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14 posts from December 2013

12/30/2013

~One recipe, two soups: Beef Barley or Beef Noodle~

IMG_9684There are two ways to make beef soup:  the long way and the short way.  Both are great:  

IMG_8917The long way:  When I am using homemade beef stock from my freezer (to make beef barley or beef noodle soup), I cook the beef (a 4-5 pound beef sirloin top butt roast) in the flavorful stock until it is tender and shreddable, 4 hours. Then, I add my vegetables and cook for an additional 45-60 minutes.    

IMG_8909The short way:  When I am making a big pot of homemade beef stock, which I do once or twice a year, I simply shred the cooked meat from it (I always use beef shanks) to make either beef barley or beef noodle soup.  I add my vegetables, and, within 45-60 minutes, my family is enjoying soup.

IMG_9309Because I made beef stock over the Christmas holiday, I'm showing you how to make beef barley and beef noodle soup the short way today. Once the master recipe is made, you can freeze it.  After thawing, all you need to do is add some cooked barley or egg noodles.  After all, the January and February doldrums are the height of the soup season!

The Master Recipe

IMG_95534 cups cooked and shredded beef (1 1/2 pounds)

2  cups peeled and diced carrots

1 1/2  cups diced celery

1 1/2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

1  generous cup frozen baby peas, unthawed (optional) 

2 quarts homemade beef stock (8 cups) (Note:  You can find my recipe for ~ Mel interrupts Christmas to bring you:  Beef Stock ~ in Categories 15 & 22, or, by clicking on the Related Article link below.)

24-ounces V-8 100% vegetable juice (3 cups) (Note:  If you don't like V-8, or, want a tomato-less version of this soup, substitute 3 extra cups of beef broth.)

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes (optional)

IMG_9577seasonings:  1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, 1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper, 1/2  teaspoon garlic powder, 2 bay leaves (Note: If you're using my recipe for beef stock (or canned broth), these spices will work nicely.  If you are using your own homemade beef stock, excercise caution and season appropriately, and, to your liking.)

IMG_9323 IMG_9309~ Step 1. Using a fork or your fingers, pull the beef in to large, bite-sized shreds and chunks.  Set aside.

Note:  The beef is going to fall apart more when it reheats in the soup, so, to avoid mushy beef, error on the side of larger pieces.

~ Step 2.  Prep the carrot, celery and onion as directed, placing in an 8-quart stockpot as you work.

IMG_9569 IMG_9564~ Step 3. Add the beef stock, V-8 juice, diced tomatoes and spices (as per my  instructions noted above).  

Bring to a simmer over high heat, adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially cover the pot, and, continue to cook until carrots are just tender, about 25-30 minutes.

IMG_9591~ Step 4.  Add the optional peas (or don't).  If you do add them, return soup to a gentle simmer and cook for 3 additional minutes.  Add the beef, return to a gentle simmer and cook for 3 more minutes.  Cover, remove soup from heat and set aside.  You will have 4 quarts.

Note:  The Master Recipe can now be portioned and refrigerated or frozen for use at a later date.

IMG_9605I'm placing my soup in 2, 2-quart sized containers.  Each container, when reheated with either 4 cups of cooked barley or 4 cups of cooked egg noodles stirred into it will yield 3 quarts of soup, or, 6 hearty servings of soup.  Just perfect for your next snowstorm dinner!

Here's what you'll need to do that: 

Two Soups:  Beef Barley or Beef Noodle 

IMG_9613For each 2-quarts of soup:

1 cup medium, pearled barley (Note:  1 cup of uncooked barley = 4 cups cooked barley, or 1/2 cup cooked barley per serving)

10  ounces egg noodles (Note: 10 ounces of uncooked egg-noodles = 6 cups of cooked noodles, or, 1/2 cup cooked noodles per serving.)

~ Step 1.  Cook either one in boiling, salted water according to the package directions, or mine:

IMG_9621For the barley (as per me):

In a 4-quart stockpot, sprinkle (don't dump or it will clump)

1 cup barley into 5 cups of boiling water to which 1/2 teaspoon sea salt has been added.  

Briefly stir, adjust heat to a very gentle, steady simmer, cover and cook until tender, 40-45 minutes. Drain into a colander (do not rinse).

IMG_9634For the noodles (as per me):

In a 4-quart stockpot, sprinkle

10 ounces egg noodles into 8 cups boiling water to which 1 teaspoon sea salt has been added.

Briefly stir, adjust heat to a rapid simmer and cook, uncovered until tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain into a colander and rinse under cold water to halt the cooking process.  Drain thoroughly.

IMG_9650Remember:  Drain, but don't rinse the barley.  Drain and rinse the noodles under cold water.

Both the barley and the noodles can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. Both can be reheated gently in the microwave.  Portion and serve:

IMG_9704One recipe, two soups:  Beef Barley or Beef Noodle:  Recipe yields 3 quarts of either soup, or, 6 hearty servings of either beef barley or beef noodle soup.

Special Equipment List:  fork; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; 4-quart stockpot w/lid; colander

IMG_4120Cook's Note:  To find out how I make beef barley soup "the long way" (using a 4-5-pound beef roast), you can find my recipe for ~ Sumptuous Beef-Barley, Tomato-Vegetable Soup ~ in Categories 2, 12, 20 & 22!  It's a great way to start the New Year full of healthy vegetables!

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

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

12/28/2013

~ Joe's Beefy French-Onion French-Dip Sandwiches~

IMG_9455Before the Christmas holiday, I made a big pot of beef stock, so I could serve French onion soup with our prime rib dinner.  Consequently, I have some wonderful leftovers in my refrigerator:  four bowls of onion soup, beef stock in the freezer, and, a plate full of the flavorful, tender, shank meat I used to make the stock.  I had planned on having leftover onion soup for dinner tonight, and, planned on using the stock and shank meat to make beef-barley soup tomorrow (I still might because I have a lot of both).  That was the plan, until Joe (while foraging for food this morning), suggested I shred the shank meat to make beef sandwiches to dip in onion soup!

How obvious!  I am speechless!  Why didn't I think of this!

IMG_9414Not since tomato soup with grilled cheese have I been so excited about a soup and sandwich combination.  Truth be told, I don't like leftover prime rib unless it is briefly simmered in gravy and put on an open-faced, knife-and-fork sandwich.  Don't take offense to that, it's just a quirky preference of mine.  I also don't think prime rib is historically used to make beef dip sandwiches. Don't take offense to that either, as, it is obviously one way to use up primo beef leftovers.   Using the shank meat I have on hand to make a French dip beef sandwich makes sense and sounds awesome to me.  Dipping it in French onion soup instead of plain 'ole jus?  Be still my heart!

A bit about the French dip sandwich:  Let's start with -- it is not French.  It's an American creation. It's a hot (warm) sandwich, made of thinly-sliced roasted beef and served on a French roll -- hence, French.  The sandwiches are always served with "au jus" (meaning "with juice") for dipping.  The jus is made from beef juices leftover from the cooking process, although, seasoned broth is sometimes  substituted.  There is one more option:  The "wet" sandwich.  The entire sandwich gets baptized in a quick dip of jus, then, served with more jus to the side -- for double dipping.  Options include: toasting the roll, adding onions and/or melting cheese on top. 

IMG_9373Two Los Angeles restaurants claim to be the birthplace of the French dip sandwich:  Cole's Pacific Buffet and Philippe The Original.  Both places were founded in 1908, and, to date, they both have unresolved arguments and plenty of lore to support their 'inventive' claims of ownership.  Both establishments serve wonderful sandwiches, and, I prefer to realistically tell you they are simply the first two eateries to successfully market this sandwich.  Why?  Ever since women began roasting meat, men dipped bread into the juices to sop up every drop of flavorful goodness.  It was a born-out-of-necessity, "waste not, want not", run-of-the-mill practice.

My version of Joe's 'sandwich idea' isn't classic French dip.  

It's a "French twist" on the "French dip"!!!

IMG_9304Part One.  The Bread.

My choice is:

2, 1-pound French batards

A batard is 1st cousin to the baguette.  Because it's shorter & wider, it's sandwich-friendly. Cutting each one into thirds yields 6 manageable-sized sandwiches.

IMG_9323Part Two.  The Meat.

I'm shredding:

4 cups cooked beef shank meat

IMG_9309This allows for a generous 1/2 cup per 4-inch sandwich.  That's a lotta beef. Feel free to substitute 4 cups of any kind of cooked, shredded or paper-thin sliced beef.  Since this meat was used to make my broth for the soup, the flavor profile is perfect.

Part Three.  IMG_9300The "au Jus".

I'm heating:

8 cups lefover French onion soup

on the stovetop.

I'll be adding:

1 cup of this leftover soup

to my beef, just enough to moisten and flavor it.  The rest will be served to the side of the sandwiches (almost 1 cup per sandwich).

IMG_9112Part Four.  The Cheese.

I'm shredding:

16 ounces French Gruyere (4 cups)

My leftover French onion soup is being used as "au jus" tonight, meaning, it won't have bread in it or cheese on top of it.  I'm melting my French cheese on my French bread sandwiches to make up for that. This is all fitting together perfectly!

It's time to make French-Onion French-Dip Sandwiches!

IMG_9355 IMG_9349~ Step 1. Place the shredded meat in a 10" skillet and add 1 cup of the warmed (hot) onion soup.  Over medium heat, bring the meat to a steamy-state, but don't simmer or cook it.  You just want it warmed.  Taste.  if you think it needs a bit of salt and pepper, add a bit now.  I added none.

IMG_9373 IMG_9365~ Step 2. Slice each 'roll' in half, to open it up completely. IMG_9369Place 1/3 cup of grated cheese on the bottom. Top with a generous 1/2 cup of the meat mixture, followed by another 1/3 IMG_9381cup of grated cheese.

Tightly wrap each sandwich in aluminum foil.

Note:  This should be obvious, but I'll say it anyway just in case:  do not assemble and wrap these sandwiches until you are ready to put them in the oven to bake.

~ Step 3.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 12-15 minutes.  Remove from oven and serve immediatlely with 1 cup of hot French onion soup to the side, for dipping, drizzling or eating!

Unwrap to reveal the meat-y, cheese-y, onion-y goodness:

IMG_9451Whether you dip it in the jus a little, or a lot...

IMG_9415... this is a beef dip sandwich worth talkin' about!

IMG_9431Joe's Beefy French-Onion French-Dip Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 6 sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; fork; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; 4-quart stockpot; 10" skillet; alumium foil; 6, 1-cup ramekins 

IMG_2416Cook's Note:  For another classic American "beef dip" sandwich served with au jus to the side and topped with a spicy, crunchy, pickled vegetable Giardiniera, try my recipe for ~ Sweet Home Chicago: Italian Beef Sandwiches ~.  You can find my recipe in Categories 2, 17 or 19! 

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

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

12/26/2013

~ French Onion Soup (Soupe a l'Oignon) a la Mel ~

IMG_9245When it comes to serving soup as a second course to Christmas dinner, I have two favorites: wild mushroom and French onion.  I usually serve a prime rib roast, and, either one of these soups go "oh so swell" with with it.  Both of them date back to Ancient times, and, both, at the time, were seen as "poor peoples food":  mushrooms were free-of-charge and gathered by hand in wooded areas by peasants, and, onions were easy to grow, even in harsh climates.  Both held up quite well in the family "root cellar" too.  As for me, I consider both soups "fit for a king"!

French onion soup (and French food in general) became hugely popular in the USA during the 1960's when Jackqueline Bouvier Kennedy hired French chef Rene Verdon to preside over The White House kitchen.  Chef Verdon (formerly of the Hotel Carlyle in NYC) is credited with changing forever the standard of food served at state dinners and official receptions.  Eating at the White House became a "fine art", and, his food began making headlines nationwide!

IMG_9278A bit about French onion soup:  By definition, it is made from a bold-flavored, meat-based stock (traditionally beef) with a wine or spirit of some sort added to it, lots of heavily-caramelized onions (caramelized to the point of almost turning into a dark, brown paste) and topped with a crouton (traditionally 1-2 French baguette slices toasted "hard", so they soften in the stock without turning to mush), and, copious amounts of grated cheese (traditionally French gruyere). The individual servings (traditionally assembled in crocks with handles) are then broiled until the cheese melts.  French onion soup:  It is a labor of love, and, a work of art, not a lot of work!

IMG_9112A bit about French onion soup a la Mel:  At first glance, all of the above may sound like too much work to bother with, but trust me when I tell you:  it is not.  Granted, it will take the better part of an entire day to make it, but, each part of the process is quite easy and you are by no means tied to your stovetop all day.  If you make your beef stock in advance (like me), that saves a few hours "right off the bat".  

Can you prepare this soup with canned broth?  Yes, you can, but (BIG BUT):  a soup is only as good as the stock that goes into it and this is a recipe I never compromise with substitutions. That being said, if you must use canned beef broth (please don't use chicken or vegetable broth), at least season it with the following ingredients and simmer it for 15 minutes:  8 sprigs of parsley, 2 bay leaves, 1-2 cloves of garlic, and, some freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

IMG_8972What makes my French onion soup special?  The way I was taught to pre-caramelize the onions for several hours in an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, in the oven (which develops their rich flavor), followed by a four-step stovetop deglazing process (which leaves them a beautiful dark brown and lusciously sweet). Who taught me this?  A French saucier named Reme (Reh-mee) back in the 1980's.  He and his partner Roger owned a short-lived French restaurant named The Governor's Table, in Bellefonte, PA, one block from the stately,  elegant and historic Centre County Seat and Courthouse.  I loved it.  

Their food was exceptional, but, sadly, fancy French cuisine was not that town's "cup of tea". However, during this period, Reme and Roger catered 3-4 parties for me, and, they always shared their French tips, tricks and techniques (plus a few classic recipes) with a  foodie like me!

Advice from Mel -- While this soup is easy to make, it is not quick to make:  

Walk away from all amateurish "30-minutes or less" "dumbed down" renditions.

Run away from all recipes that contain flour (to thicken) and/or sugar (to sweeten).

As for "Diet" versions:  Vegan stock?  Gluten-free bread?  Fake-cheese? Not!

(You only live once.  I hope you NEVER have to eat this soup made in any of the above-mentioned ways.)

IMG_8945For the soup:

10  cups beef stock, homemade (Note:  You are going to need 10 total cups of beef stock throughout this recipe.  Eight total cups for the soup itself, and, two total cups for the deglazing process.  You can find my recipe for ~ Mel interrupts Christmas to bring you:  Beef Stock ~ in Categories 15 & 22, or, by clicking on the Related Article link below.)

4  tablespoons salted butter, each tablespoon cut into 4 cubes

5-5 1/2  pounds large, peeled yellow onions, or sweet onions, halved and cut into 1/4"-thick slices, no substitutions (Note:  Many authorities say that modern day "sweet" hybrid onions don't have the "bite" necessary to make a great onion soup.  While I understand why they might think and say that, the fact of the matter is, sweet onions work just fine in this soup.  I've done the side-by-side comparison.

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  cup dry sherry

no-stick cooking spray

For the croutons and cheese topping:

1/2  of a French baguette, preferably 1-2 days old, cut into 16, 1/2" thick slices

16  ounces shredded Gruyere cheese, no substitutions (4 cups grated Gruyere)

Part One:  Caramelizing (Roasting) the Onions

IMG_8964~ Step 1.  Position an oven rack in the lower-middle level and preheat to 400 degrees.  Spray inside of a 6-7-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven with cooking spray.  Cube and place butter in the bottom of the pot. Slice the onions as directed, placing them in the pot as you work. Sprinkle the sea salt over the onions.  Place the lid on the pot (completely cover) and place in preheated oven for 1 hour.

IMG_8984 IMG_8976~ Step 2. Remove pot from oven and uncover.  Onions will be moist and reduced by half in volume.  Using a wide, nonstick spatula, stir the onions, thoroughly scraping the bottom and sides of the pot.  You'll notice some browning on the sides and some liquid in the bottom.

IMG_8995Step 3.  Partially cover the pot (lid slightly ajar) and continue to roast, until onions are very soft and golden brown, 1 1/2-1 3/4 hours, stirring and scraping down pot after first hour of cooking.  Remove pot from oven and place on stovetop for the following deglazing process:

Kitchen Safety Note:  Before beginning the deglazing process, realize, this pot has emerged from a scorching hot oven:  pot, lid and handles are very hot.  Have oven mitts or pot holders in hand to safely manage the pot during this process.  

IMG_9010 IMG_9012~ Step 4. Remove pot lid and set aside.  

Onions will be sizzling, very fragrant, and, just short of beginning to brown on the bottom of the pot.  

Over medium-high heat, on stovetop, cook/saute onions, stirring frequently, scraping down the IMG_9022bottom and sides of pot, until all liquid evaporates and onions are beginning to brown, about 12-15 minutes, reducing the heat to medium (or lower) if onions are browning too quickly.  Do not scorch. Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, until bottom of pot is coated with a dark crust, about 6-8 additional minutes, adjusting heat as necessary.

IMG_9029~ Step 5.  Add 1/2  cup of beef stock, scraping pot bottom to loosen crust and cook until stock evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, about 4-6 minutes.  Repeat this deglazing process 3 more times, using 1/2 cup of beef stock each time and cooking 4-6 additional minutes each time, until the onions are very dark brown and bottom of pot is clean:

IMG_9050Part Two:  Making the French Onion Soup & Croutons

IMG_9070~ Step 1.  Add the remaining 8 cups of beef stock and the 1/2 cup of sherry into the pot of caramelized onions.  Scrape up any final bits of browned crust on the bottom and sides of the pot.  Bring to a simmer over high heat.  

Reduce heat to low, partially cover pot and simmer very gently for 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

Note:  At this point, soup can be covered and refrigerated for 2-3 days prior to serving.  How convenient is that.  Remove from refrigerator, gently reheat and proceed with recipe as directed.

IMG_9100~ Step 2.  Once soup is hot, arrange the baguette slices, side by side, in a single layer, on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Bake in 400 degree oven until bread is dry, crisp and golden around the edges, 5-6 minutes.  Remove from oven, flip slices over and return to oven until second side is crisp and golden around edges, 2-3 minutes. Remove from oven, remove croutons from pan and set aside.

Part Three:  Assembling & Broiling the French Onion Soup

IMG_9118 IMG_9114~ Step 1. Adjust oven rack 6" underneath broiler element and preheat for 10 minutes. Place 2-4-6-8, 2-cup size, oven-safe crocks on 1-2 baking pans lined with parchment.

Note:  I'm making 4 crocks of soup today, and, 4 crocks of soup tomorrow, and, today, I'm using the same parchment-lined baking pan the croutons were just baked on.  

IMG_9141~ Step 2.  Ladle 1 1/2 cups of hot soup into each crock (or to within 1/2" of the top of each one).

IMG_9126~ Step 3. Top each portion of soup with 2 baguette slices (do not overlap the slices). Grate the cheese and evenly distribute 1/2 cup over the top of each crock, mounding it slightly towards the centers.

~ Step 4.  Place baking pan in the oven and broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around the edges, 3-4 minutes.  Remove pan from oven and let cool, 1-2 minutes, prior to serving:

IMG_9166Go ahead, dive in, dig around and enjoy! 

IMG_9257French Onion Soup (Soupe a l'Oignon) a la Mel:  Recipe yields about 3-quarts (12 cups) of soup/8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  6-7-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven w/tight-fitting lid; cutting board; chef's knife; wide, nonstick spatula; 1-2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan(s); parchment paper; 2-8, 2-cup size oven- broiler-safe crocks or soup bowls (ramekins may be substituted); soup ladle; cheese grater

Shiitake Mushroom Soup #1 (Intro Picture)Cook's Note:  To get my recipe for ~ Shiitake Mushroom Soup w/Homemade Croutons ~, just click into Categories 2, 12, 21 or 22!

Where's the beef?

Prime Rib Roast #9Check into Categories 3, 11 or 21 to find out how to make the ~ Perfect "Prime" Rib Roast (Standing Rib Roast) ~!

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

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

12/24/2013

~May Your Christmas Day be Merry, Bright & White!~

IMG_8596It's Christmas Eve.  It's time for family, friends, and food (in any combination, in any order).  Like all of you family cooks or chefs, I too am "knee deep" in preparations (and enjoying every moment of it)!

Whether you celebrate tradition, or change it up every year, give it your best attempt, never apologize for a minor mishap, and, make sure you find time for YOU to enjoy the festivities  with those you love too!

I've got my beef stock made (yesterday's post) for French onion soup, and, a prime rib ready to roast tomorrow.  I've also got a hand-painted, 1" tall "mini-Mel" doll too...

... which, was a gift from artist friend Trisha (Lynn) Rathsack in Gilbert, Arizona.  Trisha and I met on Facebook, she loves to cook, she is a regular Kitchen Encounters reader, and, a very talented lady.  Her company is iheartcollectibles, and, her website will be up and running in January.  When I opened her box of "fun stuff", I immediatley fell in love with her itsy-bitsy, rolly-polly creations, and, chuckled at the likeness she created of me in my Christmas apron!

'Twas the Night Before Christmas...

IMG_8639"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

12/22/2013

~ Mel interrupts Christmas to bring you: Beef Stock ~

IMG_8811A funny thing happened to me at the market today.  I ran into some beautiful beef shanks.  I bought every one they had.  Yes, in between cookie baking and planning a festive prime rib dinner, I am making beef stock.  It's a perfect Sunday afternoon to do it too:  the wind is howling, the rain is pelting the kitchen windows, and, Thema & Louise (one of my favorite movies) is on the kitchen TV.  It's a nice way to create a "calm before the holiday storm", plus, I think French onion soup, using some of this stock, will be a yummy starter course to Chrismas Dinner!

PICT3608Meet my 24-quart stockpot.  This is the biggest stockpot I own and I have no idea what I would do without it when it comes to making big batches of stock.  Of course, I have others, ranging in size from 8-, 12- 16- to 18-quart, but this big-bad-boy brings a smile to my face everytime I put it on the stove.

To date, I've posted several of my basic stock recipes here on KE: chicken, Thai chicken, shrimp, veal and vegetable.  You can find them all in Categories 15 & 22 (and these five are all pictured below)!

A bit about stockpots:  A stockpot is a large, deep, straight-sided pot used for preparing stocks and simmering large quantities of liquid on the stovetop.  It has a wide, flat bottom, two handles on the sides and a lid with a handle on the top.  Stockpots are made from aluminum, stainless steel, copper and/or enamel, and have bottoms made of layers of different metals to enhance heat conductivity.  This one is restaurant-quality and is made of aluminum, which is a fantastic conductor of heat.  That being said, before  purchasing an aluminum stockpot, know that while aluminum pots and pans are a top-notch heat conductor, it is not recommended that food be stored in them for long periods of time.  Aluminum will react with and discolor some foods containing eggs, wine or other acidic ingredients, like tomatoes.  While this discoloration is not harmful, it is unattractive.  Every cook needs a stockpot and I recommend choosing the biggest, bestest one(s) you can afford.  While this one is my biggest, it is also one of the least expensive!

PICT3582A bit about stock:  By definition, a stock is a moderately seasoned, strained, clear liquid resulting from the simmering of water, bones and/or vegetables.  Stock is the basis for almost all soups and stews, and, when reduced, is the basis for many sauces and gravies. In order of versatility, beef, chicken and veal are the classic stocks, with seafood and vegetable coming in a close second and third.  

The same basic guidelines apply to the preparation of all stocks:  minimal boiling, maximum simmering and moderate seasoning.  The single goal of all stock is the the same:  clarity!

PICT2120 IMG_5510 PICT2693 Vegetable Stock #3 (Water in Pot)Historically, the first recorded stocks were exclusively by-products of poached meat, poultry, fish and/or vegetables, and, a stock made with a large proportion of meat in it will have magnificent flavor.  Debate over the inclusion of meat (on bones) instead of just raw bones or roasted bones (in the case of brown stocks) exists.  The challenge for the restaurant chef, who requires large quantities of stock, is to get maximum flavor with minimum expense, so, their stocks are made using primarliy bones, which is quite practical because they have a lot of bones at their disposal. The challenge for the home cook, who uses lesser quantities of stock, is also to achieve maximum flavor with minimum expense, BUT, is problematic because we don't always have large quantities of bones at our disposal or available to us when we want or have a need to make stock (and, it can take months for them to accumulate in the freezer).  I justify the expense of using bone-in cuts of meat to make some of my stocks, because I put the meat to good use. The meat from these shanks is going to make wonderful beef barley soup and ravioli filling:

IMG_880810  pounds beef shanks, preferably large and meaty ones

10  quarts water

1 1/2  pounds peeled yellow or sweet onion

12  ounces peeled carrots

12  ounces celery

8-10  large, peeled garlic cloves

2  ounces fresh parsley sprigs

8-10  large bay leaves

4  tablespoons sea salt

2  tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper

IMG_8824~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients in a 20- 24-quart stockpot, except for the black pepper.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to a simmer, and, using a skimmer, remove all of the white and brown foam as it collects on top.  This process will take about 10 minutes. Note:  If you had added the pepper, it would have collected in the foam and you'd be discarding it too!

IMG_8839 IMG_8829~ Step 2. After you've removed the foam, remove the parsley.  It will be limp and losing its bright green color.  This herb has done its job.  The result will be a stock that is lightly and pleasantly flavored with it.  Note:  Fresh herbs all loose their "flavor power" after about 10 minutes of simmering.  

IMG_8847 IMG_8853~ Step 3. Now it's time to add the pepper. Reduce heat to simmer gently, partially covered, for 3 hours. Remove from heat, cover and allow to steep for 3 hours.  Steeping is important to stock making.  It allows all of the flavors to develop.

Note:  Stock will be reduced by about one-quarter and meat will be falling off the shank bones.

A Wintertime stock making tip from Mel:  

IMG_8893One of the advantages to making any kind of stock in the Winter in Pennsylvania is I have the biggest refrigerator in the world:  the great outdoors.  I am simply going to put this pot out on my porch overnight. What's the purpose of this?  The cold temperature is going to solidify the fat on the top of the stock.

Note:  If I were making stock in a smaller stockpot, I could put it in the refrigerator, but this pot just won't fit!

IMG_8894Instead of ladling the stock through a fat/lean separator (to remove the fat), all I have to do is slide a spatula underneath the fat layer and lift it off to reveal the crystal clear stock below.

IMG_8899In less than one minute I removed & discarded all of the fat from this stock.  How easy was that!

IMG_8861~ Step 4.  Over medium heat, warm the stock, until it has lost it's gelatinous consistency and has returned to a liquid.  There is no need to simmer it. Using a large slotted spoon, transfer beef shank meat, attached to or removed from the bones, to 1-2 plates or a platter. Remove and discard the large vegetables, with the exception of the carrots... I eat them with just a bit of salt and pepper.  I'm won't lie, I savor a few bits of the beef too!

IMG_8907 IMG_8909~ Step 5. Using your fingertips, pull fat from the meat, remove meat from the bones, and return it to the plates or platter as you work.  

Note:  To reserve the marrow, using a small spoon, scoop it from the center of each shank bone.

IMG_8917~ Step 6.  Ladle stock through a mesh strainer, into desired-sized food storage containers, leaving about 1/2" of headspace at the top of each (to allow for expansion if you're freezing the stock).  Repeat this process until all stock has been strained. Refrigerate overnight and/or freeze.  Use stock and beef as directed in specific recipes. 

IMG_8921Mel interrupts Chrismas to bring you:  Beef Stock:  Recipe yields 8 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 20- 24-quart stockpot w/lid;  skimmer; mesh strainer; slotted spoon; soup ladle; fat/lean separator; desired-sized food storage containers, preferably glass

PICT2693Cook's Note: Because beef and veal come from the same animal, many people think they can be used interchangeably.  Culinarily they are not the same:  they don't smell the same, they don't taste the same, and, they should be used accordingly.  Beef stock has a sharp, bold flaver, and, veal stock has a subtle, neutral flavor.  My recipe for ~ Veal Stock = Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary ~ can be found in Categories 15 or 22!

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

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

12/20/2013

~ "My" No-Fail, Easy-to-Make Sugar Cookie Recipe ~

IMG_8753Just in time for the premiere cookie baking holiday of the year,

yesterday, I got an e-mail from a reader living in "sugar cookie purgatory":

I'd like to say I was surprised, but, I wasn't.  I'm quite adept at baking, and, I'm ok with stating: sugar cookies can be positively persnickity.  Taking it one step further:  The easiest cookie to screw up is the sugar cookie.  While these cookies only contain a few simple ingredients, "things" can and will go wrong quickly, especially if details regarding mixing, refrigerating and rolling this delicate dough are left out of the recipe instructions.  I'm lucky.  The very first sugar cookie recipe I ever tried worked perfectly. Since then, I've tried others, with more than a few producing disappointing results.  One recipe baked up great, but tasted like cardboard. Another tasted great, but the cookies lost their shape in the oven (those cookies did make great cookie crumbs though).  Upon rolling, one recipe's dough stuck to everything, including the inside of the garbage can -- certainly not my idea of a good time.  It's no wonder some people hate to bake.

IMG_8761Sugar cookies traditionally fall into the category of "rolled cookies" which are cut into shapes to suit your fancy and the occasion, but, they can be treated as "drop cookies" too, meaning:  they can be formed into uniform-sized balls and baked.  They can be crisp and thin or soft and thick. They should melt-in-your mouth, taste rich and buttery and have a flaky, delicate texture. Perfectly baked ones have clean edges that hold shape when baked, and, emerge from the oven just cooked through and puffy with almost no signs of browning.  Sugar cookies require patience and love, and, as I prepare this basic recipe today, I'll be providing my best tips to you!

6a0120a8551282970b01538fb34ac1970b-800wiMaryAnna says and asks:  "Melanie, do you have a basic recipe for sugar cookies that are easy to roll and don't spread out all over the pan and burn around the edges?  I'm a pretty good cook, and, when I bake, I'm good at things like cakes and cupcakes, but, I've always had problems with rolled pie crusts and sugar cookies. Over Thanksgiving, I made my first successful pie crust using your IMG_8715recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee: Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~.  I don't know if it was your recipe or the photos, but it came out great.  I was hoping you would have a sugar cookie recipe that would do the same, but, I didn't see one.  Do you have one? PS:  I live in an apartment and don't own a stand mixer.  Can I make sugar cookies with a hand mixer?

[Note to readers:  Recipe for pie pastry can be found in Categories 6, 15 or 22.] 

IMG_6400Kitchen Encounters:  I am so glad I took the angst out of pie pastry for you MaryAnna, and, I hope I can do the same for sugar cookies.  You are correct, I do not have a recipe for "my" sugar cookies posted, but, I am happy to share the one I have been successfully using for years with you.  When it comes to basic sugar cookies, recipes are all pretty similar, and, the one I've been using comes out the first cookbook I received as a bridal shower gift back in 1974.  The recipe is entitled "Deluxe Sugar Cookies (Also known as Mary's Sugar Cookies)", and, it can be found on page 149. They came out perfectly the first time I made them so they remain my "go to" basic recipe!  There's more:

I was living in an apartment with no stand mixer at the time, so, I can tell you:  no problem!

IMG_85601  cup salted butter (yes, salted butter), at room temperature, very soft (2 sticks)

1 1/2  cups confectioners' sugar (not granulated sugar)

1  large egg, at room temperature

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

1/2  teaspoon pure almond extract, not imitation

2 1/2  cups unbleached,  all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon cream of tartar

confectioners' sugar, for sprinkling on cookies at serving time (optional)

IMG_8570 IMG_8565~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking soda and cream of tartar. Set aside. In a large bowl, place confectioners' sugar, butter, egg, vanilla and almond extracts.  Starting on low speed of mixer, combine the sugar/butter mixture, gradually increasing the mixer to medium-high.  Beat for a full 3 minutes.

IMG_8573~ Step 2.  Decrease mixer speed to low.  Begin incorporating the flour mixture, in thirds, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatual almost constantly, until flour is thoroughly incorporated.  This will take about 3 full minutes too.

IMG_8579Dough will be soft, but, to the touch, easy to gather up and form into a rough ball/mass.

IMG_8587~ Step 3.  Gather the cookie dough up and place it in a 6-8-cup food storage container.  Cover and refrigerate, to "let it rest" for 12-24 hours.  Patience is a virtue.

Tip #1:  Many recipes say "refrigerate 2-3 hours".  This is not long enough.  Not allowing the dough "to age" enough in the refrigerator is the #1 reason for sugar cookies losing shape when baked. When baking sugar cookies, you need a mature dough, requiring 12-24 hours in the refrigerator.

IMG_8653~ Step 4.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator 1 hour prior to rolling.  During this time, line two 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans with parchment (quarter sheet pans).

Note:  My method for rolling dough is a bit different than you will see elsewhere, but, I think you're going to like the way I've simplified it.

IMG_8657Sprinkle a VERY light amount of flour on the top of each sheet of parchment.  Divide the dough in half.  If you have a kitchen scale, you will have 2, 13-ounce pieces. Form each half into a thick, freeform rectangular shape and place one on the center of each pan.  Sprinkle a VERY light amount of flour on the top of each.  Resist the urge to add any more flour during the rolling process.  Flour will toughen this delicate cookie dough.

IMG_8663Pat and roll the dough evenly into the bottom of each pan.  The rolled dough will be slightly less than 1/4" thick (perfect).  Place the pans of rolled dough in the refrigerator to firm up again, 45-60 minutes.

Tip #2.  The advantage to rolling your dough on a baking pan (instead of a pastry board) is that it can be placed back into the refrigerator to firm up prior to cutting the cookies.  This will insure you get cookies with cleanly cut sides.

IMG_8706 IMG_8713~ Step 5. One pan at a time, remove the rolled dough from the refrigerator. Choose a cookie cutter.  My 2" rectangular cutter is equivalent to a 2" round cutter.  I like to cut rectangles or squares.  Why?  It's a very efficient use of cookie dough -- no waste. My 1" rectangular cutter picks up where the bigger one leaves off!

Tip #3:  While it is acceptable to reroll scraps of leftover dough, because you'll need additional flour to do it, you'll be toughening those cookies made with rerolled dough.  Dare to be square!

IMG_8691 IMG_8722~ Step 6. Cut the cookies. With a cold pan of cold dough, you'll immediately notice how easy this is.  Transfer cut cookies to a  17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan (half sheen pan) that has been lined with parchment, spacing them about 3/4" apart. Because dough is so firm, you probably won't need a spatula.

~ Step 7.  Return the pan of cut cookies to the refrigerator to chill for 10-15 minutes.  While this pan is chilling, remove the second pan of rolled dough from the refrigerator and repeat process.

IMG_8700~ Step 8.  Bake cookies, one pan at a time on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, until puffy and just short of turning brown, about 6-7 minutes.  Watch carefully after 6 minutes of baking.  Remove from oven and cool on pan about 3-4 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely. Cookies will crisp up as they cool to room temperature.  Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar at serving time.

IMG_8799"My" No-Fail, Easy-to-Make Sugar Cookie Recipe:  Recipe yields 32, 2" cookies and 14, 1" cookies.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 6-8-cup food storage container w/lid; 2, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans (quarter sheet pans); parchment paper; small pastry roller or small rolling pin; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans (half sheet pans); small metal spatula; large cooling racks

IMG_8740Cook's Note:  With only five days left until Christmas, if you bake these cookies now, you can store them in an airtight container and they'll taste great until after New Years!

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

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

12/17/2013

~ Martin Yan's Wonderful Walnut Cookies a la Mel ~

IMG_8523It's time to get into the Christmas spirit, and, unless you're from a different planet, if you are the family cook, this means cookie baking.  My recipe file is full of ethnic and heritage cookie recipes passed down to me from my Eastern European (Russian Orthodox) family, Joe's Italian (Catholic) family, my diverse group of friends, plus, some worldly ones that I've picked up over the years on our travels.  Some are quick and easy-to-make, some are time consuming and difficult.  Some are big, some are small, all of them are delicious, and:  ever since I began this blog in 2010, every year at this time, I've been sharing a few of them with you.  To date, there are a 'baker's dozen'  of cookie recipes here on Kitchen Encounters for you to choose from!

Crispy, chewy, light & airy, meet Chef Yan's Walnut Cookies!

A#6. Chef Yan Demo #3 (2-20-10)In February of 2010, I had the great pleasure of having Chef Martin Yan in my kitchen and assisting him with his cooking demonstration in front of a studio audience of 150 at WPSU-TV.  It was my job to prepare a tasting of all three dishes he was demonstrating that day -- enough for 150 tastings.  Lot's of work?  You betcha.  Lot's of fun?  Absolutely.

These walnut cookies were on the menu, and, as Chef Yan writes in his cookbook Feast:  "These are the flaky short-dough cookies you find in Chinese bakeries all over the world.  My version replaces the IMG_8364traditional lard with a combination of butter and shortening, producing a crispier, more tender cookie."  

A#3. Walnut Cookies for Chef Martin Yan (2-19-10)The night before his demo, I baked a huge batch (4x the recipe).  I tell you this so you're aware it can be easily doubled, tripled and even quadrupled.  I also must say:  their buttery flavor and delicate texture makes them perfect for a ladies luncheon or tea -- not to mention a crunchy sweet treat after your favorite Chinese meal or stir-fry!

IMG_83811 3/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4  teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft

1/2  cup vegetable shortening (Note:  I use Crisco butter-flavored shortening.)

2/3  cup sugar

1/2  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

1  large egg

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

6-8  tablespoons very-finely chopped walnuts (just short of being ground to a powder), a generous 1/2 cups broken walnut pieces to start

4  dozen unbroken walnut halves, the largest and prettiest available

1/4  cup sesame seeds, more or less, for rolling tops of cookies in

IMG_8385 IMG_8389~ Step 1. Measure the flour, baking powder and baking soda, placing them in a large mesh strainer that has been placed over a medium bowl as you work.  Using an ordinary tablespoon, stir the mixture, until it has all sifted together down into the bowl.  Don't skip this step -- it's important to sift  flour for these.

IMG_8370 IMG_8368~ Step 2.  By hand or in a small food processor fitted with a steel blade, finely chop the walnuts (just short of being ground to a powder).  

Note:  In a food processor, this will be 15-20 on-off pulses.  If you end up with slightly more than 1/2 cup, it's ok to incorporate up to 2 extra tablespoons into the cookie dough mixture without compromise.

IMG_8397 IMG_8394~ Step 3.  In a large mixing bowl, over medium-high speed of electric mixer, cream the butter, shortening and sugars until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula constantly.  Add egg and vanilla, continuing to beat until thoroughly incorporated, about 30 seconds.

IMG_8407 IMG_8404~ Step 4. Reduce mixer speed to low and incorporate the flour, in thirds, thoroughly mixing after each addition.  Add and incorporate the ground walnuts.  If at any time the dough gets too thick for mixer to handle, finish blending by hand with the rubber spatula. Note:  Mixer problems are more likely to occur with multiple batches.

IMG_8428~ Step 5.  Gather the dough into a rough ball, place it into a 6-8-cup food storage container, cover, and refrigerate for 4 hours, or overnight.

Note:  If making multiple batches, divide the dough as evenly as you can between 2, 3 or 4 containers. Do not remove any container until just before baking that batch.  It's important the dough remain cold.

~ Step 6.  At baking time, line two large baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.  Place the sesame seeds in a small bowl.

IMG_8431 IMG_8435Pick through and choose 4 dozen (48) of the prettiest, even-sized walnut halves.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees with a rack positioned in the center.

Note:  If you are making mulitiple batches of cookies, it is not necessary to change the parchment paper in between the batches, however, the cookie dough should only be placed on completely cooled pans (not even ever-so-slightly warm) from previous batch.

IMG_8436 IMG_8443                                               ~ Step 7. Remove cookie dough from the refrigerator.  Using a 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place balls of dough, well apart (2 1/2"-3"), on one pan.  I can fit 20 balls of dough, appropriately spaced, on one pan.  Return cookie dough to refrigerator. If your pan is larger or smaller, just space them as directed and proceed as follows:

IMG_8447~ Step 8.  Do not flatten balls. Working as quickly as possible without getting sloppy, gently dip/roll the top of each ball in sesame seeds and return it to pan.  

IMG_8457Lightly place and gently press a walnut half on top of each ball, just far enough down into the dough to secure the walnut to the top. IMG_8454Even though the walnut is going to seem too large for the cookie, do not over flatten the balls.  

Place pan of cookies in the refrigerator, to chill for 10 minutes prior to baking.  While this pan of cookies is chilling in the refrigerator, prep the next pan of cookies... and so on "down the line".

IMG_8469~ Step 8.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 9-10 minutes, or until lightly brown around the edges.  Remove cookies from the oven and allow to cool in pans, about 5-6 minutes.  

Transfer cookies to cooling rack.  If you need a spatula to do this, you are removing the cookies from the pan too soon.  Repeat this process until all cookies are baked and completely cooled.

IMG_8513Martin Yan's Wonderful Walnut Cookies a la Mel:  4 dozen, 2 1/2" round cookies

Special Equipment List:  large fine mesh strainer; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor (optional); hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 6-8 cup food storage container w/lid; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling racks

Chow Mein #3 (Intro Picture with Fork)Cook's Note:  For my spin on another one of Chef Yans's recipes, which was also on his WPSU cooking demonstration menu that day (also found in his book Feast), check out ~ Chinese Chicken Chow Mein a la Mel ~, in Categories 3, 13 or 19!

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

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

12/15/2013

~Therapy for Users of Aluminum Foil & Plastic Wrap~

IMG_8359I've got 'Happy Valley' kitchen therapy for you today!

This post is going to be short, sweet, to the point, and, if you are like me, it is going to change your life.  Today, on FB, one of my friends posted a YouTube video, posted by a Russian guy, telling us American consumers we've been misusing our aluminum foil and plastic wrap.  Since I've been screaming at manufacturers of these products for over thirty years, it's time for me to apologize.  Why?

The answer has been right before my eyes!

On each side of every box, there are tabs, CLEARLY LABELED, telling us how to stabilize that roll to make it user friendly, which keeps it from falling out of the box, free from rips, tears, and clogs.  The first thing I did before writing this post was go into my kitchen and push my tabs, and, I'll be damned.  What a relief!  

Finally - I can start pushing tabs instead of beating up boxes!

IMG_8357

To watch this life-changing video, click on the link below:

Wild and Crazy Russian Guy (My new favorite person!!!)

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

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

12/13/2013

~ Joy's Italian-American-Style Stuffed Bell Peppers ~

IMG_8280Shiver me timbers, my parade of snowstorm dinners continues!

PICT1997I usually make stuffed peppers once a year, in the Fall, when Joe has an excess of peppers in his garden (as pictured here).  When I'm using poblano peppers, I make a Mexican-seasoned version, and, when I'm using bell peppers I go to Italian-American seasonings. While picking up a short list of staples for this weekend, I found some big, beautiful bell peppers at Wegman's today, which fast-tracked me into writing this blog post.  Joe will be pleased as he really enjoys these!

"Mango" is a term for "green bell pepper"?  Surprisingly, yes!  

Here's how I found out:

598588_507074935992348_1856879625_nI did not grow up eating stuffed bell peppers because my mother didn't like "mangoes" once they were cooked.  "Mango", you ask with a confused look... "Isn't that a fruit?" Yes, a mango is a fruit, but, when I was growing up, that is what my mom called green bell peppers, and, it's what I called them too.  I never knew why, until I married Joe back in 1980 and he asked me to make "Italian" stuffed bell peppers. Having no recipe, I went to my #1 reference and recipe source at the time: the 1977 edition of The Joy of Cooking.  While reading what they had to say about stuffing bell peppers, they pointed out that while perplexing, mango is a common midwestern term for a green bell pepper!

Here's the semi-confusing but fascinating story:

MangoSometime after the early settlers arrived in America, the East Indies began shipping mangoes (the fruit) to the colonies.  Because the trip was long and there was no means of refrigeration, what arrived was no longer fresh fruit.  They arrived in a pickled, kind of fermented state. Americans, understandably, began associating the word mango with anything that could be pickled and pickled dishes in general.  Here's one example: "pickled pears", or, "a mango of pears".  One of the most popular mangoes of the period was made by stuffing green peppers with spiced cabbage and pickling the stuffed peppers whole.  This concoction remained so popular for so long, that, as people moved into the midwest, even unpickled green peppers were referred to as mangos!  

Fast forward to the depression (the era of my grandmother).  Hungry and broke, midwestern farmers shipped unripened "mangoes" all over the country out of necessity (green bell peppers are unripened, red bell peppers are fully-ripened).  What did we Americans do with their midwestern "mangoes"?  We do what we do best:  we got creative.  We stuffed chopped meats, on-hand diced vegetables and/or leftover grains, bread products or starches (like barley, breadcrumbs, rice or potatoes) into them and invented ways to roast, bake or steam them!

IMG_8271Joy's Italian-American-Style Stuffed Bell Peppers?  Sort of.

I'm crediting The Joy of Cooking for the inspiration for this recipe, but, if you've got a copy of this edition of the book, you won't find it or anything close to it.  I used their proportions for "Green Peppers Stuffed with Rice and Meat" on page 315 as a gauge.  Past that, this recipe is all me! 

PICT1465For the rice:  If you have leftover rice, feel free to use it.  To make 4-5 cups of cooked rice, you will need: 

2  cups uncooked, extra-long grain white rice

4  cups water, minus 4 tablespoons

4  tablespoons butter (1/2 stick) 

Note:  You can find my post ~ How to: Cook Perfect White Rice on the Stovetop ~ in Categories 4 or 15! 

IMG_8227For the bell peppers:

6  large, even-sized bell peppers, preferably ones that can stand up by themselves without rolling over, green or red, or, a combination of both (Note:  I like the slightly bitter taste of green ones and Joe likes the sweeter taste of red ones.  They look pretty too!)

IMG_8157For the meat mixture and sauce:

1 1/2  pounds extra-lean ground beef (95/5) 

1/2  pound mild Italian sausage, broken up into small pieces

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon each: cracked black pepper and red pepper flakes

For the add-ins and topping:

2  cups cooked white rice, at room temperature or slightly warm, plus, remaining 2-3 cups of rice for preparing casserole

2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

2  cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade, total throughout recipe, 1 cup for the meat mixture, 1 cup to stir into the remaining 2-3 cups of rice mentioned above (Note:  You can find ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~ recipe in Categories 8, 12 or 22. Because it is bursting with bold garlic and fresh basil flavor, I do not add these spices when sauteing my meat.  If you are using a store-bought brand of sauce, season the meat to your liking, accordingly, depending upon how well seasoned the sauce is.)

8  ounces grated fontina cheese, for topping stuffed peppers

red pepper flakes, for topping peppers

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole

PICT1979~ Step 1.  To trim and clean the peppers:  Using a chef's knife, slice a flat section from the top of the pepper (cut the top off of each pepper).  Next, using a pair of kitchen shears, clip the white (bitter) rib and seed section from the center by clipping down between the flesh and each rib until you reach the bottom.  In less than one minute per pepper,  you will have formed six perfect "pepper cups" for placing the stuffing in...

... Arrange the pepper cups, side-by-side in the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole and set aside.

IMG_8163 IMG_8162~ Step 2.  In 12" skillet, place the ground beef, sausage, onion, salt, pepper and red pepper.

IMG_8168Over medium-high heat, saute, stirring frequently, until meat is just cooked IMG_8180through and has lost its red color, breaking it up into bits and pieces with a spatula as it cooks, about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat.

IMG_8175~ Step 3. Tip the pan on an angle. I just place one side of it on a folded kitchen towel.  Using a large spoon, remove and discard all of the greasy liquid from the bottom.

IMG_8184 IMG_8195 IMG_8197~ Step 4.  Stir in 1 cup of the marinara sauce, followed by the 2 beaten eggs, then, 2 cups of the cooked rice.

IMG_8235 IMG_8231~ Step 5. Lightly spoon the meat mixture into the pepper cups, right to the very top of each, mounding it slightly towards the center.  Do not pack it in.  The stuffing mixture will expand when it bakes.  

Note:  Do not worry if you have meat mixture leftover.  If you do, you will be using any and all leftovers it in the next step. 

IMG_8246 IMG_8216~ Step 6. Stir the remaining 1 cup of marinara sauce into the remaining rice.  

Stir any and all remaining meat mixture into the rice mixture.  In the event you have really large peppers, and have no meat mixture leftover, don't worry about it.  This is one of those recipes that revolves around the size of the peppers.  Briefly remove the stuffed peppers from the casserole dish -- they are very stable at this point.

IMG_8257 IMG_8251~ Step 7. Spray the casserole with no stick spray.  Spoon in the rice/meat mixture, distributing it evenly across the bottom.  This rice is going to be a bed to sit the pepper cups on, and, is will absorb all of the wonderful pepper juices as the stuffed peppers cook. Return stuffed peppers, slightly apart, to casserole.

IMG_8259~ Step 8.  Grate the fontina cheese. Using your fingers, heap it high atop all 6 peppers.  Sprinkle with red pepper flakes.

Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 25-30 minutes, or, until the side of any one pepper, when pricked with a fork is tender but not soft.  Remove from oven and rest 10-15 minutes.  

Pick and plate your favorite pepper (I like green), slice...

IMG_8318... and eat long into the snowy, delightful night:

IMG_8332Joy's Italian-American-Style Stuffed Bell Peppers:  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart stockpot w/lid (for cooking rice); cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; spatula; large spoon; fork; hand-held cheese grater; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole

PICT1842Cook's Note:  For my Mexican-seasoned version, you can find my recipe for ~ Stuffed Peppers?  Make Mine Poblanos Please! ~, in Categories 3, 13, 19 0r 20.  

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

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

12/11/2013

~ Snowstorm Steak (How Mel Broils Steak Indoors) ~

IMG_8010Oh baby it's cold outside, and, the truth be told:

I am not an outdoors kinda gal unless certain conditions are met:  I like my weather sunny and warm enough to drive with the top down on my convertible, or, sit in a chaise lounge with a G&T and watch Joe perfectly grill some thick, juicy steaks under a blue and white "Happy Valley" sky. Pretty amusing considering I live in the Northeastern United States, more specifially, Central PA, which can be like sitting on an iceberg at times.  And, "iceberg" definitely defines the Northeast this week.  So, what does a bloody-red meat-loving gal do under these circumstances?  She lights a fire in the fireplace, puts a movie on the kitchen TV, pours a G&T, sends the hubbie to the store for some 1" thick steaks (any kind will do), and, preheats the broiler!  Meet my meat:

IMG_7999When Joe faces the butcher at the meat counter of any of our local stores, he knows exactly what I am looking for:  red, well-marbled, and a minimum of 1" thick (they don't need to be USDA Prime or Wagyu).  While bones turn me on, bone-in steaks are not essential to success, but, nothing less than 1" will do.  In fact, why butchers slice any steak less than 1" thick is a mystery to me.  It's a magic number when it comes to steak cookery by any method: grilling, pan-searing or broiling.  Adjustments can be made for thicker steaks, but, thinner ones:  not so much.  They overcook way too fast, losing their perfect rare- medium-rare doneness in a matter of seconds!

Properly prepping the steak is easy and important:

IMG_8024I've got 4  strip steaks today, and, I've allowed them to come to room temperature, right on top of the butcher paper they were wrapped in, which takes about 1-1 1/2 hours.

Tip from Mel:  A room temperature steak will cook evenly, a cold steak will not.  Whenever you are cooking steaks, by any method, always bring them to room temperature.  

IMG_8032I've patted each steak dry with a paper towel, and, I've arranged them on an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan, the kind with the corrugated bottom (No cleanup afterward.  Thank me later.).  I also put 4 tablespoons salted butter on the counter to soften while the steaks were coming to room temperature, and, I have slathered the top of each steak with 1 tablespoon of butter.

IMG_8046Bring on the pepper grinder!

Mine is filled with a peppercorn blend, but, black pepper is great too, and, I do not think one can ever have too much pepper on their steak.  I am a steak purist and rarely add any spice concoctions that masque the flavor of my steak, and, I save the sea salt grinder for topping my finished steak.  Quite frankly, it just tastes better that way!

Three steak broiling tips from me:

Position oven rack about 6" underneath the heating element, preheat broiler, and, make sure the oven is up to temperature before putting the steaks in it, 15-20 minutes!

When broiling, always keep the oven door ajar (oven doors all have a hinge designed for this purpose), otherwise, you will be baking your steak instead of broiling it!

Every oven heats differently.  If you are following my method for the first time, note how your oven broiled your steak, and, error on the side of undercooking it on the second side.  You can always put it back under the broiler to cook it a bit more (you can't reverse overcooked)!

IMG_8062~ Step 1.  Place steaks under broiler (leaving the door cracked) for 6 minutes.  They will be brown and bubbly around the edges and across the top.  Remove from oven and allow to rest for 3 minutes.

Note:  For whatever reason, this short rest before broiling steaks on the second side is a game changer!

IMG_8078 IMG_8072~ Step 2. Using a pair of tongs (never prick steaks with a fork), flip them over and grind more pepper over the new tops (no butter is involved on the second side).  

Return steaks to the broiler and...

IMG_8086... broil for 8 minutes (or  8 1/2, 9, or, 9 1/2, if your preference of doneness is more that what I have pictured for you).  Past that, a 1" thick broiled steak is not worth eating.  Trust me, you've got no where to run and no where to hide. You will feel no love, just shame.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for 3 minutes.  Sprinkle with sea salt, slice, and, serve:

IMG_8005We're enjoying ours with a 'garden' blue cheese salad tonight!

IMG_8142Snowstorm Steak (How Mel Broils Steak Indoors):  Recipe yields instructions to broil as many bone-in or boneless 1"-thick steaks (to a doneness of rare- medium-rare) that you want to make.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; butter knife; tongs

T.G.I.Fillet #13Cook's Note:  For another one of my snowstorm steak dinners, which is quite impressive even under perfect weather conditions, you can find my recipe for ~ T.G.I. Five-Minute Filet Mignon w/a Cremini Saute ~ in Categories 2, 20 or 21!

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

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

12/08/2013

~ Cheddar Biscuits with a Creamy Sausage Gravy ~

IMG_7967This breakfast is bursting with rustic Southern country charm and classic diner fare.  It is quite easy to duplicate at home too (even in a Yankee kitchen).  At first glance, it is the not the most appetizing food you're ever going to encounter, but, don't knock it until you've tried it!  Advice:  

"If you're thinking you want to dumb down 'biscuits and gravy' with anything other than pork sausage, or, veganize, low-carbize, decalorize, decholesterolize, or, free it of gluten -- don't let your Southern relatives, me, or the food police find out about it!" ~ Melanie Preschutti

IMG_7968A bit about "biscuits and gravy": Traditionally eaten for breakfast (although it is a quick, comforting dinner too) this is a dish that emerged as Southern fare after The American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). With food in short supply, this was an inexpensive, substantial, "stick to your ribs" way for workers on farms and plantations to start the long, hard workday:  soft, doughy biscuits (fresh or leftover) doused with a creamy gravy made from the flavorful drippings of pork sausage.

The first time I ate this was not on one of our trips to the South, it was right here in Happy Valley, back in the '80's, at the home of our friends:  Pat and George.  George was a big ole' corporate cowboy from Texas and Pat was a Floridian with ties to Georgia.  Pat worked at the same company I did at the time, and, surprise:  she loved to cook.  The very first time we were invited to their house, it was for a New Year's Day brunch, and, 'biscuits and gravy' was on their otherwise  exquisite menu.  George told us about how this was his favorite breakfast and every time he and Pat drove to Florida, they stopped at the same dive-diner in South Carolina JUST to eat this, and, a waitress (who had worked there her entire life) gave HIM the secret* recipe!

IMG_7854Before you make the sausage gravy, you're going to need to make some biscuits.  I don't even care if, in a pinch, you buy some high-quality ones, but, once you taste my recipe for ~ Teresa's Stress Free Cheddar and Cream Biscuits ~ you won't be inclined to do that.  I'm recommending these, not just because they're easy to make, but, because the cheddar cheese in the biscuits is a delightful pairing with the sausage in the gravy -- they go absolutely hand-in-glove together!

*The secret:  sweet sausage, milk, cream, pepper & nutmeg!

IMG_78882  tablespoons salted butter

1 1/2  pounds breakfast sausage (sometimes marketed as country or sweet sausage), casings removed, pulled into small bits and pieces

5  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

2  cups whole milk, mixed with:

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

2  tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (optional) (Note:  This is not a traditional ingredient, I just enjoy the sexy tang it adds to the gravy.)

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for seasoning and garnishing each serving

IMG_7904 IMG_7894~ Step 1.  In a 12" skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Add the sausage crumbles.  Adjust heat to medium-high and saute until the sausage is cooked through and just short of browning, about 5-6 minutes.  Personally, I like my sausage gravy with the sausage bits all plump and juicy, so I do not let it brown, which dries it out.

Note:  I always crumble the sausage into small bits and pieces with my fingertips prior to adding it to the pan.  Why?  Because I like really itty-bitty pieces of sausage in my sausage gravy.  If you want a chunkier gravy, just break it up with a spatula or the side of a spoon as it sautes.

IMG_7916 IMG_7911~ Step 2. Reduce heat to medium-low. Sprinkle the flour, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and nutmeg over all.  Cook, stirring almost constantly until all ingredients are combined and you can no longer taste raw flour, about 2-3 minutes.  It is important that you can no longer taste raw flour.

IMG_7951 IMG_7928~ Step 3.  In a 1-quart measuring container, combine the milk, cream and Worcestershire sauce. Add it to the sausage, adjust heat to a gentle simmer, and cook, maintaining a gentle simmer, until slightly thickened and drizzly, about 2-3 minutes.  Turn heat off and allow to rest about 5 minutes.  

Note:  As the sausage gravy rests, it will continue to thicken, so error on the side of not over-thickening.  You can always put it back on the heat to thicken it more if necessary.  Gently reheat any leftovers in the microwave.

To serve, I like to place a puddle of gravy on the bottom of each warmed plate, slice a warmed biscuit in half, place the bottom half on the puddle of gravy, ladle a bit more gravy over "the top of the bottom", place the top of the biscuit on, and ladle a bit more gravy "on top of the top"!

IMG_7997Cheddar Biscuits with a Creamy Sausage Gravy:  Recipe yields 6 servings, or enough sausage gravy to serve 6, large, 3" round biscuits.

Special Equipment List:  12" skillet; large spatula or spoon; 1-quart measuring container; serrated bread knife; ladle

PICT2701Cook's Note:  If this is not enough artery-clogging indulgence for one meal, biscuits and gravy is often served with scrambled eggs.  You can find my method for ~ How to: Make "Fluffy" Scrambled Eggs ~ in Categories 9, 12, 15, 17 & 20!

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

12/06/2013

~ Teresa's Stress-Free Cheddar 'n Cream Biscuits ~

IMG_7854T.G.I.F.  It was an egg-cellent week here on Kitchen Encounters.  I stayed warm in my kitchen, showed you how to ~ Wake Up and Poach an Egg ~ for breakfast on Monday, made ~ My Poached Egg & BLT Cheddar Biscuit Sandwiches ~ on Wednesday, and today, as promised, I'm showing you how to make Teresa Gottier's, mouth-watering, stress-free cheddar cheese 'cream biscuits', which were pictured on my sandwich post (click on the Related Article links below to get the recipes mentioned above).  A bit about Teresa and her stress-free biscuits:

IMG_7809Teresa Gottier was a pastry chef, and is a close FB friend of mine.  By coincidence, she posted a photo of her easy-to-make 'cream biscuits' on Facebook on Tuesday.  She was serving them with her Thanksgiving leftovers and I was intrigued.  She and I chatted back and forth about her recipe, because I just knew that her cheddar cheese biscuits on my sandwiches, if they weren't too hard to make, would "knock 'em outta the park".  Teresa assured me these were easiest biscuits on the planet to "throw together", and, they required no special equipment (quick and easy -- exactly what I wanted for my simple sandwiches).  She messaged me her ingredients list.

IMG_7675Note:  I'm not saying biscuits are hard to make, but, they can be persnickity.  They can go from light and airy to hockey puck in a hurry.  

Experts have written cookbooks revolving around biscuits, addressing everything from the type of flour to the shortening required.  I don't want to rain on their biscuit parade, but, it is possible to make a decent biscuit with any kind of flour and any kind of shortening as long as you don't over moisten or overwork the dough.

Chatting with Teresa, a seasoned biscuit maker, put my mind at ease. 

IMG_7835When Teresa and I are "on a roll" we discuss things to the max.  Teresa uses King Arthur self-rising flour when making these (a product I use all the time too), along with Grafton cheddar cheese and non-homogenized cream from grass-fed cows.  One would have to be out of ones mind not to recognize the high standards this chef sets.  I'm not chopped liver either, but, most of the time, I write a blog for "regular people who use regular ingredients", so, I asked what she thought about Bisquick, a staple a lot of people keep in their pantry, pre-shredded cheddar and ultra-pasteurized cream. Teresa felt that in this particular culinary application, she had no problem with me trying a substitution or three -- but I'd be held responsible for my actions!

IMG_7626When I made the biscuits on Wednesday, I did use the self-rising flour, but, substituted store-bought, pre-shredded, yellow cheddar cheese and ultra-pasteurized cream.  As you can see from this photo, they came out great!

Today I put the recipe to another test.  I decided to see how it would work with Bisquick as a substitution. My mindset:  if they flopped, I would just drop the matter entirely and write the recipe around self-rising flour.  Guess what?  They didn't flop!

Note:  Neither Teresa or I are saying Bisquick can be substituted equally for self-rising flour in any culinary application, except, possibly when making biscuits, more specifially, these biscuits.

IMG_75648  ounces self-rising flour or Bisquick, your choice

4  ounces finely-shredded white or yellow cheddar cheese

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

1  tablespoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt 

additional flour, for dusting board

additional cream, for brushing on tops of biscuits prior to baking

IMG_7568~ Step 1.  Using a kitchen scale, weigh your flour (or Bisquick) and then your cheese, placing them in a large mixing bowl as you work.  Add the sugar and salt.  Using a large spoon stir until combined.

IMG_7572~ Step 2. Stir in the milk, about 1/4 cup at a time, until the dry ingredients are just moistened.

IMG_7731 IMG_7576Stop adding milk when you feel the ingredients pulling together, somewhere between 3/4-1 cup. When making biscuits, you do not want over moisten the mixture or over mix it.  You want it to look like a rough, ragged, semi-moist mess!

With your hands, gather dough up and form  into a ball or thick disc. 

IMG_7735 IMG_7745~ Step 3.  Place the ball/disc on a lightly-floured (or Bisquicked) surface.  Using your fingertips and/or the heel of your hand, gently pat and press it to a thickness of 1".  1" is the magic thickness!

IMG_7749 IMG_7754 IMG_7762~Step 4.  Cut dough into 5-6, 2 1/2" rounds.  If you only get 5, gather up the scraps, form another 1"-thick disc and cut the 6th!

IMG_7766 IMG_7772~ Step 5. Arrange the biscuits on a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4 baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Using a pastry brush, lightly paint/brush the top of each one with any remaining cream or some additional cream.  Sprinkle VERY LIGHTLY w/a bit of sea salt.

IMG_7779~ Step 6.  Bake on center rack of preheated 425 degree oven for 12-14 minutes, or until golden brown on the top and bottom.  Remove from oven and immediately transfer to a cooling rack to cool 1-3 minutes to serve hot, 4-6 minutes to serve warm, or, 15-20 minutes to serve at room temperature.  All biscuits are always best served ASAP:

IMG_7793Teresa's Stress-Free Cheddar 'n Cream Biscuits:  Recipe yields 6, 3" round biscuits.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen scale; large spoon; cutting/pasty board; 2 1/2"-round biscuit cutter; parchment paper; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; pastry brush; cooling rack  

IMG_8066Cook's Note:  If you love the combination of chocolate and peanut butter as much as I do, you've got to give ~ Confection Perfection:  Teresa's Buckeye Candies ~ a try.  You can find the recipe in Categories 7 or 20!  

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

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

12/04/2013

~My Poached Egg & BLT Cheddar Biscuit Sandwich~

IMG_7664My love affair with poached eggs transcends breakast.  Two of my favorite lunch or dinner time ways to serve a poached egg is atop a classic spinach salad, or, a BLT.  As any child will tell you, tomato soup is the perfect complement to either one of these meals, and, I've just taken a 1-quart container of my cream of roasted tomato soup out of the freezer to thaw.  So, on this frigid cold, windy, rainy, 33 degree Pennsylvania day, I'm baking some biscuits this morning and making my poached egg & BLT cheddar biscuit sandwiches for dinner this evening!

IMG_7675If you're a poached egg lover, this sandwich is heaven on a dish!

IMG_7625As for the biscuits, once you've made ~ Teresa's Stress-Free Cheddar & Cream Biscuits ~ you will never be inclinded to buy a can of store-bought ones again.  In fact, I never made these biscuits before this morning -- behold their beauty!

Teresa Gottier was a pastry chef, and is a close FB friend (Facebook has introduced me to some very talented people). By coincidence she posted a photo of her 'cream biscuits' just yesterday. She was serving them with her Thanksgiving leftovers, and, I asked her about the recipe.  Within minutes she sent it to me, and, voila:  biscuits!  These are going to be my next blog post, so stay tuned!!! 

IMG_4409 PICT3854My recipe for ~ Smokey 'n Sweet Cream of Tomato Soup ~ is heavenly.  The tomatoes are placed on a bed of onions & garlic, tossed in EVOO and topped with a few sprigs of thyme and a sprinkling of brown sugar.  They get roasted in the oven, then pureed in a food processor.  Once simmered on the stovetop, cream is added and, voila:  a rich, creamy, slightly-chunky bowl of easy-to-make goodness.  You can find the recipe in Categories 2, 14 or 20!

IMG_6532 IMG_6556Two days ago I posted my recipe (a method) for ~ It's Monday Morning!  Wake Up and Poach and Egg!!! ~.  If you're afraid to try to poach an egg because you think it is too hard, or, if you've not had luck poaching eggs, relax.  My method is to poaching eggs what Teresa's method is to baking biscuits:  stress-free.  Have fun with both of them!

Ready - set - assemble!  Here's my magic combination:

IMG_7633For each 3"-round sandwich:

1  cheddar  & cream biscuit, sliced in half

10-15 arugula leaves, trimmed of stems

2-3 thin slices of small Campari tomatoes

1  slice of crisply fried, thick-sliced bacon, cut into thirds

IMG_76381  poached egg, cooked for 4-4 1/2 minutes, or slightly longer than you would normally cook it, in order to gel the yolk just a tad more than you normally like it

sprinkling of freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

NO LIGHTLY DRESSED GREENS AND NO WONKY MAYONNAISE CONCOCTIONS ON THE IMG_7639BISCUITS  PLEASE!

This sandwich is simple and pure in flavor.  The cheddar cheese in the biscuits give it some tang.  The arugula adds a peppery flair, the tomatoes are your acidity and the bacon is your crunchy smoky salt. Once your egg is pierced, the yolk is the mayo-esque "liquid gold" that dribbles down into each bite -- you will be truly sad if you mess this up!

This is what I'm talkin' about:

IMG_7692OK!  You've waited long enough!!  Eat!!!

IMG_7707My Poached Egg & BLT Cheddar-Biscuit Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many sandwiches as you can eat.  I can eat one.  Joe can eat two.  Sometimes we split a third one!

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; all equipment listed in the individual recipes for baking the biscuits and poaching the eggs (+ frying your bacon too)

IMG_1448 IMG_1501Cook's Note: For another one of my favorites, try my ~ Egg Bagel, Sausage & Scrambled Egg Sandwich:  A Super Breakfast for Super Bowl (or any) Sunday ~.  You can find this recipe in Categories 2, 9, 17 or 25.  I love egg sandwiches!

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

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

12/02/2013

~ It's Monday Morning! Wake Up & Poach an Egg!!! ~

IMG_6532For whatever reasons, it has been brought to my attention that many of you are petrified to poach an egg.  Ever since I posted my recipe for ~ 'Moonstruck' Eggs in Brioche Toast (It's Amore!!) ~ three weeks, ago, e-mails asking me to demonstrate egg poaching have been trickling in from all over the place.  Since I was in the mood for a poached egg on an English muffin for breakfast this morning, I decided to take my camera to the stove and photograph the process (which I instantly found out is hellaciously hard to do because poaching an egg, like playing the piano, requires both hands).  Before we get started, I must make this clear:

IMG_6556I do not have the perfect method for poaching eggs and I do not believe there is one!

IMG_6522My method is my method, and, it came about after a series of egg-poaching disasters I encountered back in the latter 1970's.  My mother and grandmother never poached eggs, so I was never witness to a strategy, plan of attack or technique. They did, however, make lots of eggs, with soft-cooked ones being my favorite, so, when I had my first eggs Benedict for brunch at the IMG_6543Lehigh Valley Country Club with my soon-to-be mother- and father-in-law in 1974, anyone could have guessed I was going to love them. After getting married and settled into our first apartment, I wanted to recreate that wonderful brunch, and, it failed horribly on two of three counts:  the poached eggs and the hollandaise.  The English muffins, however, were very good.  I admit, it was a high-risk undertaking with my culinary expertise at the time, but, I've always been fearless in the kitchen.  In my own defense, there was no food TV or internet back then.  Most cookbooks didn't include photos and their directions were vague at best.  One often had to rely on the "practice makes perfect" approach to achieve success, and, so it was for me and poached eggs:

Practice makes "perfect":  I learned from my mistakes!

IMG_6800While both of these photos are edible, when it comes to poached eggs, you're looking for eggs with firm (but not rubbery), opaque whites that are evenly distributed around a soft, bright yellow yolk that will ooze its "liquid gold" when pierced with a knife or a fork.

Note:  This first photo illustrates what we are trying to avoid.  While the yolk is perfectly cooked, it is not evenly blanketed in the whites...

IMG_7547... This second photo illustrates what we are ultimately trying to achieve (and it is not quite "perfect" either, but it is much better)!

In my opinion, "perfect" is a word that should be removed from the title of every recipe claiming to have perfected a method, and then shows you their best photograph. All I will do for you is minimize the risk of the always present danger:

ugly poached eggs.

IMG_6791May the force be with you!

IMG_6504~ Step 1.  Fill a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with 1 1/2" of water and add 1 tablespoon of vinegar (or don't).  A wide-bottomed pan is necesary because you need room to stir around the egg.  I add the vinegar because it is said it tightens up the egg.  I have poached eggs with and without vinegar and have not noticed any difference. NEVER add salt to the water.  Trust me.  Don't boil the water and don't simmer the water.  Bring the water to a quivery state, or:  so hot it is ready to simmer.  Maintain this temperature.

IMG_6762~ Step 2.  Choose your eggs.  I like to poach jumbo eggs, because I want a big, fat egg on my portion. Always use the freshest eggs available, and, always remove them from the refrigerator 30-45 minutes prior to poaching.  A cold egg will not poach evenly.  The white will get rubbery before the yolk cooks properly.  Note:  All culinary experts agree that cracking the egg into a small container prior to poaching makes it easier to slide it into the water without breaking the yolk.

IMG_6774 IMG_6794~ Step 3. Using a spoon, create a whirpool in the water by stirring it around in a concentric circle.  When you can see the vortex, slide the egg into the center.

Note:  The reason for creating the whirpool is it immediately swirls the water around the egg, helping to wrap the white around the yolk. Continue stirring for 15-20 seconds.

IMG_7534If your egg seems to be sticking to the bottom of the pan, just slide a rubber spatula underneath it.  From here on out, try to relax.  There are always going to be a few whispy whites that swim out into the water. It's normal so don't panic!

~ Step 4.  Continue stirring the water slowly around the egg,  using the spoon to push the whites into place until they set around and over the top of the yolk.  Once my egg has been in the pan for about 1 full minute, I like to gently flip it over IMG_7537and let it continue to poach an additional 2-2 1/2 minutes (for a total of 3-3 1/2 minutes).

~ Step 5.  Using a slotted spoon remove the egg from the water and gently blot the top of the egg and the bottom of the spoon, to absorb pockets of water that lay on top of the egg and underneath it.  Serve.  

Wait.  That's just one egg!  What happens if I plan on serving these for a crowd?

Continue poaching as many eggs as you want, patting them dry and placing them on a plate or a platter.  (Restaurants place them in a bowl of cold water in the refrigerator overnight, but truthfully, when I tried that, I thought the yolks got a tad gluelike -- I am very picky about egg yolks.)  Lightly cover with plastic wrap and set aside, at room temperature, for 1-2 hours. Reheat, a few at a time (4-6), in proper temperature quivering water for 30-35 seconds.  Do not overcook them on the reheat.  Pat dry and serve immediately as directed in specific recipe:

IMG_6552It's Monday Morning!  Wake Up & Poach an Egg!!!:  Recipe yields instructions to poach as many eggs as you want.

Special Equipment List:  3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; 1-cup measuring container or ramekin; spoon; slotted spoon; rubber spatula; paper towels 

IMG_7504Cook's Note:  If you like runny egg yolks as much as I do, you're going to love my recipe for ~ A Simply Satisfying Breakfast:  Soft-Cooked Eggs ~.  You can find the recipe in Categories 9 or 20!

For another Preschutti family favorite, you can find my recipe for ~ 'Moonstruck' Eggs in Brioche Toast (It's Amore!!!) (Not to be confused With English Toad-In-The-Hole) ~, 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)