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15 posts from September 2012

09/29/2012

~ Some Beef Wellington Facts & Some Fiction Too! ~

IMG_2081Two days ago I posted my recipe for ~ My Love Affair with:  Individual Beef Wellingtons ~ and you can find it by clicking into Categories 3 or 21.   I was prompted to post this elaborate and festive dish at this time of year (rather than around Christmas or New Years) because a reader asked if I had or could recommend a recipe for it that he could make to surprise his wife on her birthday in October.  As I was posting it, with all of my step-by-step photos and detailed instructions, I decided to save my usual "A bit about (enter the name of a dish or an ingredient here)" because the history and lore is so lengthy.  I decided it deserved its own post!

IMG_2012If you're into foodie history, like I am, and you happen to be looking for an "original" recipe for beef Wellington, let me save you some time:  there isn't one!

Historians agree that it was named for Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, the soldier that defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.  Some sources claim that the first Wellington contained truffle paste, instead of mushrooms, and, state the filet was wrapped in an ordinary pie pastry-type dough, not puff pastry.  The story I find the most credible comes from The Food Timeline which states:  

"Almost certainly the pastry covering was a mere mixture of flour and water wrapped around an uncooked tenderloin so that it would roast without browning, which was a culinary fad of the era.  In time, the covering became puff pastry.  Then the chefs on the continent, with their oft-noted penchant for lily-guilding, inserted a layer of truffles and pate de foie gras."

1943bThis seems quite reasonable to me, since back in the 18th century, kitchen appliances were often nothing more than a fireplace... which was an almost  impossible to control source of extreme heat. Wrapping a roast in an airtight, edible covering, which would allow it to bake/cook in its own juices, was, for lack of a better word, genius.  A cook or a chef who could present a moist, juicy, flavorful piece of beef would be worth every cent he or she was paid!

IMG_2229Fast forward in time to America after WWII.  Beef Wellington first appeared on page 264 of The Gourmet Cookbook, Volume II in 1957.  In the 1960's, beef Wellington became the "talk of the dinner party circuit", when Jack and Jackie Kennedy served classic "Filet de Boeuf en Croute" prepared by White House (French) Chef Rene Verdon.

IMG_2236During Richard Nixon's tenure as President, he was so fond of it, he had White House Chef Henry Haller serve it at every state dinner!  

Everyone who was anyone trying to keep-up-with-the-Jones at the time was serving this rich, dramatic, expensive gourmet delight at their dinner party.  It defined "refined" and "gourmet" at the time:

Gourmet Magazine proclaimed it to be the "beef Wellington era"!

IMG_2070My love affair with individual beef Wellingtons began in 1980.  I was 25-years old.  To read my tale about this decadent dish, and get my recipe too, just scroll below, or click into Categories 3 or 21!

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

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

09/27/2012

~ My Love Affair with: Individual Beef Wellingtons... ~

IMG_2065... began in the Summer of 1980.  Joe and I had only been married about six months and we were still living in his little (700 sq. ft., 3-bedroom) house on Brookside Drive.  That may sound romantic, but, the morning after I married Joe I willingly (without duress) became a full-time, stay-at-home-mom to three boys under the age of five (two were his, the youngest was mine, and, they all lived with us full-time).  I was 25 years old...

Even back then I loved to cook, and, I've always been fearless in the kitchen.  Joe always says he married me for my taco shells (the first meal I cooked for he and his kids and those taco shells were made from scratch), and, being a stay-at-home mom gave me the opportunity to practice my craft three times a day, seven days a week.  I am also living proof that a cook doesn't need a fabulous kitchen to prepare great food.  We had a stove without a self-cleaning oven and no hoodtop or exhaust fan, a refrigerator that Joe took out to the backyard to defrost with a hose, a single small sink, no dishwasher, but, a washing machine that walked across the kitchen floor with a trail of water behind it if I forgot to put the wedge of wood underneath the front of it!

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?"

IMG_2111It was in July or August of that year, because it was hot, and, we had no air conditioning either. Joe came home from the office one day and nonchalantly mentioned that he invited his boss (also my ex-boss) and his wife to come over for dinner the following Saturday night.  I was happy about this, but, because I knew my old boss had no idea what to expect from his soon-to-be VP of Engineering's new wife (the position I resigned from was the boss's personal assistant), I wanted to wow him.  I wanted to show him I was just as talented in the kitchen as I was running his office.  So, I decided to serve individual beef Wellington's based on a recipe I had recently seen in Bon Appetit magazine (to which I was a subscriber)...

... I spent two entire days making the puff pastry from scratch.  You will not have to do that!

PS:  We four had a lovely evening and dinner was wonderful.  Joe was made VP of Engineering and four short months later we were all settled in a brand new house on Belmont Circle.  I had a new kitchen with a separate laundry room.  I had begun my move up the corporate food chain!

IMG_2081PPS:  Over the years, I tweeked their recipe, making notes each time I made them, until I got a restaurant-quality meal with perfectly cooked steaks and pastry every time.  Two weeks ago a reader asked if I could point him to a beef Wellington recipe that he could make to surprise his wife on a special occasion in October. Yesterday and today, I found a slot in my schedule just for him, and I enjoyed every last bite of this post!

Part One:  Make the Steaks

IMG_1829For the Steaks:

4  thickly-cut, 2"-thick filet mignon, about 8 ounces each, at room temperature

4  tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_1839~ Step 1.  Place the filets on a disposable aluminum broiler pan, the kind with the corrugated bottom. Spread 1 tablespoon of butter over the top of each filet and season generously with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Note: When steaks get turned over on second side (below), second side does not get additional butter.

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~ Step 2.  Broil 7"-8" underneath preheated broiler until very rare, about 4 minutes on the first side, and 3 minutes on the second side, turning only once, or until the steaks reach an internal temperature of 106-110 degrees when an instant read meat thermometer is inserted into the center.  These steaks are at 108 degrees.  Note:  When you turn the steaks over onto second side, lightly season with additional S&P.

IMG_1849~ Step 3.  Allow the steaks to rest in the disposable pan about 15-20 minutes, then, transfer them to an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish.  Cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

IMG_1854~ Step 4.  As for the steak juices? Pour them into a 10" skillet. They are full of buttery, seasoned, beefy flavor!

IMG_1937~ Step 5.  For a more professional end presentation:  After about 30 minutes in the refrigerator, remove the steaks and wrap them tightly in plastic wrap to form oval or round packages.  Return to refrigerator 4-6 hours or overnight.

Note:  Why wait 30 minutes to do this?   To allow the juices to redistribute themselves throughout each steak.

Part Two:  Make the Mushroom Duxelles: 

IMG_1865For the mushroom duxelles*:

all of the pan juices from broiling the filets

1/4 pound very finely diced cremini mushroom caps (about 1 1/2 cups finely diced caps)

2  ounces very finely diced shallots or sweet onion (about 6 tablespoons finely diced)

2  tablespoons port wine, for deglazing pan

*A bit about duxelles (dook-SEHL):  This is an easy to prepare mixture of finely chopped mushrooms, shallot or onion, sometimes garlic and herbs that are slowly cooked in butter until it takes on the form of a nicely browned paste or cream.  Any type of mushrooms can be used, as long as they are fresh, and chefs choose which ones to use depending upon the depth of flavor they hope to achieve!

IMG_1878 IMG_1872~ Step 1. Heat the pan juices in the skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and shallots or onions.  Continue to saute/simmer rapidly, stirring frequently, until mushrooms have lost all of their moisture,  and are beginning to caramelize, about 12 minutes...  

IMG_1889~ Step 2. ... lowering the heat, as necessary, during the cooking process to prevent scorching.  Add the port wine and cook until all liquid has evaporated from the pan, about 1 more minute.

IMG_1892Note:  In the end you'll have about 1/4 cup duxelles, or, 1 tablespoon for each Wellington!

~ Step 3.  Transfer duxelles to a small food storage container, cover, and refrigerate until well-chilled, 4-6 hours or overnight. While filets and duxelles are chilling, prepare the sauce to accompany the finished Wellingtons:

Part Three:  Make the Port-Wine Demi-Glace Sauce

IMG_1894For the port-wine demi-glace sauce**:

2  tablespoons salted butter

4  ounces very thinly sliced cremini mushroom caps (about 1 3/4 cups sliced caps)*

2  ounces small diced shallots or sweet onion (about 1/2 cup diced)*

1 1/2  cups beef stock or veal stock, preferably homemade (Note:  I prefer veal stock for this recipe.)

1/2  cup port wine

1  teaspoon sugar

*Weight vs. Measure:  This recipe is a very good lesson in cooking with weight vs. measure. Depending upon how you slice or dice it, you won't always get the same volume:  4 ounces of very-finely diced cremini mushroom caps = about 1 1/2 cups, while 4 ounces of very thinly sliced caps = about 1 3/4 cups.  I cook by weight as much as possible because it ensures consistency. That it is why I highly recommend that every kitchen be equipped with a kitchen scale!

** A bit about demi-glace: Demi-glace is a rich brown stock that begins with a combination of beef or veal stock and Madeira, port or sherry and simmered until it is reduced by half and coats the back of a spoon.  I'm preparing my demi-glace using homemade veal stock which is perfectly seasoned with the right amount of salt, pepper and thyme.  You can find my recipe for ~ Veal Stock = Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary ~ in Categories 15 or 22.  If you are using store-bought stock, be prepared to adjust/add seasoning to your demi-glace using:  salt and pepper, to taste, and a few sprigs of fresh thyme or dried thyme leaves!

IMG_1906 IMG_1901~ Step 1. In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the mushrooms and shallots or onions.  Increase heat to medium-high and continue to saute/simmer rapidly, stirring frequently, until mushrooms have lost all of their moisture and are beginning to caramelize, about 6 minutes.

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IMG_1909                                         ~ Step 2. Add the port and simmer for another 2 minutes.  

Note:  When you add the port, a lot of steam will be created, so, be cautious.  Don't have your hand or face directly over the skillet.

Add all of the veal stock and adjust heat to a rapid steady simmer.

IMG_1925~ Step 3.  Allow mixture to simmer for 20 minutes (or 18-22 minutes depending upon the heat of your stove).  The demi-glace will be reduced by slightly more than 1/2, bubbles will have subsided, and, it will take on a glassy appearance.

IMG_1930Note:  You will have 3/4-1 cup of demi-glace. Cover and set aside.

Part Four:  Assemble the Beef Wellingtons

IMG_1941For the assembly:

4  filet mignon, cooked as directed above and chilled

all of the mushroom duxelles, prepared as directed above and returned to room temperature about 1 hour prior to assembly

4-5  ounces soft pate, chilled  (Note:  I am using "mousse de foie de canard au porto", or, "duck liver & pork mousse with port wine".)

1 1/2 17-ounce boxes puff pastry sheets (not phyllo dough), thawed if frozen, but chilled (Note:  each box contains two pastry sheets, you will need three sheets.)

1  large egg whisked with 2 teaspoons of water

IMG_1945Step 1.  Remove the filets from the refrigerator, unwrap them and place them on a large plate or platter. Divide and evenly distribute the duxelles over the top of each steak.  

IMG_1952

 

 

~ Step 2.  Slice and place the pate evenly over the top of the duxelles. Using your fingertips, gently but firmly press down on the toppings to make them adhere to the filets. Return plate of steaks to the refrigerator.

IMG_1957

 

~ Step 3.  Remove one puff pastry sheet and unfold it onto a piece of parchment paper with the folds facing you vertically.  Using a small rolling pin slowly roll it until it is about 13" horizontally.  Using a sharp knife, cut the pastry in half vertically.

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~ Step 4.  Remove 2 steaks from the refrigerator and place each one, pate-side-down, in the center of each piece of pastry, as pictured here.

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~ Step 5.  Using a pastry brush, paint the inside edges, along all four sides of each pastry "square" with egg wash.

IMG_1973

 

 

 

 

 

 

~ Step 6.  Lift and fold the side closest to you up and over the center of the steak.  Next, lift and fold the side farthest from you up and over the steak.  Fold in the sides, to form (for lack of a better word) an envelope.  Using your fingertips, gently press down on all seams to ensure a tight seal.

IMG_1985~ Step 7.  Lift each steak up, flip it over and pull the left and right edges down and under the steak. Place the steaks, seam side down on a 17 1/2" x 11 1/2" baking pan lined with parchment paper.

Place steaks/pan in refrigerator and repeat entire process, starting with a clean sheet of parchment paper, with remaining two steaks.  Return pan of all four steaks to refrigerator.

IMG_1990~ Step 8. On yet another fresh sheet of parchment paper, unroll a third sheet of pastry.  Using a paring knife, cut out some randon decorations to guild the top of your Wellington's.  I personally, like to carve out a few free-form, easy-to-make leaves and vines.

IMG_1999~ Step 9. Remove steaks from refrigerator and brush entire surface of all with egg wash.

IMG_2012~ Step 10.  Apply your decorations to the wet surface of each  pastry-covered steak in any manner you wish.  Once you've applied them, using your fingertips gently press them down. Using a pastry brush and a light touch, dab them with some egg wash too.

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~ Step 11.  Bake on center rack of preheated 425 degree oven, 24-26 minutes, or until an internal temperature of 130-135 degrees is reached.  This will achieve rare to medium-rare filets after carryover heat continues to cook them.

~ Step 12.  Remove from oven and allow to rest, about 15 minutes, prior to slicing and serving with a puddle of warm port-wine demi-glace  ladled underneath each:

IMG_2070Tip from Mel:  Inside each of these lovely filet-filled packages will be some excess meat juices.  To ensure a beautiful presentation (as pictured below), one-at-a-time, place each Wellington on a cutting board and slice it in two, to allow the excess juices to run out, prior to placing it on the puddle of warm port-wine demi-glace (as pictured below)!

IMG_2081My Love Affair with:  Individual Beef Wellingtons:  Recipe yields 4 servings and 3/4-1 cup of sauce.

Special Equipment List:  11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; paring knife; instant-read meat thermometer; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish w/lid; plastic wrap; 10" skillet; cutting board; chef's knife; fork; ; 4,  17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheets of parchment paper; small rolling pin; pastry brush; 17 1/2" x 21 1/2" baking pan; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b0147e2217d55970b-800wiCook's Note: Want an easier way to prepare an impressive filet mignon dinner that won't take all day?  You can find my recipe for ~ T.G.I. Five-Minute Filet Mignon w/a Cremini Saute ~ in Categories 2, 20, or 21!

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

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

09/25/2012

~ A Creamy, Weeknight Beef Stroganoff Casserole ~

IMG_2219Fall is a beautiful time here in Happy Valley, especially when the leaves begin to turn color. Today is not such a day.  It is dark, cold, windy and raining.  My natural foodie instincts have kicked in:  I want to watch old movies on the kitchen TV (Goodfellas is on), pour a G&T (or three), relax, and, cook something really warm, super-easy and yummy for dinner.  I have no intention of going to the grocery story for ingredients either, so it has got to come out of my refrigerator and pantry.

What's my "go-to" source for super-easy, yummy recipes?

A few years back, my nextdoor neighbor Gabriella asked me if I would complile her mother's recipes into a small cookbook.  Gabriella's mother, Gizella, had recently passed away and she wanted to give the books to family members for Christmas.  I had had the pleasure of meeting Gizella on several occasions.  Besides being a lovely woman, she was a wonderful cook, and, was always willing to share a recipe with me.  Over the years, Gabriella and her husband Bill have invited Joe and I for dinner many times.  More often than not, when one of us is complimenting the cook,  Gabby will say, "this is another one of my mom's easy recipes.

I had a great time putting that book together (and I learned a lot too).  Gizella and her husband Tibor immigrated to the USA from Hungary after WWII and settled in Connecticut, where Tibor started his own business.  Gizzella's collection of recipes (150-200), to my surprise, was completely eclectic. There were a few classic Hungarian dishes (written in her hand), but, many were clipped from the pages of magazines and newspapers.  After she clipped them, she had rewritten them, duly noting the changes (improvements) she had made to each one.  What they did all have in common was:  they really were all, tested, delicious and easy.

A Stroganoff recipe using ground beef?  Really?

IMG_2218Well, that's what I thought too. Coming from Russian heritage, I'm used to Stroganoff being:  An expensive, time-consuming dish made from thinly-sliced beef tenderloin, onions, mushrooms and carrots sauteed in butter, combined with a rich sour cream and wine sauce, served over homemade egg noodles.  Like many of Gizella's recipes, this is her '50's era spin on a classic dish, using inexpensive cuts of meat, and '50's era pantry staples, like Kitchen Bouquet, which is a gluten-free, vegetable-based browning and seasoning sauce.

You betcha -- and it's delish! 

IMG_2114

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4  tablespoons salted butter

3  pounds extra-lean ground beef (93/7)

1  pound diced yellow or sweet onion

1  pound diced carrot

1  pound sliced white button mushroom caps

1 1/2  teaspoons dried thyme leaves

1 1/2  teaspoons garlic powder

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

4  cups beef broth

4  tablespoons Kitchen Bouquet Browning & Seasoning Sauce

4  firmly-packed tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/2 cup water

1  12-ounce bag wide egg noodles, uncooked

1  cup sour cream

additional sour cream, for dolloping on each bowl

parsley, for garnish

IMG_2123 IMG_2120~ Step 1.  In a 14" chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the ground beef, onions, carrots and mushrooms.  Season with the dried thyme leaves, garlic powder, sea salt and black pepper. Using a large spoon or spatula, stir until ingredients are thoroughly combined.

IMG_2129 IMG_2127~ Step 2. Adjust heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until meat has lost all of its color, is steamed through, and carrots are softening nicely, about 30 minutes.  

Note:  There will be about 1/4" of liquid/juices in bottom of the pan -- that's what you want.

IMG_2141 IMG_2142~ Step 3. Add the beef stock, followed by the Kitchen Bouquet.

Stir to combine all ingredients and adjust heat to a steady simmer.

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Note:  Taste and adjust seasoning, adding a bit more salt and/or pepper, only if necessary. 

~ Step 4.  In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, thoroughly combine/whisk the cornstarch and water until smooth and drizzly.

IMG_2158~ Step 5. Return to a gentle but steady simmer and allow to cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, to give the cornstarch time to work its magic.

Note:  It's important to know that cornstarch will not thicken any mixture until it comes to a simmer.

IMG_2171 IMG_2160~ Step 6. Add all of the noodles and stir to thoroughly combine.  Bring to a boil stirring constantly.  Adjust heat to a slow but steady simmer.

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~ Step 7.  Cover the pan and continue to simmer very gently for about 12-15 minutes, stirring frequently.  

IMG_2177Turn the heat off and allow the mixture to sit, covered, for another 12-15 minutes, for the noodles to absorb most of the remaining liquid, stirring occasionally.

IMG_2190 IMG_2187 ~ Step 8. Add the sour cream.  Stir to thoroughly combine, until the mixture is uniform in color.

Cover and let sit for another 12-15 minutes, to allow mixture to absorb all of the tangy sour cream flavor. Portion into bowls and serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprig of fresh parsley on each.

Simply.  Amazing.  Comfort. Food. 

IMG_2201A Creamy, Weeknight Beef Stoganoff Casserole:  Recipe yields about 10, 2- cup servings. This might sound like a lot, but if you pack a lunch and have a microwave in your office, leftovers make a great lunch.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon or spatula; 1-cup measuring container; fork

6a0120a8551282970b014e86a75acc970d-800wiCook's Note:  To try my family's traditional recipe for ~ Veal Stoganoff Casserole ~, which will require a bit more time and effort on your part, just click into Categories 3, 12 or 19.

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

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

09/23/2012

~ Tomatoes au Gratin: Scalloped Tomato Casserole ~

IMG_1801The sun has set on Summer and now it's officially Fall!

IMG_1588On Thursday we harvested Summer's last gasp... our final basket of tomatoes from Joe's garden.  These are the big round, eating kind, not the small, elongated Roma or plum tomatoes (which have all been dutifully processed into sauce).  Because tomatoes are my all-time favorite Summer thing to eat, I'm determined to make use of each and every one of these beauties before bidding a sad and hearfelt farewell!

IMG_1655On Friday I posted my recipe for ~ Baked Tomato, Jasmine Rice & Panko Casserole ~, which can be found in Categories 4, 14 or 20. IMG_1683This yummy casserole made short work of 8 of the biggest beefsteak-type tomatoes in the basket.  Today I'm going to use up a bunch of  the medium-sized ones!

What makes this dish "au gratin"?  

IMG_1690A bit about gratins:  The French word "gratin" is derived from the English word "grate" and means to scratch or scrape.  Back in the 16th century, it referred to the crusty part of any cooked food that stuck to the side of a pot or pan and had to be scraped ("gratte") loose so as not to waste it.  The term "gratin" refers to both the food being prepared as well as the dish in which it is being cooked.  Gratins can be baked in large or individual quantities, but in either case, they require a wide, shallow dish.  The food being cooked is usually cooked slowly in a liquid (such as milk, cream, wine, or stock), which results in the top developing a crisp, golden brown crust!

The "gratin effect" can also be achieved by sprinkling dried breadcrumbs, cheese, or, a combination of both over the food to produce the signature golden top.  When this is done, the dish is referred to as a "gratine" or an "au gratin"!

Who put the word "scallop" in the tomatoes au gratin?

Well, we Americans did, BUT, in the case of the dish I am making today it is a complete misuse of the word.  The only reason I used it in the title is because "out there" in cyberspace, everyone seems to be referring to recipes similar to this one as "scalloped".  Now here this all you foodies: The French word for layering verly thinly sliced food in a casserole then baking it in a cream or a creamy sauce is "escalope", which is where we got the American verb "scallop".  It's applicable in cases like potatoes au gratin, or, scalloped potatoes, but certainly not in this recipe, because: the tomatoes are not thinly sliced, nor, are they cooked in any liquid over any length of time!

Tomatoes au Gratin:  Scalloped Tomato Casserole:

IMG_1697For the croutons:

3 cups fresh bread cubes, 1/2"-3/4" diced, cut from a firm-textured loaf of French bread that has had all crust removed from it (Note:  I used 1/2 of the 1-pound loaf pictured above.)

8  tablespoons salted butter (1 stick)

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

For the tomatoes and au gratin casserole:

2 1/2  pounds tomatoes, cored and cut into 3/4" chunks

3  tablespoons brown sugar

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/2 cup chiffonade of fresh basil, lightly packed

1  cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzing over finished portions (optional)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing au gratin dish

IMG_1711~ Step 1.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Stir in the garlic powder and white pepper. Note:  I prefer the taste of croutons made using butter over those made with EVOO, but feel free to make make that substitution.  Also, I like my croutons seasoned and I find that garlic powder and white pepper gives them a great flavor boost.  By all means, season them with any kind of pepper you want!

IMG_1716~ Step 2.  Add all of the bread cubes to the pan.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Using a large nonstick spoon or spatula, gently stir and toss the bread cubes constantly, until golden brown, about 5-6 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow croutons to cool slightly in the pan, about 10-15 minutes, to allow carryover heat to continue to crisp them.  While croutons are cooling and crisping:

IMG_1722~ Step 3.  Using a small paring knife, cut around and remove the top core from all of the tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes into chunks, as directed above, and placeing them in a large bowl as you work.  

~ Step 4.  Add the brown sugar, sea salt and black pepper.  Using a large spoon or rubber spatula, gently toss to combine.

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~ Step 5.  Return the skillet of cooled croutons to stovetop over medium-high heat.  Add the tomatoes, along with any and all juices in the bowl.

IMG_1728~ Step 6. Using a large nonstick spoon or spatula, toss to thoroughly combine ingredients.

IMG_1740~ Step 7.  Continue to cook/simmer rapidly, for 4-5 minutes.  Croutons will have absorbed a lot of the juices and there will be just a thin wet coating left in bottom of pan.

IMG_1743~ Step 8. Turn off heat and stir in the basil.

IMG_1758~ Step 9. Transfer mixture to a shallow 1 1/2-quart (6 cup) au gratin or casserole dish that has been sprayed with no-stick spray. Distribute the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano evenly over all.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 35-40 minutes, or until bubbling around sides and lightly browned on top.

Allow to cool until it sets up a bit, about 20-30 minutes prior to serving.  After that, what you serve it with is up to you.  If you want to keep it vegetarian, it goes without saying you can serve it alongside a nice piece of fish or a even some tofu.  For me, scooping some atop a good steak is a party in my carnivorous mouth: 

IMG_1763Tomatoes au Gratin:  Scalloped Tomato Casserole:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; large nonstick spoon or spatula; paring knife; 1 1/2-quart au gratin or casserole dish

6a0120a8551282970b0168e9aeb54c970c-800wiCook's Note:  My recipe for ~ Perfect Potatoes au Gratin (Scalloped Potatoes) ~, can be found in Category 4!

This recipe demonstrates the true meaning of the the word(s) "au gratin" and "scalloped":  very thinly sliced potates in a cream sauce with a golden brown cheese topping!

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

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

09/21/2012

~ Baked Tomato, Jasmine Rice & Panko Casserole (My Secret Ingredient? White Balsamic Vinaigrette!) ~

IMG_1683Tomorrow is the first day of Fall and I just spent the morning harvesting what will be my last basket of tomatoes from Joe's garden.  I won't lie.  For me, tomatoes, the big round juicy kind, are my favorite Summer thing to eat and this was a banner year for them here in Central PA.  Since mid-July, I've been eating 1-2-3 of them every day for lunch, sometimes sliced with salt and pepper, other days, on a salad or in a sandwich.  I'm genuinely going to be sorry to see them go!

IMG_1583Because this last basket is quite substantial (our vines just didn't want to quit this year), I've decided to spend the weekend posting two of my favorite tomato casserole recipes to make use of these beauties.  Today's recipe, which is really easy to make, is one of my favorites, and, I particulary love it served alongside a thick piece of broiled white fish (like haddock)!

IMG_1655The thing I like the most about this side-dish casserole, besides how great it tastes, is: while it is a very good way to use up more than a few garden tomatoes, eight nice big ones that are still at their peak (like I am doing today), it is also a great recipe to have on hand to enhance the flavor of lack-luster store-bought tomatoes during the upcoming Winter months!

PICT0003For the basic white balsamic vinaigrette:

1  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/2  cup vegetable oil

1/2  cup sugar

2  tablespoons Dijon mustard

~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup food storage container with a tight-fitting lid, place all ingredients.  Vigorously shake until thoroughly combined.

PICT1176~ Step 2.  To vinaigrette, add:  2 tablespoons Italian seasoning blend

PICT1182For the rice mixture & topping:

3  cups uncooked jasmine rice

6  tablespoons salted butter

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

2  teaspoons lemon-pepper seasoning 

1  cup panko breadcrumbs

~ Step 1.  Using measuring cup that comes with rice steamer add 3 cups of rice to steamer.  Using same cup to measure, add 3 1/2 cups of water.  Stir.  Turn on, to steam.

PICT1189~ Step 2.  When rice is steamed. Slice the butter into pieces and add it to the hot rice.  Using a large spoon, gently stir until butter is melted and rice is coated in melted butter.

PICT1200~ Step 3. Add the diced tomatoes and lemon-pepper seasoning.  Gently but thoroughly combine ingredients.  Set aside.

IMG_1595For the tomatoes & assembly:

8  large beefsteak-type tomatoes

~ Step 1.  Cut a thin slice off the bottom of each tomato then cut each tomato into 3, 1/2"-thick slices. Place 12 slices in the bottom of a casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.

IMG_1602 IMG_1606~ Step 2. Vigorously shake the vinaigrette and drizzle 4-6 tablespoons evenly over the tomatoes, just enough to form a very thin puddle in the bottom of the caserole dish.  Hesitant about adding vinaigrette to a tomato and rice casserole?  Trust me, it is luscious... a perfect flavor boost!

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IMG_1609~ Step 3. Spoon and spread the rice mixture evenly over the top of the tomatoes. Do not pack the rice mixture down. Keep it light and fluffy.

~ Step 4.  Arrange the remaining 12 slices of tomatoes over the top of the rice and drizzle them with 4-6 more tablespoons of vinaigrette.

IMG_1631 IMG_1627~ Step 5. Evenly distribute 1 cup of panko breadcrumbs over all.  Use your fingertips to spread the panko around in such a manner that the rice, as well as the tomatoes, is covered with breadcrumbs.

~ Step 6.  Bake on center rack of 350 degree oven 40-45 minutes, or until lightly browned and bubbly.

Remove from oven and set aside to rest, about 15-30 minutes, to allow juices to redistribute, prior to serving warm (with additional vinaigrette to drizzle on top of each serving) at tableside: 

IMG_1675Baked Tomato, Jasmine Rice & Panko Casserole (My Secret Ingredient? White Balsamic Vinaigrette!):  Recipe yields 12 hearty side-servings and 2 total cups of vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; electric rice steamer; large spoon; cutting board; chef's knife; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dish 

6a0120a8551282970b016304f9d4bd970d-800wiCook's Note:  To learn my method for baking haddock, check out my recipe for ~ Baked Haddock w/Nicoise Sauce & Saffron Rice + (Tips & Techniques for Handling Frozen Fish Fillets) ~ in Categories 3, 14, 15, 19, or 20.  Don't turn your nose up at my frozen haddock! 

Happy first day of Fall to you all!!!

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

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

09/20/2012

~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL Video Segment #31: Old-Fashioned Chicken Stew w/Puff Pastry Crust... "Pot Pie"! (+ the Difference Between Soup & Stew) ~

6a0120a8551282970b017d3c2c9d67970c-800wiYesterday I posted my recipe for ~ Old-Fashioned Chicken Stew w/Puff Pastry Crust... "Pot Pie"! (+ The Difference Betweet Soup & Stew)~.  This meal is the quintessential meaning of comfort food.  You can find the detailed recipe, with all of my step-by-step directions and photos in Categories 2, 3, 17 or 19!

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

Old Fashioned Chicken Stew w/Puff Pastry Crust..."Pot Pie"! (+The Difference Between Soup & Stew)

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)

09/19/2012

~ Old-Fashioned Chicken Stew w/Puff Pastry Crust... "Pot Pie"! (+ The Difference Between Soup & Stew) ~

IMG_1491As you pretty much all know, I am a gal from Pennsylvania, born and raised here, who has never lived outside of the state.  I come from a long-line of great cooks and I learned my material by good, old-fashioned, hands-on training.  Growing up in Eastern PA, which has a large Pennsylvania Dutch community, I grew up eating what they believe to be the "real" pot pie: A brothy, sometimes thickened, beef, chicken, ham or turkey and vegetable soup with either large, square-cut egg noodles added to it, or, freeform balls of a flour and shortening mixture dropped into it.  It is delicious.  In some parts of the USA, the latter of these two is referred to as chicken and dumplings.  When I moved to Central PA, where we have a large Amish influence, I was introduced to what they believe to be the "real" pot pie:  A thick, creamy casserole of baked beef, chicken, ham or turkey stew topped with dollops of biscuit-type dough.  It too is delicious!

Just when I thought I had the great pot pie debate figured out... 

L... there was a period of my life when Joe traveled frequently to Philadelphia. Because I had spent a lot of time shopping and eating in The City of Brotherly Love prior to marrying Joe, I jumped at every chance I got to join him on trips to this city.  It was there, at the City Tavern Restaurant, that I/we encountered a pastry-topped version of pot pie.  On that night, I had "The Tavern Lobster Pot Pie".  This seafood stew was baked and served in a pewter casserole and topped with an elegant puff pastry crust.  Joe had "The Colonial Turkey Pot Pie", which was a baked stew, served in a pewter casserole too, but it was topped with a flaky pie-type pastry crust.  Both of our meals were unbelieveably wonderful...

L-1... thick, creamy and tinged with just a hint of sherry. While pricy (around $35 and $25 respectively), they were both worth every cent spent!

No one-time trip to Philadelphia should be planned without making a reservation at The City Tavern. Renowned Chef Staib has restored this national landmark to its Colonial glory. You can enjoy General Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and, Benjamin Franklin's favorite ales, and take a trip back in history to 1773. When Adams arrived in Philadelphia in 1774, to attend the first continental congress, it was less than a year old. He was welcomed by citizens of the community and referred to it as "the most genteel tavern in America". To experience rich, delicious, Founding Foodie fare... The City Tavern!  What a delight!

Want to develop or re-create a favorite pot pie recipe?  

Start by learning the difference a between soup & stew!

Soup:  If you've simmered meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables in a pot of seasoned water-, wine-, juice- or milk- based liquid, you've made soup.  Soups can be thin, chunky, smooth, or, if you've thickened it in some manner after the fact (by adding potatoes, rice, beans, vegetables, or, used a mixture of cream or water mixed with cornstarch, flour or eggs), thick, meaning: having a stew-like consistency.  Soups in general (there are exceptions) tend to be refined and light tasting, using shreds of meat and/or small diced ingredients, or, pureed to a thin or thick, smooth consistency.  In many cases they can be prepared in less than 1-1 1/2 hours, and sometimes, as little as 15-30 minutes.  Soups can be served as an appetizer, side-dish or main course, but, are always served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon!  

Stew:  If you've cooked/sauteed your meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables in a small amount of seasoned oil, butter or fat, then added just enough of flour and liquid or thickened liquid to it to bring it to an almost gravy-like consistency, you've made a stew.  Stews tend to be full of chunky ingredients and full of bold herb and/or spice flavors.  Stews are hearty and filling and are almost always served as the main course.  Stews, because they require a longer, slower cooking time than a soup, sometimes 3-4 hours or longer, often in a tightly-covered vessel, are great for tenderizing tough cuts of meat.  Stews, while usually served in a bowl, can be spooned over a starch (couscous, rice, potatoes, etc) and turned into a knife and fork meal!

Part One:  Starting the Stew

IMG_13041/2  cup olive oil

2  pounds 3/4"-thick cubed boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2  pounds 3/4"-thick cubed boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 1/2  pounds chopped onion

1 1/2  pounds 1/4"-thick sliced celery

1 1/2  pounds 1/4"-thick coined carrots

1 1/2  pounds 3/4"-thick cubed gold potatoes

1 1/2-2  cups frozen peas, thawed or still frozen, it does not matter

2  tablespoons dried thyme leaves

1  tablespoon sea salt

1 1/2  tablespoons white pepper (1 1/2 tablespoons = 4 1/2 teaspoons)

1-4  17-ounce boxes puff pastry sheets (not phyllo dough) (Note:  Each box of pastry contains two pastry sheets.  Each sheet is enough to top 2-4 pot pies, depending upon the size of the oven-safe bowls or ramekins you are using.)

1-2  large eggs, at room temperature, whisked with 1-2 tablespoons of water, for glazing pastry (Note:  This will also vary, depending upon the size of the oven-safe bowls or ramekins you are using.)

  IMG_1246 IMG_1236~ Step 1.  In a 14" chef's pan, or, a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot, place the olive oil. Prep the chicken, onions and celery as directed, placing them in pan as you work.  Add the dried thyme, salt and pepper. Using a large spoon, stir to thoroughly combine the ingredients.

IMG_1272 IMG_1253~ Step 2. Adjust heat to medium-high.  Bring to a steady simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is cooked through and has lost all of its moisture, 45-60 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover, and set aside. Note:  During this 45-60 minutes, prep the carrots and potatoes.

Part Two:  Making the Sherry Cream Sauce

IMG_12864  tablespoons butter

4  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

2  cups chicken stock

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

1/4  cup dry sherry

2 1/2-3  cups chicken gravy, preferably homemade*, or:  

2-3  12-ounce jars chicken gravy, your favorite brand*

(I like to use 3 cups or 3 jars.) 

*Note:  Gravy is not an unusual ingredient to add to this type of pot pie.  Since chicken or turkey pot pie is often made using leftover chicken or turkey, and, leftover vegetables as well, our foregrandmothers added their leftover gravy to sauce it too!

IMG_1279 IMG_1275~ Step 1.  In a 3 1/3-quart chef's pan, or, a 10" skillet, melt the butter over low heat and add the flour.  Increase heat to medium-high, and, whisking constantly, stir until a thick but smooth roux has formed.  Continue to cook/whisk for 30 more seconds, just until it begins to turn a pale shade of brown.

IMG_1283 IMG_1282                                        ~ Step 2. Whisk in the stock, then the cream, then the nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and cook, whisking frequently, until nicely thickened, about 5-6 minutes.  Turn off the heat and whisk in the sherry, then the gravy.  Remove from heat.  Note: Sauce can be made a day ahead.

Part Three:  Finishing the Stew

IMG_1324 IMG_1309~ Step 3. Add all of the warm cream sauce to the warm chicken mixture.  Stir until thoroughly combined.  Add and stir in the carrots, potatoes and peas. Note:  If you've prepared the sauce a day in advance, be sure to gently reheat it prior to adding it.

IMG_1344~ Step 4.  Adjust heat to a slow, steady simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until potatoes and carrots are cooked through, 30-40 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside to cool to room temperature, 4-6 hours, to give the all of the flavors time to marry.  Better still:

Tip from Mel:  Prepare stew a day ahead, refrigerate overnight, then return to room temperature prior to topping with pastry and baking!

Part Four:  Topping and Baking the Pot Pie

IMG_1363~ Step 5.  When I'm making pot pie, I use, 6 1/2"-round, 12-ounce, classic, double-handled, oven-safe, cream soup bowls.  When I carefully unfold each puff pastry sheet, this means:  each sheet of pastry will be enough to cover two bowls of soup.

Tip from Mel:  Remove pastry from refrigerator 10-12 minutes prior to using it.  Do not place it on a floured surface (as per package directions). Using your fingertips, gently press the seams/folds flat.

IMG_1366~ Step 6.  Using a very sharp knife, trace and cut desired number of circles of puff pastry, just slightly larger than the diameter of the tops of the soup bowls.

~ Step 7.  Place desired number of soup bowls, slightly apart on a baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.

~ Step 8.  Position oven rack to the center of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees.

IMG_1384 IMG_1353~ Step 9. Ladle or spoon room temperature soup evenly into bowls, to with 1/4" of the top.

~ Step 10.  Cut a 1/2"-3/4" hole in the center of each circle of pastry (I used a small heart-shaped cutter).

Tip from Mel:  This vent allows steam to escape, which allows the pastry to rise better, instead of drooping down in the centers.

IMG_1389~ Step 11.  Using a fork, in a small bowl, whisk 1 egg with 1 tablespoon of water for every 6 bowls of pot pie you are baking. Using a pastry brush, generously glaze the top of each pastry circle.

IMG_1407~ Step 12. Bake on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven until soup is starting to bubble and pastry is golden and puffed throughout, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside, to cool, about 5-10 minutes prior to serving:

IMG_1512Old-Fashined Chicken Stew w/Puff Pastry Crust... "Pot Pie"! (+ The Difference Between Soup & Stew):  Recipe yields 6 quarts of stew, or, 16 12-ounce individual bowls of pot pie.

Looking for another way to bake pot pie to perfection?

IMG_1555 IMG_1529Divide stew between 2, 13" x 9" x 2" casseroles.

IMG_1538Using a knife, cut both pastries into 12 pieces.  Place 12 pieces over each. Bake slightly longer, 40-45 minutes.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight deep sides & lid, or a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; 3 1/4-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides or 10" skillet; whisk; 6 1/2"-round, oven-safe soup bowls; baking pan(s), appropriately sized; parchment paper; soup ladle; fork; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b015390a44c89970b-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my classic Philadelphia recipes, ~ Philly's Famous Cheesesteaks ~ can be found in Categories 2 or 17!

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

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

09/15/2012

~ For Fall: Apple Butter, Caramelized Onion, Filet of Beef & Horseradish Cheddar Crostini? You Betcha! ~

IMG_1224It's Fall here in Happy Valley and that means spending Saturdays in front of several TV's watching college football.  Most of the time it is just Joe and I, but, occasionally, Joe fills his man cave with a few of this friends.  I should mention that Joe's man cave is a very well-decorated bay of our heated garage which contains 3 TV's, a radio, internet service, four comfy director's chairs, a refrigerator, sink, microwave, and, a semi-stocked bar with ice (his gas grill is also strategically positioned just a few steps from the door within sight of the the televisions)!

IMG_0903I love college football too, but I am only capable of watching one game at one time, so I happily relegate myself to the kitchen television, which is only a few steps away from the man cave. When the menfolk gather together, I try not to be completely anti-social, so I make one or two manly hor d'oeuves, and don't mind being their "waitress fairy" for a few fun hours.  In preparation for today's 3:30PM Penn State vs. Navy game, back on Tuesday, I made and posted my recipe for ~ Sweeten Up Your Life:  Caramelize Some Onions ~.  You can find the recipe in Categories 4, 8, 15 or 20.  They are currently coming to room temperature on my counter!

6a0120a8551282970b014e8a53c298970d-320wiDuring football season, everyone just loves a hearty, flavor-packed appetizer, and, I can't think of a better recipe to serve to the menfolk on gameday than this one.  When I think of what men eat, I immediately think burgers or steak with blue cheese or horseradish sauce. Today I'm serving tender, rare filet with apple butter, caramelized onions & horseradish cheddar in a classic Italian way:  crostini.  People always ask me this, so, before we proceed any farther with this post:

What is the difference between bruschetta and crostini?

Bruschetta (pronounced broo-skeh-tah) means "oiled slice" in Italian and comes from the word "bruscare" (pronounced broo-scar-ay), which means "to roast over coals".  Bruschetta is the original garlic toast.  Its preparation is so simple, it really requires no formal instructions. Traditionally, large, thick slices of firm crusty bread are toasted over an open wood fire, rubbed with plenty of fresh garlic while they are still warm, generously drizzled with the finest olive oil available, sprinkled with salt and pepper, then served warm.  They are classically topped with fresh basil, tomatoes and buffalo-milk mozzarella, but, when paper-thin slices of Italian meats, cheeses and vegetables (grilled, roasted or marinated) are added, they can actually turn into a pretty hearty knife-and-fork meal!

Crostini in Italian simply means "toast", which means it doesn't always end up drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic.  Just like bruschetta, crostini are topped with any number of savory toppings.  Unlike bruschetta, they are usually made using smaller, long and thin-shaped bread, like a baguette or a batard.  Crostini are always served as a snack or an appetizer before a meal, or, an accompaniment to the meal.  In the case of both bruschetta and crostini, any size, color or flavor of bread can be used, but, it must be of a firm texture and have a good crust. Light, airy-textured breads should never be substituted!

It's time to make the toasts!

6a0120a8551282970b01539060c3f0970b-320wiFor the toasts I'm making today, I am using 2, 12-ounce batards and 2 sticks of salted butter, at room temperature, the softer the better.

A French batard is first cousin to the baguette.  Batards are shorter than baguettes and a bit plumper, which gives my crostini the perfect surface area for any and all toppings!

6a0120a8551282970b014e8a540a54970d-320wi~ Step 1.  To prepare the toasts, cut each batard into approximately 20, 1/2"-thick slices.

Place the bread slices, in a single layer, on 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.

6a0120a8551282970b014e8a540d5a970d-320wi

 

 

~ Step 2. Preheat the broiler and position the oven rack 7"-8" underneath it.

Spread an even layer of softened butter on each slice of bread (on the top side only).

6a0120a8551282970b014e8a54c737970d-320wi

 

 

 

 

~ Step 3.  Place one pan of bread slices into preheated broiler.  Broil until the slices are lightly brown and bubbly on the first side, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b015390619b3b970b-320wi

 

 

 

 

~ Step 4.  Remove from oven and flip slices over.  Return to broiler and continue to broil until slices are browned on the second side, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Note:  The second sides do not get buttered.

Remove from oven and transfer to cooling racks to cool completely.  In the case of this recipe (because toasts will be returned to the broiler after they are topped), they can be prepared 1-2 days in advance of serving.  Store in an airtight container or cover with plastic wrap.

It's time to make the crostini!

IMG_1135

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For every 1 batard or 20 crostini:

20  toasts, prepared as directed above, from 1, 12-ounce batard

4  2" thick filet mignon, about 8-ounces each, at room temperature, broiled, cooled and rested (as directed below)

4 tablespoons softened butter, and, freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for topping and seasoning steaks 

1 cup apple butter + 1/2 cup additional apple butter for garnishing finished crostini

1  cup caramelized onions

1 cup grated horseradish cheddar cheese

IMG_1150~ Step 1.  Place the filets on a disposable aluminum broiler pan, the kind with the corrugated bottom. Spread 1 tablespoon of softened butter over the top of each filet and season generously with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.

IMG_1157

 

 

~ Step 2.  Broil 7"-8" underneath preheated broiler until rare, about 6 minutes on the first side and 3-4 minutes on the second side, turning only once.  Remove from oven and set aside to rest, about 30 minutes.

Note:  I use an instant-read thermometer as a temperature guage and remove the steaks from the oven when they have reached 120 degrees (in their centers).

IMG_1177 IMG_1164~ Step 3. Spread the 1 cup of apple butter evenly atop the toasts.  Reserve the remaining 1/2 cup of apple butter for topping the finished crostini.

~ Step 4.  Distribute the 1 cup of caramelized onions evenly over the apple butter on each toast.

IMG_1204 IMG_1183                                     ~ Step 5. Holding your knife at a 30 degree angle, slice the cooled filets as thinly as possible.  Distribute the meat on top of the crostini.  Pile it high, don't pack it down.

~ Step 6.  Distribute the cheese on top of the meat.  Pile it even higher!

~ Step 7.  Return pan of crostini to broiler and cook until cheese is melted and lightly browned, about 3 minutes.  Serve immediatley with a dollop of  the remaining apple butter on top of each: 

IMG_1209For Fall:  Apple Butter, Caramelized Onion, Filet of Beef & Horseradish Cheddar Crostini?  You Betcha!:  Recipe yields 20-40 hearty appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; 1-2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1-2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling racks; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; instant-read meat thermometer (optional); chef's knife; cheese grater

6a0120a8551282970b014e8a56136e970d-800wiCook's Note:  For another scrumptious crostini recipe, and, the perfect vegetarian compliment to today's meaty, manly one, ~ Mediterranean-Style Roasted Vegetable Crostini ~, can be found in Categories 1 or 14! 

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

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

09/13/2012

~ Crab-ilicious! The Maryland Crab Cake Sandwich ~

IMG_1099As a foodie from Happy Valley Pennsylvania, I'm a bit afraid to post this recipe.  Here's why:  If you've ever traveled to the areas in and around the Chesapeake Bay (Annapolis and/or Baltimore, Maryland, or, the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area in general),  even if you are not a foodie, from white-linen restaurants to roadside stands, crab cakes and crab cake sandwiches are everywhere.  Not only that, if you ask any of the locals where to find the best crab cake or crab cake sandwich, you'll find they are fiercely loyal to their favorite place (and be prepared to listen, because they are going to tell you why), and, you'll rarely get the same answer twice.

Over the years, I've had the pleasure of eating many crab cakes and crab cake sandwiches in Maryland.  I can honestly say I've never encountered one I didn't like.  While they all tasted a bit different, it was the simple similarity of them that struck me:  lots of sweet, fresh, jumbo lump crabmeat with very little filler (usually fresh breadcrumbs or saltine cracker crumbs), a bit of mayonnaise, tangy mustard, occasionally some hot sauce and an egg or two to bind it all together.  Most are fried, some are broiled, and the sandwiches are served on everything from sliced white bread to grilled chiabatta, with lettuce, a slice of tomato and a tangy sauce.

Faidley-s-raw-barNow, back to why I'm a bit afraid to post this recipe.  The last time I was in Baltimore (which was 3-4 years ago) I had what I thought was the best crab cake sandwich I ever tasted.  It was at a place called Faidley's located in Lexington Market.  Founded by John Faidley, Sr. in 1886, this still-family-run business is one of the oldest seafood restaurants in the Chesapeake region.

IMG_1110The crab cake itself was loaded with jumbo lump crabmeat, crispy on the outside, flaky and tender on the inside, and spiced so as to let the crab meat shine through.  It was served atop 2 slices of soft, cottony "Wonder"-type bread with a lettuce leaf and a thick juicy slice of tomato. Besides all of the above, here's why I proclaim this to be the best crab cake:  The little bit of filler that was used was crushed saltine crackers, not breadcrumbs.  I am a lover of saltines in place of breadcrumbs in all fish cakes, so, for me, their crab cake sandwich was love at first bite.  

Note:  I do not proclaim my crab cake sandwich to be better, just pretty darn close!

220px-BancroftHallThis Saturday, Penn State is playing Navy at home in Happy Valley's own Beaver Stadium.  The USNA is a very prestigious institution.  It is the second-oldest of the USA's five service academies and educates officers for both the Navy and Marine Corps. Established in 1845, and located in Annapolis (the capital of Maryland and once temporary capital of the United States), it is full of rich history and tradition. Their mascot is a ram, and I've heard it said their arch-rival, Army, roasts a goat for that annual tailgate.  I wouldn't want anyone roasting a lion in PSU's honor, so, I'm taking the high road.  In honor of all those handsome midshipmen and beautiful midshipwomen, I'm cooking up some Maryland crab cake sandwiches.

For my all-time favorite crab cake sandwiches:

IMG_1000For the crab cakes:

1  large egg, at room temperature

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1  teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce

1/2  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2  teaspoon dry English mustard

1/2  teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1  cup crushed saltine crackers, crushed not crumbs, about 24 saltines

1/4  cup minced fresh parsley

1  pound jumbo lump crabmeat, the best available

corn oil, for frying crab cakes

For the crab cake sandwiches:

8  slices Wonder-type sandwich bread, super fresh

4  large, soft lettuce leaves

4  large, thick, slices of garden-fresh tomatoes

4  sprigs of parsley, for garnish

4  lemon wedges, for garnish (& a spritz of lemon juice)

cayenne peppersauce, served tableside for dipping and drizzling, your favorite brand

IMG_0938~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, mayonnaise, cayenne pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, Old Bay Seasoning and sugar, until smooth.

Note:  This is my favorite blend of flavors, but feel free to taste and adjust the seasonings to suit your palate!

IMG_1010~ Step 2.  Place the saltines in a large food storage bag and seal closed.  Using a rolling pin, process until crushed into small pieces. When it comes to making crab cakes, you do not want fine crumbs.

IMG_1016~ Step 3. Fold the crackers into the mayo mixture.

IMG_1028~ Step 4.  Gently fold the parsley and the crabmeat into the cracker mixture until thoroughly combined. The crabmeat must remain in large lumps.  

IMG_1030~ Step 5. Set aside to rest,15-20 minutes.

Note:  This rest period is important. It will give the crushed crackers time to absorb moisture and soften, which is "the glue" that holds the crab cakes together.  You will now have about 1 1/2 pounds of total crab cake mixture.

IMG_1037~ Step 6.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with parchment paper. Divide the crab mixture into four equal parts.  If you have a kitchen scale, this will be 6-ounces each. Form the crab cakes by hand, gently but firmly compressing them between the palms of your hands. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 - 8 hours prior to frying.  Do not remove from refrigerator prior to frying.

IMG_1065 IMG_1061~ Step 7. Place 1/8" of oil in a 12" skillet and heat over medium-high heat.  Add the crab cakes and fry, until golden brown on both sides, turning only once, about 3 minutes per side.

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~ Step 8.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and rest, about 5 minutes.  

~ Step 9.  Serve atop white bread with lettuce leaves, sliced tomato, garnished with a lemon wedge and your favorite hot sauce to the side (as pictured at the top of this post).

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Crab-ilicious!  The Maryland Crab Cake Sandwich:  Recipe yields 4 large sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  whisk; 1-gallon food storage bag; rolling pin; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; plastic wrap; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; large nonstick spatula; paper towels

IMG_0997Cook's Note:  Don't have the time to make crab cakes?  Too tired to make crab cakes?  Just want a really easy, delicious substitute for crab cakes?  Try ~ Crab-ilicious! Maryland Lump Crab Imperial ~, in Categories 1, 9, 14, 17 or 20!

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

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

09/11/2012

~ Crab-ilicious! Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Imperial~

IMG_0980Back in the early 1980's, a couple in our Penn State tailgate group introduced Joe and I to crab imperial.  Until that Fall Saturday morning, I had never even heard of it, let alone tasted it.  We were at a pre-game brunch hosted in the home of folks I barely knew, and, we weren't even official members of this tailgate group yet.  The hostess served it piping hot in a large, shallow oval dish, as a dip with crackers.  I fell in love with it immediately.  I wish I would have been bold enough to ask for the recipe that night, but, I did not.  I have never made that mistake again.   

IMG_0922Back then I was about 24 years old, and, when I set out to find a recipe, I was shocked to find out that my beloved Joy of Cooking did not contain a recipe for crab imperial. How could a recipe with the word "imperial" in it been overlooked by Ms. Rombauer.  So, I let if fall by the wayside.  (FYI:  Back in those days, there was no internet, and, no Food Network either.)   Then, a few years later, I came across a small book called The Chesapeake Bay Crab Cookbook, which was being sold locally at the seafood counter of our O.W. Houts & Sons grocery store/butcher shop.  To my glee, between pages 69 and 71, there were five recipes to choose from, and, it was from these I came up with my version of crab imperial.

IMG_0997A bit about crab imperial:  It's a classic American dish made by combining crabmeat with a flour-based white sauce or mayonnaise.  Traditionally it is spooned into crab or scallop shells, topped with breadcrumbs, then baked until golden brown.  The dish was invented by Colonial Americans who settled in and around the Chesapeake Bay.  During this period, flour was quite expensive and hard to come by, so, flour-based sauces were an indication of high social status, hence the name "imperial".  Modern versions of this dish contain bell peppers, spices and/or pepper sauce, and, are topped with parmesan cheese.  To quote Mom Kimmel on page 70 of TCBCC: "You ever see all those things they put in them fancy seafood seasonings?  Only thing they left out is the sand.  And, I'll never understand putting all those bell peppers in imperial. They're too potent and overpower the taste of the crab!"  I can't say I agree with all of Mom Kimmel's comments, but, she's the basis for my crab imperial, so I'm giving her due credit. 

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1  large egg, at room temperature

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1  teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce

1/2  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2  teaspoon dry English mustard

1/2  teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1  tablespoon all-purpose flour or Wondra flour

1/4  cup minced fresh parsley

1  pound jumbo lump crabmeat, the best available

ground red pepper, for topping imperial

4, small, fresh lemon wedges, for garnish and squeezing juice onto finished imperial

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing au gratin dishes

IMG_0938~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, mayonnaise, cayenne pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, Old Bay Seasoning and sugar, until smooth Some recipes refer to this mixture as "imperial sauce."  

Note:  This is my favorite blend of flavors, but feel free to taste and adjust the seasonings to suit you.  

IMG_0941~ Step 2.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the flour, parsley and the crab meat until the mixture is thoroughly combined. The crabmeat must remain in large lumps.  Set aside 5-10 minutes.

~ Step 3.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper. Spray 4, 6-ounce au gratin dishes with no-stick cooking spray.

IMG_0963~ Step 4.  Using a large slotted spoon, equally portion crab mixture into the prepared au gratin dishes. Portion and pour the creamy liquid remaining in the bowl evenly between the four dishes.  Lightly sprinkle the tops with cayenne pepper.

~ Step 5.  Bake on center rack of 350 degree oven 18-20 minutes, or until puffy, set and lightly browned. Cool, 5-10 minutes prior to serving:

IMG_0965Crab-ilicious!  Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Imperial:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

IMG_1005Special Equipment List:  whisk; cutting board, chef's knife; large rubber spatula;  17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 4, 6-ounce, individual-sized au gratin dishes, or, 1, 9" round au gratin dish (pictured on the left), or, a 9" round, glass pie dish; large slotted spoon 

6a0120a8551282970b0148c856cdd8970c-800wiCook's Note:  Looking for an appetizer for your next tailgate or holiday party?  Serve my recipe for ~ Spicy, Miniature Eastern Shore-Style Crab Cakes ~.  You can find it in Categories 1, 11 or 14.  

Rule #1.  If you want a party to be a success, serve crab cakes!  Rule #2.  You can never make too many crab cakes.

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

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

09/10/2012

~ To Sweeten Your Life: Caramelize Some Onions ~

IMG_0903Last night we had a relaxing dinner at a local steakhouse.  Joe loved his prime rib and my porterhouse steak was cooked to perfection, just the way I ordered it:  rare.  It was moist and juicy, it cut like butter, and, I ate every last bite.  I was happy to pay the extra charge to have it topped with the optional caramelized onions, and, don't get me wrong, I ate all of them too, except:  they weren't really caramelized, they were just medium-browned.  As I was cleaning my plate and explaining this culinary "pet peeve" to Joe, he simply said, "have another glass of wine and write a blog post about it in the morning".  Secretly, I believe the spouses of all food bloggers enjoy being able to tell us, when we are disgruntled, to "take it out on the blog"!

PICT0042I am a professed onion lover.  I like all kinds, I like them served every way possible, and, I forgave them a long time ago for making me cry.  I like them raw or pickled in salads and on sandwiches... simmered in stocks, soups, and stews... roasted whole or chopped and baked in casseroles, and, depending on the culinary application... sauted until soft, lightly-browned, browned or caramelized.  It is the difference between browned and caramelized that is the point of this post, and, if you are a chef:  you should know there is a very big difference!

IMG_0904If you are home cook, here's some basic information on caramelization (bypassing all scientific mumbo jumbo):  Onions contain a lot of sugar and slowly cooking them on the stovetop draws out their natural sweetness.  The longer and slower they cook, the sweeter they get. When lightly-browned or browned, they begin to take on a pleasant, nutty taste.  When caramelized (browned to a deep amber color), they get sweet.  Caramelizing onions could not be easier, but, it can't be done in 15-20 minutes. You'll need to allow a good 35-45 minutes (depending upon how many you are making, how you regulate the heat on your stove, and, on any given day, how long you decide to cook them). So, pour yourself a glass of wine or make a cocktail, put on some music or a movie on the kitchen TV, relax, stand by your stove and enjoy the experience!

Technically, any onion can be caramelized, but I personally think that sweet onions work best, with yellow onions being my second choice, and, I don't recommend caramelizing red onions at all.  My three favorites are:  Vidalia (from Georgia), Walla Walla (from Washington), and, Maui (from Hawaii).  Also on my list of favorites are Texas Sweet (from Texas) and NuMex (from New Mexico).  Before getting started, here are two important tips:

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1)  To insure even cooking, the onions must be sliced or diced to a consistent size.

2)  Because the onions will loose most of their volume as they slowly caramelize, start out with a lot more than you think you will need.

For onion slicing instructions, read: ~ How to: Select, Slice, Mince, Dice & Chop Onions ~, which can be found in Category 15!

IMG_08051 1/2 pounds (after peeling) 1/4"-thick "half-ring-shaped" slices of yellow or sweet onion (6 cups) 

3  tablespoons olive oil

3  tablespoons butter

1/2  teaspoon sugar 

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2-4  tablespoons white wine, for deglazing pan (stock or water may be substituted)

IMG_0831 IMG_0820~ Step 1. Over low heat, in skillet, melt the butter into the olive oil.  Add the onions to the skillet.  Season with the sugar and salt.  Using a large slotted spoon or spatula, toss until the onions are evenly coated in the oil/butter mixture.

IMG_0837~ Step 2.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Continue to slowly cook, stirring occasionally.  After 10 minutes, the onions will have lost a lot of their volume and will be limp and steamed through. There won't be any browning on them just yet.

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Step 3.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another 10 minutes. It's now that you are going to start to see what I refer to as light browning.

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~ Step 4.  Continue to cook, stirring more frequently, another 10 minutes. Now, the onions are nicely browned and they are truly beginning to caramelize.

Note:  From this point on, do not leave the stove.  The onions will require almost constant stirring, and, they can and will go from browned to burned quickly.

IMG_0879~ Step 5.  Today, my onions cooked for another 10 minutes, with me stirring constantly, before I added the wine and deglazed the pan, or: for a total of 40 minutes.  Deglazing the pan is an important step that takes caramelized onions from ordinary to great. These are some mighty-fine looking caramelized onions (if I do say so myself):

IMG_0889To Sweeten Your Life:  Caramelize Some Onions:  Recipe yields instructions for properly caramelizing onions and yields one cup of caramelized onions.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, or a 12" skillet; large slotted spoon or spatula

PICT0014Cook's Note:  For my all-time favorite recipe for red onions, read: ~ Mel's Ultimate Sandwich Topper:  Pickled Onions ~ in Categories 2, 4, 8 or 20.  Full of crunch, sweet and savory, I keep these on hand all year long! 

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

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

09/08/2012

~ Tomato-Basil Pita Pizza: My Favorite Snack Meal ~

IMG_0789Yesterday, a reader sent me an e-mail containing a comment and a cooking question, both of which "made my day".  I thought about using the question for my occasional ~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too ~, which is Category 23 on this blog.  This is the place where, occasionally (always on a Friday), I feature and answer two or three questions I was asked that week.  Yesterday's comment is one that every food blogger looks forward to receiving, and, the question... it made me laugh out loud because:   while reading the e-mail, I was eating the answer!  Right then and there, I decided it deserved its own Kitchen Encounters blog post:

6a0120a8551282970b0147e17039a3970b-800wiC.  Mike says:  I am 46, single, and tired of eating in restaurants and take-out.  I decided that if I was going to attempt cooking for myself, I was going to try to eat more vegetables and cut down on bread too.  Several weeks ago, I was looking on the internet for an easy recipe for chicken soup and that is how I found your blog.  I made a pot of GrandMa Ann's chicken soup and I loved it.  I made a second pot and froze some (just like you said to do).  I want you to know I subscribed to your blog, look forward to all of your posts and so do a few of my co-workers (at an autobody shop).

(Note:  My recipe for ~ Grandma Ann's Easy Chicken Vegetable Soup ~ can be found in Categories 2, 20 & 22.) 

Q.  Mike asks:  When I get home from work, its often late, 6:30PM, and I am usually starving, as well as tired. Can you recommend something, anything, that can be made very quickly, that will fill me up, to keep me from impulse eating a bag of chips?  Also, because I have no scheduled lunch break (the time changes on a daily basis), I almost always take a sandwich to work or order one.  Deli-meat is the last thing I want to eat at the end of the day.  Thanks for your help!

A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Mike this is your lucky day.  I'm going to show you how to make my all-time favorite snack meal.  It's what I eat at least three times a week.  One will stave off hunger for several hours, two are a meal, and, they can be assembled and baked in less than 10 minutes. And, as if that's not enough good news, they're made using fresh tomatoes and less bread too!

Mel's Tomato-Basil Pita Pizza:

IMG_0750~ Step 1.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, carefully cut around the top of and remove the tops from 1-2 pita pocket breads, to form a crust. If there are any small rips or tears in the bottom of the bread, use a small piece of the top to "patch it up" or "plug the hole".

IMG_0756~ Step 2.  I like to use grated provolone or smoked provolone cheese because of its flavor and its "stringy" consistency after it melts. Too tired to grate the cheese yourself?  A slice or two of provolone will do too!

IMG_0763~ Step 3.  Distribute a chiffonade of fresh basil leaves (thinly sliced basil) over the top.  I've used 4 large fresh basil leaves today. Don't have fresh basil on hand?  A sprinkling of dried basil leaves will do just fine!

IMG_0767~ Step 4.  Any kind of sliced tomato will do (store-bought too), as long as they're fresh... all tomatoes are great out of the oven.  

~ Step 5.  Top with a sprinkling of grated asiago or Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese and a light sprinkling of red pepper flakes:

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IMG_0773~ Step 6.  Place 1-2 pita pizza(s) directly on the rack of the toaster oven.  Do not use a pan.

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~ Step 7.  Toast, do not bake, until cheese is bubbly, about 6-7 minutes.

Remove from oven, drizzle with some EVOO, cool slightly and eat (sliced or whole) ASAP:

 

IMG_0742Tomato-Basil Pita Pizza:  My Favorite Snack Meal:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many pita pizzas as you want.

6a0120a8551282970b0133f4a0e82c970b-800wiSpecial Equipment List:  kitchen shears; cheese grater; toaster oven

Cook's Note:  To read my grandson's version of this pizzalicious snack ~ David's Penn State Pita Pizza ~ click into Categories 2, 14, 17 or 20!

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

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

09/06/2012

~ Fit to be Fried: Deep-Fried Macaroni & Cheese ~

IMG_0553Macaroni and cheese has got be be near the top of the American comfort food list.  This ooey-gooey irresistable mixture of unpretentious pasta and cheese has earned a beloved place on tables ranging from your grandmother's kitchen to college dorms to upscale restaurants.  I'm sure there is a percentage of you who think it was invented by Kraft foods (their first version was introduced in 1937), but food historians report that it had its humble beginning in the kitchen of Thomas Jefferson, who returned from a trip to Paris with a macaroni maker/press which he bought in Italy.  In 1802, Thomas Jefferson, who had an affinity for cheese and Italian food, began serving macaroni and cheese in The White House.  Jefferson's cousin, Mary Randolph, published her recipe in 1824, on page 238 of her cookbook, The Virginia Housewife, under the name "macaroni pudding".  On a side note, The Virginia Housewife, is considered to be the very first American cookbook and I am proud to own a copy of it.  Some 200 years later, while the basic recipe has changed very little, many Americans spend a great deal of time trying to "tweek" their own recipe to perfection.  I am one such American:

6a0120a8551282970b0133f58e5a1c970b-800wiIn the late 1980's, while watching one of the morning TV shows, I watched an interview with the then White House Executive Chef Henry Haller.  Chef Haller was promoting his new book:  The White House Family Cookbook.  He was fascinating.  Chef Haller served five administrations as White House chef and told a story about Ronald Reagan's love for mac and cheese:

6a0120a8551282970b0177443dcf8d970d-800wiLike most presidents, Reagan worked erratic hours, sometimes into the very early morning. Twenty-four/seven (24/7), the White House kitchen was to have macaroni and cheese waiting for him, and, it had to be prepared just the way he liked it:  spiked with mustard and Worcestershire sauce.  Even when the President was recovering in the hospital from his gunshot wound, the staff was summoned to deliver macaroni and cheese to the hospital.  My recipe for ~ Creamy Baked Five-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese  ~, a spin-off of Chef Haller's, can be found in Categories 4, 14, 17 or 18!  To watch my Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV macaroni and cheese TV segment just click on the following link:

Creamy Baked Five-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese

ImagesIt's no secret that I am a huge fan of college football and this week Penn State is playing the University of Virginia (officially known as the "Cavaliers", unofficially known as the "Wahoos") in Charlottesville.  This public Univeristy, conceived and designed by Thomas Jefferson, was established in 1819.  Their beautiful, historic campus is referred to simply as the "grounds" and the central quad is called the "lawn".  In honor of my favorite "Founding Foodie", I'm taking macaroni & cheese to the next level because:

 

It is Fit to be Fried:  Deep-Fried Macaroni & Cheese!

IMG_0477Three Tips for deep-frying  macaroni and cheese:  

1) Use any recipe you like, but, make sure you prepare it a day ahead and put it in the refrigerator overnight.  It must be cold when it gets batter dipped and deep-fried.  

2) Resist the urge to put any fun toppings on it that give it a crunchy top crust (additional cheeses, bread crumbs or panko).

3) Bake it covered with foil for 30 minutes, then, uncover and bake until set, another 10-15 minutes.  Because it's going to be batter-dipped, avoid browning as much as possible!

Set up the "deep-frying assembly line!  From left to right:

6a0120a8551282970b0154384a1015970c-800wi1) A 13" x 9" x 2" casserole of macaroni and cheese, baked and chilled.

2)  An 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish containing 2 1/2 cups of pancake mix.

3) A large bowl containing 3 1/4 cups of pancake mix whisked with with 2 bottles of beer.

4)  A 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish containing 16 ounces panko breadcrumbs

5)  A deep-fryer preheated to 360 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.

6)  A 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan lined with several layers of paper towels.

6a0120a8551282970b0154383e5645970c-320wiA bit about panko:  Why in the name of crunchiness would anyone want to use old-fashioned breadcrumbs to deep-fry anything if they knew about panko?  They wouldn't.

"Panko" is the Japanese word for "bread crumbs", and theirs are considerably crispier and crunchier than our Western ones.  What's more, they absorb less grease, more flavor and stay crispy a lot longer.  When it comes to deep-frying, this ingredient is a game changer!

It's time to batter-dip and deep-fry!

IMG_0497~ Step 1.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place firmly-packed balls of macaroni and cheese side-by-side on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  This can be done 1-2 hours in advance. Keep stored in the refrigerator.

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~ Step 3.  When everything is measured and in place as listed above, whisk together the pancake mix and beer.  Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process.  This will give the batter time to thicken to a drizzly consistency.  If at any time during the frying process the batter gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer or some water.

~ Step 3.  Heat oil in deep-fryer to 360 degrees.

IMG_0503~ Step 4.  Working in batches of 3-4 macaroni and cheese balls at a time, so as not to overcrowd the basket of the deep fryer:

One-at-a-time, dredge each ball in the dry pancake mix to coat it on all sides.  Give it a gentle shake, to let excess pancake mix fall back into the dish...

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

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... Move up the assembly line once again and dredge the balls in the panko breadcrumbs...

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... Carefully place the completely coated balls into the hot oil of the deep-fryer.  Close the lid and cook for 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Remove from the oil and transfer to a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with several layers of paper towels..

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... IMMEDIATELY, sprinkle with a fresh grinding of sea salt.  Repeat this process, working in batches of 3-4 macaroni and cheese balls at a time, until all of them are deep-fried.

Note:  For best results, always use peanut or corn oil in the deep-fryer. Don't have a deep-fryer?  Place oil in a 4-quart saucepan until it is half way full.  Heat oil over medium-high heat, using an instant-read thermometer to guage the temperature.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

IMG_0573Want sauce with these?  

You can find my recipe for ~ Sweet 'n Spicy Wing 'n Thing Sauce ~ in Categories 1, 8  & 17!

In a saucepan simply combine a 2:1 ratio honey and hot sauce, or:

1  cup honey

1/2 cup Frank's RedHot cayenne pepper sauce

Over medium heat whisk until warm, about 1 minute. 

IMG_0535Fit to be Fried:  Deep-Fried Macaroni & Cheese:  Recipe yields 40-45 deep-fried macaroni and cheese balls.

Special Equipment List:  8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; large bowl; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish; deep-fryer; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; paper towels; parchment paper; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop

6a0120a8551282970b0154336c5b21970c-320wiCook's Note:  Why did Yankee Doodle stick a feather in his cap and call it macaroni?  The British wrote this song and back then "macaroni" was a derogatory term used to describe men who dressed in outrageously excessive clothes, which included tall, heavy, white wigs laden with hundreds of small, tight curls.  In extreme cases, the wigs were built upon and around heavy wire forms. These extreme wigs were worn intentionally by men who were in the business of bringing macaroni from Italy to Britain and France, and, they proudly referred to themselves as "macaronis". British slang for idiot was "doodle".  In the song, they have poor Yankee Doodle sticking a feather in his tricorne or coonskin hat and riding into town on a pony (not even a proper horse) in the hopes of making a respectable fashion statement equivalent to that of the stylish men of Europe (known as "dandies")!

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

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

09/04/2012

~ The Sausage, Egg & 'Bread Cheese' Biscuit Slider~

IMG_0696This is a follow-up post to Sunday's ~ Bread Cheese:  A Very Old Baltic Breakfast Treat ~, which was more of an "ode to bread cheese", or a tutorial on, "what to do with bread cheese", than a recipe.  I ended the post by saying that when I experimented with some culinary uses for bread cheese (salads &/or sandwiches), I would share them.  When I published the post, I had no idea how well-received it would be.  To my glee, 32 comments and 22 likes on Facebook, some of you went straight to the grocery store to buy bread cheese!  Here's a short recap:

IMG_0311A bit about bread cheese: "Justoleipa" (hoo-stah-lee-pah) or "squeeky cheese", has been produced in Finland and Sweden for over 200 years.  Originally made from reindeer milk, nowadays, commercial versions like the one I have here are made from pasteurized cow's milk.  It is unique in that it is baked during the cheesemaking process, which gives it a light-brown, tasty crust.

IMG_0405There is no bread in bread cheese. It gets its name for two reasons:  1) It looks like toasted bread when it is heated (and when it is heated it does not melt, it just softens), and; 2)  It's traditionally eaten (plain and unheated, or, sauted and warm) as a rich breakfast treat topped with sweets like jam, honey or syrup. Beneath the crust, the cheese is smooth, sweet, rich, buttery and mild with a hint of salt. Does it squeek?  When you bite into it (when it's warm), yes it does!

I'm always looking for EASY ideas for breakfast sandwiches, especially during the Fall football season. Since I have a block of bread cheese leftover from my Sunday post, I'm making some slider-sized sandwiches with it that will be perfect to serve for brunch at any Penn State tailgate!

IMG_0596When it comes to tailgate, I do not make biscuits from scratch because I need a lot, 3-4 dozen.  I also like to bake them the night before.  I use:

1  12-ounce tube Grands junior-size biscuits (one tube makes 10)

IMG_0603~ Step 1.  Place 10 biscuits on a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Bake on center rack of 375 degree oven 8-10 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven, cool, and slice.

Note: If you are baking them a day ahead, cool completely and cover with plastic wrap until the morning.

IMG_0612I do not waste time making slider-sized sausage patties from scratch either. Our local Sam's Club carries an excellent brand that comes in boxes of 30.  They are the perfect size and I keep a box of them in my freezer at all times.  I don't even thaw them prior to frying them, but that is your choice.  Note:  Frozen patties take a bit longer to cook.

IMG_0625~ Step 2.  In a 12" skillet, fry 10 small-sized sausage patties over medium-high heat until golden brown on both sides, turning only once (using a spatula), about 4-5 minutes per side.

Using the spatula, transfer to a plate, cover with aluminum foil and set aside to keep warm.

Note:  Do not remove the flavorful sausage drippings from the pan.

IMG_0635~ Step 3.  In a 2-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together:

5  large eggs, at room temperature (1 egg for every two sandwiches)

enough milk to total 1 1/2 cups liquid

~ Step 4.  Add the egg mixure to the sausage drippings in the pan.

IMG_0652~ Step 5.  Lightly sprinkle the eggs with salt and pepper.  Over medium-low heat, cook, without stirring, until the eggs are set, about 5-6 minutes.  Lower the heat as you go, to prevent browning, and, poke any air holes that form with a fork.

~ Step 6.  Using a 2"-2 1/4" round cookie cutter, cut the eggs into 10 rounds, transfer to a plate and cover to with foil to keep warm.

IMG_0664~ Step 7.  Now, you're going to need:

5, 1 1/2" squares of bread cheese that has been slice in half to form 10 thin squares of bread cheese

IMG_0676

 

IMG_0675                                      ~ Step 8.  In the same skillet, place the cheese, "crust" side up.  Over medium heat, fry until cheese is softened and golden brown on both sides, turning only once, about 1-2 minutes per side. Remove from heat.  Assemble as pictured below and drizzle with maple syrup at serving time:

IMG_0689The Sausage, Egg & 'Bread Cheese' Biscuit Slider:  Recipe yields 10 hearty, slider-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; 12" nonstick skillet; nonstick spatula; aluminum foil; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 2"-2 1/4"-round cookie cutter (or a knife); serrated bread knife

Cook's Note:  Assembled sandwiches can be individually wrapped in plastic wrap and reheated in the microwave for 20-30 seconds, or, wrapped in aluminum foil and reheated in a 250 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  Remember to make plenty because the average man can eat 2-3!

PICT0025Extra Cook's Note:  To learn more about the traditional uses for this unique ingredient, read my post  ~ Bread Cheese:  A Very Old Baltic Breakfast Treat ~, which can be found in Category 9!

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

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

09/02/2012

~ Bread Cheese: A Very Old Baltic Breakfast Treat ~

IMG_0442If you've never heard of bread cheese, there's a chance you will soon.  I've recently started noticing vacume-packed packages of it in two of our local grocery stores (Wegman's and Weis to be exact.).  This made me smile, because, the only two or three times I had encounters with bread cheese was back in the early 1980's, and, it was introduced to me as "squeeky cheese". The wife of a male co-worker of my husband (they happened to be from Norway living in Happy Valley for a short period of time) served it grilled and warm, topped with cloudberry jam as a bite-sized dessert at their cocktail parties.  I affectionately refer to this as "the cloudberry jam period of my life", because for a couple of years, I ordered cloudberry jam by the case, and, served it with other soft cheeses and crackers at my own parties!  

IMG_0405By the way, there is no bread in bread cheese.  It gets its name for two reasons:  1) It looks like toasted bread when it is heated (and when heated, it does not melt, it just softens), and; 2)  It's traditionally eaten in place of bread (plain and unheated, or, warm and topped with something sweet), as a very, hearty, satisfying, rich breakfast or dessert treat in Scandinavian countries!

PS:  It also pairs well with fresh fruit and wine at cocktail time!

IMG_0311A bit about bread cheese: "Juustoleipa" (hoo-stah-lee-pah) or "cheese bread", has been produced in Finland and Sweden for over 200 years.  Originally made from reindeer milk, for the most part, it is now made from cow or goat beestings (milk from a cow or goat that has recently be calved).  It is unique in that it is baked during the cheesemaking process, which gives it a light-brown, tasty crust.

IMG_0279Commercial versions (like the Wisconsin-produced version I have here) are typically made from regular, pasteurized milk.  Note:  I live next door to a dairy farm so I couldn't resist taking this picture!

Beneath the crust, the cheese is smooth, sweet, rich, buttery and mild with a hint of salt.  Does it sqeek?  Well, sort of, when you bite into it, yes it does (mostly when it is slightly warm).  For best results, follow package directions:

"Makes a great breakfast, a delicious snack or wonderful dessert.  Be creative!  Dip it in your coffee.  Cube and microwave it for 30 seconds or saute in a skillet and top with jam, honey & walnuts or syrup."  Ok, I'll bite... let's give these a try:  

IMG_0328~ #1.  Served as a side-dish dipped in coffee.  I'm not a coffee drinker, and, I also don't particularly like cheese for  breakfast, so, cutting the bread cheese into strips and dipping it directly into coffee did very little for me.

IMG_0355That being said, the Swedish tradition of "kaffeost" (coffee cheese), or: placing a few small pieces of this cheese in the bottom of a cup, pouring hot coffee over the top and letting them sit until warmed through is much more pleasing!

When I do drink coffee, I like "clouds in my coffee", so I added cream to my cup.  After a few minutes, the bread cheese softens, and, if you are lover of coffee (and coffee-flavored ice cream), you're probably going to like this a lot!

IMG_0358~ #2.  Heated in the microwave or sauted until heated through, then served topped with jam, honey & walnuts or syrup.  I consider the microwave a necessary evil in my kitchen, so, whenever I can cook using a better method, I do.  An 8" nonstick skillet has been placed on my stovetop, the cheese has been cut into 1 1/2" squares, and, is at close to room temperature.  The concept here is to saute it like you would French toast:

IMG_0398Saute, over medium heat until golden brown on both sides, heated through and oozing slightly, about 1-1 1/2 minutes per side.  Remove from heat and set aside for about 1 more minute, to allow residual heat to warm it through to the center.  

Top as directed above (cloudberry jam is my topping of choice).  This being said, there are savory applications for bread cheese too (salads and sandwiches), which I have not had the opportunity to experiment with (yet).  When I do, you'll be the first to know!

IMG_0425Bread Cheese:  A Very Old Baltic Breakfast Treat:  Recipe yields instructions for serving bread cheese for breakfast.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; nonstick skillet or microwave

IMG_0455Cooks's Note:  A bit about cloudberries:  This wild plant grows naturally in cool/cold mountainous regions of the Northern Hemisphere (like Canada and Alaska) and in the Nordic countries of the Baltic states. The berries, soft, juicy and rich in vitamin C are used to make jam, juice, cakes, tarts, tea and liqueur.   In Finland, they use it as a topping for the above-named squeeky cheese.  In Sweden, cloudberry jam is used as a topping for ice cream, pancakes and waffles.  In Norway, they sometimes mix the jam with whipped cream to make a dessert called "multekrem", or, "cloudberry cream".  Alaskans mix the berries with reindeer or caribou fat, fish oil and sugar to make "akutaq" or "Eskimo ice cream" (now doesn't that just sound appetizingly wonderful)!?!?!? 

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

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