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17 posts from August 2011

08/30/2011

~ Crispy Cinnamon & Clove-Kissed Candied Bacon ~

PICT3414 Everyone in my family, especially my son Jess, loves bacon, and, in his opinion, "everything really does taste better with bacon".  A few years ago, when I developed my mess- and spatter-free method for making ~ Crispy Oven-Roasted Bacon ~ (found in Categories 9 & 15), I felt I had climbed to the top of the bacon world's mountain.  How naive of me.  For obvious reasons, my kitchen television set is almost always tuned to a cooking show of some sort.  As I conduct my business, it keeps me company and occasionally a segment will air that interests me enough to stop my work and pay serious attention.  

My candied-bacon Epiphany:  About two years ago, I was busily prepping for a cooking class about tailgating that I was teaching the next day.  The Cooking Loft was on The Food Network and in the background Alex Guarnaschelli was preparing breakfast.  I was interested in what she was going to make, because Penn State football season and tailgate were fast approaching and here in Happy Valley, PA, for me that means overnight guests on a regular basis.  One or two new ideas for breakfast could/would come in handy.   When I heard her say "candied bacon", my heart and mind followed!

PICT3420 I learned a lot about candied bacon that morning, and after that, I've even seen a couple of other TV chefs make it.  Alex spiced hers with black pepper while Emeril spices his with cayenne...BAM!

I went off in my own direction, starting with disposable aluminum broiler pans, the kind with corrugated bottoms.  No offense Alex or Emeril, but I wanted a zero cleanup option for early mornings!

PICT5582 Next, after making the candied-bacon using black pepper, which was delicious, I decided I wanted to try a version using fragrant spices.  I chose ground cinnamon and cloves, the same ones I use when I make my recipe for ~ Super-Crunchy Sugar-Crusted Spiced Pecans ~, which can be found in Categories 2, 6, 11 & 18.  My family adored my bacon!

Note:  On occasion I do make Alex's black pepper version, stirring 1-2 teaspoons of finely ground black pepper into the sugar mixture instead of the cinnamon and cloves, and that choice is yours.  Here's my recipe:

PICT3356 1 1/2  pounds thick-sliced bacon, at room temperature*

1 1/2  cups lightly-packed light brown sugar

3/4  cup granulated white sugar

1  tablespoon ground cinnamon

1  tablespoon ground cloves

* I recommend using the best quality bacon you can find and I also recommend  you only use thick-sliced bacon to make candied bacon.  While I prefer bacon that I get freshly sliced by my butcher, this pre-packaged brand that I buy at Sam's Club is not a compromise!

PICT3362 ~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

~ Step 2.  In a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish stir together the brown sugar, white sugar, cinnamon and cloves. I like to use my fingertips to do this (instead of a fork or a spoon) because you can easily rub out any lumps or clumps in the brown sugar.

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~ Step 3.  Place three or four strips of bacon in the baking dish. Using your fingertips, dredge the first side in the sugar/spice mixture, then:

PICT3372 Flip the slices over and dredge them on their second sides.

PICT3374 ~ Step 4.  Transfer the sugar-coated bacon to the disposable aluminum pans.  Continue this process until all of the slices have been coated and transferred.  Eight slices of bacon will fit, nicely, side-by-side on each pan.

~ Step 5.  Evenly sprinkle about 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of additional sugar mixture over the tops of bacon in each pan, meaning:  1/4 cup per pan.

PICT3383 ~ Step 6.  Bake on center rack of preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until desired degree of doneness is reached.

Note:  For extra crispness, after 20 minutes of roasting remove the pans from the oven, tilt them gently and allow the hot liquids to drain out into a bowl.  Discard liquids after they cool.  Return bacon to oven and finish roasting.

~ Step 7.  Remove pans of bacon from oven and set aside for about 5-6 minutes.  Serve hot, warm or cool it completely in the pans.  Whatever temperature you are serving it at:  if you are layering it on a plate, separate the layers with paper towels.

If you thought everything tastes better with bacon...

just wait until you try candied bacon!!!

PICT3221 Crispy Cinnamon & Clove-Kissed Candied Bacon:  Recipe yields 16 strips of bacon or 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  13" x 9" x 2" baking dish; 2, 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pans w/corrugated bottoms; paper towels

PICT3260 Cook's Note:  Candied bacon can be made several hours or even the night before serving it.  Just stack it on the plate as directed above and do not cover or refrigerate it!

Eat it with your French toast for breakfast, slice it into a salad for lunch or atop a juicy hamburger for dinner.  It's pictured here in ~ My Roasted Beet, Candied Bacon, Shaved Onion & Creamy-Dreamy Horseradish-Dressed Steak Salad ~, which you can find in Category 2!

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

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

08/29/2011

~ My Roasted Beet, Candied Bacon, Shaved Onion & Creamy-Dreamy Horseradish-Dressed Steak Salad ~

PICT3295 Last Wednesday along-time friend asked if I would try to duplicate a salad she had just eaten at a Happy Valley restaurant.  Elaine's words were:  "I was at The Allen Street Grill on Sunday and loved their featured salad.  It contained Spring mix tossed with a creamy horseradish dressing and cooked red beets.  It was so yummy that I'm dying to replicate it.  Mel, do you have any idea how that dressing might have been made?  I'd also be very appreciative of any additions to the salad that you'd like to suggest!"  This is the sort of request I like to think brings out the best in me, and, being a girl of Russian heritage, I can tell you: these are ingredients that are very familiar to me:  greens, cooked beets and horseradish -- they go hand-in-hand together.

PICT3190 That said, before getting started, I did call The Allen Street Grill and the chef's wife Becky was most helpful.  Via her husband she relayed to me there was mayonnaise, sour cream, chives and prepared horseradish, all to taste, in the dressing.  When developing a recipe, this is valuable information, and I am most appreciative for their helpfulness!

I took the above photograph of an original oil painting that hangs in our downstairs "Penn State Room and Melanie's Penn State Kitchen".  The Hotel State College, located at the corner of College Avenue and South Allen Street directly across the street from our town's walk-in entrance to PSU, houses The Corner Room Restaurant at street level and The Allen Street Grill directly above. From a restaurant standpoint, this is indeed our town's most famous landmark, and I am pleased to tell you that my grandson David's great-grandfather worked at "The Corner" when he attended Penn State back in the early 1940's!

Now, back to Elaine's salad.  I had a lot of fun coming up with my ultimate version of a salad I never actually tasted.  Below, you are going to find my instructions for roasting beets, making candied bacon and, of course, the creamy dressing, which is what Elaine wanted in the first place.  Trust me when I tell you:  this is all really, really easy.  Feel free to make this salad my way or create your own version using any or all of these "mini-recipes".  As for the steak, I could hear the beets, bacon and horseradish crying out to me for filet.  Feel free to prepare any cut of steak, any way you want, however, my recipe for a perfectly-cooked, pan-seared filet, ~ T.G.I.Five-Minute Filet Mignon ~, can be found in Categories 3, 20 or 21.  "Vegetables are interesting but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by meat." ~ Fran Lebowitz

Part One:  Creamy-Dreamy Horseradish Dressing

PICT3104 Make the dressing first because it is at its best if made a day ahead of serving. Looks like a lot of ingredients?  Not.  Mayonnaise, sour cream, prepared horseradish and chives all go into the food processor (or blender) with some flavorful spices and a splash of lemon juice.  Just add buttermilk to reach the desired consistency!

3/4  cup mayonnaise

3/4  cup sour cream

1/2  cup prepared horseradish

1/4  cup thinly sliced, fresh chives

1  teaspoon each:  dried, minced garlic and dried, minced onion

1/2  teaspoon each:  garlic powder and onion powder

1  tablespoon dried mint or parsley flakes

1/2  teaspoon each:  celery salt and white pepper

1 teaspoon lemon juice, preferably fresh, or bottled concentrate

1/2 cup buttermilk, slightly more or less, to reach desired consistency

1/4  cup additional thinly sliced chives, for garnishing finished salad

freshly ground black pepper or peppercorn blend, for topping finished salad

6a0120a8551282970b015391151e55970b~ Step 1.  Place all of the ingredients, except for the buttermilk in the work bowl of a food processor that has been fitted with the steel blade.  Process, until thoroughly combined, about 15-20 rapid, on-off pulses.

PICT3111 ~ Step 2. With motor running, through feed tube, drizzle in buttermilk until desired consistency is reached.  I used exactly 1/2 cup today. Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate dressing overnight! 

Part Two:  Roasted Red Beets

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I grew up in a family where red beets were not a misunderstood vegetable. Roasting makes them super-sweet and nutty tasting, not to mention so much better than anything that comes out of a store-bought can or a jar.  That being said, I do roast, pickle and can my own beets (adding a cinnamon stick and some allspice to the brine), and they work beautifully in this salad too.  Here is my super-easy, mess-free method for roasting beets:

PICT3181 ~ Step 1.  Using kitchen shears, snip the greens off about  1" from the tops, but leave the "tails" on.

Note:  You can cook beet greens like Swiss chard or spinach, or you can just discard them, that choice is yours.  Also, when you buy beets in the store, you'll notice they usually come three to a bunch.  Because I like to handle beets as little as possible, I leave them in their original bunch, rinse them under water and pat them dry with a paper towel.  I place each bunch on a sheet of aluminum foil (see below) and snip off the greens without ever having touched them.  You can thank me later!

~ Step 2.  Place three beets inside of  a piece of aluminum foil.  Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Seal the foil.  Place desired number of packets of beets in a baking pan and roast on center rack of preheated 425 degree oven for 1 hour.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool for 30- 60 minutes.

Note:  One bunch of three beets and 2 tablespoons of olive oil is all you'll need to prepare this salad recipe, however, I'm making two bunches, because I want leftovers tomorrow!

PICT3198 ~ Step 3.  When beets are cool enough to comfortably handle with your hands, using a paring knife, trim off the top and tail ends.  Using a vegetable peeler, paring knife or just your fingertips, peel the skin away.  You can wear latex gloves if you like (to keep your fingers from turning pink) but I do not not.

PICT3214 ~ Step 4. Slice, dice or chop.  Place in a bowl, cover and refrigerate... several (3-4) hours or overnight!

Part Three:  Roasted, Cinnamon & Clove-Kissed Candied Bacon

PICT3116 Ahhh, now for the candied bacon. Crisply fried bacon would be just fine, but trust me, this is the sweet and crunchy element this salad needs to take it over-the-top.  You'll need:

1 1/2  pounds thick-sliced bacon, at room temperature

1 1/2  cups lightly-packed light brown sugar

3/4  cup granulated white sugar

1  tablespoon ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

PICT3127 ~ Step 1.  In a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish, combine the sugars, cinnamon and cloves.  I just do this with my fingertips.

~ Step 2.  Three-four slices at a time, dredge one-side of the bacon in the sugar mixture.  Flip slices over and dredge second sides.

6a0120a8551282970b015434e9365b970c~ Step 3 and 4.  Arrange the bacon, side-by-side, on two 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum pans, the kind with the corrugated bottoms.  Six-eight slices of bacon will fit nicely on each pan.  Roast on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 30-35 minutes, until desired degree of doneness is reached.  Remove from oven, drain excess fat from pans and set aside.

PICT3221 ~ Step 5.  When the bacon is completely cool, you can transfer it to a paper towel-lined plate.  If you are layering it on the plate, separate the layers with paper towels.  The bacon can be made several hours in advance, or even the night before, just do not cover or refrigerate it!

If you thought everything tastes better with bacon, just wait until you try candied bacon!!!

PICT3227 ~ Step 6.  Dice one pan of the bacon.  I just stack the slices and cut them into thin strips.  

Note:  The hicory-smoked thick-sliced bacon I buy at Sam's Club comes in 1 1/2-pound packages and I always roast/candy it all.  In case you didn't know:   there is no such thing as leftover candied bacon!

Part Four:  Assemble the Salad

PICT3239~ Step 1. Clean and dry your greens.  To feed six people, you'll need:

10 cups of Spring greens (5 ounces)

2 cups of baby arugula leaves 

PICT3247 ~ Step 2.  Shave (slice as thinly as possible/paper thin) 1 generous cup of onion.  I'm using sweet onion, but if you prefer red onion, feel free to substitute.

On a large plate or platter, layer the Spring greens, followed by the arugula leaves.  Evenly distribute the shaved onion, followed by the candied bacon over the top.  

Just prior to serving the salad, distribute about 2 cups of chilled beets over the top.  Generously drizzle with horseradish dressing and garnish with the additional chopped chives

PICT3260 My Roasted Beet, Candied Bacon, Shaved Onion & Creamy-Dreamy Horseradish-Dressed Steak Salad:  Recipe yields 6 main-course servings of salad and about 3 cups of dressing.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; kitchen shears; aluminum foil; paring knife; vegetable peeler; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish; 2, 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pans w/corrugated bottoms; paper towels

Cook's Note:  Once again, while this post might look long and difficult, nothing could be farther from the truth.  The dressing, the beets and the bacon each take less than 5 minutes of quick and easy prep.  Even the filet pan-sears in five minutes!

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

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

08/26/2011

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (8/26/11) ~

Culinary Q & A #2Had I cooked absolutely nothing since our last Culinary Q&A two weeks ago, I would still have a lot to report to you today.   Let's start with Tuesdays "right coast" earthquake. Never having experienced an earthquake, I was in disbelief when my world got rocked that afternoon. It was indeed a minor, 5-6 second tremor (thank-you mother nature), but nonetheless unnerving.  I had just come in from the garden with two handfuls of fresh tomatoes.  I placed them on the counter and began to wash my hands.  All of a sudden, the ground beneath my feet began to rumble (like I lived next to a train track), the chandeliers began to rock back and forth, along with the copper pots on my pot-rack.  All of my glassware was tingling like bells and my tomatoes were rolling around on the countertop.  When it was over and after I coaxed my miniature poodles Lucy and Desi out from underneath the family-room sofa, I called my husband's downtown office, followed by my neighbor Carol to inquire if I "was nuts".  Neither one had felt anything, which did nothing for my mindset.  It wasn't too long before the television was reporting the earthquake.  On one hand, I was comforted by knowing I was "not nuts", but as for the other hand, I still am having a hard time shaking this new-found exposure and vulnerability to "acts of nature"! 

PICT2405 That being said, it did not stop me from posting a series of "the sun is setting on Summertime seafood" recipes (all found in Category 14):

~ Tarragon, Sweet Onion & Red Pepper Butter for: Melanie's Wine-Steamed Clams or Crab Legs ~;

~ Mel's Wine & Tarragon-Steamed King Crab Legs w/Creamy Lemon-Tarragon & Shaved-Corn Orzotto ~, along with;

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~ JoePa's Easy Cajun-Creole Seafood Jambalaya ~, and;

PICT2780 ~ Sweet, Succulent, King Crab Salad (3- Ways) ~!

PICT3001 Lastly, I posted what I believe to be the perfect dessert to go with all of these fabulous seafood meals:

~ Pucker-Up Lemon & Lavender Shortbread Hearts ~ can be found in Category 7.  While I was "cooking up a seafood storm", mother nature (who takes a back seat to no one), cooked up one of her own:   Our entire East Coast now braces itself for the likes of Hurricane Irene!!!

Well, now that I'm done discussing me, the sea and mother nature, it is time to move on to the question of the week.  This comes from my long-time friend and Facebook friend Elaine, who lives right here in Boalsburg.  She posted this on "my FB wall" on Wednesday:

Q. Elaine says and asks:  I was at the Allen Street Grill on Sunday and had one of their featured salads that was really wonderful.  It featured Spring mix that was tossed with a creamy horseradish dressing and also features cooked beets.  It was so yummy that I'm dying to replicate it.  Do you have any idea how that dressing might have been made?  I'd also be appreciative of any additions to the salad you'd like to suggest!

A.  Kitchen Encounters: Great to hear from you Elaine!  I just love the salad combination you described:  greens, cooked beets and a creamy horseradish dressing.  As a girl of Russian heritage, I can tell you these are indeed familiar flavors to me.  Since it was a featured salad, I'm jealous that I might not get the opportunity to taste it for myself, as "features" usually don't stay on a restaurant menu for more than a few days.   I will, however, give The Grill a call and see what information the chef is willing to share.  No matter what, this will give me a nice, relaxing weekend project to work on as the sky clouds over and the rains approach.  Look for me to post my version of their recipe early on Sunday evening or first thing on Monday morning!

Have a nice weekend everyone, and if you live on the East Coast, please take every precaution and stay safe.  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 and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

08/24/2011

~ Pucker-Up Lemon & Lavender Shortbread Hearts ~

PICT3001If you've been following Kitchen Encounters for the past week and a half, you've been reading my favorite "the sun is setting on Summer" seafood recipes.  I just couldn't end this series without posting what I happen to believe to be the PERFECT DESSERT for each and every one of these delicious meals, my:  Pucker-Up Lemon & Lavender Shortbread Hearts!

PICT3040 I am a lover of citrus in general, but I'm downright passionate about lemons.  I like to add fresh lemon juice and zest to all sorts of sweet and savory dishes, condiments, and sauces.  My own lemon-lovin' recipes for sweet treats like, lemon Danish, lemon-almond torte (with warm lemon sauce), lemon-meringue pie, lemon mousse, lemon pound cake and lemon squares can compete with almost anyones.  That being said, I also love a tall glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade after three sets of tennis, I put double lemon in my just-brewed iced tea every morning to start my day, and, I consider sipping on a small glass of ice-cold limoncello one of life's simple pleasures.  These four lemons, posing in front of our tennis court for this picture, insisted upon being featured and used in today's shortbread recipe!

About 16-18 years ago an elderly gentleman and tennis acquaintance's wife shared her family's recipe for Scottish shortbread with me.  Basic shortbread recipes all contain, flour, sugar, salt and butter. Her recipe differed in that a bit of cornstarch was/is added to that mix.  I am not quite sure what the cornstarch scientifically does, but having tried a couple of shortbread recipes that do not contain it, the best I can say is:  shortbread that contains cornstarch is (for lack of better words) more delicate and crumbly!

Over the years, I've used this shortbread recipe as the base for all sorts of wonderful shortbread cookies, adding many tasty ingredients to it like:  dried or candied fruits (dates, ginger, mango, papaya), toasted nuts (almonds, coconut, macadamias, pistachios) as well as various seeds, spices, extracts and oils.  About seven years ago, my wedding-cake baking friend Kim introduced me to citrus oils (lemon, lime and orange).  I was astonished at the concentration of really true citrus flavor they delivered.  These days, high-quality citrus oils are easy to find on the internet, but my favorite source is:  The Baker's Catalogue (The King Arthur Flour Company)!

PICT3023 A bit about culinary lavender: Unless you grow your own (which my husband Joe does), know your source, meaning: don't eat lavender unless it is labeled "food safe" because it might have been treated with harmful pesticides!  

The old adage "a little goes a long way" applies "big time" to lavender. I recommend using one-third the quantity of dried to fresh and in either case, error on the side of less rather than more.  My general rule is:   1 tablespoon of fresh lavender flowers = 1 teaspoon of dried lavender flowers.  Too much lavender in either form is perfumy tasting and downright overpowering.  By tasting just one tiny dried flower you will get my point.  I liken using lavender to another bold herb which is also best used judiciously:  rosemary.   Surprisingly, fresh or dried lavender flowers can be used interchangeably with fresh or dried rosemary leaves in many sweet and savory culinary applications!

PICT2911  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/4  cup cornstarch

1/2  teaspoon fine sea salt

8  ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature

1/2  cup sugar

the zest from 4 large lemons 

1  tablespoon dried lavender flowers

2  teaspoons pure lemon oil

1/2  teaspoon pure almond extract

PICT2853 ~ Step 1.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch and sea salt.

PICT0937 ~ Step 2. Using a microplane grater, zest the lemons.  

Note:  I take a moment here to squeeze the lemons and refrigerate the juice to have on hand.  It keeps nicely for about a week!

PICT2855 ~ Step 3.  Place the butter in a large mixing bowl.  Using a hand-held electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat until light and fluffy (while constantly scraping the sides of the bowl down with a rubber spatula), about 1-2 minutes.

PICT2919 ~ Step 4. Add the sugar, zest, lavender, oil and extract.

PICT2926~ Step 5.  With mixer on medium speed, beat above mixture until ingredients are thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.

~ Step 6.  Add the flour/cornstarch mixture.  WIth mixer on low speed, beat until ingredients are just blended and resembling coarse, pea-sized crumbs.  During this process, use the rubber spatula just enough to keep incorporating the flour mixture into the butter mixture.

PICT2927 ~ Step 7.  Using your hand, gather up the crumbs and knead, just until the mixture comes together, about 30 seconds.

~ Step 8.  Position oven rack to the center and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper and arrange 18, 2 1/2" heart-shaped cookie cutters over the parchment, or use any shape of 2 1/2"-sized cookie cutters you want to!

PICT2931 ~ Step 9.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place a ball of shortbread dough in the center of each heart-shaped mold.

PICT2938 ~ Step 10. Using your index finger, press dough evenly into each mold, to a thickness of about 1/2"... also the ideal thickness for any type of shortbread being baked!

PICT2968 ~ Step 11.  Bake on center rack of preheated oven for 23-25 minutes, or until very lightly brown. Shortbread will have puffed up but will still be slightly soft to the touch. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan for 4-6 minutes.

~ Step 12.  Gently lift and remove the cookie cutters. If the cutters are still a bit hot, a paper towel works well to protect your fingertips from the heat.  Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely:

PICT2985 Pucker-Up Lemon & Lavender Shortbread Hearts:  Recipe yields 18, 2 1/2" heart-shaped cookies.

Special Equipment List:  whisk; microplane grater; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 18, 2 1/2" heart-shaped cookie cutters; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; cooling rack

PICT2900 Cook's Note:  If you don't have fresh or dried lavender flowers, or if lavender isn't your "cup of tea", PLEASE don't let that stop you from making this shortbread.  Omit the lavender and make Pucker-Up Lemon Shortbread Hearts instead!

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

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

08/22/2011

~ Sweet, Succulent, Snowy-White King Crab Salad (Serve as an Hors d'oeuvre, a Salad or a Sandwich) ~

PICT2820 If you have ever traveled along the New England coast in the Summertime, you are surely familiar with and have most likely eaten a lobster roll sandwich at one of the many roadside stands or clam shacks.  Decadent, delicious and simple to prepare, ice-cold, crunchy lobster salad is generously heaped inside of a soft, rather ordinary, top-split hot dog-type roll that has been buttered and grilled.  Aside from an occasional pickle and/or some potato chips, it is served pretty much "as it".  Like its cousins, the chicken and tuna salad, the quality of a great lobster salad is judged by the amount of mayonnaise used and the size of the ingredients.  The best quality salads contain just enough mayonnaise to bind the chunky ingredients together while lesser expensive varieties contain a lot of mayonnaise and finely chopped ingredients. If you are a seafood lover, the unassuming-looking lobster roll sandwich is a tough act to follow...

PICT2571 ... unless you have king crab meat!

Just a few days ago I posted my recipe for ~ Mel's Wine & Tarragon-Steamed King Crab Legs w/Creamy Lemon-Tarragon & Shaved Corn Orzotto ~ and you can find that recipe in Categories 4, 14 or 21.  If I do say so myself, at any time of the year, this feast is a Kitchen Encounter that will embed itself in the hearts and memories of your family and friends!

PICT2702 Whenever I prepare this meal (pictured above), I make the investment in four extra king crab legs, just so I can make my king crab salad the following day.  Each king crab leg will yield about 4-6 ounces of crab meat and to prepare my recipe you will need 1 pound of crab meat.  After steaming, the easiest way to remove the meat from the shells is with a pair of kitchen shears.

PICT2780 The following recipe is my "jazzed up" crab version of the celebrated, traditional New England lobster salad/world-famous lobster roll sandwich, which I proudly refer to as: "elitist leftovers".  I flavor my homemade mayonnaise with fresh lemon juice, lemon zest and Dijon mustard.  If I want my king crab salad on a sandwich I serve it exclusively on brioche bread or brioche rolls!

PICT2713 It is not a requirement that you make mayonnaise from scratch or spend a day baking brioche to enjoy this decadent salad, but I just happen to have an easy method and foolproof recipe posted for both!

Mayonnaise #1 (Intro Picture) You can find my food processor method and recipe for ~ How to: Make Homemade Mayonnaise ("Mayo") ~ in Categories 8, 15 & 20.  As for ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~, that's in Categories 5, 15 & 18!

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1-1 1/2  pounds steamed and coarsely chopped or chunked king crabmeat

1-1 1/2  cups diced celery

1  lemon, about 6 ounces, zested and juiced (Note:  You will have about 2 tablespoons of zest and 1/4 cup of juice.  You will not be using all of either in this recipe.  Refrigerate the remainder of the juice to use in another recipe and reserve the remaining zest for garnishing the king crab salad.) 

2/3  cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1  teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/4  teaspoon each:  celery seed, sea salt and black pepper

additional lemon zest, for garnishing salad

1 additional lemon, sliced or cut into wedges, for garnishing salad

freshly ground black pepper, for garnishing salad (optional) 

PICT2729 ~ Step 1.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of lemon zest, the mayonnaise, sugar, Dijon mustard, celery seed, sea salt and black pepper.

Note:  If you have made my recipe for homemade mayonnaise, you must still whisk the juice, zest, sugar, Dijon and spices into it.

When the mixture is thoroughly whisked and uniform in color:

PICT2735

 

~ Step 2.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the crabmeat and and celery.

PICT2798 Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well-chilled, 4-6 hours or overnight.

Note:  This salad is actually much better if prepared a day in advance!

PICT2835 Sweet, Succulent, Snowy-White King Crab Salad:  Recipe yields 4-5 cups of king crabmeat salad.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; hand-held citrus juicer or fine mesh strainer; large rubber spatula

Croutons & Toasts #2 (Intro Picture) Both Finished Side View) Cook's Note:  It goes without saying that steamed and chopped lobster can be substituted for king crabmeat and the result will be just as exquisite.  This salad also keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, so do not hesitate to prepare it in advance of serving.

Extra Cook's Note:  If you'd like to make the brioche toasts as pictured at the top of this post, read my recipe for ~ How to: Make Croutons (& Toasts) ~ in Categories 2, 5, 9 & 15.

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

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

08/20/2011

~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL Video Segment #14: JoePa's Easy Cajun-Creole Seafood Jambalaya ~

PICT2669Yesterday I posted my recipe for ~ JoePa's Easy Cajun-Creole Seafood Jambalaya ~. Jambalaya is one of Louisiana's hallmark dishes, and, you can find my family-friendly easy-to-prepare version in Categories 3, 14, 17, 19 or 20!

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

JoePa's Easy Cajun-Creole Seafood Jambalaya

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 2011) 

08/19/2011

~ JoePa's Easy Cajun-Creole Seafood Jambalaya ~

PICT2669 A bit about Cajun and Creole Cuisines:  One of Cajun cookery's hallmarks, jambalaya, is a one-pot meal that combines long-grain white rice with a variety of ingredients:  any kind of easily accessible meat, poultry or shellfish, pork or sausage, and, always, the Cajun-Creole culinary "holy trinity" (chopped onion, celery and green bell pepper).  Cajun cuisine is rustic, country-style, cooking born out of the necessity of peasants and represents a combination of French and Southern fare.  Creole cooking, with gumbo being one of its most famous dishes, has come to imply the more refined, sophisticated style of the city dwellers.  It is born out of restaurant chefs, combining the best of French, Spanish and African cuisines, who are supplied by the rich commerce of the ports. The most notable differences between the two are:  Cajun cooks tend to use copious amounts of pork fat, while Creole cooks place more emphasis on using butter, cream and eggs.  What this boils down to:  Cajun food is based on inexpensive additions and plain looking, while Creole food is based on more exotic ingredients and is quite flamboyant. That being said, they both use the same spices in the same amounts, depending upon how spicy the food is to meant be.  There are countless versions of Cajun and Creole dishes like jambalaya and gumbo, all varying from cook to cook, with Creole versions more likely to contain tomatoes.  It is believed that the name derives from the French word "jambon", meaning "ham", which was the main ingredient in almost all of the early recipes for jambalaya and gumbo!

"Cajuns eat in the kitchen and Creoles eat in the dining room!" ~ Chef John Folse

PICT2688 Having traveled to New Orleans and having met and assisted with a cooking demonstration at Penn State's WPSU-TV for Louisiana's premier Chef John D. Folse (CEC, AAC and author of many books including The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine), I've come to learn quite a bit about these two "kissing cousin" cuisines.  The recipes for jambalaya and gumbo that I learned first hand from Chef Folse compare to NONE in terms of authenticity and refinement. Whenever I prepare them (and I do promise to post them at some point), my heart, mind and stomach return to NOLA, Bourbon Street and all of the dozens of fine restaurants and cafes that rocked my cooking world almost thirty years ago!

It goes without saying that whenever I travel I do my best to check out local food markets and gourmet stores.  I usually find more than a few wonderful products or sauces that I either pack in my suitcase for the return trip or order off the internet when I get home.  Louisiana Gold pepper sauce is one such product and I highly recommend you give it a try... just the right balance of heat to flavor without being overwhelming!

Pita Pizza #11 (Share) A bit about JoePa's jambalaya: "JoePa" is what our handsome, awesome, absolutely picture-perfect grandson David affectionately calls my husband Joe.  Whenever David is with JoePa and GrandMel here in Happy Valley (home of The Pennsylvania State University and the other JoePa), he loves to help JoePa in his vegetable garden and GrandMel in her kitchen.  Since we are only two short weeks away from kickoff at Beaver Stadium for Penn State's first football game, David thought it would be a great idea to share JoePa's own, original recipe for making an easy, super-delicious recipe for jambalaya that can be made in one pot right at the stadium for tailgate!  We are... Penn State!!!

David is indeed Penn State Proud with a great-grandfather, grandfather and daddy who all graduated from Penn State... a doctor, an engineer and a lawyer!  We are... a Penn State family!!!

JoePa's inspiration for creating this tailgate-friendly dish came after we returned from a trip to NOLA in 1982 for the Sugar Bowl where #2 ranked Penn State played #1 ranked Georgia for our 1st National Championship.  It had been a glorious season and we had great seats on the 45 yard line where PSU's Greg Garrity was about to score the game winning touchdown. "PENN STATE'S NATIONAL CHAMPION... PENN STATE IS NATIONAL CHAMPION!"  ~Fran Fisher.

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1 1/2  pounds diced yellow or sweet onion

8  ounces diced celery

4  large, minced garlic cloves, about 2 tablespoons

12  ounces diced green bell pepper

12  ounces diced red bell pepper

2  cups sweet white wine, plus a bit more, only if necessary

4  tablespoons olive oil

3  pounds medium shrimp (41-50  count), peeled and deveined, tails off

2  pounds small bay scallops

2  6.8-ounce boxes Rice-A-Roni Spanish Rice Mix and seasoning packets

4  ounces butter (1 stick)

1-2  teaspoons red pepper flakes

4  14 1/2-ounce cans stewed tomatoes

2  cups minced, fresh cilantro or parsley leaves or sprigs, for garnish

your favorite hot sauce for dripping or drizzling atop jambalaya (JoePa recommends Louisiana Gold)

PICT2593 ~ Step 1.  Prep the onion, celery, garlic and peppers as directed.

~ Step 2.  In a 14" chef's pan or 8-quart stockpot, saute the shrimp and scallops in the olive oil until the seafood is just short of being cooked all the way through, about 4-5 minutes.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the seafood to a very large bowl.

PICT2604 ~ Step 3.  Add the prepped vegetables to the seafood juices remaining in the pan.  Over medium-high heat, saute, until the vegetables are just cooked through, about 8-10 minutes.  Do not overcook the veggies.  Turn the heat off.  Using a slotted spoon, add and fold the vegetables into the shrimp and scallops.

~ Step 4.  Discard pan juices. Wash and dry the pan (or at least wipe it out) and return it to the stovetop.

PICT2611 ~ Step 5.  Thoroughly combine the seafood and veggies together and set aside.  

In a 1-quart measuring container, place the 2 cups of wine.  Drain and add all of the juice from the stewed tomatoes to the measuring container.  If you don't have a total of 4 cups of liquid, make up the difference with a bit more wine.

~ Step 6.  Over low heat, melt the 1 stick of butter.  When the butter is completely melted, sprinkle in the rice/vermicelli.  Do not add contents from seasoning packets yet.

PICT2621 ~ Step 7.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Saute, stirring constantly, until the vermicelli is golden brown in color, about 3-4 minutes.  Watch carefully as this can and will go from brown to burned very quickly.

PICT2629 ~ Step 8. Slowly and carefully add the 4 cups of liquid!!!  A lot of steam will be created and billow up, which can cause burns to the hands and face.  Don't be scared, just be cautious. Stir in the contents of the seasoning packets, the red pepper flakes and the stewed tomatoes.

PICT2643 ~ Step 9.  Adjust the heat to a gentle but steady simmer.  

Cook, uncovered, about 20-25 minutes, until the Rice-A-Roni is almost cooked through, stirring occasionally.  

The mixture will be thick, yet still soupy.  The rice/pasta will be just less than al dente, and all liquid will not yet be completely absorbed.

PICT2656 ~ Step 10.  Add all of the seafood/vegetable mix, including the juices from the bowl.  Once again, adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer.  Continue to cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until the rice/pasta is cooked through and almost all of the liquid has been absorbed.  This can take a little as 5 minutes, or as long as 10. Serve when it is to your liking!

If you have the time, JoePa highly recommends removing the pan from the heat, covering it and allowing it to rest about 15-30 minutes prior to serving garnished with freshly minced cilantro or parsley leaves/sprigs:

PICT2675 JoePa's Easy Cajun-Creole Seafood Jambalaya:  Recipe yields 12-16 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large slotted spoon; very large bowl; 1-quart measuring container

Cook's Note:  This recipe can be prepared 1-2 days in advance of serving.  Return it to room temperature before reheating in the microwave.  That being said, I have also served it casserole-style by transferring it to a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish and reheating it in the microwave as well!

PICT2450 Extra Cook's Note:  When fresh sweet corn is in season, I like to add and stir in about 1 1/2-2 cups of "shaved" cooked corn kernels (shaved from about 3 cobs of cooked sweet corn) along with the seafood during the last 5-10 minutes of the cooking process! 

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

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

08/16/2011

~ Mel's Wine & Tarragon-Steamed King Crab Legs w/Creamy Lemon-Tarragon & Shaved-Corn Orzotto ~

PICT2558 This my friends is my ultimate "Summer's-almost-over/end-of-Summer" meal.  Even though all of the ingredients are pretty much available all year long, there is just something about a seafood feast when sweet corn is at its absolute peak, as it is right now here in Central Pennsylvania. I've been a lover of Alaskan king crab legs for, well... from the moment I tasted them in a seafood restaurant at the Maryland shore over 30 years ago.  Sweet, succulent, snowy-white and delicately flavored, it will just take one bite for you to know why king crab rules!

PICT2440 King crab is the largest crab variety in the world, living in the frigid waters off Alaska and Russia. While the harvest season in Alaska is quite short (about three months), the catch is usually so abundant that crab legs are available to us year-round.   I must admit, the first time I purchased them, I was very intimidated by their long, gnarly, legs and aggressive looking claws.

I was surprised to learn that almost no king crabs are sold alive.  Very soon after they're caught, they are cleaned and boiled until fully-cooked.  They are then glazed with a brine solution and flash frozen for storage.  Once thawed and at room temperature, they only need to be steamed to enjoy them.  How easy is that!

King crab is measured by how many legs it takes to equal 10 pounds.  So, when purchasing, if the legs are labeled 6-9, they are "huge"; 12-15, they are "medium", and; 21-24, they are "small". The flavor doesn't vary very much between the sizes, but the larger the legs, the better the texture of the meat.  I am lucky to have a great source for huge ones right here at our State College Sam's Club!

PICT2450 Five years ago (almost to the day), my cousin Victor, a world-class fisherman who lives and fishes along the New Jersey shore visited me for my birthday.  He arrived with a freshly-caught sushi-grade tuna, coolers brimming with clams and crabs, plus a bushel of sweet corn. With Vic wielding his super-sharp filet knife for the tuna and Joe spicing/steaming clams and crabs, I set out to invent the perfect side-dish that would complement each and every one of their creations: Creamy Lemon-Tarragon & Shaved-Corn Orzotto was born!

PICT2499 A bit about orzo:  Orzo is a tiny rice-shaped macaroni-type pasta, slightly smaller than a pine nut.  In Italian, orzo means "barley", but I personally associate orzo with many wonderful Greek dishes. When it is prepared and paired with the anise-flavor of fresh tarragon (also the flavor of the famous Greek liqueur Ouzo), the result is sumptuous.  By adding some butter, cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, I created a dish very similar in texture to Italian risotto, hence the name "orzotto".  When I added fresh tarragon from my garden and shaved sweet corn, I created a versatile side-dish that pairs well with all sorts of things.  That being said, sometimes I stir chunks of leftover king crab into leftover orzotto and reheat it in the microwave for a super-delicious lunch the next day!  

PICT2405 Yesterday I posted my recipe for ~ Tarragon, Sweet Onion & Red Pepper Butter with:  Melanie's Wine-Steamed Clams or King Crab Legs ~.  You can find it by clicking into Categories 1, 8 or 14.  I developed the tarragon butter specifically to be drizzled atop my wine-steamed clams, but I soon discovered it to be even more decadent served alongside my wine-steamed crab legs.  So, before preparing the orzotto and steaming the crab, be sure to prepare the recipe for my tarragon butter as directed and set it aside. That being said, when I'm serving the meal I'm posting today, I almost always serve my wine-steamed clams as an appetizer and I suggest you do the same!

Corn Chronicles #7 The next thing you'll need to prepare a bit in advance is the sweet corn.  You can find my recipe for ~ The Corn Chronicles: Perfect Corn on the Cob ~ in Categories 4, 10 & 15.  Follow the recipe as directed (including tossing it in the butter).  Once it has cooled to the touch, using a large chef's knife, shave/slice the kernels downward off the cob and place them in a food storage container.  Set aside.

Now that the tarragon butter and the corn are completed and set aside (two tasks you can do a day or two in advance), it's time to prepare this oh-so-winderful, elegant "the sun is setting on Summer" meal:

PICT2443 You'll need 8-12, huge king crab legs, thawed and at room temperature.  Under cold running water thoroughly rinse the salty brine from them.  Arrange/stack them on a rack in the bottom of a sturdy roasting pan (I double 2, 20" x 12" x 4" disposable roasting pans together to form one sturdy pan) to which 6 cups of white wine, 6-8 6"-8" fresh tarragon sprigs and 2 tablespoons of dried tarragon leaves have been added. Tightly seal the pan of crab legs with aluminum foil, without causing any rips or tears in the foil, which would allow moisture and steam to escape.  If the foil tears, discard it and start over with a new piece of foil.  Set aside while preparing the the orzotto accoring to the following directions:

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1  pound orzo, cooked according to package directions

1  tablespoon sea salt (for seasoning water for pasta)

4  ounces butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 stick)

1/4  cup minced, fresh tarragon leaves

2  tablespoons dried tarragon leaves

3/4  teaspoon Greek seasoning blend

3/4  teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning

1/4  teaspoon nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon white pepper

1 cup heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature

3/4  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (grate 1 1/4 cups total)

4  cups cooked and shaved fresh sweet corn (Note:  Frozen corn kernels may be substituted if fresh corn is out of season.)

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

zest of 1 lemon, for garnish

red pepper flakes, for garnish

PICT2481 ~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.  Add the 1  tablespoon of salt.  Sprinkle in the orzo, adjust heat to a steady simmer and cook until al dente, about 8-9 minutes. While the pasta is cooking:  

In a small bowl, combine the minced fresh tarragon with the dried tarragon, Greek seasoning blend, lemon-pepper seasoning, nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper.  Set aside.  

Thoroughly drain the orzo (do not rinse it) and return it (while it is still piping hot) to the warm stockpot.  Place the pot on the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter and spice mixture.  Using a large spoon, thoroughly combine, until the butter is melted and the orzo is evenly coated.

PICT2491 ~ Step 2.  Stir in the cream and the 3/4 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

PICT2494 Fold in the sweet corn. Cover and set aside for about 15 minutes while steaming the crab legs as follows:

PICT2502 Place the pan of king crab legs on your stovetop across two burners over high heat.  When the wine comes to a boil (you will feel the pan vibrating), reduce heat to low and allow the crab legs to steam about 8-10 minutes.  Adjust the heat, if necessary to maintain a very gentle simmer.  Turn the heat off and, for safety sake, wait 1-2 minutes before uncovering the pan.

PICT2511 Slowly and carefully remove the foil.  A lot of steam is going to escape and you don't want to burn your hands or face.  On each plate, portion 1 or 2 king crab legs atop a bed of Creamy-Lemon Tarragon & Shaved-Corn Orzotto that has been garnished with a sprinkling of some additional Parmigiano-Reggiano, fresh lemon zest and red pepper flakes, plus, a small bowl of warm tarragon butter for dipping!

PICT2571 Mel's Wine & Tarragon-Steamed King Crab Legs w/Creamy Lemon-Tarragon & Shaved Corn Orzotto:  Recipe yields 6-8 very generous servings of king crab legs and orzotto.

Special Equipement List:  2, 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum pans, doubled to form one sturdy pan; cooling rack; aluminum foil; cutting board; chef's knife; cheese grater; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; microplane grater

Cook's Note:  This meal is a party on each and every plate -- and it is not difficult to make either. Invite a few friends, open a bottle or two of lovely white wine and enjoy one last outdoor seafood feast before the leaves start to Fall!

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

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

08/15/2011

~ Tarragon, Sweet Onion & Red Pepper Butter for: Melanie's Wine-Steamed Clams or King Crab Legs ~

PICT2405 On a beautiful Summer afternoon or evening, one of my favorite things to do with my husband Joe is go to our favorite restaurant here in State College:  The American Ale House & Grill. While there is a long list of food at this establishment that I just love, on these trysts I just like to sit out on their patio and relax with a tall G&T in my hand and a big plate of their "steamers" in front of us.  I guess I just have a soft spot in my heart for clams: 

PICT2432 Growing up with my dad (who loved them), he would occasionally take our family out on a Friday to feast on clams at a small bar/restaurant called Puschak's in Coaldale, PA. For some insanely cheap amount of money, like 50 cents per dozen, the four of us would sit in a big black booth in front of their window and order clams until we couldn't eat anymore.  I'm not sure if my brother David and I liked the clams as much as we liked the game-like technique of removing each clam from its shell with a tiny little fork, then soaking it in the little butter warmer with the lit candle underneath.  We'd stack the empty shells like trophies and my brother would always manage to walk out of the place with a few of them in his pockets. What I'm trying to say is, we'd have probably eaten anything if given a tiny fork and a little butter warmer with a lit candle!

Now, back to clams at The Ale House.  Joe and I order them by the dozen, or two or three, and I'm happy to make a meal out of them because they are so delicious.  They arrive at the table steaming hot, generously drizzled with a super-flavorful, thyme-flavored butter, a bottle of hot sauce and a few lemon wedges.  This luscious butter takes clams to a whole other level. Executive Chef Jami and I have been very good personal friends for years, working on food projects together and bouncing foodie ideas off each others brains on a regular basis. That being said, this recipe gets credited to Chef Gus, who is also a friend of mine and member of The Ale House family as well.  Just like Jami, whenever I fall in love with one of their fabulous meals, Gus is always willing to enlighten me with a restaurant trick, method, tip or even an entire recipe. Yes, I am a lucky woman:

Gus explained his method for steaming the clams and gave me his recipe for making the butter, but, like almost all restaurant recipes, it's geared for making large quantities in a super-busy commercial kitchen, which doesn't always translate perfectly to my home kitchen environment.   I am not about to divulge his method or recipe, but I will tell you this:  I loved it enough to come up with my own version which produces succulent, fragrant, butter-drizzled clams right here in Melanie's Kitchen.  I prefer to use licorice-y tarragon, but Gus's recipe using thyme is just a fab!

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For my tarragon, sweet onion & red pepper butter (recipe yields 6 cups or 1 cup for every 2 dozen clams being steamed):

1 1/2  pounds butter

1  pound yellow or sweet onion, diced

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1  teaspoon white pepper

1  tablespoon lemon juice, preferably fresh or bottle concentrate

1/2  cup sweet white wine

6-8  6"-8" fresh tarragon sprigs

For the clams (each 2 dozen of steamed clams will require 1 cup of butter):

2-12  dozen medium- to medium-large sized fresh clams (middle neck or top neck clams)

2-3  cups sweet white wine

2  tablespoons dried tarragon leaves

4-6  6"-8" tarragon sprigs, for garnish

PICT2342 ~ Step 1.  Prep the onion as directed.

In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the onions, followed by the  the garlic powder, red pepper flakes, white pepper, lemon juice and wine.

~ Step 2.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook until the onion is very soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes.

PICT2354 ~ Step 3.  Add the tarragon sprigs. Using a spoon, submerge them in the butter mixture.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, cover and cook until the tarragon has lost its bright green color, about 4-6 minutes.  Remove from heat.

PICT2364Remove and discard the tarragon, cover and set aside. You can prepare this butter 3-5 days ahead of prepping and steaming your clams.  Just transfer it to a food storage container, cover and refrigerate until you are ready to use it in any quantity you want.  Reheat desired amount in the microwave.  How convenient and easy it that!

PICT2578 Steaming fresh clams is perhaps the easiest thing you will ever do, but FIRST you have to get these shellfish to burp out the sand they've accumulated on the ocean floor. There are a lot tricks "out there" for doing this, like putting corn meal, oatmeal or pepper into a pan of cold water with them. I find the most effective method to be what people who live on the beach have always done:  keep a trickle of cold water running through a pan of clams for one-three hours!

PICT2373 For two dozen medium- to medium-large sized clams (middle neck or top neck clams), I place a 13" x 9" x 3" disposable, aluminum pan in my garage sink.  For a larger batch of clams, use a disposable aluminum roasting pan... size is relative as long as the pan is deep enough to keep all of the clams submerged in cold water.  At the top end, let very cold tap water fill the pan.  At the bottom end, bend one corner of the pan down at bit, just enough allow the water to trickle out of the pan at about the same rate of speed it is trickling in at the other end. About every 30-45 minutes, dump out the water, rinse the clams off and the pan out, then start over.  Note:  occasionally we'll order a 50-pound bag of clams for a large get-together.  When we do that, Joe puts the clams in a plastic tub out in the backyard and lets cold water from the garden hose run through them for a few hours.   Gritty sand ALL gone!

PICT2378 ~ Steaming Clams, Step 1:  In a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan place 2-3 cups of sweet white wine, or a total of 1/4" of wine in the bottom of the pan.  Add the dried tarragon.  Drain the 2 dozen clams and place them in the bottom of the pan.

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~ Steaming Clams, Step 2:  Bring to a boil, adjust heat to a gentle simmer, cover and steam until clams open, about 3-6 minutes depending upon the size of the clams.  Discard any clams that do not open within this time frame.

To serve, place clams in a large shallow serving bowl, drizzle with 1 cup of butter for every 2 dozen of clams being served and enjoy!

PICT2392 Tarragon, Sweet Onion & Red Pepper Butter with: Melanie's Wine-Steamed Clams or King Crab Legs:  Recipe yields 6 cups of butter, or, enough for 12 dozen clams or 12 king crab legs

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; 13 " x 9" x 3" disposable aluminum pan; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid

Cook's Note:  To wine-steam clams outdoors on your grill (instead of using a chef's pan on your stovetop), just place desired number of clams in an appropriate-sized disposable aluminum pan (or pans).  Add 1/4" of wine and dried tarragon.  Cover with foil, place on a red hot grill and proceed with recipe as directed!

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

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

08/12/2011

~ How to: Select, Slice, Mince, Dice & Chop Onions ~

PICT2268 This will sound cliche, but "no matter how you slice it", chefs and home cooks alike process onions more than any other food item in our repertoires.  That being said, when I use the word "process" I do not mean 'in the food processor', because as any chef will tell you, "that is no way to treat an onion".  As much as I adore my food processor, it is simply not capable of producing uniformly sliced or diced onion.  Hear me:  only a cutting board, a sharp knife and a skilled hand can give an onion its proper due!

PICT1187 I use onions a lot.  Occasionally a day might go by without my using one in some capacity, but surely never two days.  Sliced, minced, diced or chopped, it is a simple culinary skill that I take for granted. Then, two weeks ago (on my weekly Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too post), one of my readers asked me  if I would please instruct him on how to correctly slice an onion.  It seems that competition cooking shows like Next Food Network Star and Top Chef have left him feeling inadequate on the onion front!  

Whenever I teach a 101-type cooking class, an onion is the first item on the chopping block, BUT, before I even start my demonstration, first I give my brief knife speech:

PICT2277 #1.  Invest in the best quality medium-sized chef's knife you can afford.  

#2.  Choose based upon how the knife feels in your hand.  There is a lot to pick from and this is indeed a personal choice.

#3.  Keep your knife super-sharp.

Once you've chosen your knife, relax.  Unless you have aspirations of trying out for a reality cooking show or becoming a restaurant chef, no one cares if you can slice or dice an onion in less than 15 seconds.  But, with a little bit of patience and practice, you will be chopping an onion effortlessly, properly and uniformly in less than a minute, which is about how long it takes me.  So folks, take a few moments to learn how to do this the right way and be the star in your own kitchen where you can actually feel the love!

Now it is time to decide what type of onion to use.  A well-written recipe will always specify that for you, but it never ceases to amaze me how many get published with cryptic instructions like "2 cups of chopped onion", or worse, "1 onion, diced".  Firstly, chopping and adding the wrong type of onion to a recipe can be the difference between great and ghastly.  Secondly, while the size of an onion has no bearing on its flavor, the size of the onion does affect the amount of onion being added to what is being served... which can be the difference between success or failure. Here is a short guide for selecting and using onions:

#1)  Red Onions.  I like these onions a lot and always keep a few on hand in my kitchen.  I refer to them as "salad onions", because they are best when tossed raw into salad, stirred into salsa or placed on sandwiches.  They also work nicely used in fast-cooking applications, like broiling or grilling.  That being said, if used in cooking applications, their red color will turn your finished food a very unappetizing blue-ish color. 

#2)  Yellow Onions.  These are pretty much the "workhorse" or "all-purpose" onions universally used for all cooking applications and are the ones no kitchen should be without.  While they have a good balance of sweet and savory and can be eaten raw, they are a bit  pungent or "strong" for my taste, so I choose not to do that.  But, if they're all you have on hand and you're faced with using them raw, cut back on the amount and mince them into tiny pieces or slice/shave them really thin so no one gets a big piece or thick bite.

#3)  White Onions.  These are very mild in flavor with a bit of sweetness and are best used raw or added raw to simmering soups.  When sauteed, they tend to loose what little flavor they have and become sort of boring.  When caramelized, in my opinion they acquire a somewhat offensive taste.  The few times I've cooked with white onions, I've been disappointed enough to say:  "I'd have been better off just using some store-bought, diced, frozen onions". 

#4.  Spanish Onions.  These are very similar to yellow onions only the balance of flavor is less sweet and more savory.  In cooking applications, you can use them interchangeably with yellow onions with little or no compromise.  That being said, if you are using them raw, to cut back on their pungency soak them in some cold water for 15-20 minutes before patting them dry and adding them to the dish. 

#5)  Sweet Onions (Vidalia, Walla Walla, Maui).  These are my personal favorite.  They cook similarly to yellow onions and can be used interchangeably with yellow onions.  Because they are so mild and sweet they are terrific in all raw applications (salads, salsas, sandwiches, etc.). They are also wonderful grilled, broiled or roasted.  Unless I am specifying another type of onion, you will notice that all of my recipes instruct to use "yellow or sweet onion".

PICT2293Before we start, I must tell you there are two schools of thought on how to slice/dice an onion.  I am NOT a proponent of the "leave the root end on and slice inwards toward that root end" (as pictured here).  Why? I just think it is plain old dumb and dangerous to teach people to slice towards their fingers and hands... end of statement.  As a lefty, self-taught chef, I prefer and teach folks the following method:

PICT2284 ~ Steps 1, 2 & 3.  Cut the top (stem/north pole) and bottom (root/south pole) off the onion to form two flat surfaces.  Slice the onion in half lengthwise.  Using your fingers, peel away the skin.

I used to discard the top, bottom and skin but my husband Joe now adds them to his compost pile.

PICT2302~ Step 4a (slicing along the equator).  To slice an onion into semi-circles for raw applications: re-position each onion half onto its flat center with the pole ends facing left and right. Cut crosswise, down through the onion, into semi-circles of desired, uniform thickness.  The first section here is about 1/4"-thick and the second is about 1/8"-thick.

PICT2305 ~ Step 4b (slicing pole-to-pole): Onions sliced into uniform semi-circles this way are meant to be cooked and when such a recipe calls for sliced onions, this is what they mean. Onions sliced this way break down evenly when cooked and if they are sliced thin enough will almost disappear, adding body and thickness to soups and braises.

PICT2319 ~ Step 5. To mince, dice or chop an onion, prep the onion as directed in Steps 1, 2 & 3.  Depending whether you want very small dice/mince (1/8"), small dice (1/4"), medium dice (1/2") or large dice/chop (3/4"): slice the onion pole-to-pole to those measurements/specifications.  Next, change the direction and slice the slices, the same thickness, along the equator.  Finish with a quick chop through them all!  

PICT2322 How to:  Select, Slice, Mince, Dice & Chop Onions:  Recipe yields instructions to select, slice, mince, dice and chop any onion.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board, chef's knife

Cook's Note:  There is one more cooking term that refers to an extremely small, uniformly-dice, less than 1/8" and in some cases so small it is just short of a smash or a puree:  brunoise. Brunoise is reserved for extremely refined dishes where subtle, evenly-distributed flavor and minimum texture is required, like tartare or pate.

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

(Recipe, commentary and photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011) 

08/10/2011

~ Happy Birthday to Myself & Kitchen Encounters!!! ~

6a0120a8551282970b0134862c0508970c-320wi Yes, 'tis true:  today is my birthday and exactly one year ago today I pushed "publish" on my first Kitchen Encounters blog post.  For those of you who don't know, a blog was my birthday present from my husband last year.  Joe, our son Jess and my assistant Jeanne had been begging me to "go public with my stuff" for quite some time and a blog was the perfect choice to give me my own voice.  Today, two-hundred and forty posts later, my own bi-monthly Kitchen Encounters cooking segment on WHVL-TV and a book in the works, it is now safe for me to say:  if it's your passion and you are willing to devote every waking hour to it (and  sleepless nights too), dreams really do come true!

Jeanne suggested I devote my birthday blog post this year to giving my readers an insiders view of what Melanie's Kitchen looks like and answer a few of the most asked questions that come to me via readers, students and visitors to my kitchen.  Jeanne (my super-efficient assistant for 13 years who has a tendency to enjoy telling me what to do every now and then) also conveniently presented me with a pre-prepared, "Letterman-style", "top 10 list" (which includes requests for my recommendations for pots & pans to where my favorite places to shop for dishes are).  To shorten this up a bit, I'll skip #'s 10 thru 4 and respond to the top three today:

PICT2147 Question #3:  When did you start cooking, why did you choose cooking as a profession rather than a hobby, who is your mentor and what do you have in common with that person?

That is four questions Jeanne!!!  I really did start cooking around the age of five.  I was a quiet, "artsy" kind of kid and one of my favorite places to be was ALWAYS in the kitchen and NEVER on the playground with other kids (truthfully, I always preferred the company of adults to children).  My grandmother and mother encouraged this and before I knew it, I was cooking some pretty good meals without their help.  I'm not sure I chose cooking as a profession as much as I always knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.  I also knew I had the smarts to be anything I wanted to be or go to college anywhere I wanted, and had I done so, I would have chosen to be a writer or a lawyer.  I chose to stay-at-home and when "hobby-type cooking from other peoples books" started to bore me, I  learned the necessary formal skills and techniques, then pursued avenues of the culinary field that interested me (recipe development, consulting and teaching)!

PICT2149 Julia Child is indeed my mentor. What I have in common with her is: She found what she loved to do, put her heart and soul into what she loved to do, lovingly and meticulously documented every last thing and did not stop until she found a venue for sharing that knowledge with everyone and anyone who was interested in what she had to say.  It is my belief that if she had never made any money she would have been disappointed, but I don't think she was motivated by money and certainly not fame.  She had over twenty years of writing in her repertoire when she hit PBS at the age of 55!  I'm certainly no Julia Child, but with 20 years of writing in my repertoire, it was my goal to be on TV before I hit 55 and I achieved that goal.  I think our beloved Julia (a fellow Leo) would approve!

PICT2161 Question #2:  How do you choose what recipes to put on your blog, what do you consider blog-worthy, how do you test your recipes and what advice can you give to other food bloggers?

C'mon Jeanne, this is four questions too!  I choose my recipes from over 700 of my own, original recipes based upon seasonal ingredients, upcoming holidays, community events and requests from my readers.  When I choose a recipe from my archives, I cook it and blog it "live", taking the step-by-step pictures myself as I go.  Each and every one of my archived recipes have all been tested three times:  meaning AFTER the recipe has been developed and taste-tested by Joe, Jeanne and myself (and we are all brutally honest testers with very sophisticated palates), it then gets cooked three times, in three different types and quality of hardware, to insure its success for the home cook.  We weigh, measure and time everything.  In the case of things like cakes, pies, casseroles, etc., when the ingredients are mixed and put in the appropriate bakeware, they will fit perfectly and there won't be any leftovers in the mixing bowl.   Because I rarely want to cook the same thing three days in a row, it sometimes takes a year or two for me to place a recipe in my finished archives.  Presently, I have about 300 recipes anxiously awaiting that "3rd time is the charm" run-through!

PICT2156 Advice for my fellow food bloggers? Be yourself because this is your voice.  If you're a home cook who wants to blog and post each and every last thing that sautes on your stovetop and pops out of your oven, plus bang out two or three stress-free posts a day... DO IT.  People will love you for it.  There are many different types of food blogs today and I follow as many as I can, just to keep a "pulse" on what my fellow foodie bloggers have to say.  That being said, the blogs I like the best are the ones written and run by a real person, not a team of professional information-gatherers and web-geeks.  My least favorite food blogs contain no pictures or just one picture, a list of ingredients and a few cryptic instructions. In this biz, in this day and age, a picture is still worth a thousand words, even a not-so-hot picture. Teaching cooking classes has taught me that people do want to learn cook but know lots less than their mothers and grandmothers knew about cooking, so, I choose to overwrite.  Does overwriting work when writing a cookbook?  Absolutely not.  Does it work when writing a blog? You betcha.  I'd go on, but this post is starting to get too long for even my blog, so let's move on:

PICT2169 Question #1:  We read your blog, love your recipes with all of their food pictures and step-by-step directions.  Will you please share some pictures of Melanie's Kitchen?

Well folks, you've been taking the tour.  Melanie's Kitchen is a lovely place to live, work and play.  North, East, South and West, every square inch of it (and this house) was designed by me 14 years ago when Joe and I built our dream home.  One evening when I was sitting at my drafting table,  Joe said to me "put everything you want in that kitchen because it is the last kitchen you are ever going to get".  And so I did.  I just love happy endings!

PICT2164 There is also a second, very similar kitchen in our downstairs Penn State Room, which has cherry cabinets and "sandwiched" navy blue 'n white Corian countertops. It is the place to be when our friends come over to shoot pool, watch Penn State football and basketball and eat.  I think I'll save that one for another blog post and another birthday!

Scan Cook's Note:  This was not on Jeanne's list, but it is a topic I've discussed with more than one food writer and it just so happens to be: MY BIGGEST BITCH:

Whenever someone remarks to me that my recipe did not work or they were disappointed with the results, I immediately ask, "what changes did you make?"  If the next words go something like: "I didn't have this ingredient so I substituted that one", or, "I don't like that ingredient so I used this one (or omitted it completely)", or, even worse "I didn't have an 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, so I used a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan", here is my heartfelt, attitudinal response:  

THIS IS NOT MY RECIPE ANYMORE, IT IS NOW YOURS, AND I RESPECTFULLY REQUEST YOU CREDIT YOURSELF FOR THE PROBLEM OR DISASTER!!! 

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

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

08/09/2011

~ Road Trip: The Philips Hotel & 1921 Restaurant ~

PICT1751 Yesterday, my assistant Jeanne and I decided to kick off my new Kitchen Encounters Category, "Around Town, Road Trips & Wanderings", with a trip to Philipsburg Pennsylvania's historic Philips Hotel.  The decision to visit The Philips first was an easy one:  My great and good friend Faith Lucchesi-DeBoef, a woman with great drive and vision, took over this dilapidated, 7-story landmark back in 2008 with an ambitious plan to restore it to its original splendor.  Three years later she is about three-quarters of the way through the renovation, with just a couple floors of hotel rooms, suites, office spaces and conference rooms still "in progress"! 

PICT1765The Philips is located at 200 Presqueisle Street and is a relaxing 30-minute drive from State College. We left my front door in Boalsburg at 12:10PM and were parked in front of the hotel at 12:40PM. From the moment we walked through the doors and up a few stairs, we knew we were in for a delightful day.  To our right, located next to the cozy reception desk/area, sat a beautiful black-lacquer baby grand piano which plays background music during cocktail and dinner hours!

PICT1759 To our left was the entrance gallery with all of its well-appointed seating areas and cozy gathering places.   PICT1762 The original light fixtures have all been completely refurbished and the furnishings are a tasteful, eclectic mix of old-world charm and modern-day regal-whimsy... a befitting tribute to the hotel itself combined with an expression of Faith's own warmth and style.  Now we were really looking forward to eating in The 1921 Restaurant!

PICT1901 Upon entering the 1921's doors, I was compelled to take a picture of the extremely welcoming cherry, granite-topped hostess station. Once again, I was struck by the mix of high-tech gadgets and classic leather-bound menus... the neatnik in me was also duly impressed by the neat stacks. ;-)  That being said, a lovely, touchy-feely, leather-bound menu is indeed a nice introduction to any lunch or dinner!

PICT1921 The right side of the restaurant is flanked by a very large, full-service bar, with seating for about 16.  As Faith proudly told us, this hand-crafted bar has a 12' center section which was carved from a single piece of wood by an Amish craftsman using just a circular saw. Wine is a passion for Faith and Tony (husband and co-owner) and they take great pride in their well-rounded wine selections!

PICT1926 The focal point of the left side of the restaurant is a perfectly charming wait station, which is perfectly situated directly in front of the kitchen doors.  Knowing I would be taking pictures of food, I requested we be seated by a window, but any seat in this restaurant is a lovely one. For me, the rich feel of the cherry furnishings and the silencing quiet of the carpeted floors made me want to "pull up a chair, relax and stay for awhile... and eat"!

 

PICT1790 Jeanne and I started by sharing an appetizer.  There were eight great appetizers to choose from, all moderately priced, but I rarely pass up a chance to eat bruschetta. When this classic Tomato Basil Pesto Bruschetta arrived at our table, I knew we were in for a truly fine-dining experience. Yes, that is the bread all rolled up and smothered in an oh-so-yummy tomato basil cream sauce!

PICT1826 Next on their luncheon menu is a fine selection of 5-6 burgers and 8-9 sandwiches, but we decided to go with something you don't see too often any more:  a choice between the "quiche of the day" and the "crepe of the day".  I just had to try the Seafood Crepes with Chef Vogely's on-premise scratch-made Mornay Sauce.  Let me tell you, the art of crepe making and saucier is not lost on this chef!

PICT2015 After those two creamy creations, we wanted to try one of their sweet and savory salad creations.  There were 8 on the menu, each coming perfectly dressed with a unique, house made dressing.  The Grilled Shrimp, Spinach & Mandarin Salad w/candied walnuts, red onion, tomato, shallots and citrus vinaigrette was awesome!

PICT2035 Next, Faith had a second salad, which was their salad "special" yesterday, delivered to our table. The Filet & Fries Salad w/crisp French fries, mozzarella cheese and sweet 'n sour dressing is a salad that'll get any man, woman or child eatin' their greens.  A perfectly seared medium-rare, thinly-sliced filet with super-crisp French fries! 

PICT1943

 

Now it was time to "walk-off" our lunch and Faith was kind enough to take us on a guided tour of almost the entire hotel, including the parts that are still under construction.  I snapped this picture of a sign posted in the elevators.  Faith, a Philipsburg native, is proud to tell everyone that her father, who is now a full-time resident of the hotel, operated the original Philips Hotel elevators back in the 40's & 50's!

Photo Besides having completed 13 hotel rooms, which include 24 bedrooms (some are suites) and office spaces, the completely renovated, 7th floor's, light and airy Grand Ballroom with its 18' ceilings, original light fixtures and hardwood flooring (which seats 120 people comfortably), is the Hotel's crowning jewel.  All of the banquet food arrives piping hot (from the 1921's kitchen down below) via the original dumbwaiter. How much fun is that!

PICT1984 Now if that is not enough, adjacent to the Grand Ballroom, step through a couple of big glass doors and enjoy sky dining on their rooftop.   PICT1962 Complete with flat-screen TV's for sporting events and space heaters for cooler weather this is the place to be for TGIF cocktails!

PICT1996 At this point it was probably the appropriate time for us to head home, but Faith insisted we try a few things from their dinner menu. One of their signature soups, Lobster Bisque, which is made in-house using lobster shells and lobster stock is the real deal my friends.  Served with a drizzle of clarified butter "up the middle" and an optional splash of sherry, this is a sumptuous meal of itself!

PICT1864 Next, for our entree, Faith chose Chef Vogely's signature Filet Oscar:  an 8-ounce USDA Choice (the finest available) Filet Mignon with lump crab, grilled asparagus spears and... more Mornay sauce. This delightful spin on the New Orleans dish Veal Oscar, is perhaps the best steak I have EVER eaten!

PICT2062 All things must come to an end, and our "doggie bags" were beginning to pile up, but Faith wouldn't hear of us not having dessert. There is cheesecake, and there is bananas Foster... two of my favorites.  Can anything be more divine than the two served together?  Well, Faith gleefully explains that one evening a woman ordered both and was eating them together.  Faith says she immediately went back into the kitchen and gave it a try.  It was so delicious she turned it into their featured dessert... and it is a VERY GOOD THING... Bananas Foster Cheesecake!

I cannot say enough about yesterday's truly fine-dining experience.  For those of you who are wondering, yes we did give them advance notice that we were coming.  From my standpoint, it is important that a spokesperson for each establishment and/or the chef who's food is being featured on my blog be present to answer culinary questions and make comments.  That being said, nothing was prepared in advance for us and we ordered what we wanted from the menu. Without exception, each item today was cooked to perfection.  So, if you are in the market for truly fine dining, go on a road trip like we did and make your first stop The Philips Hotel!

PICT1753 The Philips Hotel & 1921 Restaurant

200 East Presqueisle Street

Philipsburg, PA  18666

(814) 343-5582

(800) 893-3706

(814) 287-0104 (Facsimile)

www.thephilips1921.com

FIVE STARS AS PER MEL!!!

Mel awards stars equally for:  First Impression, Food, Service, Presentation and Creativity.  I totally understand and thoroughly enjoy the differences between upscale fine dining all the way thru to casual diner fare or rustic outdoor barbecue (and will judge everyone equally), BUT, if your place isn't clean, you'll get no stars from me!

Scan Cook's Note:  The Philips is happy to cater to folks that are food sensitive and they have a fine assortment of gluten-free selections throughout their menu.  On another note, which is close to my heart (woof-woof), with pre-screening, they are a dog-friendly hotel as well!

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

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

(Photo of The Grand Ballroom courtesy of The Philips Hotel/Copyright Theirs)

08/08/2011

~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL Video Segment #13: Superb, Super-Sized, Deli-Style Sandwiches & Mexican Chocolate Cinnamon-Orange Brownies ~

PICT1577Yesterday I posted my recipe for ~ Superb, Super-Sized, Deli-Style Sandwiches for:  Picnics, Tailgates or Back-to-School Lunch Boxes ~, in Categories 2, 10 & 17.  Back in December I posted my ~ Mexican Chocolate Cinnamon-Orange Brownies ~ in Categories 7 & 13:

Mexican Chocolate Brownies #3 (Top View)If you'd like to watch my Kitchen Encounters TV segment, where I make them both, just click on the following link:

Superb, Super-Sized, Deli-Style Sandwiches & Mexican Chocolate Cinnamon-Orange Brownies

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

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

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

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

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

08/07/2011

~ Superb, Super-Sized, Deli-Style Sandwiches for: Picnics, Tailgates or Back-to-School Lunch Boxes ~

PICT1577The Summer heatwave is over and that means that Labor Day is right around the corner.  For those of us living here in Happy Valley, this means two things:  The last picnic of Summer and the first Fall Penn State tailgate.  In both cases, because the weather is still quite mild, I often pack sandwiches to take to the park or the stadium... and I don't mean one of those 7-foot-long, boring, tasteless, semi-soggy, store-bought hoagie- or submarine-type sandwiches either.  That being said, it was after partaking in one of those oh-so-aweful sandwiches (about 20 years ago at a tailgate that shall remain nameless) that inspired me to develop a method for layering perfect, hearty, main-dish sandwiches packed full of flavor and texture with every bite!

Turkey Breast #8 (Finished & Uncut) For many years now, on Sundays, I've been roasting a whole turkey breast or a beef eye round roast, to have on hand for sandwich meat all week long.  I'm not claiming to be "supermom" or "superwife" here, but with three growing boys and a husband, I've packed a lot of lunches in my time and I wanted them to have "real" meat.  FYI:  This does not take a lot of time or effort to do and it saves money as well!

PICT1619 My recipe for ~ Perfectly Roasted Rosemary Turkey Breast ~ is in Categories 3, 18, 19 & 20.  For the beef roast recipe, simply place a 5-6 pound eye of round roast, unseasoned, on a rack in a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish. Roast, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and allow to rest about 30 minutes prior to serving, or, for sandwich meat, after the rest period, wrap and refrigerate overnight.  How easy is that!

PICT1603 Next:  because "everything tastes better with bacon"; my family just loves bacon, and; my oven is/was already preheated, I make two pans of my recipe for ~ Crispy Oven Roasted Bacon ~, which you can find in Categories 9, 15 or 20. This mess-free, spatter-free method for making perfectly cooked bacon, which I've been teaching in cooking classes for years, is how restaurant chefs prepare bacon.  You can thank me later!

PICT1622 After the turkey and/or beef have been refrigerated, trim/remove the visible skin or fat and slice as thinly and evenly as you can.  I slice mine between 1/8"-1/4"... no thicker. For the sandwiches I'm making today, which will each yield 6 servings, you'll need 1 half of a whole turkey breast, or, 1/2 of a whole beef roast. Perfectly roasted "real" meat!

PICT1644 Depending upon whether you've chosen turkey or beef, you'll need to choose cheese and salad dressing. When making turkey sandwiches, I use Danish Havarti w/dill cheese and honey-Dijon dressing, and, for roast beef sandwiches I use French d'Affinois (a soft, double-cream, cow's milk blue cheese) and chunky blue cheese dressing.  I always assemble my sandwiches "undressed", serving the dressing to the side. Note:  Even though I love mayonnaise, I rarely take it to an outdoor picnic or tailgate (for obvious food safety reasons)!

PICT1654 Whatever sandwich I am making, as for fresh veggies, I like to use some baby greens along with baby arugula, some shaved red onion and small, thinly sliced garden or store-bought Campari tomatoes.

PICT1642 Tip:  Place your sliced tomatoes on a paper towel-lined plate for a few moments to absorb excess moisture!

PICT1661 For any type of sandwich that is not going to be eaten immediately, always choose rustic, firm-textured bread. One of my favorites (as pictured here) is ciabatta, which is an Italian, airy-textured, elongated, broad, somewhat flat white bread made using wheat flour. Ciabatta also makes fantastic grilled panino (sing.)/panini (pl.) sandwiches. That being said focaccia works great too!

Estimation/approximation of ingredients for each sandwich:

1  1-pound loaf ciabatta or focaccia

1  whole turkey breast half, roasted, chilled and thinly sliced, or:

1/2  of a 5-6 pound beef eye of round, roasted, chilled and thinly sliced

8  strips thick-sliced bacon, roasted or fried crisp

8  ounces grated Danish Havarti w/dill cheese, or:

12-16  ounces sliced French d'Affinois double-cream blue cheese (Note:  In my opinion, blue cheese or blue cheese crumbles, which are intense in flavor, tend to overpower the sandwich, but that choice is yours to make.)

1- 1 1/2  cups baby greens, rinsed and thoroughly dried

1- 1 1/2 cups baby arugula, rinsed and thoroughly dried

1- 1 1/2  cups very thinly sliced (shaved) red onion

1  pound small, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced and drained of as much liquid as possible

honey-dijon or chunky-blue cheese salad dressing, your favorite brand

PICT1671 ~ Step 1.  Cover a large work area with plastic wrap (big enough to eventually wrap the entire sandwich in).  Slice the bread lengthwise (cutting it into two separate pieces) and place it, soft airy centers facing up on top of the wrap.  In the following order, evenly distribute the:  cheese (grated or sliced), baby greens and sliced onions.

PICT1684 ~ Step 2.  On top of the sliced onions, in the following order, layer: 8 strips of bacon and two layers of sliced turkey (the entire breast half), or:

8  strips of bacon and two layers of the sliced beef (about 1/2 of the entire roast).

PICT1689 ~ Step 3.  Top the turkey or beef with a generous layer of sliced tomatoes and for the grand finale: some peppery baby arugula leaves. While either of these sandwiches are ready to slice and eat, I am here to tell you they are TRULY better if they are very tightly wrapped in the plastic and refrigerated overnight!

Note:  You have just assembled one large sandwich that will feed six people in about the same amount of time it would take to assemble one sandwich that would feed one person:

It's 'wichcraft!!!

PICT1695 Superb, Super-Sized, Deli-Style Sandwiches for:  Picnics, Tailgates or Back-to-School Lunch Boxes:  Recipe yields 6 servings each sandwich.

Special Equipment List:  13" x 9" x 2 " baking dish w/rack inserted (for turkey or beef); disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom (for bacon); cutting board; chef's knife; cheese grater (optional); plastic wrap 

PICT2141 Cook's Note:  Unwrap and slice into 6 portions just before serving at a picnic or a tailgate, or, unwrap, slice and rewrap to send in lunch boxes for your entire family!

Extra Cook's Note:  Make both a turkey and a beef sandwich.  After they've been refrigerated, slice them into thinner or smaller portions (8-10) and arrange them on a large platter to serve as hearty hors d'oeuvres.  Serve with both honey-Dijon and chunky-blue cheese dressing to the side!  Yummy!

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

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

08/05/2011

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (8/5/11) ~

Culinary Q & A #2I had a great culinary question this week from a friend on Facebook and a regular reader of Kitchen Encounters, but before I get to that, because it has been such a crazy week here in Melanie's Kitchen, a little kitchen therapy is in order:

Perhaps I'm getting more intense as I get older, but have you noticed how when August rolls around everyone starts scampering around preparing for Fall?  Like squirrels scurrying to gather their acorns!?!  

In my opinion, the anticipation of a change-of-season is "a good thing" (as Martha Stewart would say).  I find myself pleased with all of the fine berries I have frozen and fruit preserves I have made.  I also pause to take a short-term look into the future.  I peruse my husband Joe's "Fall" garden and make plans for the upcoming deluge of cabbages, tomatoes and pumpkins.  So, from that standpoint, I suppose I am just like everyone else:  preparing my nest for the crisp Fall and the cold Winter ahead.  This is a comforting feeling, and it is indeed "a good thing"!  Next...

PICT5523 For all of the right reasons, on Wednesday, the FDA in conjunction with the CDC recalled 36 MILLION pounds of ground turkey from America's marketplace.  Thank goodness for these agencies and I for one am all for strict rules and swift actions where food safety is concerned.  There can NEVER be enough protection on this front!

For me, here at Kitchen Encounters, it just so happened that a few weeks ago I posted a recipe for ~ My Moist, Juicy, Grilled, Thai-Style Turkey Burgers ~, which can be found (gulp) in Categories 2, 3, 10 & 13.  I am proud to say that in my recipe, with all of it's step-by-step photographs are also instructions for safely cooking said turkey burgers to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  That being said, two weeks ago, I featured that recipe on my "Kitchen Encounters with Melanie Preschutti" cooking segment on WHVL-TV, which just happened to air last night and will re-air this coming Sunday morning. There are no words to describe watching yourself make turkey burgers on TV one day after this recall.  I have wrapped myself around finding some humor in this situation and feel like I have just experienced my first out-of-body experience!

Now that my therapy session is over, and I thank you all for listening, I really do feel much better!

Let's move on to the question I got yesterday from a Facebook friend and regular follower of Kitchen Encounters:

Q.  Ken says and asks:  Mel, I'm back again with another question.  As you know, I get up at 4:30AM every day to go to work and I "brown bag" my lunch every day.  I also happen to love hearty  sandwiches.  I try to get-up early enough to pack my lunch every morning, but I was wondering: do you have any suggestions for making sandwiches ahead of time (that still taste like they were freshly made) or any recipes for sandwiches that can be made maybe even a day or two or three in advance and kept in the refrigerator?

PICT1577 A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Ken, you always ask such great questions!

As a matter a fact, I do have a "recipe" (more of a method) for making sandwiches that can be made ahead of time.  I do it for tailgating here at Penn State all the time and I'm pretty sure it will solve the dilemma you find yourself in!

Quick Tip:  Use firm-textured bread, make sure any greens are super dry and don't dress your sandwich with anything, and that includes mayonnaise and/or mustard!

That being said, I think a lot of people will be interested in my "make ahead sandwich method" and I will spend tomorrow working on this as my next blog post.  You can expect to see it early evening tomorrow or early morning Sunday.  That should give you plenty of time to pack your lunch for Monday morning!

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

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

08/03/2011

~ Mediterranean-Style Roasted Vegetable Crostini (A Short Video/Slideshow, 01:04) ~

PICT1545I posted my recipe for this flavor-packed Summertime appetizer two days ago and everyone here in Melanie's Kitchen is already begging me to repeat the performance and make another batch.  As I said in my Cook's Note at the end of the ~ Mediterranean-Style Roasted Vegetable Crostini ~ recipe (which can be found in Categories 1 & 14) , "be sure to make enough"!!!

I really should have made a double-batch on Monday and why I did not follow my own advice is cause enough to for me to post this reminder to all of you:  "be sure to make enough".  The toasts and the roasted vegetable "salsa" can be made in advance.  The toasts can be stored in an airtight container and the salsa holds up really well in the refrigerator... both for about three days.  How convenient is that!  

For those of you who'd like to see a short video/slideshow of how I prepare this super-delicious Summer appetizer (which is great the rest of the year too):

Download Mediterranean-Style Roasted Vegetable Crostini-Medium

Now that I have posted this reminder, my conscience is clear and I can focus on my next shoot with WHVL-TV tomorrow as well as my upcoming posts for Friday and Saturday!

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

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

08/01/2011

~ Mediterranean-Style Roasted Vegetable Crostini ~

PICT1552 What exactly does Mediterranean-style cuisine mean?  Personally, it takes me back to the 1970's, when Americans embraced the Mediterranean Diet.  You couldn't find a restaurant or a cafe that wasn't featuring something "Mediterranean-style"... from soup to nuts.  Everyone jumped on this bandwagon and what a lovely, healthy, flavorful, well-balanced bandwagon it was and is.  Mediterranean cuisine revolves around and features multitudes of fresh ingredients available to the countries who share borders on the beautiful shores of the Mediterranean Sea. All of these country-nations have been underlying influences on each others cuisines for centuries, which truly makes Mediterranean-style a fusion cuisine with its own unique characteristics, rather than in-the-style of any one country of note. 

PICT1505 When I hear "Mediterranean", I immediately think:  olive oil, garlic, olives and tomatoes.  After that, my mind wanders to a fine selection of goat or sheep cheeses, as their terrain is perfect for the raising of these two animals. Grilled meats go without saying, and many classic Mediterranean dishes revolve around fresh fish and seafood.  It doesn't end there.  Vegetables, fruits, citrus fruits, nuts and their byproducts (oils and marinades) add flavor and texture to this very colorful palate.  Fresh, ethnic flat-breads and loaves of all shapes and sizes add even more excitement to this extraordinary dining experience.  I fell in love with the Mediterranean "diet" immediately (about 30 years ago) and I've kept it culinarily close to me ever since!

PICT1438Especially in the Summer, everyone just loves a fresh, healthy, flavor-packed appetizer and I can't think of a better recipe to start my August blog posts off with than this one. After combining a lot of my favorite Mediterranean ingredients, for the perfect foil to serve them on I chose an Italian classic: crostini. People always ask me, "what is the difference between bruschetta and crostini?", so before we go any farther, let me give you my definitions and explanations:

Bruschetta (pronounced broo-skeh-tah) means "oiled slice" in Italian and comes from the word "bruscare" (pronounced broo-scar-ay), which means "to roast over coals".  Bruschetta is the original garlic toast.  Its preparation is so simple, it really requires no formal instructions. Traditionally, large, thick slices of firm, crusty bread are toasted over an open wood fire, rubbed with plenty of fresh garlic while they are still warm, generously drizzled with the finest olive oil available, sprinkled lightly with salt and pepper, then served warm.  They are classically topped with fresh basil, tomatoes and buffalo-milk mozzarella, but when paper-thin slices of Italian meats, cheeses and vegetables (grilled, roasted or marinated) are added, they can actually turn into a pretty hearty knife-and-fork meal!  

PICT1550 Crostini in Italian simply means "toast", which means it doesn't always end up drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic.  Just like bruschetta, crostini are topped with any number of savory toppings. Unlike bruschetta, they are usually made using smaller, long and thin-shaped bread, like a baguette or a batard.  Crostini are always served as a snack or an appetizer before a meal, or, an accompaniment to the meal.  In the case of both bruschetta and crostini, any size, color or flavor of bread can be used, but it must be of a firm texture and have a good crust.  Light, airy-textured breads should never be substituted!  It's time to make the crostini:

PICT1404 For the toasts I'm making today, I am using 2, 12-ounce batards and 2 sticks of salted butter, at room temperature, the softer the better.

A French batard is first cousin to the baguette.  Batards are shorter than baguettes and a bit plumper, which gives my crostini the perfect surface area for any and all toppings!

PICT1405 ~ Step 1.  To prepare the toasts, cut each batard into approximately 20, 1/2"-thick slices.  

Place the bread slices, in a single layer, on 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.

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~ Step 2.  Preheat the broiler and position the oven rack 7"-8" underneath it.

Spread an even layer of softened butter over the top of each slice of bread on both pans.

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~ Step 3.  Place one pan of bread slices into preheated broiler.  Broil until the slices are lightly brown and bubbly on the first side, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.

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~ Step 4.  Remove from oven and flip slices over.  Return to broiler and continue to broil until slices are browned on the second side, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Note:  The second sides of the toasts do not get buttered.

Remove from oven and transfer to cooling racks to cool completely.  In the case of this recipe (because toasts will be returned to the broiler after they are topped), they can be prepared 1-2 days in advance of serving.  Store in an airtight container or cover with plastic wrap.

PICT1449For the roasted vegetable salsa:

2  large red bell peppers, about 8 ounces each

1  large red onion, about 12-16 ounces

1  pound small, ripe, garden-fresh tomatoes

4  large, minced garlic cloves, about 2 tablespoons minced garlic

2-3  jalapeno peppers, finely diced, seeds included

1  2-ounce can anchovy fillets rolled with capers, drained and minced

4  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1  tablespoon Greek seasoning blend, or dried oregano

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

2  3-ounce cans sliced black olives, well-drained

4-6 tablespoons minced, fresh basil leaves

1  pound crumbled feta cheese

additional Greek seasoning blend, for topping crostini

PICT1451 ~ Step 1.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper. Preheat broiler.

Slice each bell pepper into 4 pieces, discarding the seeds. When slicing bell peppers, always trim and remove the white-colored rib sections.  Place pieces, skin side up on prepared baking pan.  Peel and slice the onion into 6, 1/4"-1/2" slices, arranging them on the same pan with the pepper pieces.

PICT1463 ~ Step 2.  Place the pan of peppers and onions on an oven rack that has been positioned 7"-8" underneath the preheated broiler. Broil until the skin of the red peppers is blistered and blackening, about 15 minutes.  

Remove the pan from the oven and:

PICT1466 ~ Step 3.  Remove the peppers from the pan and place them in a glass bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes to steam. This steaming process makes the blistered skin very easy to remove. Flip the onion slices over and return them to the broiler until they are lightly browned on the second side, about 15 more minutes.

PICT1477While the peppers are steaming and the onions are cooling to the touch:

~ Step 4.  Using a paring knife and a grapefruit spoon, scoop out and discard the liquid and seeds from the tomatoes.  Dice the seeded tomatoes into small, bite-sized pieces, placing them in a medium mixing bowl as you work.

PICT1482 ~ Step 5.  Remove and discard the skins from the peppers.  Dice the "meat" into small, bite-sized pieces, adding them to the mixing bowl as you work.

PICT1468 Dice the onions into small pieces as well, adding them to the bowl with the tomatoes and peppers.

PICT1487 ~ Step 6.  Prep the garlic, jalapeno peppers, and anchovies as directed, adding them to the bowl along with the olive oil, Greek seasoning blend, sea salt & white pepper.  Using a spoon, mix well. 

PICT1497 Drain the olives and mince the basil, adding both to bowl. Using a rubber spatula, fold until combined. Cover and refrigerate salsa for 4-6 hours or 1-2 days in advance.

 ~ Step 7.PICT1518  Preheat the broiler with oven rack positioned 7"-8" beneath it.  Line desired-sized baking pans with parchment paper.

Place desired number of toasts, about 1/2" apart on prepared pan(s).  Using a slotted spoon, top each toast with about 2 tablespoons of salsa.  Evenly distribute the feta cheese over  all.  Sprinkle with additional Greek seasoning blend.

Place the pan of crostini under preheated broiler to broil until cheese is soft and beginning to brown, about 8-10 minutes (feta cheese does not get ooey-or gooey like some other cheeses, it just softens and lightly browns). Remove crostini from the oven and allow to cool on pan 1-2 minutes. Transfer to serving platter and serve immediately:

PICT1545 Mediterranean-Style Roasted Vegetable Crostini:  Recipe yields 3-3 1/2 dozen crostini and approximately 6 cups of salsa.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling racks; chef's knife; paring knife; grapefruit spoon; rubber spatula; slotted spoon

Cook's Note:  Truthfully, this recipe does require some time to prepare but it is well worth the effort.  Preparing the salsa represents most of the work, but because both it and the toasts can be prepared 1-2 days in advance it takes all of the pressure off of you.  Also, with little extra effort, the recipe is easy to double for a large group and assembling any quantity is a breeze. That being said, the first time I served this recipe it was for a group of six women who were invited to my home for a light, summer luncheon.  Within about 20 minutes we had eaten every last one, so be sure to make enough!

Extra Cook's Note:  IF (and this is a BIG if) you have leftovers:  toasts can be stored in an airtight container and keep well for about 3 days and so does the salsa.  This is all the more reason to be sure to make enough!  

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

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