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14 posts from January 2011

01/30/2011

~ T.G.I.Five-Minute Filet Mignon w/a Cremini Saute ~

T.G.I.Fillet #13When I say filet mignon, what is the first word that comes to your mind (besides expensive)?  If superb is the word, you and I might be related.  When I ask to what degree you like your filet mignon cooked, if rare is the word, you and I are definitely related.  And, what would you most like to eat with your filet mignon?  If you said sauteed mushrooms, you'd have a standing invitation to dinner in my kitchen and it is just for you that I am preparing this suberb, rare-cooked filet mignon with a cremini mushroom saute today!

T.G.I.Fillet #3 (Steaks Closeup) A bit about filet mignon:  It is a boneless cut of beef that is taken from the small end of the beef tenderloin, which means it is the tenderest cut of beef money can buy.  Yes, it is a bit pricey, but in my mind, not out of line.  The four 1"-thick filets pictured here weighed in at 1 1/2 pounds, or 6-ounces each, and, cost $24.00, or $6.00 each.  Filets are usually cut to a thickness between 1 and 2 inches, and this does affect your cooking time and end result, so, in order to cook my 5-minute filet recipe properly, be sure to request them to be 1" thick.  Because filet mignon contains very little fat, they are at their best when cooked quickly over a high heat, as they are susceptible to drying out.  Filet mignon can be broiled, grilled or sauteed, with sauteing being my favorite method because:  it is a moist-heat method that allows me to quickly adjust the heat to suit the situation.  Before cooking your filets (by any method), remove them from the refrigerator and allow them to come completely to room temperature.  No matter what degree of doneness you desire:  a room temperature steak will cook evenly throughout, a cold steak will not!    

Cremini Mushrooms A bit about cremini mushrooms:  I tend to buy a lot of these because they have a slightly mature, earthy flavor, without being overpowering.  They are a bit more expensive than their close kin, the white button or table mushroom, which have been cultivated for their young, white, soft texture.  Cremini's are also close kin to the portobello mushroom, which is the maturest mushroom of the three, and they are sometimes sold as "baby bellas".  If you can't find cremini mushrooms, I'd go with the white table mushrooms for this recipe just because of their more comparable size and texture. 

As if the title of this recipe didn't already tip you off, this dish is going to go from stovetop to table very quickly, so make sure you have all of your ingredients prepped and ready before you start cooking!

T.G.I.Fillet #2 (Ingredients) ~ Step 1.  Remove the stems from 1 pound of cremini mushrooms and wipe caps clean of any dirt with a damp towel.  Slice caps between 1/8"-1/4"-thick.

Dice 1/2 of one large yellow or sweet onion.  (6 ounces or 1 1/2 cups of diced onion).

Bring 4, 1"-thick filets to room temperature, about 1 hour or more.

T.G.I.Fillet #4 (Melt Butter into Oil) ~ Step 2.  In a 10" skillet, preferably nonstick or cast iron, over low heat, melt 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter into 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

While the butter is melting, season the filets generously on both sides with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Do not season your steaks any earlier than this as the salt will start to dry them out.

T.G.I.Fillet #6 (Steaks on Second Side) ~ Step 3.  Increase the heat to medium-high.  Place the seasoned filets in the pan and saute 1 1/2-2 1/2 minutes per side, turning only once.  Filets will be turning golden brown around the edges and across their tops.  At 1 1/2 minutes per side, the filets will be very rare, at 2 minutes per side they will be rare (as pictured above), and, at 2 1/2 minutes per side they will be medium-rare.  Turn the heat off.

Transfer the filets to a warm serving platter, leaving all of the juices in the pan.   Cover the filets with aluminum foil and allow to rest, 5-6 minutes, while preparing the cremini saute.  DO NOT cut into your steaks to test for doneness because I can tell you they are going to look underdone to you.  Remember that during this rest period, carryover heat is going to continue to cook the steaks so just be patient!

T.G.I.Fillet #8 (Mushrooms and Onions Sauteed)~ Step 4.  Add the mushrooms and onions to the pan (and the juices in the pan).  Generously season the mushrooms and onions with a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Adjust heat to medium-high and saute, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms have lost almost all of their moisture and the juices in the pan have thickened to a saucy consistency, about 5-6 minutes.

Serve immediately with a salad, a baked potato or your favorite side dishes.  When I serve my filets, I serve them with my recipe for ~ Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo a la Primavera-Style ~, found in Categories 4, 12 & 14!

T.G.I.Fillet #12T.G.I.Five-Minute Filet Mignon w/a Cremini Saute:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 10" skillet, preferably nonstick; aluminum foil

Cook's Note:  I just can't say enough about this truly elegant, extraordinary and exquisite easy-to-make regal recipe.  After about 10 minutes of prep work, in about 10-12 minutes you're serving a meal truly fit for a king and a queen!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011) 

~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL Video Segment #15: Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo a la Primavera ~

6a0120a8551282970b014e8bb9999d970d-800wiYesterday I posted my recipe for ~ Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo a la Primavera-Style ~.  In Italian, fettuccine means "little ribbons" and fettuccine Alfredo is an Italian dish in which the ribbons are enrobed in a rich sauce made from butter, cream, Parmigiano-Reggiono cheese and black pepper.  When you add freshly blanched vegetables to the dish, it is "a la primavera style".  You can find my recipe, along with all of my step-by-step photos in Categories 4 or 14!

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

Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo al la Primavera-Style

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!

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

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

01/29/2011

~ Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo a la Primavera-Style ~

Fettuccine Alfredo #1 (Intro Picture)In Italian, fettuccine means "little ribbons" and fettuccine Alfredo is an Italian dish in which the ribbons are enrobed in a rich sauce usually made from butter, cream, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and black pepper.  A Roman restauranteur, Alfredo di Lelio first created this dish for his pregnant wife in 1914.  As the story goes, she had lost her appetite or was having trouble keeping food down, either while she was pregnant or after the birth of their son.  Alfredo, set out to create  a dish that would not only appeal to his wife, but would be nutritious as well. 

He developed his dish based on the traditional pasta al burro, which was simply paper-thin ribbons of hand-made pasta with butter.  Alfredo prepared his own egg fettuccine, tripled the amount of butter and laced it with copious amounts of Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese.  His wife loved it so much that she urged him to add it to his restaurant menu.  As fate would have it, in 1927, the American silent film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, while honeymooning in Italy, stopped into di Lelio's Alfredo alla Scrofa restaurant, ate the dish and adored it.  They loved it so much, they presented him with a golden fork and spoon along with a picture of them eating in his restaurant.  When the famous newlyweds returned to Hollywood, they began serving fettuccine Alfredo at their dinner parties.  It didn't take long for the news to spread throughout Hollywood, making di Lelio's restaurant and his pasta dish world famous!

PICT0810 Di Lelio's original Alfredo, in traditional Italian style, was indeed a simple recipe, and he did not add cream, garlic, parsley or any other fancy ingredients to embellish or garnish it, except for freshly ground black pepper.  If you have the time to make your own egg fettuccine, I highly-recommend that you do, because that takes this recipe to a totally decadent level.  I have managed to keep my recipe very simple, but I do happen to prefer and love the flavor and creamy texture I get from using cream as opposed to all butter (and di Lelio added a LOT of butter).  Also, if the butter is not added correctly, which takes a bit of expertise, it tends to break down, making the dish greasy and unappetizing.   I do add some parsley for color and I do add some red pepper flakes for some heat.  Hey, I am forever grateful to Alfredo di Lelio for his recipe, but it's my blog and my family and friends have been loving my version for years!

PICT0841 "So", you ask, "what about the suspicious looking broccoli and carrots in the above picture?"  Well, here's the scoop:  I love to serve my fettuccine Alfredo as a side-dish to a succulent steak.  When I do that, I often add some blanched broccoli and carrots to the Alfredo.  Do you have to do this?  No.  Am I stepping over the Alfredo line by doing this?  A little.  Does this make my Alfredo a primavera?  Yes.  In Italian, primavera means "Spring" and culinarily, primavera just means that fresh vegetables (raw or blanched) are added to the dish during or at the end of its preparation.  So, fettuccini Alfredo that has vegetables added to it is simply referred to as Alfredo primavera.  Whether you add the vegetables or not, give this classic recipe a try!

Fettuccine Alfredo #2 (Ingredients) 16  ounces fettuccine

6  ounces salted butter, cut into bite-sized pieces, at room temperature, the softer the better

3/4  teaspoon Italian seasoning blend

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4  teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less, to taste (optional)

1  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 1/2  cups heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature

1  cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

3/4  cup minced, fresh parsley, no stems included (do not substitute dried parsley flakes)

1/2  cup additional Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for topping

a sprinkling of additional red pepper flakes, for garnish

Fettuccine Alfredo #3 (Optional Raw Broccoli & Carrots) Step 1.  If you are planning to add the optional broccoli and carrots, you will need:  8  ounces small, fresh broccoli florets (about 3 cups), and, 8  ounces sliced, fresh carrots, (about 2 cups) 

 

Fettuccine Alfredo #4 (Blanching Vegetables for 3 Minutes)

In a 5-quart stockpot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.  Add  1 tablespoon of salt.

Add the broccoli florets and the sliced carrots and once the water returns to a steady simmer, continue to cook for exactly 3 minutes.

 

Fettuccine Alfredo #5 (Blanched & Drained Vegetables) Immediately drain the vegetables into a colander and run very cold water over them, constantly, until they are cooled to below room temperature.  Set them aside, to drain thoroughly, while you prepare the fettuccine Alfredo.

Note:  Vegetables can be blanched and drained several hours and one day in advance of preparing the Alfredo.  Notice how blanching brings up the bright, fresh  colors?

Fettuccine Alfredo #6 (Cooking the Fettuccine) ~ Step 2.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil.  Add the fettuccine and cook until al dente, about 10-11 minutes.  Turn the heat off. 

Quickly but thoroughly drain the pasta into a colandar, then immediately return the hot pasta to the still hot stockpot and place the stockpot on the still hot stovetop.  Work quickly, not dangerously!

Fettuccine Alfredo #7 (Add Butter & Spices to Cooked Pasta) ~ Step 3.  Add the softened butter pieces,  Italian seasoning blend, nutmeg, red pepper flakes, sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper.

Using two forks or two spoons, toss like you would a salad, until the butter is completely melted and the pasta is evenly coated in a flavorful butter and spice mixture.

 

Fettuccine Alfredo #9 (Add Cream, Parsley & Cheese) ~ Step 4.  Add the cream, grated cheese and minced parsley.  Again, using two forks or two spoons, toss as you would a salad, until the mixture is thoroughly combined.  If you are adding the optional vegetables, gently toss them into the mixture now.  Cover and let rest, about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally, to allow the pasta to absorb all of the cream mixture.

~ Step 5.  Transfer mixture into a large serving bowl or platter, top with a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and some red pepper flakes for garnish.  Serve immediately.

Fettuccine Alfredo #12 (Very Closeup)Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo a la Primavera-Style:  Recipe yields 4 entree servings or 8 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; cheese grater; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; 5-quart stockpot (optional)

CPICT0866ook's Note:  While I never prepare this recipe a day in advance, leftovers do reheat really well in the microwave.  I have also doubled this recipe, using a 12-quart stockpot to cook the pasta in, and it worked perfectly.  One last thing, don't hesitate a bit to add some cooked and chopped chicken, or, cooked shrimp, scallops or lobster pieces into the mix to make this a hearty, family-style dinner!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011) 

01/28/2011

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (1/28/11) ~

Culinary Q & A #2

Oh my, it is the end of January already and I could hardly refer to this January as the dead-of-winter, boring doldrums.  Time flies when one is having a good time, and trust me when I tell you, I am having a very good time: 

In this first month of 2011, Kitchen Encounters has posted more great recipes that have received lots of nice feedback here at my blog as well as on Facebook; Melanie's Kitchen has shot 3 cooking segments for WHVL-TV's Sunday morning Centre of it All show, and; Melanie is getting ready to meet and work with renowned grill-master and cookbook author Steven Raichlen for his cooking demonstration at Penn State in February!

Thanks again to everyone for all of your positive feedback, good wishes and great questions!  I received one "loaded" question yesterday from a Facebook reader, and here it is:

Scampi #2 (On Fork Closeup) Q.  Bethanie comments and asks: I just finished reading your post for Succulent Shrimp Scampi and my mouth is watering.  I have a few questions for you today:  Can I add the pan-fried shrimp scampi to fettuccine Alfredo instead of making the Lemony Linguini?  Also, I really like fettuccini Alfredo, but dislike bottled Alfredo sauce.  Do you have a good recipe for fettuccine Alfredo that you would share with me?  Last, what is the difference between fettuccine Alfredo and pasta primavera?

 (Note:  The recipe for my ~ Succulent Shrimp Scampi w/Lemony Linguini ~, pictured above, can be found in Categories 3, 12, 14 & 19.)

 A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Great to hear from you Bethanie.  I am so glad you liked my scampi post... it is a really, really good recipe and I hope you will give it a try.  Here is what I am going to do for you:  I am going to briefly answer all of your questions here and now, then, I am going to take this afternoon to prepare my recipe for fettuccine Alfredo.  Look for my recipe to be posted here on the blog sometime tomorrow (Saturday) late afternoon/early evening! 

 Scampi #10 (Shrimp Partially Cooked)#1.  Can I add the pan-fried shrimp scampi to fettuccini Alfredo instead of making the Lemony Linguini?  Tradionally, in Italian cooking, they don't mix seafood with cheese, but let's face it, American's like their cheese and Red Lobster even serves their scampi topped with Parmesan.  While I wouldn't do it, YOU CAN!  That being said, you won't be able to add the pan juices/wine sauce, because they would water down your Alfredo, so don't bother to prepare the wine sauce.  After you saute your shrimp (to the end of ~ Step 4. in my recipe), just remove the entire pan from the heat and cover it with a lid or some aluminum foil.  Prepare the fettuccine  Alfredo as directed and toss in the sauteed, garlicky shrimp at the end.  Enjoy!

 #2.  Do you have a good recipe for fettuccini Alfredo that you would share with me?  As I stated above, I am going to prepare my recipe for fettuccine Alfredo tomorrow (Friday) and I will have it posted for you on Saturday late afternoon/early evening!

 PICT0837#3.  What is the difference between fettuccini Alfredo and pasta primavera?  Fettuccini Alfredo is a dish of ribboned pasta that is enrobed in a rich butter, cream and Parmesan cheese sauce.  In Italian primavera means "Spring" and culinarily, primavera means that fresh vegetables (raw or blanched) are added during its preparation.  So, fettuccini Alfredo that has vegetables added to it is simply referred to as Alfredo primavera!

Have a great weekend everyone, and once again:  To leave a comment or to ask a question, simply click on the blue title of any post, scroll to the end of it and type away!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

01/26/2011

~ Succulent Shrimp Scampi w/Lemony Linguini ~

Scampi #1 (Intro Picture)

Scampi is the Venetian word for small, rare (meaning: "hard-to-find", not, "cooked-rare"), clawed lobsters.  Scampi is also the Venetian word for Dublin Bay Prawns, which are found in the Irish Sea, which resemble baby lobsters, with the singular word for them being scampo.  In France, these small, spiny lobsters are referred to as langoustines or langostino lobsters, which are the terms I personally am most familiar with.  All of the above being said, "real" or "true" scampi are Norway's lobsters, which are found in the Adriatic, western Mediterranean and the Irish Sea. 

In the United States, scampi no longer refers to  a particular crustacean, but is rather the generic Italian-American term for the preparation of large shrimp that have been baked, broiled or sauteed in a simple mixture of olive oil, butter, lemon, parsley and garlic.  Some versions include white wine, freshly ground pepper and/or an occasional minced shallot or onion.  Scampi can be served on small plates, drizzled with its flavorful pan juices and crusty Italian bread slices for soaking up the juices, or, tossed with cooked pasta, which also absorbs those same flavorful juices.  

Now hear this:  classically, scampi is neither topped or tossed with Parmesan cheese (or any other cheese for that matter), so if you are looking for a bastardization of the recipe or intend to bastardize mine, please... just walk, run, hitch-hike or drive to your nearest Red Lobster and don't bother to read the rest of my post!!!

6a0120a8551282970b0148c8076334970c-800wiMy first attempt at making scampi was a very-easy broiled version that appeared in The Doubleday Cookbook, which was given to me as an eary Christmas gift by my friend Sally in 1976.  I remember this because my son Jess was born on December 17th of that year and Sal wanted to make sure she gave me a Christmas present along with a baby gift, in the event I was "out of action" over the upcoming holiday (who could forget thoughtfulness like that).  The good news for you is: there aren't any hard-to-make versions of scampi! 

6a0120a8551282970b0148c8076334970c-800wiThen, in 1982, two years after Joe and I were married, I ate a marvelous rendition of scampi at Joe's cousin's wedding reception in the Poconos.  It was after eating theirs, which was literally bursting with fresh garlic and lemon flavors, not to mention a hint of red pepper, that I set out to conquer the scampi world, or: duplicate that/their recipe.  I know, it seems odd that I would remember all of these "scampi" details, but there is indeed a very good reason:

This was the first family wedding that Joe and I had been invited to after our own marriage and I was looking forward to being introduced to and meeting all of his extended family.  For me it was a big deal and I wanted to make a good impression.  The wedding ceremony itself was lovely, but there was an "odd tension in the air".  Immediately afterward, there was a clammoring,  along with a  distinct desire, on the part of all males, to quickly get to the reception.  As it turned out, the happy couple, in their misguided premarital bliss, had arranged to take their nuptials on that Saturday during the Penn State-Alabama football game.  My own husband Joe was driving like a bat-out-of-hell's church, while at the same time, we were being passed by other racing cars (including Joe's brother Tom and wife Kathy), which all ended up screeching somewhat haphazardly into the same restaurant parking lot at about the same time.  Upon entering the building, instead of heading calmly to the left and into the large dining room, everyone hurridly headed to the right and into the small cocktail lounge, where the game was on one tiny television, and:  there was no wedding reception that day until after the last play of that football game.  Penn State lost that day, but did win The National Championship that same year, and, I for one, ate some very memorable shrimp scampi that day!

Scampi #7 (Ingredients)For the scampi:

4  tablespoons butter

4  tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 pounds, peeled & deveined, jumbo shrimp (21-25 count), tails left on (2  pounds of total shrimp prior to prepping)

3  tablespoons finely diced garlic, about 6 large cloves

4-6  tablespoons finely diced shallots or sweet onion

1/2  cup finely chopped fresh parsley, no stems included

juice from 1 large, fresh lemon (1/2 will be used below) 

3/4  cup white wine

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

4  additional tablespoons butter, kept cold

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, to taste

For the lemony linguini:

1  pound linguini

4  ounces butter, at room temperature, the softer the better (1 stick)

juice from 1/2  of 1 large lemon (from above)

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

For the garnish: 

zest from 1 large lemon (from above)

red pepper flakes

1  additional lemon, cut into 6 wedges

a very light drizzling of olive oil (optional)

Step 1.  Once the pasta is cooked (see Step 2), this recipe progresses very quickly, so, it is important to have all of your ingredients ready and waiting before you start cooking.  Prep the shrimp, garlic, shallots and parsley as directed and separately set each one aside.  Using a microplane grater, zest the lemon and set it aside.  Slice the lemon in half and using a fine mesh strainer, juice both halves through the strainer into a small bowl.  Set the juice aside, keeping in mind that you are only going to use half of it at a time.

Scampi #8 (Pasta in Pot)~ Step 2.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of unsalted water to a rolling boil.  Add the linguini and cook until al dente, 9-10 minutes.  Quickly but thoroughly, drain the pasta into a colander, then immediately return the hot pasta to the still hot stockpot.  Add  1 stick of butter, strained juice from 1/2 a lemon and 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes.

Place the lid on the stockpot.  Using  a pair of pot holders and your thumbs, hold the lid securely on the pot while vigorously shaking the pot up and down, about 10-12 seconds.  Lift the lid.  The pasta should evenly coated in a melted butter, lemon and red pepper mixture.  If it is not, repeat the process again.  Cover the pot and set aside while preparing the scampi.  This will keep the pasta warm and give it time to absorb the lemony butter sauce!

Scampi #9 (Sauteing the Garlic & Shallots)Step 3.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, over low heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter into 4 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the prepped garlic and shallots and 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes.  Increase heat to medium-high and using a large, nonstick slotted spoon,  saute, stirring constantly  until the shallots are transluscent, about 3 minutes.  Do not allow the mixture to brown!

Scampi #10 (Shrimp Partially Cooked)~ Step 4.  Add all of the prepped shrimp.  Liberally season them with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.

Continue to saute, stirring constantly until shrimp are firming up, turning a pretty pink color and are just slightly undercooked, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

 

~ Step 5.  Using the same slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a warmed serving bowl or platter, leaving the pan juices along with bits of garlic and shallots in the pan.  Loosely cover the dish of shrimp with aluminum foil to help keep them warm.

Scampi #11 (Butter Melting into Reduced Wine) ~ Step 6.  Add the juice from the second half of the lemon and the white wine.  Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil.  Adjust heat to simmer rapidly and continue to cook for 45-60 seconds.  Turn the heat off.  Add the 4 tablespoons of cold butter and allow it all the time it needs to melt itself into the wine mixture.  Relax, this will only take about 1 minute!

Scampi #12 (Shrimp Back in Pan with Parsley) ~ Step 7.  Add the still warm shrimp and all of the parsley to the pan.  Toss until shrimp and parsley are evenly coated in the wine sauce.  Add the cooked linguini to the skillet and toss again until all of the ingredients are evenly coated and thoroughly combined.  Taste and season with some additional freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, to your taste.

Note:  At this point, I like to put a lid on the skillet and let the mixture rest for about 5-6 minutes, stirring/tossing occasionally.  This gives the pasta time to absorb the wine sauce, this is how my family likes it and this is how I like to serve it.  If you happen to like your scampi a little "soupy/saucy", so you can dip bread into the sauce, skip the lid and the rest period and serve it immediately! 

~ Step 8.  Transfer the mixture into a large, warmed serving bowl or platter and garnish with an even sprinkling of the lemon zest and additional red pepper flakes over the top.  Portion into 6 warmed serving bowls and serve each with one lemon wedge, to squeeze and squirt over the top, along with an optional drizzle of olive oil:

Scampi #2 (On Fork Closeup) Succulent Shrimp Scampi w/Lemony Linguini:  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; fine mesh strainer; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; pot holders; 12" skillet w/lid, preferably nonstick; large slotted spoon, preferably nonstick; aluminum foil

Cook's Note:  Be it Fall, Spring, Winter or Summer, scampi is a lovely, weeknight, family-style dinner.  This being said, in the late Summer/early Fall, when tomatoes are at their peak, for a very special treat, prepare this dish using fresh basil (in place of parsley) and toss in 1-2 cups of freshly-diced, vine-ripened tomatoes at the end!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)    

01/22/2011

~ Make My Day: Serve Ginger-Berry Crisp Parfait! ~

Parfait #2 I should entitle this uncharacteristically short but sweet post "two great desserts for the price of one", and what a decadently sweet deal indeed!!! 

If you scroll down to the post just before this one and read about my, ~ E-Z, Individual, Warm Ginger-Berry Almond Crisps ~, recipe found in Categories 6, 9 & 20, you will see that I simply took Friday's leftover berry crisps and turned them into today's parfaits!  So now your asking, "if this dessert is so great, how'd you end up with leftovers?"

 Warm Ginger-Berry Almond Crunch #16 (Exit Photo)In order to blog my recipe on Thursday, I had to make a "full batch", or 6 individual crisps (see picture to your left).  Joe and I inhaled two of those for dessert that night, then enjoyed two more yesterday morning for breakfast.  Tonight, I turned the remaining two into his and hers parfaits, and I wanted to write this short post to reinforce just how versatile this truly easy and luscious recipe is!

 

Parfaits #4 Each individual crisp is readily transformed into one parfait in about two minutes.  Simply spoon one-third of one ginger-berry almond crisp, either slightly warm or at room temperature (this is your choice, we like our crisps slightly warmed in the microwave), into the bottom of one parfait glass, followed by a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Repeat this process two more times, using a third of the crisp alternately each time, ending with a layer of ginger-berry almond crisp.  Garnish with a bit of whipped cream and a berry (I didn't even have any fresh berries on hand for garnish tonight, so I just thawed a couple of frozen ones)!

In French, the word "parfait" means "perfect", and that is how I just know you will view this dessert!  Purrrrrrrrfect!!!

Ginger-Berry Almond Crisp Parfait:  Recipe yields 6 parfaits from one recipe for ~ E-Z, Individual Warm Ginger-Berry Almond Crisps ~, recipe found in Categories 6, 9 & 20. 

Special Equipment List:  6 parfait glasses

Cook's Note:  While French and American parfaits differ in content (French parfait is typically a frozen custard layered with whipped cream and fruit puree), they are both tradtionally served in tall, narrow, footed glasses that gradually widen toward the top.  This being said, if you don't have parfait glasses, layer your parfaits in anything from a small glass bowl to a coffee mug!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

01/20/2011

~ E-Z Individual, Warm Ginger-Berry Almond Crisps ~

Warm Ginger-Berry Almond Crunch #1 (Intro Picture)

This is one of my favorite, no-fuss, no-nonsense, comforting Winter desserts.  It's made from ingredients I pretty much always have on hand in my pantry and some frozen berries, which I also keep on hand in my freezer.  Here in central Pennsylvania, on a frigid day like today with a light snow falling outside, this luscious dessert did not require a trip to the grocery store, more than about 20 minutes of my time, or, any "spiffy" garnishes or fanfare.  After about 30 minutes, it came out of the oven and got served slightly warm (it is at its best after cooling about 30 minutes) with a scoop of French vanilla ice cream, but it would have been just fine all by itself and at room temperature:  juicy, bursting with flavor and just the right amount of munchy, crunchy, gingery goodness!

"So", you ask, "why don't you call it a crunch instead of a crisp?"  Well, our foregrandmothers (as opposed to our forefathers) invented some unique words to define our American heritage berry desserts.  The dessert I am making today is called a crisp.  It is basically a berry mixture that is traditionally topped with a crispy streusel (made using oats), but I just happen to love gingersnap cookies and all ginger in general, so I developed my recipe around those flavors.   If my crisp had a bottom crust, it would be called a crunch.  If I wanted to turn it into a betty, the fruit would be layered between slices of buttered bread or bread crumbs and spices.  To turn it into a cobbler, I'd have to mix up a rough, "cobbled up", biscuit-like topping and plop/drop it on top of the fruit.  If I wanted a grunt or a slump (which is very similar to a cobbler), I'd cook the berries on the stovetop and listen to them make an unusual grunting sound while they cook, then watch them slump under the weight of the biscuit topping.  A buckle is a buttery-rich, one-layer cake, with lots of berries mixed into the batter, which puffs up when it bakes and buckles when it cools!

I can tell you, Joe and I really enjoyed eating this unpretentious delicacy tonight for dessert, but as you can see, I made six of them, which means I have leftovers.  Worry not.  This dessert is just as wonderful served as or with breakfast the next day.  I won't be covering them or refrigerating them overnight either (After all, would you refrigerate a freshly baked pie?).  I'll probably briefly reheat mine in the microwave and savor it slowly with my coffee and cream.  Joe will probably want his served next to his eggs-over-easy and sausage pattie.  You have probably guessed where I am heading with this:  give this recipe a try the next time you're getting  overnight guests, make it ahead of time, and, serve it for dessert in the evening or as the main course for breakfast the next morning! 

Warm Ginger-Berry Almond Crunch #2 (Dry Ingredients) For the topping:

1  cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2/3  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon ground ginger

1 1/2  cups crushed gingersnap cookies (1, 7-ounce bag)

1 1/2  cups sliced almonds, lightly toasted and completely cooled (For detailed instructions, read my post, ~ How to:  Roast/Toast Some Nuts & Seeds ~, found in Category 15.)

1/4  cup minced, crystallized (candied) ginger

8  tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, kept chilled (1 stick)

Warm Ginger-Berry Almond Crunch #5 (Wet Ingredients) For the berry filling:

1 1/2 pounds frozen berry blend (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries) (24 ounces)

1/2  cup sugar

2  tablespoons firmly-packed cornstarch

2  tablespoons ginger brandy (optional)

Warm Ginger-Berry Almond Crunch #4 (Dry Ingredients Mixed) ~ Step 1.  Place the gingersnaps in a food storage bag and using a rolling pin, crush them to crumbs.

In a large mixing bowl, using your hand, briefly toss and combine the flour, sugar, ground ginger, gingersnaps, toasted almonds and crystallized ginger.

Add the butter pieces.  Using your fingertips, work the butter into the mixture, until it resembles coarse crumbs.

Warm Ginger-Berry Almond Crunch #6 (Wet Ingredients in Bowl) ~ Step 2.  In a medium mixing bowl, place the frozen berries, sugar and firmly-packed cornstarch.  Add a generous 1/2 cup of the above topping mixture to the berry mix.  Add the optional ginger brandy.

Using a large rubber spatula, fold until the ingredients are evenly coated and combined.  Do this rather quickly being careful not overmix or crush the delicate berries.

Warm Ginger-Berry Almond Crunch #8 (Berries in Ramekins) ~ Step 3.  Spoon the berry filling evenly into 6, 1-cup ramekins or oven-safe bowls/cups. 

Place the ramekins on a baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  The parchement paper isn't a requirement, but it sure makes cleanup easy!

Warm Ginger-Berry Almond Crunch #9 (Topping On Berries)~ Step 4.  Evenly distribute the remaining topping mixture over the berry filling in the ramekins.  This will be about a generous 1/2 cup per ramekin.

Note:  The topping mixture can be prepared up to 1 week in advance and stored in the refrigerator!

Warm Ginger-Berry Almond Crunch #12 (Out of Oven Closeup)~ Step 5.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 25-30 minutes.  The topping will be golden brown and the berry juices will just be beginning to bubble up through the topping in spots.

Remove from oven and please allow to cool 20-30 minutes prior to serving warm, although these crisps are delicious served at room temperature too!

Warm Ginger-Berry Almond Crunch #16 (Exit Photo) 

 

E-Z, Individual, Warm Ginger-Berry Almond Crisps:  Recipe yields 6, 1-cup servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food storage bag; rolling pin; large rubber spatula; 6, 1-cup size ramekins; parchment paper; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan

Cook's Note:  This is a really versatile recipe.  For instance:  You do not have to use a frozen berry blend or even a berry blend to prepare it.  If you like just blueberries, make it using just frozen blueberries, or, if blueberries are in season, use fresh berries!  One other noteworthy comment:  Because my recipe revolves around my love for ginger, it is a great dessert to serve after eating Asian fare!

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

(Recipe, Commentary & Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011) 

01/16/2011

~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL Video Segment #2: Chinese Chicken Chow Mein a la Melanie ~

6a0120a8551282970b017c31935db1970b-800wiYesterday I posted my recipe for ~ Chinese Chicken Chow Mein a la Melanie ~.  I learned a lot about chow mein last year (February 2010), when I had the great pleasure of meeting and spending a few hours with Chef Martin Yan, right here in my home kitchen, assisting him with his live demonstration on WPSU-TV!  You can find my version of his fabulous, "real deal" recipe, with all of my step-by-step directons and photos in Categories 4 or 10!

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

Chinese Chicken Chow Mein a la Melanie

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 11:30 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 2011)

01/15/2011

~ Chinese Chicken Chow Mein a la Melanie ~

Chow Mein #3 (Intro Picture with Fork)It is January the 15th here in Central Pennsylvania, literally the doldrums or the dead of winter. I've been feeding my family a lot of the usual comfort foods:  chili, hearty soups and casseroles.  I have a sixth sense telling me "the natives are starting to get restless", so tonight I've decided to make one of my favorite change-of-pace recipes guaranteed to get 'em their groove back: Chinese Chicken Chow Mein!  What makes this recipe a la Melanie ("a la" being French for "in the manner of")?  I learned a lot about chow mein last year (February 2010), when I had the great pleasure of meeting and spending time with Chef Martin Yan right here in Melanie's Kitchen.  Trust me when I tell you:  Yan is "the man" and Yan Can Cook!  One of the items he requested that I prep for him, as per his instructions, for his upcoming cooking demonstration at Penn State was chow mein.  Chef Yan was quick to explain to me that he has recipes for chow mein published in a few of his books, no two recipes are alike and that is pretty much the rule, not the exception to the rule.  He then went on to explain to me what the constants were:

Chow Mein #30 (Package of Egg Noodles) First I learned that "mein" in Chinese means "noodles" and "chow mein" is the Chinese term for a dish of "stir-fried/fried noodles".  Authentic chow mein is prepared using soft wheat flour and egg noodles, but in Americanized Chinese cuisine, you'll often find it made using thin, crispy noodles.  Second, I learned that it can be prepared using chicken, beef, pork or seafood, as well as  vegetable additions like bean sprouts, bell peppers, bok choy, cabbage, celery, carrots, onions &/or mushrooms.  Lastly I learned that in all cases, a flavorful brown sauce gets stirred in at the end and there are as many variations to the sauce recipe as there are cooks.  The chow mein we served to 100 guests at his demonstration was a great success, and thanks to Chef Yan, I wasn't the least guilty about "tweeking" the recipe and its ingredients to suit the palate of my family... in fact, I think he'd be proud! 

Chow Mein #1 (Intro Picture)I've served my Chicken Chow Mein 4-5 times so far and each time someone asks, "what is the difference between chow mein and lo mein?".  As it turn out, there is very little difference.  In Chinese, "chow mein" means fried or stir-fried noodles and lo mein means "tossed noodles".  In the case of chow mein, the noodles are either fried separately or are added to the wok with the rest of the ingredients, near the end of the cooking process, and briefly stir-fried.  When serving lo-mein the common practice is to place the cooked noodles in individual bowls, or a common bowl, and then top and toss the noodles with the other ingredients.  In both cases, both dishes are prepared using Chinese egg noodles.  So, what it all comes down to is your personal preference.  Whether you prepare the following recipe chow mein-style or lo-mein style, you and yours will be back for more!

Chow Mein #5 (Sliced Chicken & Marinade Ingredients) For the chicken and its marinade:

2  pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced as thinly as possible, keeping the knife at a 30 degree angle while slicing (chicken can be sliced a day in advance of marinating)

2  tablespoons Lee Kum Kee premium dark soy sauce

2  teaspoons firmly-packed cornstarch 

Chow Mein #8 (Sauce Ingredients) For the brown sauce:

This delicious sauce can be made a few days before you actually plan to make your chow mein.  This recipe makes 1 1/2 cups, which is more than you'll need for your stir-fry, but it is a great sauce to keep on hand in your refrigerator to use in all sorts of other Asian recipes.  I sometimes make a batch of it just  so I have it on hand at all times!

1  tablespoon cold water

1 1/2  teaspoons firmly-packed cornstarch

6  tablespoons Lee Kum Kee premium dark soy sauce

 8  tablespoons Lee Kum Kee hoisin sauce 1-2  tablespoons oyster-flavored sauce

2  tablespoons Chinese black vinegar (also known and labeled as Chinkiang vinegar)

2  tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar

2  tablespoons Chinese rice wine

2  tablespoons sesame oil

3  tablespoons sugar, more or less, to taste

1-2  tablespoons chili garlic sauce, more or less, to taste (optional) (Note:  this ingredient does not go into the brown sauce, it is just pictured with the pantry items and will go into the stir-fry later on in this post.)

Chow Mein #11 (Fresh Ingredients for Stir-Fry) For the stir-fry:

The following list is what I like to put in my chow mein.  Remember what I said earlier and feel free to add any variety of fresh vegetables that makes you or yours happy!

Some options:  bean sprouts, any color of bell pepper, bok choy, cabbage, carrots, celery, onions, scallions and any variety of mushrooms.  Be creative!

 

All of the sliced/marinated chicken (from above picture) 

2  tablespoons sesame oil

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  tablespoons minced, fresh garlic, more or less, to taste

4  tablespoons minced, fresh ginger, more or less, to taste

4  ounces very thinly sliced green onion, white and green parts, about 10-12 green onions

10  ounces julienne of red bell pepper, julienne strips cut in half, about 2 large peppers

1  ounce dried wood ear mushrooms, reconstituted in 2 cups of hot water

1-2  tablespoons chili garlic sauce, more or less, to taste (optional)

1  pound fresh, fully-cooked and unopened package, Chinese egg noodles, preferably at room temperature

For the garnishes:

1/2-1 cup chopped, unsalted peanuts, or, 1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds, lightly toasted (For detailed instructions, read my recipe for ~ How to:  Roast/Toast Some Nuts & Seeds ~, found in Category 15.)

1/2-1 cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, no stems included

Chow Mein #13 (Reconstituted & Slice Wood Ear Mushrooms with my Hand In) ~ Step 1.  Prep and have ready all of the ingredients I have listed above, or the ones you plan to use, for the stir-fry and the garnishes.

If you are using the wood ear mushrooms, place them in a measuring container and cover them with 2 cups of very hot water.  Set aside for 15-20 minutes.  Drain the mushrooms then place them on a layer of paper towels to drain throughly.  Lastly, cut them into 1/4"-1/2" strips and set aside.

Chow Mein #6 (Place Chicken in Ziplock Bag) ~ Step 2.  Slice the chicken as directed, placing in a one-gallon food storage bag as you work.  In a small bowl whisk together the dark soy sauce and the cornstarch, until smooth.  Add the soy mixture to the chicken and zip or twist the bag closed, and...

 

 

Chow Mein #7 (Chicken Mixed in Bag) ... toss until all of the chicken is evenly coated.  Set aside, to marinate, for 15-30 minutes, but no longer than that.

While the chicken is marinating:

Chow Mein #9 (Adding Cornstarch to Sauce) ~ Step 3.  In a small bowl, whisk together the cold water and cornstarch until smooth.

In a 2-quart saucepan, combine all of the remaining sauce ingredients as listed (except for the chili garlic sauce) and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat.  Whisk the cornstarch mixture into the simmering sauce and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is "drizzly" and slightly thickened, about 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Chow Mein #16 (Add the Marinated Chicken) ~ Step 4.  To prepare the stir-fry, add the sesame and vegetable oils to a 12" chef's pan or stir-fry pan.  Heat oil over medium-high and add the garlic and the ginger.  Saute, stirring contantly, until both are fragrant and just short of beginning to brown, about 15-20 seconds.

Add the bagged chicken and all of the marinade to the pan...

Chow Mein #17 (Cook Chicken 3-5 Minutes) ... continue to stir-fry, stirring constantly, until the chicken is opaque in color and almost cooked through, about 3-5 minutes.

Now, as crazy as this is going to sound, to this point in the recipe, this entire recipe can be done one day in advance, meaning:  the vegetables are prepped, the sauce is made, and the chicken is cooked just short of adding the veggies, some sauce & the egg noodles!

Chow Mein #18 (Add Fresh Vegetables) ~ Step 5.  Add all of the bell pepper strips, sliced green onions and mushrooms to the sauteeing chicken.  Stir to thoroughly combine all of the ingredients.

Continue to stir-fry, stirring constantly, until the peppers and onions are slightly softened, but still crunchy, about 2-3 minutes, then...

Chow Mein #21 (Spoon in Sauce to Taste)

 

... turn the heat off.  Spoon in the brown sauce, a little at a time, until all of the ingredients are evenly coated without any of the brown sauce puddling in the bottom of the pan.  When all of the ingredients are coated to your liking, stir in the optional chili garlic sauce, to taste

Place the unopened package of egg noodles in the microwave, just to warm them, 45-60 seconds.

Chow Mein #23 (Add Microwaved Egg Noodles) 

~ Step 6.  Open the package of egg noodles.  Note:  because Chinese egg noodles are very long in length, using a pair of kitchen shears, I like to snip them in half, while they are still in the package.

Return the pan to medium-high heat, add all of the noodles and continue to stir-fry until the chow mein is steaming hot, about 2-3 minutes.  Garnish and serve!

Chow Mein #25 (Finished Closeup) 

 

Chinese Chicken Chow Mein a la Melanie:  Recipe yields 4 hearty large servings or 6 hearty smaller servings, as well as makes 1 1/2 cups of brown sauce.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife, 2-cup measuring container; paper towels; small bowl; small whisk; 1-gallon food storage bag; 2-quart saucepan; 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides or stir-fry pan or wok (although when writing this recipe, it was my goal to show you you do not need a fancy pan to make a great stir-fry); large spoon

Cook's Note:  While this recipe is best served immediately after it is made, leftovers reheat beautifully in the microwave.  Also, this recipe can be doubled or tripled to feed a larger group of people, just remember to increase the size of your pan accordingly!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

01/13/2011

~ Shooting Cooking Segments in Melanie's Kitchen: Lights, Camera, Action! ~

WHVL Setting Up #5

As I announced a few weeks ago,  thanks to WHVL-TV here in Centre County, I've ventured into the world of television.  Even though I have always wanted to do this, it was that "one thing" that I'm not sure I ever really believed could or would become a reality.

As most of you know, I have worked behind the scenes at our local PBS station, WPSU-TV, volunteering my time as a cooking consultant.  This is my fifth year organizing and doing cooking demonstrations with and for their visiting celebrity chefs:  Lidia Bastianich, John Folse, Joanne Weir, Martin Yan, and this coming February, Steven Raichlen.  From that standpoint, I've familiarized myself with the workings of a television studio and experienced just how dang much work goes into producing a quality cooking show or segment.  Trust me when I tell you:  it is a ton of work,  I went into this with my eyes wide open, and I did not blink once before I said, "yes" to the folks at WHVL!

WHVL Setting Up #1 We shoot right here in my home kitchen, which is ideal for me, as all of my great equipment is at my fingertips.  We've done two shoots so far (one was yesterday, and all of the pictures on this post were taken by me then) and our next one is scheduled for the week after next.  This picture is of John setting up the tripods for the cameras that go on the prep area countertops.

WHVL Setting Up #2 John and Dave arrive on the day of each shoot around 9:30 AM.  This is Dave positioning the camera that will look upon the action on the stovetop.  The big, heavy, camera that he has slung over his shoulder is the one that follows me around and looks upon me.  Set up takes about 1-1 1/2 hours, which includes getting me "miked" with a wireless microphone and several tests for lighting and sound.

I can't say enough good things about working with John and Dave.  Besides being great camera experts, with me they are patient coaches and give clear directions.  They also have a lot of respect for my expertise and we three put a lot of thought into each machination before turning the camera on me.  Once that happens, it is all about me being able to cook live, talk constantly and balance paying attention to what is going on at my stovetop while still looking at the camera.  Because I am using my own recipes (which have all been developed and tested by me, as well as  having written all of the material for them myself), I choose not to use any prescripted material or a teleprompter... just me being me, doing what I do, on TV!

WHVL Setting Up #3 I also can't say enough about my closest friend and personal assistant of 14 years, Jeanne.  Behind the scenes and in between shots, she is clearing countertops from the previous shot and setting up all of my prepped food for the next shot.  She tells me when to freshen my lipstick and straighens out even the smallest wrinkle in my clothing.  She even makes me laugh when I want to cry.

WHVL Setting Up #4As for the day of the shoot, from beginning to end, it takes all four of us about four hours  to produce one 5 minute segment for WHVL-TV's Sunday morning "Centre of It All" show.  Prior to the shoot, depending upon what I decide to prepare, the prep work for the demo food and camera swap-outs takes me 1-2, 4-6-hour days.  After the shoot, it takes WHVL 1-2 similar days to edit the segment.

WHVL Setting Up #7Then, before we say our goodbyes for the day, after the lights are taken down and the cameras are packed up, we all sit down to a great lunch consisting of whatever I cooked.  Yesterday everyone enjoyed my recipe for Chinese Chicken Chow Mein, a hearty main course of marinated chicken breast and stir-fried vegetables with fresh Chinese egg noodles (I'll be posting that recipe next)!!!

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

(Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

01/10/2011

~ Grandma Ann's Easy Chicken Vegetable Soup ~

IMG_7848On November 13th, 2007, at 6:30 PM, Joe's 83-year-old mother Ann walked through the door of her new home here in State College.  It had been a busy and exciting Summer for the entire family.  Joe and his brother Tom did all of her packing.  I was in charge of the decisions/choices regarding the building of her new home, the move-in and all of the decorating (I got the fun part).  After the closing (2:00 PM on November 1st), I had twelve short days to pull an entire household together, including stocking the pantry shelves and refrigerator.  It was like one of those reality TV shows.  When "Ma" entered her front door that evening, she had no idea what anything would look like.  Every last thing was done and in place, the lights were dimmed, the candles were lit and a celebratory dinner was on the dining room table waiting for her!

IMG_7860When Tom and Joe were encouraging  Ann to make the decision to sell her home in Jessup, PA, to move closer to either one of them, my husband Joe made her an offer she could not refuse: "Ma, if you move to State College, I promise you, you will never have to cook another meal for yourself again."  There are only two things you really need to know about my mother-in-law:  #1)  she hates to cook, and, #2) she loves to eat.  Nine months later she was living in State College and I am proud to report that aside from an occasional take out pizza, burger or dinner at a restaurant, I do cook each and every one of her meals for her.

When it comes to food, Ann is very easy to please.  Aside from croutons on any salad and any form of pecan pie,  Ann has a great appetite and a pretty sophisticated palate for good food of any cuisine.  One thing she loves to eat, Summer and Winter, is a hearty bowl of soup, and I try to keep some in both her refrigerator and freezer at all times, so she can eat it whenever she wants.  As much as I love to cook, I'd be lying if I said I never take a short cut once in a while, but this "short cut" chicken soup recipe was born out of necessity.  Ann wasn't feeling well and was asking for chicken soup.  My homemade soup stock was on hand in my freezer as well as all of the vegetables and a package of chicken breasts in my refrigerator.  But, on that day, I decided to skip the thawing, slicing, dicing and chopping and get her some soup ASAP.  The result was Ann enjoying an absolutely delicious bowl of soup a mere 2 hours later!

IMG_7853The following recipe is now one of a family favorite and I'll bet it becomes one of yours too:

Ann's Chicken Vegetable Soup #5 (Chicken)To start, you'll need 6, large, meaty, boneless, skinless chicken breast halves.  This package weighed in at a little over 5 pounds.  Any package weighing between 4 1/2-5 1/2 pounds will work just fine.

So much for the chicken!

Ann's Chicken Vegetable Soup #4 (Ingredients) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6  large, meaty, boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 4 1/2-5 1/2 pounds

2 1/2  quarts water (or, if your mother-in-law likes mushrooms, use 2 quarts of water and 2, 4 1/2-ounce jars of sliced mushrooms along with all of their liquid)

1  14 1/2-ounce can chicken broth

1  14 1/2-ounce can beef broth

2  14 1/2-ounce cans stewed tomatoes

4  tablespoons dried parsley flakes

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1  tablespoon sea salt

1 1/2  teaspoons white pepper

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

1-2  cups diced celery

2  16-ounce bags frozen "classic" mixed vegetables, unthawed, containing:  peas, corn, carrots, green beans and lima beans

1  14-1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, for stirring into finished soup

a drizzle of olive oil, about 1 tablespoon, for stirring into finished soup

Ann's Chicken Vegetable Soup #6 (Adding Stuff & Salt to the Pot) ~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot, place the chicken, water, broths,  and stewed tomatoes.  Add 2 tablespoons of the parsley flakes, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, sea salt and white pepper.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady, simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, 45 minutes.  Easy enough so far? 

~ Step 2.  While the soup is gently simmering on the stovetop, dice the onion and celery as directed and set aside.  Next:

Ann's Chicken Vegetable Soup #7 (Chopping Chicken) ~ Step 3.  Turn the heat off.  Using a slotted spoon, remove chicken from the broth and place on a cutting board.  Using a chef's knife, chop the chicken into large, bite-sized pieces and return them to the broth.  Note:  Remove all of the chicken at once, placing it on a large cutting board to chop it, or remove it one piece at a time, returning the chopped chicken to the stockpot as you work, which is what I like to do).

Ann's Chicken Vegetable Soup #8 (Adding Celery & Onions) ~ Step 4.  Return the chopped chicken along with the celery, onion and remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley flakes to the pot.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and...

 

 

 

Ann's Chicken Vegetable Soup #10 (Adding Frozen Vegetables) ... add the frozen vegetables.  When the soup returns to a rapid simmer, adjust the heat to simmer gently, partially cover and simmer gently, an additional 45 minutes.

If you would like to serve your soup with noodles, while the soup is simmering is the time to cook, drain and rinse them according to the package directions:

Ann's Chicken Vegetable Soup (Noodles #1)

After the soup has simmered for 45 minutes, stir in the last can of diced tomatoes and a drizzle (about 1 tablespoon) of olive oil.  Continue to simmer about 5 more minutes.  Ladle soup in to warmed bowls and serve immediately:

IMG_7850Grandma Ann's Easy Chicken Vegetable Soup:  Recipe yields about 6 1/2-7 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot w/lid; large slotted spoon; cutting board; chef's knife; soup ladle

Ann's Chicken Vegetable Soup #15 (Frozen) Cook's Note:  If you have the time, when the soup is done (after you've added the can of diced tomatoes and drizzle of olive oil), remove it from the heat, cover the pot, and allow it to steep for 1-2 hours.

Briefly reheat it at serving time.  Also, this soup freezes great.  I like to portion mine into one- or two-quart size containers for quick weekday lunches or dinners

Extra Cook's Note:  Here is a peek into the top two shelves of my freezer.  Top shelf:  homemade soup stocks (Asian, beef, chicken, duck, lobster, veal and vegetable).  Second shelf:  homemade soups on hand (beef barley, shittake mushroom and Grandma Ann's chicken vegetable).

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

01/07/2011

~ How to Make Croutons & Toasts for Salad or Soup~

6a0120a8551282970b017ee6636362970dWhenever I teach a class about making salad or soup, I always teach people how to make croutons and toasts, which are culinarily the exact same thing.  I always start by adamantly announcing, "never buy croutons", which gets everyone sitting up at attention.  Then I slice and cube the bread, or, cut some shapes out of bread slices using a cookie cutter.  Less than 10 minutes later, the entire class is munching away, watching the rest of my demonstration and proclaiming homemade croutons to be the best thing since sliced bread!

"Crouton" is our English word for any small piece of plain or seasoned, sliced or cubed, toasted or fried bread used to accompany or garnish soups, salads and other dishes.  It is derived from the French word "crouton" (kroo-tawn) which the French define as a small piece of bread or snack bread that is usually served with drinks.  "Croute" (kroot) is the French word for crust and "en croute" refers to food wrapped in or topped with a pastry crust then baked.

"Toast" really has no place in this post, because technically toast is made by exposing a slice of bread to dry heat -- an open flame, a charcoal or gas grill, or an electric toaster.  It stays there until it's fragrant and reaches the desired degree of brown and crispy.  It is then used to make a sandwich or gets topped with a sweet or savory spread and eaten.  That said, everytime I make and serve my shaped croutons, everyone always calls them "toasts", so I have given up on reprimands and have decided to move on and allow the word toast into my crouton vocabulary.  

Croutons are super-easy to make, plus they are the perfect use for almost any leftover bread (the exception being soft, cottony, white, sandwich-type bread).  My quick skillet method for preparing them produces a crispy, butter-flavored crouton on the outside with a slightly softer "chewy/al dente" center.  This differs from the lengthier oven method for preparing croutons (a low temperature for a longer period of time), which produces a crispy crouton throughout. 

Croutons & Toasts #1 (Both Finished Front View)Once you've added these tasty treats to any salad or served them with any soup, you too will never buy croutons again.

Croutons & Toasts #3 (Bread for Croutons) The bread you choose for making cubed croutons, can be any type of crusty, firm-textured, rustic or baguette-shaped loaf.  It can be plain or flavored. 

The three loaves pictured here are:  a three-cheese semolina bread (front); a sourdough baguette (top), and; a loaf of ciabatta bread (back).

Whatever you choose to use, to make my recipe for cubed croutons, you'll need a 1-pound loaf.

The bread for making shaped croutons, can be any of those pictured above, but my absolute favorites are:  brioche and egg challa (ha-la).  Today, I am using my recipe for ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~, found in Categories 5, 15 & 18. I'm making 12, 2 1'2" heart-shaped ones (using a heart-shaped cookie cutter), and I'll be using 6, 3/4" thick slices of my homemade brioche.  Whatever type of bread you choose, 3/4"-thick is the "magic" thickness.

To make cubed croutons:

Croutons & Toasts #4 (Cubed Bread for Croutons) ~ Step 1.  I've decided to use the 1-pound sourdough baguette today.  Slice the bread into 3/4" slices and then cube it into 1/2"-3/4" cubes.  This is my favorite size. 

Whatever bread you choose to use, cube your bread as uniform in size as possible, but, if the recipe you are using instructs you to cube the bread smaller or larger than 1/2"-3/4", follow their instructions!

Croutons & Toasts #6 (Melted Butter & Spices in Pan)~ Step 2.  In a 12" skillet (preferably nonstick), melt 2 sticks of salted butter over low heat.

To season my croutons, I like to add and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder and 1/2 teaspoon of white pepper, but...

... by all means, season your croutons with any type of ground seasoning you want!

Croutons & Toasts #8 (Finished Croutons in Pan) ~ Step 3.  Add all of the bread cubes to the pan.  Increase heat to medium.  Using a large nonstick spoon, gently stir and toss the bread cubes constantly, until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes.  No melted butter will remain in the bottom of the pan, just a golden brown residue. 

Remove from heat and allow croutons to cool slightly in the pan, 10-15 minutes, to allow carryover heat to continue to crisp them.  Line a baking pan with 3-4 layers of paper towels, transfer croutons to pan and spread them in a single layer.  Set aside to cool completely.  Store croutons, uncovered, up to 1-2 days prior to using.

Croutons & Toasts #9 (Finished Croutons)To make shaped croutons (toasts):

Croutons & Toasts #11 (Toasts in Pan on First Side) ~ Step 1.  In a 12" skillet (preferably nonstick) melt 4 ounces (1 sick) of salted butter over low heat.  Increase heat to medium and add 12, 2 1/2" shaped croutons.

Continue to cook until the croutons/toasts are golden brown on the first/bottom side.  This will take about 2-2 1/2 minutes, with how they look being more important than how long they cook!

Croutons & Toasts #12 (Finished Toasts) ~ Step 2.  Using a nonstick spatula, flip the shaped croutons/toasts over and lower the heat slightly. 

Continue to cook until shaped croutons/toasts are golden brown on the second side, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Again, it is all about how they look not how long it takes to cook and these look great!

Remove from heat and immediately transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.  Serve immediately or at room temperature.  Store uncovered and at room temperature for up to one day.  While I often serve these as an accompaniment to a lovely bowl of steaming hot soup, they are equally as delicious served in place of conventionally made toast for breakfast.

Croutons & Toasts #13 (Finished Toasts)How to:  Make Croutons & Toasts for Salad or Soup:  Recipe yields 6 cups of cubed croutons and 12, 2 1/2" shaped croutons (toasts).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife;12" skillet, preferably nonstick; large spoon, preferably nonstick; paper towels; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; 2 1/2" cookie cutter of any shape (optional); spatula, preferably nonstick

Shiitake Mushroom SoupCook's Note:  These cubed croutons and shaped croutons (toasts) really are an easy-to-make treat.  They both have such a wonderful, buttery flavor and crunchy texture they're hard to stop eating -- adults and kids just love them.  Make everyone happy and make croutons and toasts!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011) 

01/03/2011

~ Perfect "Prime" Rib Roast (Standing Rib Roast) ~

Prime Rib Roast #9 Let me start this post by saying:  cooking a prime rib roast is really easy, so if you've been avoiding trying to roast one, exhale and relax... I'm going to share as much information as I have with you and I'm pretty sure by the end of this post the only hesitation you'll have is the cost, and I'm here to tell you a rib roast is one pricy cut of beef.  The good news:  it feeds a lot of hungry people... up to fourteen if you are preparing a full roast (pictured above), which contains 7 ribs and weighs between 15-16 pounds (although I have actually cooked one that weighed in at 22 pounds).  You don't have to buy an entire 7 rib roast, although I always do, and, in my opionion anything less than 4 ribs is a compromise in the end result (aka... a waste of time, hard-earned money and energy).  Besides... I've never had anyone turn down the great leftovers! 

A bit about "prime" rib:  The term "prime rib" is often incorrectly used and/or misinterpreted as a label for a rib roast or a standing rib roast.  "Prime" refers exclusively to the highest grade of USDA beef.  The label "prime" is only given to the finest beef that is hallmarked by even marbling throughout a cherry-red roast that is topped with a thick, creamy layer of fat.  Sadly, very little prime beef makes it beyond better hotels or restaurants.  The best grade of beef generally found in supermarkets is USDA "choice", which is an excellent grade of beef.  All I'm saying is:  although "prime" is how rib roast is often labeled, it is more than likely "choice" beef that you are buying.  I have the pleasure of cooking both prime and choice rib roasts and there has never been any  disappointment associated with a store-bought choice roast!

What makes it a standing rib roast?  All this means is the bones are in/on the roast and it stands by itself on a rack in a roasting pan.  That said, you can buy a boneless prime rib roast, which at the end of the day does make slicing and serving easier, but in my opinion:  it is the bones that contribute a lot of the flavor to this very special roast, so it's not my recommendation to buy a boneless one.  That said, I should mention that when a boneless prime rib roast is cut into steaks, they are labeled as rib eyes or delmonicos.  In the event you do decide to go with a boneless prime rib roast, follow all of my directions below and it too will come out just perfect!

A bit about purchasing a prime rib roast:  The absolute best and first piece of advice I can give you on this is:  always pre-order your roast and plan to cook it the same day or the day after you pick it up.  I am not an advocate of freezing a prime rib roast for any reason,  so you'll get no advice or comment from me on this issue, except: "don't do it" and "I told you so".  Second:  when ordering your roast, request it to be "first cut" or taken from "the loin end", which will give you more meat, not to mention leaner meat, then ask him to "properly trim it, 'French' the ribs and tie it".  Third:  if you ask, you might find you are dealing with a butcher who can get you a dry-aged prime rib roast or will dry-age one for you.  Aging allows natural enzymes in the meat to break down some of its proteins.  I warn you, this will cost you more, so make that decision yourself.  You can successfully dry-age a roast in your own refrigerator, but it takes knowledge/expertise, time (7-10 days), tools and a lot of refrigerator space (not to mention another post on my part), and I don't recommend this process for most home cooks.  Last of all:

Prime Rib Roast #3 (First Slice) USE  A MEAT THERMOMETER!!!  If you do not have one, stop!  Do not pass go!  Go buy, beg, borrow or steal one!  Come back and read the rest of this post when you have one in your hand!

You've invested $$$'s in this roast and you want it done to your liking.  Mine is rare to medium-rare which is between 125-130 degrees.

Prime Rib Roast #5 (Ingredients) For the "prime" or standing rib roast:

1  15-16 pound, bone-in, prime rib roast, properly trimmed and tied, at room temperature (this will take about 3-4 hours)

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

For the au jus (the French term for "with juice"):

4 1/2 cups beef stock, preferably homemade (but canned stock works just fine)

3/4  cup port wine (a sweet, fortified red wine)

6  tablespoons Pickapeppa sauce (a Jamaican steak-type sauce), or your favorite steak sauce

6  tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

For an optional and exciting accompaniment:

freshly grated fresh horseradish root or your favorite horseradish sauce

Prime Rib Roast #6 (Six Cups of Au Jous) ~ Step 1.  To pre-mix the au jus:  In an 8-cup measuring container, stir together the beef stock, wine, Pickapeppa sauce and Worcestershire sauce.  You will have 6 cups of total liquid.  Set aside.  Note:  Technically, au jus is meat (usually beef) served with its own natural juices.  Every time I made a prime rib, there were barely enough of those to please everyone so I decided to give nature a hand.  At the end of the day, we now have 2-3 cups of great, flavorful au jus!

Prime Rib Roast #7 (Ready for Oven) ~ Step 2.  Place 4 cups of the au jus mixture into the bottom of 2, 20" x 12" x 4 " disposable aluminum pans that have been doubled to form one sturdy pan.

Place a 12 1/2" x 11 1/2" sturdy cooling rack into the pan and place the room temperature prime rib roast on the rack.  Lightly salt the roast with freshly ground sea salt.  Do not over salt.  Liberally, grind peppercorn blend over the roast.  Feel free to over pepper the roast as much as you like.

~ Step 3.  Roast the prime rib on center rack of preheated 500 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Immediately, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to roast for 2 1/2-3 hours, or until an instant-read meat thermometer placed several inches into the thickest part of the meat (and in several different places throughout the length of the roast) reads 120-125-130 degrees.  Do not overcook.  This will produce the ideal rare/medium-rare cooked roast.  Remove the roast from the oven.  Remove the roast from the pan and tightly seal/wrap it in heavy duty aluminum foil.  Do not be inclined to cut or taste even the smallest of pieces or bites... any cut you make in the roast now will result in a loss of a lot of juices.  Set aside to rest, 25-35 minutes (no longer than this as carryover heat will continue to cook your roast more than you want it too).  While meat is resting, to prepare the au jus:

Prime Rib Roast #11 (Au Jous in Pan) ~ Step 4.  Place the remaining 2 cups of au jus mixture in the bottom of a 10" chef's pan w/straight deep sides.  Pour all of the juices from the roasting pan into a fat/lean separator.  Pour the juices from the separator into the au jus mixture in pan.  Discard the fat from the separator.  Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer rapidly for about 10-12 minutes.  Mixture will have reduced by about 1/3.  When you open the foil of the roast, add any juices that have accumulated in the foil to this mixture and continue to simmer rapidly another 1-2 minutes.  Carve the roast into slices of desired thickness (read the next paragraph) and doneness (the outer slices will be medium-rare while the slices closest to the center will be rare). 

A bit about carving a prime rib roast:  From a  seven-rib roast like the one I did today, you can serve anywhere from 6 to 16 people, depending upon how you choose to carve it or how your guests want it, meaning:  to serve 6, simply slice between the rib bones and serve very thick, "double cut" Flintstonian portions; to serve 16 people, cut thinner slices and serve them alternately "one on the bone", "one off the bone".  Using a pair of kitchen shears, I snip and remove the strings as I work on carving the slices.  Be sure to use a long-bladed (12"-14"), very-sharp knife and use long, smooth strokes to carve... do not use back and forth sawing motions that rip, tear, and cause jagged edges!  Serve immediately (Note:  the picture below is a double-cut slice, while the earlier/second picture on this post is a single-cut, off-the bone slice.):

Prime Rib Roast #4 (Exit Picture with all the Trimmings))Perfect "Prime" Rib Roast (Standing Rib Roast):  Recipe yields 6-16 servings and 2-3 cups of au jus.

Special Equipment List:  8-cup measuring container; 2, 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pans, doubled to form one sturdy pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling rack; 10" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; instant-read meat thermometer; heavy duty aluminum foil; fat/lean separator; large carving board; long-bladed carving knife; carving fork; kitchen shears; cheese grater or microplane grater for grating horseradish (optional)

Cook's Note:  I like to serve a small bowl of hot au jus next to each freshly carved slice of prime rib so my guests can choose to spoon or pour it over their meat, or, just dip each and every tender and juicy bite into it.  As for the fresh horseradish:  this white, pungently spiced root should be peeled and kept refrigerated right up until serving time.  Let your guests grate their own at tableside.  You have just served a prime rib roast at home, complete with the au jus to the side, guaranteed to rival that of any expensive steak house in America!

Potatoes Gratin #1-a (Intro Picture Closeup)Extra Cook's Note:  Once I get my prime rib into the oven, I like to prepare my recipe for ~ Perfect Potatoes au Gratin (Scalloped Potatoes) ~, found in Category 4. They just go "oh so very well" together.  On several occasions, when I have served this dynamic duo for dinner, a guest or two ends up sending me flowers the next day!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

01/02/2011

~ Perfect Potatoes au Gratin (Scalloped Potatoes) ~

Potatoes Gratin #1-a (Intro Picture Closeup)A bit about gratins:  The French word "gratin" is derived from the English word "grate" and means to scratch or scrape.  Back in the 16th century, it referred to the crusty part of any cooked food that stuck to the side of the pot or pan and had to be scraped ("gratte") loose so as not to waste it.  Nowadays, no-stick cooking sprays have made this task a lot easier for us!  

IMG_1690The term "gratin" refers to both the food being prepared as well as the dish in which it is being cooked.  Gratins can be baked in large or individual quantities, but in either case, they require a wide, shallow dish.  The food being cooked is usually cooked slowly in a liquid (such as milk, cream, wine, or stock), which results in the top developing a crisp, golden brown crust! 

The "gratin effect" can also be achieved by sprinkling dried breadcrumbs, cheese or a combination of both over the food to produce the signature golden top.  When this is done, the dish is referred to as a "gratinee" (grah-tee-NAY) or an "au gratin".

"So", you ask, "who put the scallop in the gratin potatoes?"  Well we Americans did.  The French word for layering very thinly sliced food in a casserole then baking it in cream or a creamy sauce is "escalope", which is where we got the American verb "scallop"!

Potatoes Gratin #5-a (Seeing is Believing) A bit about potatoes:  When preparing potatoes gratin, the type of potato you use is important.  My favorite is the creamy Yukon gold.  While some folks might consider using a russet (baking) potato their first choice, I found them tending to break down in texture during the final baking process.  Was the gratin good?  Yes.  Was it the best?  No.  I have no ax to grind with russet potatoes, they simply are not my first choice for the cooking of a successful gratin.  The thickness of the potato slice is not as important as the uniformity (pototoes must be uniform so they all cook uniformly), but VERY, VERY thin slices (1/8" thick) will release more starch (more slices=more starch), resulting in the desired thick, creamy sauce.  I like my potatoes almost thin enough to see through!

Potatoes Gratin #1 (Intro Picture)A bit about MY recipe:  There was a period of about 1-1 1/2 years that our son Jesse (attending Penn State) lived in a downtown fraternity house.  On more than an occasional occasion (for various reasons, all of which shall remain unpublished), they found themselves without a frat house cook.  Jesse, being local to State College, was a master at twisting his mom's arm into cooking a literal VAT of almost anything they desired to eat.  Each and every time they requested my scalloped potatoes, I would cringe.  To my credit, as labor intensive as preparing this dish is/was (carefully layering paper-thin potato slices into a very, very large casserole dish, meticulously keeping each layer covered in cream, not to mention the long cooking time), each and every time he asked I complied.  And, each and every time I complied, I told myself, "there has gotta be a quicker and easier way to do this".  Then, one day, while staring down a 25-pound bag of potatoes, a brainstorm occurred:  pre-cook the potatoes!  It took a couple of attempts, but in the end, I'm pretty proud and certain I created the Perfect Potatoes Au Gratin:

Attempt #1.  A miserable failure.  The thought process was to microwave the potatoes to a manageable doneness, then peel and slice them.  There is no conceivable way to successfully microwave any type of potato, in any quantity, to a useable, uniform, sliceable doneness.  I added some butter, cream, salt and pepper to those and the microwaved mashed potatoes were wonderful.

Attempt #2.  A miserable, inedible failure.  The thought process was to slice the potatoes, bring them to a boil in some salted water and pre-cook them for about 2-3 minutes, until they were pliable but still crunchy.  The potatoes came out great, but when the gratin baked, it emerged a water mess.  Why?  Because par-boiling the potatoes cooked the starch out of them which is, well... needed to thicken the cream.

Attempt #3.  Great success!!!  The thought process was to slice and pre-cook the potatoes in the cream mixture on the stovetop.  I sliced my potatoes, placing them in the seasoned cream as I worked, then slowly brought the mixture to a gentle simmer.  After about 5 minutes, the potatoes were slightly tender and the cream had thickened quite a bit (because the potatoes released their starch into the cream).  I transferred the mixture to my casserole, topped it with grated cheese and a mere 35-40 minutes later:  Perfect Potatoes Au Gratin!!!

Potatoes Gratin #3 (Ingredients) 6  pounds peeled and very, very thinly sliced potatoes, about 1/8"-thick (6 pounds after peeling)

1  quart heavy or whipping cream

1  ounce minced garlic cloves, about 1 small head of garlic

30-40  grinds, freshly ground nutmeg (about 1/2-3/4 teaspoon), more or less to taste

60-70  grinds, freshly ground sea salt (about 3/4-1 teaspoon), more or less to taste

80-90  grinds, freshly ground peppercorn blend (about 1-1 1/2 teaspoon), more or less to taste

4  ounces salted butter, cut into thin slices or small pieces

1  pound grated Gruyere cheese

no-stick cooking spray

Potatoes Gratin #4 (The Femster's Slicer) The Feemster's Famous Vegetable Slicer:  I bought 2 of these, for $5.00 a piece, about 20 years ago from Marie Fedon, owner and operator of The Country Sampler (a kitchen store), here in Boalsburg.  I am sorry to report that "The Sampler" is no longer with us, but "The Feemsters" is available on-line at Amazon.com.

I have all sorts of fancy mandolins and super-sharp knives, but I ADORE my little blue-bladed Feemsters... I can slice all 6 pounds of potatoes paper-thin in about 6-8 minutes!!!

Potatoes Gratin #5 (Slicing the Potatoes) ~ Step 1.  Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible.  You can use a knife, but even a chef would probably choose to use a mandolin for this task.

I cannot emphasize this enough, so I'm going to say it again:  slice the potatoes as thinly as you possibly can and keep them as uniform in thickness as is humanly possible.  I consider "thin" to be "bendable without cracking into two pieces"... do your best, it'll be fine.

Potatoes Gratin #6 (Cream, Garlic & Spices in Pan)~ Step 2.  Place cream in a 14" chef's pan.  Mince and add the garlic, along with the freshly grated nutmeg, sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Stir this around and let it sit for about 5 minutes, then, stir it again, taste and adjust the seasoning.  I like the potatoes to simmer in pre-seasoned cream.  You'll have a second chance to adjust the seasoning after the potatoes have simmered.

Potatoes Gratin #7 (Potatoes Uncooked)~ Step 3.  Add all of the sliced potatoes to the pan, along with all of the butter slices/pieces.  Give the mixture a pretty thorough stir, to get the potatoes coated in cream.

Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a rapid simmer, stirring frequently.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue to cook 5-6 minutes, stirring almost constantly...

Potatoes Gratin #8 (Potataoes Cooked) ... until the potatoes are somewhat tender (but not cooked through) and their starch has thickened the cream mixture considerably.  The newly-formed cream sauce should be thick enough to coat the back or front of a spoon. 

Now it is time to adjust the seasonings for the second and last time prior to baking.  I have given you my measurements... season to your own taste!

Potatoes Gratin #9 (Layer into Casserole)~ Step 4.  Using a large spoon, transfer the potatoes to a 4-quart casserole dish that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  Do not be inclined to pour (or dump) the potatoes from the pan to the casserole, because:

You want the potatoes to lie as flat as possible, so as you scoop, flatten them out and distribute them as evenly as you can in the casserole dish.

Potatoes Gratin #10 (Add the Cheese)~ Step 5.  Grate the cheese and distribute it over the potatoes.  Notice that in a 4-quart casserole dish, the potatoes only fill the dish 3/4 of the way.  This is exactly what you want. The liquid is going to "cook up" during the baking process.  If the dish is too full of the potato mixture, you'll have a dandy mess in the bottom of your oven!

Potatoes Gratin #12 (Out of Oven)Step 6.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 35-40 minutes.  The mixture will be bubbly around the sides, golden brown on the top, and, the potatoes will be tender and cooked through.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 30-45 minutes prior to serving: 

Potatoes Gratin #13 (First Scoop)Perfect Potatoes Au Gratin (Scalloped Potatoes):  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  Feemster's Famous Vegetable Slicer, mandolin or very sharp chef's knife; cutting board, 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon; cheese grater; 4-quart casserole dish

Cook's Note:  I am posting this as my first recipe of the 2011 New Year.  It is for my New Jersey relatives:  My Aunt Tootsie (aka Marie The Lenox Queen), Uncle Al, Victor, Tammy and Olga.  Victor made my Perfet Potatoes au Gratin for their Christmas Day dinner and they phoned me that day to say, "blog this recipe ASAP"... and as we all know, family requests come first!

Extra Cook's Note:  These pototoes can be prepared, baked and refrigerated 1-2 days in advance of serving them.  To reheat the entire casserole:  return it to room temperature (2-3 hours) and cover with plastic wrap before gently reheating in the microwave (30-45 minutes).  To reheat individual portions:  just scoop or carefully slice (depending on how pretty you want them to look) cold portions onto plates or into individual-sized gratin dishes, cover with plastic wrap and reheat gently in the microwave. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)