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13 posts from June 2014

06/29/2014

~ Conchiglie Pasta tossed with Crispy Pancetta, a Creamy Gorgonzola Sauce, Spinach & Walnuts ~

IMG_6549I really did encounter this dish in a restaurant at a tennis club in Taipei!  

DETAIL-Terrace-0702-1228-900x590Damn straight.  The year was 1986. Joe's engineering company was doing business with a manufacturing company in Taiwan. It was owned by an interesting American businessman who, having being stationed in Taipei after the Korean War, decided to return to Taiwan to live for the rest of his life.  Thanks to Lee's English-speaking Taiwanese secretary, while the men were conducting California-Room-900x599business, I spent ten days being chauffered around to sight-see, eat and shop.  On the last day of our stay, Lee, who knew that Joe and I were both tennis players, took us to The American Club, of which he was a member.  I suppose I missed eating Italian-American fare more than I thought because I ordered the only pasta dish on the menu for lunch:  a simple dish of penne tossed with Gorgonzola sauce and Sigis-900x597topped with walnuts.  It rocked!

As per their website:  "The American Club is the best that Taipei has to offer to the international community -- camraderie, sports, fine dining and relaxation -- all together in one unique place.  A home away from home and safe haven for international travelers."

It just so happened that Andre Agassi and a few other players from the ATP tour were there too.  Ok -- let's move on to the pasta recipe!

The dish I ate at The American Club was lusciously simple:  pasta tossed with creamy Gorgonzola sauce and topped with toasted walnuts.  It was served with a spinach and pear salad that also contained crumbles of Gorgonzola and walnuts dressed with a lemony pear vinaigrette.  The following is my version, made the way I like it -- it evolved over time.

IMG_6534Part One.  Preparing the Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

IMG_5512A bit about gorgonzola cheese (gohr-gan-DZOH-lah):  Named for a town outside of Milan, Gorgonzola is one of the world's oldest, blue-veined cheeses.  Made primarily in the Piedmont and Lombardy regions of Italy, this unskimmed cow's milk cheese has a crumbly yet soft texture and a nutty aroma.  It is usually aged for 2-6 months, and its slightly sharp taste gets sharper IMG_5548with age (after 6 months it's  strong).

My favorite is Gorganzola dolce (sometimes referred to as Sweet Gorganzola). It is rich, creamy, mildly-sharp, slightly sweet, and, a bit salty.  A delightful combination. Note:  All blue cheese is not created equal, so, if you must substitute please exercise some caution!

IMG_62402  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4  teapoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2  cups heavy cream

IMG_62486 ounces diced or crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

IMG_6255~ Step 1.  In a 1-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat.  Increase heat to medium and add the flour, salt and cayenne pepper.  

IMG_6257Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly and vigorously to keep the mixture moving and insure it doesn't scorch, cook until mixture is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30-60 seconds.

IMG_6308 IMG_6266~ Step 2. Add the cream. Stirring constantly, cook until smooth, thickened and drizzly, 3-4 minutes.

IMG_6284~ Step 3. Lower heat to low and add the crumbled Gorgonzola.

IMG_6320 IMG_6290~ Step 4. Continue to stir until cheese is melted and sauce is ribbonlike, 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

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

Part Two.  Preparing and Saucing this Pasta Dish

IMG_6381About conchiglie (con-cheel-lee):

6a0120a8551282970b017ee5fb182a970d"Conchiglia" means "sea shell" in Italian, so, technically, the shell-shaped pasta I am using today are conchiglie, except, they are not the conch-shaped shells most of us relate with pasta shells.  Feel free to subsitute 1 pound of medium or large shells (not small or jumbo shells) in this recipe.

IMG_6386Splitting hairs.  The correct name for the pasta I'm using is lumaconi. "Lumaca" is the Italian word for "snail", and, these are indeed snail-shaped shells.  They are hollow on the inside with a large opening on one end which closes into a small opening at the other.  Lumaconi (or the ones I'm familiar with), like jumbo shells, are very large and meant for stuffing with meat  or cheese and baked.  These are not, which is why the manufacturer simply used the word "seashells" in their product description.

IMG_63282  cups My Basic Gorgonzola Cream Sauce, prepared as directed above

1  cup coarsely-chopped and lightly-toasted walnuts (3/4 cup for sauce/1/4 cup for garnish)

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 yellow or sweet onion

IMG_64022  large garlic cloves, run through a press

6  ounces baby spinach leaves

1  pound conchiglie pasta

1  tablespoon sea salt for seasoning pasta water

1/2  cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese, for topping pasta

1/4  cup additional toasted walnuts, from above, for garnishing pasta

IMG_6377~ Step 1.  Prepare the Gorgonzola sauce as directed, cover and set aside.  Coarsely chop the walnuts. Place them on a small baking pan and roast on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven until lightly-browned and fragrant, stopping to toss with a spoon every 2-3 minutes, for 6-8 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd0e7f6d970b 6a0120a8551282970b01a73dc95571970d~ Step 2. 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 chrisp, dice it.  FInely-dice the onion and press the garlic as directed.

6a0120a8551282970b01a511beb053970c~ 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. 6a0120a8551282970b01a511beb099970cAfter 5 minutes, move pancetta to one side of the pan. Add onions and garlic to the other. Continue to saute, until onion is soft and pancetta is cooked as directed. IMG_6419Remove pan from heat, partially cover and set aside.

~ Step 4.  In an 8-quart stockpot being 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 the package directions (my conchiglie requires 8 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_6428 IMG_6437 IMG_6447 IMG_6450~Steps 5 & 6.  Return pancetta mixture to stovetop over medium-high heat.  Add 3/4 cup of the walnuts and the spinach, and using two spoons, toss like you would a salad until the spinach is wilted, about 1-2 minutes.  Toss the still warm and drained pasta to the mixture.

IMG_6463~ Step 7.  Add all of the warmed Gorgonzola sauce.   Using two spoons toss as you would a salad until all ingredients are evenly coated.  Put the lid on the pan and let the mixture rest for 1-2 minutes, too allow the pasta time to absorb some of the sauce.

Portion into warmed serving bowls. Sprinkle each portion with a few Gorgonzola crumbles, walnuts and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes.

Simply, scrumptiously irresistable: 

IMG_6541Warning:  You WILL eat twice as much as you thought.

IMG_6573Oh for crying out loud!!!

IMG_6483Conchiglie Pasta tossed with Crispy Pancetta, a Creamy Gorgonzola Sauce, Spinach & Walnuts:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart saucepan w/lid; spoon or small whisk; large spoon; 8" x 8" baking pan or 9" pie dish (for toasting walnuts); garlic press; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight-deep sides & lid; large spoon; 8-quart stockpot; colander

6a0120a8551282970b01a73ddf9109970dCook's Note:  To turn this decadent pasta dish into a side-dish for an exquisite meal, may I suggest my recipe for ~ Steak au Poivre (Peppercorn Crusted Filet Mignon) ~, found in Categories 3, 21, or 26 

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

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

06/27/2014

~ My Creamy Dreamy Gorgonzola Sauce for Pasta ~

IMG_6340As a gal who grew up in the latter '50's, '60's and early '70's, my family didn't venture into trying the worlds vast varieties of artisanal cheeses.  We stuck with what we knew, which, like the rest of suburban, middle America, was limited to the selection in the dairy case of our one or two local grocery stores.  When it came to slicing or grating, if it wasn't white American, it was yellow cheddar or marbled Colby.  We ate mozzarella, but it was the aged low-moisture kind, and as for Parmesan, there was little need for that in an Eastern European family, but, there was always a container of cottage cheese in the the refrigerator, along with a silver box of cream cheese too!

IMG_6352As for cheese sauces, thankfully I did not grow up in the era of uber-fake "cheese-feed" products.  You know the ones I mean: thick, bottled Olive Garden-type knockoffs that bear no resemblance to delicate real-deal Alfredo sauce for pasta, 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 period in history when what cheeses we did eat, all of them American or Americanized, were real. We hand-sliced and grated our own too (they didn't come out of a bag that way).  The only cheese sauce my mother ever made was for macaroni and cheese and it did not emerge out of a packet from a box of K-R-A-F-T! 

IMG_6328When it came to soft cheeses like Brie, I tried them after I left "the nest".  It was the same for soft or semi-soft blue-veined cheeses too. Happily, by the end of the 1970's and '80's, magazines like Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and Gourmet had me as well-educated as a gal in her twenties and thirties could be on the subject of "fancy schmancy" cheese.  The first blue-veined cheese I fell in love with was Gorgonzola dolce.  It was served at a coctail party as an appetizer on pear slices with walnuts crumbed on top.  I never looked back.  It was:

My Blue Heaven!

IMG_5512A bit about gorgonzola cheese (gohr-gan-DZOH-lah):  Named for a town outside of Milan, Gorgonzola is one of the world's oldest, blue-veined cheeses.  Made primarily in the Piedmont and Lombardy regions of Italy, this unskimmed cow's milk cheese has a crumbly yet soft texture and a nutty aroma.  It is usually aged for 2-6 months, and its slightly sharp taste gets sharper IMG_5548with age (after 6 months it's strong).

My favorite is Gorganzole dolce (sometimes referred to as Sweet Gorganzola).  It is rich, creamy, mildly-sharp, slightly sweet, and, a bit salty.  A delightful combination -- and perfectly suited for melting into a creamy, slightly-tangy cheese sauce for pasta or vegetables!

IMG_62402  tablespoons butter

2  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2  cups heavy cream

IMG_62486  ounces diced or crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

IMG_6255~ Step 1.  In a 1-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat.  Increase heat to medum and add the flour, salt and cayenne pepper.

IMG_6257Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly and vigorously to keep the mixture moving and insure it doesn't scorch, cook until mixture is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30-60 seconds.

IMG_6308 IMG_6266~ Step 2. Add the cream. Stirring constantly, cook until smooth, thickened and drizzly, 3-4 minutes.

IMG_6284~ Step 3. Lower heat to low and add the crumbled Gorgonzola.

IMG_6320 IMG_6290~ Step 4. Continue to stir until cheese is melted and sauce is ribbon like, 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

Note:  You'll have 2 cups of sauce. Reheat gently on stovetop or in microwave,  adding a bit of cream, to thin to desired consistency.  Toss warm sauce with:

IMG_6331

1-pound fork-friendly cooked & drained pasta, penne is a perfect choice

or, for a pasta & veggie dish, add:

IMG_57522-3  dozen, medium thickness, 3"-4" asparagus spears, blanched in simmering water for 1 minute, drained, cooled and cut into 1 1/2"-2" "penne-sized" lengths

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

IMG_6342... drenching pasta &/or veggies with it is!  Dig in:

IMG_6360My Creamy Dreamy Gorgonzola Sauce for Pasta:  Recipe yields 2 cups cheese sauce, enough to sauce 1 pound of pasta with or without asparagus tossed into the mixture.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart saucepan w/lid; spoon or small whisk; large spoon; 8-quart stockpot; colander 

IMG_2537Cook's Note:  To get ~ My Basic Cheddar Cheese Sauce Recipe for Vegetables ~, which everyone just loves drizzled over steamed broccoli 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) 

06/25/2014

~ One Recipe = Two of Mel's Favorite Citrus Salad Dressings: Pink Grapefruit or Sun-Kissed Orange!!! ~

IMG_5612It might be melon season right now but I've just spent the past week focusing on main-dish "citrus fruit in salad" recipes.  I love citrus fruit and rarely does a week pass by that I don't use its juice and/or its zest as an ingredient in something I'm cooking.  On almost a daily basis I eat it or drink it for pure, unadulterated enjoyment -- although I do adulterate it into a refreshing cocktail or two from time to time.  I especially love it worked into salads that contain chicken or seafood. From appetizer to dessert, citrus fruit is a big part of my daily life.  The idea to write this "one recipe = two salad dressings" post today came about in a round about retro sort of way:

IMG_6079Two weeks ago a friend asked me to help him plan a menu for a retro party, more specifically: a 60th birthday party for 60 guests with a 1960's theme and food to match. 

6a0120a8551282970b01a73ddf9109970dWe decided that the main course would be my recipe for ~ The Classic Blue Cheese & Bacon Wedge Salad + Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing ~ + ~ Steak au Poivre (Peppercorn Crusted Filet Mignon ~ = Yum!

Both recipes, along with lots of others perfect for hosting a 60's themed party, can be found in:

 Category 26:  What would Don Draper do?  Retro Recipes from my past to your present!

IMG_5643After working for over a week on the complete party menu, appetizers to dessert, amongst a few other things, I was left with two heads of iceberg lettuce in my refrigerator.  I have always loved this crispy lettuce and have many fond memories of eating wedges of it topped with creamy blue cheese or Thousand Island dressing.  I decided it was time to revive and update the fun-to-eat wedge salad in a manner that would appeal to the modern-day regular-gal or guy who are trying to lighten their daily intake of calories.

IMG_5818If I do say so myself, I think I did a really fine job.  Last Tuesday I posted ~ My Grapefruit, Gorganzola & Walnut Wedge Salad + Pretty in Pink-Grapefruit Citrus Salad Dressing ~.  On Thursday I posted my ~ Shrimp, Orange, Avocado & Onion Wedge Salad + A Sun-Kissed Orange & Very Citrus Salad Dressing ~. You can get both recipes by clicking on the Related Article links below. Both salads, one with chicken, the other with shrimp are wonderful, light, refreshing Summertime meals!  

Need a great go-to citrus dressing in your repertoire?  This is it:

IMG_54311/2  cup freshly-squeezed and strained pink grapefruit juice (from 1, large juicy pink grapefruit), or:

1/2  cup freshly-squeezed and strained orange juice (from 2 large, juicy oranges)

IMG_54552  tablespoons high-quality lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons high-quality orange-infused olive oil

1  tablespoon sherry vinegar

3  tablespoons white wine vinegar

4  tablespoons honey

1-1 1/2  teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/8  teaspoon freshly-ground sea salt

1/2  teaspoon freshly-ground peppercorn blend

IMG_5489 IMG_5438~ Step 1. Squeeze and strain grapefruit or orange juice as directed.  Place the dressing IMG_5460ingredients, as listed, in a 2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid.  Shake until combined.  Set aside.  Shake again just prior to drizzling on or tossing into salad.  Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.  Shake and serve:

IMG_5813One Recipe = Two of Mel's Favorite Citrus Salad Dressings:  Pink Grapefruit or Sun-Kissed Orange!!!:  Recipe yields 1 1/4 cups of either dressing, enough to dress 4 wedge salads.

Special Equipment List:  citrus juicer (electric, hand held or just your hands); fine mesh strainer; 1-cup measuring container; 2-cup measuring container w/tight fitting lid

IMG_6173Cook's Note:  For when you want to indulge in the classic 'big cold wedge' salad, my recipe for ~ Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing + Why I love Danablu cheese & some chive talkin' too! ~ can be found in Categories 8, 10, or 20!

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

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

06/23/2014

~ Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing + Why I love Danablu cheese & some chive talkin' too!~

IMG_6173Blue cheese dressing is undoubtedly one of America's most popular salad dressings -- especially with men.  In any steakhouse you'll be offered their house salad, many times a classic wedge salad, with the option of their in-house-made blue cheese dressing on top of it.  Order chicken wings anywhere, and unless you request them served otherwise, they will arrive at your table with blue cheese dressing.  I'm proud to say my recipe will rival any blue cheese dressing:

IMG_6050Chocked full of chunkly blue cheese crumbles, just the right balance of sweet and savory spice with a touch of heat, I'm reasonably certain it will become one of your favorite versions.  My favorite blue cheese, Danablu, comes from Denmark, but, if you've got a favorite, as long as it can be crumbled, use it.  If you have the time, prepare the dressing a day before serving, to allow it time to thicken and give all the wonderful flavors time to marry.

DANISH-BLUE-CHEESE-ROSENBORG-6.75LB-1A bit about Danablu (Danish Blue Cheese):  Made from cow's milk, it is a semi-soft yet crumbly, bright blue-veined cheese, with a sharp and salty flavor.  It's slightly yellow colored rind is edible too.  It was invented in the early 20th century by Marius Boel, a Danish cheese maker who was trying to emulate a Roquefort-style cheese (a sheep's milk cheese from the south of France).  Danablu, while slightly milder than Roquefort is indeed very similar in taste and the two can be used interchangeably -- on crackers, crumbled on salads or as a dessert cheese with fruit (I adore it served on apple or pear slices)!

Time out for some chive talkin' (Chives, the 1st herb of Spring):

PICT2031I grew up eating chives added to a lot of things. My dad had them growing in his vegetable garden and my mom would mince and add them to mashed potatoes and potato pancakes. She also froze them, to have on hand all year long. So, being extremely familiar with them, it was second nature to add them to my blue cheese dressing.

A bit about chives:  Once chive PICT2730bulbs are planted, they come up in clumps every year, resembling blades of green grass.  They are the smallest member of the onion family, having an extremely mild, subtle flavor.  Each year, as the chives grow, they will bloom and get edible pink-purple flowers on top, which need to be removed (snipped off) before they go to seed.

Once you have snipped your chive blades, do not wash or rinse them 6a0120a8551282970b0168eb6f9953970c-800wi (1)until you are ready to use them, as moisture makes them deteriorate quickly.  Once cut, they will keep nicely in the refrigerator for about a week.  Chives can be dried, which I find to be a waste of time because they lose their flavor very quickly.

Instead, like my mother, I PICT2145freeze them:  snip them, mince them, place them in containers and freeze.  Do not thaw before using. Just stir into foods like cheese spreads or this salad dressing, or, add them to foods during the last moments of cooking, like mashed potatoes (as overheating destroys their flavor).

If you don't grow or can't find fresh chives, you can substitute scallion greens, but the onion flavor of them will be considerably stronger.

To make my buttermilk, blue cheese 'n chive salad dressing:

6a0120a8551282970b0154320e594e970cFor the salad dressing:

1/2  cup each:  buttermilk, mayonnaise and sour cream

1/2-3/4  teaspoons cayenne pepper sauce

1/2  teaspoon each:  lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce

3  tablespoons minced chives

1-1 1/2  cups crumbled blue cheese, 4-6 ounces

For the dried spice blend:

6a0120a8551282970b0154320e5d76970c1/2  teaspoon each:  minced garlic, garlic powder, sugar and celery salt

1/4  teaspoon each:  minced onion, onion powder, celery seed, cracked black pepper, white pepper

1/8  teaspoon salt

6a0120a8551282970b014e882f3749970d~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, vigorously whisk together the salad dressing ingredients, except for the blue cheese crumbles and chives.

PICT2058~ Step 2.  In a small bowl, stir together the dried spice blend.  Add them to the bowl of wet ingredients and, once again, stir vigorously.

~ Step 3.  Fold in the chives and blue cheese crumbles.

PICT2074~ Step 4.  Depending on how much blue cheese you decided to add, you will have 2-2 1/2 cups of salad dressing.  I like my dressing really chunky, so I have 2 1/2 cups.  

Transfer to a food storage container, cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight. Overnight is best -- it gives the dressing ample time to thicken and the flavors time to marry.  Leftover dressing, if kept refrigerated will keep nicely for up to a week.

Try it on my recipes for:

~ The Classic Blue Cheese & Bacon Wedge Salad ~

(in Categories 2, 8 & 26, or, click on the Related Article link below)

IMG_6079~ JoePa's Chicken Wings (Deep-Fried to Perfection) ~

(found in Categories 1, 2 or 17)

PICT2193Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing + Why I love Danablu cheese & some chive talkin' too! :  Recipe yields 2-2 1/2 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; whisk; large spoon or rubber spatula; 2-3-cup food storage container w/lid

6a0120a8551282970b01a73ddf9109970dCook's Note:  Do you like your blue cheese topped salad served next to a steak?  I've got a recipe for you. Click into Categories 3, 11, 21 or 26 for ~ Steak au Poivre (Peppercorn Crusted Filet Mignon) ~!

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

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

06/21/2014

~ The Classic Blue Cheese & Bacon Wedge Salad + Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing ~

IMG_6079I can't let "wedge week" on Kitchen Encounters end without posting a recipe for the mother-of-all wedge salads:  the classic blue cheese & bacon wedge salad.  If it's on a steakhouse menu, my husband Joe always orders it, I know Don Draper and all the other Mad Men of Madison Avenue loved it, and, even James Beard, the father of American gastronomy, was a fan of it.  In 1963, McCall's Cook Book said, "this firm, crisp, compact most familiar of light-green lettuces is a favorite of men, particularly those who like to pour creamy blue-cheese dressing over it".

Next to a TV Dinner, this just might be as retro as retro gets!

IMG_6137A bit about the classic wedge salad:  Culinary reference books say iceberg lettuce (also known as crisphead or Simpson) was popular with Americans as far back as the 1920's, but, it places this lettuce "at the top of its game" in the 1950's and 60's.  During this time period, "the classic wedge salad" (a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with creamy blue cheese dressing, crumbled blue cheese, bits of bacon, and sometimes, diced tomatoes too) ruled the salad world much like the grilled chicken Caesar salad does today.  It was a staple on every Steakhouse menu.  While this combination has been deemed unhealthy by current-day food police, it was, and still is, undeniably delicious.  This is unfair.  Back in my day "the big cold wedge" was a pleasurable indulgence:  we Americans weren't eating via drive-through windows every night of the week.

IMG_5730A bit about iceberg lettuce:  Prior to the 1920's, Americans relied primarily on seasonal leaf lettuces that were grown in their gardens or sold in their local markets for their salads.  Then, along came the railroad.  It became possible for iceberg to be shipped year round, in traincars, from California to every corner of the USA.  Each crate of this round-headed super-crispy lettuce, which has a longer shelf life than all other leafy greens, was topped with ice to keep it cold during the long trip.  As the traincars would pull into depots for delivery and unpacking, the rail workers would shout, "here comes the icebergs", or, "the icebergs are coming!

For my Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad dressing:

Roger_donBlue cheese dressing is one of America's most popular salad dressings -- especially with men.  In any steakhouse you'll be offered their house salad, many times a classic wedge salad, with the option of their in-house-made blue cheese dressing on top of it.  Order chicken wings anywhere, and unless you request them served otherwise, they will arrive at your table with blue cheese dressing.  

IMG_6050My recipe will rival any blue cheese dressing.  Chocked full of chunky blue cheese crumbles, just the right balance of sweet and savory spice with a touch of heat, I'm reasonably certain this will become one of your favorite versions.  My favorite blue cheese comes from Denmark, but, if you've got a favorite, as long as it can be crumbled, use it.  If you have the time, prepare the dressing a day before serving to allow it time to thicken and give all the wonderful flavors time to marry!

6a0120a8551282970b0154320e594e970cFor the salad dressing:

1/2  cup each:  buttermilk, mayonnaise and sour cream

1/2-3/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper sauce

1/2  teaspoon each:  lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce

3  tablespoons minced chives

1-1 1/2  cups crumbled blue cheese, 4-6 ounces

For the dried spice blend:

6a0120a8551282970b0154320e5d76970c1/2  teaspoon each:  minced garlic, garlic powder, sugar and celery salt

1/4  teaspoon each:  minced onion, onion powder, celery seed, cracked black pepper, white pepper

1/8  teaspoon salt

6a0120a8551282970b014e882f3749970d~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, vigorously whisk together the salad dressing ingredients, except for the blue cheese crumbles and chives.

6a0120a8551282970b0154320e7a02970c~ Step 2.  In a small bowl, stir together the dried spice blend.  Add them to the bowl of wet ingredients and, once again, vigorously stir.

~ Step 3.  Fold in the chives and blue cheese crumbles.

Note:  Depending on how much blue cheese you added, you will have 2-2 1/2 cups of salad dressing.  Transfer to a food storage container, cover and refrigerate several hours to overnight. 

Meet "the big cold wedge" of the past & indulge!

IMG_55311  head iceberg lettuce, cored and cut into 4 wedges

1 1/2-2  cups dressing, from above recipe

1/2-3/4  cup crumbled blue cheese

1/2-3/4  cup crisply-fried and chopped bacon

2-3  tablespoons minced chives

IMG_60582-3  dozen 3"-4", asparagus spears, blanched and chilled, 6-8 spears per salad and/or sliced tomato wedges (optional)

Note:  Asparagus is not part of this classic salad, but, when served next to a steak, they and/or tomatoes turn it into an exquisite retro meal!

~ Step 1.  If serving asparagus, blanch in simmering water for 1 minute, drain, rinse and chill.

IMG_6164~ Step 2.  Fry and chop the bacon, crumble the blue cheese, mince the chives, and, core and cut the lettuce into four wedges.

To assemble the big cold wedge:

Place one wedge of lettuce on each plate. Arrange 6-8 optional asparagus spears around each wedge.  Drizzle with a generous 1/4 cup of blue cheese dressing and sprinkle crumbled cheese and bits of bacon over the top.  Garnish each salad with chopped chives.

Would you like freshly ground pepper on that?

IMG_6141Of course you would -- now, go ahead, take a taste:

IMG_6176I think you'll agree, my dressing makes this salad perfection!  

IMG_6173The Classic Blue Cheese & Bacon Wedge Salad + Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing:  Recipe yields 4 wedge salads and 2-2 1/2 cups salad dressing.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; whisk; large spoon or rubber spatula; 6-cup food storage container w/lid

IMG_9858Cook's Note:  Would you like filet mignon with your wedge salad? For another retro favorite you can find my recipe for ~ Steak au Poivre (Peppercorn Crusted Filet Mignon) ~ in Categories 3, 11, 21 or 26! 

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

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

06/19/2014

~ Shrimp, Orange, Avocado & Onion Wedge Salad + A Sun-Kissed Orange & Very Citrus Salad Dressing ~

IMG_5818Women love to go out for long relaxing lunches, especially lunches that can be enjoyed dining "al fresco" (a fancy Italian phrase for "outside in the fresh air") on the patio or porch of a busy streetside cafe or a serene picturesque rural eatery.  I'm no exception to this.  That being said, my last two luncheon experiences were borderline agony.  The salad selections were so over-the-top goofy "nouveau" (a fancy French phrase for "having recently been designated the thing to do") I wanted to shred my menu, stand up and scream, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more" (a line from the 1976 movie Network).  I didn't.  I saved my rant for you:

Over the past decade, my salad-eating world has been taken over by bitter and soft Mesclun and Spring mixes, fancy frisee, peppery arugula, tiny microgreens, and, the super-ingredient du jour:  kale (the cows cud of all salad greens).  I've decided it's time to bring some sweetness and crunch back into my salad-loving world.  Only one ingredient can do this:  the almost extinct head of easy-to-get-along-with iceberg lettuce.  More specifically, a big ole' one-quarter-of-a-head wedge sitting in the middle of a plate full of familiar, enjoyable-to-eat ingredients (no birdseed included) topped with a light, but bold and refreshing dressing or vinagrette!

Sometimes, what's "old" is "new".  How do I know this?  

I am old enough to remember "the big cold wedge"' of the past.

IMG_5730

A bit about iceberg lettuce.  Prior to the 1920's Americans relied primarily on seasonal leaf lettuces that were grown in their gardens or sold in their local markets for their salads.  Then, along came the railroad. It became possible for iceberg lettuce to be shipped year round, in traincars, from California to every corner of the USA.  Each crate of this round-headed super-cripy lettuce, which has a longer shelf life than all other leafy greens, was topped with ice to keep it cold during the long trip.  As the traincars would pull into depots for delivery and unpacking, the rail workers would shout, "here come the icebergs", or "the icebergs are coming"!

It's time to revive and update the fun-to-eat wedge salad!

The classic wedge salad consisted of a wedge of iceberg lettuce topped with blue cheese dressing, crumbled blue cheese, bacon and diced tomatoes.  It was a staple in all steakhouses during the 1950's and 60's.  It was, and still is undeniably delicious, but even I admit, that is quite a calorie load.   So, I called upon my unquestionably good taste and remarkably astute common sense to start coming up with lighter yet appealing combinations for this embarrassingly simple, beloved salad -- wedge salads that would appeal to the modern-day regular-gal -guy and their kids.  Ideas flowed into my brain like buckets of water to a fire:

IMG_5643On Tuesday I posted ~ My Grapefruit, Gorgonzola & Walnut Wedge-Salad + Pretty in Pink-Grapefruit & Citrus Salad Dressing ~.  You can get the recipe by clicking into Category 2, 8 & 14 or on the Related Article link below.

I added some roasted chicken slices to turn it into an "al fresco" meal for Joe and I, and, from the minute I watched the dressing drizzle down through the layers of crispy lettuce I knew it was everything I wanted it to be!

A variation on a theme w/shrimp & avocado.  Feeling the love?

IMG_1993For the dressing:

1/2  cup freshly-squeezed and strained orange juice, 2 large, juicy oranges

Note:  On Tuesday I made this dressing with freshly-sqeezed and strained grapefruit juice and grapefruit supremes.  Grapefruit and oranges can be substituted interchangeably in this recipe without compromise.  Like them both?  Use them both!

IMG_54552  tablespoons lemon infused olive oil

2  tablespoons orange-infused olive oil

1  tablespoon sherry vinegar

3  tablespoons white wine vinegar

4  tablespoons honey

1  teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/8  teaspoon freshly-ground sea salt

1/2  teaspoon freshly-ground peppercorn blend

IMG_5489 IMG_5438~ Step 1. Squeeze and strain the orange juice as directed.  Place all of the dressing IMG_5460ingredients, as listed, in a 2-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake until thoroughly combined.  Set aside while preparing the following salad. Shake again just prior to drizzling on or tossing into salad.

To make my Shrimp, Orange, Avocado & Onion Wedge-Salad:

This salad is not a side-salad, it is main-dish lunch or dinner salad.  Add as many shrimp, orange segments and diced avocado to each plate as you see fit.  I think eight-ten shrimp and orange segments, plus, a half of an avocaco (diced) is about spot-on-right for a great dinner salad that doesn't leave you hungry in an hour.  Open up a bottle of white wine and enjoy!

6a0120a8551282970b0191026b2e2c970c2  pounds extra-jumbo shrimp (16-20 count), peeled, deveined, tails-on, steamed or cooked, cooled and chilled, according to your favorite method, about 8-10 shrimp per person

Note:  To get my detailed instructions for cooking succulent shrimp everytime, click into Categories 1, 11, 14, 16 21 or 26 and read ~ Once upon a time... A Tale about Shrimp Cocktail ~.

IMG_20001  head iceberg lettuce, cored and cut/portioned into 4 wedges

3-4  large oranges, supremed, 8-10 orange section per salad

Note:  For detailed instruction on ~ How to:  Supreme Citrus Fruit (an easy Knife Skill) ~ just click into Category 15 or on the related Article link below.

1/2  of a large red onion, thinly- IMG_2012sliced into circles or half moons

2 ripe Hass avocados, seeded and cut into 1/2" cubes, just prior to serving, about the same size as you would cube cheese for a salad

1  cup citrus dressing from above

1  cup spiced "candied" walnuts or pecans (optional), crumbled

Note:  These add a nice crunch to this salad, but, aren't necessary for 6a0120a8551282970b01a73ddb7ca4970dit's success.  To get my recipe for ~ Super-Crunchy Sugar-Crusted Spiced Pecans ~, click into Categories 2, 6, 11 or 18.  I prefer walnuts in this salad, but feel free to substitute pecans!

~ Step 1.  Prepare and cool the spiced walnuts, up to a day ahead.

~ Step 2.  Cook and chill the shrimp, up to a day ahead.

IMG_5937To assemble this crazy-easy, uncomplicated yum-of-a-salad:

~ Step 3.  On each of four chilled luncheon or dinner plates, place a wedge of iceberg lettuce.  Arrange the shrimp and the orange wedges around the lettuce.  Prop a few "onion o's" up on either side of the lettuce too.  Portion/sprinkle the avocado pieces over the top of each plate followed by the optional spiced walnuts.  Drizzle about 1/4 cup of dressing over each salad.

  Rejoice (or don't and go eat your kale)!

IMG_5813The cool, crisp, redefined, wedge-salad is back on my table...

IMG_5861... and I am going to enjoy every last bite of it!

IMG_5958Shrimp, Orange, Avocado & Onion Wedge Salad + A Sun-Kissed Orange & Very Citrus Salad Dressing:  Recipe yields 4 wedge salads and 1 1/4 cups dressing.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; citrus juicer (electric, hand held or just your hands); fine mesh strainer; 1-cup measuring container; 2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top

6a0120a8551282970b0192aa44d0b4970dCook's Note:  For another one of my favorite easy-to-make, fun-to-eat, al fresco salads, which is one you tomato lovers will appreciate,  my recipe for ~ A Summertime Shrimp, Avocado & Tomato Salad ~ can be found by clicking into Categories 2, 10 or 14!

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

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

06/17/2014

~ My Grapefruit, Gorgonzola & Walnut Wedge-Salad + Pretty in Pink-Grapefruit & Citrus Salad Dressing ~

IMG_5638Winter is traditionally the season for grapefruit (February is National Grapefruit Month), but happily, for the past two weeks, I've been enjoying delightful "Sunkist, Star Ruby", pink grapefruit from California.  They're in our local markets, and, after a little research, I found out this is a variety that Sunkist has available all year long.  For me, a lover of grapefruit, this is great news. When I was growing up I only got to enjoy grapefruit once a year.  Every February a big bag of golden-colered ones got delivered to my parents door (they were a fundraiser for my brother's cub scout pack).  I started out every morning with a half a grapefruit, or two, until they were gone!

IMG_5421I wasn't planning on posting this recipe in June, but, why not!

IMG_1933 

IMG_8322I've got two roasted chicken breast halves in my refrigerator, a pretty red onion in my vegetable basket, and, four pink grapefruit on my kitchen counter.  This simple salad is going to be a lovely dinner out on the deck this evening.  I'm even going to serving it with ~ Mel's Pink Poodle Cocktail (... aka The Salty Dog!) ~.  You can get that recipe by clicking on the Related Article link below.

To make Mel's Pink-Grapefruit & Citrus Salad Dressing:

IMG_5431

1/2  cup freshly-squeezed and strained pink grapefruit juice, 1 large, juicy pink grapefruit

IMG_54552  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons orange-infused olive oil

1  tablespoon sherry vinegar

3  tablespoons white wine vinegar

4  tablespoons honey

1  teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/8  teaspoon freshly-ground sea salt

1/2  teaspoon freshly-ground peppercorn blend

IMG_5489 IMG_5438~ Step 1. Squeeze and strain grapefuit juice as directed.  Place all of the dressing IMG_5460ingredients, as listed, in a 2-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake until thoroughly combined.  Set aside while preparing the following salad. Shake again just prior to drizzling on or tossing into salad.

To make my Grapefruit, Gorgonzola & Walnut Wedge-Salad:

IMG_5512This salad is wonderful served either before or after the main course.  I use Gorganzola dolce because it is rich, creamy, slightly-sweet, a bit salty, and, it is not aged as long as Gorganzola so it is milder.  Choose any blue-type cheese to suit your palate.  By adding sliced, roasted or grilled chicken breast, this salad turns into a lovely, light, refreshing meal.

IMG_5548While every component of this salad can be prepped and refrigerated (separately) several hours in advance of serving, I don't recommend doing that with the Gorgonzola dolce.  It is very soft and is truly best if left to the last minute prior to dicing or crumbling fresh onto each salad.  

IMG_54921  head iceberg lettuce, cored and cut/portioned into 4 wedges

3  large pink grapefruit, supremed, 6-8 grapefruit sections per salad*

2  roasted or grilled chicken breasts halves, cut into thin slices about the same size as the grapefruit supremes, 6-8 chicken slices per salad (optional) 

1/2  of a large red onion, thinly-sliced into half moons, slices cut IMG_5499in half

1/2  pound Gorgonzola dolce

1  cup candied walnuts (or pecans), my recipe, your favorite recipe or store-bought**

1 cup citrus dressing from above recipe

* Note:  For detailed instructions on ~ How to:  Supreme Citrus Fruits (an easy Knife Skill) ~ just click into Category 15.

** Note:  To get my recipe for ~ PICT5563 PICT5582Super-Crunchy Sugar-Crusted Spiced Pecans ~, click into Categories 2, 6, 11 or 18.  I prefer walnuts in this salad, but feel free to substitute pecans!

IMG_8440~ Step 1.  Prepare and cool the spiced walnuts (or pecans) first (up to a day or two ahead).  

IMG_5482Supreme the grapefruit, then slice the chicken and the onion.  Set aside or refrigerate 1-2 hours prior to assembling salads.

IMG_5527 IMG_5514~ Step 2. Just prior to assembling the salads:

IMG_5531Cut the core out of the iceburg, remove a layer of the loose outer leaves and cut the head into four quarters or wedges.  Using a sharp knife or your fingertips, crumble the Gorgonzola cheese.

IMG_5571 IMG_5574 IMG_5580 IMG_5582~Steps 3, 4, 5 & 6.  To assemble the salads, portion the onions onto the bottom of four large 8" luncheon plates.  Arrange the grapefruit sections and chicken slices around the perimeter of each plate.  Place a wedge of lettuce on the center of plate.  Top with a sprinkling of crumbled candied walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese.  Serve and drizzle lightly with dressing at tableside.

Go easy on that salad dressing.  A little goes a long way...

IMG_5615... 1 cup is MORE than enough for 4 salads!

IMG_5669This luscious flavor combination is one you're not likely to forget:

IMG_5707My Grapefruit, Gorgonzola & Walnut Wedge-Salad + Pretty in Pink-Grapefruit & Citrus Salad Dressing:  Recipe yields 4 wedge salads and 1 1/4 cups dressing.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; citrus juicer (electric, hand held or just your hands); fine mesh strainer; 1-cup measuring container; 2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid & pourer top

IMG_8284Cook's Note:  Not a week goes by that I don't roast one or two chickens to have on hand all week for salads or sandwiches.  To learn  ~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree "Carving for Dummies" Methodology ~, just click into Categories 2, 3, 15, 19 or 20!

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

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

06/15/2014

~ Pucker-Up for a Straight-Up Rhubarb Streusel Pie ~

IMG_5307This is an heirloom recipe in honor of Father's Day.  The green-stalked rhubarb we grow in our vegetable garden was transplanted from my father's garden, which was transplanted from his father's garden.  It's green, which makes my rhubarb pie different than most others.  It's bold and sassy in a subtle, sexy way.  It's a humbling pie I serve to people who aren't easily impressed.

There is a certain satisfaction in teaching people how to love food made from a misunderstood ingredient.  Rhubarb is one such ingredient.  Sometimes referred to as "the pie vegetable", if you have never tasted a rhubarb-ginger chutney on your turkey sandwich, a rhubarb-raspberry sauce on your seared duck breast, or, sipped a glass of homemade rhubarb wine with old friends "out back" in your gazebo, please don't wrinkle up your nose at the mention of "rhubarb"!

I love the pucker-up experience that rhubarb gives me, and, while I understand why people often pair it with strawberries (they do play very well together), in my opinion, like the tart apple or the sour cherry, rhubarb requires no distractions.  I prefer my rhubarb pie unadulterated and that includes NOT adding too much sugar (too much sugar is the #1 mistake novices make).

IMG_5055I had my first rhubarb experience at age 10.  How old were you?

Once a week, while my mom would go to the hairdresser, she would remind my brother and I to "get off the school bus at Agnes's house" and wait for her there.  Agnes was one of my mom's closest friends and as far as I was concerned she was the June Cleaver of our neighborhood. She was a "fussy" (particular) stay-at-hom-mom actively involved with her Garden and Bridge clubs.  She had two sons about the same age as Wally and the Beave, named Bernie and Johnny.  Johnny was my brothers age, and, when the two of them got together to play, there was always an escapade that ended in a mini-tradegy or goofy argument.  Boys will be boys.

6a0120a8551282970b01538e9a6278970bI enjoyed hanging out in Agnes' kitchen for an hour or two every week, and, I'm pretty sure she enjoyed having me, a "fussy" little girl there too.  Agnes truly had a green thumb.  Her dining room window was lined with gorgeous African violets, plus, a small vegetable garden that produced lots of vegetables, including rhubarb.  One afternoon she showed me how to cut the stalks from this unruly looking plant, trim off the inedible leaves, discard the woody ends, then announced:  "Now we're going to bake the most delicious pie!"  I looked at her and quizzically asked, "we're going to make a pie from celery?"  "No dear, this is rhubarb.  A lot of people think they don't like it, but they just don't know how to cook it.  I'm going to show you my secret way", she answered.  Rhubarb in hand, into the house we two trotted.  I couldn't wait to get myself perched at her kitchen counter to participate in this covert culinary action!

Is there a difference between green and red stalked rhubarb?  No.  They are both perfectly ripe and ready to be cooked.

The color of rhubarb is not related to its suitability for cooking, however, the really red rhubarb sold in the grocery store, unless marked "locally grown" is grown in hot houses.  I find this type of rhubarb to be a bit dry and subdued in flavor.  Outdoor varietes can vary from red, speckled with red, light pink or simply green (like mine).  Green stalked rhubarb is more robust (tart) and produces a higher yield, but, red is sure more popular with consumers.  I grew up eating green rhubarb and didn't realize it came in red until I was an adult and saw it in a store.  The rhubarb we grow in our vegetable garden was transplanted from my father's garden, which was transplanted from his father's garden.  Agnes's rhubarb was green too.  It isn't easy being green!

IMG_5071For my rhubarb pie filling and a bit about my rhubarb pie filling:  This, just like Agnes's, is a cooked filling, which I particularly like for rhubarb pie.  The reason is two-fold.  First, when used uncooked in a pie, rhubarb can be tricky.  Undercook the pie a bit and the rhubarb is crunchy, overcook it a bit too much and it is mushy.  Cooking the pie filling on the stovetop allows me to control the texture and the pie comes out perfect every time.  Second, on days like today (when I have 8 pounds of rhubarb on my kitchen counter), I can make one big batch (in an 8-quart stockpot), divide it into 4 portions and freeze it.  We can enjoy rhubarb pie for Thanksgiving too!

2  pounds cleaned and trummed rhubarb, cut into 1" pieces

3/4  cup water + 2-4 more tablespoons, only if necessary (Note:  rhubarb contains and will continue to exude water as it cooks so don't be inclined to add more water unless it is necessary.)

4  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1/2  cup sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

2  tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

IMG_5122For the streusel topping and a bit about streusel topping:  "Streusel" (STROO-zuhl) is the German word for "something scattered or sprinkled".  In baking, it is a crumbly topping for pies, coffeecakes and muffins.  It's made from a mixture of flour, butter and sugar, but not uncommon for nuts, oats or spices to be added.  This is my favorite blend, especially for tart pies (like apple, cherry or rhubarb), where sweetness, rather than a mundane top crust, is a welcome addition! 

4  tablespoons salted butter, slightly softened, not at room temperature (Note:  Yes, I like salted butter better than unsalted butter when making streusel pie toppings in general.)

1/2  cup sugar

1/2  cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2  cup old-fashioned, uncooked oats, not quick-cooking or instant

For the pie pastry:

1  recipe for Pate Brisee, or your favorite pie pastry recipe, rolled, fitted into a 9" pie dish, decoratively edged, lightly blind-baked and fully-cooled

6a0120a8551282970b01630497ead9970dNote:  Pate brisee is the French term for "short pastry" used for both sweet and savory crusts, like pies and quiches.  Blind-baked or bake blind is the English term for baking a pie shell before it is filled.  In the case of today's pie, I've blind baked the pastry in a 425 degree oven until the rim of the crust is just set and barely browned, or not yet brown at all, about 3 minutes.  Remove the pie chains (or pie weights) and parchment (or foil) from the pastry shell, return it to the oven for 3 more minutes, no longer, until the bottom is just set to the touch and barely browned:

6a0120a8551282970b0176172f90f5970cYou can find my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee:  Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~, in Categories 6, 15 or 22.

For full instructions on ~ How to: Blind Bake a Pastry Shell ~, click into Categories 6 or 15.

It's really easy to make your own pie pastry.  It takes less than 5 minutes in the food processor, and, you can make several in advance.  I freeze them flat, layered between sheets of parchment.  Just thaw and use.  How convenient is that!

IMG_5078 IMG_5091 IMG_5096 IMG_5107~Steps 1, 2, 3 & 4.  Prep the rhubarb as directed, placing it in a 4-quart stockpot as you work. Add the water, flour, sugar, tapioca, salt and vanilla extract.  Stir to roughly combine.  Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the temperature to a gentle but steady simmer and continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, until the rhubarb is just tender and a thick pie filling has formed, about 6-8 minutes.  If necessary, add additional water, by the tablespoonful, to keep the mixture from scorching.  Do not overcook.  The rhubarb should not be cooked through to the center or mushy.

IMG_5116~ Step 5.  Remove pie filling from heat, cover and set aside until slightly-warm or room temperature, about 2-3 hours.  The pie filling will thicken as it cools.  Note:  If you are making a big batch, now is the time to portion and freeze it.

IMG_5155Spoon the cooled pie filling into the cooled pie crust.

IMG_5140 IMG_5129~ Step 6.  To prepare the streusel topping, in a large bowl, place butter, sugar, flour, oats and cinnamon.

Using a pastry blender and a sharp knife, "cut" the butter into the ingredients until mixture resembles coarse, pea-sized crumbs.  

IMG_5163 IMG_5156~ Step 7. Spoon and evenly distribute all of the streusel topping over the pie filling.

~ Step 8.  Bake pie on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 30-35 minutes, or, until topping is lightly browned and juices are just starting to bubble, not oozing, around the sides.  Do not overbake this pie!

IMG_5210 IMG_5219Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack, to cool completely, prior to slicing and serving.  

IMG_5207Note:  Waiting is hard to do, but I actually like to let this pie sit for 6-8 hours or overnight (uncovered) prior to slicing.

It's not easy being green -- but it sure is delicious!

IMG_5336This is all I have to say on the subject of rhubarb pie...

IMG_5400... because my mouth is full.  But I do hope you'll try it my way!

IMG_5407Pucker-Up for a Straight-Up Rhubarb Streusel Pie:  Recipe yields 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  9" pie dish; cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart stockpot w/lid; 1-cup measuring container; large spoon; pastry blender; paring knife

6a0120a8551282970b01538fe3093e970bCook's Note:  For another one of my favorite Summertime pies, which like rhubarb, tastes best with a streusel topping, my recipe for ~ I Can't Lie, this is Real Sour-Cherry Streusel Pie ~ can be found in Category 6!

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

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

06/13/2014

~ How to: Blind-Bake a Pastry Shell (Baking Blind) ~

PICT0024It's June 13th, Friday 13th & there's going to be a clear sky & a full moon tonight too!  

800px-Full_Moon_view_from_Munich_GermanyIt's about 9:30AM and Joe just came in from his garden with about 8 pounds of rhubarb.  Eating rhubarb pie out on our deck in the moonlight tonight will be an amusing way to end an otherwise humdrum workweek, so, I'd best get to work. Hardly.  I'll mix a couple of pie pastries up in my food processor and blind bake them.  Start to finish, I'll be done in less than 30 minutes. Relax, I'm not handing out blindfolds.  But, the number of times I've seen that "doe in the headlights look" when I say, "I'm going to blind-bake a pastry shell" leads me to believe many folks don't have a clue what this odd term means.  

Since the pie baking season is upon us, I think it's time to demystify this!

PICT0026Blind-bake or bake blind, is the English term for baking a pastry shell before it is filled.  There are two instances when you need to prebake your pie pastry:  #1)  A pastry shell that once the filling is added does not return to the oven for further baking.  In this application the pie pastry must be fully-baked, nicely browned and completely cooled before you add the filling, and #2)  A pastry shell that will get filled with a stirred custard, cream, mousse or fully-cooked/ready-to-eat filling and will return to the oven for further baking.  In this application, the degree to which you prebake your pie pastry (barely brown, lightly brown, golden brown) is determined by the length of time it will take the filled pie to finish baking, meaning:  the longer it will take for your pie filling to bake, the lighter in color your prebaked crust should be when it goes into the oven.

6a0120a8551282970b016304983f14970d 11-43-08Before we get started we need to have a "weighty" discussion.  Once the pastry shell has been rolled, formed and chilled, it is not quite ready to put into a preheated oven and bake.  Why not? 

If you put it into the oven as it is, it is going to blister and bubble on the bottom and sides, and, shrink in size, which can cause a lot of unevenness and possibly even some cracks or tears in the finished pastry.  The solution to the problem is to use:  pie weights.

You have options here.  Some folks like to use beans or rice.  I do not.  Some folks like to use loose metal or ceramic pie weights.  I do not.  In France, they like to use clean, round pebbles.   I do not.  What is my "beef" with these options?  These loose, spillable, hard to control items are a hot accident waiting to happen.  I like to use pie chains.  Pie chains are basically large strands of metal beads.  Lets prebake the pie pastry and you'll see why I like pie chains:

PICT0003~ Step 1.  To completely or partially bake a pie pastry, preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Using a fork, prick the bottom and sides of the pie pastry liberally.  Prick with a steady hand.  You don't want the fork to slip, causing holes that are too large or even a tear in your pastry.

Note:  You can prep the pastry shell, to this point, one day in advance of blind-baking it.  Lightly wrap it and the pie dish in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

PICT0007Step 2.  Using kitchen shears, cut a round piece of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) about 1" larger than the diameter of the bottom of the pie dish.  Using your fingertips, gently/lightly press the parchment into the bottom and partially up the sides of the pie pastry. 

PICT0010

 

~ Step 3.  Add the pie chains, one at a time.  You don't want a tangled mess when your removing them.  My pie chains weigh about 4-ounces each and I like to add 4 of them (1 pound of weight).

~ Step 4.  Bake on center rack of preheated 425 degree oven, until the decorative rim of the pastry is just set to the touch:  It will look dry, it will be firming up, but it won't be brown, and if it is, it will just be starting to turn brown around the edges.  This will take about 3 minutes, keeping in mind that all oven temperatures vary slightly.  Remove from oven.

PICT0016Step 5The pie dish is extremely hot, the pie weights are extremely hot and the pie pastry is in a very fragile state right now.  All I do is: 

Using a fork, carefully lift the strands of pie chains, like spaghetti from a bowl, one at a time, from the pastry shell and place them on a plate to cool. 

This, is what makes pie chains so user friendly, and, why I highly recommend investing in them!

PICT0019Next, using my fingertips, I gently remove the foil from the bottom of the shell.  It doesn't get any easier than this! 

~ Step 6.  Return the empty pie pastry to the oven.  For a pastry shell that will get baked further after the filling has been added, bake according to the specific recipe's instructions (if they give them to you, follow them), or until the crust is almost done, lightly browned, about 3 minutes longer.  For a pastry shell that will not be returned to the oven after it is filled, bake until golden brown, about 4-6 minutes.  Check your pastry shell several times during this process:  If at any time it puffs up, prick it again with a fork.  If at any time the decorative rim begins to look too dark, cover it with a pie crust shield or a few strips of aluminum foil.  Here is a perfectly blind-baked pie pastry that will not be returned to the oven:  Just fill and eat!

PICT0024Blind Baking a Pastry Shell (Baking Blind):  Yields instructions for baking as many pastry shells as you want to make!

Special Equipment List:  fork; kitchen shears; parchment paper (or aluminum foil); pie chains (or pie weights); cooling rack

IMG_5043Cook's Note:  A blind-baked pie pastry can be baked and cooled 1 day in advance of using.  For best results, do not cover it with plastic wrap or refrigerate it as either will soften the crust.  For the same reason, I do not recommend freezing a blind-baked crust either!

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

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

06/11/2014

~ Scrumptious Sweet-Cream-Biscuits & Strawberries (commonly referred to as: Strawberry Short Cakes) ~

IMG_4966Strawberry shortcake conjures up memories for me -- not all as sweet as this post.  During my formative foodie years (I turned 5 in 1960), "this stuff" (pictured just below), was showing up on TV-tray-tables in American livingrooms everywhere -- and it was hard for me to swallow.

0001290000717_500X500 Reddi-wip"This stuff" was supposed to be a treat, and because I was a kid it was assumed I'd like it.  I was a pint-sized strawberry shortcake snob.  My mom, grandma and aunts made great strawberry shortcake.  Their sponge cake wasn't rubbery or sealed in celophane, and, their whipped cream didn't swoosh out of an aerosol can.

My dislike of strawberry shortcake made with "this stuff" was the cause of many awkward moments.  When school was out for the Summer, I was often invited to play at friends houses and many times asked to stay for dinner or overnight.  I was like a bad penny (definition:  an objectionable person or thing) at their dinner table if "this stuff" was served in the name of strawberry short cakes.  Eyes rolled and heads shook as I painstakingly picked through my pile of dessert only to eat the berries and leave the rest.  It must have been really hard to watch.

IMG_4886Sponge cakes vs. short cakes (sweetened biscuits):  

Sponge cake.  I've lived my life here in Pennsylvania, where, for the most part, everyone puts their strawberries on yellow sponge cake, which they bake in a single layer and slice into squares. This makes perfect sense because sponge cakes are a specialty of our many Pennsylvania Deutsch, Amish and Mennonite communities.  Sponge cake is a very light cake that gets its texture from beaten egg whites that get folded into a mixture of egg yolks and sugar. They rely entirely on the eggs for their leavening, and, they contain no shortening of any kind.  

Short cakes (biscuits).  If you grew up in New England, everyone there puts strawberries on short cakes (biscuits).  This makes perfect sense because this type of short cake, called a biscuit by the British, was brought to America by the English settlers.  Their use of the word "short" refers to their crumbly texture.  Their use of the word "cake" refers to the fact that they sweeten them to make them more tender.  They rely upon baking powder or baking soda for their leavening, and, while some contain copius amounts of shortening, others contain none at all.

IMG_4982Strawberry Shortcake is America's 1st "Party Dessert"! 

IMG_4762Thanks to the development of strawberry varieties with extended growing times, and, refrigerated transporation, we can all enjoy strawberry shortcake any time. While I am appreciative of this, nothing compares to a just-picked, never-refrigerated, red-through-the-center strawberry.  For our first settlers, strawberries were a sweet treat that signaled Summer, but, their growing season was short, June through July.  "Shortcake parties" were held to celebrate, and, many Americans celebrated July 4th eating strawberry shortcake!

June 14 is America's National Strawberry Shortcake day!

IMG_4794For the sweet-cream-biscuits:

8 1/2 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour (a little less than 2 cups), plus a sprinkling of additional flour for dusting pastry board

2  tablespoons corn starch

1  tablespoon baking powder

2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

1 1/4 cups cream 

1  teaspoon vanilla extract

2  tablespoons melted butter

"sanding" or "sparkling" sugar (coarse sugar crystals), for topping biscuits

IMG_4913For the strawberries and whipped cream:

2  quarts strawberries, hulled, sliced, tossed with 2 tablespoons sugar and allowd to macerate at room temperature for about 45-60 minutes

2  cups heavy or whipping cream, whisked or beaten with 2 tablespoons sugar until desired degree of consistency is reached

Note:  Short cake is best served ASAP after the biscuits have cooled, so, prep strawberries and whip cream before baking biscuits. 

IMG_4800 IMG_4803~ Step 1. Lightly dust a pastry board with flour and set aside.  In a large bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, sugar and salt.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the cream and vanilla.  Melt the butter and set aside.

IMG_4818 IMG_4810~ Step 2. Add all but 1/4 cup of the cream to the dry ingredients.  Using a large spoon, stir until a rough, ragged dough starts to form, about 20 seconds.

Do not overmix this or any biscuit dough!

IMG_4822~ Step 3.  Using your fingertips and a light touch, continue to mix, adding additional cream until you can gather dough into a disk that wants to fall apart but doesn't.

IMG_4832Place dough on the pastry board and, using your fingertips and a light touch, quickly pat it into an 8" round, 3/4" thick circle.

IMG_4837~ Step 4.  Using a sharp 2 1/4" biscuit or cookie cutter (do not use a glass the way your grandmother did), cut the biscuits into 10 pieces...

IMG_4845...  placing them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper as you work.

Note:  The entire mixing and cutting process will only take 2-3 minutes.

IMG_4848~ Step 5.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint tops with melted butter. Do your best not to let it drizzle down the sides of the biscuits.

IMG_4854Lightly sprinkle tops of biscuits with sugar. Feel free to use plain white "sparkle sugar" or any color that suits your mood.  I think using pink on heart-shaped biscuits is really cute!

IMG_4864 IMG_4858~ Step 6. Bake on center rack of 425 degree oven until tops are lightly browned around the edges, 14-15 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately transfer to cooling rack to cool 5 minutes.  Serve slightly-hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Indulge yourself, break one biscuit open and take a bite...

IMG_4906... then slice one in half & top w/strawberries & whipped cream...

IMG_5010...  & celebrate the first real taste of Summer:

IMG_5025Scrumptious Sweet-Cream-Biscuits & Strawberries (commonly referred to as:  Strawberry Shortcake):  Recipe yields 10 desserts.

Special Equipment List:  large spoon; 1-cup measuring container; pastry board; rolling pin; 2 1/4" biscuit cutter, round, square or your favorite shape; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2 baking pan; parchment paper; pastry brush; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01538f5214fb970bCook's Note:  Father's Day is this Sunday.  For another one of my favorite recipes for freshly-picked strawberries, check out ~ It's a Dad Thing:  My Father's Strawberry Soup ~.  in Categories 6, 11 or 16!

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

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

06/09/2014

~The Saucey Scoop on Sugo & Ragu (& Bolognese)~

IMG_4741Tomato sauce.  There isn't a cook that doesn't have at least one tomato sauce recipe in their repertoire.  In tomato-eating cultures, there are as many versions of tomato sauce as there are cooks.  They can be fresh or cooked, thick or thin, chunky or smooth, spicy or plain, simple or complex.  Some can be made in five minutes, others can take five hours.  Hot or cold, tomato sauce can be a condiment or a sauce for meat, poultry, fish, seafood or vegetable dishes, but, it is most commonly associated with Italian cuisine, more specifically, saucing Italian pasta dishes.

IMG_3536A little bit of tomato history with reference to Italy:

Yes, Italy has indeed made tomato sauce famous, which is interesting, because tomatoes were late to enter the Italian food world.  I'm not going to get us mired in too much history here, but, the English word "tomato" comes from the Spanish word "tomate", derived from the ancient Aztec word "tomati".  In 1519 Cortez discovered tomatoes growing in Montezuma's gardens and brought them back to Europe, where they were planted as "ornamental curiosities".  It is believed that the first varieties to come to Europe were yellow because in Spain and Italy they were called "pomi d'oro" which means "golden apple".  Italy began to embrace the tomato culinarily in the late 1600's, with the first tomato recipe (sauce "alla spagnuola", "in the Spanish style) appearing in a cookbook in Naples in 1692, and, the first recipe for pasta with tomato sauce appearing in a cookbook in Rome in 1790.  "Pomodoro" is the Italian word for "tomato"!

6a0120a8551282970b017ee9a89cc2970d#1.  "Gravy" = A long-simmered Italian meat/meat-based sauce.

Gravy gets better a day or two after cooking, &, it freezes really well too. 

For those of us with no ties to Italy, or did not grow up in an Italian-American family, the world of Italian tomato sauces can be a confusing one.  The first time I was invited for "Sunday gravy" (around the age of twelve), the last thing I expected to eat was pasta with tomato sauce.  Later in life, after marrying into an Italian family, I learned early that there is only one right way to make Italian tomato sauce:  the way that cook is cooking it.   They take their sauce personally.

#2. There is only one right way to make "the gravy"...  

... the way the cook who is cooking it cooks it (wink, wink)!

ETMA6gdqcThis post is not for Italian experts who know the culinary fine points of every region of Italy. This is for those who love the long-simmered Italian tomato sauces enough to want to know more without being bogged down in so much minutia it deters them from making their own Sunday gravy, their own "right way" version, for their own family.

The discussion of sugo and ragu came up at a class I was teaching a few weeks ago.  I was making bolognese sauce.  More than a few mentioned their appreciation of my happy-go-lucky approach to Italian cooking.  My philosophy: everyone should always familiarize themself with the definition of any dish. After that, there is room for improvisation and interpretation, as long as it stays within the parameters of the definition -- without being reckless.  

#3.  Call it sugo, ragu, or gravy (they're all similar)...

... these long-simmering, beloved sauces for pasta are legendary!

IMG_4710"Sugo" derives its name from the word "succo", meaning "juicy or juices".  In the case of this  IMG_4501 IMG_4585sauce, the juices refer to the pan drippings leftover from the cooking of a large piece of meat that gets shredded or minced after cooking it.  The vegetables for sugo, sometimes just onion and/or garlic (other times carrots, celery and onion), are usually sauted separately, either afterward in the pan drippings or separately in advance, before combining them with the tomatoes and shredded meat to prepare the sauce.  Sugo, while thick, is not quite as thick or complex as a ragu.  It's "juicier thick" rather than "creamier thick".

6a0120a8551282970b0168ebcb6373970c"Ragu" refers generically to "meat sauces" made with (depending upon the region), minced,  6a0120a8551282970b0168ebc977fc970c 6a0120a8551282970b016305d41ccd970dchopped, ground, or a variety of larger meat pieces at the outset, which are sauted with a "soffrito" (different proportions of carrots and celery to onions), which gives the flavors of the vegetables and the meat the opportunity to marry. "Neapolitan ragu" is a specialty of Naples.  It consists of soffrito, meat, tomatoes, red wine, and herbs/seasonings.  "Bolognese ragu" is prepared in the style of Bologna and the surrounding regions of Italy.  It consists of soffrito, meat, fewer tomatoes/tomato products, white wine, herbs/seasonings and cream.  Of the two, bolognese-style is considered the most decadent!

Create your own "my-way-or-the-highway gravy".  Sauce on!!!

IMG_4634"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

06/06/2014

~ Mel's Rosemary-Kissed Pork Sugo w/Strozzapreti ~

IMG_4710This dish tastes every bit as good as it sounds and just saying it makes me salivate.  If you haven't noticed, my past few posts have all included pasta in some form:  bucatini (thick, hollow spaghetti), cellentani (hollow corkscrews), pappardelle (wide flat egg pasta), orecchiette (little ears), and now, strozzapreti (priest stranglers).  At the end of May, a friend gave me a beautiful box of very special Italian meats, cheeses, all sorts of marinated vegetables, and, a variety of imported organic pasta.  It was a thank-you gift, and, for me, it's as appreciated as jewelry.  I immediately opened this treasure trove and began posting my favorite way to appropriately showcase each one of these unique pasta shapes  I posted them in no particular order, except there was a big piece of Asiago cheese in the box, so I started with ~ My Basic Asiago Cheese Sauce for Pasta/Veggies ~.  Just click on the Related Article links below to get all the recipes!

IMG_4694What a nice, quiet, purposeful way to spend today! 

IMG_4186Today is the anniversay of D-Day and HBO is running their 10-part, 11-hour mini-series Band of Brothers.  Based on the true story of an elite rifle company ("Easy" Company) that parachuted into Normany on the morning of D-Day, and, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, it is superb.  I'll be watching it all day on my kitchen television, and, because of that, I decided to make something that will take all day to cook low and slow!

The saucy scoop on sugo, ragu and bolognese!

These are all "sauces", often times called "gravy" or "Sunday gravy" by Italian-Americans.  All three are long-simmering Italian meat and vegetable sauces legendary for their full flavor and luxurious texture that only comes from braising (cooking them low and slow) over several hours.

"Sugo" derives its name from the word "succo" meaning "juicy or juices".  In the case of this sauce, the juices refer to the pan drippings leftover from the cooking of a large piece of meat that gets shredded or minced after cooking it. The vegetables for sugo, sometimes just onion and/or garlic, are usually sauteed separately, either afterward in the pan drippings or separately in advance, before combining them with the meat and preparing the sauce.  Typically, sugo, while thick, is not quite as thick or complex as a ragu.  It's "juicy thick" rather than "creamy thick".

"Ragu", refers generically to "meat sauce" made with (depending on the region), minced, chopped, ground, or a variety of larger meat pieces at the outset, which are sauted with a "soffrito" (different proportions of carrots and celery to onions), giving the flavors of the vegetables and meat the opportunity to marry. "Neapolitan ragu", is a specialty of Naples and consists of soffrito, meat, tomatoes red wine and seasonings.  "Bolognese ragu" is prepared in the style of Bologna and the surrounding Emilia-Romagna regions of Italy, and consists of soffrito, meat, fewer tomatoes and tomato products, white wine, seasonings and cream.

A bit of strozzapreti gossip too -- it's a mouthful! 

IMG_4471In Italian, "strozzapreti" means "priest strangler".  They are an elongated, twisted and ropelike shape of pasta, typical of the Emilia-Romagna and surrounding regions of Italy.  As one legend goes, gluttonous priests gobbled this pasta so fast they choked themselves.  The more believable story is:  In Romagna, the Catholic Church owned vast amounts of property, which they rented to farmers.  When the farmers could not pay their rent, houswives would make pasta for the churchmen as partial payment -- and hope that the priests would choke on it!

I serve strozzapreti with my pork sugo because after the pork has been cooked for 5-6 hours, it gets shredded/pulled into ropey strands.  When the sugo is tossed with the strozzapreti, the meat strands tangle themselves around the pasta -- with every forkful being a perilous delight!

IMG_4602A few important words from me to you before getting started:

This recipe is very simple, but, it requires time (almost an entire day) and your full attention, meaning: read what I write, don't take shorcuts and don't make assumptions.  It depends entirely on "how it looks" rather than how long it took to get it there.  Error on the side of "lower, slower and longer".  Depending upon the size of your pan and how you regulate the heat on your stove, what takes me 7-8 hours to achieve could take you 9 or longer.  Like many foods, this sauce is best made a day ahead of time to give all of the flavors time to marry.  Enjoy your cooking day! 

IMG_4191For the pork roast:

1  5-6 pound bone-in, pork shoulder (Boston butt)

2  cups water

2  large yellow or sweet onions, cut into sixths

12  whole allspice

IMG_42126  whole bay leaves

12  whole cloves

6+4  6" sprigs fresh rosemary, 10 total sprigs of rosemary

garlic powder

sea salt and peppercorn blend

1/2+1/2=1 cup port wine, for deglazing pan & adding to sauce

A bit about the pan:  I use a 6-quart Farberware, Dutch oven with a IMG_4201domed lid to make sugo.  It has a very wide 12" base and straight, 4" deep sides, which fits the size of a pork shoulder very well.  It was a wedding shower gift to me 40 years ago.  By definition, a Dutch oven is a large stew pot with a tight fitting lid, so steam cannot readily escape. Because braising can be done on the stovetop or in the oven, they are made out of materials safe for both.

IMG_4237 IMG_4216~ Step 1. Add the water to the pan and place the roast, fat side down, in the water. Add the allspice, bay leaves and cloves, dividing them equally on both sides of the roast, followed by the onions and rosemary sprigs. Sprinkle garlic powder over all followed by a generous grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

IMG_4256~ Step 2.  Cover the pan and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to a steady but gentle simmer and continue to cook for 2-2 1/2-3 hours. The bottom of the roast should be browning nicely, meaning:  what it looks like is more important than the time it takes.  

~ Step 3.  Flip the roast over.  I use IMG_4278a large, wide spatula to do this. Add 1 cup of water, recover pan and adjust the roast to a steady simmer that is gentler than the first 2-2 1/2 hours of cooking time.  Continue to cook another 2-2 1/2-3 hours, until roast is nicely browned on the second side.  Once again, how it looks is more important than the time it takes.  My roast cooked on the second side for 3 hours today.

IMG_4350 IMG_4329~ Step 4. You will know the roast is done when the meat is fall-off-the-bone-tender, meaning:  without effort you can pull the bone free from the meat and any attempts to lift the roast up with a fork fail because it wants to fall apart.  This is the definition of fall-off-the-bone tender!

IMG_4367~ Step 5.  Turn the heat off. Carefully remove the roast from the pan and transfer it to a large plate or platter, along with any large chunks that fall back into the pan.  I use a large, wide spatula to do this too.  Use whatever works for you. Cover the roast with foil and set aside.  Remove the bay leaves from the pan drippings.

IMG_4404 IMG_4396~ Step 6. Return pan to stovetop. Over medium heat, bring the pan drippings to a bubbly state and add the wine. Using a spatula, deglaze the pan by stirring all of the browned bits from the bottom.  Turn the heat off.  Go ahead, take a taste.  These are some very special pan drippings!

IMG_4247~ Step 7.  Prep the following vegetables, placing them in the pan drippings as you work:

1  pound peeled and diced carrot

1  pound diced celery

1  pound diced yellow or sweet onion

IMG_4490 IMG_4488~ Step 8. Over medium-high heat, saute the vegetables until soft and tender, stirring frequently, about 25-30 minutes.  There is no reason to season the soffrito, the pan drippings are doing that for you. The veggies will feel heavy and the liquid will be gravylike.

IMG_4530Note:  When you scrape the bottom of the pan, if it takes a couple of seconds for the liquid to fill in the empty spot, you've done your job.  If it seems a bit watery, cook it a little longer, watching it carefully, lowering the heat if necessary, to avoid scorching.  As with everything in this recipe, it is all about how it looks, not how long it takes.

It's time to turn this concoction into sugo!

IMG_4515To the pan of sauted vegetables add, stir, and thoroughly combine:

4  14 1/2-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained

1  6-ounce can tomato paste

3  cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (Note:  My homemade stock is seasoned with rosemary, so it complements this dish perfectly.  If you are using canned stock, I recommend you simmer it briefly with two sprigs of fresh rosemary prior to adding it to the sauce.)

IMG_4546~ Step 9. Bring the mixture to a steady simmer...

IMG_4429 IMG_4573... and continue to cook, uncovered, until nicely but not overly thickened and emulsified, about 1 hour.  While sauce is simmering:

~ Step 10.  Uncover the pork, cut it into 3 or 4 large pieces, and, using your hands shred it into ropelike IMG_4443strips, not bite-sized chunks.  Why? Because I said so.  Remove and discard any and all pieces of fat and grizzle as you work.

IMG_4579Stir the shredded meat into the simmering sauce.

Note:  If your pork shoulder was larger than 5 pounds, you will have more meat than you need. Stop adding meat when the sauce "looks comfortable", not overstuffed.  Mine weighed 6 1/4 pounds, so I have about 2-3 cups of meat leftover which will make great sandwiches tomorrow!

IMG_4594~ Step 11.  Add the second 1/2 cup of wine, adjust heat to a very gentle simmer, partially cover pot and simmer, until pork has lost some of it's volume (gets stringier) and sauce is a bit thicker, about 1 hour.

IMG_4747Uncover the pot, top with 4 additional sprigs of rosemary, cover and simmer for IMG_4754another 15-20 minutes, until rosemary has lost its bright green color and "kissed" it with flavor. Remove and discard the rosemary.

Remove pan from heat, cover the pot and allow the sauce to steep, to allow the flavors time to marry, at least 1 hour.

Note:  At this point, I recommend putting the pan of sauce in the refrigerator overnight.  Reheat on the stovetop and proceed.

IMG_4603It's time to cook and sauce some strozzapreti!

IMG_4616 IMG_4609~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat and add 1 tablespoon of sea salt. Sprinkle the pasta into the boiling water and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until pasta is al dente, about 7-8 minutes, checking for doneness often after 7 minutes.

IMG_4631 IMG_4625~ Step 2. Drain the cooked pasta into a colander, give it a few good shakes to remove excess water and return the pasta to hot stockpot.  Return stockpot to still warm stovetop.  Toss pasta with 4 tablespoons of butter (because I said so).  When butter is melted:

IMG_4643 IMG_4642~ Step 3. Ladle 4 cups of sauce over the pasta. Using a pair of long-handled salad servers, toss the pasta like you would a salad.  Put the lid on the pot.  Wait about 2-3 minutes (because I said so), uncover the pot and toss again.  Portion into 4-6 warmed pasta bowls and serve:

Topped with freshly-grated, tangy 'n sharp aged Asiago cheese.

IMG_4710Go ahead, take a bite, you've waited long enough for this:

IMG_4741Mel's Rosemary-Kissed Pork Sugo w/Strozzapreti:  Recipe yields 4-4 1/2 quarts of sauce, depending upon the size of the pork shoulder.  One quart of sauce is enough to sauce 1 pound of strozzapreti (or other fork-friendly pasta), so, this is enough sauce for 4 meals.  Portion it into 1-quart size food storage containers and freeze for future meals!

Special Equipment List:  6-quart Dutch oven w/domed lid; 1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; large, wide spatula; aluminum foil; large spoon; 8-quart stockpot; colander; soup ladle; long-handled salad servers; microplane grater

6a0120a8551282970b0133f33a94bc970b-800wiCook's Note:  It is officially Summer and before we know it, tomatoes are going to be in abundance in our vegetable gardens and local farmers markets.  For one of my "quick" Italian pasta sauce recipes, click into Categories 8, 12 or 22 for ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~

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

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

06/02/2014

~ Steak Peperonata (Steak with Peppers & Onions) ~

IMG_4142I love almost all vegetables.  When I was growing up, fresh vegetables were served with just about every meal.  My mom wasn't a fancy cook, but, roast beef was served with roasted carrots, baked ham came with cabbage or brussels sprouts, meatloaf got peas, pork chops got baked beans, spaghetti got tomato sauce, T-bone steaks got corn in some form, and, hot dogs came with home fries.  My dad grew some of the vegetables in his garden, my mom bought the rest at the local Hometown Farmer's Market.  What's my point?  Veggies weren't a threat.  They were a natural part of the entire "meat and potatoes" dining experience -- not some crazy food pyramid!

IMG_8280One veggie we didn't eat was bell peppers.  It wasn't for any other reason than my parents are both of Eastern European heritage and bell peppers aren't in their playbook. But, thanks to my "no fear of vegetables" upbringing, when I got married and started cooking for my own family, I didn't hesitate to give them a try.  You can find my recipe for ~ Joy's Italian-American-Style Stuffed Bell Peppers ~ by clicking on the Related Article link below.

As simple as peperonata is to make, and, as popular as it is with Joe's family, their rendition of this Italian dish leaves me "on the fence".  It is indeed properly prepared, but it is a tad soft and saucelike for my palate.  They serve it at room temperature as an antipasto (an appetizer) atop bruschetta, or, warm as a sauce for fish or pasta, and, they gobble it down.  My ho-hum attitude towards it is not a criticizm of their peperonata, it is a matter of personal taste:  I don't like the mouthfeel of bell peppers and onions cooked to that lush degree of doneness that comes from cooking them low and slow with EVOO until quite that soft and silky.  Lucky for me:

Peperonata is open to a limited amount of interpretaion!

IMG_4111But, it is best when kept within its simple, humble profile.  Garlic is a common addition, along with an occasional pinch of sugar and/or splash of wine for a flavor boost.  Herbs like basil, oregano and rosemary can be interchanged to suit your taste and/or what you're serving. Tomatoes can be added too, but, to me, even though that is tasty, that is one ingredient too many.  Why?  It creates a dish that requires another name: peperonata-pomodoro perhaps!

IMG_3747When I cook the peppers a bit al dente (& serve it with steak):

IMG_4045I find peperonata to be downright charming! 

IMG_3765About the bell peppers:  Use all one color or any combination of colors. This week my market had really beautiful ones, in four bright colors, so, today, I'm using:

2 each:  green, red, orange and yellow bell peppers, seeded, white rib sections removed and cut into 1/4" wide strips, or,

3  pounds any color or combination of bell pepper strips

IMG_3752 IMG_3785Note:  This may sound like a lot of peppers, but trust me, it is not.  I always make twice as much peperonata as I will need.  Why?  Because I also cook two steaks too, and, in the same time it would take me to make one steak and half as much peperonata, I have enough leftover for some glorious steak peperonata crostini the next day!

IMG_3767 IMG_3789About the onions:  Any yellow onion works great. If Vidalias are in season, they make the dish a bit special.  Come up with your own ratio, but my general rule is 3 parts peppers to 1 part onions:

1  pound peeled yellow or sweet onion, cut into 1/4" half-moon shaped strips

IMG_37924  tablespoons EVOO

1  tablespoon fennel seed*

1  teaspoon dried basil*

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder* 

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

2  teaspoons sea salt

IMG_3850*Note:  The licorice flavors of basil and fennel play together very well & I used garlic powder when making an all-purpose dry spice blend.

IMG_3837~ Step 1. Place EVOO in a large skillet.  Add the spices. Adjust heat to medium-low and stir until spices become fragrant (not sizzling).

IMG_3862 IMG_3874~ Step 2. Add peppers and onions to the pan. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently until veggies are cooked through to your liking.  I cook this amount about 20-25 minutes. Remove from heat, partially-cover & set aside about 30 minutets.

Tip from Mel:  A well-made peperonata should result in the vegetables being lightly enrobed in olive oil.  To achieve that, do not simmer it over too high of a heat or it will become watery.  

IMG_3871Quick & easy, spicy, tender & juicy flank steak coming right up!

IMG_4091 6a0120a8551282970b01538e702722970bFor the flank steak:

2  flank steaks, about 1 1/2 pounds each

For the spice blend:

repeat all of the same spices from above + 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1- 1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika

IMG_4094~ Step 1. Place all of the spices in a spice blender and "run them through" 1-3 times, until powdered to your liking and redish in color.

IMG_3882 IMG_3879~ Step 2. Place each steak in a disposable aluminum broiler pan.  I used these so there is no mess to clean up.  

IMG_3890Drizzle and brush 1-2 tablespoons of EVOO evenly over the top of each steak (not the bottom).

IMG_3898 IMG_3901~ Step 3. Evenly sprinkle all of the spice blend over the tops of the steaks, which, depending upon how powered your mixture is, is a little less than 2 tablespoons per steak.

~ Step 4.  Place the flank steaks 6" underneath preheated broiler and cook for 6 minutes.  The tops of the steaks will be golden and bubbly.

IMG_3909Remove from oven, flip steaks over and repeat the broiling process on the second side, for 6 minutes.

Note:  If you don't want to rely on timing and "look", test for doneness using an instant read meat thermometer.  I remove my steaks when they reach 130-132 degrees.

IMG_4103~ Step 5.  Remove steaks from oven and allow to rest, uncovered, in pans, about 8-10 minutes.  

Transfer to a cutting board.  Using a large chef's knife, slice the steak, as thinly as possible (or as thin as you want it to be), cutting across the grain, holding the knife at a 30 degree angle.  

Each slice of steak will be coated with a very flavorful, almost gravy-like spice mixture.  YUMMY!

What about pasta with steak pepperonata?  You betcha!

IMG_3912Yes my friends, because both my pepperonata and the spice blend on my steak are flavored with a bit of basil, pasta that is lightly-sauced with tomato-basil sauce turns this fantastic dish into a suberb meal!

1  pound rigatoni, cooked and drained

2  cups tomato-basil sauce, preferably homemade (Note: You can find  ~ My Fresh and Spicy Tomato Sauce (Marinara) ~ recipe in Categories 8, or 12.)

IMG_4155Remember to get some fresh mozzarella too because leftovers from tonight's dinner turn into great appetizers tomorrow!

IMG_4137Steak Peperonata (Steak with Peppers & Onions):  Recipe yields 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; electric spice blender, or, mortar and pestle; 2, 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable aluminum broiler pans w/corrugated bottoms; pastry brust; instant read meat thermometer

6a0120a8551282970b014e8869f0b3970d-800wiCook's Note:  If you are a lover of flank steak, for one of my family's favorite sandwiches and a really easy way to make it, you can find my recipe for ~ Blackened Flank Steak & Bacon Sandwiches ~ in Categories 2, 10, 17, 19 & 20!

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

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