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16 posts from August 2010

08/31/2010

~ Crunchy Dilled-Cucumber, Onion & Tomato Salad ~

Joe's Vegetable Table #2On any given late summer early morning, when I go out onto our deck, I pretty much expect to find "Joe's Vegetable Table" looking something like the above picture.  Before he leaves for the office each day, weather permitting, he picks, rinses/cleans and organizes his prime produce for me.  Upon my arrival at "Joe's Vegetable Table", it is up to me to decide how I'm going to prepare the day's bounty.  Today I know we're having two great side-dishes for dinner tonight, my:  ~ Perfectly Cooked Sweet Corn ~, and, ~ Crunchy Dilled-Cucumber, Onion & Tomato Salad ~, both recipes found in Category 4. 

Sweet corn will be featured soon in one of my upcoming blogs.  Today I'm talking about one of my all-time favorite salads, made with all of my favorite freshly-picked ingredients:  cucumbers, onions, tomatoes and the native to southern Russia herb, dill (pictured below). Dill #1

Simply explained by me, "Dill is to Russia as Basil is to Italy."  This being said:  dill is used in cuisines worldwide, including Lao, Thai, Vietnamese, Arabian, Indian and Iranian.  I'm simply pointing out that dill itself is native to Russia.  During the summer/early fall, it's fragile, wispy, fernlike, green leaves lend a sweet, subtle taste to all sorts of salads and dressings.  Dill is also a common addition to many fish dishes, soups and anything that can be pickled... which is no surprise as Russia is renowned for its dilled-salmon, -borscht and -pickles.  There are many variations to this pickled salad, but this one, hailing from my Eastern European heritage, as mentioned above, is my all-time, summer-time favorite!   Pickled Garden Cucumber, Onion & Tomato Salad (Ingredients)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2  pounds peeled, halved and thinly sliced fresh, garden cucumbers

3/4-1  pound peeled, halved and very thinly sliced yellow or sweet onion

1-1 1/2  pounds fresh, ripe, firm, garden tomatoes, cut into wedges, wedges cut in half or thirds (Note:  Slightly over-ripe or over-ripe tomatoes will not work well in this recipe.)

1  cup water

1  cup apple cider vinegar

1  cup sugar

1  teaspoon fine sea salt, more or less, to taste

1  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/4-1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

2-4  tablespoons minced, fresh dill leaves, more or less, to taste

freshly ground peppercorn blend, for garnishing each portion of salad

dill sprigs, for garnishing each portion of salad

~ Step 1.  Peel and slice the cucumbers and onions as directed, placing them in a large mixing bowl as you work.  Slice the tomatoes as directed and set them aside.

~ Step 2.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine the water, vinegar, sugar, sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper.  Using a large rubber spatula, stir until the sugar and salt are completely dissolved.  Taste and add more salt, if necessary.  Add this mixture to the vegetables, or stir in the optional red pepper flakes: 

I like to add the red pepper flakes because my family likes this salad a little spicy.  When I do, I set this mixture aside for about 10 minutes, to give all the flavors time to "marry".  Then I taste and add more pepper, if necessary.  Now add this mixture to the vegetables.  What can I say, I'm very particular.  I like getting my liquid mixture perfectly seasoned prior to adding it to my fresh vegetables!

~ Step 3.  Mince the dill as directed.  Gently fold in the dill and the tomatoes.  Cover mixture with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours.  This salad should be very cold when served.Dill Salad #1The Corn Chronicles #1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I told you we were going to have two really great side-dishes with dinner tonight and we did!  My Crunchy-Dilled Cucumber, Onion & Tomato Salad and Perfectly Cooked Sweet Corn recipes are the ideal side-dishes for any summer gathering.

Why not make these two the hit of your upcoming Labor Day holiday picnic celebration!?! 

P.S.  Look for my post:  ~ The Corn Chronicles ~, coming soon! 

Crunchy Dilled-Cucumber, Onion & Tomato Salad:  Recipe yields about 6 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; slotted spoon (for serving)

Cook's Note:  Be sure to choose tomatoes that are firm.  I like to use tomatoes that are about, "a day away from being great sliced and served on a 'burger or a sandwich!"

PICT1821Extra Cook's Note:  While this salad is marvelous made using fresh dill, for an equally delicious change of pace, occasionally I substitute minced, fresh mint leaves for the dill.  I always make this change when I am serving it with my recipe for ~ Roasted Lamb Sandwiches w/Lemon-Mint Mayo ~, which is found in Categories 2 & 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010) 

08/30/2010

~ Dad's Salmon Patties w/Pink Peppercorn Sauce ~

Dad's Salmon Patties #6On Friday, I left you with my yummy recipe recipe for ~ T.G.I.F. Salmon w/Pink Peppercorn Sauce ~.  Well, today is Monday and I'm going to show you how to make leftovers that are just as wonderful, if not better than Friday night's dinner... and since the salmon and the sauce are already cooked, this is even easier!  The truth be told, when I am making my T.G.I.F. Salmon, I usually buy two (not just one) salmon fillets.  Two are just as easy to make as one, and I know full-well that my family is going to want a second meal of:  ~ Dad's Salmon Patties ~.

When I was growing up, my mom and dad both worked.  They shared all of the weekday cooking and household chores almost equally.  My dad has a talent for what I refer to as "skillet cookery".  His meatballs, pork chops, home-fried potatoes and these salmon patties are my personal favorites.  He, and almost everyone else in America at the time, typically prepared salmon patties using canned salmon (back then, unless one lived on the Northeast coast or in Alaska, one simply didn't have ready access to fresh salmon), which you can surely still use. 

Forty years later, I've discovered his recipe the perfect use for any leftover broiled, grilled or  poached salmon.  In dad's kitchen, he served his salmon patties with home-fried potatoes and buttered peas (ketchup was our condiment of choice).  My version of the recipe is a bit more avant-garde, but if both were placed in front of me, I can't say I wouldn't eat his first!

Dad's Salmon Patties #2 (Ingredients)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1  pound, skinned and coarsely flaked, cooked salmon

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup diced celery

2  tablespoons minced, fresh dill

30  saltine crackers, crushed to coarse crumbs

3  jumbo eggs, beaten with a fork

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

1/4  cup corn oil, for frying salmon patties

Step 1.  In large mixing bowl, place the flaked salmon, diced onion, celery, minced dill, salt and white pepper.

~ Step 2.  In a medium mixing bowl, using a fork, beat the eggs.  Place the saltines in a large food storage bag and twist or zip to close.  Using a rolling pin, process the saltines to coarse crumbs.

~ Step 3.  Using a large rubber spatula, combine the ingredients in the large bowl of salmon.  Next, combine the eggs with the saltine cracker crumbs in the medium bowl (this mixture will be thick and pasty).  Gently fold the cracker mixture into the salmon mixture.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 20-30 minutes, to give the cracker crumbs time to continue to absorb moisture and soften.

Dad's Salmon Patties #4~ Step 4.  Line a baking pan with parchment paper.  Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, divide the salmon mixture into 12 balls, firmly packing each scoop.  Place each one, slightly apart on the baking pan and, using your fingertips, gently pat and press to form 12, 3/4" discs or "patties".

Cover baking pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1-2 hours or even overnight if you like!

Dad's Salmon Patties #4

 

~ Step 5.  Place oil in skillet over medium heat.  Gently place the salmon patties into the hot oil and fry, until crisp and golden brown, about 3-5 minutes per side, turning only once.  Do not overcook!

The first side will take longer to cook, about 5 minutes, while the second side tends to brown a bit faster, about 3-4 minutes.

 

Dad's Salmon Patties #5~ Step 6.  Transfer salmon patties to a large, warmed serving platter. 

Reheat leftover pink peppercorn sauce in microwave or gently on stovetep.

Serve immediately.  In the following picture, I served the salmon patties with my recipe for:

~ Crunchy Dilled-Cucumber, Onion & Tomato Salad ~, found in Categories 4, 10 & 12.

Pickled Garden Cucumber, Onion & Tomato Salad #2

 

 

 

Dad's Salmon Patties w/Pink Peppercorn Sauce:  Recipe yields 12 salmon patties or 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large food storage bag; rolling pin; large rubber spatula; 8 3/4" x 5 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; plastic wrap; 12" skillet, preferably non-stick

Cook's Note:  Fully-cooked eftover salmon patties reheat nicely in the microwave.  Leftover salmon patties freeze nicely as well.  Never freeze uncooked salmon patties. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)

08/28/2010

~ "WE ARE... PENN STATE!!!" Football Update: ~

Beaver Stadium #2It's a beautiful Saturday morning here in Happy Valley.  Joe and I were driving to visit his mother this morning (she lives in Nittany Glen, a retirement community about 10 miles from us) when I jumped out of the car (which was obviously already stopped) to take this glorious picture of our landmark Beaver Stadium!  The countdown has officially begun...

Next Saturday, right about now as a matter of fact, the ball will be kicked off to start another year of what we Penn Staters look forward to the most:  FOOTBALL SEASON!!!

"WE ARE... PENN STATE!!!"

(Commentary and Photo courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010) 

~ Pink Peppercorn Sauce ~

6a0120a8551282970b015432e6128e970c-800wiThis simple, silky-textured, slightly spicy sauce is sinfully delicious accompanied by broiled or baked fish, steamed shellfish, poached chicken, vegetables and all sorts of rice, orzo and even couscous.  It is pictured here with my recipe for ~ T.G.I.F. Salmon w/Pink Peppercorn Sauce ~, which can be found in Cataegories 3, 11, & 19.  The sauce can be made ahead of time, up to 2 days prior to serving it.  It reheats in the microwave or gently on the stovetop, and if it happens to get too thick, just stir in a bit more cream.

Pink Peppercorn Sauce #1 (Ingredients)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2  ounces unsalted butter 

4  ounces yellow or sweet onion, finely diced

          1  cup sweet white wine

4  tablespoons dark rum

4  teaspoons pink peppercorns, coarsely crushed with the side of a chef's knife

2  tablespoons tomato paste

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/4  teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less to taste

freshly ground sea salt, to taste   

Pink Peppercorn Sauce #3 (Sauteed Onions)

~ Step 1.  Finely dice the onions as directed. 

In pan, melt butter over low heat.  Add the onions.  Increase heat to saute, until they are just soft and transluscent, 3-4 minutes.  Pink Peppercorn Sauce #4 (Wine & Rum Reduction)

 

 

 

 

~ Step 2.  Add the white wine and the rum.  Adjust the heat to simmer rapidly until the mixture is reduced by about half.  This will take about 5-6 minutes. 

 

 

 

 

6a0120a8551282970b0133f35ca3e1970b~ Step 3.   Using the flat side of a chef's knife, coarsely crush the pink peppercorns as directed. 

Stir in the peppercorns, tomato paste, cream and red pepper flakes.  Adjust heat to simmer very rapidly, just short of a full boil, until the sauce is nicely thickened, about 5-6 additional minutes.  Pink Peppercorn Sauce #6 (Finished Sauce)

 

 

 ~ Step 4.  The sauce should be nicely thickened, thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, or as you can see in this picture:  the side of the pan.  Sauce will also be a pretty pink color.  If you want a thicker sauce, simmer it a little longer.  If you want it thinner, just add a bit more cream.

Remove from heat and salt to taste, preferably using freshly ground sea salt. 

Tidbits regarding pink peppercorns:  I like to refer to them as "little peppery jewels."  They are  actually not a peppercorn or related to a peppercorn.  Originating in Peru, they are a dried, very fragile-skinned berry that Amazon rainforest natives use to make homemade Pink Peppercorn Beer!  Because their skin is so fragile, they are easily crushed with the flat side of a chef's knife, to release their delicate, fruity, peppery flavor.  Besides being used in Pink Peppercorn Sauce, once crushed, they are delicious sprinkled "as is" into any tossed salad or used to garnish a cheese tray.  If you've never tried them, pop one into your mouth for a most enjoyable nibble!

Pink Peppercorn Sauce:  Recipe yields 1 1/2-2 cups sauce.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3-quart stirfy-type pan

Cook's Note:  Sauce can be prepared 1-2 days in advance of serving and refrigerated.  Reheat sauce or leftover sauce in microwave or gently on stovetop.  If sauce gets too thick, add a bit more cream.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010) 

08/27/2010

~ T.G.I.F. Salmon w/Pink Peppercorn Sauce ~

TGIF Salmon #1 If you're like me, Friday is your favorite day of the week!  My second most favorite day of the week is Tuesday.  Seem odd?  When I was growing up, I associated my days of the week with what we were having for lunch in the cafeteria and dinner at home that evening.  For me, Tuesdays and Fridays rocked!  On Tuesdays:  the cafeteria always served spaghetti with meat sauce for lunch and my father always made spaghetti and meatballs for dinner!  On Fridays:  the cafeteria always served fish sticks with stewed tomatoes for lunch and my mother made salmon patties (or potato pancakes) for dinner!  I'm living proof that children do need stability in their lives!

I'm all grown up now, but each week when Friday rolls around, salmon always comes to mind.  That being said, each week when Friday rolls around, I usually just want to relax a bit and cook something deliciously easy.  Even if I have invited guests, Friday night dinners revolve around everyone sitting around my kitchen counter, drinks in hand, talking about their week, sharing stories and watching me cook a laid-back meal.  These Friday evenings, fondly, are amongst my favorite Kitchen Encounters

I'm here to tell you that my recipe for Salmon with Pink Peppercorn Sauce is:  easy (on the table in 45 minutes or less), foolproof (perfect salmon every time), elegant (can be served at a table set with fine china and crystal) and superb (better tasting than any similarly prepared salmon I have eaten anywhere)!

The salmon in the above picture and all of the following pictures is a:

3  pound fillet of fresh, wild, Alaskan sockeye salmon

The recipe works equally well with a:

3  pound fillet of fresh, farm-raised, Atlantic salmon

TGIF Salmon #2

~ Step 1.  Relax.  It's Friday.  Pour that much needed glass of wine and get that look of horror off your face... this is gonna be easy!

The following steps will take less than 5 minutes to perform and your salmon will be in the oven cooking itself!

 

 

 

TGIF Salmon #5

~ Step 2.  A salmon is structured such that a line of tiny white bones, called pin bones, are usually left in the fillet after it is removed from the backbone.  Their nubbly tops are easily located with your fingertips.  The bones themselves are quickly removed.  Using a pair of needle-nose pliers (or tweezers), grip the tip of each bone and give it a firm pull.  These bones aren't really the kind anyone can choke on, it is just in poor taste to leave them in.

 TGIF Salmon #8

~ Step 3.  Using a chef's knife, slice and portion the salmon fillet into 6-equal-sized pieces.  Cut each slice just until you reach the bottom of the salmon, stopping just short of cutting through the skin itself.

Why are we precutting the salmon?  It is a great time saver at serving time and eliminates the jagged edges that occur when slicing a cooked fish fillet of any type.TGIF Salmon #9

~ Step 4.   Using kitchen shears, cut through the skin of the salmon fillet, separating it into 6 pieces. 

Why didn't I just cut through the bottom skin with the chef's knife?  The bottom skin of the salmon is tough and rubbery.  The salmon meat is moist and delicate.  The kitchen shears simply eliminate any potential for damage to the meat due to the push/pull of the knife blade.TGIF Salmon #11

~ Step 5.  It's Friday folks, so unless you enjoy scrubbing a broiler pan, use a disposable aluminum pan... the kind with a corrugated/"groovy" bottom.  Spray pan with no-stick spray.

Arrange all 6 salmon pieces snugly next to each other in pan.  Top each portion with 2-3 very thin slices of butter.  Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over all, followed by some freshly ground peppercorn blend.

 

~ Step 6.  Position oven rack 6"-8" below preheated broiler.  Broil the salmon until it is a very light golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and reset the oven from broil to bake at 325 degrees.  Tightly cover the pan of salmon with aluminum foil, return to oven and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let rest about 5 minutes prior to serving.  While salmon is broiling and baking, to prepare the peppercorn sauce, prep and have ready the following:

2  ounces salted butter

4  ounces yellow or sweet onion, finely diced

1  cup sweet white wine

4  tablespoons dark rum

4  teaspoons pink peppercorns, coarsely crushed with the side of a chef's knife

2  tablespoons tomato paste

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/4  teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less, to taste

freshly ground sea salt, to taste

Pink Peppercorn Sauce #2 (Ingredients)Pink Peppercorn Sauce #3 (Sauteed Onions) ~ Step 1.  In pan, melt butter over low heat.  Add the onions.  Adjust heat to saute, until they are soft and translucent, 3-4 minutes.

 

 

Pink Peppercorn Sauce #4 (Wine & Rum Reduction)Step 2.  Add the white wine and the rum.  Adjust heat to simmer rapidly and reduce mixture by about half, about 5-6 minutes.

 

 

Pink Peppercorn Sauce #6 (Finished Sauce) ~ Step 3.  Stir in the pink peppercorns, tomato paste, cream and red pepper flakes.  Adjust  heat to simmer very rapidly, just short of a full boil, an additional 5-6 minutes.  The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat and salt, to taste, with freshly ground sea salt.

T.G.I.F. Salmon w/Pink Peppercorn Sauce:  Recipe yields 6 servings of salmon and 1 1/2-2 cups pink peppercorn sauce.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; needle-nose pliers (or tweezers); chef's knife; kitchen shears; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; aluminum foil; 3-quart stirfry-type pan

Cook's Note:  Sauce can be prepared 1-2 days in advance of serving and refrigerated.  Reheat sauce or leftover sauce in microwave or gently on stovetop.  If sauce gets too thick, add a bit more cream.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)

08/26/2010

~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL Video Segment #9: T.G.I.F. Salmon w/Pink Peppercorn Sauce ~

6a0120a8551282970b015432e60e07970c-800wiYesterday I posted my recipe for ~ T.G.I.F. Salmon w/Pink Peppercorn Sauce ~, which is as easy as it is moist and delicious.  If you've never tasted pink peppercorns or pink peppercorn sauce, you are in for twice the treat.  You can find the detailed recipe, with all of my step-by-step directions and photos in Categories 3, 14, 19 or 20!

If you'd like to watch my Kitchen Encounters TV segment, just click on the following link:

T.G.I.F. Salmon w/Pink Peppercorn Sauce

To watch all of my other Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV cooking segments, go to the listing found on the left side of the home page of this blog, and, click on the blue title of any one, or:

Tune in to WHVL-TV's Centre of It All Show, which airs every Sunday morning at 11:30AM on local Comcast channel 14!

************

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

(Recipe, Commentary, Photo & Video courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)

~ Only 10 Shopping Days Left 'till PSU Football! ~

It must be football season again!!!REMINDER:  Next Thursday, I will be posting a tailgating recipe for the PSU/Youngstown State game.  I will be doing this every Thursday for all home and away games.  Posts will appear every Thursday, at 8:00AM EST.  (For more details, see my post of 8/19/10.)

For a "sip-it" of what you can look forward to each ~ Tuning Up for Tailgate Thursday ~, scroll down just a bit!  Bloody Mary's anyone?

"WE ARE... PENN STATE!!!"

"If you feed them, they will come." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Commentary and Photo courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)

~ Stan's "Hail Mary, I'm Born Again" Bloody Mary ~

IMG_3686Stanford Cook is one of our best friends.  He is also the official toastmaster for our Penn State tailgate group.  He also happens to make the best Bloody Mary I have ever had the pleasure to drink!  Back in the days when I single-handedly cooked the main course for our tailgate group, 40-50 people strong for each and every home game, Stan would bring pitchers of his Bloodys for everyone the morning of the game.  Besides his own, superb, blend/mixture of ingredients, Stan shared his "big secret" for their great taste with me:  "I mix 'em up on a Thursday night.  It gives 'em two days to pull it all together."  This is the 'Absolut' God's truth! 

The only change that ever got made to Stan's original recipe came in January of 1983.  Joe and I traveled to New Orleans with Joe's brother Tom and wife Kathy, for the Sugar Bowl, where our Penn State Nittany Lions were playing the Georgia Bulldogs.  We vacationed on Bourbon Street for 6 days, staying at the very stately and classy Fairmont Hotel.  Every morning we started our day at their Sazerac Bar*, where their handsome bartender had eight Bloody Mary's waiting for us four, promptly at 10:00AM, every morning before we headed out onto Bourbon Street! 

Joe, Tom, Kathy and I agreed that liked Stan's Bloody Mary mixture better, but, we liked their refreshing use of fresh lime juice instead of fresh lemon juice.  Upon our arrival back to tailgate headquarters in State College, we reported our findings to Stan.  Stan agreed to, "give it a try."  The very next Saturday, Stan made it official as he decreed, "from this day forth, our tailgate group is so ordered to use lime juice in their Bloody Mary's instead of lemon juice!!!" 

Bloody Mary #11  46-ounce can tomato juice

12  ounces very good vodka, pepper- or lime- flavored

3  ounces fresh lime juice, or organic bottled concentrate 

2  ounces Worcestershire sauce

1  tablespoon cayenne pepper sauce, your favorite brand, more or less, to taste

1 1/2  teaspoons celery seed

1 1/2  teaspoons dried marjoram leaves

8  each:  celery sticks and lime slices, for garnish

Bloody Mary #2

* The Sazerac Bar:  Originally the Sazarac House, founded in 1870   by Thomas Handy, is the home of the very famous Sazerac Cocktail, believed to be, "the first cocktail, period."

(You can count on me for a post in the near future regarding this rye-, bitters- and Absinthe-based drink!)

The bar moved to the Roosevelt Hotel in 1949, where The Sazerac Bar and Restaurant still stand.  The Roosevelt became the Fairmont, and as of the summer of 2009, was renovated and reopened as the Roosevelt once again... sweet!

"WE ARE... PENN STATE!!!" 

Stan's "Hail Mary, I'm Born Again" Bloody Mary:  Recipe yields, 2-quarts or 8, 8-ounce Miracles.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart pitcher; large spoon or stirrer stick; cutting board; paring knife; 1 handsome bartender (but any man will do).

Cook's Note:  Taste's best if prepared 1-2 days in advance of serving chilled over ice.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)  

08/21/2010

~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~

Marinara Sauce #1 (Roma Tomatoes) "Mr. Greenjeans", my husband Joe, adores gardening as much as I adore cooking.  He loves being outdoors working in his meticulously cared for gardens as much as I love being indoors cooking in my meticulously maintained kitchens.  He shops in hardware/garden supply stores like I shop in kitchen/restaurant supply stores.  I don't question what he spends for a new wheelbarrow and he doesn't question what I spend on a new 24-quart rondeau...  True love!!!

In the Fall of each year, thanks to Joe, I find myself up to my elbows in several varieties of fresh tomatoes, the Roma (or Italian plum) tomato being one of them.  These firm, smooth-skinned, egg- or pear-shaped tomatoes are quite "meaty" (as opposed to the plump, round, "eating on a sandwich"-type tomatoes) and they don't contain a lot of seeds, which make them the perfect choice to make tomato-based sauces with.

I use the Romas every year to make my version of Italian marinara sauce.  Classic marinara is a highly-seasoned Italian tomato sauce that contains onions, garlic and oregano.  If not used judiciously, oregano can be harsh tasting, but besides that:  I just like the licoricey taste of basil a lot better!  If you have ever grown fresh basil, you know that when it is at it's peak, you have to use it fast.  Like my marriage to Joe, my "Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce" is the perfect union between the Roma tomato and fresh basil!

Marinara Sauce #6 (Tomato Press) Thanks to a "spoofy" little kitchen gadget called a tomato press, the arduous, time-consuming task of peeling, seeding and crushing Roma tomatoes  for sauce has been eliminated for me!

I found mine in at William-Sonoma about 5-6 years ago, but I've since seen them in Sur La Table.  This sturdy, easy-to-clean machine costs around $40-$45 and is worth every cent!  Here's how it works:  

Marinara Sauce #7 (Tomato Press in Progress)

~ There's a suction cup that holds the press firmly to almost any work surface or table.

~ Fill the upper bin with chunked tomatoes and turn the crank, just like a food mill or food grinder.

~ Into the square, white plastic tray (which comes with the machine) flows a river of perfectly crushed tomatoes, free of skins and seeds, which exit out the side of machine into any type of container.

~ Men love this machine. Joe uses it outside, on a table on our patio, which means I have no mess!  

Now that the tomatoes are prepped, it's time to make that sauce I've been bragging about!  But in the event you've prepped your tomatoes and don't have time to make the sauce immediately, the crushed tomatoes can be frozen for up to a year.

Marinara Sauce #9 (Ingredients Closeup)








  

18  cups peeled, seeded and crushed Roma tomatoes

1  6-ounce can tomato paste

1  cup Chianti (an Italian red wine), or Port wine

1/2  cup olive oil

1  pound diced yellow or sweet onion

4  ounces diced garlic cloves (you can run the garlic through a press if you want it finer, but I like to find little pieces of garlic in my sauce)

1  tablespoon dried basil leaves

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1  tablespoon each:  sugar, salt (I use fine sea salt) and white pepper

2-3  ounces, chiffonade of fresh basil leaves

Marinara Sauce # 11 (Prepped Ingredients in Pan)

~ Step 1.  Place oil in chef's pan.  Prep the onion and garlic, adding them to the pan as you work.  Add the dried basil, red pepper flakes, sugar, salt and white pepper.

Why white pepper instead of black pepper?  In this case, it is purely my taste preference for this recipe.  White pepper is less pungent than black pepper and for lack of better words:  it seems to subtly melt into the finished sauce!

6a0120a8551282970b0133f33a4948970b-320wi~ Step 2.  Over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, saute the above mixture until the onions are tender, about 10 minutes.  Turn heat off.   Add the tomato paste and wine.  Stir until ingredients are evenly coated. 

~ Step 3.  Chiffonade the basil.  Do this at the last moment so the basil is bright green when added to pan.

~ Step 4.  Add all of the crushed tomatoes and basil chiffonade.  The pan will be very full.

6a0120a8551282970b0133f33a6df4970b-320wi~ Step 5.  Stir the above mixture until the basil is incorporated into the tomatoes.  Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a rapid simmer.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, until the sauce has reduced, by about 1/3, and is   a thick consistency, about 1 1/2 hours.  The picture on the right clearly illustrates the reduction.

"My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce" is ready to eat (or freeze): 

Marinara Sauce #14 (Portioned) Mel's Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara):  Recipe yields approximately 3 1/2 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  tomato press (optional); cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon 

Cook's Note:  Sauce freezes well.  I like to freeze it in 1 1/2-cup size containers.  Each container will sauce 12-ounces of angel hair pasta or 2 of my homemade pizzas.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)

08/19/2010

~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL Video Segment #30: Thai Red Pork Curry w/Steamed Jasmine Rice ~

6a0120a8551282970b016769318118970b-800wiYesterday I posted my recipe for ~ Thai Red Pork Curry w/Steamed Jasmine Rice ~.  If you are a lover of real-real Thai food, this is a recipe you're going to want to try.  You can find the detailed recipe, along with all of my step-by-step directions and photos in Categories 3 or 13!

If you'd like to watch my Kitchen Encounters TV segment, just click on the following link:

Thai Red Pork Curry w/Steamed Jasmine Rice

To watch all of my other Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV cooking segments, go to the listing found on the left side of the home page of this blog, and, click on the blue title of any one, or:

Tune in to WHVL-TV's Centre of it All Show, which airs every Sunday morning at 11:30AM on local Comcast channel 14!

************

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

(Recipe, Commentary, Photo & Video courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)

~ Is it Penn State Football Season Already? ~

It must be!  "The Blimp" is hovering over Melanie's Kitchen looking for tailgate recipes and tips for another exciting year of Penn State football, fun and food!  "WE ARE... PENN STATE" (and... we Penn Staters can cook up a tailgate too)!!!

It must be football season again!!!

~ Kitchen Encounters is announcing that starting Thursday, September 2nd, I will be posting a recipe for that week's upcoming Saturday Penn State game.  I will do this for both home and away games.  Posts will appear every Thursday, at 8:00AM EST... to give you plenty of time to buy your groceries, alcohol, plan your tailgate party, cook and get "taped up" for Saturday's big game! 

~ So, every Thursday, check in with Mel for:  ~ Tuning Up for Tailgate Thursday ~

The above picture of the Goodyear Blimp in our Penn State blue sky really was taken from my deck here in Happy Valley, PA... that is my Nittany Lion brick chimney in the corner!

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

(Commentary and Photo courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)

08/18/2010

~ Thai Red Pork Curry w/Steamed Jasmine Rice ~

PICT0047My appetite to prepare Thai food this week was whet on Saturday.  Joe and I traveled to Pittsburgh to celebrate the end of my birthday week with son Jesse, Becky & Grandson David!

6a0120a8551282970b0133f3203d29970b-320wiOne of my presents was a Thai ornamental bird's eye chile pepper plant for my kitchen windowsill -- a Thai food lover's dream come true.  Now that I have seeds, I will never be without these "hot little darlings" again.  From 1995-1998, I had two very productive Thai chile pepper plants that adored life in front of my patio door.  They were given to me by a close friend from Thailand. When some sort of plant disease killed them, I truly wanted to cry.

Back in 1993 I had the great pleasure of becoming quick friends with a Home Economist from Thailand.  Kanya Wacharamai was living here in State College with her husband Fu, who was earning an engineering degree from Penn State.  When we two gals introduced my engineer husband Joe to Fu, we four began getting together regularly.  Kanya has since moved back to Thailand, but during those three marvelous years, Kanya not only taught me personally how to cook and serve authentic Thai food:  she taught several very popular Thai cooking classes from her apartment kitchen (all of which I attended).  Thanks to Kanya, Thai cuisine is a big, happy part of my culinary life!

PICT0019Creamy and rich, Thai red pork curry (feel free to substitute boneless, skinless chicken breast for pork), is usually the dish I choose to serve when introducing Thai food to newcomers who've never tried it.  As for people who are familiar with Thai red curry, they always ask me why mine tastes better than other versions.  As Kanya explained:  It is common to garnish with, and add toasted peanuts to, many Thai dishes.  The toasted peanuts get chopped, ground, finely ground or even blended to peanut butter, depending upon the recipe.  Kanya taught me to stir in a couple of tablespoons of chunky peanut butter into the curry, and, the suble, nutty flavor of peanut butter combined with smooth, rich coconut milk is nothing short of spectacular!

The following recipe will serve eight, meaning:  it's a larger quantity than you'll normally find a Thai recipe written for.  If for no other reason than the leftovers are great for lunch the next day, when I make Thai food, there is always a friend or two I feel compelled to invite on "Thai Night"!

2  pounds pork loin, trimmed of all visible fat, very thinly sliced, slices cut into thin strips* (small pork tenderloins may be substituted)

1  pound coarsely ground pork loin*

6  tablespoons sesame oil

1-2  4-ounce cans Thai red curry paste** (Note:  Red curry paste is your heat guage.  One can will be mild, 1 1/2 cans will be medium and two cans will be hot.)

1  cup thinly sliced green onion, white and light green part only

8  fresh, whole kaffir lime leaves**

1  15-ounce can straw mushrooms, well-drained (Note:  It is common to add mushrooms to Thai red curry.)

1  8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, well-drained and chopped (optional)

2  13 1/2-ounce cans coconut milk, well-shaken** (Note:  Shake cans in order to mix the coconut milk.)

2  tablespoons fish sauce, preferably Squid brand**

2  tablespoons seasoning soy sauce, preferably Golden Mountain**

4  tablespoons dark brown sugar, more or less, to taste

4  tablespoons chunky-style peanut butter, more or less, to taste

1  cup chopped, unsalted peanuts, lightly toasted, for garnish

1  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, or chiffonade (thin strips) of fresh Thai basil, for garnish

12  cups steamed jasmine rice** (this allows 1 1/2 cups steamed rice per person), 6 cups jasmine rice prior to steaming

* I buy a 3 1/2-4 pound pork loin roast.  After trimming the fat, it easily yields 2 pounds of pork loin and 1 pound of coarsely ground pork loin.  I like to coarsely grind my own pork in the food processor, but you can get your butcher to perform that task for you.

** Specialty items found at your local Asian market.  Note:  Chinese soy sauce differs from Thai seasoning soy sauce, so make sure the label reads "seasoning soy" or "Thai seasoning soy".

Thai Pork Curry #4 (Ingredients)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To prep the pork loin for the curry:

Thai Pork Curry #1 (Prepped Meat)~ Step 1.  Using a fillet knife, trim the pork loin of all visible fat.  Using a large chef's knife, slice about 2 pounds (2/3's) of the loin into very thin slices.  Stack 3-4 slices on top of each other and slice the slices into thin, bite-sized strips.

~ Step 2.  Using chef's knife, cut the remaining third of the loin into 3/4"-1" cubes.  Place the meat into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse to coarsely grind, about 9-10 rapid on-off pulses.

To cook the red pork curry:

PICT0004~ Step 1.  Stir the sesame oil and red curry paste together over low heat.  When the curry paste begins to bubble and becomes fragrant, add the pork strips, ground pork, green onion, kaffir lime leaves, straw mushrooms and optional water chestnuts.

Using a large spoon, with mixture still over low heat, stir until all the ingredients are well combined and coated with the spicy red curry paste/sesame oil mixture. 

PICT0010~ Step 2.  Increase heat to medium-high and saute, until pork is fully-cooked and almost all moisture has evaporated from bottom of the pan.

For a quantity like this, which feeds 6-8 people, this will take about 15-20 minutes.  If you're making half of this recipe this will take much less time.  In either case, time is not as important as is:  having almost all of the liquid evaporated from pan.

PICT0013~ Step 3.  Stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, seasoning soy, brown sugar and peanut butter.  Adjust the heat to a gentle, steady simmer and stir constantly until a smooth, rich, red curry sauce has formed.  Continue to simmer, 25-30 more minutes, or considerably longer if you prefer thicker currry.  

Note:  The curry is ready to eat, however, like to turn the heat off, cover the pan and let it rest/"steep" for about 30 minutes,  while I prepare the rice and garnishes.

PICT0042To serve the red pork curry:

In true Thai-style (which is always family-style, meaning all of the food is placed on the table at the same time in its own serving vessel):  Make a bed of steamed Jasmine rice on a large, elegant serving platter.  Evenly ladle the red pork curry over the top.  The rich creamy red curry sauce will drizzle down into the rice and the spicy pork will remain on top.  Garnish with minced, chopped peanuts and minced cilantro or a chiffonade of fresh basil.  Serve immediately. 

Tip:  When setting a Thai table, don't include knives.  Because their food is prepped into small bite-sized pieces, they provide only forks and a spoons at the dinner table. 

Individually portioned:  Make a bed of about 1 1/2 cups of steamed Jasmine rice on each of eight warmed serving plates or shallow bowls.  Evenly ladle red pork curry over each.  Garnish with peanuts and cilantro or basil and serve immediately.

PICT0069Thai Red Pork Curry w/Steamed Jasmine Rice:  Recipe yields, 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  fillet knife; chef's knife; cutting board; food processor (optional); 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon; soup ladle

Cook's Note:  Remove and discard kaffir lime leaves prior to serving.  This dish can be prepared several hours and up to 3 days in advance of serving.  It reheats nicely in microwave or on stovetop over medium-low heat, and, freezes well too!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)

08/12/2010

~ Mel's Big Adventure & Best Birthday ~

My 55th Birthday It all started on Tuesday, the 10th of August.  At midnight, on the day of my birthday (when the clock ticked from August 9th to 10th), I clicked "Publish" on my own new Kitchen Encounters cooking blog.  At the same time my husband uncorked a bottle of very good champagne for us to share! 

My personal assistant Jeanne (and best friend for 10 years) sent me a dozen long-stemmed, pink-tipped roses that would make HRH Queen Elizabeth herself jealous!  My friend and confidant from high school, Gary, commented about my Kitchen Encounters blog on his Innocent Bystander blog... a commentary that dispelled any rumors within myself that I might not be any good at this!

On Wednesday, I went "to work"... this was not for money, this was for me.  I was not just "Paul & Kay's daughter", "Joe's wife", "the boss's wife", "Jesse's mom" or even "David's GrandMel" anymore.  It goes without saying, I am all of the above, and they are all much more important and precious to me than this "doggoned blog", but now I have a place just for me! 

Today I had lunch with Carol and Maryann...  two extremely close friends that I met when I first moved into this neighborhood 14 years ago.  These gals aren't just neighbors.  We three share a very special comradery... we are democrats!  They treated me to lunch at the Hilton Garden, where we toasted with wine and ate a fare of the finest local foods available to us here in State College.  Chef Harrison Schailey gets my rave recommendation and accolades... everything I ate was superb and his mango sorbet is to die for!   

Will this blog make me a better person?  I doubt it... "you can't teach an old dog new tricks!!!"

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

(Commentary and Photo courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)

08/10/2010

~ Bejeweled Brie Torte (As Easy as It is Elegant!!!) ~

Bejeweled Brie Torte #8 (Finished #2)This is decidedly the most decadently delicious way to serve Brie and you will not find this recipe in any cookbook!  It is quite easy to make, elegant to look at and I have a great story to share about it:  During the 2008 holiday season, my delightfully demanding bachelor-cousin Victor called me to report he had recently eaten a "magnificent appetizer" at a party he had been invited to.  He told me the presentation was "elegant and the taste was unbelievable."  In fact, he told me his first visual impression (before eating it) was that it was a dessert rather than an appetizer.  He went on to say, "it was gone in less than 15 minutes", "no one could get enough of it", "the hostess put a second one out on the table, then a third, and the same thing happened each time."  He continued, "the hostess told me it was easy to make:  Brie, mascarpone cheese, dried fruit and nuts."  Lastly, he said:  "Hilda, write a formal recipe which contains measurements and directions I can follow and come up with a 'dream' name for it that will impress unmarried chicks."  (Vic's pet name for me is Hilda, as in the cartoon witch Broom-Hilda.).

IMG_5468The word bejewel is a verb meaning:  to ornament with or encrust in, as if with jewels.  The word torte often refers to rich cakes containing little or no flour but instead ground nuts, often multi-layered and filled with buttercream (a light, creamy frosting) and/or jam.  Hence the name: 

Bejeweled Brie Torte!

IMG_5458I wrote this recipe to make 2, 6" tortes for a good reason:  Victor was correct about how quickly guests are drawn to and eat this addicting appetizer.  They will continue to nibble on this long into the night.  So, why wouldn't I just make one larger torte instead of two smaller ones?  Well, you actually can, but in the case of this recipe, it is all about:

IMG_5456Presentation.  I like to refresh my hors d'oeuvres and/or buffet table throughout a party, and as people continue to "dig in" to this torte, the empty expanses of the serving plate grow and begin to look, "not up to my standards."  In this case, I'm all for the ease of, "out with the old and in with the new!"  This being said: if you're taking this appetizer to say, a tailgate or a casual gathering, feel free to make one larger one using the same ingredients listed below:

2   5"-6" wheels Baby Brie, about 15-16-ounces each, chilled

2   8-ounce containers mascarpone cheese, chilled

4    tablespoons cranberry sauce, jelly-type not whole-berry, chilled (optional)*

8    ounces walnuts or pecans, chopped (a generous 1 1/2 cups of chopped nuts)

4    ounces sweetened dried blueberries, chopped**

4    ounces sweetened, dried tart cherries, chopped**

4    ounces sweetened, dried cranberries, chopped**

4    ounces golden raisins, chopped

4    dozen crackers such as: butter thins, water biscuits or Bremner wafers

* If you include cranberry sauce, use any brand you prefer.  I like to use Santa Fe Seasons Red Chile Cranberry Sauce, which adds sweet spiciness to the center of my torte.  To purchase it, and many other fantastic specialty products, go to Apple Canyon Gourmet!

** In my market, I can purchase 12-ounce bags of sweetened, dried "berry blends" which contain a pre-mixed combination of dried blueberries, tart cherries and cranberries.  How easy is that!

Bejeweled Brie Torte #1 (Ingredients)

To assemble the Brie:

~ Step 1.  Refrigerate Brie for several hours (this makes it easier to slice and assemble).  Prep the nuts as directed and place in a small baking pan.  Roast nuts on the center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, until lightly toasted and fragrant.  Remove from oven and cool completely.  Prep berries and raisins as directed and toss together in a small bowl (you will have about 3 generous cups).  Add the completely cooled nuts to the fruit mix and toss again.   

~ Step 2.  Remove Brie from refrigerator.  Using a very sharp knife, slice each Brie in half, to form 2, 5" discs, and open it up as you would a book, placing the soft "inside" of the top and bottom of each Brie, facing up, on a cutting board.  Across the surface of all 4 "insides", spread about 3 tablespoons of the mascarpone cheese.  On the two discs that are the bottom halves, spread about 2 tablespoons of the cranberry sauce over the mascarpone to within 1/4"-1/2" of the perimeter of each disc.  On top of the cranberry sauce, evenly distribute about 3/4 cup of the fruit/nut mixture.  Place the tops of Brie, mascarpone covered side down, on top of the fruit/nut mixture, gently but firmly pressing down (using the heel of your hand) to compact the dried fruit layer between the discs and reform the Brie wheels.  Transfer Brie to two serving dishes.

Bejeweled Brie Torte #4 (Spread the Chile Cranberry Sauce) ~ Step 3.  Spread all of the remaining mascarpone cheese evenly over the sides and tops of the Brie, just like you were frosting two cakes.  Using your fingertips, firmly pat and press all of the remaining fruit/nut mixture over the top and sides of both Brie.

Bejeweled Brie Torte #5 (Bejewling the Brie) To serve the Brie:

Cover Brie with plastic wrap and allow to sit at room temperature for 1 1/2-2 hours prior to slicing and serving.  The Bejeweled Brie Torte is best when the center of the Brie is soft, creamy and smooth.  Finished Brie can be refrigerated overnight prior to serving, however, remember it will need longer to return to room temperature prior to slicing and serving, up to 3 hours.

Bejeweled Brie Torte #11 (Sliced) #1)

Bejeweled Brie Torte (As Easy as It is Elegant!!!):  Recipe yields 2, 5"- 6" tortes, approximately 24-30 appetizers each.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 8" x 8 "x 2" baking pan

Cook's Note:  When cranberry sauce is used, Bejeweled Brie Torte can be prepared 1 day in advance of slicing and serving.  When cranberry sauce is omitted, Bejeweled Brie Torte can be prepared up to 3 days in advance of slicing and serving! 

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

(Recipe and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)

08/08/2010

~ Welcome to Kitchen Encounters ~

I am here for two reasons:  myself and you!  If you can't cook but want to learn; if you love to cook but don't have the time; if you are an experienced gourmet and are looking for ideas; if you're a professional chef and are just curious; if you're one of my family members, personal friends or students who have been begging me to start a blog... over the past 30 years, I've had special encounters with all of you in some capacity and I'll be sharing my Kitchen Encounters keeping all of you in mind.  What can you do to help me?  Feel free to:  ask relevant questions, make respectful comments and share interesting ideas.  Sound reasonable?  Well then, welcome to Kitchen Encounters... where every post is a cooking class!

PS... If you hate to cook and ended up here for whatever reason, give me the chance to change your mind!  Welcome!

To leave a comment, click on the blue title of any post, scroll to the end of that post and type away!  I'll be looking forward to all of your questions, comments and ideas for future posts! 

~ "When I grow up I'm going to be the family cook!" ~

Two of the earliest recollections I have as a child are:  1) Perching myself on the front seat of my "Coaldale Didi's" (my maternal grandfather, who lived in Coaldale, PA) big black car, my left arm around his shoulder, pointing the way to George's Gas Station with my outstretched right.  He would sing to me the entire mile it took us to get there, "fill it up" and buy me a Hershey bar.  2) At my "Hauto Didi's" (my paternal grandfather who lived in Hauto, PA), we would swing on his big red porch swing, which faced and was a short walking distance of Figner's Gas Station...  Figner's specialized in those little ice cream Dixie Cups that came with a small wooden spoon to eat them with.  By the way:  I did not grow up to be an overweight gas station attendant!

Ann's 80th Party-Picture of Mel with Food #1

While both of my grandfathers were introducing me to the smell of gasoline and the taste of chocolate, my grandmothers were taking a subtler approach to developing my senses:  the ethereal smell of butter and onions simmering slowly on the back of both of their coal stoves and the taste of their home-baked bread.  If every person were lucky enough to grow up with these two sensory experiences, the world would be a kinder, gentler place indeed... family values would not be an issue and defense spending would be used to distribute butter, onions, flour and yeast to the world!

Every Sunday following church, my family's afternoon was divided between both grandmothers' kitchens.  Dinner (not called lunch) at Coaldale Baba's, and Supper (not called dinner) at Hauto Baba's:

Dinner, immediately following church, often began with a bowl of heavenly chicken soup full of homemade noodles.  Baba's chicken was and still is a family favorite and to this day, no one can make pirogi any better than she did.  Apple pie was a given, unless the cherry tree in the backyard was in season.  Her kitchen was a large square room with a coal stove snuggled in the corner.  She had a magical kitchen table that effortlessly sat and fed anywhere from four to fourteen at the snap of her finger!

Supper, immediately following dinner, often included a perfectly roasted eye-of-beef or loin-of-pork.  The gravy wasn't referred to as "au-jus", but it was the real thing.  The grandchildren were allowed to drink white birch beer, if they had finished all of their milk.  My Hauto Baba's kitchen, smaller than Coaldale Baba's, similarly had a coal stove snuggled in the corner, plus, a secret supply of Hershey Kisses in the refrigerator!

Sunday service, The Divine Liturgy at St. Mary's Russian Orthodox Church (located in Coaldale, about two blocks "down the hill" from Coaldale Baba's), began promptly at 9:00AM and ended about 11:30AM, unless a special prayer service was added on, then it ended about Noon.  This beautiful and elaborate service stimulated minds, but after 2 1/2 hours of standing, sitting and kneeling, it stimulated appetites as well.  Parishioners all emerged ravenous.  Everyone was happy except for the family cooks, who could not attend the long service and prepare dinner fast enough to feed their hungry families and friends.  So, the church, for the dining pleasure of all the parishioners, instituted an early service.  This service began at 8:00AM and ended a mere 35 minutes later.  I supposed (at age 5) that you had to be the family cook (just like both of my grandmothers), or, the driver of the family cook (just like both of my grandfathers), to get into this early, 35-minute "quicky" service.  I realized it would be years before anyone would allow me behind the wheel of a car, so, I faced my destiny head on:  "When I grow up I'm going to be the family cook!"

Ending this commentary on this curious, revealing note about myself was my initial intent, but my responsible subconscious, whatever side of the brain it is on, would not allow it.  "Melanie" it said, "give credit where credit is due.":

Mom, Dad, David and I were a family of the '90's back in the '50's.  We lived in a brand new home, Mom and Dad both worked, shared the household responsibilities and raised us two children.  They managed all of this without chaos, day care and fast food.  Time we spent alone with mom taught us we could be whatever we chose to be, as long as we chose it ourselves.  Time we spent alone with dad taught us discipline, responsibility and poised us for the world.  The time we spent with mom and dad together was every night for supper... we in the new millennium would do well to pay attention to this!

Coaldale Baba and I were kindred spirits.  Being the oldest granddaughter and living in close proximity to her enabled me to spend countless hours "underfoot" in her busy kitchen.  I was probably the only 6-year-old who knew when to punch down and how to knead a yeast dough.  She was a master in her kitchen and to this day, I heed all of her culinary advice!

Hauto Baba was a fine cook as well.  There is no doubt, had she been with us a little longer, she would have enjoyed having me "underfoot" in her kitchen too.  She most certainly has many wonderful recipes tucked under her angel's wing!

Joseph, my husband, is the Italian dreamboat I was waiting for since I was eleven.  He came ready made with an appetite and an adverturesome love for good food.  The very first thing he bought me was a dishwasher and I've been in love with him ever since.  As our three sons, one by one, each made their way out into the world of women and dating, he offered them only these three words of advice... "Can she cook?"!!!

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

(Commentary and Photograph courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)