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14 posts from July 2014

07/30/2014

~ Kids Stuff: Jesse's Favorite Tex-Mex Beef Tacos ~

IMG_9037Jesse is my son.  He's in the latter stages of thirty-something now with a seven-year old son of his own.   Jesse was a really good kid.  The kind of good that makes you wonder what you did to deserve a child that sweet, smart and easy to get along with -- until it came time to eat.  Let's cut to the chase and say until he was a teen I had a very short list of 100% stressfree dinner options: pizza, pasta, bacon, shrimp, anything with ground meat, and, chocolate.  That about covers it!

There really isn't too much more to tell.  Whenever I latched onto a flavor combination that Jesse enjoyed, I did my best to prepare food using those herbs and spices as often as possible.  Next to cooking Italian food, Tex-Mex fare was at the top of my kid-friendly dinner list.  This basic but very flavorful ground beef taco recipe was created by me back in the early '80's, when Jess was around 6- 8-years-old, solely to please his finicky palate -- but his two older brothers loved them too, and, I served them "taco bar-style" so everyone in our family of five could make their own.

IMG_9261It wasn't long before I began making the meat mixture in large quantities, portioning it into user-friendly-sized 2-cup containers (enough to fill 8-10 taco shells), and freezing it to have on hand for quick weeknight meals and snacks.  Yes, just like pizza, tacos make a great evening snack for kids (and adults too). 

These beef tacos paved the way for chile con queso, burritos, fajitas and quesadillas too!

IMG_8895Note:  This is the big batch version. It makes 12 cups of taco filling.

6  tablespoons corn oil

6  pounds 96% lean ground beef

1  pound diced yellow or sweet onion

6  large garlic cloves, run through a garlic press

8-10  ounces each: diced green bell pepper and red bell pepper

2  large jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely-diced

12  tablespoons ~ Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Taco IMG_9282Seasoning ~, click on the Related Article link below to get the recipe

2  14 1/2-ounce cans stewed tomatoes, undrained

1/2  cup sofrito (Note:  Soffrito is a versatile puree of tomatoes, green peppers, onions, garlic, culantro and EVOO.  It's the foundation of many Latin American, Portuguese and Spanish dishes.  While it is not authentic Tex-Mex, it does contain the same basic veggies and flavors common to Tex-Mex, and, I keep a bottled brand stashed in my refrigerator at all times.  It is NOT the same as Italian soffritto.)

IMG_8901~ Step 1.  In a 14" chef's pan w/straight deep sides place the corn oil and ground beef.  Prep the onion, garlic, bell peppers and jalapenos as directed, placing them in the pan as you work.

IMG_8902Add the taco seasoning. Note:  If adding store-bought taco seasoning, check the proportions and adjust accordingly.

IMG_8920 IMG_8930 IMG_8938~ Step 2.  Over no heat, give the ingredients a thorough mix.  Over medium heat, cook, breaking up and stirring frequently with a large IMG_8956spatula or spoon, until meat has lost its color and is steamed through, about 30 minutes.  There will be quite a bit of liquid in the pan.  IMG_8980Adjust heat to a simmer (medium-high) and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until almost all liquid has evaporated from pan, about 30-45 more minutes.

IMG_8998 IMG_9012~ Step 3. Stir in the tomatoes, followed by the sofrito.  

IMG_9020Continue to cook, until almost all liquid has evaporated from the pan, 15-30 more minutes.

Note:  The mixture is now technically ready to serve, however, I recommend removing it from the heat, covering the pan and allowing it to steep for about 2-4 hours prior to serving warm.

#1.  Spoon about 1/4 cup of meat filling...

IMG_9246... into each deep-fried & lightly sea-salted corn tortilla.

IMG_9293#2.  Top with shredded lettuce, salsa and grated cheddar...

IMG_9177... and enjoy until you just can't take it any more:

IMG_9198Kids Stuff:  Jesse's Favorite Tex-Mex Beef Tacos:  Recipe yields 12 cups of filling/enough for six meals of 8-10 tacos each.

Special Equipment List:  12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; spatula; large spatula or spoon

IMG_8665Cook's Note:  If it is an adult crowd your trying to impress with some Tex-Mex food, you might want to give my recipe for ~ Tequila-Lime Skirt-Steak Fajitas (Tacos al Carbon) ~ a try.  These are a cross between a modern-day fajita and an old-style Mexican taco and you can find the recipe in Categories 2, 10, 13, 17 19 or 20!

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

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

07/27/2014

~ The difference between fajita & taco seasoning is: More than "just a little bit of this & a little bit of that". ~

IMG_8305

Like fajita seasoning, taco seasoning is a standarized concoction of spices common to Tex-Mex cuisine.  It was invented for convenience sake by American manufacturers for modern day American cooks trying to find an easy way to mimic authentic flavors without really learning how to cook the dish authentically.  A standarized blend of anything is a totally foreign concept to Mexican cooks -- and that includes our American-manufactured chili powders.  Read on:

6a0120a8551282970b017d4140e28d970c-800wi 6a0120a8551282970b017ee8b46f2b970dChili powder, spelled with an "i" is an American concoction that bears little resemblence to chile powder, spelled with an "e".  Chili powder contains spices and salt.  

Mexican cooks use personalized blends of pure, unadulterated, dried chile pepper.  The "e" in the spelling designates "plant or pod" (nothing else is used in its making), so, if it is pure dried chile powder you're in the market for, look for the "e" in the name.  For more details, click on the Related Article link below and read ~ Is it spelled chile or chili?  It's not a regional thing! ~.

What are the differences between fajita and taco seasoning?

I get asked this oftener than I would like.  I am writing this post with the hope of encouraging more family cooks to make their own blends (it takes less than 5 minutes), not to criticize those that do not.  The following is my explanation -- it is a combination of logic and a few cold, hard facts.  When it comes to store-bought or home-blended fajita and taco seasonings, I am very careful to use the words Tex-Mex "-style".  Why?  There is no such thing as an "authentic" wed-in-stone recipe for either.  They do not not exist, not even in Mexico.  Burritos, tacos, fajitas and everything and anything that can get placed in a tortilla and eaten is related to each other.

Tx_satMexican food is Mexican food.  It varies from region to region and cook to cook, and, the blending of authentic spices is at the discretion of each cook in each region.

When we Americans settled in Texas, it was only natural that Mexican and Texan food fused together, but even then, it was the Texans who imitated the Mexicans, not the reverse.  Tex-Mex cuisine was born -- I've never seen a Mex-Tex eatery in Mexico, have you?

Thanks to street fairs, rodeos and carnivals, home-grown Tex-Mex cuisine traveled into the Southwestern USA, and, once it gained in popularity, restaurants realized how lucrative it was, latched onto it, and, distinctions emerged.  The same basic spices made up the flavor profile for the American idea of Americanized fajita and taco spice blends, with fajita seasoning being subtler than taco seasoning (and I think it should be).  Why?  

Mexican1011Fajitas are usually made with quickly-cooked grilled or pan-seared proteins and crisp-tender vegetables, and, are served with the condiments to the side, allowing the flavors of the filling and vegetables to stand on their own. Tacos are often made with slower-cooked sauted or stewed minced or shredded filling and are served with the condiments on top, requiring the need for taco filling to be bolder (and I think it should be).  I think of fajitas as being tangy, bright, herby and al fresco, and, tacos as being smoky, spicy, earthy and comfy-cozy.  I love them both.

IMG_9290The tortilla (the holder for the fahita or taco) can be soft and made of soft wheat-flour, or crispy and made of corn flour.  It is your choice but my general rule is:  soft flour tortillas when serving strips of grilled protein (fajitas) and crispy flour tortillas when serving minced, ground or shredded protein.   Why?

When biting into strips of protein there is a "to the tooth" slightly- IMG_9235chewy pull that requires a soft, flexible holder to keep the sandwich from falling apart.  A crispy shell shatters under these circumstances.

When biting into small, soft bits of protein, a crispy, rigid holder compresses down around each bite, also keeping the sandwich from falling apart.  While a soft tortilla will certainly not cause this type of sandwich to fall apart, a crispy shell against a soft protein is more pleasing to the palate!

51zVSx871oL._AA160_ 41-H56vvoFL._AA160_ 51b-ncAQfYL._AA160_ 41D2B2iXArL._AA160_Depending on the manufacturer:  Store-bought fajita seasonings contain citric acid granules which mimics the flavor of the fresh lime juice (or other citrus) that is usually part of the marinade and gets squirted over the dish at the end too -- it is what give fajitas their classic 'soury' tang. IMG_9280Taco seasonings often contain dehydrated tomato powder (a product that I like a lot and will be discussing more in the near future).  It mimics the acid from fresh tomatoes or various bottled or canned tomato products, which are frequently cooked into taco meat mixtures.  

Chili powder and cumin are found in both mixtures, with earthy cumin being more prevalent in the subtle fajita seasoning and chili powder being more prevalent in the bolder taco seasoning.  Garlic powder, onion powder, salt and/or sugar are commonly found in both -- I use fresh garlic and onion in my preparation, so I do not add them to my blends.

6a0120a8551282970b017d4150cc35970cMexican oregano and/or coriander, both considered background spices, can make an appearance in both as well.  Mexican oregano (a member of the lemon verbena family and quite different from Mediterranean oregano) adds a vibrant lemony tang, while coriander (the seeds of the cilantro plant) adds an earthy lemony tang -- both of these ingredients, used together or separately, play very well with cumin. Corn starch or corn flour are sometimes added as thickeners -- I prefer not to use them.

Can fajita and taco seasonings be used interchangeably?

IMG_8163 IMG_9151Because I make my own seasonings, in a pinch, I wouldn't hesitate doing it.  If I promised my kids fajitas or tacos, the difference wouldn't be enough for me to disappoint them.  Would they notice? I'm not sure.  The difference between my two blends, while definitive, is relatively subtle.  Why?  The absence of citric acid or tomato powder and corn flour or corn starch, along with additives and preservatives evens the playing field somewhat, meaning:  If one is substituting store-bought fahita seasoning for store-bought taco seasoning, the substitution will be evident.  That said, if you are snowed in with nothing more than a packet of one or the other in your pantry, whatever Tex-Mex fare you're serving will taste a little bit different than expected, but, you're at zero risk of ruining your family's dinner -- enjoy it!

Tex-Mex Campstove or Stovetop Chicken Fajitas:

IMG_8131Tequila-Lime Skirt-Steak Fajitas (Tacos al Carbon):

IMG_8665Jesse's Favorite Tex-Mex Ground Beef Tacos:

IMG_9197

The difference between fajita & taco seasoning is: More than "just a little bit of this & a little bit of that".:  Store-bought, 1-ounce seasoning packets yield and use 4 tablespoons of seasoning per 1 pound of protein.  My 4-ounce homemade fajita and taco blends yield and use:  2  tablespoons of seasoning per 1 pound of protein.

Special Equipment List:  Click on the Related Article links below, and, with each detailed recipe, you'll get a list of the hardware you'll need to prepare it! 

IMG_8825Cook's Note: ~ "Yes Virginia, there is such as a thing as a Taco Ring!" (One of my "I can't believe I am posting this posts".) ~, can be found in Categories 1, 13, 17, 19 or 20.  Perfect for picnics or tailgates!

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

(Recipe, commentary and photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)  

07/25/2014

~ Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Taco Seasoning ~

IMG_9151Taco (tah-koh).  The definition is a simple one: a grilled or fried, soft or crispy, corn- or wheat-flour tortilla filled with a host of grill or stovetop cooked meat, sausage, poultry, fish, seafood or vegetable fillings and an array of condiment toppings.  The tortilla (the empty, portable, holder) turns into a taco when it gets filled.  Once filled, the taco is picked up by folding it in half and eaten with the hands.  Once filled, the taco usually takes on a specific name:  tacos al carbon (skirt steak), tacos al pastor (pork), tacos de pescado (fish), tacos de camarones (shrimp), etc.

Tacos are simple, versatile, portable fun -- just ask any child!

IMG_8667The first tacos I learned to make were tacos al carbon.  It was in the latter 1970's, and, my training was hands-on standing next to my friend Toni (Antoinette), a Mexican-American woman from San Antonio, TX.  As with all authentic versions of Texican fare, she changed her proportions and blend of spices depending upon what she was preparing -- no different from other cultures (Asian, French, Indian, Italian, etc.).  It seems that only us Americans are obsessed with standardizing everyone's cuisine! 

Fast forward into the 1980's and 1990's:  reality check.  No matter how much I learned about food from family, diverse friends and extensive traveling, this was the period of my life when I had to sit across the dinner table from our three children.  Standarization hit me like a brick to the head.  Frozen food, school cafeterias and fast food joints had taken over the USA and they were interfering with my food world.  My boys were comparing my shrimp to Gortons, my mac and cheese to Kraft, and, my Tacos to Taco Bell.  My boys were being introduced to "this stuff" everywhere, even in our own neighborhood.  Desperate times call for desperate measures:

IMG_8163And so it began -- fusing what I knew to be true ingredients with what my boys liked.  The kids wanted hard-shelled tacos with deep-fried corn tortillas and filling made with ground beef instead of shredded steak.  I'm ok with that. What I wouldn't buy into were overpriced cardboardesque boxed taco shells and 1-ounce, foil taco seasoning packets.  I began mixing my own spice blends for fajitas and tacos and keeping them on hand in my pantry.  For my recipe ~ Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Fajita Seasoning ~ (pictured here) click on the Related Article below.  

Meet my kid-friendly, homemade taco seasoning blend!

IMG_88764  tablespoons Santa Fe Seasons Chile Blend*

3  tablespoons Santa Fe Seasons Six Seasonings*

1  tablespoon generic chili powder

1  teaspoon each:  coarse-ground black pepper and cayenne pepper

1  teaspoon ground coriander

4  tablespoons ground cumin

1  teaspoon smoked paprika

1  teaspoon sugar

2  tablespoons sea salt

IMG_8872~ Step 1. Measure and place all ingredients in a small bowl and stir.  You will have 4-ounces or 16 tablespoons.  Cover or transfer to a jar, cover, and keep on-hand in a cool, dry pantry for up to 6 months.  Look at that red color!

* Note:  Available online at http://www.applecanyongourmet.com  (Albuquerque, New Mexico). Spice blends in my taco seasoning?  You betcha.  The chile blend is a melange of pure, dried and ground chiles, along with New Mexico's famous red chiles and contains no salt.  Six seasonings is a melange of pure and dried herbs, all favorites of Sante Fe, NM.  It would not be cost efficient for me or you to order all of these pure and unadulterated ingredients separately and grind them at home.  For authentic flavor, I highly recommend you give these products a try!

For those of you who don't know, when a product says "chile powder or chile blend", spelled with an "e" at the end, that denotes pure, powdered chiles.  When a product says "chili powder or chili blend" with an "i" at the end, that is an Americanized product containing other additives.

IMG_8905~ Step 2.  Use my taco seasoning as directed in my recipes, and, I use 2 tablespoons of my blend for every 1 pound of ground beef in my recipe for ~ Jesse's Favorite Tex-Mex Ground Beef Taco Filling ~ which can be found in Categories 2, 13, 19 or 20.  Note:  A 1-ounce packet of store-bought taco seasoning contains 4 tablespoons and uses 1 packet per 1 pound of ground beef.  

You made the seasoning, now it's time to go make some tacos!

IMG_9033Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Taco Seasoning:  Recipe yields 4 ounces or 16 tablespoons.

Special Equipment List:  measuring spoons; 1-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b01a511e47e56970cCook's Note:  For another Tex-Mex recipe, which also uses Santa Fe Seasons Chile Blend and Six Seasonings, ~ "White Out" White Chicken 'n Corn Chili Burritos ~ can be found in Categories 13 & 19!

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

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

07/23/2014

~ "Yes Virginia, there is a thing called a Taco Ring!" (One of my "I can't believe I'm posting this posts".) ~

IMG_8838"Count me in, I'll give it a try."  That's what I said on Facebook last week.  It's what I agreed to do, and I'm doing it.  I'm making a taco ring today.  Here's how it came down:  One of my hungry guy foodie friends, Jaqmes, posted a photo with a link to a recipe for a taco ring.  Cocktail-connoisseur friend, Jill, said she'd made it and it was quite good, especially when washed down with a six-pack of Corona.  For a moment, I thought Jill's cheese slid off her cracker and landed in the deep-end of her pilsner.  The thread continued.  Kendra, who's is loving learning to bake bread, and pastry-chef Teresa chimed in too.  In the end, at Jill's behest, we agreed that perhaps we should all forget our food-savvy pre-conceived notions for one afternoon and make a taco ring -- and post our experiences on Facebook.  After all, we are all in this food world together!

IMG_8676With my ingredients list in hand, my trip to and through the Weis market was stealth.  I went mid-morning to avoid the crowds, made eye contact with no one, and, kept my packet of taco seasoning mix strategically hidden underneath a small box of tomatoes.  This wasn't my first rodeo -- I've used Pillsbury crescent rolls before.  Debit card in hand I made it through the express checkout without incident.  I arrived home, removed my babushka, screwed the real license plate back on my car, mixed myself a cocktail and 0509betty04Reddi'd myself  to rock and roll.

Note:  I've added a few things to this recipe because I am food savvy and do have pre-conceived notions. They are each marked with an asterisk (*).  Feel free to omit them. 

2  8-ounce tubes crescent rolls

1 1/2  pounds lean ground beef

1/2  pound sweet sausage*

1  cup diced yellow onion*

IMG_83261/2  cup creamy refried beans*

1-ounce packet taco seasoning 

2  tablespoons ground cumin*

3/4-1 cup shredded cheddar

no-stick cooking spray

iceberg lettuce, grape tomatoes, black olives, additional cheddar, Wish-Bone Lite-Italian dressing

~ Step 1.  Place the ground meat, sausage and diced onion in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan.  Over medium-high heat, saute until meats are IMG_8345cooked through, stirring almost IMG_8338constantly, using a spatula to break them up into small pieces as they cook, about 10 minutes.

~ Step 2.  Tilt the pan on an angle. Using a small ladle, remove and discard all of the fat and liquid from the bottom of the pan.

IMG_8359 IMG_8347~ Step 3. Stir in the taco seasoning and cumin, followed by the refried beans. The beans hold the meats together, and, I stirred 2 tablespoons of water into 1/2 cup of beans to make them extra creamy.

IMG_8368Remove from heat, cover, and set aside for 1 hour.

IMG_8685~ Step 4.  The recipe instructs to line a pizza pan with aluminum foil and spray the foil with no-stick cooking spray.  

Note:  I own a couple of fancy schmancy 11 1/2" French porcelain trays (oven/broiler fridge/freezer safe), so, I'm skipping the foil and just spraying one of them with cooking spray.

IMG_8691 IMG_8694 IMG_8697~ Step 5.  It's finally time for a geography lesson: North, East, South and West.  Open the first tube of crescent rolls, unroll them, and, use a sharp knife to separate them so there are no ragged edges.  Place four pieces of dough on the pan, as pictured, at points N, E, S and W.  Place four more on the pan, at points NE, SE, SW and NW. Open the second tube and place the next eight at all points in between.

IMG_8703 IMG_8715 IMG_8718~ Step 6.  Using a 2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place 8 scoops of firmly-packed meat mixture on the widest part of every other piece of dough.  Trade in your scoop for an ordinary tablespoon and fill in the open spaces with all of the remaining meat mixture.  Once you see how it's done, it's oh so easy!

IMG_8742~ Step 7.  Sprinkle 3/4-1 cup of grated cheese over the meat, picking up any stray pieces that fall onto the pan.  One at a time, lift the pointed pieces of dough over the top, and tuck them underneath the center.  Using the palm of your hand and a light touch, apply a bit of pressure across the top of the ring to make sure the dough, the cheese and meat are all "kind of" adhered together.

Tip from Mel:  When lifting and wrapping the pointed ends, start with the top eight (the ones that came out of the second tube).  Next wrap the middle NE, SE, SW and NW four, and, lastly wrap the bottom N, E, S and W four.  This will make for a neater, prettier presentation!  

Here's the big picture, all ready for the oven: 

IMG_8744~ Step 8.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 25-30 minutes.  Dough will be golden brown, cheese will be melted and meat will be bubbly.  Remove from oven and place pan on a cooling rack to cool 30-60 minutes prior to serving warm or at room temperature.

Here's the big picture, just out of the oven:

IMG_8768And here is a closeup of the big picture:

IMG_8789~ Step 9.  Place a shallow bowl in the center of the ring -- or don't.  The rest of this appetizer recipe is arbitrary:  fill the center with your favorite concoction of Tex-Mex  salad ingredients or salsa, or a dip like guacamole, and, don't forget the beer, lot's of beer because:

Taco ring rocks -- & so does my fun group of foodie FB friends!!!

IMG_8822"Yes Virginia, there is a thing called a Taco Ring!":  Recipe yields 16 appetizer-sized slices or 8 servings, or, 4.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; spatula; small ladle; standard-sized 11 1/2" pizza pan; aluminum foil; 2" ice-cream scoop; tablespoon

PICT2701Cook's Note:  I told you this wasn't my first rodeo.  I grew up loving these now retro appetizers.  You can find ~ The "I Can't Believe I'm Posting this Recipe" Post: Cocktail Pigs in a Blanket (Pillsbury Crescent Dogs) ~ in Categories 1, 2, 20 & 26.

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

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

07/21/2014

~ Tequila-Lime Skirt-Steak Fajitas (Tacos al Carbon)~

IMG_8667To a carnivore like me, tacos al carbon (skirt steak fajitas) are as close to food perfection as Tex-Mex fare gets.  They are the very first fajita I ever sunk my teeth into and the very first fajita I learned to make (even before fajita fever hit our nation during the 1980's).  The years were 1974 thru 1979 and our neighbors in our very first Happy Valley apartment were a Texas cowboy and his beautiful Mexican-American wife (who hailed from San Antonio):  Tom and Toni (Antoinette). I was only in my twenties and had absolutely no previous experience with any Tex-Mex food (Tom called it Texican), but, that changed in a hurry and I learned at the hands of a master!     

IMG_8374Like most people in their twenties and thirties, we four partied heartily on weekends (and even some weeknights).  We rarely felt the need to go anywhere other than our two apartments and we never gave cooking and eating at midnight or later a second thought either. Tacos al carbon was often one of Toni's late-night offerings, and, as per her stories, she prepared them as close to how her grandmother in Mexico did -- short of a campfire.

Toni learned a few things from me in my kitchen too (chicken fried rice was one of my late night offerings, and, she loved to help me make pirogi and stuffed cabbage), but, I most certainly got the better deal. This taco press was a birthday gift from her, and, yes folks, when we two gals cooked Texican, we made our own flour and corn tortillas!

IMG_8163Toni, who was born and raised in San Antonio, spent a great deal of time (as a child) in Mexico with her grandmother and great-aunts.  Toni explained that authentic tacos al carbon is a simple meal of the poor people: marinated, grilled skirt steak gets cut into strips and wrapped in flour tortillas with no fanfare and few garnishes.  Her grandmother served hers with grilled or sauted onions (because onions sweeten as they caramelize without the need for elaborate seasonings), and, never meddled with the flavor of the steak by adding bell peppers to the mixture.

In less than 10 minutes, Toni would have a skirt steak marinating in some lime juice, plenty of minced garlic, chopped cilantro, and, a couple of shots of tequila (one for her/one for me). Without measuring, she threw in some ground chile powder, cayenne, coriander and cumin (the "4 C's of Texican cooking, along with an occasional pinch of ground cloves or cinnamon) and salt.  Her dry spices became the base flavors for ~ Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Fajita (& Taco) Seasonings ~.  Just click on the Related Article links below to get both of my recipes! 

IMG_8261A bit of fajita (fa-hee-tah) history: Fajitas were originally named "tacos al carbon", with "al carbon" being the Spanish phrase for "cooking over coals".  They were served ready-to-eat-with-the-hands by wrapping strips of unpretentious and cheap (or free) skirt steak, cooked directly over a campfire or grill, in a flour or corn tortilla.  "Faja" the Spanish word for "strip, band, IMG_8258sash or belt", with "ita" added to the end of it, means "a little strip, band, sash or belt".  The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's. Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes:  IMG_8254barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew) and, fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak).  Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obscure to everyone except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.

BeefCutPlateA bit about the last three photos: The 18"-24" skirt steak is the diaphram muscle of the cow and is cut from the plate.  There is a tough membrane attached to it, which is almost always removed during butchering, which makes trimming the  fat really easy.  Photo #1:  Top of skirt trimmed of fat cap.  Photo #2: Bottom of skirt.  Photo #3.  Vacuum-sealed, folded-up skirt steak.

IMG_83861 1/2-2  pound skirt steak (Note: The steaks I purchase come fully-trimmed and this is their weight after trimming.)

1/2  cup lime juice, 3-4 limes

1/4  cup tequila

6  large garlic cloves

1  large japeno pepper, seeded and cut into quarters

1/4  cup chopped cilantro

2  tablespoons ~ Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Fajita Seasoning ~

IMG_8387 IMG_8394 IMG_8396 IMG_8405~Step 1.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, place the garlic, japapeno and cilantro.  Put lid on processor and using 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, mince the vegetables.  Open lid, and, using a large rubber spatula, scrape down sides of the bowl.  Add the fajita seasoning, lime juice and tequila.  With the motor running, process for about 15 seconds.

IMG_8433 IMG_8417~ Step 2. Place skirt steak in a 1-gallon food storage bag, folding it to IMG_8425fit.  Add marinade to bag and squeeze it around to make sure the steak, even between the folds, is coated.  Marinate for 2 hours at room temperature or 6-8 hours in the refrigerator.

Tip from Mel:  Placing the bag of skirt steak in a 1-quart measuring container will make the liquid rise up over the meat, alleviating the need to re-toss the mixture during the marination process.

IMG_8442 IMG_8440~ Step 3.  If you have marinated your skirt steak in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours, return it to room temperature prior to cooking it, about 1-1 1/2 hours.  Prior to putting the skirt steak on the grill pan, slice 1 1/2 pounds of yellow or sweet onion into half-moon shapes (about 2 large onions after peeling).

IMG_8463 IMG_8449~ Step 4.  In a 12" skillet, heat 4 tablespoons corn oil.  Stir in 2 tablespoons Mel's Fajita Seasoning.  Add the onions, increase heat to medium-high and saute until onions are softened but crunchy in their centers. about 5 minutes.  Do not overcook.  You can thank me later.  Remove from heat and set aside (do not cover).

IMG_8479< This is a very creepy photo!

IMG_8470~ Step 5. Lightly spray grill pan with no-stick cooking spray and place over medium-high heat for about 1 minute.

Lift the steak from the marinade, allowing ample time for excess liquid to drizzle back into the bag.   Using a few paper towels, lightly dab the drippy tailend of excess moisture, but do not wipe surface of steak clean or dry.  Place the steak on hot grill pan.  Discard marinade. 

IMG_8510 IMG_8493~ Step 6. Grill steak on first side until bottom is sizzling and grill marks are prominent, about 4 minutes.  Using a fork and the aid of a spatula, flip steak over and grill on second side about 3 minutes, until sizzling and grill marks are prominent.  Yes, it really does cook that quickly.  Don't walk IMG_8539away and do not not overcook.

IMG_8523~ Step 7. Transfer steak to a cutting board and rest 8-10 minutes.

Read the following carefully.

Slicing instructions:

IMG_9302~ Step 8.  To properly slice a skirt steak (for any culinary application), first cut the length of the skirt steak, with the grain, into 4-5 even-sized pieces.

IMG_9322 IMG_9305Give each piece a L or R quarter turn, and, holding your knife at a 30 degree angle, cut each piece, against the grain, into thin slices (as pictured here).

Note:  This same slicing method is used for flank steak, which may be substituted without compromise in this recipe.  Flank steak, however, is thicker than skirt steak, so increase your total cooking time by 3-4 minutes (1 1/2-2 minutes per side).

IMG_8585 IMG_8579~ Step 9. Return skillet of onions to stovetop and briefly reheat/warm over medium heat, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Add the sliced steak.  Using two large spoons, toss as you would a salad. Remove from heat and rest about 3-5 minutes.  Serve warm wrapped in 168"-round flour tortillas.

I always suggest performing quality control prior to serving: 

IMG_8595Tequila-Lime Skirt-Steak Fajitas (Tacos al Carbon):  Recipe yields 16, 8"fajitas or 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; large rubber spatula; 1-gallon food storage bag; paper towels; grill pan, preferably a large, double-burner sized one, 18" x 12 1/2"; fork; metal spatula

PICT0029Cook's Note:  These simply superb steak fajitas deserve a simply superb side-dish, and sweet corn is just the ticket.  Click into Categories 4, 15 or 20 to get my instructions for ~ How to:  Roast or "Bake" Sweet Corn in the Oven ~!

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

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

07/18/2014

~ Tex-Mex Campstove or Stovetop Chicken Fajitas ~

IMG_8131Fajitas (fa-hee-tas) -- oh so delicious and oh so easy to make too -- I never had to call my three boys or Joe to the dinner table twice on fajita night.  That was back in the mid-to-latter 1980's when close-to-authentic versions of fajitas surfaced nationwide on good Tex-Mex restaurant menus.  The poor and unpretentious fajita had 'gone Hollywood' --  flamboyant skillets of sizzling steak or chicken served tableside with warm flour tortillas, sauted vegetables and mounds of condiments were a delicious and fun dining experience for the entire family.  Like a wild fire in a dry forest, this meal spread from restaurant to kitchen tables, including mine.  I single out the 1980's because that was indeed the heyday for fajitas.  Why?  By the 90's, like their cousins the burrito and the taco:  they became just another dish of dumbed-down American fast food.

IMG_8163Unlike many mothers of that decade, one of the things I did not buy into were  those 1-ounce, salt-laden, store-bought seasoning packets -- I refused to use them, even for convenience.  I dabbled in making my own blend based upon what I knew to be true and taught hands-on (not told to me by a food manufacturer via the back of a foil envelope).  Just click on the Related Article link below to get ~ Mels Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Fajita Seasoning ~ recipe.  This all-purpose mildly-spiced blend is perfect for chicken, pork, shrimp or traditional skirt steak fajitas!

IMG_8242Even if you are using your own seasoning blend (which is certainly your prerogative), my post is full of fajita history, which you probably should know before making them for the first time.  For example: "faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with an "ita" added to the end of it, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt".  Back in the 1930's cattle ranchers on the Texas/Mexican border would give throwaway animal trimmings (skirt steak) to the Mexican cowboys (vaqueros) as part of their pay. They would grill this thin, flat meat over a fire, cut it into strips, wrap the strips in tortillas and eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  

Once fajitas got known outside of the isolated cattle ranches of the Rio Grande Valley, Americans started making them with chicken, pork, shrimp or all-vegetable combinations. These variations require cutting some ingredients into bite-sized pieces (rather than strips), but whenever possible, alway try to stick to script and "stick to the strips"!   

In my kitchen, chicken fajitas came first, steak fajitas came later!

IMG_8254Joe and I did a great deal of traveling back in the 1980's, so, by the time I brought my version of authentic fajitas via the ones I had tasted on Southwestern restaurant menus into my kitchen, I was well-educated on what they should look and taste like.  That being said, I almost always made them with IMG_8261sliced chicken strips, rather than the traditional skirt steak.  Why?  Back then skirt steak was sold mostly to restaurants and only occasionally trickled into my local butcher shop. Chicken breasts were always available to me -- I had to special order skirt steak (or get lucky).  It's an entirely different story nowadays. Skirt steak is  everywhere, and, I'll be marinating it and sharing that fajita recipe with you next.

In my kitchen I cook chicken fajitas differently than steak fajitas.

When I'm using skirt steak, I marinate the meat for several hours, grill or pan-sear the entire piece until it is rare, cut it into thin strips then serve it all at once.  It's quick, easy and reliable.  

When you trade skirt steak in for chicken, it's "a different animal":  

IMG_9593Without getting too technical, boneless, skinless chicken breasts are randomly sized, meaning they all cook differently.  On the grill, it's almost impossible to get them all to cook to the desired degree of doneness (just cooked through to the center without drying them out) at the same time.  Recipes that solve the problem by pounding them to the same thickness are just plain wrong: that is not the proper texture for a proper fajita, so please don't do it.  Chicken filets/tenders are far superior in texture, and, I highly recommend you use them for fajita making. One other thing, marinating chicken in general is a complete waste of time.  Take it from me, my method takes all the guesswork and stress out of this and the results are wonderful:  moist, juicy, perfectly-cooked perfectly-spiced chicken with crisp-tender colorful vegetables.

IMG_94282 1/2-3  pounds chicken  filets or tenders, cut into bite-sized strips and/or bite-sized pieces

6  tablespoons corn oil

6  tablespoons ~ Mels Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Fajita Seasoning ~, substitute at your own risk*

1  pound yellow or sweet onion, cut into thin (slightly less than IMG_81891/2") bite-sized strips

8  ounces each:  green and red bell peppers, cut into thin (slightly less than 1/2") bite-sized strips

1-2  large jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely diced (optional)

IMG_8181the juice of one large lime

20  8"-round flour tortillas, warmed

condiments of choice:  Spanish rice, refried beans, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, shredded cheddar or Monterey jack cheese and/or chopped cilantro, always served to the side

* I doubt that my fajita spice blend can be substituted equally for those overly-salty seasoning packets.  Each 1-ounce packet contains about 4 tablespoons and instructs you to use 1 packet for each pound of meat.

IMG_9453~ Step 1.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, clip the visible tendon from each filet.  Don't worry about the rest that runs through the center as it is so thin it disappears when cooked.  Cut filets in half, halves into 3-4 strips and pieces.

~ Step 2.  Cut the onion and bell peppers into strips, keeping the onions separate from the peppers. Mince the jalapenos.  Set all aside.

IMG_8193 IMG_8201 IMG_8206 IMG_8215

 

 

 

 

IMG_8218 IMG_8226Step 3.  Heat oil in skillet over medium-high. Stir in seasoning.  Add chicken and saute, stirring constantly, until chicken is turning white, 2-3 minutes.  Add onions and cook until it looks like you have more chicken than onions, 3-4 minutes.

IMG_8238~ Step 4.  Add the bell and jalapeno peppers and continue to saute, stirring almost constantly, until they are cooked through, yet colorful and crunchy, about 4-5 minutes.  Do not overcook. Remove from heat and squeeze the juice of one lime evenly over the top, or, serve with lime wedges for individual portions.

Serve sizzling hot (immediately) with warmed flour tortillas and your favorite condiments to the side.

Note:  I place the entire skillet, or individual cast-iron skillets (which is fun), on the table along with bowls of condiments and a stack of warm tortillas so everyone can help themselves.  My family's favorite condiments are refried beans, guacamole, salsa and spicy Spanish saffron rice:

IMG_8275Tex-Mex Campstove or Stovetop Chicken Fajitas:  Recipe yields 16-20, 8" round fajitas, or, 4-6 servings, allowing 3-4 fajitas per person.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; cutting board; chef's knife; large slotted spoon; small gravy ladle; 12" skillet, cast iron or nonstick

6a0120a8551282970b015433345133970cCook's Note:  In the event you are in need of a really good guacamole recipe to serve with your fajitas:  ~ Holy Guacamole!  It's the Second Day of Summer! + (Everything You Need to Know about the Avocado ~ can be found in 1, 4, 8, 10, 13, 14 or 15!

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

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

07/16/2014

~ Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Fajita Seasoning ~

IMG_8163Fajitas (fa-hee-tahs) were originally named "tacos al carbon" and were served ready-to-eat-with-the-hands by wrapping strips of unpretentious and cheap skirt steak, cooked directly over a campfire or a grill, in a flour or corn tortilla.  "Faja" the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", with "ita" added to the end of it, means "a little strip, band, sash or belt".  The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's.  Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes: barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak).  Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obsure to everyone except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.  

Tx_satFajitas made their first commercial debut in September 1969 when Sonny Falcon, an Austin meat market manager opened a taco concession in rural Kyle.  The same year, Otilia Garza began selling them in her Round-Up Restaurant in Pharr, and, she presented hers on a sizzling platter with warm flour tortillas, condiments and cheese to the side -- for eating taco-style.  In 1973, Ninfa Rodrigues Laurenzo opened Nifa's Restaurant in Houston and sold wrapped "tacos al carbon" called "tacos al la Nifa". 

Thanks to folks like Sonny, Otilia and Nifa,  fajitas did gain in popularity, slowly spreading via rodeos, fairs and festivals into the surrounding Southwestern states of Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, but, national attention didn't come to  the fajita until 1982.  George Weidmann, a very creative chef at the fancy-schmancy Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin, recognized the potential for putting a home-grown Tex-Mex dish on his menu.  He put the panache into his presentation too, by serving them on sizzling, attention-grabbing cast-iron skillets.  Thanks to George, this now trendy dish was put on Hyatt Regency menus almost everywhere, and, that is when and how I caught fajita-fever (in their Century Plaza resturant in Los Angeles).  

250px-Former_Chi-Chi's_restaurant_in_Alexandria,_VirginiaBy 1990, fajitas were on the menu of every wanna-be Texican restaurant from sea to shining sea.  I know because I was raising three boys and they always wanted to go Happy Valley's only Tex-Mex eatery at the time, Chi-Chi's (which specialized in overpriced margaritas and marginal food).  In 2003, the chain filed for bankrupcy and closed after being hit with the largest hepatitis A breakout in U.S. history, which was traced to green onions at the Beaver Valley Mall restaurant in Monaca, PA.   Then, things got worse. Jack-in-the-Box and Taco Bell turned a once delicious meal and fun dining experience into an alien form of cardboard tacos and calorie-laden glop!

Meet my kid-friendly, homemade fajita seasoning blend!

IMG_8048After having eaten real-deal fajitas on several occasions, once in Los Angeles (mentioned above), once in Tempe, AZ, and twice Texas, it was obvious they are not hard to make -- and, they are not just associated with skirt steak anymore.  They can and are commonly made with chicken, pork or shrimp too, and, I like them all. Depending on the cooking method (which varies) the secret is in the marinade and/or seasoning.  After experiencing real-deal fajitas, what I found out in a hurry was:  I dislike those 1-ounce, salt-laden store-bought seasoning packets -- I refuse to use them even for convenience (for goodness sake, I made this 4-ounce/16 tablespoon container in less than 5 minutes).  Here's my all-purpose fajita seasoning blend:

IMG_80354  tablespoons Santa Fe Seasons Chile Blend*  

4  tablespoons Santa Fe Seasons Six Seasonings*  

1  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

5  tablespoons ground cumin

1  teaspoon smoked paprika

1  teaspoon sugar

2  tablespoons sea salt

* Note:  Available online at http://www.applecanyongourmet.com/ (Albuquerque, New Mexico). Spice blends in my fajita seasoning?  You betcha.  The chile blend is a melange of pure, dried and ground chiles, along with New Mexico's famous red chiles and contains no salt.  Six Seasonings is a melange of pure and dried herbs, all favorites of Sante Fe, NM.  It would not be cost efficient for me or you to order all of these pure and unadulterated ingredients separately and grind them at home.  For authentic flavor, I highly recommend you give these products a try!

For those of you who don't know, when a product says "chile powder or chile blend", spelled with an "e" at the end, that denotes pure, powdered chiles.  When a product says "chili powder or chili blend, with an "i" at the end, that is an Americanized product containing other additives.

IMG_8057~ Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients, as listed, in a small bowl.  Stir.  You will have 4 ounces or 16 tablespoons.  

IMG_8165Transfer to a 1-cup food storage container, tightly cover, and keep on-hand in a cool, dry pantry for up to 6 months.

 For more Tex-Mex favorites, click on the Related Article links below! 

IMG_8131Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Fajita Seasoning:  Recipe yields 4 ounces or 16 tablespoons.

Special Equipment List:  measuring spoons; 1-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

IMG_0250Cook's Note:  For another Tex-Mex recipe, which also uses Sante Fe Seasons Chile Blend and Six Seasoonings,  ~ "White Out" White Chicken 'n Corn Chili Burritos ~ can be found in Categories 13 & 19!

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

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

07/14/2014

~ Spinach Salad w/Grilled Pears, Toasted Walnuts, Gorgonzola & a Pear-Infused Balsamic Vinaigrette ~

IMG_7891Summer is the season of fresh fruits and vegetables, and, Summer is in full swing.  With each day that passes, our garden and local farmers markets reward Joe and I with something freshly-picked, cool, crunchy and colorful.  With regards to fruit, sweet and savory is my favorite year-round flavor combination.   Whenever I can, I love to to pair fruits, fruity sauces and/or dried fruits with my favorite proteins, cheese included.  Thanks to Joe's fruit trees (apple, cherry, peach, pear and plum + an occasional pineapple), tomato plants, berry bushes and berry patch (blueberry, raspberry and strawberry), I get lots of opportunities to please my fruit-loving palate:

IMG_7852I like cherries or plums with my duck; apples, peaches or pears with my pork; blueberries, strawberries or raspberries with my poultry; pineapple with my ham, and; tomatoes with my beef. And that's only the short list for the fruits Joe grows here at home.  Melons and citrus or tropical fruits, which I buy at the market, are superb with grilled, broiled or poached fish and seafood.  In the Winter, these pairings come in the form of fruity cooked sauces or condiments with oven roasted or stovetop prepared meats.  In the Summer, fresh or dried fruits go into many of my cold salads and salsas -- along with fruit juices and fruit-infused vinegars for my salad dressings. The grill is usually my tool of choice for cooking the proteins, and, sometimes I grill the fruit too!

IMG_6653I was given a box of organic bosc pears a few days ago and am taking this opportunity to share as many pear-loving recipes with you as I can (before they overripen). When it comes to fruit, pears can be perilous -- no not dangerous.  But, getting optimum flavor from a pear requires pear care.

Underripe = hard, tart, starchy

Ripe = yielding, sweet, juicy & slightly-but-pleasantly gritty

Overripe = soft, tasteless, mealy

IMG_6628Pears ripen after they are picked from the tree, they ripen from the inside out, and, ripen best if stored at a cool room temperature for 1-4 days.  The time depends upon the variety of pear, size of pear, and most importantly, the stage of ripeness when purchased.  If you are like me, my usual test for fruit ripeness is how each piece feels in my hand, which usually equates to: softness = ripeness. This is not the case with pears.  Pears are ready to eat when they yield to gentle pressure next to the stem.  If the wide body of the pear is any more than slightly yielding, it is overripe.

I choose and use only perfectly ripe pears in my recipes!

IMG_7787For the vinaigrette (1 1/2 cups = enough for 6 generous side-salads:

6  tablespoons pear-infused balsamic vinegar

6  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil 

3  tablespoons walnut oil

6  tablespoons honey

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

pear nectar to total 1 1/2 cups of liquid, about 10 tablespoons

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2  teaspoons freshly-ground peppercorn blend

IMG_8020For every two side-salads:

3 cups baby spinach leaves

1  bosc pear, sliced into 6-8 discs, slightly less than 1/2" each 

4  very thin discs (shaved) red onion, each cut into 4 quarters

6  tablespoons crumbled Gorgonzola dolce cheese

6  tablespoons chopped and very-lightly toasted walnuts

3-4 tablespoons of my vinaigrette per salad, to taste

IMG_5489Step 1.  Prior to preparing salad, in a 2-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid, measure and place all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette. Shake  container vigorously and set aside.

IMG_6377~ Step 2. Chop the walnuts. Lightly toast on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven, 6-8 minutes stopping to toss with spoon every 2-3 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.  

Note:  I always chop and toast more walnuts than I need and keep them stored in the freezer.  

IMG_7806 IMG_7792~ Step 3. Remove a slice from the base of the pear and continue to cut the rest into 6-8 discs between 1/4"-1/2" thick.

Using a small round cookie cutter (or just a paring knife)  remove the tough center core and seed section from each pear disc.

IMG_7828 IMG_7819~ Step 4. Over medium-high heat, preheat grill pan, about 1 minute.  While pan is heating, liberally brush the top of each pear disc with

lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil.

Place the pear discs, oiled side down on the hot grill pan.

IMG_7838 IMG_7832~ Step 5. Liberally brush the second side of the pear discs with olive oil.  Continue to grill, until discs are golden brown on both sides, turning only once, 4-5 minutes per side.  Do not over cook.

Transfer pear slices to a plate and allow them to cool.  Meanwhile:

IMG_5548 IMG_5482~ Steps 6 & 7. Slice the red onion as directed (1/2 of an onion is enough for 6 salads).  Just prior to assembling the salads (it dices easiest if kept cold),  crumble or dice the Gorgonzola dolce.

I like to assemble this decadent salad rather than toss it:

IMG_7862~ Step 8.  This is not a salad I toss, opting instead to assemble them on individual plates:  On each plate, make a bed of 1 1/4 cups of spinach leaves.  Distribute the onions over the spinach. Place 3-4 slightly-warm or room-temperature grilled pear slices over the spinach leaves.  Top each salad with a small mound of remaining spinach leaves, then scatter the Gorgonzola crumbles and toasted walnuts over one and all.  Serve and drizzle with dressing at the table.

Judiciously drizzle dressing on each salad at the table...

IMG_7952... because a little dressing goes a long way!

IMG_7992Go ahead, you've waited long enough for your first bite: 

IMG_7995Spinach Salad w/Grilled Pears, Toasted Walnuts, Gorgonzola & a Pear-Infused Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 6 generous side-serving salads.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; cutting board; chef's knife; 3/4"-1"-round cookie cutter; grill pan; 8" x 8" baking pan or 9" pie dish (for toasting walnuts)

IMG_7313Cook's Note:  This scrumptious pear salad pairs perfectly with succulent grilled pork chops.  

For a divine way to end the meal, click into Categories 6, 9 or 21 to get my ~ Simply Splendid Lemony Pear Almond Coffeecake ~!

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

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

07/12/2014

~ Lemon-Pepper Pear-Infused Balsamic Vinaigrette ~

IMG_7952I rarely write a post that requires readers to search for a specialized ingredient not readily found at the market, and, when I do, I usually include a uncompromising substitute for that item (or items).  I am what I refer to as an equal opportunity recipe developer.  From time to time it's my job to work with unusual or extravagant ingredients from around the world.  Sharing them in my recipes is fun, but, it's also my responsibility, via a substitute ingredient, to make sure the recipe is user-friendly and economical for all -- we are all in this food world together, and, fair is fair!

IMG_8027Having said that, you are going to need two specialized ingredients to make this  luscious vinaigrette:

Pear-Infused Balsamic Vinegar

Lemon-Infused EVOO

IMG_6602The good news is: on amazon.com I found a very nice brand that sells infused vinegars and olive oils in gift sets of four for about $30 per set.  The vinegar flavors are: fig, pear, pomegranate and raspberry.  The IMG_8021oil flavors are:  basil, garlic, lemon and chili.  I recommend them, and, I promise to put them all to very good use for you in the very near future!

IMG_7787For the vinaigrette (1 1/2 cups = enough for 6 generous side-salads:

6  tablespoons pear-infused balsamic vinegar

6  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

3  tablespoons walnut oil

6  tablespoons honey

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

pear nectar to total 1 1/2 cups of liquid, about 10 tablespoons

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2  teaspoons freshly-ground peppercorn blend

IMG_5489~ Step 1.  Combine all of the vinaigrette ingredients in a 2-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid.  Vigorously shake prior to serving drizzled judiciously on salad(s) --  a little goes a long way. Note:  Keep leftovers stored in the refrigerator (this vinaigrette will keep for a least a week).  Return to room temperature and shake vigorously prior to serving.

To get my recipe for my ~ Spinach Salad w/Grilled Pears, Toasted Walnuts and Gorgonzola ~, click on the Related Article link below!

IMG_7891Lemon-Pepper Pear-Infused Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups.

Special Equipment List: 2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid & pourer top

IMG_5609Cook's Note:  Back in June I posted two salad recipes made with citrus fruits.  ~ One Recipe = Two of Mel's Favorite Citrus Salad Dressings: Pink Grapefruit or Sun-Kissed Orange ~ can be found in Categories 8, 9, 10 & 20.  Fruity salads tossed with salty cheeses never EVER tasted so good!

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

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

07/10/2014

~ Luscious Lemony Strawberry Almond Coffeecake (Quite possibly the best strawberry shortcake ever!) ~

IMG_7775On Monday, when I said, "happiness comes in many forms", I had no idea just how many forms. On Monday I was referring to my delicate, moist, almost-creamy ~ Simply Splendid Lemony Pear Almond Coffeecake ~ (you can get the recipe by clicking on the Related Article link below).  I was, and still am, posting a few pear recipes, because I was given a box of organic bosc pears last week.   The beat goes on -- I am still most contented to eat my way through the remainder of my lovely pears and write another one or two pear posts, so stay tuned.  That being said, in my kitchen, occasonally things can change on a dime and today is such a day.  Why?

IMG_7710I've got a three pound box of strawberries on my countertop! 

IMG_4762 IMG_7313This AM we ooo'd and ahhh'd over the last two slices of pear cake and even lamented a bit over how it would be missed.  I gave Joe a hug, sent him off to the office and reminded him to come home with a couple of steaks for tonight's dinner. He did come home with the steaks, a couple of real beauties, but, he also came home with a 3-pound box of gorgeous strawberries too.

IMG_7453Still being in "cake mode", I decided to make the same cake, substituting strawberries for pears. My thinking: perfectly ripe pears and strawberries texturally have a lot in common -- they're both delicate and will cook in the allotted 38-40+ minutes, the time needed for this unique cake batter to set up. The lemony batter for this cake is merely a medium to hold the fruit together, and, it remains slightly custardlike in pockets around the fruit juices:

IMG_7623Choose perfectly ripe strawberries.  Not underripe, not overripe!

IMG_7154This cake goes together very quickly, so, get organized and prep all of your ingredients as directed before plugging in your mixer.  You will need a 9"-9 1/2" springform pan.  Size does matter.  It can and will affect baking time and the end product.  Do not substitute.

~ Step 1.  Spray the inside of the pan with no-stick cooking spray. Cut out a round of parchment paper to fit the bottom, place it in the bottom (not up the sides) and spray the top of the parchment.  Set aside.

IMG_74382  pounds ripe strawberries, hulled and chopped into bite-sized pieces, about 3 1/2-4 cups

10  tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled

3/4  teaspoon pure strawberry extract, not imitation

1/2  teaspoon pure almond extract, not imitation

1/4  teaspoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

1/4  cup fresh lemon juice and zest (juice from 2 lemons and zest from 1 lemon)

4  large eggs, at room temperature

2  large egg yolks, at room temperature

1  cup confectioners' sugar

1 1/2  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  cup sliced almonds, very-lightly toasted, for topping cake

additional confectioners' sugar, for garnishing cake or cake slices

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing baking pan

IMG_7106 IMG_7115 IMG_7110 IMG_7125~Steps 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7.  In a 1-cup measuring container, melt the butter and stir in the extracts. Set aside to cool.  Using a microplane grater and a citrus juicer, zest and juice the lemons.  Stir zest and juice together and set aside.  Crack 4 eggs into a small bowl, separate the yolks from 2 eggs and set aside to come to room temperature.  Measure confectioner's sugar and set aside. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.  In a small baking pan, very-lightly toast the almonds in a 350 degree oven for 5-6 minutes and set aside to cool.

IMG_7458~ Step 8.  Using a strawberry huller or a paring knife, hull the strawberries.  Using a paring knife, chop strawberries into bite-sized pieces.  Error on the side of too large rather than too small.  Make sure you have 3 1/2-4 cups of chopped strawberries for this recipe, meaning:  measure them. Place strawberries in a medium bowl and pour the lemon juice/zest mixture over the top.  Using a rubber spatua, stir to combine.

IMG_7170 IMG_7158~ Step 9. Place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl. IMG_7162Over high speed of mixer, whip, scraping down sides of bowl w/spatula until an airy custard forms, about 6 minutes.

IMG_7186 IMG_7176~ Step 10. Reduce mixer speed to low and blend in about 1/2  cup of the flour mixture. IMG_7178With the mixer on low speed, drizzle in butter, then second half of flour.  Using spatula fold in the strawberries and all of the lemon juice/zest mixture.

IMG_7471 IMG_7479~ Step 11. Pour batter into prepared pan.  Give pan a few back and forth shakes on the countertop to distribute the batter evenly.  Sprinkle almonds over  top.

~ Step 12.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 38-40+ minutes, or until puffed up in center, lightly browned and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Do not over bake!

IMG_7505 IMG_7509Step 13. Remove from oven, place on a cooling rack and allow to cool in pan for about 15 minutes prior to removing sides from pan. Continue to cool prior to serving at room temperature, about 2 hours. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar just prior to slicing and serving, or, sprinkle confectioner's sugar on individual slices.  This cake is best served the same day cake is baked, and, refrigerate leftovers.

IMG_7519I sprinkle the sugar on each individual slice...

IMG_7706... before loving each & every luscious bite:

IMG_7613Take this version of shortcake to your next Summer picnic!

IMG_7754Luscious Lemony Strawberry Almond Coffeecake (Quite possilby the best strawberry shortcake ever!):  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  9"-9 1/2" springform pan; parchment paper; 2, 1-cup measuring containers; microplane grater; hand-held citrus juicer; small baking pan; cutting board; strawberry huller and/or paring knife; large rubber spatula; hand-held electric mixer; cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack

IMG_4966Cook's Note:  Strawberries are in all of my markets right now.  If it's a classic strawberry recipe you're looking to serve for  your next gathering, click on the Related Article link below for my ~ Scrumptious Sweet-Cream-Biscuits & Strawberries (commonly referred to as Strawberry Short Cakes ~!

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

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

07/07/2014

~ Simply Splendid Lemony Pear Almond Coffeecake~

IMG_7313Happiness comes in many forms.  This delicate, moist, almost-creamy cake is one of them.  One would think a dessert as delicious as this would be challenging to make, but it is not.  To think the recipe came to me in the form of junkmail is absurd.  Back in the days before the internet, an occasional "free" packet of recipe cards would arrive in my mailbox from some sort of "cooking club".  Their goal was to sell me a subscription to a monthy delivery of recipe cards guaranteed to make family mealtimes more exciting.  I never signed on to any of these promotions, but, I always opened the packet to see what they were peddling.  Occasionally, there was a card or two I hung onto.  This lemon-pear cake recipe is one example.  It was named "Tea-Time Lemon-Pear Cake".  I kept the card because I love pears, didn't have many recipes for pears, and, it implied it was a stylish, refined, English dessert suitable for breakfast or brunch too -- and it is!

IMG_7365I did tweek the recipe a bit to suit my taste (the original recipe did not include the lemon zest, almond extract or almonds, and, it used granulated sugar).  When pears are in season (the Fall) this is one of my go-to recipes, and it's worth noting that I only make it with perfectly ripe (not overripe or underripe) Bosc or d'Anjou pears -- Bartletts are simply too watery for cake baking. About a week ago I was given a box of beautiful Bosc pears, so, it's going to be a Summertime treat today.  I always assumed the recipe, as per its title, was English/British, but, on one occasion an elderly Italian woman told me I make a lovely 'Torta di Pere', and, over the years, I've encountered a few 'Gateau Fondant aux Poires' in some classy French restaurants too. Here in my kitchen, this universally loved pear cake is a simply splended American coffee cake!

IMG_7154This cake goes together very quickly, so,  get organized and prep all of your ingredients as directed before plugging in your mixer.  You will need a 9"-9 1/2" springform pan.  Size does matter.  It can and will affect baking time and the end product.  Do not substitute.

~ Step 1.  Spray the inside of the pan with no-stick cooking spray. Cut out a round of parchment paper to fit the bottom, place it in the bottom (not up the sides) and spray the top of the parchment.  Set aside.

IMG_7132

4-5  ripe Bosc pears, peeled, cored and chopped into bite-sized pieces, about 3 1/2-4 cups peeled and chopped pears (Note:  Do not peel, core and chop the pears until directed to do so in recipe Step 8.)

10  tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled

3/4  teaspoon pure almond extract, not imitation

1/2  teapoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

1/4  cup fresh lemon juice and zest (juice from 2 lemons and zest from 1 lemon)

4  large eggs, at room temperature

2  large egg yolks, at room temperature

1  cup confectioners' sugar

1 1/2  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  cup sliced almonds, very-lightly toasted, for topping cake

additional confectioners' sugar, for garnishing cake or cake slices

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing baking pan

IMG_7106 IMG_7115 IMG_7110 IMG_7125~Steps 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7.  In a 1-cup measuring container, melt the butter and stir in the extracts. Set aside to cool.  Using a microplane grater and a citrus juicer, zest and juice the lemons.  Stir zest and juice together and set aside.  Crack 4 eggs into a small bowl, separate the yolks from 2 eggs and set aside to come to room temperature.  Measure confectioners' sugar and set aside. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.  In a small baking pan, very-lightly toast the almonds in a 350 degree oven for 5-6 minutes and set aside to cool.

IMG_6668 IMG_6725~ Step 8. Using a sharp paring knife and a melon baller, peel and core the pears as directed.  For detailed instructions, click on the Related Article link, ~ How to: Choose, Store, Peel, Halve and Core Pears ~, below.

~ Step 9.  Chop pears into bite-sized pieces.  Error on the side of too large rather than too small.  For best results, be sure you have 3 IMG_71421/2-4 cups of chopped pears for this recipe, meaning:  measure them.

IMG_7149~ Step 10. Place the pears in a medium bowl and pour the lemon juice/zest mixture over the top.  Using a large rubber spatula, stir to thoroughly combine.

Prepare the cake batter according to the following directions:

IMG_7170 IMG_7158~ Step 11. Place the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a IMG_7162large bowl. Over high speed of mixer, whip, scraping down sides of bowl w/spatula until an airy custard forms, about 6 minutes.

IMG_7186 IMG_7176~ Step 12. Reduce mixer speed to low and blend in about 1/2 of the flour mixture.  With the mixer running on low speed, IMG_7178drizzle in the butter, then the second half of the flour mixture. Using spatula, fold in pears and all of the lemon juice/zest mixture.

IMG_7209 IMG_7207~ Step 13. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Give the pan a few back and forth shakes on the countertop to distribute the batter evenly. Sprinkle the almonds over the top.

~ Step 14.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 38-40+ minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Do not over bake!

IMG_7239Remove from oven, place on a cooling rack and allow to cool in pan for about 10 minutes prior to removing sides of from pan.  

IMG_7267Continue to cool prior to serving warm or at room temperature, about 45-60+ minutes.

Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar just prior to slicing and serving, or, sprinkle confectioners' sugar on individual slices and serve.

IMG_7263I sprinkle the sugar on each individual slice...

IMG_7320... before savoring every simply splendid bite:

IMG_7345Simply Splendid Lemony Pear Almond Coffeecake:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  9"-9 1/2" springform pan; parchment paper; 2, 1-cup measuring containers; microplane grater; hand-held citrus juicer; small baking pan; cutting board; paring knife; melon baller; large rubber spatula; hand-held electric mixer; cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack 

6a0120a8551282970b0168eb0bc39c970cCook's Note: If it is a few chocolate loving friends your inviting, ~ "Come on over for some coffee and cake."  Coffeecake: Cinnamon-Orange, Chocolate-Chip Pecan Streusel ~ can be found in Categories 6 or 9!

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

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

07/05/2014

~My Carolina-Style Pulled-Pork BBQ (Oven Method)~

IMG_6987About the only thing Americans love more than a parade is a barbecue, and, no barbecue comes close to being as familiar, beloved or nationally recognized as Southern pork barbecue. Apologies to you barbecuer's of beef -- I love your stuff, but, pork fat rules.  Period.  That being said, I'm marching to the beat of a different drummer with this post.  Why?  Experts have published so much material on the art of outdoor smoking on pits and grills, I couldn't begin to add anything of substance that hasn't already been said in a million different opinionated ways.

This post is all about a different approach:  convienience without (too much) compromise.  Back in the latter '80's and early '90's, two of our three sons, at two different times, lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  When they moved back to Pennsylvania, both of them begged me to develop a recipe for the famous North Carolina pulled-pork sandwiches they had grown to love.  No arm twisting was necesssary.  Over the years, Joe and I had eaten these sandwiches on our trips to and through the Carolinas, so we had well-formed opionions as to which renditions of rubs and versions of sauces we preferred.  I opted for finding a user-friendly way to produce pulled-pork.

Southern Barbecue, the Barbecue Belt & Carolina-style BBQ:

A_Southern_BarbecueThe origins of American barbecue date back to colonial times, and, as the country expanded westward barbecue went with it.  The first record of BBQ in America is dated 1697, and, George Washington made mention of attending a "barbicue" in Alexandria, VA in 1769.  Barbecue in its current form had its humble beginnings in the South where cooks slow-roasted tough cuts of meat or whole animals over fire pits to tenderize them.

IMG_4449There were only three components to early barbecue:  meat, wood & sauce.  

ImagesThe Spanish explorers brought pigs to the Americas, which became "feral" (escaped domestication and became wild), so free pork became hands-down, the most commonly used meat.

6a0120a8551282970b01a73de73698970dThe wood was the source of flavor for the meat (they did not have pantries full of spices). Nowadays we know stronger-flavored woods are used for pork and beef, while lighter-flavored woods are better for fish and poultry, but, in the early days, the wood used was the wood that grew in that region.  It was wood, not spices, that provided the first regional flavor profiles for American barbecue.  In the early days, barbecue was often served naked (no sauce to cover up the flavor of the smoke-flavored meat), and, if it was sauced, there were no rules:  thick or thin; sweet or savory; mild or spicy -- cook's discretion.

Academia_us_starter_lgThe Barbecue Belt:  North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana (along with closely surrounding areas).  Their spice rubs, sauces and side-dishes vary, but, they are indisputably bound together by one common ingredient.  Pork.  Oink not Moo.

The Carolinas hold a unique position in terms of Southern barbecue because it is believed to be the oldest form of American barbecue.  Their pork, the whole hog or cuts from parts of the hog, depending on the region, can be served pulled, shredded, chopped or occasionally sliced. Nowadays it may be dry rubbed with a secret spice blend prior to smoking and/or it may be mopped with a vinegar concoction during smoking, but, in the end, it's all about the sauce baby. Follow any roadmap anywhere and Carolina BBQ sauce will never taste the same way twice.

The Carolinas are mostly famous for their pulled-pork sandwiches.  They take the fattiest piece of inexpensive pork available, rub it with a most distinctive dry spice blend and wood smoke it over low heat (190-200 degrees) for the longest period of time (10-12+ hours) until it is fall-off-the-bone tender and is easily shredded with the fingers. The shredded pork is then combined with the most savory, vinegar-based sauce (thin enough so it can easily soak into the shreds of spiced meat), served on freshly baked-that day soft rolls (or ordinary sandwich bread).

IMG_4193A bit about the pork:  "Boston butt", is a bone-in cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the "pork shoulder" from the front leg of the hog.  Smoked or barbecued, Boston butt is a southern tradition.  This cut of meat got its name in pre-Revolutionary War New England:

Butchers in Boston left the Pork_101_final_b-fixedblade bone in this inexpensive cut of pork shoulder then packed and stored the meat in casks called "butts". They sold the pork shoulders individually to their customers, and, when they got popular, they began shipping "the butts" Southward and throughout the Colonies.  Simply stated:  the way the hog shoulder was butchered, combined with "the butt" they arrived in, evolved into the name "Boston butt".

Don't have or want a barbecue pit in you backyard?  Read on!

If you are a pit-master, let me start by saying I appreciate what you do, but, simmer down.  I'm not here to steal your pork-pulling thunder or compete with you.  I am here to give some folks some precise instructions for producing some excellent pulled pork made indoors in a conventional oven.  Fire was the invention that changed mankind but it was the oven that made womenkind happy, which in turn made mankind happier in general.  Please note this is my favorite version of dry rub for my pulled pork, along with my favorite version of sauce for my pulled pork.  The following recipe has gotten me so many accolades over the years at outdoor gatherings and tailgates, I stopped apologizing for my lack of devotion to cooking it outdoors on a pit or a grill. Feel free to substitute your spice rub or sauce and just follow my oven method instructions.

IMG_6914For my pork roasts, sandwiches and slaw:

2  7-8  pound, bone-in Boston butt pork shoulder roasts

2  dozen, freshly-baked, soft-textured, large-sized rolls

2  quarts coleslaw, preferably homemade, made a day ahead

(Note:  You can find recipe for ~ Mel's Creamy-Crunchy Seriously-Good Coleslaw ~ in Categories 4, 10 & 17.)

Pulled Pork #1 (Spice Rub Ingredients)For my dried spice rub:

2  tablespoons dry English mustard

4  tablespoons smoked paprika

4  tablespoons Jane's Original Krazy Mixed-Up Salt, or sea salt

1  teaspoon cayenne pepper

4  tablespoons coarsely-ground  Pulled Pork #2 (Getting Started)black pepper

(Note:  I like to mix my dry-rub together a few hours before I rub my roasts, and, putting it in an ordinary, glass cheese shaker w/large holes makes it really easy to apply the rub as needed and where needed.)

For my vinegar sauce:

3 1/2  cups apple cider vinegar

Pulled Pork #5 (Vinegar Sauce Ingredients)1  cup ketchup

1  cup maple syrup, or, brown sugar, honey or molasses 

3/4  cup yellow mustard

6  whole bay leaves

1/4  teaspoon hickory-seasoned liquid smoke, a bit more or less

1/2  teaspoon pure orange extract

2  pounds medium-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  teaspoon Jane's Original Krazy Mixed-Up Salt, or sea salt

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

IMG_6592~ Step 1.  Pat the roasts dry in a few paper towels.  Place the roasts on a rack that has been placed in two large disposable aluminum roasting pans that have been doubled to form one sturdy pan (trust me, you'll want to throw the inside pan away afterwards).  Begin applying the spice rub by sprinkling it over the tops.  Rub, rub, and continue to rub, turning the meat as you work, until the roasts are generously coated over all surfaces of the meat.

IMG_6594Note:  Applying the spice rub with the roasts in the pan allows the extra rub to filter to the bottom of the pan and combine with the fat as it drips down as the roasts cook.

Set aside for 1 hour, or, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Overnight is best. Remove from refrigerator and return to room temperature, 1-2 hours, prior to cooking according to the following directions:

IMG_6614~ Step 2.  Preheat and maintain an oven temp of 320-325 degrees. Roast meat, uncovered, on center rack, 7-8 hours, or until an instant read thermometer placed several inches into the thickest part of the meat in 2-3 places reads 190-195 degrees.  Remove roasts from oven, cover tightly with foil and set aside until they cool enough to be manageable for pulling with your fingers (about 1-1 1/2 hours).  Do not cool to room temperature.

Pulled Pork #7 (Sauce Simmering)Prepare the sauce while the roasts are in the oven cooking.

Note:  I like to prepare the sauce right after the roasts go into the oven then let it rest on the stovetop until they're done.  The flavors come together and it tastes better.

~ Step 3.  Place all of the ingredients for the sauce, as listed in a 4-quart stockpot as you work. Bring to a gentle, steady simmer Pulled Pork #8 (Sauce Finished)over medium heat.

Partially cover and maintain a gentle, steady simmer for 45-60 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside until roasts are cooked and ready to be pulled.

Note:  You can prepare the sauce a day ahead.  It really doesn't need to be refrigerated overnight, but, in the event you do refrigerate it, make sure it is not cold when you add it to the pork.  You want it slightly warm.

Pulled Pork #11 (Bones Pull Right Out #2)Warm the sauce prior to pulling pork -- warm not steaming hot.

~ Step 4.  Remove the foil from the pan.  Remove the rack from underneath the roasts and place them in the bottom of pan with all of the flavorful fat and juices.

Give a gentle tug on the blade bones.  They're going to come out clean and easy.  Discard the bones.

Note:  The dark, almost burned looking fat cap on the top of the meat is referred to as "bark".  DO NOT even think about removing or discarding it -- it tastes amazing.

IMG_4443Begin by pulling each roast into 5-6 large chunks and pieces that have naturally formed during the cooking process, meaning:  if you tried to pick the roast up, it would almost naturally fall apart into 5-6 pieces.  

Next, pull each chunk into large, succulent, strands, doing your best Pulled Pork #16 (Adding Sauce #1)to keep them bite-sized, not small and stringy.  Some folks prefer to chop the meat into bite-sized pieces.  This choice is yours. Remove and discard any pieces of chewy gristle as you work.

~ Step 5.  Begin ladling and stirring the sauce in two cups at a time at first.  After each addition, give the meat a minute or two to absorb the liquid.  Continue adding sauce, until the meat is plump and juicy, not saturated and soggy.  I have two cups of sauce leftover today.

IMG_6922I serve my pulled-pork sandwiches the traditional way:

Topped with coleslaw & dill pickles, 

IMG_7003drippy & delicious: 

IMG_7035My Carolina-Style Pulled-Pork BBQ (Oven Method):  Recipe yields enough pulled pork for 2 dozen sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cheese shaker (optional); paper towels; 2, 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pans (doubled to form one sturdy pan); 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling rack; plastic wrap; instant-read meat thermometer; heavy-duty aluminum foil; 4-quart stockpot w/lid; soup ladle

IMG_6965Cook's Note:  Some straight talkin' advice about pulled-pork leftovers:

Pulled pork can be served warm or at room temperature, but, it is best served the day it is made.  Leftovers the next day are very good too, but, after that that, as time passes, the vinegar in the sauce begins to break down the fibers of the meat (over tenderizes it), rendering it soft, then eventually, mushy.  

It is for this same reason that I do not recommend freezing pulled pork under any circumstances.

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

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

07/03/2014

~ Mel's Creamy-Crunchy Seriously-Good Coleslaw ~

IMG_6899It is amazing to me how many people say they don't like coleslaw, then admit they've never tried it because they don't like cabbage or anything made with cabbage.  Seriously?  I am at a loss for any understanding of this mindset.  I grew up loving my grandmother's pepper-slaw, my mother's stuffed cabbage rolls, my dad's ham and cabbage, and, sauerkraut.  Whenever someone says "no thank you" to coleslaw, for some reason, I find it hard to resist the urge to change their mind. In the instances when I can successfully coerce someone into trying my slaw, the reaction to my recipe has more than once been, "this is seriously good", hence the name of this recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b01a73de80419970dI grew up eating colseslaw at all sorts of picnics, barbecues and outdoor gatherings but my fondest memory of this side-dish is, and remains, our trips through the Carolinas.  If you say "coleslaw", I say, "pulled-pork" and there is nowhere better to eat this 'wich-'n-'slaw combo than in those states. I'm making 'slaw today because I'm serving ~ My Carolina-Style Pulled-Pork Sandwiches ~ for our 4th of July celebration.  Simply click on the Related Article link below to get my special recipe!

IMG_6795A bit about coleslaw:  The words "cole" "slaw" come from the Dutch word "koolsla", meaning: "cold" "salad".  Coleslaw is a salad of shredded red or white cabbage that gets mixed with other vegetables (onion, carrot and bell pepper being most common) then tossed with a mayonnaise, vinaigrette or other type of dressing.  Some versions contain bacon, pickles and/or seasonal herbs.  It is safe to say there are as many versions as their are cooks.  One of my favorites contains shredded fennel and chopped apples, pears and bacon.

IMG_6769The key to a great homemade coleslaw is to make sure your vegetables are "dry", meaning: dry of as much moisture as possible before combining them with the dressing mixture.  My grandmother taught me to shred my cabbage, chop my vegetables, then, wrap them individually in a kitchen towel and refrigerate them overnight prior to proceeding to mix the slaw.  The day I started using the store-bought, pre-washed, dried and shredded slaw mix, instead of shredding my own cabbage, I never looked back. They get their cabbage super-dry.  If my grandmother had this available she would have used it too!

Creamy Crunchy Cole Slaw (Ingredients) #1For the crunchy vegetable mixture:

1 1/2  pound, store-bought, bagged, coleslaw mix, the best available

1/2  pounce store-bought, bagged, shredded carrots

1 1/2  cups diced yellow or red onion

3/4  cup diced green bell pepper

3/4  cup diced red bell pepper

For the creamy dressing:

2  cups mayonnaise, chilled

1/4  cup sweet pickle relish

1/2  teaspoon celery seed

 1 1/2  teaspoon dry English mustard

2  tablespoons cayenne pepper sauce, more or less, to taste

1/4  cup apple cider vinegar

1  tablespoon sugar

1 1/2  teaspoons Jane's Original Krazy Mixed-Up Salt, or sea salt

freshly-ground black pepper or peppercorn blend, to taste and for garnish

Creamy Crunchy Cole Slaw (Drying Vegetables #1) Creamy Crunchy Cole Slaw (Drying Vegetables) #2~ Step 1. Prep the onion, green bell pepper and red bell pepper as directed. Place each one on 2-3 layers of paper towels as you work.  Allow the towels to absorb moisture for about 10-15 minutes.  Gather the paper towels up around the vegetables and give everthing one final and firm pat dry.  

Note:  This step is what is going to make your slaw really crunchy!

IMG_6752~ Step 2.  In a large mixing bowl, place all of the vegetables: slaw, mix, carrots, onions, green and red bell peppers.  

IMG_6773Using a set of salad servers (or two large spoons), toss as you would a salad, until vegetables are thoroughly combined.  Set aside and prepare the dressing as follows:

IMG_6787 IMG_6759~ Step 3. In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, pickle relish, celery seed, pepper sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.  Add dressing to veggies and combine. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight, stirring occasionally, when convenient.

IMG_6839Serve chilled garnished w/freshly-ground pepper:

IMG_6914Creamy, crunchy & seriously good!

IMG_7089May I offer you one of my pulled-pork sandwiches?

IMG_6987Mel's Creamy-Crunchy Seriously-Good Coleslaw:  Recipe yields 2 quarts/10 cups, enough to top 2 dozen pulled-pork sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; paper towels; salad servers; plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b0176175732a8970cCook's Note:  Need another side-dish for your 4th of July celebration?  Try my ~ 4th of July Yankee Doodle Dandy Macaroni Salad ~.  It goes great with hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken and/or ribs!  You can find the recipe in Categories 4, 10, 11 or 14!

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

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

07/01/2014

~How to: Choose, Store, Peel, Halve & Core Pears ~

IMG_6653July 1st.  It's a bit early for pear seaon here in Pennsylvania.  Our Bartlett trees won't bear fruit until August, but, I was given a box of beautiful Bosc pears two days ago, so there is no time like the present for me to write a post about this voluptuous looking, seductive tasting fruit.  In case you didn't know, pears and apples are botanical cousins, but, when perfectly ripe, I'll choose the succulent pear over the crisp apple every time.  I think of pears as sophisticated apples!  

Bosc-pearA bit of pear history:  The pear is one of the oldest cultivated fruits. Originally grown in the mountains between Russia and Turkey, Aryan tribes migrating to Europe planted the seeds for our present day "European pears".  The Greeks highly regarded the pear -- Homer called it "the fruit of the gods", and, records show that the Romans developed about 40 varieties throughout their empire.  In the Middle Ages, pear cultivation was limited to "gated communities" (castles & monastaries), making the pear a luxury available only to a select few, but, giving it its aristocratic image.  In the 17th century, pear growing became a hobby for the rich and famous, and, by the 18th century the French and the Belgians were developing soft, ultrajuicy, superior varieties.

Colonial settlers introduced pears to North America in the latter 1620's.  All of the European pear varieties grown today are over one hundred years old and of the thousands of varieties, none are indiginous to our continent.  Commercially grown pears in the USA today are all decendents of European pears or hybrids created by crossing European pears with Asian pears.

600px-Eight_varieties_of_pearsVia Wikipedia, pictured here are eight varieties of pears most common to us in the United States. From left to right:  Williams' Bon Chretien (aka the Bartlett), two Red Bartlett varieties, d'Anjou, Bosc, Comice, Concorde and Seckel.  There are over 5,000 varieties of pears grown throughout the world's temperate climates with the states of California, Oregon and Washington leading the the way in the USA.  I am familiar with the first five pictured above, along with the Asian pear which is not a part of today's discussion.  Honestly, to me, these five pears pretty much all taste the same, and, as long as they are perfectly ripe, can be used interchangeably.  The Bosc, with its fairly-firm-even-when-ripe texture is my favorite all-purpose eating and cook-/bake- with pear!

My favorite all-purpose eat, cook, or bake pear is the Bosc!

IMG_6637Choosing pears:  Pears range in color from celedon green, to golden yellow, to tawney red, and, they range in flavor from spicy-sweet to tart-sweet.  Some varieties are better for eating as is, while others are better for baking and cooking. All pear lovers have a personal favorite.  One can only determine a favorite by tasting a few varieties side-by-side, and, when it comes to perfectly ripe pears, there is something you should know first:  

Mother Nature protected the easily-bruised pear by making it better when picked while it is still hard, meaning:  unlike most other fruits, it improves in flavor and texture in the days following being picked.  Pears ripen from the inside out.  This is great for pear growers, because they can and should pick them while underripe and ship them as such (tree-ripened pears become soft at their core).  For us consumers, we must allow our pears time to ripen at home, and, diligently monitor the process, because a pear can go from ripe to rotten quite quickly, and personally, I have no culinary use for an overripe pear.  Whatever variety, always choose firm, smooth pears with relatively unblemished skin (no dings, dents, holes, marks, or dark bruises).

Underripe = hard, tart, starchy

Ripe = yielding, sweet, juicy & slightly-but-pleasantly gritty

Overripe = soft, tasteless, mealy

IMG_6628Storing pears & determining ripeness:  Pears ripen best if stored at a cool room temperature for 1-4 days. The ripening time is going to depend upon the variety of pear, the size of the pear, and most importantly, the stage of ripeness when you purchased it.  If you are like me, my usual test for fruit ripeness is how each piece feels in my hand, which usually equates to: softness = ripeness.  This is not the case with pears.   European pears are ready to eat when they yield to gentle pressure next to the stem.  If the body of the pear is any more than slightly yielding, it is overripe.

IMG_6668To peel, halve & core pears:  I almost never peel pears, but, for the sake of this post I will demonstrate. You will need sharp paring knife and a melon baller.  Cut a small slice off the top and bottom of both ends.  Stand the pear upright. Carefully, gently and smoothly run the knife down the sides, removing, in strips, a thin layer of skin.

Note:  Why not use a vegetable peeler?  Unless the blades are extremely sharp, it will leave a ragged looking surface on the pear (especially soft-textured pears).

IMG_6696 IMG_6747Once peeled, slice the pear in half from pole-to-pole (stem end to bottom).  If slicing an unpeeled pear, place the blade of the knife as close to the stem as you can and slice down in one smooth movement.  Use a melon baller to cleanly and accurately remove the core and seeds from the center of each half.

IMG_6719Using the knife again, remove the stem (a tough-textured stem section runs lengthwise through the entire center of the pear) by slicing a thin V-shaped strip through the entire length of the pear.

IMG_6732At this point, use the halves as they are, cut each half in half to quarter the pear, or, slice/dice the pear in any manner directed in the recipe you are using or as per your personal preference.

IMG_6726I have been photographing the same pear for about 15 minutes -- notice the discoloration?  Like apples, once cut and exposed to air, pears will discolor if not dipped in acidulated water (my ratio is:  1 cup water to 1/4 cup lemon or lime juice).  This is not a problem if you are cooking a few pears rather immediately, but, it will be if you are serving them raw with cheese and crackers, or, are preparing a large quantity.  In either of these two instances, place a bowl of acidulated water in the refrigerator and add the pears to it as you work.

IMG_6657How to:  Choose, Store, Peel Halve & Core Pears:  Recipe yields instructions to choose, store, peel, halve and core as many pears as you want!

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; melon baller 

6a0120a8551282970b0147e01a0cb0970bCooks's Note:  Doesn't this look great?  It's my recipe for ~ Simply Silky-Smooth Spiced Apple & Pear Puree ~.  You can find it by clicking into Categories 4, 8, 18 or 22.  It is NOT your grandmother's applesauce -- it is so much better!

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

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