is a powerful tenderizer.  It plays a key role in the digestive process, most notably, breaking down tough protein chains -- it's sold in supplement form in health food stores as a digestive aid. It's why:  Pineapple processors are required to wear gloves and masks (as it eventually eats away at the flesh on the hands and face).  When cutting up pineapple, if poked by a spiny edge, it's common to develop itchy skin &/or a sore.  Pineapple, on its own, won't form a jam or jelly.

Bromelain, the enzyme in fresh pineapple, is a powerful tenderizer.

IMG_5684Tenderizing protein is good to a point, but, when fresh pineapple juice is used in or as the marinade, the enzyme works fast -- in as little as 30 minutes for poultry and meat, and, in the case of fish, 10 minutes. That's great if time is short and the clock is ticking.  That said, if fresh pineapple chunks are stirred into a casserole, if left to sit just 1-2 hours prior to baking, it renders the protein mushy -- a problem when things need to be done in advance.  While keeping the marinating protein or the casserole mixture refrigerated will slow the enzyme activity down:

Here's the information every cook needs to know:

IMG_5708Bromelain is heat-inactivated.  This means:  If fresh pineapple is cooked first, separately from the protein, (prior to marinating it with or stirring it into raw or cooked protein), the bromelain gets neutralized -- this neutralization is achieved during the canning process, and, can also be achieved by grilling pineapple chunks or pieces, or, simmering fresh pineapple juice, crushed pineapple or pineapple purée.  So, if you want to buy some time in order to marinate your protein a few hours ahead or put your casserole together the night before, either cook the fresh pineapple first, or, without compromise, bypass the fresh produce department and head to the canned-fruit aisle.

Oh My Thai Chicken and Pineapple-Fried-Rice Casserole:

IMG_5746"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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


~ Thai Chicken and Pineapple-Fried-Rice Casserole ~

IMG_5746Thai-Malaysian pineapple-fried-rice is a classic Thai dish that's easy to get addicted to.  It's divine. Grains of fragrant jasmine rice bejeweled throughout with bits of golden pineapple, cashews and raisins -- it's a taste unlike the fried rices of China and Hawaii.  It's a staple item on the menu of most Thai-American eateries, the choices being pineapple-fried-rice, or, pineapple-fried-rice with chicken or prawn.  It can be served in a pretty bowl as a side-dish or a main-dish, or, as they do in the tradition of Thailand, baked and served in a carved-out fresh pineapple.

IMG_5739A hearty 4-season casserole w/all the taste of the tropics:

IMG_5749If you're a fried rice fan, you're gonna love my American-home-kitchen version of the iconic Thai fried rice.  Every bite is a bit different. Sometimes the sweet and savory combination of pineapple and chicken stands out. Other times, the herby-spicy flavor the cilantro, chiles and onions shine through.  Still others, the contrasting textures of the the rice, raisins and nuts blow you away.  Considering the yummy end result, this dish, relatively speaking, isn't difficult to prepare.

Using fresh vs. canned pineapple in recipes containing protein:

IMG_5708Fresh vs. canned pineapple:  If this is a meal you would like or need to prepare a day ahead, without any compromise to the recipe, bypass the fresh pineapple in the produce department and head to the canned-fruit aisle of your grocery store.  

Why?  Fresh pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, a natural tenderizer (in papayas it's called papain and does the same thing).  It plays a key role in the digestive process, most notably, breaking down tough protein chains. Culinarily, when used as or in the marinade for protein, it does the same thing -- quickly.  Read on:

Tenderizing any protein is good to a point, but, be forewarned, if the assembled casserole is left to sit for just 1-2 hours prior to baking, it can render the chicken (the protein) mushy.  Keeping the chicken mixture refrigerated will slow the enzyme activity down, but, here's the information you need to know: bromelain is heat-inactivated.  This means:  If fresh pineapple is cooked separately from the other ingredients first, (prior to marinating it or cooking it with protein), the bromelain is neutralized -- this neutralization is achieved during the canning process, and, can also be achieved by grilling pineapple pieces or simmering crushed pineapple or pineapple purée.

Fresh = Assemble & bake immediately.  Canned = Can be assembled a day ahead.

IMG_5684Oh my Thai chicken & pineapple-fried-rice casserole:

IMG_56314  pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders, diced into bite-sized 1/2"-3/4" pieces 

1 1/2  cups thinly-sliced green onion, white and light green parts only

8-12  small, minced, bird chile peppers, more or less, your heat choice

1  ounce cilantro, some leaves and some stems

2  20-ounce cans sliced pineapple, packed in 100% juice, well-drained (1 can puréed in food a processor, 1 can diced into bite-sized pieces

1  15-ounce box golden raisins

8  ounces whole, unsalted cashews, roasted on center rack of 350º oven oven for 10-12 minutes until lightly-toasted and fragrant, or, "dry-fried" in a skillet or wok*

1/4  cup sesame oil

1  teaspoon white pepper

1 1/2 cans (1 can + 1/2 can) from 2, 14 1/2-cans coconut milk

3  tablespoons Maggi seasoning

6  tablespoons Squid brand fish sauce

6  tablespoons light brown sugar

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole (Note:  Use 1, 4-quart casserole, or, 2, 2-quart casseroles, not, a 3-quart 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.)

4  cups uncooked jasmine rice

1/4-1/2  cup additional minced, fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Mae Ploy brand sweet chili sauce, for dipping or drizzling

IMG_5623 IMG_5623 IMG_5623 IMG_5623~Step 1.  Prep ingredients as directed:  Trim and dice chicken tenders into bite-sized, 1/2"-3/4" pieces.  Thinly-slice white and light green parts of green onions and mince the bird chiles.  Mince cilantro — prep and set aside some additional minced cilantro, for garnish, as well.  

IMG_5604 IMG_5604 IMG_5604 IMG_5604~Step 2.  Place 1 can of the pineapple slices in a food processor fitted with steel blade and purée (there will be about 1 1/2 cups). Dice second can of pineapple into bite-sized pieces (there will be about 2 cups).  Roast cashews on center rack of 350° oven until lightly-toasted and fragrant, about 12 minutes, stopping to stir about every 5 minutes, or, "dry-fry" in a skillet or wok:

6a0120a8551282970b019103c69803970c 6a0120a8551282970b0192ab8f1e2c970d 2*Note:  In Asian cuisines, the method of quickly-cooking an ingredient, be it nuts, seeds, meat or even seafood, without adding oil or fat to the wok or skillet is referred to as "dry frying".  I mention this so if you come across a recipe that instructs to "dry-fry cashews", you will understand the process.

IMG_5641~ Step 4.  Start the rice to steaming just prior to cooking the chicken mixture.  By the time the rice is done, the chicken will be done too. 

Using the cup/measure from the steamer, place the rice in steamer. Using the same cup/measure add 4 cups cold water and give it a quick stir. Turn steamer on. When rice steamer shuts off (which takes about 15-18 minutes depending upon how much rice being steamed), open the lid and rake through ice with a fork to separate the grains.  While the rice is steaming, cook the chicken mixture.

IMG_5633 IMG_5633 IMG_5633~ Step 3.  Heat sesame oil in a large 14” skillet.  Stir in the white pepper and add the chicken, scallions and bird chiles.  Increase heat to sauté until chicken is just steamed through, about 6-8 minutes.  Do not overcook or brown.

IMG_5648 IMG_5648 IMG_5648 IMG_5648 IMG_5658 IMG_5658~Step 4.  Stir in the pineapple purée, coconut milk, Maggi seasoning, fish sauce and sugar. Adjust heat to simmer gently and continue to cook until mixture is foamy around the edges, about 6-8 minutes.  Remove pan from heat and stovetop.

IMG_5664 IMG_5664 IMG_5664 IMG_5664 IMG_5674~Step 5.  Stir in the diced pineapple, cashews, raisins and cilantro.  In large scoopfuls, add and fold all the steamed rice into the chicken mixture in pan.  Allow to sit in pan, 10-15 minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes.  Rice will absorb excess liquid and mixture will thicken.  Transfer to a 4-quart casserole* or two 2-quart casseroles* sprayed with no stick cooking spray.

Note:  I recommend using clear glass casserole(s) in order to clearly monitor browning process.

IMG_5683 IMG_5683 IMG_5683Step 6.  Spray 1-2 pieces foil with cooking spray. Place foil, prayed side down, over casseroles and seal foil tightly.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 30 minutes.  Uncover and bake 15-20 more minutes, or until lightly-browned and bubbling.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 5-10 minutes prior to serving.

Work this main-dish casserole into your family's meal rotation:

IMG_5701Or make & share with friends at your next get-together:

IMG_5704Thai Chicken and Pineapple-Fried-Rice Casserole:  Recipe yields 4-quarts; 16 cups; 16-20 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife, food processor, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, skillet or wok; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon 4-quart casserole dish, or, 2, 2-quart casseroles, preferably clear glass; electric rice steamer; fork; aluminum foil

IMG_5282Cook's Note:  In Thailand, small, lean chickens are skewered, cooked over charcoal and sold as street food.  This doesn't mean they're inferior,  it means they're different from what we purchase in America. In my Thai-American version of another Thai classic, the chickens are plump, juicy and melt-in-your mouth tender.  To learn more, click on this link to get my recipe for ~ Thai-Style Oven-Roasted Barbecued Half Chicken ~.

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

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