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18 posts from May 2011

05/31/2011

~ Broiled Wild Sea Scallops w/Broiled Brown Butter (A Short Video/Slideshow, 00:47) ~

PICT4032 Have you ever encountered a problem with cooking the perfect scallop, or an entire plate of scallops?  Well, Kitchen Encounters just posted my favorite foolproof recipe for broiling perfect scallops!

To read my recipe for ~ Broiled Wild Sea Scallops w/Broiled Brown Butter ~, along with all of my step-by-step instructions and photos, just click into Categories 3, 14, 20 or 21.  

PICT3574 To view a short video/slideshow of how I prepare this exquisite meal:

Download Broiled Wild Sea Scallops w_Broiled Brown Butter-Medium

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

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

05/30/2011

~ A Most Memorable Memorial Day Weekend ~

PICT3943 Joe and I moved from State College proper to Boalsburg almost 14 years ago.  We had lived in State College for 18 years and when we decided to build our new home we were both in 100% agreement that we wanted to move to Boalsburg.  State College and Boalsburg are just a short five miles from each other on Route 322 in Centre County, PA.  State College, home to the Pennsylvania State University, Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions is a big, bustling city compared to the quaint, quiet village of Boalsburg, which boasts:  "Boalsburg.  An American Village - Birthplace of Memorial Day."  Since this is my first year in Boalsburg with a blog, I've decided to share a bit of our community's history with you:

PICT3931 Even though in 1966 President Lyndon Johnson sanctioned Waterloo, NY as the official birthplace of Memorial Day (theirs being May of 1866), Boalsburg strongly defends its claim to be the first with a remembrance that took place in 1864, followed by a large community observance in 1865.  As the story goes, in 1864, three women (Emma Hunter, Sophie Keller and Elizabeth Meyer) went to the cemetery located next to the Zion Lutheran Church (which still stands today).  Emma and Sophie brought flowers to place on the grave of Emma's father, who had been a surgeon in the Union Army.  Mrs. Meyer, placed flowers on her son Amos's grave, who had been killed on the last day of the battle at Gettysburg. The three women decided they would meet again on the same day the following year, to honor their own loved ones as well as others who had fallen. They began sharing their idea with friends and the following year it blossomed into a full-fleged community service/celebration!

PICT3692 The Memorial Day weekend in our Boalsburg residence, is pretty much like everyone elses:  If the weather "holds out" we garden and grill and attend some of the downtown festivities.  My son Jess, his wife and our Grandson David come from Pittsburgh each and every year!

PICT3760 My mom and dad, aka great-grandparents "Grammy & Pal", always join in the fun and so does Joe's mother, who lives in State College.  This is a picture of Joe and my dad our on our deck overlooking the tennis court.  Joe's mother doesn't like to have her picture taken, and my mother is poolside with David at the moment, so she's not "here" either!

PICT3735 David, who will be four years old tomorrow, always enjoys a weekend full of fun (not to mention exhausting) activities...

He LOVES to kick the soccer ball through the sprinklers on JoePa's grass tennis court.  He has an endless source of energy, which leads me to believe he just might be solar-powered!

PICT3775 David, who has his own swimming pool, will be the first one to tell you he can make a splash bigger than you can.  Trust me, he can.  Between the sprinklers and the pool, he is indeed soaking wet a great deal of the time!

That being said:

PICT3749 When David does agree to being dried off and changing into some dry clothing, he LOVES to fly kites with JoePa and this year we had a picture-perfect day for it.  And speaking of pictures, David also LOVES to draw pictures with GrandMel:

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This particular piece is entitled "Balls of Yarn"!

PICT3855 My son Jesse is a pro at the grill.  In Memorial Days past, he brought his smoker and would spend the entire day in our backyard gazebo smoking babyback spareribs.  This year, Joe grilled the chicken and ribs on his big Viking grill.  Jess brought a "new toy" for he and I to play with: a portable, Solaire, infrared, propane grill.  I'll be doing an entire blog post about how this great little grill works (and it works great), so stay tuned!

PICT3923My mom brought a fantastic apple cake, a recipe which I promise to post in the future.  Trust me when I tell you, this is a cake recipe you are going to want to have.  I hope each of you has had a wonderful holiday and have enjoyed your "insiders view of Boalsburg"!

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

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

05/27/2011

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (5/27/11) ~

Culinary Q & A #2 Greetings!  This post is going to be brief, as I am getting ready for the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Since Joe and I will have our soon to be 4-year-old grandson David here with us, Kitchen Encounters may be quiet for a couple of days.  

That being said, Kitchen Encounters received one question yesterday from a new friend on Facebook, so I wanted to be sure to post an immediate reply:

PICT3574 Q.  Sharon says and asks: Melanie  I looked for this recipe on your blog... may we have the secrets to broiling scallops?  By the way, I just love the literary segways to your titles and descriptions!

A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Sharon!  Thank you for the question and your most kind compliment... I am so happy you are enjoying my blog along with all of my stories!  I posted this picture of the broiled scallops on Facebook yesterday (Thursday) with every intention of getting it onto the blog within 24 hours.  Unfortunately, because I'm preparing for the upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend with my family, time got the best of me.  That being said, I did get the recipe for the ~ Fluffy Lemon-Pepper Rice for Fish and Seafood ~ posted and you can read it by clicking into Categories 4 or 14.  I promise you'll see the scallop recipe right after the holiday, so look for it sometime on Tuesday!

Have a great Memorial Day weekend everyone!  Once again:  To leave a comment or 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)

05/23/2011

~ A Chilled Mediterranean-Style Tuna & Orzo Salad ~

PICT3422 More than a few times a year I get hungry for tuna right out of the can... and yes, I like canned tuna better than those new-fangled pouches.  I also like my tuna packed in water, not olive oil. My Italian relatives and probably more than a few food critics have a lot to say about this, but I prefer to add my own EVOO thank-you.  I have a great recipe for traditional tuna salad, the kind made with mayonnaise, hard-cooked eggs and crunchy celery, and that'll be another post.  That being said, I blow "hot and cold" on pasta salads and besides traditional macaroni salad (also another upcoming post), when pasta is added to a salad, I prefer the kind dressed with a vinaigrette-type dressing rather than a mayo-based one.  I like those containing fresh seafood and/or fresh vegetables, but the ones full of pepperoni, ham and cheese, etc... not so much.  

Several summers ago I was developing a Greek salad dressing recipe (again, another upcoming post). The dressing consisted of EVOO, balsamic vinegar and several herbs and spices.  I was helping my chef friend with a very large catering and the theme was a "Greek Yacht Party".  The plan was to serve small, individual, appetizer-sized salads of dressed mixed greens topped with olives, tomatoes, feta, etc.  Each salad would then be crowned with 2 freshly-grilled shrimp.  The plan worked great and it got reported back to me that many of the guests wanted the recipe for my Greek dressing.  A few weeks later that summer, I invited a few of my women friends here for a relaxing lunch.  I combined my love for simple canned tuna with my new dressing recipe and added some orzo... the result, pictured above and below, now makes at least one annual appearance on my Summer table!

PICT3310 Orzo is a tiny rice-shaped pasta, slightly smaller in size than a pine nut.  It is a great substitution for rice as a wonderful addition to hot soups and cold salads.  Orzo is used a lot in both Greek and Italian cooking, and I loved it the first time I tried it in my assistant Jeanne's Greek soup.  I've developed several very special recipes featuring orzo and plan on having a lot of fun posting those for you too!

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1  12 1/2-ounce can solid white tuna, packed in water, at room temperature, well-drained

1  cup orzo, cooked al dente, rinsed under cold water, well-drained

1/2 cup finely diced yellow or sweet onion

1 1/2 tablespoons capers, packed in vinegar, well-drained (chopped if capers are large)

1/4 cup EVOO

2  tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 1/2  tablespoons Dijon mustard

2  teaspoons Greek seasoning blend

1 1/2  teaspoons dried mint flakes

1/2  teaspoon cracked black pepper

1/4  teaspoon white pepper

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

PICT3314 ~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart stockpot bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Gradually sprinkle in the orzo, adjust heat to a steady simmer and cook until al dente, about 6-8 minutes.

PICT3318 Drain and rinse orzo under cold water.  Set aside to thoroughly drain while prepping the remaining ingredients.

PICT3324 ~ Step 2.  Prep all of the remaining ingredients as directed, placing them in a large mixing bowl as you work.

Using a large rubber spatula, fold all of the ingredients together, breaking large chunks of tuna into smaller bite-sized ones.

While you are working, occasionally revisit the colander of orzo and give it a shake, to keep the water draining out of it.

PICT3329 ~ Step 3.  Gently fold the orzo into the tuna mixture.  Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.  This salad is at its best served very cold.

You can serve the salad simply portioned on top of a bed of mixed greens.  I prefer to hollow out some small, fresh, garden-ripe tomatoes and scoop the salad into them. Read my recipe for:  ~ How to: Hollow Out Tomatoes for Stuffing Them ~, in Categories 4 or 15!

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A Chilled Mediterranean-Style Tuna & Orzo Salad:  Recipe yields 4 1/2-5 cups salad.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart stockpot; colander; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap or food storage container w/lid

PICT3443 Cook's Note:  This salad makes great appetizers too. Scoop it onto cucumber slices or into hollowed out cherry tomatoes and garnish with grated feta cheese and freshly ground black pepper.  Because there is pasta in the salad, you don't even need any crackers!

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

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

05/22/2011

~ How to: Choose, Cook & Sauce Perfect Pasta (A Short Video/Slideshow, 00:41) ~

PICT3261 Eating a spectacular dish of pasta is indeed a most memorable Kitchen Encounter!  The pasta must be cooked al dente with just the right balance of sauce and cheese. Believe it or not, there are actually guidelines for cooking pasta. I'm here to tell you:  Cooking pasta is not an "open the box, boil the pasta and add a bottle of sauce sport"!

To view a short video/slideshow of how I cook and sauce pasta following time-honored principles and classic recipe techniques:

Download How to_ Choose, Cook & Sauce Perfect Pasta-Medium

PICT3185 To read all of these guidelines in full, as well as view my step-by-step photos, just click into Categories 12, 14 or 15 and go to ~ How to:  Choose, Cook & Sauce Perfect Pasta ~!

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

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

~ How to: Choose, Cook & Sauce Perfect Pasta ~

PICT3253 The world is full of pasta-bilities!  Our modern marketplaces have supplied all of our demands with hundreds of shapes, sizes, colors and flavors of both dried and fresh pasta.  I suppose it is because pasta is relatively quick and seemingly easy to cook that many Americans impulsively try to create their own versions of well-known pasta dishes having little or no knowledge of the tried and true, time-honored principles and classic recipe techniques these recipes require. What is worse, many American restaurants do the same thing.  I for one have no problem eating a slightly over-cooked or over-sauced pasta dish served to me by a friend who has put forth their best effort. On the other hand, some of the lifeless, lack-luster, overly-sauced, overly-salted pasta dishes served at many chain restaurants should be outlawed!

PICT3280 #1)  Choosing Pasta.  There are two types of pasta:  dried and fresh. Dried pasta is commercially made using semolina (wheat) and durum flour (wheat).  Fresh pasta is made with flour and eggs.  Both are available in countless shapes and sizes.  Do not fall into the snobbish trap of only eating fresh pasta, or only eating dried pasta, or only eating one shape of pasta. Each type and shape has a specific purpose and they are usually not interchangeable.  The basic rule for both dried and fresh pasta is:  the more delicate the sauce, the more delicate the pasta.  Dried pasta , like spaghetti and penne, hold up under the weight of heavy sauces.  Dried pasta shapes are also great for baked casseroles, like mac & cheese or stuffed shells.  Fresh pasta, which breaks more easily, requires a light sauce and/or should be used to to make filled-pasta like tortellini or ravioli.  As with all cooking, there are exceptions to every rule so:  when in unfamiliar territory, trust the recipe you are following!

As for trendy dried or fresh pasta found colored or flavored with exotic items like squid ink and truffle, simply stated:  for the most part they are a waste of money because flour and the cooking process deaden the expensive flavors.  On the other hand, gourmet pasta that contains herbs like, cracked pepper, basil or rosemary impart lovely flavor into the dish being served, as long as it is chosen to complement the dish being served.  That being said, colored pasta is a lot of fun to serve, especially the colors of the Italian flag:  egg (white), spinach (green), and, tomato (red)!

Scampi #2 (On Fork Closeup) #2) Portioning Pasta.  Authorities say that one pound of pasta will produce 4-6 servings, depending upon whether it is served as a starter, entree or side-serving.  I, however, find that realistically, one pound of pasta produces 3-5 servings, and, in the case of thin strands, like angel hair, it is best to plan on one pound of pasta producing just 2-4 servings.  If you are adding meat, seafood or vegetables to the dish, that will stretch it farther.  It's  amazing to me just how much pasta people eat!

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#3)  Boiling Pasta.  Pasta needs a large pot filled with enough water so it can move freely.  My general rule for 1-1 1/2 pounds of pasta is: In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil. When the water reaches a rolling boil, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt.  Authorities say to add 1 or more tablespoons of salt, but I personally think that is too much... I want my pasta to be mildly salted, not salty.

Never add oil to the pasta water.  Oil does nothing except enjoy a free ride on top of the water, not to mention prevents the sauce from sticking to the pasta!

Gradually add the pasta to the water, in order to keep the water boiling and the pasta separated. This being said, once all of the pasta has been added, using a large spoon, stir it around until it has softened and is all swimming around under the water.  Next, lower the heat to a steady simmer, as boiling damages even the heartiest pasta.

PICT3290 #4.  Timing Pasta.  Always use the cooking instructions on the package combined with a reliable timer as a guideline.  The cooking time will vary with each type and shape of pasta.  Dried pasta will take considerably longer to cook than freshly made pasta, approximately 8-12 minutes depending upon the shape or thickness, with short pasta taking longer to cook than long, stranded pasta because short pasta is thicker.  Fresh pasta will cook very quickly, in some cases as quickly as 1-2 minutes, but like dried pasta, shape and thickness will determine the time.  The longer fresh pasta dries, the longer the cooking time.  When cooking either dried or fresh pasta, be prepared to stand by the stove during the last 1-2 minutes and taste test as often as every 15-30 seconds... which can be the difference between perfection and disaster.

Macaroni & Cheese #2 (Intro Picture Closeup) Only a fool throws pasta against the wall to test for doneness.  The only test for doneness is "al dente", meaning "to the tooth" or "when it is right for the tooth", which means you have to taste it.  Pasta should be slightly resistant, yet cooked through and not soft or mushy. Pasta continues to cook even after draining, so it is best to remove it from the heat slightly undercooked. Also keep in mind that if pasta is to be baked after boiling, like for mac & cheese, cook it even less.

PICT3293 #5.  Draining Pasta.  Immediately, and gently, transfer cooked pasta from the pot into a large colander. In the case of delicate or filled-pasta, use a hand-held colander to gently transfer the pasta into the large colander.   Give the colander a few very gentle shakes to drain away all excess water.  Never rinse pasta in water, unless preparing a cold pasta dish, like macaroni salad, in which case it must be rinsed in very cold water to halt the cooking process.  Occasionally a recipe will call for a little reserved pasta water, so be sure to reserve this liquid (and a bit extra) just prior to draining.  Here is the best pasta tip you are ever going to get anywhere, and it is why I am constantly asked why my pasta tastes better than everyone elses:

PICT3215Immediately return the hot pasta to the still warm stockpot and place the stockpot on the still warm stovetop.  For every 2 ounces of pasta you have cooked, add 1 tablespoon of salted butter (preferably at room temperature). Give it a gentle but thorough stir, just until the pasta is evenly coated in the melted butter.  Cover and let it sit on stovetop 1-2 minutes, to allow the pasta time to absorb all of the butter.  The butter is going to impart rich flavor to your pasta (instead of just getting it from overly salted water) and it is actually going to make the sauce stick to each strand or piece of pasta.  This buttering trick also complements any sauce you are about to add!

PICT3223 #6)  Saucing Pasta.  Be sure to have any sauce/and or other ingredients ready/warm and waiting for the pasta to cook, never vice versa. Do not add all of the sauce at once.  The pasta may not need it, and extra sauce can be served at tableside to suit individual preferences.  A pasta dish that has been perfectly sauced and tossed has no sauce puddled on the plate or in the bottom of the bowl, before or after eating it.  Authentic Italian pasta is never soaked in or over-sauced.  This is typically the biggest mistakes Americans and American restaurants make.  The sauce pictured here is ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~, and you can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 8, 12 or 22.  For 12-16 ounces of spaghetti, I use 1-1/2-2 cups of sauce... no more!

PICT3185 Depending upon the recipe, consider adding some grated cheese to the pot too.  My favorite is Parmigiano-Reggiano and for 12-16-ounces of pasta you'll need about 3-4 tablespoons.  Other favorites of mine are Grana Padano (similar to Parm.-Regg.), Locatelli (Pecorino-Romano), or a well-aged Asiago.  Be sure to use a microplane grater to finely grate whatever cheese you are adding!

PICT3239 #7)  Tossing Pasta.  Tossing is the step that transforms the sauce and the pasta into a single dish, instead of two separate items.  If you have cooked short pasta, like rigatoni, a large spoon works best. If you are tossing strands, like spaghetti, a pair of tongs works best.  Sometimes a recipe calls for drained pasta to be sauced and tossed with sauce ingredients that are simmering in a very large skillet. If this is the case, proceed with my instructions through to adding the butter, then follow that recipe as directed.

Fettuccine Alfredo #1 (Intro Picture)#8.  Serving Pasta.  There are two options. Family-style:  transfer pasta to a large, warmed serving platter; Individual portions:  transfer pasta to warmed, shallow pasta bowls. When serving individual portions, use tongs.  Twirl the pasta, to make it look like a bird's nest in the center of each bowl.  In either case, a wedge of cheese and a cheese grater should be on the table.

REMEMBER:  from the minute the pasta is cooked, there is no time for pause or delay. Drain, sauce, toss, serve and eat!!!

PICT3272 How to:  Choose, Cook & Sauce Perfect Pasta:  Recipe yields instructions to cook perfect pasta every time!

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot w/lid (or stockpot sized appropriately for how much pasta is being cooked); colander; large spoon; tongs; microplane grater

Cook's Note:  Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall... pasta is always in season.  Perfectly cooked and sauced pasta will change your life and the lives of those around you!

PICT0285 Extra Cook's Note:  Photos contained in this post are of my recipes for:  ~ Succulent Shrimp Scampi w/Lemony Linguini ~, found in Categories 3, 12, 14 & 19; ~ Creamy Baked Five-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese ~, found in Categories 4, 14, 17 & 18; and, ~ Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo a la Primavera-Style ~, found in Categories 4, 12 & 14; and this one: ~ 4th of July Yankee Doodle Dandy Macaroni Salad ~, found in Categories 4, 10, 11 & 14!  

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

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

05/21/2011

~ Rapture Dinner (5/21): A New Holiday for Foodies ~

PICT3254In the beginning... I was intent on letting this day go by uncommented upon.  After all, the world has enough problems without actually making plans for our extinction.  But then, yesterday, Facebook came alive with all sorts of "what do we cook for the last day of our foodie lives' posts". By 3:00PM, I couldn't hold back and found myself gleefully commenting on several of them (and I must say the discussed menus were all superb).  Then, two people asked me what I was serving for my Rapture Dinner and one person inquired as to whether I was giving a Rapture Party.  Good God... seriously?!?  Last night around 10:00PM, my cousin in New Jersey called me and I found myself looking up the "World Timeline" on the internet to report to him exactly when the festivities were scheduled to start somewhere in New Zealand!

PICT3272 As I told many of you on Facebook yesterday, if  at 6:00PM EST today I am indeed leaving this earth in search of a new Kitchen Encounter, it will be after I eat a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs.  I intend to "check out" with red gravy dripped upon my white sweatshirt, garlic on my breath and a meatball in hand. May the force be with all of you!!!

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

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

05/20/2011

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (5/20/11) ~

Culinary Q & A #2TGIF!!!  Kitchen Encounters had an absolutely wonderful past week! My friend Pat dropped by with a basket of freshly picked morel mushrooms, which prompted me to make and post my very special recipe for ~ A French Chicken Fricassee w/Morel Mushrooms ~, which you can read by clicking into Categories 3 or 21.  I can tell you, "this is not your grandmother's fricassee"!  

To view a short video/slideshow of this exquisite dish:

Download A French Chicken Fricassee w_Morel Mushrooms-Medium_2

PICT3141 Yesterday, Melanie's Kitchen had another shoot with WHVL-TV for my segment on their Sunday morning Center of it All show.  

I prepared my ~ Carolina-Style Pulled-Pork BBQ/Sandwiches ~, and, ~ Mel's Creamy, Crunchy Cole Slaw ~.  I have to tell you this was our "funnest" shoot so far, just because EVERYONE gets into "low and slow" Southern barbecue.  It was so much fun, it was even worth getting up at 4:00AM to get the pork started, which after that, is a 6-7 hour cooking process.  You can get my recipe for the pulled-pork by clicking into Categories 2, 10 or 17 and my slaw recipe by clicking into Categories 4, 10 or 17.  This is a menu that will keep you cooking outdoors from Memorial Day to Labor Day!

Kitchen Encounters got one great comment and one great question this week from two of my Facebook friends:

PICT2133 C. Patty says:  Mel, I cannot thank you enough for posting your tips for grilling steak for me.  I bought two T-bones last week and asked the man at the meat counter to cut them 1 1/2" thick.  I brought them to room temperature and cooked them, just as you said to do, and my husband Peter said it was the best steak he ever ate... or the best one I ever cooked for him!

A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Patty, there are many aspects to a happy marriage and grilling a good T-bone is one of them!

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PICT3082 Q. Gill asks:  Melanie, my mouth has been watering ever since I saw your fricassee post.  I cook for myself and sometimes my brother and his wife. I like to cook, but I'm always afraid to substitute ingredients in a recipe.  I don't have access to morels and also can't afford their sticker price.  What do you suggest in place of them?

A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Gill any mushrooms you have or can afford will do just fine.  You always want to use white button mushrooms for the part of the recipe where you add them to the sauteing chicken.  As for other mushrooms to add to the sauce and garnish with, cremini would add a nice woodsy flavor to finish off the dish.  That being said, if all you have are white button mushrooms, use them in both instances.  On a side note, if asparagus is not in season, fresh or frozen peas are a great substitute.  Fricassee is more of a method than a recipe, so once you understand how it is prepared you can get relatively creative.  Fricassee comes from the French word "frire", meaning "to fry", and in France a chicken is usually cut into eight parts and fried, although veal makes an excellent fricassee as well.  Thanks for the great comment Gill and let me know how your fricassee comes out! 

PICT2797Have a great weekend everyone!  I leave you all with this picture of the beautiful morel mushrooms my friend Pat gifted me with.  I have a few left and I am looking forward to posting an omelette recipe either tomorrow or Sunday! 

Once again:  To leave a comment or 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

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

05/16/2011

~ A French Chicken Fricassee w/Morel Mushrooms (A Short Video/Slideshow, 01:37) ~

PICT3051 This is one of those recipes that is made with love.  Yes, it takes a bit of time to prepare, but it is time well spent.  Time spent in your kitchen, where in the true French style, a few fresh ingredients, when prepared properly, turn into one elegant, exquisite meal.  A meal reminiscent of those Sunday dinners at your grandmother's house yet worthy of fine-dining at a five-star restaurant!

I prepare it every year at this time when my "roon" friend of thirtysome years gifts me with "the aristocrats of the fungal world":  freshly-picked morel mushrooms.  If you have access to morels, I highly-suggest you give this recipe a try... it is guaranteed to take you back in time to a kinder, gentler world!

PICT2797 To view a short video/slideshow of how I prepare this extraordinary meal:

Download A French Chicken Fricassee w_Morel Mushrooms-Medium_2

To start making this delicious meal yourself, and/or learn more about morel mushrooms, just click into Categories 3 or 21 of my my blog!


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

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

~ A French Chicken Fricassee w/Morel Mushrooms ~

PICT3086 A classic French fricassee is a dish of poultry, game bird or other white meat such as rabbit or veal, that has been sauteed in butter.  The word fricassee comes from the French word "frire", which means "to fry".  Fricassee is more of a method than a recipe, so once you understand how a fricassee is made, you can get relatively creative.  The pan is usually deglazed with a little white wine and the poultry/meat is then simmered in stock.  Once the poultry or meat is cooked, the liquid is then thickened with cream or a mixture of cream and egg yolk.  Fresh, in season vegetables, which have all been cooked to perfection, either singularly or collectively in their own juices, are added at the end of the cooking process (this is where a fricassee technically differs from an ordinary stew). The end result is a rich, thick, chunky, stew-like meal that is usually served over rice. While a true French fricassee is not hard to make, to do it properly you need a few hours of time and I am here to tell you this is time well spent.  As with many French dishes, a few simple ingredients, each one properly cooked, magically transform themselves into one exquisite meal, and this recipe is no exception.  In fact, I'll take it as far to say that every bite of this fricasee is a work of art. Whenever I make my chicken fricasee, I can't help but imagine a quaint French farmhouse kitchen with a huge wooden table full of fresh garden produce, an ice box containing a freshly drawn/cleaned/cut up chicken and a husband walking through the door carrying a pail of freshly-picked woodsy mushrooms!

PICT2797 If you are lucky enough to find or have access to fresh morel mushrooms (which are in season here in Pennsylvania during the months of April and May), my recipe is even more amazing, fabulous and decadent.  In fact, it is precisely because of these mushrooms that I developed the recipe I'm going to share with you today.  I just happen to be one of the luckiest foodies in Centre County, as:  

One of my closest foodie friends of thirtysome years, Pat, is a "roon". Roon is defined as:  a person possessed by extreme or insatiable desires for morel mushrooms (not be be confused with a 'schoomer, who is a person who picks mushrooms in general). Roons are very secretive about keeping the discovery of their "hood", or morel patch, from other roons and the public at large, so do not be insulted if they refuse to share their prime location with you.  Since morels come back/grow in the same spot every year, coupled with their short growing season, I for one understand and appreciate this possessive behavior.  All I know about Pat's hood is: every year, for a period of about 2 weeks during the month of May, Pat frequently knocks on my door with a gift of freshly picked morels!

PICT2789 A bit about morels:  Morels and truffles are referred to as the aristocrats of the fungal world. Morels have a spongy, honeycombed, cone-shaped cap which ranges in size from about 2-5-inches and a color which ranges from a honey-tan to a chocolate-brown.  The darker the color of the cap, the more intense the flavor. That being said, all morels have a smoky, nutty, earthy flavor which I can only describe as devine.  Fresh morels in their prime should be firm, but still spongy and should never be consumed raw, as they contain a toxin which is eliminated only by cooking. Morels should never be washed, but should always be cleaned prior to cooking as their hollow center is a magnet for tiny ants, bugs and other pests to hide.  I like to cut my morels in half lengthwise, then brush the inside with a damp cloth or even a small toothbrush.  Occasionally I cut them into ringlets or "O's", then give the pan of them a gentle shake, which works fine as well. Morels are so flavorful, the simplest method of cooking just happens to be the best method: Saute them for 2-3 minutes in a few tablespoons of melted butter and season them with a bit of sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg!

In French, the term "mise en place", means "everything in its place".  It also refers to having all of your ingredients prepped and in order, prior to the start of actual cooking.  No matter what I am cooking, I run and teach the methods of a French kitchen, which means the kitchen is as clean and organized at the start of cooking as it is at the finish of cooking.  Here is your ingredients list, and I assure you, if you have everything prepped and "everything in its place" as directed, you will find this lesson in French fricasee a most enjoyable one

For the chicken:

1  quart chicken stock, preferably homemade

6  large, meaty, bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves, about 5 pounds

ground nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper, for seasoning chicken

Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy, for sprinkling on chicken

6  tablespoons salted butter, plus 3 tablespoons olive oil, for sauteing chicken

1/2  cup sweet white wine, for deglazing pan

1  pound diced yellow or sweet onion 

For the remaining vegetables:

PICT2800 36  fresh asparagus spears, medium-thickness, about 1 1/2-2 pounds, spears cut into 2 1/2" lengths and stalks cut into 1/2" pieces, woody ends discarded

 

PICT2810 1  pound frozen white pearl onions, unthawed (Feel free to substitute 1 pound of peeled, fresh pearl onions, but for convenience sake, you are not compromising flavor or texture by using frozen ones.)

 

PICT2816 1  pound peeled carrots, sliced into 1/4" coins

 

 

 

PICT2829 1  pound fresh, white button mushroom caps, wiped clean and sliced into sixths

 

 

PICT2867 1  pound fresh, morel mushrooms, sliced into ringlets ("O's") and gently shaken to clean

 

PICT3045 1/2  pound additional fresh, morel mushrooms, sliced lengthwise and wiped clean, for garnishing fricasee

 

 

12  tablespoons additional salted butter, for sauteing mushrooms (1 1/2 sticks)

additional ground nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper, for seasoning mushrooms

2  cups heavy or whipping cream

4  jumbo egg yolks

4  additional tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauce and gravy

6  cups uncooked extra long-grain white rice (You can find my recipe for ~ How to:  Cook Perfect White Rice on the Stovetop ~ in Categories 4 & 15.)

~ Step 1.  Prep and have ready all of the vegetables as listed, including the yellow or sweet onion listed with the ingredients for the chicken.  For a closeup view of how to prep these veggies, just click on any of the small pictures shown above.

PICT2892 ~ Step 2.  Rinse the chicken breasts under cold running water and pat dry in paper towels.  Place, skin side up, on a clean work surface and lightly season the top of each with a light sprinkling of ground nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper. Generously sprinkle flour over all. Set aside for about 30 minutes, to allow the flour to absorb moisture from the chicken.  During this time:

PICT2807 ~ Steps 3, 4 & 5.  In a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, bring 3/4" of water to a boil with 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.  Add the asparagus spears and pieces. Adjust heat to simmer, 1 1/2-2 minutes, or until the asparagus is just slightly undercooked.  Drain thoroughly and rinse/shock under cold running water to halt the cooking process and return the asparagus to below room temperature.  Separate the spears from the pieces and set aside.  In the same chef's pan, repeat this process two more times with the frozen pearl onions and the coined carrots.  Simmer the onions for 1 1/2-2 minutes and the carrots for 2-3 minutes.  Each should be slightly undercooked.  Drain well, shock under cold running water and separately set each aside.

PICT2853 ~ Step 6.  In the same chef's pan melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over low heat.  Add the white button mushroom pieces and season with a light sprinkling of ground nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper.  Adjust heat to saute, about 2 1/2-3 minutes, or until just cooked through and very juicy.  Transfer mushrooms and all of their juices to a small bowl and set aside.

PICT2875 ~ Step 7.  Repeat Step 6, melting the next 4 tablespoons of butter and adding the morel ringlets to the pan. Season as directed above and saute, until morels are just cooked through and very juicy, about 1 1/2-2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the morels to a plate and add any/all of their juices to the bowl containing the white mushrooms.

~ Step 8.  Repeat Step 7, melting the last of the butter and adding the morels that have been cut in half lengthwise to the pan. Season as directed above and saute, until morels are just cooked through, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the morel halves to a plate and add any/all of their juices to the bowl containing the white mushrooms.  Now that all of the vegetables are properly cooked it is time to saute the chicken and cook the fricassee!

PICT2902~ Step 9.  in a 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, melt the 6 tablespoons of butter into the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over low heat.  Place all of the chicken breasts in the pan, floured side down.  Lightly season the second side of each breast with ground nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper. Generously sprinkle flour over all.

PICT2915 Adjust heat to saute, until first side of breasts are golden brown, 12-15 minutes.  Using a large spatula, flip breasts over and add the diced onions, using the spatula to direct the onions between the breasts and down into the hot bottom of the pan. Continue to saute, until the breasts are golden brown on the second side, 12-15 minutes.

PICT2923 Add the white wine.  Using spatula, deglaze the pan by scraping all of the browned bits and pieces from the bottom of the pan.

PICT2953

 

 

 

 

Add the chicken stock, white mushrooms and all of their liquid to the pan.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer, partially cover and continue to simmer for 30-45 minutes.*  At the end of this time, the liquid will be the color of brown chicken stock and reduced by about one-half.  Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

*While chicken is simmering, this is the ideal time to cook the rice.

PICT2979 Using a large slotted spoon, transfer chicken breasts from pan to a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dish. Cover with aluminum foil and place in preheated oven, to keep warm, until serving time.  

Things are going to move very quickly now:

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~ Step 10.  In a small bowl whisk together the cream and egg yolks. Add that mixture to the simmering liquid in the pan along with the additional flour.  Continue whisking until the mixture is smooth and flour is thoroughly incorporated, about 1 minute.

PICT2995

 

 

~ Step 11.  Add the asparagus pieces, pearl onions and carrot coins to the simmering mixture. Adjust heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, until vegetables are heated through and mixture is steaming.

PICT3038

 

 

~ Step 12.  Gently fold the morel ringlets into this rich and decadent vegetable "stew".  Gently stir, just until morels are heated through, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat. Do not overcook.

To serve: on 6 warm serving plates, place a chicken breast alongside 2 cups of rice.  Ladle a generous portion of sauce over all. Arrange 6 asparagus spears on each and divide/portion the remaining morel halves on top of each serving. Serve immediately and pass additional sauce at tableside.

PICT3082A French Chicken Fricassee w/Morel Mushrooms:  Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; paper towels; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; colander; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; 1-cup measuring container: 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dish; large spatula; large slotted spoon; whisk; soup ladle

PICT3048 Cook's Note:  This recipe does take time to make but is not hard to make. What I am trying to say is:  if you are looking to try your hand at preparing a truly exquisite meal and are willing to follow some easy, step-by-step directions, this recipe is THE hands-on cooking class for you!

Extra Cook's Note:  Classically, this recipe would be made using one entire chicken which has been cut into 8 pieces.  For presentation and portioning purposes, I personally prefer to use just the meaty breasts.  Feel free to use the cut(s) of chicken that pleases you and yours the most. FYI:  The 14" chef's pan specified above will hold 6 large breasts, 8 leg-thigh portions or 12-14 thighs.  Follow the recipe as directed. 

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

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

05/12/2011

~ Mel's Top 5 Tips for: Grilling 5 Perfect Steaks ~

PICT2640 At about this time every year (shortly before the Memorial Day holiday), one of my students, a friend or a guest at my house will inevitably ask me:  "How does one cook the perfect steak? The kind that is tender, juicy and pink in the middle.  I can never get mine timed right."  That is a harder question to answer than you might think, because there is no magic formula for me to hand out.  I want to start by saying that grilling in general is a very arbitrary sport and all sorts of things, including the weather, affect the final outcome.  To quote my son Jess, who is an expert at the grill:  "it's done when it's done"!

PICT2616 It seems that when it comes to grilling, steaks cause people the most angst, so today I'm going to focus on the best tips I can give you for grilling just steak.  You won't find me making mention of filet mignon on this post because it is so lean that I prefer to pan sear it, where I can add my own fats and flavors to the skillet.

The two most purchased cuts of bone-in steak, which are often lumped together because they are nearly identical, are the Porterhouse and the T-bone.  Both contain a portion of the tenderloin on one side of the bone and a portion of strip loin on the other.  Because of what part of the steer each is cut from,  the Porterhouse contains a larger portion of the tenderloin, while the T-bone contains a larger portion of the strip loin.   The steak on the left in the above picture is a Porterhouse.  The steak on the right is a T-bone.  The grilled steak in the finished picture at the top of this post is a 1 1/2"-thick Porterhouse, and as you can see, when it is properly sliced there is enough meat on it to feed two people!

PICT2605The next two very popular steaks, almost always purchased without the bone, are the rib-eye (sometimes marketed as a Delmonico) and strip loin (sometimes marketed as a NY strip).  The steak in the top of this picture is a rib-eye and the steak on the bottom is a strip loin.  Do you notice the marbling (interior fat) in the rib-eye?  This marbling is what makes this steak particularly user-friendly, meaning:  even if you slightly overcook it to medium, it will still be tender and juicy.  

PICT2678 Rib-eyes can be purchased bone-in, are called bone-in rib-eyes and I just adore them. When still attached to the bone a strip steak becomes a Porterhouse or a T-bone steak.

The steak on the left is my perfectly grilled rib-eye and the steak on the right is my perfectly grilled strip loin!

PICT2726 Lastly, there is flank steak.  It is a large, extremely lean, thin, flat steak cut from the abdominal muscles of the steer.  It is much tougher than other steaks, and fares best cooked for a short period of time over high heat and served rare to medium-rare.  I like to purchase a large one between 1 1/2-2 pounds.

PICT2736To get a flank steak of this size to this doneness, will take about 12-16 minutes, or 6-8 minutes per side, which includes searing time (see Tip #3 below).  ALWAYS, cut a flank steak across the grain, holding the knife at a 30 degree angle.  Very thin slices are melt-in-your-mouth tender!

PICT2763 Like all of the above steaks, flank steak can be served with everything from a green salad and a baked potato, to potato salad, cole slaw and/or baked beans. This being said, flank steak just loves to be marinated or rubbed with spices and makes terrific sandwiches.

Click into Categories 2, 10 or 17 to get my recipe for my spicy ~ Blackened Flank Steak & Bacon Sandwiches ~!

Nothing compares to that first tender, juicy steak of the grill season, and now that we're all seriously hungry, let's move onto:

IMG_7999My top 5 tips for perfectly grilled steak(s):

Tip #1:  All grills are not created equal:  make friends with your heat source.  Joe and I have four different grills and each one of them cooks differently.  Joe has his favorite grill and I have mine.  Purists will tell you to use natural hardwood charcoal started in a chimney without using lighter fluid, but I am a bit more open-minded.  Use the equipment you have, are allowed to have (lots of apartments, etc., have restrictions), can afford or are just plain comfortable with and make the most of it.  The next time you cook a steak on your favorite grill, make a note of the type of steak you cooked, how thick it was and how long it took you to get it to the doneness of your liking, cooking it on both sides, turning/flipping it over once halfway through the grilling time.  (Note:  Giving steak a 45 degree turn on the grill grates, to achieve that pretty crosshatch pattern that everyone likes to see, does not count in terms of turning/flipping it over only once... feel free to do that on each side of the steak as you cook it.)  Before you know it, you'll have a log that will have you cooking perfect steaks for yourself, your friends and family every time!

Tip #2:  All steaks are not created equal:  they all contain a different fat content which causes different cuts to cook differently.  Buy the best quality steak you can afford and ask your butcher to cut it fresh and to your specifications.  Start by trimming excess fat from the steak, taking it down to about 1/8"-1/4".  This will help prevent flare-ups, which happen as excess fat melts down into the flames.  Thickness affects cooking time the most and experience has taught me that skinny steaks are too easy to overcook.  For instance: My favorite thickness for a T-bone, and all steaks in general,  is 1 1/2", and I like my steak rare. On my favorite grill, I cook that steak 5-6 minutes per side.  I have also found that allowing all steaks to come to room temperature prior to grilling them contributes a lot to the end result.  Call me crazy, but I think if the fat and meat are at room temp when they go onto the hot grill, the steak comes off tenderer and juicier!

Note:  When it comes to purchasing steak, you'll have two choices:  wet-aged or dry-aged.  Wet-aged meat has been vacuum-packed, in its own juices, in plastic.  It is kept in a controlled environment that allows its enzymes to tenderize it.  Dry-aged meat, while also kept in a controlled environment, involves a more complicated process of exposing the meat to air while controlling temperature, humidity and air circulation for 2-3 weeks.  Dry-aged meat is more expensive, because at the end of the process up to 20% of the meat (that which has been exposed to the air) is removed/wasted. While dry-aged steaks are my personal favorite, you'll have to try each one, side-by-side and judge for yourself! 

Tip #3:  Always start your steaks over high heat and finish over medium heat.  This is less complicated than it sounds.  You want to sear your steaks, relatively quickly, over high heat, to lock in the juices.  To ensure a good sear, blot the steaks with a paper towel before putting them on the hot grill as moisture prevents a good sear.  For my favorite 1 1/2"-thick T-bone cooked on my favorite grill, I sear that steak for about 1 1/2-2 minutes per side (thinner steaks require less sear time), then I move it to a medium-heat part of the grill to finish grilling.  When I told you I cook that steak for 5-6 minutes per side, that includes searing time.  You'll know it is time to turn a steak when tiny bubbles/puddles of blood start forming on the top.  Also, if a steaks sticks to the grill grids when you try to turn it, it is not ready to be turned.  Try again in another 20-30 seconds. On a side note:  Always use tongs for turning and moving steaks... poking a steak with a fork allows the flavorful juices to flow out of the steak, defeating the purpose of searing!

Tip #4:  Always allow for rest time:  residual/carryover heat will continue to cook a steak for 8-10 minutes after it as been removed from the grill.  Remove the steak when it is slightly undercooked to your liking, cover it with some aluminum foil and let it rest for 8-10 minutes.  This allows all of the flavorful juices to redistribute themselves evenly throughout the steak.  At that point, if it is still undercooked, put it back on the grill for another minute or so.  You can always cook a steak more, but once you've overcooked it there is no going back in time!

Tip #5:  Buy, beg, borrow or steal an instant-read meat thermometer and make it your best friend.  These reliable gadgets are relatively inexpensive and in my opinion no kitchen should be without at least one.  When it comes to steak:  Rare= 115-120 degrees; Medium-Rare= 125-130 degrees; Medium= 135-140 degrees.  In the steak grilling world, anything past medium is referred to as overcooked and even if you personally like your steak overcooked, I don't recommend serving it to anyone other than your twin in that condition.  Check the steak's temperature 2-3 times during the last 1-2 minutes of the estimated cooking time!

PICT2134 Top 5 Tips for:  Grilling the Perfect Steak(s):  Recipe yields the best tips I can provide for grilling perfect steaks every time.

Cook's Note:  Unless I am following a specific recipe, as far as seasoning steak goes, I like to keep it simple and basic, using just a light sprinkling of coarse sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.  I also don't preseason the steak much in advance.  I season the top side about 10 minutes before I place the steak (seasoned side down) on the grill, then immediately season the second side, while the first side is searing.  After the steak has rested and is ready to be served, I like to garnish it with a pat of homemade compound butter (butter which contains herbs and/or seasonings), but a pat of plain butter will do nicely too! 

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

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

05/10/2011

~ Mel's Spicy Honey-Mustard BBQ Sauce for Pork (A Short Video/Slideshow, 00:32) ~

PICT2503 I have several barbecue sauce recipes and this one is my personal favorite.  I developed it specifically to go with grilled or smoked pork ribs or pork chops, but if you or someone you know is having a pig roast, make a big batch of this sauce and let them go to town!

I modeled this sauce after one I tasted in a rib joint in Atlanta, GA back in the 1980's.  It is mustard-based (rather than ketchup- or tomato-based), sweet, savory and spicy... all of my favorite things!

To view a short video/slideshow of how I make this extraordinary sauce:

Download Mel's Honey-Mustard BBQ Sauce for Pork-Medium

To start making this delicious sauce yourself, click into Categories 8, 10, 17 or 22 to get my recipe along with all of its step-by-step photos!

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

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

~ Mel's Spicy Honey-Mustard BBQ Sauce for Pork ~

6a0120a8551282970b014e8859dfc0970d-800wiIt is pretty much impossible for a picture to describe how delicious a barbecue sauce is and in the Preschutti household we consider this one extraordinary.  I can't say I would use it on anything other than grilled or smoked pork ribs or pork chops, because I developed this sauce to go specifically with the flavor of pork, and more specifically, pork ribs.  That being said, if you or someone you know is having a pig roast, this is the sauce you want to serve with it!

ImagesJoe and I have traveled to "The South" on several occasions, and once you've planted your feet and start to eat on Confederate soil, a Yankee like me quickly realizes just how big the barbecue sauce world is.  I'm not trying to take anything away from Texas or Southwestern barbecue, I'm just sayin' I've learned a lot traveling around the South, and it is where I fell in love with barbecue sauces that are not tomato-based.  It was in Atlanta one night in the early 1980's that I ordered a half-rack of ribs which were served with with what I felt was a spicy, honey-sweet and mustard-based sauce.  Joe and I hadn't been married very long, so I was about 24-25-years old and we were staying at The Peachtree Plaza Hotel, but for the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the rib joint we opted to have dinner at that night.  The ribs also came with a side order of baked-beans, also flavored with the same sauce, which were just as dawg-goned wonderful!

PICT0002About 4-5 years afterward, we had the pleasure of meeting our friend Steve.  At the time, my husband was Vice-President of Engineering for a large, local company and Steve had been hired into their sales force. Steve was/is a native of Atlanta, GA.  That Fall, Steve (a diehard 'Bama fan) was invited into the inner sanctum of our Penn State Tailgate group.  After we got a few drinks and a few football games under our belts, Steve and I started to talk barbecue sauce and he knew EXACTLY what I was talking about.  Steve explained that what I had probably eaten was a version of "Yellow Jackets Barbecue Sauce", one of the signature sauces of Georgia Tech's Yellow Jackets football team.  A few weeks later, Steve even presented me with two bottles of the sauce, to help me make my own version, telling me not to rely too heavily on the ingredients label as almost everyone in Yellow Jackets territory had/has their own personalized recipe for this sauce.  Seriously, folks, this is one superb sauce and my version has been receiving my family and friends accolades for years!

PICT2435

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1  cup honey

1 1/2  cups yellow mustard

1/4  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

2  tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2  tablespoons full-flavor molasses

2  tablespoons tamerind concentrate

1  tablespoon chipotle hot sauce, or cayenne pepper sauce

1 1/2  teaspoons chile blend, or chili powder

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

2  teaspoons dry English mustard

1  teaspoon smoked paprika

1  teaspoon ground turmeric

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon ground chipotle chile pepper

PICT2436 ~ Step 1.  In a 3-quart saucier (or 2-3-4-quart saucepan)  measure and place all of the ingredients as listed.

Note:  A saucier (sauce-ee-ay) is a fancy French word for a flat-bottomed, round-sided pot which makes it extremely easy to whisk sauces in.  Its larger surface is also ideal for reduction as well.  If you do not have a saucier, worry not, a saucepan will work just fine.

PICT2440

 

~ Step 2.  Place the saucier over low heat.  Using a large spoon, stir constantly, until the ingredients are thoroughly combined and the mixture is uniform in color.

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~ Step 3.  Adjust the heat to medium-high to simmer vigorously, whisking constantly to avoid scorching or boiling over, for exactly 3 minutes.  Sauce will be nicely thickened.  Remove from heat, cover and allow to cool for about 1 hour prior to serving warm.

Brush sauce onto grilled pork just before removing meat from the grill and/or serve additional warmed sauce at tableside for dipping and drizzling!

PICT2513 Mel's Spicy Honey-Mustard BBQ Sauce for Pork:  Recipe yields 3 cups sauce.

Special Equipment List: 3-quart saucier w/lid, or a 2-3-4-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; whisk

Cook's Note:  Transfer the cooked sauce to a food storage container, cover and refrigerate indefinitely.  Reheat, just prior to serving, by placing the container in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, stopping to gently stir about every 30 seconds.

Extra Cook's Note:  I have doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled this recipe to make a huge batch of it and the recipe comes out perfectly every time.  If you do that, just remember to increase the size of your saucier accordingly, as the sauce bubbles/foams up as it simmers. There is more good news:  without any compromise in flavor, this sauce can be portioned and frozen to have on hand all year long!

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

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

05/08/2011

~ It's a Mom Thing: My Mother's Perfect Oatmeal ~

6a0120a8551282970b014e8853ad68970dLet me start by wishing all of you moms, step-moms and soon-to-be moms a very Happy Mother's Day!  It took me a bit of pondering to decide what to write about in honor of the Mother's Day holiday.  There is a list a mile long of wonderful things I can tell you about my mom, but when I tried to narrow it down to one, this is a memory that kept coming to the forefront:  Mom made breakfast for our family every day before she went to work -- a good breakfast.  Because of our schedules, we didn't always sit down together as an entire family, and some of my fondest memories are of the breakfasts my brother and I ate together during the school year.

Mom would get up early, letting us kids sleep until the very last second.  When she had breakfast on the breakfast counter she would wake us two up.  We would stagger out to the kitchen and sit down.  While we ate, it was her turn in the bathroom to dress and get ready for work (which was smart because she didn't have to listen to our complaints or witness our breakfast bartering).  A small glass of orange juice or a pre-sliced half of grapefruit always awaited us.  I liked grapefruit days while David preferred orange juice days.  We almost never had cold cereal, although every once in a while we could talk her into buying a box of Cocoa Krispies.  A few times a week there were eggs, sometimes scrambled, sometimes sunny-side up, usually served with bacon, which my brother would hog. When it came to toast, between my grandmother and her sister, our table almost always served homemade bread with homemade jams, jellies and preserves.  English muffins picked up the slack when the bread wasn't homemade.  There were also pancake days and pastry days, but my favorite day was:  oatmeal day! (David... not so much, which was great for me because out of the goodness of my heart I would let him plop a couple of scoops of his oatmeal into my bowl the moment mom was out of sight... our system worked well because he in turn helped me out on scrambled egg day!)  

PICT2372Oatmeal did not come out of a pre-mixed, pre-portioned packet in mom's kitchen, and it is not allowed in mine nowadays either.  

My mother pretty much followed the instructions on the Quaker Oats carton, but enriched it with a pat of butter and a  bit of sugar.  She sliced some banana on top of each of our bowls, and once again, as far as I'm concerned, other fruit has no place on top on my oatmeal. Without exception, this is exactly how I still make oatmeal today:

 

1 1/2 cups whole milk

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons old-fashioned Quaker oats (Note:  if you like your oatmeal thicker, add 2 more tablespoons of oats, if you like your oatmeal thinner, just add 3/4 cup of oats.)

2  tablespoons butter

2  teaspoons sugar

1  banana

PICT2377 In a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan, bring the milk, butter and sugar to a boil over high heat.  Sprinkle in the oatmeal.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.  

Remove the saucepan from heat, cover, and let steep for 5 minutes. Serve immediately topped with sliced banana and a pinch of cinnamon-sugar.

This will serve two school-age children nicely, one hungry college-age boy or my husband Joe!

As my brother and I got older, our before-school breakfast routine changed and I can't finish this post without telling you about one more very special breakfast that he and I regularly shared together.  I'm not 100% sure of this, but I think this next part of  story will come as a complete surprise to my mother.  

When I turned 16, dad bought a third car.  This was not because I was privileged or spoiled (well, actually I was), but because it was practical.  Between my majorette and band practices and my brother's basketball practices, it just made sense that I should chauffeur he and I to back and forth to school.  During this period of time, my mother would get up and leave a few things out on the countertop for breakfast, or, a note full of motherly suggestions. She would wake us up and when she was certain we actually got up, she would leave for work, figuring we were old enough to figure breakfast out, and so we did... and one day, my brother really did:

At age 16, I was now taking well over an hour to do my hair and makeup, which drove my brother nuts because he just wanted to get to school early so he could hangout with his buddies. So, one day, David decided that he would cook breakfast while I was dressing (the opposite of how we were doing it).  On this particular morning, mom had left a box of frozen waffles on the counter.  When I came out of the bathroom, my brother had invented:  The Peanut Butter, Bacon and Toasted-Waffle Breakfast Sandwich.  While he quickly dressed that morning, I washed a few dishes and off we went... eating his ingenious, delicious ready-to-go breakfast on the drive to school, which I am proud to tell you we ate a couple of times a week thereafter.  Ah, the things children are cooking when mom isn't looking!  HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY MOM!!!

PICT2410 It's a Mom Thing:  My Mother's Perfect Oatmeal:  Recipe yields 2 small servings or 1 large serving.

Special Equipment List:  1 1/2-2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon

Cook's Note:  In all seriousness folks, The Peanut Butter, Bacon and Toasted-Waffle Sandwich is really delicious.  I like mine the best when made using chunky-style peanut butter and thick-sliced bacon!  For an added treat, spread a layer of apricot preserves or orange marmalade over the peanut butter during the assembly process!!  That being said, Elvis would have put his mom's sliced bananas on the sandwich after the peanut butter!!!

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

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

05/06/2011

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (5/6/11) ~

Culinary Q & A #2 Kitchen Encounters kicked off the grilling season this week and I want to thank you for all of your great feedback both here and over on my Facebook page!

Earlier in the week I posted my recipes for two great condiments that will add pizazz to whatever you are grilling:

My ~ Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing ~, found in Categories 8 & 10, will turn an ordinary garden salad into a show stopper that will compliment any steak  you grill all summer long.  My ~ Apricot-Mustard Sauce: For Dipping & Drizzling ~, also found in Categories 8 & 10, will take any chicken breast, pork or veal chop, as well as baked acorn or butternut squash and sweet potatoes over the top!

To view a short video/slideshow of how to make these two easy recipes:

Download Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing-Medium

Download Apricot-Mustard Sauce_ For Dipping or Drizzling-Medium

After I posted my picture of our first T-bone steak of the season over on Facebook, my friend Patty asked an important question:

PICT2124 Q.  Patty asks:  How do you cook a steak so it comes out medium with a little pink in the middle?  I can never get mine timed right.

A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Patty, this is a question that is harder to answer than one might think, because there is no magic formula for me to hand out.  Grilling is a very arbitrary sport, and all sorts of things, including the weather, affect the final outcome.  To quote my son Jess, who is an expert at the grill, "it's done when it's done"!   Steaks, in particular, seem to cause people the most angst, so don't feel alone.  I can, however, offer my top 5 tips that are sure to help:

Tip #1:  All grills are not created equal:  make friends with your heat source.  Joe and I have three different grills and each one of them cooks differently.  Joe has his favorite grill and I have mine.  The next time you cook a steak on your favorite grill, make a note of the type of steak you cooked, how thick it was and how long it took you to get it to medium, cooking it on both sides, turning it over once halfway through the grilling time.  Before you know it, you'll have a log that will have you cooking perfect steaks for yourself, your friends and family each and every time!

Tip #2:  All steaks are not created equal:  they all contain a different fat content which causes different cuts to cook differently.  That being said, the thickness affects cooking time a lot.  For instance:  My favorite thickness for a T-Bone is 1 1/2", and I like my steak rare.  On my favorite grill, I cook that steak 5-6 minutes per side.  I have also found that allowing all steaks to come to room temperature prior to grilling them contributes a lot to the end result.  Call me crazy, but I think if the fat and meat are at room temp when they go onto the hot grill, the steak comes off tenderer and juicier!

Tip #3:  Always start your steaks over high heat and finish over medium heat.  This is less complicated than it sounds.  You want to sear your steaks, relatively quickly, over high heat, to lock in the juices.  For my favorite 1 1/2"-thick T-Bone cooked on my favorite grill, I sear that steak for about 1 1/2-2 minutes per side (thinner steaks require less sear time), then I move it to a medium-heat part of the grill to finish grilling.  When I told you I cook that steak for 5-6 minutes per side, that includes searing time.  On a side note:  Always use tongs for turning and moving steaks... poking a steak with a fork allows the flavorful juices to flow out of the steak, defeating the purpose of searing! 

Tip #4:  Always allow for rest time:  residual/carryover heat will continue to cook a steak for 8-10 minutes after it has been removed from the grill.  I remove my steak when it is slightly undercooked to my liking, cover it with some foil, and let it rest for 8-10 minutes.  At that point, if it is still slightly undercooked put it back on the grill for another minute or so.  You can always cook a steak more, but once you've overcooked it there is no going back in time!

Tip #5:  Buy, beg, borrow or steal an instant-read meat thermometer and make it your best friend.  These gadgets are relatively inexpensive and in my opinion no kitchen should be without at least one.  Check the steak's temperature 2-3 times during the last 1-2 minutes of the estimated cooking time!

Happy grilling season, have a nice weekend everyone, and once again:  To leave a comment or 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

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

05/04/2011

~ Apricot-Mustard Sauce: For Dipping or Drizzling (A Short Video/Slideshow, 00:34) ~

PICT2306

In the late 1970's, two women, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins founded and opened a small food shop in Manhattan named:  The Silver Palate.  One of their products, Apricot-Mustard Sauce, was always a staple in my pantry, and when my boys were growing up, I used to order it by the case.  To view a quick video/slideshow of how I make my version of this fantastic sauce:

Download Apricot-Mustard Sauce_ For Dipping or Drizzling-Medium

PICT2248 While this sauce is regal enough to be served at a fancy dinner party to accompany an elegant scaloppine of veal, it pairs perfectly with grilled chicken breasts, Vidalia onion slices, small Campari tomatoes and baked sweet potatoes... not to mention grilled pork or veal chops and acorn or butternut squash!

To start making this delicious sauce yourself, click into Categorory 8 or 10 to get my recipe along with all of its step-by-step photos!

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

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

~ Apricot-Mustard Sauce: For Dipping or Drizzling ~

PICT2306 In the late 1970's, two women, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins opened a small food shop in Manhattan named:  The Silver Palate.  For that period in history, they had an extremely unique concept:  gourmet take-out meals, for all courses and all occasions.  Their shop met with rave reviews and national acclaim, which was followed by The Silver Palate Cookbook, then a second book, The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook.  A line of specialty food products was then marketed to, and found in, gourmet food shops across America, which made it possible for all of us cooks to enhance our own food using their condiments and sauces.  

PICT2243 One of their products, Apricot-Mustard Sauce, was always a staple in my pantry.  There was a time, back in the early '90's (a pre-internet time in my life), when I ordered this sauce by the case, via The Country Sampler, a small cooking store that used to be located right here in my now hometown of Boalsburg.  Everyone in our family, except for my son Jess who does not like fruit, adored it.  As the years went by, The Country Sampler closed it doors, my kids grew up and moved away, and I found myself ordering it a few bottles at a time over the internet a couple of times a year.  This fruity, sweet and savory sauce is fantastic on grilled chicken breasts, pork or veal chops, as well as baked acorn or butternut squash and sweet potatoes.  I'm about to give you my recipe for duplicating this sauce at home, but I am not telling you not to buy it because it is indeed wonderful!  

About five years ago, Joe and I had very close friends coming to visit from San Diego, CA.  Sue mentioned that she would love it if I would make that "grilled chicken with the fruit sauce that I love so much".  I knew exactly what she was talking about, but unfortunately my "cupboard was bare" and I only had about half a bottle of the sauce in my refrigerator.  

The good news:  I had been dabbling around in recipe development for a few years by then and was getting rather good at developing/imitating recipes based upon the ingredients listed on the labels of bottles, boxes or cans.  In the case of this sauce's label, the obvious ingredients were provided, but I was left to my own devices when I got to "spices" on the list. What I came up with is extremely close in taste and texture to theirs, but I did "tweek" it to suit my own palate.  My husband Joe said he liked it even better than theirs and that was just the critique I was looking for to stop buying it!

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1  12-13-ounce jar apricot preserves, the best available

1/2  cup Dijon mustard

1/4  cup honey

2  tablespoons apple juice

2  tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/4  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

1  tablespoon granulated sugar

1/4  teaspoon ground ginger

1/4  teaspoon ground mace

1/4  teaspoon dry English mustard

1/8  teaspoon ground allspice

1/8  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8  teaspoon fine sea salt

PICT2215 ~ Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients, as listed, in a 3-quart saucier.  If you don't have a saucier use a 2-3-4-quart saucepan.  

What is a saucier (sauce-ee-ay)?

Sauces are liquids that usually require a good deal of whisking and often reduction.  Whisking is tough if you are trying to maneuver around the corners of a traditional stockpot or chef's pan w/straight deep sides.

In French cooking, a saucier is the title of a chef who devotes his or her career to making sauces.  The French also came up with a vessel, of the same name, to make whisking easy:  a shallow, wide-bottomed pot with rounded sides.  Reduction is quicker and easier because of the larger surface area, as:  the larger the surface area, the faster the liquid evaporates.  The saucier I am using is stainless steel with a cooper core, is made by Anolon and I just love it!

PICT2221 ~ Step 2.  Place the saucier over low heat.  Using a large spoon, stir constantly, until the ingredients are thoroughly combined and the apricot preserves and sugars are melted.

PICT2230

 

 

 

 

 

~ Step 3.  Adjust the heat to medium-high to simmer vigorously, whisking constantly to avoid scorching or boiling over, for exactly 3 minutes.  Sauce will be nicely thickened.  Remove from heat, cover and allow to cool for about 1 hour prior to serving warm.

Brush sauce onto grilled poultry, meat or vegetables just before removing food from the grill.  Serve additional warmed sauce at tableside for dipping or drizzling!

While this sauce is regal enough to be served at a fancy dinner party to accompany an elegant scaloppine of veal, my all-time favorite Summertime meal is: apricot-mustard sauce on grilled chicken breasts with grilled Vidalia onion slices, small garden tomatoes and grill-baked sweet potatoes!!!

PICT2248

Apricot-Mustard Sauce:  For Dipping or Drizzling:  Recipe yields 2 cups.

Special Equipment List:  3-quart saucier w/lid, or a 2-3-4-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; whisk

Cook's Note:  Transfer cooled sauce to a food storage container, cover and refrigerate indefinitely.  Reheat prior to serving by placing the container in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, stopping to stir about every 30 seconds.  This sauce freezes well too, so don't be afraid to save some time:  make a big batch and portion it into small containers to have on hand all the time!

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

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

05/02/2011

~ Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing (A Short Video/Slideshow, 00:57)

PICT2124 April showers do bring May flowers, and we couldn't have asked for a prettier first day of May here in Central, "Happy Valley" Pennsylvania.  With 80 degree-ish temperatures and a day of sunshine, Joe and I put the cushions on all of our deck chairs, Joe cut the grass on our tennis court, and, he cleaned his big, shiny, stainless steel Viking grill!

The cleaning of the grill, prompted me to pick up a couple of thick T-bone steaks, russet potatoes, salad "stuff" and a chunk of Danish blue cheese.  I picked fresh chives from our garden and whipped up a batch of my Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing.  We ate dinner out on the deck and enjoyed a most lovely evening.  That was yesterday.

PICT2156What a difference a day makes. Today is raining, damp and cold, with temperatures hovering around 50 degrees.  

My plans for a second glorious grill day are off the table but my Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing will be back on the table tonight and it will not disappoint. I deep-fried my recipe for ~ JoePa's Chicken Wings ~, which you can find in Categories 1 & 17, and we'll be spending this evening munching, crunching and watching the new episodes of The Killing (AMC), The Borgias (SHO), and Treme (HBO) on VOD!  To view a short video/slideshow of how to make this delicious dressing/dip:

Download Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing-Medium

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

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