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13 posts from December 2011

12/30/2011

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (12/30/11) ~

Culinary Q & A #2'Tis the last Friday of 2011, which means it is our last Culinary Q&A of the year together... and what a year it has been!

Last year at this time, I was relatively new to blogging.  Kitchen Encounters was 4 1/2 months old and had 102 posts on it.  One year later, you have 308 recipes to choose from, plus, 20 of my WHVL-TV cooking segments to watch!

To reiterate what I said last year:

I set out to create a blog for my family, friends and students that would be informative, educational and fun.  I wanted to give you more than just one pretty picture and a list of ingredients, and, every recipe had to be prepared and tested by me.  I did what I always do:  set the standards higher than I think I as one person can reach, then drive my OCD self crazy until I attain them.  Based upon all of your comments, interest, and, tens of thousands of "hits" to Kitchen Encounters, while there is always room for improvement, I must be doing something right, so, simply and humbly stated:  "thank-you"!

I received two of the most lovely comments this week, which, left me almost (I said almost) speechless, and, with a great sense of accomplishment and pride:

PICT0581C.  Carol says:  Loved the pirogi presentation with mouthwatering photos.  My sister and I used to help mom and grandmom make them for Easter.  I learned how to "braid" the edges, which I guess was in keeping with my artistic talents.  I have loved reading all of your recipes this year and the photos are incredible.  It is not impossible to make them into posters and have them decorate--anyplace!

PICT4937C.  Jeanne says:  It was a Kitchen Encounters eating extravaganza this past weekend!  Spicy Eastern Shore Crab Cakes and Shrimp Cocktail for Christmas Eve cocktail hours; Crabmeat Quiche, Oven-Roasted Bacon and Stan's "Hail Mary" Bloody Mary's for our Christmas morning family breakfast, and; Mrs. DiCindio's Lasagna for Christmas Dinner!  You made me look good this weekend Melanie! Thank you!  And, thank you for this wonderful blog with its beautiful pictures and detailed instructions of every recipe.  Your recipes work. They are truly, "tried and true".  Looking forward to the new year with more fabulous recipes and video's of your Kitchen Encounters cooking segments!

ScanA.  Kitchen Encounters:  It is indeed these types of comments and feedback that make the long days all of us food bloggers lovingly put in worth it.  I am really looking forward to cooking and blogging my way through 2012 with all of you fellow friends and foodies!

Here's wishing each and every one of you a VERY HAPPY, HEALTHY & PROSPEROUS New Year!  Enjoy your holiday, along with the rest of your weekend, and once again:  To leave a comment or ask a question, simply click on the blue title of any post, scroll to the end of it and type away!

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

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

12/28/2011

~ Fresh Broccoli Salad w/Bacon, Havarti & Chicken ~

PICT0660With Christmas a few days past and New Years a few ticks of the clock away, I needed a refreshing change of pace today.  Something, anything, that would make me feel a little bit better about all of the rich foods I've been cooking and enjoying for the past week.  I found some lovely broccoli at the market, and, for some reason, when I saw it, this "oldie but goodie" of a recipe immediately popped into my head... crunchy, tangy, slightly sweet and lightly-dressed with bacon, cheese and chicken in it too:  this just what the doctor ordered to cure my holiday food blues.  Don't like broccoli?  This salad is so good you won't even notice it's in there!  

PICT0636I always seem to get hungry for this broccoli salad during the dreary Winter months, probably because it is a great way to remind me of the fresh, crisp flavors of Joe's garden vegetables that I am missing right about now.  The funny thing is, the first time I ate this salad was on a glorious, warm day at a Memorial Day Lamb Roast/picnic and potluck that our friends host every year (they roast the lamb and each guest brings a covered side-dish to share).  This was over 15 years ago (because we hadn't moved to Boalsburg  yet), and, I am sorry to report, I just can't wrap my mind around the name of the woman who made it that day and explained to me "her mother's" recipe:  

"There really is no recipe.  You can put almost anything you want in it, but you'll need a big bowl of broccoli to start.  My mom whisks together a dressing that contains mayonnaise, sugar, mustard and vinegar.  The only mistake you can make is to overdress the salad."  Her broccoli salad on that day did not contain chicken or tomatoes and included chunks of yellow cheddar cheese.  After a try or two, I came up with my own version,  which I consider to be equally as scrumptious.  Watch it my friends... this is addictive!!!  

PICT0623For the broccoli salad:

8 cups petite broccoli florets, trimmed from 2 large heads of fresh broccoli (Note:  Choose broccoli with bright green tops and stalks.  Do not purchase broccoli with white tinged tops and white stalks as it will be bitter tasting.)

1 cup diced, tender broccoli stalks, trimmings leftover from above, no woody or dry ends

1 cup diced red onion

6  strips thick-sliced bacon, crisply fried, cooled and diced, about 3/4-1 cup diced bacon

2 cups, 1/2" cubed, Havarti w/caraway seed cheese

2 cups cooked, cooled and diced boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (cooked, cooled and diced ham may be substituted) 

1 cup halved, then, quartered grape tomatoes, to be tossed into salad just prior to serving (optional)

For the dressing:

3/4  cup mayonnaise

1/2  cup sugar

3  tablespoons Dijon mustard, no substitutions

3  tablespoon apple cider vinegar

PICT0643~ Step 1.  To prepare the dressing, in a large whisking bowl, using a whisk, vigorously combine the mayonnaise, sugar, Dijon mustard and vinegar.  Set aside for 1-2 minutes, and briefly whisk again. This will insure that the sugar is completely dissolved.

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~ Step two.  Using a large rubber spatula, start by folding in the diced broccoli stalks, red onion, bacon, cubed cheese and chicken.  Fold until ingredients are evenly coated.  

Lastly, gently fold in the broccoli florets.  Serve salad immediately, at room temperature, or, place in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours and serve chilled.  

Fold in the optional tomatoes at serving time.

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Fresh Broccoli Salad w/Bacon, Havarti & Chicken:  Recipe yields about 12 cups, or, 8, 1 1/2 cup servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; whisk; large rubber spatula

Cook's Note:  It goes without saying this is a very versatile recipe.  Without the chicken, this is a delicious side-dish to make for or take to a picnic or a tailgate.  Without the chicken and bacon, its a great main course to serve to your vegetarian friends.  If you have leftover "real" ham (not luncheon meat), it's great made with cubed ham in place of chicken.  Don't be afraid of leftovers the next day either, as:  they are the perfect reason to pack your lunch and take it to the office!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2000)

12/26/2011

~ Pirogi: Like My Russian Baba Used to Make w/my method for "Perfect Food Processor Pirogi Dough"! ~

6a0120a8551282970b01675f7e7839970b-800wiPirogi (spelled pierogi in Poland and pieroghi on Wikipedia) are to Eastern Europeans as ravioli are to Italians.  I know this because I come from Eastern European heritage and my husband comes from Italian heritage.  I grew up eating "real" pirogi... handmade with love in the kitchens of my Baba and Tettie (my grandmother and her sister).  I was about 6 or 7 when they enticed me into the assembly line of their twice-yearly pirogi making marathon by giving me a pastry brush and allowing me to brush water on the edges of the cut dough.  I was fully-enlisted by the time I was 9 or 10 because I could stuff and crimp their dumplings like a pro.  In my teens, this soldier was allowed to roll and cut the dough.  In my 20's, I became a captain in their army and learned how to make the doughs and fillings.  In my 30's, they turned the entire project over to me and retired!

Because we made and froze a lot of pirogi at these marathon sessions, upwards of 50 dozen, our family ate pirogi as a side-dish or a main course throughout the entire year.  That being said, without exception, they were served as one course, the pirogi course, for our Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve, "Holy Night Supper", and, as a side-dish with our ham on Easter Sunday too.  To this day, you'll find pirogi on my own table for these two holidays.  If you're a lover of these delicate, pillow-like dumplings but have been hesitant to try making them, this marathon pirogi post will give you every instruction necessary to turn you into a pirogi pro.  Have some spare time between now and New Years?  Take a day to relax and make some pirogi as a family!  

6a0120a8551282970b01675f7e7f23970b-800wiA bit about pirog/pirogi/pirozhki:  "Pirog" is the Russian word for pie.  This is the classic Russian and correct spelling of the word and its progression, which is related to the size of the actual pie/turnover/dumpling itself.  A pirog is one very large pie, usually square or rectangular in shape.  A pirogi is a smaller, individual, "pocket-sized" turnover.  Pirogi are half-moon or triangular in shape and are sold by street vendors throughout Russia.  A pirozhki is a very small savory dumpling, which in many cases, gets added to clear broths and soups like borsch. When correctly pronounced, the word pirogi has no "hard g" sound in it... just a simple, soft "pir-o-hee", which is probably why so many people stick an "h" in the spelling.  Pirog, pirogi and pirozhki are also all both singular and plural words.  "I ate one pirogi for lunch, I ate six pirogi for dinner".  All of the above contain a wide variety of fillings or combination of fillings:  meat, seafood, cabbage (sauerkraut), cheeses, mushrooms, potatoes, and, in some cases, fruit.  Their wrapping can be made of either a flaky pastry (for baking), a noodle-type dough (for boiling), or a yeast dough (for deep-frying).  Once filled and formed, they are fully-cooked by baking, boiling, sauteing, deep-frying or a combination thereof. Once cooked (with the exception of the fruit-filled pirogi), they are traditionally tossed with a generous portion of sauteed butter and onions!

No part of pirogi making is hard, but it is time-consuming.  I like to "break the process up" and prepare my filling(s) one day, my dough the next, and save the actual assembly/cooking for a third day.  My days of choice are Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  Why?  Well, on Saturday, Joe is home and I can enlist him into my army to assist with the rolling, crimping and stuffing.  Since potato and cheese filling stuffed into noodle-type dough seems to universally be the favorite pirogi, and, is the kind I am making/made this year for Christmas, I will focus on these today. That being said, as I make more fillings and doughs (and I will), you can be sure I will add them to update this post.  In case you haven't noticed, I am continually updating my Kitchen Encounter posts to provide you with additional information!

Part One:  Making the Potato and Cheese Filling 

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4  pounds peeled, quartered and 1" cubed gold potatoes (4 pounds after peeling)

1  tablespoon salt

1 1/2 pounds grated sharp, white, Vermont cheddar cheese*

4   jumbo egg yolks

2  teaspoons white pepper

4  tablespoons dried chives or mint flakes (optional)

* Note:  I like using LOTS of extra-sharp white cheddar because it is full of flavor.  I also use white cheddar because, quite frankly, I don't like pirogi that have orange-colored filling with an overly-doughy and manufacturerd "Mrs. T's" look to them, but, that choice is yours.  One last thing:  pirogi filling is NOT like making mashed potatoes.  Do not be inclined to add milk or butter to it.  The filling should be, for lack of better words:  stiff, thick, pasty and/a bit chunky (if that's your style), and, well-seasoned with traditional (not exotic) herbs or spices.  Remember, this is simple, rustic, peasant food!

PICT0400~ Step 1.  Place the cubed potatoes in an 8-quart stockpot and add enough of cold water to cover them by 1/2"-1".  Bring to a boil over high heat and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Reduce the heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue to cook until the potatoes are fork tender but slightly undercooked, about 12-14 minutes.  Remove from heat and drain potatoes into colander.

PICT0403~ Step 2.  Return potatoes to the still warm stockpot and return the pot to the still warm stovetop.  Add the cheese, pepper and optional dried herbs.  I do not add salt, as I find the cheddar cheese has an adequate amount of salt in it.

PICT0406Stir.  Cover the pot and set aside for 5-10 minutes.

PICT0410~ Step 3.  Uncover the pot and stir briefly.  The cheese will be melted or mostly melted.  In a small bowl or 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk the egg yolks together. Add and stir them into the mixture.  

Egg yolks you ask?  Yep.  This is a secret I learned from my Tettie (Baba's sister).  Egg yolks are going to add a decadent richness to the potato and cheese filling.  Trust me.

PICT0414~ Step 4.   Using a vegetable masher, mash/smash the potatoes to desired consistency. I like mine ever-so-slightly chunky, with small bits of whole potato throughout.

PICT0420You will have about 10 cups of potato and cheese filling.

~ Step 5.  Transfer the filling to a bowl or food storage container and cover with plastic wrap or a lid.  Allow to cool completely before filling pirogi, about 3-4 hours at room temperature, or, overnight in the refrigerator.

Part Two:  Making My Perfect Food Processor Pirogi Dough

PICT04246  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus additional "bench" flour

6 tablespoons butter, melted (or margarine if you are making lenten pirogi)

6  jumbo egg yolks, at room temperature

2  teaspoons sea salt

water, at room temperature, plus 3-4 tablespoons additional water

PICT0427~ Step 1.  In a two-cup measuring container, melt the butter.  Set aside to cool about 10 minutes.  Using a fork, whisk in the egg yolks and salt. Add enough water to total 2 cups of liquid and whisk again.  In a small bowl, set aside 4 tablespoons of additional water.

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~ Step 2.  Place flour in work bowl of food processor fitted with the steel blade.  With motor running, slowly, in a thin stream, add the butter/egg/water mixture.

PICT0434If the mixture does not form a ball, drizzle in additional water, about 1 tablespoon at a time until it does. Continue to process the ball about 20-30 additional seconds.

PICT0437~ Step 3.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface, preferably a wooden pasta board, and knead until smooth, about 1-2 minutes.

PICT0440Form into a smooth ball, cover with a dry kitchen towel and set aside, to rest, about 1- 1 1/2 hours.  Resting allows the gluten in the flour to develop, resulting in easy to roll dough.

PICT0455~ Step 4.  Using a chef's knife, cut the dough into 4, even-sized pieces, about 11 1/2-12 ounces each.  On a lightly-floured work surface, preferably a wooden pasta board, knead each piece briefly and form into a 5 1/2"-6" disc.

PICT0458I place each disc on a lightly-floured plate inside of a food storage bag until it is time to roll it, not wrapped in plastic wrap.

Note:  Dough can now be refrigerated up to one day in advance of assembling and cooking and/or freezing.  If you have placed your dough on lightweight styrofoam plates, like I do, they can be stacked on top of each other in the refrigerator.  Return to room temperature prior to rolling, about 1-1 1/2 hours. Each disc of dough will produce 18 pirogi.  In order to use all of my luscious potato and cheese filling, I'm going to make 1 more batch of dough today, for a total of 8 discs, which will give me exactly 12 dozen pirogi.

Step Three:  Rolling, Cutting, Stuffing and Cooking

PICT0484~ Step 1. On a lightly-floured work surface, preferably a wooden pasta board, roll the first disc of room temperature dough into a 1/8"-thick, 16 1/2" x 12" rectangle.

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~ Step 2.  Using a 3" round pastry cutter, cutting as close to each other as possible, cut the dough into 18 circles.

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~ Step 3.  Using a 1" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place 1 tablespoon of room temperature potato/cheese filling in the center of each circle.

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~ Step 4.  Pick up each circle of dough, and, using your fingertips, gently press the filling down into the center while pushing the dough up around it, like you were forming a taco.

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~ Step 5.  Starting in the center and working your way to each corner, press/crimp the edges firmly together.

PICT0525If the dough, at any time, becomes a bit dry, dip your finger into some water and rub a bit on the edge.  This will insure a tight seal.

PICT0518~ Step 6.  Place the pirogi, side-by-side, in a single layer, on a parchment lined baking pan.

PICT0533Continue this process until all the pirogi you intend to make are rolled, cut, stuffed and ready to cook in small batches of 18-24 each.  Do not cook too many at one time!

Note:  If you are serving pirogi today, now is the time to make the butter & onion saute according to the directions below.  Adjust the amount, depending upon how many pirogi you are cooking and serving.  The mixture, as written, is enough to coat and garnish 4 dozen pirogi.

PICT0544~ Step 7.  In a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides, add water until pan is about half full.  

Yes folks, you heard it here first, don't cook these delicate pirogi in a stockpot!  

Bring the water to a boil over high heat, and, 2-3 at a time, gently add 18-24 pirogi.

PICT0548~ Step 8.  Return/adjust heat to a gentle simmer.  Cook fresh pirogi about 6 minutes, and, frozen pirogi (see Cook's Note below) about 8 minutes.  Do not over cook.   While pirogi are simmering:

Place about 1 cup of the butter & onion saute into the bottom of a shallow serving bowl.  Using an Asian spider, transfer pirogi to serving bowl.  Do not damage them by dumping them into a colander. Gently toss with the butter mixture.

PICT0560~ Step 9.  Discard the water from the chef's pan and dry it out.

Add a second 1 cup of butter & onion saute to the still hot pan and return to the stovetop. Saute over medium-high heat until lightly browned.  Use this golden brown mixture to garnish an entire serving bowl of pirogi or individual plates.  

 

 

Step Four:  Making the Butter & Onion Saute

PICT04641  pound butter 

4  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

Note:  This recipe will make enough to coat 4 dozen pirogi, and, as written, is really easy to cut in half or double, as needed.

PICT0469~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart stockpot, melt butter over low heat and stir in the garlic powder, salt and pepper. Add the diced onions.  

PICT0476Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Adjust heat to simmer gently, stirring frequently, until onions are soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes.  

PICT0480~ Step 2.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside while cooking the desired number of pirogi according to the above directions.

Note:  This butter and onion saute can be made a day or two in advance.  Transfer it to a food storage container and store in the refrigerator.  Gently reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop.

I told you no part of pirogi making is hard!

PICT0594

 

Pirogi:  Just Like My Russian Baba used to Make w/my method for "Perfect Food Processor Pirogi Dough"!:  Recipe yields 6 dozen pirogi per batch of dough, enough potato and cheese filling for 12 dozen pirogi, and, instructions for making the butter & onion saute as needed.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; cheese grater; colander; fork; hand-held vegetable masher; 2-cup measuring container; food processor; large wooden pasta board; kitchen towel; food storage bags (optional); rolling pin; 3" round pastry cutter; 1" ice-cream scoop; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides; large slotted spoon or Asian spider; 4-quart stockpot w/lid

PICT0682Cook's Note:  Uncooked pirogi freeze beautifully.  As you roll, cut and stuff, place the pirogi, side-by-side, in a single layer, on a baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Place the pan in the freezer for several hours or overnight.  Portion and place frozen pirogi into food storage bags (I place one dozen in each bag), seal and store in the freezer for up to a year.  Do not thaw frozen pirogi prior to cooking.  Just drop frozen pirogi into boiling, salted water and cook as directed above, about 8 minutes.

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

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

12/23/2011

~ A Make-Ahead Christmas Morning Hot Chocolate ~

PICT0363I didn't run down the stairs on Christmas morning to the giant pile of presents under a Norman Rockwell-esque tree.  My brother and I, in our footed PJ's, raced down the L-shaped, 18-20-foot or so hallway from our respective bedrooms into the "great big" room... we lived in a ranch-style house.  The tree itself, which sat in front of a picture window overlooking the backyard, had my mom's rather large manger scene under it, about 200 total pieces (more or less, 100 sheep, 50 shepherds, 25 cows, the 3 wisemen and their camels, a handful of angels, Mary, Joseph, and, of course, the baby Jesus), so, our gifts were always mounded in the center of the room.  I genuinely don't remember what we ate for breakfast on Christmas morning... and I'm not sure we, as a family, ever ate any breakfast at all on Christmas morning (although I'm sure we did). What I do remember is that we weren't allowed to rip into our presents and have a free-for-all. We four, as a family, opened our presents in rotation, and, we didn't start until we all had a cup of hot chocolate, and a cookie or two in our hands.  It was a special morning indeed.

ImagesI remember the year we got the red plastic toboggans, and, the weather cooperated big time.  My parents built our house at the top of Ye Old Hauto Road. We got a couple of feet of snow that year, followed by about an inch of ice that night.  The State of PA closed Rt. 309, locally known as The Hometown Hill. Starting from my parents driveway, like daredevils we "pushed off" (no helmets required back then).  We took the 3/4-1 mile slide down this very steep, one-lane, winding (snow and ice covered) dirt road right onto the closed three-lane thoroughfare.  We repeated this all morning.  I don't remember eating any breakfast that day, but I do remember a fresh pair of warm mittens and a cup of hot chocolate waiting for us each time we took the long march back up that steep hill to home!

ImagesI remember the year we were old enough for "real" ice-skates.  The kind like the figure skaters wear.  I remember lacing up my white ones and my younger brother lacing up his black ones (well, my mom laced his up, because my brother never really did anything for himself if he didn't have to).  We walked about half an acre to the back of my parents property and entered the woods, where, as luck would have it, there is a pond-of-sorts.  Our family, even today, affectionately refers to it as "the frog pond", because it isn't really deep enough for anything except frogs to live in, but, nonetheless, it is secluded, sheltered from the wind and freezes to a glassy sheen.  No one ever gave a thought to the possibility of us drowning in it or anything.  I don't remember eating any breakfast that day either, but I do remember a fresh pair of warm mittens and a cup of hot chocolate waiting for us each time we re-entered the house that day!

Make a Memory - Make Some Hot Chocolate

A bit about "hot chocolate" and "hot cocoa":  While the terms are often used interchangeably, there is one noteworthy difference between the two.  Hot cocoa is made from a mix of cocoa, sugar and sometimes spices, which are always in powdered form.  Hot chocolate is made right from bars of chocolate (dark and/or milk) which have cocoa, sugar and cocoa butter in them, sugar and sometimes spices.  Both "chocolate" and "cocoa" can be made with or without milk. The hot chocolate I am going to show you how to make today is not a thin/watery version that we in the US are used to being served.  It is a rich, thick, delectable European version of the  drink and can easily be served for dessert in small demitasse cups.  It is also the perfect base for all sorts of chocolatey holiday cocktails.  If it makes you feel any better, studies have shown that hot chocolate is actually quite heathy because of all of the antioxidants in the cocoa!

PICT0343~ Step 1:  In a 4-quart saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently,  bring:

3  cups heavy or whipping cream 

1  cup milk

to steaming hot and beginning to bubble around the edges of the pot.

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~ Step 2.  Vigorously, whisk in:

2  tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

 1  tablespoon sugar

 1/4  teaspoon salt

 1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

until frothy and uniform in color.

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~ Step 3.  Turn the heat off and add/stir in:

12  ounces semi-sweet chocolate morsels

6  ounces milk chocolate morsels

2  tablespoon cinnamon morsels

and, allow to sit for 20-30 seconds. Whisk until shiny and smooth.  Pour into desired sized cups and serve with mini-marshmallows and top with grated chocolate!

PICT0362A Make-Ahead Christmas Morning Hot Chocolate:  Recipe yields 6 cups.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; whisk

PICT0372Cook's Note:  To make the hot chocolate a day ahead, prepare it exactly as directed above.  When it is done, remove the saucepan from the heat, cover and set aside to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Transfer to a food storage container, cover and place in the refrigerator overnight, or 2-3 days in advance of serving.  Reheat gently in the microwave or a double boiler on the stovetop!

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

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

12/21/2011

~ Double-Lemon & Vanilla-Kissed Pizzelle Cookies ~

6a0120a8551282970b015438a65255970cPizzelle, which is plural for pizzella, (pronounced with a "ts" sound, like "pizza") are large, thin, embossed wafers that are formed using a special iron.  They get their name from the Italian word "pizze", meaning "round and flat".  It is said they were born in central Italy and were served to honor important government celebrations and family weddings because they are so beautiful to look at (not to mention delicious).  Historically, each family's pizzelle iron was embossed in the center with the family crest or other symbols of specific meaning, which indicated that each cookie was made by hand, and, these irons were passed down from generation to generation:

Pizzelle_antiqueAntique irons, like the one pictured here are very hard to find and can be quite expensive, $100-$300.  The traditional iron is made of cast-iron, and in effect is a double skillet intended to be held over an open fire until the cookie is baked. Modern versions of these are easily found and cost much less, $50-$70.  They are lightweight and really easy to maneuver.  In todays home kitchen, traditional irons are simply held over a hot burner on the stovetop.  That being said:

PICT0243For $50-70 you can by an electric pizzelle iron, like mine, which is pictured here.  It works like a waffle iron and I would never consider trading it for a traditional iron.  Once it is preheated, I place my cookie dough on the surface, close the lid and in less than one minute, a perfectly baked pizzella emerges. A little red light on top even goes on to tell me when it's done.  

Did I forget to mention how much easier the after-baking cleanup is? These machines are seriously well-worth the investment!

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10  ounces unsalted butter, melted (2 1/2 sticks)

4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

2  large lemons, about 5 ounces each (yield, about 4 tablespoons zest)

4  large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2  cups sugar

3  tablespoons pure lemon extract, not imitation

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

PICT0260~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container, melt butter in microwave. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the flour and baking powder.  Using a microplane grater, remove the zest from the lemons.  If you have more than 4 tablespoons of zest, use it, as it will simply add extra flavor to the cookies.

PICT0266~ Step 2.  In a large mixing bowl, on medium speed of electric mixer, beat the eggs until frothy, about 2 minutes.  Add the zest, sugar and both extracts.  Beat until smooth.

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~ Step 3.  Add the flour mixture, a little at a time, continuing to beat and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, until all of the flour is incorporated.  In a thin, steady stream, beat in the melted butter.  A thick, soft, sticky, yet workable cookie dough will have formed.

PICT0283

 

 

~ Step 4.  Preheat the pizzelle iron. Using a 2 1/2" ice cream scoop as a measure, place a generous scoop of dough in the front center of the the wedge-shaped grill grid located closest to the back hinges, meaning:  slightly towards the back of the machine, not dead center.

Slowly close the lid, squeeze the handles and clip them closed.  Do not hold the handles while the pizzella is baking, as escaping steam can burn you.  Bake for about 50 seconds.

PICT0284~ Step 5.  During the baking process, use a paring knife to trim ragged edges of any dough that oozes from the sides of the iron.

Note:  Placing the pizzelle iron on a piece of parchment paper paper or 2-3 layers of paper towels prior to preheating it, will catch all of these greasy shavings and make cleanup a breeze.  Can you imagine doing this on the stovetop?

PICT0289

 

~ Step 6.  Unclip the handles and carefully open the pizzelle iron. You will have a very lightly browned, soft, pliable, delicate cookie.  

Using a large spatula, gently slide the pizzelle from the iron onto a cutting board (or directly onto a cooling rack if you are making small, individual cookies).

PICT0317

 

~ Step 7.  Using a large knife, cut each cookie, while they are hot and soft, into four pieces.  Repeat the baking process, until all of the pizzelle are baked.

As you work (baking, cutting, etc.) transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.  Pizzelle can be stacked on top of each other because they cool quite quickly.  

Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place for up to a one week.  

PICT0325Double-Lemon & Vanilla-Kissed Pizzelle Cookies:  Recipe yields 10-12 large, 7" round cookies, and when each is cut into quarters:  40-48 smaller cookies.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; microplane grater; hand-held electric mixer; rubber spatula; pizzelle iron, preferably electric; parchment paper or paper towels (optional); 2 1/2" ice cream scoop; large metal spatula; cutting board; chef's knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling rack

PICT0286Cook's Note:  It is worth mentioning that my pizzelle batter/dough will work with any traditional pizzelle iron or any another type of electric pizzelle iron.  The irons, however, come in all sizes and shapes -- I have three with the one I used today being my favorite.  You will have to adjust the amount of batter used for each pizzella, according to the surface of the iron you are using.  The baking time, however, will remain very close to the same. 

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

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

12/18/2011

~ Taking a Break to Make a Happy Announcement! ~

ScanKitchen Encounters just celebrated a big day.  Two very blogworthy things happened:

Today at 11:30AM Joe and I watched "me on TV".  What's news about that?  Well, it marked my 1st anniversary doing my own KE cooking segment on WHVL-TV's Centre of it All show!

If you didn't already know, WHVL shoots my segment right here in Melanie's Kitchen, and COIA airs twice weekly:  Sunday mornings at 11:30AM and Thursday evenings at 7:00PM.  For me, this is indeed a "pipe" dream come true.  So, you ask, what is the second thing?

As of December 14th, WHVL made a move from our local Comcast channel 235 on your dial to channel 14, which expanded their viewing audience exponentially.  While I knew it was officially happening, I was thrilled to read the press release this morning in The Centre Daily Times, our local newspaper!

WHVL (Happy Valley TV) is a fantastic group of really hard-working go-getters to be associated with.  As their on-camera foodie grandma and cooking consultant, I'm proud to be a small part of this team.  A lot of people worked long and hard to make this happen.  I want to congratulate each and every one of you.  WE ARE... making Happy Valley a happier place to be!

ALL of my WHVL, Centre of It All, Kitchen Encounters videos/segments are now available to watch right here on my blog.  We will also be updating them on a regular basis.  Just scroll down to "WHVL Kitchen Encounters" (which you can find on the left hand column of my home page), click on whatever one you want to watch and, enjoy!

For a glimpse into how we shoot a Kitchen Encounters cooking segment for The Centre of it All:

Download WHVL-Kitchen Encounters_ Galette & Pie Shoot-Medium

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

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

12/16/2011

~ Veal Cocktail Meatballs w/Apricot-Mustard Glaze ~

PICT0095This is what I refer to as a "bonus blog post".  In the scheme of my holiday blogging agenda, this yummy recipe was not on cue for today. Occasionally, as per today, what I decide to post is born out of practicality:  or what happens in my "real" daily life.  Earlier this week, my friend Scott asked me to show him how I make parmigiana.  So, on Tuesday, we got together early in the afternoon and had a great time making my recipe for ~ "Not Your Mama's Parmigiana" (Chicken or Veal) ~, which I, of course, took the opportunity to turn into a blog post on Wednesday.  You can find that recipe in Categories 3, 11, 12 or 19. From that kitchen encounter, I have six beautiful veal cutlets leftover, so, I've decided to spend today, a relaxing Friday afternoon, right here in my kitchen showing you how to make one my favorite recipes for cocktail meatballs.  After all, everyone loves meatballs, everyone really loves cocktail meatballs, and this super easy-to-make recipe is perfect for any festive celebration!

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 a container or two of this flavorful condiment on hand in my refrigerator or freezer.  This easy-to-make sauce/glaze instantly turns an ordinary grilled chicken breast or braised pork chop into a decadent feast.  Just wait until you taste what it is going to do to these not-so-ordinary veal meatballs!

PICT00391  pound very lean veal, cut into chunks

1  ounce saltine crackers (10 saltines)

1  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2  teaspoon each:  sugar, sea salt and white pepper

1  jumbo egg, at room temperature

PICT0043~ Step 1.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, coarsely grind the veal, using about 15-20 rapid on-off pulses.  Place the veal in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.  In the same work bowl:

PICT0048Process the crackers, dried thyme, sugar, salt and pepper to a fine mixture, but not a powder, about 15 seconds.  Add the egg and process to a paste.

PICT0058~ Step 2.  Add the flavorful cracker mixture/paste to the ground veal, and, using your hands, combine thoroughly.  Trust me, there is only one way to do this, and it is with your hands.

PICT0063

 

 

 

 

 

~ Step 3.  Using a 1" ice cream scoop , portion the meat and place it on a baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Using a light touch, roll between the palms of your hands to form balls.  Don't overwork the meat or try to compress.  No matter how many times I make this recipe, I always seem to get 4 dozen meatballs!

PICT0071~ Step 4.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool, in pan, about 10 minutes prior to...

... skewering with "frilly" toothpicks, dipping into warm apricot-mustard sauce and plating.  Serve warm or at room temperature:

PICT0093

 

Veal Cocktail Meatballs w/Apricot-Mustard Glaze:  Recipe yields 4 dozen cocktail meatballs and 2 cups of sauce.

Special Equipment List: cutting board, chef's knife; food processor; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; 2-4 dozen toothpicks

Cook's Note:  Both the sauce and the meatballs can be prepared in advance and frozen separately.  Freeze the sauce in 2, small, 1-cup size food storage containers.  Temporarily freeze the meatballs on the baking pan, then, after they are frozen, transfer to a food storage bag, seal and store in the freezer until you want to serve them.  Thaw the meatballs completely. Wrap in aluminum foil and reheat in a moderate 325 degree oven, about 10-15 minutes.  Dip into warm sauce and serve as directed above.

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

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

12/14/2011

~ "Not Your Mama's Parmigiana" (Chicken or Veal) ~

PICT0011It wouldn't be the holiday season in our house without at least one Italian feast. This year Joe has asked me to serve one of his family's favorites on Christmas Day:  chicken parmigiana.  I've been making parmigiana for over thirty years, and I'm going to be honest with you, it wasn't until almost twelve years ago that I settled on a recipe that everyone, including me, raves about.  I was my own worst critic because I find/found fault with a lot of traditional versions:  I do not like over-pounded, ordinary bread-crumb crusted, sauted-in-a-skillet and baked-in-sauce versions!   

That being said, I married into a family with the last name of Preschutti, therefore: "traditional" equates to "family", which, to them, makes their recipe and method for cooking it "the best".  Any attempts on my part to upset their family's "parmigiana recipe cart" were going to have to be really good ones, and it was best to keep them all classified until my final creation was done! 

260px-Parmigiano_reggiano_pieceA bit about parmigiana:  "A la parimigiana" is the term used to describe food that has been made or cooked with Parmesan cheese.  For instance, chicken or veal parmigiana are pounded cutlets* (not a scaloppine) that traditionally are dipped in seasoned flour, an egg-milk mixture, then breadcrumbs.  That being said, pork cutlets work nicely too. The coated cutlets are sauteed until just cooked through and golden brown, placed in a baking dish, topped with tomato sauce, grated mozzarella and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.  The dish is baked like a casserole, until the cheese is melted and it is usually served on top of pasta.  Eggplant parmigiana, which is a great option if your are feeding vegetarians, consists of peeled and sliced eggplant (aubergine) prepared in the same manner.  

* A cutlet is a thin, tender cut of meat pounded to a thickness of  about 1/2".  A scaloppine is an Italian term describing a much thinner scallop of meat that is usually dredged in flour and sauteed very quickly.  The two cannot be used interchangeably in this recipe.

PICT5287My Unsettling Relationship with Parmigiana

I wanted to love parmigiana, and, for the record, parmigiana is not hard to make.  But, it takes some time, especially if you are feeding more than six people. First you pound your cutlets and organize your "breading assembly line".  Two or three at a time, the coated cutlets must be sauteed, then topped and baked.  Then you clean up "the mess"... all of the sticky drips on the countertop and the greasy, spattered-up stovetop.  I have never felt that the time and energy I put into this process reaped rewards with the end product.  More often than not, the cutlets emerged from the oven chewy and/or dry with their crispy coating being reduced to a limp, soggy, soaked-in-tomato-sauce, texture.  Was I doing something wrong?  I was convinced not: With high hopes and expectations, I'd experimented with too many versions of parmigiana, and, besides that,  I knew, I know how to cook.  I found myself disappointed with them all.  I wanted my Parmigiana to be a mind-altering experience and by God I was going to come up with one!

Enter the New Millenium (New Year's Eve, 1999)

Prizzi and Nutroll and TrufflesJoe and I don't throw too many New Year's Eve parties, but as the calendar and the clock ticked towards 2000, I found myself getting into the spirit of things.  It is also worth mentioning, that our twentieth wedding anniversary was coming up on the 4th, so we decided to invite six or eight couples that Friday evening for a special, but casual, celebration... "Party like it's the last day of 1999".  After drinks and appetizers, I wanted to serve a midnight buffet, and I was intent on using chafing dishes, so I could have everything prepared in advance and hot.  I decided on an Italian menu:  "Hail Caesar" Salad w/Lemon 'n Garlic Shrimp, Chicken Parmigiana w/Spaghetti & Marinara, Fettucini Alfredo a la Primavera, and, Mrs. Prizzi's Italian Celebration Cookies. This would also be the night I would unveil my new "ultimate" chicken parmigiana recipe!  Drumroll...

Out With the Old, In With the New ("The" Recipe) 

PICT5231Why in the name of crunchiness would anyone want to continue to use old-fashioned breadcrumbs to make parmigiana if they knew about panko?  They wouldn't.

Meet the first change I made to this classic recipe.  "Panko" is the Japanese word for "bread crumbs", and theirs are considerably crispier and crunchier than our Western ones.  Whats more, they absorb less grease, more flavor and stay crispy a lot longer.  This simple substitution is a game changer!

PICT5240The ties that bind.  After a showdown between the traditional watery egg-milk mixture vs. a trendy beer batter, the beer batter won hands-down.  In fact, it wasn't even a competition.  Who wouldn't want a super-crunchy coating that doesn't fall off or separate from the parmigiana afterwards?  No one.  

My beer batter doesn't use ordinary all-purpose flour either.  Add pancake mix to the new playbook too!  Having fun so far?

PICT5244In my humble opinion, God put deep-fryers on this earth for a good reason and I now believe that parmigiana might have been at the top of his list!

Put away that skillet and enjoy the mess-free ease of how this relatively inexpensive countertop appliance regulates temperature and perfectly cooks each piece of parmigiana.  Who wants a crunchy, crispy coating on a succulent, moist and juicy piece of chicken or veal parmigiana?  We all do!

Who wants a stovetop full of grease spatters and a ton of cleanup?  Not me, but this choice remains yours!

 

PICT41356-8  large, meaty, boneless, skinless chicken breast halves or veal cutlets, about 10-12 ounces each, rinsed under cold water and patted dry in a few paper towels, cut in half widthwise to form relatively even-sized 5-6 ounce portions

2 1/2  cups pancake mix, for dredging

3 1/4  cups additional pancake mix, for batter

2  12-ounce bottles beer

2  8-ounce boxes panko breadcrumbs

corn or peanut oil, for deep-frying (or for pan-frying if you choose to use a skillet)

freshly ground sea salt

2 1/2-3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, or a combination of shredded mozzarella and provolone cheese

1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

a sprinkling of Italian seasoning blend

a sprinkling of red pepper flakes

2-3 quarts marinara sauce, preferably homemade (Note:  My recipe for ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~ can be found in Categories 8, 12 or 22.

1 1/2-2  pounds pasta of choice, cooked al dente and lightly sauced (Note: My instructions for ~ How to:  Choose, Cook & Sauce Perfect Pasta ~, can be found in Categories 12, 14 or 15.)  

PICT5253~ Step 1.  Place 3 chicken breasts (that have been cut in half), 6 total pieces, in a 2-gallon food storage bag.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, pound the breasts to a thickness of about 1/2".  Repeat this process with the remaining chicken.  

Note:  When it comes to chicken, a little bit of pounding goes a long way, so there is no need to smash them to smithereens in order to tenderize them.

PICT5257~ Step 2. Part A.  Organize what I like to refer to as "a breading assembly line" (from left to right): 1) A plate of pounded chicken or veal. 2) An 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish containing 2 1/2 cups of dry pancake mix. 3) A large mixing bowl containing 3 1/4 cups of pancake mix whisked together with 2 bottles of beer. 4) An 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish containing 1 box of panko breadcrumbs.  5) A deep-fryer preheated to 360 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications. 6) A baking pan lined with several layers of paper towels.  Note: You will also need a pair of tongs, a salt grinder and a timer (if your deep-fryer does not have one).

PICT1050~ Step 2. Part B.  When everything is measured and in place as listed above, whisk together the pancake mix and beer. Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process the batter gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer or some water.  Also, add the second box of panko, as needed, throughout the process.

PICT5263~ Step 3.  NOW IT'S TIME TO FRY! One at a time, dredge each piece of chicken or veal in the dry pancake mix to coat it on all sides. Give it a gentle shake, to let excess pancake mix fall back into the dish...

 

 

 

PICT5266... Next, move up the assembly line and dip the piece of chicken or veal into the beer batter.  When you lift it out of the batter, give it a second or two to allow the excess batter to drizzle back into the bowl.  Now...

PICT5272

 

 

 

 

... Move up the assembly line once again and dredge the chicken or veal in the panko breadcrumbs...

Note:  In case you haven't noticed, I've been doing the "breading" process using one hand.  You can use tongs, but trust me, it is faster and easier if you simply use your hand.

PICT5279

 

... Carefully place the completely coated chicken or veal into the hot oil of the deep-fryer.  Close the lid and cook for 5 minutes.  Using a pair of tongs, remove from the oil and transfer to a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with several layers of paper towels.

IMMEDIATELY, sprinkle with a fresh grinding of sea salt.

PICT5287I cut into this piece and took this picture to show you how perfectly cooked the chicken is after 5 minutes in the deep fryer. 

Repeat this process until all of the chicken or veal are coated and deep fried.

PICT5306~ Step 4.  Arrange the deep-fried chicken or veal on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been covered with aluminum foil and lined with a piece of parchment. Top each piece with a generous 3 tablespoons of shredded cheese, followed by a generous sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano, Italian seasoning blend and red pepper flakes.

PICT5318~ Step 5.  Place on center rack of oven under a preheated broiler. Broil until cheese is melted, bubbly and lightly browned, about 5 minutes.

~ Step 6.  Portion and serve immediately with lightly sauced pasta and additional sauce to the side, for dipping or drizzling:

PICT0029

 

 

"Not Your Mama's Parmigiana"  (Chicken or Veal):  Recipe yields:  12-16 total pieces of parmigiana or 6-8 servings (two pieces each), or 12-16 servings (one piece each), depending upon how large or small you want the portions to be.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; 2-3, 2-gallon food storage bags; flat-sided meat mallet; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; 1 mixing bowl; tongs; deep-fryer; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper

Screen shot 2014-01-08 at 7.09.39 PMCook's Note:  In the scheme of things, it is probably worth mentioning that I make sure my marinara sauce is cooked and hot before I start deep-frying the chicken.  I cook, drain and lightly sauce my pasta during the deep-frying process, which, thanks to the convenience of the deep-fryer, is a really easy task to manage!

I also am pleased to tell you this is one of my recipes that appears on on the menu of our  "Happy Valley" restaurant:  Champs Sports Grill!  

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

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

12/11/2011

~ Agnes Starosta's Creamy, Dreamy "Killer" Fudge ~

White Fudge PlusEveryone remembers their very first bite of fudge... that creamy, semi-soft confection made with corn syrup and/or sugar, butter, cream and various flavorings.  The most popular fudge flavor, hands-down is chocolate, with peanut butter, maple, butterscotch and vanilla all being strong contenders in the top five.  When I was growing up, Agnes Starosta was our next-door neighbor. She loved to bake, and all year long, her sweet treats would make their way over to our house. Every year on Christmas Eve, Agnes joined us for dinner and would grace our dessert table with a plate of her homemade fudge.  No matter what flavor she made, it was always full of some sort of chunky, toasted nuts.  When my now 36-year-old son was about 3 years old, he took his first bite of Agnes's dark chocolate fudge.  "That's a killer", he gleefully remarked.  The entire table roared with laughter and  "Killer Fudge", more specifically, "Agnes's Killer Fudge" got its name!

PICT5222A bit about fudge:   Fudge originated right here in America, and, like many "good things", it happened because of a happy accident.  Fudge was first documented in 1886, by students who were making and selling it at the Malmesbury School in Baltimore, Maryland.  As the story goes, they were trying to make caramels and "fudged" the recipe. This probably explains why fudge, along with another historical accident, salt water taffy, are sold as staples on the boardwalks of the Eastern Shore.  True American-style fudge is very smooth and creamy, not grainy, crumbly or tooth-achingly sweet.  When served at room temperature, it is almost spreadable, and, on the boardwalk they serve it with a little plastic knife. Fudge is often "gussied up" with additions of nuts and/or dried fruit, or, two flavors can be swirled together.  Fudge my friends is an authentic American institution!

931120-Fralingers_salt_water_taffy_shop_Ocean_CityI've tasted a lot of fudge in my lifetime (mostly while walking the boardwalks of the NJ or Maryland shore), but quite honestly, Agne's delicious, user-friendly recipe is so wonderful, I've never been inclined to experiment with other versions, which often complicate the process to the the point of "why bother".  I am here to tell you:  you do not need a degree in food science, a marble slab, or even a candy thermometer to make great fudge.  I am a purist about a lot of things, but let's get real:  fudge was born out of error... how complicated do we need to make it?  BTW:  Fralinger's in Ocean City, NJ, is one of my all-time favorite old "haunts"!  Now my friends, it's time to make Agnes's fudge:

PICT5152A bit about the pan:  After fudge is cooked, it is placed in a baking pan to cool.  Most recipes require an 8" x 8" x 2" or 13" x 9" x 2" pan and most of us have one or both.  Quite a few years ago, I invested in several sizes of professional baking pans.  The kind the pros use to bake wedding cakes, etc.  These pans are not overly expensive, most are less than $20.00.

PICT5156Notice they have a clean, squared edge, rather than a typical rounded and slightly sloping one.  Having a pan like this is not a requirement for this recipe, but it does make for fudge with pretty, uniform corners when it comes time to cut.  Prior to preparing the fudge, line an 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan with plastic wrap that drapes over the sides by 2"-3". Cut an 8" x 8" square of parchment and place it in the bottom of the pan on top of the plastic wrap.

PICT5162

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To make dark chocolate, milk chocolate or peanut butter fudge:

4  ounces miniature-sized marshmallows

1  14-ounce can condensed milk

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick), cut into pieces

16 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, milk chocolate or peanut butter morsels

6-8  ounces coarsely chopped and lightly toasted walnuts, almonds, or peanuts (optional)

1/2  cup chunky-style peanut butter (for peanut butter fudge only)

6a0120a8551282970b0148c7957d2a970c-320wi~ Step 1.  Prep the desired nuts as directed and place in a second baking pan.  Roast nuts on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 10-15 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 3-5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool to room temperature.  This can be done a day in advance.

PICT5169~ Step 2.  In a 4-quart stockpot or saucepan, thoroughly combine the condensed milk, vanilla extract and marshmallows.  Over low heat, melt the marshmallows into the mixture, stirring frequently, until mixture is completely smooth and foamy, about 5-6 minutes.  Turn the heat off for a moment.

PICT5177

 

~ Step 3.  Add and stir in the butter pieces and morsels.  If you are making peanut butter fudge, stir in the peanut butter as well.

PICT5179

 

 

 

 

~ Step 4.  Over low heat, stir constantly and somewhat vigorously, until the mixture is smooth and uniform in color, about 2-3 minutes.  

PICT5184Remove from heat and stir in the optional roasted nuts.

PICT5192

 

~ Step 5.  Transfer the fudge to the prepared baking pan.

PICT5203Give the pan several vigorous back and forth shakes to evenly distribute the fudge.  Set aside, uncovered, for 1 hour.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.

PICT5208~ Step 6.  Invert/turn the fudge out onto a cutting board by pulling and tugging on the plastic wrap and shaking the pan.  Remove the plastic wrap and peel back the parchment paper.  Using a ruler and a large, very sharp knife, measure and score the top of the fudge.  Proceed to cut into squares.

White Fudge 2

 

 

Agnes Starosta's Creamy, Dreamy "Killer" Fudge:  Recipe yields 64, 1" squares

Special Equipment List:  1, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, preferably w/straight sides; plastic wrap; parchment paper; 1, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish, for toasting optional nuts; 4-quart stockpot or saucepan; large spoon; cutting board; large chef's knife

Cook's Note:  Once cut into desired-sized pieces, store fudge in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or wax paper, in a cool, dry, place, or in the refrigerator, for up to one week.  To make a large, triple batch of fudge for the holidays, cook it on the stovetop in an 8-quart stockpot and pour it into a 15" x 11" x 2" in baking pan!

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

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

12/09/2011

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (12/09/11) ~

Culinary Q & A #2What a fast start to December! Today, Kitchen Encounters and WHVL-TV celebrated our 1st anniversary!  Yes, we've done a years worth of cooking segments together, and, if you look to the left-hand column of this blog, you'll notice that we've now got all of the videos posted for you to watch (except of course for the most recent one)!  We'll be posting each one on a regular basis now and I hope you enjoy watching me on TV!

PICT4800I also kicked off the holiday season with four great posts which I'm pretty certain will fit into almost anyones "festive" repertoire.  My recipe for ~ Savory Shiitake, Gruyere & Roasted Tomato Tarts ~, is an appetizer that got fun comments from a lot of you.  You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 1, 2, 11, 14 or 21.  It is preceded by a companion post, ~ Reducing Balsamic Vinegar:  To Create a Sauce, Syrup or Glaze for dipping or drizzing ~, which can be used in all sorts of culinary applications!  

PICT5109I bought my shiitake mushrooms in bulk last week, so I followed that post by making a ~ Succulent Shiitake Mushroom & Gruyere Quiche ~, which is just perfect for brunch any time of the year.  You can find that recipe in Categories 2, 9, 11 or 14.  Lastly, there is a dessert you won't want to miss.  ~ Silky Smooth Creme Caramel (Crema Caramella) ~, found in Categories 6 or 21.  It is elegant, extraordinary and exquisite!

One great question came my way yesterday, and Jen, your timing is perfect, as I, along with most of you, are gearing up to start our holiday baking!

Q.  Jen asks:  Mel, can you please explain to me what the difference is between parchment paper and wax paper?  Can I use one in place of the other?  My friend told me I can, but,  I looked at your beautiful cookie recipes and I see that you line all of your baking pans with parchment only.  Please advise.

PICT5136A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Jen, this is a very good question.  A lot of people confuse the two, and, for starters, let me say this:  wax paper should not be used in the oven. Parchment is coated with silicon, which gives it a nonstick, heat-resistant surface (to 450 degrees). Wax paper is coated with paraffin, which will melt when exposed to extreme heat.  I use parchment paper for lining my baking pans when baking cookies and many other things as well.  Why?   

Parchment eliminates the need to grease the baking pans, which in turn, speeds up the baking process considerably.  When you bake with a parchment lined pan, there is almost no cleanup and what is not to love about that.  Allow me to finish by saying that parchment is relatively inexpensive and can be purchased two ways:  in a roll or in precut sheets and rounds. Personally, I always purchase the precut sheets and/or rounds.  They are a bit more expensive than the roll, but the convenience far outweighs the pennys!  Happy holiday baking!

Enjoy 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)

12/05/2011

~ Succulent Shiitake Mushroom & Gruyere Quiche ~

PICT4937Got quiche?  In my opinion, quiche is one of the most delicious meals on the planet.  What's not to love:  Meat, seafood and/or vegetables, cheese, cream and eggs, all baked together in a pie pastry until puffy and golden.  When sliced and served, it is like having a party in your mouth.  In my opinion, no self-respecting cook should be without at least one quiche recipe tucked in their apron pocket.  I find my quiche recipes to be particularly valuable over holiday weekends, or whenever I have overnight guests.  Quiche is an easy way to feed a group of people breakfast or brunch without dragging out every pot and pan in your kitchen.  It is also great served at almost any temperature, so, whenever your guests meander to the table, all you have to worry about is putting it on their plate.  Besides that, "in a pinch", "on the spur of the moment", or, "at the drop of a hat", quiche is a meal that just plain makes people happy!

QuichereilawjdIn the latter 1970's and into the 1980's, quiche became very trendy and I for one was "on the bandwagon". The quiche tsunami occurred in 1982 when a man by the name of Bruce Feirstein wrote the bestseller Real Men Don't Eat Quiche.  As you can see, I still have my copy.  It coined the phrases "quiche-eater" and "real man" and separated them into two groups.  There was a third category too: "Guys who think they're real men but really aren't".   A "real man" might enjoy a bacon-and-egg pie if his wife made it for him, while a "sensitive guy" would make it himself and clean up afterwards.  The book is hilarious.  It was written after a decade of feminist critiques ("The Women's Movement") on traditional male roles and beliefs.  I for one had a lot of fun during 1982-1983 as serving quiche spawned spirited conversation each and every time!

A bit about quiche:  Quiche originated in northeastern France, in the region of Alsace-Lorraine. It consists of a pastry shell filled with a savory custard made of eggs, cream, seasonings and various other ingredients such as onions, mushrooms, ham, shellfish or herbs.  The most notable of these savory pies is the famous Quiche-Lorraine, which has crisp bacon bits and grated Gruyere cheese added to the custard filling.  Quiches can be served as a lunch, brunch or dinner entree, as well as a first course or an hors d'oeuvre!

Shiitake Mushrooms #3 (Mushrooms in Boxes Closeup)This quiche is really easy to make. That being said,  the prepped shiitake mushroom caps need to be sauteed and cooled to room temperature prior to baking it, so, this must be done at least two hours in advance.  Don't let that get you down, as this step can be done up to three days in advance of assembling and baking the quiche. How convenient is that!?!

For the mushrooms:

1 1/4 pounds shiitake mushroom caps, sliced into 1/4"-1/2" strips (Note:  Shiitake mushroom caps have woody, inedible stems which must be removed and discarded.  To insure 1 1/4 pounds of tender caps, I recommend purchasing 2  total pounds of shiitake mushrooms.)

1  stick salted butter

1 tablespoon dried herbes de Provence, the best blend available (a classic mixture reflective of Southern France, usually containing dried basil, fennel seed, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory and thyme)

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

PICT4615~ Step 1.  In a 12" chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat.  Stir in the herbes de Provence, nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper.  Add all of the mushrooms.

PICT4623

 

 

 

 

~ Step 2.  Over medium-high heat, stirring frequently/constantly, saute until mushrooms have lost all moisture, are tender, succulent, and, if left in the pan any longer would be beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.  Cover and set aside to cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.  You will have 2 1/2-3 cups of sauteed mushrooms.

 

 

For the remaining quiche ingredients:

1  7 1/2-ounce boxed, refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature, fitted into a 9" quiche dish and decoratively edged

1  pound sauteed shiitake mushroom caps (from above recipe), about 2 1/2 cups

4  ounces diced shallots or sweet onion

8  ounces grated Gruyere cheese

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

3  jumbo eggs

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1  teaspoon lemon juice, preferably fresh, or quality bottled concentrate

1  teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce, more or less, to taste

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

additional Wondra flour, for preparing quiche dish 

PICT4823~ Step 1.  Prep and place the shallots (or onion), cheese and flour in a large mixing bowl as you work.

PICT4827

 

 

 

 

 

~ Step 2.  Using two forks, toss, as you would a salad, until shallots and cheese are evenly coated in the flour.

PICT4837

 

 

 

 

 

~ Step 3.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the cooled mushrooms, until they are evenly incorporated into the cheese mixture.

PICT4844

 

 

 

 

~ Step 4.  Sprinkle a light coating of flour evenly over bottom of prepared pastry shell.

Gently spoon the mushroom mixture into shell.  Distribute the mixture evenly, mounding it slightly towards the center, but do not compress the mixture or press down on it.  You want it to remain light and airy.

PICT4855

 

 

~ Step 5.  In a 4-cup measuring container, whisk together the eggs, cream, mayonnaise, lemon juice, pepper sauce, nutmeg and white pepper.

Slowly drizzle cream mixture over and around the top surface of the mushroom mixture.  Go slowly, so as to give the liquid time to drizzle down into the cracks and crevasses of the light and airy mushroom mixture.

PICT4869

 

 

~ Step 6.  The quiche is now ready to bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 50 minutes.

Quiche will be golden brown, puffed throughout and a knife inserted into the center will come out clean.

Remove from oven and cool on rack, about 30-60 minutes, prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.

Just beautiful:

 

PICT4898Succulent Shiitake Mushroom & Gruyere Quiche:  Recipe yields 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" chef's pan; 9" quiche dish; cheese grater; 2 forks; large rubber spatula; 1-quart measuring container; whisk; cooling rack

PICT4957Cook's Note:  Not a mushroom lover?  Try my recipe for  ~ Creamy Crabmeat Quiche  ~!  

You can find that recipe in Categories 2, 9, 11  or 14!

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

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

12/02/2011

~ Savory Shiitake, Gruyere & Roasted Tomato Tarts w/a Balsamic & Brown Sugar Reduction Syrup ~

PICT4800Yes my friends, it is December.  My oh my.  'Tis the season, and I decided to kick off my December posts with an elegant starter course to almost any dinner party, which I've had in my repertoire since the early 1990's.  I remember serving them to some German guests that were visiting my husband's company and they "licked their plates clean".  I particularly like to serve these savory, knife and fork tarts at Christmas or New Years, as a prelude to my recipe for ~ Perfect "Prime" Rib (Standing Rib Roast) ~, which you can find in Categories 3, 11 & 21.  I've also served them accompanied by some roasted asparagus for more than a few Wintertime ladies luncheons where they received rave reviews.  That being said, if you are vegetarian, or happen to be entertaining vegetarian guests, this is a meatless meal that you and they can relish in.  If decadence is bliss, this is not just an indulgent recipe, it is a small culinary adventure that will make you feel like a five-star chef.  There's more:  No part of this recipe is hard!

PICT4655Puff pastry sheets and phyllo dough are always on hand in my freezer. While both products are pastry dough, they cannot be used interchangeably, so be sure you've got the right one in hand before starting to cook!

If you've never used puff pastry sheets before, after you see what an easy ingredient they are to work with, you'll be keeping them on hand too. I am here to tell you, I can and have made my own puff pastry from scratch.  It is a time-consuming culinary project, I am happy and proud that I know how to do it, BUT, and this is a BIG BUT, todays store-bought puff pastry sheets compromise so little in the end result, even the bestest of chefs use them without hesitation!

PICT4631Balsamic reduction syrup (or balsamic sauce or glaze or whatever you refer to it as) looks like a fancy-schmancy garnish but let me assure you:  it is not rocket science.  It has been around for a long time, has appeared in countless cookbooks and was made familiar to most of us via numerous TV chefs.  Prior to reducing the vinegar, some chefs add a bit of brown sugar to it, others add a bit of honey, and, others add nothing at all.  This is a matter of preference.  I've done it all three ways, and personally, I think brown sugar does produce a pleasant, subtle sweet undertone to the final product.  The sugar also helps it to thicken up a little more quickly.  I pretty much like to keep a container of this syrup in my kitchen all year round (it keeps forever in the refrigerator) because I especially love it drizzled on all sorts of grilled or roasted vegetables!

Part One:  Simmer the Balsamic & Brown Sugar Reduction Syrup

PICT4642For the balsamic reduction syrup:

3  cups balsamic vinegar

2  tablespoons brown sugar

 ~ Step 1.  Place the vinegar in a 2-quart saucier or saucepan and stir in the sugar.  Over low heat, bring to a simmer and continue to simmer gently for 25-30 minutes, or until mixture is reduced by a little more than two-thirds, which is my personal favorite thickness.  You will have about 2/3 cup of syrup.

PICT4653Finished syrup will coat the back of a spoon, but the best test for doneness is to place a streak of syrup on a cool plate.  If it feels slightly sticky and holds its shape when  you draw your finger through it, it's done.  Store in refrigerator and gently reheat in microwave.

Note:  If you want your sauce thicker than this, continue to cook until reduced even further, but be careful not to let it burn!

Part Two:  Saute the Shiitake Mushroom Filling 

PICT4608For the mushrooms (please read my Cook's Note below)

2 1/2 pounds shiitake mushroom caps, sliced into 1/4"-1/2" strips

2  sticks salted butter

2  tablespoons dried herbes de Provence, the best blend available (a classic mixture reflective of Southern France, usually containing:  dried basil, fennel seed, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, savory & thyme)

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1  tablespoon sea salt

1  teaspoon white pepper

PICT4615~ Step 1.  In a 14" chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat.  Stir in the herbes de Provence, nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper.  Add all of the mushrooms.

PICT4623

 

 

 

 

~ Step 2.  Over medium-high heat, stirring frequently/almost constantly, saute until mushroom have lost all of their moisture, are tender, succulent, and, if left in the pan any longer would be beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.  Cover and set aside to cool.

 

 

 

Part Three:  Roast the Tomato Topping

PICT4662For the tomatoes:

1  pint grape tomatoes, each cut in half lengthwise

a drizzling olive oil, about 2 tablespoons

a sprinkling of herbes de Provence, about 3/4 teaspoon

a sprinkling of brown sugar, about 1 1/2 tablespoons

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

PICT4666

 

 

 

 

 

 

~ Step 1.  Slice the tomatoes in half and place them, opened sides facing up, on a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" pan that has been covered with aluminum foil and lined with a piece of parchment paper, as you work. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, a sprinkling of herbes de Provence and brown sugar.  Top with a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

PICT4673~ Step 2.  Bake on center rack of 350 degree oven for about 1 hour, or until the tomatoes are blistered, caramelizing and a bit of char is forming on their tops.  This timing will vary depending upon the size and consistency of the tomatoes.  

Note:  The way they look is more important than the time it takes. Remove from oven and set aside.

 

Part 4:  Assemble and Bake the Tarts

PICT4678For the assembly of 8 or 16 tarts:

1-2  17-ounce boxes puff pastry sheets, containing 2 puff pastry sheets each box, cold, NOT at room temperature 

1/4-1/2  pound grated Gruyere cheese

1-2  large eggs, lightly beaten with 1-2 tablespoons water

PICT4684~ Step 1. On a lightly floured surface, one at a time, unfold each pastry sheet.  Using a light touch, pressing down as little as possible, roll until the sheet shows no sign of cracks or folds and is increased in size as little as possible.

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~ Step 2.   Using a 4"-round puff pastry cutter, decoratively cut each pastry sheet into 4 pieces.  Place 8 pastry cutouts on each of two, 17 1/2" x 11 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper. Using a fork, prick the "inside circle" of each pastry round 3-4 times. Refrigerate each pan for about 15-20 minutes.

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Note:  Puff pastry cutters come in many shapes and sizes.  They have a decoratively-shaped outside perimeter, which cuts entirely through the puff pastry sheet.  They also have a smaller inside edge that is shorter than the perimeter, meaning:  it is too short to cut entirely through the pastry.  The inside edge merely marks/semi-cuts the pastry, which allows the outside border to rise up around the filling during the baking process.  These time-saving gadgets are well worth the small $6.00-$8.00 investment!

PICT4713~ Step 3.  One at a time, or as you are ready to assemble and bake each pan, remove pan of pastry from the refrigerator. On the inside center circle of each pastry shell, place 1 tablespoon of grated Gruyere cheese followed by 2 tablespoons of the mushroom mixture.  Using a pastry brush, brush the outer circle, or decorative border, with the egg wash. Assembly is done. Easy enough?

PICT4723~ Step 4.  Bake, one pan at a time, on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until puffy and golden brown throughout.

~ Step 5.  Remove from oven and top each glorious tart with a few roasted tomatoes.  Serve hot or warm garnished with a drizzle of balsamic syrup and a small sprig of fresh thyme:

 

PICT4809Savory Shiitake, Gruyere & Roasted Tomato Tarts w/a Balsamic & Brown Sugar Reduction Syrup:  Recipe yields 8 or 16, 4 1/2" tarts, 2/3 cup of syrup and enough of mushroom filling for a double batch of tarts, or,  32 total tarts.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucier or saucepan; cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight deep sides & lid; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; rolling pin; 4" round puff pastry cutter, or, a 4" and a 3 1/2" round cookie cutter, or, a knife (to cut circles freeform); 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; fork  

PICT4627Cook's Note:  It is worth noting that this recipe purposefully makes twice as much mushroom filling as you'll need for 16 tarts, or:  4 pounds of shiitake mushrooms = about 2 1/2 pounds of shiitake mushroom caps = 6 cups of fully-cooked mushrooms. Because it is so economical, I order my shiitake mushrooms in bulk.  On my next post, I'll be showing you what I make with the remaining filling, so, stay tuned.  Hint:  Got quiche?

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

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

12/01/2011

~ Reducing Balsamic Vinegar: To Create a Savory Syrup, Sauce or Glaze for Dipping or Drizzling ~

6a0120a8551282970b015437f11c78970c-800wiWhen balsamic vinegar is reduced the flavors concentrate and create a savory syrup (or sauce or glaze or whatever you refer to it as).  It might look like a top-shelf fancy garnish, but let me assure you:  it is not rocket science. Italian families have been making and using this rich, flavorful condiment for generations, but it took the birth of food TV and TV chefs for us American home cooks to find out about it.  Prior to reducing the vinegar, some chefs like to add a bit of brown sugar to it, others add a bit of honey, and, others add nothing at all.  This is a matter of preference.  I've done it all three ways, and, personally, I think brown sugar does produce a pleasant, subtle sweet undertone to the final product.  The addition of sugar also seems to help the mixture to thicken up a bit faster.  I pretty much like to keep a container of this condiment in my kitchen all year round (it seems to keep forever in the refrigerator, because a little of it goes a very long way) and I especially love to drizzle it on all sorts of grilled and roasted vegetables (asparagus, mushrooms, squash and tomatoes to name a few).  It is delicious brushed on poultry for a very flavorful glaze, plus, it is the perfect compliment to dishes containing bitter greens such arugula, chicory or radicchio!

PICT4975A bit about balsamic vinegar: Balsamic vinegar was introduced to the USA in the late 1970's and quickly became the darling of restaurant chefs.  It is hard to believe that thirty-some years ago almost none of us in America had even heard of it.  This wonderful wine-based vinegar is still made in Modena, Italy, where it is aged in oak or other wooden kegs.  During the process, it takes on a mellow, full-bodied, slightly sweet flavor and a deep, reddish-brown color.  When a recipe calls for balsamic vinegar, there really is no good substitute for it.  When purchasing balsamic vinegar, look for brands that denote Modena or Reggio, which are the only two authentic sources.

PICT4979The Italian word "balsamico" means "balsam-like" or "curative".  There are two types of balsamic vinegar:  commercial and artisanal.  Artisanal balsamic vinegar is made by simmering and reducing the juice (or "must") of sweet, white Trebbiano grapes and aging it for at least 12 years in a succession of graduated-in-size wooden kegs made of various types of wood (oak, cherry, juniper and mulberry).  The vinegar maker works meticulously, transferring the ever-more concentrated vinegar down the line until a liter or two of finished vinegar emerges from the smallest barrel. Artisinal varieties, which are quite pricey, are very complex and are used sparingly as a last minute flavoring.  A red label means the vinegar has been aged for at least 12 years, a silver label denotes 18 years and a gold label designates 25 years or more.

Commercial balsamic vinegar, which is much less expensive, is made by blending good wine vinegar, reduced juice ("must") and young balsamic vinegar.  It is then aged in the kegs that were used in the artisanal process.  It is used in salad dressings, dips, marinades, and sauces. 

PICT4631Reducing commercial balsamic vinegar couldn't be easier.  The time will vary a bit, depending on the surface area of the bottom of the pot you are using, and, the only mistake you can make is not watching it carefully towards the end, because it can and will burn.  That being said, I feel compelled to forewarn you that when you are simmering the vinegar, your house is going to take on a strong vinegary smell, so, you might want to do it on a day when you can open a window!

For the balsamic reduction:

3  cups commercial balsamic vinegar

2  tablespoons brown sugar (optional)

PICT4642~ Step 1.  Place the vinegar in a 2-quart saucier and stir in the sugar. Over low heat, bring to a simmer and continue to simmer steadily and gently for 25-35 minutes, or until the mixture is reduced by a little more than two-thirds, which is my personal favorite thickness.  You will have about 2/3 cup of syrup.

Note: A saucier (sauce-ee-ay) is a shallow, wide-bottomed pot with rounded sides that promotes reduction because of the large surface area.

PICT4653~ Step 2.  Testing for doneness. Finished syrup will coat the back of a spoon, but the best test for doneness is to place a streak of syrup on a cool plate.  If it feels slightly sticky and holds its shape when you draw your finger through it, it's done.  If you want your sauce thicker than this, continue to cook until reduced even further, but be very careful to watch it so it does not burn/scorch.  

PICT4987~ Step 3. Transfer finished sauce to a microwave-safe food storage container (I prefer glass), tightly close and refrigerate indefinitely.  

Return to room temperature, and/or reheat, prior to serving or using, by placing the container in microwave oven at low power for about 1-2 minutes, stopping to gently shake the container about once every 30 seconds.  Transfer to a plastic squeeze bottle, if desired.

6a0120a8551282970b015437f14dce970c-800wiReducing Balsamic Vinegar:  To Create a Savory Syrup, Sauce or Glaze for Dipping or Drizzling: Recipe yields 2/3 cup of balsamic reduction syrup.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucier or saucepan; 1-cup food storage container; plastic squeeze bottle (optional)

Cook's Note:  Now that it is Winter and a lot of my favorite vegetables are out of season,  I like to roast what is available to me in the oven, which gives them a real flavor boost.  Yesterday I found fresh asparagus.  It was rather thick, but I was still happy to see it, so I bought it.  To roast asparagus and tomatoes (which is one of my favorite combinations) as pictured above:  in a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish, place 2 bunches of medium-thick asparagus that have been trimmed of their woody stalk-ends to a length of 3 1/2"-4".  Add 1 pint of grape tomatoes and 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme.  Drizzle with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, toss like you would a salad, and top with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Roast on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Serve immediately garnished with coarse sea salt and a drizzle of balsamic reduction syrup. Serves 4-6 as a side-dish.

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

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