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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

09/19/2018

~Lo & Slow-Cooker Jerk-Style Baby-Back Spare-Ribs~

IMG_2998Jerk seasoning was/is the dry spice blend used to season jerky, and Jamaican jerk seasoning, known for the flavors of allspice, cinnamon, cloves, thyme and Scotch bonnet pepper, is perhaps the most famous.  Throughout the Caribbean, islanders preserved/cured their spice-rubbed meats by drying them in the intense sun or over a slow fire -- this allowed the meat to be taken on long journeys and eaten as is or reconstituted in boiling water.  The word most likely transitioned to the verb, "jerking", in reference to the way the meat gets "jerked" around on the grill as it cooks.

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 watched people bend racks, slice and stack sections, even cut them into individual ribs.   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_2900Meet 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_2899I bought two.  At about $45.00 each, it wasn't that big of an investment. My rational: Joe buys baby-back ribs vacuum-packed at Sam's club -- three racks per pack.  After eye-balling the dimensions of the Crockpot Casserole, I knew with certainty, that between the two, I could slow-cook all three racks -- to feed a crowd.  I bought them for last year's tailgate season, and, the moment they arrived, I couldn't wait to plug my two new toys in.

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, it's worth noting that two small racks of ribs will fit in one crockpot casserole and affects nothing about the recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09fc9b13970dBecause 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.

The "jerk" in jerk comes from the Spanish word via the Peruvian word "charqui", the noun for dried strips of meat now called "jerky".

In a (coco)nutshell, jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica.  It was developed by African slaves who escaped into the mountains of Jamaica after the British captured this island paradise from Spain in 1655.  Forced to adapt to their new surroundings, the Maroons (the name given to the escaped slaves) made use of the foods nature provided, by pulverizing the edibles they gathered into a fiery pasty rub.  By adding fruit and/or citrus juice, the fiery pasty rub became a spicy basting and dipping sauce.  When thinned down with a bit of drinking water or the milk from a coconut, the spicy sauce became a highly-flavored wet marinade -- over time, items from trades, like vinegar and/or rum were transitioned into the mixture.  Once rubbed and/or marinated, the meat or game they hunted was then slowly cooked over a smoking pimento-wood fire. Originally used for pork, it's now common to "jerk" chicken, beef, fish and seafood too.

Scratch-made or store-bought marinade?  Your choice.

IMG_2186The Jamaicans have cornered the market on marketing high-quality, bold-flavored dry spice blends and rubs, wet pastes and marinades, barbecue, steak and hot pepper sauces.  In a pinch there's no shame and little compromise in using them.  When it comes to making my jerk-style baby-back spare-ribs, I like to use a wet marinade (as opposed to a paste), and, when time is short, it's the Walkerswood brand that I reach for.

IMG_5761Note:  The following is recipe my copycat of theirs.  It makes  4 1/4 cups (36 ounces), which is about the equivalent of 2, 17-ounce bottles of store-bought (34 ounces), about 5 cups.  Two cups marinade is enough to marinate 3 large or 2 small racks of baby back ribs -- two cups is also enough to marinate 2 whole chickens that have been split in half (4 half chickens) to make jerk chicken.  I'm freezing the rest for a round of jerk on another day.

Making my all-purpose don't worry, be happy jerk marinade:

IMG_2156

8  ounces large-diced red onion (about 2 cups)

4  ounces diced green onion (about 1 cup)

2  ounces large-diced ginger root (about 1/3-1/2 cup)

1  ounce whole garlic cloves (about 6 large cloves)

4  Scotch bonnet peppers, with seeds, stems removed

1  cup lime juice, preferably fresh or high-quality organic, not from concentrate

1  cup malt vinegar

1/4  cup mild-flavored molasses

1/4  cup dark rum

2  tablespoons dried thyme leaves

6  teaspoons ground allspice

6  teaspoons ground cinnamon

2  teaspoons ground nutmeg

1  teaspoon ground cloves

4  teaspoons sea salt

4  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1/4  cup vegetable oil

IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159~Step 1.  Prep and place red onion, green onion, ginger, garlic and Scotch bonnets in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses, very-finely mince the ingredients.  Open the processor lid and use a spatula to scrape down sides of work bowl.  Add the lime juice, vinegar, molasses, rum and all dry spices.  Process again, using a series of 10-20 rapid on-off pulses.  With motor running, through feedtube, drizzle in the oil, then process with motor running 30-45 more seconds.  There will be a generous 4 cups marinade.

 Prepping, marinating & slow-cooking the ribs:

IMG_5760 IMG_3109 IMG_3109 IMG_3109~Step 1.  To prep ribs for marination, remove from packaging, pat dry in some paper towels and remove the silverskin from the underside of each rack.  Don't know how?  Read ~ How to: Remove the Silverskin from Spareribs ~.  Using a large chef's knife, slice each rack into thirds.

IMG_2841 IMG_2841 IMG_2841~Step 2.  Stack the rib sections inside of a 2-gallon food storage bag that has been doubled for extra strength protection against leaks from sharp bones poking through.  Add two cups of the marinade (homemade or store-bought) to the bag.  Seal tightly.  Using your fingertips, squish the bag of rib section to evenly distribute the marinade.  Do this a few times until the ribs are thoroughly coated.  Place in the refrigerator 4-6 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.  Up to 48 hours is even better.

IMG_3143 IMG_2912 IMG_2912 IMG_2912~Step 3.  Spray the inside of the crock casseroles with no-stick cooking spray. Arrange the rib sections to fit, in a single layer, slightly-overlapping in a spot or two if necessary.  Four of the largest sections and five of the smallest sections, fit snugly and nicely between the two crocks respectively.  Use a spoon to distribute the marinade remaining in the bag over tops of ribs.

IMG_2916 IMG_2916 IMG_2919 IMG_2919 IMG_2925 IMG_2925 IMG_2925~Step 4.  Cover the crockpot. Cook on high for 2 hours, then, on low for 1-1/2-2 hours, depending upon your preference for doneness (to-the-tooth to fall-off-the bone). That said, the tip of a knife or the tines of a fork, when pierced between any two ribs should easily glide through and come out on the other side.

IMG_2935 2 IMG_2941~Step 5.  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.  Finish ribs off under the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until bubbly and brown. 

Serve w/Cool & Crunchy Island-Style Jerk-Seasoned Slaw:

IMG_3029Tex-Mex ~ Bone-Suckin' Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare Ribs ~:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ea3f57970d-800wiAsian ~ Teriyaki-Style Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare Ribs ~:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9598585970bLo & Slow-Cooker Jerk-Style Baby-Back Spare-Ribs:  Recipe yields 2-4 servings per casserole (allowing 1/3-1/2-rack per person).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; food processor; large rubber spatula; paper towels 2, 2-gallon food-storage bags; crockpot casserole; 1-cup measuring container; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; pastry brush

IMG_2298Cook's Note:  Prefer rice with your ribs?  In Jamaica, they make a dish, coconut rice, and it's served as a side-dish to fiery Caribbean-style chicken- or shrimp- curry dishes and jerk-seasoned meats.  This is my twist on it. In my recipe for ~ Island-Style Bejeweled Coconut & Black Bean Rice ~, I substitute black beans for pigeon peas (because I adore black beans), then, at the end, I bejewel it with the sweet flavors of ginger, mango, papaya and pineapple.

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

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

09/17/2018

~Tips and Things to Know about Granulated Gelatine~

IMG_2552Gelatine.  Dating back to Egyptian times, it's a substance derived from the processing of animal collagen (beef and/or pork).  That's important to know, as, I'm surprised by how many home cooks are under the mistaken impression this colorless, flavorless, pure-protein is vegetarian.  The word "gelatine" comes from Latin word "gelatus", which means "jellied".  Before the invention of our modern day forms (granulate and, sheet or leaf), gelatine was considered a sign of wealth.  It took hours of tedious work to render and clarify the collagen from cattle hides, pig skins and bones so it could be used in fancy sophisticated aspics, molded salads and elegant desserts.  It meant the host or hostess had the means to support a kitchen staff with well-honed culinary skills.

Gelatine granules & sheets -- same product?  Yes & no.

IMG_2874Today I'm focusing on granulated gelatine -- the kind that comes in a box of four packets.  The kind that's been dried and broken up into individual grains that makes it easy to measure.  Sheet gelatine (also known as leaf gelatin), of which I am a big fan, is made from gelatine that has been dried in flat sheets.  While sheets result in a clearer, more transparent final product, they are, in essence, just a different name for the same product.  That said, most recipes for the home kitchen were written by our mothers and grandmothers, who used the granulated gelatine packets. Granulated gelatin is easily found in grocery stores and is common to home cooks.  Sheet gelatin is found in specialty shops or on-line and is more common to professional chefs and bakeshops.

Substituting sheets for granules?  Sure, but, not so fast. 

IMG_2863In my kitchen, "if the recipe ain't broke, don't fix it", and, I'm here to tell you, substituting sheets for granules, due to the fact the strength of sheets varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and country to country (these are made with pork in Germany), the substitution of sheets in time-tested vintage recipes calling for granules is a tricky business which can end in disappointing results.  I do not recommend it for the average home cook.  If a recipe calls for sheets, by all means use them as directed, but don't off-handedly use them as a substitution for granules.

My general rule of thumb for substitution is based solely upon the brand of sheet gelatine I purchase: 1 sheet = gelatin to thicken 1/2 cup liquid; 2 sheets = gelatin to thicken 1 cup liquid; 6 sheets = gelatin to thicken 3 cups liquid; 6 sheets = 1 packet (1 tablespoon) gelatin granules.

A bit of history about powdered, sheets, granules & Jell-O too:

IMG_2858Unflavored, dry, powdered gelatine, "Cox's Gelatin", became available in 1845 from the J&G Company of Edinburgh, Scotland, and exporting to the USA began the same year.  Also in 1845, Peter Cooper, secured a US patent for a gelatine dessert powder called "portable gelatine", but, nothing would be done with this patent for another 50 years.  In 1895, he sold the patent to Pearl Walt, a cough syrup maker.  Together with his wife May, they experimented with adding fruit syrups (strawberry, raspberry, orange and lemon) to gelatine powder mixed with sugar.  May renamed the 88% sugar product, Jell-O, but, they were unsuccessful in selling it, and, sold the name and business to Orator Francis Woodward in 1899.  In 1904 the Jell-O-girl, holding a tea kettle in her left hand and a box of Jell-O in her right (just add hot water) was introduced.  

That said, in 1890, Charles Knox, of Jamestown NY, after watching his wife make calves' foot jelly, decided that a prepackaged, easy to use gelatine mix was what American housewifes needed.  In 1894 (a year prior to the portable gelatine powder patent), Charles developed the world's first pre-granulated gelatine, by experimenting until he found a process that dried unflavored gelatine into sheets.  He hired salesmen to travel door-to-door to sell and show housewives how to use it.  The sheets, however, fell by the wayside, when he rocked-the-world and introduced unflavored, granulated gelatine packets, which required no hands-on training for the home cook to use the product with extremely successful, almost foolproof, results.

 Tips & things to know about granulated gelatine packets:

IMG_2853Measuring:  If a recipe calls for a specific number of gelatine packets, empty and use the contents from the specified number of packets (1 packet, 2 packets, etc).  If a recipe calls for a specific measurement (1 teaspoon, 2 teaspoons, etc), open the packet(s) and measure the contents with a measuring spoon. One packet will firmly set 2 cups of liquid that, if desired, can be unmolded at serving time.  One packet will softly set 3 cups of liquid that cannot be unmolded at serving time.

1 packet (1/4 ounce) = 1 scant tablespoon (3 teaspoons)

1 packet will firmly set 2 cups liquid

1 packet will softly set 3 cups liquid

IMG_2876 IMG_2876 IMG_2876 IMG_2876 IMG_2893Blooming (hydrating) and warming (melting):  All gelatine must be softened prior to using.  The softening process is called "blooming".  It's done by sprinkling 1 packet gelation (or specified teaspoon measurement) over 1/4 cup cold water (or specified cold alcohol-free liquid) and setting the mixture aside, without stirring or whisking, "to bloom", 5-10 minutes. Once bloomed, heat/warm the gelatine, as directed.  This can be done on the stovetop, but my favorite method is to place "bloomed" gelatin, which is now very thick, in the microwave. Warm it without allowing to simmer or boil, 10-12 seconds, to 100°-110º, until melted  -- this insures gelatine will be evenly distributed throughout whatever it's added to.

Troubleshooting to insure a successful end result:

My gelatine didn't set.  If a gelatine-based dish doesn't set properly, the gelatine either didn't melt all the way or the gelatine mixture boiled.  If not melted all the way, simply heat it a few seconds longer.  If boiled, any type of gelatine loses its thickening power and won't set correctly.  

My gelatine clumped.  Avoid adding melted gelatin to ice-cold liquid or purée, as it could cause the gelatine to clump or seize -- work with warm, room temperature or moderately cool ingredients that have been removed from the refrigerator 30-45 minutes prior to adding gelatine.  

My end result is rubbery.  It's worth noting that foods set with any type of gelatine get stiffer the longer they sit, so, what was softly- and perfectly-set on Monday will be less wobbly and more rubbery on Thursday.  Gelatine desserts are best served 24-48 hours after preparation.

Pretty in Pink:  Easy, Elegant Strawberry Mousse:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07fed657970dPanna From Heaven:  A Divine Mango Panna Cotta:

IMG_2687"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

09/14/2018

~Toasted-Coconut-Kissed Butter-Rum Mango Cream~

IMG_2815In terms of relatively quick-to-make no-bake desserts, this five-ingredient show-stopper takes the cake. It's refreshingly-light and smooth-as-silk with a trio of flavors everyone loves about the Caribbean islands accounted for in every creamy bite -- mango, rum and coconut.  It's thickened by super-stiff whipped cream -- no eggs or gelatine.  No one needs to know these didn't take all day to make.  Serve 'em right after they're put together to quell a craving, or make 'em a day ahead to impress a few friends, just make 'em -- they are truly a don't worry, be happy dessert.

IMG_2810Fall back fifty years.  Peaches and cream.  Freshly-picked sliced peaches dolloped with soft-peaks of freshly-whipped sweetened cream. When I was growing up it was one of my favorite straight-up, unembellished, Summer,desserts. My grandmother's peach tree produced the best peaches, and, every year, after my dad picked them, mom would slice 'em, dollop 'em and serve 'em on our front porch at dusk -- where, a few nights in a row, we'd gobble 'em up listening to the chirp of the crickets. Peachy-keen memories indeed.  

It's not hard to see how easy it was to transition from peaches to mangos and come up with this tropical-flaired dessert.

IMG_27174 ripe mangos, split, pitted, fruit fruit removed from flesh and 1/2" diced, then puréed (as directed below), chilled

4  cups heavy cream, chilled

4  tablespoons sugar

2  tablespoons butter-rum extract

1/2  cup sweetened, flaked coconut, lightly toasted (fine-chopped and lightly-toasted cashews are a nice substitution) 

IMG_2743 IMG_2743~Step 1.  Spread coconut across bottom of small shallow baking pan and place on center rack of 350° oven until lightly-toasted, about 7-8 minutes stopping to stir with a spoon every 2-3 minutes (to insure even toasting).  Set aside to cool.

IMG_2722 IMG_2722 IMG_2722 IMG_2722~Step 2.  With the aid of an Oxo mango splitter-pitter, split and pit the mango.  Use a tablespoon to scoop the fruit from the flesh of each half.  Don't have a mango splitter?  Get one ($12.00).

IMG_2749 IMG_2753 IMG_2753 IMG_2753~Step 3.  Dice the fruit into 1/2" pieces, placing two-thirds of it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and setting the other one-third aside.  If you have a kitchen scale, now is a great time to use it.  Place 16 ounces in the food processor and set aside 8 ounces -- it you have 1-2-ounces of mango leftover, add it to the processor.  With motor running, process the mango to a smooth purée, about 45 seconds.  There will be 1 3/4-2 cups purée.

IMG_2766 IMG_2766 IMG_2769 IMG_2769~Step 4.  Place the sugar and butter-rum extract in a large bowl.  Give it a stir and allow it to sit for 3-5 minutes, to flavor and start to dissolve the sugar.  Add the cream.  Starting on lowest speed of hand-held electric mixer and working up to highest speed, whip the cream until very, very stiff, using a large rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl throughout the process, about 6 minutes.  Remove and set aside (in the refrigerator) 2 cups of the whipped cream.

IMG_2781 IMG_2781 IMG_2785 IMG_2787~Step 5.  Gently fold the mango purée into the whipped cream, in 4-5 increments.  Ladle the mango cream evenly into 6, 2-cup dessert bowls or glasses (these are stemless wine glasses).  If you have the time at this point, refrigerate for 30-60 minutes -- if you don't it'll be just fine.

IMG_2787 IMG_2787 IMG_2787 IMG_2787~Step 6.  At serving time, distribute a few diced mango cubes over their tops, followed by a few dollops (1/2 cup each) of the reserved whipped cream and a sprinkle of toasted coconut.

Impress a few family or friends w/a taste of the tropics:

IMG_2808Oh my butter-rum mango cream.  Sigh.

IMG_2835Toasted-Coconut-Kissed Butter-Rum Mango Cream:  Recipe yields 6, 1-cup-ish size servings.

Special Equipment List:  small shallow baking pan; mango pitter-splitter; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; kitchen scale; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula

IMG_2700Cook's Note:  Panna cotta is a softly-set dessert containing three ingredients:  cream, sugar and galatine. A fourth, flavoring, isn't necessary to achieve perfection, but, a splash of vanilla (or any other flavoring) takes it over-the-top. Some technique is involved (while the name implies 'cooked cream', the ingredients are only warmed enough to dissolve the gelatine and sugar), but it is quickly learned and requires knowing a bit about gelatine. ~ Panna from Heaven:  A Divine Mango Panna Cotta ~.

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

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