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13 posts from March 2013

03/31/2013

~ Mel's #1 March Madness Munchie: Potato Chips ~

IMG_4377Joe has been watching the NCAA basketball tournament for what seems like forever.  The media calls this:  March Madness.  I couldn't agree more.  It is madness.  Personally, I don't much see the point of any team playing a season full of more basketball games than I can count, only to be defined by how they fare in this hyped-up forum.  Simmer down.  This is just one woman's opinion, and, if you think I don't "get" the basketball tourney, you ought to hear what I have to say about collegiate wrestling and the NCAA in general!

munch/vb:  to chew with a crunching sound

IMG_4260Over the course of the past month, I've "caught" my husband eating substantially more potato chips than usual.  I hear the crinkling of the bag opening, I hear the sound of him munching, I hear the crushing of the empty bag before it hits the trash.  Even when potato chips aren't on my errand list, he never makes a stop at the store without coming home with a bag or two of potato chips.   This doesn't happen during football season.  It took me a moment, but, I figured out why: Because I watch and enjoy college football.  On football Saturdays, my menu always includes a special game day "guy snack" for him!

Fact:  Homemade potato chips will change your life!

Fiction:  Homemade potato chips are hard to make!

IMG_4294Making your own potato chips couldn't be easier, and, trust me, "you can't eat just one".  Homemade potato chips will change your life, and, might even improve your marriage too. Most people make way too much work out of making them.  Trust me when I tell you, once you slice them, there is no earthly reason to go through the time consuming process of soaking them in cold water then drying them between layers of paper towels. How do I know this?  Because Alton Brown "told me so" on late night TV a long, long time ago!

Making real-deal French fries is rocket science!  

Making real-deal potato chips is child's play!

IMG_4265~ Step 1.  Preheat:

corn, peanut or vegetable oil

in deep-fryer according to manufacturer's instructions to 360 degrees.

Note:  Don't have a deep fryer?  Fill a 6-quart Dutch oven 1/3 full of oil and preheat it to 360 degrees via the aid of a candy thermometer.

IMG_4269~ Step 2.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with 2-3 layers of paper towels.  If you want to peel your potatoes, which I like to do, you'll need a vegetable peeler too.

~ Step 3.  Choose your weapon:

a Feemster's vegetable slicer, mandoline or chef's knife

6a0120a8551282970b0147e135f124970b-320wiMeet the Feemster's Famous Vegetable Slicer:  I bought two of these, for $5.00 a piece, about 20 years ago, from Marie Fedon, owner and operator of The Country Sampler (a kitchen store) here in Boalsburg.  I am sorry to report that "The Sampler" is no longer with us, but "The Feemsters" is available on-line at Amazon.com.

I have all sorts of fancy mandolines and super-sharp knives, but I ADORE my little blue-bladed Feemsters.  I can slice any type of potato paper-thin in less than 1 minute!

IMG_4274~ Step 4.  The best potato chips come from russet potatoes.  From one 12-13-ounce russet potato, expect to get 40-48 chips (depending upon how thin or thick you like your potato chips). Peel each potato just prior to frying and slice it into 1/8" or thinner chips, about 24 at a time.  Slice each batch of 24 just prior to deep-frying, and:  uniformity in thickness is the key to potato chip success!

IMG_4286~ Step 5. Working as quickly as you can, carefully and safely, drop 24 slices of potatoes, one by one, into the hot oil.  Towards the end of each batch (around the 15th-20th chip), the oil is going to bubble up due to the water contained in the potatoes.  As long as you are aware of this, you have nothing to fear but fear itself.  Just keep your fingertips a safe 1"-2" away from the hot oil and you'll be ok.

IMG_4289~ Step 6.  Depending upon the thickness of your potato slices (1/8" or less), and, how your deep-fryer or stovetop regulates heat, the potato chips are going to need to fry at 360 degrees for 11-13 minutes. Thin ones for about 11 minutes, thicker ones for about 13 minutes. Once or twice during the frying process, use a large slotted spatula to dunk them into the hot oil, so they stay separated and brown evenly.

IMG_4296~ Step 7.  Using a large slotted spoon, remove the potato chips from the oil and transfer them to the paper towel lined baking pan.  

IMG_4305Take a moment to spread them out in a single layer and generously sprinkle them with a grinding of sea salt.

IMG_4334Four russet potatoes made all of these potato chips.  It's going to be hard to resist eating them immediately, but:  they will continue to crisp up as they cool.  I recommend allowing them to sit for 1 hour prior to indulging, or, better yet, uncovered overnight! 

IMG_4350Mel's #1 March Madness Munchie:  Potato Chips:  Recipe yields intructions to make as many deep-fried russet potato chips as you want to.

Special Equipment List: deep-fryer or 6-quart Dutch oven & candy thermometer; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; paper towels; vegetable peeler (optional) Feemster's vegetable slicer, mandoline or chef's knife; large slotted spoon

6a0120a8551282970b017d3cf61d77970c-800wiCook's Note:  ~ Do You Want (Perfect "French") Fries with That? ~  If that's the case, you can find my recipe in Categories 4, 15, 20 or 21.  While they're a bit more work, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside deep-fried French fries are just as delicious as crunchy real-deal potato chips any day of the week!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)

03/28/2013

~ Melted Cheese Please: A Swiss Cheese Fondue (aka: Bill Clarke's Authentic Swiss Cheese Fondue) ~

IMG_4180In September, 1974, I arrived in State College, PA, a new bride of one day.  I gleefully spent my first two weeks setting up our household and unpacking bridal shower and wedding gifts.  One such gift was a chic, avocado green fondue pot.  About a month later, I decided to try out this trendy wedding gift and made the cheese fondue recipe that was included with the instructions that came with it.  It was a disaster:  the cheese sank to the bottom in clumps while the liquids separated out and bubbled to the top.  I was pleased to find out it was the recipe and not me:

Q1Yk2aDqojGQZf 091110_cheeseshopAt just about this same time in my life, a specialty store, The Cheese Shoppe, opened its doors in downtown State College on Calder Way.  I wandered into the store one afternoon and met the owner, Bill Clarke, a real-deal cheese monger extraordinaire!  

In the course of this, our first conversation, I told Bill my sad tale of failed fondue.  Bill was kind enough to share his personal fondue recipe with me.  Thirty-nine years later, his recipe remains the same, The Cheese Shoppe still remains the same, I remain a loyal Cheese Shoppe customer, and, Bill and I remain "cheesy" friends!

IMG_3996A bit about fondue:  Fondue (fahn-doo) is the French word for "melt", which comes from the verb "fondre", meaning "to melt.  The dish is said to have originated in Switzerland as a way for the peasants to use up hardened cheese, which they did by melting it and eating it out of a communal dish.  The traditional cooking vessel for fondue is called a caquelon:  a glazed-ceramic, lidded pot with a squat, broad shape and a thick handle.  It is designed so the bottom and sides of the pot conduct and distribute heat evenly, which helps to prevent the melting cheese mixture from scorching!

IMG_4000During the 1960's and early 1970's a fondue fad swept through the United States.  It spawned an entire industry based upon selling a "must have" piece of trendy cookware that reflected the atmosphere and taste of the era.  Designs of that time were all brightly-colored (avocado green, burnt orange and harvest gold to be exact) enamel-coated fondue pots that were perched atop a stand, with a can of sterno housed underneath, for keeping the fondue warm.  Each pot also came equipped with a set of color-coded forks.  More elaborate versions even had a lazy-Susan carousel-type mechanism slung around the sides with bowls for placing various ingredients in for dipping!

6a0120a8551282970b016300c99344970d-320wiAs small, electric, time-saving, "must have" countertop appliances started to find their way into American home kitchens everywhere (crockpots, hot-dog cookers, electric skillets, toaster ovens, etc.), many companies decided to make their fondue pots electric too.  From my perspective, that was a good thing. As you can see, I have several fondue pots, but, this type is my favorite.  I bought three a few years ago from a cooking catalog.  It works just like an electric skillet, which means I can, at all times, control the temperature perfectly!

IMG_4007Want to throw a fondue party?  Serve three kinds:

Mm_Since the 1950's, fondue has been generalized to include any food that is cooked in and/or eaten out of a communal pot of hot liquid.  When I throw a fondue party, the cheese fondue is the appetizer, the bourguignonne fondue is the main course, and, last but not least, the chocolate fondue is the dessert!

Thanks to the TV show Mad Men, "what's old seems to be new" and in vogue again.  Get your fondue pot down from the attic, out of the box, and:  cook retro.  It's more than fun, it is a trip back to what I consider to be to a kinder, gentler more innocent time, and, fondue parties were the talk-of-the town back then!

IMG_42241)  Fondue au fromage:  This the classic Swiss dish consisting of melted Swiss cheeses (Gruyere, Emmentaler and sometimes Appenzeller), lemon juice, white wine, Kirsch and seasonings.  The melted cheese is eaten by dipping crackers or cubes of firm-textured bread (toasted or untoasted) into the oh so ooey-gooey melted mixture.  Other countries have their own versions, but, I like Swiss best!

6a0120a8551282970b016761d01141970b-320wi2)  Fondue bourguignonne:  Is a variation where raw cubes or thin slices of high-quality beef are dipped into a savory oil-based sauce mixture and cooked to the desired degree of doneness.  The beef is then served on toasts as an appetizer, small rolls for a snack, or, even atop a bit of steamed rice with a vegetable or two for a small meal. You can find my recipe for ~ Asian Whiskey-Beef Fondue Sliders ~ in Categories 1, 2, 11, 17 or 20!

IMG_42533)  Chocolate fondue:  Is chocolate, cream and liqueur melted together. It's eaten by dipping pieces of fresh fruit, macaroons, cake and/or marshmallows into the decadent dessert.  The most famous is the Toblerone (Swiss milk chocolate made with honey and almond nougat) fondue.  I have not posted my recipe for this one yet, I'm saving it for this years Mad Men party post!

Bill Clarke's Authentic Swiss Cheese Fondue Recipe:

IMG_40148  ounces grated Gruyere*

8  ounces grated Emmentaler**

4  ounces grated Appenzeller***

2  tablespoons cornstarch

1/4-1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2-3/4  teaspoon white pepper

2  cloves garlic

1  cup white wine, dry or sweet

1/2  teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/4  cup Kirsch (a clear, Dutch, cherry-flavored brandy)

1/4  cup additional white wine, more or less, only if necessary

IMG_40171  1-pound loaf firm-textured bread, cut into 3/4"-1" cubes

(Note:  My preference is a French baguette or two French batards, which are slightly shorter and plumper.  Why?  Because when you cube them, each piece of bread will have some crust on it.  If you use a traditional, round or elongated loaf of bread, that will not be the case. Whatever you choose, just make sure it is firm-textured.)

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Please take a moment to read some Swiss cheese info:

260px-Gruyère* Gruyere Cheese (groo-YEHR or gree-YEHR):  Perhaps the most spohisticated of Switzerland's cheeses, it is often compared with Emmentaler because it is made with raw cow's milk from cows that have only been grass and hay fed.  It's named for the Gruyere Valley in the canton (state) of Fribourg, Switzerland.  Gruyere has a hard to semi-hard texture that is dense, yet supple.  It has a golden brown rind and an ivory to yellow interior with occasional small, pea-sized holes.  Its flavor is notably complex:  creamy, fruity, nutty, earthy and mushroomy.  There are three types of Gruyere:  Classic (minimum 5 months ripening), Reserve (10-16 months ripening), and, d'Alpage (made only from April through October from cows that graze in high Alpine pastures). Even though the Swiss now have AOC "appellation status" to claim the name Gruyere, the word is still used for cheese made in other countries.  If and when the Swiss obtain the European Union's "protected origin status", other countries will be required to stop using the name. 

200px-Emmentaler** Emmental/Emmentaler Cheese (EM-mawn-tahl): Produced since the 13th century, this is Switzerlands oldest cheese.  It's named for the Emme Valley and the river which runs through the heart of the country.  It is the Swiss cheese from which all others have been patterned. Swiss Emmentaler is made from raw cow's milk that have been grass and hay fed.  The giant 900 pound, 45" round wheels have a thin, hard rind that ranges in color from pale yellow to brown and the smooth, ivory-yellow interior is scattered with cherry-sized holes.  It's buttery, sweet and earthy in flavor, with a minimum ripening time of 4 months and a maximum ripening time of 12 months.  Because the name is not protected, to ensure you are actually buying the authentic Swiss version, look for the the words "Emental" and "Switzerland" stamped on the rind.

200px-Appenzeller*** Appenzeller Cheese (AP-pent-tsehl-ler):  This smooth, firm, whole-milk pasteurized cow's cheese is named for its eastern Swiss canton (state).  It has a hard rind that ranges in color from pale to golden yellow and the ivory interior is scattered with tiny holes.  It's spicy, fruity and tangy flavor results from Sulz, which the cheese is soaked in then brushed with during the curing process.  Sulz is a complex mixture of wine, cider, yeast, herbs, spices and salt.  Appenzeller is sold at/after three ripening levels: Classic (silver label), 3-6 months; Surchoix (gold label), 4-6 months, and, Extra (black label), minimum 6 months.

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IMG_4021~ Step 1.  Cut the bread cubes into 3/4"-1" pieces, placing them, in a single layer, on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper as you work....

IMG_4024...Bake on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven until very lightly toasted, about 6-8 minutes.  Do not over toast.  You do not want to dry out the bread, meaning: it should be slightly crunchy on the outside with soft centers.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely. Transfer cooled cubes to a food storage bag until serving time.

Note:  If you're making the fondue immediately, you won't need the food storage bag, just proceed.

IMG_4032~ Step 2.  Trim the rinds from the cheeses, and, using a hand-held cheese grater and a kitchen scale as a measure, shred each one, placing all of them in a 2-gallon food storage bag as you work.

IMG_4036~ Step 3. Add cornstarch, nutmeg and pepper to bag.  Toss until cheese is coated with the cornstarch mixture.

Note:  This can be done 4-6 hours in advance and stored in refrigerator until preparing fondue. For best results, remove cheese from refrigerator 45-60 minutes prior to preparing the fondue.

IMG_4044~ Step 4.  Slice the garlic in half lengthwise and rub the open sides over the bottom and lower third of a 4-quart stockpot.  Place the garlic halves in the bottom of the stockpot and add the wine.  Place over medium heat just until bubbles appear across the surface.  Do not allow to simmer or boil.  Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard the garlic.  Add the lemon juice.

IMG_4068 IMG_4080~ Step 5.  By hand, gradually start sprinkling in the grated cheeses.  When the last of the cheese has been added, stir constantly until completely melted and has a rich, thick and creamy appearance.  Stir in the Kirsch. Do not allow to simmer or boil!

IMG_4107To serve, transfer desired amount of fondue into any type of preheated fondue pot.  With fondue forks, dip the bread cubes into the fondue.  

Note:  Keep any remaining fondue covered, in stockpot, over very very low heat.  Additional wine may be added to either pot, in small amounts, to maintain desired consistency.  Once again, do not allow mixture to simmer or boil!

IMG_4196Melted Cheese Please:  A Swiss Cheese Fondue (aka:  Bill Clarke's Authentic Swiss Cheese Fondue):  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 1-2, 2-gallon food storage bags; cheese grater; kitchen scale; 4-quart stockpot w/lid; slotted spoon;  fondue pot; fondue forks; sterno, if applicable

IMG_4512 IMG_4501 IMG_4494 IMG_4498Cook's Note:  Fondue can be prepared a day ahead, covered and refrigerated overnight. Remove from refrigerator 1 1/2-2 hours prior to reheating in the microwave, for 4-5 minutes, stopping to uncover and stir about every 1-1 1/2 minutes, until restored to original consistency. Do not simmer.  I do not recommend doing this on the stovetop, even if using a double boiler.  

6a0120a8551282970b01630343a027970d-320wiExtra Cook's Note:  Last year, I hosted a party for the premier of Mad Men's fifth season.  To get that entire menu, ~ Mel's Mad Men Premier Night Menu Revealed ~ can be found in Category 11!

Additionally, my recipe for ~ Think Spring:  The Classic & Elegant Deviled Egg ~ can be found in Categories 1, 2, 4, 10, 11 or 12!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)

03/25/2013

~ Traditional Eastern-European Easter Egg-Cheese ~

IMG_3986Growing up in an Eastern European family and attending a Russian Orthodox Church and Sunday School etched all sorts of time-honored family and religious traditions for both the Christmas and Easter holidays in the recesses of my mind.  Because I was born with a wooden spoon in my mouth, whenever my grandmother and mother were preparing the food for these two holidays, neither one of them had to coax me into the kitchen to assist.  As each year passed, my responsibilities increased.  By the time I was a new bride in my twenties, I was capable of preparing all of the dishes single-handedly.   Now, here I am, a food blogger with an entire archive of detailed, tested, traditional, real-deal ethnic recipes to share with you!

IMG_3979One of the first dishes I learned to make on my own was an egg-cheese which my family called "hrudka" (hur-UT-ka).  It's a custardlike cheese made by gently cooking eggs and milk until the proteins and liquids separate into curds and whey.  Slovaks, Ukranians, Carpatho-Russians and Poles all traditionally serve it for Easter and recipes, both sweet and savory, vary from household to household.  Depending on where in Eastern Europe one is from, this easy-to-make cheese is also referred to as cirak, ciruk, sirok, sirecz, syrek, etc.  I just call it egg cheese.  My family makes the sweet kind, flavoring it with sugar and vanilla (however, some folks add cinnamon and/or nutmeg too).  Savory versions, which are just as tasty, use salt and crushed black peppercorns!

PICT2721The hrudka is sliced and served for breakfast on Easter morning alongside other items from the traditional Easter basket:  ham, kielbasa, beet horseradish, pickled eggs, paska (Easter bread, which is pictured here), butter and kolache (nut and poppy seed rolls).  My recipes for baking ham, cooking kielbasa and pickling eggs have already been posted and can be found in Category 12.  I took this picture of my paska last year and will get this recipe posted soon!

IMG_3815This recipe is very simple and straightforward, but, getting the mixture to cook up "just right" requires carefully following the directions.  Here's what you'll need:

For the egg cheese:

15  large eggs, at room temperature

1  quart whole milk, at room temperature

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  tablespoons sugar

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

IMG_3819For the hardware:

hand-held electric mixer

12" chef's pan w/straight sides

slotted spatula

large colander & cheesecloth

kitchen twine or twist ties 

~ Step 1.  Open, drape and place the cheesecloth (generously overlapping the sides) in the colander.  Place colander in sink.

IMG_3833 IMG_3831~ Step 2.  In a large mixing bowl, on medium speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the eggs, milk, vanilla extract, sugar and salt, until smooth, about 45-60 seconds.

~ Step 3.  Transfer mixture to chef's pan and place on stovetop over medium/medium-low heat.  Error on the side of the heat being too low.  

IMG_3846 IMG_3869 IMG_3878 IMG_3882

 

 

 

~ Step 4.  Stirring very slowly and constantly with a slotted spatula (to keep the mixture moving and flowing through the slots of the spatula at all times during the cooking process), gently cook, until the mixture literally resembles "watery scrambled eggs", about 11-13 minutes.  Reduce the heat during this process if the mixture begins to simmer or boil.  Do not allow to simmer or boil!  

IMG_3905The picture to the left illustrates the "watery scrambled eggs", better know as:  curds and whey.

IMG_3914Liquid will also be floating on the top of the egg mixture.   There should be no browning on the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat.

IMG_3925~ Step 5.  Transfer/pour the loose egg mixture into the colander.  

IMG_3934Using your hands, gather the overlapping cheesecloth up around the draining egg mixture, gradually twisting the top tightly closed, to form a ball with the egg mixture.

IMG_3939 IMG_3949~ Step 6.   Secure the top of the wrapped cheese ball with a piece of twine or an ordinary twist tie (I use twist ties).  Tie and hang the ball of cheese over the faucet of the sink and allow the cheese to continue to drain, cool and solidify, about 6 hours.

Note:  If you need your sink for other things, an alternative to this method of draining is to tie the cheeseball to the handle of a wooden spoon which has been placed across the top of a deep stockpot, and allow it to drain into the the stockpot.

IMG_3952Tip from Mel:  During the course of the next six hours,  I like to "tighten the noose" (so to speak) on my egg cheese.  Every 2 hours, I add another twist tie or piece of string. This tightening process ensures that it drains thoroughly, and, produces a better shaped ball!

IMG_3960~ Step 7. Remove the cheesecloth, wrap cheese in plastic and refrigerate overnight (or up to 3 days) prior to serving chilled:

IMG_3993Traditional Eastern-European Easter Egg-Cheese:  Recipe yields 1, 1 3/4 pound ball of egg-cheese.

Special Equipment List:  kitchens shears; hand-held electric mixer; 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; metal spatula, preferably slotted; 2 1/2'-3' length of cheesecloth; large colander; kitchen twine or twist ties; plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b01538e17e98c970b-800wi 6a0120a8551282970b015435b4d00d970c-800wi 6a0120a8551282970b015391e844a0970b-800wiCook's Note:  To learn how I bake ham, cook kielbasa and pickle eggs, as I mentioned above, just click into Category 12!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)

03/22/2013

~ Reunited w/a Treasured Preschutti Family Recipe: Peppery Egg & Cheese Crescia for an Italian Easter~

Crescia_Recipe-2At Easter, Italian cooks bake a very unique, peppery egg and cheese bread called crescia (kray-shah), which means "to grow".  As with almost all ethnic recipes, there are as many versions as there are cooks.  My husband and his brother Tom grew up loving this bread, and I admit to being intimidated when I was faced with developing a recipe for the two of them based solely upon how they recalled it from their youth in Jessup, PA (without any first hand knowledge of it personally).  After talking to a few Italian relatives from Jessup, who actually make the bread (who I must report, in true Italian "don't reveal any secrets tradition", not even once, in my thirty-three years of Crescia_Recipe-3marriage to Joe, EVER shared a recipe with me that worked from the get-go), I became a bit crazed.  In my foodie world I strive to pass on delicious recipes that work, period. Once I caught onto their "you'll get it right next time dear" attitudes, I no longer allowed the differences in their respective recipes to affect my ability to cook their food.  I started using the similarities in them to develop spot-on, Mel versions that rival the best of theirs.  I am pleased to report that I did develop a Crescia recipe that my husband and his brother deem "excellent". My recipe (pictured below) for ~ Italian Easter:  Peppery Egg & Cheese Crescia ~, along with all of my detailed instructions and step-by-step photos can be found in Categories 5, 11, 12 or 22!

Imagine my glee when Joe forwarded this e-mail to me!!!

6a0120a8551282970b0168e9afd44d970c-500wiC.  Joe's 1st cousin Lisa Nelson who lives in Paradise, California says:  Just in time for Easter!  I remember this is when my dad [Joe's and Tom's Uncle Geno Preschutti] always made Crescia.  I found his recipe and it is in his own handwriting too.  Please pass this along to Melanie and tell her I enjoy her Kitchen Encounters website.  I check it out quite often, especially when I am looking for some ideas of what to cook for dinner.  Hope all is well with you and your family.  It would be great if all of us Preschutti/Galuardi's could get together soon.  Have a wonderful holiday, enjoy your Spring, and, remember:  You might live live in Happy Valley, PA, but we live in Paradise, CA!

6a0120a8551282970b016764b02ea8970b-320wiA. Kitchen Encounters: Lisa, you have restored a treasured family recipe to the family recipe box and I cannot thank you enough.  I fondly remember visiting Uncle Geno and Aunt Betty in Santa Cruz.  He was a fantastic cook, and, I just know his recipe is "spot on".  One of my favorites times was the night he put the giant polenta board on the table, spread the polenta over it, then topped it with sauce and sausage.  We all picked up a fork and ate our way to the center!

Note to Readers:  The Preschutti family immigrated from Gubbio, Marches, Italy, to America in 1906.  Crescia's origin is the Marches, and The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, claims that Gubbio is actually the place where cheese crescia originated.  Since Uncle Geno's mother was born and raised in Gubbio, this recipe has a direct connection to the originators of this delicacy!

Enjoy your weekend everyone, have a lovely Palm Sunday, and, once again:  To leave a comment or ask a question, simply click on the blue title of any post, scroll to the end of it and type away... or e-mail me directly!

6a0120a8551282970b0168e9b2a4c8970c-800wi"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)

03/20/2013

~ Winters Last Gasp: Pasta w/Ground-Meat Sauce ~

IMG_3494ANNOUNCEMENT:  I interrupt my Spring blog posts to bring you one last comfort-food meal for a Wintery evening.  Yes, 'tis true, 4"-5" of snow is falling in Centre County, PA, today!

I'm sick of snow, but honestly, I've been hungry for a bowl of spaghetti with ground-meat sauce for over a week now, so, this nuisance storm is "the perfect storm" for me to cook up a pot of my version of this sauce on the stovetop.  I say "my version", because, I never tasted spaghetti with ground-meat sauce until I was a teenager, and, I've never been served it in an Italian household. I first encountered ground-meat sauce in my high-school cafeteria back in 1973.  It wasn't a high-end version, but, kids like me loved it.  Kids today love it too, and my three boys are proof of it.  Since then, I've only seen ground-meat sauce on menus in Italian-American or Eat 'n Park, chain-type restaurants.  Not that there's nothing wrong with that -- to each his own, but:

Is ground-meat sauce Italian, or... America's idea of Italian? 

My husband is of Italian heritage, and the meat sauce I am making today is NOT the way his relatives taught me to make meat sauce.  In real-deal Italian meat sauce, large pieces of bone-in beef, pork and/or veal (and sometimes chicken) are simmered ever-so-slowly in a tomato-based sauce until the meat falls off the bone.  The meat gets removed from the pot, shredded, then returned to the simmering sauce.  Their meat sauce recipe will be an entirely different blog post!

6a0120a8551282970b0168ebcb6373970c-800wiIn my husbands family, there are instances when ground meat is used to make sauce, but it is not off-the-shelf, store-bought ground beef, pork or veal  For example:  I use ground veal to make Bolognese sauce.  In the case of this sauce, a veal shoulder roast is cut into chunks and run through a meat grinder to produce a much coarser grind of meat.  You can find my recipe for ~ Melanie's Bolognese Sauce & Bolognese Lasagna ~ in Categories 3, 11, 12, 14, 21 or 22! Note:  In an Italian household, authentic Bolognese is NOT considered  "plain old meat sauce". Why?  Different/unique ingredients and a different cooking process!

A really good ground-meat sauce is more of a quick sauce, meaning:  it doesn't simmer all day. In fact, if you simmer it too long (which is the mistake cafeterias and restaurants usually make) it turns into mushy, steam-table-type food.  This is a sauce you make when you don't have time to cook.  I make really good ground-meat sauce, but, I won't take the leap to say "it's authentic Italian".  I'm of the mindset it came about to get out of making meatballs, and, for that reason, while I like enjoy ground-meat sauce, I don't take any recipe for it too seriously, because:

6a0120a8551282970b0167613e2c48970b-320wiWhile Italian immigrants brought their traditional family meatball and sauce/"gravy" recipes to America with them, in Italian households, meatballs were not served with spaghetti.  They were served alone, as was the pasta. The two items began being served together in Italian restaurants to appease Americans who wanted meat served with their pasta.  Call me silly, but, ground-meat sauce seems like an Americanized gig to me!

It is with this light-hearted spirit that I share my easy-to-make ground-meat sauce recipe with you.  Let me start by saying, it makes enough sauce, 3 quarts, for two meals.  Make one, freeze one.  How convenient is that.  For each meal, you'll need to cook and drain 1 pound of pasta. I've also written it for you to make it as 'authentic' or as American family-friendly as you want.  My kids grew up loving it made with a dry spaghetti sauce seasoning called Spatini.  Don't have that in your pantry?  Substitute 3 cups of your favorite store-bought bottled sauce.  When I make it for Joe and I, I use my own homemade tomato-basil (marinara) sauce, which takes it over-the-top! 

It's time to make some easy Americanized Italian meat sauce!

6a0120a8551282970b014e60352a38970c-500wi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 tablespoons, olive oil, just enough to lightly coat the bottom of a 12" skillet

3/4  pounds diced yellow or sweet onion

2  large, minced garlic cloves, about 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic (Italians never overdo garlic)

8  ounces white button mushroom caps, thinly sliced or chopped (optional)

3  packets Spatini spaghetti sauce mix (1, 2.4-ounce box) (Note:  If you don't have Spatini in your pantry, it can be omitted.  I use it to make this sauce for my kids because they love it.  I make it differently for Joe and I.  See my "underlined" substitution instructions below.)

3  pounds ground sirloin (95% fat free)

1  pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, or, if you don't have Spatini, omit the crushed tomatoes and substitute 3 cups of your favorite store-bought bottled sauce, or, to take-it-over-the-top, 3 cups of your own homemade marinara or tomato-basil sauce

1/4  cup port wine (a sweet, fortified red wine)

IMG_37691  pound pasta (Note:  Spaghetti is classic, but I prefer to use rigatoni for this meal because its large, tubular holes have plenty of space for the chunky sauce to get stuck in!)

1/4  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggianno cheese, for topping

6a0120a8551282970b014e603707b5970c-320wi~ Step 1.  Place oil in a 12" skillet. Prep onion, garlic and mushrooms as directed placing in skillet as you work.  Place over low heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Increase the heat to saute, stirring frequently, until the onion softens, about 8-10 minutes, or, if using the optional mushrooms, about 12-14 minutes, until the mushrooms have lost almost all of their moisture.

6a0120a8551282970b014e6037c809970c-320wi~ Step 2.  Stir 2 packets of the Spatini into the onion mixture and continue to saute for about 30-60 seconds.  The mixture will be thick and pasty as well as red.  If you are not using Spatini, omit this step.

~ Step 3.  Add the ground sirloin and sausage to the pan.  If you are not using Spatini, lightly season it with salt and black pepper.  I said lightly season!!!

6a0120a8551282970b0147e392c8a8970b-320wiCook mixture over medium-high heat, stirring frequently with a large spoon or spatula, breaking up the meat into small bits and pieces, until the meat has lost its red color, is steamed through and almost no moisture remains in the bottom of the pan, about 20-25 minutes.

Note:  It is more important that no moisture remain in the bottom of the pan than the actual time it takes.

6a0120a8551282970b0147e392d0ff970b-320wi~ Step 4.  Add and thoroughly stir in the crushed tomatoes, the remaining packet of Spatini and the wine.  If you are not using Spatini and are adding bottled or homemade sauce, stir it and the wine in (omit crushed tomatoes).

Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially cover and cook until the mixture thickens and reduces slightly, about 30 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b0147e392f3e1970b-320wi~ Step 5.  The ground-meat sauce is technically ready to eat.  That being said, I like to remove the skillet from the heat, cover it completely and let it rest for about 30-60 minutes prior to serving it, to give the flavors time to marry.  

Note:  On occasion, I even make the sauce a day in advance and reheat it on the stovetop or in the microwave, just before I'm ready to cook and sauce my pasta!

IMG_3729Step 6.  Place 5 quarts of water in an 8-quart stockpot and bring to a rolling boil over over high heat. Add 1 tablespon of sea salt to the water followed by 1 pound of your favorite pasta.  Cook as directed, until al dente.  Drain thoroughly and return pasta to still warm stockpot.

Note:  As mentioned above, I prefer rigatoni to classic spaghetti for this "spaghetti w/meat sauce" meal!

IMG_3735~ Step 7.  Return the still warm stockpot of pasta to the still warm stovetop.  Add:

4  tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces (1/2 stick)

and, toss to combine.  Cover and rest, on stovetop, for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the butter had melted and has been absorbed by the pasta.

IMG_3743~ Step 8.  Begin spooning/ladleing 1-quart (4 cups) of ground-meat sauce into the pasta.  While this might sound like a lot of sauce, this meat sauce mixture is really thick and rich.  It is indeed like eating a meat course with your pasta course!

Portion pasta into 6 warmed pasta bowls.  Using a microplane grater, sprinkle a light coating of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over each serving: 

IMG_3767Winters Last Gasp:  Pasta w/Ground-Meat Sauce:  Recipe yields 3-quarts ground-meat sauce, enough for 2 meals of 6 hearty servings each, requiring 1-pound of cooked pasta for each meal.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet w/lid; large spoon; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander

6a0120a8551282970b0133f33a94bc970b-800wiCook's Note:  As I mentioned above, if you have homemade sauce on hand in your freezer, it takes this recipe over-the-top.  To find out how I make ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~, just click into Categories 8, 12, or 22!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 

03/18/2013

~ My Buttery Parm, Pepper & Parsley Bagel Chips ~

IMG_3706I love bagels.  I particularly love egg bagels.  Call me Mrs. Egg Bagel.  I buy six of them each week at our local Wegman's bakery, because I deem their bagels to be the best.  I grew up eating really high-quality New York-style bagels from a bakery in New Jersey, so, I know a good bagel from a bad bagel (and there are bad bagels in the world).  I try to limit myself to one-half of one egg bagel each morning for breakfast, but, I must confess to sliding down the slippery slope and eating the remaining half (the entire bagel) at least once a week.  On Sunday mornings, I almost always make my ~ Egg Bagel, Sausage & Scrambled Egg Sandwiches ~ for Joe and I. We each eat one for brunch and that's pretty much our meal for the entire day.  You can get the recipe for those by clicking into Categories, 9, 17 or 25, or, on the Related Article link below!

Got leftover or stale bagels?  Make bagel chips!

6a0120a8551282970b017d4208e0ea970c-800wiIn the event I have a couple of leftover bagels, I often take a few minutes to make bagel chips. They are a flavor-packed snack just as they are, they make almost any kind of cheese or cheese dip taste better, and, they are the perfect foil for my smoked salmon spread.  Bagel chips are really easy to make, and any flavor of bagel can be used, even sweet varieties like cinnamon-raisin, but, the bagels really do have to be a 2-3 days old, meaning: a bit dried out.  When I'm making bagel chips for a party, I stash a bag of them in my refrigerator for a few days!

"Four" is my rule and I'm sticking to it!

IMG_3582I slice my bagels lengthwise into four equal discs, with each disc being slightly more than 1/4" thick.  If you can get five even slices out of a bagel, that's great, but I find that when I'm trying for five, I end up with a few ragged, unusable pieces, so, I don't try for five anymore.  Plus, if the discs are too thin, they tend to burn rather than brown.  Four is my rule and I'm sticking to it!

After that, any way you slice it, everybody loves a bagel chip!

IMG_3590Once you slice your bagel into four discs, you have a decision to make, you can use the discs as they are, or, slice the discs in half, quarters or sixths.  Personally, I like quarters.  They really are the quentessential "chip" and they're the perfect size for snacking, dipping or dolloping!

It's time to make the topping & bake the bagel chips!

IMG_3666This topping is perfect for any kind of bagel except for sweet varieties like cinnamon-raisin (those require a sweet topping and a different blog post).  I'm putting it on an egg bagel today, but, it's just as awesome on flavored bagels like garlic, onion or pumpernickel too!  What about seeded bagels, like sesame or poppyseed?  Yes, but watch them carefully because seeds burn!

No matter how you've sliced your bagel, for each bagel you slice you will need:

6a0120a8551282970b014e8747ab37970d-320wi1/2  stick salted butter, at room temperature, very soft

1/4  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon parsley flakes

6a0120a8551282970b015432779207970c-320wifinely- and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for sprinkling over bagel chips

~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon, thoroughly combine the butter, black pepper, garlic powder and parsley flakes.  Set aside.

IMG_3620 IMG_3602~ Step 2. Using an ordinary butter knife, slather the top of each bagel piece with the butter mixture, placing them on a rack in a baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil, as you work.  Using a microplane grater finely grate a coating of cheese over the top of all.

IMG_3647~ Step 3.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely, in pan, 45-60 minutes. Bagel chips will continue to crisp up as they cool.  It's tempting I know, but these are really best if allowed to cool for several hours or overnight (uncovered). 

IMG_3654

 

My Buttery Parm, Pepper & Parsley Bagel Chips:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many bagel chips as you want to make!

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; rubber spatula or wooden spoon; baking pan; cooling rack; parchment paper or aluminum foil; microplane grater

IMG_3695Cook's Note:  No recipe for bagel chips should go without a recipe for a dip or spread, and, I can't think of anything better than my recipe for ~ Pretty in Pink:  A Simple Smoked Salmon Spread ~ to go with this one.  You can find it by clicking in Categories 1, 2, 9, 14 or 20 (or Related Article link below)!

IMG_3340Even a slice of a port wine cheese ball would go great on these bagel chips  too.  My recipe is in Categories 1, 11 or 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 

03/16/2013

~ Pretty in Pink: A Simple Smoked Salmon Spread ~

IMG_3695If you're looking for an appetizer for an upcoming Spring breakfast, brunch, or even lunch, almost nothing is better than a well-made smoked salmon spread served with some bagel chips to dollop it on.  Ever since lox and bagels were invented, those two foodie items just go hand-in-glove.  If you've been living on a different planet, and don't know what the classic lox and bagels service typically consists of:  fresly-made sliced bagels, topped with the best smoked salmon available, pickled capers, cream cheese and diced red onion.  It is an amazing combination!

IMG_3508Smoked salmon spread couldn't be easier to make, and, like many other recipes, there are as many versions as there are cooks who love smoked salmon.  When I first tasted smoked salmon spread, it was at a baby shower for a co-worker hosted by her sister back in 1976. (I know it was 1976 because it was a steaming hot August day and I was 5 months pregnant with my son Jess.)  It was good, but it did not remind me at all of the classic lox and bagels flavors I was used to eating in the Philadelphia area.  I came to find out it was homemade, but was purchased from a local State College caterer, who at that time owned an Italian restaurant.  I liked the idea of "salmon spread", but, I wanted my own recipe to contain the traditional ingredients and flavors!

IMG_35068  ounces smoked salmon, the best available (Note:  Nova Scotia and Scottish are my two favorites, unless I've got my hands on some homemade smoked salmon.  In the event you are a smoked trout lover, this spread is great made with that too!)

8  ounces cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup sour cream (Note:  Some folks use mayonnaise, I prefer sour cream, but you can substitute it without compromise.)

1  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1  teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning

1/2  teaspoon dried dill weed

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

4-6  tablespoons finely-diced red onion

2  tablespoons drained, but not rinsed, capers, chopped

additional drained, but not rinsed, whole capers, for garnish

IMG_3528 IMG_3518~ Step 1. Prep the red onion and capers as directed and set aside. Place half of the salmon in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of 10-12 rapid on-off pulses, finely-chop the salmon.  Remove it from the processor and set aside.

IMG_3541 IMG_3533                                            ~ Step 2. Place the second half of the salmon in the workbowl and finely chop it as directed above.  Add the cream cheese,  Worcestershire sauce, lemon-pepper seasoning, dill weed and garlic powder.  With motor running, process until smooth, about 15 seconds.  Taste. Adjust seasonings?  Not necessary!

IMG_3556 IMG_3562                                          ~  Step 3. Remove mixture from processor and place in a small mixing bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the reserved salmon, red onion and capers.  

Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate several hours or overnight prior to serving chilled garnished with a few capers:

IMG_3706Pretty in Pink:  A Simple Smoked Salmon Spread:  Recipe yields 2 generous cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; large rubber spatula; 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

IMG_3654Cook's Note:  ~ My Buttery Parm, Pepper & Parsley Bagel Chips ~ are the perfect foil for this delicious salmon spread or a cheese dip. You can find out how to make my bagel chips by clicking into Categories 1, 2, 9 or 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie Preschutti/Copyright 2013)  

03/14/2013

~ Neufchatel vs Cream Cheese: Are they the same?~

IMG_3452It's impossible to find real-deal French Neufchatel cheese in American dairy cases, and, it's rare to come across it in many specialty cheese shops either.  It's even a hassle to order it on-line.  I know.  I tried all day yesterday.  Because of that, most American cooks don't really know what real-deal Neufchatel cheese is.  Why?  Because what's labeled as Neufchatel and placed in the dairy case next to Philadelphia cream cheese, is the American version of Neufchatel cheese.

So what is French Neufchatel Cheese?

Neufch-atel-cheeseReal-deal French Neufchatel is considered the oldest (or on the short list of oldest) cheese in France, dating back to the 6th century.  It's named after the village of Neufchatel-en-Bray, located in Normandy, which means "heart of bray".  Legend has it that farm girls shaped the cheese into hearts for their beloveds, many of whom were soldiers during the many wars between the French and English.

Real-deal French Neufchatel is made with raw cows milk, but pasturized cows milk is used to make those being exported to the USA.  In unripened form, it is very soft and spreadable. It is coated with a Brie-like rind.  It is considered a soft-ripened cheese, and, in its ripened form, its center is firmer and drier than Brie, with a bit of a chalky crumble.  The cheese is sold "young", only after 6-10 weeks of ripening.  If ripened further, it becomes smoother and stronger in flavor.

American Cream Cheese vs. American Neufchatel Cheese

I grew up in the era of Philadelphia cream cheese.  My grandmother used it, my mother uses, and, I use it. While I've seen Neufchatel cheese hundreds of times, I've never given it even a passing thought.   In fact, I just bought my first package today so I could write this blog post!

IMG_3439In 1872, William Lawrence, a NY dairyman, created the first American cream cheese in a failed attempt to reproduce Neufchatel.  He made the cheese in the same manner as Neufchatel, with cream added to the milk mixture. He named his company Empire Cheese, but named his product Philadelphia Cream Cheese, because he sent it to Philadelphia for packaging and shipment to his buyers.  In 1903, Phoenix Cheese of NY bought Empire Cheese along with the "Philadelphia" trademark for it. Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese was bought by Kraft in 1928. James L. Kraft invented pasteurized cheese in 1912, and: Pasteurized Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese was born!

American Cream Cheese and American Neufchatel can be used interchangeably!

IMG_3471Both are dense, tangy and spreadable.  The biggest difference between the two:  the Neufchatel is made using milk exclusively (23% milkfat), and, cream cheese is made with milk and cream (33% milk fat).  What does this mean?  Neufchatel contains a third less fat, and, even though it is usually marketed as a reduced-fat option to cream cheese, it's still a wholsome real-deal product.  I found the Neufchatel to be creamier in texture and slightly less rich-tasting, but not enough to say it's a compromise in flavor in any way. (Certainly not the way I feel about the horrid difference between butter and margarine.)  While the cream cheese was slightly richer tasting, I was surprised to find that it had a slightly grainier texture!

Watching your wasteline?  Give that American Neufchatel more than a passing thought!

IMG_3480"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)

03/12/2013

~ Confessions from a Port Wine Cheese Ball Lover ~

IMG_3378I always knew the day would come.  Someone would corner me with the dreaded question:  "Mel, do you have a favorite recipe for a cheese ball or spread on your blog?"  

IMG_3286Yesterday was that day.  My friend Diane stopped by to return a large pot she had borrowed for chili making over the weekend.  She stayed for a friendly chat and a glass of wine, which brought up the subject of cheese and crackers (which I had spur-of-the-momently placed on the counter for us to munch on).  I could feel my face turning the color of the neon-orange and pink chunk of port wine cheese I keep hidden in my refrigerator for me to snack on when I'm alone.  I love it with apple slices.  We all have our vices!

IMG_3359(A bit about port wine cheese:  Port wine cheese is not gourmet.  It's an American snack cheese made by processing sharp cheddar, tangy cream cheese and sweet port wine. It's best served at room temperature, which renders it spreadable.  It's easy to find and is sold in chunks, rolled into nut-coated balls or logs, and/or, packed into crocks.  Homemade port wine cheese is easy to make, but it doesn't have the rainbow-like marbling.  It tends to be more of a salmon color, but, it is just as tasty!)

Mm_Back to story:  I sucked it up.  It was time to confess.  I said the words: "Port wine cheese ball rolled in toasted walnuts."  To my amazement, this 30-something friend had never tasted a port wine cheese ball. Oh, she'd seen them in the cheese isle of the grocery store, but, had never been tempted to try anything that looked so "strange" (her word). When I was her age (back in the '70's and '80's), everyone who was anyone served a port wine cheese ball or log whenever they entertained!  

I went to the refrigerator and emerged with my secret stash of port wine cheese.  By the time our visit was over, it was gone.  Today, I'm going public with my dirty little port wine cheese ball secret!

With the season six premier of Mad Men coming up in April, if you're looking for a recipe to include in your retro-themed Mad Men party menu, this is the ideal recipe! 

How would Don Draper sell this?  "Put it on a Ritz!"

IMG_32908  ounces finely-grated sharp yellow cheddar cheese

8  ounces cream cheese, or neufchatel cheese, at room temperature*

1/4  cup inexpensive port wine, a fortified Portuguese wine

1  tablespoon Worcestershire

2  cups finely-chopped and lightly-toasted walnuts, or pecans

Ritz crackers and/or apple slices

*  Note:  Back in my day, everyone used cream cheese to make port wine cheese.  Nowadays French neufchatel cheese is often substituted. It's packaged almost identically to cream cheese and is located right next to it at the store. Both are dense, tangy and spreadable.  The biggest difference between the two:  the French version is made using milk exclusively (23% milk fat), and, American cream cheese is made with milk and cream (33% milk fat).  What does this mean?  Neufchatel contains about a third less fat.  The choice is yours!

6a0120a8551282970b017ee4250f49970d-320wi~ Step 1.  Chop and place the nuts in a shallow baking dish.  Roast on center rack of preheated 350 degree overn, until lightly-toasted and fragrant, about 12-15 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 5 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely, about 45-60 minutes.

IMG_3295~ Step 2.  Place the cheddar cheese, cream cheese, port wine and Worcestershire sauce in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of 30-40 rapid on-off pulses, process until cream cheese is incorporated. Open the lid and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Return the lid and turn the motor on, to process until smooth, about 20-30 seconds.

IMG_3305 IMG_3298~ Step 3. Carefully remove the steel blade from the processor.  Using the spatula, transfer mixture to a food storage container and refrigerate until cheese is firm enough to remove from container, about 2 hours or longer.  When it's ready to roll you will know because ...

IMG_3315... it will be the texture of manageable cookie dough.  Divide the cheese in half.  I place the two clumps on a piece of parchment.

IMG_3322Using the palms of your hands, working as quickly as possible, form into two even-sized cheese balls (or logs if you prefer).  

IMG_3331~ Step 4.  Begin by rolling each one lightly around in the toasted walnuts until a few nuts start to stick, and...

IMG_3340... as you progress, start patting and pressing the walnuts into each ball.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 more hours, or up to 3 days in advance.  Remove from refrigerator 30-45 minutes prior to serving:

IMG_3339Confessions from a Port Wine Cheese Ball Lover:  Recipe yields 2, 8-ounce cheese balls or logs.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; shallow baking dish; food processor; rubber spatula; 2-cup food storage container; parchment paper or wax paper

6a0120a8551282970b01630343ab9a970d-320wiCook's Note:  Last year, I hosted a party for the premier of Mad Men's fifth season.  To get the entire menu, from cocktails to dessert, ~ Mel's Mad Men Premier Night Menu Revealed ~ can be found in Category 11!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 

03/10/2013

~ Pantry Cooking: Chicken & Rice (Arroz con Pollo) ~

IMG_3267We woke up this morning with our day planned.  Joe was to give all three poodles haircuts and baths.  This might sound like fun, but, just like raising three kids, they all have distinct personalities. Haircut day is a day of switch-er-oo playing, depending on which one is voicing his or her complaint at the time.  Joe has discovered that each pooch deals very well with each step of the process for about 15-20 minutes.  After that, it's time to swap out that dog and move on to the next one for a while. Just as Joe was plugging his electric clippers into the wall, the phone rang.  Joe's 88-year-old mother was complaining of chest pains.  An ambulance was called and the day headed in a completely different direction.  Thankfully, Ann is fine.  The dog grooming will wait another day and I'm cooking a quick dinner for "Ma" out of my pantry tonight!

IMG_3242"Every cook in every country that serves rice and eats chicken:

has a recipe for chicken and rice." ~ Melanie  

IMG_9436The most famous, however, would probably be arroz con pollo, which is Spanish for "rice with chicken".  It is a classic dish of Spain and Latin America and I love the concoction. It's homey, family-style, comfort food, and, It's not hard to make either.  Even from scratch it can be made in a little more than an hour. Chicken is browned in a skillet. Rice, onions, garlic and bell peppers are added and cooked until the rice is light brown and the onion is softened.  Stock, wine, tomatoes, salt and Spanish spices are added.  The mixture simmers until the rice is fully-cooked. Depending on the cook and the country, sometimes other vegetables, like peas and carrots are added in the process.  My real-deal recipe for arroz con pollo will be another blog post!

"Desperate times call for desperate measures:

but that doesn't mean it shouldn't taste great!" ~ Melanie

IMG_3168My kids grew up loving a yellow Spanish rice mix made by Vigo. Whenever I served it, they didn't need to be called twice to the table. I always added some red pepper flakes to the simmering rice and they affectionately named it "spicy rice."  When it comes to the dish I'm making tonight, it is the ultimate time saver.  It's got all the authentic spices right 'in the bag'!

Over the years I also started keeping two kinds of Goya seasonings in my pantry too:  Sazon con azafran, and, Sazon con culantro y achiote.  The first is a blend of garlic powder, cumin and Mexican saffron.  The second is a mix of coriander and annato.  How convenient is that!?!

IMG_9428I'm using chicken tenders today. Why?  Because I happen to have a package in my refrigerator and they're going to cook up quickly without any fuss, mess or bother. They're also the inspiration for what I'm making for dinner tonight.  Ma hasn't eaten all day, I promised her a hot meal the moment she arrives here, and, she loves rice!

Is a recipe like this blog-worthy?  Yes indeed!

IMG_3228One of the things I've learned over the past couple of blogging years is not to rule out any recipe that tastes good and quickly feeds a person or a family under the stress of day-to-day life.  I receive e-mails from foodies of all walks of life (college students, starving bachelors, single moms, etc.).  While I'm not a proponent of cooking from bags, boxes and bottles every day of the week, I am not a food snob either. Every recipe has its time, and today, so it was, right here in my kitchen!   

Grandma Ann's 30-Minute Ambulance-Chicken Recipe:

IMG_3180~ Step 1.  Place:

1 14 1/2-ounce can chicken stock

in a measuring container with enough water to total 5 cups.  Add:

1  packet Sazon con azafran

Transfer to a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan. Add:

1 pound chicken tenders, 1 or 2 more or less won't matter

IMG_3192 IMG_3185~ Step 2. Bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat to simmer, until chicken is cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.  Cover pan, remove from heat and set aside.

6a0120a8551282970b0168e8943cae970c-320wiWhile the chicken is simmering:

 

 

~ Step 3.  Place 1-quart of water in a 4-quart stockpot and cook:

1  pound Vigo yellow rice

with:

4  tablespoons salted butter

and

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

added to the water,

according to package directions.

IMG_3212~ Step 4.  While the rice is cooking, drain the liquid from the pan of chicken.  Using a paring knife and fork, or just your fingertips, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces.  

Note:  This task will take less than 5 minutes, so, if you let it go to the end of the rice cooking process, the chicken will be cool enough to use your fingertips.  I like to use my hands to shred chicken! 

IMG_3214~ Step 5:  In the same chef's pan you cooked the chicken, place:

1  14 1/2-ounce can stewed tomatoes

1  cup frozen peas*

Bring to a simmer and continue to cook for about 4-5 minutes, breaking up the tomatoes a bit with the side of a spoon.

* Substitute another frozen vegetable if you don't have peas. Corn or green beans work well too!

IMG_3238 IMG_3235                                                ~ Step 6. Stir in the still warm rice, followed by the still warm chicken.  Continue to cook until steaming, about 2-3 more minutes.  Serve immediately!

Note:  At the very end, feel free to stir in 1/4 cup of minced cilantro. While I like cilantro a lot, my mother-in-law does not.  A squirt of lime though, is a must!  Pucker up:

IMG_3275Pantry Cooking:  Chicken & Rice (Arroz con Pollo):  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List: 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; 4-quart stockpot w/lid; cutting board; paring knife; fork; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b0147e17039a3970b-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my easy mother-in-law friendly recipes ~ Grandma Ann's Easy Chicken Vegetable Soup ~ can be found in Categories 2, 20 or 22!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 

03/07/2013

~ Tangy Avocado Salad Dressing a la Rick Bayless ~

IMG_3121As Kermit would say, "it's not easy being green", and, many folks need to be coerced into eating their greens and green food.  But, when it comes to avocados, people seem to overlook the color and head straight to the table.  I am one of them.  Give me a perfectly ripe avocado, and some salt, and, I'll show you my lunch.  You could say, I have a love affair with avocados, and:

When you have a love affair with someone, you want to know all about them!

6a0120a8551282970b01538f5c2885970b-320wiThe most popular avocado is the California Hass, which rhymes with "pass" (which is frequently mispronounced and mispelled "Haas").  This pear-shaped fruit weighs in at about half a pound and has bumpy, rough, dark greenish-black skin (it was known early on as an alligator pear).  It is known for its silky, rich, buttery texture and mild, nutlike flavor.  It is the only avocado variety to be grown year-round, represents about 80% of all avocados sold in the world, and, generates more than $1 billion in revenues in the US each year.  Trust me when I tell you, after a taste test between Hass and any other variety, you will agree there is no comparison in flavor and texture... Hass wins!

220px-Persea_americana_fruit_2It is noteworthy to mention that all Hass avocado trees descended from a single "mother tree" that was raised by a mail carrier named Rudolf Hass, of LaHabra Heights, CA.  Hass purchased the seedling tree from a grower named A.R. Rideout, who grew and experimented growing and developing many varieties of avocados.  Hass tried unsuccessfully to graft another variety onto it and planned on cutting the tree down until his children talked him out of it.  Since his kids loved the fruit and the tree gave good yield, he named it after himself and patented it in 1935.  That same year, Hass entered into a business with a Whittier, CA nurseryman to grow and promote his avocados.  Rudolf Hass died in 1952, never realizing the global impact his avocados would have.  

Sadly, his original tree died after a long struggle with a root fungus and was cut down in 2002.

6a0120a8551282970b014e894f7cce970d-320wiLike many other fruits, avocados ripen best after being picked off the tree.  A perfectly ripe avocado will be slightly soft and yield to gentle palm pressure, while an unripened avocado will be very firm/hard to the touch.  When a knife is run through and around it, it will literally cut like butter and the two halves will separate cleanly with a gentle twist. To speed up the ripening process, place several avocados in a paper bag and set them aside at room temperature for 1-2 days.  To increase the shelf life of avocados, store them in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.  Once an avocado is opened and the edible flesh is exposed to air, it tends to discolor very rapidly.  To minimize this discolorization, it's advisable to add diced, cubed or sliced avocado to the dish being served at the very last moment.  When a dish contains mashed or smashed avocado, the addition of citric acid, like lemon or lime juice, helps to prevent it from discoloring.  It is NOT true that burying an avocado pit in the guacamole will maintain its color!

6a0120a8551282970b0154332f91e4970c-320wiThe pit is cleanly and easily removed by holding the pitted half of the avocado securely in the palm of your hand.  

Using a chef's knife, give the pit a somewhat forceful tap with the center of the knife blade. Then, one gentle twist of the knife and the pit is out.  

To slice the avocado, you can easily peel away the skin and slice or dice in any manner you want.

6a0120a8551282970b014e894fa38b970d-320wi

To quickly cube the pitted avocado, for applications like adding to salads:  Simply score the soft flesh into desired-sized cubes and scoop them with an ordinary tablespoon.  

When making guacamole, skip cubing the avocado and:  Simply scoop the flesh out in very large pieces.  In any case, if you are not using your avocado, right then and there, as directed, make sure you immediately brush, squirt and/or toss it with fresh lime juice to delay discoloring.  In my recipe for guacamole, the addition of  bottled green chile sauce (salsa verde), in addition to lime juice, increases shelf life for up to two days!

IMG_3044Two days ago I made and posted ~ My Stovetop Green Chile Chicken Mac & Cheese ~ recipe.  You can find the recipe in Categories 3, 13, 19, or 20.  Tonight I'm making a salad to serve with the leftovers and I'm topping it with Rick Bayless's recipe for Tangy Avocado Salad Dressing (which he published in his Mexican Everyday cookbook).  I also want to thank my FB foodie friend Teresa Gottier for "turning me on" to this lip-smacking recipe!

Tangy Avocado Dressing (Aderezo de Aguacate)

"This creamy dressing is good tossed with a crunchy green like romaine.  It's luxurious drizzled over, or, used as a dip for raw vegetables too!" ~ Rick Bayless

(Original recipe has been tweeked a bit by Mel!)

IMG_30581/2  cup vegetable oil

3-4  tablespoons fresh lime juice (the juice from 1 lime)

1  large clove garlic, run through a press

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1  ripe Hass avocado, pitted and flesh scooped from skin

1/2  cup loosely-packed, roughly-chopped, cilantro

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

IMG_3067 IMG_3062                                         ~ Step 1. Prep and place all ingredients, as listed, in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, except for the vegetable oil.  Do not put the vegetable oil in yet.  

Using a series of 12-15 rapid on-off pulses, finely chop and combine all. Turn motor on and process until smooth, about 15-20 seconds.

IMG_3073 IMG_3069                                               ~ Step 2. With motor running, add the oil through the feed tube, in a thin, steady stream, until mixture is smooth.  Transfer to a 2-cup food storage container. Use immediately or chill for an hour or two, to give the flavors time to marry.  Serve chilled or at room temperature:

IMG_3092Tangy Avocado Salad Dressing a la Rick Bayless:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups dressing.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; spoon; food processor; rubber spatula; 2-cup food storage container w/lid

Cook's Note:  This dressing can be made several hours or a day ahead, and, keeps nicely in the refrigerator, with minimal discoloration, for about three days after that. 

6a0120a8551282970b015433345133970c-800wiExtra Cook's Note:  The most popular dish made with avocados in the USA will come as no surprise to you.  It is guacamole.  You can find my recipe for ~ Holy Guacamole! It's the Second Day of Summer! ~ in Categories 1, 4, 8, ,10, 13, 14 or 15!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 

03/05/2013

~ My Stovetop Green Chile Chicken Mac & Cheese ~

IMG_3032How many variations on macaroni and cheese are there?  I'm supposing about as many as there are cooks.  For the past week, Joe and I have been on a mini-Tex-Mex foodie holiday. You know how that goes, and, it has probably happened to you:  once you get a flavor profile going on your palate, you just want to keep going.  The same thing seems to happen to us when we eat Chinese or Thai food.  All it takes is one yummy dish to start the ball rolling.  Todays recipe is being posted to use up a few of this weeks leftover ingredients, and, it has a fun foodie mom story (that would be yours truly) behind it too:

IMG_3030Without naming names, suffice it to say:  my kids grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of friends whose mothers made a dish called "chili mac", which I found detestable. It was a Hamburger-Helper-esque meal that combined ground meat, taco seasoning, cheddar cheese and macaroni.  My boys loved the stuff, but it was a meal I refused to cook for anyone. Period.  I did, however, thanks to a Southern Living Magazine (circa 1986-ish), come up with a version of "green chile chicken mac" that we as a family, loved.  The orginal SLM recipe contained no chicken, and, was a bread-crumb-topped side-dish casserole that got baked in the oven.  What it did contain were canned green chiles and pepper jack cheese. It was Southern Living's Tex-Mex flavors that caught my eye.  I thought it was a great idea (and, quite frankly, innovative considering it was back in the 1980's).  What I did to it (using my own kid-friendly, stovetop macaroni and cheese recipe as a guide), was swap out a few ingredients and, voila.  My recipe makes a lot, eight hearty servings, but, back in the '80's, I was feeding three hungry boys (+ Joe). Leftovers never went to waste, and, when they became teenagers, there were NO leftovers! 

Over the years, I've seen similar recipes for this dish pop up in various magazines, cookbooks and internet sites.  But, I've never seen one that caused me pause to stop and change mine. Here's what I don't like about others:  they poach their chicken, or, they take a step to the darkside of life and use rotisserie chicken (rotisserie chicken is an abomination). Properly seasoning the chicken up front, and cooking it with Tex-Mex spices that complement it, is the secret to this dish, and, that won't happen if you poach it:

IMG_3001Gourmet?  Absolutely not.  Really good?  Absolutely!

IMG_2850For the chicken

2  pounds chicken tenders, chopped into small, 1/2"-3/4", bite-sized chunks and pieces

1/2  cup finely-diced green onion, light and green part only (Note:  Thinly-slice and reserve green tops for garnish.)

1  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon Mexican oregano

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1  4.5-ounce can chopped green chiles, drained

1/4  cup salsa verde (green salsa), your favorite brand

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)

IMG_2917For the macaroni & cheese sauce:

1  pound elbow macaroni

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning water

4  tablespoons salted butter

1/2  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

3 1/2 cups milk

8  ounces grated Monterey Jack w/Jalapeno cheese

8  ounces cubed Velveeta cheese

IMG_9456~ Step 1.  To prepare the chicken, at the meaty end of each tenderloin there's a white nub.  It's a harmless tendon and don't worry about removing it entirely.  The part inside of the tenderloin is paper-thin and unnoticeable after cooking. Using a pair of kitchen shears, clip, remove, and discard the visible tough nub. Using chef's knife, cut the tenders into 1/2"-3/4" bite-sized pieces. Prep the green onion as directed.

IMG_2862 IMG_2854~ Step 2.  In a 14" chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat.  Stir in the cumin, garlic powder, Mexican oregano, sea salt and cayenne pepper.  Add the green onions and the chicken.  Over medium heat, cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is just cooked through, about 6-8 minutes. Do not brown the chicken!  

IMG_2880 IMG_2876~ Step 3. Stir in the green chiles and salsa verde.

Remove the pan from the heat, cover and set aside.

IMG_2882 

~ Step 4.  To prepare the macaroni, in an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add the macaroni and cook, until al dente, about 5-6 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b0168e80b3b54970c-120wiDrain the pasta into a colander, but do not rinse the macaroni. Spend about 30-60 seconds shaking the colander. to ensure all excess moisture is removed from the pasta.

IMG_2894~ Step 5.  Stir the hot macaroni into the chicken in the pan.  Cover the pan and set aside, to keep this mixture moist and warm too! 

Note:  Keeping the chef's pan covered during these interim cooking processes is going to keep both the chicken and the pasta steamy warm and moist.  All it needs now is some cheese sauce!

Let's get to it:

IMG_2930 IMG_2934 IMG_2938 IMG_2943

 

 

 

~ Step 6.  To prepare the cheese sauce, in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the flour.  Whisk constantly until the flour has been incorporated into the butter and a thick, pasty, crumbly mass has formed.  Slowly add the milk, in increments, about 3/4-1 cup at a time, whisking vigorously after each addition to work out almost all of the lumps.

IMG_2952 IMG_2946~ Step 7. Bring the mixture to a very gentle simmer and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 1/2-3 minutes, until nicely-thickened and completely smooth.  Turn the heat off but do not remove from stovetop.  Add the grated cheeses. Using a large spoon, stir until the cheeses have melted and a glorious cheese sauce has formed!

IMG_2990 IMG_2979Step 8. Pour cheese sauce into the still warm chicken/pasta mixture.  Using a large spoon, gently stir until all ingredients are thoroughly incororporated.  Serve immediately garnished with thinly-sliced green tops from the green onions:  

IMG_3044My Stovetop Green Chile Chicken Mac & Cheese:  Recipe yields 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; 8-quart stockpot; colander; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; whisk; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b0163021c22f2970d-800wiCook's Note:  For my personal all-time favorite stovetop macaroni and cheese meal, check out ~ Dad's Mac & Cheese, or:  What I cook Just for Me ~ in Categories 3, 4, 12, 14 & 20! 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 

03/03/2013

~ Honey Butter Two Ways: Red Chili & Cinnamon + (The difference between Creamed Honey & Honey) ~

IMG_2809I love honey and I love butter.  I grew up putting it on cottony-soft, buttered, Parker House dinner rolls which were almost always served as a side to fried chicken in home kitchens, or, a basket of fried chicken in diner-type eateries.  Back in the 60's, my brother David and I lived for the occasions when my mom and dad would drive us to Lehighton, PA, to eat "chicken in the rough". These are pictures of the paper placemats on every table of their booths and counter seats:

ImagesHistory of Chicken in the Rough:  In the 1930's Beverly and Rubye Osborne were escaping from Oklahoma's dust bowl to California, with, a basket of fried chicken in the back of their Ford pickup.  They were middle aged and the Depression had wiped out their savings.  A bump in the rutted road scattered the chicken and the basket.  Picking it up, Rubye said "this is really chicken in the rough."  With that  Images-1remark, a fortune was born.  Beverly turned his truck around and headed back home. He reasoned that "fingers were made before forks", and, that chicken could be a cheap source of food during a time when incomes were sparce.  By 1950, when Time Magazine ran a feature article on them, Beverly and Rubye were grossing almost two million dollars a year and had sold 35 million orders of Chicken in the Rough!

By the late 1970's, Lehighton's Chicken in the Rough restaurant had, sadly, closed its doors.  By the 1980's I was married with children and never served my family fried chicken without a basket of Pepperidge Farm Parker House rolls and a store-bought container of honey butter on the table. By the 1990's, I decided to make my own honey butter, to go with my own homemade Parker House rolls.  In the new millenium, I began experimenting with recipes for flavored honey butter, to compliment whatever I was serving it with or on.  Fast forward to 2013.  I write a cooking blog, and, two of my favorite flavored honey butter recipes are my post today!

Honey + Unsalted Butter + Salt = Honey Butter

Creamed Honey + Unsalted Butter + Salt = Superb Honey Butter

IMG_2775"Creamed honey?", you ask.  Yes, there is such a thing.  Never tried it?   You're in for a treat!

IMG_2723A bit about creamed honey: also called whipped honey, spun honey and churned honey, is 100% natural honey, only in a different "scientific state/form".  It is a combination of equal parts honey and crystallized honey (the same stuff that "hardened up" in the back of your pantry).  Just put the two in your stand mixer and mix it on low for about 30 minutes, stopping to give it a stir about every 10 minutes, until it is pale, almost white, in color. The more you mix it, the more stable it becomes!  

It has a mild favor, and, at room temperature, spreads like butter.  Unlike regular liquid honey, it doesn't ooze or drip. I almost never have crystallized honey in my pantry, so, I've taken to buying creamed honey, because, by itself, it's a great condiment, and, it makes the best honey butter!

IMG_2756For basic, or flavored honey butter:

4  ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature (1 stick)

2-4  tablespoons creamed honey or liquid honey, to taste

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/2-1  teaspoon of either ground cinnamon or cayenne pepper, to taste (optional)

Or, experiment with other spices!

IMG_2790Place all ingredients in a medium bowl.  Using a hand-held electric mixer, or by hand using just a fork, thoroughly combine until smooth.  I use the electric mixer when using creamed honey.

Store in a tightly-covered food storage container in the refrigerator for up to six weeks.  Serve cold or at room temperature. I prefer mine at room temperature!

IMG_2792I'm making both kinds today.  I like to serve Cinnamon Honey Butter with my recipe for ~ It's an Apple, Raisin & Pecan Streusel Muffin Day ~, and, Red Chili Honey Butter with my recipe for ~ It's a Triple Corn Jalapeno Corn Muffin Kinda Day ~ (both pictured below)!  

Both recipes can be found in Categories 5, 9 & 20, or, by clicking on the Related Articles links below! 

IMG_2840Honey Butter Two Ways:  Red Chili & Cinnamon + (The difference between Creamed Honey & Honey):  Recipe yields 1/2-3/4 cup of basic honey butter or flavored honey butter, depending upon how much honey you add.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer or fork; rubber spatula; 1/2 cup food storage container w/lid

IMG_2784Cook's Note:  If spice is not "your thing", adding a 1/2 teaspoon of your favorite extract to the honey butter is a great way to flavor it too.  My three favorites are almond, butter rum or vanilla!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie Preschutti/Copyright 2013)