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12 posts from September 2014

09/30/2014

~ My Five-Minute Breakfast-on-the-Go Egg-Pocket ~

IMG_4667Drive through, order, pick it up at the window, pay, and, "hi-ho, hi-ho it's off to work you go".  If you are one of "those people" (you know who you are), trying to save time in the AM by making a stop at the local drive-through, and worse, eating in the car on your way to work -- cut it out. Enjoy an extra half hour of sleep or an extra-long shower, or, watch your favorite morning show or listen to your favorite tunes and read the newspaper or leaf through a magazine instead.

Listen to the coffee drip and eat in your own kitchen:

IMG_4670Hating to make breakfast is no excuse.  No one hates mornings more than me, so, I know how uninspiring it can be to hit the ground first thing in the morning with a whisk in your hand.  That being said, no one enjoys a hot, tasty breakfast more than me.  This lifelong dilemma is what has made me the self-appointed queen of quick, no muss, no fuss, really-good breakfast food.

Welcome to McMel's Early Morning Kitchen:

(I'm always in a bad mood but the food is good & the coffee is free!)

This recipe is so easy that once you make it once, you won't need a recipe.  This is the one I send my husband carrying in-hand out the door with a to-go cup of coffee when he's leaving for a business trip at 4:30AM.  This is the one I made and served to my three boys, one-at-a-time, as they took turns in the shower, dressed, and straggled down the stairs before school -- even 'Johnny-come-lately' could eat one while walking to the school bus stop.  Making them to order ("with or without", meaning cheese) on my little camp stove for early morning Penn State tailgates at Beaver Stadium was hugely popular -- they go great with a Bloody Mary!

IMG_4655I love easy & "snap, crackle and pop" ain't got nothin' on me:

IMG_45111  teaspoon salted butter

2  extra-large eggs

2-3  tablespoons water

a literal pinch of sea salt

2 very-thin slices lean, deli-syle ham, your favorite kind

2  tablespoons finely-grated (not sliced) cheddar or Swiss cheese

1  English muffin, split and toasted

IMG_4519 IMG_4516                                       ~ Step 1. Place the eggs in a 1-cup measuring container plus add enough water to total 1/2 cup of liquid, about 2-3 tablespoons.  Add a pinch of sea salt  -- do not not measure.  More than a pinch is too much salt. 

~ Step 2.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. In a gentle, steady stream, add the eggs to the skillet.  Do nothing for 10-15 seconds, until the eggs just start to set up on the bottom:

IMG_4523 IMG_4524 IMG_4525 IMG_4526

 

 

 

 

IMG_4531 IMG_4528Step 3.  In a series of "skillet on and off an on the heat" moves, lift the skillet up and off the heat, swirl the pan to distribute the egg mixture up and around the sides of the pan and return the skillet to the heat. Repeat this 4-6 more times, until the remaining liquid doesn't want to move around in the pan.

IMG_4537~ Step 4.  Without swirling, spend about 15-20 more seconds lifting the pan on and off the heat until the remaining eggs START to look dry on the surface and steam bubbles are building up underneath.

Note:  All of this "on and off lifting" keeps the eggs from overcooking and browning.  Browning = Dry.

~ Step 5.  The rest (filling and folding the eggs) goes super-fast so split and pop that English muffin into the toaster now and proceed:

IMG_4628 IMG_4630~ Step 6. Place two slices of deli-style ham on top of the eggs, leaving a 1 1/2" border around the perimeter of the pan.  

IMG_4635If you like cheese on your breakfast sandwiches (Joe does, I do not) now is the time to add:  

2 tablespoons of grated, not sliced, cheddar or Swiss.  Sprinkle it in a 4" circle over the ham.

Note:  Wouldn't it just be easier to slap a slice of cheese on top of the ham?  Well, yes it would, but, when it comes time to fold the eggs, you would find that a square of not-yet completely melted cheese causes the fragile eggs to crack around the corners, and, the most beautiful part about this sandwich is how the fillings stay totally encased in the eggs until it is time to eat!

IMG_4642 IMG_4644 IMG_4647 IMG_4648~Step 7.  To fold, using a large spatula, fold the side closest to you up and into the center.  Fold the left side into the center, followed by the right side into the center.  Fold the last remaining side, the one farthest away from you, to the center to form a perfect square w/filling(s) encased.

IMG_4566 IMG_4661~ Step 8. Flip the egg pocket over. Place the bottom of the hot English muffin on a piece of foil, place the egg pocket on top, followed by the hot muffin top.  Seal foil around the sandwich, to allow bread to steam a bit, about 1-minute.  Use this time wisely:  wash and dry the skillet!

Ok -- Open the Foil -- Take a look, take a second look too:

IMG_4550Still thinking about wasting time at the drive-through?

IMG_4705My Five-Minute Breakfast-on-the-Go Egg Pocket:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1 sandwich at a time.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; 10" nonstick skillet; spatula; toaster; aluminum foil

IMG_1098Cook's Note:  If you are an egg lover and it is not a breakfast sandwich you are craving, ~ My E-Z Creamy-Dreamy Folded French Omelette ~ is most likely what you are in the market for.  You can find my recipe, and a lot of information about omelettes in general, by clicking in Categories 9, 15, 20 & 21.  It's egg-cellent!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 20140 

09/27/2014

~ My All-Purpose PA Dutch-Style Streusel Topping ~

IMG_4344A buttery-rich, cripsy streusel topping is one of my favorite things.  I like it because it is both sweet and savory, which makes it very adaptable.  I grew up in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania, "PA Deutsch Country" -- "the land of apple desserts"  Everyone who baked used streusel to top tart fruit pies, coffeecakes and muffins.  A neighbor of ours, Agnes, who baked a few times a week, would mix up a big bowl of her streusel topping and keep it on hand in the refrigerator all week -- which if you have a lot of baking to do at any time is very convenient!

You say Pennsylvania Dutch, We say Pennsylvania Deutsch!

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcafef88970bI am here to make it clear that Pennsylvania Dutch-style cookery does not belong solely to PA and it is not Dutch either.  The term "Dutch" was the early English settlers slang for the German word "Deutsch".  So:  When most people incorrectly say "Pennsylvania Dutch", they should be saying "Pennsylvania Deutsch", crediting the Germanic or German speaking immigrants from Germany and Switzerland for this cuisine.  The majority of these people were either Amish, Mennonite or Brethren, all of which were considered "Anabaptist".  They were fleeing the mountains of Switzerland and southern German to avoid religious persecution and established several communities in the Lehigh Valley.  Why?  Thank William Penn for his free-thinking, open-door, equal-opportunity-for-all of any religion or race politics.  Pennsylvania set an example for the other colonies, who all had established an offical "state" religion. Pennsylvania.  The first to welcome people of all beliefs and walks of life?  You betcha!

Pennsylvania-Deutsch-Style Streusel Topping:

Streusel (STROO-zuhl) is the German word for "something scattered, strewn or sprinkled".  In baking, it is a crumbly topping for pies, coffeecakes and muffins.  It is basically a mixture of four ingredients (flour, sugar, butter and salt), but, it is not uncommon to find aromatic spices (cinnamon, cloves and/or nutmeg) and/or uncooked oats or chopped nuts added to it.  Streusel is especially good on tart pies (apple, cherry, peach or rhubarb) where sweet and savory, rather than a mundane top crust, is a welcome, flavor-enhancing addition.  Streusel is also one of a baker's best kept secrets.  On a day where you don't have a lot of time for pie pastry making, or, you find yourself with an overabundance of ingredients, in less than five minutes, two pie pastries transform into two pies and no one is the wiser for it or disappointed by it.

Personally, I prefer a streusel-topped pie to a two-crust pie almost always.  If you are a regular reader of Kitchen Encounters, you know I've shared several recipes that use streusel topping. Depending upon what I am baking, I vary the following recipe to suit my needs:  sometimes I use nuts, sometimes I don't.  Some times I use oats, sometimes I don't.  Sometimes I use all cinnamon, other times, I add cloves or nutmeg too.  Click on any of the Related Article links below for examples of what I am saying:  use this recipe as a guide -- it will never let you down!

IMG_43066  tablespoons cold, salted butter, cut into cubes or slices

1/2  cup sugar

1/2  cup all-purpose flour

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

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1  cup coarsely-chopped walnuts or pecans (Note:  I do not add nuts for cherry or rhubarb pies but do for apple and peach pie!)

IMG_4311 IMG_4321 IMG_4324~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, using a pastry blender and a sharp knife, "cut" the butter into the sugar, flour and cinnamon.

IMG_4332Stop "cutting" when it resembles coarse, pea-sized crumbs.

Note:  If you want to add other spices, instead of just cinnamon, one of my favorite combinations is:

3/4  teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

~ Step 2.  Coarsely chop the nuts as directed.  They should be about the same size as the pieces of butter.

IMG_4337Note:  Do not use or be inclined to try using toasted or lightly-toasted nuts.  Streusel topping is always sprinkled on something that is going to be baked in the oven. Even the slightest bit of toasting will cause the nuts to burn before your dessert fully-bakes.

IMG_4340~ Step 3. Gently fold the nuts into the delicate, softening butter IMG_4438mixture.  You don't want to smash the butter pieces.

~ Step 4.  Sprinkle onto pies, coffeecakes and/or muffins, just prior to baking and bake as directed in specific recipe.

Note:  If baking more than one pie, coffeecake or batch of muffins, never, sprinkle the streusel topping on until whatever it is, is ready for the oven.  The moisture from the fruit filling or cake batter will start to dissolve the sugar  immediately and always affect the end result.

A streusel-topped pie ready for the oven:

IMG_4466A streusel-topped pie out of the oven:

IMG_4477My All-Purpose PA Dutch-Style Streusel Topping:  Recipe yields enough streusel topping for 1, 9"-10" pie, coffeecake or 1 dozen standard-sized muffins.

Special Equipment List:  pastry blender; paring knife; cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b016303dc1dd1970dCook's Note:  In the event you are using a a recipe that instructs you, for whatever reason, to top your baked goods, before or after baking, with toasted or lightly-toasted nuts or seeds (including pumpkin seeds), for instructions, click into Category 15 to read my post: ~ How to:  Roast/Toast Nuts & Some Seeds ~!

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

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

09/25/2014

~ Dutch Apple, Sour Cream & Walnut-Streusel Pie ~

IMG_4589"It's as easy as apple pie."  I hear people say it all the time, and, it annoys me every time because it is a very misleading statement.  Baking a really good apple pie is not as easy as "A, B, C", "one, two three" or even "snap, crackle, pop".  Too many people think that just because they've baked an apple pie it automatically qualifies for awesome apple pie status.  It does not.  I have encountered more than a few nasty renditions:  from overcooked to undercooked, sickeningly sweet to vapid, and, soupy to pasty, they were anything but the "pleasant and accommodating" experience Mark Twain painted in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The phrase "it's as easy as pie" originated a century ago when almost every American homemaker baked pies several times a week.  It was a task so familiar, it was done without any real effort.  When it came to apple pies, they used the apples that grew in their climate and adapted the recipes of their family's heritage to suit those apples.  More often than not, they picked them off of a tree in their backyard or bartered for a basket from their neighbor.  They did not have the luxury of walking into a market and choosing from five or six varieties (from the hundreds of varieties mass produced in the world today).  It really was, "as easy as pie!"

An apple a day might keep the doctor away but:

 All apples are not created equally.  

IMG_2575Just because an apple tastes good does not make it pie-friendly!

Just because it tastes good does not make it pie-friendly.  My favorite eating apple is the soft-fleshed, creamy McIntosh, and, I use them to make applesauce too.  My husband Joe grows Fuji's and Granny Smith's in our backyard -- they both taste great and do well in our Central PA climate.  Fuji's are relative newcomers to America's apple scene.  They're crisp, sweet and are best eaten raw in salads and slaws.  As for the Granny Smith, originally from Australia, with its bright-green skin, tart taste and crisp texture, not only is it pie friendly, it is wonderful when cooked with savory foods (like onions) or served with salty foods (like cheese). I could go on -- and on -- there are hundreds of varieties of apples in the world, with about 60 of them mass grown in America.  My point is:  before you put an apple in a pie, find out if it is pie friendly!

So what exactly is a Dutch-style apple pie?

IMG_4597Recipes for Dutch apple pie date back centuries with the first written recipe appearing in 1514 (and it is said to be almost identical to modern day recipes).  The basis for a Dutch apple pie is a single crust pie with a filling of thinly-sliced crisp, tart apples (to create dense apple layers).  A judicious use of sugar in combination with cinnamon, lemon juice and sometimes sour cream give this pie a pleasant tart tang.  Raisins and/or nuts are common additions.  Traditional Dutch apple pie comes in two varieties:  a streusel topping or a lattice top made with leftover scraps of dough. Here in the USA, "Dutch Apple Pie" specifically refers to a streusel topped pie.

The Dutch apple pie is my favorite kind of apple pie and it isn't just because I grew up in Pennsylvania Deutsch country (I refer to the Lehigh Valley of PA "the land of apple desserts") and currently live in Amish country.  I really do prefer it to the typical two-crust apple pie.  For me, a flaky pie crust on the bottom and a buttery, crispy streusel on the top is the best of both worlds. The sour cream, which gives it an enchanting tangy taste and luxurious creamy texture pretty much eliminates the need for a scoop of ice cream.  It is the Dutch apple pie that has earned its place on my annual Thanksgiving dessert buffet (right next to the traditional pumpkin pie)!

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd1ccef1970bFor the pie pastry:

1  recipe for pate brisee, or your favorite pie pastry recipe, rolled, fitted into a 9" pie dish and decoratively edged (Note:  In a pinch, a high-quality store-bought crust will work too.)

Note:  Pate brisee is the French term for "short pastry" used for both sweet and savory crusts, like pies and quiches.  You can find my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee:  Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~ in Categories 6, 15 or 22.  It's really easy to make your own pastry and takes less than 5 minutes in the food processor, and, you can make several in advance.  I freeze them flat, layered between sheets of parchment.  Just thaw and use.  How convenient is that!

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

IMG_43066  tablespoons cold, salted butter, cut into cubes or slices

1/2  cup sugar

1/2  cup all-purpose flour

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

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon 

1  cup coarsely-chopped walnuts or pecans (optional) (I don't add nuts for cherry or rhubarb pie but do for apple and peach pie!)

IMG_4353For the pie filling:

1 1/2  pounds peeled, cored and thinly-sliced Granny Smith Apples (Note:  I got 1 1/2 pounds from 4, large, 9-ounce apples.  If your apples are smaller, you may need 6-7 apples.)

1/2  cup sugar

6  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1  cup sour cream

1  teaspoon lemon juice

IMG_43571/2  teaspoon pure apple extract*

1/2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

* Note:  Never heard of apple extract?  Neither had I until about a year ago.  Olive Nation, however, has "turned me on to it", along with many other organic extracts and flavorings (key lime, mango, peach, pineapple, etc.).  Check them out!

IMG_4303~ Step 1.  Prepare the pie pastry. Roll, fit, form and edge one 9" pie pastry as directed in specific recipe. I use a 9" quiche dish because I like the look of streusel pies baked in a fluted-edged pan.  You can prepare the crust up to a day in advance of baking the pie, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight. Just be sure to remove it from the refrigerator an hour or so prior to assembling and baking the pie so the crust is at room temperature when it goes into the oven.

IMG_4311 IMG_4321 IMG_4324~ Step 2.  Prepare the walnut-streusel topping. In a medium mixing bowl, using a pastry blender and a sharp knife, "cut" the IMG_4344butter into the sugar, flour IMG_4332and cinnamon until  mixture resembles pea-sized crumbs.

IMG_4335Fold in the nuts, which are  the same size as the butter pieces.

IMG_4364 IMG_4367 IMG_4370 IMG_4374~Step 3.  Prepare the pie filling.  In a large mixing bowl, using a large rubber spatula, stir together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt.  Add the sour cream, lemon juice and extracts.  Thoroughly stir.  Mixture should be smooth and uniform in color.  Set aside.

IMG_4394 IMG_4398 IMG_4404~ Step 4.  Peel,  slice and add the apples in increments as you work, stirring into the sour cream mixture each time.

This will insure the apples all get thoroughly and evenly coated in the sour cream mixture:  

IMG_4381Note: I slice my apples to a thickness of 1/4" to slightly less than 1/4".  It is important for know that if you slice your apples thicker or thinner, this will affect the baking time and the end result.

IMG_4415~ Step 5.  Spoon the pie filling into the pie shell. Take your time, meaning: don't dump it in.  With each spoonful, make sure the apples are randomly layered flat on top of each other, with not a lot of wasted air space in between.

IMG_4427Trust me, all of the pie filling will fit, and yes, the pie dish will be very full. This is exactly what you want.

IMG_4438~ Step 6.  Spoon the streusel topping evenly over the pie filling, taking the time to spread it into the edges and mound it towards the center.  Do not pack it or anything down.  Keep it light and airy.

IMG_4446Trust me, all of the streusel topping will fit, and yes, the pie dish will be really, really full.  This is exactly what you want.

~ Step 7.  Bake on center rack of 350 degree oven for 1 hour.  After the first 30 minutes in the oven, lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the top of the pie.  Make no attempt to seal it.  The foil sheet is there for protection, to keep the walnuts from burning.  Remove pie from oven and place on a cooling rack, to cool completely prior to slicing and serving, 4-6 hours or overnight. 

Pie going into the oven:

IMG_4466Pie coming out of the oven:

IMG_4477Pie going into my mouth:

IMG_4604Dutch Apple, Sour Cream & Walnut-Streusel Pie:  Recipe yields 1, 9" pie, 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  9" pie or quiche dish; pastry blender; paring knife; large rubber spatula; vegetable peeler; cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon; aluminum foil; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0147e01a0cb0970bCook's Note:  This amazing combination of McIntosh apples, Bosc pear, clove-studded oranges and white wine is not your grandmother's applesauce.  I simmer and puree a bit batch every Fall to have on hand in my freezer all year.  To get my recipe for ~ Simply Silky-Smooth Spiced Apple-Pear Puree ~, just click into Categories 4, 8, 18 or 22!

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

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

09/23/2014

~ My Second-City Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza ~

IMG_4246Aside from several layovers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport during the 1980's, my experiences with Illinois are limited:  #1)  Piccalilli, a highly-seasoned absolutely-delicious green sweet-pickle relish that my friend from Champaign makes and gave me her recipe for. #2) Chicago-style hot dogs in full regalia, which I devoured during every airport layover.  #3) One Chicago-Style pizza that I ate at Uno's Pizzeria on Rush Street in Chicagoland proper -- OMG!

IMG_4262"Step into my pizza parlor", said the spider to the fly!

IMG_2458All three made a big impression on me, because every once in a while I make a batch of piccalilli, and, I keep a jar of sport peppers and kriptonite-colored pickle relish in my refrigerator at all times to satisfy my cravings for a hot dog that's been "dragged through the garden".  You can find my recipe for ~ A Hot Dog with a Salad on Top? Only in Chicago! ~, by clicking on the Related Article link below.  

My Uno's Chicago-style pizza encounter was a life-changing enough food experience for me make arrangements ($$$'s under the table to the manager du jour IMG_4003that evening) for me to walk out the door with two brand new, 14" deep-dish pizza pans with removable bottoms in a take-out box.  Money talks.  Flirting helps.  Don't every let anyone tell you otherwise.

You see, even in my latter twenties, I was a sophisticated enough foodie to know that even with this very important pizza tasting experience under my belt, without the correct pizza  pan, concocting a real-deal deep-dish recipe in my home kitchen would be tough going.

IMG_4009For the purpose of writing this post (30+ years after the fact), I am sorry to report I cannot find the pans I own for sale anywhere, but, I did manage to find two 14" deep-dish Nordic Ware pans that I have used and can recommend. They don't have removable bottoms (which means you'll have to "scoop" your pizza out of the pan), but, my recipe will work for you in them (about $25.00 on amazon.com).  My son Jesse makes my recipe in his 14" well-seasoned Lodge cast-iron skillet and gets great results too!

Never had a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza experience?

IMG_4204Had I never experienced it, coming up with a recipe to share here on KE would have been totally impossible.  You see, Chicago-style deep-dish pizza has no real connection with any pizza we eat here in the East (or anywhere else in the USA for that matter) except that in the end, a tomato and cheese pie made with a yeast crust is called a pizza.  This lovingly written post is meant to be a tribute to this pizza, an introduction to this pizza-eating experience, and, a general guide to making this pizza at home.  It is not a boast about my having the best rendition (although it is very, very good) or a contest between me and any Chicago pizza joint.  Enjoy! 

"Chicago-Style" Pizza (general history and info regarding thin crust, stuffed & deep-dish):

The original "Chicago-style" pizza is thin-crust pizza -- it's found on every street corner and it came along long before deep-dish (circa 1940's) or stuffed (circa 1970's) pizza.  Yes, thin crust pizza is fantastic in Chicago, but honestly, though different, you can find really good thin ones in other parts of the country too.  Stuffed pizza, which is available everywhere in Chicago too, is a deep-dish pizza with a bottom and top crust.  It too is a specialty of Chicago, but, like thin-crust pizza you can find great stuffed pizza elsewhere.  It is the deep-dish pizza that made Chicago pizza famous, and it's impossible to find one to compare anywhere else, so, when people say "Chicago-style" pizza, they are indeed referring to deep-dish.  What do all "Chicago-style pizzas have in common?  Sausage.  Chicago is the hog producer to the world - Chicago is hog heaven!

Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza (general information):

IMG_4142The crust is sometimes referred to as rich and biscuit-like.  I liken it to a focaccia that gets slighly-fried due to the oil in the pan. The yeast dough is enriched with yellow cornmeal (which gives it a yellow hue) and corn oil or butter.  Once the dough has risen, it gets hand-pressed into a 2"-3"-deep pan with oiled fingertips where it rises again for a short time before being assembled. Because the pizza is 2"-3" deep and filled with hearty ingredients, it is more akin to eating a savory main-dish pie than a light, lunchy snack.  One slice, two max, this is a main course slice of pie!

The basic assembly is a bit different from the classic Neapolitan pizza that I am used to making. The cheese, usually sliced, goes in first, to line the bottom and sides of the crust (to keep the crust from getting soggy and keep the cheese from burning during the somewhat lengthy baking time required).  Precooked sausage filling (or filling of choice) comes next, going in on top of the cheese.  Tomatoes or tomato sauce go on top of the filling.  A generous amount of freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and herbs finish it off before it goes into the oven to bake.

IMG_4233Chicago-style deep-dish pizza is not hard to make, it's fun,

but, read these instructions carefully prior to starting:

IMG_4053For one 14" crust:

3  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2  cup yellow cornmeal

2  packets granulated, dry yeast, not rapid-rise

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon sugar

1  teaspoon salt

1 1/4  cups hot tap water

1/4  cup corn oil, plus 2 additional tablespoons for preparing pan

no-stick cooking spray

IMG_4010For the sausage filling:

2  tablespoons corn oil

1  pound sausage (sweet or hot, your choice), casings removed

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion 

3/4  cup diced green bell pepper

1  cup thinly-sliced white button mushroom caps 

sea salt and peppercorn blend

For the sauce:

1 1/2  cups pizza sauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite brand (You can find my recipe for ~ Preschutti Pizza, Part 1:  Our Favorite Sauce ~ in Categories 2, 5, 8, 12, 19 or 22.)

IMG_4104For the cheeses and spices:

12  slices provolone cheese, not too thick, not too thin

10  slices mozzarella cheese, not to thick, not too thin

1/2  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

dried basil, dried oregano or Italian seasoning blend

peperoncino (red pepper flakes)

Part One:  Making the Cornmeal Pizza Crust

IMG_4070~ Step 1.  In workbowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, place the flour, cornmeal, garlic powder, sugar and salt.  Using a series of 10-12 rapid on-off pulses, quickly blend ingredients together.

IMG_4065In a 2-cup measuring container, place hot water & oil.

With processor motor running, slowly, in a thin stream, add the water/oil mixture through the feed IMG_4084tube (on the top of processor).  

IMG_4074Continue to add water/oil just until a large ball forms, then stop adding liquid immediately. Continue to knead the ball of dough in the IMG_4092processor, about 30-45 revolutions around the workbowl.

~ Step 2.  Spray the inside of a large, 2-gallon food storage bag with no-stick spray.  Carefully (the blade is sharp) remove dough from processor and form into a ball.

IMG_4098~ Step 3. Place dough in bag, zip bag closed and set IMG_4100aside, until dough doubles in bulk, 45-60 minutes.  

While dough is rising make the sausage filling (or 3 cups of your favorite filling) and warm 1 1/2 cups of pizza sauce as directed below:

Part Two:  Making the Sausage Filling & Warming the Sauce

IMG_4017 IMG_4033 IMG_4036~ Step 1.  Place corn oil in a large skillet.  Remove casings from sausage and add the meat to the skillet, breaking it up into pieces as you add it.  Prep IMG_4025onion, green pepper and mushrooms, adding them to the pan as you work. Lightly grind sea salt and peppercorn blend over all.  I add 30 grinds of salt & 60 grinds of pepper. Do it to taste but do not over salt.

Over medium-high heat, saute, sitrring constantly, until vegetables are soft and sausage is completely cooked through and plump, not brown or dry, about 15 minutes. IMG_4040Continue to use the side of the spoon or spatula to break the meat up into bite-sized chunks and pieces during the cooking process.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and cool.  You'll have 3 generous cups. I always prepare the filling and sauce a day ahead, refrigerate them overnight and gently rewarm them in the microwave just prior to assembling pizza.  Married flavors always taste better the next day!

IMG_4059Note:  In Chicago, it is the norm to find minced or chopped garlic, 2-4-6 cloves, added to the sausage filling mixture.  Because my recipe for pizza sauce contains quite a bit of garlic, I do not add it to my filling.

~ Step 2.  On stovetop, gently warm 1 1/2 cups of my pizza sauce, your own pizza sauce or your favorite brand of pizza sauce.

Note:  Both the filling and the sauce should be slightly warm (not hot and not cold) at assembly time.

Part Three:  Forming the Crust and Assembling the Pizza

IMG_4113 IMG_4117 IMG_4125 IMG_4126~Step 1.  Place 2 tablespoons of corn oil in pizza pan.  Using a paper towel, grease the bottom IMG_4135and sides of pan.  Place dough in prepared pan.  Oil your fingertips in the paper towel.  Begin flattening, pressing and working the dough across the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  You want the dough to be even in thickness throughout (bottom and sides) with no rips or tears.  This takes a little time, but you will "get into it".

~ Step 2.  Set pizza aside for 20-30 minutes, to allow dough to rise a little more in the pan.

Note:  When filling the pizza, do not compress any of fillings into the pan, including the cheese. 

IMG_4147 IMG_4162 IMG_4163 IMG_4166~Step 3.  Arrange the provolone slices in the pan, side by side, slighly overlapping, on the bottom and up the sides of the pan, to within 1/4" of the rim.  Arrange the mozzarella slices on top of the provolone slices, side by side, slightly overlapping on the bottom and up the sides of IMG_4172the pan, to within 1/4 " of the rim. Using a large slotted spoon, evenly distribute all of the sausage filling on top of the cheeses.  Remember, do not pack it down. Spoon/drizzle the tomato sauce over the sausage filling, allowing it to drizzle down through the nooks and crannies throughout the sausage. Sprinkle the Parm-Regg evenly over all

Lightly, season with basil, oregano or Italian seasoning blend and red pepper flakes -- to taste.

Part Four:  Baking, Serving and Eating Pizza

IMG_4190~ Step 1.  Bake on lower third of 425 degree oven 10 minutes. Reduce temp to 350 degrees and continue to bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack for 10 minutes, prior to slicing and serving.  If your pizza pan has a removable bottom:

After cooling on rack for 10 minutes, position the entire pizza pan on a small cake or pizza pedestal.  The pizza on the bottom of the pan will remain on the pedestal and the sides of  pan will drop to countertop.  Remove pizza (still on the bottom of the pizza pan) from the pedestal, slice and serve immediately (directly on and from the bottom of the pizza pan):

IMG_4221Good to the very last bite -- this is a really REALLY good home rendition of a Chicago-Style deep-dish pizza -- trust me!

IMG_4291My Second-City Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza:  Recipe yields 8 very hearty slices of pizza.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; 4-cup measuring container; 2-gallon food storage bag; 12"-14" skillet; paper towels; 14" round/2" deep, deep-dish pizza pan; cooling rack; pizza cutter or knife; metal spatula

IMG_4294Cook's Note:  In the event you have leftovers, this hearty pizza can be successfully reheated the next day: in the toaster oven, not the microwave.  Place 2-4 slices of room temp pizza on a broiler-type pan that fits into your toaster oven. Loosely place a sheet of foil over the top, making no attempt to seal it. In 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees, they emerge with a crispy bottoms and ooooooey-gooey cheese!

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

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

09/21/2014

~ Apple What? Bars, Blondies, Brownies? Squares!!! (Pennsylvania Dutch-Style Apple-Streusel Squares) ~

IMG_3951Where I grew up, these were called apple squares -- a lesser known but very popular and delicious apple dessert in Pennsylvania Deutsch country (the land of apple desserts).  Lots of women made them.  I liken them to a moist and crumbly cross between a Jewish apple cake and a German apple-streusel coffee cake.  Recently, I've seen them referred to as apple blondies and apple brownies, but, unless my "cheese has slid off my cracker" they have little to do with either:  A brownie is made with chocolate and a blondie is a brownie made with butterscotch instead of chocolate.  I can almost buy into them being called bars, because they can be cut into bar shapes, but, classic bars are more cookie-like, with the ingredients being layered in the pan. These are made with a super-thick batter, lots of apples, nuts and topped with buttery streusel.

Mine is not a recipe you will find in a cookbook.  These are:

IMG_3950Nana's Pennsylvania Deutsch-Style Apple-Streusel Squares!

IMG_3765A bit about the cake pans I use to bake bars, blondies, brownies and squares in:  Square pans produce squares.  Period.  This set of professional cake pans have square corners too, which produces perfect squares.  The four pictured here are  8" x 8" x 2"; 10" x 10" x 2"; 12" x 12" x 2", and; 14" x 14" x 2".  

Everyone knows how important the casserole size is when cooking:  2-quart, 3-quart, 4-quart, etc., affects IMG_3774the quantity you prepare, how the food cooks and the end result.  

Pan size is even more important when baking. Always use the size the recipe instructs.  I am using a 10" x 10" x 2" pan.  A smaller pan will make the dessert too thick, a larger pan will make the dessert too thin.  Substituting the pan size will affect the baking time and the end result as well.  If you want apple squares that look and taste like mine, use the pan I tell you to use!

IMG_3783Note:  The closest size pan to the 10" x 10" square, and is common to most home kitchens too, is the 9" x 13" pan.  I give you permission to bake apple squares in it.

IMG_3778A standard piece of bakers parchment is 12" wide x 16 1/2" long. Cut it to 10" x 16 1/2" and fit it into the bottom of the pan, then, fold the two overlapping sides over each lip of the pan.  This makes it easy to lift the entire dessert out of the pan after it has cooled.  In the case of these apple squares, this is a big advantage when it comes time to cut and serve them in a pretty and presentable manner because of their super-moist, slightly-crumbly nature.

Now it's time to bake some Dutch-apple happiness:

IMG_3823For the batter:

1 1/2  sticks salted butter, at room temperature, very soft

1 1/4  cups sugar

2  large eggs, at room temperature

3/4  teaspoon apple extract

3/4  teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2  teaspoons baking powder

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

4  cups peeled and diced Granny Smith apples, about 3 apples

1 1/4  cups coarsely-chopped pecans or walnuts

6a0120a8551282970b01538fc60d89970bFor the streusel topping:

6  tablespoons salted butter, cold, sliced or cut into cubes

1/2  cup sugar

1/2  cup flour

1/2  cup old-fashioned, uncooked oats

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

Note:  This is a great all-purpose streusel topping for fruit pies too!

IMG_3810 IMG_3790~ Step 1. Prepare the streusel topping first. Place all ingredients, as listed, in a medium bowl.  

IMG_3796Using a pastry blender and a knife, "cut" the mixture into coarse, pea-sized crumbs.  Set aside while preparing the batter.

IMG_3831~ Step 2. To prepare the batter, place the butter, sugar, eggs and extracts in a large bowl.

IMG_3838On medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream the ingredients until light in color, about 3 minutes.  

On low speed of mixer, fold in flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

IMG_3845 IMG_3841Mixture should be smooth and uniform in color.

Step 3.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the diced apples and chopped nuts.

IMG_3852Transfer this very thick mixture to prepared baking pan.

IMG_3856~ Step 4.  Using the back of the spatula (or a spoon) evenly distribute the batter into the pan.  If using a square-cornered pan, be sure it's worked into the corners.

IMG_3870~ Step 5. Using a large spoon, evenly distribute all of the streusel topping over the top.

IMG_3907 IMG_3873~ Step 6. Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 38-40 minutes, or until golden brown on the top, pulling slightly away from the sides of the pan and a cake tester comes out clean.

Remove from oven, place pan on a cooling rack and cool completely, in pan, about 3 hours or overnight.

IMG_3925~ Step 7.  When the uncut apple square has cooled completely, firmly grip the parchment paper "handles" and gently lift it out of the pan.  This is hard to explain, but:  as you lift, widen the stance of your hands, to keep the parchment as taut and flat under the square as possible.  If you lift straight up, the parchment will bend under the weight of the square, causing it to crack.

Picture-perfect square corners for picture-perfect squares!

IMG_3920~ Step 8.  Use a serrated knife to carefully cut into sixteen squares -- these are delicate, take your time.  These are not a pick-up-and-eat treat. These are a super-moist, slightly-crumbly, place-on-a-plate and eat-with-a-fork dessert.  For me, sixteen makes for the perfect portions:

IMG_3944Ice cream is nice:

IMG_3971Dare to be square!

IMG_3977Apple What?  Bars, Blondies, Brownies? Squares! (Pennsylvania Dutch-Style Apple-Streusel Squares:  Recipes yields 16 dessert-sized squares.

Special Equipment List:  pastry blender; paring knife; hand-held electric mixer; rubber spatula; 10" x 10" x 2" baking pan, preferably a square-sided professional cake pan; parchment paper; cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack; serrated knife

PICT1106Cook's Note:  To find out who "Nana" was in my life, and get another one of her fabulous recipes, click into Categories 6 or 19 for, ~ Nana's Applesauce-Oatmeal-Raisin-Walnut Cake~ (made with Nana's  homemade applesauce of course)!

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

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

09/18/2014

~ My All-Purpose Tex-Mex (Texican) Veggie Saute ~

IMG_3757It is a wise man who stops to ask for directions.  Every recipe in our food world has a purpose and every recipe I post has a reason for posting it. One  of my favorite things about writing a cooking blog is:  the questions that come my way.  As my grandmother always said, "where there is smoke there is fire", which in the world of food writing should be interpreted to mean:  "if one person asks a question, there is a big chance a lot of other people are asking the same".

More importantly:  never hesitate to ask about the basics!

IMG_8131Q.  Timothy says & asks:  I'm a 61-year old computer analyst that has been tragically placed in the position of cooking for myself.  I am not competent in the kitchen and I don't like to cook, but, I can follow directions.  Thanks to Kitchen Encounters and Category 20 (Just Plain Easy), I've made a few home-cooked meals that taste really good. I bought a bigger stockpot and made chicken-vegetable soup and sugar-crusted corned beef.  I made sweet potato & beef chile in my wife's crockpot twice.  In the roasting pan she used to make turkey, your IMG_8665roasted chicken gets made often.  Thank-you Melanie.

Today I bought a grill pan.  I plan to buy a flank steak, boneless chicken breast and shrimp.  I'll season with bought fajita seasoning then grill one for dinner over 3 nights.  I'll cook a boxed Spanish rice mix too. Can you suggest a quick vegetable dish that will make enough for 3-4 nights?  I read your recipe for chicken fajitas, but you cook the chicken and vegetables together in a skillet.  I want them properly cooked and seasoned separately.

PICT2619Note to Readers:  You can find ~ Grandma Ann's Easy Chicken Vegetable Soup ~, ~ My Braised & Brown Sugar Glazed Corned Beef ~, and, ~"Winner Winner Crockpot Dinner": A Scrumptious, Slow-Cooked, Sweet Potato & Ground Beed Chile ~ in Category 20:  Just Plain Easy never tasted so good!  

Click on the Related Article links below to learn ~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken ~ and cook some of my  favorite Tex-Mex food, including the Stovetop Chicken and Tequila-Lime Skirt Steak Fajitas (pictured above)!

PICT1997A.  Kitchen Enounters:  Timothy, I am so sorry to hear about your circumstances, but, am pleased you are finding KE helpful.  Perhaps, over time, I can get you to enjoy cooking too -- for now, we'll just take it one step at a time.  I like your plan for a weeks worth of quickly-prepared Tex-Mex meals.  Here is exactly what you'll need to do to cook the vegetables separately:

1  pound 1/4"-thick, half-moon sliced yellow or sweet onions (about 2 large onions)

IMG_36908-10 ounces green bell pepper strips (about 2 large green peppers)

8-10 ounces red bell pepper strips (about 2 large bell peppers)

1/4  cup corn or vegetable oil

3-4  tablespoons fajita seasoning, preferably ~ Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Fajita Seasoning ~

IMG_3699~ Step 1.  In a 12" skillet, heat the oil over low heat.  Add the onions and 2 tablespoons of fajita seasoning.  

IMG_3710Increase heat to medium-high and saute, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.

Note:  Fajita seasonings vary quite a bit in salt content so It's wise not to IMG_3714add all of it at once.

IMG_3721~ Step 2. Add the bell peppers. Stir to combine. Taste and add more fajita seasoning. Continue to saute, stirring constantly, adding additional seasoning, to taste, until vegetables are cooked to desired degree of doneness 3-4 more minutes.

IMG_3726Note:  When making this to reheat in small amounts, undercook the vegetables. Saute until "crunch tender".  Cover and refrigerate. Reheat in desired quantities.

IMG_3742Step 3. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to food storage container and refrigerate for up to one week (do not freeze).

Serve with any Tex-Mex-style chicken, beef, pork or seafood! 

IMG_3731Nice things really do happen in the "blog-o-spere"!

IMG_3746My All-Purpose Tex-Mex (Texican) Veggie Saute:  Recipe yields 6 cups or 4-6 servings.

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

PICT1312Cook's Note:  For a variation on the same theme, click into Categories 4, 13 or 20 to get my recipe for ~ Mel's All-Purpose Asian-Style Vegetable Saute ~!  

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

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

09/15/2014

~Orange Cinnamon & Vanilla Bean Breakfast Butter~

IMG_3634When I was a busy mom raising three boys, making a fancy-schmancy compound butter for their bagels, English muffins, pancakes or waffles wasn't high on my list of weekday things to do.  I made breakfast every day, but when it came to the condiments, it was every man for himself:  the peanut butter, preserves, maple syrup and butter went out on the table commando-style. 

IMG_3073Now that it's just Joe and me (a more relaxed morning schedule), the bread, muffins, pancakes and waffles are made from scratch, and, I have the time to take pleasure in and put thought into "the small stuff" too:  like making the butter taste extra-special.  For my homemade cinnamon-raisin bread, a simple concoction of 2 tablespoons butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons of Cinnamon 'n Sugar turns my homemade cinnamon-raisin bread into a totally delightful toast experience.

Click into the Related Article link below, for everything you need to know about:

IMG_3151~ The Savory-Sweet Simplicity of Compound Butter ~

OrangesWhen it comes to breakfast, everyone will agree that oranges are the premier citrus fruit:  orange juice, orange marmalade, orange segments, etc.  The bright taste of orange is simply a refreshing way to start the day.  The combination of orange and cinnamon is a long-established one, meaning:  I did not invent it, I just love it.  It was only natural for me to stir some orange flavor to my Cinnamon 'n Sugar butter, and, marmalade came before the oily zest because it's nicely-sweetened and ready to use.

Time out to talk about the vanilla bean:

IMG_3531It was, however, the day it occured to me to add some vanilla to the mixure, in the form of actual vanilla beans (not liquid extract) that I stopped tweeking this recipe.  It was perfect!

6a0120a8551282970b015437fdf8df970cThe inside of a vanilla bean is filled with thousands of flavorful seeds. To remove the seeds from pod:  

Using kitchen shears, cut the bean in two down its entire length.  I find this easier to do if I cut the bean in half (into 2 shorter pieces) first.  Or, you can use the tip of a paring knife to split the bean open down its entire length. Holding onto the bean, run the knife blade down the length of the exposed center to scrape out all of the seeds.

IMG_35298  tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 stick)

2  large, soft, fresh vanilla beans, split open as directed above, seeds removed

1  teaspoon Cinnamon 'n Sugar

1/4  teaspoon fine sea salt

1 1/2-2  tablespoons orange zest, 1 large orange works out right

2  tablespoons orange marmalade, at room temperature

IMG_3559 IMG_3550~ Step 1. Place butter in a medium bowl and thoroughly stir in the vanilla bean seeds.  Allow mixture to rest 5 minutes then stir again.

IMG_3564Step 2.  Stir in the Cinnamon 'n Sugar and the sea salt.

IMG_3568~ Step 3.  Using a microplane grater add the orange zest.  Do not zest the orange in advance or it will lose its bright color and begin to stick together (get clumpy) instead of being light, loose and airy.

IMG_3582~ Step 4. Stir in the orange marmalade.

Tip:  Don't bring the entire jar of marmalade to room temperature, just 2 tablespoonsful.

IMG_3593 IMG_3585~ Step 5. Transfer butter to a food storage container and cover.

If serving free-form, to slather on bread, refrigerate 2 hours or overnight, to give flavors time to marry.  Overnight is best.  Return to room temperature prior to serving.

If scooping it into small portions or shaping it into a log, refrigerate 20-30 minutes, or unti it is just firm enough to shape.

IMG_3602Once scooped onto a parchment lined baking pan or rolled into log and wrapped in plastic, refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.  Use small scoops of compound butter as directed, cold or at room temperature.  Logs must be sliced cold, then used as directed, cold or at room temperature.

Note:  I always scoop this particular butter because it's easy to place a dollop on a hot pancake or waffle. (PS: It's delicious on a fish fillet too!)

IMG_3614Place a dollop or two on a "hot stack" (short or a tall)...

IMG_3622... and when it gets all melty, drizzle on the warm maple syrup...

IMG_3636... then tell me you love me!

IMG_3682Orange Cinnamon & Vanilla Bean Breakfast Butter:  Recipe yields 8 tablespoons equivalent to 1 stick of butter or 1/2 cup.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; kitchen shears; paring knife; spoon; microplane grater; 1/2 cup food storage container w/lid; small ice-cream scoop; baking pan; parchment paper

IMG_3391Cook's Note:  To get a recipe for one of my favorite savory compound butters, which is great slathered on toasted bread, dolloped onto a grilled steak or roasted chicken breast, or, tossed into pasta for a luscious side-dish, just click into Categories 4, 12, 20 or 22 for ~ Italian Basil, Tomato, Garlic, Parm & Pepper Butter ~ !

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

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

09/12/2014

~Italian Basil, Tomato, Garlic, Parm & Pepper Butter~

IMG_3368Historically, the French and the Italians agree to disagree often over "who invented what" culinarily.  While writing Tuesday's post ~ The Savory-Sweet Simplicity of Compound Butter ~ (click on the Related Article link below to read it), I told you the French word for it is "beurre compose".  Try as I did, research didn't turn up any historical references to what the formal Italian name for compound butter is.  This surprised me, so, I asked my Facebook friend (an authority on authentic Italian regional cooking). "As far as I know, in general Italian cooking, there is no use of compound butter", was his reply.  If Peter said it, that was good enough for me. 

IMG_3339"Well, that's gotta change", said I to me.  You see, I am only Italian by osmosis -- I married one. This has benefits and provides me with a bit of much-appreciated freedom too.

Benefits:  I get to learn from the Italian women in Joe's family, and, I am respectful of their recipes and traditions.  Who knew that risotto must be stirred counterclockwise?  

Freedom:  When pretending to be Italian in my American kitchen, I get to adlib a bit, and, make my own rules.  Today, I'm making: burro comporre, or, comporre di burro?

Italian Compound Butter?  Italiano Burro Comporre?    

IMG_3460Authentic?  No.  Delicious?  Absolutely.  You be the judge!

IMG_33078  tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 stick)

1  teaspoon granulated garlic powder

1  teaspoon organic tomato powder, no additives no preservatives*

1/4  teaspoon fine sea salt

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

6  tablesoons very-thin chiffonade of fresh basil leeaves

4  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

6a0120a8551282970b015432779207970c-320wiNote:  Tomato powder is powdered dehydrated tomatoes. I've come to love it over the past few years and I recommend you add it to your tomato-loving pantry.  It adds the flavor and acid of fresh or canned tomatoes without any liquid!

~ Step 1.  Remove butter from refrigerator and set aside to get very soft.  While butter is softening, use a microplane grater to finely-grate the cheese.  When the butter is soft:

IMG_3274 IMG_3283 IMG_3301~ Step 2.  Stack about 15-20 large basil leaves on top of each other.  Choose leaves with little discoloration and as few spots as possible.  Roll them up "cigar style", then, using a sharp chef's knife, slice through the cigar, to cut them into little "rags or ribbons".  If you don't have 6 tablespoons of basil chiffonade, slice a few more. Rough chop through the chiffonade, to make the ribbons smaller yet.

IMG_3317 IMG_3324 IMG_3328 IMG_3330~Step 3.  In a medium bowl, place the butter, garlic powder, tomato powder, sea salt and red pepper flakes.  Using any spoon, stir vigorously and often until mixture is uniform in color.  Taste.  If you think it needs a pinch of salt, add it.  More garlic powder? Go for it.  Don't look back.

IMG_3333~ Step 4.  Transfer butter to a food storage container and cover.  

If serving free-form, to slather on bread, refrigerate 2 hours or overnight, to give flavors time to marry.  Overnight is best.  Return to room temperature prior to serving.  

IMG_3151If scooping it into small portions or shaping it into a log, refrigerate 20-30 minutes, or until it is just firm enough to shape.

IMG_3126 IMG_3098Once scooped onto a parchment lined baking pan or rolled into log and wrapped in plastic, refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.  Use small scoops of compound butter as directed, cold or at room temperature.  Logs must be sliced cold, then used as directed, cold or at room temperature:

IMG_3485Allow me to slather my "Italian Butter"  on my French Bread: 

IMG_3363... and enjoy a taste while I cook some pasta:

IMG_3441Italian Basil, Tomato, Garlic, Parm & Pepper Butter:  Recipe yields 8 tablespoons equivalent to 1 stick of butter or 1/2 cup.

Special Equipment List:  microplane grater; cutting board; chef's knife; spoon; 1/2-cup food storage container w/lid; small ice-cream scoop, baking pan and parchment paper (optional), or; plastic wrap and kitchen twine (optional)

IMG_2459Cook's Note:  For another non-authentic but really delicious way to enjoy a slice of bread, ~ My E-Z Big Fat Greek Lemon-Pepper Garlic Bread ~, found in Categories 2, 4, 5 or 20, compliments ~ My Big Fat Greek Lemony-Garlic Layered Shrimp Salad ~ perfectly!

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

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

09/09/2014

~ The Savory-Sweet Simplicity of Compound Butter ~

IMG_3180The first time I made compound butter I was certain I had invented something important.  It was a life-changing moment.  It didn't get taught to me by my grandmother, Food TV or via a cookbook or a cooking publication.  I didn't learn the technical term for it until years later.  As a 6-year old, it was important to mix 1 1/2 teaspoons of Cinnamon 'n Sugar with two tablespoons of softened butter to make my cinnamon toast -- I didn't like getting cinnamon-sugar dust up my nose.  The quantity yielded 3 slices of perfectly-executed cinnamon-raisin toast (two for me and one for my little brother), or, enough to stir into our two bowls of steaming-hot oatmeal w/sliced bananas!

IMG_3073Mel's Favorite Childhood Cinnamon 'n Sugar Compound Butter:  

8 tablespoons very soft salted butter + 2  tablespoons Cinnamon 'n Sugar

IMG_3047 IMG_3055 IMG_3073Time marched on.  

I never thought much more about compound butter until I reached my teens and early twenties, when:

I began encountering it in fancy French restaurants in the form of an herbaceous thyme-shallot spread for a crispy 'n soft-centered baguette.  It showed up in hotel restaurants too (where it was generically referred to as "hotel butter"), in the form of a chilled dollop of a peppery parsley, assorted herbs and garlic butter, which melted down over the top of a big, thick, juicy steak.

A bit about compound butter:  Known as "beurre compose" in France, compound butter is room-temperature butter that is creamed with other ingredients.  There are savory versions and sweet versions.  Compound butter can be stored in a bowl or ramekin in the refrigerator, then  served soft, as a spread for enjoying on savory breads or sweet muffins.  It can be scooped into individual little dollops and placed on a parchment-lined baking pan.  Compound butter can be rolled into logs and refrigerated or frozen, to slice and season cooked meats, fish or vegetables. Almost anything soft or semi-soft and very flavorful can be used to make compound butter:    

IMG_3151Savory versions can include fresh herbs or herb blends, ground spices, minced garlic, shallots or onion, and, sometimes an acid like wine or citrus juice/zest.  Sweet versions, like my cinnamon-sugar butter and the always popular honey-butter, contain some form of sugar (honey, maple syrup, molasses, liqueur, etc.), minced, fresh, juicy berries, ground aromatic spices and/or a splash of citrus juice or zest.  Whether savory or sweet, salt brings up the flavor of everything -- always add a bit of salt to unsalted butter or use salted butter at the outset.

Compound butter is about adding lots of flavor, not lots of texture, to butter: 

6a0120a8551282970b017c37da7d5c970bI have tasted savory versions containing bits of cured meats, crispy bacon and even soft cheeses like brie and blue (aside from finely-grated Parmesan-type cheeses, cheese is problematic because it softens at a different speed than butter).  I have tasted sweet versions containing bits of dried fruits and nuts.  I'm not here to criticize, but for me, compound butter is all about incorporating flavor, not texture, into butter.  I like my compound butter smoothish and spreadable.  I don't like it chunky.  

Save the chunky ingredients for non-butter cream-cheese-type spreads!

IMG_0060Compound butters made with fresh herbs taste like Summer, but, I rarely make savory compound butter in the Summer.  Why?  In the Summer all it takes is a trip to my herb garden to incorporate the fresh flavor of an herb into what I'm cooking.  I make compound butter in the Fall, using it as a means to preserve my dwindling supply of fresh herbs.  I find myself making it in the Winter too, using it as a means to get "more bang for my buck" out of a pricey package of store-bought fresh herbs.

My 5 Basic Rules for Making Compound Butter:

IMG_31541)  Give the butter plenty of time to come to room temperature and get very soft, about two hours.

IMG_0663 IMG_16392)  Use fresh herbs only and finely chop them. Mince pungent ingredients like garlic and onions. Don't substitute dried, minced garlic or onion. Process fresh berries as directed - they contain lots of liquid, so, use them judiciously.

3)  Thoroughly incorporate, via a bowl and a hand-held electric mixer or just a spoon, any liquid flavorings, followed by the ground spices, into the butter.  Limit liquids (like citrus juice, extracts and/or liqueurs) to 1/2 teaspoon per stick of butter, as they can make the butter runny.  Add ground spices, to taste.  Taste and adjust seasonings until you are lip-smacking happy. Incorporate fresh ingredients last, as recipe directs, planning on 4-6 tablespoons of minced fresh herbs per stick of butter and 3-4 tablesoons of pungent ingredients per stick.  Remember:  

The flavor of compound butter should be vibrant and robust.  If you like it going into the refrigerator you are going to love it coming out, as it will intensify while butter is chilling.

4)  Keep it simple and uncomplicated.  Don't over concoct.  My general rule is five ingredients (not including salt), for instance:  1 herb, 1 pungent ingredient, 1 liquid flavoring, 2 spices, butter.

IMG_33155)  Chill the mixed butter 20-30 minutes, just long enough to make it manageable to form/shape.

IMG_3073 IMG_3126 IMG_3098Here are your options:  

~ You can portion it into 1-2 small ramekins and serve it room-temperature free-form and family-style.

~ You can use a small 1 1/2-1 tablespoon-sized ice-cream scoop to portion it onto a parchment lined baking pan or use a pastry bag to pipe it into similar-sized, fancier-shaped "dollops".  

IMG_3094~ You can place it all on a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment and roll it up to form a log.  Once butter is shaped, it can be stored in the refrigerator for several days or refrigerated for several months.

My Favorite Savory Compound Butter Combinations:

IMG_3103Basil, Tomato, Garlic, Parm & Pepper  --  for spreading on bread or topping chicken or tossing into cooked pasta.  Pictured just above, click on the Related Article link below to get the recipe.

Cilantro, Lime & Chipotle Chili Powder -- for topping chicken, steak and corn on the cob.

Parsley, Onion & Cracked Black Pepper -- for topping chicken, steak and baked potatoes.

Dill, Lemon & Peppercorn Blend -- for topping salmon, steamed vegetables and rice.

Tarragon, Orange & Old Bay Seasoning -- for topping king crab, lobster, shrimp or scallops. 

Truffle Butter (which I often purchase) --  for preparing perfect and decadent French omelettes.

My Favorite Sweet Compound Butter Combinations:

IMG_2809Cinnamon 'n Sugar Butter -- for spreading on cinnamon-raisin toast and stirring into cooked oatmeal.

Creamed Honey & Cinnamon or Red Chili Butter -- For spreading on biscuits, warm apple streusel muffins, or, corn muffins or cornbread (Click on the Related Article link below to get the recipe which is pictured here.)

Orange, Cinnamon & Vanilla -- For dolloping on Johnny cakes, pancakes or waffles (it melts into warm maple syrup like a dream).

Whether you are partial to the savory side of life...

IMG_3264... or to the sweet side of life:

IMG_2840Everything tastes better with a pat or two of compound butter!

IMG_3204The Savory-Sweet Simplicity of Compound Butter:  Recipe yields general guidelines for making compound butter.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small bowls or ramekins, or; small ice-cream scoop or pastry bag and baking pan; plastic wrap or parchment paper and kitchen twine

6a0120a8551282970b0192ac44effe970dCook's Note:  For another way to keep the taste of Summer in your freezer through the Winter, click into Categories 8, 13, 20 or 22 to get my recipe for ~ Chimichurri:  The Sauce Steak Can't Live Without ~!

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

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

09/06/2014

~ Farfalle w/Butter, Basil, Peperoncino & Parmesan (Basic Pasta al Burro con Formaggino w/Panache) ~

IMG_3018When I'm having a serious late night snack attack, the kind that two or three slices of cheese, some salty deli meat and a few crackers can't cure, for me, a one-pot pasta dish is always on my short list. The criteria:  it must be  simple, straightforward, seriously flavorful, and, on my plate in the time it takes to pour a glass of wine and cook the pasta -- start to finish:  15 minutes tops!

Pasta al Burro con Formaggino (Pasta w/Butter & Cheese):

The Italians came up with a solution for the snack attack centuries ago in the form of:  pasta al burro con formaggino (pasta with butter and cheese).  It's a "no nonsense feed me now" meal, a delightful side-dish, and, depending upon what pasta shape you use (long strands of various thicknesses or bite-sized and fork-friendly), it's a delicious foil for all sorts of flavorful sauces. This dish is one of my favorites, but, over time, I added a few ingredients to the basic recipe -- to suit myself and give it the "seriously flavorful" flair I was craving (and my family adores it too):   

My version of the classic/basic dish -- "I did it my way.":

My version of the dish must be prepared with fresh basil and sea salt.  Trust me when I tell you, the slivers of licoricey basil and salty tang that only sea salt can provide is what turns this dish and me on with each bite, so, don't waste time with other foolhardy (reckless, rash, irresponsible, impulsive) and disappointing fresh herb substitutions.  While garlic adds great flavor to the dish it is not necessary to its success, but, the dish will be an overwhelming failure if you substitute fresh for granulated (use granulated 'garlic powder').  The peperoncino (red pepper flakes) for heat are optional, but, freshly-ground black pepper or peppercorn blend taste marvelous too!

IMG_3029This simple, straightforward, seriously-flavorful cure for a snack attack takes less than 15 minutes from stovetop to table!

IMG_2937A bit about farfalle (fahr-FAH-leh): In Italian "farfalle" literally means "butterfly", but it's commonly referred to as "bow ties" because of the distinct resemblence.  Farfalle is a small, flat, fork-friendly pasta shape with a large surface area for its size.  They are made from cut squares of pasta that are pinched (sometimes twisted) in the center.  

It lends itself well to pasta dishes with very chunky sauces or pasta salads that get tossed and coated with a flavorful dressing -- it is the vehicle that holds the chunky sauce or diced salad ingredients during the short trip from plate to fork to mouth.  It's my first choice for this dish, with wagon wheels or radiators coming in a close second and third.  Are my choices whimsical ?  Perhaps.  Are they correct?  Absolutely.

IMG_29201  pound farfalle

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

1  stick salted butter, cut into 8 pieces

1  teaspoon granulated garlic powder, not fresh garlic

1  teaspoon peperoncino (red pepper flakes)

IMG_29511/2 cup thin "chiffonade" ("thin strips/little ribbons/shreds") (Note: This is really a quick and easy way to cut fresh basil leaves without bruising it.  Stack them on top of them, largest to smallest, roll them up cigar-style, then slice through the "cigar" to achive the desired thickness. Repeat the process with another stack or two, until you have 1/2 cup.)

1  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/2-3/4  teaspoon fine sea salt

additional finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for topping pasta

4  sprigs of pretty basil tops for garnish

IMG_2957 IMG_2984~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.  Add the salt. Sprinkle in the pasta, give the water a quick stir, and continue to cook, according to package directions until pasta is al dente, about 10-11 minutes -- testing after 9 minutes.  

~ Step 2.  Turn heat off and drain pasta into colander.  Work as quickly as possible, but don't make yourself crazy.  You need the stockpot to remain hot and the stovetop  to remain warm.

IMG_2972~ Step 3.  Return stockpot to stovetop. Add butter, garlic powder and peperoncino.  Stir thoroughly.

IMG_2988~ Step 4. Stir in pasta. Cover and rest for 1-2 minutes, to allow pasta to absorb butter.

IMG_2992 IMG_2999 IMG_3005~ Step 5.  Sprinkle in salt and stir.  Add basil and cheese.  Toss to combine. Cover pot for about 1 more minute.  Stir again.

Cheese will be melted/disappeared and pasta will be evenly enrobed in butter mixture:

IMG_2831Portion into 4 bowls, top each with additional cheese & garnish with a sprig of basil:

IMG_3022Want to knock this outta the park? Click the Related Article link below for:

 ~ When Life Hands You a Basket of Grape Tomatoes:  Get Sauced:  Make a Batch of Oven-Roasted Magic ~

IMG_2885Farfalle w/Butter, Basil, Peperoncino & Parmesan:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; colander

PICT2687Cook's Note:  For another one of my favorite recipes, which is a variation on this "pasta al burro con formaggino" theme, click into Categories 3,4, 12, 14 0r 20 to get my recipe for ~ Dad's Mac & Cheese, or:  What I Cook Just for Me ~.  I grew up eating this one before I ever found out it had its roots in Italian cooking!

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

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

09/04/2014

~ When Life Hands You a Basket of Grape Tomatoes: Get Sauced - Make a Batch of Oven-Roasted Magic ~

IMG_2888Savvy cooks all know that roasting tomatoes (which contain quite a bit of natural sugar) concentrates their flavor, rendering them a truly succulent and sweet ingredient with a myriad of uses:  condiments, dips, salsas, sauces, soups and side-dishes to name a few.  If you are a tomato lover like me, this is great news because high-quality store-bought tomatoes can be transformed into a tasty treat with some EVOO, an herb, a spice or two, and, a stint in the oven.

IMG_3536Unless you live in an area where high-quality store-bought tomatoes, like Campari tomatoes, ("the tomato lovers tomato") are available, the end of the Summer tomato season is depressing.  Unless I miss my guess, you'll be relying on the small, sweet, always-tasty cherry or grape tomato to satisfy your tomato cravings until next year.  FYI:

Little tomatoes transform into a lovely, luscious sauce!

IMG_2758If that surprises you, be prepared to fall in love with my "secret" recipe:

IMG_2729I'm using grape tomatoes today because this is what my husband grows in his garden and we've had a banner year.  Ever wondered what ten pounds of grape tomatoes looks like?  This is it!

A bit about cherry and grape tomatoes:  Obviously, cherry tomatoes got their name because they look like cherries and grape tomatoes got theirs because they look like grapes.  Grape tomatoes are smaller than cherry tomatoes and have smaller, tenderer, less bitter seeds as well.  Grape tomatoes have a slightly thicker skin, are a bit more acidic (less sweet), and are meatier (less watery).  When it comes to roasting, this is why I prefer the grape tomato to the cherry tomato, but, don't let that worry you in the least if you've got a yard full of cherry tomatoes.  The two can be used interchangeably in any recipe that calls for skewering whole, slicing or dicing, but, cherry tomatoes should always be the choice for hollowing out and stuffing with things like chicken, tuna or egg salad for hors d'oeuvres  -- I've done all of the above many times.  

Cherry & grape tomatoes are Summer in a basket all year long!!!

IMG_2732~ Step 1.  In the largest roasting pan you can beg, borrow or buy (mine is approximately 17" x 13" x 3"), place:

10  pounds grape or cherry tomatoes, there is no need to slice them in half.

~ Step 2.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees with oven rack in center.

IMG_2738~ Step 3.  Add and stir thoroughly:

1  cup olive oil

2  tablespoons dried oregano

2  tablespoons sugar

2  tablespoons sea salt 

1  tablespoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1  tablespoon red pepper flakes

IMG_2749~ Step 4.  Chop, add and thoroughly stir into the mixture:

1  pound chopped yellow or sweet onion

4  ounces diced or chopped garlic cloves

2  ounces chiffonade of fresh basil leaves

IMG_2757~ Step 5.  Place on center rack of preheated oven and lower temperature to 375 degrees.  Roast for 1 hour, stopping to stir with a spoon every 15 minutes. 

Note:  Tomatoes are going to roast for 1 1/2+ hours and will require stirring every 15 minutes.  This requires opening the IMG_2767oven door, which will cause the temperature to fluctuate between 350 and 375 degrees. Don't worry about it!

~ Step 6.  After 1 hour, remove from oven and gently stir in a  6-ounce can tomato paste.  Don't over incorporate it.  Allow it to remain in small lumps.  Roast another 30-45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.  

Tomatoes will be bursting, mixture will be thick and nicely caramelized throughout:

IMG_2815The bottom of the roasting pan won't have any excess or soupy liquid in it:

IMG_2791Allow to cool in pan, about 15 minutes while cooking and draining 1 pound of farfalle pasta:  

Note:  Stranded pasta, like spaghetti, fettuccini and linguini are fine for smooth, free-flowing sauces, but chunky sauces like this one need a pasta shape that can hold it on the trip from the plate to the mouth.  Farfalle (bow ties) are my choice for this dish, but other fork-friendly pasta like corkscrews, radiators or wagon wheels work great too.  Because this sauce contains very little liquid, I don't recommend orecchiette, penne or shells which are built to trap excess liquid. 

IMG_2796

Gently toss, as you would a salad, 3 cups sauce into the cooked pasta:  

IMG_2851Top each of 4 servings w/1/4 cup additional sauce and grated parmigianno-reggiano:

IMG_2864Click on the Related Article Link below to get my 15 minute recipe for:

IMG_2833~ Farfalle w/Butter, Basil, Peperoncino & Parmesan ~ 

Now, go, eat:

IMG_2898When Life Hands you a Basket of Grape Tomatoes:  Get Sauced - Make a Batch of Oven-Roasted Magic:  Recipe yields 3 quarts of sauce with 1-quart being enough to sauce and top 1-pound of fork-friendly pasta/4 servings. 

Special Equipment List:  17" x 13" x 3" roasting pan;  cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon; 8-quart stockpot for cooking pasta; colander for draining pasta

IMG_2885Cook's Note:  Because this sauce is bathed in olive oil, it keeps beautifully in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.  I recommend reheating it in the microwave rather than on the stovetop.  It does not freeze well.  In addition to being a decadent pasta sauce, it is also a lovely topping for broiled white fish.  

To turn it into a dip for cheese or vegetables, or, use as a spread or topping for crostini, place a cup or two in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until smooth.

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

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

09/02/2014

~ My Bacon-y Bacon-Lovers Baked Beans & Bacon ~

IMG_2661The food world is swarming with bacon lovers.  Despite all attempts by the food police to curb our enthusiam for bacon, it is here to stay in a big way.  For example.  I have three recipes for baked beans:  Boston, Hilda's and Bacon-y.  All are wonderful recipes, but, Bacon-y are the ones everyone always asks me to make for picnics and tailgates.  They are savory and sweet, loaded with smoky bacon goodness, and there is never a morsel left in the casserole.  

This is great for me, because of the three recipes they're the easiest to make (no bean soaking). Once the bacon is fried and chopped, the beans take about five minutes to mix together, then bake for about one hour.  I like to make them several hours in advance, or even a day ahead, then reheat them, as, like many foods, they taste even yummier the next day!

IMG_2544There is more good news! My Bacon-y Baked Bean recipe has a "sister" recipe that I almost always serve them with.  ~ My Rich & Creamy Baked Corn Casserole ~ is just as easy to prepare (five minutes to mix together and then one hour to bake).  Both casseroles bake in the same oven, at the same temperature, for about the same amount of time.  I call it the "two for one special".  You can find my corn casserole recipe in Categories 4, 10, 17, 19 & 20!  Ok, here's what you'll need to make these YUMMY bacon-lovers baked beans:

Baked Beans #1 (Ingredients

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1  40-ounce can butter beans (limas), well-drained

2  28-ounce cans pork & beans, your favorite brand, undrained

1 1/2  pounds, thick-sliced, hickory- or apple-smoked bacon, fried, drained and chopped 

1/4  cup bacon drippings, reserved from above

4-6  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup ketchup

4-6  tablespoons pure maple syrup

4-6  tablespoons yellow mustard

1  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

no-stick cooking spray

Baked Beans #2 (Oven Roasted Bacon)

~ Step 1Feel free to fry your bacon the way you normally would in a skillet,  or, follow my recipe for:

~ Crispy Oven-Roasted Bacon (No Spatter or Mess!!) ~, found in Categories 9, 15 & 20.

Drain the bacon, reserving 1/4 cup of the drippings and set aside.

Chop the bacon into chunky, bite-sized pieces, about 1/2"-3/4" long.

IMG_2561 IMG_2570                                               ~ Step 2. In a large bowl, place beans, bacon, onions and pepper.  In a small bowl stir together the ketchup, mustard, maple syrup and bacon drippings. Add the ketchup mixture to the bowl and using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine all of the ingredients.  Note:  This is not a requirement of this recipe, but, at this point, I like to cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the beans marinate in the liquid for a few hours prior to baking according to the following directions:

IMG_2575~ Step 3.  Spray a 3-quart casserole with no-stick cooking spray.  

IMG_2597Transfer the bean mixture to casserole.

Bake, uncovered, on center rack of 350 degree oven, about 1 hour.  Beans will be bubbly and  top will be lightly-browned.  For more caramelization and thicker texture, reduce temperature to 325 degrees and cook 15-30 more minutes. Remove from oven and rest about 30 minutes prior to serving.

Glisteningly gorgeous going into the oven...

IMG_2607... gloriously golden coming out of the oven.

IMG_2629Don't pretend to be shy or polite, take a big scoop...

IMG_2669... everyone knows you are a bacon lover at heart!

IMG_2702My Bacon-y Bacon-Lovers Baked Beans & Bacon:  Recipe yields 12-16 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom (or skillet) for preparing bacon; cutting board; chef's knife; very large mixing bowl; rubber spatula; 13" x 9" x 2"/3-quart casserole dish

IMG_8128Cook's Note:  Baked beans (just like baked corn) can be prepared/baked several hours and up to 3 days in advance of serving.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  Return to room temperature prior to reheating the entire casserole or individual portions in the microwave oven -- leftovers are fantastic!

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

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