Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 02/2010

« October 2013 | Main | December 2013 »

14 posts from November 2013

11/30/2013

~ I Just Love My Mom's Cracker Stuffing Casserole ~

IMG_7515I just love my mother's "stuffing".  When I was growing up, I could not wait for her to make it for Thanksgiving.  Truthfully, I always wished she would have made it more than once a year, but, alas, that was not the case.  It's a simple mixture of saltine crackers soaked in milk and eggs with sauteed celery, onions and ground beef added to it.  Yes, I said ground beef.  My mom disliked turkey giblets (thankfully I did not inherit that gene), so, she substituted the ground meat to mimic the look and mouth feel of them.  That substitution makes this stuffing versatile enough to serve with a prime rib roast for the Christmas or New Years holidays too (which I love to do)! 

IMG_7487I refer to this as a "casserole" because I have no recollection of my mother ever stuffing her turkey (thankfully I did inherit that gene and do it the same way).  It was always baked separately in a big, white, 4-quart Corningware casserole dish.  When mom said, "get the casserole dish out of the cabinet underneath the oven", I knew exactly which one she wanted.  The leftovers, served hot or cold (yes, this stuff is great cold) are even better.  Sometimes I slice it cold, like a piece of meatloaf, to top a cold turkey sandwich along with a dollop of cranberry sauce, and, sometimes I scoop it hot onto an open-faced turkey sandwich topped with a ladleful of gravy!

IMG_73611 3/4  pounds saltine crackers, crumbled, not crushed

6  cups whole milk, plus 1/2 cup additional milk, more or less, if necessary

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

8-10  counces diced celery

8-10 ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

2  .13-ounce packets G. Washington's Golden Seasoning and Broth Mix

1 teaspoon salt

1  teaspoon white pepper

1 1/2  pounds lean or extra-lean ground beef (85/15 or 90/10)

6  jumbo eggs

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

IMG_7382 IMG_7374~ Step 1.  In a large mixing bowl, using your hands, crumble the crackers into small chunks and pieces.  

Add the 6 cups of milk to the bowl. Using a large rubber spatula, fold and stir until the crackers are softened and very, very moist, but not mushy.  Take your time doing this, giving the mixture a moment to IMG_7390two to rest each time you stir, to give the crackers time to absorb all of the milk and soften, about 5-10 minutes.

Note:  You want to maintain a "very soft, lumpy texture throughout this recipe.  Add some additional milk, only if necessary, slowly and a little at a time, until desired consistency is reached without any liquid puddling in the the bottom of the bowl.  I added no extra milk today.

IMG_7399~ Step 2.  Prep the onion and celery as directed.  In a 12" skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Stir the seasoning packets, salt and white pepper into the melted butter.  

IMG_7371Add the vegetables. Increase heat to saute, until the onion softens, about 4-6 minutes.  Do not allow to brown.

IMG_7401~ Step 3.  Fold the hot vegetable mixture, including any melted butter puddling in the pan, into the cracker mixture.  Now the stuffing will be extremely moist.

IMG_7411Wipe or rinse out the skillet and return it to the still warm stovetop.

IMG_7425 IMG_7416~ Step 4. Add the ground beef to the skillet.  Lightly season it with salt and pepper.  

Adjust heat to medium-high and saute until meat has lost its red color and is steamed through, about 6-8 minutes.  During the cooking process, use a spatula to break it up into small bits and pieces.

IMG_7446 IMG_7427                                      ~ Step 5. Using a large slotted spoon, add and fold the ground meat into the stuffing.  Do not add any of the greasy liquid in the skillet (discard it).

~ Step 6.  Whisk, add and fold in the eggs.  Take a moment or two to do this, making sure the mixture is thoroughly combined.

IMG_7461~ Step 7.  Spray a 4-quart casserole with cooking spray.  Tranfer all of the stuffing to the dish, spreading and distributing it evenly.

Cover with aluminum foil.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven 45-60 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10-15 minutes, or until puffy through to the center and lightly browned. Rest 15 minutes prior to serving:

IMG_7476I Just Love My Mom's Cracker Stuffing Casserole:  Recipe yields 16 cups.

Special Equipment List:  large rubber spatula; cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet; large slotted spoon; whisk; 4-quart casserole; aluminum foil

IMG_7460Cook's Note:  Once the stuffing is mixed and in the casserole, it can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight (prior to baking the next day).  Remove from refrigerator and return to room temperature, 2-3 hours.  Remove plastic wrap, cover with foil and bake as directed.  Gobble, gobble!!!

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

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

11/28/2013

~ Happy Thanksgiving! Fun Stuff from My Archives! ~

IMG_7470I hope you all enjoyed a lovely day sharing your best Thanksgiving recipes and memories with your family and friends.  I applaud all of you who cook on this day for your families.  We will be celebrating tomorrow.  We've been gobling on Black Friday for about 20 years now.  Why?  It gives the ones we love (who don't have the luxury of taking Wednesday off) today to travel here to Happy Valley for the entire weekend.  It works very nicely.  Today, during the course of baking pies and pre-prep, Joe remembered the year he and I made two turduckens for our annual feast:

The year was 2006.  I was editing cookbooks for our local PBS (WPSU) television station.  It enabled me to learn the workings of a television studio in a hurry, and, I loved every minute of it. Unknowingly, the experience prepared me for what I do now each week on WHVL-TV.  Charlie, one of their producers at the time, asked me if I would appear on their holiday pledge drive show:  "Gone to the Birds".  In the staff meeting, Jeff, a director, mentioned a "crazy idea": Turducken (a chicken wrapped in a duck wrapped a turkey -- all boneless).  

MqdefaultI agreed to do just about the hardest thing one could think of for my TV debut.  I was, and still am fearless when it comes to getting in front of and cooking on camera.  Our segment (which was shot and aired live) was a combination of funny and fact packed, and, EVERYONE in the studio had a great time that day --  especially when it came time to eat afterward.  Click below to watch!

Turducken at WPSU-TV

14316_797417420314317_1419598009762231500_n"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary, Photo & Video courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)

11/27/2013

~ Braised Pork Tenderloins w/Apple & Onion Puree ~

IMG_4095Time out for a pre-Thanksgiving ice & snow storm dinner!  

IMG_7271Yes friends, what was the Midwest's problem two days ago is becoming the Northeast's problem today and tomorrow.  We woke up to ice and snow, the snow continues to fall, they are making snow on the Tussey Mountain Ski Slope (the view from my kitchen window), and, I for one am thankful I do not have to go anywhere today.  Thanks to a preemptive strike on my grocery IMG_7268stores over the weekend (to pick up a bunch of ingredients for my turkey day feast tomorrow),  my pantry and root cellar are well stocked -- I even had the forethought to pick up a flank steak and a package of pork tenderloins for a couple of quick meals in the meantime.  We enjoyed flank steak sandwiches last night.  So, with the snow falling, a fireplace at my back, a movie on the kitchen TV, and, a G&T in my hand: I'm making the pork tenderloins tonight!  Gobble, gobble!!!

IMG_7277This recipe is a spin-off of my mom's pork pot roast.  When I was growing up, about once a month my mom would put a big pork loin in a Dutch oven with some aromatic spices and let it braise all afternoon.  She always made it on a Saturday because it was a day she could watch over it (she worked on weekdays).   She had an ulterior motive too:  Saturday was cleaning day and everyone was expected to help with the chores, including my dad.  She would put this great smelling roast on the stove, a stack of albums on the stereo, and, within a few hours, the four of us had the place ship-shape, just in time to sit down to one of our family's favorite meals!

IMG_72062  1-pound pork tenderloins

1  cup apple juice

1/2  cup water, plus 1 cup additional water, and more throughout braising process, if needed

2  medium yellow or sweet onions, cut into chunks

2  Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cored and cut into chunks

8  whole allspice

4  whole bay leaves

8  whole cloves

2  whole cinnamon sticks

garlic powder

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_7214 IMG_7211~ Step 1. Add the juice and 1/2 cup water to pan.    Place tenderloins in the liquid.  Add the spices to the liquid, dividing them equally on both sides of the tenderloins.  Add the onion, then apples, dividing them equally on both sides of the meat as well.  Generously sprinkle garlic powder, salt and pepper evenly over all.  Cover the pan.

IMG_7223~ Step 2.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to a steady, gentle simmer.  Partially cover the pan (just allow a crack to let steam escape) and continue to cook for 45-60 minutes.  When you uncover the pan, the bottom of the tenderloins should be browning nicely, and the pan will be getting very low on liquid.  Flip meat over.  

Note:  What it looks like is more important than the time it takes to get it there.

IMG_7228

~ Step 3.  Add 1 cup of water.

IMG_7234Season the tops of the tenderloins with a bit more garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Partially cover the pan.  Repeat the above process for another 30-45 minutes until the tenderloins are nicely browned on the bottom and the pan is very low on liquid.

Note:  Watch carefully after 15 minutes of this 'second-side cooking process' and add water, in small 1/4 cup increments, if necessary, to keep the tenderloins from scorching on the bottom.

IMG_7244~ Step 4.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Remove the tenderloins from the pan and tightly wrap them in aluminum foil.  Set aside.

IMG_7249Remove and discard spices from apple-onion mixture.  This task is quick & easy.

IMG_7252~ Step 5.  Place the apple-onion mixture in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  

IMG_7256With motor running, process for 1 full minute. You will have about 1 1/2 cups of the the most heavenly seasoned apple-onion puree you are ever going to taste.  A little bit of this goes a long way baby and it's better than gravy!

IMG_7284~ Step 6.  Unwrap the tenderloins. Holding a large chef's knife at a 30 degree angle, slice the meat into any thickness you want.  

Serve immediately on a puddle of puree, topped with puree or puree to the side for dipping. I'm serving them accompanied by some white cheddar smashed potatoes, brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce this evening:

IMG_7332

 

Braised Pork Tenderloins w/Apple & Onion Puree:  Recipe yields 6 servings of meat and 1 1/2 cups of apple & onion puree.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/lid; 1-cup measuring container; aluminum foil; food processor or blender

IMG_4075Cook's Note:  For perhaps my favorite side-dish  to serve with this meal, you might want to give my recipe for ~ Golden & Cheesy Potato & Bread Stuffing Cups ~ a try.  They go great with any type of roasted poultry and prime rib too. You can find the recipe by clicking on the Related Article link below!

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

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

11/25/2013

~As American as Mom's Apple Pie & French Crepes~

IMG_7160In my opinion this 'feel-good' dessert is truly the best of two worlds:  Our traditional American apple pie filling rolled up inside of a classic French crepe.  It's light to eat, easy to make, elegant to look at, and, it's the perfect ending to any breakfast, lunch, brunch or dinner.  It's as appropriate for a weeknight family meal as it is for a party or holiday celebration.  It is so perfect, I am serving it right next to my traditional pumpkin pie after Thanksgiving dinner this week.  Plus:

IMG_7191The crepes & the apple filling can be made days in advance!!!

IMG_6979Yes, both can be made separately 3-4-5 days in advance of gently reheating in the microwave, assembling and serving, which I appreciate, because it's one less thing I have to stress about as the clock ticks down to show time on Thursday.  Check out my method for ~ How to: Make 'French' Crepes (Sweet or Savory) ~  in Category 15, or, by clicking on the Related Article link below!

Here's what you'll need to make my 'Mom's Apple Pie Crepes':

6a0120a8551282970b017c373bf99a970b-800wi12  6" round or square French crepes, my recipe or yours

2  pounds peeled, cored and 1/2" diced Granny Smith Apples (Note: I got 2 pounds from 6, large, 9-ounce apples.)

1/4  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

IMG_70551/4  cup apple Schnapps

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

2  tablespoons ice cold salted butter, for stirring into warm apple filling just prior to serving

Note:  This is my favorite "apple pie" spice blend.  Feel free to adjust or make substitutions to your liking.

IMG_6964~ Step 1.  Prepare the crepes, adding the 1 teaspoon of sugar (to make sweet crepes) plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside or refrigerate until serving time. Return to room temperature prior to gently reheating in the microwave and serving as directed below.

IMG_7064~ Step 2.  Prep the apples as directed, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  Add the brown sugar, Schnapps, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt.

IMG_7067Using a large spoon, stir until sugar is dissolved and ingredients are combined.  Set aside to mascerate for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

IMG_7086 IMG_7073                                           ~ Step 3.  In a 12" skillet over medium-high heat, saute the apples, stirring frequently until just cooked through with a bit of crunch left in their centers, about 6 minutes.

Note:  This is the texture I like them. Feel free to cook them less or more to suit yourself -- at your own risk!

IMG_7105~ Step 4.  Remove from heat, wait 1-2 minutes, then, stir in the butter. Allow mixture to cool to a warm temperature (to give sauce time to thicken) about 20-30 minutes prior to serving.  You will have 4 cups of apple filling, or, 1 cup for every 3 crepes.  Note: Filling may be refrigerated 3-4-5 days in advance of serving. Return to room temperature and gently reheat in the microwave prior to assembling.

IMG_7113 IMG_7117 IMG_7123 IMG_7128~Step 5.  Using a slotted spoon, on each crepe, place about 1/3 cup of apple filling.  Roll up "burrito-style" as pictured above.  Place 1 or 2 on each plate (depending upon how large a portion you want to serve), drizzle with a bit of sauce and a dusting of powdered sugar.  Serve:

IMG_7188As American as Mom's Apple Pie & French Crepes:  Recipe yields 4 cups of apple filling and 12, 6" apple filled crepes, or, 6-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; large spoon; large slotted spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c6e982be970bCook's Note:  For another one of my favorite Fall apple desserts, as well as one that is often on my Thanksgiving table, try my recipe for ~ Sour Cream, Apple & Walnut-Streusel Pie ~.  You can find the recipe in Categories 6, 17 or 18!

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

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

11/23/2013

~ How to: Make 'French' Crepes (Sweet or Savory) ~

IMG_6979I'm pretty certain everyone knows what a crepe is, but, I'm not so sure everyone knows how simple they are to make.  I say this because almost every time I serve them, someone inevitably remarks how intimidated they are at the thought of "tackling" them.  While I can't say crepes are a staple in my kitchen, I don't hesitate to get out my crepe pan and make a few for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert.  That is how easy they are.  Crepes are to a chef what an empty canvas is to a creative artist:  they are the perfect foil for almost any sweet or savory filling you can think of!

Like fine linen, the crepe has a place at every occasion:  

IMG_7013A bit about crepes:    The word "crepe" is French in origin, deriving from the Latin word "crispus", meaning "rolled or curled".  While "crepe" is the French word for "pancake" and crepes are mostly associated with Brittany, a region in NW France, people all over the world consume them. Almost every country and culture has their own version of crepes, name for their crepes and favorite style of eating them. Two examples:  In my Russian family, we make sweet crepes, spread them with a thin layer of jam, roll them into a cigarette shape and call them "blintzes" (not to be confused with  "blini", which are pancakes containing a leavening agent).  In Joe's Italian family, they make savoury crepes,  fill them with meats and/or cheeses, call them "crespelle", and, fearlessly interject that it was the Italians (not the French) who invented them -- this crepe debate is just one of many culinary tugs-of-war between France and Italy over the centuries!

IMG_6988Crepes are to a chef what an empty canvas is to an artist!

IMG_6828These delicate, paper-thin creations are made from milk, water, eggs, butter, flour, salt and sometimes sugar.  They can be flavored with liqueurs, extracts, herbs, spices, and/or, playfully colored with natural food dyes or additives like beets, chocolate or pumpkin. They can be round or square, and, they can be stacked on top of each other or filled and rolled.  

PICT1632Crepes are made by pouring a thin batter onto a specially-designed crepe pan or a hot skillet with a trace of butter or oil on the pan's surface. The batter is spread thinly and evenly over the surface of the pan, by tilting the pan (sometimes with an offset spatula), and, they cook quickly, with each side of the crepe taking 30-45 seconds!

Here is my Foolproof Recipe for Making Basic Crepes:

IMG_68241  cup all-purpose flour

1  cup whole milk

1/2  cup club soda, water may be substituted

4  large eggs, at room temperature

4  tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled about 5 minutes

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon sugar (for sweet crepes only)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing crepe pan or skillet

IMG_6839 IMG_6832~ Step 1. Place all ingredients, as listed in a 1-quart measuring container.  Using a hand-held stick blender, process until smooth, about 1 full minute.  Cover container with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.  You will have 3 cups of crepe batter.

Note:  Refrigerating the batter for a minimum of 1 hour is an important step, so, don't be inclined to skip it or rush it.  Refrigeration relaxes the gluten in the flour, which produces light, airy crepes.  It is perfectly acceptable to make your crepe batter up to a day in advance.  

IMG_6851~ Step 2.  Before starting to make the crepes, you have to decide what size and shape you want, meaning, you'll need to choose a pan to cook them in.  In the event you don't have IMG_6848an offensively-expensive, specially-designed French-made crepe pan, relax.  A nonstick skillet or stovetop griddle work great.  But:  the pan's size affects the amount of batter you need to add to it, and, the number of crepes you will end up with!

Note:  I'm using the inexpensive, 6" square stovetop griddle that I bought at the grocery store to demonstrate for two reasons:  A $6.00 pan works as well as a $106.00 pan, and, if you've never made crepes, start small.  Once you perfect your technique you can graduate to a larger pan.

IMG_6895 IMG_6870~ Step 3. Remove batter from refrigerator and stir. "Spritz" griddle w/no-stick spray and place over medium-high heat.  Ladle 4 tablespoons of batter onto griddle. Lift and tilt pan to distribute batter evenly.  Place on heat and cook about 30 seconds.   Batter will be bubbled and surface will look dry.

Note:  My stove is gas and I set my heat to just above medium.  Use the first crepe or two find a setting that is neither too high or too low.  You should hear a low sizzle when the batter is added to the pan.  Once the heat is "right" you won't have to adjust it for the remainder of the process.

IMG_6944 IMG_6942~ Step 4. Slide a long, thin, spatula under the crepe and carefully lift it up.  Be brave.  This is easier than you think.  If the spatula doesn't slide underneath easily, let the crepe cook another few seconds.

IMG_6938Place it back in the pan, second side down and cook for another 30 IMG_6923or so seconds, or, until, without the aid of the spatula, crepe will slide with ease onto a large plate or platter.  Once on the platter, flip crepe over (first side down and second side up).  Repeat this process, for as long as batter lasts, "spritzing" the griddle with a bit of cooking spray and restirring the batter each time you make a crepe.

Note:  Crepes can be prepared several hours and up to 3-4-5 days in advance of serving.  Once cooled, just cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  I have not had good results freezing them, so, there is no need to waste your time with that experiment.  When serving, if crepes are stacked, the first side (the smoother, slightly darker side) is referred to as the "top".  If crepes are filled and rolled, the first side (the smoother, slightly darker side) is referred to as the "outside".

IMG_6962How to:  Make 'French' Crepes (Sweet or Savory):  Recipe yields 2 dozen, 6" round or square crepes. 

Special Equipment List:  1-quart measuring container; hand-held electric stick blender or blender; plastic wrap; 6" nonstick stovetop griddle, or, round nonstick skillet, or, crepe pan of choice; 1/4 cup ladle or measure; long, thin spatula, preferably nonstick

PICT1749Cook's Note:  You can find my recipe and method for ~ Making Manicotti Using Italian Crespelle (Crepes) ~ in Categories 3, 9, 12, 14 or 19!

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

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

11/22/2013

~ Do you remember where you were Nov. 22, 1963?~

IMG_6811Unless you were not born yet, you do.  On this day fifty years ago, I was 8 years old and in the 3rd grade in the Hometown Elementary School in Hometown, PA.  Mrs. Foster was my teacher.  I had just missed a month of school due to measles and chicken pox.  It was just before lunch recess when I asked to go the rest room.  "Can't you wait for the lunch bell?"  "No", was my reply.  On my way back to class I had to pass by the second grade.  The door was open and the school TV (on a rolling stand in the front of the room) was on.  The educational programming I had "dawdled" in the empty hallway to watch for a few moments was interrupted by a News Flash:

 "The President has been shot."  

I went straight back to my classroom.  "What took you so long Melanie?"  "The President has been shot", was my answer.  "That is a horrible thing to say -- GO TO THE PRINCIPAL'S OFFICE RIGHT NOW!!!"  Having never been sent to the principals office before (but I had heard horrible things happen in there) I started to go -- shaking like a leaf as I left the classroom.  I was barely out the door when "all hell broke loose".  Teachers were crying in the hallway (I didn't think teachers could cry).  My teacher, Mrs. Foster, joined them.  She immediately grabbed me up in her arms to give me the best hug a teacher could give a kid.  "Oh my dear child -- I am so sorry".

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

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

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

11/18/2013

~ Traditional Thanksgiving Preschutti Pumpkin Pie ~

IMG_6705When it comes to our Annual Thanksgiving feast, it is always a very traditional one.  I like to tell the story about my serving cranberry-lacquered cornish game hens -- once.  It was back in the early '90's and I found the recipe featured on the cover of Bon Appetit magazine.  I made 24 of them, one for each person.  They looked as  magnificent as the magazine cover and they tasted as good as they looked, but, I wasn't feeling anything but polite indignation in my turkey-day dining room that evening.  My efforts were less appreciated the next day because there were no leftovers for sandwiches.  It was then I decreed Thanksgiving to be a stick-with-tradition meal!

IMG_6623A bit of pumpkin pie history:  When the first Colonists landed in North America, they found the Northeastern Native Americans growing squash and pumpkins, which they roasted or boiled for eating.  The original Colonists were less than impressed with this bland, watery substance until they had to face their first harsh Winter.  The Native tribes brought them pumpkins, and, out of necessity, the Colonists began finding creative ways to cook with it, which saved many of them from starvation.  

One such creation, which is believed to be the precursor to pumpkin pie, was a pudding made of milk, honey and spices, which was cooked in a hollowed out pumpkin shell (or "pompion" shell as the English called it) in hot ashes. Pumpkin pie as we know it today would not show up for another 50 years after the first Thanksgiving, as there were no ovens to bake traditional pies in!  

Roasted Pumpkin Puree #1 (Pumpkins with Cans)I do not dislike pumpkin pie, but, when faced with a Thanksgiving pie buffet, my Fall favories are sweet potato pie, pecan pie, and apple pie.  Why?  Until 2001, I had only tasted pumpkin pie made with canned pumpkin (or pumpkin pie mix).  It is what it is -- canned.  They all taste basically the same (the recipe is on the back of the can), and, they all lack what I call "wow factor":  a unique taste and texture!

Roasted Pumpkins of Tussey Mountain #1In the Summer of 2001, Joe added pumpkins to his gardening repertoire, and, in the Fall of 2001, I added freshly roasted pumpkin puree to my culinary bag of tricks. After a day of processing enough puree to make 12 pies, Turkey day arrived and the first pie emerged from the oven.  The light, silky-smooth, slightly-grainy custard in conjuction with the aromatic blend of spices and a hint of bourbon was, simply stated:  sensational!

IMG_2802~ Roasted Pumpkin Puree (The Preschutti Way!) ~ can be found in Categories 15, 18 or 22!!!

6a0120a8551282970b01538fb36192970b-800wiFor the pie pastry:

1/2 of my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee:  Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~, found in Categories 6, 15 or 22, or, your favorite pie pastry

IMG_6558For the filling:

2-2 1/4  cups roasted pumpkin puree, at room temperature

2  large eggs + 2  large egg yolks (reserve 1 of the egg whites for brushing inside of crust)

1  cup firmly-packed light brown sugar

1/2  teaspoon ground allspice

1/2  teaspooon ground cinnamon

IMG_65781  teaspoon ground ginger

1/4  teaspoon ground mace

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon salt

1 cup evaporated milk

2  tablespoons bourbon whiskey

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1  egg white, lightly beaten, reserved from above

IMG_3929~ Step 1.  Roll, trim, pat and press pie pastry into a 9", glass pie dish. Form a decorative border around the edge.  Place the crust in the refrigerator to chill, at least 30 minutes.  In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and prepare the pie filling as follows:

Note:  All too many times, recipes call for a blind-baked or prebaked pie shell, and, for the life of me, I can not figure out why.  Read on:

A blind-baked or prebaked pie shell is going to burn before the uncooked pie filling bakes to perfection.  As long as you use a clear glass pie dish directly on the oven rack (DO NOT place it on a baking pan), you'll have no problem.  Why?  In terms of a heat conductor, clear glass is like sitting on a sunny beach without a shirt.  Your crust is going to brown.  The end. 

IMG_6579~ Step 2.  Place all ingredients for the pie filling in a large mixing bowl (as pictured above).  Using a hand-held electric mixer on medium-high speed, blend until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Set aside.

~ Step 3.  Remove pie pastry from refrigerator.  Using a fork, lightly beat one of the egg whites and paint the inside of the chilled pie crust with the egg white.  Why am I doing this?  It's therapeutic.

IMG_6651Brushing the crust w/egg white minimizes separation anxiety! 

IMG_6593Pumpkin pie filling is notorious for separating from the crust as it cools. It is a natural occurrence, and, it happens to all pies.  All pie crusts shrink as they cool, and so do all pie fillings.  Most times shrinkage is masked by a top crust or topping of some sort.  In the case of custard pies like pumpkin, whipped cream hides the imperfections.  This is the reason why pumpkin pie is best baked the same day it is served and NEVER refrigerated.  FYI:  Brushing egg white on the inside of the crust before baking minimizes separation anxiety for 8+ extra hours!

IMG_6606 IMG_6600~ Step 4. Transfer pie filling into prepared pie pastry.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Do not overbake.  Center of pie will be almost puffed and not completely set.  Pie will set up as it cools.

Remove from oven and  cool on a rack 2-4 hours, prior to serving warm or at room temperature:

IMG_6760Traditional Thanksgiving Preschutti Pumpkin Pie:  Recipe yields 1, 9" pie, or, 8-10 servings.

Special Equipment List:  9" pie dish, preferably glass; large rubber spatula; hand-held electric mixer; cake tester or toothpick

PICT3129Cook's Note:  In the event you've never tasted one of these, my recipe for ~ From a Potato to My Southern Sweet Potato Pie ~ is in Categories 6 & 18.  Sweet potatoes never tasted so good!

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

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

11/16/2013

~ How to: Velvet (Tenderize) Meat the Chinese Way~

IMG_6478I love and cook Chinese food, but, it wasn't until 5-6 years ago that I learned a "trick" that jettisoned my Chinese food from really good to restaurant quality.  Background:  I would meticulously slice, dice and prep meat, chicken or shrimp (along with a lot of vegetables) in anticipation of a fabulous Chinese stir-fry.  At the end of the day, dinner was wonderful, but, the protein just didn't have that signature "velvety" soft texture I adore in Chinese restaurants and take-out.  I am here to reveal an age old technique, integral to Chinese cooking, for "tenderizing" proteins and it doesn't involve pounding -- it involves giving it a protective coating to keep it soft!

Velveting:  A technique used to coat proteins to protect them from overcooking!

IMG_6481Learning how to velvet meat is as important to Chinese cooking as browning meat is to French cooking.  When stir-fried, proteins (like beef, chicken, pork and shrimp) can be tender, but not nearly as tender as those that are velveted first.  Velveting involves coating and marinating desired-sized pieces of meat in a mixture of cornstarch, rice wine, egg whites, salt, sugar and sometimes soy sauce for about 30-45 minutes.  The meat is then bathed in barely simmering water or warm oil for 30-45 seconds, just to the verge of being cooked through (which is ideal for stir-frying).  Velveting can be done well in advance of stir-frying, but, if you plan on refrigerating it at all or overnight, you must do it in water, as the oil method becomes "funky" in the refrigerator.  

Note:  From a personal standpoint, I find the water method much more manageable.  Unless you stir-fry all the time or all day long, like restaurants and Chinese housewives do, the oil method wastes a lot of oil for an occasional Chinese meal, so, hands down, it's the water method for me!

I am velveting strips of chicken tenderloin today!

IMG_6413For the chicken (feel free to substitute beef pork or medium shrimp):

1  pound chicken tenderloins or boneless, skinless breasts

IMG_6421~ Step 1.  Slice the chicken into thin strips, transfer to a 1-gallon food storage bag and set aside.

Note:  I'm cutting the chicken into strips today, but be sure to cut it or slice it as your recipe directs you to.

IMG_6426For the marinade:

1  tablespoon rice wine (sake)

1  teaspoon soy sauce 

1 large egg white

1  tablespoon cornstarch (use 1 1/2 tablespoons when velveting shrimp)

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1/4  teaspoon salt

1  tablespoon peanut oil (use 1 1/2 tablespoons when velveting shrimp)

IMG_6433 IMG_6428                                       ~ Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together all of the ingredients as listed.  Save the egg yolk for breakfast tomorrow morning!

IMG_6440 IMG_6436~ Step 3.  Add marinade to bag of chicken.  Toss to make sure chicken is evenly coated and set aside 30-45 minutes, retossing occasionally:

                                            IMG_6447~ Step 4. Place 1" of water in a 12" nonstick skillet along with 1 additional tablespoon of peanut oil.

Over high heat, bring the water to a steaming, barely simmering, shimmering, quivering state.  While water is coming to temperature:

IMG_6449~ Step 5. Drain chicken into a colander. Using your fingertips, scatter the chicken strips into the quivery water.  Once the water returns to a bare simmer:

IMG_6476 IMG_6461Lower heat to low and cook chicken for 30-45 seconds, or until opaque in color. Do not overcook!  I rarely let mine in for more than 30 seconds.  

Note:  This timing will vary a bit depending how you have  prepped your protein.  Using an Asian spider or a slotted spoon, remove the chicken to a plate, cover with plastic wrap and set aside until stir-fry time!

Chow Mein #3 (Intro Picture with Fork)How to:  Velvet (Tenderize) Meat the Chinese Way:  Recipes yields instructions to velvet (tenderize) beef, chicken, pork or shrimp, as per the Chinese technique called velveting.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board, chef's knife, 1-gallon food storage bag; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; small colander; Asian spider or slotted spoon

IMG_9426Cook's Note:  ~ Love Me Tender(s): Is there a difference between a boneless chicken finger and a chicken tender? Yes! ~.  Check out my post in Categories 1, 2, 16 & 25!

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

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

11/14/2013

~Open-Sesame Flank Steak w/Garlic-Ginger Sauce~

IMG_6354Give me a big, fat, juicy, perfectly-grilled, rare- medium-rare steak and I am a happy camper.  I am a beef lover, and, in the Summer, "throwing a few steaks on the grill" and having them emerge just the way each person wants his or hers cooked is an artform.  In the Fall and Winter? Not so much.  When the snow flurries begin to fall, you will rarely find me outside on the grill never find me outside on the grill.  So, what does a beef lovin' gal like me do tonight?

I'm in the mood for an Asian beef fling before Thanksgiving, so:

300px-BeefCutFlank.svgI'm turning to the flank steak.  It lends its flavorful self to indoor cooking beautifully.  Sometimes I broil it, sometimes I pan-sear it, sometimes I marinate it, sometimes I don't (don't roll your eyes, my blackened flank steak needs no marination).  The only thing I do not do to it is overcook it, because if the lean and sexy flank steak is not quickly cooked and served rare- medium-rare it is not worth eating...  

A well done flank steak is not well done at all! 

IMG_6298By the way, flank steak is technically not a steak.  It is the belly muscle of the cow, and, it's very similar to the popular hanger and/or skirt steak.  I can't be sure, but I strongly believe the Tex-Mex dish, fajitas, is solely responsible for making flank steak the apple of America's steak eye!

IMG_6051I always aim for the biggest flank steaks money can buy.  Why?  It's just extra insurance that the meat will remain medium-rare or rare (small ones overcook too fast for my blood), and, leftovers in a salad or on a sandwich the next day are just extraordinary!  Today I have:

2,  1 1/2  pound flank steaks

IMG_6194For the marinade and the sauce:

6-8  tablespoons minced garlic cloves, about 3-4 ounces

6-8  tablespoons minced ginger, about 3-4 ounces

6-8 tablespoons minced scallions, white and light green parts only, about 3-4 ounces

1  cup Golden Mountain seasoning soy sauce, or Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons sesame oil

2  cups honey

1/2  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

1  tablespoon sesame seeds (for sprinkling on steaks during the broiling process)

PICT1240 PICT1252Step 1.  In mini-or small size food processor, place the garlic cloves.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses, mince the garlic.  Transfer it to a 2-gallon size food storage bag.

~ Step 2.  Coarsely chop the ginger.  Repeat above process and add to bag with garlic.

~ Step 3.  Coarsely chop the scallions.  Repeat the above process and add to bag with garlic and ginger.

Note:  You can use a larger food processor, but do not be inclined to mince the three together at the same time.  Their textures are quite different and they will not process evenly as a group.

IMG_6203 IMG_6197~ Step 4. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, honey and brown sugar to the the bag.  Using your fingertips on the outside of the bag, "squish" the bag until the sugar is thoroughly incorporated.

~ Step 5.  Add flank steaks, seal bag and place  in a large, deep bowl.  Refrigerate for 2-4 hours or longer, stopping to toss the bag about once every 30-60 minutes.

IMG_6210~ Step 6.  Remove the bowl of steaks about 1 hour prior to broiling. Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with a piece of wide, heavy-duty aluminum floil.  Line the foil with a sheet of parchment paper.  If you do not have parchment paper, spray the foil with no-stick cooking spray. Place the flank steaks, side by side, underside (bottom side) up,  on the parchment. Set aside, while preparing the sauce as follows:

IMG_6213 IMG_6216 IMG_6225~ Step 7.  Pour all of the marinade from the bag into a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Adjust heat to simmer IMG_6233rapidly, until the mixture is reduced slightly, about 15-20 minutes. During this time:  Regulate and pay very close attention to the heat as this mixture can and will boil over very quickly.  Turn heat off and allow foaming to subside.  Sauce will be glistening and slightly thickened (this is a sauce not a gravy).  Cover pan and let sit on warm stovetop while broiling steak:

IMG_6248~ Step 8:  Place pan of steak, about 6" under preheated broiler for 5-6 minutes (I do 5 minutes for rare.).  

IMG_6251Remove from oven and flip steaks over. Sprinkle liberally with sesame seeds and return to broiler for another 5-6 minutes (I do 5 minutes for rare.).

IMG_6292 IMG_6279                                       ~ Step 9. Remove from oven and transfer steaks to a cutting board.  Allow to rest, about 5-6 minutes.  Holding knife at a 30 degree angle, slice as thinly as possible.  Serve over steamed rice with garlic-ginger sauce to the side for dipping or drizzling:

IMG_6385Open-Sesame Flank Steak w/Garlic-Ginger Sauce:  Recipe yields a 6-8 servings of steak, depending upon what it is served with, and, about 4 cups of sauce.  Store leftover sauce in the refrigerator and reheat gently prior to using on broiled steak, chicken or fish!

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; mini- or small food processor; 2-gallon food storage bag; 1-cup measuring container; large, deep bowl; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides & lid

T.G.I.Fillet #13Cook's Note:  For another one of my favorite indoor steak dinners, try my recipe for ~ T.G.I. Five-Minute Filet Mignon w/a Cremini Saute ~.  This easy, mouth-watering, pan-seared steak really does go from skillet to plate in five short minutes! You can find it in Categories 3, 20 or 21!

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

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

11/12/2013

~Asian Honey-Sesame Garlic-Ginger Dipping Sauce~

IMG_6407Sweet, savory and bold, if you want to turn almost any meat, poultry, fish or vegetable into an awesome Asian meal, this sauce is for you.  Prior to cooking it, it is a marinade that can be cooked afterward.  Not using it as a marinade?  Just make it and cook it to use as a condiment. After cooking, it is a sauce (for dipping or drizzling) and a lacquery, finishing glaze.  It keeps in the refrigerator almost indefinitely and I rarely find myself without this addictive concoction!

IMG_61946-8  tablespoons minced garlic cloves, about 3-4 ounces

6-8  tablespoons minced ginger, about 3-4 ounces

6-8  tablespoons minced scallions, white and light green parts only, about 3-4 ounces

1  cup Golden Mountain seasoning soy sauce, or Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons sesame oil

2  cups honey

1/2  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

(Note:  The sesame seeds, pictured above with the ingredients, are used to make ~ Open-Sesame Flank w/Garlic-Ginger Sauce ~, which is one of my favorite things to serve with this sauce.  Just click on the Related Article link below to get the recipe!)

PICT1240 PICT1252~ Step 1.  In a mini- or small size food processor, place the garlic cloves.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses, mince the garlic.  Transfer it to a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan as you work.

~ Step 2.  Coarsely chop the ginger.  Repeat above process and add to pan with garlic.

~ Step 3.  Coarsely chop the scallions.  Repeat the above process and add to pan with garlic and ginger.

IMG_6197Note:  You can use a larger food processor, but don't mince the three together for two reasons.  1)  Their textures are different and they don't process evenly.  2)  Processing together intermingles their flavors, rather than allowing each to shine on its own.  Also, if you intend on using the mixture as a marinade (prior to cooking it), place the ingredients in a food storage bag or a bowl instead of a chef's pan.

IMG_6213~ Step 4.  Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, honey and brown sugar.  Stir well and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat.

IMG_6216Adjust heat to simmer rapidly, until the mixture is reduced slightly, about 15-20 minutes.  This sauce is going to thicken to a drizzly glaze as it cools.  If (for whatever reason) you want it thicker, feel free to simmer it for up to 30 minutes.

IMG_6225Note:  During the simmering time, be sure to regulate (lower) and pay very close attention to the heat. Because of the honey and sugar, this sweet mixture can and will boil over very quickly.  Be careful!

~ Step 5.  Turn the heat off and allow foaming to subside, stirring occasionally.  Sauce will be glistening and slightly thickened (this is a sauce not a gravy).  

Cover pan and allow to steep about 1 hour prior to serving warm or at room temperature:

IMG_6233Asian Honey-Sesame Garlic-Ginger Dipping Sauce:  Recipe yields about 3 1/2-4 cups sauce, depending upon how much you reduce it.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; mini- or small food processor; 2-gallon food storage bag (optional); 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid

PICT1413 PICT1312Cook's Note: Whether you're serving my sauce   with meat, poultry or fish, please allow me to suggest serving it with two of my family's favorite Asian side dishes.  Just wait 'till you try:

~ Mel's Asian-Style Vegetable Saute ~ and ~ Mel's "Jazzed Up" Jasmine Rice & Pineapple ~.  You can find both of these recipes in Categories 4 or 13!

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

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

11/10/2013

~ 'Moonstruck' Eggs in Brioche Toast (It's Amore)!!! (Not to be confused with English Toad-In-The-Hole) ~

IMG_6125I wasn't prepared for it, but we woke up today to a fresh coating of snow on the ground.  It's early, but we've had big snowstorms here in Central PA as early as October before, so, the best thing to do is enjoy how pretty it is.  No matter what day of the week it is, cold, relaxing mornings (a weekend, a day home from the office, or, a day off from school) cry out for a fun, family breakfast!

In December 1987, in a scene from one of my all-time favorite movies, Moonstruck, the actress Olympia Dukakis makes a unique breakfast for her very Italian family:  "fried, soft-yolked eggs cooked in the open centers of thick-sliced, crusty Italian bread".  She had torn a portion out of the middle of each bread slice, placed it in a skillet with some melted butter and dropped an egg into the empty hole to cook while the bread toasted around it.  Believe it or not, I had never seen eggs cooked in this manner before, and, that scene made me so hungry, I made the eggs for our breakfast the very next morning.  I affectionately named my creation:  Moonstruck Eggs!

Moonstruck_57A few months later, I was making my Moonstruck Eggs for overnight guests, and, Bill commented to his wife, "Mel's making toad-in-the-hole for breakfast", which, I knew I was not.  Having eaten toad-in-the-hole in London a year or so earlier, I knew it to be an English casserole of sausage links cooked in a Yorkshire-type pudding batter!

Toad_in_the_holeI had apparently lived a sheltered enough life to grow up in the USA not knowing that America refers to Rose Castorini's famous eggs as toad-in-the-hole, while, living a traveled enough life to know what real-deal toad-in-the-hole is.  We all had a good chuckle, especially me, and: We all agreed we liked the romantic Moonstruck Egg name much more than the toady other!

In my kitchen, these are:

Moonstruck Eggs!

This is also the perfect use for 2-3-4- day old bread!

IMG_5539Technically, you can use any type of bread to make these eggs. Personally, I do not think cottony-soft Wonder-type bread does them justice.  For authenticity, a rustic, crusty Italian loaf is the #1 choice. For me, refined French brioche is my favorite.  Brioche is a light, rich, sweet bread made with butter, sugar and eggs. You can find my easy recipe for: ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~ in Categories 5, 9, 15 & 18.  It is perfect for making these eggs!

IMG_6068 IMG_6064~ Step 1. For each egg/portion, start with a piece of bread that is sliced about 3/4"-thick. Thicker is better than thinner. Depending upon the surface area of the bread, choose a cookie cutter that fits in the center, leaving about 1/2"-3/4" of bread around it on all sides.  Remove the center.

IMG_6079~ Step 2.  Bring desired number of

jumbo eggs, or extra-large eggs

1 egg per bread slice, to room temperature.  Large eggs are too small for this hearty breakfast.

Note:  This step is important.  Each egg must cook in the same amount of time as it takes the bread slice to toast on one side.  If the eggs are cold, this will not happen.  The bread will be toasted, and burn, before the egg cooks properly.

IMG_6091~ Step 3.  Choose an appropriately sized skillet.  A 14" skillet w/6 tablespoons of butter will comfortably cook three portions at once.  Today, for 1 portion, in a 10" skillet over low heat, I'm melting

3 tablesoons of salted butter

IMG_6187~ Step 4.  Add bread slices(s) and heart-shaped cut out(s).  Increase heat to medium and fry until bread is golden on first side, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Flip bread over, add the egg to the hole and season with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.

IMG_6093

 

~ Step 5.  Lower heat to medium-low.  Cover and cook about 1-1 1/2 minutes. Covering the pan will give the top of the egg a chance to start cooking.  Uncover the skillet for the remainder of the cooking time.

IMG_6103Continue to cook to desired degree of doneness, about 1 1/2-2 additional minutes.  

Using a large spatula, transfer to plates and serve immediately (For a really hearty breakfast, these go great with sweet sausage patties or crisp bacon to the side.):

Moonstruck Egg Etiquette:  Dip first...

IMG_6143Slice with a knife...

IMG_6154Love and enjoy every last forkful!

IMG_6173'Moonstruck' Eggs in Brioche Toast (It's Amore)!!! (Not to be confused with English Toad-In-The-Hole):  Recipe yields instructions to make as many Moonstruck Eggs as you want, you can eat, or, your skillet can accommodate!

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; any shaped cookie cutter; appropriately sized skillet, preferably nonstick w/lid; spatula

IMG_7504 IMG_6231Cook's Note: For two more of my yummy runny egg recipes, check out ~ A Simply Satisfying Breakfast: Soft-Cooked Eggs ~, and, ~ Baked Eggs in Birds Nests (Hash Brown Potatoes) ~, in Categories 9 & 20!

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

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

11/07/2013

~ Flour Facts: All-Purpose, Bread, Cake and Pastry ~

IMG_6014As the holiday season approaches, family bakers everywhere will be purchasing flour to make their signature breads and sweet treats:  pies for Thanksiving, cookies for Christmas, cakes for New Years, etc.  There are savory ethnic treats too.  For example:  My family's Eastern European noodles and pirogi, and, Joe's Italian family's pasta and pizza.  Savvy bakers with heritage recipes will be purchasing more than one type of flour to accomplish all of these with ease!

IMG_6047A well-written recipe will specify the type of flour required to produce the best results, and, I'd rather not bake something than substitute different flour. Why? Unlike cooking, baking is a precise science.  It is a series of chemical reactions that occur based upon a list of weighed and/or measured ingredients.  The words "smidgen", "pinch" and "dash" have no place in the baking world.  The moment you grasp this, you can embrace baking.  And don't let the words "precise science" scare you too much.  If you've got a precisely-written recipe and follow it, you'll find baking is easy!

When baking:  never underestimate the power of flour!

IMG_4684Buddhist monks discovered gluten in the 7th century.  The monks, who were vegetarian, were trying to find a substitute for meat.  They discovered that when they submerged dough in water, the starch washed off and what was left was a meat-like, textured, gummy mass containing protein.

Every flour has a different gluten content. Gluten is the Latin word for "glue".  By itself, gluten is a tough, elastic, chewing-gum-like protein IMG_5539found in foods processed from wheat, barley and rye.  It gives elasticity to dough, helps it to rise, keep its shape, and, gives the end product its signature texture.  

IMG_4595When a dough is kneaded, it is the gluten in the flour that holds the gas bubbles in, which makes it rise and create a light structure.

Gluten is the natural protein that remains when starch is removed from wheat grains.

Depending upon whether the flour is milled from hard wheat, soft wheat or a combination, what time of year the wheat is harvested, and how long it is aged, the protein content can vary slightly:

All-purpose flour has a protein/gluten content of 10-12%

Bread flour has a protein/gluten content of 14-16%

Cake flour has a protein/gluten content of 7-8%

Pastry flour has a protein/gluten content of 9%

6a0120a8551282970b01538fb34ac1970b-800wiFlours with low protein generate less gluten.  Flours with more protein generate more gluten.  If you want a light and airy cake, choose flour with the least protein. If you want a flaky pie crust, choose flour with slightly more protein.  If you want dense, chewy bread, choose flour with the most protein content.  Trust the name on the bag or box of the flour:  all-purpose, bread, cake and pastry!

Here's a look at the flours I keep on hand and stored in airtight containers in my pantry:

IMG_6027All-purpose flour:  Is designed for a multitude of uses (cookies, quick breads, biscuits and cakes, as well as a thickening agent in many culinary applications).  It is a mixture of high-gluten hard wheat and low-gluten soft wheat.  It comes bleached and unbleached, which can be used interchangeably, but, unbleached flour contains more natural taste.  Millers bleach their flour for more than cosmetic reasons.  Flour must be aged to to strengthen its gluten content, keeping unbleached flour in the warehouse for several months.  Flour processors discovered they could cut the storage expense by artificially aging it by bleaching it with chemicals.  It is worth mentioniong that King Arthur all-purpose flour has a higher protein level than other brands, so, it is no surprise that many bakers, like myself, prefer it to other brands.

Bread flour:  Is designed mostly for yeast breads and some pastries.  It is an unbleached, high-gluten blend (99.8%) of hard wheat, a small amount of malted barley flour (to improve yeast activity) and vitamin C (to increase the gluten's elasticity and the dough's gas retention).  The high gluten content causes the bread to rise high and gives it its signature shape and texture.

Cake Flour: Is designed for making tender cakes, cookies, biscuits and pastries that do not need to stretch and rise too much.  It is made from soft wheat, which gives it its fine texture.

Pastry Flour:  Is designed for making particularly tender cakes and pastries, and, holding together the buttery layers of flaky doughs like croissants, puff pastry and pie crusts.  It is very similar to cake flour, but its slightly higher gluten content adds additional elasticity to dough.

************ 

Self-Rising Flour:  This is all-purpose flour that has baking powder and salt added to it.  Use it in yeast bread recipes in place of all-purpose flour by omitting salt, and, in quick bread recipes by omitting salt and baking powder.  Because it contains baking powder, it has a shortened shelf life (expiration date), so, if you don't use a lot of it, it's best to purchase it as-needed.

Granulated Flour:  This is all-purpose flour formulated to dissolve quickly, without clumping, in hot or cold liquids.  It is used mainly as a thickener in sauces, gravies and other cooked mixtures, but, in a pinch, it can be substituted for regular all-purpose flour when baking.

High-Gluten/Vital Wheat Gluten Flour:  Made from a protein found in the wheat berry, this is an additive/gluten-booster for all-purpose and weaker flours.  Boosting the gluten content is important when baking certain types of bread: rustic loaves, like French baguettes and Italian ciabatta, which require a long rising time to achieve the desired airy holes in their crumb and a chewy texture; breads made with coarse, whole grain flours and/or cereals, which contain little gluten on their own, and; flatbreads like focaccia and some pizza doughs.

"00" Flour:  This is an Italian flour designed for pasta and pizza.  The "double zero" does not refer to the protein content, it refers to its powdery-fine texture, which in Europe is how they categorize flours (with "2" at one end of the spectrum and "00" at the other).  Its protein content is 11-12%, similar to all-purpose flour, which gives doughs just enough, but not too much, stretch.   With only a slight difference in texture, all-purpose flour is a perfectly acceptable substitute for it.

PICT0187Flour Facts:  All-Purpose, Bread, Cake and Pastry:  Commentary explains what flours work best for what culinary applications.

PICT0002Cook's Note:  For some more "flowery" commentary, you might want to check out my post for ~ How to:  Make a Roux & Slurry (to Thicken Foods) ~ in Category 15!

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

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

11/05/2013

~ Mel's Oven-Roasted Version of PA-Style Blockpit BBQ'd Butter 'n Vinegar Chicken a la Deb Pearson ~

IMG_5906I hoped to post this recipe for BBQ'd chicken back in June or July, but, 'the powers that be' took longer than I anticipated to locate this unique-to-PA BBQ'd chicken dish, and, more importantly the proper venue to execute it:  Chicken halves or pieces are grilled over a wood fire in a structure made of cinderblocks, called a "blockpit".  During the process, the chicken is misted, not brushed, with a mixture of melted butter, vinegar, salt, pepper, and sometimes lemon juice!   

IMG_5270About six months ago my girlfriend from Ohio, who works with noneother than The Grillmaster himself, Steven Raichlen, called me.  Nancy explained that Steven's website received a request for this recipe and inquired if I was familiar with it.  It just so happened, I was.  I had grown up in a world of blockpits. Every organization (Lions, Rotary, Elks Clubs) had one, every town's fire company had one, etc.  I volunteered to research and compile the information for her.

IMG_5293What I wasn't prepared for was how hard it would be to locate a blockpit, or a blockpit master locally.  I made a lot of phone calls, to no avail.  I even called the Hublersburg Fire Company (where I had eaten it last about 3-4 years ago), only to be told the Fire Company had burned down.  Then, in September, I saw a sign on Bear Meadow's road, right here in Boalsburg, PA, advertising Clems BBQ.  This meant that the owner, Deb Pearson, one of our most famous local BBQ'rs might be able to help me out, or, at least point me in the right direction.  

IMG_5265I called, scheduled an appointment, and, drove the short half a mile for my consult with Deb.  You see, Bear Meadows road borders on the back of our property and leads to the Tussey Mountain Ski Slope, where Clem's BBQ operates from on certain days of the week.  Upon my arrival, there, right before my very eyes, stood Deb, cooking on her newly constructed, under-roof blockpit.   After all of my searching, my venue turned out to be literally, almost in my backyard!

IMG_5412 IMG_5278Deb agreed to give my chicken recipe a try on her blockpit and I spent Friday afternoon watching her do it.  On Saturday, I posted ~ Around Town (in search of a blockpit & a recipe for PA-Style Blockpit BBQ'd Butter 'n Vinegar Chicken ~.  Click on the Related Article link below to see how she grills it, and, learn everything you need to know about a blockpit! 

Today, "oh baby it's cold outside", and, I have an idea!  

IMG_5797People who love BBQ get hungry for BBQ after the snow falls, so, I'm setting out to create a version of this fabulous, moist and juicy, mouth-watering chicken by oven-roasting it!  Here goes:

IMG_5559For the chicken:

6  split, chicken 'grillers', or:

6  split chicken breasts, or:

a combination of both

IMG_5563I'm using a combination of both.

Why am I using a combination of both?

IMG_6000Because the chicken breast is known for being notoriously dry when oven-roasted, I felt compelled to include them.  I have a method for ~ My E-Z "Real" Roasted Chicken Breasts ~, and they come out perfect every time.  You can find it in Categories 3, 19 or 26.  The true test of THIS recipe was to duplicate the juiciness of my individual breasts, which emerge from the oven with a crispy, edible skin.  I am happy to report, it met my expectations.  The moment I opened up the crispy skin of the first breast and the clear juices ran out, it made my mouth water!

IMG_5581For the butter 'n vinegar sauce:

1  cup salted butter (2 sticks)

1  cup apple cider vinegar

1-2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, strained (optional), to taste

2-3 tablespoons sugar, to taste

1/2-1  teaspoon fine sea salt

1-1 1/2  teaspoons white pepper

Note:  Adjust quantities of the sugar, salt, white pepper and lemon juice to suit your  palate.  This is the combination I like.  Also, be sure to strain the lemon juice and use fine sea salt and fine grind pepper, so as not to clog the spray bottle.

IMG_5587 IMG_5591 IMG_5593~ Step 1.  In a saucepan, place all ingredients for sauce over medium heat. Stir until butter melts. Taste.  Adjust seasonings. Transfer to a spray bottle.

6a0120a8551282970b019b00d260ec970c~ Step 2.  Place a roasting rack in the bottom of a large disposable aluminum roasting pan. Arrange the chicken pieces, side-by-side, overlapping as little as possible, skin side up on rack.

~ Step 3.  Aiming the spray bottle directly down on the chicken, liberally mist the top of each piece.

IMG_5599 IMG_5612 IMG_5617 IMG_5626 IMG_5629~Step 4.  Roast on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Remove from oven, shake the spray bottle, and, mist again. Return to oven for 15 more minutes.  Continue this process, until chicken is golden brown and juices run clear, 1 hour 30 minutes to 1 hour 45 minutes.  My chicken was done in 1 hour 30 minutes.

~ Step 5.  Remove from oven and allow to rest about 5 minutes prior to serving with BBQ sauce:

IMG_5965Mel's Oven-Roasted Verson of PA-Style Blockpit BBQ'd Butter 'n Vinegar Chicken a la Deb Pearson:  Recipe yields 6 servings of chicken and 2 cups butter 'n vinegar sauce.  Note:  This is actually enough of sauce to make 12 servings of chicken.  Left at room temperature overnight, the sauce stays sprayable.  If refrigerated, reheat it gently in the microwave to reuse it in the spray bottle.  I spread (like butter) the chilled sauce on a lovely piece of grouper (cod, haddock, sole or any other white fish would work too), put it under the broiler and it was delightful!   

Special Equipment List:  20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" roasting  rack; 1 1/2-2 quart saucepan; 2-cup (16-ounce) spray bottle

IMG_5951Cook's Note:  I'm not going to lie, my oven roasted chicken does lack the smokey flavor of Deb's wood-fired, grilled chicken, but, that was expected.  That being said, my oven-roasted version produces a moist, juicy and tender chicken that owes no apologies to anyone.  So, if you ever find yourself wanting BBQ'd chicken in the middle of a snowstorm, preheat your oven. This recipe is for you!

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

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

11/02/2013

~ Around Town (in search of a blockpit & a recipe for PA-Style Blockpit BBQ'd Butter 'n Vinegar Chicken) ~

IMG_5268My search for a blockpit began about six months ago.  A girlfriend from Ohio, who works with noneother than The Grillmaster himself, Steven Raichlen, contacted me.  Nancy explained that Steven's website had received an e-mail request for a specific recipe for barbecued chicken, cooked over a wood fire in a structure made of cinderblocks.  During the cooking process, the half chickens or chicken parts are misted, not brushed, with a mixture of melted butter, vinegar, salt, pepper, and sometimes lemon juice.  Nancy added that, in the e-mail, the man said "he had grown up eating this unique chicken in Pennsylvania".  I knew what he was referring to because:

DSC09701I grew up in a world full of 'blockpits' and polka music. Every organization had one. Lion's, Rotary, Elks Clubs, every town's fire company, every county fair, etc. In fact, the corporation my dad worked for always had a blockpit at their annual picnic and clambake. This photo is courtesy of: www.forkknifeand shovel.blogspot.com,

AND, it portrays exactly what I remember:  Two layers of cinderblocks above the ground, with a pit dug several feet underneath.  Chicken, ribs, burgers, etc., were placed on a hinged, double-sided iron rack with long handles, which allowed a large quantity of food to be lifted and flipped over with 'ease'.  Beyond that, they create a few problems:  1)  Because all food gets turned at once, moving individual pieces from direct to indirect heat, so they cook evenly, is impossible. 2) Flare-ups, created by dripping fat, must be dealt with immediately by dousing water or throwing sand on the fire, and/or, by lifting the iron rack and adding another layer of cinderblocks to control the heat.  3)  A low pit means a lot of bending and lifting, not to mention, depending upon the surface area of the blockpit and the rack(s), it requires a nonstop crew of two or four or more.

IMG_5270Modern-day blockpit masters have learned to built their pits higher, to countertop height.  The higher structure results in more smoke and less fire.  The food no longer requires the cumbersome iron racks or a crew of lifters.  It gets moved around on an as-needed basis, resulting in each piece being perfectly cooked to a deep golden brown while remaining moist and juicy on the inside, rather than a large portion of the pieces being charred to a crisp and dried out.

I do not believe the blockpit itself is native to Pennsylvania, because over the years, I've seen them on our travels at roadside foodstands throughout the rural areas of both the North and South.  What I was unprepared for was how hard it would be for me to locate one locally.  I made phone calls to every organization I could think of to no avail.  Then one day in September, I saw a sign on Bear Meadows Road, right here in Boalsburg, PA, advertising Clem's BBQ!

IMG_5265What did this mean to me?  It meant the owner of Clems BBQ, one of our most famous local BBQ'rs might be able to help me out, and, I wasn't going to have to drive more than a half a mile for a consult.  You see, Bear Meadows Road borders on the back of my property and leads to the Tussey Moutain Ski Slope, where Clem's  BBQ & Catering operates from on certain days of the week.  I called, I scheduled an appointment, and, what happened next, brought tears to my eyes:

Meet Deb Pearson, Owner, Clem's BBQ & Catering!

(814-470-0026/www.clemscatering.com)

IMG_5293Deb lives in the BBQ world of smoke, fire, welder's gloves, tongs, spray bottles, aluminum pans and meat cleavers.  She also just finished building an under-roof blockpit on Tussey Mountain, and, here is where 'the powers that be' led me -- literally, almost my backyard!

While she BBQ's chicken, ribs, and all things in between (and slathers them with her signature sauce), she'd not heard of or made BBQ'd Butter 'n Vinegar Chicken, but, she loved the idea of it and immediately agreed to give it a go. So, yesterday I spent the afternoon with her:

IMG_5307From beginning to the end, the chicken cooked in 1 hour, 30-45 minutes. Before the chicken hit the heat of the BBQ, Deb misted it on both sides with a mixture of:

1  cup melted butter (2 sticks)

1  cup apple cider vinegar

1  teaspoon lemon juice

1 1/2-2  teaspoons sugar

1/2-3/4  teaspoon kosher salt

3/4-1  teaspoon black pepper

IMG_5278The chicken was placed on the hottest, direct heat and cooked briefly, until just golden on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Next, it was moved to the lower indirect heat of the pit, to cook until it reached an internal temperature of 160-165 degrees.  Throughout the process, each time it was turned, it was misted with the butter mixture.  At no time was the chicken turned before it's time, meaning:  if the chicken didn't release itself from the iron grid, it did not get turned.  

IMG_5329As every couple or few pieces of chicken reached the 160-165 degree mark, they were moved back to the hottest part of the grill to finish cooking to an internal temperature of 180-185 degrees, not to mention an intense golden brown color on the outside.  During this short finishing process the chicken doesn't get misted.

IMG_5340Tip #1 from Deb: "Don't rush this. On any given day, the heat of the pit and environmental elements affect time and temperature."

Tip #2 from Deb: "Don't mist at the end because the sugar in the mixture has already done its work and given it lovely caramelization. Additional misting at the end will cause the chicken to burn."

IMG_5289Tip # 3 from Deb:  "After the chicken is cooked, move it to the coolest part of the pit, cover it with an aluminum pan and allow to rest, to stabilize the juices, for a few minutes.  This keeps it warm while it rests."  Note:  It was windy yesterday so Deb weighed the pan down with a piece of firewood!

Deb transferred my finished chicken to a cutting board:

IMG_5353I cut those two moist, juicy beauties open:

IMG_5383Drizzled them with Clem's signature (drinkable) BBQ sauce:

IMG_5401Seriously, anybody want to mess with this kind of success!?!

IMG_5412Around Town (in search of a blockpit & a recipe for PA-Style Blockpit BBQ'd Butter 'n Vinegar Chicken:  Recipe yields instructions for grilling this chicken on a wood-fired blockpit.  That being said, this method adapts perfectly to a charcoal grill or a gas grill too!

Special Equipment List:  blockpit or grill; spray-bottle; long-handled grilling tongs

IMG_4684Cook's Note:  ~ Want buttery 'pull-apart' rolls with dinner tonight? ~. Check out my easy-to-make recipe in Categories 5, 11, 18, 19 or 20. Pile pieces of Deb's chicken onto each one and dip into her BBQ sauce for a slider sandwich!  

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

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