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13 posts from October 2014

10/30/2014

~ Home for the Holidays: The Cheese Cracker Tray ~

IMG_6750No, there is not a typo in the title of this post.  It shouldn't read "cheese and crackers" because this isn't a post about serving cheese with crackers, it's a post about serving cheese crackers -- homemade cheese crackers.  Ready or not, like it or not, here it comes:  the holiday entertaining season.  If you're like me, you're always on the lookout for relatively simple, do-ahead appetizers and snacks to impress your guests.  I'm here to tell you, making homemade, savory cheese snacks (cookies, crackers, sticks and wafers) is always a part of my holiday agenda -- just like baking cookies, they can be made 1-2 weeks in advance, and, they too make great hostess gifts!

IMG_6757Generally speaking, making homemade cheese snacks is an easy process, and, it is a fine way to use up fine cheese before it takes a turn for the worse.  Recipes typically revolve around blending some grated cheese and a few ingredients together in a food processor, chilling the mixture, rolling or forming the snacks, then baking them.  Depending upon whether the recipe calls for a hard, grating cheese, a firm sliceable cheese, or, a soft spreadable cheese, as long as the cheese you've got falls into the category the recipe calls for, you are home-free in terms of making a substitution.  For instance:  If a recipe calls for Brie, of course Camembert will work! 

IMG_5895My pre-holiday cheese cracker baking and posting marathon got started with a question from a girlfriend from high school who lives in Wisconsin.  A couple weeks ago, Marilyn asked for my suggestions for properly wrapping, storing and slicing cheese.  Being the cheese addicted person that I am, I happily scampered off to my local Happy Valley cheesemonger, which, in the case of me, is like letting a kid roam free in a candy store.  So:  

In order to exercise restraint, I entered the store with a list in my hand and a strategy in my head -- I was to limit my selections to the cheeses on my list, and, I would subsequently use said cheeses to write blog posts sharing recipes for homemade cheese snacks, and share I did:

IMG_6198For white wine drinkers, ~ Savory and Peppery Triple-Creme Brie Shortbread ~ started the cheese ball rolling.  Like baking shortbread for dessert, these buttery, rich, savory treats are best kept pure, unadulterated and simple, meaning: this is not a recipe to get creative with.  Please don't be inclined to add herbs or spices to enhance their flavor, or, nuts or seeds for added texure.  It's all about Brie and just a hint of pepper!

IMG_6451For those who enjoy a stiff cocktail or a refreshing pilsner of beer, ~ Mel's Spicy Horseradish Cheddar Cheese Sticks ~ are just what the cheese doctor ordered.  But please, don't confuse these cheese sticks with cheese straws -- those twisted, super-crunchy puff pastry snacks (which are great too).  These cheese sticks are crunchy on the outside with a bit of chew in the center, a whole lot more cheddar flavor, plus, a pleasant spicy warmth that lingers in your mouth and takes over the back of your throat with each sddictive bite!

IMG_6701For red wine and port drinkers, ~ Crunchy 'n Tangy Gorgonzola & Walnut Wafers ~ are the "piece de resistance", a French term implying the very best part of something, a masterpiece indicative of superior quality.  It's thought of as the portion of a creation so unique that it "resists" common conventions and practices, thereby making it extremely special.  Feel free to substitute your favorite, high-quality blue cheese, but, for me, Italy's Gorgonzola makes these my favorite blue cheese heaven!

IMG_6662While most homemade cheese "snacks" (cookies, crackers, sticks and wafers) need nothing more than a favorite cocktail or a fine wine to enjoy them, every once in a while one comes along that deserves a great cheese spread. My Gorgonzola wafers are one such snack and my ~ Crunchy 'n Creamy Gorgonzola & Walnut Spread ~, is out of this world mounded on top of them.  You can find all of these recipes by clicking into Categories 1, 2, or 11.

'Tis the season, so, set the date and holiday cocktail party on!!!

IMG_6768Home for the Holidays:  The Cheese Cracker Tray:  Post yields recipes for putting together a first-class cheese cracker tray.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; rubber spatula; baking pans; parchment paper; metal spatula; cooling racks

IMG_3378Cook's Note:  For another one of my favorite cheesy appetizers, which also pairs well with homemade cheese crackers, you can find my recipe ~ Confessions From a Port Wine Cheese Ball Lover ~ in Categories 1, 11, 20 & 26!

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

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

10/28/2014

~ Crunchy 'n Tangy Gorgonzola and Walnut Spread ~

IMG_6662Cheese spread.  Everyone who entertains has one, two or a few recipes in their repertoire.  The base line for a basic one is:  a simple and balanced, smooth, creamy, spreadable blend of tangy, savory cheese plus a fresh or dried herb and a spice or two.  For added flavor and texture, a few fresh, dried or roasted chopped fruits, nuts and/or vegetables can be stirred into the mixture, and so can cooked, cured or smoked meats, poultry or fish/seafood.  For as easy and straightforward as cheese spreads are to make, they deliver big, bold complex flavor to the cocktail or snack table. Whether the get-together is casual or upscale, a well-made cheese spread sets the tone for the entire get-together.  When you hear your guests say to each other, "you've got to try that cheese spread", you know you're on your way to a successful evening!

A well-made cheese spread, when paired with the proper snack cracker is a party starter. 

IMG_6591A well-made cheese spread when paired carefully with a homemade cracker brings life to the party. Make that a homemade cheese cracker and it is the life of the party!

While most homemade cheese "snacks" (cookies, crackers, sticks and wafers) need nothing more than a favorite cocktail or a fine wine to enjoy them, every once in a while one comes along that deserves a great cheese spread. My ~ Crunchy 'n Tangy Gorgonzola Wafers~ is one.  You can get the recipe by clicking on the Related Article link below!

Gorgonzola & Walnut Wafers + Gorgonzola & Walnut Spread =

IMG_6701My Favorite Blue Cheese Heaven!

IMG_66144  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon freshly-  & coarsely-ground peppercorn blend

1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

4  ounces, crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, chilled

My ~ Crunchy 'n Tangy Gorgonzola & Walnut Wafers ~, or your favorite crackers or crostini

IMG_6635 IMG_6625~ Step 1. Bring the cream cheese to room temperature, about 1 hour.  

Chop the walnuts.  

Crumble the Gorgonzola (or your favorite blue cheese) and return it to the refrigerator to chill (and keep it chilled until the last minute).

~ Step 2.  Place the cream cheese in a bowl and add the peppercorn blend and sea salt.  In my pepper mill, 1/2 teaspoon of peppercorn blend = 30 grinds.  I measure pepper this way often!

IMG_6640 IMG_6642 IMG_6652 IMG_6658~Step 3.  Using a large spoon, vigorously stir the cream cheese until it is soft and creamy.  Stir in the walnuts.  Remove the Gorgonzola crumbles from the refrigerator and gently fold them in, doing your best not to squish, mash, mush, or crush the delicate crumbles!

Technically, the Gorgonzola and Walnut Spread is ready to serve, BUT:

Like many things, a bit of "giving the flavors time to marry" goes a long way.  I transfer mine to a pretty serving bowl (or 2-cup food storage container w/lid for 2-3-4 day in advance storage), cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for one to several hours or overnight.  I remove it from the refrigerator about 1 hour prior to serving it as close to room temperature as possible: 

IMG_6680This cheese-spread cheese-cracker combo is THE party starter:

IMG_6712Crunchy 'n Tangy Gorgonzola and Walnut Spread:  Recipe yields 2 cups of cheese spread.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chefs knife; large spoon; 2-cup storage container w/lid

IMG_6198Cook's Note:  For another decadent homemade cheese snack, you can find my ~ Savory & Peppery Triple-Creme Brie Shortbread ~ recipe in Categories 1, 2, 20 & 21. They too are simply elegant, extraordinary and exquisite!

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

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

10/26/2014

~ Crunchy 'n Tangy Gorgonzola and Walnut Wafers ~

IMG_6701I learned something new yesterday.  Blue cheese is what provides the tangy flavor in Cheetos and all those other beloved puffed-cheese-type snacks.  I had no idea until I was ordering a container of cheddar cheese powder for my pantry (FYI:  cheddar cheese powder is a great addition to cheese sauces, macaroni and cheese, and, it's fantastic sprinkled on popcorn).  Just prior to "proceeding to checkout", Amazon suggested that I purchase some blue cheese powder too, because other customers frequently purchase cheddar and blue cheese powder together. Amazon is accommodating like that.  This lead me to ask why the two would be purchased together, like a set of bookends -- it just seemed odd.  A brief internet search revealed the answer:  lots of recipes for homemade Cheetos.  Yes, I bought the blue cheese powder.

IMG_6615A bit about blue cheese:  "Blue cheese" in general is used to describe dozens of cheeses made from cow's, goat's or sheep's milk that have had a culture of mold (penicillium) added to them, which in turn grows blue, blue-gray or blue-green veins throughout the cracks and crevices. The end result is blue-veined creamy-crumbly cheese with a distinctively sharp smell and a tangy, salty taste.  More often than not, it's an acquired taste that "grows on you".  

Most blue cheeses are named for their place of origin:  Danablu is from Denmark, Roquefort is from France, Gorgonzola from Italy, Stilton from England, and "our own" Maytag is made right here in the USA (Iowa).  Blue cheese varies in taste and texture from region to region and manufacturer to manufacturer, so, to determine which one suits your palate, purchase a few small pieces of several kinds and host a personal red wine and blue cheese tasting party!

IMG_64684  ounces salted butter, at room temperature (1 stick)

10  ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled, or your favorite blue cheese, (Note:  Weight is important in this recipe, not approximate cups, so if you have a kitchen scale, now is the time to use it.)

1  cup + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  cup evenly-diced walnuts, not coarsely chopped (pecans, pine nuts and pistachios work well too)

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_6471 IMG_6472 IMG_6476 IMG_6482~Steps 1 & 2.  Place Gorgonzola crumbles and softened butter in work bowl of food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of 10-15 rapid on-off pulses, roughly blend the mixture. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the work bowl, then, with motor running process until IMG_6484smooth, about 15 seconds.  

Add the flour and nuts to the work bowl (as pictured above).  Using a series of 10-15 rapid on-off pulses, roughly blend.  Using the spatula, scrape down the sides of the work bowl, then, with motor running, process again, until smooth (except for small pieces of nuts), about 15 seconds.  Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes .

Note:  At this point, do not chill dough any longer than 30 minutes or it will get too firm.

IMG_6507 IMG_6505~ Step 3. While dough is chilling, line 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper.  Remove dough from refrigerator and using a 1" ice-cream scoop as a measure,  place rounded scoopfuls, well-apart on prepared pans.  Place pans in refrigerator for 5-6 minutes, to allow balls to firm up "somewhat".

IMG_6517 IMG_6513~ Step 4. Remove pans from refrigerator. Using your fingertips, gently press down on each ball of dough, then pat and press it, until it forms a thin 2"-round disc.  Return pans of dough to refrigerator to chill until discs are very firm, 1-2 hours (or overnight works well too).

IMG_6530 IMG_6527~ Step 5. One at a time, remove pans from refrigerator and bake on center rack of 375 degree oven for 10-11 minutes, stopping after 9 minutes to rotate the pan back to front (to insure even browning on all sides). Wafers will be golden across their tops with pretty, deeper golden edges.  Do not overbake!

Golden on the top with pretty deep golden edges...

IMG_6539... immediately transfer wafers from pan to cooling rack.

IMG_6564Cool completely -- several hours to overnight!  

(Overnight is best.  Store in an airtight container for up to one week.)

IMG_6591Stay tuned for my next post:  Gorgonzola & Walnut Spread!

IMG_6712Crunchy 'n Tangy Gorgonzola and Walnut Wafers:  Recipe yields 4 dozen, 2"-round appetizers/snacks

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; rubber spatula; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1" ice-cream scoop; metal spatula; cooling rack

IMG_6451Cook's Note:  It's a well-documented fact that everybody loves cheddar, and,  ~ Mel's Spicy Horseradish Cheddar Cheese Sticks ~ are a really popular cheese snack amongst the wine and cheese lovers I keep company with.  You can find my recipe for these addictive treats by clicking on the Relate Article link below! 

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

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

10/24/2014

~ Mel's Spicy Horseradish-Cheddar Cheese Sticks ~

IMG_6451If I were a mouse, my nose would always be snapped in the trap containing a fresh piece of fine cheese.  What is it about me and cheese?  You can find me snacking on it in some form almost every day.  My refrigerator always has a few really good, fresh-from-the-cheesemonger cheeses stored in the "deli-drawer".  I'm not talking about reduced calorie, low-moisture, part-skim, half-the-fat, gluten-free, soy, and/or vegan cheese -- although if one is medically challenged, they are all fine alternatives.  For me, I'd rather eat less of anything real-deal and delicious than more of something that wierd-science has compromised.  I know I am not alone in this mindset.

IMG_5895On occasion, I have cheese that is at that "use it or lose it" stage. Sometimes it's because I was entertaining and I bought more than I actually needed -- I'm a "better safe than sorry" person.  This week, it's because I posted ~ For the LOVE of Cheese:  PLEASE Cut it Correctly ~.  It's full of lots of tips for storing, wrapping, grating and slicing all different types of cheese. You can read it by clicking on the Related Article link below.

Homemade Cheese "Snacks" (cookies, crackers, sticks, wafers):

Generally speaking, making homemade cheese snacks is an easy process, and, it is a fine way to use up fine cheese before it takes a turn for the worse.  Recipes typically revolve around blending some grated cheese and a few ingredients together in a food processor, chilling the mixture, rolling or forming the snacks, then, baking them.  Depending upon whether the recipe calls for a hard grating cheese, a firm sliceable cheese, or, a soft spreadable cheese, as long as the cheese you've got falls into the category the recipe calls for, you are home-free in terms of making a substitution.  For instance:  If a recipe calls for Brie, of course Camembert will work!

IMG_5879 IMG_6236Today (leftover from the writing of the above mentioned blog post), I've got some great white horseradish cheddar.  Feel free to substitute your favorite cheddar, or, any other firm, moist, sliceable cheese:  Swiss or Gouda for example. I'm sure you get the point I'm trying to make.  

5102My cheddar is nowhere near the "use it or lose it" stage, but these cheese sticks are so good I'm making them anyway. Yancey's Fancy New York State artisan cheeses are some of my favorites -- especially their many cheddars (and other hand-crafted domestic cheeses too).  Imagine aged cheddar and spicy horseradish combined into one great cheese.  Yancey's has developed special curing techniques no longer commercially available in cheddars from larger cheese makers, and, they are the largest manufacturer of fresh cheese curd on the East Coast, utilizing the local milk supply, which offers some of the highest-quality milk in the USA!

Please pass the homemade horseradish-cheddar cheese sticks!

But please, don't confuse these cheese sticks with cheese straws -- those twisted, super-crunchy, airy puff pastry snacks (which are great too).  These cheese sticks are crunchy on the outside with a bit of chew in the center, a whole more cheddar flavor, plus, a pleasant, spicy warmth that lingers in your mouth and takes over the back of your throat with each addictive bite. For the most part, I serve these alone as a snack/appetizer with cocktails, but, they sure do pair up well with a bowl of tomato soup or a spinach salad with a lot of crispy fried bacon in it! 

IMG_62401 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2  teaspoons dry English mustard

1  teaspoon garlic powder

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper

6  tablespoons vegetable shortening, preferably butter-flavored, chilled, cut into chunks

IMG_62464  ounces Yancey's Fancy horseradish cheddar cheese, grated, about 1 1/4 cups (Note: Because grated cheese can be inaccurate to measure, weight is important, so, if you have a kitchen scale, now is the time to use it.)

1/2  cup buttermilk, plus up to 2 additional tablespoons, only if necessary

1  tablespoon Worcestershire

4-6  drops Tabasco

2  tablespoons melted butter, for brushing tops of cheese sticks

about 1/4 cup freshly and finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for topping cheese sticks 

IMG_6256 IMG_6258 IMG_6263 IMG_6265~Steps 1, 2 & 3.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, using a series of 5-6 rapid on-off pulses, thoroughly combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, dry mustard, garlic powder, salt and cayenne.  Add the IMG_6280shortening.  

Using a series of 5-6 rapid on-off pulses, "cut" shortening into dry mixture until coarse crumbs have formed.  

Add the grated cheddar to the workbowl and using a series 3-5 rapid on-off pulses, give the mixture a rough stir.

IMG_6280 IMG_6271~ Step 4.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the 1/2 cup buttermilk, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco, to taste.

~ Step 5.  With processor running, add the buttermilk mixture, in a slow stream, through the feed tube.  Stop adding liquid and stop  processor the second a soft, sicky mass/ball of dough forms.  Add additional buttermilk only if necessary.

IMG_6284~ Step 6.  Using a large rubber spatula, remove dough from processor and place in a medium bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.

IMG_6302~ Step 7. Cut a sheet of parchment to fit the bottom of a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan.  Place the parchment on a large pastry board (do not skip using the pastry board) then place the baking pan in the refrigerator to chill.  Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator.  Immediately:

IMG_6321 IMG_6308~ Step 8. Working as quickly as you can, form the dough into a rough rectangular shape and place it on the parchment.  Lightly dust the surface of the dough with flour.  Note:  This is probably all the flour you will need, but, if you need a bit more during the rolling process, add it.

IMG_6335 IMG_6326Using a small rolling pin,  roll the dough into a 12" x 8" rectangle.  Use the side of a 12" ruler to gently push the sides into an almost perfect rectangle. Use the ruler to measure, and, use the blade of the ruler to lightly score the top of the dough into 1" x 4" sticks.

IMG_6344Slide/glide the parchment of scored cheese sticks off the pastry board and  onto the chilled baking pan. Return pan of dough to refrigerator to chill for 30 more minutes.

~ Step 9.  While dough is chilling, melt and cool the butter, grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano and preheat oven to 450 degrees.

IMG_6358~ Step 10.  Remove dough from refrigerator.    Using the ruler again, gently "chop" down between the score lines, to separate the cheese sticks  without cutting through the parchment or spreading them out.

Return pan to refrigerator and chill another 15-30 minutes. 

~ Step 11.  Using a pastry brush, lightly brush tops with butter, then sprinkle the grated cheese over all:

IMG_6376Bake on center rack of preheated 450 degree oven until nicely golden, about 10 minutes:

IMG_6394Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan 1-1 1/2 minutes -- no longer.

IMG_6401~ Step 11.  Using a sharp spatula, carefully, but working as quickly as you can, begin separating the cheese sticks, placing them on a cooling rack as you work.  They will be delicate, but not so fragile that they will break apart.  

Allow to cool completely, uncovered, on rack, for several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.  Cheese sticks will continue to harden/crisp up as they cool:

IMG_6415Cease, desist & resist the urge to taste these until they're cool!

IMG_6418The clock is ticking down to kickoff -- three, two, one:

IMG_6438Time's up!!!  The waiting is over!!!  Game on!!!

IMG_6459Hot Horseradish-Cheddar Cheese Sticks: Recipe yields 2 dozen appetizers/snacks.

41tRaT31NkL._SY355_Special Equipment List:  food processor; cheese grater; 1-cup measuring container; rubber spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; small rolling pin; an impeccably clean 12" ruler (Note:  I have two architect's rulers that are only used for for culinary purposes.  They get washed in hot soapy water, just like the rest of my kitchen gadgets.); pastry brush; microplane grater; sharp spatula; cooling rack

IMG_6198Cook's Note:  Two days ago, using some leftover Brie from my "cut the cheese correctly" post, I made another one of my family's favorite homemade cheese snacks too. These are actually more like rich, buttery cookies, so I refer to them as shortbread, and they pair perfectly with paper-thin slices of cured meat and fresh fruit.  You can find my recipe for ~ Savory & Peppery Triple-Creme Brie Shortbread ~ in Categories 1, 2, 20 or 21!

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

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

10/21/2014

~ Savory & Peppery Triple-Creme Brie Shortbread ~

IMG_6160There is nothing better to whet the appetite than a few sips of wine or a cocktail accompanied by the taste of fine cheese.  I serve these buttery, rich snacks as an appetizer without any more cheese (they ARE that good on their own), but melon & cured meats -- yes please.  This is also not a recipe to get creative with, meaning:  don't add herbs or spices to enhance the flavor, or, nuts or seeds for added texture.  Don't do it -- that's just missing the point:  some things are best kept pure and simple --  Triple Creme Brie shortbread "cookies" are one of them -- trust me!

IMG_6198One fine French cheese + four plain ingredients = magnifique! 

IMG_597212  ounces untrimmed triple-creme Brie, Saint-Andre or your favorite kind, about 10 ounces after trimming rind, brought to room temperature after trimming (1 and 1/2, 8-ounce wheels)

1/4  pound salted butter, at room temperature (1 stick)

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon freshly- & coarsely-ground peppercorn blend

2  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

IMG_5986 IMG_5982~ Step 1. While the Brie is cold, using a serrated knife, trim the rind from the top, bottom and sides.  Don't worry about any little bits of rind that might remain here and there -- they affect nothing.

~ Step 2.  Cut the brie into wedges or chunks, cover it and set it aside to come to room temperature, along with the butter, about 1 hour.  When the butter is very soft and ready to use, the cheese will be too.

Note:  My Brie is on a plate under a small cheese dome -- the perfect instrument for bringing cheese to room temperature without drying it out.  If you do not have one, place the plate in a zip lock bag.

IMG_5993~ Step 3.  You can pass a little bit of the time by grinding the peppercorn blend.  In my pepper mill, when set to "coarse grind", this is exactly 60 grinds of pepper (I have done this SO many times before I just know).

Note:  I prefer a blend of white, green, pink and black peppercorns in this recipe (and, quite frankly, almost all recipes).  For me, plain black pepper is too harsh, particularly in this recipe.  Substitute at your own risk.  Trust me!  

IMG_5997 IMG_5998 IMG_6002 IMG_6006~Step 4.  Place the cheese wedges, butter, salt and pepper in the work bowl of a processor fitted with a steel blade.  Blend until smooth and creamy, about 15 rapid on-off pulses followed by 15 seconds of constant blending.  Add all of the flour, and once again, using a series of 15 rapid on-off pulses followed by 15 seconds of constant blending, thoroughly combine the mixture.

IMG_6011~ Step 6.  Using a large spatula, transfer the mixture to a plate and divide into two parts (I use a kitchen scale to divide them and each part weighs 1 pound, 1 ounce).  

Refrigerate for 5-6 minutes and absolutely no longer than 10 minutes.  Using the palms of your hands, pick each one up and form it into a rough-shaped cylinder.  

Note:  This dough will be very soft, but it will not stick to your hands -- it is very pleasant to work with.

IMG_6014 IMG_6018 IMG_6024~ Step 7.  Transfer dough to a pastry board and quickly form into two 2"-round x 6"-long cylinders. Work quickly -- this should only take about 1 minute to form both.  Place each cylinder on a piece of parchment paper and roll it up.  Place seam side down on a large plate and refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 2 hours.  There is no need to fold or secure the parchment paper.

IMG_6030~ Step 8.  Line 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper. Place pans in the refrigerator to chill too.  Working one cylinder of dough and one pan at a time, remove the dough from the refrigerator, unroll it and slice it into 12, 1/2" ovals. Place, well-apart, on chilled pan. Using a fork, decoratively prick the IMG_6047tops twice, in a criss-cross pattern.  

IMG_6039~ Step 9. Place pan of shortbread in refrigerator and repeat process with second cylinder and  second pan.  

When both pans are back in the refrigerator, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

IMG_6062 IMG_6065                                       ~ Step 10. One pan at a time, bake on center rack of preheated oven for 16-18 minutes, or until "cookies" are just beginning to turn brown around the edges. The tops will not be brown. Remove from oven and using a thin spatula, immediately transfer shortbread to cooling rack to cool completely:  

IMG_6116Cease, desist and resist!  These won't be at their best for 8-12 hours:

IMG_6117Tick, tock, tick tock -- OK -- now it's time for the taste test:

IMG_6088After that, store shortbread in an airtight container for up to 1 week:

IMG_6120Savory & Peppery Triple-Creme Brie Shortbread:  Recipe yields 2 dozen appetizers/snacks. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated knife; food processor; spatula; pastry board; parchment paper; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; fork; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01675fc4e5a1970b-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my favorite Brie appetizers, which pairs really well with this shortbread, click into Categories 1, 11, 17, 18, 20 or 21 to get my recipe for ~ Bejeweled Brie Torte (as Easy as it is Elegant!!!) ~.  Read on:

In this recipe, the Brie is sliced into two discs.  The "layers" are frosted with mascarpone cheese and then a combination of dried fruits (blueberries, cherries and cranberries) and nuts are pressed into the center and on the the sides.

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

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

10/19/2014

~ For the LOVE of Cheese: PLEASE Cut it Correctly (+ the best tips I can give for wrapping and storing)! ~

IMG_5895Blessed are the cheesemakers.  They make hard, dry, grating cheeses; firm, moist, sliceable cheeses, and; soft, gooey, spreadable cheeses.  They make blue, white and yellow cheeses. Some cheeses are aged for years, others for a few months, and, some aren't aged at all.   They make herby, spicy, fruity and/or nutty cheeses.  They make mild, aromatic and strong, stinky cheeses.  They make cheese from the milk of cows, goats and sheep -- sometimes it's pasteurized and sometimes it's not.  There are a thousand+ varieties of cheese in this food world -- some are mass produced, some are specialty, some are artisan and some are farmstead. There are cheese societies that come up with cheese standards and government organizations that enforce cheese laws.  Yes, thanks to the cheesemakers, we live in a very cheeesy world!

I'm not here (at least not today) to explain the many different types of cheese, tell you where to buy your cheese, what kind of cheese to choose, what time of year to buy it, what time of day to eat it, what temperature to serve it at, what to serve it with, or, what to drink with it:

I'm here to explain what to use to correctly "cut the cheese"!

IMG_5963There are only two reasons to cut cheese:  to serve & eat it and/or to wrap & store it.  

Let's explore the wrapping and storing of cheese first:

IMG_5908All cheese needs to be stored, even if it is just for the short trip from the cheesemonger's to your kitchen, and there are right and wrong ways to do it.  Once you get it home, unless you are going to eat it immediately, it needs to be stored in the warmest part of your refrigerator (the top of the vegetable bin works great).  There will be no discussion about freezing cheese on this post except to say:  do not freeze your cheese.  Except for certain processed cheesefeed products (like cheese that squirts out of can and pours out of jars), cheese is a living organism.  It needs to breathe.  Once upon a time, the most common way to store cheese was to wrap it in tightly woven cloths that had had been doused with vinegar then wrung dry.  This allowed the cheese to breathe without drying out.  A few purists may still do it this way, but I don't know these people.

IMG_5851For practical purposes, we must take a look at what wrappings most of us have on hand in our home kitchens.  For me, the list includes:  aluminum foil, plastic wrap, parchment paper and waxed paper, along with zip lock bags.  Here is a quick overview of my thoughts on all of them:

IMG_5860Aluminum foil and plastic wrap:  I put both of these in the same category because they are both airtight wrappings, which is ok if you just want to store cheese for a short period of time, 1-3 days.  Why? Neither allow enough of the gasses or moisture to escape (although aluminum foil does allow more than plastic wrap), which causes cheese to develop mold at a faster than normal pace (all cheese grows mold eventually). In the case of soft cheeses (like blues or chevre), plastic causes the cheese to get sticky and disgusting, aluminum foil does not, so, I use foil for them for short-term storage.  For hard cheeses (like Asiago and Parmesan) and semi-hard cheeses (like Cheddar and Swiss), I find that either works fine. Purists will argue that plastic wrap imparts a flavor into the the cheese, but, quite frankly, I'm not convinced of that and consider it a non-issue, so, plastic wrap it is for them in my kitchen.

IMG_5870Parchment paper and waxed paper: I put these in the same category because they are both semi-airtight wrappings which give the cheese both air and room to breathe, which slows down the growth of mold, which in turn allows you to keep your cheese in edible condition for a longer period of time, 4-7 days (depending upon the cheese). Parchment paper and wax paper work great for any type of cheese, but, you still have to prevent the cheese from drying out, so:   parchment paper wrapped in plastic wrap is my choice for hard, dry grating cheeses.  Wax paper wrapped in plastic wrap is my choice for firm, moist sliceable cheeses.  One other thing I should mention:  brined cheeses (like fresh mozzarella and feta) require no wrapping and should be stored, in their brine, in an appropriately-sized food storage container with the lid on -- many times the container they came packaged in is just fine.

IMG_5879Formaticum cheese bags and papers:  Perhaps "my cheese has slid off my cracker" (I know I am getting older), but, I used to refer to "this stuff" as French cheese paper. At our local Wegmans, they sell sheets of it at a reasonable price. French cheese paper (now marketed by and as Formaticum, is a two-ply material designed to maintain optimal humidity, while not allowing water to accumulate, thus preventing the growth of surface molds.  The outer layer, which usually has logos on it to let you know it is the outside, is thin paper. The inner layer is a thin sheath of plastic containing microscopic holes.  This paper is amazing: it allows the gasses and moisture to escape without allowing the cheese to dry out.  No other wrapping is necessary (although you can place the wrapped cheese, several different kinds, each individually wrapped in Formaticum, in one open zip-lock bag for a bit of added protection.

In the end, how and what you wrap your cheese with is your choice, but, it is necessary to change the wrapping every few days, as well as, each time you unwrap it to slice and serve.

Now it's time to explore gadgets for grating and slicing cheese:

IMG_5959Cheese can be cut into any thickness you want, but, the general rule is to follow the shape of the cheese.  For instance, for small wheels, discs, pyramids or squares, position the knife in the center and cut down and around it into equal-sized wedges.  Rectangular or cylindrical logs of cheese can be sliced into squares or discs.  Block shape cheeses can be cut into cheese sticks or cheese cubes.  To slice wedge shaped cheese, cut the large wedge in half lengthwise (thick side to point side), then slice into smaller, thinner wedges.  It is cheese -- not rocket science!

IMG_5913Cheese graters:  There are all sorts of devices for grating cheese on the market, and, they are all a matter of personal preference.  When it comes to the actual grating of cheese, there is only one rule:  

The softer the cheese, the coarser the grater/the harder the cheese, the finer the grater.  

I must mention that for large quatities of many types of cheese, the food processor is a big time saver.  Simply chop hard, dry grating cheese into chunks, place them in the workbowl and process using a series of rapid on-off pulses.  Via special slicing discs (mine came with my processor), firm, moist, sliceable cheeses may be quickly grated too!

IMG_5923Wire cheese slicers:  Wire cheese slicers are by far my favorite gadgets of the cheese world.  Any gadget with a taut wire will cut almost any cheese (except for hard, dry, grating cheeses) neatly and cleanly.  Depending upon the length of the wire, it will cleanly cut everything from a 4-ounce wedge to 5-pound block.  Note:  In the upper left is an Italian mozzarella slicer - an ordinary egg slicer (just below it) works well for smaller-sized mozzarella.  In the upper right is a vintage butter slicer - it's perfect for small blocks of cheddar and logs of chevre! 

IMG_5927Cheese knives:  I know that if I lined up every cheese knife I own, tips-to-handles, they would circle the globe.  This is a small sampling. I've got got 'em in gold, chrome, stainless steel, silver and pewter -- I especially love the Chinese set with the enameled handles.  They are all designed to do specific tasks.  For instance, the small open-blade knife in the upper right is for slicing  IMG_5928soft cheeses like Brie.  What about those two large "plastic" looking knives?  Marketed as "The Cheese Knife", it comes in three sizes, and, the handle is designed to leave sliced cheese on the plate, not stuck to the knife -- and it works!

The season for wine and cheese is upon us, so, look sharp!

To get my recipe for ~ Bejeweled Brie Torte ~, click into Categories 1, 11, 18, 20 or 21: 

6a0120a8551282970b01675fc4e5a1970bFor the LOVE of Cheese PLEASE Cut it Correctly (+ the best tips I can give for wrapping and storing)!:  Recipe yields tips for wrapping and storing all types of cheese, along with recommendations for gadgets to successfully grate and slice all types of cheese.

Special Equipment List:  aluminum foil; plastic wrap; parchment paper; wax paper; French cheese papers; Formaticum cheese paper; cheese graters; cheese wires; cheese knives

IMG_3378Cook's Note:  For another one of my cheese lovin' posts, also perfect for any wine and cheese celebration, check out my post ~ Confessions from a Port Wine Cheese Ball Lover ~.  The recipe is in Categories 1, 11, 20 & 26!

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

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

10/16/2014

~ Cozy Apple, Bourbon, Vanilla Bean & Pecan Crisp~

IMG_5843I'm turning the heat on in my house and preheating my oven today.  The heat is on because "baby it's cold outside", and, the oven is on because baby I'm using up the last of our apples.  I'm making my version of perhaps the simplest of all Fall apple desserts:  an apple crisp.  In the event you don't know what it is, it's basically:  apple pie filling (no bottom pie pastry) sprinkled with streusel (no top pie pastry) and baked until the apples are cooked and the top is crispy. It's usually served warm, spooned (not sliced) onto a plate, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to the side of it (not on top of it), to insure the melting ice cream doesn't soften the crunchy topping!

IMG_5755Why exactly is this American fruit dessert called a "crisp"?

Our forefathers' wives invented a lot of amusing words to define American heritage fruit desserts that do not fall under the category of pie.  Here's a quick overview:  A crisp is a fruit mixture topped with a crispy crumb or streusel mixture (a streusel contains oats, a crumb does not, which makes it crumbly).  If a crisp has a bottom crust, it is called a crunch.  If you want to turn a crisp or a crunch into a betty, the fruit gets layered between slices of buttered bread or bread crumbs and spices.  To turn a crisp into a cobbler, mix up a rough, "cobbled up" biscuit-like topping and plop/drop it on top of the fruit.  For a grunt or a slump (which is very similar to a cobbler), cook the berries on the stovetop and listen to them make an unusual grunting sound while they cook, then watch them slump under the weight of the biscuit topping.  To bake a buckle, you need to stir fruit into a buttery-rich, coffeecake-type batter and top it with streusel, then, watch it buckle (sink) in the center as it cools due to the liquid in the fruit.  Memorize them:

There might be a quiz at the end of this post!*

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c6f3422e970b

Mel's Six Troubleshooting Tips for Making a Top-Notch Crisp:

I'd love to tell you it's impossible to screw up an apple crisp, but, **it happens.  To avoid "mushy, murky, watery, uncrisp and/or undercooked", allow me do a bit of trouble shooting for you.  

#1)  Use your favorite apples, ones you are certain are suited for baking -- for the best flavor, use a combination of tart and sweet apples.  I like Granny Smith in combination with McIntosh.  

#2)  Of course the apples must be cored, but, don't think of leaving them unpeeled -- peel the apples.  I think apple peels compromise consistency, texture, presentation and enjoyability.

#3)  A little bit of thickener in the filling goes a long way -- use some.  Remember, there is no bottom crust to sop up extra moisture.  I like to use tapioca, others use flour and/or cornstarch.

#4)  Use your favorite streusel topping, but, make sure to use enough of it -- this is the "crisp" part of making apple crisp.  I like the added crunch that oats and nuts add so I use them both.

#5)  Test for doneness  -- if a knife inserted in the center says the apples aren't cooked through, bake it longer.  I often cover the top loosely w/foil near the end to protect top from overbrowning.

#6)  Serve warm or at room temperature the day apple crisp is made -- if serving it with ice cream, place the ice cream to the side, so as it melts it does not soften the crispy topping.

IMG_5780Part One:  Preparing the Pecan-Streusel Topping

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d072fdde970cFor the pecan-streusel topping: "Streusel" (STROO-zuhl) is the German word for "something scattered or sprinkled".  In baking, it is a crumbly topping for pies, coffeecakes, muffins, and fruit crisps.  It's made from a mixture of flour, butter and sugar, and usually a few aromatic spices too, but, it is not uncommon for nuts and/or oats to be added for extra crunch.  This is my favorite blend, especially for tart fruit crisps and pies (like apple, cherry, peach or rhubarb).

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 pecans or walnuts (Note:  Do not use toasted nuts.  They will toast in the oven while the crisp bakes.)

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_4344 IMG_4335~ Step 3. Add and gently fold the nuts into the delicate, softening butter mixture.  Keep it "light":  

IMG_4340You do not want to smash the butter.  Set aside, at room temperature, while preparing filling: 

Part Two:  Preparing the Apple Filling

IMG_5676For the apple filling:

1  stick salted butter

1  large vanilla bean, split open, seeds removed

2  tablespoons bourbon

1/2  teaspoon apple extract, lemon extract may be substituted

2  pounds peeled, cored and thinly sliced baking apples, your favorite combination of tart and sweet apples (Note:  I'm using 4 Granny Smith apples and 2 McIntosh apples.  I always start with 4 Granny Smith's.  After peeling, coring and slicing, if the weight of these six apples is less than 2 pounds, I make up the difference with an additional McIntosh apple.)

1/2  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

2  tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing baking dish or casserole

IMG_5684~ Step 1.  Using a paring knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise.   Open the two halves up, like you would a book, and, using a sharp paring knife, with one long firm motion, run the sharp flat edge of the knife down the center of the "open book" to scrape out all of the seeds.  Note:  I find it more manageable to cut each half in half to form four shorter lengths.

IMG_5701 IMG_5686~ Step 2. Place the stick of butter in a microwave safe container along with the bourbon, the apple extract and all of IMG_5693the vanilla seeds.  In microwave over low heat, melt the butter. IMG_5715Set aside to cool.  While butter mixture is cooling:

IMG_5704~ Step 3. Prep the apples as directed, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  Toss in the brown sugar and the tapioca.  Give the mixture a good stir and then add the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. IMG_5724Lastly, pour and stir in the cooled butter, bourbon, vanilla mixture.

~ Step 4.  Spray an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish or a 2-quart casserole with no-stick spray.  Transfer all of the apple mixture to the prepared dish, doing your best to make sure apples are all laying flat in layers. Spoon the streusel topping evenly over the tops of the apples.

IMG_5727~ Step 5.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 55-60 minutes, or, until topping is golden brown, crisp is bubbling, and, a knife inserted into the center indicates the apples are cooked through.  Loosely place a piece of aluminum foil over the top at any time after 45 minutes to keep the streusel from burning.  

~ Step 6.  Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool 45-60 minutes prior to serving warm, or longer, 2-3 hours, prior to serving at room temperature.  This crisp will remain remarkably crisp well into the next day if stored at room temperature, uncovered, overnight.  

IMG_5747Place a generous scoop into each bowl and serve...

IMG_5776... with (salted caramel vanilla) ice cream to the side of each!

IMG_5812Cozy Apple, Bourbon, Vanilla Bean & Pecan Crisp:  If served with ice cream to the side, recipe yields 12 very satisfying servings.

Special Equipment List:  pastry blender; paring knife; cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish or 2-quart oval casserole (au gratin); cooling rack

IMG_5964Cook's Note:  For one of my classic recipes, that also uses the same great flavors of pecans, bourbon, vanilla and brown sugar, you can find my recipe for ~ A Holiday Tradition:  My Bourbon Street Pecan Pie ~ in Categories 6, 11 or 18.  Don't forget the ice cream!

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

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

*To learn how to make Word Clouds, like the one in this post, check out http://worditout.com

10/13/2014

~ My Silky-Smooth Spiced Apple-Pear Puree Sorbet (+ the best tip EVER for perfect sorbet all the time)! ~

IMG_5609Did you know that high-quality, applesauce (homemade or store-bought) makes luxurious, creamy, dreamy sorbet in about 25-30 minutes?  Well, I didn't quite believe it either until I decided to give it a try last year.  I was having one of my smallest crowds ever for Thanksgiving, a group of six for a sit-down dinner.  I especially love small, intimate dinner parties because it gives me the opportunity to "fuss" ("pull out all the stops"), and this includes an intermezzo to freshen/cleanse the palate -- usually a small scoop of homemade sorbet or granita:

Served properly, in small chilled ramekins with chilled spoons!

IMG_5651As I was pondering what type of fruit sorbet I wanted to make, I looked the many containers of ~ Simply Silky & Smooth Spiced Apple-Pear Puree ~ in my freezer.  You can get my recipe by clicking on the Related Article link below.  Under normal circumstances,  I serve it as a side-dish at my annual Turkey Day buffet feast (for 20-24 people).  Thoughts of apple-pear puree sorbet IMG_5019began churning around in my head. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made.  After all, the best fruit sorbets, the ones that are really creamy and smooth, always contain, besides a goodly amount of sugar, pectin, which is found primarily in apples, apricots and citrus fruits.  This is why citrus juice if often added to most berry sorbets. Since my puree is full of apples and oranges, theoretically all it needed was a bit more sugar!

A bit about pectin:  Pectin is the fiber found in the walls and skin of fruits and plants.  It, in combination with sugar, is a natural thickener and food stabilizer, which is why it is commonly used in the making of  jams and jellies.  All plants contain some amount of pectin with apples (primarily Granny Smith and McIntosh varieties), apricots (and its cousin the peach a close second) and citrus (primarily grapefruit and oranges) containing the highest concentrations.

Making My Apple-Pear Puree Sorbet:

IMG_55221 1/2  cups ~ My Simply Silky & Smooth Spiced Apple-Pear Puree ~, chilled (high-quality, smooth, not chunky-style applesauce may be substituted)*

6 tablespoons orange juice, chilled

6  tablespoons sugar

* Note:  My puree is beautifully spiced with cinnamon and cloves.  If you are using applesauce, consider bringing up the flavor a bit by adding some cinnamon and a pinch of cloves.  Nutmeg and vanilla work nicely too.

IMG_5531 IMG_5538 IMG_5544~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup container, combine puree, juice and sugar.  Wait 5 minutes, to give sugar time to dissolve and stir again.

The best tip you're ever gonna get for making sorbet:

A bit about sorbet (sore-BAY):  Sorbet is the French word for "sherbet".  Italians call it "sorbetto". Sorbet differs from ice cream or gelato in that it contains no milk or dairy products.  Sherbet on the other hand, sometimes does contain milk, egg whites or gelatin.  Culinarily, sorbet is thinner than sherbet and not as granular as other ices or granita, but, nowadays, not too many people split hairs over the fine details.  Sorbet is either served in small amounts, 2-3 teaspoonfuls, as a palate cleanser/refresher (intermezzo) between courses at a meal, or in a larger quantity as a light dessert.  The beautiful, silky texture of sorbet is at its best when freshly made and still soft.  It should not be rock hard or full of ice crystals.  When I make it a few hours in advance, I keep it frozen in my machine (which has a chilling switch), until 15-20 minutes prior to serving, when I turn it off and let it soften to the right texture, at which time it must be served immediately.

IMG_5562About 17-18 years ago I invested in a rather expensive, Italian-made, Simac gelato machine, bought several cookbooks dedicated to frozen desserts and even took a class.  This is a very substantial piece of equipment with its own freezing mechanism.  Once I prepare my ingredients, it does everything short of scooping out the finished product for me.  I won't lie, I love this machine and it has a place of honor on my kitchen counter (right next to my freezer).  I can, however, state that it is all about the right recipe, not the machine, so whatever device you are using, just PLEASE follow the manufacturer's instructions and proceed! 

Sorbet is technically a simple mixture of pureed fruit, sugar and water. Chilling it, then churning it in an ice-cream maker is theoretically all you need to do to produce sorbet.  Not so fast.  You need to make sure you have the right ratio of sugar to water in the fruit puree to keep it from turning into ice crystals.  Without getting too scientific, sugar increases the density of liquid and water decreases the density.  So how in the wild world of culinary sports do you test for that?  

Place a raw, large egg on top of the puree mixture!

IMG_5556If the egg sinks:  you need to at a bit more sugar.

If the egg floats high above the surface:  you need to add a bit more water.

If the egg sinks somewhat, but, keeps itself from drowning (a 1" or so patch showing on the surface), you've got the perfect ratio of puree, sugar, and water.

~ Step 2.  Remove the egg, rinse it off and return it to the refrigerator.  Cover the sorbet "base mixture" with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to chill, 1-2 hours or overnight.

IMG_5563~ Step 3.  Pour the chilled base mixture into the workbowl of the pre-chilled ice-cream maker. Notice the white coating around the inside of my workbowl?  I switched the machine on to chill for 10 minutes. IMG_5578Place the cover on workbowl and turn the machine on to churn for 25-30 minutes.

Take the lid off.  Tell me this doesn't look like perfection:

IMG_5591Go ahead, help yourself.  Take a taste of perfection:

IMG_5601My Silky-Smooth Spiced Apple-Pear Puree Sorbet (+ the best tip EVER for perfect sorbet all the time:  Recipe yields 2 cups, or, 8, 1/4 cup-size servings, or, 16, 2 tablespoon-size servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; spoon; ice cream machine

IMG_4589Cook's Note:  If you are serving this sorbet as an intermezzo, you might want to consider serving everyone a slice of apple pie to end the meal. My first choice would be a ~ Dutch Apple, Sour Cream & Walnut-Streusel Pie ~.  It's the perfect complement & you can skip the ice cream.  You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 6, 17 or 19!

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

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

10/10/2014

~ Hold the Pickles, Hold the Lettuce, Special Orders Don't Upset Us: Try a Fall Turkey Sandwich My Way~

IMG_5464The well-constructed sandwich.  For me it is the perfect food.  It is an art form.  On any given day I can make a sandwich and it will leave me happy, satisfied and not wanting for anything else. As much as I love soups and salads, more often than not, they leave me wishing I had ordered a sandwich to sink my pearly whites into, savoring each layer of flavor and texture to the point of childlike ecstasy.  A sandwich is a symbol of profound greatness and should be savored with gusto.   If there were a way for me to tally how many sandwiches I have eaten in my lifetime,  I am certain sandwiches would be at the very top of my "foods I eat all the time and love" list.

Have you hugged your family sandwich maker today?

IMG_5445Most chefs are great sandwich makers because they have great bread and great ingredients at their disposal all day long -- it's also often the only food they can quickly eat with their hectic schedule. People who are really good home cooks tend to make great sandwiches too -- delicatessen- restaurant-quality sandwiches.  

Depending upon the season, some sandwiches may be hot and some may be cold, some can be picked up and others require a knife and fork, but, on any given day chefs and cooks always have high-quality bread and an array of ingredients on-hand that allow them to almost effortlessly turn leftovers from weekday meals into gourmet fare.    

In my opinion, next to a saucier (a person who devotes his/her life to the art of sauce making), a creative sandwich maker is the most valuable member of the home or restaurant kitchen.

We are having a Hallmark card weekend here in Happy Valley.  When I was growing up, they called it "Indian Summer":  Summer's last gasp.  The sun is shining and the temperatures have become so warm we can sit out on our patio, enjoy the picturesque Fall scenery, and, eat a light lunch:  sandwiches -- made with some wonderful ingredients I have leftover from the week!

IMG_5516A sandwich is often an in-depth look at a cook's week in review!

IMG_4844To prove my point, on this glorius Fall afternoon,  I had a few slices of ~ English Muffin Bread: For the Divine Love of Toast ~ leftover. You can find the recipe in Categories 5, 9 or 20.  It's really easy to make and it has almost a sourdough texture to it, so it holds up in a sandwich really well. Toasting this bread is a must, so, be sure to do that just before assembling the sandwich.

IMG_5052October is National Apple Month and here in Central Pennsylvania apples are at their peak.  Besides posting a number of apple desserts this week, I made some ~ Simply Silky & Smooth Spiced Apple & Pear Puree (Taking grandmother's applesuce to another level.) ~.  It is a great alternative to mayonnaise or mustard on a turkey sandwich, especially one that has apple slices on it.  You can find the recipe in Categories 4, 18 or 20.

IMG_5376 IMG_5381 IMG_5384As for the rest of my ingredients, the cheddar cheese (3 slices cut into quarters so I could arrange them to fit properly), crisp bacon (3 slices), roasted turkey breast (roasted chicken breast is a fine substitute), McIntosh apples and red IMG_5392 IMG_5396 IMG_5404onions were  ingredients I had either leftover from my kitchen encounters this week or on-hand.  Aside from the toasted bread, everything on this sammie is at room temperature:

Because that is the way I like it.  Joe likes his wrapped in some foil and placed in a 350 degree oven for about 5-6 minutes, just enough to melt the cheese.  And, yes, if you happen to have a panini press  in your kitchen, these come out great made that way too -- gobble gobble!

There are classic sandwich combinations that I for wouldn't change the recipe for even if someone paid me to do it.  But, the ordinary, everyday sandwich does not have to follow anyones rules -- it should be made-to-order, to please the person who will be eating it.  It doesn't have to have anything on it except what they want on it, and, whatever the main or favorite ingredient is:  it should be piled high with it.  Eating a sandwich is a very private experience, so, even if you don't approve of mine:  stay out of it -- look the other way -- leave the room.

Great bread + great ingredients = a perfect sandwich... 

IMG_5419... and that's no bologna!

IMG_5491Hold the Pickles, Hold the Lettuce, Special Orders Don't Upset Us:  Try a Fall Turkey Sandwich My Way:  Recipe yields instructions to make one of my favorite turkey sandwich combinations.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; toaster

IMG_4589Cook's Note:  The majority of my apples went into my pie post, and "oh my pie", what a pie it is.  You can find my recipe for  ~ Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Walnut-Streusel Pie ~ in Categories 6, 18, & 19!

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

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

10/08/2014

~ Fried Hazelnut-Crusted Brie w/Apple-Pear Puree ~

IMG_5323Yes, you read it right, this is deep-fried Brie.  I suppose I have always been a fearless fryer, because, the moment I received this recipe, without any hesitation, I drove to our local K-Mart to 71-2Xv9ELQL._SL1500_buy a Fry Daddy.  The Presto Fry Daddy (introduced in 1977), was basically an electric, temperature-controlled nonstick pot with a handle and a lid.  It was the precursor to our pricey present-day cool-touch deep-fryers with all of their fancy filters, heat-control settings and timers. The inexpensive Fry Daddy is still being sold today and they still work great!

Back in the 1970's I was in Philadelphia often.  Besides great shopping, Philly is full of fantastic places to eat and we ate somewhere different every time we visited the City of Brotherly Love. All of the fancy restaurants aside, my favorite place was simply named "Frog" (The Frog Commissary/Delicatessen).  The original Frog no longer exists, but, The Frog Commissary Catering Company, now located inside The Franklin Institute's historic building, runs all of its dining services, onsite eateries, seasonal restaurants, in-house and special events caterings.

6a0120a8551282970b0168eb4674b5970cEverything in the Frog that was edible was incredible.  I never tasted anything I did not absolutely adore.  From their appetizers to desserts, Frog served impeccably prepared and presented food.  One item on their hors d'oeuvres menu was heaven on a plate:  hot, oozing wedges of mellow, nut-crusted deep-fried Brie placed atop a puddle of spiced apple-pear puree and served with a basket of water biscuits.  The Frog Commissary Cookbook came out in 1985 and I got a copy immediately. When I turned to page 31, my heart skipped a beat.  There it was in black and white.  The recipe for Deep-Fried Brie in Almond Crust with Apple-Pear Puree.  I was off to the K-Mart to buy a Fry Daddy!

 This is the most addictive appetizer you will ever eat!

IMG_5331In the original recipe, wedges of Brie were deep-fried because that it how this hors d'oeuvre was served in the restaurant to individuals.  I made the leap to using small wheels of Brie, to serve at my holiday appetizer buffets after reading their "Notes and Variations" at the end of the recipe:

Coated, unfried wheels of Brie will keep for one day in the refrigerator.  You can also deep-fry the cheese, cool and chill it overnight, then reheat it in a 325 degree oven the next day for 10-12 minutes. For same-day preparation and caterings, we deep-fry the Brie for 1-2 minutes, let it drain and cool (without chilling), then reheat it in the oven for 3-5 minutes just before serving. Too long in either the deep-fryer or the oven may cause the cheese to leak out, so, watch carefully.  Experiment with other soft cheeses (like Camembert) and nuts (like hazelnuts)!

IMG_51972  cups ~ Simply Silky & Smooth Spiced Apple & Pear Puree ~, 1 cup for each wheel of Brie (Note:  You can find my recipe by clicking on the Related Article link below.  It is worth saying that your own homemade or high-quality store-bought applesauce may be substituted.)

2  8-ounce, 4"-round wheels of Brie, kept chilled until it's time to crust and fry (Note:  Larger-sized wheels of Brie can be substituted, but do this with caution.  Make sure the wheel will fit comfortably into the basket of your deep-fryer without overcrowding it prior to purchasing it.)

IMG_51881  cup all-purpose flour

4  large eggs, at room temperature

1  cup plain, dry breadcrumbs

1  cup whole, unsalted hazelnuts, blanched, lightly-toasted and coarsely-ground (a mixture of small pieces and larger chunks)

butter crackers or water biscuits, for accompaniment

IMG_5107 IMG_5175Step 1.  If you purchase blanched hazelnuts (the manufacturer has removed the skins for you), roast them in a 375 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, until lightly-toasted and fragrant.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely, about 45-60 minutes.  If you purchase hazelnuts with the skins on, read my post ~ How to: Remove the Skin from Hazelnuts/Filberts ~ by clicking into Category 15, and, follow my directions.  Hazelnuts that are skinned my way will not need to be blanched or toasted as my method takes care of both processes at the same time.

IMG_5202 IMG_5204 IMG_5208Place hazelnuts in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade. Using a series of 20-30 rapid on-off pulses process to coarsely grind.

IMG_5215Tip from Mel:  It's almost time to set up your "deep-frying assembly line". Besides the obvious, a deep-fryer, you are going to need 3 flat-bottomed bowls.  Once upon a time I used 9" pie plates to dip and dredge my Brie, but now I use Pyrex 2-quart bowls.  Their flat, 6" bottoms and high sides are perfect for this task -- especially when using 4" round wheels of Brie!

Setting up the deep-frying assembly line & frying the Brie:

IMG_5217~ Step 2.  For easy cleanup, place some paper towels on the countertop.  Pictured left to right, here's what you'll need:  3 bowls, fork, tablespoon, deep-fryer, small metal spatula and long-handled fork.  To the back is a cooling rack, also placed on top of some paper towels.

IMG_5226~ Step 3.  In each of the three bowls, in the following order:  place the flour; using the fork, whisk the eggs, and; using the tablespoon, thoroughly stir together the bread crumbs and hazelnuts.  

Preheat oil in deep-fryer to 350 degrees.  I use peanut oil, feel free to substitute corn oil.  When deep-fryer is preheated, remove the first wheel of Brie from refrigerator and unwrap it.

IMG_5227 IMG_5230 IMG_5233 IMG_5236~Step 4.  Dredge the Brie in flour, dip it in the egg mixture, then coat it in crumb/nut mixture. IMG_5240 IMG_5244 IMG_5247Redip it in the eggs, then recoat it in the crumb/nut mixture.  Using just your fingertips, being careful not to disturb the delicate crust, gently lower it into the hot oil -- do not place it IMG_5255directly on the bottom of the fryer basket because it will stick.  Close the lid and fry for 1 1/2-2 mintues. Do not overcook.  Error on the side of not enough rather than too much.

IMG_5261Note:  Brie will have a deep-golden crust and will be slightly soft to the touch.  No cheese should be oozing through the crust.

IMG_5290With the aid of the fork and the spatula, gently lift the Brie out of the oil and place it on the cooling rack.  

Note:  Do not be inclined to use tongs.  The crust is very delicate and the tongs are likely to rip it open in spots.

Repeat the process with the second wheel of Brie.  How easy was that:

IMG_5291~ Step 5.  Place a 1/2 cup puddle of slightly-warm apple-pear puree on one of your favorite 8" plates.  Serve the remaining 1/2 cup in a small bowl to the side, for dipping and drizzling.  Yum!

IMG_5322 IMG_5309Place room temperature to slightly-warm Brie on a baking pan in a 350 degree oven for 2-4 minutes, or, in the microwave for 1-1 1/2-2 minutes.  Check often.  

Remove Brie from oven and use a spatula to carefully place it on top of the puree.  Slice it open and allow it to ooze into the puree.  Then, let it start to cool a moment or two.

Quite possibly the most perfect cheese and cracker combo:

IMG_5353Fried Hazelnut-Crusted Brie w/Apple-Pear Puree:  Recipe makes 2, 8-ounce, 4"-round wheels of Brie, with each Brie serving 4 persons as an appetizer.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; paper towels; 3, 2-quart sized, flat-bottomed Pyrex bowls or something similar, or, 3, 9" pie dishes; fork; tablespoon; deep-fryer; small metal spatula; long-handled fork; cooling rack

Cheese Cake #18 (Sliced with Warm Berry SauceCook's Note: The Frog Commissary Delicatessen had a dessert on their menu that was a particular favorite of mine too.  You can find my version of ~ Philly's "Frog" Commissary Lemon Cheesecake ~ in Categories 6 or 17 of this blog. It is "to die for".  You can find their recipe for Ann Clark's Basic Sour Cream Cheesecake on pages 235 thru 238 of their cookbook!

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

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

10/06/2014

~ How to: Remove the Skin from Hazelnuts/Filberts ~

IMG_5107I love hazelnuts.  I always have.  I am the one who inconspicuously picks them out of the bowl of mixed nuts at the neighborhood cocktail party.  I always have a pound or two of unsalted hazelnuts in my freezer and a bottle of extract in my pantry, because I prefer them to other nuts in many baked goods and confections.  I keep a relatively pricey bottle of fragrant French hazelnut oil in my refrigerator to make salad dressings, I keep hazelnut liqueur (Frangelico) at my bar to make cocktails, and, I put hazelnut-flavored creamer in my coffee.  I do not like Nutella.

Why are hazelnuts referred to as filberts (and vice versa)?

FilbertsI have no clue -- botanically, they don't even grow on the same trees. The most accepted  explanation is: hazelnuts mature around St. Filbert's Day (August 20th). The filbert (a member of the "corylas" species) is larger and more elongated than the round hazlenut (a member of the "birch" family). Once cracked open their meats tastes the same -- rich and sweet -- which is why the terms are used interchangeably.  Turkey supplies the world with 75% of them.  Italy, Spain and France produce the rest. The US imported its  hazelnuts until Oregon and Washington began mass production in the 1940's.

Why do I have to remove the skin from hazelnuts?

IMG_5116The slightly-annoying thing about the whole, unsalted hazelnuts used in cooking and baking is: unless you purchase them blanched (blanching is one method for removing the skin), each one has a thin, papery, slightly-bitter-tasting skin on it that should be removed.  It's not a must, the skin is quite harmless and nontoxic, but:  because it is papery, like paper, it will burn at high temperatures, and, as we all know, what looks burned, tastes burned.  It also isn't pretty to look it, so, picky cooks and bakers prefer to take it off.  The good news is, this isn't too hard to do!

IMG_5192About the blanching method:  It works, but, it is not easier, faster or better.  I'm sharing it to be fair to those who prefer it, so you can judge for yourself.  In a 4-quart stockpot, bring 1-quart of water to a boil with 4 tablespoons of baking soda.  The water will foam up.  Add 2 cups of whole hazelnuts and boil for 3 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the nuts from the boiling water to a bowl of ice water. Use your fingers to remove the skin -- one nut at a time.  If skin doesn't slip off easily, return nuts to boiling water for 1-2 more minutes and repeat process.  In a nutshell, I find this process to be seriously nuts, and very hard on my manicure too. Note:  For less than $20 I can purchase 2-pounds of blanched hazelnuts and get on with my life. 

My favorite method is:  Toasting/Roasting.

This is my favorite method because I appreciate the added benefit of the lovely lightly-toasted flavor that only oven roasting can add to the hazelnuts.  Surprisingly, some people complain about this method because they say it is impossible to completely remove all of the skin from the hazelnuts, and, it leaves you with a stained kitchen towel as well.  Seriously?  Let's chat:

IMG_5132Yes, small chards of skin remain on the nuts in the end, but, I gladly exchange a few harmless bits of skin for the remarkable flavor. There's more, almost all of the chards fall off when you chop the nuts.  As for the stained towel? This old, cotton flour-sack towel has removed the skins from many hazelnuts in its day.  The crinkly cloth works well when rubbing the skins off the the nuts, and, a bit of bleach soaks out the stains too!  

IMG_5129~ Step 1.  Spread the whole hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking pan.  I have put 2 cups of whole hazelnuts (do not chop the nuts first) in an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan, the kind with the corrugated bottom.   Place pan on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven, until the skins are darkening and the IMG_5145nuts are fragrant, about 10-12 minutes, stopping to stir/toss with a spoon about every 2 minutes.  This occasional stirring will insure you keep a close eye on them and keep any nuts from burning in spots. Remove from the oven and immediately transfer them to a kitchen towel that has been placed over a large bowl (see/read below).

IMG_5146^The nuts are properly toasted when the skins are split.^

IMG_5141 IMG_5153~ Step 2. Place the towel over a large bowl. Remove the nuts from the oven and dump them into the towel while they are steaming hot. IMG_5154Package the towel up around the nuts and cover w/a lid or plastic.

IMG_5166 IMG_5157~ Step 3. Set aside for about 5 minutes. This will give the skins time to steam and soften a bit. Do not let the nuts cool.  Remove the cover (lid or plastic wrap).  Lift up the package of nuts and begin vigorously rubbing them against themselves as hard and as fast as you can.  This will remove the toughest and largest of the skins.

IMG_5169Step 4.  To continue removing more of the skins, spray the package of nuts with a generous misting of water.  Cover the bowl and place it in the microwave on high for 2 more minutes.  Uncover and vigorously rub the nuts again.  

Note:  Repeat this misting-microwaving process until you are satisfied.  I put these in the microwave 3 times today.  Including the roasting process, it took me a total of 30 minutes to remove the skins from these hazelnuts:

IMG_5175How to:  Remove the Skin from Hazelnuts/Filberts:  Recipe yields instructions to remove the skins from 2 cups of hazelnuts.

Special Equipment List:  11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan, the kind with the corrugated bottom; cotton dish towel; large glass bowl w/lid or plastic wrap; spray bottle for misting water

6a0120a8551282970b016303dc1dd1970dCook's Note:  In case you didn't know, little bit of roasting or toasting goes a long way to enhance the flavor of any type of nut and seeds. To get my detailed instructions, along with some tips about different varieties of nuts and seeds (including pumpkins seeds, which are in season right now), read ~ How to:  Roast/Toast Most Nuts and Some Seeds ~.  You can find it by clicking into Category 15, along with all of my other "How To" posts!

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

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

10/04/2014

~ Simply Silky & Smooth Spiced Apple & Pear Puree (Taking grandmother's applesauce to another level.) ~

IMG_5052Does anyone make homemade applesauce anymore?  I ask because I never hear anyone talk about doing it.  I grew up in a time and a place where not only was applesauce homemade, the making of it was an event, and, it was served often.  We stirred it warm into our oatmeal for breakfast and served it chilled as a side-dish to almost any poultry or pork for dinner. We dolloped it on cheddar cheese and crackers for an appetizer and drizzled it over gingerbread for dessert.  There's more.  My grandmother taught me to stir "a tad" into apple pie or apple dumpling mixtures for a flavor and texture that cannot be duplicated by any other means.

IMG_5072This is not my grandmother's or your grandmother's applesauce recipe -- it's better.  My grandmother was living when I started making this puree, about twenty years ago, and she confirmed it -- "This is better than mine," she said, "what's the secret?"  When I told her that creamy-textured McIntosh apples and succulent Bosc pears get simmered together in some sweet white wine with a few chunks of ginger, a clove-studded orange and some cinnamon sticks, being the teetotaler that she was (a person who abstains from all alcohol), she sternly recommended I not tell anyone at the church about the wine.  It was never discussed again!  

IMG_4944My apple and pear puree is one of my favorite Fall things, and, my ritual is to make a big batch of it every Fall.  I freeze it in 2-cup sized containers, to have on hand all year.  There is always a bowl of it on my Thanksgiving table, right next to my very special recipe for cranberry sauce. The ethereal aroma of this simmering on the stovetop takes over my house, and, today's the day!

Did I forget to mention how simple this is to make?

Before getting started note that this recipe can easily be doubled or tripled to make larger batches -- that will require a larger 12- 16-quart stockpot.  That being said, once the mixture comes to a simmer, it will still only take 25-30 minutes to cook, so please, do not overcook it!

IMG_49293  pounds, McIntosh apples, slightly more but not less, ripe or slightly over-ripe, unpeeled (about 2 1/2 pounds after coring)

3  pounds Bosc peaers, slightly more but not less, ripe or slightly over-ripe, unpeeled (about 2 1/2 pounds after coring)

1  large orange, about 8 ounces

16  whole cloves

2 ounces fresh, peeled ginger, cut into chunks

1 1/2  cups white wine

1/2  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

4  whole cinnamon sticks

6a0120a8551282970b0147e01a6061970b~ Step 1.  Cut the orange into 4 quarters and stud each quarter with 4 whole cloves.  Culinarily, "to stud" or "studding" means to poke the sharp end of each clove through the skin of the orange.  Putting the cloves in the orange makes them easy to find and remove at the end.

Using a paring knife or a vegetable peeler, peel the ginger and chop it into 3/4" - 1" chunks.

IMG_4933~ Step 2.  Quarter the apples and pears, trimming/discarding cores as you work.  Place the apple and pear quarters in an 8-quart stockpot as you work.  Note:  You should do this quickly.  This is not a beauty contest for apples and pears.

IMG_4942~ Step 3. Add the clove-studded orange quarters, ginger, brown sugar and cinnamon sticks.  Gotta love these Fall colors!

IMG_4960 IMG_4956~ Step 4. Add the white wine.  

Using a large spoon, give the mixture 4-5 rough stirs, meaning:  you want to get the mixture roughly coated in the wine and you want the brown sugar to roughly start to dissolve and coat the fruit.  Everything should be roughly mixed and sort of coated. This smells REALLY good already!

IMG_4965~ Step 5.  Bring the fruit mixture to a boil over high heat.  Cover and reduce heat to a very steady but still gentle simmer.  Continue to cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not overcook.  Fruit will be fully-cooked, falling apart and mixture will appear watery.  Great success!

~ Step 6.  Remove pot from heat. Set aside, covered, until completely cooled, several hours to overnight. Overnight is truly best, so do it if you have the time -- trust me!

IMG_4974 IMG_4986~ Step 7. Remove the clove-studded orange quarters and cinnamon sticks from the mixture.  

IMG_4979Remove and add the sweet edible segments from the orange quarters to the fruit mixture.

IMG_4995~ Step 8.  Transfer the mixture, including all of the liquid, to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  With motor running, process to a puree, about 30-45 seconds.  Mixture will be thick and smooth.

Note:  My Cuisinart DLC-X Plus food processor will handle all of this in one batch.  Depending upon the capacity of your food processor, you may have to do this in 2-3 batches. If working in batches, stir them all together in a large bowl before portioning into smaller containers for refrigeration and/or freezing.

IMG_5017~ Step 9.  Portion into food storage containers.  Like other soups and sauces, the puree is going to expand as it freezes, so, be sure to leave 1/4"-1/2" of headspace at the top of each container.  Cover.  

Note:  I use 2-cup size containers and I like to use reusable glass. Refrigerate overnight and up to one week, then freeze for up to one year.  Refrigerating the puree prior to freezing will eliminate the buildup of any ice crystals on the top.

IMG_5020My cure for the common snack attack:

IMG_5083Simply Silky & Smooth Spiced Apple & Pear Puree:  Recipe yields 3 quarts/12 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; paring knife or vegetable peeler; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; food processor; 2- or 4-cup size food storage containers w/lids, preferably glass

6a0120a8551282970b0133f64fcc53970bCook's Note:  Applesauce and cranberry sauce both go hand in hand with Turkey Day.  You can find my recipe for ~ A Truly Tart & Triple Delicious Cranberry Sauce ~ in Categories 4, 8, 18 & 22!

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

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

10/02/2014

~ English Muffin Bread: For the Divine Love of Toast~

IMG_4850If you like English muffins, this easy-to-make bread, which tastes just like (well, almost like) those light, airy, nook and cranny-cratered little English crumpet-cakes, is for you.  It requires no kneading, all you do is mix it up in a bowl, let it rise twice (once in the bowl and once in the loaf pan), then bake it.  But, like the English muffin, to fully-appreciate what it is, it's gotta be toasted -- taste it untoasted, then, taste it toasted, the difference is like a cold shower vs. a hot shower!

This is the easiest, from-scratch yeast bread you will ever make: 

IMG_4890But to fully-appreciate it, it's gotta be toasted!

QQcAQmKA13c2437353631383GqgdhtHS_1362215159This is one of the easiest yeast bread recipes you will ever make -- no kneading, just stirring, no kidding.  Keep it that way, meaning: beware of recipes that talk you into any special ingredients or extra machinations.  They are not better, just more work.  The original recipe, pictured here, was widely published in magazines and newspapers in the mid-1970's.  I was a latecomer to the English muffin bread craze and, didn't try their recipe until I started experimenting with recipes using their RapidRise yeast in the latter-1980's.  By then, they'd adjusted the original recipe, I assume to accommodate their recent invention, RapidRise yeast, which they introduced in 1984: 

5  cups all-purpose flour

2  envelopes Fleishman's RapidRise yeast

4  teaspoons sugar

2  teaspoons salt

1/4  teaspoon baking soda

2  cups milk

1/2  cup water

cornmeal

The Fleishmann's RapidRise recipe was and still is wonderful.  I never gave any thought to changing it or trying anyone elses version until:

April of 2012 when my new issue of Cooks Country magazine arrived. The significant change they made to the recipe was the substitution of bread flour for all-purpose flour. The rest of the ingredients remained the same with minor changes to amounts.  It was their explanation of IMG_4838the bread flour that made me decide to try their recipe (which, is now my recipe of choice):

As per Cook's Country magazine: "Why this recipe works:  We prefer bread flour for its stronger gluten proteins, which give this loaf a chewy yet light consistency.  Bread flour also has the ability to absorb more water than all-purpose flour, an important aspect since this is a fairly wet and sticky batter/dough. The resulting crumb has a solid structure and consistent holes."

^Every word of Cook's Country's statement is the truth!^

IMG_47125  cups (27 1/2 ounces) bread flour (Note:  I always weigh the flour.  Why?  Five cups of bread flour when measured is usually about an ounce or so shy of 27 1/2 ounces.)

4 1/2  teaspoons rapid-rise yeast (2 packets)

1  tablespoon sugar (Note:  I use 4 teaspoons, which is 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon.)

2  teaspoons salt (Note:  I use sea salt and I use 2 1/4 teaspoons.)

1  teaspoon baking soda (Note:  This is significantly more than the Fleishman's recipe, it is not a typo, and it works.)

3  cups whole milk, heated to between 120-130 degrees on the stovetop or in the microwave (Note: This is so much better than milk and water, or, worse, versions that use powdered milk.)

cornmeal, for preparing loaf pans  (Note:  I use 2  teaspoons salted butter and 2 tablespoons white cornmeal -- 1 teaspoon butter and 1 tablespoon cornmeal per pan.)

no-stick cooking spray (Note:  This is not mentioned specifically in the Cook's Country recipe.)

IMG_4723~ Step 1.  Butter 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pans and give them a dusting of cornmeal, shaking out all of the excess.  Note:  Cook's Country says "grease and dust with cornmeal" meaning, they do not specify butter or an approximate amount of cornmeal.  Butter is my preference and 1 tablespoon of cornmeal per pan works perfectly.  You can thank me later.

IMG_4740 IMG_4721~ Step 2.  In a large bowl, using a spatula, stir together the flour, yeast, sugar, salt and baking soda.  

IMG_4738Heat the milk and add it at once to the flour mixture.

IMG_4748 IMG_4753~ Step 3.  Stir until a wet sticky ball of dough forms, about 1 minute.  Cover bowl with a piece of plastic wrap that has been sprayed with no-stick spray.  Set side to rise until dough is bubbly and doubled in bulk, 35-45 minutes.

IMG_4757 IMG_4769~ Step 4.  Uncover the bowl.  Spray the rubber spatula with no-stick spray (this will keep the wet dough from sticking to it) and stir/fold the dough down and around to form a ball. Use the side of the spatula to cut/divide dough into two parts.

IMG_4772 IMG_4785~ Step 5.  Scoop each piece up on the spatula and place in prepared pan.  Spray spatula again and use it to push, pat, and press dough into the corners and evenly throughout the pan.  Cover pans with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with no-stick spray, then, set aside until dough rises up to the edges of the pans, about 30 minutes:

IMG_4795~ Step 6.  Bake loaves on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven, 30 minutes, rotating and switching the pans halfway through the baking process.  Bread will be golden brown and pulling away from sides of pans.  Remove from oven and place pans on cooling rack for 1 minute:

IMG_4805~ Step 7.  Remove bread from pans (with one tip of the pan, the bread will slide easily from pan to cooling rack) and cool completely, about 2 hours, prior to slicing, toasting and serving:

IMG_4823Slice it 3/4"-thick -- that is indeed the ideal thickness...

IMG_4844... for the perfect slice of toast to start your perfect day:

IMG_4895English Muffin Bread:  For the Divine Love of Toast:  Recipe yields 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaves, about 10 thick-slices each.

Special Equipment List: 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pans; large mixing bowl; large rubber spatula; 1-quart measuring container or  2-quart saucepan; instant-read themometer; cooling rack; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b016767f23475970bCook's Note:  For another quick way to put  amazing bread on your breakfast table, you can find my recipe for ~ Bread Machin Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~ in Categories 2, 5, 9, 15, 18 or 20.

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

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