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13 posts from August 2014

08/31/2014

~ My Rich & Creamy Baked Sweet Corn Casserole ~

IMG_2529It's Labor Day weekend -- the unofficial end of Summer! 

Here in Pennsylvania, it is also the unofficial end of our local sweet corn and tomato season. We've had a banner year for both this year, and, this past week, I've posted a few of my favorite ways to use fresh corn kernels after they have been removed from the cob:  corn off the cob!

PICT0005 IMG_2128 IMG_2425To learn ~ How to Shave Corn Off the Cob ~, make ~ Creamed Corn ~, & ~ Cheesy Creamed-Corn Dip ~, click on the Related Article links below!

Today, I'm making my corn casserole -- it uses both whole corn kernels and creamed corn, and, if there was ever a side-dish casserole you need in your repertoire, this is it.  I best describe it as simply exquisite.  To quote my son Jesse, "this casserole will change your life".  If you have never tasted a properly prepared corn casserole, there is nothing ordinary about it.  It's a scoop of steamy, creamy, crunchy, sweet, peppery ever-loving goodness.  It's one of the best comfort foods known to sweet corn lovers.  Once you try it, I know you'll be serving it year round at all sorts of outdoor gatherings, and, indoors for family dinners and celebrations.  Year round?  Yes.

IMG_2536You do not need fresh sweet corn to prepare it.  Canned corn actually works very well.  I'm using canned corn so you can see just how easy it is to prepare it that way too.  To make it using fresh corn, substitute:

4 cups whole corn kernels (shaved from 6-8 ears of freshly-picked & blanched corn)

3  cups of my recipe for homemade creamed corn

Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter:  It's Corn-Loving Comfort Food!

Baked Corn #1 (Ingredients)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2  14 3/4-ounce cans cream-style corn

4  15 1/4-ounce cans whole-kernel corn, well-drained

4  jumbo eggs, beaten

2  cups heavy or whipping cream

1/4  cup Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

2  tablespoons sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon white pepper

no-stick cooking spray

Baked Corn #2 (Ready for Oven) ~ Step 1.  Spray a 3-quart casserole dish with no-stick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the cream, flour, sugar, salt and pepper.  Using a large spatula, fold in the corn.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.

Note:  To this point, casserole can be prepped 6-8 hours in advance of baking.

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~ Step 2.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, about 1 hour.  Casserole will be golden brown and puffed up throughout.

Remove from oven and allow to rest about 15 minutes prior to serving. Can be baked 1-2 days in advance and reheated in the microwave!

Place the casserole, in all its golden glory, on the table,

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scoop some onto your plate,

IMG_2544and enjoy every last bite of Summer all year round:

IMG_2553Creamy Baked Corn Casserole:  Recipe yields 12-16 side servings.

Special Equipment List:  whisk; large rubber spatula; 13" x 9" x 2"/3-quart casserole dish

IMG_2504 IMG_2508Cook's Note:  This recipe can easily be doubled (to make two) or cut in half.  When cutting it in half, bake in an 8" x 8" x 2" square casserole or a 1 1/2-quart au gratin dish (as pictured here).

IMG_8128Extra Cook's Note:  I like to serve this corn casserole with my recipe for ~ Bacon-y Baked Beans ~. You can find that recipe in categories 4, 10, 17, 19 & 20 too.  Both casseroles are extremely quick and easy to prepare.  Both caseroles bake in the same oven, at the same temperature, for about the same amount of time.  How convenient is that.  I call this a real "two for one" special!!!

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

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

08/28/2014

~ Ooey, Gooey, Cheesy, Chile, Creamed-Corn Dip ~

IMG_2425Newsflash.  Depending on the search words you use, as of this morning there are over one million recipes for corn dip, cheesy corn dip and Mexican-syle corn dip for you to choose from on the internet.  Some are published by bloggers like myself, others by celebrity chefs, and even more by scads of manufacturers like Kraft, Green Giant, Old El Paso and Tostitos (to name a few).  Most are really easy and all are guaranteed to make your game-day tailgate a success. One more thing -- they're all pretty darn good -- just not as good or as special as mine!

The secret is my corn:  My homemade creamed corn!

IMG_2399Generic recipes all use canned whole-kernel corn, with frozen corn kernels coming in a close second.  Recipes that "kick it up a notch" do use fresh corn kernels (kernels that have been shaved from cooked or grilled cobs), which improves the end result dramatically, but, past that, in my opinion, they all go awry (amiss, astray, off-course).  Why?  They rely on  cream cheese, sour cream or mayonnaise to give the corn its creaminess.  This works, but, the tanginess changes the entire profile of the recipe.  Most times, the only way you know it contains corn is because you can see the kernels -- the flavor is drowning in a sea of tangy cheesy goodness!  

IMG_2128To me, corn dip prepared in the above manner is equivalent to tacos or fajitas prepared using a seasoning packet rather than making the seasoning.  Sorry to rain on your parade, I tell it like it is.

Meet my recipe for ~ Country-Style Downhome-Delicious Creamed-Corn ~.  Click on the Related Article link below to get the recipe.  

 ~ Step 1.  Make my creamed corn. Do not complain via e-mail or comment on this blog that my corn dip recipe didn't work if you substituted canned creamed corn. Canned creamed corn won't work.

Meet the ingredients list:  My corn & grated Monterey Jack cheddar w/jalapeno chiles.

IMG_2192For every 1-cup ramekin filled to the top you will need (each ramekin serves 2):

1 1/4 cups creamed corn, my recipe, at room temperature

1/4  cup grated Monterey Jack cheddar cheese, preferably with jalapeno chile peppers, for stirring into above creamed corn mixture

2 additional tablespoons grated Monterey Jack cheddar cheese, for topping each ramekin/serving

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing ramekins

diced tomatoes and thinly-sliced green onion tops, for garnish

IMG_2296 IMG_2291~ Step 2.  In a small bowl, using an ordinary tablespoon, combine my creamed corn with the grated cheese.  Do not mash or smash it. Just "smoosh" it.  Less is more.

Note:  Spray 1-cup sized ramekins with no-stick cooking spray.  How many?  That depends on how much of my creamed corn you have!

Note:  I like to make this dip in ramekins because they cook up beautifully.  Feel free to make a larger quantity in one baking dish, but, to insure even cooking through to the center, the larger the container, the shallower it should be, and, it needs to be sized so the mixture fills it almost to the top.  For instance, 6 cups of the corn/cheese mixture fits nicely into a 1 quart souffle dish.

IMG_2305 IMG_2297~ Step 3. Spoon the corn/cheese mixture into each ramekin.  Do not pack it, just lightly spoon it in, mounding it slightly towards the center, making no attempt to make it look any prettier than that.  Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespons of cheese evenly over the top.

Note:  No matter how big or how small your ramekin or souffle dish, this is how it should look before going into the oven.

IMG_2323~ Step 4.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the cheese on the top is melted and the corn mixture is just starting to bubble over the sides.  This is a spoonable dip, not a forkable casserole, don't dry it out by over cooking/browning.

Note:  When I bake several 1-cup sized ramekins, I place them on a baking pan lined with parchment paper.  This makes it easy to place several into and remove them from the oven all at once.  It helps with any random drippy messes too.

Remove from oven and serve hot, garnished with tomatoes, onions...

IMG_2427... and some freshly-fried corn tortilla chips.  Game on:

IMG_2481Ooey, Gooey, Cheesy, Chile, Creamed Corn Dip:  Recipe yields as much dip as you choose to make, however, 1 full recipe of my creamed corn is enough to fill 3, 1-cup ramekins to the top. This yields 6 servings with each ramekin serving 2.

Special Equipment List: medium bowl; spoon; 1-cup ramekins or appropriatly-sized souffle dish; baking pan; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b019aff7d96cb970b-800wiCook's Note:  There is only one way to serve this dip and that is with ~ Deep-Fried & Crispy Corn Tortilla Chips (Totopos) ~.  Make a big batch too as they are great snacking for a day or two afterward. You can get my recipe by clicking into Categories 2, 13 or 17!

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

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

08/25/2014

~Country-Style Downhome-Delicious Creamed-Corn~

IMG_2128School bells are ringing and school buses are running -- kids and parents alike are in the unenviable position of frantically adjusting to the Fall regimen.  This morning, while laying in bed watching CNN at 7:30AM with my three poodles, I heard the school bus pull up to the stop across the street. I couldn't help but "smile a sigh" of relief.  So, what does this have to do with creamed corn?  I started thinking about my favorite Fall after-school meals as a child!

Allow me to briefly reminisce about childhood & creamed corn:

IMG_2169When I was growing up, our family of four had a highly-organized after-school agenda: playtime, dinner, homework, TV, bed.  It changed as we got older, but, in our house there was always a plan and it required everyone to help make it work.  To this day I am an advocate of raising kids to know what to expect, when to expect it, and, show respect for it.  End of speech -- back to creamed corn.  I grew up eating creamed corn out of a can and I loved it -- I still do -- and there's nothing wrong with that either.  It's good, and, for the most part, manufacturers have left the ingredients unadulterated too:  sweet corn, water, salt, sugar and food starch (thickener).

My dad cooked dinner once, sometimes twice a week.  He made and we ate spaghetti and meatballs every Tuesday.  That was that and what's not to love about that.  The other meal he made was "skinny" pan-fried pork chops, and, he made those twice a month, always on a Thursday (mom made meatloaf on the other two Thursdays).  He always served them with baked beans and creamed corn or applesauce and home-fried potatoes.  That was that!

Corn Chronicles #1"Fried Corn" or "Country-Style Corn":  It's all "Creamed Corn".

Creamed corn:  In the Midwestern States,  sweet corn isn't just a crop, it is a lifestyle.  They'll be the first to tell you they grow the best, produce the most, and have invented more creative ways to prepare it than anywhere.    In the Midwest, when you shave corn kernels from a cob of  IMG_2090corn, smash them up a bit to release their milky juices, and, cook them in a shallow pan with fresh midwestern dairy-fresh butter and cream:  your making creamed corn!

Fried corn:  In the Southern States they refer to creamed corn as "fried corn".  It's a misconception that Southerners fry or deep-fry everything, but, the word "fried" didn't get into the phrase "southern-fried" for nothing, and, because creamed corn is made in a cast-iron skillet in the South, they call it "fried corn".  They also make theirs using bacon drippings in place of butter, which is understandable, since, as we all know, pork fat rules the culinary roost down there!

Country-style corn:  We grow a lot of sweet corn and raise a lot of dairy cows here in the rural Northeastern states too.  Here in Central Pennsylvania, more specifically Amish country, you'll find fields of sweet corn growing next to dairy farms throughout the picturesque landscape .  Like many foods associated with the Amish, Mennonite and Quaker communities, "country-style" is the catch-phrase everyone uses to describe their back-to-basics methods of processing and preparing it!

Whatever you call it, it is simply downhome delicious!

IMG_19104  cups fresh, cooked corn kernels, shaved from 8 large ears of blanched corn

2  tablespoons sugar, for sweetening blanching water

5  tablespoons salted butter, cut into 5 tablespoon-sized pieces

1/2  cup heavy or whipping cream

2  tablespoons sugar, for seasoning corn

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

2  teaspoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

IMG_0822 IMG_0837 IMG_0838 IMG_0842 IMG_0854~Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add the sugar to the water. One-at-a-time, lower the corn into the water. When the water returns to a boil, blanch the corn for 1 minute. While the corn is blanching, use a pair of tongs to dunk the tops down into the water.  Do not overcook. Using the tongs, remove the corn to a large plate and set aside until corn can be easily handled with your hands, about 20-30 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c6ce352f970b~ Step 2.  When the corn has cooled to the point where you can comfortably hold it with your hands, it's time to shave the kernels from the cobs.  This is quite easy.  For details and tips, click on the Related Article link below to read my post ~ How to:  Shave Corn Off the Cob with No Mess!!! ~.  Note: Corn shaving is not a precise sport. Six cobs will yield about 3 cups. Eight cobs will yield a bit more than needed, but, it insures enough.

IMG_1923 IMG_1916~ Step 3. Place 2 cups of corn in work bowl of processor fitted with steel blade.  

IMG_1918Add 2 tablespoons of the butter and  1/2 cup of cream. Using a series of 40-45 rapid on-off pulses, process the corn to a chunky, thick puree.  Set aside.

IMG_1941 IMG_1948 IMG_1954 IMG_1956~Step 4.  In a 3 1/2-quart chefs pan or 10" skillet, melt the remaining butter (3 tablespoons) over low heat.  Stir in the sugar, salt, white pepper and flour.  A thick paste will form.  Increase heat to medium and continue to stir constantly until the roux gets foamy, but not browned.  Add the whole corn kernels (not the puree), enjoy the sizzle, and thoroughly stir them into the mixture.

IMG_1963 IMG_1960~ Step 5. Add and thoroughly stir in the corn puree. Increase heat to medium-high, and, stirring constantly, cook until mixture is steaming and beginning to simmer, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Serve immediately or cover and reheat just prior to serving time.

IMG_1981In my perfect food world, there will always be creamed corn:

IMG_2137Country-Style Downhome-Delicious Creamed-Corn:  Recipe yields 3 1/2-4 cups or 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot; tongs;  cutting board; chef's knife; bundt pan (optional); food processor; 1-cup measuring container; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, or 10" skillet; large spoon

IMG_2529Cook's Note:  For another Midwestern-style sweet corn recipe, click into Categories 4, 10 or 17 to get ~ My Rich & Creamy Baked Sweet Corn Casserole ~.  It is easy to make, and, because you can substitute canned corn for fresh corn, you can enjoy it year round!

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

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

08/23/2014

~ Oh My Thai: Savory Minced Pork Stuffed Omelette~

IMG_1822Eggs are universal, and, as a person who loves eggs, whenever I travel to a foreign country, I make it a point to try at least one of their egg dishes.  Almost every country offers some version of "the omelette", and, unlike here in America where we associate eggs with breakfast or brunch, eggs are considered a filling, healthy, nutritious meal any time of the day.  For an egg lover like me, eating an omelette in a foreign country is also a tasty way to indoctrinate myself to the herbs, spices and seasonings I'll be encountering "full-strength" in their other dishes!

IMG_1018 IMG_1372 IMG_1542 IMG_0810

 

 

 

 

Over the past week, I've added some of my favorite Thai recipes, more specifically Thai street food recipes, to Kitchen Encounters.  We've feasted upon ~ Spicy Red Curry Sweet Corn Fritters ~, ~ Quick, Easy and Classic Thai Fish Cakes ~, and, a  ~ Thai Crispy, Airy, Puffy Fluffy Omelette -.  I even made ~ Spicy Quick-Pickled Cucumber Relish ~ to serve with all of them.  You can find all of the recipes, and more, by clicking on the Related Article links below!

Now my friends -- it's time to meet the "hot pocket" of Thailand!

IMG_1860Before taking a break from Thai food for a while, I want to share a second Thai omelette recipe with you:  the minced or ground pork omelette, known as kai jad sai, which means "stuffed eggs".  It it absolutely amazing.  Once again, this is an omelette that isn't necessarily eaten for breakfast, nor is it one that is typically made and sold on the streets either.  It just plain old, home-cooked good Thai eats.  Similar to the French omelette, this Thai omelette is thin, and, it can be prepared in a wok, a classic omelette pan or an ordinary nonstick skillet.  It is filled with a sauted mixture of minced pork and diced vegetables (garlic, onions, tomatoes and beans or bell peppers) seasoned with fish sauce or oyster sauce, seasoning soy sauce and sugar.  

IMG_1837Once filled, it is folded into a square, to encase it on all sides.  It is typically served with steamed jasmine rice, Sriracha sauce and sometimes, cucumber relish.  

This omelette can be small, to feed one, or larger, to feed two or more at the communal dinner table.  In my American kitchen, I usually do serve it for breakfast or brunch, and, I serve it without the rice.  I like to serve it to overnight guests too. Why?  The minced pork filling (even a large amount of it to feed a group of 10-12) can be prepared a day or two in advance.  At breakfast time, I simply reheat the filling then quickly make, fill and fold an individual omelette for each guest!

A Thai stuffed omelette is made at the discretion of the cook. 

Here is my favorite way to prepare it -- American Mel-style!

IMG_1658For the pork filling (enough for 12 omelettes -- do the math-- divide by 4 to make 3, etc.):

2  pounds ground pork, the leanest available (Note:  I use 2, small, 1-pound pork tenderloins.  I cut them into 1" chunks, place them in the work bowl of my large-capacity food processor fitted with the steel blade and grind the meat using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses.)

4-6  tablespoons chopped garlic

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

4-6  tablespoons thinly-sliced green beans

4-6  tablespoons minced cilantro, stems included

1 1/2  cups "coined" (cut into round, flat coin-shaped discs) grape tomatoes

4  tablespoons Thai fish sauce

2  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce

1  teaspoon lime juice, fresh or high-quality bottled concentrate

2  teaspoons sugar

2  teaspoons white pepper

1  teaspoon ground ginger (optional)

2  tablespoons vegetable oil, to coat bottom of a 12" skillet

IMG_1639 IMG_1151 IMG_0663 IMG_1649~Step 1.  Prep the garlic, onions, green beans, cilantro and tomatoes as directed.  Cover the tomatoes with plastic wrap and set them aside until just prior to preparing the omelettes, or, overnight in the refrigerator if preparing the filling mixture in advance (as explained above).

IMG_1675~ Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice, sugar, white pepper and optional ground ginger.

IMG_1688Note: Ground ginger is not typically found in this omelette, but, I love the flavor and recommend you try it!

IMG_1680 IMG_1692~ Step 3.  In a 12" skillet heat the oil over low heat.  Add the garlic, onion and green beans. Increase heat to medium-high and saute, stirring frequently, until vegetables are beginning to "sweat" and soften, about 3 minutes.

IMG_1711 IMG_1699~ Step 4. Add and thoroughly stir the pork into the unseasoned vegetable mixture.  

Continue to saute, stirring frequently, until pork is cooked through and almost all moisture has evaporated from skillet, about 12-15 minutes (for this amount of pork).

IMG_1719 IMG_1734~ Steps 5 & 6.  Add the seasoning sauce to skillet. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until once again, almost no liquid remains in bottom of skillet, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro.  To this point meat mixture can be prepared a day ahead and refrigerated overnight.  Note:  Do not add  tomatoes at this time -- fold them into warm meat mixture (today or reheated tomorrow) just prior to stuffing omelettes.   

IMG_1763Set aside while preparing each omelette according to the following directions:

IMG_1631For each omelette (I always prepare and serve these stuffed omelettes individually:

3  large eggs, at room temperature

1  teaspoon fish sauce

1  teaspoon lime juice, fresh or high-quality bottled concentrate

1 teaspoon water

1/4-1/2  teaspoon white pepper

1  tablespoon vegetable oil, to coat the bottom of a 10" skillet

IMG_1776 IMG_1779                                           ~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, place the eggs, fish sauce, lime juice water and white pepper.  Using a hand-held rotary egg beater, whisk the eggs to a frothy state.

IMG_1748~ Step 2.  In a 10" skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.

IMG_1783 IMG_1784 IMG_1785 IMG_1787~Step 3.  In a thin but deliberate steady stream, add (don't drizzle) the egg mixture to the hot oil.

IMG_1789~ Step 4.  Lift skillet from heat and begin swirling egg mixture around bottom and sides of pan until an even layer of egg mixture is distributed on bottom.  Return skillet to heat.  Using a thin spatula, quickly scrape down sides of  pan and cook omelette for 10-15 seconds.  Lift the pan and swirl again.  Continue this process of lifting, lowering and swirling until bottom of omelette is very lightly browned and top is moist and shiny, not dry.  Remove skillet from heat.

IMG_1791^^^The sort of ragged looking inside of the omelette will look like this.^^^

IMG_1797 IMG_1800 IMG_1803 IMG_1808~Step 5.  Place 1/2 cup of meat mixture into the center of omelette.  Fold two sides toward the center, with or without overlapping them.  Fold two more sides toward the center with or without overlapping -- sometimes they do, sometimes they don't, but forcing them to overlap can cause the omelette to tear.  I do however "fuss-budget" around with this for an extra few seconds to form a perfect square.  Invert a medium-sized plate over the top of omelette. Lightly place your fingertips on top of the plate, just enough to hold it in place (you do not want to squish the omelette to smithereens).  Lift up the skillet, invert it, and, invert the omelette onto the plate.  

If you feel like a schooled chef right now, you should!

IMG_1818Dress this baby up w/a splash of Sriracha & a sprig of cilantro...

IMG_1839... and for the love of Thai -- grab your fork dig in!

IMG_1894Oh My Thai:  Savory Minced Pork Stuffed Omelette:  Recipe yields 6 cups pork filling, enough for 12 omelettes, and, insructions to make individual omelettes.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; plastic wrap; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; large spoon and/or spatula; hand-held rotary egg beater; 10" skillet, preferably nonstick; thin spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c6d1fc54970bCook's Note:  I call Thai Sriracha sauce "the ketchup of the Asian food world" and my refrigerator has a bottle of it in it at all times.  To learn more about this delightfully spicy condiment, read my post ~ Would You Like Red 'Rooster Sauce' With That ~.  You can find it in Categories 8, 13 or 16.  If you are already a lover of Sriracha, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of The Sriracha Cookbook!

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

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

08/21/2014

~ Oh My Thai: Crispy, Airy, Puffy & Fluffy Omelette ~

IMG_1577A Thai omelette is comfort food at its best.  The Thai people satisfy hunger with Kai Jeow (Khai Jiao) the same way we Americans satisfy it with pizza or macaroni and cheese -- which -- is why --  Kai Jeow is a very popular snack or street food too.  Why?  Unlike America, in Thailand an omelette is not primarily associated with breakfast -- omelettes are for eating any time of the day!

IMG_1521A bit about Kai Jeow-style omelettes:  Aside from the fact that they are made with eggs, they are quite a bit different than the thin, light-colored, creamy French-style omelette.  This Thai omelette is prepared in a wok with quite a bit of very hot oil (at least 1").  When the frothy, lightly-seasoned egg mixture is poured into the oil, it puffs up, causing it to become browned on the surface and crispy around the edges while remaining soft, fluffy and multi-layered inside.  The egg mixture is seasoned with Fish sauce (the salt of Thailand), a squirt of lime juice, and occasionally some white pepper.  It's not uncommon to find some minced green onion, shallot and/or cilantro or Thai basil whisked in either.  And -- just like we Americans often add bits of crisp bacon to our egg mix, in Thailand, it's bits of minced pork (everything tastes better with a bit of oink).  

When taken out of the wok, the entire, perfectly-cooked golden-colored affair is placed over a bed of slightly-warm, steamed Jasmine rice and served drizzled with Thai Sriracha sauce.   The kai jaow omelette may not win any beauty contests,

IMG_1542but, it is decadent and marvelously addicting darling!

IMG_1825That said, don't throw everything you know about French- or Western-style omelettes out the window just yet.  Thai cooks make a stuffed omelette too.  Called kai yad sai, they're less common on the streets than kai jeow.  Like the French omelette, it is thin, filled with diced, lightly-sauted vegetables (onion, tomato and beans or bell peppers)  and/or minced pork or shrimp, then folded into a square.

IMG_1860The stuffed omelette can be small, to feed one, or larger, to feed two or more.  It too is served with jasmine rice and Sriracha, but because of the onions and tomatoes, it's a bit runny (kai jeow isn't). While the Thai stuffed omelette is not the subject of this post, they are just as delicious. Click on the Related Article link below to get ~ Oh My Thai: Minced Pork Stuffed Omelete ~ recipe!

Ready?  From start to finish, this takes less than 5 minutes:

IMG_16142  jumbo eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2  teaspoons fish sauce

1 1/2  teaspoons water

1/2  teaspoon lime juice, fresh or high-quality bottled concentrate

1  tablespooon cornstarch

1/2  teaspoon sugar

2  tablespoons sesame oil, for frying

3/4  cup peanut oil, for frying, more or less, depending on the size of the wok

1  cup steamed jasmine rice per omelette, a bit more or less, for accompaniment (Note: Each omelette, from start to finish, takes less than 2 minutes to prepare, so, be sure to steam your rice, and, allow it to cool a bit prior to making and serving the omelettes.  The rice should be slightly-warm, not steaming hot, when the finished omelette gets placed on top of it.)

1/4  cup Sriracha sauce per omelette, per omelette, more or less, for dipping or drizzling

IMG_1425 IMG_1432 IMG_1436~ Step 1.  Place 2 tablespoons of sesame oil in the bottom of a medium-sized wok.  Add enough of peanut oil to total 1" of oil.  

Note:  In my 10" All-Clad wok, this requires 3/4 cup of peanut oil.  Using a bigger wok?  Plan on adding more oil.  Heat the oil over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes.  While oil is heating:

IMG_1452 IMG_1456 IMG_1462~ Step 2.  Place the eggs, fish sauce, water, lime juice, cornstarch and sugar in a medium bowl. Beat/whisk until frothy.

IMG_1485The Thai Kai Jeow Technique:

~ Step 3.  Transfer the frothy egg mixture to a 1-cup measuring container.  Doing this will help you to control "the pour" into the oil.

Note:  The kai jeow omelette is known for its signature freeform shape and somewhat raggedy edges.  The only way to achieve that is to pour the liquid into the wok in a thin, steady stream holding the vessel several inches (6"-12") IMG_1489above the seething hot oil.  The higher you hold it the better.

It's kitchen drama, but it is safe.

Because the oil is so hot, the liquid in the eggs turns to steam instantly, causing the eggs to puff up right before your eyes.  Kids and adults love to watch the performance so invite them to stand around the stove.  If you're worried about hot oil spatter, don't be -- it's so minimal there is almost no cleanup.

IMG_1490The rest goes really fast so pay attention!

IMG_1624~ Step 4.  In 30-45 seconds the omelette will be golden and ready to be flipped. With the right kitchen tools, this is surprisingly easy to do. You will need two large slotted spatulas, or, as pictured here, one large slotted spatula and one Asian spider-type utensil.  Slide one or the other underneath the omelette, lift it out of the oil, place the other over the top, invert the omelette and place it back down in the oil.

Cook on the second side another 30-45 seconds:

IMG_1506Lift omelette out of the wok (leaving the excess oil behind), place it on a plate that has a bed of steamed jasmine rice on it and serve immediately with plenty of Sriracha sauce for dipping or drizzling: 

IMG_1541Oh my Thai:  I think I need an invervention!

IMG_1588Oh My Thai:  Crispy, Airy, Puffy, Fluffy Omelette:  Recipe yeilds instructions to make one Thai kai joew omelette, or, one serving.  Trust me, you will eat the entire thing.

Special Equipment List:  medium-sized wok; 1-cup measuring container; hand-held rotary egg beater or whisk; 2 large slotted spatulas or, 1 large slotted spatula and an Asian spider

6a0120a8551282970b017ee7d25972970dCook's Note:  I call Thai Sriracha sauce "the ketchup of the Asian food world" and my refrigerator has a bottle of it in it at all times.  To learn more about this delightfully spicy condiment, read my post ~ Would You Like Red 'Rooster Sauce' With That? ~.  You can find it in Categories 8, 13 or 16.  If you're already a lover of Sriracha, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of The Sriracha Cookbook!

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

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

08/18/2014

~ Oh My Thai: Quick, Easy and Classic Fish Cakes ~

IMG_1372If the thought of snacking on fish cakes sounds a bit uninspiring, you've obviously never encountered Thai fish cakes -- they are unlike any European or Western fish cake you are ever going to taste.  They're one of Thailand's signature and most popular street food snacks.  They're one of my favorite Thai snacks too, and that's not just because they are bursting with Thai flavor. If you keep canned Thai red chili paste in your pantry, once you have a fresh fish fillet and some green beans in hand, you can satisfy your craving for Thai food in less than an hour!

Thai Snacks vs. the Thai Meal & some Thai Table Etiquette too: 

IMG_1305As I mentioned above, Thai fish cakes are a popular snack food, meaning:  they don't serve them at mealtime.  In Thailand, a traditional home-cooked "proper meal" revolves around the rice bowl, with several satellite dishes and condiments placed around it.  Without exception a proper Thai meal is always served family-style so everyone can share everything.  At each place setting there is a medium-sized plate, small soup bowl, fork, spoon and glass.  The plate is not over-sized to insure each dish is tried and eaten one-at-a-time with a scoop of warm rice.  No knives are used because Thai food is always bite-sized.  Whether the meal proper is prepared for two or twenty people, it is the event that is looked forward to all day long.  In order to stave off hunger, the Thai people perfected the art of snacking often throughout the day. "Outside of the meal food" (snacks), like these fish cakes, are prepared in the home or sold on the streets!

IMG_11031 1/2  pounds firm white fish, cut into  1 1/2"-2" chunks (Note:  This is a whole wild cod fillet.)

1/4 cup minced cilantro

IMG_11091/2  cup thinly-sliced green onion, white & light green parts only 

1/2  cup thinly-sliced green beans

2  tablespoons very-thinly-sliced kaffir lime leaves

1  extra-large egg, lightly beaten

6  tablespoons red curry paste

3  tablespoons Thai fish sauce

2  teaspoons palm sugar, or light brown sugar

corn or peanut oil for deep-frying

IMG_1162 IMG_1147 IMG_1160~ Step 1.  Prep the cilantro, green onions, green beans and kaffir lime leaves as directed and set aside.

IMG_1110 IMG_1117 IMG_1130Note:  To slice kaffir lime leaves, stack them, largest to smallest, then, roll them up cigar-style and slice them as thinly as you can.

IMG_1173 IMG_1177 IMG_1182~Step 2.  In  a small bowl whisk egg.  Stir in the curry paste, fish sauce and sugar until smooth.  Stir in the lime leaves and set aside 15-30 minutes.

IMG_1192Note:  Kaffir lime leaves are tough in texture.  Stirring them into this mixture and allowing  them to marinate will soften them up a bit.

IMG_1165~ Step 3. Cut fish as directed, placing it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of 45-50 rapid on-off pulses, finely-mince. Do not over-process to a puree.  

IMG_1203 IMG_1206 IMG_1217~ Step 4.  Place fish in a large bowl.  Add the curry mixture and thoroughly combine.  Fold in cilantro, onions and green beans.

IMG_1229Cover with plastic wrap and set aside 15 minutes to marry flavors.

IMG_1232~ Step 5. Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place firmly-packed scoops of fish mixture onto a 17 1/2" x 12" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  You will have 24-26 fish cakes.  

IMG_1247Set aside while preheating oil in deep-fryer to 360 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications, or, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 hours prior to frying as directed below.  Remove from refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to  frying.

While oil is heating:  line a baking pan with 3-4 layers of paper towels and position it next to fryer.  Set a large cooling rack off to the side too.

IMG_1262 IMG_1269 IMG_1286 IMG_1293~Step 6.  Pick up a fish cake and compact it into a firm disc about 1/2" thick and 2" around. Gently drop it into the hot oil, and, working as quickly as you can, form and drop two more discs into the oil. Do not overcrowed fryer basket by adding too many.  Close the lid and fry fish cakes for 2-2 1/2 minutes, or until lightly golden.  Using a pair of tongs, transfer the cakes to the paper towel lined pan (to absorb any excess oil), and, give them light sprinkle of sea salt.  After a minute or two, transfer them to the cooling rack.  Repeat this process until all fish cakes are fried.

IMG_1316Fish cakes are best served hot -- ASAP -- Oh My Thai:

IMG_1325Oh My Thai:  Quick, Easy and Classic Fish Cakes:  Recipe yields 2 dozen appetizer- snack-sized fish cakes, or, six servings, planning on four fish cakes per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; fork; food processor; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; paper towels; tongs

IMG_0803Cook's Note:  Traditionally fish cakes are served with ~ Oh My Thai:  Spicy Quick-Pickled Cucumber Relish ~ which you can find in Categories 4, 13 or 20, and/or, ~ Would You Like Sweet Chili Sauce With That? ~, which you can find by clicking on the Related Article link below!

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

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

08/15/2014

~ Oh My Thai: Spicy Red Curry Sweet Corn Fritters ~

IMG_1018Here in Pennsylvania, I grew up eating savory deep-fried corn fritters in July and August (when local sweet corn is in season) and sweet apple fritters in September and October (when local apples are in season).  I grew up eating potato pancakes as well, which are technically a type of fritter, but, we don't refer to them as such because they are pan-fried.  Doughnuts were/are made on Doughnut Day, and, even though they're deep-fried, we don't call them fritters either. Why? Like their precursor cousin, the beignet, they don't contain any chopped protein, fresh or dried fruits and/or vegetables, and, with or without holes, they're just plain old deep-fried dough.

IMG_1025A bit about fritters:  Defined as small, sweet or savory, deep-fried (not pan fried), dough- or batter-based cakes (fritters contain no bread or bread crumbs) made by combining chopped food (not whole pieces or chunks) with a thick, seasoned batter, dropped into hot oil and deep-fried until crisp on the outside and cooked-through on the inside. Depending on the consistency of the batter, fritters can emerge flat (like pancakes) or round (like golf balls).  Once chopped, almost anything can be made into a fritter:  meat, poultry, fish, seafood, fruits or vegetables.  

Fritters can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner, as a snack, side-dish, main-course or dessert.  Fritters are sold on street corners and in five-star restaurants where they can be picked up and eaten with the hand or eaten with a fork.  Fritters are the original fast food and pub grub. Fritters are multi-cultural -- you can find a fritter anywhere in the world where they deep-fry food.

You can find fritters anywhere in the world where they deep-fry food!

IMG_1049Thailand is no exception and the Thai people like sweet corn A LOT. Thai cooks incorporate it into their currys, soups, salads and desserts. Throughout the country, it's a popular snack food. Street vendors sell corn on the cob prepared on portable grills.  At the University of Bangkok, like any other college town, fast food joints cater to the appetites of hungry college students, and this includes corn fritter stalls.  For the love of corn fritters:  tod mun khao pod. 

Why?  Eating fritters is a fun way to fritter away the day!

IMG_08844  cups fresh, cooked corn kernels, shaved from 8 large ears of blanched corn

2  tablespoons sugar, for sweetening the blanching water

1/2  cup thinly-sliced then finely-diced green onion, white and light green parts only

1/2  cup minced cilantro, stems included

3  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce

1  tablespoon Thai fish sauce

2  tablespoons Thai red curry paste

1  cup all-purpose flour, plus 2-4 more tablespoons flour, if necessary

1/4  cup rice flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1  teaspoon white pepper

3/4  cup water, reserved from blanching the corn, more or less (Note:  Plain water mixed with 1/2-3/4 teaspoon sugar may be substituted.)

corn or peanut oil for deep-frying

IMG_0815Thai cucumber relish and/or sweet chili sauce are the traditional accompaniments

IMG_0137Note:  ~ Oh My Thai: Spicy Quick-Pickled Cucumber Relish ~ and ~ "Would You Like Sweet Chili Sauce With That?" ~ can be found in Category 8 or,  by clicking on the Related Article links.

IMG_0822 IMG_0837 IMG_0838 IMG_0842 IMG_0854~Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add the sugar to the water.  One-at-a-time lower the corn into the water. When the water returns to a boil, blanch the corn for 1 minute.  While the corn is blanching, use a pair of tongs to dunk the tops down into the water.  Do not overcook.  Using the tongs, remove the corn to a large plate and set aside until corn can be easily handled with your hands, about 20-30 minutes.

PICT0005~ Step 2.  When the corn has cooled to the point where you can comfortably hold it with your hands, it's time to shave the kernels from the cobs.  This is quite easy.  For details and tips, read my post ~ How to:  Shave Corn Off the Cob with No Mess!!! ~.  You can find it in Categories 4, 15 or 20.  Note: Corn shaving is not a precise sport. Six cobs will yield about 3 cups. Eight cobs will yield a bit more than needed, but it insures enough.

IMG_0870 IMG_0876 IMG_0663~ Steps 3 & 4. Prep green onions and cilantro as directed.  In a small bowl, stir together flours, baking powder and white pepper.

IMG_0895~ Step 5.  In a large bowl, place the corn.  Using a hand held vegetable masher, crush the kernels to release some of their liquid.  Take a minute or two to do this, and, put a little bit of muscle into it too!  

IMG_0907~ Step 6. Stir in and thoroughly combine the minced green onions and minced cilantro with the crushed corn.  

IMG_0924 IMG_0914~ Step 7.  In a small bowl, stir together the Thai soy sauce, fish sauce and red curry paste.  

Add the curry mixture to the corn mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine.

IMG_0948 IMG_0933~ Step 8. Add and thoroughly stir in the flour mixture.

IMG_0942Add and thoroughly stir in the water.  Set aside for 15 minutes.  If a loose, sticky batter hasn't formed, add a bit more flour, but do it judiciously.  Fritter batter is not formable, it is spoonable, meaning, if you can roll or pat it into balls or patties with your hands, you've added too much flour.  My advice:  don't add additional flour until you've deep-fried one as a test.  If it holds its shape and fries up crisp -- you're golden.  Also, size matters.  Don't drop over-sized scoops into hot oil because the additional time required for them to cook through to the center will cause the outsides to burn.

Deep-frying fritters is a tad tricky -- follow instructions carefully:

IMG_0955~ Step 9.  Preheat oil in deep-fryer to 360 degrees, according to manufacturer's specifications.  

IMG_0985Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, drop loose-scoops (do not press into scoop) of batter down into the fryer basket which is submerged in the oil.

IMG_1000Note:  Do not place scoops of batter directly onto fryer basket.

Deep-fry fritters for 1 minute.  After 1 minute, lift basket out of the oil and give it a shake, to insure no fritters are sticking to the bottom. Return basket back to oil and continue to cook 2 more minutes.

Transfer fritters to a cooling rack that has been placed over a few layers of paper towels.

Sprinkle with a fresh grinding of sea salt & serve ASAP (hot or warm)...

IMG_1008... with cucumber relish & sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy):

IMG_1050Oh My Thai:  Spicy Curry Sweet Corn Fritters:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 dozen appetizer-sized fritters.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot; tongs; cutting board; chef's knife; bundt pan (optional); hand-held vegetable masher; large rubber spatula;  deep-fryer; 1 1/2" ice cream scoop; cooling rack; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b019b00a90739970d-800wiCook's Note:  If your are looking for another superb appetizer that pairs perfectly with these corn fritter, cucumber relish and sweet chili sauce, click into Categories 1, 11, 13 or 14 to get my recipe for ~ Crunchy Thai-Style Deep-Fried Coconut Shrimp ~!

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

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

08/12/2014

~Oh My Thai: Spicy Quick-Pickled Cucumber Relish~

IMG_0810Thai cooks use a lot of cucumbers -- in soups and salads, and as garnishes.  This cool, crunchy and refreshing cucumber relish is one of the most common condiments for Thai food in general. It's found in all Thai home kitchens and on the streets of Thailand too, meaning:  the high-quality "street food" that vendors sell and many Thai people eat on a daily basis.  These cucumbers are often served to cut the richness of coconut-based curries, and, are particularly good when accompanying grilled or fried fare:  omelettes, fish cakes, corn fritters, satay, spring rolls or barbecued chicken (to name a few).  This bright, lively relish is a balanced combination of the "four signature S's" of Thai cuisine that renders it so addictive:  sweet, sour, salty and spicy! 

IMG_0687The following recipe is quite straight-forward and it does not vary much amongst people who know how to cook Thai food.  It is simply a few basic ingredients inherent to Thai cuisine.  That's it.  Yes, of course you can adjust the proportions to suit your palate (less sweetness, more heat, etc.), but please don't pick up a bottle of Chinese soy sauce in place of Thai seasoning soy, or, wrinkle up your nose and decide to not use the fish sauce (which is the salt of Thailand)!

IMG_0705My Thai Cucumber Relish (Nam Thaeng Kwa): 

IMG_0549For the syrup*:

1  cup rice vinegar

1/2  cup water

2  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons Thai fish sauce

1  cup sugar

* Note:  Some Thai cooks bathe the vegetables in room temperature or slightly-warm syrup prior to serving, which softens the texture and mellows the flavors.  I like to refrigerate the syrup and assemble the relish using cold ingredients because I prefer a crispy texture.

IMG_0554 IMG_0562 IMG_0567 IMG_0573~Step 1.  Place the rice vinegar, water, seasoning soy and fish sauce in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat.  Stir in the sugar.  Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly.  Simmer for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature. Transfer to a 1-quart food storage container and refrigerate for serveral hours or overnight.

IMG_0605For the vegetables and peanuts:

2-2 1/2  pounds  peeled, halved and thinly-sliced, English (also known as European, burpless, seedless or hothouse) cucumbers

1 1/2-2 cups, halved and thinly-sliced shallots

4-6  very-thinly sliced or minced, red Thai chile peppers, more or less, to taste

IMG_0539 IMG_05204-6  tablespoons minced, fresh ginger

1  cup minced cilantro

1/2  cup blanched, unsalted peanuts, lightly-toasted and coarsely-chopped

IMG_0527 IMG_0543 IMG_0590 IMG_0583~Step 1.  Place the peanuts in an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish.  Roast on center rack of 375 degree oven until lightly-toasted, fragrant and golden, about 12-15 minutes, stopping to stir with a spoon about every 5 minutes during the process.  Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.  Using a mortar and pestle (this method is true Thai-style), or, a cutting board and a chef's knife (this method, for me, is much faster), coarsely chop the nuts.

IMG_0620 IMG_0611~ Step 2. Prep the cucumbers as directed. After peeling four large cucumbers, I have 2 pounds, 4 ounces.  Perfect!

IMG_0627~ Step 3. Prep the shallots. Refrigerate cucumbers and shallots for about an hour.

IMG_0652 IMG_0640 IMG_0663~Step 4.  Mince the chile peppers, ginger and cilantro as directed.

Note:  After a bit of slicing and IMG_0667dicing, things will look like this.  If it looks like a lot, trust me, it's not.  When I make this relish, I always make this amount.  My family enjoys it so much, I make it even when I'm not serving Thai food.  In the Summer, when our vegetable garden supplies me with lots of tomatoes, I chunk and add those to the mix too, which makes a fantastic side-salad to almost any American-style meat hot off the grill!

IMG_0693 IMG_0700~ Step 5. Place all of the prepped ingredients in a large bowl.  Add the chilled syrup.  Using a large rubber spatula, stir to thoroughly combine.  Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours prior to serving.

Note:  Kept refrigerated, relish will stay crisp and delish for 3-4 days:

IMG_1085Serve chilled in small bowls or ramekins:

IMG_0803Oh My Thai:  Spicy Quick-Pickled Cucumber Relish:  Recipe yields 6-7 cups.  Experience has taught me that everyone will munch on at least 1/2 cup of this cucumber relish/side-dish.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan; large spoon; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b019103a2f7c1970cCook's Note:  The first time I tasted real-deal Thai food the year was 1993 and it was right here in Happy Valley, PA.  The dish was ~Thai Red Pork Curry w/ Steamed Jasmine Rice ~.   It was prepared by for me by a woman from Thailand and, for me, it was love at first bite.  Over the next years, until Kanya moved back to Thailand, I learned as much as I could from her.  For a great story and a great recipe, click into Category 3 or 13!

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

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

08/10/2014

~ Summer Squash & Saffron Rice Stuffed Tomatoes~

IMG_0351Summer tomatoes and Summer squash.  These two pure and simple Summer "vegetables" (botanically both are "vine-fruit" because they are the receptacle for the seeds of the plant) are two of my favorite August things to eat.  It has nothing to do with eating healthy, I just plain love them -- I'd love them even if they weren't healthy.  If you grow your own in your backyard you know you've got a lot of both right now.  If you don't grow your own, after one quick inexpensive trip to your local farmers market, and the time it takes to cook some rice, couscous or quinoa, you can have this simple, super-delicious, side-dish on your dinner table in almost no time!

IMG_04342 cups sauted squash + 2 cups steamed rice + 6 tomato shells:

IMG_0226That is it.  That is all you will need to prepare this side-dish!

IMG_9960My Motto:  Almost anything tastes better with a tomato and almost anything tastes better in a tomato!  

In the event you've never stuffed a tomato before, you're definitely going to want to click on the Related Article link below to learn ~ How to:  Hollow Out Tomatoes for Stuffing Them ~.  In the event you're familiar with this technique, you might want to browse over it quickly -- just to compare your method with my tips.

IMG_0449~ Step 1.  Hollow out:

6  large, ripe (not overly ripe), round, firm, even-sized tomatoes

~ Step 2.  Prepare as directed and cool to room temperature:

1  10-ounce package IMG_0161Vigo Spanish-Style Saffron Yellow Rice Mix (Note:  This will be about twice as much rice as you will need to stuff 6 large tomatoes.)

~ Step 3.  Prepare and cool to room temperature, my (Just click on the Related Article link below to get the recipe.):

Pure & Simple:  Summer Squash (Zucchini) Saute (Note:  This will be about twice as much saute as you will need to stuff 6 large tomatoes.)

IMG_0234Note before getting started:  The tomato shells, the rice, and, the squash saute can all be prepared a day in advance and refrigerated overnight.  How convenient is that!

~ Step 4.  Using an ordinary tablespoon, place about 6 tablespoons of rice in each tomato shell.  Lightly press the rice down, but do not compact or stuff it.  Add more rice to each shell, if needed, to fill each one half way.

IMG_0270 IMG_0255~ Step 5. Using your fingertips, place and arrange overlapping layers of squash over the rice until nicely mounded up and over the top of each tomato. Lightly season tops with sea salt. Note:  I know I am overly-compulsive, but, if you take the time to carefully and decoratively place the squash on top, it will make for a very pretty presentation!

Bake on center rack of 325 degree oven...

IMG_0259... for 20-22 minutes.  Do not overcook.

IMG_0302Squash should be wilted and lightly browned.

Tomato shells should be a bit bubbly but not blistered:

IMG_0315Cool in pan for 5-10 minutes.

Tomato skins will wrinkle as they cool:

IMG_0327A perfectly executed steaming hot stuffed tomato:

IMG_0418Summer Squash & Saffron Rice Stuffed Tomatoes:  Recipe yields 6 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  serrated paring knife; grapefruit knife; grapefruit spoon; paper towels; standard-sized muffin tin; 2-quart saucepan; spoon; 12" skillet; spatula

IMG_8827Cook's Note:  While these stuffed tomatoes go great with a piece of grilled chicken or steak, my favorite food to serve them with is fish -- particularly white fish.  Just click on the Related Article link below to get ~ Mel's 30-Minute "Brain Food" Meal:  Broiled Cod w/Spicy Saffron Rice, Peas & Stewed Tomato Sauce ~!

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

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

08/07/2014

~ Pure & Simple: Summer Squash (Zucchini) Saute ~

IMG_0161Joe's August vegetable garden has been keeping the vegetable bin of my refrigerator full of green and yellow zucchini for almost two weeks now.  I've been keeping up with them (which really isn't a chore because I love them), but, the moment Joe walked into the kitchen this AM with his latest harvest (12), I knew I had to get things under control ASAP.  This recipe is a tasty way to use 6-8 of these fast growing veggies at once, and, it's about as pure and simple as it gets: delicately-flavored Summer squash (green and yellow zucchini are a type of Summer squash), a mild onion, a subtle herb, a bit of butter, some sea salt and peppercorn blend.

IMG_0175In the big picture, all squash fall into two categories:  Winter or Summer. Green and yellow zucchini are generically: Summer squash. They're a member of the Italian marrow squash family, and, were brought to the USA by Italian immigrants in the 1920's.  

Aside from color, yellow zucchini are identical to green zucchini. While they are indeed a type of yellow squash, correctly labeled IMG_9689they are:  golden or yellow zucchini. <They (pictured here) remain cylindrical in shape, do not taper at one end and get bulbous at the other, and/or have crook necks.  

Botanically, green and yellow zucchini are the fruit of the zucchini flower, but culinarily, they're treated as a savory vegetable.  They're best if harvested small/medium, 8"-10" long, while their seeds and fragile skin are still young and tender. 

This quick & easy, unpretentious weeknight side-dish... 

IMG_00664  tablespoons salted butter

4  generous cups unpeeled and thinly-sliced (1/4") small-medium (8"-10") green zucchini

4  generous cups unpeeled and thinly-sliced (1/4") small-medium (8"-10") yellow zucchini

4  ounces finely-diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1 cup)

1/4  cup minced, fresh dill

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, to taste, as needed throughout recipe

IMG_0028 IMG_0041 IMG_0060~ Step 1.   Prep the zucchini, onion and dill as directed.  Feel free to use all green or all yellow zucchini in this recipe. 

IMG_0097 IMG_0082~ Step 2. Melt butter in a 12" skillet over low heat.  Add the onion, increase heat to medium-high and saute until soft and translucent, about 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add all of the zucchini. Season with freshly-ground sea salt and pepper (from my mill: 20-30 grinds each).

IMG_0121 IMG_0105~ Step 3. Stir in the fresh dill and continue to saute, stirring constantly like you would a stir-fry, until squash is fork tender but not cooked completely through, about 4-5 minutes.  Do not overcook. Taste and adjust seasoning with sea salt and peppercorn blend.

... is fit for a semi-pretentious fish on Friday al fresco dinner too!

IMG_0204Pure & Simple:  Summer Squash (Zucchini) Saute:  Recipe yields 6 generous servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; large spoon

IMG_0139Cook's Note:  For anyone looking to cook zucchini a day in advance, or freeze it in a casserole, I am sorry to report: there is none.  Zucchini, like all Summer squash contains too much water for it to fare well on anything other than its intended maiden voyage.  Zucchini is a "use it or lose it" vegetable.  That being said, once you pick it, it will keep quite well in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator for 3-4 days!

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

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

08/05/2014

~ How to: Hollow Out Tomatoes for Stuffing Them ~

IMG_9960My motto:  Almost anything tastes better with a tomato and almost anything tastes better in a tomato.  The tomato season is finally upon us here in Central PA (we wait all year long for it in this part of the country), and with each passing day, Joe's harvest gets larger. When I can no longer keep up with eating them just as they are or adding them to sandwiches and salads, one of my favorite things to do is stuff them.  I'll be sharing one or two of my favorite recipes for stuffed tomatoes this week, so I thought I'd share my easy method for prepping tomato shells!

IMG_9999Whether it's garden-ripe tomatoes stuffed with fresh ingredients and eaten cold as a Summer salad; Winter tomatoes stuffed with precooked fillings then baked and eaten hot as a comforting side-dish; or, just because stuffed tomatoes are a great way to individually portion and elegantly present all kinds of food, follow these instructions for tasty stuffed tomatoes all year long:

IMG_9965~ Step 1.  Choose large (medium or small), ripe (not overly ripe), round, firm, even-sized tomatoes.  This will, of course, make for a prettier presentation, but more importantly, if your tomatoes are destined to be baked in the oven:  even size = even baking time.  Using a serrated knife, cut of a 1/2" slice from the stem snd of each tomato.

IMG_9969~ Step 2.  Using a grapefruit knife, carefully cut (so as not to pierce the outer skin) around the circumference of the opened-up end, about 1/4" all the way around.  

Note:  Use the point where the firm meat meets the pulp as a guide.

Gently work/poke the curved tip of the grapefruit knife down to the bottom of the tomato (again being careful not to pierce the skin) and lift out the soft center and core.

IMG_9975~ Step 3.  Using a grapefruit spoon, scrape, scoop and hollow out as much of the juicy pulp, seeds and loosened pieces as possible.

Note:  Use the portions of the tomato you removed as directed (sometimes they get added to the cooked filling) or compost them.

Repeat this process with all remaining tomatoes.

IMG_9980~ Step 4.  Lightly salt the insides of the tomato shells, turn them upside down and place them on several layers of paper towels.  Set them aside to drain, about 20 minutes.

Note:  A little bit of salt adds more than flavor, it "sweats" the excess moisture from the shells!

Tomatos are ready to be stuffed with previously prepared ingredients (like chicken, tuna, crab or pasta salad) and served cold, or:

Tomatos are ready to be stuffed with previously cooked ingredients (meat mixtures, vegetable sautes, rice and/or couscous), baked and served hot.  For best results, make sure precooked filling is at room temperature prior to stuffing.

IMG_0006Two Tips from Mel:  

1)  Hollowed out and inverted tomato shells (on paper towels) can be prepared hours in advance or stored in the refrigerator overnight. For best results, stuff tomatoes just prior to baking them.  

2)  When I stuff and bake tomatoes I like to put them in a muffin tin.  Its structure helps them to keep their shape while baking and it makes them easier to serve too.

Stuffing and baking instructions:  Gently place only as much filling as wil comfortably fit into each tomato shell -- don't pack or press it in.  Finish by forming a slight mound of filling at the top of each one.  Bake on center rack of 325 or 350 degree oven, 20-25 minutes.  Do not overbake!

IMG_9985How to:  Hollow Out Tomatoes for Stuffing Them:  Recipe yields instructions to hollow out as many tomato shells as you want to.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated knife; grapefruit knife; grapefruit spoon, paper towels; muffin tin

6a0120a8551282970b0162fc7897c3970dCook's Note:  ~ How to:  Make an Incredible Edible Tomato Rose ~ is a pretty way to garnish all sorts of food.  Some people think they are really hard to make, but they are not.  To learn my method, Click into Categories 15 or 21!

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

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

08/03/2014

~ Crunchy, Batter-Dipped Panko-Crusted Deep-Fried Yellow Zucchini w/Sweet Chili Sauce (Mae Ploy) ~

IMG_9928^I don't know about you, but I want some of that!^

The long, cylindrical, golden zucchini/yellow zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables.  It is slightly sweeter than green zucchini, but, not enough for me to prefer one over the other.  For me, it's all about how appealing they look when served together that makes me insist Joe grow both, and his garden is full of both now.  Botanically, zucchini are the fruit of the zucchini flower, but culinarily, they're treated as a veggie.  They're best if harvested small/medium, 8"-10" long, while their seeds are still young and tender.  You novice gardeners don't want to hear this, but that giant, prize-winning monster zucchini you grew is no way to impress your culinary friends!

IMG_9689The difference between yellow zucchini and yellow Summer squash is:

IMG_0178In the big picture, all squash fall into two categories:  Winter or Summer. Zucchini are Summer squash, they are a member of the Italian marrow squash family, and, were brought to the USA by Italian immigrants in the 1920's. Aside from color, yellow zucchini are identical to green zucchini.  While they are indeed a type of yellow squash, correctly labeled they are: zucchini. They remain cylindrical in shape, do not taper at one end and get bulbous at the other, and/or have crook necks.

Yellow zucchini are a hybrid of Italian green zucchini -- yellow zucchini are a specific type of yellow Summer squash!

IMG_9856 IMG_9858 IMG_9907If vegetables that are unremarkable in taste and texture are what you crave, you'll be happy to know any zucchini is safe to eat raw.  That being said, a bit of cooking does them a great kindness.

IMG_9946If you are looking for uses for your overabundant green or yellow zucchini (which can be used interchangeably), there's all sorts of recipes out there:  zucchini bread, cake, muffins, fritters, pancakes, waffles, etc. -- and they're all fine if you're looking to sneak a vegetable into your family's diet without them knowing it is there (and they won't).

<For me, I like them cooked and served on a plate in an identifiable manner:  lightly-seasoned and sauted, baked as a vegetable gratin, or, batter-dipped and deep-fried as a kick-some-butt appetizer!

6a0120a8551282970b0191045e8cfb970cA bit about batter dipping for deep-frying:  The ties that bind are more important than you think.  After a showdown between watery egg-milk-flour mixtures vs. my trendy beer batter, the beer batter won hands down.  In fact, it didn't even turn out to be a competition.  My beer batter doesn't use all-purpose flour either.  The day I started using pancake mix in place of all-purpose flour, my batter and end result went from ordinary to extraordinary.

6a0120a8551282970b01901e689bdd970bA bit about panko coating:  Why in the name of crunchiness would anyone want to continue to use old-fashioned breadcrumbs to coat fish, meat or vegetables if they knew about panko?  They wouldn't.

"Panko" is the Japanese word for "bread crumbs", and theirs are considerably crispier and crunchier than any of our Western bread crumbs.  What's more, they absorb less grease, more flavor and stay crispy a lot longer.  Panko is the "wow factor" of bread crumbs.

6a0120a8551282970b0192ac27f253970dA bit about deep-frying:  In my humble opinion, God put deep-fryers on this earth for a good reason and I now believe that next to fried-green tomatoes, zucchini may have been at the top of his list.

Put away that skillet or dangerous pot and enjoy the mess-free ease of how this relatively inexpensive and very-safe countertop appliance perfectly regulates temperature and cooks all types of food. 

Who wants a crunchy, crispy coating on a perfectly-cooked vegetable?  We all do.  Who wants a stovetop full of grease spatters and a ton of cleanup?  Not me, but this choice remains yours!

For those of you who erroneously maintain the mindset that deep-frying is bad because you end up ingesting too much oil, press the reset button: 

Deep-frying and shallow pan-frying have both earned their rightful place in the food world, and, I am not claiming that either is the healthiest form of cooking, but, when it comes to foods that are coated in bread crumbs and fried, pan frying wins the "suck up the oil" contest.  When food is breaded and sauted in a skillet, ever notice how much oil is left in the pan afterward?  A lot less than when you started.  Whats more, if you are working in batches, you know for a fact that you have to add more oil to the skillet each time.  The reverse is true when deep-frying.  Almost all of the oil remains in the fryer at the end, even when frying multiple batches.  Why?

A shallow skillet of oil will drop in temperature when cooler food is added to it, causing it to absorb more oil than fat kept at a steady 360-375+ degrees.  A deeper container of fat will retain its temperature when cooler food is added to it, resulting in less absorption of oil.   

IMG_97072  medium-sized 8" yellow zucchini, or green zucchini or a combination of both, each cut into 12, 1/2" discs

1 1/4  cups pancake mix, for dredging

1 1/2  cups additional pancake mix, for batter

1  12-ounce bottle of beer, or club soda (Note:  I highly-recommend the beer because of the yeasty tang it lends to the batter.)

1  8-ounce box or bag panko breadcrumbs

corn or peanut oil for deep-frying

freshly-ground sea salt

Thai Sweet Chili Sauce (Mae Ploy), for dipping or drizzling, store-bought or homemade (See Cook's Note below.)

6a0120a8551282970b01901e68dca4970b~ Step 1.  Part A.  Organize what I like to refer to as "a breading assembly line" (from left to right): IMG_96931)  1)  An 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish containing 1 1/4 cups of dry pancake mix.  2)  A mixing bowl containing 1 1/2  cups of dry pancake mix .  3)  An 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish containing 1/2 of the panko breadcrumbs.  4)  A deep-fryer containing oil preheated to 350 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.  5)  A baking pan lined with several layers of paper towels + a cooling rack.

6a0120a8551282970b0192ac2845a2970d~ Step 1.  Part B.  When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer. Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer or some water to maintain a drizzly consistency.

IMG_9711 IMG_9715~ Step 2.  Working 4-5 disks at a time, dredge the zucchiniin the dry pancake mix to coat them on all sides.  Note:  I fry 4 larger discs (from the center of the zucchini) or 5 smaller disks ( from the slightly-tapered ends).  This is what fits comfortably in the basket of my fryer without overcrowing.

IMG_9722 IMG_9727~ Step 3.  Next, move up the assembly line, and using a fork, one at a time, dip each disk in the batter.  As you lift each one out of the batter, hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the excess batter to drizzle back into the bowl. As you batter dip each disk, place it into panko.  

IMG_9736 IMG_9740~ Step 4.  Dredge each one on all sides the moment it enters the panko, meaning, do not wait to coat the disks in panko until all four are in the dish.  Why?  You don't want to give the thin coating of batter any time to drip off the sides.

Note:  I accomplish the breading task on an ongoing basis, using a fork held in one of hand.  This keeps my other hand free to deep-fry!

IMG_9767 IMG_9771~ Step 5. Using the fork or your fingertips (whatever you feel most comfortable with), carefully place the zucchini disks in the basket of the fryer and slowly lower it down into corn or peanut oil that has been preheated to 360 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.  Close the lid and fry at 360 degrees for exactly 3 IMG_9812minutes.  Do not overcook.  

1/2"-thick zucchini discs + 360 degrees for 3 minutes =

a golden crispy coating outside with tender, flavorful zucchini inside.  

Lift basket from fryer and transfer zucchini to a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.

IMG_9819Tip:  Tip basket onto pan to not damage  coating via a fork or tongs.

IMMEDIATELY sprinkle zucchini with a grinding of sea salt, then transfer them to a cooling rack. Repeat process until all zucchini discs are deep fried.  Serve hot (immediately as they come out of the deep-fryer, warm (within 30 minutes), or at room temperature (within 1 hour).  Trust me, these will still be crispy after one hour:

IMG_9822I cannot stress how important quality control is:

IMG_9829Crunchy, Batter-Dipped Panko-Crusted Deep-Fried Yellow Zucchini w/Sweet Chile Sauce (Mae Ploy):  Recipe yields 2 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2, shallow 8" x 8" baking dishes or 9" pie dishes; medium mixing bowl; whisk; fork; deep-fryer; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; paper towels; cooling rack

IMG_0137Cook's Note: There is no shame in purchasing Mae Ploy at your Asian market .  But, in the event you'd like to make it at home, my recipe for ~"Would You Like Sweet Chili Sauce With That?" ~ can be found in Categories 8, 13 & 20!

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

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

08/01/2014

~ Loco for Cocoa: Spicy Chocolate Cherry Cookies ~

IMG_9598This recipe started off back in the 1980's as a simple-to-make but excellent chocolate chocolate-chip drop-cookie recipe.  It was so kid-tested and mother approved there was a period in my life when I had it committed to memory.  Those were the PTA bake-sale days -- these and a few other cookies of mine (gingersnaps, snickerdoodles and peanut butter cookies) made a few elementary schools quite a few dollars.  I remember making 25 dozen of these chocolate cookies for Park Forest Elementary's Thanksgiving play (Jesse, in the 1st grade at the time, played the role of Christopher Columbus and opened the show by discovering America)!

This recipe, originally 'kids stuff', matured over the years!

IMG_9510I went loco for cocoa (powder).  I'm at a loss for the original porportions of flour to cocoa powder, but, every time I made these cookies, I found myself wanting more chocolate flavor, so, the next time I baked them I would subtract 2 tablespoons of flour and make up the difference with extra cocoa powder.  It never affected the outcome of my recipe, it only made it better.  I stopped the experiments when I arrived at equal amounts of flour and cocoa powder.  This was not a scientific study -- it worked in this recipe, but, I cannot guarantee the same outcome in others.

6a0120a8551282970b0192abd018fe970dRemove the cherries from the ingredients list and you're looking at my original recipe. They got added in the latter 1990's,  after Joe planted a sour-cherry tree in the backyard.  This prompted me to add a splash of cherry extract, and, upscale the cocoa and chocolate too.  The cayenne pepper was a 'no brainer' after experiencing a few Mexican chocolate mole sauces!    

IMG_93533/4  cup unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4  cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder (Note:  I originally used Hershey's cocoa.)

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper 

1  teaspoon baking soda

IMG_94011/4  teasapoon sea salt

10  tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature 

8  tablespoons sugar

8  tablespoons firmly-packed dark brown sugar

1  extra-large egg, at room temperature

1  teaspoon pure cherry extract

1/2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6 ounces Lindt 70% cacoa dark chocolate, 1 cup after chopping (Note:  I originally used Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate morsels.)

IMG_93881  cup dried sour cherries, coarsely chopped after measuring (Note:  You can purchase dried sour cherries, but, in the event you too have your own cherry tree, check out my post ~ Culinary Jewels:  Dehydrated Sour ("Pie") Cherries ~ in Categories 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 15 or 20!)

IMG_9382 IMG_9380~ Step 1. Chop the chocolate, then the cherries, as directed and pictured above.  Separately, set each aside. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

IMG_9398~ Step 2.  In a large bowl, place the butter and sugars.

IMG_9411On highest speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars together, until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, using a large rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl almost constantly.

IMG_9419Add and beat in the egg and extracts, about 1 minute. Mixture will be soft and creamy.

IMG_9435 IMG_9429~ Step 3. Remove the mixer -- you are done with it. Using the spatula, gradually add and fold in the dry flour mixture, in two or three parts, until a rich, thick, dark, chocolately cookie dough forms. Take a taste -- you've earned it.  

Note:  This will take a couple of minutes to do, and, take the time to do it right -- make sure there are no pockets of unmixed dry mixture. 

IMG_9439 IMG_9450~ Step 4.  Using the spatula fold in the chocolate chunks, followed by the chopped dried cherries. Do not fold them in at the same time.  Add the cherries, which are more delicate, second.

IMG_9464                 ~ Step 5.  Line 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper.

IMG_9457Working one pan at a time and using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place rounded scoopfuls of dough, 12 on the first pan.  Place pan in the refrigerator for 6-8 minutes.  Repeat this process with second pan while first pan is in the refrigerator.

IMG_9484 IMG_9472~ Step 6. Bake cookies, one pan at a time, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for about 13-14 minutes, or until cookies are puffed, slightly shiny, and cracks appear across the surface.  Do not overbake.  Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool in pan for 5-6 minutes prior to using a thin spatula to transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.

IMG_9513Got Milk?  

IMG_0466Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside:

IMG_0469You can't eat just one -- these are life in the fast lane of cookies!

IMG_9608Loco for Cocoa:  Spicy Cherry Cookies:  Recipe yields 2 dozen cookies.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; cooling rack; small spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01901e159b0e970bCook's Note:  For another one of my favorite cookies containing the great taste of tart, dried, 'pie cherries', you can find my recipe for ~Oatmeal & Savory Dried Sour Cherry Sensations ~ in Category 7.  You can thank me later!

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

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