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14 posts from May 2014

05/30/2014

~ Roasted Campari Tomatoes with Asiago & Basil ~

IMG_3663Over the past couple of days I worked on a very special panzanella salad recipe.  I was asked to come up with a twist on this classic Italian salad recipe by my friend and local restauranteur extrordinaire Scott Lucchesi.  Let me cut to the chase, he loved my spin on this salad, and, announced it will be appearing on his sports bar and/or restaurant menus very soon.  You can get my recipe for ~ Roast-Chicken Caprese-Panzanella Pasta-Salad ~ by clicking on the Related Article link below.  After developing and posting any recipe, I'm often faced with primo leftover ingredients -- there's no shame in that.  Today, I find myself with about a dozen small Campari tomatoes, almost a cup of grated Asiago cheese and, some lovely fresh basil leaves. Obviously these are great pizza toppings, but, one of my favorite side-dishes, came to mind first:

IMG_3642The always-in-season "tomato lovers tomato" side-dish!

IMG_3536A bit about Campari tomatoes:  Known as "the tomato lovers tomato" (both the name and the slogan are trademarked), they are a type of tomato known for their juiciness, tart and sweet taste without being acidic, and, firm user-friendly texture.  They are deep red in color, round and smallish in size (a little bigger than a golf ball and much smaller than a tennis ball), and, more often than not are sold TOV (tomato on vine).  They've become extremely popular, especially by tomato lovers like me, because they are available all year long.  Unlike ALL other store-bought tomatoes, they pack all of the flavor of the ones I will harvest from my garden at the height of the Summer season.  Like other tomatoes, they should never be stored in the refrigerator.  While refrigeration extends shelf life, it causes them to lose flavor, so, I'm posting this recipe today while they are still at their best.  My world is a much better place because of Campari tomatoes!

Adjust this recipe proportionately to make as many as you want!

IMG_3545~ Step 1.  Rinse, pat dry, and slice in half (pole to pole):

7-8 Campari tomatoes  

IMG_3562"Arrange" them, sliced side up, in a 9" round au gratin dish (or a pie dish).  I am an over-compulsive, neatnick nutjob, so, I arrange mine decoratively!

IMG_3572 IMG_3555~ Step 2. Using a garlic press, process (do not mince):

4  large cloves of garlic

Distribute the garlic chards over the tomatoes, spreading them around with your fingertips.  You can use more garlic or no garlic, but, for me, it's 4 large cloves on 8 tomatoes!

IMG_3578~ Step 3.  Evenly drizzle:

8 tablespoons EVOO

followed by a sprinkling of:

8 tablespoons finely-grated asiago cheese

IMG_3589over the top. You can substitute Parm-Regg, but asiago knocks this dish out of the park!

IMG_3604~ Step 4.  Lastly, sprinkle:

1-1 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning blend (I do not recommend fresh herbs here)

1/2-1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

IMG_3599evenly over all.  Roast on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven, 15-18 minutes...

IMG_3625... until bubbly and lightly golden (do not overcook).  Remove from oven and set aside 1-2 minutes.  

IMG_3611While tomatoes rest a bit, thinly-slice about:

4-6 tablespoons chiffonade (French word for "to cut into rags or ribbons") of fresh basil leaves

Top the bubbling hot tomatoes with the chards of fresh basil...

IMG_3629... wait a moment or two for the basil to get fragrant and serve:

IMG_3731Roasted Campari Tomatoes with Asiago & Basil:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings, planning on 3-4 per person (I can easily eat 4 myself).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 9" round au gratin dish or glass pie plate (or a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole if double the recipe)

IMG_0789Cook's Note:  In the event you still have a couple of tomatoes, some asiago cheese and basil leftover, my recipe for  ~ Tomato-Basil Pita Pizza:  My Favorite Snack Meal ~ can be found in Categories 2, 14, or 20 -- a perfect midnight muse!

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

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

05/27/2014

~ Roast-Chicken Caprese-Panzanella Pasta-Salad ~

IMG_3432Here in the Northeastern part of the United States, the Memorial Day weekend is the official unofficial kick off to the Summer season.  Gardeners fertilize their soil and plant their seeds while barbeque grillers iron their aprons and sharpen their knives.  Public swimming pools and beaches open, and fishermen put their boats in the water.  The young, the old and everybody in between is ready to set up their lawn chairs and move outdoors for a few months.  As of yesterday afternoon, I have switched gears.  I am officially in Summer meals mode, meaning:

During the Summer, what I enjoy most is the variety of just-picked produce that becomes available via my local farmers markets, as well the goodies our own backyard gardens, fruit trees and berry bushes gift us with.  Being a lover of all things fresh (except for eggplant and kale), I do a good job of eating healthy all year long, in an inconspicuous sort of way, so, eating extra-healthy in the Summer is not even a conscious decision on my part -- it just happens. Meat, poultry or fish almost always make a daily appearance on my table in some form (I am not a vegetarian and have no interest in that lifestyle), but, in my kitchen during the Summer, on a daily basis, proteins play second fiddle to whatever fresh vegetables I have in my hands.

Meet one of my favorite kick-off-the-Summer eat-outside meals: 

IMG_3416Panzanella is a "poor" salad that has gotten "rich" over time!

A bit about panzanella salad:  Panzanella is a  Summer salad famous throughout Italy, but most notably in the region of Tuscany which is situated in the center of the Italian pennisula. Panzanella is a bread-based, poor (peasant) "when times are tough" salad made out of soaked pieces of stale rustic bread, chunks of sun-ripened tomatoes, onion and torn basil leaves dressed in a balsamic or red wine olive-oil based vinaigrette then seasoned with sea salt and black pepper. Traditional panzanella salad contains no lettuce, and, up until the 20th century it was made with onions and no tomatoes.  As with many dishes, panzanella salad became "richer" in the years after WWII because people could afford to add other ingredients like: cooked poultry or seafood, fried pancetta, cheeses, and, various fresh or marinated vegetables.

Caprese is a "poor" salad that makes everything taste "rich":

caprese sandwich, pizza caprese, caprese panzanella!

A bit about caprese (kuh-pray-zay):  Caprese is an Italian Summer salad that takes its name from the island of Capri in the gulf of Naples.  "The salad of Capri" is a perfect mix of flavor and texture, consisting simply of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil.  It gets drizzled with fruity olive oil and seasoned with freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, although it is not unusual to see versions drizzled with red wine or balsamic vinaigrette or a balsamic reduction.  Unlike other Italian salads it is served as an antipasto (appetizer), not a contorno (side-dish). The word "caprese" is also an adjective used to describe foods containing its components: caprese salad, caprese sandwich, pizza caprese, etc..  It doesn't take much imagination to understand why it lends itself so well to a "rich" caprese version of the "poor" panzanella salad.

IMG_3249The only thing better than a panzanella salad or caprese salad is:  caprese-panzanella salad!

Adding roasted chicken or steamed shrimp along with some cooked fork-friendly pasta turns these Italian classics into a main-course meal. Orecchiette or "little ears" are my first choice because each one catches the vinaigrette along with little bits of the ingredients too -- it is also about the same size as the grape tomatoes, ciliegine (small grape-sized mozzarella balls) and nicoise or kalamata olives.

Part One (Optional):  The Roast Chicken & The Pasta

IMG_3227Even though I hope you won't, feel free to make just a caprese-style panzanella salad by skipping the chicken and the pasta.  Just remember, if you do, you'll need to add less of the red wine or balsamic vinaigrette at tossing time.  I roast a chicken or two almost every week, so, I almost always have roasted chicken and roasted chicken breasts on hand in my refrigerator.

~ Step 1.  Using a chef's knife, cube

IMG_33381 1/2  large chicken breasts

into 3/4" bite-sized pieces.  One and one-half chicken breasts will yield 2 1/2-3 cups of cubed chicken, which is what you'll need for this recipe.  I like my chicken cubed, but, for a more rustic presentation, feel free to tear it into bite-sized pieces.  Place chicken in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside while cooking the orecchiette pasta as directed below:

IMG_3263~ Step 2.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon sea salt. Gradually sprinkle in 12-ounces orecchiette, adjust heat to a steady simmer and cook until al dente, about 8-9 minutes, stirring constantly during the first minute of cooking to keep the pasta from sticking together.

Drain and rinse under cold water, using your fingers to stir and separate the "little ears" and IMG_3265insure it is cooled to below room temperature.

IMG_3272~ Step 3. Transfer orecchiette to a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Set aside to "dry" (meaning free from moisture" not "dry out"), about 30-45 minutes.  Loosely cover with plastic wrap.  While pasta is drying, prep the croutons according to the following directions:

Part Two:  The Bread & the Croutons

6a0120a8551282970b0147e15be50d970bA bit about the bread for panzanella salad:  Any type of crusty, firm-textured rustic or baguette shaped loaf will work.  It can be plain or flavored, but it must be stale (2-4 days old kind of hard and stale). The three loaves pictured here are: a three-cheese semolina bread (front); a sourdough baguette (top), and; a loaf of ciabatta (back). Traditionally, the stale, hard bread is torn into pieces and left to marinate in the salad until it IMG_2004absorbs the liquids and softens -- this is not my favorite way to eat this salad.  Philistines like me (people insensitive to intellectual and artistic values), make croutons out of our stale bread for a little crunch and mush-free texture.  In my case, I make them for a blast of flavor, as, I make my croutons out of ~ My Rosemary & Cracked Black Pepper Focaccia ~.  There is asiago cheese in this bread too. You can get the recipe by clicking on the Related Article link below.

IMG_3281~ Step 1.  Choose bread.  No matter what your choice, you will need:

1  pound, firm-textured, rustic bread, cut into 3/4"-1" pieces

8  ounces salted butter (2 sticks)

IMG_3287In a 12" nonstick skillet, melt butter over low heat.

IMG_3297 IMG_3290Step 2. Add the bread to the skillet, and adjust heat to medium-high.  Using a large nonstick spoon, working gently at first, toss bread constantly, until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Aside from a golden brown residue, bottom of pan will be dry.

IMG_3299Turn the heat off and allow croutons to cool in the pan, about 30 minutes, to allow carryover heat to continue to crisp them.  

IMG_3308Line a second baking pan with 3-4 layers of paper towels, transfer croutons to pan and spread them in a single layer.  Set aside to cool completely, about 45-60 minutes.

Part Three: The Red Wine & Splash of Balsamic Vinaigrette

IMG_3342I make red wine vinaigrette in the Summer months and balsamic in the Winter. Why?  In the Winter, really good tomatoes are hard to find, so I roast the best ones ones available. The balsamic vinaigrette complements the roasted tomatoes better and vice versa.

1  cup red wine vinegar + 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/2  cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2  cup sugar

2  tablespoons Dijon mustard, to emulsify the vinaigrette, optional (Note:  I always add it.)

~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup container add & shake all ingredients vigorously.

Part Four:  The Rest of the Story -- All the Right Stuff


IMG_33511 1/2 roasted chicken breasts, cubed as directed above, about 2 1/2-3 cups

12  ounces orecchiette, cooked, drained and cooled as directed, about 6 cups

1  pound loaf firm-textured, rustic bread croutons, prepared as directed, about 6 cups

2  cups well-drained small, grape-sized ciliegine  mozzarella balls

2  cups halved grape tomatoes

1  cup 1/2" diced red onion

1  cup well-drained nicoise or kalamata olives

1  cup chiffonade of fresh basil leaves

2  cups red wine or balsamic vinaigrette, prepared as directed above

1/2-3/4  cup finely-grated asiago or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, to taste (Note:  I use asiago because there is asiago cheese in my focaccia.)

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for topping each portion

a sprig of fresh basil, for garnishing each portion

IMG_3362 IMG_3364 IMG_3369 IMG_3399

                            ~ Steps 1, 2, 3 & 4.  In a very large bowl, place the chicken, pasta, tomatoes, onion, olives and basil.  Season generously with freshly-ground peppercorn blend.  Add 1 1/2 cups of the vinaigrette.  Using a pair of salad servers, toss to thoroughly combine.  Set aside for 5 minutes, retossing 3-4 times during this wait.  Add the croutons and the Parmigiano-Reggianno cheese, toss again to thoroughly combine.  Add the remaining 1/2 cup of vinaigrette and set salad aside for 10-15 more minutes, retossing frequently until croutons have reached a texture to your liking.

Portion and serve at room temperature garnished w/freshly ground sea salt, peppercorn blend & a sprig of fresh basil:

IMG_3408This is my idea of a mouthful of Summer season happiness:

IMG_3459Roast-Chicken, Caprese Panzanella Pasta Salad:  Recipe yields 8 main-course salads.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander; 2, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans; parchment paper; plastic wrap; serrated bread knife; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; large nonstick spoon; paper towels; 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; salad servers 

6a0120a8551282970b01901c7381cf970bCook's Note:  Believe it or not, a little bit of kitchen science goes into a well-made pasta salad.  Check out my recipe for ~ Shrimp & Pasta Salad w/Lemony Garlic Dressing + (Three Tips for Properly Preparing Pasta Salad too!) ~ in Categories 2, 10, 14, 15 or 17!

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

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

05/23/2014

~ Creamy Baked Five-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese ~

Macaroni & Cheese #10Macaroni and cheese is near the very top of the American favorite food list.  This ooey-gooey irresistable mixture of unpretentious pasta and cheese has earned a beloved place on tables ranging from your grandmother's kitchen to college dorms to gourmet restaurants.  We love it and we serve it year round, indoors or out, at all sorts of gatherings, holidays and celebrations.

IMG_3183My guy wants my Mac & Cheese served with our son Jesse's Bone-Suckin, Charcoal-Smoked Spareribs for Memorial Day!

IMG_3142I'm sure there is a percentage of you who think Mac & Cheese was invented by Kraft foods (their first version was introduced in 1937), but food historians say it had its humble beginning in the kitchen of Thomas Jefferson, who returned from a trip to Paris with a macaroni press he bought in Italy.  In 1802, Thomas Jefferson, who had an affinity for cheese and Italian food, began serving macaroni and cheese in the White House.  Jefferson's cousin, Mary Randolph, published her recipe in 1824 in The Virginia Housewife, considered to be the very first American cookbook.  Two-hundred+ years later, while the basic recipe has changed little, many Americans spend a great deal of time trying to "tweek" their recipe to perfection.  I am one such American. 

6a0120a8551282970b01630207d8df970dIn the late 1980's, while watching one of the the morning TV shows (most likely Good Morning America because I am a true-blue Charlie Gibson fan), I watched an interview with then White House Excecutive Chef Henry Haller.  Chef Haller was promoting his new book:  The White House Family Cookbook.  It was fascinating.  Chef Haller, who served five administrations as White House Executive Chef for over 20 years, told two stories:

~ Shortly after Ronald Reagan was elected to office, he was invited to visit President Carter at the White House.  The outgoing President Carter, trying to explain to the President Elect what life in the White House is like, said "don't worry about the house, the house runs itself".  One of Carter's aides chimed in (with regards to why the White House staff remains so constant over the years), "nobody could learn in four years what they all do over there"!

~ Ronald Reagan loved macaroni & cheese and the White House kitchen made it exactly the way he liked it:  spiked with dry mustard and Worcestershire sauce.  Like most presidents, Ronald Reagan worked late, erratic hours, sometimes into the early morning.  Twenty-four/seven (24/7), the White House kitchen had macaroni & cheese  ready and waiting for him as a snack or a quick meal.  Even when the President was recovering from his gunshot wound, the White House staff was frequently requested to send macaroni & cheese to the hospital!

IMG_3139I bought Chef Haller's book, which is beautifully written (not to mention a great addition to my 5,000 volume cookbook research library).  I already had a macaroni & cheese recipe that my sons and husband loved, but it was lacking two of Chef Haller's ingredients:  dry mustard and Worcestershire sauce.  Well, the addition of those two ingredients to my original recipe immediately turned my Creamy Baked Five-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese into my family's favorite macaroni & cheese.  While I can't admit to agreeing 100% with this former President's politics, from a mac & cheese standpoint, Mr. President gets my vote!

Macaroni & Cheese #2 (Ingredients)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1  pound tubular pasta, or a combination of tubes, shells and spirals

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

4  ounces butter, at room temperature

1 1/2  pounds grated sharp white cheddar cheese

12  ounces grated Italian fontina cheese

1  tablespoon Colman's dry English mustard

2  tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

4  jumbo eggs, at room temperature

2  cups heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature

1  teaspoon salt

2  teaspoons white pepper

4  ounces grated mozzarella cheese

4  ounces grated provolone cheese

8  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or Asiago cheese

red pepper flakes, for topping casserole 

no-stick cooking spray

~ Step 1.  Once the pasta is cooked, this recipe will go together very quickly, so be sure to do the following prep work prior to cooking the pasta:

A.  Grate the cheddar and fontina cheeses and thoroughly toss/mix them in a large food storage bag.  Grate the mozzarella and provolone cheeses and thoroughly toss/mix them together in a second food storage bag.  Grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago cheese. 

B.  In a small mixing bowl, whisk the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.  Whisk in the eggs, then the cream.  Continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth and uniform in color.

PICT3290~ Step 2.  Cook the pasta.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil.  Add the salt to the boiling water. 

Add the pasta to the water and give it a brief stir.  Adjust heat to a rapid simmer and continue to cook until the pasta is al dente, about 9 minutes.  Do not overcook (remember the pasta is going to IMG_3063cook a second time in the oven, so error on the side of undercooking)!  Transfer to a colander to drain.  Do not rinse pasta!

Place the butter in the still warm stockpot and return pot to the still warm stovetop.  While the butter is melting, give the colander a few good shakes to make sure as much of the water as possible is removed from the pasta.  Add the pasta to the melted butter (on the still warm stovetop).  Using a large spoon, gently toss the pasta until it is coated in the butter and no butter remains puddled in the bottom of the pot.  This will take about 1-2 minutes.

Macaroni & Cheese #5 (Tossing in the Cheese) ~ Step 3.  Keep the pot on the still warm stovetop.  Add the bag of grated cheddar and fontina cheeses to the pasta. 

Gently fold the cheese into the butter coated pasta.  Be gentle so you don't break up the pasta while you're folding.  I find it easiest to position my spoon at the bottom of the pot and lift the pasta up into the grated cheese to fold/mix it.

Macaroni & Cheese #6 (Stirring in the Cream Mixture) ~ Step 4.  Briefly rewhisk and pour the cream mixture into the pasta.  Gently, thoroughly combine all the ingredients.  Mixture will be soupy in consistency.

Now at this point I like to let the pasta sit in the pot about 15-20 minutes.  Every 5 minutes or so, I give it another brief stir.  This gives the pasta a chance to absorb some of the moisture prior to baking.

Macaroni & Cheese #7 (Ready for Oven) IMG_3105~ Step 5.  Spray casserole w/no-stick spray.   Transfer pasta mixture to casserole.  Distribute the grated mozzarella and provolone over the top.  Sprinkle the Parm-Regg or Asiago over all.  Top with a light sprinkling of red pepper flakes.

Macaroni & Cheese #8 (Out of Oven) ~ Step 6.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, about 40 minutes.  Mac & cheese will be golden brown and bubbly around the edges.  Because some oven temperatures do vary slightly, if your mac & cheese begins to get too brown, loosely place a piece of aluminum foil over the top during the last 5-10 minutes of baking.

IMG_3131Remove from oven and allow to rest about 10-15 minutes just prior to scooping on plates...

IMG_3188... and eating ooey-gooey cheesey-steamy hot!

IMG_3157Creamy Baked Five-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cheese grater; 2 large food storage bags; whisk; 8-quart stockpot; colander; large spoon; 3-quart or 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; aluminum foil (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b014e8a738013970dCook's Note:  Macaroni and cheese can be prepared and baked up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated.  Return to room temperature and reheat gently in the microwave.  

On occasion, I do add crisply fried and chopped bacon to the mixture (about 1 cup), stirring it in just after the cream mixture.  For an easy way to prepare bacon with no mess, read my recipe ~ Crispy Oven-Roasted Bacon ~ found in categories 9, 15 & 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010) 

05/21/2014

~ Pappardelle Pasta & Crispy Pancetta tossed with a Creamy Sauteed-Mushroom Asiago-Cheese Sauce ~

IMG_3002If this sounds like a dish you would be happy to find late at night on a restaurant "after hours" menu it is:  my own.  Here in Melanie's Kitchen (also known as The Preschutti Bar & Grille),  we call this:  "The House Pappardelle".  Just like another of my house specialties, "Spaghetti a la Carbonara", it is pure, simple, perfection.  Don't ask me why, but, there is just something magical about feasting on spaghetti at midnight any time of the year under any weather conditions. We've been inundated with a few days of cooler than usual, AC off/put the heat back on, temperatures and downpours here in Central PA, so, a pasta post or two are most appropriate!

IMG_3000Rain, Rain, Go Away & Please Go Away for Memorial Day!

IMG_5086In the case of both of these dishes, in about the same time it takes to boil and drain the pasta, a few simple, unpretentious ingredients get sauteed together in a skillet. Once the two components are tossed together, the party begins when you take the first bite!  

In the case of my carbonara (kar-boh-NAH-rah), the saute consists of diced pancetta and onion.  For my pappardelle dish (pah-pahr-DEHL IMG_2952-leh), thinly-sliced mushroom caps are added to that mix.  For the carbonara, the bucatini mixture (boo-kah-TEE-nee), thick spaghetti get sauced with a mixture of eggs and Locatelli cheese. For the pappardelle, wide flat strands of egg pasta get sauced with ~ My Basic Asiago Cream Sauce ~, that takes less than 5-minutes to make (and can be made up to three days ahead of serving)!  

IMG_2844~ Mel's Got Spaghetti Carbonara on Her Mind ~, and, ~ My Basic Asiago Cheese Sauce ~ can be found by clicking on the Related Article links below.

Note:  Pappardelle, from the Italian verb "pappare" meaning "to gobble or gulp" is available on-line if your grocery store doesn't carry it.  Wide fettuccini may be substituted.

From my kitchen to yours:  

IMG_3057"The House Pappardelle"!

IMG_28671 1/2-2  cups My Basic Asiago cream Sauce, prepared as directed

1/2  pound thick-sliced pancetta, have the person at the deli-counter thick slice it for you

1/2-3/4  cup finely-diced white or yellow onion

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1/2  pound stemmed and thinly- IMG_2874sliced white button mushroom caps, 1/2 pound after stems are removed

1  pound pappardelle pasta

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

1/2  cup finely-grated Asiago cheese, for garnishing

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for garnishing

IMG_5002 IMG_5007~ Step 1. Slice or dice the pancetta. I cut mine into 1/4" chards because that is what I was taught.  When sliced like this, the pancetta will be crispy on the outside with a slightly-chewy center. If you want your pancetta crisp, dice it.  Finely-dice the onion and press the garlic as directed.

IMG_2859~ Step 2.  Remove and discard the stems from the mushrooms.  Using a mushroom brush or damp cloth, gently brush/wipe off the caps to remove any dirty particles.  Slice the caps, about 1/8" thick and no thicker than 1/4".  Note:  Never wash mushrooms (except for dried mushrooms, which get soaked to reconstitute them).  A quick rinse is acceptable,  but,  excess water will cause them to get soggy. 

IMG_5015 IMG_5025~ Step 3. Place pancetta in a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan. Saute over medium-high heat, until pancetta is golden on the outside and to-the-tooth on the inside, 7-8 minutes. After 5 minutes of cooking pancetta, move it to one side of the pan.  Add the onions and garlic to the other side. Continue to saute, until the onion is soft and panchetta is IMG_2888cooked as directed.

IMG_2890~ Step 4. Add the mushrooms to pan.  Stir and continue to saute until mushrooms have lost almost all of their moisture, about 6 more minutes.  Remove pan from heat, partially cover and set aside.

IMG_2909~ Step 5.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil and add the salt.  Add the pasta and continue to cook until the pasta is slightly less than al dente, according to package directions (my pappardelle cooks in less than 4 minutes).  Test for doneness often during the last 2 minutes of cooking process.  Drain but do not rinse. While the water is coming to a boil and the pasta is simmering:

IMG_2934~ Step 6.  On stovetop or in microwave, gently reheat the Asiago cheese sauce.  Add additional cream, in small increments, only if necessary, to return it to desired consistency.

IMG_2919~ Step 7. Add drained pasta to pancetta mixture.

IMG_2957 IMG_2948Toss gently to combine pasta with pancetta mixture.

~ Step 8.  Slowly add and stir in about 1 1/2 cups of the warmed Asiago cheese sauce.  You do not want to drench the pasta in sauce, you just want it to be lightly coated. Error on the side of less instead of more.  Add more, only if needed.

Portion into warmed bowls & serve immediately!

IMG_3005Rain?  What rain! 

IMG_3037Pappardelle Pasta & Crispy Pancetta tossed with a Creamy Sauteed-Mushroom Asiago-Cheese Sauce:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spatula; 8-quart stockpot; colander; tongs 

Fettuccine Alfredo #1 (Intro Picture)Cook's Note:  To learn how to make my version of rich and real-deal ~ Fabulous Fettuccini Alfredo a la Primavera-Style ~ just click into Categories 4, 12 or 14 to get my recipe.  It is pastalicious!

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

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

05/18/2014

~My Basic Asiago Cheese Sauce for Pasta/Veggies~

IMG_2806As a gal who grew up in the latter '50's, '60's and early '70's, I did not grow up eating fake "cheese-feed" products.  You know what I mean:  thick, bottled Olive Garden-type pasta sauces that bear no resemblance to delicate, real-deal Alfredo sauce, and, gloppy, jarred Cheez-Whiz-type concoctions that get poured over vegetables and nachos.  Besides the calories (and who knows what else), I feel lucky that I grew up in a family during a time in history when everyone appreciated good cheese.  Back then, even us Americans hand-sliced and grated our own cheese (it didn't come out of a bag that way).  I'm proud to report that my childhood macaroni and cheese was not a box of K-R-A-F-T, although I do recall our family experimenting briefly with cheese that squirted out of can -- which my mother declared "overpriced garbage"!

A homemade, well-made cheese sauce is not evil...  

IMG_2867... drenching pasta &/or veggies with it is!

IMG_2826While I did not grow up eating cheese sauce, I'm smart enough to know that good cheese sauce recipes have had, and always will have, a valid place in the food world.  It's not evil.  In moderation, it is a justifiable way to try to get picky eaters to eat their vegetables.  For almost seven years, Joe's mother Ann, who needed to boost her calorie and calcium intake, loved my cheddar cheese sauce on broccoli or cauliflower, and, my Asiago cheese sauce on pasta!

IMG_2036A bit about Asiago cheese (ah-zee-AH-go):  Originally, Asiago was a sheep's milk cheese produced in the Veneto foothills of Italy. Nowadays it is made from pasteurized cow's milk.  During the aging process, Asiago changes textures.  The most important thing you need to know is there are two kinds of Asiago:  fresh (Pressato) and aged (d'allevo).

Asiago Pressato, aged for just 1-2 months, is sold as softer, mild cheese.  Asiago d'allevo, a firmer, harder, grating cheese is aged for different time periods:  Mezzano (4-6 months); Vecchio (10+ months), and; Stravecchio (2+ years).  Any aged Asiago is similar to Parmesan or Romano, with Parmesan being a little sharper and Romano being a lot sharper than Asiago.  You can substitute either Parmesan or Romano for Asiago, IF the cheese is to be sprinkled over a finished dish at the end, but, IF the cheese is to be cooked into the dish, as is the case of this cheese sauce, it has been my experience that neither Parmesan nor Romano melt as evenly and creamily as their slightly-softer Asiago cousin does.

IMG_1776You're going to need 1 cup of grated Asiago cheese for this recipe, and usually, a little extra for topping/garnishing the finished dish you use are making it for.  I always grate more than what I need, so I can keep it on hand in a container in my refrigerator.  Today, I placed a 2-pound piece, that I cut into 1"chunks, in the work bowl of a large-capacity food processor fitted with a steel blade.  In about 45 seconds, all of my cheese was grated and in the refrigerator!

IMG_2048For Asiago cheese sauce (enough to sauce 1 pound of pasta):

2  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2  cups heavy cream

1  cup grated Asiago cheese

IMG_2056 IMG_2049~ Step 1.  In a 1-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Increase heat to medium and add the flour, salt and cayenne pepper. Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly, cook until mixture is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30-60 seconds.

IMG_2079 IMG_2060~ Step 2. Add cream. Stirring constantly, cook until smooth, thickened & drizzly, 3-4 minutes.

IMG_2081~ Step 3. Lower heat to low and add the grated Asiago.

IMG_2084~ Step 4.  Continue to stir constantly until cheese is melted and sauce is ribbonlike in texture.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

IMG_2098Note:  You'll have 2 cups of sauce. Reheat gently on stovetop or in microwave.  Add more cream, if necessary, to thin sauce to desired consistency.

Toss with 1-pound cooked & drained pasta, or...

IMG_2784... for a crowd-pleasing, 15-minute pasta & veggie side-dish:

IMG_25942  cups small broccoli florets

1  cup coined carrots

1  pound fun, fork-friendly pasta

1 stick salted butter, softened

1 1/2-2  cups Asiago cheese sauce, from above recipe

Note:  Feel free to add more of the sauce to this dish, to your liking, but, DO NOT oversauce the pasta!

IMG_2648 IMG_2606~ Step 1.  In a 1-quart saucepan bring 2 cups of water to a boil.  Add 1 teaspoon salt.  Add and blanch broccoli for 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Drain and rinse in cool water.

IMG_2611~ Step 2.  In saucepan, blanch carrots, 2-2 1/2 minutes.

IMG_2653 IMG_2636                                              ~ Step 3. In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon salt.  Sprinkle in the pasta and cook, according to package directions, until al dente. Drain but do not rinse.  Place butter in still hot stockpot, return the still hot pasta to pot and place pot back on the still warm stovetop.

IMG_2667 IMG_2660~ Step 4. Toss until butter is melted. Stir in some cheese sauce, stopping after 1 1/2 cups. Gently fold in the carrots, then the more delicate broccoli.  Taste and add additional cheese sauce, in small amounts, only if necessary. I added no additional sauce today (and I almost never do).  Why?

The pasta should be lightly enrobed in cheese sauce!

IMG_2737Portion & serve immediately garnished with red pepper flakes...

IMG_2813... and dig in!

IMG_2724My Basic Asiago Cheese Sauce for Pasta/Veggies:  Recipe yields 2 cups cheese sauce, enough to sauce 1 pound of cooked pasta with or without blanched vegetables tossed into it.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart saucepan w/lid; spoon or small whisk; paper towels; fork; spoon; cutting board; chef's knife, vegetable peeler; 1-quart stockpot; colander; 8-quart stockpot

IMG_2537Cook's Note:  To get ~ My Basic Cheddar Cheese Sauce Recipe for Vegetables ~, which everyone just loves drizzled over steamed broccoli and/or cauliflower, just click into Categories 4, 8, 14, 17 or 20. It's also great on nachos or burgers. Never buy that bottled glop again!

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

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

05/16/2014

~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV Video Segment #57: Roasted-Chicken Caesar-Salad Focaccia Panini ~

IMG_2514Yesterday I posted my recipe for ~ Roasted-Chicken Caesar-Salad Focaccia Panini ~, which, if you are a Caesar salad connoisseur like me, might just be the best idea for a sandwich since sliced bread was invented.  You can find the detailed recipe with all of my step-by-step directions by in Categories 2 & 12, or by clicking on the Related Article link below!

If you'd like to watch my Kitchen Encounters TV segment, just click on the following link:

Roasted-Chicken Caesar-Salad Focaccia Panini

To watch all of my other Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV cooking segments, go to the listing found on the left side of the home page of this blog, and, click on the blue title of any one, or:

Tune into WHVL-TV's Centre of It All Show, which airs every Sunday morning at 11:30AM on local Comcast channel 14!

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

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

(Recipe, Commentary, Photo & Video courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

05/15/2014

~ Roasted-Chicken Caesar-Salad Focaccia-Panini ~

IMG_2531Those of you who know me know that I consider a high-quality, well-constructed sandwich to be the perfect, well-balanced, portion-controlled meal.  For me, a sandwich is much more than just putting a few ingredients between two slices of bread to stave off a hunger attack.  Like meal making, sandwich making requires thought, and, I consider myself to be a very thoughtful sandwich crafter.  I have eaten enough good and bad sandwiches in my lifetime to qualify as a sandwich snob.  Sandwich ingredients can be cheap or expensive, simple or exotic, but, right down to the choice of bread and condiment, the ingredients must play together like a symphony. If one component is not in concert with the others, that is not a perfect sandwich performance.  

IMG_2514A perfect sandwich should be a party in your mouth!

IMG_1078"A restaurant is only as good as its Caesar salad and a Caesar salad is only as good as its Caesar dressing."  As a lover of Caesar salad, especially chicken Caesar salad, I can attest to that.  I want the romaine crisp, the Parmesan freshly grated, the dressing garlic-y, and, I like mine with a few shaved onions and tomato wedges in it as well (hard-cooked eggs or avocado are good too).  The chicken, of course, must be freshly roasted or grilled.

IMG_2004Good croutons play a significant role in a Caesar salad.  Up until a few years ago, the French baguette was my #1 choice.  Then, one day, while looking at one of ~ My Rosemary & Cracked Black Pepper Focaccia ~, it occurred to me to make croutons for a chicken Ceasar salad with a bit of it.  It didn't take long for my sandwich-loving brain to combine the chicken Caesar salad with sliced focaccia to come up with one of my favorite "salad sandwich" combinations! 

(Note:  You can find my recipes for ~ "Hail Caesar", Roasted Chicken Salad a la Mel ~, and, ~ How to: Make Croutons (& Toasts) ~ in Category 2.  Just click on the Related Article link below to go directly to ~ My Rosemary & Cracked Black Pepper Focaccia ~ recipe.)

Ever Wonder What it feels like to be a Panino?

IMG_2489"Panino" is singular for "panini".  One panino, two panini!

IMG_2214A panini press is basically a double-sided appliance that cooks both sides of a sandwich at once. Much like a grill pan, the grids of a panini press give these sandwiches their signature grill marks.  There are several good brands, in all price ranges, on the market.  My Cuisinart Griddler is about 5 years old.  It doesn't take up too much space, controls heat perfectly, and, I love it. This gadget has earned its rightful place on my kitchen counter!

IMG_22952  3" x 3"-squares of 1"-1 1/2"-thick focaccia, preferably rosemary focaccia, cut in half lengthwise to form 4 total bread slices

1/2  cup Caesar dressing, preferably homemade

3/4  cup grated Asiago cheese

1  6-ounce roasted chicken breast, at room temperature, cut into very thin slices

2-3  slices crisply-fried bacon, well-drained and at room temperature, sliced into 1/2" strips

1/4  cup  shaved (very-thinly sliced) yellow or sweet onion, red onion may be substituted

2  small Campari tomatoes, each cut into 4, 1/4"-thick slices

1/2  cup shredded romaine lettuce

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grids on panini press

IMG_2239 IMG_2226~ Step 1. Grate the Asiago cheese and place 3/4 cup of it in a In a 1-cup food storage container.  I use a mini-food processor to grate the cheese.  Prepare the Caesar salad dressing and add 1/2 cup of it to the grated cheese.  Stir to combine and set aside while prepping the other ingredients.

IMG_2250Note:  This is more dressing than you need, but you'll enjoy having extra, for dipping, at tableside.

IMG_2258~ Steps 2 & 3. I roast a chicken weekly. Why?  I like having it for salads & sandwiches. Slice chicken as directed.  Fry and prep bacon as directed.

IMG_2261 IMG_2286 IMG_2276Steps 4, 5 & 6.  Slice the onion as directed, followed by the tomatoes and romaine lettuce.  I like to place the tomato slices on a paper-towel lined plate for a moment or two -- this removes the excess moisture from them.

IMG_2365It's time to assemble & grill the panini.  If you don't have a panini press, these are delicious as is, so, don't let it stop you from enjoying them!  

IMG_2303~ Step 7.  Slice each square of foccacia as directed, open each one up, like you would a book and spread a generous tablespoon of Caesar dressing over the top of the insides of both.  In the following order, layer the ingredients on the bottom half of each:

IMG_2312 IMG_2316 IMG_23211/2 of the sliced chicken

1/2 of the sliced onion

1/2 of the romaine chiffonade

IMG_2327 IMG_2333 IMG_23714  slices of tomato

1/2 of the bacon

top of the sandwich

Preheat the press to medium-high and when the light goes on, spray the grids, top and bottom with no-stick spray.

IMG_2378~ Step 8.  Place the assembled sandwiches on the hot grill grids.

Note:  On my Cuisinart griddler, two of these will fit, side by side, nicely.

IMG_2385Place the top of the press on the sandwiches. Firmly, but gently, using the press's handle, press down on the sandwiches for 30-45 seconds.  You are NOT trying to squish the sandwiches, but, you are trying to put just enough pressure on them to steam and crisp the bread a bit.  Let go.

Continue to cook panini until bubbly and golden brown, about 3-4 minutes.  Using a spatula remove sandwiches from panini press and allow to rest 1-2 minutes before eating: 

IMG_2501It's 'wichcraft!!!

IMG_2591Roasted-Chicken Caesar-Salad Focaccia-Panini:  Recipe yields 2 hearty panini sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: mini-food processor or cheese grater; 1-cup food storage container w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife; paper towels; serrated bread knife; panini press; large spatula

IMG_6378 PICT0998Cook's Note: For two more of my favorite "salad sandwiches", click into Categories 2, 14, 20 or 26 to get my recipes for ~ Simplicity:  Creamy, Crunchy, "Classic" Egg Salad ~, and, ~ Creamy, Chunky & Crunchy "Classic Tuna Salad ~!

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

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

05/13/2014

~ Peppered Ham & Eggs on Roasted Red Pepper & Foccacia Toasts w/a Tangy Asiago Cheese Sauce ~

IMG_2171Don't you just hate it when the title of a recipe is so long that by the time you've read it in its entirety, you've lost track of what it was describing?  I do too, but, there is no short way to explain all of the amazing flavor components that come together on one plate for these eye-opening, open-faced, knife-and-fork breakfast sandwiches.  Oh yea, these are surprisingly VERY easy-to-make too.  All you have to do is slice some high-quality focaccia, whisk together a super-quick four-ingredient spread, stir together a three-minute cheese sauce, and, scramble some eggs!

IMG_2174Meet my Italian answer to Southern biscuits and gravy!

IMG_2004Any focaccia, even store-bought will work just fine.  If you're buying it, a classic rosemary focaccia should be your first choice.  On Tuesday I posted ~ My Rosemary & Cracked Black Pepper Focaccia ~ recipe.  It gets mixed and kneaded in the food processor in less than 5 minutes, so, it too qualifies for "easy" status. To learn everything you need to know about focaccia baking, as well as get my recipe, just click on the Related Article link below!

IMG_2036A bit about Asiago cheese (ah-zee-AH-go):  Originally, Asiago was a sheep's milk cheese produced in the Veneto foothills of Italy. Nowadays it is made from pasteurized cow's milk.  During the aging process, Asiago changes textures.  The most important thing you need to know is there are two kinds of Asiago:  fresh (Pressato) and aged (d'allevo).  

Asiago Pressato, aged for just 1-2 months, is sold as softer, mild cheese.  Asiago d'allevo, a firmer, harder, grating cheese is aged for different time periods:  Mezzano (4-6 months); Vecchio (10+ months), and; Stravecchio (2+ years).  Any aged Asiago is  similar to Parmesan or Romano, with Parmesan being a little sharper and Romano being a lot sharper than Asiago.  You can substitute either Parmesan or Romano for Asiago, IF the cheese is to be sprinkled over a finished dish at the end, but, IF the cheese is to be cooked into the dish, as is the case of this cheese sauce, it has been my experience that neither Parmesan or Romano melt as evenly and creamily as their slightly-softer Asiago cousin does.

Need breakfast in a hurry for two or twelve?

IMG_2040About this recipe:  Because the foccacia toasts get made under the broiler, you can make two in your toaster oven, (like I am doing this morning), or, if you're having guests, you can make several on a large baking pan in your oven, and, the recipe for the cheese sauce easily doubles, or triples too. Just increase the size of the skillet accordingly, to scramble more eggs, and, in just about the same time it takes to make two breakfasts you can make twelve breakfasts!

The following recipe makes six open-faced sandwiches:

IMG_2048For the Asiago cheese sauce:

2  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons all-purpose flour 

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/4 cups heavy cream + additional cream, if necessary

1  cup grated Asiago cheese

IMG_2056 IMG_2049~ Step 1.  In a 1-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Increase heat to medium and add the flour, salt and cayenne pepper. Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly, cook until mixture is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30-60 seconds.

IMG_2079 IMG_2060~ Step 2. Add cream. Stirring constantly, cook until smooth, thickened & drizzly, 3-4 minutes.

IMG_2081~ Step 3. Lower heat to low and add the grated Asiago.

IMG_2084~ Step 4.  Continue to stir constantly until cheese is melted and sauce is ribbonlike in texture.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

IMG_2098Note:  You'll have 1 3/4 cups of sauce or 6 servings. Reheat gently on stovetop or in microwave. Add more cream, if necessary, to thin sauce to desired consistency.

IMG_2107For the roasted red pepper & mascarpone cheese spread:

1/2  cup mascarpone cheese

1/4  cup well-drained and mashed roasted red peppers packed in olive oil and garlic (Note:  I simply place the roasted peppers on 2-3 layers of paper towels to let the excess liquid drain out of them.)

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

IMG_2120 IMG_2101                                      ~ Step 1. Place the peppers on a plate. Mash into small bits and place in a small bowl.

IMG_2117Add the cheese, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

IMG_2133For the focaccia toasts & ham (for six servings):

6  3" x 3" squares of 1-1 1/2"-thick focaccia, preferably rosemary focaccia, cut in half lengthwise to form 12 total bread slices

18  thin slices deli-style peppered ham, the best available, folded freeform to approximately fit the 3" x 3" size of the bread (3 slices of ham per sandwich)

IMG_2143 IMG_2135Step 1. Place the tops and bottoms for sandwiches on an appropriate-sized pan.  I use disposable aluminum broiler pans.

~ Step 2.  Give the top of each bread slice a slather of roasted red pepper spread. Place pan of bread slices 5"-6" underneath preheated broiler for 2-2 1/2 minutes.

IMG_2156The focaccia should be just browning around the edges and the cheese spread should be bubbling, but not browned.

Note:  It is worth mentioning that this roasted red pepper and mascarpone cheese spread, which contains no mayonnaise, is a lovely condiment for hamburgers and other sandwiches too.  Keep it in mind for the upcoming Summer picnic and grilling season!

Whisk your eggs while the focaccia slices are  broiling and be ready to scramble the eggs moment the bread comes out of the oven! 

PICT2698 PICT2699For scrambled eggs to serve six:

(Note: Scramble eggs your favorite way. I'm only scrambling for two today.)

2  tablespoons salted butter

6  extra-large eggs, room temp

enough milk to total 1 1/4 cups

4-6 grinds freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_2164To assemble the sandwiches:

Place three slices of peppered ham on the bottom half of each piece of focaccia, top with a scrambled egg and  generous drizzle of Asiago cheese sauce.  

IMG_2189Place the top to the side of each sandwich and serve immediately with a knife and fork.  This is NOT a pick up and eat sandwich!

All the flavors of a fancy breakfast with none of the work:

IMG_2201Peppered Ham & Eggs on Roasted Red Pepper & Foccaccia Toasts w/a Tangy Asiago Cheese Sauce:  Recipe yields 6 hearty open-faced, knife-and-fork breakfast sandwiches and 1 3/4 cups of Asiago cheese sauce.

Special Equipment List: 1-quart saucepan w/lid; spoon or small whisk; paper towels; fork; spoon; plastic wrap; 1-quart measuring container; disposable aluminum broiler pans, appropriately sized for the number of sandwiches you are making;  nonstick skillet, appropriately sized for the number of eggs you are scrambling

PICT2701Cook's Note:  In case you are in need of instructions for ~ How to: Make "Fluffy" Scrambled Eggs & Bacon ~, just click into Categories 9, 12, 15, 17 & 20!

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

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

05/11/2014

~ My Rosemary & Cracked Black Pepper Focaccia ~

IMG_1994Focaccia is not pizza and pizza is not focaccia!

Although the two resemble each other (they are both relatively flat breads), pizza dough, in comparison to focaccia dough, uses less leavening (yeast), resulting in a thinner, denser, flatter, somewhat flexible crust.  Even thick-crust, square-shaped, Sicilian-style pizzas are not as thick and firm as a properly-made focaccia.  Focaccia dough, which contains more yeast, rises quite a bit higher, enough for it to be sliced in half lengthwise and used as the bread for all sorts of great sandwich or panini combinations.  The added leavening firms the crust to the consistency of a conventional loaf of bread without becoming the height of a conventional loaf, which allows the dough to absorb olive oil before it is baked (it's delicicous dipped in fruity EVOO afterward too).

It's common to hear folks refer to fococcia as "olive oil bread".

IMG_1886Centuries before the the modern day oven, in Ancient Rome, freeform flatbreads were baked in a "hearth", or, in Latin:  a "panis focacius" (focus meaning "hearth" and "panis" meaning "bread"). The dough was flattened over a stone and covered with hot ashes to bake. Out of the ashes, focaccia, an Italian flatbread, evolved, and it varies from region to region and cook to cook.  

IMG_1914Traditional "salt focaccia" is flattened by hand and dimpled with small, well-like indentations (made using ones knuckle or the handle of a wooden spoon), then drizzled liberally with olive oil, sprinkled coarse salt and a simple herb.  Sometimes, the bread dough contains cheese, or cheese sandwiched between the dough, to make "focaccia con formaggio" (which I'm making today). "Fococcia dolce", popular at Easter, is focaccia sweetened with eggs, butter and sugar.

IMG_1966Occasionally, focaccia is sparingly topped with bits of thinly-sliced onion, cheese, meat, tomatoes or vegetables, but, nothing close to the lavish quantities that often adorn its cousin the pizza. Also, if topped, a focaccia will rarely have more than one or two items on it. Focaccia can be eaten for a snack, sliced lengthwise and filled with ingredients to make a sandwich, or served as an accompaniment to any meal.  It makes great croutons for soups and salads too!

IMG_6014A bit about flour and choosing flour for baking bread:  The reason well-written bread recipes specify a type or brand of flour has little to do with personal preference.  It is 99% food science.  All flour is not created equally.  To get the ~ Flour Facts: All-Purpose, Bread, Cake and Pastry ~ click into the Related Article link below. 

A bit about high-gluen/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.   IMG_1761Boosting 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, and; flat breads like focaccia and some pizza doughs.

I like to add some of this to my focaccia dough, but, this recipe will work just fine without it.  If you don't have any vital wheat gluten, simply use 9 cups of all-purpose flour.

IMG_1571Olive olive oil plays a key roll in focaccia making.  It gets kneaded into the dough, as well as liberally brushed and drizzled over the top -- to fill those little "wells" that have been dimpled across the top.

I infuse my EVOO with garlic!

I just love the taste that garlic-flavored olive oil adds to this bread. Skip this step if you don't like garlic, but, I really hope you won't.

1  cup + 2  tablespoons olive oil

12-16 large fresh garlic cloves, cut into quarters

In a 2-cup measuring container, combine the oil and garlic.  Cover and refrigerate 24-48 hours.

IMG_1921Focaccia (foh-CAH-cha)!  

If you don't have a large-capacity food processor, cut this recipe in half.  

IMG_1765For the fococcia dough:

8  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1  cup vital wheat gluten

4  packages dry yeast, not rapid-rise

2  tablespoons dried rosemary

2  tablespoons sugar

2  tablespoons sea salt

4  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

1  cup finely-grated Asiago cheese

9  tablespoons olive oil, preferably garlic-infused, plus enough hot tap water to total 3 cups liquid*

2  tablespoons additional olive oil, preferably garlic-infused, for preparing baking pans

8  tablespoons additional olive oil, preferably garlic-infused, for brushing over tops of focaccia

no-stick cooking spray

* Troubleshooting note:  In a perfect world on a perfect day, 3 cups of total liquid is all you'll need to add to turn the dry mixture into a dough.  BUT, this is bread baking.  Everything from the humidity outside to the brand of flour can cause a minor glitch.  Do not panic.  If, for any reason, the dry mixture, the wet mixture and the processor are resisting the dough forming a ball, simply add additional hot tap water, in 2-4 tablespoon increments until a ball of dough forms.

IMG_1819For the topping mixture:

1  tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves, no stems

1  tablespoon dried rosemary leaves

4  teaspoons coarse sea salt

1  tablespoon coarsely-ground black pepper

6  tablespoons finely-grated Asiago cheese

Note:  Feel free to adjust these  proportions to suit your taste.

IMG_1777 IMG_1776~ Step 1. You'll need 1 3/4  cups of grated Asiago cheese for this recipe.  I always process more than I need, to have on hand for future use.  Today, I placed a 2-pound piece, cut into 1" chunks, in the work bowl of a large-capacity food processor fitted with a steel blade.  In about 45 seconds, all of my cheese was grated.  Transfer to a food storage bag and refrigerate.

IMG_1796~ Step 2.  In work bowl of same processor fitted with the steel blade, place the flour, vital gluten, yeast, rosemary, sugar, salt, pepper and 1 cup of the cheese.  Using a series of about 10-12 on-off pulses, combine the ingredients.

IMG_1792~ Step 3. With motor running, slowly and in a thin stream, drizzle the oil/water mixture through the feed tube, into the dry IMG_1832 IMG_1804mixture, until a large ball forms. Continue to knead the dough ball in the processor for 45-60 seconds (revolutions).

~ Step 4.  Spray the inside of a 2-gallon food storage bag with cooking spray.  Place dough in bag, close, and let rise until dough is doubled in bulk, about 60 minutes.

IMG_1838 IMG_1811~ Step 5. Using a few paper towels, oil the bottoms of two 15 1/2" x 10 1/2" baking pans with 2 tablespoons of oil each.

~ Step 6.  Open the bag of dough (I IMG_1856use a pair of kitchen shears) and divide it in half.  You will have about 76 total ounces of dough, and, 38 ounces in each half (I always use a kitchen scale to weigh my dough). Form each half into a "hefty" oval, place one on each pan, and, allow to rest for 10-12 minutes.

~ Step 7.  Pat, press and push each piece of dough evenly to the bottom of and toward the sides of pans. Unlike a pizza crust, the focaccia will be about 1/2" thick (prior to rising again) w/no sides formed around the perimeter of the pan.

IMG_1873 IMG_1866~ Step 8. Using your knuckle or a round-handled spoon, and a light touch, carefully make indentations into the dough, about 1" apart and slightly less than 1/2" thick.  You do not want to break through the bottom of the dough.

Drizzle 4 tablespoons of EVOO on the center of each focaccia, and, using a pastry brush, evenly brush the tops with the oil, allowing the excess to drizzle into the IMG_1889indentations as you brush your way to the outside of each loaf.  Allow the dough to rise until almost double in bulk, about 1 hour.

~ Step 9.  While the dough is rising, prep & toss the topping ingredients together in a small bowl.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

IMG_1892 IMG_1828~ Step 10. Just prior to baking the first focaccia, sprinkle 1/2 of the topping ingredients over the top.

IMG_1912~ Step 11. Bake on center rack of preheated IMG_1935oven 6-8 minutes, or until crust is lightly browned on the top.  Using a large metal spatula, slide the focaccia from the pan to the oven rack and continue to bake  an additional 2-4 minutes, until bottom crust is golden.  Using the spatula, slide focaccia from oven rack to cooling rack to cool completely. Repeat with second focaccia.

IMG_1978Slice and serve warm or at room temperature:

IMG_2004My Rosemary & Cracked Black Pepper Focaccia:  Recipe yields 2, 15 1/2" x 10 1/2" flat, squarish but freeform loaves.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; large-capacity food processor; 1-quart measuring container; 2-gallon food storage bag; kitchen shears; paper towels; 2, 15 1/2" x 10 1/2" baking pans; kitchen scale (optional); round-handled spoon or wooden spoon; pastry brush; large, long-handled metal spatula; 2 large cooling racks; serrated bread knife

PICT0004Cook's Note:  This flavor-packed foccacia, on the same day it is baked, is the perfect accompaniment to ~ Melanie's Bolognese Sauce & Bolognese Lasagna:  Veal & Rosemary-Tomato Cream Sauce & Lasagna ~.  You can find the recipe in Categories, 3, 11, 12, 14, 21 or 22. I also have a few ways favorite ways to use 1-2 day old foccacia, so stay tuned:  I'm going to be posting them all this this week!

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

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

05/09/2014

~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV Video Segment #56: Here Comes the Bride: A Cooking Class Memory ~

10313685_10152406920765132_3390930134108111742_nThis past Sunday, I taught a cooking class.  That is not newsworthy, as I used to do it all the time, but nowadays, I can only do it when I have the time.  This class was for a very special group of Happy Valley "salon foodies", most of whom I've known for a number of years.  This group of food-savvy hair-stylists was in my kitchen for a combination cooking class/bridal shower.

A Bridal Shower + A Cooking Class = A Great Gift Idea

(To read my post, complete with all of the photos, just click on the Related Article link below.)

When my camera crew at WHVL-TV found out what I was "up to", they offered to bring their cameras over to shoot the entire 3-hour class.  I can say this:  A very good time was had by all!

If you'd like to watch this unique Kitchen Encounters TV segment, just click on the following link:

 Mel Teaches a Cooking Class/Bridal Shower

To watch all of my other Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV cooking segments, go to the listing found on the left side of the home page of this blog, and, click on the blue title of any one, or:

Tune in to WHVL-TV's Centre of It All Show, which airs every Sunday morning at 11:30AM on local Comcast channel 14!

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

(Recipes, Commentary, Photo & Video courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014 

05/08/2014

~ Here Comes the Bride: A Cooking Class Memory ~

10174936_10202988793272594_3494122796768329093_nA Bridal Shower + A Cooking Class = A Great Gift Idea!  

Like all of you, a trip to my hair salon is something I look forward to.  It's always relaxing.  For an hour or two, I am the center of pampering and spoiling attention.  I forget my problems du jour, and, on a good day, if I just sit in my chair quietly and listen, I can tune my antennae into some very interesting small town gossip.  Admit it.  You've done it too and you know I am right!

3_b 9_bFor those of you not local to Happy Valley, the salon I go to is a trip back to a kinder, gentler time.  Located in a restored residence on Main Street of Historic Boalsburg, PA (the birthplace of Memorial Day), every room is a mixture of high-tech services combined with a loving trip to your grandmothers house.  It is an antique-lovers dream!   

Did you ever wonder how a close knit group of salon foodies pamper and spoil each other? 

10168094_10152406921145132_3606255644255752640_nThis past Sunday I taught a cooking class, and, it was special on many levels.  It was for the folks from Elaine's on Main Street here in Boalsburg, PA.  I've known Elaine and her band of merry-making hair-stylists for years (I've known Elaine for over 30 years).  They are all foodies at heart and weren't in my kitchen to learn how to boil water or chop an onion.  This class was a mini-bridal shower and they were here to learn how to prepare some special dishes for them to serve at the big bridal shower next Sunday.

1012591_10152406920600132_5070013934842964722_nElaine (in pink) sitting next to Jen (the bride-to-be), asked me to come up with a menu and demonstration that would allow her group to present Jen with appropriate, useful, kitchen gifts that I had used in my demonstration to prepare the food.  For instance: Jen received a Calphalon chef's pan to match the one I cooked the bolognese sauce in, a Cuisinart food processor, to match the one in my Caesar salad demo, and, a pair of Kyocera ceramic knifes, identical to the pair I chopped vegetables with.  The bride-to-be was gleeful!

There's more.  When Andrew, the 10313685_10152406920765132_3390930134108111742_ndirector of my camera crew from WHVL-TV found out I was teaching a class, it was his idea to bring the cameras over to film the entire thing.  Once edited, it's going to be my next, regularly scheduled Kitchen Encounters w/Melanie Preschutti cooking segment on their Centre of It All Show, which airs every Sunday at 11:30AM on local Comcast channel 14.  Did my guests enjoy this surprise?  If my instincts are correct -- you betcha!  

IMG_1640The Cooking Class Menu Included:

~ Jesse's Bacon-Wrapped Dijon-Shrimp Appetizers ~

(recipe in Categories 1, 11, 14 & 17)

~ "Hail Caesar" Roasted Chicken Salad a la Mel ~

(recipe in Categories 2, 12 & 19)

~ Melanie's Bolognese Sauce (Veal & Rosemary Tomato Cream) & Bolonese Lasagna ~

IMG_1078(recipes in Categories 3, 11, 12, 14, 21 & 22)

In case you've never taught a class, that is a lot to demonstrate in a 3-4 hour period of time.  If I could have taught one more thing, I would have added ~ My Rosemary & Cracked Black Pepper Focaccia ~ recipe. Why?  It goes so well with this menu.  So, why didn't I?  Even though it gets mixed in the food processor, which saves time, two+ PICT0026hours of rising time prohibits teaching bread baking unless a class is devoted specifically to baking bread.  Stay tuned though, foccacia is going to be my next post!

10307370_10152406921435132_2779998338316466496_nThe cake was made by Happy Valley's Kim Morrison, Cakes for Occasions.  Jen's wedding, in June, has a Summer, "picnic outdoors" theme to it.  Right down to the edible sugar-art flowers, ribbon and fireflies, Kim provided a buttercream tasting of happy times ahead:

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

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

(Photos of Cooking Class in Progress, courtesy of the cell-phones via the folks at Elaine's)  

05/06/2014

~ Jesse's Bacon-Wrapped Dijon-Shrimp Appetizers ~

IMG_1575My son Jesse adores bacon and he loves shrimp.  Jesse, if left to his own devices, could probably live on bacon, and, our family has many stories to tell about his early years and "all you can eat" bacon escapades.  Jesse is also an extremely picky eater.  Jesse does not eat any fruit except for orange juice and ketchup, or, any vegetables except for peas and potatoes.  Now, don't go blaming me, his mother.  As an toddler he ate everything, including pureed applesauce, peaches, carrots and green beans.  As Jesse grew up, he created his own food pyramid.  His diet might sound odd, but, if you ever went to Jesse's house and he cooked for you, the food is so dang good you wouldn't even notice the absence of fruits or vegetables!

IMG_1591When Jesse was growing up, I used to make this appetizer a lot and I still make it when he is coming back home to Happy Valley  for a visit.  Shrimp wrapped with bacon is wonderful served steaming hot right out of the oven at an elegant get-together, or, served room temperature at a casual tailgate.  It also turns a simple steak dinner into surf 'n turf.  Jesse loves steak too.  What's not to like about a great filet with some bacon wrapped shrimp on top or to the side! 

IMG_1684Winter or Summer, if your eating at Jesse's house, he likes to put the wrapped shrimp on skewers and cook them on his barbecue grill, so by all means, opt for doing that.  Then, he serves them drizzled with a wonderful product called:  Bone Suckin' Sauce.  The first time I tasted my shrimp recipe drizzled with this bottled sauce, I fell in love with it so much, that in good conscience, I can't share this recipe without telling you how to get the sauce:  www.bonesuckin.com. I buy it by the case and am never without a few bottles of it in my pantry!

6a0120a8551282970b0147e235048b970b1  pound center-cut bacon, not thick-sliced

2  pounds extra-large (26-30 count) or jumbo (21-25 count) shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails-on (Note:  Smaller or larger shrimp will compromise the outcome of this recipe.)

4-8  tablespoons dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon-1/2 teaspoon of mustard per shrimp, to taste

Bone Suckin' Sauce, for dippin', dunkin' and drizzlin'

Shrimp Wrapped in Bacon #7 (Bacon Ready for Oven) ~ Step 1.  Place the bacon, side by side, overlapping slightly, on two disposable aluminum broiler pans with corrugated bottoms.  Roast on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven, about 12-14 minutes, until the bacon is just beginning to brown and is about half-cooked.  Do not fully-cook the bacon!

Shrimp Wrapped in Bacon #8 (Bacon Out of Oven) Note:  When I first made shrimp wrapped with bacon, I wrapped my shrimp with raw bacon.  What I ended up with was crispy bacon and overcooked, tough shrimp.  BECAUSE:  it takes bacon a lot longer to crisp than it takes shrimp to cook.  By partially cooking the bacon first, you're "evening out the playing field", so to speak!

Shrimp Wrapped in Bacon #9 (Bacon Precooked & Cut in Half) Transfer the bacon to a work surface that has been covered with 3-4 layers of paper towels.  Let it cool completely.  Using a chef's knife, cut the bacon strips in half lengthwise.  Discard the bacon drippings from the pans, but do not discard the pans, as we'll be using them to cook the shrimp!

Shrimp Wrapped in Bacon #10 (Wrapping Process) ~ Step 2.  Place each shrimp on one-half slice of bacon.  Dollop about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of dijon mustard on top of each shrimp.  Wrap the bacon around the shrimp and secure the top with a toothpick.

Note:  I personally go with about 1/2 teaspoon of mustard per shrimp.  Just wait until you taste these!

Shrimp Wrapped in Bacon #12 (Shrimp Ready for Oven) ~ Step 3.  As you wrap the shrimp, "lightly place" them back on the pans as you work.  I place 3 rows of 8 shrimp on each pan.  By "lightly place", I mean:  make sure you do not prick any holes in the bottom of the pans with the toothpicks.  Even the smallest of prick will cause juices to drip through to the bottom of your oven... what a mess!

Shrimp Wrapped in Bacon #11 (Shrimp Out of oven) (2) ~ Step 4.  Bake shrimp on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven, about 12-15 minutes.  Bacon will be golden and sizzling and shrimp will be opaque, plump, tender and succulent.  Remove from oven and rest 1-2 minutes before serveing hot, warm or at room temperature with Bone Suckin' Sauce for dipping or drizzling!

Place them on a big plate, invite a few friends over...

IMG_1757... open an ice cold beer & indulge in some bone suckin' shrimp!

IMG_1686Jesse's Bacon-Wrapped Dijon-Shrimp Appetizers:  Recipe yields 4 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  2, 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pans w/corrugated bottoms; paper towels; chef's knife; 4 dozen toothpicks

6a0120a8551282970b014e8a738013970d-800wiCook's Note:  Not only are these shrimp succulent and sweet, this recipe is versatile too.  You can wrap and refrigerate the unbaked shrimp the night before your get-together, then, return them to room temperature and bake just before your guests arrive!  To read more about my recipe for ~ Crispy Oven-Roasted Bacon ~, go to Categories 9, 15, or 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011) 

05/04/2014

~ The Times They are a Changing: The Patty Melt!!! ~

IMG_1444Two Sunday nights ago, in a scene from this years episode two of Mad Men, Don Draper was having a one-on-one, heart-to-heart, father-to-daughter, break-through-the-ice conversation with his now teenage daughter Sally.  Don was driving Sally back to Miss Porter's School and they stopped at a diner along the road to get a bite to eat.  Sally excused herself, to use the ladies room.  When she returned to her place at their table, she looked down and asked "what's this?" Daddy Draper replied, "I got you a patty melt."  That's just one of the things I love about this show -- right down to the food, their portrayal of life in the '60's and '70's is spot on!

For those of you born yesterday, this is not a patty melt:

6a0120a8551282970b017744a94684970dThis is a patty melt (the precursor to the cheeseburger):

IMG_1482A patty melt is ooey-gooey-cheesy crunchy-meaty-greasy diner fare.  It is pre-McDonalds drive-through-window-type fare.  It's a cross between a grilled cheese sandwich and a cheeseburger:

It's a pan-grilled grilled-cheese w/a burger-in-the-middle sandwich...

IMG_1177... and a heap of golden-brown caramelized onions in the center too!

The medium-rare burgers and onions are placed between two slices of caraway-seeded rye bread that have several slices of Swiss cheese placed on them (cheddar cheese is for kids).  It gets grilled in a skillet of pan juices (leftover from caramelizing the onions and pan-searing the patties) until golden and crispy on both sides.  This is an adult sandwich.  Respect it, admire it!

IMG_1052That diner scene evoked fond memories of patty melts gone by. My mouth began watering and I couldn't wait to make these.  Over the past week, I've even been posting recipes using my rye bread.  ~ Try My Rye: It's Homemade in the Bread Machine ~ is one of them.   I found myself wishing I had a few slices left in my refrigerator.  I don't, but that is not going to stop me.  Store-bought will due just fine. Click on the Related Article link below to get my bread recipe!

IMG_0364I'm not saying I don't enjoy a well-made cheeseburger.  I do.  I adore them.  I am saying a classic patty melt, made with  firm-textured, caraway-seeded light-rye is a thing of beauty. The crispy, butttery rye exterior is something a soft, squishy hamburger roll can't compete with. The patty melt is a step up from an ordinary cheeseburger -- or should I say:  a cheeseburger is a step down from this elegant sandwich!

This recipe makes 4, large patty melts.  Cut it in half to make 2!

IMG_1090~ Step 1.  In a 14" skillet, over low heat melt:

1  stick salted butter, into

4  tablespoons olive oil

add:

2  pounds (after peeling) 1/4" thick "half-ring-shaped" slices of yellow or sweet onions (8 cups)

season with:

IMG_10981  teaspoon sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper.

Note:  This may seem like a lot of onions, but it is not.  Similar to the mushroom, as an onion cooks and caramelizes, it loses almost all of it's volume.  So, be sure to always start out with about twice as many as you think you will need!  

IMG_1107 IMG_1130~ Step 2. Increase heat to medium-high, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally at the beginning, frequently in the middle, and, constantly at the end, until the onions are golden brown, about 45 minutes.  Deglaze pan with:

1/4 cup white wine

IMG_1209~ Step 3.  Turn the heat off.  Using a slotted spoon or spatula, transfer the onions to a paper towel lined plate.  With each scoop of onions, take time to allow the buttery liquids to drain back down into the pan.

~ Step 4.  In same pan, adjust heat to medium-high and add:

4  8-ounce, 1/2" thick hamburger patties, your favorite meat mix

Continue to cook until patties IMG_1253are golden on both sides and medium-rare in the centers.  This will take 4-5 minutes on the first side and 3-4 minutes on the second.  

Turn the heat off.  Transfer burgers to a plate and lightly season with:

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

Note:  It's time to assemble the sandwiches, but, don't wipe or clean the skillet!

IMG_1274 IMG_1280 IMG_1287 IMG_1296 IMG_1316 IMG_1320~Step 5.  In addition to the patties and caramelized onions, you'll need 8  slices of rye bread, 24 slices of Swiss cheese and 4 tablespoons of room temperature butter.  

IMG_1325On each of four bread slices, in the following order, place: 3 slices Swiss cheese, one hamburger patty that has been cut in half, and, 1/4 of the sauteed onions.  Take a moment to push a few onions down in between the hamburger halves. This is why I cut the burgers in half. Top each with three more slices of Swiss cheese, a slice of rye bread and a generous slather of butter.

IMG_1331~ Step 6.  Over low heat, melt

4  tablespoons salted butter

into the drippings (from cooking the onions and patties) in the pan.

IMG_1356Increase heat to medium-high, add sandwiches, buttered sides up, and cook until cheese is melted and they are IMG_1384golden on both sides, turning only once.  This will take about 4 minutes on the first side, and 3 minutes on the second side. Remove sandwiches from pan and serve immediately.  

Classically, the patty melt is served with dill pickles, and, French fries with ketchup for dipping both the sandwiches and the fries into:

IMG_1367What's on your menu for tonight's Mad Men episode? 

IMG_1530The Times They are a Changing:  The Patty Melt!!!:  Recipe yields 4 hearty sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 14" skillet; slotted spoon; spatula

IMG_0903Cook's Note: ~ To Sweeten Your Life:  Caramelize Some Onions ~. As all onion lovers know, this is an understatement.  We also know there is a right and a wrong way to caramelize onions properly.  It's not hard.  In fact, it's easy, but, it takes an understanding of onions + time and patience to do it correctly.  Click into Categories 4, 8, 15 or 20 to learn, in detail, how I do it!

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

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

05/02/2014

~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (5/04/14) ~

Culinary Q & A #2Spring has finally sprung here in Happy Valley (Central), PA.  Every couple of days it is warm enough to open the doors, and, even sit outside on our deck.  Spring green is my new favorite color.  Like many of you, the Easter holiday left me with a good deal of leftover ham (+ other goodies like hard-cooked eggs, cured-meats, a selection of cheeses and great bread).  I turned that bountiful situation into an opportunity to share a few useful recipes for the leftovers with you:

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

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

~ Melanie's Hot Russian Ham & Cheese Meltdowns ~

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

~ 1905:  It was a very good year for a Spanish Salad ~

(You can find all of these recipes by clicking into Category 2!)

Yesterday I received a comment/question from a reader in Toronto, Canada which made me smile for two reasons:  it was a really good, relevant question, and, it was, by coincidence, the second time in one week I heard the words "patty melt" -- the "cheeseburger" of my youth!

IMG_0622Q.  Marguerite says and asks:  I celebrate an Eastern European Easter too.  I found Kitchen Encounters while searching for a recipe for a good breakfast sandwich (to make use of the leftover ham my mother sent me home with).  I got a great recipe, plus, a good deal more.  My husband Josh said to say your open-faced egg sandwiches are wonderful, and, I want to say I really enjoyed reading your Easter Feast post.  While my family's meal differs IMG_0781in some ways, it is more similar than different.  Thank-you for both!

While looking at your recipe for the Hot Russian Meltdowns (fun name for a recipe), Josh asked me to check to see if you had a recipe for a "patty melt".  He explained that it involves a hamburger on rye bread. He was raised in Connecticut and said he ate a lot of them back in the '50's and '60's.  Would you explain this sandwich to me?

6a0120a8551282970b01a511b16c5a970c-800wiA.  Kitchen Encounters:  Wow. Thank-you for the lovely comments about my blog, and, although you probably won't believe this (but it is true), ever since last weeks episode of Mad Men, the patty melt sandwich has been on my mind!

A bit about the patty melt:  The patty melt sandwich was the precursor to the cheeseburger.  It was a popular sandwich that came off the flat-top grills in diners all across America prior to the onset of the drive-through "McD's" era.  It is basically a grilled cheese sandwich with a IMG_1444hamburger patty in the center.  The classic patty melt has a few rules that need to be obeyed:

The bread:  caraway-seeded rye

The cheese:  sliced Swiss

The patties:  cooked medium-rare

The onions:  well-caramelized 

The sandwich gets served with pickles and a side-order of French fries.  Ketchup is always placed on the table -- it is used as a dipper for both the sandwich and the fries!

Marguerite, thanks to you, I've decided to write an entire blog post, complete with my step-by-step photos, about this classic American sandwich.  I'll post it on Sunday, so, stay tuned!

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

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

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