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16 posts from March 2012

03/29/2012

~ Petite Lamb Chop, Asparagus and Carrot Salad w/: A Luxurious Lemon and Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette ~

PICT2714Here in Pennsylvania, the month of March came "in like a lamb", it went "out like a lamb" too, so, I've decided to finish up my remaining March posts with a tribute to lamb, specifically:  baby lamb chops.  One of my favorite indulgences are properly-cooked, medium-rare lamb rib chops, which are individually cut from an 8-rib rack of lamb.  They are seriously simple to prepare and are quickly cooked over high heat, either on the grill or in a skillet.  Whenever I am preparing the salad I'm posting today, I prefer the lamb chops to be single-cut (one rib per chop), about 3/4" thick, rather than the equally-delicious double-cut lamb chops (two ribs per chop), which are about 1 1/2" thick.  Yesterday (in Categories 2 & 8), I posted my recipe for ~ A Luxurious Lemon and Fig Balsamic Vinagrette ~, and I'm here to tell you, if you are a lover of baby lamb chops and sublime lemon-flavor, you are in for a quite a treat today!   

PICT2708 Raw-doublecutchop__47324_zoomNote:  "Frenching" is the term used for removing fatty meat from the tip to expose the bone.  It makes for a professional and pretty presentation (but this step is optional).  Today, I asked my butcher to "French":

 PICT271212-16, single-cut baby lamb chops (Note:  Baby lamb chops are quite small and they get smaller when cooked.  I always plan on 3-4 per person when I'm serving this salad.)

PICT2710Prior to prepping the salad ingredients and cooking the lamb chops:

For the vinaigrette:

6  tablespoons extra-virgin lemon-infused olive oil

6  tablespoons fig-infused balsamic vinegar

2  teaspoons Dijon mustard

In a 1-cup measuring container, vigorously whisk  the oil, vinegar and mustard together.  Set aside.

PICT2709For the salad:

6-8  cups sweet baby lettuces (1 1/2-2 cups per person), rinsed and thoroughly dried

1/4  cup finely diced red onion

2  dozen asparagus spears, medium-thickness, tips cut into 2" lengths and stalks cut into 1/2" pieces, woody stalk ends discarded   

1 1/2  cups carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/4" "coins"

1/2  teaspoon sea salt, for blanching asparagus and carrots (1 teaspoon total salt)

1/4  cup crumbled feta cheese, for garnish

1/4  cup chopped pecans, lightly-toasted and cooled, for garnish

PICT2799~ Step 1.  Prep all salad ingredients as directed, separately set each aside.  Cover the lettuce and feta cheese with plastic wrap and place those two in the refrigerator until serving time.

PICT2807

~ Step 2.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides, bring 3/4" of water to a boil with 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.  Add the asparagus tips and pieces.  Adjust heat to simmer, 1 1/2-2 minutes, or until asparagus is just slightly undercooked.  Drain thoroughly and rinse/shock under cold running water to halt the cooking process and return the asparagus to below room temperature.  Separate the tips from the pieces, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

PICT2824~ Step 3.  Repeat the blanching process with the coined carrots, cooking them for 2 1/2-3 minutes, or until carrots are just slightly undercooked.  Drain thoroughly and rinse/shock under cold running water, to halt the cooking process and return the carrots to below room temperature.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

It's time to cook the lamb chops!

PICT2719~ Step 4.  Allow the lamb chops to come to room temperature, about 30-45 minutes.  Just prior to sauteing them (no more than 5 minutes before), lightly season chops on both sides with:

freshly ground sea salt

freshly ground peppercorn blend

Note:  If you are not using sea salt, use the salt even more judiciously.

PICT2747~ Step 5.  In a 12"-14" nonstick skillet, over low heat, melt:

2  tablespoons salted butter, into

2 tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

Increase heat to medium-high. Saute lamb chops until golden brown on both sides, about 2 1/2-3 minutes per side, turning only once. Remove from heat, immediately remove from skillet and set aside.

PICT2722~ Step 6.  To assemble the salads, distribute the salad greens evenly between 4 plates.  Distribute the red onion, asparagus and carrots over the greens.  Arrange 3-4 warm lamb chops over the top.  Garnish with the crumbled feta and toasted pecans.  

Serve immediately with fig and balsamic vinaigrette for dipping and drizzling: 

PICT2706Petite Lamb Chop, Asparagus and Carrot Salad w/: A Luxurious Lemon and Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 4 servings and 3/4 cup vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; whisk; plastic wrap;  3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides; colander; plastic wrap; 12"-14" skillet, preferably nonstick; tongs 

PICT2708Cook's Note:  In Melanie's Kitchen we affectionately refer to ~ A Luxurious Lemon and Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette ~ as "liquid gold".  Besides lamb chops, it is wonderful drizzled atop grilled or roasted chicken, steamed or poached fish, almost any cooked or raw vegetable, and/or soft cheese! 

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

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

03/27/2012

~ A Luxurious Lemon and Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette ~

PICT2708Thankfully, we no longer start a meal with chunks of iceberg lettuce smothered with bottled Blue Cheese or Thousand Island dressing.  This is not to say that iceberg lettuce smothered with freshly made Blue Cheese or Thousand Island dressing is not delicious, we have simply matured and refined our palates to almost any edible item being included in, or turned into, a salad.  Decades ago, the "chef's salad" educated us to enjoy an entree salad of tossed greens topped with julienned cold meats, cheeses, vegetables and hard-cooked egg dressed with any dressing we chose.  Nowadays, we enjoy our salads chilled, warm, or a combination of both. We no longer just start a meal with a small salad, we comfortably and confidently serve salad as a complete, well-balanced meal all by itself!

PICT2709While all of this sounds simple enough, there is an art to achieving the perfect balance of color, flavor and texture.  It goes without saying, to make a great salad you need to start with carefully selected, impeccably fresh, in-season ingredients.  That being said, once the salad is constructed, the wrong dressing, too much dressing, or a poorly made dressing, will result in something less than appetizing and probably inedible.  Vinaigrette is the simplest form of salad dressing, but it does require some knowledge to prepare a tasty one.  I cringe while watching unskilled diners manhandle, mismanage and miscalculate the innocuous cruets of oil and vinegar on their table!  

(Meet my set of rather elaborate antique silver cruets.  They have a place of honor in my dining room.  Back row: 3 bottles for oil and/or vinegar.  Front row:  Salt shaker, mustard pot, pepper shaker.)

PICT2714A bit about vinaigrette:  In its simplest form, a vinaigrette is an emulsion made from oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.  Unless you are following a recipe that specifies otherwise, start with a "3 to 1" ratio of oil to vinegar, meaning: three parts of oil to one part of vinegar. Dijon mustard, or sometimes mayonnaise, is commonly added.  The ingredients are then whisked or shaken, until they emulsify and form a creamy salad dressing, sauce or marinade.  Vinaigrettes won't remain emulsified for very long, but they can be remixed as often as necessary just before using. Adding mustard or mayonnaise does keep the mixture stabilized for a slightly longer period of time.  Various oils and vinegars can be combined, resulting in many different variations, however, mix with caution as they vary greatly in strength of flavor.  When experimenting with a vinaigrette recipe, it is important to taste often and adjust the ratio accordingly, until you reach a pleasing balance of flavors.  More elaborate variations include any number of ingredients such as dried spices, fresh herbs, minced garlic, hot peppers, onions and/or shallots, etc.

If lemon meringue pie could be turned into vinaigrette, this is it!

The recipe I am sharing with you today is my all-time favorite vinaigrette.  If you like lemon, you are going to adore it.  Without you tasting it for yourself, the best way for me to describe its lusciousness is:  if lemon meringue pie could be turned into a vinaigrette, this would be it.  It's way more that just a salad dressing too.   It's delicious drizzled on roasted chicken or broiled fish, amazing on all sorts of steamed vegetables, and, to-die-for dolloped on top of soft cheeses like Cambozola and Taleggio!

PICT2710This luxurious vinaigrette is made using a 1 to 1 ratio of oil to vinegar and making it couldn't be easier.  I refer to it as luxurious, because it is so good, it is almost drinkable.  In a 1-cup measuring container, simply whisk together:

6  tablespoons extra-virgin lemon-infused olive oil

6  tablespoons fig-infused balsamic vinegar

2  teaspoons Dijon mustard 

 

PICT2705A Luxurious Lemon and Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe makes 3/4 cup vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; whisk

Cook's Note:  Once again, I have to thank my great and good friend Jamison Steffen, Executive Chef at The American Ale House and Grill (right here in State College, PA), for introducing me to citrus-infused olive oils and a variety of flavored balsamic vinegars.  I've been using them (and experimenting with them), in many culinary applications for several years now, and, I like to tell people:  "They are worth their weight in gold... liquid gold!" 

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

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

03/25/2012

~ Mel's Mad Men Premier Night Menu Revealed!!! ~

Images-2It is no secret that I am a HUGE fan of AMC's Mad Men show and I have been waiting for WAY TO LONG for the 2-hour premier of Season 5, which airs tonight at 9:00PM.  The show is set in New York City in the 1960's and the men and women who work at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency (currently the Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price Agency) are some of the top names in their industry.  From the moment I sat down to watch Episode 1 of Season 1, I was captivated by their spot-on '60's-period furnishings and fashions, as well as their '60's-style of entertaining and eating.  Not since the Sopranos have I been so intent on watching a television series, and perhaps that is because Mad Men's writer and executive producer, Matthew Weiner, was a writer and producer of the Sopranos too!

Like so many other fans, I am so caught up in Mad Men mania, I am hosting a Mad Men party and will be serving some of my favorite appetizers and cocktails from the 1960's.  When I sat down to plan my menu, I didn't have much researching to do.  Having been ages 5 thru 15 throughout the '60's decade, I just took a very pleasant stroll down memory lane!

PICT4594Nothing is more '60's than shrimp cocktail.  When I was 5-years old, back in 1960, all of the adults in my life would order, and swoon over, giant shrimp cocktails in upscale restaurants.  In our household, my mom not only served them as a starter course at a fancy dinner party, she'd put a big platter of them out at a cocktail party, which is what I am doing tonight.  You can find my recipe for ~ Once upon a time... A Tale about Shrimp Cocktail ~, in Categories 1, 11, 14, 16 or 21!

PICT2714The perfect complement to shrimp cocktail is another '60's staple, deviled eggs.  My recipe, ~ Think Spring:  The Classic & Elegant Deviled Egg ~, found in Categories 2, 4, 10, 11 & 12, contains hot horseradish mustard (instead of the usual Dijon) which qualifies these for "devilish" status.  Shrimp, cocktail sauce and a deviled egg or two are:  a party on a plate!

PICT2701Back in the '60's, my brother and I loved when my mom made her "little hot dogs wrapped in pastry dough".  She'd let me help to roll them up, and, she'd make lots of them too, usually around a 100. People would grab them so fast you'd think she had money rolled up in them.  You can find my recipe for ~ Cocktail Pigs in a Blanket (Pillsbury Crescent Dogs) ~ in Categories 1 or 2!

PICT2697For dessert, I'm serving one of my all-time favorites, and, if you were a kid back then, your mom no doubt had a version of this recipe too.  Not only is my mom's black-bottom cupcake recipe delicious, it helped me to earn my Girl Scout cooking badge in 1966!  My recipe is an adult version of hers and it is full of cherry flavor thanks to the use of kirschwasser liquor.  My recipe for ~ Miniature Black-Bottom Black-Forest Cupcakes ~ can be found in Category 6!

PICT2707Lastly, no Mad Men party would be complete without a cocktail and I am featuring ~ The Cosmopolitan ~ tonight.  

I am not a mixologist, which is why the swanky and seductive cosmopolitan is a cocktail I can post with confidence.  Unlike classic cocktails, whose preparations have strict rules, the cosmo is open to interpretation and free expression. No one can call the cocktail police on me for making and serving it "my way", and you can find my recipe in Category 16!

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

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

03/24/2012

~ Mel's Mad Men Night Cocktail: The Cosmopolitan ~

PICT2707I am not a mixologist, which is why the swanky and seductive cosmopolitan is a cocktail I can post with confidence.  Unlike other classic cocktails, the cosmopolitan (sometimes referred to as a "cosmo") is open to interpretation and free expression.  No one can call the cocktail police on me for making and serving it "my way", and just like Don Draper, "it's my way or the highway'!

PICT2704According to the International Bartenders Association the recipe is a variation of the vodka martini and uses Triple Sec instead of vermouth, which is reason #1 for why I like it.  It is traditionally made with lemon-flavored vodka (vodka citron) and gets a healthy splash of cranberry juice added to it for some tart flavor and a pretty pink color. This, is reason #2 for why I like it. Most "recipes" give you carte blanche to play around with substitutions for other flavors of vodka, fruit juices and liqueurs, which is reason #3, and completes my list of reasons, for why I love the cosmopolitan cocktail. The cosmo has been around since the 1970's, and, probably because of all of the above leniencies to its preparation, the verdict regarding its origin is:  it is a drink that was created independently by different bartenders!

PICT2707To make 1 large cosmopolitan a la Melanie's Kitchen:

1 large martini glass, chilled

cocktail measure

cocktail shaker full of ice

2 1/2  ounces Absolute kurant-flavored vodka

1/2  ounce Triple Sec

1/2  ounce Rose's sweetened lime juice

2  ounces cranberry juice

lime slice, for garnish

417127_10151399648500327_140731500326_23243673_1725952099_n"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

03/23/2012

~ Miniature Black-Bottom Black-Forest Cupcakes ~

PICT2697I love black-bottom cupcakes and have never eaten one I didn't like, but I do prefer the kind that use finely-chopped chocolate rather than chocolate chips.  When I was a kid, my mom used to make them all the time, and, back in the '60's, my mom's black-bottom cupcake recipe helped me to earn my Girl Scout cooking badge. My mom's black-bottom cupcake recipe is really delicious, but, it is also very similar to other published versions.  What I'm trying to say is:  I've never read a published recipe for a black-bottom cupcake that is different enough from hers or anyones for anyone to claim the title of "original", "best" or "ultimate" black-bottom cupcake!

PICT2706Fast forward to me being a grown up.  There was a period of time when my husband was doing business with a company in Germany.  They visited here, we visited there.  Black Forest cherry torte (referred to as Black Forest cake here in the US), when eaten in Germany, is decadent. It's several layers of chocolate cake, each separated with a layer of whipped cream, maraschino cherries and chocolate shavings. Traditionally, kirschwasser, a clear liquor distilled from tart cherries, is added to the cake.  Here in the United States, the torte is usually prepared without alcohol, but in Germany, statutes require the alcohol for the cake to legally be marketed as Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte!

A few years ago, more like 15-16 years ago (my how time flies) I was asked to bring a dessert to a casual, Friday evening, outdoor gathering. Joan is a wonderful cook, she and I walked 5-miles together every morning back then, and we almost always talked foodie.  She told me to bring anything I wanted, but asked that it be something like cookies or brownies, that didn't have to be portioned and served.  I had just made black-bottom cupcakes for a bake sale at my son's elementary school that week, so the recipe was fresh on my mind, but they seemed a bit too unsophisticated for Joan's patio.  Then it occurred to me: 

PICT2699Black-Bottom Goodness + Black-Forest Flavors = OMG!

PICT2700For the cream cheese filling:

1  pound cream cheese, at room temperature

1/3  cup sugar

1/4  teaspoon salt

2  large egg whites, at room temperature

2  tablespoons sour cream, at room temperature

1/4  cup finely chopped, Lindt bittersweet chocolate, about 1 3/4 ounces

1/4  cup finely chopped maraschino cherries, patted dry, about 16 cherries

PICT2698~ Step 1. In a medium mixing bowl, on medium speed of electric hand-held mixer, beat the cream cheese, sugar and salt until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Adjust mixer speed to low and beat in the egg whites and sour cream.  

PICT2703Using a rubber spatula, fold in chocolate and cherries.  Set the filling mixture aside.

PICT2699For the cupcake batter:

1 1/2  cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1/2  cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened, Dutch-process cocoa powder (Note:  There are two types of cocoa powder, natural and Dutch-process.  Dutch-process is natural cocoa powder that has been alkalized to remove its acidity and make it neutral, which deepens its flavor.  Many chocolate experts will recite:  use natural cocoa powder when using baking soda and Dutch-process when using baking powder.  The reality is, they are mostly interchangeable, and, Dutch-process simply put: tastes better.  I've been using Dutch-process with these baking soda cupcakes for years and am proud to report:  they bake perfectly and taste fabulous!)

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/2  teaspoon salt

1 1/4  teaspoons baking soda

3/4  cup sour cream

1  cup water + 1/3 cup liquid from maraschino cherries

2  teaspoons kirschwasser liquor

1/2  cup salted butter (1 stick), melted and slightly cooled

PICT2700~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, melt the butter in the microwave and set aside to cool slightly.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, salt and baking soda.  Add the sour cream. In a 2-cup measuring container, stir together the water, maraschino cherry juice and kirschwasser, and add that to the bowl as well.

PICT2704

 

~ Step 2.  On lowest speed of hand-held electric mixer, gradually increasing mixer speed to high, beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula frequently.  This process will take about 1 minute.  Reduce mixer speed to low.  In a slow, thin stream, beat in the butter.  The cupcake batter will be shiny and smooth.

PICT2726 PICT2714Note: Transferring the batter to a 1-quart measuring container will make it easier to portion and pour, but a large squeeze-type bottle (as shown here), makes the process REALLY easy and virtually mess free! 

PICT2723~ Step 3.  Insert miniature-sized cupcake papers into miniature-sized pans.  This recipe makes 6 dozen miniature cupcakes.  

Note:  My pans hold 2 dozen each, and I'll be using 3 pans today. Feel free to bake in batches, alternating pans, but make sure the pans are cooled before filling them.

Add the batter first, filling each paper to 1/3 full (no more or cupcakes will bake up over the tops when baked).  Gently place 1/2 teaspoon of cream cheese topping on top of the batter, doing your best to keep it in the center (not touching the cupcake paper).

PICT2702~ Step 4.  Bake cupcakes, one pan at a time, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 12-13 minutes, or until a cake tester when inserted into the chocolate portion comes out clean.  Cupcakes will be puffed in the center, but the cream cheese filling will sink slightly as they cool.  Cool in pan for 4-5 minutes prior to transferring to cooling racks to cool completely:

PICT2704Miniature Black-Bottom Black-Forest Cupcakes:  Recipe yields 6-dozen miniature-sized cupcakes.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held electric mixer; rubber spatula; 2-cup measuring container; 1-quart measuring container or large squeeze-type bottle w/3/8" nozzle; miniature muffin/cupcake pans, enough for 6 dozen cupcakes; 6 dozen miniature-sized cupcake papers; teaspoon; cooling rack(s)

PICT2699Cook's Note:  To make black-bottom cupcakes without the Black-Forest flavor:  eliminate the maraschino cherries, making up the difference with an extra 1/4 cup of chopped chocolate; eliminate the cherry juice, using 1 1/3 cups of plain water, and; substitute pure vanilla extract for the kirchwasser!

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

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

03/21/2012

~ The "I Can't Believe I'm Posting this Recipe" Post: Cocktail Pigs in a Blanket (Pillsbury Crescent Dogs) ~

PICT2701It is no secret that I am HUGE fan of AMC's Mad Men show.  The show is set in New York City in the 1960's and the men and women who work at the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency on Madison Avenue are some of the top names in their industry.  From the moment I sat down to watch Episode 1 of Season 1, I was captivated by their spot-on '60's-period furnishings and fashions, as well as their '60's-style of entertaining and eating.  Since I was an executive secretary and administrative assistant in a few high-end offices in the mid-latter 1970's, certain aspects of this show are like watching reruns of my life.  Not since the Sopranos have I been so caught up in television watching, and, perhaps it is because Mad Men's writer and executive producer, Matthew Weiner, was a writer and producer of the Sopranos too!

Images-2The two-hour premier of Mad Men, Season 5 will air Sunday evening at 9:00PM.  Like many other fans, I am so caught up in Mad Men mania, I am hosting a Mad Men party and will be serving some of our favorite appetizers and cocktails from the '60's.  When I sat down to plan my menu, I didn't have much researching to do.  Having been ages 5 thru 15 throughout the '60's decade, I just took a stroll down memory lane.  My mom and dad regularly entertained a close-knit group of friends back then, and, like most other couples, they had a few "in vogue" recipes and cocktails they served... over and over again! 

MMs4ep401_DD%2C_BD%2C_SDLike Don and Betty Draper (pictured above), my mom and dad had two children, one girl and one boy. Coincidentally, in Mad Men, Sally and Bobby Draper, are about the same ages my brother David and I were at the time, and, surprisingly, they resemble my brother and I in many ways too.  Unlike the Drapers, neither of my parents were smokers, for which to this day I am very grateful.  Some of my parents friends smoked, and my brother and I hated their ash trays and the smell our house after their visits.  Also, my mom and dad were and still are very happily married! 

PICT2698My brother and I loved when my mom made her "little hot dogs wrapped in pastry dough".  She'd let me help to roll them up, and, she'd make lots of them too, usually around 100, because she knew they would be the first thing devoured.  People would grab them so fast you'd think she had money rolled up in them!  You'll need:

2  8-ounce tubes crescent rolls

48 cocktail franks

PICT2698~ Step 1.  Keep the crescent rolls in the refrigerator until you are ready to open and use each tube, one-at-a-time.  Open and unroll the dough. Using a sharp knife, separate the dough along the perforated lines, into 8 triangles.  Cut each triangle into 3 narrower triangles.

PICT2703~ Step 2.  Place a mini-hot dog on the widest side of each triangle. Begin rolling, towards the opposite "pointy side".  

PICT2719Continue this process until all hot dogs are rolled and wrapped, placing them point side down on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.

PICT2721Note:  At this point hot dogs can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours prior to baking and serving.  Remove from refrigerator about 1 hour prior to baking.

~ Step 3.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven, 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Gently separate, transfer to a serving platter and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Serve 'em hot, warm or room temp w/mustard (or ketchup):

PICT2703Cocktail Pigs in a Blanket (Pillsbury Crescent Dogs):  Recipe yields 48 appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper

PICT2698Cooks Note:  My mom served these with ordinary yellow or ballpark-type mustard, which is my preference too.  That being said, my brother was a ketchup man.  Some of my mom's friends made these using mini-smoked sausages and they served theirs with BBQ sauce. The choice is yours!

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

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

03/18/2012

~ How to: Make "Fluffy" Scrambled Eggs & Bacon ~

PICT2697In our house, Sunday mornings are very laid back and relaxed.  No alarm clocks, lots of coffee and iced-tea drinking, newspaper and magazine reading, TV watching, and, always a cooked breakfast.  In the Winter we watch the skiers come down Tussey Mountain through our kitchen windows, and, in the Summer, we often cook and eat outside while watching the joggers and bikers go up Bear Meadows Road.  Today is an uncharacteristically warm, sunny March Sunday here in Pennsylvania and we found ourselves with our back doors open listening to the birds chirping and a refreshing Spring breeze coming through the house!

PICT2697Every once in a while I get a hankering for bacon and eggs the way my mom always prepared them... cooked together in one skillet.  Today was such a day.  The method is as simple and straightforward as it is delicious and hearty.  What's more, as long as you have a big enough skillet, there's no limit to the quantity you can make, meaning:  you can prepare breakfast for 20 people in about the same time it takes to prepare breakfast for 2 people.  Hers is a great "go to" breakfast recipe to have in your repertoire when you're having overnight guests, as:  you can keep them warm on the stovetop, to serve individually as folks meander into the kitchen, or serve them family-style on one big platter.   I've even made them outdoors on a camp stove several times for our entire Penn State tailgate group of 40+ people.  Serve 'em with or atop a toasted bagel or an English muffin and you're "good to go"!

PICT2701I am an egg lover, but I am also very picky about the eggs I eat, and not their color either:  there IS no difference between white or brown eggs.  Preparing scrambled eggs is so simple and basic, they can be ruined in an instant.  I am constantly stunned by the number of breakfast eateries that don't prepare them correctly.  You see, I consider a properly cooked egg the sign of a good cook, and cooking eggs an art form.  I've even taught a few classes about basic egg preparation.  Whether soft-cooked, hard-cooked, poached, scrambled or fried, when properly prepared, they really are  "the incredible edible egg"! 

I affectionately refer to basic scrambled eggs as "fluffy eggs":

PICT2707Scrambled eggs should be creamy, moist and tender.  Scrambled eggs should be barely set with perfectly formed curds.  I affectionately refer to them as "fluffy eggs".  There is nothing worse than runny or rubbery scrambled eggs, and, show me scrambled eggs that have been browned and I'll show you grossly overcooked scrambled eggs. Besides needing eggs, milk, a bit of butter, salt and pepper, the ideal tools for making scrambled eggs are an appropriately-sized nonstick skillet and a soft, silicone spatula.

PICT2698A bit about scrambled egg cookery: Vigorously whisk the eggs and milk together just prior to cooking. Whisking incorporates air, which in turn makes them "fluffy".  For one large serving, or two smaller servings, whisk together:

3  extra-large eggs, at room temperature

enough milk to total 3/4 cup

3-4 grinds of sea salt & peppercorn blend

PICT2699Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in an 10" skillet over low heat.  Add the eggs. Low heat provides time to control their consistency.  Stir constantly and gently, with an occasional tilt of the pan as small, creamy curds form.  The skillet is hotter around the perimeter, so stir the eggs from the outside of the pan towards the center, tilting the pan to allow the raw portion of the eggs to flow to the outside of the pan.  Do not chop through the eggs with the edge of the spatula.  The eggs are done when they are barely set,  and look moist (not watery or dry).  The entire process will take 1 1/2-2 minutes.  As with most food, carryover/residual heat will continue to cook the eggs after they are removed from the pan.  Serve immediately with a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend:

PICT2702************

To make My Mom's "Fluffy" Scrambled Eggs & Bacon:

PICT2700For 6-8 servings:

6  slices, thick-sliced bacon, diced (about 12 ounces)

9  extra-large eggs, at room temperature

enough milk to total 2 1/2 cups 

6-8 grinds of freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

PICT2707~ Step 1. Dice bacon as directed, placing it in a 12" skillet as you work. Over medium-high heat, fry until crisp and golden, about 10 minutes. Turn the heat off.  Using a small ladle, remove all but about 2 tablespoons of bacon drippings from pan.  Note:  If you want to prepare the eggs using no bacon fat, remove all of it and melt 2 tablespoons of butter into the still warm pan.  I highly-recommend the flavor of the bacon fat!

PICT2700~ Step 2.  In a 1-quart measuring container, using a fork, vigorously whisk together the eggs, enough milk to total 2 1/2 cups of total liquid, and, 6-8 grinds of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

PICT2701~ Step 3. Adjust heat under pan of bacon to low.  Add the egg mixture to the bacon in pan.

PICT2704~ Step 4.  Stir constantly and gently, with an occasional tip of the pan, as creamy curds form.  The skillet is hotter around the perimeter, so stir the eggs from the outside of the pan towards the center, tilting the pan to allow the raw portion of the eggs to flow towards the outside of the pan.

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Note:  The eggs are done when they are barely set and look moist (not watery or dry).  The entire process will take just 3-4 minutes. As in the case of most food, carryover/residual heat is going to continue to cook the eggs after they are removed from the skillet.

Portion and serve immediately with a light grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend:

PICT2697How to:  Make "Fluffy" Scrambled Eggs & Bacon:  Recipe yields 1-2 servings of basic scrambled eggs, and, 6-8 servings of scrambled eggs & bacon.

Special Equipment List:  appropriately-sized nonstick skillet; soft heatproof or silicon spatula; cutting board; chef's knife;  appropriately-sized measuring container; fork

Cook's Note:  Unlike delicate scrambled eggs, the heartier scrambled eggs and bacon, if kept covered, really do hold up well on a slightly warm stovetop or camp stove for 1-2 hours (and I'm pretty sure the bacon fat has a lot to do with it).  When I make them at a tailgate, I prepare a double recipe in two alternating 14" chef's pans w/straight, deep sides.  When one pan is done, I start on the second one, and so on, until everyone is fed and happy!

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

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

03/16/2012

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (3/16/12) ~

Culinary Q & A #2On this, the eve of St. Patrick's Day, I'm here to tell you, March has been an "odd" month here in Central PA. Typically, we are used to cold winds and rain, which keeps me cooking warm comfort food until the end of the month.  Not so this year, we have had an entire week of sunshine and temperatures in the mid to upper 70's.  Joe not only cleaned our BBQ grill, he's used it three times.  Our deck and patio furniture is out and I actually drank my AM coffee outside yesterday!

Mel's Irish March Madness Menu:

Irish Soda BreadWhile I personally am not Irish, I do enjoy this holiday and Kitchen Encounters has posted some wonderful Irish recipes guaranteed to make your St. Patrick's Day a tasty one.  We'll start our day out tomorrow morning with my recipe for: ~ Irish Eyes are Smilin' on Mary's Irish Soda Bread ~, found in Categories 5 & 11.  It is pictured here served in the traditional manner:  toasted w/butter and jam!

PICT0094For a warm and hearty lunch, we'll be having a bowl of my ~ Baked Potato, Roasted Garlic & Cheddar Cheese Soup ~, and you can find this recipe in Categories 2, 11, & 22. It is thick and rich and so full of the subtle flavors of bacon, garlic and cheddar, everyone is going to want seconds.  I made a big pot, for Sunday leftovers.  While everyone is watching the basketball games, they'll be anticipating dinner:

Corned Beef #1 (Intro Picture)My ~ Braised & Brown Sugar Crusted Corned Beef ~, found in Categories 2, 3, 11, 19 & 20, has garnered a permanent spot on our St. Patrick's Day dinner table.  I'll be making deli-style sandwiches served on my ~ Crusty Caraway Seed Dinner/Sandwich Rolls ~, found in Categories 5 & 12.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!

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

PICT2728I had one question this week from a Facebook reader who read my post on Tuesday for: ~ The New Meaning of Outstanding:  Iberico Pork ~.  The entire meal was made on the grill and I served the pork with roasted sweet potatoes and caramelized onions.

Q.  Michal asks:  Mel, you showed caramelized onions with the Iberico pork.  Can you tell me how you make them?  I ran a search on your blog and nothing came up.

A.  Kitchen Encounters: Great to hear from Michal!  I am so happy you asked about this! Caramelizing onions on the grill isn't so much a recipe as it is a technique Joe and I use and everyone just loves them.  You'll be happy to know it's super-easy too.  Before we start, note that I use large, yellow or sweet onions exclusively on the grill!

PICT2716 PICT2705Peel and slice each onion in half, pole-to-pole. (as many onions as you want to caramelize).  Place them, flat sides down, side-by-side, in an appropriately-sized disposable aluminum pan, which has had some butter melted into some olive oil over low heat.  In this pan, I have melted 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter into 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil.  

PICT2719Seal the pan tightly with aluminum foil.  You must seal the pan with foil, because you not only want to caramelize the onion, you need to cook it through too.  The steam build-up in the covered pan will achieve both objectives!

Note:  To speed up the caramelization process, cut onions into quarters, remembering to slice them pole-to-pole!

PICT2705Place the pan, over medium-high heat, on the grill grids, and allow to cook until the flat sides of the onion are golden and the rest of the onion is fork tender.  Depending upon the size of the onion and the hotness of your gill, this can take 15-30 minutes, with the finished color and texture being more important than the time it takes to get it there!

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

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

03/14/2012

~ Creamy-Cheesy Roasted Broccoli & Potato Soup ~

PICT2704I am a person that likes vegetables, but I am also a person that likes to get the most flavor out of my vegetables, and, roasting transforms them from quite delicious to completely yummy.  When I make creamy-type vegetable soups, I've learned that roasting the vegetables, which is an easy first step, turns a quite delicious soup into a completely yummy one.  That being said, what you sometimes sacrifice in vivid color, particularly in the case of green vegetables, you make up for in nutty, roasted, earthy flavor.  Have you ever tasted the difference between cream of tomato soup and roasted cream of tomato soup?  I rest my case!

Even though I like vegetables, and broccoli in particular, broccoli-cheese soup in general always brings back childhood cafeteria memories of thick, gloppy, American processed "cheese feed" melted into some previously frozen broccoli and blended with a white milk product.  If I didn't like it as a child, I certainly wasn't going to "invent" a recipe for it as an adult.  My recipe, while cheesy, creamy, rich and satisfying, is kind of thin/"soupy", with chunks of potatoes in each spoonful. If you'd like to make it somewhat thicker and smooth, just puree it:  right in the pot using a stick blender, or, in batches, in a blender or food processor! 

A bit about roasting vegetables:

Real Roasted Chicken Breast #1 (with Apricot Mustard Sauce & Grilled Onion)What does roasting do?  In the case of protein, roasting browns it.  In the case of vegetables, it concentrates their flavor and caramelizes the sugar in them, giving them a sweet, nutty flavor.  When I am roasting vegetables for soup, I almost always roast them with onion too. Why?  Onion, which is typically added to soup anyway, has a high sugar content and when it caramelizes, it gets  super-sweet.

PICT2694Can all vegetables be roasted?  I've roasted everything from asparagus to zucchini, except for watery ones like celery or leafy greens.  The size of the vegetable along with its basic density will affect the roasting time. For instance: hard carrots and beets take longer than softer asparagus and mushrooms.  Prior to roasting, rinsed vegetables must be dried.

PICT3861Can anything go wrong?  Like anything that roasts too long, they'll go from caramelized and golden to burned and black, so keep an eye on them close to the end of the roasting process. Also, don't crowd them or pile them on the pan. The more surface area you can give them, the more caramelization you will see at the end.  Lastly, what they look like is more important than the time it takes to get them there!

PICT2699For the roasted vegetables:

2  pounds fresh broccoli florets, trimmed into large, bite-sized pieces (Note:  The pre-washed, pre-cut, store-bought ones work just fine.)

12  ounces coarsely chopped yellow or sweet onion

4  large russet potatoes, about 12 ounces each

6  tablespoons olive oil

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

8  ounces grated white cheddar cheese (about 2 cups)

For the soup:

1  quart chicken stock, homemade or store-bought, your choice 

1/2-1  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

1 cup grated yellow cheddar cheese, for garnishing soup

PICT2698~ Step 1.  Prep and place the broccoli florets and chopped onion on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with aluminum foil and a sheet of parchment paper. Add the olive oil and a generous grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend. Toss the vegetables until they are evenly coated in olive oil.

PICT2703Rinse the potatoes under cold water.  Using a knife, cut 3-4 shallow slits in the top of each one and tightly wrap each one in a sheet of aluminum foil.

Roast the pan of vegetables and the potatoes in a 400 degree oven, 45-60 minutes for the broccoli and onion mixture, and 1 1/2 hours for the potatoes.  What broccoli looks like is more important than timing.

PICT2704

Note:  The broccoli stems will be turning golden and the tops of the florets will have a soft, slightly crunchy texture to them.  The onions will be just beginning to turn golden.

When the potatoes are easily pierced through the center with a fork, remove them from the oven and set aside to cool, until they can be comfortably handled using your hands, about 45-60 minutes.

PICT2703~ Step 2.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, transfer and  process the broccoli onion mixture to your liking.  I like some texture to my veggies, so I used a series of 10 rapid on-off pulses.  If you want the mixture finer, or even pureed, "go for it"!

PICT2707Note:  I have 4 cups of veggies. The finer the veggies, the less you will have.  It won't affect the recipe.

PICT2699~ Step 3.  While the potatoes are still warm, remove them from their wrapping and slice them in half. Using an ordinary tablespoon, scoop their soft centers into a medium bowl.  Add the grated white cheddar.  Using a pastry blender, smash the potatoes and the cheese together.  When I eat the soup, I like my potatoes a bit chunky, so that is how I judge when to stop smashing.

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~ Step 4.  Into a 6-quart stockpot, add the broccoli/onion mixture, the chicken stock, ground nutmeg, sea salt and cayenne pepper.  Over medium-high heat, bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.  Turn the heat off.

PICT2706~ Step 5. Stir in the potato mixture and 1/2 cup of the cream.

PICT2704~ Step 6.  Over medium-low, heat soup just until it is steaming.  Do not allow to simmer or boil. Add additional cream, only if necessary, until desired consistency is reached.  

Serve immediately, garnishing each portion with a sprinkling of finely grated yellow cheddar cheese: 

 

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Creamy-Cheesy Roasted Broccoli & Potato Soup:  Recipe yields 3-3 1/2 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; food processor; cheese grater; pastry blender; 6-quart stockpot; large spoon; soup ladle 

Cook's Note:  Because the broccoli is roasted to make this soup, you're never going to achieve a soup that is bright "broccoli green" in color.  You are going to eat a soup that is a bit "earthy" looking.  That being said, what this soup lacks in vivid color, it sure does make up for in nutty, roasted broccoli and onion flavor! 

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

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

03/12/2012

~ The New Meaning of "Outstanding": Iberico Pork ~

PICT2692Last Thursday afternoon, my friend Jami (Jamison Steffen), the Executive chef of The American Ale House in State College, PA, knocked on my kitchen door.  "Mel, I took the liberty of ordering something for you that I want you to try and I think you're gonna love."  He handed me a paper bag which contained three vacuum-sealed pieces of astonishingly beautiful looking pork, unlike any I'd ever seen before.  As we often do, he and I sat at my kitchen counter for a few minutes and caught up on our two families and local foodie news.  Chef Jami then gave me a brief description of the "new" pork I'd be trying and explained that this particular cut should be cooked over searing-high heat for a super-short period of time.  Over the years, Jami and I have worked together on numerous occasions and he has introduced me to a lot of amazing "ahead of the curve" food products, which aren't readily available to me as an ordinary consumer, but he as the chef of a large restaurant has sources for.  He as a fast-paced chef, and I as a slow, methodical recipe developer, then commiserate on a regular basis about the best uses for each product in our two culinary worlds:  his restaurant kitchen vs. my home kitchen!

IbericoA bit about Iberico pork:  It comes from the Iberico breed of pig, also known as a "black-footed pig", which is raised almost exclusively in Spain.  The pigs are allowed to roam in pastures and oak groves, feasting on natural grass, herbs and LOTS of acorns.  Acorns are rich in oleic acid, the same found in olive oil, and because pigs do not convert fat, the oleic component makes their highly-marbled, tender, rosy,  melt-in-your-mouth meat, high in healthy mono-unsaturated fat!

In the world's fare of food, this might be the best thing I ever ate.

PICT2695There are food Gods, or, God is a foodie.  I know this because: Yesterday, in the middle of March, right here in central Pennsylvania, the sun came out, the temperature soared to almost 70 degrees, Joe took apart and meticulously cleaned our grill and I "just happened" to have Iberico pork in my refrigerator!?!

My plan:  keep it simple and allow this pork to be the star of the show:

PICT2700These 14-16-ounce, rather thin, fan-shaped Iberico pork 'steaks' were labeled "secreto", which I have come to learn is because it is a cut that is hard to locate on the hog, hence the name.  They are actually a muscle obtained from the top front of the pork belly which is initially covered in belly fat (which is why it is so hard to locate).  Once trimmed, as you can see from the photo, the exposed muscle itself contains streaks of light, cremy fat marbled throughout.  True to what Jami said, this cut of meat had to be cooked hot and fast, either in a cast iron skillet or on the grill. 

In my opinion, while they resembled a cross between a beef flank and/or skirt steak, they required absolutely no marinades or spicy dry rubs... aka, no tenderizer or flavor boost to muddle up their own signature flavor and texture. So, they got the royal treatment in Melanie's Kitchen:  a light coating of freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend!

PICT2306That being said, they deserved a really great sauce, and, in my mind, only one would do.  My recipe for ~ Apricot Mustard Sauce:  For Dipping or Drizzling ~, can be found in Categories 8, 10 or 22.  It took me less than five minutes to stir it up on the stovetop!

As for the rest of the menu, Joe was roasting sweet potatoes and caramelizing onions out on the grill. When they were finished, it was finally show time:

PICT2706Onto the red hot grill grids, one at a time, each room temperature piece of glorious meat went.  Upon contact, the fat began to melt away from the meat, bathing the pork in acorn-flavored juices.  Ninety seconds per side over direct heat and one total minute over indirect heat.  That was that.  Into the house they went for a 5 minute rest.

PICT2715Holding my knife at a 30 degree angle, I began to slice.  Thin, perfectly-cooked, pretty, plump, pink, juicy, slices emerged.  

Joe and I sat down to eat.  It was love at first bite.  In the real foodie world, a 16-ounce piece of meat, served with side-dishes, would feed 2-3 people. This pork was so amazing:  all that remains of 3, for leftovers today, is 1 1/2 steaks!

PICT2728The New Meaning of "Outstanding":  Iberico Pork:  Recipe yields instructions for grilling 14-16-ounce, Iberico pork, shoulder blade steaks.

Special Equipment List:  grill; tongs; cutting board; chef's knife

Cook's Note:  I  can only hope that in the near future, this outstanding pork product will become available to us ordinary consumers.  For now, all I can do is share my firsthand experience with it and recommend that if you see this pricy piece of amazing meat on a restaurant menu, do not pass up the chance to experience it.  In the world's fare of food, this just might be the best thing I ever encountered in my kitchen!  Thank-you Jami!

PICT2703Extra Cook's Note:  If you prefer your pork a bit rarer than pictured above, don't finish the meat over indirect heat for 1 minute (skip this step). After it's been grilled over high, direct heat for 90 seconds per side, remove it from the grill and let it rest, for 10 minutes, as directed! 

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

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

03/10/2012

~ My Creamy, Orange-Kissed Arborio Rice Pudding ~

6a0120a8551282970b016763a3f07e970b-800wiI was in the seventh grade ('68) when I began my love affair with rice pudding.  Tamaqua Area's Junior High was located on Broad Street back then and it was the former High School building. By the time our class attended it for its "swan song year", it was an old, dilapidated building (which has since been replaced with a  high-rise).  We were only schooled there for one year, while construction on our fabulous new high school complex was being completed, but I can tell you this:  each and every one of us has some sort of creepy, haunted-house tale to tell about this place.  The good news?  They didn't have a cafeteria (or even hot water), so they let us inmates go out onto the streets of downtown Tamaqua for lunch every day.  Right next to the school was The Royal Restaurant, which needless to say, because of us kids, had a thriving 12-year-old lunch crowd.  On a side note, it is at "The Royal" that I began my love affair with cherry cokes too. The Royal was owned by Mike and Jean Cappos, with Mike doing most of the cooking and Jean working the front of the the house.

8735_146931763818_558503818_2534976_869484_nIn the late 1960's and early 70's, Mrs. Cappos and my mom were friends.  She had two sons, Michael and David, which were the same ages and in the same grades as my brother and I (Mike and I went to school together and the two David's, three years younger, went to school together).  We all lived in the suburb of Hometown and they lived across the street from the Sky Lanes Bowling Center, where we kids often met on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to entertain ourselves.  Afterwards, we'd go across the street to the Cappos's to wait for mom or dad to come and pick us up.  While the boys were playing outside, I enjoyed sitting in her kitchen and watching her make giant pans of food for the restaurant.  It is there I first tasted homemade rice pudding.  She baked hers in the oven. In her kitchen, she would give me a scoop of it while it was still warm, and, on a Monday at Noon in the restaurant, after lunch she'd give me a scoop of it cold for dessert (and never charged me for it).  She said it was my thanks for me helping her to make it (which really wasn't the case)!

PICT2696Fast forward to the 1980's when I met my husband's family.  I am here to tell you:  the Italian cooks in Pennsylvania's Scranton Wilkes-Barre area (where he is from) have recipes for rice pudding that elevate this simple dish to an art form.  They mostly make theirs on the stovetop, and, they are not easily coerced into sharing their secrets either.  I know of one circumstance where the rice pudding recipe went to the grave with the 90-something great-grandmother, who flat-out refused to tell anyone how to make it.  In another instance, the recipe and the special-sized pot it gets prepared in get handed down to one special person, from generation to generation, along with the family jewelry!

PICT2692Two Scranton secrets I learned over the years:  

#1)  Rice pudding requires short-grain starchy rice.  The high starch kernels in Italian grown Arborio rice are shorter and fatter than any other short-grained rice.  Arborio rice is traditionally used for making risotto, because its increased starch lends this classic dish its requisite creamy texture.  Well, it works the same magic with rice pudding too!

PICT2689#2)  If you like raisins in your rice pudding, soak them overnight in water to plump them. Soaking them in Grand Marnier, not only plumps them, it infuses them with Mel's signature orange flavor!

For the raisins (optional) (Note:  If opting to include raisins, soak them as directed above.):

1  cup golden raisins 

Grand Marnier,  a brandy-based, orange-flavored French liqueur, enough to cover the raisins

PICT2695For the rice:

1  cup Italian Arborio rice

2  cups whole milk

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

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For the silky orange-kissed "custard" mixture:

4  cups whole milk

2  cups heavy or whipping cream

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

1  cup sugar

1  teaspoon pure almond extract, not imitation

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract, not imitation

4  whole cinnamon sticks

2  vanilla beans, cut in half, lengthwise

zest from 1  large orange (Note:  If you are preparing this rice pudding without the Grand Marnier soaked raisins and orange/or zest, substitute/add the zest of one lemon and 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice in Step 5.

2-3 jumbo eggs

For topping (optional):

1  cup crushed almond biscotti + whole almond biscotti (as many as needed) 

PICT5058~ Step 1. To prepare the "custard": Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut each vanilla bean in half and then cut each half in half lengthwise. Using a sharp paring knife, scrape the seeds out of the pod.

PICT2695

 

 

 

 

~ Step 2.  In a 4-quart stockpot, place the milk, cream, butter, sugar, extracts, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans and vanilla pods.  Place over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted and mixture is steaming hot.  Do not allow to simmer or boil. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside to steep for 30 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pods.  While the "custard" is steeping:

PICT2698~ Step 3.  To pre-cook the rice:  In a 2-quart saucepan, combine the milk, rice and salt.  Place over medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer.  Continue to simmer, stirring frequently for 6 minutes. Watch carefully, as this mixture has a tendency to want to boil over. Rice will be partially-cooked and slightly thickened.  

Remove from heat, cover and set aside until the "custard" is done steeping.

PICT2691~ Step 4.  After you have removed the cinnamon sticks and vanilla pods from the "custard" mixture, stir the rice mixture into the "custard" mixture.  Place on the stovetop over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer gently, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, cover and set aside for 15 minutes, to cool slightly. While mixture is cooling:

PICT2693~ Step 5.  Drain all Grand Marnier/liquid from the optional raisins.  Using a microplane grater, zest the orange. In a small bowl, using a fork, whisk the eggs.  Place the drained raisins, and orange zest in the slightly-cooled rice mixture. In a slow, steady stream, stirring constantly, add the eggs.  Return to heat and simmer very gently for 3 additional minutes.

~ Step 6.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside for 2-4-6 hours.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, topping each portion with crushed almond biscotti:

PICT2691My Creamy, Orange-Kissed Arborio Rice Pudding:  Recipe yields 10 cups.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; paring knife; 4-quart saucepan w/lid; slotted spoon; 2-quart saucepan w/lid; microplane grater; whisk

PICT2700Cook's Note:  In our household, when we serve rice pudding right out of the refrigerator, we call it "Rice Cream"!

Extra Cook's Note:  Maybe you've noticed I've kept the words "custard" and "custard mixture" in quotes throughout the recipe. Technically, while rice pudding is not a custard per se, this recipe is prepared in the manner of custard, which is:  a sweetened egg/milk mixture that has been cooked gently on the stovetop or baked in a low oven. Stirred custards are usually made in a double boiler, while baked custards get cooked in a warm water bath, which is not the case in most rice pudding recipes. That being said, "custard" was the best term I could think of to describe it and its preparation!

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

(Photo of Tamaqua Area High School courtesy of Donnie Serfass, Managing Editor of The Times News, Tamaqua's daily newspaper, and, fellow TAHS class of '73 friend and classmate!)

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

03/08/2012

~ Saffron Rice, Pignoli & Pea Stuffed Tomatoes ~

PICT2705This rice side-dish is an absolute Preschutti family favorite.  When my son was young, whether I was preparing something as simple as broiled fish or something as elaborate as ossobuco, he would wander into the kitchen and inevitably ask, "are you making spicy rice tonight"?  Jess was one heck of a picky eater, but, go figure, spicy saffron rice was my then 5-year-old son's side-dish of choice.  Presently, you'll find him serving it to his 5-year-old son as a side-dish to a grilled flank steak.  When Joe's 86 year old mother moved here to Happy Valley four years ago, she had never tasted it.  It's my "job" to cook her meals, and, once a week, without fail, she asks for "that rice that Mel makes"!

6a0120a8551282970b0134866e5cd5970c-320wiI am a tomato lover.  Whether it's garden tomatoes at their peak being stuffed with fresh ingredients and eaten cold, or Wintery tomatoes being stuffed with precooked fillings then baked, I adore tomatoes stuffed with just about anything. While this rice is great served "as is", it is super-wonderful, freshly made or leftover, placed in hollowed out tomato shells and baked for about 20 minutes.  You can find my instructions for ~ How to: Hollow Out Tomatoes for Stuffing Them ~ in Categories 4 or 15.  Besides being a comforting side dish, stuffed tomatoes are a very tasty vessel to individually portion and elegantly present all kinds of savory food in!

170px-Crocus_sativus_01_by_Line1A bit about saffron:  It's no wonder that saffron, the red-gold stigmas from a small, purple, fall-flowering crocus (crocus sativus), is the world's most expensive spice.  Each flower provides only three stigmas, which must be carefully picked by hand and then dried, which is an extremely labor-intensive process.  It takes over 14,000 of these tiny stigmas to produce 1 ounce of saffron.  As far back as 1500 b.c., saffron was used not only to flavor food and beverages, but also to make medicines, body oils, perfumes and cloth a deep yellow-orange color.  It was highly-prized by pharoahs and kings as an aphrodisiac, but in large amounts, it is a deadly narcotic.  Today, this pungent aromatic spice is primarily used to flavor and tint food. Fortunately (because it is a bit pricy), a little goes a long way!

PICT2692Saffron is integral to the preparation of many dishes like bouillabaisse, risotto Milanese, paella, pilaf and is also used to flavor many European baked goods. Iran is the largest producer of saffron but Spain is the largest exporter.  It is marketed in powdered form or in threads (whole stigmas).  Powdered saffron loses its flavor quickly and is easily altered with imitation ingredients. For that reason, I don't purchase it. The threads, which should be crushed just before adding them to whatever is being cooked, should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place!

PICT2691

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12  medium-size, vine-ripened tomatoes, about 5-6 ounces each, or:

6  large-size, vine-ripened tomatoes, about 9-10 ounces each

salt

2  ounces butter (1/2 stick)

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1  0.5 gram packet saffron threads, about 1/2-3/4  teaspoon crushed saffron

1  cup finely diced yellow or sweet onion

2  cups water

1  cup white wine

1/2  pound Vigo yellow rice, or, long-grain white rice

1/2  cup pine nuts (pinoli), lightly toasted

1  cup frozen peas, unthawed

PICT2689~ Step 1.  Prep the tomatoes as directed and set aside.  Prep the onion as directed.  Place the pine nuts in a baking pan and roast on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, until lightly toasted and fragrant, about 8-10 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 3-4 minutes.  Remove the peas from the freezer and set aside.

PICT2690~ Step 2.  In a 4-quart stockpot melt the butter over low heat.  Stir in the red pepper flakes and crushed saffron threads.  Add the onion. Adjust heat to medium-high and saute, until onion is soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes.

PICT2692Add the water and wine.  Adjust heat to a boil.

PICT2688~ Step 3.  Gradually sprinkle in the rice.  Give the mixture a quick stir, adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, cover and continue to cook until rice has absorbed almost all of the liquid, about 18-20 minutes.  Do not uncover or stir the rice during the simmering process.  

PICT2688Remove from heat and "rake" though rice with a fork.

PICT2689~ Step 4.  Stir in the pine nuts and frozen peas.  Recover the pot and set aside about 30-45 minutes or longer, stirring occasionally. Ideally, the rice should be at room temperature or just slightly warm prior to stuffing the tomatoes, particularly if you want to stuff the tomatoes several hours prior to baking them.  Note:  If you want to stuff and bake the tomatoes immediately, thaw the peas prior to adding them to the hot rice.

PICT2691~ Step 5.  To stuff and bake the tomatoes, spoon and gently press as much of the rice mixture as will comfortably fit into each tomato, finishing by forming a mound of rice on the top of each.  Place tomatoes in muffin pans and bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven until heated through, about 20-25 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Serve immediately:

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Saffron Rice, Pignoli & Pea Stuffed Tomatoes:  Recipe yields about 6 cups of rice, and/or 6 large or 12 smaller stuffed tomatoes.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; serrated knife; grapefruit knife, grapefruit spoon; paper towels; small baking pan; 4-quart saucepan or stockpot; fork; large spoon; 1-2 standard-size muffin pans, preferably nonstick, enough for 6-12 tomatoes

Cook's Note:  The Italian word for and spelling of pine nut is "pinoli".  Here in the US, it's spelled pignoli, but in Italian, the word "pignolo" refers to an extremely organized, fastidious person!

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

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

03/07/2012

~ Ossobuco alla Milanese (Braised Veal Shanks) ~

PICT2706Ossobuco, a dish from Milan, Italy, is made of veal shanks braised with olive oil, wine, veal stock, tomatoes or tomato sauce, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, lemon zest and sometimes anchovies or mushrooms.  In Italian, the veal shank itself is also called ossobuco and means "holed bone" or "bone with a hole" (osso "bone", buco "hole").  I developed this recipe, using orange rather than lemon, to accommodate my family's like for the taste of sweet orange rather than tart lemon, and that choice remains yours.  Ossobuco is often, but not always, garnished with a sprinkling of gremolada, which is a mixture of equal parts minced parsley, lemon zest and garlic.  Again, I use orange zest in place of lemon, and that choice is also yours!

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Ossobuco is traditionally accompanied by Risotto alla Milanese, a rich saffron risotto (made using veal stock), but it is equally delicious served with orzo (pasta), rice or even polenta.  I often times serve my ossobuco accompanied by my recipe for: ~ Spicy Saffron Rice & Pine Nut Stuffed Tomatoes ~, which can be found in Categories 4, 14 or 14:

PICT2691Here are my reasons:  1) These are a very elegant presentation, plus, they can be stuffed several hours ahead of heating and serving, which is very convenient.  2)  When I make Risotto alla Milanese, which is also a time-consuming dish to prepare (and another future blog post), I make a main-dish version of the recipe using the cooked veal shank meat that resulted from the veal stock preparation!

Praising braising:

While ossobuco is not difficult to prepare, it is time consuming and requires a patient cook.

A bit about braising:  Braising (from the French word "braiser") is a combination method of cooking using both moist and dry heat.  It relies on heat, time, and moisture to tenderize and was originally developed to cook tough inexpensive cuts of meat and/or hard, fibrous vegetables. First the food is seasoned, then seared in fat.  It is then partially-covered in a liquid or sauce, tightly covered and slow-cooked for a lengthy period of time in a low to moderate oven (300-325 degrees), or, gently simmered on top of the stove, to concentrate flavors and tenderize the meat. In the case of meat, the muscle fibers absorb moisture from the steam, then the connective tissue dissolves to gelatin, which thickens the cooking liquid.  Sometimes the finished liquid is cooked farther to create a sauce or a gravy.  In the case of vegetables, if they have a high water content, sometimes they can be braised in their own juices with no extra liquid being required!

PICT2692For the sauce:

5  tablespoons EVOO + 1 tablespoon orange olive oil, or, 6 tablespoons EVOO (lemon olive oil may be substituted)

1  teaspoon white pepper

8  ounces diced pancetta (an Italian spiced bacon)*

8  ounces each:  diced yellow or sweet onion, carrots and celery

2  ounces minced fresh garlic

2  pounds stemmed, cleaned and sliced white button mushroom caps

1/2-1  cup Chianti (an Italian red wine), for deglazing pan twice, total throughout recipe

1  very large orange, cut into quarters, then eighths, to form 8 wedges (two lemons cut into 8 total wedges may be substituted)

1 1/2  cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade (Note:  You can find my recipe for ~ Mel's Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce ~ in Categories 8, 12 & 22.)

1 1/2  cups veal stock, preferably homemade (Note:  You can find my recipe for ~ Veal Stock:  Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary ~ in Categories 15 & 22.

PICT2693For the Veal Shanks:

7  tablespoons EVOO + 1 tablespoon orange olive oil, or, 8 tablespoons EVOO (lemon olive oil may be substituted)

8  1 1/2"-2" thick veal shanks, as evenly sized as possible, about 6-7 pounds

garlic powder, sea salt, white pepper and Wondra flour, for seasoning and coating shanks

PICT2691For the gremolada:

1/4  cup minced/diced flat-leaf parsley

zest from one large orange (zest from 2 lemons may be substituted)

2  large, minced garlic cloves (about 2 tablespoons minced garlic)

PICT2690*Note:  Pancetta, often referred to as Italian bacon, is an unsmoked pork belly that has been cured in salt, pepper and spices like fennel and nutmeg, then dried for several months.  It's readily available and found mostly in "rolled" form, from which circular slices are cut.  It is also available in "slab" form, which is sliced like bacon, but this is harder to find in American markets. Pancetta is always chopped or diced prior to frying it.  It adds a very distinctive pork flavor to many Italian dishes, without the smoky flavor that bacon provides.

PICT2693~ Step 1.  To prepare the sauce, prep the pancetta as directed.  Set aside.  

Prep onion, carrots, celery, garlic, mushrooms and orange as directed. Separately, set each one aside as you work (as pictured above in the ingredients picture).  

Note:  All of these tasks can be done a day ahead of making the ossobuco.

 

 

PICT2689~ Step 2.  In a 6-quart Dutch oven, heat the oil(s) over low heat.  Stir in the white pepper.  Add the pancetta and adjust heat to medium-high. Saute for 1-2 minutes, until the pancetta is soft and beginning to render its fat.  

PICT2693~ Step 3.  Add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic, and saute for an additional 1-2 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and saute until they have lost all of their moisture, pancetta is turning-golden, but not crisp, and onion is just beginning to brown, about 30-45 minutes, stirring frequently:

PICT2687~ Step 3.  Add 1/4 cup of the Chianti to the pan.  Using a metal spatula, deglaze the pan by gently scraping and stirring to loosen the browned bits and drippings from the bottom of the pan.

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~ Step 4.  Stir in the marinara sauce and the veal stock.  Place the orange wedges over the top, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Remove from heat.  Uncover the pan.  Transfer the orange wedges to a plate, cover them and set aside for garnish.  They will be plump and just steamed through.  Recover the pan and set the finished sauce aside, while prepping the veal as follows:

PICT2688~ Step 5.  To prepare the veal, lightly season the top of each shank with garlic powder, sea salt and white pepper.  Lightly coat the top of each one with Wondra flour.  Set aside, about 15-20 minutes, to give the flour time to absorb moisture from the meat, which will insure a crispy, brown sear.

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~ Step 6.  In a 14" chef's pan, heat the oil(s) over medium-high heat. Add the veal shanks, floured side down.  Lightly season the second side of each shank with garlic powder, sea salt and white pepper. Sprinkle a light coating of Wondra flour over all.  Adjust heat to saute, until veal is light-golden brown on both sides, about 15 minutes per side, turning only once and carefully regulating/lowering the heat so as to brown, but not scorch.  

PICT2691~  Step 7.  Add the second 1/4 cup of Chianti to the pan.  Using a metal spatula, deglaze the pan.  Transfer the veal shanks, along with all of their pan juices to the sauce in the Dutch oven.  Cover the pan and place in a 325 degree oven for 2 1/2-3 hours.  Remove from oven and set aside to rest for 30 minutes. Top each portion with a sprinkling of gremolada and garnish with a reserved orange wedge: 

PICT2687Ossobuco alla Milanese (Braised Veal Shanks):  Recipe yields 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 6-quart Dutch oven w/domed lid; large spoon; metal spatula; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides

PICT2700Cook's Note:  If you like the flavor of citrus in your food, but have never tried cooking with the combination of fresh citrus and citrus oils or citrus olive oil,  I am here to tell you: citrus oil and citrus olive oil transform ordinary dishes into extraordinary dishes!  

While these products are not cheap, a little goes a long way, which completely justifies their expense.  I keep mine stored in the refrigerator (along with my truffle oil), which makes for quite a long shelf life!

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

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

03/05/2012

~ Veal Stock = Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary ~

PICT2693"We are all in this food world together", is how I end every blog post and cooking class.  It's my signature mantra and they are kind and gentle words I take to heart and try to live by.  It's my way of expressing to readers and students that as far as food is concerned, while I am here to share and teach, I am also willing to listen to interesting new ideas and learn innovative new techniques from anyone.  While I have set very high standards for myself (and am my own worst critic), I rarely take issue with anyones culinary point of view, unless it is completely ridiculous, and even then, I avoid any verbal confrontation with them personally.  I simply rant and rave about it in the privacy of my own kitchen... and, for the first time, right here on my blog!

Culinarily:  Beef stock is not a substitute for veal stock!!!

009-01While beef and veal come from the same animal, veal and beef stock are two different products.  They don't smell the same, they don't taste the same, and culinarily, they are used in different applications.  Let me go on to say:  Veal stock was the basic stock used in professional kitchens during the 19th and 20th centuries. Besides adding a deep, subtle, neutral flavor to many dishes, it is an excellent base for many sauces.  There are two types of veal stock, white and brown, with the only difference between them being:  the ingredients for brown veal stock are roasted in the oven  prior to simmering the stock and tomato products are used in its preparation. Unfortunately, because of the expense of veal, many cooks have misguidedly replaced it with beef stock when an acceptable method of making inexpensive veal stock with just veal bones is available to them (and I have no ax to grind with those who make their stock with bones).  That being said, veal bones, in the quantity necessary to make stock, aren't always available to home cooks unless you are related to your butcher!

PICT2693Historically, the first recorded stocks were exclusively by-products of poached meat, poultry, fish and/or vegetables, and, a stock made with a large proportion of meat in it will have magnificent flavor.  The challenge for a restaurant chef, who requires large quantities of stock, is to get maximum flavor with minimum expense, which is why the veal bone approach is quite practical for them (because restaurant kitchens have a lot of veal bones at their disposal).  That being said, while the bones supply gelatin to the any stock, any stock made with bones alone simply will not have the depth of one made with meat.  Like some restaurant chef's, I justify making my veal stock with meat and bones (veal shanks) by using the cooked meat to make ravioli filling, risotto, and lasagna!

Veal stock is simple to make!

Veal stock is refined and rich, velvety and versatile!

Veal stock is the difference between ordinary and extraordinary dishes!

There's more good news, since veal stock is a component ingredient in prepared dishes, you don't need to make a lot of it.  A little goes a long way.  My recipe makes 2 quarts and I freeze it in 1- or 2-cup size containers to have on hand all year long.  I'm making white veal stock today:

PICT26883  pounds small veal shanks

3  quarts water

12  ounces peeled yellow onion

6  ounces peeled carrots

6  ounces celery

3  large, peeled garlic cloves

1/2  ounce fresh thyme sprigs

1  tablespoon sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons white pepper

PICT2690~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients in an 8-quart stockpot, except for the white pepper.  Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer, and using a skimmer, remove all of the white foam as it collects on top.  This process will take about 10 minutes.  Note:  If you had added the pepper, it would have collected in the foam and you'd be discarding it too!

PICT2690~ Step 2.  After you're done removing foam, remove the thyme. It will be limp and losing its bright green color. This herb has done its job.  The result will be a stock that is lightly and pleasantly flavored by it, rather than overpowered by it.  Add the white pepper.  Reduce heat to simmer gently, partially covered, for 3 hours.  Remove from heat, cover and allow to steep for 3 hours.

PICT2691Note:  The stock will be reduced by about one-third and the meat will be falling off the bones.

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~ Step 3.    Using a large slotted spoon, transfer veal shanks to a platter or bowl.  Set aside.  Remove and discard the vegetables, with the exception of the carrots... I eat them with just a bit of salt and pepper.  I'm not going to lie, I savor a few bits of the decadent veal too!

~ Step 4.  Using your fingertips, pull the meat from the fat, placing it in a food storage container as you work. To reserve the marrow, scoop it from the center of each shank bone and place it in a separate container.

PICT2692~ Step 5.  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 stock has been separated and strained.  Use stock and veal as directed in recipe. Refrigerate overnight and/or freeze.

Note:  When properly prepared, veal stock, after refrigeration, will be gelatinous and spoonable: 

PICT2690Veal Stock = Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary:  Recipe yields about 2 quarts veal stock, 3 cups veal meat, and 1/2 cup veal marrow.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; skimmer; soup ladle; fat/lean separator; fine mesh strainer; desired-sized food storage containers, preferably glass

PICT2688Cook's Note:  This is the veal stock section of my freezer.  I make both white and brown veal stock and use meat in both preparations, which are pictured here.  My brown veal stock recipe, will be a future post, so stay tuned!

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

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

03/02/2012

~ Greek Lemon, Egg & Orzo Soup (Avgolemono) ~

6a0120a8551282970b019aff64b0c3970dAvgolemono (ahv-goh-LEH-moh-noh) is a classic, signature soup (as well as a sauce) of Greek cuisine.  Both the soup and the sauce are made of freshly made chicken stock, whole eggs and fresh lemon juice.  (The sauce is much thicker than the soup and is drizzled over dolma, vegetables and main courses.) The flavorful soup stock then has a varying amount of orzo cooked into it.  The amount of orzo you add depends on how thick you like your soup, as its starch acts as the thickener.  My family likes it best when the soup is the consistency of an extremely creamy rice pudding, so I add a generous amount of orzo.  A rich, whisked egg and fresh lemon combination, which gets whisked in at the very end, produces this soup's silky-smooth, creamy decadent texture.  Shredded chicken, from the stock preparation, may be added back to the soup, or served separately.  My family prefers the soup without the chicken added to it.  At serving time, each bowl is garnished with copious amounts of freshly ground pepper!

PICT3310A bit about orzo:  Orzo is a tiny rice-shaped pasta, slightly smaller in size than a pine nut.  It is a great substitution for rice as a wonderful addition to hot soups and cold salads.  Orzo is used a lot in both Greek and Italian cooking, and I loved it the first time I tried it in avgolemono soup.  Over the past few years, I've developed several very special recipes featuring orzo and plan on having a lot of fun posting those for you too!

The following avgolemono soup recipe is the real Greek deal!

My very close friend and confidant, Jeanne Cocolin, gave me this, her Greek family's avgolemono soup recipe.  Her father-in-law's mother brought the recipe with her from Greece when she immigrated to the United States in the early 1900's.  She settled in New Jersey, married, raised five children and eventually opened her own restaurant.  I will tell you this with all confidence and sincerity:  I've tried versions of avgolemono elsewhere, and, they truly do pale in comparison to this one.  Thank-you Jeanne, for giving me permission to share it!

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2  quarts homemade chicken stock (Note:  You can get my recipe for ~ It's National Chicken Stock Day:  In Mel's Kitchen! ~ in Categories 15 or 22.)

1 1/4 cups uncooked orzo

3  large lemons, about 5-6 ounces each, juice and zest

6  tablespoons lemon zest (from above lemons)

1/2  cup fresh lemon juice (from above lemons)

4  extra-large eggs, at room temperature

2  cups leftover shredded chicken from stock (optional)

freshly ground peppercorn blend

PICT2693~ Step 1.  Prepare chicken stock as directed, or, do like I do, and thaw two quarts of it in the microwave and place it in a 6-quart stockpot. Using a microplane grater, zest the lemons, then, using a hand-held juicer, or simply your hands and a strainer, juice the lemons. You will have about 6 tablespoons of zest and 1/2 cup of lemon juice. If you have extra zest or juice, use it, as it will simply add extra flavor to the soup.

Note:  Zest is the perfumy outermost skin layer of citrus fruit, which is removed with the aid of a microplane grater, citrus zester, paring knife or vegetable peeler.  Only the colored portion of the skin, not the white pith, is considered zest.  The aromatic oils in citrus zest are what add depth and flavor to raw or cooked and sweet or savory dishes!

PICT2692~ Step 2.  Bring the soup stock to a boil over medium-high heat.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and gradually add/sprinkle in the orzo and the lemon zest.  Continue to simmer, until the orzo is cooked through, about 12-14 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and allow soup to cool about 10 minutes. While soup is cooling:

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~ Step 3.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy.  Slowly, in a thin stream, whisk in the lemon juice.  Measure, then slowly and in a thin stream, whisk 1 cup of hot soup stock into the egg mixture.  

Note:  The process of adding some hot soup to the egg mixture is called "tempering".  It will keep the egg mixture from scrambling when added to the hot pot of soup.

PICT2687~ Step 4.  In a thin stream, add and stir the tempered egg mixture into the soup.  Over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly, heat the soup until it is steaming and slightly thickened, about 8-10 minutes.  Do not allow to simmer or boil!

~ Step 5.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside for 10-15 minutes, or longer, until the soup has thickened to desired consistency.  My family likes this soup the best when it is the consistency of loose/extremely creamy rice pudding:

PICT2688To serve, ladle into warmed serving bowls and generously garnish with freshly ground peppercorn blend. This soup is best served the same day it is made, but, it reheats reheats nicely in the microwave or very gently on the stovetop. Because the orzo will continue to thicken the soup overnight, be prepared to add a bit of chicken stock to it the next day. And remember:  Don't allow to simmer or boil

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Greek Lemon, Egg & Orzo Soup (Avgolemono):  Recipe yields 3-3 1/2 quarts (more if shredded chicken is added) or 6-8 servings more if shredded chicken is added.

Special Equipment List:  6-quart stockpot w/lid; microplane grater; hand-held citrus juicer or strainer; whisk; 1-cup measuring container; soup ladle

Cook's Note:  As with most really good recipes, you only get out of something what you put into to, so I do not recommend using canned chicken stock, bottled lemon juice, or, rotisserie chicken as time-saving short-cuts to prepare this very special soup.  Many recipes for avgolemono on the internet list the aforementioned as ingredients, and, perhaps that is why so many people find this soup disappointing.  That being said, if you want to make a vegetarian version of avgolemono soup, feel free to use homemade vegetable stock in place of chicken stock.  Also, rice is a perfectly acceptable substitution for orzo!    

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

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

03/01/2012

~ Roasted Asparagus, Tomatoes, Mushrooms & Feta w/Balsamic Reduction (it's great w/chicken or steak) ~

PICT2693Let the countdown begin:  20 days until the first day of Spring.  Not so fast.  This is Central Pennsylvania and March is notorious for being anything but Springlike.  That being said, just the word Spring makes me "think green":  girl scouts, leprechauns, and vegetables.  Alas, my girl scout cookies haven't arrived yet and my kelly green suit is at the cleaners.  I did, however, find lovely medium-thick asparagus at the market this morning, which, quite frankly, are my favorite:

PICT2694A bit about asparagus:  Look for straight, firm stalks that are bright green in color.  Do not buy asparagus that appears dry, wrinkled or limp.  The tender heads should be compact and deep-green, slightly purple-ish in color, not, ruffled or flowery looking.  To ensure even cooking, always purchase asparagus of even thickness.  While thinner asparagus tends to be more tender, medium-thickness, like I am using today, is perfect for roasting, and, thick asparagus is great when grilled. Do not purchase asparagus unless you plan to cook it within 2-3 days, and, when you bring it home, don't wash it.  Either stand each bunch upright in a glass with about an inch of cold water in it, or, wrap the woody stem ends in damp paper towels and place them in a food storage bag.  Asparagus can be eaten raw or microwaved, blanched, boiled, baked, roasted, grilled and eaten cold, hot or at room temperature!

PICT4653In December I posted  ~ Reducing Balsamic Vinegar:  To create a Savory Syrup, Sauce or Glaze for Dipping or Drizzling ~ (found in Categories 8, 15 or 20).  When reduced, the flavors concentrate and create savory condiment that is wonderful drizzled on all sorts of grilled or roasted meats and vegetables.  It could not be easier to make and a little goes a long way.  I suggest you make some now!

PICT26922  1-pound bunches medium-thickness asparagus 

1  pint grape tomatoes

1/2  pound white mushrooms

4  tablespoons olive oil

1/2  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

5-6  ounces crumbled feta cheese

zest of 1 large lemon

  PICT2695~ Step 1.  To prep the asparagus, rinse it under cold water.  Do not soak it or scrub it.  Holding the stalks upside down, give them a few shakes, to remove excess water and any grit that might be in the tips.

Note:  With the exception of pencil-thin asparagus (which are completely edible), each stalk is structured with a woody end, and, the thicker the stalk, the longer the woody end.  

One at a time, hold each stalk at the base and the tip and give it a bend until it breaks in two. Where the break occurs, is where the tender, edible green stalk will separate from its tough, whitish, inedible base.  Discard the woody ends and cut the edible spears into 2" lengths, placing them in a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish as you work.

PICT2687~ Step 2.  Rinse, drain, pat dry and place the whole grape tomatoes in the baking dish with the asparagus. Remove and discard the stems from the mushrooms. Using a damp cloth or a damp paper towel, wipe the mushroom caps clean and cut them into quarters.  Place them in the baking pan with the asparagus and tomatoes.

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~ Step 3.  Drizzle the EVOO over vegetables and add the thyme. Lightly season with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend. Using a rubber spatula, toss until vegetables are evenly coated with oil.  Roast on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven 10-12 minutes, stopping to stir about half way through the cooking process. Do not overcook!

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Note:  You'll know this dish is done when a few of the tomatoes are beginning to burst open.  While the vegetables are roasting: 

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~ Step 4.  Using a knife, crumble the feta into bite-sized bits and pieces. Using microplane grater, zest the lemon.  Set aside.

~ Step 5.  When vegetables come out of the oven, drizzle some balsamic reduction on a large serving platter, heap the vegetables on top and serve immediately topped with feta crumbles, lemon zest and freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend:

PICT2691Roasted Asparagus, Tomatoes, Mushrooms & Feta w/Balsamic Reduction (it's great w/Chicken or Steak):  Recipe yields 4-6 side servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish; kitchen towel or paper towels; large rubber spatula; microplane grater 

PICT4800Cook's Note:  To try another wonderful recipe of mine using the balsamic reduction I talked about today, just click into Categories 1, 2, 11 or 14 for: ~ Savory Shiitake, Gruyere & Roasted Tomato Tarts ~.  This is an appetizer/snack recipe that no mushroom or tomato lover can resist!

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

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