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13 posts from April 2013

04/29/2013

~ Vintage + Nostalgic = Priceless Remembrances ~

IMG_5572As a foodie blogger, I am always on the lookout for props to make food photos more interesting, and, I admit to buying a few vintage items, once in a while, at a flea market or on e-bay.  A close friend of ours, Mark Sunderland, is an accomplished interior designer and antique dealer in Atlanta, GA.  He's always on the lookout for interesting pieces for me too (many of which you have seen in my posts), and, when he visits his childhood home in Altoona, PA, he often stops by with a box of treasures.   I enjoy all of them, but (small but), I have no real connection or bond to these.  In fact, as I polish each one and find a special place for it, a sad satisfaction comes over me:  How sad that something so special to someone got sold for pennies, and, how satisfied the original owner might be to know it had found a good home with me.  Sigh.  

What do all of the 'old things' in these photos have in common?

295078_396371153729394_1736164290_nJoe and I have always gone to visit my parents as often as we can, but recently, because of a couple of temporary health issues (which happens to us all as we get older), we've been going a little oftener, and, for a different reason -- just to help out with minor stuff:  

Joe runs a few errands for them, while I do some light cleaning, laundry and cook a few meals.  As I said, this is a temporary situation and we are happy to do it.  My parents are more than fine, and thankfully, quite self-sufficient!  

On each visit, while doing some household chore, I've inevitably found one small item that flooded my head with a memory.  In fact, it made me so happy, I asked my mom if I could keep it. Why? I'm old enough to remember it when it wasn't old.  It was a part of my family's everyday life:

They are unremarkable, everyday items that managed to:

"take a lickin', keep on tickin' " + survive my family!

I've always been nostalgic about "things".  So much so, I am the designated "keeper of the family flame" so to speak.  Over the years, relatives on all sides have gifted me with their precious things:  furniture, lamps, vases, china, crystal and silver.  I think my home is a very tasteful blend of old and new.  In every room, you'll find a piece or two of something that has a story to tell!

Each of these treasures, one by one, found at my parent's house over the past few months, is one of those 'favorite things" that a blogger like me has got to write about:

IMG_5572My grandmother canned everything.  She lived about 10 miles from my parents home and I spent a lot of time with her.  On one of her canning days, when she asked me to go into the basement and bring up a box of "blue jars" with the letter "B" on the box, I knew exactly what I was looking for.  I was 5 and I knew my colors and alphabet.  Out of all of those dozens of jars, to my knowledge, this is the only one that remains.

FYI:  This Vintage Rare #13 Blue BALL Perfect Mason Pint Fruit Jar & BALL Zinc Lid, will set you back anywhere from $45.00-$55.00 + another $10.00 for shipping and handling!  Let that be a lesson to you -- don't throw something out just because it looks old and a bit overused!

IMG_5572When I was in elementary school, jelly jars turned into drinking glasses. When you finished eating the jelly, you threw away the lid, washed out the jar and put it on the shelf with the everyday dishes and glasses. Every house had a cabinet full of them and our house was no exception. Some were tall and some were short.  Some were plain and some were painted.  The flower pattern on this particular brand of jelly was a favorite of my mothers, and at one point we had at least a dozen of matching glasses.  While mom was collecting these, our family ate a lot of jelly.

FYI:  Jelly Jar Glasses will set you back anywhere from $5.00-$25.00 a piece, depending on how many you've got "as a set".  I've got one!

IMG_5572When I was little, there was no such thing as preschool.  We learned to spell via our parents and spice tins were my mother's tool for teaching me.  She'd tell me what letters to look for and send me to fetch the can. Whether I got it wrong or right, we'd recite each letter on the can, then phonetically go through the pronounciation.  By the time I read about how "Dick met Jane", I knew my way, A-Z, through a spice rack. Yesterday, I found this unopened 1950's can of Durkee's cayenne in my mom's pantry.  The original price tag on the bottom reads 25 cents!

IMG_5572From the time I can remember, somebody was always hanging wet clothes on the clothesline or retrieving dry clothes from the clothesline.  I actually think I remember watching them do it from my baby carriage. When I entered my teen years, hanging and picking clothes became my job, and, I didn't care for the task at all.  Why? Because there was a perfectly good appliance called "the dryer" in my mother's laundry room. It was positioned right next to "the washer", and, you put the wet clothes in it and it dried them for you.  Mom used her washer. Her dryer?  Not so much.  As for these two clothespins:  Mom still has a big bunch of them in a clothespin bag hanging on her indoor laundry line in her laundry room. She won't miss two until she reads this post.  Circa 1950's, they're so smooth and polished you could hang pantyhose and not risk a snag... they don't make 'em (or practically anything else) like they used to!

IMG_5585In my BH&G bedtime storybook (published in 1950) are thrillers like:

The Little Red Hen; The Story of Little Black Sambo; The House that Jack Built; The Tale of Peter Rabbit; Uncle Remus Initiates the Little Boy, and, the unforgettable:  Wonderful Tar-Baby Story!

There are poems too:

The Goops on Table Manners; Butter and How to Make It; The King's Breakfast; What is Pink, and, of course:  Old Mother Hubbard!

I hope you've enjoyed my little trip down memory lane as much as I've enjoyed writing it!

IMG_5590"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/26/2013

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (4/26/13) ~

Culinary Q & A #2April showers bring May flowers. 'Tis true.  Over the past few days we've been experiencing sunshine on a regular basis and temperatures started venturing into the upper 50's and lower 60's. When I stepped out onto my laundry room porch to bring the newspaper in this morning, I was greeted by one of my favorite sights:  The 30-some 'thundercloud' plum trees that line our driveway and lane have gone from being full of pretty pink blossoms to pretty pink flowers!  

IMG_5540How anything this pretty got the name 'thundercloud' is beyond me. I always referred to them as "flowering plum trees" and was astonished when I learned of their proper name.  No matter.  In my yard, they announce Spring and Spring arrived today.  Soon they will be full of ornamental plums and for the rest of the Summer their burgundy-colored leaves, which shimmer in the sunlight, will provide shade to the front of our house! 

There's more good news:  We are supposed to have hallmark weather here in Happy Valley this weekend.  We are looking forward to opening a few doors and windows, enjoying our pretty view and firing up the barbeque grill too.  Before I head off to enjoy all of this glorious fresh air, Kitchen Encounters got a great question a couple of days ago that deserves a good answer:

6a0120a8551282970b015432779207970c-320wiQ.  Meredith says and asks:  My family loves cheese and I thoroughly enjoyed your cheese fondue post.  It caused me to buy an electric fondue pot and I love it. Thank-you.  I have a question.  We use a lot of good-quality parmesan cheese in our house.  Do you freeze parmesan cheese rinds? If you do, do you know of any uses for the rinds besides adding them to sauce or soup for additional flavor?

IMG_5248A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Meredith, as you can see, I too freeze parmesan cheese rinds, and, if one uses a lot of parmesan, they tend to stack up in the freezer.  Like yourself, I use them solely to "finish" Italian soups and pasta sauces.  So, I decided to pose your question to my Facebook foodie friends and here's a few of their suggestions:

Teresa Gottier:  According to Italian friends and cooks, there are all kinds of uses beyond flavoring.  Scrape the very outer layer of rind off and cut into cubes.  Heat in a pan with some olive oil or place on the grill.  Enjoy the soft cubes as a snack with some Italian bread!

Marilyn Cummins:  Occasionally I add a parmesan rind to the mason jar when I am making garlic-infused olive oil.  It adds a nice cheesey tang to the oil which we use as a bread dipper!

Julia Enerson:  For added flavor, put a rind in the pot when you're cooking risotto or rice. Remember to remove the rind just before serving!

Thank you my foodie Facebook friends!  I love it when I learn something new too!!!

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

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

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

04/24/2013

~ Save Those Shrimp Shells!!! Because I Said So!!! (How to: Make a Basic Shrimp Stock a la Melanie) ~

IMG_5456You've heard me say it so many times, "you only get out of something what you put into it", and, like The Constitution of the United States, homemade stock is the blueprint to the success or failure of many a recipe.  You've watched me post more than a few shrimp dishes here on Kitchen Encounters over the past couple of years.  Did you ever wonder what I do with all of those shells?  Well, I stuff them (over a period of time) in a ziplock bag and stash said bag in my freezer.  When I accumulate 2 pounds of shells I make stock.  Why?  Not because I have nothing better to do with my life, but because the shells from uncooked shrimp are loaded with flavor!

IMG_5428But, isn't it easier just to buy stock at the grocery store?

51TI0tCYv-L._AA160_Yes, if you're lucky enough to find shellfish/seafood stock in your market, which, here in Central PA, more often than not, I can't.  I've been known to order it via the internet, but I can tell you this:  it is a compromise and I never feel my end result is quite as good as it could have been if I'd used my real-deal stock.  Besides, one of the fundamentals of good cooking is to waste nothing, or as little as possible, so this gives me an opportunity to feel good about myself.  And, for your information, I do the same thing with certain chicken, beef, veal and fish bones.  However, I draw the line at, and do not save, fish heads.  'Nuff said.  We all have our limits!

Unlike "brown" stocks (chicken, beef, duck, shellfish, veal, etc.), which take hours of roasting and slow simmering to produce that silky, rich tasting, brown liquid which becomes gelatinous as it cools, my basic shrimp stock takes little work and almost no time to make.  From start to finish, in about 1-2 hours (depending on how much I am making), I've got a light, bright, flavorful start to any number of my favorite dishes: classic shrimp bisque or bouillabaisse, Italian risotto, Thai soup, Indian curry, and, many of my beloved New Orleans favorites (gumbo, jamalaya, etc).  

IMG_54452  pounds shrimp shells, peeled from uncooked shrimp, thawed 

1/2  cup diced yellow or sweet onion*

1/2  cup carrot*

1/2  cup diced celery*

4  tablespoons olive oil

6  cups cold water

2  cups white wine

the peel from 1 lemon (no white pith, just thin strips and pieces of the yellow exterior)

2  bay leaves

2  teaspoons sea salt

1/4  teaspoon red pepper flakes

* Note:  Culinarily, this vegetable mixture is referred to as a "mirepoix" (mihr-PWAH), or, a mixture of diced onion, carrot and celery (sometimes herbs) that are sauteed in butter, fat or oil, and used as the base to season sauces, stocks, soups or stews.

IMG_5479 IMG_5463~ Step 1. Prep and place the onion, carrot and celery in an 8-quart stockpot and add the olive oil.  Adjust heat to medium-high and saute, just until the vegetables have started to soften and exude moisture, stirring frequently, about 4-5 minutes.  Do not overcook or allow to brown.

IMG_5491 IMG_5483~ Step 2. Add the shells and stir until they start to firm up a bit and turn pink, about 2-3 minutes.  

IMG_5510

~ Step 3.  Add the water, wine, lemon peel, bay leaves, sea salt and red pepper flakes.  Bring to a boil over high heat.

IMG_5515~ Step 4. Adjust heat to a gentle simmer, partially cover, and continue to cook for 45 minutes.  During this time, lift the lid and press down on the shrimp to bathe them in the simmering liquid.

~ Step 5.  Remove from heat, cover pot, and allow to steep for 1 hour.

IMG_5524~ Step 6.  Place a fine mesh strainer over a medium-sized bowl and slowly pour the stock through the strainer, pressing down firmly (using the back of a spoon) to extract every last drop of liquid from the shells that fall into the strainer. You will have about 6-cups of stock, which will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or, can be portioned and frozen in food storage containers for 6-8 months.

You can thank me later:

IMG_5534Save Those Shrimp Shells!!!  Because I Said So!!! (How to:  Make a Basic Shrimp Stock a la Melanie):  Recipe yields 6 cups of shrimp stock.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; large slotted spoon; fine mesh strainer; 3-6, 1-2 cup food storage containers with tight-fitting lids

6a0120a8551282970b014e5f429e99970c-320wiCook's Note:   Making a basic shrimp stock is very similar to making a basic vegetable stock.

You can find my recipe for ~ How to:  Make a Basic Vegetable Stock a la Lidia ~, in Categories 14, 15 or 22.  It is based upon Lidia Bastianich's basic recipe for vegetable stock, and, I learned how to make it, from her, in person, when she was doing a cooking demonstration for WPSU-TV right here in Happy Valley, PA!

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

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

04/22/2013

~Louisiana Gold: The Ultimate Creamy Hot Crab Dip~

IMG_5380Let's chat a bit about hot crab dip.  I love it, and, the recent post of a Facebook friend (thanks Michael) made me so hungry for this stuff, I had to cook up my recipe for it for Sunday brunch (yesterday).  I grew up eating hot crab dip in the Chesapeake Bay area, where it is made with Old Bay Seasoning, Frank's Red Hot Sauce, dry English mustard and white cheddar.  I thought it was the ultimate crab dip until I tasted hot crab dip made in New Orleans, where it is made with Creole seasoning, Louisiana Gold Hot Sauce, Creole mustard and cream cheese.  Both versions also contain parmesan, mayonnaise, onion, and garlic, plus, in NOLA during Mardi Gras, for festive color, they throw in some green and red bell pepper too.  When eaten in close proximity to either place, it's made with freshly picked, jumbo lump, blue crabmeat.  Both are baked in the oven until puffy and golden and eaten with crackers or French bread: in the bay area, it is usually served with thin white crackers called "English water biscuits", and, in Louisiana they tend to head for the airy French baguette.  That choice is yours.  Serve the dip warm, or even at room temperature, with Bloody Mary's for brunch or wine for dinner: 

IMG_5349Chesapeake = Old Bay Seasoning, Frank's Red Hot Sauce, dry English mustard & cheddar

Louisiana = Creole Seasoning, Louisiana Gold Hot Sauce, Creole mustard & cream cheese

IMG_52751  pound jumbo lump crabmeat, the best available

12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

3/4  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup finely-grated parmesan cheese

1/4 cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion

2  tablespoons each:  finely-diced green and red bell pepper

1  teaspoon Creole seasoning

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1  tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2  teaspoons Louisiana Gold hot sauce

1  teaspoon Creole mustard

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing au gratin dish

2  10-12-ounce French baguettes, torn or sliced, for serving (tearing & eating is lots of fun)

additional Louisiana Gold hot sauce, for drizzling on top at tableside

IMG_5283~ Step 1.  Prep and place all of the ingredients, except for the crabmeat (don't add crabmeat at this time), in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine.  

IMG_5292~ Step 2. Gently fold in the crabmeat, so as not to break it into little bits and pieces, meaning:  you want the crabmeat to remain in large lumps.

IMG_5300~ Step 3.  Transfer to a 9" round au gratin dish (a 9" glass pie plate will work fine too), mounding the mixture slightly towards the center.

IMG_5313

 

 

 

 

~ Step 4.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven, 30-35 minutes.  

Note:  Crab dip will be puffed up in the center, lightly golden on the top and slightly bubbly around the edges.  

Remove from oven and cool about 10-15 minutes prior to serving with French bread and additional hot sauce at tableside.

IMG_5355Louisiana Gold:  The Ultimate Creamy Hot Crab Dip:  Recipe yields 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; 9" round au gratin dish or glass pie plate

IMG_1099Cook's Note:  Perhaps it is the ultimate crab cake experience you are looking for.  In that case, you'll want to try my Chesapeake Bay-style recipe for ~ Crab-ilicious!  The Maryland Crab Cake Sandwich ~, which can be found in Categories 2, 14, or 17!  There's more good news:

6a0120a8551282970b017c31d244cd970b-800wi~ Crab-ilicious! Maryland Lump Crab Imperial ~, can be found in Categories 1, 9, 14 & 21~!

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

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

04/19/2013

~ Cajun-Creole Corn-Meal-Crusted Popcorn Shrimp ~

IMG_5196I've popped so much corn this week, my kitchen has taken on the enticing aroma of a movie theatre.  To my husband's childlike glee, on Monday I posted my recipe for ~ My Caramel Corn vs. Cracker Jack?  No Contest. ~, and, on Wednesday, ~ Say Cheese!  Buttery Cheddar Cheese Popcorn!!! ~.  One is sweet, one is savory, both are addictive.  You can find both of these recipes in Categories 2, 17 & 20, or, by clicking on the Related Article links below.  We've celebrated by watching some great movies on-demand too:  Zero Dark Thirty on Monday, and Lincoln on Wednesday.  Tonight, we're watching Hyde Park on the Hudson, and, I'm making a completely different kind of popcorn for our Friday night movie:  popcorn shrimp!

A bit about popcorn shrimp:  If you've never eaten popcorn shrimp, you're in for a treat.  It's basically bite-sized shrimp that have been breaded and deep-fried, meaning:  small shrimp are used to mimic the look of popped corn kernels.  It's said to have originated in the Cajun South (although, Red Lobster claims that two of their employees invented them).  It just so happens that New Orleans is where I had the pleasure of first experiencing popcorn shrimp, and it wasn't at a Red Lobster, so, I'm sticking with that story.  It also makes logical sense that with the voluminous shrimping industry in NOLA, these innovative folks would have come up with a deliciously spicy way to serve the shrimpy shrimp that are the hardest to market.  It consists of three main ingredients:  shrimp and a breading of some sort, plus Cajun or Creole seasoning! 

Cajun?  Creole?  Somewhere in between?

Fact:  Cajun = country-style.  Creole = city-style.

Fiction:  Cajun cuisine is spicier than Creole cuisine.  

6a0120a8551282970b015434a7fbbe970c-800wiA bit about Cajun and Creole cuisines:  Cajun cooking, has come to imply a simple, rustic, country-style of cooking that was born out of the necessity of peasants and represents a combination of French and Southen fare.  Creole cooking has come to imply the more refined, sophisticated style of city dwellers, was born out of resturant chefs and combines the best of French, Spanish and African cuisines.  

Cajun cooks tend to use copius amounts of  inexpensive pork fat along with anything they can hunt or trap or harvest from the swamps and bayous.  Creole cooks, who are supplied by the commerce of the ports, place more emphasis on rich butter, cream and eggs.  Cajun food tends to be one-pot stew-like meals, often prepared in a single cast-iron pot.  Creole food is more elegant and requires two or three vessels to prepare the meal.   Both cuisines rely heavily upon the "holy trinity" (chopped onion, celery and green bell pepper) and rice, however, Cajun food is based on inexpensive additions and plain looking, while Creole food is based on more exotic ingredients and is quite flamboyant.  When it comes to spice, they both use the same spices, in quantities determined by how spicy the food is supposed to be.  What it all boils down to:

"Cajuns eat in the kitchen and Creoles eat in the dining room!" ~ Chef John D. Folse

(You can find ~ JoePa's Easy Cajun-Creole Seafood Jambalaya ~ in Categories 3, 14 or 20!)

6a0120a8551282970b016301cbc9d4970d-320wiFor the Shrimp:

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

1  cup yellow corn meal (masa)

1  cup all-purpose flour

3  tablespoons Cajun seasoning 

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  cup Creole mustard

3/4  cup water

peanut or corn oil, for deep frying

freshly ground sea salt

Note:  One of the biggest complaints I have about some restaurant versions of popcorn shrimp is they have so much breading you can't taste the shrimp.  The day I stopped using small (100 count) shrimp and experimented with the next size up, medium shrimp, that problem was solved. The best popcorn shrimp have a light, crispy, flavorful coating.  The day I stopped using breadcrumbs and started using corn meal, my heart went pitter-pat and I never looked back. Lastly, for best results, do not make them in advance.  Dip, dredge, fry, salt and eat immediately!

6a0120a8551282970b0168e7c30562970c-320wi~ Step 1.  Preheat the oil in a deep-fryer to 360 degrees.

~ Step 2.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, corn meal, Cajun seasoning and salt.

6a0120a8551282970b016762c217ae970b-320wi~ Step 3.  In a second large bowl, whisk the mustard and water, to a pancake-batter-like consistency.

IMG_5165~ Step 4. Using a large spoon or spatula, fold all of the shrimp into the mustard/water mixture, until the shrimp are thoroughly coated.

IMG_5168~ Step 5. Working in batches of 18-24, dredge shrimp in the cornmeal mixture and shake off any excess.

IMG_5183~ Step 6.  Working as quickly as you can, carefully place 3-4 shrimp at a time into the basket of the the deep-fryer until 18-24 shrimp have been added.  Deep-fry for 1 1/2 minutes, until golden on the outside and tender on the inside.

Transfer to a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish that has been lined with paper towels.  Lightly sprinkle each batch with sea salt the moment they get placed in the dish.  Repeat this process until all shrimp are fried:

IMG_5232Cajun-Creole Corn-Meal-Crusted Popcorn Shrimp:  Recipe yields 100-120 popcorn shrimp, or, 8 servings of 12-15 shrimp per person.

Special Equipment List:  deep-fryer; whisk; large spoon or spatula; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b013486a70751970c-320wiCook's Note:  I serve these with ~ Melanie's Sweet 'n Spicy Wing 'n Thing Sauce ~ for dipping or drizzling.

It is a 2:1 ratio of (for example):

1  cup Frank's Red Hot Sauce

1/2 cup Honey

stirred together and heated on the stovetop just until warm, for about 45-60 seconds.

You can find the recipe in Categories 2, 8, 17 or 20!

6a0120a8551282970b016762c4cb9c970b-800wiExtra Cook's Note:  So, you loved my popcorn shrimp and the spicy honey sauce.  Now, imagine those shrimp served on a sandwich.  The one and only:  ~ Lousianna's Famous Po' Boy Sandwich ~.  You can find my recipe, along with the recipe for its classic condiment, remoulade sauce, in Categories 2, 11 or 14!

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

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

04/17/2013

~ Say Cheese! Buttery Cheddar Cheese Popcorn!!! ~

IMG_5087On Monday I posted my recipe for caramel corn.  The idea "popped" into my head while watching the 1949 movie "Take Me Out to The Ballgame" on Sunday.  This fun-to-watch classic (staring Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams and Gene Kelly) reminded me that baseball season, 'America's favorite past time', got underway in April, and, April 6th was National Caramel Corn Day too.   It was a fun post to research, not because of the recipe (I already had that in my bag of tricks), but because of all of the fun historical trivia I learned about Cracker Jack... America's most famous ballpark snack next to roasted peanuts.   If you'd like to take a trip back in history to a kinder gentler time, ~ My Caramel Corn vs. Cracker Jack?  No Contest. ~ recipe can be found in Categories 2, 7, 17 & 20, or, by clicking on the Related Article link below!

This morning, to my delight, I had a cheese-y popcorn question waiting for me in my e-mails. After thinking about it, I decided to write this post, because it's a great follow up to caramel corn!

IMG_5009Q.  Anita asks:  Mel, I read your recipe for caramel corn, and, I plan to try it very soon. It looks delicious and I know my family will love it (I never knew it had to be baked)!  

I have a hot-air popcorn popper and it's a budget-friendly snack for me to keep on hand for my children (two boys and a girl ages 13, 11 and 8). They love store-bought cheese popcorn and repeatedly ask me to make it for them and all I seem to end up with is a time-wasting mess. Melted shredded cheddar cheese just makes the popcorn heavy and soggy.  I have had slightly better results sprinkling finely-grated Parmesan cheese on popcorn, but, all of the cheese flavor seems to end up in the bottom of the bowl instead of on the popcorn. Suggestions?  Thanks in advance for any easy, stress-free solution you can provide!

IMG_5037A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Anita, it's great to hear from you again, and, I feel your pain.  I raised three boys, and, a really good recipe for cheese popcorn eluded me for years as well.  Why? Because, like yourself, I assumed that cheese popcorn is made using real-deal cheese.  My epiphany occurred when my boys and I were meandering around a local street fair and stopped at a vendor's booth.  He was selling several varieties of "gourmet" popcorn.  Our timing was perfect, because one of his employees was stirring a powdery orange substance into a bowl of melted butter (for flavoring the popcorn).  The container read:  dried yellow cheddar cheese powder! Nowadays, I buy mine on Amazon.com via several manufacturer's, and, both yellow and white cheddar are options.  Minus the spices, it's the main ingredient in the foil envelope contained in boxed macaroni-and-cheese mixes too.  Lo and behold:  it makes awesome cheese popcorn!

This recipe is not an exact copy of the over-priced, over-salted, store-bought cheese popcorn we all love, but it is oh-so-close in texture and tastes way better too.  It is an ever-so-slightly softer version that delivers full-strength cheddar flavor in every bite.  It's a very special cheese-y indulgence.  It is super easy to make, but, there is a trick to it:  You've got to give it enough of time to cool off and dry out, until each kernel is loose from the others (just like the bagged stuff)!

Want cheese popcorn?  You've crossed over the eating-healthy-line  for today!  Move on:

IMG_5041Start by making the cheese sauce:

2  sticks salted butter, melted

1 cup yellow cheddar cheese powder

2  teaspoons dry English mustard

~ Step 1.  In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the cheddar cheese powder and mustard.  The cheese powder will NOT incorporate itself into the butter...

IMG_5044 IMG_5048 IMG_5049... While this looks strange, because the cheese powder appears  to be a gloppy mess, it is perfect. Turn the heat off, cover it and set aside. 

IMG_4834Next you'll need to pop some corn. You'll need 4 quarts, or:

16 cups popped, plain popcorn (no butter or salt added), from 8 tablespoons unpopped corn kernels, or:

3  3.2-ounce bags popped, plain microwave popcorn

IMG_4830Calculating popcorn:  If you are popping corn on the stovetop, 2 tablespoons of unpopped corn kernels will yield 4 cups of popcorn, so you'll need 8 tablespoons of corn kernels.  Follow the cooking instructions on the bag or container. If you're popping corn in a corn popper or hot-air popper, follow the manufacturer's instructions until you yield 16 cups. If you are microwaving popcorn, 3 bags is going to yield 18 cups, or, 2 more cups than you'll need.  Munch away, set it aside or just add the extra 2 cups to the recipe... it will not affect the outcome at all!

IMG_5062 IMG_5057~ Step 2. Place the popcorn in a big bowl. Pour the buttery, cheese-gloppy mixture over the top.  Using two large rubber spatulas (or even just your hands, which is honestly a lot easier), toss like you would a salad, until the popcorn is evenly coated and clinging together in small chunks.

IMG_5155Do not serve this popcorn just yet (unless you want it or like it somewhat ooey-gooey cheese-y, warm, and, a tad stuck together).

IMG_5106If you want it the texture of the store-bought stuff, loose and scoopable: transfer it to a flat work surface and cool to room temperature, tossing about every 15 minutes, until the popped kernels are all loose and separated, about 2 hours:

IMG_5076Say Cheese!  Buttery Cheddar Cheese Popcorn!!!:  Recipe yields 16 cups.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan w/lid; 8-quart stockpot w/lid, popcorn popper, hot-air popcorn popper or microwave; very large bowl; 2 large rubber spatulas

6a0120a8551282970b0134892e6577970c-800wiCook's Note:  Chili Dogs are America's #1 favorite ballpark food. ~ Mel's Texas-Style Chili Sauce & Texas Chili Dog ~ recipe can be found in Categories 2, 10, 17 or 22!

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

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

04/15/2013

~ My Caramel Corn vs. Cracker Jack? No Contest. ~

IMG_4966"Take me out to the ball game,

Take me out with the crowd,  

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks,

I don't care if I never get back."

Crackerjack2NOT SO FAST.  I don't like Cracker Jack.  I never did.  I never will.  As a child, even the prize in the box wasn't enough inspiration for me to ask mom or dad to buy me a box.  As an adult, I never bought Cracker Jack for my children.  Come to think of it, in my lifetime I've never bought any Cracker Jack.  Why?  I grew up eating freshly made caramel corn (along with salt water taffy) on the boardwalk in sunny Ocean City, NJ!  

Sweet, salty, buttery, crispy, golden caramel corn can't be beat!

Yes my friends, there is a difference between caramel corn and Cracker Jack.  Both consist of popped corn that is coated, then baked, in a simple caramel sauce, but, Cracker Jack has molasses added to the caramel sauce and Spanish peanuts (red-skinned peanuts) stirred into the mix...

... not that there is anything wrong with that, it's just not the caramel corn I fell in love with while smelling the salt air.  In my opinion, molasses adds a tad of bitterness to the flavor, and, peanuts interfere with the entire caramel corn experience.  That being said, to turn my beloved caramel corn into Cracker Jack:  add 2 tablespoons full-flavor molasses to the simmering caramel sauce and stir 2 cups of Spanish or regular peanuts into the coated corn just prior to baking!

ImagesA bit of Cracker Jack history:   Cracker Jack is considered a type of caramel corn because the molasses is caramelized prior to being poured over the corn.  Back in 1872, two German immigrants came to Chicago to help clean up after the famous Chicago fire and worked selling popcorn from a streetcart for additional income.  Frederick "Fritz" Rueckheim and his brother Louis debuted an experimental popcorn candy at the 1896 Chicago World's Fair.  It was a mixture of popcorn, molasses and peanuts and was called "Candied Popcorn and Peanuts".  It was popular, but, not perfect... the molasses made it difficult to handle, as it stuck together in chunks.  In 1896, Rueckheim came up with a way to keep the popcorn kernels separate.  As each batch was mixed in a cement-mixer type machine, a small quantity of oil was drizzled in.  A customer tried a sample and said, "that's crackerjack", which at the time was slang for "that's fantastic".  The rest is some very interesting trivia:

F493cjmagnet1899:  The wax-sealed, moisture-proof box was introduced.

1908:  The song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" was written.

1912:  Prizes were put in every box (some were baseball cards).

1919:  Sailor boy Jack and his dog Bingo became trademark logos.

1964:  The Cracker Jack Company was sold to Borden.

1993:  The 100th anniversary of Cracker Jack was celebrated at a party at Wrigley Field.

1997:  Frito-Lay purchased Cracker Jack from Borden.

2004:  The NY Yankees replaced Cracker Jack with Crunch 'n Munch but switched back immediately due to public pressure and outrage!

Because April is the start of 'America's favorite past time' (baseball season) & National Caramel Corn Day (April 6th):

IMG_4834Start by popping some corn.  You'll need 4 quarts, or:

16 cups popped, plain popcorn (no butter or salt added), cooled to room temperature (from 8 tablespoons unpopped corn kernels), or:

3  3.2-ounce bags popped, plain microwave popcorn, cooled to room temperature 

IMG_4830Calculating popcorn:  If you are popping corn on the stovetop, 2  tablespoons of unpopped corn kernels will yield 4 cups of popcorn, so you'll need 8 tablespoons of corn kernels.  Follow the cooking instructions on the bag or container.  If you're popping corn in a corn popper or hot-air popper, follow the manufacturer's instructions until you yield 16 cups. If you are microwaving popcorn, 3 bags is going to yield 18 cups of popcorn, or, 2 more cups than you need.  Munch away!

IMG_4837Spray the largest bowl you can find with no-stick cooking spray and place the popcorn in it.  This is an enamelware basin that I use for proofing bread dough.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil and place a piece of parchment in the bottom.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  

"Mise en place" ("get organized")!  It's time to make the caramel sauce!

IMG_4839Making caramel sauce is really easy, but moves very quickly, so be sure to measure and have all of your ingredients ready to go:

1 1/2  cups firmly-packed light brown sugar

6 ounces salted butter (1 1/2 sticks), I like salted butter better in this recipe... trust me on this

6 tablespoons light corn syrup

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

IMG_4848 IMG_4843~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart saucepan melt the butter over low heat.  Stir in the brown sugar, corn syrup and salt.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, about 4-5 minutes, until the sugar is completely dissolved and incorporated into the melted butter.

IMG_4880 IMG_4866                                           ~ Step 2. Adjust heat to a rapid simmer and continue to cook, without whisking or stirring, for 3 additional minutes.  Remove from heat.

IMG_4891

 

 

~ Step 3.  Immediately add the vanilla and baking soda.  Whisk vigorously until the caramel sauce is foamy, doubled in volume and light in color, about 10-12 seconds.

IMG_4899~ Step 4. Immediately drizzle all of the caramel sauce over the popcorn.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold the caramel into the popcorn until it is evenly coated.

IMG_4903 IMG_4913~ Step 5. Transfer to prepared baking pan and do your best to spread it out into an even layer without pressing down on it or crushing it.

Note:  At this point the popcorn is a bit stiff and sticky to handle, but worry not.  It's going to get easier to work with as it bakes in the oven.

IMG_4931 IMG_4922~ Step 6. Bake the caramel corn on center rack preheated 275 degree oven for 45 minutes.  During this process, remove the caramel corn from the oven every 15 minutes and give it a thorough but gentle stir.  Remove from oven.

IMG_4943~ Step 7.  Grab one corner of the parchment paper and give it a tug. Use it as a mechanism to easily slide and transfer all of the caramel corn from the the pan to a large work surface.  Wait a moment or two and then use your fingertips to pull it apart into chunks and pieces. Allow it out to cool completely, about 1 hour, prior to serving:

IMG_4939 IMG_5009My Caramel Corn vs. Cracker Jack?  No Contest.:  Recipe yields 16 cups.  In the event you have any leftovers, store them in a cookie-type tin with a tight-fitting lid.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot w/lid, popcorn popper, hot-air popcorn popper or microwave oven; very large bowl; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; 4-quart saucepan; whisk; large rubber spatula

IMG_4377Cook's Note:  Making snacks from scratch is usually quite easy, always more economical, and, it goes without saying they taste better too. For another one of my fun, sporting, game-day snacks, you might want to try ~ Mel's #1 March Madness Munchie:  Potato Chips ~.  You can find that recipe in Categories 2, 4, 17 or 20!

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

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

04/12/2013

~ A Real-Deal Italian Ingredient: Balsamic Vinegar ~

IMG_4798The Italian word "balsamico" means "balsam-like or "curative". Balsamic vinegar was introduced to the United States in the late 1970's and quickly became the darling of restaurant chefs, followed by gourmet cooks.  It is hard to believe that thirty-some years ago almost none of us in America had even heard of it. This wonderful condiment is still made in Modena, Italy, where it is aged in oak or other wooden kegs.  While it is technically considered a wine-vinegar, it is not made from wine.  It's made from grape pressings that have not been permitted to ferment into wine. During the process it takes on a mellow, full-bodied, slightly sweet flavor and a deep-reddish brown color. When a recipe calls for balsamic vinegar, there really is no substitute for it.  When purchasing balsamic vinegar, always look for brands that denote Modena or Reggio, which are the only two authentic sources.  There's more:  

All balsamic vinegar is not created equal!  

There are two types:  artisanal and commercial!

BalsamicVinegarBarrelsArtisanal balsamic vinegar is made by slowly simmering sweet, white Trebbiano grapes in copper cauldrons over an open flame and reducing the juice by 50%.  The end result, called "must", is transferred to graduated-in-size wooden kegs made of various types of wood (oak, cherry, chestnut, juniper and mulberry) and aged for at least 12 years.  The artisan works meticulously, transferring the ever-more concentrated vinegar down the line, so it takes on the flavors of the different woods, until 1-2 liters of vinegar finally emerge from the smallest barrel!  

6a0120a8551282970b015437ef5e4e970c-120wiThe vinegar is classified into groups by maturation:  young (3-5 years), middle-aged (6-12 years), old (12-25 years), and the highly-prized, very old (25-150 years), known as:  Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena.

Artisanal varieties, which are quite pricey, are very complex (tasting of honey, fig, raisin, caramel and wood) and have an aroma similar to a fine port.  Traditional balsamic is sipped like liqueur and is used sparingly as a last minute finishing touch on meat and fowl, or, as a topping for cheese, fruit, cake or ice-cream.

According to What's Cooking America:  "The first historical reference to balsamic vinegar dates back to 1046, when a bottle of balsamic vinegar was given to Emperor Enrico III of Fanconia as a gift.  In the middle ages, it was used as a disinfectant.  It also had a reputation as a miracle cure -- good for everything from sore throats to labor pains."

Italian families have been producing balsamic vinegar for about 900 years, but never to be sold.  To this day their heirloom recipes are well-guarded family secrets that are passed down from generation to generation and kept from the rest of the world and even other Italians.   Il_570xN.370092143_kymhTraditionally, an Italian family that makes balsamic (which requires maintaining an "acetaia", or "vinegar room"), puts up a barrel each time a child is born and serves it on his 21st birthday, or, gives it away as part of her dowry.  On special occasions that require a host or hostess to make a champagne-like toast, balsamico tradizionale is passed to family and friends in tiny glass viles!  

It wasn't until Francesco Bertoli (along with a group of 22 other long-time Italian balsamic vinegar aficionados) spent a decade creating a consortium to produce an artisanal balsamic it was willing to share with the world, did balsamic vineger get sold to us.  The standards administered by the consortia in Modena and Reggio Emilia govern every aspect of how balsamic vinegar is aged and produced.  This includes the shape of the bottle, all aspects of the labeling, and, even the covering of the cap.  Thank-you Mr. Bertoli!!!

Liquid Gold:  Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena

IMG_4652The real-deal stuff comes in a 3 1/2-ounce bulb-shaped bottle with a consortium seal over the cap as well as on the label.  Red and silver labels indicate 12-18 years of aging, and, gold lables, like this one, indicate a minimum of 25 years.  Red and silver labels range in price from $50-$250 dollars a bottle!  

The "gold standard", or, gold labeled bottle can fetch as much as $500. This balsamic vinegar is not even intended for drizzing.  It is drawn from barrels that date back as early as 1650 and it gets savored by the drop!

They are all dark in color, syrupy in consistency, with mild acidity and a perfectly balanced, pleasant, sweet and savory flavor!  

They all come in a beautiful box with a book telling you all about the manufacturing process.  There are recipes in the book too, but, unless you are fluent in Italian (I'm not), the book does you no real good! 

6a0120a8551282970b0153941b73c9970b-320wiCommercial Balsamic Vinegar, which is much less expensive than artisanal balsamic vinegar, is made by blending good wine vinegar, some reduced juice ("must") and young balsamic vinegar.  One quick look at a shelf of balsamic vinegar in the grocery store is bound to cause confusion.  You'll find $5.00 bottles next to $25.00 bottles. These commercial grade (referred to as "cheap") balsamic vinegars are just fine for making vinaigrettes, to cook with, and, even to reduce on the stovetop to make a thick glaze for finishing or topping dishes.  Before purchasing, read the labels. Choose one that does not add brown sugar or caramel to mimic the better-quality commercial ones.

So what about commercial grade white balsamic vinegar?

6a0120a8551282970b01774325dbfb970d-120wiWhite balsamic vinegar is a blend of white grape juice ("must"), from Spergola grapes, and white wine vinegar.  It is then cooked at a low temperature to avoid any darkening of the product.  Some producers age the vinegar in wooden kegs while others use stainless steel.  While dark and white balsamic vinegars have similar tastes, the dark balsamic vinegar tends to be sweeter and thicker.

From a personal standpoint, in culinary applications using delicate foods (mild-flavored fish and vegetables), white balsamic vineger is preferable to dark because it won't overpower the taste of dish.  Its flavor, when compared to dark balsamic, is somewhat understated, meaning:  it provides the tartness of dark with a smoother edge.  Furthermore, its clean, clear appearance will not change the pretty color of the food!

IMG_4772"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary, and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 3013)

04/10/2013

~ Strawberries with (Fig-Infused) Balsamic Vinegar ~

IMG_4772Don't quote me on this, but strawberries just might be the most popular berry in the world.  I can say with certainty they are the most popular berry in my kitchen, and I don't use them just to make desserts.  I use this versatile fruit in salads, pair them with proteins (mostly chicken and pork), and, even use them to make vinaigrettes, sauces and barbeque sauces.  Here in Pennsylvania, we don't typically see strawberries in our garden, or really good strawberries at really good prices in our grocery stores much before the end of April.  That being said, on Saturday Joe found some really good-looking, great-tasting, California strawberries at Wegmans.  They were just $5.00 for a big, 2-pound box and he bought two boxes.  I served one box with my recipe for ~ Not just any chocolate will do:  Toblerone Fondue ~, on Sunday night. You can find the recipe in Categories 6, 11 & 20, or click on the Related Article link below!

PICT0011Today, I'm using the second box of strawberries to make a very unique Italian dessert treat: strawberries with balsamic vinegar.

If the combination of strawberries and balsamic vinegar sounds odd to you, is is neither odd, nor new. The Romans were growing and eating strawberries as far back as 200 B.C.  About 1400 years later (about 900 years ago), their Italian decendents began producing balsamic vinegar. Freshly-picked, sweet strawberries were drizzled with a few drops of their very best balsamic:  Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena!

IMG_4654Liquid Gold:

If you're not lucky enough to have a gold-labeled bottle of this prized, somewhat hard-to-find, $250-a-bottle balsamic vinegar in your pantry, don't lose any sleep over it. I wouldn't have one either, except it was a Christmas gift from my family and this gives me the perfect forum to show it off!

Instead of using the really expensive stuff straight out of the bottle, all you need to do is reduce a good-quality, moderately priced balsamic vinegar ($18-$25) on the stovetop to concentrate the flavors and make a balsamic glaze.  I like to use fig-infused balsamic for this!

6a0120a8551282970b0153941bd5fd970b-320wiYou'll need to simmer:

3 cups balsamic vinegar, your favorite kind, combined with:

2  tablespoons  dark brown sugar

for about 25-35 minutes, until reduced to a syrup.  This will yield about 2/3 cup and you can keep it stored in your refrigerator indefinitely.  It's wonderful drizzled on grilled meat and vegetables too!

For all of my step-by-step photos, and detailed instructions, check out my recipe for ~ Reducing Balsamic Vinegar:  To Create a Savory Syrup, Sauce or Glaze for Dipping or Drizzling ~ in Categories 8, 15 or 20.  This is one condiment you'll want to keep on hand at all times!

IMG_4751Note:  Everyone prepares and serves this concoction a little differently, but one thing we all agree on is the balsamic-glazed strawberries do not hold up for any length of time, and, for optimum flavor, they should not be refrigerated.  In my opinion, for best results:  don't toss your strawberries with the sugar and syrup any more than 15-20 minutes prior to serving!

Here is how I prepare and present my version:

IMG_47242  pounds trimmed and  1/4"-thick sliced strawberries, about 6 cups (fresh peaches are great too)

2  tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar syrup, prepared as directed above and chilled

a tiny drizzle of balsamic syrup, prepared as directed above and chilled, for garnishing each of 6-12, 1/2-1-cup servings (optional)

IMG_47276-12 fresh mint sprigs, for garnishing each of 6-12, 1/2-1-cup servings (optional)

high-quality vanilla and/or strawberry ice cream or frozen yogurt (optional) (Note:  If you serve the strawberries over ice cream or yogurt, the strawberries will yield 12, 1/2-cup servings.)

6a0120a8551282970b01676709b080970b-320wi~ Step 1.  Slice the strawberries as directed, placing them in a mixing bowl as you work.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently toss them with the granulated sugar, and two teaspoons of the balsamic glaze. Set aside, at room temperature, for 15-20 minutes, stopping to retoss every 5 minutes, to ensure all of the strawberries macerate evenly. At the end of this time, the strawberries will be coated in a nice, light, smooth, amazing-tasting glaze:

IMG_4737

 

Strawberries with (Fig-Infused) Balsamic Vinegar:  Recipe yields 6-12 servings:  six 1-cup servings of strawberries alone, or, twelve, 1/2-cup servings of strawberries served over ice cream or frozen yogurt.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large bowl; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0163062795a4970d-800wiCook's Note:  My recipe for ~ Quesadillas:  Grilled Guajillo Chile Chicken Thighs w/Vidalia Onions, Black Beans & Queso Fresco ~ can be found in Categories 2, 3, 10, 13, 17 or 20!

My recipe for ~ Sweet Heat, Strawberry & Guajillo Chile Sauce, or:  Summer Strawberries Never Tasted Soooooo Good! ~, can be found in Categories 3, 8, 13, 20 or 22!

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

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

04/08/2013

~ Not just any chocolate will do: Toblerone Fondue ~

IMG_4618If you are a chocolate lover you know that all chocolate is not created equal.  To make a long story short, when it comes to choosing chocolate, it should be the best quality you can find and afford, but, more importantly, it should be one you like.  Each type of chocolate varies in flavor, sweetness and color from manufacturer to manufacturer.  The prices vary too, with imported chocolates costing the most.  I guarantee that a quick walk through the chocolate section of your grocery store will produce at least 3-5 different types and brands.  I suggest you splurge and do a side-by-side taste test of types and brands before settling on your personal favorites.  That being said, when it comes to melting chocolate, savvy cooks know that it can be a tempermental ingredient, so, if a recipe instructs to use a specific type and/or brand, I suggest purchasing it. 

6a0120a8551282970b016760bf475d970b-320wiFor my taste, I settled on Swiss made chocolate a long time ago, with Lindt being my favorite.  I use it almost exclusively for eating and baking.  I've heard that the Swiss are amongst the happiest people in the world.  I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that they are one of the the largest producers of chocolate and consume more chocolate than any other nation.

IMG_4253That being said, one of the most famous (if not the most famous) Swiss chocolate bars is the Toblerone.  The first time I took a bite of this triangular-shaped milk chocolate bar, I fell in love.  The chocolate has honey added to it and hidden inside each bite are bits of nougat and almonds.  I almost always have a few of these hidden away in my freezer (don't tell Joe).

IMG_4551 IMG_4233Toblerone was invented by Theodor Tobbler in Bern, Switzerland in 1908 and he had it patented and trademarkded in 1909.  The name came from combining Tobbler's own name with the Italian word "torrone", which is a type of nougat.

The logo for the candy is the image of the famous, pyramid-shaped Matterhorn mountain with a bear hidden in the center, because bears like to roam in the fresh air of its higher elevations.  It is said the shape of the Matterhorn is believed to have given Tobbler his inspiration for the triangular shape of his crazy-good chocolate bar.

Me, My Season 6 Mad Men Premier Night Party & Fondue... 

8632724412_8ca7391a0a_zIt's no secret that I am addicted to the AMC series:  Mad Men.  It's no secret that a few days ago I posted my recipe for ~ Melted Cheese Please:  An Authentic Swiss Cheese Fondue ~, and, announced my plans to host a fondue party for yesterday's Season Six premier.

You can find my recipe for cheese fondue in Categories 1, 2, 11, 20 & 25, or, by clicking on the Related Article link below.

I pondered long and hard over this years menu for my Mad Men party.  Can you imagine the looks on everyones faces (including mine) at my party when we found ourselves eating cheese fondue, followed by chocolate fondue along with Meagan and Don in their sunken living room? I couldn't have planned the evening better if I had been given an advance copy of their script.

IMG_4553Here's all that you'll need:

3  3 1/2-ounce bars Toblerone, at room temperature, broken into pieces

1/2  cup heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature

2  tablespoons Amaretto (an almond-flavored liqueur), optional

fresh fruit:  bananas and/or strawberries are my favorite

cake or cookies:  angel food, pound cake, coconut macaroons or almond biscotti are my favorite

IMG_4557~  Step 1.  Break or pull the chocolate apart into pieces, placing them in a 4-quart stockpot as your work.  If the Toblerone is at real-deal room temperature, it will be very soft and pliable.  

IMG_4573Add the cream to the stockpot and place on the stovetop.

IMG_4593 IMG_4578                                           ~ Step 2. Over low heat, whisking constantly, melt the chocolate into the cream.  Do not allow to simmer or boil.  The mixture should be steaming, shiny and smooth.  This will only take about 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Turn heat off and whisk in the optional Amaretto.  

~ Step 3.  Transfer fondue to preheated fondue pot.  Serve with your favorite treats for dipping:

IMG_4632Not just any chocolate will do:  Toblerone Fondue:  Recipe yields 4 servings.  The recipe, as written, doubles nicely without taking any extra time.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart stockpot; whisk; fondue pot; fondue forks; sterno, if applicable; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_4827Cook's Note:  Fondue can be prepared 1-5 days in advance and stored in a tightly-covered food-storage container the refrigerator. When chilled it will be soft and spreadable, like Nutella.  To reheat, remove from refrigerator one hour in advance.  Cover with plastic wrap and reheat gently in the microwave, until warm and drizzly, about 1 1/2-2 1/2 minutes, stopping to stir every 30-45 seconds during the process.  

6a0120a8551282970b016761d01141970b-320wiExtra Cook's Note:  Throwing a fondue party, and need a meat course?  I have just the thing.  Just wait until you try ~ Time Out for Asian Whiskey-Beef Fondue Sliders ~.  You can find my recipe in Categories 1, 2, 11, 17 or 20!

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

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

04/05/2013

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (4/05/13) ~

Culinary Q & A #2Writing a cooking blog is much more than the satisfaction I get from sharing my recipes, occasionally featuring the recipes of other talented foodies, and, imparting my cooking style and culinary philosophy with you.  It is getting to know my readers, listening to my readers, and, interacting with my readers, meaning:  if you make a comment, you get get a response from me, and, if you ask a question, I answer it as soon as possible!  

Occasionally a comment or question is so good it inspires me to write an entire blog post (and I thank you for that). Occasionally one of you reports a minor typo, an accidental omission, or, a procedural error on my part, which causes confusion for you (and for that I apologize).  No matter how many times Joe and I proofread prior to my publishing a post, mistakes happen to the best of us, and I appreciate being told about them.  Why?  Because I can go back to the post and correct or add to the original text to ensure that does not happen to the next reader... you're doing me a big favor.  On a side note, in 2 1/2 years of blogging and over 550 posts, only twice have those types of mistakes occurred -- a pretty good track record if I do say so myself! 

I love the daily twists & turns Kitchen Encounters takes!

IMG_4180Q.  Adriene asks:  Your cheese fondue looks awesome.  I want to serve it on Sunday for my Mad Men party and I already bought all three of the cheeses.  Can I prepare it in advance and reheat it?  If so, how do you recommend I do so?

A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Adriene, this is a fantastic question.  You'll be happy to know you can prepare the cheese fondue a day ahead. Thanks to you, I have gone back into the original recipe and added the following instructions & photos:

IMG_4494 IMG_4498 IMG_4501 IMG_4512Cheese 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, or until restored to original consistency.  Do not simmer or boil.  I do not recommend doing this on the stovetop, even if using a double boiler.

(Note to readers:  My recipe for ~ Melted Cheese Please:  A Swiss Cheese Fondue (aka:  Bill Clark's Authentic Swiss Cheese Fondue) ~, can be found in Categories 1, 2, 11 & 25, or, by clicking on the Related Article link below.)

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IMG_4431Q.  Cara says and asks:  Melanie, yesterday I read your reicpe for ~ Smokey 'n Sweet Cream of Roasted Tomato Soup ~ [Categories 2, 14 or 20].  It sounds heavenly and I plan to make it on Sunday.  Would you please tell me what kind of bread you served it with?  It looked like garlic bread, but you made no mention of it in the recipe.  I also want to tell you I made your lamb roast and cheddar smashed potatoes for Easter and it was the best lamb I ever served!

A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Cara, it was Texas toast and thanks for e-mailing me to ask.  Thanks to you, I wrote an entire blog post about Texas toast yesterday.  You can find my recipe for ~ Easy Toaster-Oven Parm 'n Pepper Texas Toast ~ in Categories 2, 4 & 20, or, by clicking on the Related Article link below!  

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6a0120a8551282970b016763a3f07e970b-800wiC.  Susan says:  My goodness... just made your recipe for rice pudding for the family and I have to say it was beyond any rice pudding we expected or have ever eaten. Utterly divine.  It's pointless trying out any other recipe!

A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Susan! You made my day... what else can I say, except:  thank-you!!!

(Note to readers:  You can find the recipe for ~ My Creamy, Orange-Kissed Arborio Rice Pudding ~ by clicking into Categories 6, 12, or 21!

It's questions and comments like these that keep bloggers like me trying to improve with each post!

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

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

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

04/04/2013

~ Easy Toaster-Oven Parm 'n Pepper Texas Toast ~

IMG_4485Here I go again!  Another recipe that was not on my short list (or any list) of recipes to post, has floated to the top of my pile and it is with a broad smile that I am sharing it with you today.  I am always willing to share any recipe I have when someone asks for it, especially since every one of my recipes, no matter how simple or difficult, are more than tasty and thoroughly tested.   I am, however, quickly learning that just because I decide to conveniently pass a recipe off in my mind as "not blog worthy", usually because I don't think it is interesting enough, it does not mean it is not blog worthy.  I've learned my lesson.  I promise to quit doing that!

It was Texas toast and thanks for asking!!!

IMG_4431Q.  Cara says and asks:  Melanie, yesterday I read your recipe for  ~ Smokey 'n Sweet Cream of Roasted Tomato  Soup ~.  It sounds heavenly and I plan to make it on Sunday.  Would you please tell me what kind of bread you served it with.  It looked like garlic bread, but you made no mention of it in the recipe.  I also want to tell you I made your boneless lamb roast and cheddar smashed potatoes for Easter and it was the best lamb I ever served!

A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Cara, you made my day.  The bread I served with my tomato soup yesterday was Texas toast, or, my super-easy version of Texas toast.  It is almost not a recipe at all, but, I'm happy to share it with you.  If you have children, they are going to love you for it!

Texas toast?  What exactly is that?

HolsumTexas toast is basically white sandwich bread that has been sliced double in thickness.  Here in Pennsylvania, Holsum is the brand that is most readily available. Sometimes it is just marketed as thick-sliced white bread.

Typically, Texas toast is made by buttering both sides of the bread and broiling it until it is golden.  Sometimes garlic powder is sprinkled on, and, on occasion, one side of the toast is topped with some type of cheese.  The finished product, is crispy on the outside and soft and tender on the inside, closer to that of garlic bread, rather than its crunchier Italian cousins:  crostini or bruschetta.

As the story goes, Texas toast was invented at The Pig Stand restaurant in Beaumont, Texas in 1941.  A special bakery order for thicker slices of bread resulted in them not fitting into the restaurant toasters.  As a quick solution to the problem, a line cook started buttering and grilling the bread slices, and, the rest is another delicious piece of culinary history!

IMG_4017That being said, I prefer using a firmer-textured bread to make Texas toast, and, my favorite is a French batard, which is nothing more than a shorter, plumper, slightly softer version of a baguette!

I simplified the process by buttering only one side of the bread and started making it in the toaster oven to serve to my three boys as a super-quick snack, or, a side to mac and cheese or my tomato soup!

IMG_4443Place:

4-6-8, etc., 3/4"-thick slices bread

on a toaster-oven sized disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom.

Note:  My toaster ovens will only hold 8 1/2" x 11"-sized pans.

IMG_4452Top each bread slice with:

2  thin pats salted butter

a generous sprinkling of finely-grated Parmesan or Parmigiano- Reggiano cheese

a generous grinding of black pepper or peppercorn blend

Note:  Other options are a sprinkling of garlic powder and/or red pepper flakes (if you want them spicy).

IMG_4457Place in toaster oven.  I don't broil my Texas toast.  I select "toast" and continue to toast, until bread is golden brown around the edges and the cheese is bubbling and golden on the top.  In my toaster oven, this takes 5 1/2 minutes.  Rest 5 minutes prior to serving warm:

IMG_4470Easy Toaster-Oven Parm 'n Pepper Texas Toast:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many slices of Texas toast as you want.  Depending upon how and what you are serving these with, plan on 2-3 slices per person.  Nobody can eat just one!

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; appropriately-sized disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; microplane grater

IMG_3654Cook's Note:  For another wonderful snack bread to serve with soup, a cheese dip or a cheese spread, you might want to try ~ My Buttery Parm, Pepper & Parsley Bagel Chips ~.  The recipe can be found in Categories 1, 2, 4, 9, or 20!  

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

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

04/02/2013

~ Smokey 'n Sweet Cream of Roasted Tomato Soup~

IMG_4409April showers bring May flowers.  That is the good news.  April showers also bring a lot of chilly, damp days here to Happy Valley.  On a day such as this one today, I want to relax and take the day off, and, I want soup.  I don't want a thick, chunky stew-like concoction either.  Save that type of soup for the Fall.  I want something smooth, creamy and fresh tasting.  For me, there is only one soup that fits that bill:  cream of tomato soup.  I want to ladle it into a mug, sit on the sofa in front of my fireplace with my three puppies, watch a movie, and, sip, savor and slurp!

ImagesOne thing I will never walk away from is tomato soup.  I love it, love it, love it.  I grew up loving the rainy days when my mom or dad would make us a can of Campbell's for lunch and serve it to my brother and I with a few Nabisco saltines crushed over the top, or, a grilled cheese sandwich to the side.  When my boys were growing up, they liked it with Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers swimming on top!  

Nowadays, if I'm out for lunch and a chef has an interesting version of this classic soup on his or her menu, it is the first thing I will order!

Tomato soup deserves its own identity!

From a personal standpoint, many homemade tomato soup recipes taste too much like pasta sauce, meaning:  they are often flavored with basil or oregano.  That's not for me.  Two years ago, I was asked to develop a roasted tomato soup recipe for a local restaurant, and, I was bound and determined to not let that happen.  If I do say so myself, my use of thyme as the herb and brown sugar for a bit of caramelized sweetness brought the recipe up to a level of simple, elegant, French-style decadence.  Even though that restaurant was short-lived and is no longer in business (not everyone knows how to run a restaurant, they just think they do), my soup was a great success.  I have since taken my original recipe and rewritten it to suit me.  It's now a cream of roasted tomato soup, and:  a Spring soup never tasted so good!

6a0120a8551282970b0162fc35965e970d-500wi12, medium-sized, vine-ripened tomatoes, about 4 pounds, top core removed, tomatoes sliced in half pole-to-pole

2  very large yellow or sweet onions, about 1 1/2 pounds, peeled and coarsely chopped

2  heads garlic, peeled, about 2 ounces peeled garlic cloves

8-10 sprigs fresh thyme

8  tablespoons olive oil (1/2 cup), total throughout recipe

4  tablespoons dark brown sugar

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

1  teaspoon smoked paprika

2  cups heavy or whipping cream

1  cup vegetable stock, preferably homemade (Note:  You can find my recipe for vegetable stock in Categories 15 or 22.)

additional sea salt and peppercorn blend, for adjusting seasoning

6a0120a8551282970b0162fc359d33970d-320wi~ Step 1.  Cover a baking pan with aluminum foil and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.

~ Step 2.  Add the onions and garlic to pan.  Drizzle with 4 tablespoons of olive oil.  Using your hands, toss to coat.  Place the thyme sprigs on the top, followed by a light grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

6a0120a8551282970b015392e05abd970b-320wi~ Step 3.  Spread the onion mixture evenly over the bottom of pan. Arrange tomatos over the the onion mixture, spacing them slightly apart. Drizzle tomatoes with the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil.  Sprinkle the tops of the tomatoes with brown sugar, followed by a light grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

6a0120a8551282970b015436b3c419970c-320wi~ Step 4.  Roast on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven, about 1 1/2 hours, or until onions are caramelized and tomatoes have a bit of a char to their tops.

Note:  Timing can and will vary depending upon the consistency and ripeness of the tomatoes, 1-2 hours.  What the finished mixture looks like is more important than the time it actually takes.

6a0120a8551282970b0162fc35b758970d-320wi~ Step 5.  Discard thyme sprigs. Transfer mixture to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  If you do not have a large processor, do this in 2-3 batches.

6a0120a8551282970b0162fc35bc06970d-120wi~ Step 6. Using a series of about 30 rapid on-off pulses, process until a "semi-chunky" puree is formed or a puree to  your liking.

IMG_4386~ Step 7.  Transfer to a 3 1/2-4 quart chef's pan or stockpot.  Add the smoked paprika, cream and vegetable stock.  Over moderate heat, bring to a gentle simmer. Taste.  Adjust seasoning, adding additional salt and pepper, if necessary.  Simmer gently for about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover pan/pot and set aside, to steep for about 15 minutes, to allow the flavors to marry.

IMG_4431Smokey 'n Sweet Cream of Roasted Tomato Soup:  Recipe yields 2 quarts of soup/6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; food processor; 3 1/2- 4-quart chef's pan or stockpot w/lid

6a0120a8551282970b015392a00535970b-800wiCook's Note:  For my other "take" on this beloved classic soup, you can find my recipe for ~ Bacon, Onion & Rosemary-Tomato-Cream Soup ~ in Categories 2, 9, 18, 19, 20 or 22!

This version is made using crushed tomatoes as an ingredient. Because Joe and I crush and freeze our own garden tomatoes each year, I can make fantastic tomato soup any time of the year!

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

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