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16 posts from October 2011

10/31/2011

~ A Halloween how to: Making a Spooky Spider Web Design on the top of Soup using Creme Fraiche ~

Halloween-pumpkin-clip-art-free-270x300Happy Halloween Everyone!!!  

I had no idea what a stir my ~ Bacon, Onion & Rosemary-Tomato-Cream Soup ~ (found in Categories 2, 9, 18, 19, 20 & 22) of last week was going to cause.  It seems the spider's web design I garnished the soup with, using creme fraiche, intrigued a lot of you, because I got several requests for me to post "how to" instructions.  This tickled me, because it is always flattering to be asked to take a recipe one step further than the original post.  It is also your lucky day, because I just happen to have some leftover soup and creme fraiche in my refrigerator, so, let's get started.  You're going to need:

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1  bowl of soup per person, hot (creamy, cream or thick soups work best)

1 tablespoon creme fraiche, per bowl, placed in a squeeze bottle

1 toothpick, if you are making all the spider's web designs yourself, or several toothpicks, if you're letting each person/child make their own spider's web ("kids" of all ages LOVE to do this) 

PICT3561~ Step 1.  Using the squeeze bottle, in the center of the bowl, make a generous "dot" of creme fraiche. Working your way outwards towards the outside perimeter of the bowl, make a series of "squiggly" circles.  The number of circles you make will depend upon the size of the bowl.

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~ Step 2.  Starting at the center of the "dot", using the toothpick, draw a series of eight lines, from the center outwards, through the "squiggly' circles, doing your best to space the lines evenly around the bowl.  An easier way to explain this might be:  Starting at the center and working your way outwards, using the toothpick, cut the "pie" into eight even-sized slices.

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~ Step 3.  Starting at the outside of the bowl, using the toothpick, draw a series of eight lines, from the outside into the center "dot", through the "squiggly" circles, spacing them evenly in between the first eight lines you drew.  An easier was to explain this might be: Starting at the outside and working your way inward, using the toothpick, cut the eight slices of "pie" into sixteen even-sized slices!

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A Halloween How to:  Making a Spooky Spider Web Design on the top of Soup using Creme Fraiche:  Recipe yields instructions to make a decorative creme fraiche spider web to garnish soup.

Special Equipment List:  squeeze bottle; toothpick(s)

Cook's Note:  This same method can be applied using frosting when decorating cakes or cupcakes!

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

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

10/27/2011

~ Tuning Up for Tailgate Thursday: PSU vs. Illinois/ My "Halloween Hits Us On a Home Game" Edition ~

Roasted Pumpkins of Tussey Mountain #2The frost is on the pumpkins here in Pennsylvania and when Penn State and Illinois kick off in Beaver Stadium on Saturday there are going to be lot of chilly ghosts, goblins and ghouls in the stands, on the sidelines and wandering the streets of State College.  Tailgating Halloween-style is quite a lot of fun, so I was thrilled when my friends over at Black Shoe Diaries (a sports blog for Nittany Lion fans) asked me if I would conjure up a tailgating menu for them to feature on their Snacks-on-Snacks post this week.  After a few hours of perusing my personal playbook of evil concoctions, potions and spells, I came up with a witchy-woman's demonic soup-and-snack combination certain to please almost every bacon-loving, beer-guzzling fan over at BSD!

~ Spider's Web Bacon, Onion & Rosemary-Tomato-Cream Soup ~

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6-8  slices thick-sliced, very crisply fried and drained bacon, chopped and set aside, drippings reserved

6  tablespoons bacon drippings

1  pound yellow or sweet onion, chopped into 1/2" bite-sized pieces

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes

1  6-ounce can tomato paste

2  cups chicken stock, preferably homemade, or canned broth

1  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

2-3  sprigs fresh rosemary

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

creme fraiche, for garnishing soup

PICT3170~ Step 1.  Prep the bacon as directed and set aside.  Place 6 tablespoons of the drippings in an 8-quart Dutch oven.  Refrigerate, freeze or discard the remaining drippings.  Discard?  NOT!!!  

Chop the onion as directed, placing them in the pot as you work. 

Over medium-high heat, caramelize the onions, stirring frequently, until they are lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

PICT3176~ Step 2.  Add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken stock and black pepper.  Adjust the heat to a gentle, steady simmer.  Place the rosemary sprigs on top of the soup and cover the pot.

PICT3185Simmer 10-15 minutes. Rosemary will have lost its bright green color.

Note:  Rosemary is a powerful herb.  Remove and discard it at this time, so it doesn't overpower the soup with its flavor.

PICT3189~ Step 3.  Stir in the cream. Over low heat, warm the soup, stirring frequently, until it is steaming.  Do not allow to simmer or boil.

~ Step 4.  To serve, portion chopped bacon in the bottom of each of eight warmed serving bowls.  Ladle 1 1/2 cups of soup into each  and garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche!

Recipe yields 3 quarts of soup.

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

 ~ BOO-Cheese, & Spiny-Tooth Pine Nut Tartlets ~

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5  ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed (not cooked), drained and squeezed dry

4  ounces Danish blue cheese

2  ounces grated Emmentaler Swiss cheese

1  jumbo egg

1/2  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8  teaspoon ground red pepper

1/8  teaspoon white pepper

1  box Pillsbury Pie Crusts/2, 9" pie crusts, rolled with a rolling pin to a 10" diameter

1/2  cup pine nuts

Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy, for preparing mini-tart pan(s)

PICT3200~ Step 1.  Prep the spinach as directed and set aside.  

~ Step 2.  Grate the Swiss cheese as directed and set aside.

~ Step 3.  In a 1-cup measuring container, whisk together the egg, cream, nutmeg, red and white pepper.  Set aside.

~ Step 4.  Using a 3"-round cookie cutter, cut each crust into 12 discs.

PICT3203~ Step 5.  Sprinkle the bottom of one or two mini-muffin pans with flour.  You'll be making 24 tartlets. Using your fingertips, place and press each pastry disc into the bottom of each muffin mold, to form 24 mini tart shells.

PICT3233~ Step 6.  Using your fingertips, evenly distribute and lightly press about 1/2 teaspoon of blue cheese into the bottom of each shell.  Do the same with the spinach, then Emmentaler.  Lastly, distribute all of the pine nuts over the tops.

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~ Step 7.  Briefly rewhisk the egg/milk mixture.  Slowly drizzle or spoon the mixture, just a little at a time into each, being careful not to overfill or overflow any of the tarts. Evenly distribute ALL of the mixture amongst the tarts.  Note:  If you do happen to spill or drip, blot the drips up using a paper towel, as they will burn and cause the tarts to stick to the pans when baked.

PICT3331~ Step 8.  Bake on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven 14-15 minutes, or until the filling is puffed, set, and the pastry is golden brown. Remove from oven and rest in pans 3-4 minutes.  Using a thin spatula or a fork carefully lift tartlets from pans to cooling rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note:  These can be prepared one day in advance.  Loosely cover cooled tarts with plastic wrap.  Do not refrigerate.

 

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

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

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

10/26/2011

~ Bacon, Onion & Rosemary-Tomato-Cream Soup ~

6a0120a8551282970b015392a00535970b-800wiOne thing I will never walk away from is tomato soup.  I love it, love it, love it.  I grew up loving the days when my mom or dad would make us a can of Campbell's for lunch and serve it to my brother and I with a few crushed Nabisco saltines on the the top or a grilled cheese sandwich to the side.  Nowadays, if I'm out for lunch and a chef has an interesting version of this classic on the menu, it is the first thing I will order.  And, if I'm not feeling well, a mug of tomato soup is on the top of my feel better foods list.  I make a few different versions of tomato soup from scratch, not just because I love tomato soup, but because my husband Joe's garden gifts me each Fall with large volumes of tomatoes.  Besides making tomato sauce with them, I like to freeze our own crushed tomatoes.  Freezing crushed tomatoes is really easy to do and with it, I can make fantastic tomato soup any time of the year!

PICT3359The tomato soup recipe I am sharing with you today was developed by me back in 1987. Joe and I were members of a large, highly-organized tailgate group and on this particular Saturday, Penn State was playing a 3:30PM home game.  Our group decided we would serve lunch prior to the game and dinner afterwards.  Our theme that week was "All-American" and it was decided that tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches would be served for lunch... it simply doesn't get any more American than that.  I volunteered to prepare the lunch for 30-40 of us, and, being me, I insisted on making it from scratch (or almost from scratch).  I wanted to come up with an easy-to-make, hearty, manly, chunky, soup that would go up against any refined restaurant version and come out the victor.  Sweet success.  Everyone wanted the recipe, and almost twenty-five years later, this is my family's favorite and my go-to "gotta have tomato soup today" recipe.  You're going to have to find out for yourself just how good this is!

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6-8  slices thick-sliced, very crisply fried and drained bacon, chopped and set aside, drippings reserved

6  tablespoons bacon drippings

1  pound yellow or sweet onion, chopped into 1/2" bite-sized pieces

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes

1  6-ounce can tomato paste

2  cups chicken stock, preferably homemade, or canned broth

1  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

2-3  sprigs fresh rosemary

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

creme fraiche, for garnishing soup

PICT3170~ Step 1.  Prep the bacon as directed and set aside.  Place 6 tablespoons of the drippings in an 8-quart Dutch oven.  Refrigerate, freeze or discard the remaining drippings.  Discard?  NOT!!!

Chop the onions as directed, placing them in the pot as you work.

Over medium-high heat, caramelize the onions, stirring frequently, until they are lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

PICT3176~ Step 2.  Add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken stock and black pepper.  Stir to thoroughly combine.

Adjust the heat to a gentle, steady simmer.  Place the rosemary sprigs on top of the soup and cover the pot.  Do not stir the rosemary springs into the soup.

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~ Step 3.  Continue to simmer gently for 10-15 minutes.  The rosemary will have lost its bright green color but the leaves will still be attached to the stems.

Note & Tip:   Rosemary is a powerful herb.  Remove and discard it at this time, so it doesn't overpower the soup with its taste. This is a trick I use whenever I am adding fresh rosemary to a liquid.  I add it as a whole for a short period of time, then remove and discard it. You'll have pleasant, subtle flavor rather than a harsh, pungent one!

PICT3188~ Step 4.  Stir in the cream.  Over low heat, warm the soup, stirring frequently, until it is steaming.  Do not allow to simmer or boil.

~ Step 5.  To serve, portion chopped bacon in the bottom of each of eight warmed serving bowls.  Ladle 1 1/2 cups of soup into each bowl and garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche.

 

~ Serving Suggestion.  For an added treat, instead of an ordinary grilled cheese sandwich, serve this soup with my easy-to-make recipe for ~ Danish Blue, Swiss Emmentaler & Pine Nut Tarts ~.  You can find this recipe in Categories 1, 9, 11 & 18, and, you can thank me later!

PICT3345Bacon, Onion & Rosemary-Tomato-Cream Soup:  Recipe yields 3 quarts of soup or 8, 1 1/2 cup servings.

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

Cook's Note:  I like to make a big batch of this soup and freeze it.  That being said, when making it for the freezer, I do not add the cream.  Once I thaw the soup, I add cream until I get the desired taste and color, or about 1/3 cup cream for every quart of soup.  Over low heat, heat the soup until it is steaming.  Once the cream is added, do not allow it to simmer or boil!

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

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

10/25/2011

~ Danish Blue, Swiss Emmentaler & Pine Nut Tarts ~

PICT3331I vividly remember the first time I made these savory tarts.  It was the Fall of 1996 -- the day before Thanksgiving.  We'd just moved into our current home three weeks earlier and everyone, in both of our families, was anxiously awaiting the opening of the front doors, the grand tour, and, a long, relaxing holiday weekend full of family, fun and football... all 27 or so of them!

PICT3380I had been cooking up a storm for a week and was excited to be serving a very elegant Thanksgiving buffet that evening.  With a host of hors d'oeuvres, two huge turkeys, a Smithfield ham, all sorts of sides-dishes and a five-star dessert buffet too, I knew I had enough food.  The small dilemma I was faced with:  

Starting at around 11:30AM, my guests were going to start trickling through the doors,  all arriving at different times from various locations and they'd be, understandably, sort-of hungry.  I wanted to figure out a solution that would be welcoming for them, easy for me to handle and fun for us all. What I didn't realize was:  What I did that day was about to start a Thanksgiving tradition that continues to this day!

PICT3359I made a very large pot of my ~ Bacon, Onion & Rosemary-Tomato-Cream-Soup~, which can be found in Categories 2, 9, 18, 19 & 20. Who doesn't like tomato soup and who wouldn't like to be served a bacon and tomato soup for brunch or lunch?  No one that day!

As everyone arrived, they were each greeted with a hug, a mug of warm soup and a spoon.

On the kitchen counter was a huge platter of my miniature cheese and spinach tarts... and I do mean huge.  I made a quadruple batch, which is 8 dozen.  By 2:30PM, when the last of my guests came through the door, there was just enough of this dynamic soup and snack combo left to go around.  From that Thanksgiving on, my guests know what to expect up their arrival:  A hug, a mug of some sort of comforting soup, a snack and a cocktail!

PICT3225Before getting started, prep and have ready the following ingredients as directed:

5  ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed (not cooked), drained and squeezed  as dry as possible (Note:  The best way to squeeze it dry is with your hands. )

1/2  cup pine nuts (pinins/pignolis)

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4  ounces Danish blue cheese

2  ounces Swiss Emmentaler cheese, grated

1  jumbo egg

1/2  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8  teaspoon ground red pepper (optional)

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

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1  box Pillsbury Pie Crusts/2, 9" pie crusts, rolled with a rolling pin to a 10" diameter

Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy, for preparing mini-tart pan(s)

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~ Step 1.  Prep the spinach as directed and set aside.

~ Step 2.  Grate the Swiss cheese as directed and set aside.

~ Step 3.  In a 1-cup measuring container, whisk together the egg, cream, nutmeg, optional red pepper and white pepper.  Set aside.

~ Step 4.  Using a 3" round cookie cutter, cut each 10" crust into 12 discs.

PICT3203~ Step 5.  Sprinkle the bottom of one or two mini-muffin pans with flour.  You'll be making 24 tartlets. Using your fingertips, place and press each pastry disc into the bottom of each muffin mold, to form 24 mini tart shells.

PICT3233~ Step 6.  Using your fingertips, evenly distribute and lightly press about 1/2 teaspoon of blue cheese into the bottom of each shell.  Do the same with the spinach, then Emmentaler.  Lastly, distribute all of the pine nuts over the tops.

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~ Step 7.  Briefly rewhisk the egg/milk mixture.  Slowly drizzle or spoon the mixture, just a little at a time into each one, being careful not to overfill or overflow any of the tarts. Evenly distribute ALL of the mixture amongst the tarts.  Note:  If you do happen to spill or drip, blot the drips up using a paper towel, as spills will burn and cause the tarts to stick to the pans when baked.

PICT3265~ Step 8.  Bake on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven, 14-15 minutes, or until filling is puffed, set, and the pastry is golden brown. Remove from oven and rest in pans 3-4 minutes.

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~ Step 9.  Using a thin spatula or a small fork (I prefer a small cocktail-type fork), carefully and gently lift (from the side not the center) each one and transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm or a room temperature.

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Danish Blue, Swiss Emmentaler & Pine Nut Tarts:  Recipe yields 24 miniature-sized tarts.

Special Equipment List:  colander (for draining spinach); cheese grater; 1-cup measuring container; fork; rolling pin; 3" round cookie cutter; 1-2 miniature muffin pans, enough for 24 miniature muffins; paper towels; 1-2 cooling racks

Cook's Note:  These can be prepared one day in advance.  Loosely cover cooled tarts with plastic wrap.  Do not refrigerate.  I have frozen completely cooled tartlets.  Once thawed and upon reheating them, while they were/are edible and tasty, I must report that freezing them does compromise the end result.  That being said, my frozen, thawed and reheated mini-tarts were/are much better than any prepackaged and/or frozen versions sold at the grocery store!

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

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

10/24/2011

~ From a Potato to My Southern Sweet Potato Pie ~

PICT3129Sweet potato pie is a Southern tradition.  Similar to pumpkin pie in its texture, it too is mostly served in the Fall, when sweet potatoes (as well as pumpkins) are in season, and, is the star of the Southern Thanksgiving dessert table.  It is a simple-to-make pie, consisting of mashed sweet potatoes, milk, sugar, eggs and sometimes spices.  Like pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin puree (any type of canned "stuff" not included), the custard filling varies from silky to dense, depending upon the ratio of mashed sweet potatoes to milk and eggs.  As for the spices, it seems to me that too many recipes for sweet potato pie try to make it taste just like pumpkin pie, adding things like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, etc., to the sweet potato mixture.  "Why", I ask, "would anyone want to or try to make both of these pies taste alike?"  Pumpkin is naturally bland and boring and benefits from fragrant spices.  On the flip side, sweet potatoes are flavorful, and, well, naturally sweet.  All they require is a bit of enhancement.  In the event both pies find themselves side-by-side on my Thanksgiving dessert plate, I want each one to be at their very best.  My recipe, if I do say so myself, will turn the heads of even the best Southern cooks!

PICT3080Over the past few days, I've exposed my adoration for sweet potatoes by using them in and posting a few of my favorite recipes:

~ "Winner, Winner, Crockpot Dinner":  A Scrumptious, Slow-Cooked, Sweet Potato & Ground Beef Chili ~ found in Categories 2, 3, 13 & 19;

~ Sweet Potato & Apple  Stuffing for Poultry or Pork ~, found in Categories, 4 & 18; 

PICT2473~ Sweet Potato & Apple Stuffed Pork Chops w/Sauteed Apples & Onions ~ (pictured above), in Categories  3 & 19; and, 

my recipe for ~ Smashed Maple Sweet Potatoes ~ (pictured here), in Categories 4 & 18, are all year-round Preschutti family favorites!

I baked and served my very first sweet potato pie back in 1992:

PICT3140Our son, who was attending Penn State and living in a downtown apartment, became friends and roommates with a Texan by the name of J.E. Allen, III.  James was/is a very big guy with a very big appetite and was most appreciative of the food I would "sneak" into their apartment refrigerator while they were at classes.  Because of Penn State's Fall football schedule, going home to visit his family in Texas for Thanksgiving each year was impossible.  So, as well as becoming family at our dinner table, for a period of about six years, James was a regular at our Thanksgiving table too.  After the second year, he expressed one problem he was having with my Yankee feast and made a request:  

"Mel, would you PLEASE make a sweet potato pie like my grandmother Mimi's!?!"

PICT3160I am pleased to report that James earned a Master's Degree in Education from PSU.  He is a teacher, football coach, father and very close friend of ours.  His entire family flew to Happy Valley for his graduation and after the ceremony, the party was held in our downstairs Penn State room.  Amongst the guests, I got to meet Mimi, who on that day gave my Northern sweet potato pie her seal of approval!

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For the pie pastry:

1/2 of my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee:  Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~, found in Categories 6, 15 or 22, or, your favorite pie pastry, rolled and fitted into a 10" pie dish

For the pie filling:

3 1/2-4  cups mashed/smashed sweet potatoes, from about 5 large, orange, sweet potatoes, warm

6  ounces butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 1/2 sticks)

1 1/2  cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

4  large eggs

3/4  cup evaporated milk

1/4  cup Frangelico (an Italian hazelnut-flavored liqueur)

1 1/2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract, not imitation

PICT3089~ Step 1.  In oven or microwave, bake sweet potatoes until soft.  Set aside until they are cool enough to comfortably handle with your hands, about 15-20 minutes.  Using a paring knife, an ordinary tablespoon and a fork, slice the potatoes in half, scoop out the soft centers, transfer them to a measuring container and mash them with a fork.  Set aside.  Note: Many recipes instruct to peel, cube and boil the sweet potatoes until soft.  I find this makes them watery.

PICT3093~ Step 2.  In a large mixing bowl, on medium-speed of hand-held electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar and salt, until light and fluffy, constantly scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, about 1 minute.  Add and beat in the eggs.

 

 

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~ Step 3.  Add  the evaporated milk, Frangelico, vanilla extract and sweet potatoes.  Increase mixer speed to medium-high and continue to mix until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.  Mixture will not be perfectly smooth.

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~ Step 4.  Transfer/pour all of the pie filling into the prepared 10" pie pastry.  Bake pie on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 45-50 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Do not over bake. Center of pie will be puffy but not completely set.  The pie will continue to cook and set as it cools. Remove from oven and cool completely, on rack, prior to slicing and serving:

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From a Potato to My Southern Sweet Potato Pie:  Recipe yields 10-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  10" pie dish; rolling pin; kitchen shears; paring knife; tablespoon; fork; 1-quart measuring container; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; cake tester or toothpick; cooking rack

Roasted Pumpkins of Tussey Mountain #2Cook's Note:  The difference between a pumpkin pie made from canned pumpkin and freshly roasted pumpkin puree is night and day.  It's really easy to make too! To read my method/recipe for making ~ Roasted Pumpkin Puree ~ from scratch, just click into Categories 15, 18 or 22!

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

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

10/20/2011

~ Sweet Potato & Apple Stuffed Pork Loin Chops w/Sauteed Apples, Onions & Apricot-Mustard Sauce~

PICT3080For those of you that don't know, October is National Pork Month.  For those of you that don't know, October is National Apple month too.  Since I am a pork lover and an apple lover, in good conscience, I cannot let October pass by without paying tribute to both our nation's pork producers and apple growers.  Few things complement pork as well as apples, and, it just so happens that apples are at their best this time of year here in Pennsylvania!

Yesterday's Stuffing is Today's Stuffed Pork Chops!

PICT2973Yesterday I prepared and blogged my recipe for ~ Sweet Potato & Apple Stuffing for Poultry or Pork ~, found in Categories 4 or 17.  This year will be its 14th appearance at our annual Thanksgiving feast, which should indicate how popular it is in our household.  I always make a pretty big batch of it (as you'll see when you read the recipe) in the hopes of having leftovers, just so I can use it to make these wonderful stuffed pork chops!

PICT2306Back in May, I posted my recipe for ~ Apricot-Mustard Sauce:  For Dipping or Drizzling~, found in Categories 8, 10 or 22.  I almost always have container or two of this flavorful condiment on hand in my refrigerator or freezer.  This easy-to-make sauce/glaze instantly turns an ordinary chicken breast or pork chop into a decadent feast.  Just wait until you taste what it is going to do to these not-so-ordinary stuffed pork chops!

The following method of cooking is referred to as "braising".  The food, usually meat, vegetables or both, is first browned in fat, then covered and cooked slowly in a liquid or a sauce for a lengthy period of time (usually a couple of hours).  The cooking can be done on the stovetop, in the oven, or, a combination of both.  This lengthy cooking time concentrates the flavors and tenderizes the food by breaking down its fibers until it is fork-tender. Braising is one of my absolute favorite ways to cook pork or veal chops.  By the way, this recipe is just as fabulous using veal loin chops in place of pork chops!

PICT2985The first thing you're going to need is 8, even-sized, 2"-thick, bone-in pork loin chops, with large pockets for stuffing.  I have my butcher cut the pockets, but it is easily done in your home kitchen using a very sharp paring knife.

PICT2990~ Step 1.  Using a 2" ice cream scoop as a measure, place a scoop (1/3 cup) of stuffing, preferably at room temperature, into the pocket of each chop.  Using your fingertips press it towards the back (bone end) of the pork chop.

Note:  It's best to remove the stuffing from refrigerator 1-2 hours before stuffing chops.  Room temperature stuffing is softer, therefore easier to push into the chops.

PICT2996~ Step 2.  Lay each chop flat.  Insert three toothpicks, from the top of chop down through the bottom, evenly spacing them along the open pocket-end of each chop.

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~ Step 3.  Generously sprinkle the tops of all chops with:

salt

pepper

garlic power

Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce & Gravy

Set the chops aside for about 20-30 minutes.  This allows time for the flour to absorb moisture from the meat, which will make for a crispier texture when the chops are sauteed.

PICT3010~ Step 4.  In a 14" chef's pan with straight, deep sides, melt 6 tablespoons of butter into 6 tablespoons of olive oil over low heat.  Place chops, side-by-side, floured side down, in the pan. The chops will shrink as they cook so don't angst about a "tight squeeze". Season unseasoned tops with salt, pepper, garlic powder and flour.

PICT3015~ Step 5.  Adjust heat to medium-high and saute the chops until golden brown on both sides, about 30-40 minutes per side, turning only once.

~ Step 6.  Add 1 1/2 cups apple juice to pan. Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer.  Partially cover and continue to cook for 2 hours, turning the chops over once during the last 30 minutes of the cooking process.

PICT3019Note:  Chops will be a gorgeous golden color, and fall-apart tender!

~ Step 7.  During the last 30 minutes of the above cooking process, peel and thinly slice 1 pound of Granny Smith apples (about 3 large apples) and 1 pound of yellow or sweet onion (1-2 very large onions).  Set aside. Measure and have ready 1/2 cup additional apple juice.

PICT3033~ Step 8.  Turn the heat under the chops off.  Using a large spatula, carefully and gently transfer them to a large serving platter.  Tightly cover with aluminum foil to keep them warm.  Immediately:

~ Step 9.  Add the 1/2 cup of apple juice to the pan.  Adjust heat to medium-high.  Using the spatula, deglaze the pan by scraping all of the browned bits loose from the bottom of pan, about 30 seconds.

PICT3054~ Step 10.  Stir in 1 tablespoon fennel seed, 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves.

Add the sliced onions and apples. Do not be inclined to add salt or pepper, as the drippings are very flavorful. Saute, over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until onions and apples are beginning to brown and liquid has thickened to a sauce, about 15 minutes.

To serve, portion and place a bed of sauteed apples and onions on each of eight warmed serving plates. Top each with a stuffed pork chop and drizzle with some warm apricot-mustard sauce.  Serve immediately, with additional sauce at tableside:

PICT3081Sweet Potato & Apple Stuffed Pork Loin Chops w/Sauteed Apples, Onions & Apricot-Mustard Sauce:  Recipe yields 8 servings and 2 cups sauce.

Special Equipment List:  paring knife (optional); 2" ice-cream scoop; 24 toothpicks; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; cutting board; chef's knife; large spatula

Cook's Note:  While the process of braising pork or veal chops is time consuming, it is not hard. In the case of this recipe, if the stuffing and the apricot-mustard sauce are made a day ahead of time, preparing this meal is a lovely, relaxing way to spend a beautiful Fall day in your kitchen!

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

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

10/19/2011

~ Sweet Potato & Apple Stuffing for Poultry or Pork ~

PICT2944October and November is the time of year when many of us switch gears to gravy.  We've transitioned from grilled chicken or pork chops to roasted chicken or braised pork chops and we're craving them drizzled with creamy gravy.  While mashed potatoes and gravy go together like salt and pepper, if given the choice between stuffing or mashed potatoes, my fork is in the stuffing.  Because of my love affair with stuffing, I have a few stuffing recipes in my repertoire, but: this is my favorite Fall stuffing recipe.  It doesn't contain anything fancy, but it does contain two of my favorite foods:  crisp Fall apples and prime sweet potatoes.  It is perfect to serve with any type of roasted poultry, from the smallest game hen to the largest turkey or just a chicken breast.  It is equally delicious served as an accompaniment to many pork dishes or chops!

I say, "stuffing", and you say, "dressing".  Who's right?

We both are.  The terms are used interchangeably.  The Food Lover's Companion defines both  as "a mixture used to stuff poultry, fish, meat and some vegetables."  I did not always know this:

PICT2953Where I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania:  If someone said, "please pass the dressing", you got handed the salad dressing.  When someone said my grandmother was "dressing the turkey", it meant she was preparing it for roasting (which in her younger years included removing its innards and plucking the feathers).  Stuffing was the stuff she stuffed into the bird.  The stuff that didn't fit in the bird (or the extra stuffing she made so she'd have enough to feed all of us) got baked in a buttered casserole dish alongside the bird.  Neither turned into "dressing" when it went on the table.  Stuffing went into her oven, stuffing came out of her oven and stuffing went onto her table.  I spent the first fourteen years of my life completely unaware that stuffing had any other name!

It happened while I was having an after-school dinner at my classmate Susie's house.  Susie's mom Jeanne was born and raised in the South and talked with one of those great accents I had only ever heard on Andy of Mayberry.  Susie's mom served a delicious chicken dinner that night, with cornbread dressing.  I was a pretty picky eater back then and wanted to know what I was eating before I put in on my plate (because according to my family's rules, once it was on my plate I was required to eat it).  So I asked, "is this dressing the same thing as stuffing?"  In a lovely, ladylike, upbeat Southern drawl, I was told, "Oo honn-ey!  It's jus the same!  We'all jus call it dressin' down South!"

PICT2848 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8  ounces butter

2  teaspoons fennel seed

1/2  teaspoon nutmeg

1  teaspoon poultry seasoning

2  packets from 1 box of G. Washington's Golden Seasoning and Broth Mix

1/2  teaspoon salt

1  teaspoon white pepper

8-10  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

8-10  ounces diced celery

1 1/2  pounds peeled sweet potatoes, chopped into 1/2"-3/4" bite-sized pieces

12  ounces peeled Granny Smith apples, chopped into 1/2"-3/4" bite-sized pieces

8  ounces golden raisins

8  jumbo eggs

1 1/2  cups milk, plus 1/2 cup additional milk, more or less, if necessasry

2  1-pound loaves cubed potato bread

no-stick cooking spray

PICT2849~ Step 1.  In a large 12"-14" skillet melt the butter over low heat.  Add the fennel seed, nutmeg, poultry seasoning, seasoning packets salt and white pepper.  Stir, to thoroughly combine the seasonings with the butter.

~ Step 2.  Remove from heat.  You don't want the butter to brown.

PICT2853~ Step 3.  Prep the onion, celery and sweet potatoes as directed, placing them in the skillet as you work.

~ Step 4.  Increase heat to saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and the sweet potatoes begin to soften, about 10-12 minutes.

While the vegetables are sauteing:

PICT2857~ Step 5.  Peel and dice the apples as directed.  When the above vegetables are cooked as directed, add the apples and raisins to the skillet.  Continue to saute, stirring occasionally, until apples just begin to soften, about 4-6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly, about 5-10 minutes.

~ Step 6.  In a 1-quart measuring container, whisk together the eggs and 1 1/2 cups of milk.

PICT2877~ Step 7.  Using a serrated bread knife, cut the potato bread into 3/4" cubes.  I do not use the end slices from either loaf, as the additional crust on these two slices has a tendency to burn.

PICT2882Place the bread cubes in a VERY large bowl as you work.

PICT2897~ Step 8.  Using a large rubber spatula, transfer and thoroughly incorporate the sweet potato/apple mixture to the bread cubes.

~ Step 9.  Add the milk/egg mixture to the bowl.  Using the spatula, fold until bread has soaked up all liquid. Add up to 1/2 cup of additional milk, in small amounts, until a very moist consistency is reached.  The bread should be very wet with no puddle of liquid in the bottom of the bowl.

PICT2918~ Step 10.  Transfer the stuffing to a 4-quart glass casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick spray. Cover with aluminum foil.

Bake on center rack of 350 degree oven 45 minutes.  Remove foil and and bake an additional 15 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned:

PICT2931Sweet Potato & Apple Stuffing for Poultry or Pork:  Recipe yields 16 cups or 10-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  12"-14" skillet; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; serrated bread knife; very large mixing bowl; large rubber spatula; 4-quart casserole; aluminum foil

PICT2973Cook's Note:  As a general rule, to judge the amount of stuffing you need to prepare, plan on:  one-third cup for each pound of poultry being stuffed, or, 1-1 1/2 cups of cooked stuffing per person when being served as an accompaniment.  My recipe while large, was written so you can easily divide it in half (to make less) or double it (to make more) to accommodate the quantity you need.  In Melanie's Kitchen we need/want leftovers!

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

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

10/16/2011

~ It's a Triple-Corn Jalapeno Cornbread Kinda Day ~

PICT2809I take my cornbread seriously, but, I am not going to proclaim that mine is the best recipe known to mankind.  Why?  Because if I walked into a room full of people right now and struck up a conversation about cornbread, the cornbread lovers in the room would chime in unison, "I have the absolute best recipe. I'd be happy to share it with you."  If there were a native Southerner or two in the room with us Yankees, there would no doubt be a full-blown lecture about Southern cornbread being the only "real" cornbread.  The spirited discussion that would subsequently ensue would revolve around the "rights" and "wrongs" of cornbread baking, or, Northern- vs. Southern-style cornbread.  With just one or two very, very minor deviations, I classify my cornbread as Southern.  I think my Southern ancestors would be proud!

"Perhaps no bread in the world is quite as good as Southern cornbread, and perhaps no bread in the world is quite so bad as the Northern imitation of it." ~ Mark Twain

~ Southern cornbread has a larger ratio of corn meal to wheat flour than Northern versions, and many cooks in the South add no wheat flour at all.  I've tried it both ways and my preference is to add a bit of wheat flour to the mix.  Corn, which is both a vegetable and a grain, lacks gluten which is what allows wheat flour to rise.  My position is:  a bit of flour does cornbread a world of good.  The ratio I like best is three parts corn meal to one part flour.

~ Southern cooks are adamant about using buttermilk, and buttermilk only, to make cornbread.  I have done it using plain milk and I am taking this position:  buttermilk is essential to a great cornbread.

~ Southern recipes almost always stir in a small amount of liquid fat:  oil, melted butter or bacon drippings.  I am a melted butter kind of girl.

~ Southern purists add no sugar to their corn bread.  I dislike sugar-free cornbread, and, since this is a free country, this Yankee woman puts sugar in her cornbread.

~ Southerners are the first ones to personalize their cornbread with flavorful additives like corn kernels and bacon bits.  Diced chili peppers are frequently added to spice things up.  I've tried all three and I'm taking this position:  they are all great when added singularly or in conjunction with each other.  The more the merrier where cornbread is concerned. 

PICT2710

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 1/2  cups yellow cornmeal

1/2  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper (optional)

2  extra-large eggs, beaten

1  cup buttermilk

4  tablespoons sugar

1  cup creamed corn

1  cup whole corn kernels, fully-cooked and shaved off the cob, or, canned and well-drained

2  tablespoon finely-diced, crisply-fried bacon (optional)

1/4  cup well-drained, pickled jalapeno peppers, diced (optional)

1/4  cup melted butter (1/2 stick)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing baking dish

PICT2713

~ Step 1.  Prep and have ready any optional ingredients to be added and set them aside.

~ Step 2.  In a large mixing bowl, using a large spoon, thoroughly stir together the dry ingredients:  the corn meal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt and optional white pepper.  Set aside.

Note:  This can be done up to a day ahead.  How convenient is that!

PICT2720~ Step 3.  In the microwave, melt the butter.  Set aside about 5 minutes, to cool slightly.

~ Step 4.  In a medium mixing bowl, using a fork, beat the eggs.  Using a large spoon, add and stir in the following wet ingredients, plus the sugar:  buttermilk, creamed corn, whole corn kernels and sugar.  Stir in any optional ingredients.  Add the butter and vigorously mix until sugar is dissolved, about 15-30 seconds.

PICT2730~ Step 5.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Using a large spoon, stir until the batter is just combined.  Don't overwork it and don't worry about any lumps.

PICT2732~ Step 6. Transfer into an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish that has been sprayed with no stick cooking spray.  How easy was that!

PICT2782~ Step 7.  Bake on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven for 25 minutes, or until cornbread is golden brown on the top, starting to pull away from the sides of the dish and a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  It's hard to wait, but place baking dish on a cooling rack and allow to cool slightly before diving in, 30-45 minutes: 

PICT2836It's a Triple-Corn Jalapeno Cornbread Kinda Day:  Recipe yields 9-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  large spoon; fork; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack

Cook's Note:  To make an absolutely wonderful blueberry cornbread, omit the white pepper and optional additions (bacon bits and/or jalapeno peppers)... although, personally, I like the combination of blueberry and bacon a lot.  Instead, add 2 extra tablespoons of sugar to the mixture and 1-1 1/2 generous cups of fresh blueberries!

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

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

10/14/2011

~ "Winner Winner Crock-Pot Dinner": A Scrumptious, Slow-Cooked, Sweet Potato and Ground Beef Chili ~

PICT2619IT'S A BIRD... IT'S A PLANE... IT'S A CROCK-POT RECIPE...... FROM MELANIE???

I am as surprised as you are.  I make no bones about the fact that I am not a crock-pot kind-a girl. I've searched my soul trying to find something exemplary to say about these one-pot cooking wonders.  My experiences are limited, as after a few tries with several brands over thirty-five years, always finding the results to be lack-luster (the protein always chewy or stringy, the vegetables often mushy, and an unusually large amount of liquid in the final product), I shelved mine... all eight of them!  EIGHT???  You know me, there is always a story...

PICT2652Meet my very first "crock-pot", made by West Bend.  I got it as a wedding shower gift in 1974.  I have two others identical to it... my mother gave me hers and my girlfriend Sally gave me hers (when they each decided that crockery cookery was not their gig either).  All three still work "perfectly".  What fun to welcome this old friend on my countertop again today!  

9DD353AE-E2B4-A350-4AE66A8064936FCAWest Bend introduced an electric bean cooker in 1962, called The Bean Pot, which was a traditional bean pot atop a warming tray, which is essentially what my slow-cooker (pictured above) is.

The slow-cooker was originally invented by Chicago's Irving Naxon (Naxon Utilities Corporation).  It was introduced, in August 1970, as the Naxon All-Purpose Cooker, or Beanery.  As the story goes, Irving was a great inventor but lacked marketing skills and his bean machine flopped. Later that same year, the Rival company bought Naxon and reintroduced the product in 1971 under the Crock-Pot name.

Shortly after I got married in 1974, the crock-pot craze occurred.  Just in time for Christmas, Rival introduced removable stoneware inserts to the product.  Guess what was on my wish list that year?  Yep.

PICT2690Fast forward to the late '80's and early '90's, which was when I made peace with crock-pots, meaning:  I found a use for them.   There was a 6-year period of time when I was the President of The Penn State Tennis Club and The PSU Varsity Tennis Booster Club.  While entertaining is not a requirement of being president of either, the ability to do so is definitely an asset.  We hosted tailgates for all home matches and tournaments.  While I didn't cook in the crock-pots, I found them a useful tool for keeping all sorts of things warm at "the club" (which had no kitchen facilities at all).  I bought four more.  Four + four = eight, and when your hosting an indoor tennis activity for 125+ people, plus, two teams of hungry athletes, eight crock-pots come in handy!

PICT2656Enter #9!?!  My ability to acquire kitchen appliances never ceases to amaze my husband.  When I started Kitchen Encounters a little over a year ago, I knew my personal repertoire of over 800 signature recipes would see me through at least 3-4 years of blogging.  What I wasn't prepared for were requests for crock-pot recipes.  So, what does a woman with no blog-worthy crock-pot recipes and eight crock-pots do?  She buys another crock-pot.  Hear me out:  Crock-pot technology has changed a lot, and, as a recipe developer, I always want an up-to-date understanding of what is on the market.  And, if someone had perfected the crock-pot, I figured it had to be All-Clad... and this my friends is the mother of all crock-pots!

Now all I needed was a recipe.  I had watched my son Jess make delicious chili in his Cuisinart crock-pot (which I bought for him) over the Summer.  I was well-aware of this recipe's likability factor... as long as one could overcome the typical crock-pot, end-result shortcomings (mentioned above), and, Jess gave me some great tips.  I had Jess's perfected recipe, in hand and ready to blog, when I decided this was not where I wanted to head with this post:

Is it the crock-pot per se or the cryptic way crock-pot recipes are written ("place ingredients in pot, turn on and cook 8 hours") that makes eating slow-cooked food compromising to me?  By compromising I mean:  You turn the thing on in the morning, leave the house, return 8 hours later and are so happy to have hot food you are willing to overlook and forgive texture and appearance?  Tasting good is a given or no one would buy these appliances.  My two cents:  Crock-pots are not all they are crocked up to be.  There are just some things they can't do as well as your oven or stovetop.  They were invented to cook stone-hard, dry beans... so doesn't cooking an entire dinner in one, using a variety of various-textured meats and vegetables seem like taking a leap of faith to you?  It seems to me that a marvelously marketed machine, rather than a well-thought-out method of cooking, with well-written recipes to accompany it, has left a lot of us staring at a lot of crock-pots that we are not feeling the love for.  

So, two days ago I randomly internet-searched a bunch of slow-cooker chili recipes.  I made myself forget my knowledge of food.  My goal was to choose a recipe like "normal" people do.  I hit upon one that appealed to me and appeared, as per its picture, to be perfectly-cooked.  Since I am about to announce that it turned out a greasy, with mushy vegetables and too much liquid, I don't think crediting the site would be appropriate or appreciated.  That being said, it was edible. On a positive note, I did like the recipe writer's basic spice blend (although I added 3 more spices to it to please my palate).  I then set out to break the crock-pot code, using this same recipe, and develop a well-written version that would work in any crock-pot it was cooked in. Whatever I came up with would have to be something  I would make again, serve to a perfect stranger without regret, and, more importantly, publish:

PICT2588

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1  14-ounce can diced tomatoes

1  40-ounce can red-skinned kidney beans, undrained

1  14-ounce can black beans, well-drained and rinsed (optional) (Note:  I liked this chili without the black beans better, so I made them an optional ingredient, but the original recipe included them, which I thought was noteworthy.  The choice is yours.)

8  ounces yellow or sweet onion, large-diced

3  7-8-ounce sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 3/4"-1" chunks

4  tablespoons dark brown sugar

4  tablespoons Santa Fe Seasons chile blend, or 2 tablespoons Mexican-style chili powder

1/2  teaspoon chipotle chile powder

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

2  tablespoons ground cumin

2  teaspoons smoked paprika

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1-1 1/2 pounds ground sirloin (95/5), 1 pound if adding black beans to recipe, 1 1/2 pounds if not adding black beans to recipe

PICT2595~ Step 1.  Prep and place all of the ingredients in crock-pot, except for the ground sirloin.  Do not add the ground sirloin at this time.

Note:  Error on the side of the onion and sweet potatoes being chopped too large.  The original recipe didn't indicate this, and after the cooking process they were almost non-existent.

~ Step 2.  Using a large spoon, stir all of the ingredients together.  Wipe any drips from the rim of the crock-pot and place the lid on. Cook on high for 1 hour.  In the meantime:

PICT2603~ Step 3.  In a 10" skillet, place the ground sirloin.  Lightly season it with a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Adjust heat to saute, stirring constantly while breaking the meat up into large chunks with the side of a spoon or spatula until just cooked through, about 6-8 minutes.  Do not brown.  Remove from heat.  Drain thoroughly and stir meat into chili.

PICT2632~ Step 4.  After the first hour of cooking on high, give the mixture a thorough stir, change the temperature to low, cover, and continue to cook for about 5 hours, stirring occasionally, or until sweet potatoes are cooked through/done to your liking, or as long as 5 1/2 hours.  Why does this timing vary? It depends on how large you diced your sweet potatoes!

PICT2678"Winner Winner Crock-Pot Dinner":  A Scrumptious, Slow-Cooked, Sweet-Potato and Ground Beef Chili:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  4 1/2-quart crock-pot; large spoon; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" skillet

PICT2609Cook's Note:  For me, the consistency of this chili was perfect. If, however, due to circumstances beyond your control, your chili is not as thick as you would like it, here is a trick I learned from my son Jesse: Crush a few tortilla chips and stir them into the chile, a few tablespoons at a time (2-4), giving them about 5-6 minutes to thicken the chili before adding any more to thicken it even more!  Yummo!!!

IMG_1228Extra Cook's Note:  When I am making this chili in the All-Clad crockpot, which has a generous-sized 6 1/2-quart crock, for extra flavor and texture, I add and saute:

1  pound sweet or hot sausage

to the ground beef in the skillet, plus:

1 cup each:  coarsely chopped (3/4") green & red bell pepper

to the initial mixture in the crock-pot!

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

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

10/13/2011

~ Tuning Up for Tailgate Thursday: Take a Trip Back Twenty-Five Years in PSU Tailgating Time, Part 5: Passing the Torch to a New Penn State Generation ~

Scan 3Welcome to the last part of my five-part series about Penn State tailgate.  In honor of Penn State's 125th anniversary, Kitchen Encounters has been taking a nostalgic look at what my tailgate group was cooking up twenty-five years ago.  The year was 1986.  Penn State was celebrating its 100th anniversary.  It was the year we won our second national championship. Back in '86, we were all in it to win it... and so we did!

Part 1:  The Business of Tailgating;

Part 2:  The Roads All Lead to Beaver Stadium;

Part 3:  Tailgating, Not the Military, Builds Character, and;

Part 4:  Sometimes the Game is just Background Noise 

can all be found by clicking into Categories 16 or 17.  The menus I am sharing in this series are actual pages from a tailgate newsletter I "published" for every home game, using just an electric typewriter and a copy machine.  Twenty-five years ago in tailgate time:  "cut and paste" meant just that, the cost of snail-mail was 22 cents, landlines didn't have answering machines and our son (the big guy in the above picture) was 10 years old!

Part 5:  Passing the Torch to a New Penn State Generation

ScanWhen it comes to the old saying "you can never go back", I am here to tell you:  Penn State is the true-blue exception to that rule.  My husband Joe has been living in Happy Valley since 1968 and I've been living here since 1974.  There came a time twenty-one years ago when Joe was offered a wonderful job in eastern PA.  We were excited. We hired a realtor, found a lovely piece of land and hired a builder. On the very day of closing (and breaking ground on our new home), at the very moment it came time for us to put pen to paper, he and I looked at each other and said "no", "we're not leaving Penn State", "let's go home".  And we did.  I do not recommend doing this without police protection... get out the pitchforks, saddle up the horses... you get my drift... it gets ugly!

Scan 2We resumed our lives and raised our family in Happy Valley. Everything was humming along quite nicely until:

It came time for our son (the big guy in the picture above) to go to college.  He announced to us one day that he wanted to go to 'Bama. I'd by lying if I didn't admit to using everything short of an exorcism to entice/bribe him into going to Penn State.  This was self-serving on my part.  You see, his grandfather and father were both Penn State grads. I was the exalted mother who gave birth to the future... a manchild and a third-generation Penn Stater. Feelings of desperation, failure and fear overwhelmed me.  What would they write on my tombstone?  I could hear the hammer and chisel in the background!

Scan 4One car and an apartment later, my son was a Penn Stater, and, before I knew it, he was in a fraternity too: MY SON LOVED PENN STATE.  I couldn't ask for more.   I, who did not go to Penn State, was a Penn State mom.  I wanted nothing more!

Over the years our Happy Valley home has been the home-away-from-home for many of his Penn State classmates.  Because "what happens in Melanie's Kitchen stays in Mel's kitchen", I'll not elaborate, but I will state:  I've earned every blue and white hair on my PSU mom's head.   Now grown, these are all successful Penn State alums and we are proud of all of them. They all continue to keep in touch with each other and with us, and guess what:  

They can and do come back... often!

Joe and I are now grandparents (to the little guy in the above picture).  If you are a grandparent, you know the feeling.  If you're a Penn State grad with a child who graduated from PSU who made you a grandparent, you must keep the dream alive, pass the family torch, cross your fingers and hope for the best!  For the glory...

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

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

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

10/12/2011

~ Soprano-Style Italian Sausage, Peppers & Onions, or: The Secret of the Sausage Sandwich Revealed ~

PICT2525Today ends the saga of Joe's epic pepper harvest of 2011.  Glean no negative connotations from this statement.  I am not sick of peppers (just yet), but, after this post, the peppers are gone (in the nick of time).  During the past week, I've posted my recipes for  ~ Stuffed Peppers? Make Mine Poblanos Please! ~ (found in Categories 3, 13, 19 & 20), and, ~ Comfort Food Italian-Style:  Chicken Cacciatore ~  (found in Categories 3, 12, 14, 17 & 22).  Both of these pepper-lover meals are favorites of Joe's, but this simple one, his favorite, I intentionally saved for last:

20031110-satriales-frontIf you were were a follower of the HBO hit series The Sopranos, and you drooled whenever Tony's crew ordered sausage "sangwitches" from Satriale's NJ pork store, you have a complete understanding of how near and dear these sandwiches are to any Italian heart!

For the record, "Italian sausage" is a term we  Americans coined, meaning:  In Italy, there is no product resembling our American version of Italian sausage.  In Italy, the word implies cured meats like Genoa salami, mortadella, soppressata, etc.  In the USA, it refers to coarsely ground pork sausage in natural casings, containing about 20%-25% fat and a distinct fennel flavor.  It is sold raw (not cured or smoked) in 5"-6" links, coiled ropes or in loose burger-meat-type form.     

PICT2527Whether one is at the ballpark, a carnival or entering a shopping mall, you can't help but notice the line of customers in front of the street-vendor selling Italian sausage sandwiches. These succulent sausages, hot off the griddle, are placed on soft-medium-textured Italian rolls, then generously topped with a savory blend of sauteed peppers and onions.  If you've ever eaten one of these sandwiches, you've also noted that they taste immensely better than the majority of home-prepared versions.  Why is this?  You are about to find out from me.  But first:

WARNING:  Sausage in this recipe refers exclusively to:  pork sausage.  Sausage containing chicken, turkey, vegetarian soy or byproducts therein are not considered or acknowledged to be "real" sausage in Melanie's Kitchen. Comments or questions regarding the substitution of these (or any other) sausage impostors thereof will not be replied to!

PICT2375A sausage link or coil needs ample time to cook through, about 25-30 minutes, we all agree on this. That being said, a dry heat over this period of time, as in the case of a BBQ grill, is NEVER going to produce a succulent sausage with a golden-brown casing and that pop/snap/squirt of the the first bite, AS PICTURED HERE. Grilled sausage will be good, just not the best sausage you've tasted... unless that is the only way you've ever tasted it.  Hear me out, and try this:

PICT2342~ Step 1.  Place a little over 1/4" of water in a skillet sized to comfortably hold the amount of sausage you are cooking.  Add the sausage, sweet or hot (links or an entire coil).

Note:  In this picture, I placed 6 links of sweet sausage and 6 links of hot sausage in a 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides.

PICT2343~ Step 2.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook for about 20-22 minutes, or until almost all of the liquid has evaporated from the pan.  Using a pair of tongs, NOT a fork (do NOT poke holes in the casings), turn the sausage over onto second side about halfway through the simmering process.

PICT2367~ Step 3.  Turn the heat off.  Add an equal amount of butter and olive oil to the pan.  I'm adding 4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick) and 4 tablespoons olive oil.  

Note:  This amount will vary, depending upon the size of your pan.  Just be sure to add equal amounts of each and add enough to generously coat the bottom of the pan.

PICT2379~ Step 4.  Adjust heat to medium-high.  Saute, regulating the heat carefully so as to brown not burn, until the sausage is golden brown on both sides, about 4-6 minutes per side.  Turn the heat off.

Note:  While the sausage is sauteeing/browning, use a spatula to constantly keep pushing/moving the sausage around in the pan.

PICT2388~  Step 5.  Once again, using tongs NOT a fork, transfer the sausage to a plate or a platter.  

Cover the sausage with aluminum foil and set aside.

PICT2418~ Step 6.  Prep and add the following ingredients, as you work, to the drippings in the pan:

Note:  The vegetables listed below can be prepped up to a day in advance or just before frying the sausage, BUT, they should not be sauteed until just before serving the sausage, as they tend to lose color and texture. 

1  tablespoon fennel seed

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon dried oregano

2  teaspoons sea salt, more or less, to taste

2  pounds thinly-sliced yellow or sweet onion

1  pound thinly-sliced green bell pepper

1  pound thinly-sliced red bell pepper

PICT2436~ Step 7.  Adjust heat to saute until the vegetables are softened, just cooked through and still quite colorful, about 6-8 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Turn the heat off but do not remove pan from stovetop.

~ Step 8.  Return the sausage to the pan, cover and set aside about 5-10 minutes, or just enough to reheat the sausages a bit.  To serve:

PICT2539

 

Step 9.  Slice the best quality Italian rolls money can buy. Generously spoon some of the warm vegetable mixture into the bottom of each roll.  Add a sausage to each sandwich and top with another scoop of vegetables.  In Melanie's Kitchen, we like to wrap each sandwich in aluminum foil and set them aside for 2-3 minutes, to give the roll a bit of time to steam/soften & soak up the juices!

PICT2563Soprano-Style Italian Sausage, Peppers & Onions, or:  The Secret of the Sausage Sandwich Revealed:  Recipe as written above yields 12 Italian sausage, pepper & onion sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  large skillet w/lid, sized according to how much sausage is being cooked; tongs; spatula; aluminum foil; cutting board; chef's knife

Baked Ziti #1 (Intro Picture)Cook's Note:  For another of my family's Soprano-style meals, click into Categories 3, 12, 14, 19 or 20 for ~ Baked Ziti, Sausage & Three-Cheese Casserole ~!

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

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

10/09/2011

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (10/7/11) ~

Culinary Q & A #2 Today is Sunday which makes my weekly Culinary Q&A two days late. Just so you know, Melanie's Kitchen gets SUPER busy during the Penn State football season, particularly when PSU is playing a home game. It becomes a mecca for family and friends who are in Happy Valley for the game, and, even when I am not formally expecting guests, it is indeed a rarity if someone doesn't decide to drop by to say "hi"!

PICT2206 In terms of tailgate weather, yesterday was a hallmark-card day. There is no book with directions for perfectly pairing a meal with with perfect weather, but yesterday I got more than lucky.  Our tailgaters ate 3 platters (24 servings) of my recipe for ~ Comfort Food Italian-Style: Chicken Cacciatore ~ under the blue & white Penn State sky.  You can get my recipe by clicking into Categories 3, 12, 14 or 22!

Two great cooking questions came my way this past week.  Both caused me to pause and think a bit, so perhaps it is "a good thing" I had the extra day to carefully ponder my answers!  Here we go:

Q.  Diane asks:  I received a convection toaster oven as a wedding gift back in July.  I am embarrassed to admit I have not taken it out of the box because the word convection intimidates me, mostly because almost no recipes offer convection instructions. Can you explain the differences between a convection oven and a "regular" oven to me?  Is there an easy calculation for converting recipes from conventional times to convection times?

PICT2243 A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Before we discuss the differences between convection and conventional ovens, let me say this:  take your toaster oven out of the box.  Unless I miss my guess,  it is BOTH a convection and conventional oven with conventional toast and broil features.  I have two Cuisinart convection oven toaster-broilers in my kitchen, which are also conventional ovens, and I use them often.  I also have four, large, built-in Gaggenau wall ovens which are conventional as well as convection.  Many larger convection ovens manufactured today automatically do the calculation to convection for you.  This is not the case with countertop/toaster ovens.   This being said, I am NOT an expert on convection cooking in the home (but I will interject that my restaurant chef friends use and rely upon convection cooking almost exclusively).  I will, however, share what I am certain of for fact:

Convection ovens have a third heating element and a fan that circulates hot air as the food cooks.  This speeds up the cooking process.  Depending on whether your are baking or roasting, it can be as little as 10% less, or, in the case of a large piece of meat, as much as 25-30% less.  In addition, depending upon what you are baking or roasting,  the conventional temperature will usually be reduced by 25 degrees, but it can be as much as 50 degrees.  I am sorry to report, there is no one, single, quotable, conversion calculation.  Because of these variables, most recipe developers and writers, myself included, avoid including specific instructions for convection cooking.  But, I do have good news for you:

First:  If you google the words CONVECTION OVEN CALCULATOR and click onto it, a site with a picture of an oven will appear.  On the picture of the oven, enter your recipe's conventional temperature and cook time, click whether you are baking or roasting, and, voila:  it will do the conversion for you and give you your convection instructions!

Second:  I recommend you purchase a copy of The Convection Oven Bible, by Linda Stephen. The publisher is Robert Rose and the cost of mine was $22.95.  This book is full of well-written, precise, easy-to-understand information, detailed instructions and great recipes too!

**********

Q.  PSUinBOSSTON asks:  Mel- can we talk sauces?  Do you have any "go to" sauces that can be used when I'm not feeling very creative?  I do most of the cooking, and I usually prefer to just let the mood and ingredients inspire me.  But sometimes I just don't have it in me.  My thinking is if I had a couple of unique sauces that I could keep in the freezer, it would allow me to make a fresh meal with reduced time and effort (basically, an alternative to freezing the meats and other ingredients).  Something that would "spice up" a bland chicken or beef dish.  So how about it, Mel, and "go to" sauces?  Or do frozen sauces offend your chef sensibilities?

PICT2306 A.  Kitchen Encounters:  PSUin BOSSTON!  Great to have you back again this week!  Let me start by saying my chef sensibilities almost never get offended.  Folks like yourself, who have "real-busy-lives" outside of the kitchen, yet still maintain a desire to come home and cook a tasty meal inspire me. And, based upon your previous comments and questions, you enjoy a good meal and enjoy your time in the kitchen preparing it.  I have two "freezer friendly" sauces to share with you.  Both are family favorites as well as "go to" sauces for when unannounced guests show up on my doorstep.  You'll have to decide for yourself in what quantities you want to prepare them, as well as what size portions you want to freeze them in!

PICT2248 First:  Allow me to recommend my ~ Apricot-Mustard Sauce:  For Dipping or Drizzling ~.  It can be found in Categories 8, 10 or 22.  It's easy to make and turns chicken, pork or veal into succulent indulgences.  Pictured here:  grilled chicken, sweet potato, caramelized onion and tomatoes drizzled with apricot mustard sauce!

PICT2311 Second:  Nothing takes a steak, a flank steak or a skirt steak, or even a burger for that matter, over-the-top like a spicy Argentinian chimichurri sauce.  I made a fresh batch today, just for this post, so the recipe isn't up on my blog just yet, but it will be tomorrow.  It is pictured here atop a perfectly-cooked, well-appointed London broil.  Beef w/chimichurri sauce... it's what's for dinner in the Preschutti house tonight!

Enjoy what's left of your weekend everyone.  Once again:  To leave a comment or ask a question, simply click on the blue title of any post, scroll to the end of it and type away!

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

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

10/07/2011

~ Comfort Food Italian-Style: Chicken Cacciatore ~

PICT2207 "Cacciatore" means "hunter" in Italian and "alla cacciatore" means "in the style of the hunter". The French refer to is as "chasseur" and the Spanish call it "cazadores".  In the style of the hunter, it is a very rustic stew which was prepared primarily when the hunter brought home a "white meat" to feed his family... partridges, pheasants or rabbits.  The American-Italian term refers to food prepared "hunter-style", usually with woodsy mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, various earthy herbs and wine!

PICT2148 Cacciatore starts with heating some olive oil in a large skillet.  The "white meat" is dusted with salt, pepper and flour, sauteed until golden brown on both sides, then removed from the skillet.  The pan gets deglazed with some wine and the juices are used to saute the vegetables.  Tomatoes are added, the meat is returned to the skillet and the mixture simmers gently for about 1 1/2 hours.

PICT2154 It is pretty easy to imagine how the dish transitioned to using chicken, and nowadays this stew is almost always associated with chicken ("pollo alla cacciatora") and this is the kind I make for my family. For a more refined looking, user-friendly version, with little or no compromise in result, boneless, skinless chicken may be used.  My family prefers the more flavorful chicken thighs to breasts, therefore, I prepare my delicious rendition of this Italian classic using 24 boneless, skinless chicken thighs and no breasts or legs.  In the style of the hunter's wife, I always serve mine atop a bed of pasta accompanied by some crusty, rustic Italian bread to sop up the wonderful sauce!

PICT1997 "Did Melanie just say 24 chicken thighs?"  Yes, I did, and I have two very good reasons for why I'm preparing so many. Firstly, I always make a double batch of chicken cacciatore, divide it between two 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dishes and freeze one.  It freezes perfectly.  So, in the same time it takes to make one casserole, I get two.  Secondly, every year at this time, Joe's garden gifts me with a big basket of green and red bell peppers.  This wonderful recipe is a way to make use of them while they are at their best.   And, for a bit of follow up, I can tell you this: in a few months, in the middle of one of our Pennsylvania snowstorms, I will be smiling from ear to ear when I remove my cacciatore from the freezer, reheat and serve it in front of a roaring fireplace.  You can thank me later!

PICT2009 For the chicken & sausage:

6  chicken breast halves and 6 leg/thigh portions, not boneless, or:

8  boneless, skinless breast halves and 8  boneless skinless thighs, or:

24 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1  pound Italian sausage, hot or mild, sliced into 1/2" "coins"

salt and white pepper

Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

6  tablespoons olive oil

6  tablespoons butter 

1-1 1/2  cups Madeira (a Portuguese, fortified, sweet white wine), 1 cup to start, a little more if necessary 

PICT2015~ Step 1.  Depending upon what chicken pieces you decided to use: Using kitchen shears, trim rib sections from breasts and remove skin.  Remove skin from leg/thigh portions.  Sprinkle the skinless tops of all chicken pieces with salt, white pepper and flour.  Set aside for 30 minutes.  This allows time for the flour to absorb moisture from the chicken, which results in a crispy texture when the chicken is fried.

PICT2026 ~ Step 2.  While the chicken is resting:  Prep and place the sausage coins in a 14" chef's pan w/straight deep sides.  Over medium-high heat, saute until thoroughly cooked, about 8-10 minutes.  The coins will now resemble small, plump, browned, meatballs.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  Set aside.  Turn the heat off, and do not discard the drippings from the pan.  Next: 

PICT2053 For the vegetables (prep as directed below and separately, set each aside):

1  pound stemmed, cleaned and thinly sliced white, button mushroom caps

1 1/2  pounds halved, quartered and thinly sliced yellow or sweet onion

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

12  ounces julienne of green bell pepper, strips cut in half lengthwise

12  ounces julienne of red bell pepper, strips cut in half lengthwise

1  8-ounce can small pitted olives, well-drained and sliced

PICT2104 For the sauce and the spice mixture (prep and have ready):

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

2  8-ounce cans tomato sauce

4  whole bay leaves

1  teaspoon dried basil leaves

1  teaspoon dried marjoram leaves

2  tablespoons dried mint flakes

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1  teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1  tablespoon sugar

PICT2165 For the pasta and cheese:

1 1/2  pounds penne, rigatoni or a combination of tubes, shells and spirals (1 1/2 pounds for each 13" x 9" x 2" casserole), stranded pasta is not recommended for cacciatore

Note:  If you like whole grain/whole wheat pasta, now is the time to use it.  If you're not sure if you like whole wheat pasta, now is the time to try it. Whole wheat pasta complements the earthy flavors of cacciatore perfectly!

12  tablespoons butter, at room temperature (1 1/2 sticks) 

1/2  cup grated or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (1/2 cup for each 13" x 9" x 2" casserole)

Preparing the Cacciatore

PICT2031 ~ Step 1.  Add the olive oil and melt the butter into the sausage drippings over low heat.  Add the chicken pieces, floured side down. Sprinkle the second sides with salt , white pepper and flour.  Adjust heat to saute, until golden brown on the first side, about 25-35 minutes, carefully regulating the heat so as to brown, but not scorch.  

PICT2059

~ Step 2.  Using a pair of tongs, turn the chicken pieces over and saute on the second side, until golden brown, about 25-35 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to a large platter, cover with aluminum foil  and set aside.

~ Step 3.  Add 1 cup of wine to pan. Use a spatula to deglaze by scraping and stirring to loosen the browned bits from the bottom.

PICT2118 ~ Step 4.  Add all of the prepped vegetables to the pan:  mushrooms, onions, garlic, bell peppers and olives.  Thoroughly combine.  

~ Step 5.  Adjust the heat to saute, until the the onion has softened and the mushrooms have lost most of their moisture, stirring frequently, about 15-20 minutes.  Carefully regulate the heat.  You do not want this mixture to brown.

PICT2135 ~ Step 6.  Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and spices.

PICT2143 ~ Step 7. Chop the sausage into bits and pieces.  Return chicken to pan and top with the sausage pieces.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially cover and cook about 1 1/2 hours.  Use a spoon to "sort of" stir occasionally, meaning:  Without tossing or disturbing the chicken.

PICT2168 ~ Step 8.  Remove cacciatore from heat.  

Using a large slotted spoon, remove, transfer and place 12 chicken thighs into each of two, 13" x 9" x 2" glass baking dishes.

Note:  I always use Pyrex, glass baking dishes for storing and freezing foods.  The plastic lids make the casseroles easy to stack in the refrigerator or freezer!

PICT2179 ~ Step 9.  Using a large spoon, evenly distribute the vegetable/sauce mixture over the top of the chicken in both casseroles.  Seal with plastic wrap and place the lids on. 

Note:  One to eat and one to freeze, or two to eat or two to freeze... the choice is yours.  As with most slow-cooked food, cacciatore will taste even better the next day!

~ Step 10.  When you're ready to eat, in an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.  Cook the pasta, according to package directions, until al dente.  Drain thoroughly. Return pasta to still warm stockpot and toss with butter.  Cover and set aside about 5 minutes, to give pasta time to absorb all of the butter.

~ Step 11:  To serve, transfer and make a bed of the pasta on a large, warmed serving platter. Arrange chicken pieces over the pasta followed by vegetables/sauce.  Generously garnish with grated or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese:

PICT2226 Comfort Food Italian-Style:  Chicken Cacciatore:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings for each casserole.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; cutting board; chef's knife; 14 chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large slotted spoon; paper towels; tongs; 1-cup measuring container; 2, 13" x 9" x 2" glass baking dishes; large spoon; plastic wrap; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; cheese grater

Cook's Note:  This absolutely wonderful, Fall meal is more versatile that you might think.  I have served it (reheated on a campstove) at a couple of Italian-themed Penn State tailgates, as well as on Lenox china in my dining room for a dinner party.  I am also proud to tell you that my friend Scott, after eating it for dinner one evening in Melanie's Kitchen, put it on his restaurant menu!    

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

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

10/06/2011

~ Tuning Up for Tailgate Thursday: Take a Trip Back Twenty-Five Years in PSU Tailgating Time, Part 4: Sometimes the Game is just Background Noise ~

Jp10web Welcome back for part four of a five-part series I am posting for the first five Penn State home football games this year.  In honor of PSU's 125th anniversary, Kitchen Encounters is taking a nostalgic look at what my tailgate group was cooking up twenty-five years ago.  The year was 1986.  Penn State was celebrating its 100th anniversary.  It was the year we won our second national championship.  Back in '86, we were all in it to win it... and so we did!

Part 1:  The Business of Tailgating;

Part 2:  The Roads All Lead to Beaver Stadium, and;

Part 3:  Tailgating, Not the Military, Builds Character,

can all be found by clicking into Categories 16 or 17.  The menus I am sharing in this series are actual pages from a tailgate newsletter I "published" for every home game, using just an electric typewriter and a copy machine.  Twenty-Five Years ago in tailgate time: "cut and paste" meant just that, the cost of snail-mail was 22 cents, landlines didn't have answering machines and The Food Network wouldn't become a part of my life for another seven years!

Part 4:  Sometimes the Game is Just Background Noise

Scan 1 As hard as it is to believe, there were occasionally times when our tailgate group tailgated outside of Beaver Stadium, without pause or concern for what was going on inside the stadium. October 18th, 1986, was one of those times.  "We" were going to have a baby... that is Joe's brother Tom and his wife Kathy were going to have a baby. We didn't know if we were having a boy or a girl, but that didn't matter because he or she was going to be a Penn Stater and was going to have a solid Italian last name: Preschutti.  As the proud auntie-in-waiting, it was my pleasure to plan and host a baby shower or two. With our baby's birth just 8 weeks away, throwing a Penn State baby shower at the stadium was going to be one of the two and "Little Italy" was going to be my theme!

Scan 2 I remember the day of the baby shower quite vividly.  It was an unseasonably warm, sunny day with that picture perfect blue and white sky everyone talks about.  It was warm enough for short-sleeved shirts, sunglasses and suntan lotion (yes, we encouraged tans back then).  Joe and I bought a large, white wicker bassinet and white wicker rocking chair.  Duane drove those items to the stadium in his RV for us. Upon arrival, the women of the tailgate fussed with blue & white balloons, ribbons and all related pomp and circumstance.  As the guests arrived a table full of Penn State-themed baby gifts filled up in cadence, including a very large (5"-ish) stuffed Nittany Lion. Our men passed out cigars and glasses of Italian wine to everyone!   

Scan 3 The only thing better than a tailgate on a glorious October day, is an Italian tailgate, and, the only thing better than that:  An Italian Baby Shower Tailgate.  Surrounding tailgaters and passersby quickly got into the "spirit" of things, choosing not to remain innocent bystanders. Men walked onto our space bearing gifts of scotch, bourbon, 6-packs of beer, etc.  One woman brought a plate of homemade raisin-filled cookies (I got her recipe mailed to me afterward!) and another a dish of those little hot dogs wrapped in pastry dough.  We, in turn, fed them from our tables of Italian delicacies. Many did not go into the stadium that day.  We cared about the outcome of the game, but were contented to listen to it on the radio while basking in the sunshine, drinking and making plans for our Penn State baby's future!

Follow up:  Jessica A. Preschutti wScanas born on January 5th, 1987, just three days after Penn State won its second national championship.  She has always been a loving, considerate Godchild, and we have always assumed that she, in true Penn State style, decided to wait until Uncle Joe and Aunt Mel returned from Tempe to be born!

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

Join me for Part 5 of my series, which I'll be posting next Thursday, October 13th.  Until then, look for my next Kitchen Encounters post, when I'll be making one of my family's favorite Fall Italian meals:  Cacciatore... a great recipe to serve at your own "Little Italy" tailgate!

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

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

10/04/2011

~ Stuffed Peppers? Make Mine Poblanos Please! ~

PICT1912 Yesterday was the last and largest of Joe's garden's Fall pepper harvest.  "On deck" (literally on my deck), I have a large basket of green and red bell peppers (6-8 dozen), a medium basket of poblano chile peppers (3-4 dozen), and a smaller basket containing a variety of little, fiery specialty peppers (200+ or so).  Joe just started growing poblanos about four years ago, when a friend of ours gave us some seeds that he brought back from New Mexico.  Having traveled to the American Southwest on several occasions, Joe and I are both fans of the poblano and were thrilled to find out how well they grew in our central Pennsylvania climate!

Poblanos are the chile of choice for the famous Mexican dish "chiles  rellenos", which literally means "stuffed peppers".  In this particular dish, the peppers are stuffed with a cheese mixture, batter dipped and deep-fried until the outside is crisp and golden and the inside is melted and oozing.  In my favorite version of chiles rellenos, the poblano is stuffed with jalapeno jack cheddar cheese and breaded with corn masa flour before frying.  This my friends, will be another post at another time!

PICT1748 When Joe presented me with HIS first basket of poblanos four years ago, I walked straight into my kitchen, placed them on my countertop and decided I was going to stuff and serve them for dinner that evening. I started immediately. Note: In case you don't know, poblanos have a thinner skin/shell than bell peppers, but maintain their shape and texture considerably better than bell peppers when baked or fried.  As for flavor, they are mildly, but pleasantly spicy/hot!

PICT1979 You can stuff poblanos with any mixture you would stuff bell peppers with, but because of their shape (about 2 1/2"-3" round, 4"-5" long and tapering towards the bottom in a triangular configuration), cutting off the top to remove the ribs and seeds (like you would a bell pepper) is time-consuming and tricky.  Using a sharp knife, I prefer to slice a flat section from one side of the pepper.  Then, with a pair of kitchen shears, I proceed to clip the rib/seed section from the center.  In less than one minute, I am left with what I think looks like a cute little child's bedroom slipper, or, the perfect vessel to hold a generous mound of filling that is extremely user-friendly when it comes time to serve and eat!

PICT1830 Before we start today's recipe, I request a moment of your time.  We have four glorious seasons here in Pennsylvania and within each one, Melanie's Kitchen has a few recipes for wonderful, super-tasty, family-style meals that require no special skills and use two or three on-hand pantry ingredients.  This is one such easy-to-prepare meal: 

PICT1743 For the peppers and the meat: 

PICT1754 16  large, even-sized poblano peppers, prepped as pictured above and to the left:  one flat side sliced lengthwise from each pepper and diced, rib sections and seeds removed, 8 pepper "shells" arranged in each of two 13" x 9" x 2" baking dishes that have been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray

1 1/2  pounds extra-lean ground beef (90/10)

1/2  pound mild Italian sausage, removed from casings and broken up into small pieces

8  ounces yellow or sweet onion, diced

2  large, minced garlic cloves

1/2-1  teaspoon ground cumin

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1  10-ounce can Old El Paso enchilada sauce, mild-seasoned (Note:  You can use hot-seasoned enchilada sauce, however, it will make this dish quite hot, and, even mask the great flavor of the poblanos.  I recommend you do what we do and control your heat by drizzling the stuffed peppers with your favorite hot sauce at serving time.  You can thank me later!

PICT1760 ~ Step 1.  Prep and place the ground beef, sausage, onion, garlic and spices in a 12" skillet as you work. Don't add the enchilada sauce just yet.

PICT1763 Increase the heat to saute, about 15 minutes or longer, until almost all liquid has evaporated from the bottom of skillet.  Stir in the the enchilada sauce, simmer for about 5 minutes.  Cover and set aside. Meanwhile:

PICT1729 For the rice:

1  8-ounce bag, Vigo, Santa Fe Beans & Rice with Corn, Southwestern recipe

1  14 1/2-ounce can whole-kernal corn, well-drained, liquid reserved

4  tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

~ Step 1.   Into a 1-quart measuring container, drain the liquid from the corn.  Add enough water to total 3 cups.  Place in a 4-quart saucepan with the butter and red pepper flakes.  Bring to a boil over high heat.

PICT1733 ~ Step 2.  Sprinkle in the rice mix, stir briefly, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and continue to simmer until the rice has absorbed all water and is cooked al dente, about 18-20 minutes.  Stir in the corn kernels.

PICT1783 ~ Step 3. Stir the rice mixture into the meat mixture.

Now it's time to stuff and bake the peppers (don't be afraid to mound the filling in really high):

PICT1789 ~ Step 1.  Evenly distribute/mound the meat/rice mixture into the peppers in both baking dishes.

PICT1809 Grate 8 ounces of any cheddar cheese  and evenly distribute it over the top of the peppers.  My favorite is Jack Cheddar w/jalapeno peppers.

~ Step 2.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.  Serve immediately with your favorite hot sauce for drizzling over top or to the side of the peppers.  Plan on 2-3 per person:

PICT1971 Stuffed Peppers?  Make Mine Poblanos Please:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen shears; 2, 13" x 9" x 2" baking pans; 12" skillet w/lid; 1-quart measuring container; 4-quart saucepan w/lid; cheese grater

Cook's Note:  Peppers can be stuffed and refrigerated one day in advance of baking and serving.  Return to room temperature, grate the cheese over the top and bake as directed.  Any leftovers reheat perfectly in the microwave.

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

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

10/01/2011

~ Old-Fashioned, Pennsylvania, Apple Dumplings ~

PICT1555October is National Apple Month and nothing takes the chill out of the Autumn air like a warm, old-fashioned, apple dumpling.  Hailing from a section of Northeastern Pennsylvania in close proximity to the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, I could not conceive of a better recipe to kick-off my October posts with other than this one.  When I was growing up, once October rolled around, apple dumplings popped up on almost every restaurant and diner menu, not to mention dinner tables everywhere.  At my Hometown Elementary School's annual Fall Festival, I remember apple dumplings being sold as a fundraiser alongside apple pies and apple cakes. While my grandmother made awesome from-scratch apple dumplings, my mom would buy them on Saturday mornings from Tamaqua, PA's, Wenzel's bakery!  

PICT1666 We ate them warm for dessert, adorned with vanilla ice cream, some store-bought caramel topping and chopped pecans.  We also ate them reheated the next morning for breakfast with warmed half and half drizzled into the warm, opened up, pastry cavity.  I would sit and wait for the pastry to soak up the cream and get all pasty before eating mine. Personally, I like apple dumplings better than apple pie... probably because it is like getting an apple pie all to myself!

PICT1695 If this does not sound ridiculously good enough, there is also an optional traditional syrup/glaze that gets made just before you bake your apples.  To prepare it you'll need:

1  cup apple juice

1  cup light brown sugar

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon each:  ground cloves and nutmeg

1/2  stick butter, kept cold and in one piece

~  Step 1.  Place all ingredients except for the butter in a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Turn the heat off, add the butter, in one piece, and stir constantly until the butter has melted into the liquid.  Set aside, at room temperature until the apples are baking or baked. Note: Some cooks baste the apples with the syrup/glaze at 10 minute intervals during baking process while others like to drizzle it on after the apples are baked and allow it to make its way down into the bottom of each bowl.  I am of the latter persuasion, as opening and closing the oven door while the apples are baking plays games with the oven temperature.  

A lot of people reminisce about their grandmothers making apple dumplings from leftover pie dough, but, I don't remember that being the case in my Baba's kitchen.  She never made apple dumplings on apple pie baking day.  They had their own day and the dough was made just for them.  In fact, I've made a lot of apple pies on my own days, and I can't imaging having enough dough left over to make apple dumplings.  Another way to state this is:  One would have to bake a lot of pies on one day to make 4-6 apple dumplings.  Here's why:  To make one apple dumpling you need a round of dough large enough to encase and seal the entire apple.  As it turns out, this is a piece of dough only slightly smaller than that of a pie crust, about 8 1/2"-9"!  

Do I think apple dumplings are easier to make than apple pie? Absolutely... if you're only making 4-6 of them.  When I was raising boys, this was a dessert they loved and it was a dessert I loved to make for our family of five. When my boys turned into young men, I was occasionally asked to make enough to feed a few their friends too.  So, when I was making 8-10 of them, it became a labor of love.  When I was asked to make forty, for a Fall fraternity celebration, I said to myself, "What's love got to do with it... What's love but a second hand emotion"...  

 PICT0361... I wanted a big shortcut with little compromise to this delicious treat. I started thinking out of the box.  Not making pie pastry from scratch was not an easy decision, because my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee: Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~ works perfectly for apple dumplings (and the recipe is in Categories 6, 15 or 22).  This choice is still yours. To make 4 dumplings, using boxed pastry, here's what you'll need:

PICT1578 4  6-7-ounce Granny Smith apples

2 1/2  boxes Pillsbury Pie Crusts, 5 crusts, at room temperature

bottled cinnamon-sugar

5-6  tablespoons cinnamon-flavored baking chips

5-6  teaspoons chopped and lightly-toasted pecans

2  tablespoons butter

1 large egg

PICT1449 ~ Step 1.  Peel the apples.  Using an apple corer, cut through to the bottoms of the apples and remove the cores.  Before discarding the cores, cut a small 1/2" "plug" from a meaty section of the bottom of each core.

PICT1455 Pop "plugs" back in the bottoms of the apples. If they're a little loose, that's fine.

Set the apples aside.  Immediately:

PICT1459 ~ Step 2.  On a large work surface, unroll 4 of the pie crusts.  In the center of each, make a 2 1/2" bed with a generous tablespoon of cinnamon chips and a scant teaspoon of the pecans.

~ Step 3.  Holding each apple over each crust, generously coat it with cinnamon-sugar and seat it on the bed of chips.

~ Step 4.  Fill the center of each apple to within 1/2" of top, alternating chips, pecans and chips.

~ Step 5.  Add and plug the top of each apple with 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter.

PICT1618 ~ Step 6.  Lift and place the front of the crust (the side closest to you) up and over the apple.  Do the same with back (the side farthest away from you).  Do your best to form a packet that looks just like this. Gently press the top to seal.

PICT1504 ~ Step 7.  Lift and place the left and right sides of the packet up over the top and gently press to seal.

~ Step 8.  Spray an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish, or, four, shallow, 4" ramekins, with no-stick cooking spray.

~ Step 9.  Gently lift and transfer the apple dumplings to prepared baking dish or ramekins.  Note: Technically, the dumplings are ready to be brushed with egg wash and baked, but I like to fancy them up just a bit:

PICT1633Note:  While this next step is optional, it makes for a beautiful presentation and keeps dumplings from splitting open while baking.

~ Step 10.  Unroll the fifth pastry crust.  Using a sharp paring knife, cut/form sixteen leaf shapes, each approximately 2" long.  Lift the excess pastry away from the leaf shapes and set aside.  Using the back, or blunt side of the paring knife, lightly press down on each leaf shape and make a few marks that resemble the veins of a leaf.

PICT1506 ~ Step 12.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and 1-2 tablespoons of water.

~ Step 13.  Using a pastry brush, working one apple at a time, brush the entire surface of the dumpling with egg wash.  Don't worry if some drips down into the baking dish/ramekin.  Place four leaves on top and brush the leaves with egg wash.  Take a small piece of leftover dough and form a stem shape.  Place it on top and brush it with egg wash.  Repeat this process three more times until all dumplings are decorated.

PICT1520 ~ Step 14.  Lightly sprinkle some additional cinnamon-sugar over the tops of all the dumplings.

~ Step 15.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, about 35 minutes, or until golden brown and a cake tester or toothpick slides easily in, through and back out of the apple. That being said, do not over bake:  there is nothing worse than a mushy apple dumpling.  The dumplings will be bubbling/oozing in spots.  They may have cracked a bit in a few spots and that is exactly what you are looking for.

PICT1687 ~ Step 16.  Remove from oven, transfer to a cooling rack and cool 20-30 minutes, or longer, prior to serving warm or at room temperature drizzled with some optional syrup/glaze. Serve/pass leftover sauce at tableside. Completely cooled, unglazed dumplings can be covered with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature overnight.  Transfer syrup/glaze to a food storage container, cover and store it at room temperature overnight as well.  Both reheat well in the microwave!

PICT1712

 

Old-Fashioned, Pennsylvania, Apple Dumplings:  Recipe yields 4 apple dumplings and 2 cups of the optional syrup/glaze, or, 4-8 servings.  These are quite large and each one makes a romantic dessert for two, so consider making them for your next Fall dinner party!

Special Equipment List:  1 1/2-2-quart saucepan (optional); vegetable peeler; apple corer; paring knife; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish, or, 4, shallow 4" ramekins; pastry brush; cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack; plastic wrap (optional)

PICT1582 Cook's Note:  All apples are not created equal.  Choose from Granny Smith's or tart, red-skinned apples that are suitable for baking. I do not recommend red delicious. Once you've decided upon what kind to use, choose apples that are even-sized and well-formed, meaning:  you want apples that sit straight from bottom to top, not ones with cores positioned at an angle.  It is also important to choose 6-7-ounce, medium-sized apples.  The additional time it will take larger apples to bake through can and will cause your crust to burn.  It is also noteworthy to say that larger apples will require a larger piece of dough!

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

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