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15 posts from August 2012

08/30/2012

~ "White Out" White Chicken 'n Corn Chili Burritos ~

IMG_0262Well my foodie friends, Fall is in the air and I for one just love this time of year.  Joe's vegetable garden is slowing down to a manageable pace, the Labor Day weekend is upon us, the college football/tailgate season is about to kickoff, and, kids everywhere are heading back to school. For whatever reasons, every year at this time, these events inspire me to cook up a big pot of chili, and, it was my plan to do just that until:  I noticed I still had two containers in my freezer from last years chili extravaganza, which are presently thawing on my kitchen counter.  So, I changed the gameplan.  I'm using it to make one of my family's favorite Fall football-watching meals:  

Burritos!!!

ImagesA bit about burritos:  A burrito is a type of sandwich found in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.  It consists of a large flour tortilla that has been wrapped or folded around a filling, then lightly grilled or steamed, to soften it and make it more piable.  In Mexico, refried beans, Mexican-style rice and meat (or a meat mixture) are typically the only fillings used.  In Spanish, the word "burrito" means "little donkey", coming from the word "burro", which means "donkey".  As the story goes, during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921), in the El Paso area, a street-food vendor named Juan Mendez sold tacos at his street stand.  Because of the war, for safety sake, it became necessary for him to continually pack up and move his stand/street-cart from place to place.  He began using his donkey as transport for himself and his food.  In order to keep the food warm as it traveled, Juan had the idea of wrapping it in large flour tortillas.  His food invention became so popular that consumers began traveling to him from other places around the Mexican border in search of:

The "burrito", or: "the food from the little donkey"!

IMG_0250Almost 40 years ago, a great and good friend of mine, a beautiful Mexican woman named Toni (Antoinette), who hailed from San Antonio, Texas, taught me how to make burritos the way her Mexican grandmother taught her how to make them.  In her recipe, the burritios are filled, folded and rolled, then placed in a casserole (her grandmother used a clay pot with a lid).  A wonderful, kind of spicy cumin gravy, made using some of the liquid the meat filling has been cooked in, is spooned over the top and the casserole is baked, just long enough to heat the burritios through.  Her recipe is the "knife and fork" version of burritos that my children grew up eating, enjoying and loving!

6a0120a8551282970b0133f563b1e5970b-800wiOne Fall evening back in the mid 1980's my family was eating my ~ White Chicken 'n Corn Chili ~ for dinner. (The recipe can be found in Categories 2, 3, 13, 17, 19 or 22.) During the course of dinner, one of our sons mentioned, "mom, I think your white chicken chili would taste great in those burritos you make". The very next evening, using some of my leftover chili and Toni's method for making burritos, the white chicken chili burrito was born!

To watch my Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV White Chicken Chili TV segment, just click on the following link:

"White Out" White Chicken 'n Corn Chili

IMG_0140For the burrito filling and rice:

6  cups of my  recipe for ~ "White Out" White Chicken 'n Corn Chili ~, found in Categories 2, 3, 13, 17, 19 or 22 

1  8-ounce package Vigo Mexican Rice with Corn, prepared as package directs (Note:  If you cannot find Mexican rice, any type of Spanish rice mix is a fine substitute.)

IMG_0155For the cumin gravy:

2  10-ounce cans enchilada sauce, hot or mild

2  14 1/2-ounce cans stewed tomatoes, undrained

1/2  cup of liquid from above chili

3  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

4  tablespoons ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

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IMG_0158Place all ingredients for sauce in a 4-quart saucepan. Stir together until smooth.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and continue to cook until nicely thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and set aside while assembling the burritos as per the following directions:

IMG_0170For the assembly:

12  10"-round flour tortillas

1 1/2-2 16-ounce cans refried beans

1  8-ounce bag, grated white cheddar cheese (2 cups)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pans

red pepper flakes, for garnish

IMG_0184 IMG_0174Step 1. Spread a generous 2 tablespoons of refried beans to within 1"  of the edge of each tortilla.

~ Step 2.  On top of the beans, distribute a generous 1/3 cup of the rice.

~ Step 3.  Place a generous 1/3 cup of the white chicken chili, in a lengthwise strip, over the rice, across the center of the tortilla.

IMG_0188 IMG_0186~ Step 4. Fold the side of the tortilla closest to you up and over the filling.

~ Step 5. Fold the left and right sides of the tortilla over the first flap and towards the center.

IMG_0196~ Step 6. Roll the tortilla over, so that it is seam side down.

IMG_0207~ Step 7.  Place six burritos, seam side down in each of two 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dishes that have been sprayed with no-stick spray.

IMG_0200~ Step 8.  If you have any leftover rice or chili, stir up to 1/2 cup of each into the cumin gravy.

IMG_0216~ Step 9.  Ladle about 3-4 cups of gravy over the centers of the burritos in each dish, allowing it to drizzle down between the burritos to form a shallow puddle in the bottom of both dishes.

~ Step 10.  Evenly distribute 1 cup of grated white cheddar cheese over the gravy in each dish (1 cup total per dish).

IMG_0220~  Step 11.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 20-25 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted but not browned. Remove from oven and cover each casserole with aluminum foil for about 5-10 minutes, to allow the tortillas to steam through.  Sprinkle with red pepper flakes, plate, and serve immediately: 

IMG_0226"White Out" White Chicken 'n Corn Chili Burritos:  Recipe yields 12 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart saucepan w/lid; 2, 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dishes; soup ladle; aluminum foil; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b015435f6f6ae970c-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my family's favorite, Fall meals, my recipe for ~ Stuffed Peppers? Make Mine Poblanos Please ~ can be found in Categories 3, 13, or 19!

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

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

08/29/2012

~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL Video Segment #32: "Square Beyond Compare": St. Louis-Style Pizza ~

PICT0029Yesterday I posted my recipe for ~ St. Lous-Style Pizza:  "Square Beyond Compare" ~, which is known for its thin, crispy cracker crust and topped with the legendary Provel cheese.  You can find the detailed recipe, along with all of my step-by-step directions and photos in Categories 4 or 10!

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

St. Louis-Style Pizza: "Square Beyond Compare"

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

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

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

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

08/28/2012

~ St. Louis-Style Pizza: "Square Beyond Compare" ~

PICT0035Last week, one of my friends, Seattle-based food and travel writer, Melissa Trainer, posted a link to the King Arthur Flour Company's recipe for St. Louis-style pizza on Facebook.  I've been a fan of Missy for a while.  Besides being a busy mom, she professsionally writes several blogs, and, for a direct link to her personal blog, click onto "Hooks for Cooks" on "My Favorite Blogs" list!

PICT0029I've always been intrigued by the concept of St. Louis-style pizza, known for its thin, crispy cracker crust topped with the legendary Provel cheese.  I immediately printed out the recipe, but, as I commented to Missy, "I want to try this, but, it might lead to marital discord if I serve it to my traditional pizza-lovin' husband".   After a short discussion with Joe, he said, "I've never met a pizza I didn't like... give it a try."  Within seconds, Joe ordered the Provel cheese from:  It's a St. Louis Thing (www.itsastlouisthing.com)!

PICT0003A bit about the St. Louis-style pizza crust:  The most definitive difference between St. Louis pizza and traditional pizza is its super-thin, cracker crust.  The crust contains no yeast, which means it should not be confused with recipes for New York-style thin-crust pizza.  It's made with self-rising flour (which has baking powder and salt added to it) or by adding baking powder and salt to all-purpose flour.  There's a lot to be said for this, because in about 15 minutes, or the time it takes to preheat the average oven, you can have two pizzas ready to bake, and, in less than 30 minutes, dinner is served.  (On a saucy side note, their slightly sweet tomato sauce is traditionally seasoned with oregano, and, the pizza is sprinkled with oregano prior to baking.)  Because the crust is so crispy, when it comes time to eat it, it can't be folded, so, in St. Louis, instead of cutting it into wedges, they cut it into 3"-4" squares.  Also, many restaurants make their pizza in a rectangular shape, which I am going to try today!

Note:  I am not using self-rising flour today.  Why?  It's my thought that the average home cook does not keep this on-hand in their pantry.  I have a bag, but, I'm not the average home cook.  I use enough self-rising flour in the course of a year to ensure that it doesn't go past its expiration date.  Yes folks, because it contains baking powder, self-rising flour has an expiration date!

PICT0005A bit about the Provel cheese: Provel cheese was developed by the St. Louis firm Costa Grocery in the 1950's.  Made in Wisconsin, it's a processed cheese made from provolone, Swiss and white cheddar and sold primarily in the St. Louis area.  While researching St. Louis-syle pizza, I was surprised to read comments from folks who professed their hatred for this cheese. That made me even more curious, and, the moment my 5-pound block of Provel arrived, I could barely wait to try a taste.  Hate?  In my case it was love at first bite!

PICT0016My critique of Provel cheese:  It's a white, slightly smoky and slightly salty tasting processed cheese, with a texture similar to the orange-colored Velveeta.  The second you take a knife to it, you just know it's going to melt to a creamy state!

Without having tried this (yet), I'll go so far as to guess it would probably be a great addition to cheese soups, cheese sauces and cheese fondue too.  I predict you'll see me using this cheese in future recipes on this blog.  As for those who claim you can make your own Provel by combining equal amounts of grated store-bought smoked provolone, Swiss and white cheddar?  Without having tried this (yet), I'll go so far as to say "I don't think so".  Being familiar with the above named three cheeses, and, now, having experienced Provel, the secret is in the processing (which forms these three into one distinct cheese), and, there is no "real deal" substitution.  It is exactly what "St. Louians" (?) claim it to be:  Square Beyond Compare!!! 

PICT0012To prepare the pizza pans:

Using a pastry brush or a paper towel, lightly oil each of two pizza pans with:

1  tablespoon olive oil (2 tablespoons total olive oil)

I'm using one 12" round pan, and, one 13" x 9" rectangular pan today... that choice is yours!

To prepare the cracker crust:

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  tablespoons additional flour, for kneading dough

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/2  cup warm water + 2 additional tablespoons warm water

2  tablespoons olive oil

PICT0014~ Step 1.  In a large mixing bowl, place the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Using a whisk, thoroughly combine.  

PICT0001Make a "well" in the center and set aside the additional flour.

PICT0014 PICT0003~ Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, place all of the water and the olive oil.  Add the wet ingredients to the "well" in the center of the dry ingredients.

~ Step 3. Using your fingertips, begin incorporating the flour mixture, in small amounts, into the wet mixture until a wet, sticky mass forms.

PICT0020~ Step 4.  Using the heal of your hand, continue to knead the dough (in the bowl), giving the bowl a quarter of a turn each time you press down on it, until a smooth ball forms, adding the additional flour, as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to bowl.  This entire process will take about 2 minutes.

~ Step 5.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside 15-30 minutes. While dough rests, prep toppings and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

PICT0007For the pizza toppings:

1-1 1/2  cups pizza sauce, preferably homemade

8  ounces grated Provel cheese (about a 2" hunk of Provel)

1  teaspoon dried oregano

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

olive oil

Ready, set, go!!!

PICT0002~ Step 6.  I weighed the dough and was pleased to find out the recipe yielded 1 pound.  Using my kitchen scale, I divided the dough in half and placed a piece on each of the prepared pans.

PICT0015~ Step 7.  I won't lie, I was scared when I started patting and pressing the dough into the pans.  But, with the help if my nifty mini-rolling pin, before I knew it, I had two, seriously thin pizza crusts!

PICT0018~ Step 8.  I won't lie, I was scared to "over sauce" these somewhat paper thin crusts.  I only used one cup of total sauce between both crusts... if you want to use more, that is your choice!

PICT0024~ Step 9.  I won't lie, I was not afraid to evenly distribute all of the Provel over both pizzas.  After I sprinkled them with some oregano, red pepper flakes and a splash of EVOO... I was quite proud of myself!

IMG_0033 IMG_0016~ Step 10. One at a time, bake on center rack of preheated oven 12-15 minutes, or until, using a thin spatula, it will easily slide from pan onto oven rack and bake until crust is crisp, 1-2 additional minutes.

IMG_0092Step 11.  Using the spatula, slide each pizza directly from the oven rack onto a cooling rack.  Cool for 1-2 minutes prior to slicing into 3"-4" squares and serving.

Post script:  This is the first time I have ever posted a recipe on Kitchen Encounters that I have never in my life tasted or tested 2-3 times... and it is just perfect!

Dare to be square:

PICT0040St. Louis-Style Pizza:  "Square Beyond Compare":  Recipe yields 2 pizzas, round or rectangular, your choice.

Special Equipment List:  2 pizza pans, 12" round, or, 13" x 9" rectangular; pastry brush or paper towels; whisk; 1-cup measuring container; hand-held cheese grater; thin metal spatula; 2 cooling racks

IMG_4206Cook's Note:  For another out-of-the-ordinary, extraordinary pizza experience, you can find my recipe for ~ Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza ~ in Categories 2, 17, or 19. No snacking here -- every slice of this one is a small meal!

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

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

08/26/2012

~ An End of Summer Tomato, Basil & Brie Quiche ~

PICT0015Quiche originated in northeastern France, in the region of Alsance-Lorraine.  It consists of a pastry shell filled with a savory custard made of eggs, cream, seasonings and various other ingredients, such as onions, mushrooms, ham, shellfish or herbs.  The most notable of these savory pies is the famous Quiche-Lorraine, which has crisp bacon bits and Gruyere cheese added to the custard filling.  Quiche can be served as a lunch, brunch or dinner entree, as well as a first course or an hors d'oeuvre!

PICT0012This past week, I have been overwhelmed with tomatoes and basil from my husband's garden. Besides making/freezing a batch of ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~ (found in Categories 8, 12, or 22), I made ~ Orecchiette Pasta w/Basil-Tomato-Garlic Sauce ~ (found in Categories 2, 4, 10 or 14).  Just as I was contemplating making pesto, my neighbor Carol dropped by...

PICT0011... Carol is a great cook and mentioned a recipe she had for a "tomato, basil and Brie quiche". What's not to love about that combination!  

She e-mailed the recipe to me Friday morning, I made it yesterday, and, here I am today (Sunday), writing a blog post about it. Truthfully, it never occurred to me to put Brie in a quiche, and I was somewhat skepical about doing so. I knew it would taste good, I just wasn't sure if it would "set up", meaning:  would the finished quiche slice nicely.  From the first beautiful slice to the last delicious bite, Joe, myself, Carol and her husband Dick enjoyed every morsel, so, without further adieu I share this recipe with you:

PICT0005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

1  pound diced tomatoes, well-drained, about 2 1/2 cups (Note:  I like to use roma tomatoes or cherry tomatoes.)

1/2  cup, lightly-packed, minced, fresh basil leaves

1/2  cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion

6  ounces Brie, 6 ounces after the rind has been removed

6  ounces grated Gruyere cheese

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

3  jumbo eggs, at room temperature

1  cup heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature

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

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

additional Wondra flour, for preparing quiche dish

PICT0002~ Step 1.  Prep the pie pastry as directed.  Sprinkle a thin coating of Wondra flour over the bottom.  Set aside.

~ Step 2.  Dice the tomatoes, placing them on a paper towel lined plate as you work.  Set aside, for about 45-60 minutes, to allow the paper towels to absorb excess moisture from them.

PICT0001~ Step 3.  Dice the onion and grate the Gruyere as directed, placing them in a large mixing bowl as you work.  Add the 2 tablespoons of flour.  Using two forks, toss, as you would a salad, until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated and evenly coated in flour.

PICT0012

 

 

 

~ Step 4.  Remove the rind from the Brie.  Using a half-teaspoon as a measure, add bits of Brie to the Gruyere mixture.  Toss again, until the Brie is evenly incorporated.

PICT0019

 

 

 

 

 

PICT0015                                          ~ Step 5. Add the chopped tomatoes and minced basil to the mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold them into the cheese mixture, just enough to evenly incorporate them.  Be careful not to mash the tomatoes, just gently fold them in!

PICT0026~ Step 6.  Using the rubber spatula, GENTLY spoon/transfer the tomato/cheese mixture into the prepared pastry shell.  Distribute the mixture evenly, mounding it slightly towards the center, but do not compress the mixture down. You want it to remain light and airy (so the cream mixture can drizzle down through it rather than lay on top of it).

PICT0028

 

~ Step 7.  In a 1-quart measuring container, whisk together the eggs, cream, cayenne pepper sauce and white pepper.

~ Step 8.  Slowly, in a thin stream, drizzle the cream mixture over and around the top surface of the tomato mixture.  Go very slowly, to allow the liquid all the time it needs to drizzle down into the cracks and crevasses of the light and airy tomato mixture.  After all the cream is added, the dish will be very full.

PICT0042~ Step 9:  The quiche is now ready to bake on the center rack of a preheated oven for 55-60 minutes.

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

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

Just beautiful: 

PICT0003An End of Summer Tomato, Basil & Brie Quiche:  Recipe yields 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  9"  quiche dish; cutting board; chef's knife; paper towels; cheese grater; two forks; small spoon; large rubber spatula; 1-quart measuring container; whisk; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0147e3c3049a970b-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my Carol inspired recipes, you can find ~ Homemade Boursin w/Parm 'n Pepper Pita Chips ~ in Categories 1, 2, 11 & 20! 

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

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

08/24/2012

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (8/24/12) ~

Culinary Q & A #2Next week at this time we'll be celebrating the Labor Day weekend and getting ready for the Penn State tailgate season.  Amidst all of the recent, negative media attention and press, I'm here to tell you first hand:  Penn State fans haven't skipped a beat!

I would be remiss if I did not make at least one political comment on my blog regarding this, because: This is my Happy Valley community and I love our Penn State culture!

The debacle we are in, caused by one evil man, has been allowed to turn into a train wreck via a cowardly Board of Trustees (which includes PA's Governor), a not so "Freeh" report full of heresay and inaccuracies, and, an NCAA which feels no need to follow any procedures (legal or otherwise).  Now, I might be just a foodie blogger, but it was my community that tried and convicted the perpetrator.  It was swift, properly executed, and precise... no mistakes, no "ifs, ands, buts or ors".  As for the rest of the above-named miscreants in this scenario:  shame on you... each and every one of you BOT fools.  As a mom, if any of you were my child, I would say this to you:  "You might be educated (and wealthy), but your inability (fear) to take a public stand during a time of strife renders you weak and useless.  It is you, some of you acquaintances, who have brought shame upon our PSU family."  As for you NCAA fools, I will say this to you: "Because your institution did not follow your in-place investigative procedures, you've earned a Hitler-esque, insane reputation that all American citizens, college institutions and hard-working people entitled to due-process should be in fear of."  You have ALL earned my total disrespect.  

6a0120a8551282970b013488e4812d970c-800wi************

Well, now that I got that off my chest, it's time to get back to food blogging.  Kitchen Encounters received a really great question from a Facebook foodie yesterday:

PICT0012Q.  Ted asks:  Mel, Do you leave the tails on shrimp?  I always wonder why really good restaurants do that.  Seems like a hassle to me, the eater, to separate the tail during the consumption process rather than the cooking process.  Please educate me!

A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Ted, you are not the first person to find tails left on shrimp an annoyance.  There are three reasons why the tail gets left on, and, only one reason to take it off (prior to cooking):

Reasons to leave the tails on shrimp:

PICT00061)  A shrimp with the tails left on is a much prettier presentation, and, depending upon the dish being served, if there is a chance the diner can enjoy the shrimp whole, it serves as a convenient "handle", especially if there is a sauce it can be dipped into!

2)  As all shrimp connoisseurs know, the last bite of shrimp (located inside the tail), the place where the meat meets the tail, is the most succulent, tasty bite of shrimp!

3)  Peeling shrimp is labor intensive and, this is an indication that the restaurant cares about you, and, is serving you the best quality shrimp in the best way possible!

When to remove the tails from shrimp:

6a0120a8551282970b014e8bba30e9970d-320wiWhen the shrimp are inclusive in the dish, meaning:  the diner needs a spoon, knife or fork to eat the dish. This is particularly important when smaller shrimp are used in the dish!

Enjoy 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 e-mail me directly!

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

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

08/21/2012

~ Melanie's Favorite Way to Skewer & Grill Shrimp ~

PICT0016Shrimp are persnickity.  They must be cooked correctly.  There is no middle ground.  If they are not cooked enough, they are distastefully undercooked and raw.  If they are cooked too much, they are ridiculously overcooked and rubbery.  Perfectly cooked shrimp are just cooked through, opaque in the center, juicy and succulent.  Cooking shrimp to perfection using moist heat cooking methods, like steaming or boiling, where the shrimp are surrounded by moist heat or immersed in hot liquid, is a simple matter of timing, which varies depending upon the size of the shrimp.  In the case of pan-frying or sauteing, the fat added to the pan (usually butter or oil), provides the venue for them to cook, by lowering the heat as necessary, to perfection. When it comes to dry-heat applications, like broiling and grilling... not so much!

PICT0007Technically, you can grill any size of shrimp, but, I'm here to tell you if you want them to remain succulent and juicy, the bigger they are, the better they will be.  I'm using

2  pounds, extra jumbo, 16-20 count shrimp  

Note:  All shrimp are sold by weight, so, "16-20 count" means there are 16-20 shrimp in each pound.  This means I am grilling somewhere between 32 and 40 shrimp today!

My tips for getting the shrimp ready for the grill:

PICT0006~ Step 1.  Thaw the shrimp if they are frozen, peel them, leaving the tails on, then devein them.  Your fish monger can do this for you!

~ Step 2.  Pat shrimp dry in paper towels. The shrimp are going to be brushed with EVOO before they go onto the hot grill grids, and, EVOO will not stick to wet shrimp!

~ Step 3.  Allow shrimp to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.  Cold shrimp cause timing problems!  

PICT0008~ Step 4.  The way to control shrimp once they are placed on the hot grill grids (placing them on the grill, turning them during the cooking process, and, removing them from the grill) is to skewer them.

Note:  If you're using wooden skewers, you'll want to soak them in warm water for 20-30 minutes.  This will keep them from catching on fire!

Poke the point of the skewer through the shrimp where the tail meets the meat, and a second time through the thickest part of the body.  I'm placing 4 shrimp, side-by-side but not cramped together, on 8" skewers.  Not cramping them ensures even cooking!

~ Step 5.  Lightly brush the meat of the shrimp, on both sides, with olive oil.  Depending upon what I am serving, sometimes I use lemon-infused or chile pepper infused olive oil.  I do not season my shrimp prior to grilling.  Why?  Salt drys them out and seasonings burn.  I season my shrimp the moment they come off the grill, then, if it complements the dish I am serving, for added flavor and garnish:  I sprinkle them with some fresh herbs!

When grilling shrimp, the best offense is the best defense!

PICT0017The word "grilling" denotes hot and fast cooking.  I just adore perfectly grilled shrimp, and, as versatile as shrimp are, grilling them is a bit tricky.  Once placed on the hot grill grids, they quickly turn  pink, golden brown and beautiful, but, on the inside, they are (as stated above) distastefully undercooked and raw. What happens next is not pretty:  In order to cook them to perfection, which requires another minute or two, the pink, golden and beautiful shrimp end up gray, blackened and ugly. Now, if you are tempted to tell me to move them to indirect heat, that is even worse because they just dry out! 

PICT0002Meet my grill pan(s).  Diffusing heat means to displace it, or, spread it out, to make more efficient use of it. Nothing evenly distributes the high heat of a gas grill better than a grill pan placed on top of the grill grids.  Since the key to great grilled shimp is to cook them over the highest, most efficient heat possible, without it being so high as to sear it on the outside and leave it raw on the inside, diffusing the heat made perfect sense to me, and, after my initial experiment with it, I never looked back.  Folks, when it comes to perfectly grilled, moist, juicy, succulent shrimp, this is the way to go.  My grill pans are Nordic Ware, they are dual purpose (a flat-top griddle on one side, a grill grid surface on the other), and, they are about 10 years old.  I was pleased to see they are still available on Amazon.com for about $30.00 a piece!

PICT0016Once the shrimp are prepped as per the above directions and brushed with EVOO, it's time to place them on the grill pan, which has been preheated, over high heat, on the grill.  From here on out, this is nothing but fun.  Extra-jumbo shrimp skewers take about 2 1/2-3 minutes per side, or, 5-6 minutes total cooking time.  Remove from the grill, season with salt, pepper and garnish with fresh herbs:

PICT0012Melanie's Favorite Way to Skewer & Grill Shrimp:  Recipe yields instructions for perfectly grilling succulent, juicy shrimp... as many as you want to!

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; pastry brush; grill pan(s)

PICT2719Cook's Note:  I get asked this often: Why do upscale restaurants and shrimp connoisseurs leave the tails on shrimp?  People often complain that the tails are an annoyance. There are three reasons.  #1.  In the event the diner can enjoy the shrimp whole, it serves as a convenient "handle".  #2.  The last bite of shrimp, which is where the meat meets the tail, is the most succulent tasty bite of shrimp.  #3. This is an indication you are being served the best shrimp in the best way possible.  Restaurant chefs and savvy home cooks always adhere to this practice!

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

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

08/19/2012

~ Orecchiette Pasta w/Basil-Tomato-Garlic Sauce ~

PICT0012In the late Summer, when fresh basil and garden tomatoes are plentiful, this is an exceptional dish to serve. I want to say I worked really, really hard to come up with it, but I did not.  Joe and I will be living in this house 16 years come this November 1st.  The very first Spring after we moved in, in 1997, while I was decorating my dream house, Joe was planting his dream garden. Near the end of August, I was affectionately referring to him as "Mr. Greenjeans", and his garden, "the basil and tomato farm".  One afternoon, when faced with an overwhelming amount of both, I decided to come up with a quick sauce, that I could puree in my food processor, in batches, and refrigerate. My intent was to make the sauce ahead of serving it and cook/reheat it the next day.  To my glee, it was so delicious, I decided to toss it uncooked and chilled into warm, buttered pasta.  This was the day I became a worshipper of:

Chilled Garden-Fresh Sauce on Warm Pasta?  Be Still My Heart!  

PICT0009There comes a day in every gardener's life when he/she knows it's time to pick the basil.  Today was that day.  After two days of rain, this mornings sunshine revealed perfect basil.  Deep green in color with large, lush, leaves.  Also, our 12 or so plants are just short of flowering, which means it is time to use it or loose it.  When this happens, in Melanie's Kitchen, I am compelled to cook tonights dinner before resorting to pesto making!

PICT0002A bit about orecchiette:  Hailing from Southern Italy, its name comes from its shape.  In Italian, "orecchio" means "ear", and, "etto" means "small", and, it does in fact resemble "little ears". When made from scratch, small, sliced discs of dough are pressed over the thumb to form an ear or hat shape (and this technique requires another blog post).  I'm using dried, store-bought orecchiette today.  In the event you can't find it, small pasta shells would be my recommended substitution.  Why?  Because both shapes are the perfect vessel to harbor this thin flavorful sauce:

PICT0006For the sauce (this is twice the amount you'll need for the pasta, or, enough for two meals):

3  ounces fresh basil leaves, no stems

2  pounds cored and coarsely chopped ripe, garden-fresh tomatoes

1 1/2  ounces coarsely chopped garlic cloves

1/4  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

3/4  cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the orecchiette:

1  pound orecchiette pasta (small shells may be stubstituted)

1  tablespoon sea salt (for seasoning the water in stockpot)

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  cup finely-grated Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese, for topping

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for topping

fresh basil leaves, for garnish

PICT0003~ Step 1.  To prepare the sauce, prep the basil, tomatoes and garlic as directed, placing them in the work bowl of a food processor that has been fitted with the steel blade as you work.  Add the vinegar, sugar, salt and red pepper flakes.

PICT0004

 

~ Step 2.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses, finely mince the ingredients.  Do not over process. You do not want a puree.

PICT0008~ Step 3. Through the feed tube with motor running, gradually add the oil, in a thin stream, until the mixture is smooth and emulsified.

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~ Step 4.  You will have about 5 cups of pretty, pink and green sauce.  Transfer sauce to a food storage container, cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, thickened and flavors have developed, 4-6 hours or overnight.

Note:  This is twice as much sauce as you will need for 1 pound of orecchiette, but who wouldn't want enough for leftovers the next day?

PICT0003~ Step 5.  To prepare the orecchiette, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add the sea salt.  Sprinkle in the orecchiette and cook until al dente, this brand took 12-13 minutes.

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~ Step 6.  Drain well and return pasta to still warm stockpot and return stockpot to still warm stovetop.  Add the butter, garlic powder, red pepper flakes and salt. Using two forks or two spoons, toss as you would a salad, until butter is melted and pasta is evenly coated.

PICT0016

 

 

~ Step 7.  Cover the pot and let the pasta rest, about 10-15 minutes, until it has absorbed all of the butter and all of the spices.

The warm pasta is ready to be portioned into serving bowls and served with the chilled sauce drizzled on top of it, NOT tossed into it!  Top each with a sprinkling of grated Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese, freshly ground sea salt, peppercorn blend and serve!

PICT0016When I want to turn this flavorful vegetarian side-dish into a main-course, I almost always serve it with freshly grilled shrimp.  While the pasta is resting,  I place some peeled and deveined shrimp on skewers, brush them with some EVOO and place them on a very hot grill pan on my stovetop.  These are jumbo shrimp and they take about 3 minutes per side!

PICT0022

 

Orecchiette Pasta w/Basil-Tomato-Garlic Sauce:  Recipe yields 4-6 side-servings or 2-4 main course servings and 5 cups of sauce (enough sauce for two meals).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 8-quart stockpot; colander; cheese grater; wooden skewers (optional); grill pan (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b0168e81254dc970c-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my "hot and cold" pasta recipes (which is also vegetarian), check out my recipe for ~ Dad's Mac 'n Cheese, or:  What I Cook Just for Me ~ in Categories 3, 4, 12, 14 or 20.  It tastes great with grilled shrimp too!

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

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

08/17/2012

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (8/17/12) ~

Culinary Q & A #2August is flying by and Fall is in "the air".  The oppressive July heat wave is finally over and we are finally able to open our doors, windows and enjoy "playing" outside again. Next to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, I find this time of year the most stressful.  While most of the world around me is buzzing with back-to-school preparations and activities, Joe's garden is yielding produce at breakneck speed:   

PICT0011A couple of days ago, he picked a tree full of plums (hundreds) and apples are not far behind.  That will be the end of our fruit season. While I have all sorts of apple recipes ready to post, I'm working on something very special here on KE for those plums, so stay tuned!

PICT0009Our basil is glorious and tomatoes are ripening as I type. Recipes for these are coming this week on KE!

Kitchen Encounters got one interesting question and one wonderful comment this week, so, here they are (and keep them coming... I enjoy hearing from each and every one of you):

Q.  Geanna asks:  I have recently been given my grandmother's recipe file.  In many of her recipes, she refers to "scalding" the milk.  How do I "scald" milk?  Do I just boil it?

PICT0992A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Scalding milk means to heat it to just below the boiling point.  Many cooks use a double-boiler for this, because it insures that the milk doesn't scorch, but, a heavy-guage saucepan will work just fine.  Your grandmother put this instruction in her recipes because "back in her day", prior to pasteurization, scalding killed organizms and enzymes in raw milk that prevented the emulsifying agents in milk from thickening.  If you are using pasteurized milk, the manufacturer has already scalded the milk for you, which makes scalding milk unnecessary!

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

PICT0012C.  Leslie says:  Melanie, when I saw your recipe for lemon meringue pie show up on the internet I wanted to cry (tears of joy).  This is my dads favorite pie recipe and my mom made him one every year.  My mother suddenly passed away two years ago and if she had a recipe written down, I cannot locate it.  She baked lemon meringue pie for him every year on his birthday.  His birthday is coming up on August 31st and I am making your recipe for him!  Thank you!

PICT0021A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Leslie, you made my day with this comment!  I am so pleased you are making my recipe for him.  I've received LOTS of great comments about it so I know he will enjoy it! (My recipe for ~ My Love Affair w/Lemons & Lemon Meringue Pie ~ can be found in Category 6.)

Enjoy 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 e-mail me directly!

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

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

08/15/2012

~ Happy 100th Birthday Julia!!! (8/15/12-8/13/04) ~

PICT0003

This says it all!  No need for for me to say one more word!

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

(Photo courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

08/13/2012

~ Mel's Ultimate Sandwich Topper: Pickled Onions ~

PICT0011I love onions.  Period.  Rare is the day when I am not cooking with, eating or serving some type of onion. When I go to a restaurant, if I am ordering a salad or a sandwich, I request that "extra onion" be added to my selection.  Because of what I do on a day-to-day basis, rare is the day when I am not faced with some sort of leftover, cooked protein in my refrigerator (beef, chicken, duck, fish, lamb, pork, seafood etc.).  Even when I don't have a fantastic loaf of fresh bread on hand, I make it a point to have pita.  During the coarse of the day, if I find myself starving, a bit of lettuce, a slice of tomato, onion and meat, quickly stuffed into a pita pocket, is a relatively low calorie way to stave off hunger until dinner time!

Pickled Onions are as Easy as "A, B, C"!

PICT0007When it comes time to choose a condiment for my sandwich, if I have pickled onions in my refrigerator, mayonnaise and salad dressings don't stand a chance!

Plus, pickled onions couldn't be easier to make.  I like to use red onions, because they turn a pretty pink color, but, when Vidalia onions are in season, I don't hesitate to pickle them either.  All you need to make basic pickled onions are: thinly sliced onions, any type of vinegar and sugar.  After that, how you spice them is up to you.  The first time I ate pickled onions was in a taco shop in Tempe Arizona, and, they were spiced with jalapenos, cumin and coriander seed.  The second time I ate pickled onions was in a deli out on Long Island, and they were spiced with garlic, mustard seed and peppercorns.  I call mine "A, B, C" onions, because I like allspice, bay leaf and cloves!

August is National Sandwich Month!

PICT0003While perusing Serious Eats yesterday (www.seriouseats.com) I was reminded that August is National Sandwich Month.  National Sandwich Day is November 3rd, and, if you find it odd that Sandwich Day is not celebrated during Sandwich Month, there is a reason for this: National Sandwich Day is celebrated on the birthday of the supposed inventor of the sandwich, John Montague (the 4th Earl of Sandwich who was born November 3, 1718). National Sandwich Month was chosen by the sandwich industry because Americans, who are preoccupied with holiday foods (not sandwiches) in November, are, in August, looking for new sandwich ideas for end-of-summer picnics, the Labor day holiday, and, back to school lunches!

392px-John_Montagu,_4th_Earl_of_SandwichA bit about the 4th Earl of Sandwich:  John Montague, a British statesman during the latter 1700's was a notorious gambler.  It is said that he ordered his food served between two slices of bread so he would not have to leave the gaming table to eat supper.  The truth is, Montague did not invent the sandwich.  He frequently traveled to regions in and around the Eastern Mediterranean, where the Greeks introduced him to pita bread stuffed or topped with meats, vegetables and cheeses. Montague's imitation of this form of eating led to the English naming bread-enclosed convenience food "sandwiches", and, anyone who has ever participated in a late-night drinking party is forever grateful!

PICT0001For the pickled red onions:

1  pound peeled and thinly sliced red onion, preferably into rings

3  cups rice wine vinegar

1 1/2  cups sugar

12  whole allspice

4  whole bay leaves

12  whole cloves

PICT0008~ Step 1. Slice the onions into thin rings, somewhere between 1/8"-1/4" thick.  Tip:  I like rings because they're easier to remove from the jar with a fork!

PICT0003I have a niftly little gadget called The Feemster's Famous Vegetable Slicer.  I bought two of these for $5.00 a piece about 20 years ago and I sliced all of these onions in less than 5 minutes.  I have all sorts of fancy mandolins and super-sharp knives, but I adore my little blue-bladed Feemsters!

I am pleased to report they are reasonably priced and available on-line at Amazon.com!

PICT0005~ Step 2.  Divide and lightly pack the onions into 2, 1-quart, heatproof jars.  I'm using jars that I saved from store-bought dill pickles!

Note:  You can use any size jars you want, but, make sure you have a headspace of about 1/2" at the top of the jar after the onions have been packed into it.

PICT0009

 

 

 

 

~ Step 3.  In a 4-quart saucepan, stir together the vinegar and sugar. Add the spices.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a simmer and continue to cook for 3 minutes.  

 

PICT0014

 

~ Step 4.  Ladle the hot vinegar mixture into the jars.  In the tall jars I am using, all of my brine fits perfectly.  Depending upon your jars, you might have a bit of brine leftover, or, actually need a bit more liquid to cover the top of your onions.  If you need a bit more liquid, just add some boiling water.

At this point, I like to take the time to add the allspice, bay leaves and cloves to the jars.  As the onions marinate, they just continue to add great flavor to the mixture!

PICT0016Step 5.  Set aside, uncovered, until cooled to room temperature, about 2 hours.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, several hours to overnight (overnight is best).  Note:  Pickled onions will keep in the refrigerator for as long as they last, however, I find them at their best if consumed within two weeks... which is no problem in Melanie's kitchen!

PICT0005

 

Mel's Ultimate Sandwich Topper:  Pickled Onions:  Recipe yields 2 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2, tall, 1-quart heatproof jars w/lids; 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; ladle

6a0120a8551282970b015391e844a0970b-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my favorite pickled side-dishes, you can find my recipe for ~ Pretty in Pink:  Pennsylvania Dutch Pickled Eggs ~ in Categories 1, 4 or 12!

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

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

08/11/2012

~ Me & KE: Another Year Older & Better than Ever! ~

6a0120a8551282970b01675fc4e5a1970b-800wiYesterday was my birthday.  Exactly two years ago I pushed "publish" on my first Kitchen Encounters blog post.  For those of you who don't know, my blog was my birthday present from my husband Joe.  This is my 416th post, to date just under 200,000 of "you" (I dislike the word "hits") have visited my site, and, my subscribers and FB foodie friends list grows almost daily (I dislike the word "peeps" too)!

Yesterday, I celebrated my birthday by taping my 30th cooking segment (another happy milestone) for WHVL-TV's Centre of it All show.  I cooked my birthday dinner on TV and enjoyed every last moment of it!

6a0120a8551282970b01348608547a970c-800wiIn the scheme of the blogging world's pie, my slice is small, but, KE is being noticed by some pretty important people, which is gratifying.  The cookbook many have been asking for is no longer on my wish list, it's on my to-do list!

My talented, published, writer, artist, photographer and BFF told me at the outset: "You've got your own style." "Be yourself, be original, have fun, and beware of writers and bloggers who try to 'teach' others how to blog."  Thank you Gary!

~ Bejeweled Brie Torte ~ , my very first KE blog post, can be found in Categories 1, 11, 18 & 21!

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

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

08/09/2012

~ My Love Affair w/Lemon & Lemon Meringue Pie ~

PICT0012Everyone who knows me knows that when given a choice between a chocolate dessert and a fruit dessert I will always choose the fruit dessert.  That being said, if lemon meringue pie is one of my fruit dessert choices, I will choose it every time.  025600007037Even as an child in elementary school, everyday, I picked the Tastykake lemon pie over the two-pack of chocolate cupcakes for my Barbie lunchbox.  Then, when I entered Junior high (this was before in-school cafeteria lunch programs and they let us kids out on the streets of downtown Tamaqua, PA to eat in the restaurants) I would walk across the street to Wenzel's bakery and order two lemon Danish.  I would meet my school pals, we'd sit on a park bench under a tree, and, while they were eating their pizza or burger, I was eating my lemon Danish.

6a0120a8551282970b0168eb7e9a02970c-800wiIn my high school years there was Leiby's Restaurant and Ice Cream House.  It was founded in 1965 and closed its doors in 2007.  It was a family restaurant where kids loved to go, and, as teenagers, a parent-approved hangout.  A lot of my friends waited tables there during the high school years.  While the food was very good the desserts made the place famous.

6a0120a8551282970b0167667cdb6e970b-800wiI couldn't tell you how many "Atomic" sundaes I "split" with friends over the years (a banana split containing 32 ounces of ice cream), but Leiby's pies were legendary.  They were sold out of a "pie room" (containing nothing but pies) and at Christmas, a section of the restaurant was cordoned off just for pie pickup.  My favorite:  Leiby's Lemon w/Mile-High Merinque!

PICT0002When I graduated from high school and was driving to business school, early every morning, 3-4 of us would meet at a little breakfast shop for homemade, seasonal pie, coffee and "study group".  When lemon meringue pie was being featured, that's what was on my plate for breakfast every time.  The reason I give for this love of lemon:  it's either inherited or learned behavior because my dad is the EXACT same way about lemon pie!

PICT0005When I got married and moved to State College, PA in 1974, the very first dessert (besides cookies) that I ever baked from scratch was lemon meringue pie.  That's not to say I didn't know how to bake, because I did.  It just so happens that I wanted lemon meringue pie, and, I had no family heirloom recipe for one. Mine came straight out of the 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking, p. 657, which I bought while I was at home on maternity leave prior to the birth of my son. Everything I cooked from this book was so successful, it just inspired me to cook more!

PICT0003Even back then, at the ripe old age of 21, I was meticulous about neatly penciling in notes, directly on the pages of my cookbooks, to ensure that I would get the result I wanted, each and every time I cooked that recipe.  "Post-it Notes" became available in 1980, and to this day, 32 years later, the same ones are still marking the pages in a lot of my cookbooks... which says alot about the quality of this product!

As you'll see below, I haven't changed the original recipe very much at all.  I wanted more lemon flavor, so I doubled up on the lemon juice and zest, and, I added a touch of lemon oil too.  I wanted my pie piled high with meringue, so, I double that quantity too!

Part One:  Blind-Baking the Pie Pastry

6a0120a8551282970b01538fb34ac1970b-800wi 6a0120a8551282970b014e89a63519970d-320wiThe first thing you are going to need is a 9" pie pastry that has been rolled, fitted into a 9" pie or quiche dish, trimmed and decoratively edged!  

You can find my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee:  Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~ in Categories 6, 15 or 22!

PICT0024 PICT0016The second thing you need to do is blind-bake ("prebake") the pastry. In the case of lemon meringue pie, this step is necessary because the pie filling is precooked, meaning: the finished pie will not be in the oven long enough to cook the pastry. You can find my detailed instructions for ~ How to: Blind-Bake a Pastry Shell ~ by clicking on this link.

Part Two:  Juicing and Zesting the Lemons

PICT0003Step 1.  Prior to juicing the lemons, here's a tip:  If you place them in the microwave for about 15-30 seconds, they will soften up and become juicier!

~ Step 2.  Using any type of juicer you have on hand, or just your hands, one at a time, slice 5-6 lemons in half and juice them, until you have 1 cup of fresh lemon juice. Discard any seeds:

PICT0003

6a0120a8551282970b014e60507913970c-320wi~ Step 3.  You are also going to need a minimum of 1 tablespoon of lemon zest for the pie filling, which is essentially the:

zest from 1 lemon  

Choose any lemon you want, and, just prior to juicing it as directed above,  use a microplane grater to remove the thin layer of pretty yellow outside zest.  If you end up with more than 1 tablespoon of zest, use it.  It will just add extra flavor to the pie filling.  Set the zest aside. 

Part Three:  Making the Pie Filling

PICT00012  cups sugar

8  level tablespoons corn starch, firmly packed

1/4  teaspoon salt

1  cup fresh lemon juice, from 5-6 lemons

1/2  cup cold water

4  large egg yolks, at room temperature, reserve the egg whites for the meringue topping

2  cups boiling water

2  tablespoons salted butter, sliced or cut into cubes, at room temperature

1  tablespoon lemon zest, reserved from above lemons

1/2  teaspoon pure lemon oil

PICT0014 PICT0007~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart saucepan, whisk together the sugar, corn starch and salt.  Whisk in the lemon juice and cold water.

~ Step 2.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.  Whisk them into the sugar/lemon juice mixture. Set aside.

PICT0023 PICT0021~ Step 3.  In a 1-quart saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Remove from heat.

~ Step 4.  Over no heat, very slowly, and in a thin drizzly stream, whisking constantly, whisk the boiling water into the sugar/lemon/egg yolk mixture.

PICT0053 PICT0036~ Step 5. Place the mixture over medium-high heat. Add the butter.  Over medim-high heat:

~ Step 6.  Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, to avoid scorching.  As mixture begins to thicken reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and stir in the lemon zest and lemon oil.

~ Step 7:  Gently pour the pie filling into the prepared pie shell.  Place the filled pie on a cooling rack and set it aside for 30-60 minutes, to cool slightly.  During this time the pie filling will lose its wet glossy appearance and look "dry".  When it comes time to spread the meringue on top of the pie, this "dry surface will help the meringe to ahere to the pie:  

PICT0068Part Four:  Making the Meringue

PICT0004For the meringue:

4  large egg whites, at room temperature

1/2  teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

PICT0009~ Step 1. Place egg whites in a large bowl. On medium speed of electric mixer, beat until frothy.

PICT0019~ Step 2.  Add the cream of tartar. Increase the mixer speed to high and continue to beat until stiff, but not dry, peaks form.  Lower mixer speed and gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla extract, beating until just incorporated.  Do not over beat.

~ Step 3.  Using a large rubber spatula, drop large scoops of meringue evenly over the top of the pie filling.  Distribute the meringue around, while at the same time "fluffing" (pulling the side of the spatula upward) to form decorative peaks.  Note:  Make sure to adhere the meringue to the decorative edges of the crust when distributing it.  If it is not adhered to the edges at all points, it will pull away from the crust during the baking and cooling process:

PICT0036~ Step 4.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 10-12 minutes, until meringue is nicely browned, watching carefully after 8 minutes of baking time, as the meringue can and will go from browned to burned quickly.  Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack to cool completely, 3-4 hours, or longer.  Refrigerate, uncovered, untill well-chilled 3-4 hours or overnight (overnight is best) prior to slicing and serving chilled:

PICT0022My Love Affair w/Lemon & Lemon Meringue Pie:  Recipe yields 1, 9" pie or 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  9" pie dish, or quiche dish; rolling pin; kitchen shears; parchment paper, or aluminum foil; pie chains, or pie weights; cooling rack; cutting board; chef's knife; citrus juicer; 1-cup measuring container; microplane grater; 4-quart saucepan; 1-quart saucepan; whisk; hand-held electric mixer; rubber spatula  

PICT0004Cook's Note:  For another one of my beloved lemon recipes, you can find my recipe for ~ When Life Hands You Lemons:  Make Lemonade! ~ in Categories 10, 16 or 20.  I've been told I make the best lemonade lemon lovers have ever tasted!

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

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

08/07/2012

~ When Life Hands You Lemons: Make Lemonade! ~

PICT0007When I have an excess of lemons, besides an occasional lemon meringue pie, "real deal" lemonade is what I love to make with them.  It just so happens, I have a dozen lemons in my refrigerator right now.  Over the weekend, I hosted a baby shower for my friend Jeanne's daughter-in-law Lisa, and, because the majority of the Cocolin clan is Greek, we served Greek cuisine, which, besides spinach, feta and lamb, is known for is famous avgolemono (avh-goh-LEH-moh-noh) sauce and avgolemono soup (lemon sauce and lemon soup).  Because lemons were part of our theme, we served lemonade at the party too!

PICT0002When I was growing up, my mom made lemonade a lot during the Summer.  Whenever we went swimming, she always packed a large, 1-gallon thermos of it in the car.  She occasionally added fresh orange juice to hers, in place of some of the fresh lemon juice, which takes some of the tartness out of it, and, is a nice change-of-pace.  I watched her make it a million times and it is not rocket science.  Here's the basic formula:

One cup each:  sugar, water and fresh lemon juice +

3 cups water = 6 cups lemonade.

That being said, once you make lemonade a couple of times, you'll come up with your own favorite formula.  If you like less sugar, add less sugar, if you want a less intense flavor, dilute it with additional water.  My favorite blend is as follows:

PICT0002Back in mid-July, I posted my recipe for ~ How to: Make Basic Simple Syrup (Sugar Syrup) ~, which is nothing more than equal parts of sugar and water that have been boiled for about one minute until the sugar is dissolved.  What simple syrup does is guarantee that you'll never have the graininess found in imperfectly dissolved sugar mixtures.  I use it for making sorbets, certain mixed drinks, and, in certain baking applications. I almost always have a bottle of it on hand in my refrigerator!  

My mom never used simple syrup to make lemonade, in fact, I don't think a lot of folks do.  That being said, the day I started using it to make lemonade (instead of simply stirring the sugar and water together), was the day I perfected my lemonade recipe.  Lemonade made with simple syrup requires almost no mixing, because there are no undissolved sugar grains to sink to the bottom of the pitcher!

PICT0002To make 3 cups of basic simple syrup, place:

2 cups of water

2 cups of sugar

in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Adjust heat to simmer for 30-60 seconds. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature and transfer, via a funnel, to a 1-quart measuring container, bottle or mason jar. Stored in the refrigerator, simple syrup keeps indefinitely!

PICT0005For the lemonade:

1 1/2  cups simple syrup, or:

3/4  cup sugar mixed with 3/4 cup water

1  cup fresh lemon juice, from 5-6 lemons

3 1/2  cups cold water

1/2  teaspoon pure lemon oil 

lemon slices, for garnish (optional)

mint leaves, for garnish (optional)

 ~ Step 1.  Prepare the simple syrup as directed above and place 1 1/2 cups of it in a 2-quart pitcher, or, stir 3/4 cup of sugar and 3/4 cup of water together in a 2-quart pitcher.  Set aside.

PICT0002~ Step 2.  Prior to juicing the lemons, here's a tip:  if you place them in the microwave for about 15-30 seconds, they will soften up and become juicier!

PICT0003~ Step 3. Using any type of juicer you have on hand, or just your hands, one at a time, slice the lemons in half and juice them, until you have 1 cup of fresh lemon juice. Make sure to discard any seeds.

PICT0003 PICT0001~ Step 4. Add 3 1/2 cups of cold water to the sugar syrup. Stir.

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Step 5.  Add the 1 cup of lemon juice to the pitcher along with the 1/2 teaspoon lemon oil.  Stir.

Note:  You can skip the lemon oil if you don't have it, but, like using the simple syrup for the best consistency, lemon oil produces extraordinary, true-lemon flavor. That being said, I do not recommend the harsh taste of lemon extract as a substitute for lemon oil!  

Everyone always tells me I make the best lemonade they ever tasted, and, now you know my secrets!

PICT0004When Life Hands You Lemons: Make Lemonade!:  Recipe yields 6 cups of lemonade.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan (optional); 2-quart pitcher; microwave (optional); citrus juicer (optional); knife

6a0120a8551282970b016302614856970d-800wiCook's Note:  If life hands you lemons, you might also want to try my ~ Greek Lemon, Egg & Orzo Soup (Avgolemono) ~, which I learned how to make from my friend Jeanne Cocolin!  You can find it by clicking into Category 2.

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

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

08/05/2012

~ It's a Girl! A Pretty in Pink, Greek, Baby Shower!!! ~

PICT0017A few months ago, my best friend Jeanne gleefully told me she was going to be a first time Grandma.  I knew she'd been secretly "keeping her fingers crossed" for this news for quite a while...  ever since her son Tom married her daughter-in-law Lisa four years ago (in May)!

Over the past fifteen years, Jeanne and I have planned and organized all sorts of events together, and, when she and her daughter Katie started to make plans to give Lisa a baby shower, it just made sense for me to offer to let them have it in my home, for two reasons: Jeanne's like family to me, and, Jeanne and I "know the drill" here.  She's been by my side while I've hosted many parties, a wedding, a 50th wedding anniversary (for my parents), more than a few bridal showers, and, one baby shower when I was about to become a grandma too!

PICT0012About two months ago, Katie, Jeanne and I sat down on my deck and came up with a plan.  We knew we were having a baby girl,  Katie had a guest list in hand, a firm date of August 4th, and, invitations ready to send.  We also knew that other baby showers were being planned for Lisa, so, we decided that since the Cocolin clan is Greek, we'd serve Greek food PICT0002and chose pink and lemon yellow as our colors!

First things first, and, that would be deciding what beverages to serve:

~ It's Time for Mel's "Big Pink Drink" ~ (found in Categories 10, 11, 16 or 17), is a signature recipe of mine and we decided to add some raspberries and serve them in a punch bowl, alongside pitchers of lemonade and carafes of white wine, in pretty pink stemware!

028When I asked if there was anything special that Lisa might like to have served on her special day, she had just one request:  crab cakes!

I've never hosted a party or attended a party where, if crab cakes are being served, crab cakes aren't the most popular, and, the first item eaten. My advice:  If you want a party to be a success, serve crab cakes!  PS: You can never make too many crab cakes!  

You can find my recipe for ~ Spicy, Miniature Eastern Shore-Style Crab Cakes ~ in Categories 1, 11 or 14!  You can find my recipes for ~ Two "Cocktail" Sauces:  Classic & Creamy ~, in Categories 8 or 20!

PICT0002I almost never serve crab cakes without serving my recipe for ~ Spinach & Feta Cheese Balls w/Lemon-Mint Mayo ~ to accompany them, so, the decision to make these was instantaneous. This easy-to-make, unpretentious little recipe has been in my recipe file since the 1980's and you can find it in Categories 1, 14 or 20!

Is there anything more Greek than the famous combination of spinach and feta cheese?

PICT0020My answer to that question is lamb, and, the same lemon-mint mayo used as a dip for the spinach balls goes onto my ~ Roasted Lamb Sandwiches ~ !

I served my perfectly cooked (pink), thinly sliced, boneless lamb the classic way:  on soft, whole wheat pita with baby lettuce leaves, shaved red onion, cubed feta and diced tomato!

PICT0015Last but not least, I decided to add my refreshing ~ Shrimp & Pasta Salad w/Lemony Garlic Dressing ~ to this festive buffet luncheon.  That recipe can be found in Categories 2, 10, 14, 15 or 17!

If you want to learn ~ How to:  Make an Incredible Edible Tomato Rose ~ for garnish, click into Categories 15 or 21!

PICT0003It was Katie's idea to serve cupcakes and gorgeous cupcakes we served:  tangy lemon cupcakes and rich chocolate cupcakes with soft buttercream frosting.  Katie knew there would be little time for me to do the baking the day before the party, so, she arranged to have these sweet treats delivered to me the morning of the shower, and, she made the beautiful centerpiece pictured at the the top of this post and all of the party favors too!

PICT0022With twenty-two guests scheduled to arrive at 2:00PM (and mommy-to-be just before the guests), we three had everything in place and couldn't wait for the party to start!

It's a Girl!

A Pretty in Pink,

Greek,

Baby Shower!!!

Brought to you by Jeanne Cocolin, Katie Cocolin & Melanie Preschutti! 

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

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

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08/02/2012

~ The "I Can't Believe I'm Posting This Recipe" Post: Spinach & Feta Cheese Balls w/Lemon-Mint Mayo ~

PICT0002This easy-to-make, easy-to-love, unpretentious little recipe has been in my recipe file since the 1980's.  This is not the type of recipe that I seek out, nor is it typical of the way I cook or entertain, but, because I have served it alongside some of my fanciest hors d'oeuves at some of my swankiest cocktail parties, it has earned its right to a blog post!

PICT0009The first time I ever ate a spinach ball was at a Christmas party given by a couple that were in our tailgate group at the time:  Stan and Carole.  Everybody was asked to bring something and an elderly woman named Lucille brought spinach balls.  I remember that she had the pretty green balls arranged around the inside perimeter of a round silver tray with a bowl of red cocktail sauce in the center.  She garnished the base of the tray with a silver bow, and, her presentation looked like a festive green, red and silver Christmas wreath.  I, of course, tried one, and found these two-bite delights charmingly delicious.  What I noticed next, prompted me to ask for the recipe:  the men at the party were eating them as fast as they were being served.  When she mailed me the recipe,  I was stunned to find out it was a simple concoction of frozen spinach, parmesan cheese and prepackaged stuffing mix!

PICT0007Over the years, I haven't changed Lucille's recipe very much.  Once I decided that I liked feta the best, it didn't take me long to develop a easy-to-make, lemon-mint mayo to serve with them, which, kind of turns them into Greek treats.  As it turns out, I am hosting a baby shower for my friend Jeanne's daughter-in-law this coming Saturday.  Lisa is having a baby girl (which is doubly fun because it is no secret that pink is my favorite color), and, because the entire Cocolin clan is Greek, spinach balls are going to be served on my hors d'oeuvre table!

You'll want to make the lemon-mint mayonnaise and refrigerate it for several hours or overnight prior to making and baking the spinach balls, so I'll show you how to make that first.  You can make as much or as little as you want or need.  This recipe makes 1 cup:

6a0120a8551282970b014e611634bb970c-500wiFor the lemon-mint mayonnaise:

1  cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade, or the best available (read my post for ~ How to:  Make Homemade Mayonnaise ~, in Categories 8, 15 or 20)

1  large lemon, zested and juiced, or 2  tablespons of zest and 2 tablespoons of juice

1  ounce coarsely chopped, fresh mint leaves (no stems), about 1 lightly-packed cup

1 1/2  teaspoons Greek seasoning blend

1  teaspoon sugar

1/4  teaspoon each:  garlic powder, sea salt and white pepper (I use a generous 1/4 teaspoon of each)

6a0120a8551282970b014e61163b8d970c-320wi~ Step 1.  Prep and measure all ingredients, placing them in a medium mixing bowl as you work. Note:  Do not add more than 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

6a0120a8551282970b014e61163ffa970c-120wi~ Step 2. Using a large spoon, combine ingredients. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight, and up to 2 days prior to serving. 

PICT0005

 

For the spinach balls

4  10-ounce boxes frozen, chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed free of liquid

8  ounces finely diced yellow or sweet onion

8  large, minced garlic cloves

8  ounces butter

4  cups herb-seasoned dry stuffing mix, the coarsely crushed kind, not the cubed kind

8  ounces finely-diced feta cheese

4  jumbo eggs, at room temperature

1  teaspoon  ground nutmeg

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon ground red pepper, more or less, to taste

zest from two lemons, for garnish (optional)

sprigs of fresh mint, for garnish (optional)

PICT0006~ Step 1.  When the spinach has completely thawed, using your hands, squeeze as much liquid from it as possible.  Each package of spinach will be reduced to about a 2" ball.  This takes a bit of patience, but in the end, you should be able to rake through it with a fork, without it clumping up.  

~ Step 2.  Place spinach in a large mixing bowl, rake through it with a fork and set aside.

PICT0009 PICT0002                                    ~ Step 3.  In a 12" skillet, melt the butter.  Add the finely diced onion and garlic.  Saute, until onion is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes.  

~ Step 4.  Remove from heat and set aside, to cool about 10 minutes. This will prevent the mixture from melting the feta cheese.

PICT0019 PICT0015~ Step 5. Add the butter, onion and garlic mixture to the spinach and thoroughly combine.

PICT0026~ Step 6. Stir in the 4 cups of herb stuffing mix, then the feta cheese and thoroughly combine.

PICT0034 PICT0029~ Step 7. Whisk together the eggs, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

~ Step 8.  Add the egg mixture to the spinach mixture and thoroughly combine.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside, for about 1 hour, to allow the stuffing mix to absorb all of the liquid and soften.

PICT0003~ Step 9.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper.

~ Step 10.  Using a 1 3/4" ice cream scoop as a measure, place firmly-packed scoops of spinach mixture, slightly apart on prepared pan.

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~ Step 11.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4-6 hours, or overnight, prior to baking as directed below, or:

Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for up to six months, prior to baking as directed below (do not thaw prior to baking):

025~ Step 12:  Bake spinach balls on center rack of preheated 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes (frozen spinach balls will take 5-10 minutes longer), or until firm and lightly browned.  Remove from oven, cool slightly, plate and serve warm, reheated or at room temperature. Garnish with optional lemon zest and serve with chilled Lemon-Mint Mayo for dipping:

PICT0007

 

The "I Can't Believe I'm Posting This Recipe" Post:  Spinach & Feta Cheese Balls:  Recipe yields 4 dozen spinach balls and 1 cup lemon-mint mayonnaise.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; fork; 12" skillet; whisk; plastic wrap; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 3/4" ice cream scoop

6a0120a8551282970b016303314609970d-800wiCook's Note:  For another ~ The "I Can't Believe I'm Posting This Recipe Post:  Cocktail Pigs in a Blanket (Pillsbury Crescent Dogs) ~, just click into Categories 1, 2 or 20!

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

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