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13 posts from February 2012

02/29/2012

~ How to: Make Great Milkshakes & Malts at Home ~

PICT2688I'm not a coffee drinker, I'm an iced tea drinker.  When I came downstairs this morning, I followed my morning ritual:  Put the Sopranos on TV, pour a big glass of iced tea, read my horoscope in the newspaper, then check my e-mail and Facebook messages.  After that, I feed my poodles and get to work on the cooking consultation or blog post du jour.  Today, my orderly culinary world got thrown what I think is referred to in the sports world as "a curveball":  

I woke up expecting it to be March 1st and it was February 29th!

PICT2691Ignoring Leap Day on Kitchen Encounters was not an option.  I wandered around (with my iced tea in hand) for about 20 minutes trying to think of something fun to do with my extra February day.  I wasn't planning on blogging about making ice cream, ice cream parlor drinks or smoothies until Summer rolled around but:  

Last Saturday my girlfriend Carol gave me a set of classic soda-fountain glasses as a hostess gift (she knew I'd been looking for some for quite a while), and, the Waring-Pro drink mixer I got for Christmas was ready for a test drive!

Do you need a drink mixer to make a milkshake or a malt?  No. A blender will do just fine.  But, being a grandmother, I have a feeling my milkshake-loving grandson David is going to be very pleased that GrandMel has one!

What is the difference between a milkshake and malt?

PICT2689A malt is a milkshake that has malted milk powder added to it.  I grew up in the 1960's and '70's, which was a period in time after the 1950's malt shops had disappeared and prior to the world being overtaken by fast food chains. There were, however, still mom and pop run ice cream and fast food drive-ins in every town.  These places, besides serving ice-cream (some specializing in hard ice-cream, others in soft-serve) made great hot dogs, hamburgers and fries.  Besides coke and root beer, they also specialized in shakes and malts.  In my hometown of Hometown, PA, we had Kellet's.  They made their own hard ice-cream and Mrs. Kellet did not skimp on the amount of malted milk powder she put in her malts.  On a side note:  No one had to coax me into trying a malted milkshake.  I grew up watching Leave it to Beaver and Wally was always headed to The Malt Shop to hang out with his friends... what was good enough for the handsome Wally Cleaver, was good enough for me!

PICT2702A Vanilla Milkshake, is made of vanilla ice cream, vanilla extract and milk, and it is the basic recipe from which all shakes are made. The basic recipe can and should be adjusted to suite your taste. Chocolate Milkshakes are vanilla milkshakes to which chocolate syrup has been added.  Double Chocolate Milkshakes are made using chocolate ice cream in place of vanilla ice cream.  A Strawberry Milkshake is made using strawberry ice cream and a Double Strawberry Milkshake has strawberry preserves added to it for extra flavor.  Vanilla Malts, Chocolate Malts and Strawberry Malts simply have malted milk powder added to them!

What is malted milk powder?

PICT2693It is a combination of malted barley, wheat flour, malt flour and powdered milk.  It usually contains additives like sugar and flavorings like vanilla or chocolate.  The term "malt" refers to a specific process where a grain is placed in a warm environment, allowed to sprout, and is quickly dried to a fine powder form. Malted milk powder was invented by a London pharmacist, James Horlicks, in 1869.  His intention was for it to be a liquid supplement for infants and invalids, but it quickly found popularity in unexpected food markets.  Because it was lightweight and nonperishable, explorers like Admiral Richard E. Byrd took it to Antarctica, where he named a mountain range after Horlicks.  Because of its pleasant, sweet taste when mixed with milk, people in general started drinking malted milk for enjoyment.  Mothers, like mine, added it to milk to entice little girls like me (who hated plain white milk), to drink their milk!

My Basic Recipe for All Milkshakes or Malts

PICT26885  large, 2 1/2" scoops vanilla, chocolate or strawberry ice cream, your favorite brand

1/2  cup cold whole milk, more or less depending upon how thick you like your shakes to be

1  teaspoon vanilla extract

3  tablespoons chocolate syrup or strawberry preserves (for chocolate or strawberry shakes)

4  tablespoons malted milk powder (for turning milkshakes into malts)

Place all ingredients in drink mixer or blender.  Blend at low speed about 5 seconds, then increase speed to high and blend until smooth, about 30-45 seconds. Serve immediately in tall glasses with long spoons and straws.  If desired, garnish with whipped cream and maraschino cherries:

PICT2691How to:  Make Great Milkshakes & Malts at Home:  Recipe yields one vanilla, chocolate or strawberry milkshake or malt.

Special Equipment List:  electric drink mixer or blender; 2 1/2" ice cream scoop; tall glasses; long-handled drink spoons; straws

PICT2688Cook's Note:  In the 1950's, Carnation became a distributor of malted milk powder.  Like Ovaltine, Carnation marketed plain- and chocolate-flavored options.  While Horlicks remains popular in the UK, India and Southeast Asia, Carnation and Ovaltine have pretty taken over the present day American market.  In 1985 the Nestle corporation acquired Carnation, then in 2007 Nestle acquired Ovaltine, which is a Swiss made malt drink mix.  Can Ovaltine be used to make milkshakes?  You betcha!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

02/24/2012

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (2/24/12) ~

Culinary Q & A #2Just when I thought Spring was in the air, Winter pulls me back in.  I spent yesterday in my kitchen doing a WHVL-TV/Kitchen Encounters shoot dressed in a lightweight turtleneck with my back doors wide open.  It was sunny and almost 50 degrees.  Today, I find myself listening to the wind howl while watching the snow fall.  I am typing this with a fire in the family room fireplace wearing a lovely ensemble of snuggly classic gray sweatpants with a white sweatshirt!

I received two questions from a reader via e-mail this week.  I think I mentioned this before, but we've added an Email Me button on the header below the Kitchen Encounters banner.  It seems to be catching on, and, it is a great way for anyone to contact me with questions, comments or requests and get an almost immediate response (as I check my e-mails regularly each day)!

PICT2686Q.  Alice asks:  Do you have or can you recommend a favorite brand of store-bought spaghetti sauce?  Also, do you have any quick tips for making any brand of store-bought sauce taste homemade?  I work full-time and have four kids, ages 8-15, and I just don't have the time to make homemade sauce.  By the way, I really do enjoy your blog and your explanations.  For me, it's all of the pictures that I find the most helpful.  

I've been following you for over a month now and so far you've taught me how to chop an onion, I've made your easy roasted chicken breasts twice, and, my boys love your crockpot sweet potato chili.  My husband I and I watched your video for corned beef and we're making that for dinner next weekend!  Thank-you!

A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Firstly, thank-you Alice!  I've said this before, but it is feedback like this that makes writing a cooking blog totally worth my effort.  I COMPLETELY understand your situation.  Working moms and dads with even one child nowadays have a hard time keeping up. While I mostly cook things from scratch, I admire working parents who WANT to find the time and a way to cook a meal for their family each night.  That's what I consider "heirloom", and trust me, they will remember you and thank you for it (someday)!

PICT0518To answer your questions,  I've tested store-bought pasta sauces and settled on Rao's as my #1 choice.  It contains no artificial colors or preservatives, just: tomatoes, EVOO, onions, salt, garlic, basil, black pepper and oregano.  Like any cook who wants to transition store-bought into homemade, I add about 1/4 cup of red wine to the simmering sauce. Since I do make my own pasta sauce, and have it on-hand in the freezer at all times, I also add about 2 cups of my homemade sauce.  A substitution for the 2 cups of homemade, would be 1, 14 1/2-ounce can of diced tomatoes.  If you want to add some spice to your sauce, add some red pepper flakes!

To make a quick meat sauce:  In a skillet, lightly season (with salt and pepper) 1 total pound of ground beef and/or sausage, 1 medium diced onion and 8 ounces of sliced white mushrooms in 2-3 tablespoons of EVOO.  Add to sauce and simmer gently for 15-30 minutes!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend everyone, and once again:  To leave a comment or ask a question, simply click on the blue title of any post, scroll to the end of it and type away... or, email me directly!

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

(Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012) 

02/22/2012

~ Louisiana's Famous Shrimp Po' Boy Sandwiches ~

PICT2689Joe and I are both from Eastern Pennsylvania and grew up eating hoagies.  When we moved to Central PA/Penn State/Happy Valley, we found ourselves immersed in a sea of sub shops, and, we now refer to hoagies as subs, unless we are ordering them heated/toasted in a pizza oven, then we call them grinders.  My family in the New York/New Jersey area eat heros.  All of the above are sandwiches that are served on a long Italian roll, split and opened into a "V", then filled with various meats, cheeses, vegetables, seasonings and sauces!

PICT2689When Joe and I went to New Orleans in 1982, I had no idea what a po' boy was.  One week later, when I left New Orleans, between Joe and I, we'd eaten at least three or four of them, I'd acquired quite a taste for them, and, I had a complete understanding of why they are New Orleans' most famous sandwich.  We ate in a lot of super-famous, high-end NOLA restaurants that week, but in retrospect, the shrimp po' boys I ate in the ordinary sandwich shops just might have been my favorite part of that trip!

A bit about the po' boy (po-boy, po boy or poor boy) sandwich:  1)  The bread is the star of the sandwich.  It's a high quality, made-fresh-daily, French bread that has a crunchy crust and a soft center.  It is similar to a baguette only shorter in length (12"-14") and wider in width (3 1/3"-4").  A "full" is a sandwich served on the entire roll.  A "shorty" is half of a "full".  2) The filling(s) can be just about anything, but the two most popular are beef and seafood.  The beef is roasted or simmered, sliced or shredded and served with gravy.  The seafood (with shrimp being the most popular) is always coated in a 50/50 cornmeal/flour mixture, deep-fried and served with remoulade sauce.  3)  The dressing(s) consists of lettuce, tomato and sometimes pickles or onions.  Non-seafood po' boys have the option of gravy or mustard.  Seafood po' boys have the option of remoulade or mayonnaise.  To order, use the words, "dressed", or "nuttin' on it"!

Cook's Note before getting started:  I recommend you take the time to make and serve these sandwiches with homemade remoulade sauce, and, my recipe with step-by-step photos can be found below.  That being said, if you are making homemade remoulade sauce, prepare it prior to dredging and frying the shrimp.  The remoulade can even be made several days in advance!

PICT2689For the shrimp:

2  pounds medium (51-60 count) shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails off

1  cup fine corn meal (masa)

1  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  tablespoons Cajun seasoning blend

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  cup Creole mustard

3/4  cup water

peanut or corn oil, for deep-frying

PICT2685~ Step 1.  Preheat the oil in a deep-fryer to 360 degrees, according to manufacturer's specifications.

~ Step 2.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, Cajun seasoning and salt.

PICT2690

 

 

 

~ Step 3.  In a second medium mixing bowl, whisk together the Creole mustard and water, to form a somewhat drizzly, pancake-batter-like consistency.

PICT2686~ Step 4. Using a large spoon or a spatula, fold all of the shrimp into the mustard/water mixture, until shrimp are thoroughly coated.

PICT2685~ Step 5.  In batches of 18-24, dredge shrimp in cornmeal mixture and deep-fry for 1-1 1/2 minutes.   

PICT2692Transfer to a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish that has been lined with paper-towels.  Repeat this process until all shrimp are fried.

Below is my remoulade recipe and sandwich assembly instructions:

 

PICT2688For the remoulade sauce and the sandwiches:

3/4-1  cup finely diced celery

3/4-1  cup very thinly sliced green onions, white and light green part only (Note:  Reserve dark green tops for garnishing as directed below.)*

1/2-3/4  cup finely diced yellow or sweet onion

1/2-3/4  cup finely diced curly parsley leaves, as few stems as possible

1 1/2  cups chili sauce

1/2  cup Creole mustard

1/4  cup red wine vinegar

2  tablespoons prepared white horseradish

1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1  tablespoon smoked paprika

1/2  teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1/2-3/4  cup vegetable oil

chiffonade of romaine or iceberg lettuce about 1 cup per sandwich

6-8  6"-7" long French sandwich rolls, the best available

* 1/2 cup very thinly sliced green onion tops, for garnish

PICT2685~ Step 1.  Prep the celery, green onions, yellow onion and parsley as directed.  Set aside.

~ Step 2.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, place all ingredients except oil. Process for 30 seconds.

Note:  Now is the time to taste and adjust your remoulade mixture for seasonings.  There is no going back after the next step!

PICT2695~ Step 3.  With motor running on the food processor, slowly add the oil in a thin stream, until the desired consistency is reached, stopping after 1/2 cup has been added to see if it is to your liking.

PICT2697~ Step 4. Transfer to a large bowl and fold in the prepped vegetables.

PICT2704~ Step 5.  Transfer to a 2-quart food storage container, cover and refrigerate for several hours to overnight.  While remoulade is chilling:

~ Step 6.  Chiffonade the lettuce and slice the rolls (lengthwise) almost in half to form a "V".  Slather a generous amount of remoulade on the inside of each roll.  Add 1 cup of lettuce to each and fill with shrimp.  Top immediately with:

Remoulade, shredded lettuce & crispy shrimp:

PICT2685Louisiana's Famous Shrimp Po' Boy Sandwiches:  Recipe makes 6-8, 6"-7" sandwiches with 14-16 shrimp on each sandwich, and, 4 cups remoulade sauce.  Because my tomato-y remoulade recipe has bits of crunchy green onion and celery in it, and, is quite spicy too, you won't be needing any special accompaniments (just lettuce) on these po' boys! 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 2-quart food storage container; deep-fryer; whisk; large spoon or spatula; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish; paper towels

PICT2688Cook's Note:  To prepare another one of my Louisiana recipes, check out my ~ Mardi Gras Shrimp Remoulade a la Galatoire's ~, which can be found in Categories 1, 2, 10, 11, 14 & 17.  This recipe comes directly from Galatoire's!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012) 

02/20/2012

~ Mardi Gras Shrimp Remoulade a la Galatoire's ~

PICT2688The New Orleans festival known as "Mardi Gras" means "Fat Tuesday", with "Mardi" being the French word for "Tuesday", and, "gras" being the French word for "fat".  The festivities start on January 6th, or the Twelfth Night Feast of the Epiphany, and carry on until the day before Ash Wednesday, or Fat Tuesday.  The Mardi Gras festivities (parties, parades and feasts) will carry on until the stroke of midnight tomorrow night, when lent begins.  Mardi Gras is a legal holiday in New Orleans and has been an annual event for two centuries!

CA Mardi Gras 026

Mard9I've never been to New Orleans specifically to celebrate Mardi Gras, but I have traveled to this savoir-faire filled city between the Christmas and New Years holidays.  Back in 1982, Joe and I spent seven glorious days there, during which time we ate our way through this city's superb restaurants, bars, grilles and countryside dives.  On our very first night in New Orleans, we chose (upon the recommendation of close friends) to dine at the famous Galatoire's:

IMG_5298Founded in 1905, Galatoire's Restaurant is the grand dame of New Orleans' old-line restaurants. It is a fine-dining, "coat and tie", "heels and hose" establishment. Currently under the fourth generation of family ownership, they maintain the rich tradition of serving authentic French Creole cuisine at an art form level.  I'll admit, the place is bistro busy and loud, but once you are seated at your white-clothed table, the superb food, cocktails and service are the only things you'll notice!

DSC_1367Galatoire's most popular and most requested dish is shrimp remoulade (reh-moo-lahd).  Remoulade is a classic French condiment, which is usually aioli- or mayonnaise-based. This is not the case with Galatoire's special, spicy "Louisiana red" tomato-y blend of grainy Creole mustard, horseradish, hot paprika, Worcestershire, vinegar and oil. Once you've eaten their shrimp remoulade, no other version will do!

The following is my version of Galatoire's published shrimp remoulade recipe.  I use almost the same ingredients list, only in measurements that suit my family's palate.  In Melanie's Kitchen, we like our vegetables (celery, scallions, onion and parsley) a little chunky,  so I finely dice them. At Galatoire's, they mince their vegetables in a food processor.  That choice remains yours!

PICT4409For the shrimp:

2  pounds, extra-jumbo (16/20 count shrimp), thawed if frozen

(Note:  I buy both fresh and frozen shrimp, but I always try to purchase tail-on, shell-on deveined shrimp. To thaw frozen shrimp safely, place them in a bowl of very cold water and in about a hour they'll be completely thawed.)

3  cups water

3  cups white wine

1  large, juicy lemon, cut in half

4  medium-sized bay leaves

PICT4421~ Step 1.  To cook the shrimp, place the wine and water in an 8-quart stockpot.  Squeeze the lemon juice into the pot, then add the lemon rinds.  Add the bay leaves.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the shrimp.  When the water returns to a boil, cook for exactly 1 1/2 minutes. Do not overcook!

PICT4447

 

 

~ Step 2.  Drain the shrimp into a colander and rinse under very cold water until shrimp are cool, or cold, to the touch, but ever so slightly warm in the center.  Transfer to a food storage bag and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.  Peel.  I leave the tails on, but that choice remains yours!

PICT2688For the remoulade sauce:

3/4-1  cup finely diced celery

3/4-1  cup very thinly sliced green onions, white and light green part only (Note:  Reserve dark green tops for garnishing as directed below.)*

1/2-3/4  cup finely diced yellow or sweet onion

1/2-3/4  cup finely diced curly parsley leaves, as few stems as possible

1 1/2  cups chili sauce

1/2  cup Creole mustard

1/4  cup red wine vinegar

2  tablespoons prepared white horseradish

1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1  tablespoon smoked paprika

1/2  teaspoon ground cayenne pepper 

1/2-3/4  cup vegetable oil

chiffonade of romaine or iceberg lettuce, about 1 1/2-2 cups per portion

1-2  lemon wedges, per portion, for accompaniment (1-2 lemons cut into wedges)

* 1/2 cup very thinly sliced green onion tops, for garnish

PICT2685~ Step 1.  Prep the celery, green onions, yellow onion and parsley as directed.  Set aside.

~ Step 2.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, place all ingredients except for oil. Process for 30 seconds.

Note:  Now is the time to taste and adjust your remoulade mixture for seasonings.  There is no going back after the next step!

PICT2695~ Step 3.  With the motor running on the food processor, slowly add the oil in a thin stream, until the desired consistency is reached, stopping after 1/2 cup has been added to see if it is to your liking.

PICT2697~ Step 4. Transfer to a large bowl and fold in the prepped vegetables.

PICT2704Step 5.  Transfer to a 2-quart food storage container, cover and refrigerate for several hours to overnight.  Put your feet up and have a Mardi Gras drink!

~ Step 6.  Place shrimp in a bowl and fold in enough remoulade sauce to lightly coat.  Portion onto plates that have a bed of shredded iceberg or romaine lettuce on them. Garnish each portion with green onions and a lemon wedge or two!

PICT2686Mardi Gras Shrimp Remoulade a la Galatoire's:  Recipe serves 8 as an appetizer or 6 as a salad, and, makes 4 generous cups of remoulade sauce.

Special Equipment List: 8-quart stockpot; colander; food storage bag; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 2-quart food storage container

Flash3Cook's Note:  Shrimp remoulade is New Orleans' version of shrimp cocktail.  That being said, it is also great served atop crab cakes, or, mixed with a few tablespoons of mayonnaise and slathered on a po' boy sandwich. This simple dish can be served on elegant china for any festive occasion, or, on a paper plate at a picnic or tailgate...

... a dish truly fit for a King!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

02/17/2012

~ TGIF: Mel's Make-Ahead, Asian Cocktail Meatballs w/an Easy "Duck" Sauce for Dipping or Drizzling ~

PICT2672It's finally Friday here on Kitchen Encounters.  If you scroll through this weeks posts you'll notice it has been a full week of Thai-Asian-themed soup posts.  Before switching gears, I've decided to finish out the week with my recipe for an easy, super-delicious, Asian bar snack. What I like about this recipe is that you can make a lot of meatballs in less than one hour, about 7 1/2 dozen, then freeze them in 1-2-dozen packages to have on hand for impromptu Friday evening get-togethers.  As for my E-Z "duck" sauce?  It just might be the best one you've ever tasted!

220px-Duck_sauce_packetsA bit about "duck" sauce:  All of us are familiar with those packets of an orange, sticky and sweet condiment that comes with Chinese takeout.  Real "duck" sauce is made using fresh plums, apricots or peaches, some rice vinegar, ginger, sugar and spices.  In reality, real "duck" sauce isn't duck sauce at all.  It is plum sauce.  When Chinese food was being Westernized, plum sauce was served as a condiment for Peking duck (instead of the traditional hoisin sauce) and it quickly picked up the name "duck" sauce!

PICT2528For the cocktail meatballs:

2  pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed of all visible fat, cut into 3/4" - 1" cubes

4  ounces green onion, white and light green part only

1  cup panko breadcrumbs

2  8-ounce cans sliced water chestnuts, well-drained

3  jumbo eggs

1 1/2  teaspoons ground ginger

2  tablespoons soy sauce

2  teaspoons salt

1 1/2  teaspoons white pepper

PICT2532~ Step 1.  Prep the pork tenderloin as directed above and place it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade as you work. Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses, grind the meat.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

PICT2536

 

 

 

~ Step 2.  Return the work bowl and steel blade to the food processor. Add all of the remaining ingredients, as listed.  Using a series of 30-40 rapid on-off pulses, combine the mixture to a thick paste.  Transfer the mixture to the bowl containing the ground pork.

PICT2539Using your hands, thoroughly combine.

PICT2543~ Step 3.  Using a 1" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place meatballs, slightly apart on each of 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.  Bake, one pan at a time, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 15-16 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely (on the pans).  You PICT2550will have a total of 7 1/2 dozen flavorful, succulent cocktail meatballs.  

Serve warm or at room temperature. To freeze, place pans of cooled meatballs in the freezer for 1-2 hours or overnight. Portion and place frozen meatbals in food storage bags and return to freezer.

PICT2650For the "duck" sauce:

1/2  cup apricot preserves

1/2 cup mango & ginger chutney*

1/4  cup water

* Mango & ginger chutney contains many of the same ingredients in "duck" sauce.  It is a fabulous, flavor-packed, time-saving "secret" to a quick Asian "duck" sauce! 

PICT2647Step 1.  Place the preserves, chutney and water in a small, 1-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Continue to simmer gently for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside to cool slightly, about 15-20 minutes.

PICT2656

 

 

~ Step 2.  Transfer mixture to a blender or a small food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until smooth, about 30-45 seconds. Serve slightly warm.

Place in a tightly covered food storage container and store indefinitely in the refrigerator. Reheat gently in the microwave just prior to serving.

PICT2686TGIF:  Mel's Make-Ahead, Asian Cocktail Meatballs w/an Easy "Duck" Sauce for Dipping or Drizzling: Recipe yields 7 1/2 dozen cocktail meatballs and 1 1/4  cups "duck" sauce.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board,  chef's knife; food processor; 1" ice-cream scoop; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; food storage bags; 1-quart saucepan; blender or small food processor

PICT2259Cook's Note:  If you want to try another one of my Asian bar food recipes, click into Categories 1, 2, 11, 17 or 20 and read my recipe for ~ Time Out for Asian  Whiskey-Beef Fondue Sliders ~.  These easy-to-make mini-sandwiches are another fun and delicious way to entertain friends on a Friday night!  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

02/15/2012

~ A Fun-Filled Week of My Thai Soups -- in Review ~

PICT2635I don't usually write a retrospective blog post, but in the case of the Thai chicken stock I posted last week, and the three marvelous soup recipes that were generated from it, I am proudly making an exception.  If you are a lover of Thai food (like Joe and I are), the past few days in Melanie's Kitchen, and here on Kitchen Encounters, have been a labor of love, and, an extraordinary "Thai soup festival" which we will all be talking about for a very long time!

PICT2120February 3rd.  ~ Thai Chicken Stock (Real Thai Food Starts Here) ~, can be found in Categories 13, 15 & 22.  If you love authentic Thai food, this is a recipe you must have. Ordinary chicken stock, which is geared towards an entirely different flavor palate, is not a good choice/substitute when preparing Thai soups or foods.  This stock recipe my friends is:  the real deal!

PICT2426February 10th. ~ Spicy Thai-Style Carrot-Coconut-Ginger Bisque ~, can be found in Categories  2, 13 & 21.  This is a "fusion" recipe born out of two distinct cuisines.  The classic French method for preparing bisque is fused with authentic Thai ingredients and flavors.  This creamy soup is a party in your mouth.  That being said, if you want it to dance across the table to feed a few more people, add a scoop or two of steamed rice to each bowl!

PICT2508February 12th.  ~ Thai Hot & Sour Prawn Soup:  Tom Yam Kung ~, can be found in Categories 2, 13, 14 & 22.  Tom Yam Kung is the #1 soup in Thailand and is #8 on the World's Favorite Foods list.  It is on every Thai restaurant menu, and, in Thailand, a chef is often measured by his/her ability to make a great tom yam soup.  It is my personal favorite Thai soup, and, if I do say so myself, my version is right up there with the best of them!

PICT2589February 14th.  ~ Thai Glass Noodle Soup w/Petite Pork Meatballs ~, can be found in Categories 2, 11, 13 & 22.  This is another one of my authentic Thai soup recipes, but, a hard to find one.  Why?  Well, it is the Thai home cooks fancied-up version of Thai "gaeng jued" or "plain soup" that is sold as street food and in soup kitchens all over Thailand!

Dinner in our house tonight, which is technically classified as leftovers, is going to be a tough act to follow for at least a few days. Meet Mel's "Thai chef's, house-special, soup-tasting plate"... three unique soups, all born out of one authentic stock, plus a side of steamed jasmine rice!

PICT2636"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipes, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

02/14/2012

~ Thai Glass Noodle Soup w/Petite Pork Meatballs ~

PICT2589This is indeed an authentic Thai recipe, but one you'll not find on a Thai restaurant menu. Versions of this "gaeng jued" soup are sold as street food and in soup kitchens all over Thailand.  It is simple, clear soup, brimming with noodles, ground or shredded pork (although chicken is sometimes substituted), mushrooms and green vegetables.  Customers select their choice of noodle, (either bean thread or rice noodles, thick or thin ones) and the soft noodles are always added to each bowl just before serving (otherwise too much stock gets absorbed by the noodles and the soup gets too thick).  This is a flavorful soup, not a spicy one, but you have the option to make that happen.  In Thai, the words "gaeng jued" literally mean "plain soup"...

Glass Noodles?  Petite Meatballs?  A Plain Soup?!?

Since the Thai people eat soup at any time of the day, this dish was, and still is, an everyday, economical, hearty soup that the Thai home cook (who always has Thai soup stock on hand) can put on the table quite quickly.  That being said, in every culture, some recipes, usually out of economic necessity, are destined to evolve into something quite special.  An example that comes to mind is Italian Wedding Soup:  A soup of "plain"/humble origin containing broth, meat, pasta and vegetables, which was called "married soup" (minestra maritata) for no other reason than:  greens and vegetables were married to meat and pasta via a flavorful broth. How does a family cook, on a limited budget, transition a delicious but "plain Jane" recipe (using on-hand "everyday" ingredients) into an elegant and extraordinary experience for a special occasion or that special someone?  A little bit of extra labor, a lot of love and a very creative mind!

PICT2521A bit about glass noodles:  Also known known as cellophane noodles, crystal noodles, bean threads, bean thread noodles, mung bean noodles or Chinese vermicelli, the best ones are made from bean starch and water (as opposed to potato, yam or cassava starch).  Glass noodles, just like other types of noodles, come cut in different widths ranging from thin strands to wide sheets.  They are called "glass" or "cellophane" noodles because when cooked they retain a very magical, clear, almost translucent appearance. They shouldn't be confused with rice noodles, which are made from rice and are white, not clear, after cooking!  (That being said, if all you have on hand are rice noodles, they can be substituted.)

PICT2120Before preparing this soup, I highly recommend you take the time to prepare my recipe for ~ Thai Chicken Stock (Real Thai Food Starts Here) ~, which you can find in Categories 13, 15 & 22.  Too many Americanized Thai soup recipes call for "chicken stock", which is just plain wrong, when you consider that classic chicken stock is prepared with an entirely different flavor palate in mind!

Mel's Thai Glass Noodle Soup w/Petite Meatballs

This is Joe's favorite Thai soup, and, I am going to surprise him with it tonight for Valentines Day!  

PICT0145My Thai soup stock (mentioned above), is a very important element to this luscious soup and it has been made in advance, in a quantity (5 quarts) that allows me to freeze in desired-sized containers, to keep on hand all the time. Today, I've thawed and heated:

6 cups Thai chicken stock

Making the meatballs is quite easy, but, it is the time consuming part of preparing this special soup. Because of this, I have formulated my recipe to yield enough of meatballs for three soup meals. Once prepared, I divide them into three equal parts and freeze two parts for two more meals!

PICT2528For the meatballs:

2  pounds pork tenderloin,  trimmed of all visible fat, cut into 3/4"-1" cubes

4  ounces green onion, white and light green part only, coarsely chopped into 1"-1 1/2" lengths

1  cup panko breadcrumbs

2   8-ounce cans sliced water chestnuts, well-drained

3  jumbo eggs

1 1/2  teaspoons ground ginger

2  tablespoons Golden Mountain seasoning soy sauce (a Thai ingredient found at your Asian market)

2  teaspoons salt

1 1/2  teaspoons white pepper 

PICT2532~ Step 1.  Prep the pork tenderloin as directed above and place it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade as you work. Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-0ff pulses, grind the meat.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

PICT2536

 

 

 

~ Step 2.  Return the work bowl and steel blade to the food processor. Add all of the remaining ingredients, as listed.  Using a series of 30-40 rapid on-off pulses, combine the mixture to a thick paste.  Transfer mixture to the bowl containing the ground the pork.

PICT2539Using your hands, thoroughly combine.

PICT2543~ Step 3.  Using a 1" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place meatballs, slightly apart on each of 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.  Bake, one pan at a time, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 15-16 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely (on the pans).

PICT2550You will have a total of 7 1/2 dozen flavorful, succulent, mini-meatballs.  Divide into three batches of 2 1/2 dozen each.  Remove 2 1/2 dozen meatballs from one pan and reserve them for preparing the soup.  Cool and freeze the remaining meatballs (on the pans) prior to dividing them in half and transferring them to two food storage bags for use at a later date!

PICT2554For the soup:

1 1/2  quarts Thai chicken stock

2 1/2  dozen petite pork meatballs

3/4  cup very thinly sliced green onion, white and light green part only

1 1/2  cups matchstick carrots

1 1/2  cups thinly-sliced white button mushroom caps

2  cups of 1/4" chiffonade of fresh, dark green bok choy leaves

4  ounces glass noodles, thin or wide, your choice, soaked in hot water for about 35-45 minutes prior to preparing soup

1-2  tablespoons Golden Mountain seasoning soy sauce, more or less, to taste

PICT2557~ Step 1.  Place the glass noodles in a large mixing bowl and cover them with very hot tap water.  Set aside for 35-45 minutes while preparing the soup.

PICT2564About 15 minutes into the soaking process, dive in with a pair of kitchen shears and cut the noodles to manageable lengths. 

Note:  Joe likes the wide noodles, so, that is what I am serving tonight.  I'm soaking 1/2 of the big red bag pictured earlier on in this post.

PICT2574~ Step 2.  In a 6-quart stockpot, bring the Thai chicken stock to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the green onions, carrots and mushrooms.  Adjust heat to simmer gently, until carrots are softening, about 10 minutes.

PICT2580

 

~ Step 3.  Drain all water from noodles.  Add the meatballs, bok choy chiffonade and softened noodles.  Simmer gently for 1-2 more minutes, no longer. Taste the broth and add additional seasoning soy sauce, only if necessary, to taste.  Ladle into 4-6 warmed soup bowls and serve this "oodles of noodles soup" immediately w/spoons and forks:  

PICT2613Thai Glass Noodle Soup w/Petite Pork Meatballs:  Recipe yields 3 quarts of soup/4-6 servings and a total of 7 1/2 dozen small, "mini" meatballs (enough for 3 meals).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 1" ice-cream scoop; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 6-quart stockpot; soup ladle

Cook's Note:  The meatballs are equally delicious made with ground boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  To save you some wasted time and energy, I've made them using boneless, skinless breasts and I was less than impressed!    

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

02/12/2012

~ Thai Hot & Sour Prawn Soup: Tom Yam Kung ~

PICT2508In Thailand, a perfectly-balanced Thai meal combines what is referred as their famous four "S's", or, the flavors of:  spicy, salty, sweet and sour.  In Thailand there are two main categories of soup:  spicy and not spicy.  "Tom" is the Thai word for soup and the boiling process in general. "Yam" is the Thai word that refers to dishes that are spicy and sour.  "Kung" is the Thai word for prawns, but if you hear the word "goong" used instead of kung, worry not, it means the same and is the same soup.  Tom Yam is the undisputed king of soups in Thailand, a must on all Thai restaurant menus, and, quite easy to make in the home kitchen.  For Thai food lovers around the world, Tom Yam Goong is considered to be the measure of a great Thai chef.  Amongst a list of several Thai soups that I prepare here in Melanie's Kitchen, this is indeed my absolute favorite! 

A bit about tom yam kung (sometimes called/spelled goong):  It's the name for a spicy, clear to semi-clear broth Thai soup, that has the distinction of being listed as #8 on the World's Most Delicious Foods list (compiled by CNN).  Being the most famous soup in Thailand itself, it is traditionally prepared using flavorful Thai chicken stock as its base, fresh, fragrant Thai ingredients (lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, straw mushrooms, Thai bird chile peppers and cilantro), fish sauce, lime juice, tom yam paste, and, prawns.  That being said, it can also be prepared using mixed seafood, or, strips of uncooked chicken or pork, in which case the name changes to:

Tom Yam Talay (mixed seafood)

Tom Yam Gai (chicken)

Tom Yam Moo (pork)

PICT2120Before preparing this soup, I highly recommend you take the time to prepare my recipe for ~ Thai Chicken Stock (Real Thai Food Starts Here) ~, which you can find in Categories 13, 15 & 22.  Too many Americanized Thai soup recipes call for "chicken stock", which, is just plain wrong, when you consider that classic chicken stock is prepared with an entirely different flavor palate in mind!

Included in my recipe for Thai chicken stock, you'll find a nifty little list of several Thai ingredients (with pictures and explanations of each) pertinent to making the stock.  Today, I'm going to add four new ones to that list, which (in addition to lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves) are necessary to make tom yam soup:

PICT2447Galangal is an exotic, fragrant, peppery tasting rhizome and resembles fresh ginger.  It is used a lot in the preparation of Thai soups.  As galangal ages, its flavor becomes stronger, and, at that point it is used in making Thai curry pastes.  Galangal, like ginger, freezes really well. 

PICT2450Mushrooms used in traditional Thai cooking include the small-capped, wide-stalked, sweet straw mushroom, which is the mushroom of choice for tom yam.  Fresh straw mushrooms are very difficult to find, so canned ones are usually used.  Fresh white button mushroom caps can be substituted, and are substituted frequently, in the Thai kitchen.

PICT2467Chili paste and/or tom yam paste is important to many Thai dishes.  In it's homemade form, it is a mixture of shrimp paste, dried red chiles, garlic, shallots, tamarind juice (which is sour) and palm sugar.  It is always used in the preparation of tom yam kung.  A great, high-quality time-saver is to buy a jar of tom yam paste at your Asian market and keep it in your pantry or refrigerator. 

 

 

 

PICT2472Palm Sugar is made from the sap of the coconut or sugar palm.  It varies from light to dark brown and resembles light and dark brown sugars.  It is used to balance Thai dishes with a distinct, sharp sweetness.  It is usually added to tom yam soup, but is not a requirement (as it is used in homemade chili paste).  If you are using prepared  tom yam paste, you'll probably want to add some palm sugar to your soup, to taste.  Once opened, I keep mine stored in the refrigerator, where it will get quite hard, so remove it an hour or two prior to using.  If you have a hard time finding it, light brown sugar is an agreeable substitute.

Mel's Recipe for Tom Yam Kung 

PICT2477For the basic tom yam broth:

6  cups Thai chicken stock

2  tablespoons Thai fish sauce

2  tablespoons lime juice

2  tablespoons palm sugar

2  tablespoons tom yam paste

~ Step 1. Bring all ingredients to a simmer in a 6-quart stockpot.  Taste and adjust seasonings to suit you.

PICT2483For the aromatic vegetables:

2  tablespoons peeled and finely minced galangal

2  6" stalks tender lemon grass, cut into very thin ringlets

6  kaffir lime leaves, center vein removed, very thinly sliced

6  Thai bird chile peppers, cut into very thin ringlets

PICT24942  15-ounce cans straw mushrooms, well-drained

~ Step 2.  Prep and add all vegetables to tom yam broth. Adjust heat to simmer, partially cover and cook for 6-8 minutes.  Note:   To this point, tom yam soup broth can be prepared several hours and up to a day in advance of serving.  If you make a double or triple batch of it, the broth can even be frozen!

PICT4413For the shrimp and garnish:

2  pounds jumbo (21/25 count) shrimp (thawed if frozen), peeled and deveined, tails left on

1/2 cup whole or minced fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Note:  I buy both fresh and frozen shrimp, but I always try to purchase tail-on, shell-on, deveined shrimp (referred to as "easy peel").  It is customary in many Thai dishes to leave the tails-on the shrimp.

PICT2499~ Step 3.  Add the shrimp to the simmering tom yam broth.  When the soup returns to a simmer, adjust heat to a very gentle simmer and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes, which will depend upon how gentle your simmer is.  Do not overcook shrimp.  Remove from heat, cover the pot and set aside for about 5-6 minutes prior to serving.  Portion and serve immediately garnished with cilantro leaves:

PICT2511Thai Hot & Sour Prawn Soup:  Tom Yam Kung:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 quarts, or, 6-8 servings w/each bowl containing 6-7 shrimp.  To turn this into a heartier soup, in true Thai-style, place a scoop of steamed jasmine rice in the center of each bowl and ladle soup over the rice!

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 6-quart stockpot w/lid; soup ladle

Cook's Note:  In Western countries, soup is often served as a course by itself.  This is not so in Thailand.  In a Thai home, several dishes are placed on the table all at once for everyone to share.  A typical meal usually includes:  rice and/or noodles; curry; soup; salad, stir-fry; dipping sauce w/fresh or steamed vegetables; meat, poultry or fish; chile peppers in fish sauce.  In a Thai restaurant situation, everyone seated at the table orders one or two dishes (depending on how many people, how hungry they are, and of course, their budget).  All of the dishes come to the table at once, and the food is eaten family-style, as described above!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

02/10/2012

~ Spicy Thai-Style Carrot-Ginger-Coconut Bisque ~

PICT2426Let me preface this recipe by stating this is not a classic Thai recipe, a dish you would be served in a Thai home, or, even find on a Thai restaurant menu (yet).  This is what I refer to as one of my "fusion" recipes.  By fusion I mean: the fusing of two distinct cuisines.  In the case of this recipe, that would be a French method of cooking with authentic Thai flavors.  How did I arrive at this elegant, restaurant-worthy recipe?  Read on:

A bit about bisque:  Bisque is a smooth, creamy, highly-seasoned soup of French origin, classically made from pureed seafood, vegetables, wine and cream.  Earlier on in food history, the mid-1600's, "bisk' was often prepared with game birds.  Occasionally, you'll find creamy-textured soups made from roasted and/or pureed vegetables referred to as bisques, but, in reality, the absence of seafood or fowl makes them a cream soup, not a bisque.  The origin of the name bisque is somewhat debated.  The term "bis cuites" means twice cooked, and, bisque is indeed cooked twice, so that is one explanation. Other food historians think it is related to the Bay of Biscay.  Food prepared in the manner of Biscay includes spicy ingredients (which are used in the preparation of bisque), and often involves the use of spiced game birds. 

ImagesBack in 1997, I took a series of rather intensive French cooking classes, which were taught by Chef Eric Sarnow, formerly of Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia.  He and his wife Claudia had moved to Central Pennsylvania (Spring Mills to be specific), to open their own restaurant which they named The Hummingbird Room, and, raise their son Evan.   (Eric has since retired and closed his restaurant.)  

LogoThe restaurant was an instant success, and, a few years later, when Eric decided to open up his restaurant kitchen and teach a series of classes, I was one of the first ones to sign up.  As a respectable foodie from Pennsylvania, I was not going to miss the opportunity to learn from this classically-trained French chef... plus, Spring Mills was only 10 miles from my front door!

Right after learning to bone a chicken on the very first night, one of the first things Eric had us prepare was his recipe for Ginger-Carrot Soup.  It is no accident that he did not refer to it as a bisque.  It was prepared using no fish or fowl.  That being said, his simple, classic French soup was marvelous.  It is easy to see how I transitioned that recipe into a Thai-syle recipe, with the flavor of ginger being obvious.  By substituting my homemade, authentically-perfectly-seasoned Thai chicken stock (the "fowl" element that turns this from a soup to a bisque) for vegetable stock, green onions for leeks, coconut milk for cream, cilantro for parsley and white pepper for black pepper, I was well on my way to the bisque recipe I am sharing with you today!

PICT23794  tablespoons sesame oil

4  tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil

2  pounds peeled and coarsely chopped/chunked carrots

8  ounces coarsely chopped green onion, white and light-green part only

4-6  red, Thai bird chile peppers, green tops cut off (I use 6)

3  cups of my recipe for ~ Thai Chicken Stock (Real Thai Food Starts Here) ~, found in Categories 13, 15 or 22

1 1/2  cups white wine

1/4  cup Squid Brand fish sauce (a Thai ingredient found at your Asian market)

1/4  cup Golden Mountain seasoning soy sauce (a Thai ingredient found at your Asian market)

2  13 1/2-ounce cans coconut milk, shaken or well-stirred  

1/2  cup fresh chiffonade of cilantro leaves, for garnishing bisque

1/2  cup finely diced, toasted cashews, for garnishing bisque 

PICT2381~ Step 1.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, using series of rapid on-off pulses, finely mince the carrots, the green onion, then the ginger and bird chiles.  Unless you have a large-capacity food processor (as pictured here), it is best to do this in three separate batches.  I can do them all at once in my Cuisinart DLC-X Plus using 45-50 pulses. 

Note:  The size of the food processor will also affect how many pulses it will take to finely mince each one.

~ Step 2.  Place the sesame and peanut oil in the bottom of a 6-quart stockpot.  Add all of the minced vegetables to the pot.  Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to steaming, stirring frequently. Continue to steam, stirring frequently, until carrots are softening, about 15 minutes.

PICT2395~ Step 3.  Add the Thai chicken stock, white wine, fish sauce and seasoning soy sauce.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer.  Partially cover the stockpot and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

~ Step 4.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside for about 1 1/2-2 hours, to cool until slightly warm.

PICT2400~ Step 5.  Return the cooled/slightly warm vegetable mixture to the food processor and puree, all at once, or in batches (depending upon the size of the processor), for 1 minute. Return puree to the stockpot.

Note:  Hot items that are to be pureed in a food processor or a blender, MUST be cooled somewhat prior to pureeing.  Why? Well, steam will build up during the processing, causing an explosive reaction.  What a mess that is!

PICT2409~ Step 6.  Over medium-low heat, bring the puree to a gentle, steady simmer, stirring frequently.  Add the coconut milk and stir thoroughly.  

PICT2414Heat until steaming, stirring often, lowering the heat, if necessary, to prevent the bisque from simmering or boiling.

~ Step 7.  Portion into desired-sized bowls and garnish with a sprinkling of cilantro chiffonade and finely diced, toasted cashews.  For a heartier version of this soup, steam some Thai jasmine rice and place a scoop in the center of each bowl:

PICT2428Spicy Thai-Style Carrot-Ginger-Coconut Bisque:  Recipe yields 3 quarts of bisque.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 6-quart stockpot w/lid; soup ladle

PICT2120Cook's Disclaimer:  If you do not prepare this soup using my ~ Thai Chicken Stock (Real Thai Food Starts Here) ~ recipe, found in Categories 3, 15 or 22, respectfully don't comment that your soup was "lack-luster", or, "lacking flavor", or, "lacking anything."  Real soup starts with real stock, and anything less than real Thai soup stock will provide you and yours a culinary compromise!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

02/07/2012

~ A Guest Chef in Mel's Kitchen: Chef Jesse Jones ~

PICT2295My doorbell rang at 10:00AM today. It was not a surprise.  I could not wait to meet the "big guy chef from Newark, NJ". He and I'd been planning for us to get together for months, but, in the small world we all live in, our local WTAJ-TV 10 pulled it all together by inviting him to appear on their We Are Central PA Live show's Chef's Showcase segment (which, coincidentally, I have appeared on also)!

PICT2315Yesterday, "CJ" called to confirm. "Chef Mel", he proclaimed in his big, bold voice (which is full of Southern heritage), "I'm coming to hang out with you in your kitchen."  I was thrilled.  "CJ" and I met on Facebook.  I call him "CJ", and he seems to like that.  Neither he or I can remember who "friended" who first on FB, but great friends we are. Yes, my friends, Facebook actually does have it's good points!

Chef Jesse Jones is a big guy, with a big talent, with a big message:

PICT2311"It's all about the passion and love for whatever any one of us has. You've got to identify where you came from and where you want to go.  Once you do that, it is, scarily achievable. Family and children come first, but you can't make their dreams come true if you don't make your own come true too."

He's quick to comment on how the erratic hours of a culinary professional, especially if he/she is family oriented, are, VERY, difficult.

PICT2305Meet today's dream team.  Chef Jamison Steffen, on my right, is the executive chef for The American Ale House, right here in Happy Valley. Chef Jami is much more than a chef to me.  He is a 15-year personal friend and confidant, and, in terms of the culinary:  he is a creative genius who never ceases to amaze. Today, while "CJ" was prepping for his WTAJ appearance, Chef Jami was serving up his "to die for" lunch of Thai shrimp/noodle salad, and, Kobe beef with caramelized-onion marmalade ciabatta sandwiches!

PICT2348Lunch was what is referred to as a "working lunch", as none of us were seated.  We were all chatting and eating, while "CJ" continued to prep for his TV segment.  Chef Jami and Chef Jesse continuously talked about "chef-y, restaurant-y things". I, listened intently, and today folks, I did little more than preheat the oven and take pictures.  Chef Jesse even gave my set of Kyocera ceramic knives his chef's seal of approval!

MPICT2342agic happened in my kitchen today.  It had little to do with me.  It had to do with the two people around me.  The "old", relied upon chef/friend, welcoming a new one. The "new" chef/friend, so easily winning a spot in our "this guy is the real deal" minds.  The "this is what I'm talking about" reason to write a blog about my Kitchen Encounters!

Did I forget to mention CJ makes kickass cornbread too?

PICT2335 PICT2374Cook's Note:  Thanks to a place called Bittersweet Cake Design, www.bittersweetcakedesign.com (973-544-8689), CJ has his face on some totally awesome tasting cookies too.  I just couldn't resist taking a bite out of one of these lemony delish delights!

Extra Cook's Note:  To watch what CJ cooked on WTAJ (after prepping in Mel's Kitchen today), plus get his recipes, just check out the WTAJ Chef's Showcase videos on the lefthand column of my home page!  

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

(Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

02/05/2012

~ Time Out for Asian Whiskey-Beef Fondue Sliders ~

PICT2259It was back in 1994 and it was Super Bowl Sunday.  The fondue party, hosted by my close friend and then head Penn State women's tennis coach, Sue Whiteside, was the place to be to watch the game.  The game paled in comparison to the food.  The whiskey beef fondue was the undisputed winner and it was a recipe I just had to ask for.  Sue handed me the recipe, which was clipped from a magazine and still on her kitchen counter, so, I took a moment to jot it down and tucked my copy into my purse.  When you think about ideas for food to serve at a Super Bowl party, fondue is most likely not on your "top ten" list, and, truthfully might not come to mind at all.  I suppose that's because it doesn't seem quite "manly" enough.  Well, think again.  I watched all of the men at the party that evening inhale these delicious "slider" sandwiches!

Besides being super delicious this recipe is super easy too!

PICT2250Once you mix up the flavorful whiskey mixture (in less than 5 minutes) and slice the meat (in less than 5 minutes), which can both be done well in advance, your work is done.  Your guests do their own cooking, and, I guarantee you one of the most successful parties ever. I'm posting this today for two reasons:  It is Super Bowl Sunday, with Valentine's Day right around the corner.  A fondue party is a really romantic and elegant way to entertain your sweetheart too!  

"Serve with" suggestions:  Well, most times I go to the "all fondue" game plan, serving it with my recipes for Authentic Swiss Cheese Fondue and Toblerone Chocolate Fondue (both of which will be future posts here on Kitchen Encounters). On other occasions, because this recipe is distinctly Asian in flavor, I serve it with an array of Asian appetizers and dipping sauces (either homemade or high-quality takeout), like vegetarian Spring rolls, chicken satays and/or spicy pork pot stickers!

Topping Suggestions:  I am quick to tell everyone these melt-in-your mouth, full-of-flavor sliders need no special embellishments.  They are, as I mentioned above, distinctly Asian in flavor, so any toppings or garnishes are best kept in that flavor palate.  Wasabi paste, minced green onion tops, minced cilantro leaves, pickled ginger and/or toasted, chopped peanuts will all work nicely!

PICT21693 1/2-4  pounds beef tenderloin, trimmed of all fat, tough silverskin removed, and very thinly sliced into 1/8"-1/4"-thick pieces

1 1/2  cups bourbon whiskey

1 1/2  cups Golden Mountain seasoning soy sauce (a Thai soy sauce found at your Asian market)

1  cup firmly-packed brown sugar

1/2  cup water

1 1/2  teaspoons ground ginger

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/4  cup Worcestershire sauce

3-4  red, Thai bird chile peppers, split-open (optional) (Note:  Know your crowd.  These will add a nice "kick" to the finished sandwiches, but, my advice when feeding a crowd, "less is more".)  

2  tablespoons sesame oil

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

3  dozen small, 2 1/2" square, very soft, party-sized, dinner rolls

PICT2167~ Step 1.  I purchase a 5 1/2-6 pound vacume-packed tenderloin and trim it myself (my friend/butcher Chris Kuhn taught me this skill).  It's less expensive & considering how many sandwiches this will make, it makes economical sense too.

PICT2187Tip: Slicing the meat into even 1/8"-1/4" slices is quite easy to do if you wrap it in plastic and place it in the freezer for about 1 hour.  You don't want to freeze it completely, just long enough to not "squish around" while you are trying to slice it.  

PICT2198

 

 

 

 

 

~ Step 2.  You are going to have 50-60+ thin slices of the most beautiful fillet you and your guests will have ever laid eyes upon. Decoratively arrange the meat on a serving platter, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it's time to cook and serve.

Note:  Do the math (planning on 2 slices of meat per slider).  This will yield a minimum of 2-2 1/2 dozen appetizer-sized sandwiches.

PICT2175~ Step 3.  Note:  If you don't have an electric fondue pot, use a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop for this step.  Bring the bourbon to a simmer at a temperature of 350 degrees and simmer for 1 minute. Turn heat off.  Add all remaining ingredients, except for oils, and return to a simmer for 1 more minute.  Turn the heat off.  Add the oils.  To this point, mixture may be prepared several hours in advance.

PICT2221~ Step 4.  At serving time, using a serrated bread knife, slice the rolls and place them in a large basket. Bring the bourbon mixture to a slow, gentle simmer.  Lower each slice of meat into simmering liquid, 30-35 seconds for rare, 45-50 seconds for medium-rare.  Do not overcook! Regulate and pay attention to the heat under the simmering liquid. Mixture can and will quickly boil over.  NEVER LEAVE FONDUE POT UNATTENDED!

PICT2288Time Out for Asian Whiskey-Beef Fondue Sliders:  Recipe yields 2-3 dozen, hearty, appetizer-sized sandwiches.  Plan on 2-3 per person for women, and, 4-5 per person for men.  

Special Equipment List:  chef's knife; cutting board; plastic wrap; fondue pot, traditional or electric; long-handled fondue forks; serrated bread knife

PICT2164Cook's Note:  I have more than a few fondue pots.  This is one of my favorites.  I bought 3 of them several years ago from a cooking catalog source.  It is electric, and works just like an electric skillet, which means you can control the temperature perfectly.  While you won't find this particular one any more, there are several electric models to choose from on Amazon.com!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

02/03/2012

~ Thai Chicken Stock (Real Thai Food Starts Here) ~

PICT2120Back in 1993, over a period of about two years, I had the great pleasure of striking up a friendship with a Home Economist from Thailand.  Kanya Wacharamai was living in State College with her husband Fu, who was earning his engineering degree from Penn State. It was during this time that I also learned the art of true Thai cooking.  Kanya taught a very popular series of Thai cooking lessons in her home kitchen, and, my husband Joe and I signed up as a team and took every lesson she gave.  Because my husband Joe is an engineer, and, owns an engineering company,  Joe and Fu struck up a friendship too.  Occasionally, we'd entertain each other at our respective homes, with the gals talking food and the guys talking shop. 

One of the first things Kanya taught me to make was Thai chicken stock, which she matter-of-factly explained is a "must-learn, must-have" recipe.  It is the base for most Thai soups and many Thai dishes, and, this mild-mannered woman outwardly expressed disdain for Americanized Thai-style recipes that use traditional chicken stock.  Considering that classic chicken stock is prepared with an entirely different flavor palate in mind, she had every right to be outraged. 

PICT2158Once this true-Thai, perfectly-seasoned, highly-flavored stock is prepared, I personally freeze it in 2-quart size containers, for making soups, and 1-cup containers, for making reductions for sauces.  Feel free to portion and freeze in a container of any size, one that suits your needs the best.

Once thawed, I return the stock to a saucepan or stockpot on the stovetop and add whatever ingredients (vegetables, fish, meat, rice, noodles, etc.) my Thai recipe requires.  Voila... a fabulous real-Thai soup that I can usually serve in less than an hour!

A bit about Thai chicken stock:  Making Thai chicken stock (and preparing Thai food in general) is contingent upon having a few, inexpensive, authentic-to-Thai-cooking ingredients on hand. With one trip to your Asian market, you will easily find and have everything you need on hand in your pantry.  Here is a brief description of the ones pertinent to today's soup stock recipe:

PICT2051Fish sauce is a condiment derived from fermented fish.  It imparts an umami flavor to Thai food.  Umami (savory), is one of the five basic tastes:  sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory.  Forget what you think you don't like about the name "fish sauce".  Buy a bottle.  Seasoning soy sauce is lighter in intensity than Chinese or Japanese brands. Similar to Maggi seasoning (another popular condiment served tableside in Thailand), if you have Maggi, feel free to substitute it for seasoning soy sauce.  Do not substitute Chinese or Japanese soy sauce. 

PICT2061Cilantro roots, and stems too, are used in and during the cooking process of many Thai dishes. The flavorful roots and stems impart flavor as they cook.  Cilantro leaves, which lose flavor as they cook, are an addition at the very end of the cooking process or reserved as a garnish.

Kaffir_limeleavesKaffir lime leaves, add unmistakable taste essential to Thai dishes. Referred to as "double leaves", they have a strong fragrance for which there is no substitute.  The combination of kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass and ginger is a blast of flavor.  Kaffir lime leaves, which are hard to digest (much like bay leaves), are usually added whole to Thai food and removed prior to serving.  Kaffir lime leaves freeze beautifully.

PICT2070Lemon grass is a stalky, Southeast-Asian herb with gray-green leaves, a scallion like base and a lemony scent.  A common ingredient in Thai cuisine, it provides a zesty sour-lemon fragrance and flavor.  Ginger, a common ingredient in Asian cuisine, and, used in this recipe with kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass is a true-Thai flavor combination.  

6a0120a8551282970b0133f3203d29970b-320wiThai bird chili peppers are small, HOT, chili peppers.  They get their name because because they resemble pointed birds beaks.  They are easy to grow, even indoors, and I do so, both outdoors in the Summer and indoors in the Winter.  When they turn red, I harvest them and place them in a zip lock bag in my freezer to have hand all year long.

PICT2082White pepper and white peppercorns are used exclusively in authentic Thai dishes.  Peppercorns are the berries of an evergreen vine native to Asia. The berries are allowed to mature to a bright red state and are then fermented for a few days. The red outside is rubbed off, resulting in white pepper with black speckles.  Ivory white pepper, simply put, imparts the subtle, sophisticated peppery taste that we all love about Thai food.

Mel's Recipe for Thai Chicken Stock

4-5 pounds chicken thighs, on bones with skin, about 8-10 large thighs 

6  quarts water

4  tablespoons Squid Brand fish sauce

5  tablespoons Golden Mountain seasoning soy sauce

8  ounces peeled yellow or sweet onion

4  ounces peeled fresh ginger

1  bunch fresh cilantro with about 18-24 roots (roots and stems to be added to stock and leaves reserved for garnish)

6  ounces fresh lemon grass, bulbs and about 6" of stalks

6  kaffir limes leaves, or 3 "double" kaffir lime leaves

6-8  red, Thai bird chile peppers, split open

1  tablespoon sea salt

1  tablespoon white pepper

PICT2061~ Step 1.  Thoroughly rinse the cilantro and the roots then pat thoroughly dry in paper towels. Trim the roots and stems from the upper leaves, into 3"-4" lengths.  Reserve the cilantro leaves, refrigerating them for later use in, or garnishing the specific Thai soup or dish you are preparing. 

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~ Step 2.  Prep and place all of the remaining ingredients, as directed, in  a wide-bottomed, 12-quart stockpot to which 6 quarts of water has been added.

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~ Step 3.  Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer, and, using a skimmer, remove and discard all of the white foam as it collects on top of the liquid.  This process will take about 10 minutes.

~ Step 4.  Partially cover and reduce heat to simmer gently, 2-2 1/2 hours.  Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 2-2 1/2 hours.

PICT2144~ Step 5.  Using a large slotted spoon, remove and transfer the chicken thighs to a large plate.

PICT2139Next, remove and discard all of the large vegetables.

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~ Step 6.  Ladle the stock into a fat/lean separator.  Pour the stock from the separator, through a mesh strainer, into the desired sized food storage containers, leaving about 1/2" of headspace at the top of each container to allow for expansion if you are freezing the stock.  Discard fat from separator.  Repeat this process until all the stock has been separated and strained.

 

PICT2157Thai Chicken Stock (Real Thai Food Starts Here):  Recipe yields 5 quarts of stock and 4 cups of shredded chicken.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels, cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 12-quart stockpot w/lid; skimmer; large slotted spoon; soup ladle; fat/lean separator; fine mesh strainer; desired-sized food storage containers, preferably glass

Cook's Note:  Stock can be refrigerated for up to one week or frozen for up to one year. Refrigerate the perfectly flavored chicken for use in specific Thai soup, salad or entree recipes. I really do hope you'll give this recipe a try, and, the next time you see a Thai recipe calling for ordinary chicken stock, you'll think of me and this easy-to-make, must-have recipe!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

02/01/2012

~ Spicy Groundhog Cookies for Punxsutawney Phil ~

PICT2037Tomorrow is Groundhog Day.  Will Phil see his shadow?  Tradition says:  if he sees his shadow on a bright, sunlit day, we're going to have six more weeks of Winter, and, he goes back to his burrow and returns to sleep.  If he doesn't see his shadow on a dark, gloomy day, it means Spring is right around the corner, and he stays above ground.  If this seems odd, it is worth mentioning that the custom of predicting the weather based on animal behavior dates back at least a thousand years.  In more recent American history, it is attributed to our first German Settlers.  In their homeland, farmers watched for a hibernating hedgehog to come out and make the forecast.  When they arrived in the new land, they had to rely upon the American groundhog.

20517793_clipartIn Punxsutawney, PA, Groundhog Day is big deal.  All sorts of community events are planned and it's a school holiday for the kids. The town fills up with tourists, as many as 30,000, arriving as early as 3:00AM (EST).  Everyone makes a pilgrimage to Gobbler's Knob, where the famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil resides.  Phil is one special groundhog indeed.  He lives in a first-class terrarium and is cared for year-round by the town's Groundhog Club.  The club's hierarchy is referred to as "The Inner Circle", and they are easily recognized by their tuxedos and top hats.  Over the years, Phil has made guest appearances on Oprah, the CBS early show and CNN.  In 1986 he got invited and went to Washington, D.C., to pay President Reagan a visit.  Phil, an avid Steeler's fan, can be found wearing a Terrible Towel to celebrate the teams Superbowl victories.  The Pennsylvania Lottery, in their advertising campaign, uses their own Gus the groundhog, in a most complimentary way, touting Gus as "the second most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania".

Enhanced-buzz-531-1296586956-17There's a Groundhog Day movie too!  Directed by Harold Ramis and released in 1993, this comedy is about a self-centered meteorologist (Bill Murray), news producer (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman (Chris Elliott) from a fictional Pittsburgh TV station (WPBH-TV9).  The three travel to Punxsutawney to cover the festivities and meet the famous Phil. As the plot unfolds, the meteorologist finds himself doomed to repeating the same day of his life, Groundhog Day, over and over again.  The above picture is taken from the scene where Phil Conners (Bill Murray) is kidnapping Phil the groundhog!  I for one watch this movie every year to celebrate the holiday.

PICT1944Today, just in the nick of time, I received my official Groundhog Day care package from Punxsutawney Phil's official groundhog store and site: www.groundhogstuff.com.  

Headquarters sent me my official recipe sheet, three different sizes of groundhog-shaped cookie cutters, plus, an official groundhog headband!  I'm ready to start baking Spicy Groundhogs:

PICT19492  cups sifted flour, measure after sifting

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon salt

1 1/2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

1  teaspoon ground cloves

1  teaspoon ground ginger

1/2  cup butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 stick)

1  cup sugar

1/2  cup full-flavor molasses

1  large egg yolk

currants, 1 per cookie, to decoratively give each Spicy Groundhog an eye

granulated sugar, for rolling cookies

PICT1952~ Step 1.  This recipe calls for "2 cups sifted flour".  That means sift before measuring.  This is different than instructions that read "2 cups flour, sifted".  Why?  Sifting aerates the flour, adding volume to it.  When measured, the latter contains more flour.  That being said:

In a small bowl sift two cups of flour. Measure and place two cups of the sifted flour in a medium mixing bowl.  Return the remaining flour back to the bag or canister. 

PICT1959~ Step 2.  Add the baking powder, baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon, cloves and ginger to the sifted flour.  Using a whisk, thoroughly combine the flour and spice mixture.  Set aside.

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~ Step 3.  In a large mixing bowl, on high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy, about one minute.  Lower the mixer speed and thoroughly blend in the molasses and egg yolk.    

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~ Step 4.  Using a large rubber spatula, gradually blend in the flour mixture, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl frequently with a large rubber spatula.  A thick, dense, manageable, hand-kneadable dough will have formed.

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~ Step 5.  Divide the dough into four equal discs, about 4" round and 3/4" thick.  If you have a kitchen scale, each one will weigh 7 ounces.  Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and chill thoroughly, 4-6 hours or overnight.

~ Step 6.  When you are ready to start rolling, line a large, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper and place it in the refrigerator. 

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~ Step 7.  Remove first disc of dough from refrigerator and set aside for about 6 minutes.  Unwrap and place on a lightly sugared pastry board.  Cover with a piece of wax paper.  Slowly roll to a thickness of about 1/8", no thinner. This large-sized groundhog cookie cutter will yield 4 cookies from each disc, or, the size I am making today. Cut the dough into 4 cookies.

PICT1986~ Step 8.  Using a thin spatula, transfer the four cookies to the chilled pan and return the pan to the refrigerator.  Repeat this process two more times, placing 12 cookies on the refrigerated pan.  Do not discard any of the scraps of dough!  Place 1 currant on each cookie, to decoratively form Phil's eye on each one.

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~ Step 9.  Bake on center rack of preheated oven, about 10 minutes. Cool on pan about 2 minutes prior to transferring to cooling rack to cool completely.  Return the parchment-lined pan to the refrigerator to chill again.

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~ Step 10.  Remove the remaining disc of dough from the refrigerator, roll it out, and place the cookies on the chilled pan.  Gather up all of the cookie dough scrapes, briefly knead them together and place 1" balls of dough on the pan with the remaining four groundhog cookies. You will have about 12, additional balls of dough.  Do not flatten balls. Bake and cool as directed.

PICT2011Spicy Groundhog Cookies for Punxsutawney Phil:  Recipe makes about 1 dozen (12) large cookies, or, 2 dozen (24) medium-sized cookies, or, three dozen (36) small cookies.  Recipe also yields 8-12 additional round cookies, made from scraps of dough.

Special Equipment List:  fine mesh strainer or flour sifter; whisk; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; wax paper; rolling pin; pastry board; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; cooling rack

Cook's Note:  This is the official recipe of Punxsutawney Phil's Official Souvenir Shop and I couldn't have been more pleased with it.  These cookies are groundhog wonderful!  I have not changed creator Elaine Light's ingredients list in any notable way.  I've just photographed the process and blogged about my funtastic experience, which was groundhog wonderful!  To purchase groundhog-shaped cookie cutters and all sorts of other Groundhog Day memorabilia: Groundhog Stuff Link!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)