Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 02/2010

« March 2014 | Main | May 2014 »

13 posts from April 2014

04/30/2014

~ 1905: It was a very good year for a Spanish salad! ~

IMG_1024The 1905 Salad.  Never heard of it?  You haven't traveled to Florida very often.  The Columbia Restaurant, now a chain of six or seven restaurants (I've lost track) throughout The Sunshine State, is a fourth-generation family-owned business that specializes in really good Spanish food at reasonable prices.  To say it is a tourist attraction is true to some extent, we ate there and we were tourists, but, we ate there on the recommendation of a native Floridian.  Now, whenever I am in Florida, if there is a Columbia within striking distance, I'm going there for The 1905 Salad.

IMG_0941This unique main-course salad is one you really should try!

Gal_ybor_12The original Columbia Restaurant opened its doors in Ybor City (a district of Tampa) in 1905, and, The 1905 Salad, which came along later, was named in its honor.  It was prepared tableside, as it is today, along with several other menu items.  I find tableside preparations charming and whenever I'm in an eatery that offers them, for me, it is a sign of a service-oriented establishment that takes pride in using high-quality ingredients.  

Gal_ybor_01 Gal_ybor_02The flagship Columbia is now over 52,000 square feet, occupies one entire block of the city, and, boasts 19 well-appointed (exquisite) dining rooms and a wine cellar containing over 15,000 bottles of wine.  (Note:  I "borrowed" these 3 photos from their website, but I don't think they'll mind.)

A bit about The 1905 Salad (a page from their menu):

Screen shot 2014-04-28 at 2.38.34 PM

The "1905" is a melange of unpretentious ingredients:  broken pieces of crispy iceberg lettuce, julienned ham or turkey and Swiss cheese, tomato wedges, pimento-stuffed green olives and Romano cheese. A garlicy dressing, made with Spanish olive oil and dried oregano, is made several hours ahead of time so the flavors intensify.  It gets tossed into the salad at serving time along with fresh lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce.  At the Columbia, this is all ceremoniously done at your table by tuxedo-clad waiters.  It is a fun and memorable experience.

IMG_0954I have some luscious, leftover-from-Easter Berkshire ham in my refrigerator, half of a turkey breast that I roasted this past Sunday, and, a wedge of Jarlsberg Swiss cheese.  The rest of the ingredients are on-hand in my pantry.  The sun is shining, my back doors are all open, and, I feel like I am in Florida.  It's a perfect day to celebrate with a fresh, crisp, tangy "1905".

IMG_0811 IMG_0810For the 1905 dressing*:

1  cup extra-virgin Spanish olive oil

8-12  garlic cloves, run through a press

4-6  teaspoons dried oregano

4-6-8  tablespoons white wine vinegar, to taste

sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste (1/2  teaspoon salt and 1  teaspoon pepper)

2-3  tablespoons each Worcestershire sauce & fresh lemon juice, reserved for later

*Note:  The Columbia's recipe (see below) calls for 2 cups of dressing, which means the recipe they provided needs to be doubled.  My recipe and photo (above) reflects that (I doubled the quantities for you).  That being said, I always have about 1/2 cup leftover, which I serve tableside. Remember:  Whisk the salad dressing together a minimum of several hours in advance of serving -- but, one or two days in advance (stored in the refrigerator) is even better.

IMG_0849For the 1905 salad**:

4-6  cups iceberg lettuce, cored and broken into 1 1/2" - 1 3/4" pieces (I use one small head of iceberg, which is pictured above.)

1  large, ripe tomato, cut into 6-8 wedges (I'm a tomato lover and I use 6-8 small Campari tomatoes, sliced into 6 wedges, also pictured above.)

IMG_08371/2  cup julienne of baked ham or roasted turkey breast (2" x 1/4") (I add 1 cup of each, or, 2 cups of one or the other.)

1/2  cup julienne of Swiss cheese (I add 1 cup, and, I use Jarlsburg.)

Note:  Yes, you can certainly cube your ingredients, but that wouldn't be a real-deal 1905 salad.  Take the time to keep it looking authentic!

1/2 - 3/4  cup whole, pimento-stuffed green Spanish olives, well-drained

1/2 -3/4  cup finely-grated Romano cheese

1905 salad dressing (from above recipe) + the Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice

Screen shot 2014-05-01 at 9.49.18 AM**Note:  In the Columbia restaurant, they serve a high volume of these salads, at tableside, each day. They purchase large quantities of ingredients, then, carefully measure and portion them for consistency and efficient service:  4 cups lettuce, 1 tomato cut into 8 wedges, 1/2  cup each of julienned ham, Swiss cheese, pimento-stuffed green olives, and 1/4 cup grated Romano cheese.  In the home kitchen, this is not necessary.  Adjust your quantities to your liking.  For instance:  one small head of iceburg lettuce yields a generous 6 cups of lettuce which is convenient for me, I'm a tomato lover so I want extra tomato wedges in my portion, and, if I'm going to get my husband to eat a salad for dinner, he wants me to be very generous with the meat and cheese.

IMG_0869~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, place the lettuce, tomato, ham (and/or turkey), Swiss cheese and olives.  

IMG_0858Note:  I use a shallow, classically-shaped pasta bowl because it cuts down on the risk of breaking up the precisely-chopped ingredients (tossing in a deep bowl requires "digging down" into it).  

IMG_0884 IMG_0886 IMG_0892 IMG_0896~Steps, 2, 3, 4 & 5.  Shake or whisk the 1905 dressing, to thoroughly combine and add 1 cup of it to the iceberg mixture.  Using a pair of salad servers, gently toss, until ingredients are lightly coated in dressing with no liquid puddling in the bottom of the bowl.  Add and gently toss in the Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice.  Add more of the 1905 dressing, until the salad suits your taste (I error on the side of less dressing and opt to serve any leftover dressing at tableside).  Gently toss in the Romano cheese.  Do not overdress this salad.  Serve immediately.

IMG_0867Note:  I like to garnish each portion of salad with a sprinkling of additional Romano cheese, and, some freshly ground black pepper or peppercorn blend.  I occasionally toss in a few garlic croutons at the end too.  

Croutons are not a part of the the original 1905 salad recipe, but, they are really,  REALLY good in it.  They obvioulsy add a nice crunch, which everyone in my house loves, but, more than that, they seem to round out this main course salad meal.  Meet my 1905 with garlic croutons:

IMG_09891905:  It was a very good year for a Spanish salad!:  Recipe yields 2 large main-course salads, 4 medium luncheon salads, or, 6 small side-salads.

Special Equipment List:  garlic press; 2-cup measuring container with tight-fitting lid and pourer top, or, 2-cup food storage container w//lid; cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; whisk (optional); salad servers

6a0120a8551282970b0148c765ec9c970cCook's Note:  Well-made croutons are hard for anyone to resist.  As I always say, "never buy croutons". All you need is some leftover firm-textured bread, some butter and an herb or a spice.  To learn ~ How to: Make Croutons (& Toasts) ~ just click into Categories 2, 5, 9 or 15!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 

04/27/2014

~ Open-Faced Ham, Swiss & Rye Egg Sandwiches ~

IMG_0622It is for my love of Sunday brunch I am posting this, and, you can thank my husband Joe that I am posting it at all.  It all started yesterday.  Correction, it started at Easter.  I baked my usual Berkshire ham, which gifted me with luscious leftovers.  Leftovers prompted me to bake a loaf of ~ Try My Rye:  It's Homemade in the Bread Machine ~  so we could enjoy ~ Melanie's Hot Russian Ham & Cheese Meltdowns ~ (grilled cheese sandwiches with a special hot Russian mustard on them).  You can get these recipes by clicking on the Related Article links below!

"Honey, I'll be home in 10 minutes.  Got anything to eat?"

IMG_0781On Friday night, Joe worked late, into the wee hours of yesterday morning.  Before I even got up on Saturday, he was out the door and off to a meeting.  Around 11:30AM he called me to report, "I'm on my way honey, I'll be home in 10 minutes.  Got anything to eat?"  He sort of knew I did. All of the ingredients for one of his favorite breakfasts:  ham, Swiss cheese, rye bread and eggs. Fast forward to this morning.  I asked, "what do you want for breakfast?" Joe replied, "the same thing as yesterday."  He opened up his laptop computer on the kitchen counter (to work while he waits), just as he does every Sunday morning.  The million dollar question came next. "Have you posted this one on your blog yet?"  I shook my head and said "No, and I hadn't planned on it".

"Rethink your plan", said Joe.  "This one belongs on your blog."

IMG_0541For two hearty breakfasts:

2  1/2"-thick slices caraway seeded rye bread

1  cup grated Jarlsberg Swiss cheese, or your favorite Swiss

4  1/4"-thick slices ham, the best available

4  jumbo eggs, at room temperature

1  stick butter, total throughout recipe

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_0535Note.  This is really quick to make if you have all of your ingredients prepped and your hardware ready. Get ready and get organized!  

~ Step 1.  Start by poaching four eggs.  You can poach them any way you want to, but, I recommend my way.  ~ It's Monday Morning! Wake Up & Poach an Egg!!! ~ can be found in Categories 9 or 15.

Note:  If poached eggs are not "your gig", fried (sunny side up) or scrambled eggs are good too!

IMG_0572 IMG_0562~ Step 2.  In a 10" skillet (a nonstick skillet works best for this recipe), melt 2 tablespoons of the butter.  Add the ham slices. Increase heat to saute, until ham is golden around the edges on both sides, turning only once.  About 1 1/2-2 minutes on the first side and 1 minute on the second side.

~ Step 3.  Turn heat off.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Transfer ham from pan to a small plate (I put it on the same plate with the eggs), loosely cover with foil, to keep warm, and, wipe the pan clean with a few paper towels.

IMG_0581 IMG_0598 IMG_0601 IMG_0607~Step 4.  Return the pan to the stovetop and over low heat, melt 3 more tablespoons of butter. Increase heat to medium and add 1 slice of the bread.  Saute until bread is browned on both sides, turning only once, about 1 1/2 minutes on first side and 1 minute on second.  The instant you flip the bread over onto the second side, scatter 1/2 cup of grated cheese over the top of the browned side, cover the skillet and cook on the second side.  Uncover and transfer bread to a serving plate, wipe out the skillet and repeat this process with the second slice of bread.

IMG_0609 IMG_0612 IMG_0617~Step 5.  Assemble the sandwiches as follows: bread w/melted cheese, 2 ham slices, 2 poached eggs, salt and pepper.

Serve Immediately:

(If you were organized and worked quickly, everything is at the perfect temperature.)

IMG_0626I eat methodically, cutting into and savoring one egg at a time...

IMG_0722... mopping up the liquid yolk-gold with the rye bread as I go!!!

IMG_0730Open-Faced Ham, Swiss & Rye Egg Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 2 hearty breakfasts.

Special Equipment List:  cheese grater; serrated bread knife; any equipment necessary for poaching eggs my way or your way; 10"  skillet w/lid, preferably nonstick; long-handled bacon fork; aluminum foil; paper towels; spatula

IMG_7504Cook's Note:  I love eggs with "runny yolks", and, sometimes, even I don't have the time or the inclination to cook an entire stovetop breakfast.  On those days, I crisp my rye in the toaster while I make ~ A Simply Satisfying Breakfast:  Soft-Cooked Eggs ~. You can find my recipe/method in Categories 9 or 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

04/24/2014

~ Try My Rye: It's Homemade in the Bread Machine ~

IMG_0399Rye bread is a staple of Eastern European cuisine, so, I grew up eating rye bread and loving it. We ate it toasted for breakfast, on sandwiches for lunch and as our bread course for dinner. Some of the best rye breads I have ever encountered have come out of the Jewish bakeries of New York and New Jersey.  I'm no innocent when it comes to knowing great rye bread.  My favorite rye breads are light ryes (as opposed to dark ryes) containing caraway seeds (a staple in the Eastern European pantry).  In fact, it is the nutty, pungent, slightly-musky flavor of the caraway seeds that I like even better than the slightly-tangy flavor of the rye flour.  In my opinion:

IMG_0348Light rye breads without the caraway seeds are pointless!

IMG_0422A bit about caraway seeds.  Feel free to tell me I'm wrong (or give it your best shot), but the moment you open a jar of caraway seeds you smell rye bread, and you should. They are not put in rye bread for texture or garnish, they are put in there for aroma and flavor.  They are a member of the the parsley family, which includes fennel, dill, cumin and coriander -- while they all may look sort of similar, they all have a very different, distinct flavor, and, once one has been added to a dish, you know it is in there.  When I walk into an American bakery that does not put caraway seeds in their light rye, I walk out the door!

IMG_0283A bit about rye flour.  Let me start by saying, rye bread made with rye flour alone, while palatable, is very very dense and heavy.  Rye flour is usually combined with whole wheat flour, white wheat flour, or occasionally, all-purpose flour, to produce a lighter loaf.  Why? Rye flour on its own, while it does contain gluten, does not contain enough to allow the bread to rise. When rye flour is combined with any type of wheat flour (proportions vary depending on the wheat flour and your texture preference), rye bread delivers all the complexity of heartier, whole-grain breads.

IMG_1761A bit about high-gluten/vital wheat gluten flour:  Made from a protein found in the wheat berry, this is an additive/gluten booster for all-purpose flour 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 in order 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 (rye flour is one of them), and; flat breads like focaccia and some pizza doughs.

Some rye breads are made with sourdough starter, and, I love a well-made loaf of sourdough rye too.  Alas, a sourdough rye starter can take weeks to produce, and when I'm wanting homebaked rye bread I don't usually have that kind of time.  THAT is the point of THIS post, and:

This post is about light rye, not black bread or pumpernickel!

IMG_0329Bread machine bread is rectangular or square in shape.  No matter what size loaf you elect (most machines give you three options:  1-pound, 1 1/2-pound, or 2-pound loaves), they all get baked in the shape of the loaf pan that came with the machine.  What is wrong with that? Technically nothing.  Visually:  Even though it rises and browns beautifully (thanks to the many options the bread machine offers), it "plainly" is not going to win any "bread beauty contests".  This is a give-and-take you'll forget the moment you taste the bread!

Note:  Because rye flour down-sizes the amount of rise, I always make and choose the 2-pound cycle.

IMG_02791  cup whole milk

5  tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature

5  tablespoons sugar

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  extra-large eggs, preferably at room temperature, lightly beaten

3  cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or, unbleached white whole-wheat flour  (Note:  I use them interchangeably and I like the results I get from both.*)

1  cup rye flour, preferably all natural, stone ground, whole grain

1/4  cup vital wheat gluten

2  teaspoons granulated yeast, NOT rapid-rise (1 packet)

2  tablespoons caraway seeds

IMG_0462 IMG_0432* Note:  The rye loaf pictured above is made with unbleached, all-purpose flour.  The rye loaf pictured here is made with unbleached whole-wheat flour.

IMG_0485They both taste the same.  The loaf made with all-purpose flour is, however, lighter and closer in texture to white sandwich bread, while this one, made with white whole-wheat flour is denser and closer in texture to whole-grain bread.  Your choice!

IMG_7899 6a0120a8551282970b0133f466ce08970b~ Step 1. This is the rectangular-shaped bread pan that came with my machine.  The paddle (which will do the kneading) has been inserted. The instruction manual said to always start with the paddle in this position before adding any ingredients, so I do.

6a0120a8551282970b01348786d7d0970c 6a0120a8551282970b01348786d3e8970c~ Step 2. Cube the butter as directed.  In a 1-cup measuring container, heat the milk until it is steaming.  This is quickly done in the microwave.  Add the butter cubes, sugar and salt to the hot milk.  Using a fork, stir until butter is melted.  

Note:  If milk is steaming and butter is soft, this will only take a minute.  

Pour the mixture into the bread pan.

IMG_7948~ Step 3.  In the same measuring container, using the fork, whisk the eggs and add them to the milk mixture in the bread pan.

When making bread in a bread machine, always add the wet ingredients first!

IMG_7952~ Step 4. Add the wheat flour (or AP flour), the rye flour and the vital wheat gluten.

IMG_7964Spoon the flours right on top of the wet ingredients.  Do not mix or stir!

IMG_7958~ Step 5. Using your finger, make a well in the flour (but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer).  Add yeast to well. Note:  It's important to keep yeast away from wet layer until machine kneads them together because the warm liquid will activate the yeast.

Follow your instructions to operate your machine, these are mine:

IMG_8027~ Step 6.  Insert bread pan into the machine and press down until "clicked" into place.  Close lid and plug machine in.  Press "select" and choose "white bread".  Press the "loaf size" button to select "2-pound loaf".  Press the "crust control" button and select "light crust".  

IMG_0298Press the "extras" button and add caraway seeds to the IMG_0322basket on the top of the machine. Press "start".

Note:  Depending upon  your bread machine, a 2-pound loaf will take 3 hours to knead, rise and bake.

Walk away.  Do not lift the lid to check in on the process.  The moment the timer signals, the bread is done.  I broke this rule for this photo because you needed to see the lovely rise.

IMG_0367~ Step 7.  Open the lid.  Using a pair of pot holders, remove the bread pan from the machine, using the handle to lift it out.

Turn the bread pan to a 30-45 degree angle and gently slide the loaf out onto its side.  Turn the loaf upright and place it on a rack to cool completely.  If the paddle remains (stuck) in the loaf, which does happen occasionally, I find it best to cool the loaf before removing the paddle (when the loaf is hot, this damages the bread).

No matter how you slice it (I like mine sliced thinner rather than thicker):

IMG_0412My effortless-to-make caraway light-rye toast tastes "oh so good"!

IMG_0407Same goes for my caraway-rye grilled ham & Swiss cheese sandwich!

IMG_0213Try My Rye:  It's Homemade in the Bread Machine:  Recipe yields 1, 2-pound loaf caraway rye bread.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine; paring knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; pot holders or oven mitts; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01a511912fff970cCook's Note:  My recipe for ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~, a sweetened yeast bread with milk, butter and eggs, can be found in Categories 2, 15, 18 & 20. It makes great grilled cheese sandwiches too -- and "to die for' French toast!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

04/22/2014

~ Melanie's Hot Russian Ham & Cheese Meltdowns ~

IMG_0213Does anybody besides me have leftover holiday ham in their refrigerator?  Raise your hands.  I thought so.  If you're like me, you bake a big ham for Easter, to insure you will have leftovers.  I do the same thing for 'that other' traditional feast -- I roast a really big turkey at Thanksgiving.  For a day or two after both of these holidays, I am the first one to make the first sandwich.  In case you didn't know, I consider a perfectly executed sandwich one of the greatest gifts to mankind!

IMG_0122Say cheese!

April 11th was National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day.  I didn't celebrate.  Ever since my kids grew up and moved away, I almost never make "the American moms special" anymore:  an ooey-gooey grilled cheese sandwich.  It's not because I don't like them (of course I do), it's because I like grilled ham and cheese sandwiches better and I like them made my way:  on rye bread, with really good ham (not deli-meat), grated Jarlsberg Swiss (or Danish Havarti w/caraway seed cheese), and, seething hot, real-deal Russian horseradish mustard!

Bread + Cheese + Butter + Hot Skillet = Grilled Cheese! 

IMG_0267Does anyone need a recipe to make a great grilled cheese sandwich?  Most people do not, some people do (I've been witness to some seriously depressing soggy, floppy, greasy disasters).  

I'm not trying to turn this humble and beloved sandwich into haute cuisine, but, a well-made grilled cheese sandwich does require a few things:  medium-firm-textured not-too-thickly-sliced bread, a good melting cheese, lots of butter, and, a nonstick skillet (no fancy panini press required, but, those gadgets do make a good grilled cheese sandwich) placed over just the right temperature to keep the bread from burning while the cheese melts.  When you add ham to a grilled cheese sandwich, you have to insure that it warms through to the center too!

Crunchy outside, oozy cheese & smoky Berkshire ham inside.

IMG_0194MeAt:  Mel's Hot Russian Ham & Cheese Meltdowns!

IMG_01104  slices rye bread, seeded or unseeded, preferably homemade, or, your favorite brand (Note:  Click on the Related Article link below to ~ Try My Rye:  Homemade in the Bread Machine ~.  This effortlessly easy-to-make bread will take this sandwich over the top!

719nI-zIbhL._SL1500_4  teaspoons hot, yellow horseradish mustard, the best available, preferably Russian ZAKYCOH (the nuclear reactors at Chernobyl never got this hot) (Note:  I can buy this locally at our Russian Market, but, it is available on-line at amazon.com too.  If you like mustard, this is one you will want to keep on the condiment shelf of your refrigerator!)

2  cups grated Jarlsberg cheese (or Danish Havarti w/caraway seed cheese)

4  real-deal baked ham slices, about 1/4" thick, preferably smoky Berkshire ham, at room temperature (starting with room temperature ham is very important to this sandwich)

6  tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature, very soft and spreadable

IMG_0127 IMG_0134~ Step 1. Place four slices of rye bread on a work surface.  Spread 1 teaspoon of mustard over all four slices.

IMG_0143~ Step 2. Place 1/2 cup of the cheese on each of two bread slices.

IMG_0147 IMG_0156~ Steps 3, 4 & 5.  Place 2 slices of ham over the cheese on each slice of bread, IMG_0165then top the 2 ham slices on each slice of bread with another 1/2 cup of grated Jarlsberg.  Place tops on sandwiches, mustard sides down.

IMG_0171 IMG_0176~ Step 6. Spread 1 tablespoon of the softened butter evenly over the top of each sandwich (use 2 total tablespoons of the butter).

~ Step 7.  In a 12" nonstick skillet melt remaining butter over medium heat.  Note:  When making grilled cheese error on the side of your heat being a tad lower rather than a tad higher.  Time is on your side!

IMG_0199 IMG_0181~ Step 8. Place sandwiches in skillet buttered sides up.  Cook until bottoms are golden brown and cheese is melting nicely, about 4-5 minutes.  

~ Step 9.  Slide a spatula underneath each sandwich and carefully flip it over.  Lower the heat IMG_0197a bit and continue to cook until second side is golden and cheese is melted, about 3 minutes.

~ Step 9.  Remove pan from heat and allow sandwiches to rest, in pan, about a minute before removing them from pan.  Note: This short rest will insure the cheese will set up properly (gooey but not runny) and the ham will be heated through to the center.

Slice each sandwich in half and serve immediately:

IMG_0262Take a bite & have your own meltdown:

IMG_0240Melanie's Hot Russian Ham & Cheese Meltdowns:  Recipe yields 2 hearty sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; cheese grater; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; wide spatula; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b017d424f5820970cCook's Note:  Everyone has their own favorite way to bake ham.  My super-easy method  imparts it with the flavors of allspice, bay leaves and cloves.  You can find ~ "A, B, C", That's as Easy as Easter Ham Can Be! ~ in Categories 3, 11, 12 or 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 

04/20/2014

~ Happy Easter to You All: Enjoy Your Family Feast ~

PICT1824Happy Easter!  I've been cooking up a storm for the past few days in anticipation and preparation for my family's annual Russian Orthodox Easter feast.  Whatever your heritage, if you are of the Christian faith and the family cook, you are well aware of the organizational skills it takes to 'pull off' this yearly extravaganza.  If your heritage dictates that you serve the same traditional ethnic food each year, from time-honored recipes handed down from generation to generation, you didn't learn how to do this by osmosis.  Somewhere along the line you took it upon yourself to learn how to do it, or, while you were growing up, your grandmother and/or your mother took it upon themselves to lovingly insist you learn.  In my case, I preferred being in the kitchen to being on the playground, so, perhaps I did learn a great deal via osmosis!

In an Eastern European family, brightly-colored Easter baskets containing marshmallow chickens, jelly beans, chocolate bunnies and plasic eggs containing coins are reserved for the children!

IMG_0088A simple wicker basket, covered with a pristine, plain white cloth (representing the shroud of Jesus) and a candle, containing the family's 'celebration of food', are carried to church, by the family cook, on Holy Saturday afternoon or evening, to be blessed during a special service by the parish priest. Each basket contains a similar but varying list of prepared, cold foods, which vary from family to family, but they break down into three basic categories:  bread, meat and dairy (foods which the very religious people abstained from from during the recent Great Lent and/or the entire Holy Week prior to Easter).

PICT2721Paska (or Pascha)/Kulich.  A homemade, slightly-sweetened yeast bread enriched with milk butter and eggs.  It is golden in color, usually round in shape and sometimes contains raisins.  It is always decorated with the sign of the cross and the fanciest "bread art", the family baker has learned.  It represents "He (Christ) Who is the Bread of Life", and, a braided plait of dough around the perimeter represents a crown.  (BYI:  There is no  competition, but, this is a matter of great pride to the family baker.)

6a0120a8551282970b017d424f5820970c IMG_9866Ham, Sausages (& sometimes Bacon). Ham, because it keeps well cold, is the main dish at the Eastern European Easter table.  It, along with bacon, represents joy and abundance. Smoked sausages, like kielbasi (a spicy, garlicky sausage of pork, veal and/or beef), represent the rope or chain of death that Christ broke and rose triumphant over.

IMG_9898Hrutka (or Sirets) & Cheese.  Hrutka is a sweetened, custard-like egg-cheese that is shaped into a ball and sliced.  It's lightly sweetened with sugar, flavored with a hint of vanilla, and, some versions contain a few peppercorns.  It represents moderation in life, and, nowadays, other mild-flavored cheeses are often substituted or included.

IMG_9820Eggs, Pickled Eggs & Beet Horseradish: Eggs 6a0120a8551282970b01901ee05043970brepresent new life and The Resurrection.  They are, of course, hard-cooked.  Pickled eggs are hard-cooked eggs preserved in a briny solution of beet juice and sugar to give them a pink-red color which represents Christ's Passion.  

Horseradish gets mixed with the slightly-sweet pickled red beets to give it a bittersweet taste and blood-red color, which represents the blood and suffering of Christ.

IMG_0097A small container of salt (to flavor the world with), butter (to remind us of the pure goodness of Christ), and, sometimes a bottle of wine (for rejoycing) are blessed as well.

This Easter tradition, the foods, and even the names of the foods varies among every Slavic group, depending on the region one is from, a family's preferences, and, their financial means, although conspicuous displays of wealth are discouraged.  This post explains the traditions I grew up with in Eastern PA, explained in the most respectful way I can relay them. 

PICT1824Pysanky.  These are extremely complicated eggs containing symbols and colors which all have meaning. I made these. The one in the center represents our yellow sun shining upon green pastures. The word "pysanky" derives from the verb "pysat" meaning "to write". They are made by using a special styliss (pen) which gets dipped into melted bees wax. After each application of wax, the egg is dipped into a vibrant color of dye. When the wax is removed the glorious egg is revealed!

The cold food from the basket is sliced and served for the breaking of the fast, breakfast, anytime after the sunrise service on Easter Sunday morning!!!

(All of my recipes for Russian Orthodox Easter can be found in Category 12.)

Whatever your beliefs, enjoy your day today!

PICT2721"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

04/18/2014

~ E-Z Jamaican Shrimp Curry in a Hurry w/No Worry~

IMG_0029I'm no expert, but, I do know just enough about Jamaican cooking to NOT be dangerous.  I know that a dish consisting of ackee fruit and salt cod is their National Dish.  Since I've just spent the past week posting some luscious recipes for cod fish (I love cod), a lovely thought and tribute to Jamaica (I love Jamaican food) would have been to end the week with this uniquely tantalizing recipe.  Alas, even if I could get my hands on an ackee here in the states, I wouldn't touch it. Parts of the ackee are toxic, so, my better judgement tells me to leave that recipe to the experts!

IMG_9891But.  Once I started reminiscing about Jamaican fare (from barbeque to jerk, they make some of the best fish, chicken, pork, beef and lamb dishes in the world), I started salivating. They make some magnificent curries too, so, tonight, for our Good Friday dinner, I've decided to make Jamaican shrimp curry.  It's quick and easy to prepare (a 30-minute meal), full of great Caribbean flavor, and, the only "special ingredient" you'll need is:

Jamaican-Style Curry Powder!

Jamaican curry powder contains allspice and Indian-style curry powder does not.  Indian curry powder contains cardamom and mace, Jamaican curry powder does not.  All Jamaican curries contain coconut milk, but only South Indian curries do.  Jamaican curries tend to be spicy and sweet while Indian curries are mild and slightly tart.

"Curry" is a catch-all English (British) term used in Western cultures to denote stewike dishes from Southern and Southeast Asia, as well as, Africa and the Caribbean.  Curry powder (the commercially marketed blend of spices we buy in our American markets) doesn't really exist in any of these places.  Hand-made pulverized blends of dried spices, the amounts of which vary to suit the palate of each family or cook are prepared in a mortar and pestle.  Dishes called curry are relatively easy to prepare and can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish.  Seasonal vegetables can be included, or, the dish can be made of vegetables (vegetarian). 

Easter is on my doorstep, and in the midst of all of my prep...

IMG_0012... this spicy, delightful, time-saving meal is just what I need!

IMG_99331 1/2  pounds peeled and deveined extra-large shrimp (26/30 count), tails off (about 2 pounds unpeeled shrimp to start)

1  cup each: green and red bell pepper, cut into 1/4" strips, strips cut into thirds (about 1 green bell pepper and 1 red bell pepper)

1/2-3/4 cup green onions, cut into 1/4" pieces, white and light green parts only

1/2  cup chopped cilantro leaves + additional leaves for garnish

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, VERY well drained

3  tablespoons hot Jamaican curry powder, mild Jamaican curry powder may be substituted

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon habanero powder (optional) (Note:  Jamaicans typically use fresh, Scotch Bonnet chilies for extra heat.  I don't often have them on hand, but, the slightly citrusy flavor of incendiary habanaro powder, which I keep in my pantry, is a marvelous substitute.) 

1  14-ounce can coconut milk that has been well-shaken prior to opening

2  tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil, for preparing skillet

4  cups uncooked jasmine rice, or, 8 cups steamed jasmine rice, cooked via your favorite method (Note:  I use an electric rice steamer, and, I steam the rice before I start prepping.)

IMG_9922 IMG_9930~ Step 1. Steam the rice.  Once it is cooked rake through it to separate the grains (I use my vintage pasta fork to do the raking).

IMG_9954~ Step 2.  Prep the peppers, green onion and cilantro, placing in a large bowl as you work.

IMG_9940~ Step 3. Add the diced tomatoes, shrimp, curry powder, garlic powder, ground ginger and sea salt to the bowl.  

Using a large spoon stir until all ingredients are evenly coated.

IMG_9963 IMG_9960                                           ~ Step 4. Add the well-shaken can of coconut milk.  Stir again to thoroughly combine.

~ Step 5.  Set aside, 5-15 minutes, to give the flavors time to marry. Note:  30 minutes is ok too, but, any longer toughens the shrimp.

IMG_9985 IMG_9971                                        ~ Step 6. Heat the vegetable oil in a 12" nonstick skillet over medium-high.  Add shrimp mixture to skillet, increase heat to high, and continue to cook, stirring constantly for 5 full minutes. Turn the heat off, and rest, on the hot stovetop, 1-2 minutes to finish cook the shrimp. Thick sauce, perfectly cooked shrimp:

IMG_9989Portion rice into bowls, portion shrimp curry over rice.  

Serve immediately:

IMG_0052E-Z Jamaican Shrimp Curry in a Hurry w/No Worry:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board;  chef's knife; colander or strainer; large bowl; large spoon; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; electric rice steamer (optional)

IMG_9309Cook's Note:  If it is a more traditional 30-minute meal you want on Good Friday, click into Categories 3, 14, 19 or 20 for ~ Mel's 30-Minute "Brain Food" Meal:  Broiled Cod w/Spicy Saffron Rice, Peas & Stewed Tomato Sauce ~.  Happy Easter all!

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

(Recipe, Photos and Commentary courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

04/15/2014

~ A Puerto Rican Bacalao Guisado (Cod Fish Stew) ~

IMG_9784Let me start by saying I am just an American girl cooking a really good Puerto Rican stew for dinner tonight -- this is not a lesson in Puerto Rican cooking.  My knowledge of Puerto Rican cooking is limited, but, my experiences with Puerto Rican food have all been good ones, so, don't ruin that for me with criticizms.  For a brief period of time we had a Puerto Rican neighbor named Yvonne.  It was from her I learned a little about Puerto Rican homestyle cooking.  Her specialties were "frituras di maiz" (corn fritters), "picadillo" (ground meat stew), and, "bacalao guisado" (cod fish stew).  Later, on a trip to Miami, I enjoyed a lovely dish of "camarones in escabeche" (pickled shrimp), followed by a luxurious "tembleque" (coconut custard)!

CulantroWhat I know about Puerto Rican cooking in general comes from Yvonne, who explained I'd find similar recipes in Caribbean, Cuban, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian food.  What sets their cuisine apart are three words: sofrito, adobo, and, achiote.  On my own I've deduced that Puerto Rican cooks seem to prefer red onions to white, use a lot of pimento stuffed green olives, and, culantro is not the same as cilantro, it's a spiny herb-cousin.  When they say "oil", it's vegetable oil!

Sofrito is used for flavoring.  It is an aromatic salsa-like mixture of processed fresh herbs and spices used as a base for countless dishes.  Like salsa, there are green and red versions. Adobo is used for seasoning.  It's a mixture of black pepper, oregano and garlic. Achiote is used for yellow-orange color.

"Bacalao" (bah-kah-LAH-oh) is the Spanish word for "cod fish".  In an authentic version, I'd be soaking dried salt cod in cold water for 2-3 days and changing the water 2-3 times daily.  I'm using fresh cod filets because I love them and they save time.  In an authentic version, I'd also be using a food processor to combine my culantro, freshly roasted peppers, garlic and onions (with tomatoes today) for the sofrito.  I'd need a mortar and pestle to make my adobo seasoning, and, I'd be cooking annatto seeds in vegetable oil to make achiote too!  Not today.  Meet:

IMG_9788Yvonne's yummy "don't sweat it" easy Bacalao Guisado recipe:

IMG_9670For the achiote potatoes:

3  cups peeled and 3/4" diced gold potatoes

2 packets Sazon Goya con culantro y achiote (seasoning mix with coriander & annatto)

1  teaspoon sea salt

For the sofrito/adobo mixture:

4  tablespoons vegetable oil

4  cups 1/2" diced red onion

1  cup 1/2" diced green bell pepper

IMG_97021  cup 1/2" diced red bell pepper

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1  teaspoon Mexican-style dried oregano

1/2  teaspoon Goya adobo seasoning with pepper

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper 

1/2  cup whole, green, pimento-stuffed olives, well-drained, about 24 olives

IMG_97401  tablespoon large capers, well-drained

1/4  cup Goya sofrito w/tomatoes

1  8-ounce can tomato sauce

1  cup reserved, starchy, anchiote-seasoned potato water

For the cod:

1 3/4-2  pounds fresh cod filets, cut into 1" chunks, about 5-6 cups

IMG_9695 IMG_9679~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart saucepan, place the potatoes with water to cover.  Add the Sazon Goya and sea salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat, adjust to a simmer and cook, uncovered, 6 minutes.  Do not over cook.  Drain thoroughly, reserving 1-cup of the seasoned, starchy water. Set potatoes & water aside.

~ IMG_9708 Step 2.  In a 4-quart stockpot, place vegetable oil.  Prep and add the onion, bell peppers and garlic as you work.  Add the oregano, adobo seasoning and black pepper.  Saute over medium-high heat until the onion softens, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.  

IMG_9715Stir in olives and capers and cook for 1 more minute.

IMG_9726 IMG_9722                                           ~ Step 3. Turn the heat off.  Stir in the Goya sofrito, tomato sauce and potato water.

IMG_9742~ Step 4. Cut the cod fish into large 3/4"-1" chunks.

IMG_9746~ Step 5.  Add the cod to the stew mixture and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer, cover and continue to cook until cod it opaque in color and just cooked through, about 4-5 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_9755Gently fold in the potatoes, wait about a minute for them to heat through and serve immediately with warm, crusty bread and butter!

IMG_9762This stew is often served over a scoop of white rice steamed in coconut milk too, but, for me, these pretty yellow-orange colored potatoes are enough starch in one meal!!

IMG_9804A Puerto Rican Bacalao Guisido (Cod Fish Stew):  Recipe yields 3 quarts of stew, or, 6, 2-cup servings.  While this stew recipe doubles or triples very well, don't be inclined to make a double batch because you want leftovers, as the cod tends to break down.  Just make as much as you plan to serve that day -- but make enough for second helpings!

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; 1-cup measuring container; 1-quart measuring container; colander; garlic press; 4-quart stockpot w/lid

6a0120a8551282970b0147e3aaeaa6970bCook's Note: Puerto Rican stew is a great change-of-pace to my traditional lenten fare.  For another one of my favorite lenten stews, which is quite elegant, ~ Provencal Seafood (Lobster*) Stew w/Lemon Rice ~ can be found in Categories 2, 11, 14 or 21!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 

04/13/2014

~ Mad Men. Final Season Premier Tonight on AMC. What will Don Draper do and where will he land??? ~

IMG_9640My parents had All in the Family, my children had Seinfeld.  I've claimed Mad Men as my own. For me, aside from the adultery, alcoholism, divorce, debauchery and paranoia, watching this show is like being on the Starship Enterprise and saying, "Scotty, beam me back and pick me up in an hour".  I grew up in suburbia in the 1960's, was an executive secretary in the '70's in a place where three-martini lunches were common and every office had an ice bucket, and then, in the 1980's I was happily married, with children, and, traveling the world too!

IMG_9651I have no idea where Don Draper will land, but, I for one want it to be on successful ground.  We fans of the show are all speculating, and, one thing is for sure, tonight at 10:00PM, when I begin to watch the premier of this final season, it will be bitter-sweet.  I do not want this show to end.  For many of us in our fifties and sixties, it has been a show about how our generation began in a kind and gentle cocoon, the world events and technologies that caused us to lose our innocence while increasing our intelligence, and scarier yet, how we as a whole are turning out!

IMG_9661As a woman watching the show, there is a small piece of Sally, Betty, Joan, Peggy and Meagan in me. Been there, done that.  I get it:

I was raised to be a princess, got married, got divorced, became a working girl, managed an office, married the boss and retired.  I did it all with style and class, or, as Sinatra would say, "I did it my way" and I loved every minute of it!

Over the past couple of years, in honor of this show, I've hosted a few Mad Men premier night parties and posted my retro menus and recipes IMG_9654here on Kitchen Enounters.  This year, there is no party.  Sorry folks, I want Don Draper all to myself tonight.  I did, however, in honor of this show, add a new Category 26 to this blog today.  It's where you can go to learn everything you need to know about throwing an authentic Mad Men party:

What would Don Draper do?  Retro recipes from my past to your present!

IMG_9665"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/11/2014

~Cod Cakes w/Creamed Corn & Crisp Tortilla Wisps~

IMG_9617I never met a fish cake or a crab cake I didn't like.  Some recipes are better than others, but generally speaking, I love them all.  Whenever I broil, bake or poach fresh fish filets I always buy two or three, for the sole purpose of having leftovers to make fish cakes the next day.  Almost any kind of fish can be used to make fish cakes, but, this recipe is the one I use specifically for white fish cakes.  Firm, lean and meaty cod, grouper or haddock are my favorite three, and, I found some beautiful wild cod filets at our Giant market's seafood counter this week!  

IMG_9538This simple meal, as a whole, has got a spicy Southwestern edge to it.  I encountered it in a pub in Tempe, AZ in 1987.  One bite was enough for me to return home and make it again, and again, and again.  At the time, I had no idea what I was ordering.  Before I got a chance to look over the menu, a waitress served it, along with a basket of freshly-fried tortilla chips and tomato salsa, to the couple seated further down and sharing the cafeteria-style table with Joe and I.  I politely asked the woman, "What's that your eating?"  "The lunch special", was the reply, "pan-fried cod cakes over freshly-roasted creamed corn." "We come here once a week just to eat this", added her husband.  Joe and I had obviously picked the right day to eat there!

Corn Chronicles #7This post is all about the cod cakes rather than the freshly-roasted creamed corn recipe.  Now is not the time of year for me to attempt finding fresh sweet corn in our markets, and, even if I did, it wouldn't be very good.  I live in sweet corn country, and, nothing but picked-that-day and local will do.  This meal is over-the-top when made with fresh corn, but, off-season, I never let the lack of corn IMG_9211deter me from preparing it.  If you're lucky enough to live in an area where you have access to it, my instructions for ~ How to: Roast or "Bake" Sweet Corn in the Oven ~ is the first step to making great creamed corn.  On Tuesday I posted my recipe for, ~ Mel's 30-Minute "Brain Food" Meal: Broiled Cod w/Spicy Saffron Rice, Peas & Stewed Tomatoes ~.  Just click on the Related Article links below to get either one of my recipes!

IMG_9521It's time to make and fry some cod cakes! 

IMG_93993/4  pound wild, fresh cod, broiled as directed in my above mentioned recipe and cooled to room temperature, 3/4 pound after broiling, about 2 cups after flaking into small chunks and pieces the size of what you'd expect to find in a well-made crab cake

IMG_94351  12-ounce Russet potato, baked, cooled, peeled and mashed with a fork, about 2 cups

2  tablespoons salted butter

1  large garlic clove, run through a press

1/2  cup finely-diced onion

1/4  cup finely-diced green bell pepper

1/4  cup finely-diced red bell pepper

1  small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely-diced (optional)

IMG_94741  teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/4  cup minced fresh cilantro leaves

2  large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

1/2  cup plain, dried breadcrumbs

juice of half a lime, about 1/2 teaspoon, more or less, to taste

IMG_9598corn oil, for frying cod cakes and tortilla wisps

6  fresh corn tortillas, cut into quarters, quarters cut into very-thin strips

3 cups creamed corn, warmed

tomato salsa, for topping

lime wedges and/or cilantro sprigs, for garnish 

IMG_9416 IMG_9405~ Step 1. Using your fingers, break and flake the cod into small chunks about the size you would expect to find in a well-made crab cake.  You will have about 2 cups.

~ Step 2.  Using a fork, mash the potato.  You will have about 2 cups.

IMG_9459 IMG_9450~ Step 3. Place the cod chunks and pieces, along with the mashed potatoes, in a large bowl.  

Using a large rubber spatula, gently combine the two, being careful not to mash the cod.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

IMG_9449 IMG_9439~ Step 4. Prep the vegetables as directed. In an 8" skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the vegetables, salt and pepper.  Adjust heat to saute, stirring frequently, until veggies are crunch tender, about 3 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat and set aside for veggies to cool a bit, about 10 minutes.

IMG_9460~ Step 5.  Fold  veggies into cod.  

IMG_9482Fold in the cilantro leaves followed by the IMG_9490bread crumbs, until mixture is evenly coated in crumbs.

IMG_9495~ Step 6.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the lime juice. Add to the cod cake mixture and fold again, until ingredients are thoroughly combined.  

IMG_9501Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.

IMG_9507~ Step 7.  Remove the cod cake mixture from the refrigerator and divide it into  6 balls, approximately 5 1/2-ounces each.  Compress each ball into a 3/4"-thick disc.

~ Step 8.  Place 1/8" of corn oil in the bottom of a 12" skillet over medium-heat.  You will know the oil is hot enough for frying when little ripples appear across the surface.

IMG_9523 IMG_9511~ Step 9. While cod cakes are still chilled (don't let them come to room temperature), gently place them into the oil and fry, until golden brown on both sides, turning only once, about 3 1/2-4 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to drain and rest, about 5 minutes:

IMG_9532It's time to make the crispy tortilla wisps!

IMG_9555 IMG_9564~ Step 1. Cut 6 corn tortillas into quarters, stack a few at a time on top of each other and slice the quarters into very thin strips.

Add more corn oil to the skillet, to fill the pan to 1/4".  Bring oil back to temp over medium-high heat.

IMG_9579 IMG_9575~ Step 2. Add all of the tortilla strips to the hot oil in the skillet.  Fry until golden brown, about 4 minutes, using a spatula to keep the wispy strips moving around in the oil the entire time. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and immediately sprinkle with a generous grinding of sea salt:  

IMG_9588Serve each cod cake on a bed of warm creamed corn w/a dollop of tomato salsa on top followed by a generous sprinkling of tortilla wisps.  Squirt some lime over the top and eat!

IMG_9636Cod Cakes with Creamed Corn and Crisp Tortilla Wisps:  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  fork; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; garlic press; cutting board; chef's knife; 8" skillet, perferably nonstick; large spoon; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; large spatula; paper towels 

6a0120a8551282970b017c3178051a970bCook's Note:  Salmon is another fish I love.  My recipe for ~ Refreshing Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon Cakes (w/Mustard-Dill Sauce and a Cumcumber Salad too!) ~, can be found in Categories 3, 14 & 19!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

04/08/2014

~ Mel's 30-Minute "Brain Food" Meal: Broiled Cod w/ Spicy Saffron Rice, Peas & Stewed Tomato Sauce ~

IMG_9309"Fish is brain food."  That's what my mother always said -- to entice us to eat it.  I never had to try to buy into that fish tale because the fish I ate as a child was quite good, and, as far as I was concerned, I was a sharp kid.  (Back then, "fish is brain food" was a claim that was dismissed as an "old wives tale".)  Like a lot of the world, our household fasted on religious "Fish-Fry Fridays" (as I now affectionately refer to them), but, shrimp cocktail and fried salmon patties were the only two recipes in my mom's repertoire.  Why?  Those were the only two brain foods my father would eat, so, that was that.  Charlie the Starkist tuna did not live in my mother's pantry!

When it came to succulent shrimp cocktail and crispy pan-fried salmon patties, no one had to call me or my brother to the dinner table twice.  When I got to 9th grade, I encountered my first white fish.  It was in the form of pre-frozen, breaded fish sticks.  It was served with macaroni and cheese and stewed tomatoes. The year was 1969, and, our brand new high school school came equipped with our school district's first cafeteria.  I loved this meal, and, a few short years later, I was married with children and cooking my own version of this meal for my family!

Fettuccine Alfredo #1 (Intro Picture)Yesterday, I received this e-mail from a gal in Erie, PA:

Marcie says and asks:  I made your Fettuccini Alfredo a la Primavera yesterday and my family loved it.  I used frozen broccoli and carrots, which saved time.  I never thought I'd see my children eat these veggies without complaint. Do you have any quick and easy ideas to get them to eat fish?

IMG_9164Kitchen Encounters:  Marcie, when it comes to kids, fish might be a tougher "sell" than vegetables enrobed in cream and cheese.  My boys all went through "that picky stage", but, they did eat my broiled cod with spicy saffron rice.  In honesty, they loved the rice so much, they'd eat almost anything if I served it with Vigo rice. With its risotto-like consistency, this was one of my secret motherly weapons!

We moms all have recipes like this & I'm happy to share mine! 

UnknownA bit about cod:  As Mark Kurlansky so elequently writes in his book: "The codfish.  Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been spurred by it, national diets have been based upon it, economies and livelihoods have depended on it, and the settlement of North America was driven by it.  To the millions it has sustained, it has been a treasure more precious than gold.  Indeed, the codfish has played a fascinating and crucial role in world history".

Alaskan cod is the same species as that of the East Coast. As far back as the 16th century, countries came to North America to fish for it along the Atlantic, Nova Scotia and the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

This mild, sweet-flavored fish with it's large, "white-meat" flakes, was the original fish 'n chips fish, because it held up so well under the rigors of deep-frying.  It does the same in stews and chowders, and, in my opinion, is at it's best when broiled or baked! 

Two fresh cod fillets + a few pantry staples & three easy steps = one delicious, nutritious, weeknight, family-style meal.

NO chopping, NO dicing, NO slicing, NO kidding.

Set your timer for 30 minutes & let your family set the table! 

IMG_9136For the rice:

1  10-ounce bag Vigo yellow rice (Spanish-style rice with saffron and dried spices)

2 1/2  cups water

4-6  tablespoons butter

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

2  cups frozen peas, unthawed

IMG_9142 IMG_9144~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart saucepan bring the water, butter and red pepper flakes to a boil. Sprinkle in the rice. Adjust heat to a steady, gentle simmer, cover, and cook until rice has absorbed almost all of the water, about 15 minutes.  Note:  I use a pot with a glass lid so I can keep an eye on the progress.

IMG_9150 IMG_9149Note:  This is not how the package directs to cook this rice, it is how I cook this packaged rice for this dinner.

Uncover the saucepan,  stir in the peas and cover the pot.  Turn heat off, but let sit on warm stovetop.

IMG_9171For the stewed tomato sauce:

1  28-can stewed tomatoes

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Note:  Stewed tomatoes.  My pantry is never without 2-3-4 cans of them. They are an amazing time saver. They've got chopped celery, onion, garlic and bell peppers already added to them, and, they're not overly salty.  In a pinch, a can of these is one of my go-to pantry items.  Today, I'm simply reducing them to form a chunky sauce!

IMG_9195 IMG_9174~ Step 2. Right after you bring the water to a boil for the rice, place the tomatoes and red pepper flakes in a 2-quart saucepan.  Bring to a steady simmer and cook, uncovered, until the rice is done, about 15 minutes. Turn heat off, cover the pot and allow to sit on still warm stovetop.

IMG_9210Note:  It has been 15 minutes, and, we've cooked both the rice and the tomato sauce.  Take a taste of each one.  I kid you not, this is REALLY good fast food!

There's more.  If you're waiting for hubby to get home from the office or the kids to get home from basketball practice, these two sides will wait patiently until you broil the fish!

IMG_9211For the cod:

2  whole wild cod fish filets, about 2 1/2-3 pounds

4-6  tablespoons butter

the juice of 1 fresh lemon

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing baking pan

IMG_9219~ Step 3.  Spray a small disposable aluminum broiler pan, the kind with a corrugated bottom, with cooking spray.  Place cod in the pan, folding the thin ends of the fish underneath the thick ends to make it fit.

Broil, about 6" underneath the preheated broiler until bubbly, thick sides of fish are opaque and top of fish is light golden, 12-14 minutes:

IMG_9247Portion, plate (rice, cod, tomatoes) and serve immediately:

IMG_9256Start to finish:  30 minutes.  Dig in:

IMG_8827Mel's 30-Minute "Brain Food" Meal:  Broiled Cod w/Spicy Saffron Rice, Peas & Stewed Tomato Sauce:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart saucepan w/tight fitting lid; 2-quart saucepan w/lid; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom

6a0120a8551282970b016304f9d4bd970dCook's Note:  For a variation on this "mild white fish with rice and tomatoes" theme, and another one of my favorite fish dinners, click into Categories 3, 14, 15, 19 or 20 to get my recipe for ~ Baked Haddock w/Nicoise Sauce + Tips and Techniques for Handling Frozen Fish Fillets ~!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 

04/06/2014

~ Cinnamon-Raisin Bread French-Toast Casserole ~

IMG_9099Bread.  After a day or two or three, if you don't use it, you're going to lose it.  Some stale-ish breads make great croutons, others make great French toast.  The French have a name for it: "pain perdu".  That translates to "lost bread".  The basics of any French toast recipe are very simple:  Thickly-sliced 2-3 day old bread is dipped into a flavored egg/cream mixture where it sits until saturated.  It's then fried in a skillet containing a coating of oil.  When executed correctly, it emerges from the skillet crisp and golden brown on both sides with a creamy, almost pudding-like center.  I almost always use brioche or challah to make French toast, but, my oh my:  leftover cinnamon-raisin bread produces a really mouth-watering cinnamon-roll-tasting version.  

Besides eggs (any kind) served with bacon or sausage, French toast is at the top of my favorite breakfast list.  French toast is right up there with waffles.  In the case of all of these, they require you to have the time in the morning to make them.  This is why a lot of busy people resort to cereal, pop tarts or the drive-through during the week.  I am not one of them, but, even I often save cooking elaborate stovetop breakfasts for weekends -- cooking breakfast is an ordeal!

IMG_9024Make-ahead breakfast casserole recipes will change your life!  

Every cook should have a few of them in his/her apron pocket!!  

This crowd pleaser is one I often serve to overnight guests!!! 

IMG_8257I've spend the last week posting recipes that make use of my ~ Bread Machine Basics and Cinnamon-Raisin Bread ~.  So far, we've enjoyed ~ Waldorf Chicken Salad on Cinnamon-Raisin Bread ~, and ~ Cinnamon-Raisin Bread Stuffing Muffins ('Stuffins') ~ with roasted chicken and gravy.  Get the recipes by clicking on the Related Article links below. This is my last loaf of bread and my last recipe!

IMG_8892 IMG_89122  pounds cinnamon-raisin bread, cut into 1 1/2" cubes and placed in a large bowl, about 16 cups of bread

1/2  cup salted butter, melted (1 stick)

IMG_89201  cup dark brown sugar

8  large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2  cups French-vanilla coffee creamer (1 1/2 cups cream + 1 tablespoon vanilla extract + 1/4 cup sugar may be substituted)

1  cup chopped pecans or walnuts, for topping casserole 

no-stick spray, for preparing casserole dish

IMG_8904~ Step 1.  Spray a 3-quart casserole with no-stick spray.  I use clear glass, so I can keep an eye on this casserole as it bakes.

IMG_8898~ Step 2.  In a small bowl, melt butter in the microwave. Add the brown sugar.  Stir until the mixture is smooth.  Pour and distribute it over the bottom of the casserole.

IMG_8927~ Step 3.  Cube the bread, placing it in a large bowl as you work.  In a 1-quart measuring container, using a fork, whisk the eggs.  Whisk the coffee creamer into the eggs.  

IMG_8935Pour the mixture over the bread cubes.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold until the bread cubes are all coated.  Set aside for 5 minutes.  Fold again.

IMG_8971~ Step 4.  Distribute all of the bread cubes and all of the liquid in the bowl over the brown sugar mixture. Do not fold or stir the bread mixture into the brown sugar mixture.

IMG_8953~ Step 5. Sprinkle the pecans over all.  Cover and set aside 1-2 hours at room temp or refrigerate overnight.  

IMG_9014Note:  If refrigerating overnight, return to room temperature, 1-2 hours, prior to baking.

~ Step 6.  Bake on center rack of 350 degree oven, 30-35 minutes. Casserole will be golden, set, and bubbles of the brown sugar mixture will be surfacing across the top.

Allow to cool 20-30 minutes prior to slicing and serving warm...

IMG_9012... with a pat of butter melting over the top of each portion:

IMG_9117Cinnamon-Raisin Bread French-Toast Casserole:  Recipe yields 12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  13" x 9" x 2" casserole dish, preferably glass; tablespoon; cutting board; serrated bread knife; 1-quart measuring container; fork; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; cooling rack

French Toast #9 (Just Toast, Finished Closeup)Cook's Note:  To learn how to make ~ Mel's French-Vanilla French Toast (Pain Perdu) ~, just click into Category 9!  To make it, your going to need the recipe for ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~ too.  You can find it in Categories 2, 5, 9, 15, 18 or 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014

04/03/2014

~Cinnamon-Raisin Bread-Stuffing Muffins ('Stuffins')~

IMG_8673'Stuffins' -- just saying it brings a smile to my face.  These are just plain fun to make, kid-friendly, and, practical too -- pretty little portions of complete happiness.  If you brown bag your lunch, just wrap one up and toss it in.  If you're cooking for just you or for two, make a dozen to have on hand for the entire week. They're a surefire crowd pleaser as well.  A few years ago, I made a huge batch and took them to a Fall tailgate party where the men couldn't get enough of them!  

Stuffins can be made from any chunky-style bread-stuffing recipe, as long as it contains beaten egg as a binder to keep them from falling apart when you remove them from the muffin cups.  I particularly love the sweet and savory fruity edge that cinnamon-raisin bread and tart chopped apple adds -- those flavors naturally pair great with all sorts of poultry and pork!

IMG_8621Stuffing baked in muffin cups = Stuffins!

IMG_8483Roast Chicken + Stuffins = Perfect rainy-day comfort food!

IMG_8322The calendar and the extra hour of daylight in the evening tells me it is Spring, but, here in Central PA the weather is still cool and damp. 

IMG_8079I'm roasting chickens for dinner tonight, and, since I just happen to have a loaf of my cinnamon-raisin bread on hand, I'm making a quick batch of stuffins to go with it.  There will be enough of leftovers for Joe and I to lunch on all week!

You can find my recipes for ~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken ~ and ~ Bread Machine Basics and Cinnamon-Raisin Bread ~ by clicking on the Related Article links below.

IMG_84931  1-pound loaf cinnamon-raisin bread, preferably 2-3 days old, cut into 3/4" cubes, about 8 cups

4  tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)

1/4  teaspoon nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon poultry seasoning

1  packet from 1 box G. Washington's Golden Seasoning and Broth Mix

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

6  ounces diced celery  (about 1 1/2 cups)

6  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1 1/2 cups)

12  ounces peeled Granny Smith apples, chopped into 1/2"-3/4" pieces (about 3 cups)

4  jumbo eggs

3/4  cup milk, plus 1/4 cup additional milk, more or less, if necessary

no-stick cooking spray

IMG_8502 6a0120a8551282970b01a51196dd7d970c~ Step 1.  In a 12" skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Add the fennel seed, nutmeg, poultry seasoning, seasoning packet and white pepper.  Stir to thoroughly combine.

~ Step 2.  Remove from heat.  You don't want the butter to brown.

IMG_8511 IMG_8510~ Step 3. Prep the celery and onion as directed, placing them in the warm skillet as you work.

~ Step 4.  Increase heat to saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 6 minutes.  While the vegetables are sauteing:

IMG_8538 IMG_8532~ Step 5. Peel and dice the apples as directed.  

When the onion and celery are cooked as directed above, add the apples to the skillet.  Continue to saute, stirring occasionally, until apples just begin to soften, about 4-6 minutes.  Remove from heat.

IMG_8487~ Step 6.  Using a serrated bread knife, cut the cinnamon-raisin bread into 3/4" cubes.  You will have a generous 8 cups of cubes.  

Note:  Before cubing, I trim a thin slice from the crusty ends of the loaf.  I do not use these end slices because they have a tendency to burn as the stuffins bake in the oven.

Place the bread cubes in a very large bowl as you work.  Feed those two crust ends to the birds!

IMG_8553 IMG_8550~ Step 7. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the slightly-cooled celery and onion mixture into the bread cubes.

~ Step 8.  In a 2-cup measusring container, using a fork, vigorously whisk together the eggs and the 3/4 cup of milk.

IMG_8564Add egg mixture to bread mixture. Fold, until ingredients are coated. Let it sit for a minute and fold again. Let sit for another minute and fold.  

IMG_8573The bread should be very wet and no liquid should be puddled in the bottom of the bowl.  I almost never have to add any additional milk.

IMG_8586~ Step 9.  Spray bottoms of 12 muffin cups with cooking spray. Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place a generous, firmly-packed scoop in each cup.

IMG_8592~ Step 10. Using a tablespoon, evenly distribute all of the remaining stuffing mixture onto the tops, mounding it towards the centers.

IMG_8595 IMG_8619~ Step 11. Place muffin pan on a large baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.

Note:  I don't do this because they drip as they bake.  I do this because it keeps the bottoms of the stuffins from over-browning.

~ Step 12.  Bake on center rack of 350 degree oven 30-35 minutes.

Stuffins will be puffed up, pulling away from the insides of the muffin cups, and golden:

IMG_8630~ Step 13.  Place pan on a cooling rack and allow to cool, in muffin pans, for about 6-7 minutes. 

IMG_8668~Step 14.  Place a sharp paring knife down along the side of each one, gently lift it up a bit, and transfer it to a cooling rack.  There should be no reason to run the knife all around the side of each cup.

IMG_8679Stuffins should remove easily. If they don't, cool for another minute.

Serve hot, warm, at room temperature or reheated.  Everyone is going to love you for these:

IMG_8686Cripy on the outside, tender and steamy on the inside...

IMG_8722... served with a drizzle of gravy, this is a side-dish of love:

IMG_8748Cinnamon-Raisin Bread Stuffing Muffins ('Stuffins'):  Recipe yields 1 dozen standard-sized stuffins, or, 6-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  12" skillet; cutting board; chef's knife; large slotted spoon; serrated bread knife; 2-cup measuring container; fork; very large mixing bowl; large rubber spatula; standard-sized muffin tins, enough for 1 dozen stuffins; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01a511912fff970cCook's Note:  If cinnamon-raisin bread isn't your "gig", my ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~ would be a great substitute.  It's a sweetened yeast bread enriched with milk, butter and eggs.  You can find the recipe in Categories 2, 15, 18 & 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 

04/01/2014

~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree "Carving for Dummies" Methodology ~

IMG_8322Rotisserie chicken is not my "gig".  It takes all the sport out of cooking.  I roast chickens.  I have roasted many chickens in my life, and, I've been roasting chickens since before some of you were born.  I've never served roasted chicken to a guest that didn't mention how moist and perfectly cooked it was and ask how in the world I got it that way.  Everyone and anyone who cooks has an opinion on roasting chicken, and, mine is quite basic:  two chickens, two hours.

"You can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by roast chicken." ~ Julia Child

IMG_8440Like Julia, Joe and I never seem to tire of chicken.  She went on to tell us she fed it to her husband for weeks at a time, and, she personally could go on eating it forever.  That may sound a bit extreme, but, if you've ever opened your refrigerator looking for a quick nosh and saw a plate of carved, roasted chicken, I'm betting that'd be your first choice.  It would be mine.  I could eat sandwiches forever, and:  chicken, lettuce, tomato and mayo is one of my favorites.

Aside from "specialty", cured meats like salami and pastrami, I rarely buy deli-meat.  Having raised three boys (and one husband), I've packed more than my share of lunches.  It has always been my practice to "pop a roast in the oven" on a Sunday afternoon for the sole purpose of weekday sandwiches.  Be it chicken, turkey, beef or ham, my family's sandwiches were and still are the real-deal.  Seriously, nothing could be easier.  The oven does all the work.

IMG_3219When a recipe calls for roasted chicken, this is the way to do it:

IMG_82872  6-pound roasting chickens, as close in size as possible, at semi-room temperature (Note: Any chicken in the 5 3/4-pound to 6 1/4-pound range will work.  Size does affect cooking time, so, try to stick to this size.  Also, don't expect chicken straight out of the refrigerator to roast properly.  The only thing a cold chicken placed in a hot oven will do is lower the oven temperature.  I let mine sit on the countertop for about an hour prior to roasting.)

1  medium-sized yellow or sweet onion, peeled and cut in half

1  apple, unpeeled and cut in half

2 large celery stalks, cut into 2" pieces

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_8284~ Step 1.  Place birds, breast side up, on a large rack inserted in a large roasting pan to which 1/4" of water has been added.  I use an inexpensive disposable aluminum pan with a flat cooling rack inserted. Use any kind of pan and rack, but the birds must be elevated so they are not touching the water.  This is a 20" x 12" x 6" pan fitted with a 17 1/2" x 12" cooling rack.

Note:  Water in the bottom of the pan keeps the chicken fat from burning as it drips to the bottom.

IMG_8289~ Step 2.  Place one half of an onion, one half of an apple and some celery pieces in the cavity of each one.  Generously grind salt and pepper over the tops.

Note:  The aromatic vegetables are not meant to be eaten.  They are placed in the cavity to impart flavor and moisture to the birds. 

~ Step 3.  Roast on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 2 hours, or 20 minutes per pound.

IMG_8295~ Step 4.  Remove from oven and allow to rest, on rack in pan, for 45-60 minutes. Transfer to a large cutting board.

Note:  Call me crazy, but you can't carve a bird that is to hot to handle with your hands.

Using  a large chef's knife, slice down on either side of the breast bone and remove the breasts from the bones.  Nothing but crispy skin, moist meat IMG_8332and clear juices here.

IMG_8386~ Step 5. Now that the breast meat has been safely removed, you can "tackle" the leg-thigh portions. Without the breasts in place, the much-lighter carcass is easily maneuvered so you can easily locate the joint where the thighbone attaches to the bottom of the carcass.  You can cut through the joint with a cleaver or a pair of poultry shears, but, for me, one quick twist with my hand removes it.

IMG_8391Note:  In this application, because I have roasted these two chickens to have on hand all week, I like to remove the skin and bones from the leg-thigh portions before it gets refrigerated.

I've also got two nice, meaty chicken carcasses to process for soup stock.  

Say it.  "This is one handsome platter of roasted chicken!"

IMG_8417This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree "Carving for Dummies" Methodology:  Recipe yields 2 perfectly roasted chickens.

Special Equipment List:  20" x 12" x 6" disposable aluminum roasting pan; 17 1/2" x 12" cooling rack; cutting board; chef's knife; poultry shears (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b017ee592f6f4970dCook's Note:  For a more in-depth look at ~ Roasting Poultry & Making Gravy Too:  My Own Techniques & Oration (the long and not so short of it) ~ click into Categories 15 or 18!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)