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13 posts from November 2014

11/29/2014

~ Seriously Simple: Sweet Potato & Apple Cobbler ~

IMG_8767While sweet potatoes are always part of my traditional Thanksgiving feast, they also find their way to my dinner table on a regular basis during all the Fall and Winter months.  Well, they don't find their way to my table, I put them there, in as many forms as possible.  I love them.  If sweet potatoes were decreed by the food police to be unhealthy, even that could not stop me from eating them.  As a side-dish, this root vegetable pairs perfectly with amost any poultry or pork, and, due to their natural sweetness, they can be used to make super-healthy desserts too!

IMG_8780A bit about sweet potatoes:  Sweet potatoes were first introduced to North America when Columbus brought them over from the island of St. Thomas, where this large edible root (which belongs to the morning-glory family) is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most widely grown commercially are a pale sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety Americans erroneously call "yam" (the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato).  The pale potato has a thin, light yellow skin and pale yellow flesh. Its flavor is not sweet, and, after being cooked, the pale sweet potato is dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato. The darker variety (pictured above) has a thicker, dark-orange skin and vivid-orange, sweet flesh.  When cooked it has a very sweet flavor and a creamy texture. The dark-skinned, orange-colored variety is the only kind I use in my recipes.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07b8e00f970dWhen buying sweet potatoes, choose plump, firm even-sized ones with no cracks or bruises. Like regular potatoes they should never be stored in the refrigerator, but they do need to be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place.  If the temperature is above 60 degrees, they'll begin to sprout, get woody and/or shriveled.  Cooked sweet potatoes, if stored in the refrigerator, last for about a week.  Like regular potatoes, sweet potates are always eaten cooked, never raw.

IMG_8547With the Thanksgiving holiday in my wake, this is our weekend to relax, watch football, old movies, and, <feast on leftovers.  My pies (apple, pecan and pumpkin) disappeared on the evening of Turkey Day itself, but, thanks to a few sweet potatoes and apples (in a basket in my garage), and, a pie pastry (in my freezer), I can make a quick dessert this afternoon to keep us happy until the leftovers run out.

Let's talk cobbler (& how it differs from a crisp):

6a0120a8551282970b0168ebb21ba7970cA bit about cobbler:  Nowadays, cobbler is associated with a baked deep-dish fruit or berry dessert that emerges from the oven with a semi-crispy, biscuit-like top that has been made (depending upon where you are from) with a batter, a biscuit dough, or a pie pastry and sprinkled with sugar.  Don't confuse cobbers with crisps.  While both contain fruit or berries, a crisp is topped with a crispy, crumbly crumb or streusel mixture (a streusel contains oats, a crumb does not) that gets sprinkled or strewn over the top.

IMG_5843Note:  The sweet potato and apple cobbler I'm making today is topped with a classic pie pastry. For an example of a cobbler made with a batter (pictured just above), click into Categories 6 or 20 to get my recipe for ~ A Simple Summertime Treat:  Pineapple Cobbler ~.  

To learn how a crisp is made, click into the same Categories 6 or 20 to get my recipe (pictured here on the left) ~ Cozy Apple, Bourbon, Vanilla Bean & Pecan Crisp ~. Almost any crisp can be turned into a cobber and vice versa!

While cobbler recipes have been printed in European cookbooks since the early 19th century and started out as main-dish protein-based meals, many residents of our Southern United States claim cobbers to be their invention, which, sorry folks, is not true.  Cobblers in the US originated in the Colonies because the English settlers were unable to make their traditional suet puddings for lack of proper ingredients and cooking equipment.  The name is said to derive from the fact that the finished product takes on the appearance of a cobbled street!

Meet my version of a cobbled street (with pastry leaves on it):

IMG_8705Let's make sweet potato & apple cobbler:

Assembling and baking this cobbler is super-easy, but, a couple of tasks need to be performed ahead of time:  making pie pastry, enough for a double crust pie, and, baking sweet potatoes. If that sounds like too much fuss to you, by using some high-qualty store-bought pie pastry and microwaving the potatoes, all of the mess of making pie pastry can be eliminated, and, the time it takes to bake sweet potatoes to the desired degree of doneness in a conventional oven can be cut in half by using the microwave.  Guess what?  This is so good, no one cares!

This isn't one of my own recipes.  I found the original on the pages of Southern Living Magazine about 8-10 years ago.  I've tweeked it many times in many ways over the years to get it to exactly where I want it to be, but, it started out as theirs, and, I remain thankful to them for that! 

IMG_85842  8-ounce pie pastries, peferably homemade rolled into a 10"-11" circle (Note: You can find my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee:  Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~ in Categories 15 or 11.), or:

1  14-ounce box, high-quality, store-bought pie pastry, containing 2 pie pastries

IMG_8581Note:  Once the pastries are rolled out, or unrolled if using store-bought, using any shape of 3" cookie cutter that tickles your fancy (I'm using maple leaves), cut the dough into 15-18 desired shapes.  I've used the blunt side of a knife blade to make the vein imprints across their surface.  Place on a parchment lined baking pan as you work.  Place in refrigerator to chill for about an hour.

6a0120a8551282970b013487fcb432970c4-5  10-12-ounce sweet potatoes, microwaved until semi-soft and sliceable, not cooked through, about 10 minutes, cooled to room temperature (1-2 hours of cooling)

Note: Timing will vary depending upon the microwave.  Watch carefully and check often the first time you do this.  Make a note of the time on your copy of the recipe and never think about it again!

IMG_8589For the citrus & spice mixture:

In a 2-cup measuring container, whisk together:

1   cup orange juice

1  teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2  cup sugar

1/4  cup pure maple syrup

1/4  cup Wondra Quick-Mixing IMG_8595Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon ground ginger

1/4  teaspoon allspice

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

For the remaining ingredients:

4-5  large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced to a thickness of 1/4"

IMG_25751  cup chopped pecans or walnuts

6 tablespoons salted butter, divided in half, half chilled and half melted

a sprinkling of Sugar 'n Cinnamon, for topping pastry leaves

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing baking dish

IMG_8599~ Steps 1 & 2.  Prep the apples and pecans as directed, placing a layer of overlapping  apple slices evenly across the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish that has been sprayed with no stick spray.  

IMG_8607Scatter the nuts evenly over the apples.

IMG_8616~ Steps 3 & 4.  Peel and slice the cooled sweet potatoes into 1/2"-thick discs, arranging them in a single layer on top of the apples and nuts.  Rewhisk the spice liquid and pour it evenly over the top.

IMG_8623Using the 3 tablespoons of chilled butter, thinly slice and place butter pats over the top of the sweet potatoes.

IMG_8639~ IMG_8635 Steps 5 & 6.  Melt the remaining butter and let it cool about 5 minutes.  Remove pastry leaves from the refrigerator and arrange them evenly over the top.

IMG_8648~ Steps. 7 & 8.  Using a pastry brush, lighly paint butter evenly over the tops of the pastry.  Discard any leftover butter.  

IMG_8656Sprinkle the Sugar 'n Cinnamon over all.

~ Step 9.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 50-55 minutes.  

IMG_8662Liquid will be thickened & bubbly and pastry leaves will be crisp & golden:

IMG_8686Place on a cooling rack for 1-2 hours, or longer...

IMG_8722... prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature...

IMG_8803... topped with ice cream or whipped cream:

IMG_8790Seriously Simple:  Sweet Potato & Apple Cobbler:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  3" cookie cutter, preferably leaf-shaped; paring knife; 17 1/2" x 12 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; 2-cup measuring container; whisk; vegetable peeler; cutting board; chef's knife; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish, preferably clear glass; pastry brush; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b019b01635911970b-800wiCook's Note:  For another way to use sweet potatoes in a dessert, check out my recipe for ~ From a Potato to My Southern Sweet Potato Pie ~ by clicking into Categories 6 or 18!

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

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

11/26/2014

~ Basic, Moist & Classic: Soft White Bread Stuffing ~

IMG_8472This is the stuffing that takes us back to the beginning.  Grandma ripped up some stale bread then tossed in some sauteed celery and onion seasoned with salt, pepper, and perhaps an herb or two.  Once she mixed those together, she slowly added some turkey stock, just enough to make the mixture really moist without any liquid puddling in the bottom of the bowl.  Sometimes she added a lightly-beaten egg too.  "Back in the day", oven space in the home kitchen was almost always limited, so, stuffing was almost always baked inside the bird -- a smart way to get an extra side-dish without taking up any precious space.  This method also kept Grandma's stuffing super-moist with an almost steamed, pudding-like texture.  When stuffing is baked in a casserole (not in the bird), the technical term for it may be "dressing", but,  I loved "the stuff":

IMG_8499Recipes did vary slightly, depending upon where you grew up and in what time period ('30's, '40's, 50's and early '60's), but, not much.  To my recollection, stuffing remained simple and uncomplicated right up until Mrs. John F. Kennedy put a French chef in charge of the White House kitchen.  Every woman in America wanted to be like Jackie, and that included stirring a "gourmet" ingredient or two into the pot of everything we cooked.  Stuffing was no exception.

IMG_8574I found myself evesdropping on a conversation on Monday while shopping for small, Dutch ovens. On the other side of the open shelves, two sisters were discussing whether one should invest in an All-Clad roasting pan. At checkout, their conversation turned to "where to find a recipe for the soft white bread stuffing mom always made for us".  This recipe is for my two new KE readers!   

29903001  stick salted butter 

1 1/2  cups diced celery

1 1/2  cups diced yellow onion

1/4  cup dried parsley flakes

1  teaspoon Bell's poultry seasoning

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

8  cups potato bread, 4-5 days old, cut into 1" cubes (10 slices bread)

1 1/4  cups turkey or chicken stock

1  jumbo egg, lightly beaten

IMG_8401~ Step 1.  Dice the celery and onion as directed.  Set aside.

IMG_8410In a 12" skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Add and stir the poultry seasoning, salt and pepper into the butter.  Add the celery and onion and stir until vegetables are evenly coated in the butter/spice mixture.

IMG_8420 IMG_8413~ Step 2. Increase heat to medium and saute until vegetables are tender but still a bit crunchy, about 5-6 minutes.

Turn heat off.  Stir in the parsley flakes.  Set aside to cool a bit.  Feel free to add fresh minced parsley in place of dried, but my grandmother dried her own and used it.

IMG_8436 IMG_8433~ Step 3. While the vegetables are cooling a bit, cube the bread as directed, placing it in a large bowl as you work.

Using a large spoon or spatula, add and stir the vegetable mixture into the bread cubes.  

Allow mixture to rest about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to give bread time to absorb moisture.

IMG_8438~ Step 4.  Stir in the chicken stock a bit at a time, stirring and resting a bit after each addition, 1/2 cup, 1/2 cup, then the last 1/4 cup.  Bread should be very moist with no liquid puddling in the bottom of the bowl.

IMG_8443Using a fork, beat the egg and stir it in. Allow to rest 5 minutes. Stir again.

IMG_8462 IMG_8455~ Step 5. Spray a 1 1/2-quart casserole or 8" x  8" x 2" baking dish with no stick spray.

Lightly spoon mixture evenly into bottom of prepared casserole.  Do not dump it it, spread it around or press it down.  Keep it light.

IMG_8469~ Step 6.  Cover with aluminum foil.

Bake on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 5 minutes or until very lightly browned.  Do not overbake this stuffing or it will dry out.  

Remove from oven and set aside to rest about 10-30 minutes prior to serving hot or warm:

IMG_8505Just like Grandma (or Mom) used to make:

IMG_8525Basic, Moist & Classic:  Soft White Bread Stuffing:  Recipe yields 6 cups or 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet; 1-cup measuring container; fork; large spoon or spatula; 1 1/2-quart casserole or 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; aluminum foil

IMG_7377Cook's Note: I use Bell's poultry seasoning to make this stuffing recipe.  Feel free to substitute your family's favorite brand, but, to learn more about Bell's (and poultry seasoning in general), read my post ~ So what exactly is in Poultry Seasoning?  Poultry? ~ in Categories 8, 15, 16 & 18!

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

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

11/24/2014

~ Nobody's Pizza - For the Somebody in All of Us!!! ~

IMG_8280Pizza makes me happy.  I'm not alone.  It's my belief that next to watching baseball, eating pizza is America's favorite past time.  Everybody goes to the ball park and the pizza shop to have a good time.  If you're a traveler in search of the perfect slice, the one made just for you, you already know it's important to not give too much credence to personal recommendations and published "pizza shop reviews".  I've been burned way too many times paying attention to that over-rated banter.  Pizza, like toothpaste, is personal.  Some of the best pizza is the simplest, and, is found in the least likely and lesser recognized places.  This is one such story.

IMG_8293Pizza:  oven-baked flat bread topped w/tomato sauce & cheese.

XlcGrDN1iVmKM4There's a pizza joint close to Joe's hometown (Lackawanna County, PA).  The atmosphere is old-school casual with memorabilia hanging on the walls.  You can order take-out or eat-in sitting on a stool at the bar, in a wooden booth or at a table. They serve pizza only, one size only, and, you'll only wait 5-10 minutes to be served. You'll get no menu -- sign boards list the toppings and how much each will add to the price of the $11.00 pizza. Since 1945, they open at 4:00PM & close at Midnight (6 days a week).

Andy's PizzaJoe took me there just before we got married, on my very first visit to Jessup.  My love affair with this pizza began on that very first trip, with that very first bite of that very first slice and has continued now for almost 35 years.  It's no wonder the loyal locals refer to this uniquely different pie as "the pizza world's best kept secret."  I am in their camp, but, as with all pizza, there are those who feel otherwise.  We two love this legendary pizza so much, that, once a year, every Fall, Joe makes a pilgrimage for the sole purpose of bringing home twelve pies for our freezer.  We order them uncut, then I just slide each one into a ziplock bag and freeze 'em all.

NOBODY can make Andy's Pizza in Peckville, PA, better than Andy's, but, after many tries, I've have come up with a close in-home rendition!

A bit about Andy's Pizza:  The yeasty taste (resemblant of beer without beer being added) of the otherwise bland, chewy, tender, really crispy crust is the first thing everybody remembers.  It's thick around the perimeter, medium-ish across the bottom, breadlike in appearance (meaning it doesn't have big, gassy air holes in it), and, most amazingly, it is not overly-browned (which would dry it out).  At first glance, it fools you into thinking it is undercooked, when in fact it is perfectly cooked.  It is neither a fold-and-eat Neopolitan-style crust nor a knife-and-fork Sicilian-style crust.  After the crust, more magic happens when a rather generic sauce (not too sweet or spicy with no distinguishable flavor of any dominant herb) meets a goodly amount of creamy, molten, white American-type processsed cheese or cheese blend -- once again, perfectly-melted without over-browning.  If you like a pie with long strands of stringy mozzarella, this, pie is not for you, but do not knock it until you have tried it.  The sauce and the cheese unite in such a way that neither one dominates the other or the crust.  It's a delightful experience!

IMG_8161A bit about Nobody's Pizza:  After more experiments than I can count, Joe nicknamed my trials (none were inedible failures) "Nobody's Pizza", because while good, they weren't even close to the target. Persistence pays off.  Happily, my home version is now as close to eating an actual Andy's pie sans them handing me their recipe.  

A couple of years back, however, I gave up on using my electric-stand mixer with paddle attachment to make the dough.  I'm certain Andy's most likely uses a giant Hobart-type mixer of some sort in order to produce the hundreds of pies they need to turn out at warp speed.  The day I decided to place all of my ingredients in my bread machine, on the pizza dough cycle, I never looked back.  In 55 minutes, my dough emerges perfectly mixed, proofed and ready to rock 'n roll.  Feel free to use your stand mixer -- the dough turns out the same.

IMG_8154For the pizza dough:

1  cup water + 6 tablespoons water

3  cups unbleached bread flour

1  cup semolina flour (pizza makers commonly add this to pizza dough in place of some of the flour to give it "chew")

IMG_81571 1/2  teaspoons fine sea salt

1 packet granulated yeast, not rapid-rise (2 teaspoons granulated yeast)

4  tablspoons total olive oil, 2 tablespoons each for oiling 2, 12"-round pizza pans

~ Step 1.  In order listed, place the IMG_8163water, bread flour and semolina in bread pan of bread machine.  Using your index finger, make a shallow well in the center (do not expose any of the water).  Add the salt and the yeast to the well.  Close the lid and push the "select" button.  Then choose the "pizza dough" cycle. Push the "start" button.  When machine signals, remove pan of dough from the machine.

Step 2.  Using a paper towel, oil each of 2, 12"-round pizza pans with 2 tablespoons olive oil.

IMG_8169~ Step 3.  Remove the dough from the bread pan and form it into a large ball, then divide the dough into two even-sized balls and place one on each oiled pan.

IMG_7961Note:  You'll have 2-pounds of dough.  If you have a kitchen scale, use it to divide precisely.

IMG_8197 IMG_8174~ Step 4. Taking your time, gently pat and press the dough evenly across the bottom and evenly up the sides of the pan.

Note:  I do this in 3 parts taking 15 total minutes, allowing the dough to rest about 5 minutes each time before patting and pressing again.

IMG_8205 IMG_8190~ Step 5. Using a fork, gently prick the surface of the dough about 30-40 times.  This will prevent the bottom of the pie from bubbling up when baking.  

Note:  Do this so as to break the surface without opening any holes through to the bottom of the pan.

IMG_8320For the sauce and the cheese:

2 1/2  cups pizza sauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite brand

5 1/2  cups grated Provel* or American cheese (Note:  This is a matter of taste and I use Provel.)

*A bit about the Provel cheese: Provel cheese was developed by the St. Louis firm Costa Grocery in the 1950's.  Made in Wisconsin, it's processed American cheese made from a combination of provolone, Swiss and white cheddar.  It is 6a0120a8551282970b01774463628e970dwhite, slightly smoky and slightly salty.  It has the exact same texture and melting qualties as white American with a bit more tang.  I purchase it (it comes in 5-pound blocks or grated in bags) on line at www.itsastlouisthing.com.

IMG_8240 IMG_8219~ Step 6. Place 1 1/4 cups of sauce in each of two small  bowls.  Add 1 cup of grated cheese to each bowl and stir to combine.

IMG_8228Note: Stirring some cheese into IMG_8256the sauce is what gives this pizza that ubiquitous layer of sauce and cheese rather than the typical layer of sauce with a layer of cheese on top.

~ Step 7.  Spread the cheesey sauce evenly over the surface of both crusts, then, sprinkle 1 3/4 cups of additional cheese over each.  Set pizzas aside, uncovered, for 1 hour, to allow dough to rise up around the sides.

~ Step 8.  Place a pizza stone on center rack of oven and preheat to 375 degrees (no higher and no lower for this pizza in the home kitchen).  Bake pizzas, one at a time, as follows:

IMG_8264 IMG_8286Place pan of pizza on pizza stone and bake for 9 minutes.  

With the aid of a spatula, lift a corner of the pie up and using your other hand (and a pot holder or oven mitt), tilt the pan to slide the pie off the pan and onto the stone.

IMG_8268Fashion and place a very loose dome of aluminum foil over pie, making sure the foil does not touch anything but the crust (not the surface where the cheese is bubbly. The foil will prevent the cheese from over-browning.  Continue to bake for 6 more minutes, for a total of 15 minutes baking time.  The crust will be barely-browned and the cheese will be molten.  Do not overbake!

Discard foil, and, using a pizza peel, transfer from stone to cooling rack:

IMG_8291Allow to cool 15-18 minutes (molten, lava-esque cheese needs to set)!

IMG_8307Slice...

IMG_8334... pick a slice... 

IMG_8339... take a taste and appreciate!

IMG_8362Nobody's Pizza:  For the Somebody in All of Us!:  Recipe yields 2, 12" pizzas.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; bread machine; 2, 12"-round pizza pans; paper towels;  2, 2-cup measuring containers; cheese grater; pizza stone; spatula; pizza peel; large cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0147e3591d45970bCook's Note:  We Preschutti's love homemade pizza and I make several different kinds (just click on the Related Article links below to get the recipes).  Click into Category 8 to read ~ Preschutti Pizza, Parts I, II & III:  Our Favorite Sauce, Our Favorite Crust & Our Favorite Four Toppings ~!

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

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

11/22/2014

~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV Video Segment #63: Roast Turkey, Gravy & Mashed-Potato Stuffing Too ~

IMG_7341Over the last few days I wrote a nice selection of posts to help take the stress out of cooking Thanksgiving dinner.  Click on the Related Article links at the very end of this post to read:

~ Portioning Poultry:  The Chart/Guide that Will Help ~

~ Roasting Poultry and Making Gravy Too ~

~ Tettie's Baked Mashed-Potato Stuffing Casserole ~

~ So what exactly is in Poultry Seasoning?  Poultry? ~

Yesterday, I roasted a turkey, made gravy, and, the mashed-potato stuffing on my weekly Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV cooking segment.  To watch it, just click on the following link:

Thanksgiving Turkey, Gravy & Mashed-Potato Stuffing Too

To watch all of my other Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV cooking segments, go to the listing found on the left side of the home page of this blog and click on the blue title of any one of them, or:

Tune in to WHVL's Centre of It All Show on Sunday mornings at 11:30 on local Comcast ch. 14!

IMG_7294"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

11/20/2014

~ Roasting Poultry and Making Gravy Too: My Own Techniques and Oration (the long and not short of it) ~

IMG_7341After thirty years of roasting almost every type of  poultry, from 2-pound game hens to 24-pound monster-sized turkeys, I've faced and solved almost every glitch imaginable, carefully documenting them (so as not to let any of them occur twice).  I won't lie to you, in the early years there were some tears, but about 5-6 years into my meticulous list of DON'T EVER DO THIS AGAIN, I started producing those moist, juicy birds with crispy, golden skin that everyone covets. Then, about 18 or so years ago, I switched to a different list.  One that documented the size of each bird, the temperature(s) it was cooked at, and the exact time it took to cook it.  To my surprise, a pattern emerged.  The best birds, no matter what size, were all cooked using the same basic method, which worked perfectly for me in my kitchen -- and it was easy too! 

IMG_6120So, if I'm so darn good at this, why am I so terrified to write this post?  Because when I click "publish", I'll immediatley be associated with the multitudes of little- to well-known foodies in the world who profess to knowing the secrets to roasting the perfect birdI'm not sure I like that.  Roasting poultry is personal.  If my grandmother (and yours) could do it under less than perfect conditions, who am I to make rules?

The most beautiful bird in the world:

IMG_8389Everything from pans to poundage affects the process and the end product.  Yes, of course, it obviously helps to have a set of well-written guidelines, a knowlege of the process, and more importantly, a knowledge of its options.  BUT, if you get fanatical and adopt a closed-minded "my way or the highway" approach to roasting poultry, you're not only taking all of the sport out of it, there is a good chance it will screw you up for life.  In all seriousness:  keep it simple!

IMG_6118The  turkey which appears in all of the pictures in this post is not special or famous.  It is a random 16-pound bird that was bought at a local grocery store over the weekend for the sole purpose of writing this post a week before Thanksgiving.  It came to me thawed and sealed in plastic. That said, when possible, I always buy or order a fresh-killed turkey:  I prefer fresh over perviously frozen.  

My point is:  you can have success with any turkey, so, don't feel 'lesser' if all you could find three days before the holiday was a 'block of ice', frozen-solid bird -- thaw it in the refrigerator for two days and carry on as if it walked through your door and you killed it yourself.  Any bird roasted according to my guidelines, if I do say so myself, will emerge beautifully golden brown on all sides with perfectly-cooked, juicy meat.  I now present my method(s) to you.  You be the judge:

IMG_6383~ Step 1To Portion.  Deciding how large a bird to buy depends upon how many people you plan on serving, how you plan on serving it (pre-portioned and plated individually or family-style on a big platter), and, if you want leftovers.  I plan on 8-ounces per person, 12-ounces if there will most likely be second helpings and 16-ounces or more if you want leftovers.  In my house, I plan on a 16-pound bird serving 6-8 people with a few leftovers, but certainly not an overabundance.  For more specific guidelines and a nifty chart, read my post ~ Portioning Poultry:  The Chart/Guide that will Help ~, by clicking on the Related Article link below.

IMG_7194~ Step 2To Thaw.  As previously mentioned, I always try to avoid buying a frozen bird, but sometimes in the "off season", that just isn't possible.  If you happen to buy a frozen bird, or have a frozen bird in your freezer, place the bird, in its wrapping in the refrigerator.  Allow 3 1/2-4 hours of defrosting time per pound.  Once thawed, use the bird as you would a fresh one, within two days of thawing it.  Never refreeze poultry.  Never ever.

~ Step 3To Brine (or not to Brine).  If you keep up with all the trendy food commentary, everyone and his monkey's uncle is promoting this process, which is fine, but it's not for me. My opinion is:  it's just one more step, both time-consuming and messy, that over-complicates roasting poultry -- which of itself is simple and stressfree.  Except for the instance of a wild turkey, I am not a proponent of brining.  In the case of a wild turkey, which does not have a lot of meat on it, has a game-y-er taste than farm-raised poultry, and, tends to be dry from the get-go, I have yet to find any reason of major substance, be it texture or flavor, to brine any poultry.

Turkey-brine-3.gifA bit about brining:  Brine is a basic mixture of salt, sugar and water (sometimes brown sugar or molasses are used, and, sometimes herbs, spices and fresh or dried fruits are added).  It was used before the invention of refrigeration to preserve and prevent meat from spoiling.  Nowadays, brining is not so much done to preserve food, but to tenderize and flavor it.  Because of the increased salt content, it also cuts the home cook quite a bit of slack in terms of exact timing and temperature.  Brined poultry is an acquired taste, one which I have not yet managed to acquire.  In fact, I dislike the taste and texture of brined birds, and I don't need to be cut any slack.  Simmer down and read on:

My oven-roasting method produces moist, naturally-flavored, evenly-cooked birds with crispy, edible, golden-brown, butter-flavored skin.  I have no need to resort to the reincarnation of a semi-outdated, time-consuming cooking process.  This being said:  Will brining visually make your bird camera-ready, like it's had several injections of botox?  Yep.  Will brining impart a juicy texture to your meat?  Positively.  Will it give your turkey a salty, lunch-meaty, sometimes hamlike  after taste?  In my personal opinion, absolutely.  I've gone through this brining experiment several times over the past three years, under the supervision of and prompting from well-versed experts (a couple of whom have sent me their recipes and prepackaged brining salt mixtures to try).  Brining has never once lived up to my expectations or standards.  Enough said.

~ Step 4To Stuff (or not to Stuff), or, The Evils of Stuffing:  Make this decision before you even begin to prep your bird for the oven.  I'm here to talk you out of stuffing the bird, but if you insist upon doing it, prepare the stuffing recipe according to the recipe directions and have the stuffing mixture ready and at room temperature before removing the bird from the refrigerator.  Stuffing that is too hot or too cold will cause serious timing problems at the end of the roasting process.  Stuffing in general, causes problems.  It appeared early on my DON'T EVER DO THIS  AGAIN list, so I do not stuff the bird.  To make a long story not any shorter:

IMG_7294Stuffing is evil.  Stuffing itself isn't evil, but from a food-safety standpoint, stuffing the bird is.  By the the time the center of the stuffing cooks to a safe-to-eat temperature of 165-170 degrees, you will have grossly overcooked your bird, resulting in very dry, almost tasteless meat.  If you take your bird out of the oven when you are supposed to, when the meat reaches a temperature of about 160-165 degrees (then cover and rest it to allow carryover heat to cook it to a temperature of 170-175 degrees), your stuffing is more than likely:  not sufficiently or fully-cooked.  There is no "gray area" or "middle ground" here, just a bad prognosis.  This is not said to start any arguments with grandmothers across the USA who successfully stuff their birds and do not poison their friends and family.  These are just statements of food-safety fact.

After reading the above, if you are still intent on stuffing your bird:  #1.  Have stuffing at room temperature.  #2.  Pack stuffing very loosely, into both the neck and breast cavities.  For less mess, be sure to stuff the neck cavity first.  #3.  Once again, do not compact the stuffing in either cavity, as stuffing expands as it cooks.  Over-stuffing will result in a dense, inedible product. 

IMG_7381~ Steps 5 & 6Preparing to Roast & Roasting.  I like to remove my bird from the refrigerator and let it "chill out" on the countertop or in the sink for about 30-60 minutes before:  Using kitchen shears, carefully remove the plastic wrapping from the completely thawed or fresh bird.  Be careful not to puncture the skin of the bird with the sharp tips of the shears.  Remove the neck and packet of giblets from the breast and/or neck cavities and set them aside.  Thoroughly rinse the bird under cold water, then, using some wadded up paper towels, pat the exterior and interior of the bird dry. 

Place bird, breast up, on a large rack which has been placed in a large roasting pan to which 6 cups of chicken stock, along with the neck and giblets,  has been added

IMG_7910You can use an expensive roasting pan with a V-rack insert, or an inexpensive disposable aluminum pan with a flat cooling rack placed in the bottom of it.  The choice is yours, but the bird must be elevated so it does not sit in and cook in its own juices.  I'm showing you the inexpensive way to do it today, so you'll believe me when I tell you it works just fine.  I add chicken stock to the pan, because I like to have plenty of gravy for dinner as well as leftovers.  As the bird roasts and its fat and juices drip down, the stock will take on all the great flavors of the bird and its seasonings.  Because I do not stuff my bird, I place a mixture of aromatics inside of the breast cavity.  These are not meant to be eaten, but, as the bird roasts, they impart flavor and moisture to the bird and the drippings.  My favorite combination is:

Roasting Poultry #4 (Aromatics) 3-4  5"-6" sprigs fresh rosemary

3-4  5"-6" stalks celery

1/2-1  yellow or sweet onion, coarsely chopped

1/2-1  tart apple, unpeeled, coarsely chopped

The amounts used will vary depending upon the size of the bird you are stuffing.

Roasting Poultry #5 (Ready for Oven) Place some thin slices of butter evenly over the surface of the bird.  This may look like a lot of butter, but it is only about 3-4 tablespoons.  Finish with a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend over all.

Some food authorities recommend painting/brushing the bird with vegetable oil instead of butter, because they worry about the butter burning.  Here's my 2 cents: 

#1.  I use butter because I like the buttery taste of the crispy skin after the bird is roasted.

#2.  The butter will not burn if you follow my cooking instructions.

Roasting Poultry #6 (First 20 Minutes) Place the roasting pan on the lowest rack of preheated 450 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until breast and the top of legs are beginning to turn a light golden brown.

During this time, take a 8"-12"-16" piece of aluminum foil and fold it to form a protective cover/shield for the breast of the bird:

Roasting Poultry #7 (Foil Shield)The size of the piece of foil depends upon the size of the breast of your bird.

Roasting Poultry #8 (Foil Shield On) Remove the roasting pan from the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Place the aluminum foil shield loosely over the top of the breast.  Using your fingertips, pat, press and mold it to the shape of the breast.

Immediately return the bird to the oven (don't worry if the oven temperature isn't down to 350 degrees yet) and continue to roast as per the following guidelines:

Note:  These are guidelines.  They will get you close to the finish line, but when it is in sight, please use an instant-read meat thermometer! 

20 minutes per pound for small birds up to 8 pounds

15 minutes per pound for medium birds 8-16 pounds

13 minutes per pound for large birds 16-20 pounds

11 minutes per pound for extra-large birds 20-22 pounds

10 minutes per pound for huge birds over 22 pounds

(Whatever weight, add 2 minutes per pound for birds that contain edible stuffing.*

Begin timing the bird the moment it goes into the 450 degree oven.  *Note:  The 2 minute per pound addition does not apply to any aromatic stuffing mixture as it is not meant to be eaten. 

The best test for doneness is an instant-read meat thermometer placed in the breast and then the leg-thigh portion.  Remove the bird from the oven when the meat has reached an internal temperature between 160-165 degrees.  I ideally like to remove mine when the meat is at 160 degrees.  In the event you do not have an instant-read thermometer, an alternative test is:  Using the tip of a sharp knife, pierce the skin near the thigh joint.  If the juices run clear, the bird is cooked.  NEVER rely upon:  the evil convenient pop-up thermometer!

IMG_6059Remove from the oven and remove the foil breast shield.  Remove the rack (with the turkey on it), or just the turkey, and tightly seal in heavy-duty aluminum foil.  Allow turkey to rest for 45-60 minutes.

Note:  This is the ideal time to bake your stuffing and all your oven-ready casseroles in the preheated 350 degree oven!

Real Roasted Chicken Breasts #4 (Fat-Lean Separator) ~ Step 7Making the gravy.  Pour all liquid from pan into a fat/lean separator.  You will have 2-3-4 cups of drippings (depending on size of bird).  Anything short of 4 cups, make up the difference with chicken stock to total 4 cups of fat-free liquid.

Note:  If you do not own a fat/lean separator, this is an inexpensive gadget you seriously need to invest in.  Mine is 1-quart in size and glass.  Smaller, lesser expensive plastic ones work just as well.

Real Roasted Chicken Breasts #5 (Making the Roux)In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt 6 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat.  Whisk in 1/2 cup all-purpose flour along with 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning.  Do not add any salt and pepper as your fat-free drippings are already seasoned.  Whisk constantly, until the mixture (referred to as roux) is thickened and smooth.  This process takes 1-2 minutes.

Real Roasted Chicken Breasts #6 (Gravy Done) Whisk in all liquid (4 total cups) from the separator, discarding all fat.  Adjust heat to medium-high and bring gravy to a gentle simmer.  Continue to simmer, whisking constantly, until gravy has thickened to your liking and coats the back of a spoon, 2-3 minutes.  The longer you simmer the gravy, the thicker it will get!

IMG_6083Note about making giblet gravy:  At this point, I like to remove/pull as many shreds of meat from the neck as I can, finely dice/mince the soft liver and stir them into the gravy.  As for the heart and the kidneys, because they are so tough and chewy, I discard them, but if you do decide to use them, grinding them in a food processor makes quick work of them.  The option to make giblet gravy is entirely yours!

IMG_6390~ Step 8.  Carving.  From my 16-pound turkey, I received two perfectly cooked breast halves and lots of lovely leg-thigh meat (my personal favorite).  This is easily enough to feed 6-8 people with a few leftovers.  Carving a turkey is no different than charving a chicken. Click on the Related Article link below to lean ~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree "Carving for Dummies" Methodology ~ !

Gobble!  Gobble!  Gobble!

6a0120a8551282970b017ee592f6f4970d

Thanksgiving is an American holiday that is all about being thankful for what you have been given and sharing it with others:  family, friends, and yes, even strangers.  It doesn't have to be complicated or fancy.  Just try to relax and make whatever time you have in your kitchen count:

~ The Countdown to the Big Turkey Day Feast Begins (Melanie's Top 10 Tips to Not Let it Drive You Crazy) ~ can be found by clicking on the Related Article link below!

6a0120a8551282970b017c3387c403970bRoasting Poultry and Making Gravy Too:  My Own Techniques and Oration (the long and not short of it):  The 16-pound turkey used in this post will yield 6-8 hearty servings and 4 cups of gravy.  Depending on the size of any type of bird or birds you roast, the number of servings will vary.  As long as you add 4 cups of chicken stock to the pan, the amount of gravy will not vary.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; paper towels; large roasting pan w/V-rack insert, or, 2, 20" x 12" x 6" disposable aluminum roasting pans, doubled to form one sturdy pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling rack; cutting board; chef's knife; aluminum foil; instant-read meat thermometer; fat/lean separator; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; whisk

IMG_6915Cook's Note:  Trussing and basting. In the event anyone is concerned about trussing the bird:  I usually don't.  The advantage to trussing is supposed to be a more appealing presentation, but I've had the string rip and tear the delicate, crispy skin when I've tried to loosen and remove it from the cooked bird.  Experimentation has proven that birds cook evenly with IMG_6390or without trussing, so the option is yours.  That said, when the legs are bound, the breast cavity is better suited to hold stuffing.  I've had good results by using a short length of twine and tying the legs together with a simple knot.  If you do decide to truss in any manner, be sure to use cotton twine specifically made for use in the kitchen.  PS:  Basting is for the birds.  After the initial browning of the skin, basting is just a pointless waste of your time!

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

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

11/18/2014

~ Parmesan Sherry Cream Sauce for Pasta/Seafood: Don't Debate It, Grate It -- It'll melt your heart away! ~

IMG_7877"Calling all cars, there's a woman in Happy Valley putting cheese sauce on her seafood".  That sounds nonsensical because it is nonsensical and no self-appointed authority on Italian food (yes, Italians in particular get their panties in a bunch over this) is going to convince me otherwise.  In certain circumstances I find the combination of pasta and seafood swimming in a sea of silky, smooth, cheese sauce sensuous and seductive.  In fact, the food world is a better place because philistines like myself aren't afraid to break a culinary commandment once in a while -- especially one without any meaty purpose except to say "thou shall not".  What???

IMG_7876Read my 'rant', then let your taste buds & heart be the judge:

Religion & tradition.  For centuries the consumption of meat and dairy were forbidden on religious holidays and Fridays.  On such occasions, fish and seafood were the logical replacement for meat and poultry.  Since cheese is a dairy product, the few times a year and one day a week the family cook served fish or seafood, cheese was never a part of their recipe. Traditional fish dishes passed down from generation to generation contained no cheese because it was a rule, not because it didn't taste good.  Hear me:  I have nothing against religious tradition -- I've got plenty of cheeseless fish and seafood recipes in my repertoire.  

Geography & economy.  After considering the time period this rule was imposed, I think it to be brilliant.  People naturally gravitate to warm climates near a source for water (rivers, lakes, oceans)  where they can raise animals and grow crops to feed their family.  Wherever you have a large populous, like it or not, you've gotta have a government, and, if you're in charge and want to stay in charge:  you've gotta keep your people fed, and, money in the pockets of the people who sell food to people who don't grow their own.  It's the economy stupid, and, in an economy in a warm climate with no refrigeration, eating fish once a week was the perfect control mechanism to encourage fisherman to deliver fresh fish to the dock on the same day each week. The fish didn't spoil and the fisherman had money in their pockets.  It was a win/win situation.    

Common sense & logic.  Never say never, or, at least not to me.  In this day and age, with the information superhighway and the ability to purchase and taste all sorts of exotic ingredients from all corners of the world at my fingertips, that attitude is unattractive.  I will listen all day to someone banter intelligently about the history and customs behind a classic dish, but to no one who lacks the capacity to embrace thoughtful, inciteful ideas for an update or even a complete makeover (within culinary reason).  It's all about striking the right balance, and, for me, seafood and certain cheese sauces play quite well together:  I enjoy seafood alfredo, lobster mac & cheese, and, shrimp tetrazzini.  I like a sprinkling of cheese on my linguini with clam sauce and my mussels marinara too.  There is no food rule in the world that could ever prevent me me from eating properly-prepared lobster Thermidor either -- vive la France.  Now ponder this: Parmesan crusted cod, halibut or tilapia is a tasty way to get your kids to learn to like fish.  And, last but not least, don't even think about removing the cream cheese from my bagel with lox!  

When in Rome, eat like the Romans and enjoy it, but:

Don't adopt a notion just because you've heard it from birth!      

IMG_7889This is a nice, mild (not overpowering), versatile cheese sauce that works for my delicately-flavored fish and seafood needs.  I usually make it with all cream, not fish or seafood stock, although a half cream, half stock version works great too.  I season it with cayenne pepper for a bit of added heat, but, feel free to substitute white pepper.  When I make seafood lasagna, I often add a half cup of minced onion too.  We all know what a splash of sherry does to bring up the flavor of our crab, lobster, shrimp or seafood bisque -- it does the very same thing for this sauce. You can make it a day in advance too.  Just reheat it gently on the stovetop or microwave, but be prepared to add additional cream (or stock) to thin it to the consistency you're looking for.

IMG_75444  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon:  garlic powder, cayenne pepper & sea salt

3  cups heavy cream + up to 1/2 cup milk, to control consistency

2  cups finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2-4  tablespoons sherry, to taste

IMG_7563 IMG_7559~ Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat.  

Increase heat to medium and stir in the flour, nutmeg, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and sea salt. Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly, cook until mixture (roux) is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30-45 seconds.  This happens really fast.

IMG_7576 IMG_7573~ Step 2. Add the cream, in a slow steady stream, stirring or whisking constantly.

Carefully adjust heat to a gentle simmer (not too high or it will scorch) and continue to cook until smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_7587 IMG_7586~ Step 3. Sprinkle in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Finely-grated cheese melts evenly and quickly.  Stir until the mixture is smooth and ribbonlike, adding milk if necessary, or, just because you want the sauce a little thinner.  Add the sherry, to taste. You will have 3-3 1/2 cups of silky-smooth, mild, well-balanced cheese sauce suited for fish or seafood:

IMG_7631Moral of the story:  put it on a plate & stick a fork in it:

IMG_7895Parmesan Sherry Cream Sauce for Pasta/Seafood:  Recipe yields 3-3 1/2 cups, enough to sauce 1 pound of pasta tossed with 1 1/2 pounds of cooked pieces of seafood.

Special Equipment List:  microplane grater; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon or small whisk 

6a0120a8551282970b019aff73c661970bCook's Note:  While I personally don't equate cheddar cheese or cheddar cheese sauce with fish or seafood, there are a lot of food enthusiasts who might.  You can find ~ My Basic Cheddar Cheese Sauce for Vegetables ~ by clicking into Categories 4, 8, 14, 17 or 20!

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

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

11/15/2014

~ Untangling an American Retro Classic: Tetrazzini (Stranded Pasta baked in Parmesan Cream Sauce) ~

IMG_7800If you write a cooking blog long enough, you learn that sharing old, classic recipes is as important as sharing new, innovative ones.  Another way to say it is: "what's old is always new to someone", and they appreciate learning about it -- and that includes a bit of history too.  I know this to be true because by the time I was in my thirties, tetrazzini had been around for a very long time but I had never tasted it.  I grew up a tetrazzini deprived child.  My mom didn't make it because my dad doesn't care for anything in or with a cream sauce.  Yea, I don't get it either, but that's that, "you're father won't eat that".  By the time I was in my thirties it was the mid-1980's. The manufacturers of canned soup, cream cheese and mayonnaise had had a couple of decades to bastardize tetrazzini recipes to the point of detestable, inedible glop.

I refused to try any of those versions.  The concept was so bad, I never had any desire to waste one moment trying to untangle the mess that had become of this classic recipe.  Then we went to a small wedding at The Toftrees Resort here in Happy Valley, PA.  Back in their day (the '80's and '90's), this was a swanky, upscale place with a highly-paid creative chef, a well-trained tuxedo-wearing waitstaff, and, an incredibly talented handsome guy who played the grand-piano.  After the champagne toast, the first course arrived in small, classic-white, shell-shaped plates, and, it was pasta.  As the plates were placed in front of us, the waiter announced: "Springtime Shrimp Tetrazzini".  It erased every horrid thought I ever had about tetrazzini from my head.  Now, finally, I was inspired to embrace and make this dish in my home kitchen:

IMG_7811And, just in case "you've got cheatin' on your mind":    

IMG_7692A bit about tetrazzini (teh-trah-ZEE-nee):  Tetrazzini is a rich dish combining cooked, stranded spaghetti tossed with chards of tender, cooked poultry or pieces of succulent seafood (never red meat), and, a tangy sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce. Sauted mushrooms (a must), along with steamed peas (asparagus tips or broccoli florets) and/or carrots, optional, are common additions.  

Each individual-sized dish, or the entire casserole, gets sprinkled with sliced almonds and additional grated Parmesan, then broiled (individual dishes) or baked (a casserole) until a crunchy, bubbly and golden top forms. The airy combination of almonds and Parmesan (not heavy breadcrumbs) causes strands of exposed pasta to crisp up too, which makes this super-rich dish all the more charming!

All food historians agree on one thing: this dish is not Italian, it is an American concoction named after the Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini.  It is said to have been invented for her in 1908-1910 by chef Ernest Arbogast at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco, CA, where she was a long-time resident of the hotel.  If she lived there, this does make sense, but I can find no specific documentation to say it was made with poultry and not seafood (common to San Fransicso).  A follow-up to this story is:  Luisa gave her recipe for Spaghetti Tetrazzini to Louis Paquet, chef de cuisine at The McAlpin Hotel on Harold Square in NYC (the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1912), who made a chicken-based version famous.  That said, in October of 1908, Good Housekeeping makes references to tetrazzini being served "in a restaurant on 42nd street" -- The Knickerbocker Hotel in NYC is located on the corner of Broadway and 42nd street and they claim the rights to the recipe as well.  Whomever invented it -- it was damned good! 

Tetrazzini = Stranded Pasta (Spaghetti) NOT Egg Noodles!!!

IMG_7451The dish took a slow downhill slide after that.  Spin-offs started turning it into a casserole made of of leftover poultry or canned tuna, which is totally, completely understandable, Americans love their casseroles.  I have no ax to grind with that, it's tasty and family-friendly, but it was not what the elegant Ms. Tettrazzini had in mind.   Read on, because the worst was yet to come.  The cream of mushroom soup, cream cheese and mayonnaise versions that replaced the sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce:  this was the death of the iconic dish.  

One last item:  Tetrazzini is made with stranded pasta/macaroni (any width will do but spaghetti is most common), not egg noodles.  Egg noodles (a different product) = a noodle dish or a noodle casserole (example:  tuna noodle casserole) -- it's not tettrazini.  Got it? Good!

IMG_7724^I'm making my Shrimp Tetrazzini today (chicken may be substituted)!^

I'm making my shrimp tetrazzini today.  It is my favorite version, with chicken tetrazzini being a close, creamy second.  I don't make my tettrazini using leftovers of any kind, but,  if it's turkey tetrazzini you grew up eating and are craving after Thanksgiving, by all means, use your leftover turkey (I won't call the food police).  That said, I really hope you'll give my method for making this dish a try.  It gets made in five very easy parts:  boiling pasta; simmering shrimp (or chicken); sauteing vegetables; making sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce, and; topping and baking!  

Part One:  Boiling the Pasta

IMG_7454For the pasta:

1  pound spaghetti, broken in half

1 tablespoon salt, for seasoning pasta water

4  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground or cracked black pepper (not fine ground)

~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil and add the 1 tablespoon of salt to the water.  Break the pasta in half and add it it to the boiling water.  Give pasta a quick stir.

IMG_7465 IMG_7459~ Step 2.  Cook spaghetti until slightly less than al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain well and return to stockpot.

~ Step 3.  Add the butter, Parmesan and pepper.  Toss until butter is melted and pasta is evenly coated. Transfer to a large bowl & set aside:

IMG_7479Part Two: Simmering the Shrimp  

IMG_7482For the shrimp (or chicken):

6   cups water

2  cups white wine

4  medium-sized dried bay leaves

juice from 1  lemon, cut in half 

2  pounds large shrimp (31-40 count), peeled and deveined, tails off, about 1 1/2 pounds after peeling (chicken filets cut into 3/4" chunks may be substituted)

Note:  To answer your question, "yes, when I make chicken tetrazzini, I do simmer the chicken in the same lemon/bay mixture as the shrimp."  Chicken tastes lovely cooked in this manner.

IMG_7496 IMG_7489~ Step 1.  In the same 8-quart stockpot bring the water, wine, lemon juice, lemon rinds and bay leaves to a boil.  Add the shrimp (or the chicken).

~ Step 2.  Start timing immediately and cook for 3 minutes.  By the time 3 minutes are up, the water should be boiling.  Drain immediately and rinse in cold water to halt cooking. Sqeeze any remaining juice from the lemons over all.  Toss into the spaghetti and set aside:

IMG_7497Part Three:  Sauteing the Vegetables 

IMG_7511For the vegetables:

4  tablespoons salted butter

1  pound white mushroom caps, sliced

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoons sea salt

2  cups frozen peas and diced carrots combo, unthawed

~ Step 1.  Slice the mushrooms as directed.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the mushrooms.

IMG_7532 IMG_7511~ Step 2. Add garlic powder & salt, increase heat to medium-high & cook until 'shrooms are losing moisture & mixture is juicy, about 6 minutes.  Add frozen vegetetables.  Cook until almost no moisture remains, 5-6 minutes. Stir into pasta mixture and set aside:

IMG_7535Part Four:  Making the Sherry-Cream Parmesan-Cheese Sauce

IMG_75504  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper

3  cups heavy cream + up to 1/2 cup whole milk, to control consistency

2  cups finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2-4  tablespoons sherry, to taste

IMG_7563~ Step 1.  In the same chef's pan, melt butter over low heat.  Increase heat to medium and add the flour, salt and cayenne pepper.  Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly, cook until mixture is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30 seconds.  It happens fast.  

IMG_7573Add the cream, in a slow stream, stirring constantly.

IMG_7587~ Step 2. Continue to cook until smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 minutes.  Turn off the heat.

IMG_7586Sprinkle in the Parmesan. Stir until mixture is smooth and ribbonlike, adding milk if necessary.  Add the sherry, to taste.  You will have 3-3 1/2 cups sauce.  Add and toss into pasta mix:

IMG_7642Part Five:  Topping and Baking:

IMG_76503/4  cup sliced almonds

3/4  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

~ Step 1.  Transfer tetrazzini mixture to a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  Without pressing down on top of the mixture, use a fork to evenly distribute the mixture.

IMG_7663 IMG_7659Sprinkle the almonds evenly over the top, followed by the Parmesan cheese.

~ Step 2.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 25-30 minutes.  Top will be a nice golden brown and casserole will be bubbling around the sides. Do not overbake.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 10-15 minutes prior to serving: 

IMG_7712From the first seductive scoop to the last luscious bite...

IMG_7725... real-deal Tetrazzini is some kind of wonderful!

IMG_7772Untangling an American Retro Classic:  Tettrazini (Stranded Pasta baked in Parmesan Cream Sauce):  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot; colander; microplane grater; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides, preferably nonstick; nonstick spatula; salad servers, or two large spoons, for tossing pasta throughout recipe; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole

IMG_5445Cook's Note:  I admit that most people associate tetrazzini with Thanksgiving because it's a tasty way to use up that leftover turkey. For me, I find that shrimp tetrazzini is a festive go-to dish to serve for a casual holiday brunch or lunch. And, remember: ~ Save those Shrimp Shells!!! Because I Said So!!!  (How to Make a Basic Shrimp Stock a la Melanie ~.can be found in Categories 15, 15 or 22. I'm never without some in my freezer during the holiday season!

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

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

11/12/2014

~ Portioning Poultry: The Chart/Guide that Will Help ~

IMG_7341Every cook, novice or expert, at some point, finds him or herself asking the question, "how much poultry do I need to buy?"  This chart is a great place to start.  I ripped it out of a magazine in my doctors office almost 38 years ago.  Since my son Jess will celebrate his 38th birthday in December, my recollection is precise.  We women remember important stuff like our wedding day, the birth of a child, and, the first time we cooked Thanksgiving Dinner for our family -- timing the turkey, making the gravy, and, mashing all those potatoes.  It's overwhelming!

6a0120a8551282970b017c33c2eea4970bWhat size bird to buy, no matter what the occasion, tends to be confusing because all poultry is not created equal.  Size doesn't always matter, because some fowl, duck for instance (pictured here), may appear to be large enough to feed six, but, you'd be lucky if you get enough meat from it to feed three.  If you've never cooked a duck before, one duck comfortably feeds two people.  I learned this the hard way!

After I used "the chart" a couple of times and found the information to be spot on, I photocopied it (we had no scanners back then), trimmed the page, and hung in on my kitchen-desk bulletin board (where it still hangs today).  I've shared it with many cooks over the years and I even added it to one of the WPSU-TV cookbooks I edited.  It's time to add it to the blog-o-sphere!  

List 

About the only other commentary I can add to this short, informative post comes in the form of advice:  Always know your crowd.  Purchase more poultry if you're serving dinner to four hungry college-age guys, or less, if your serving lunch to four middle-aged women.  Always look at the big picture too.  If you want leftovers of the dish you are serving, or you can use some of the leftover poultry to turn out a quick second meal for your family, buy twice as much -- I do!

IMG_5419"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

11/10/2014

~ Cooking with Bay Laurel (Fresh vs. Dried Leaves) ~

IMG_7419My husband grows things.  He's one of those people with two green thumbs.  So, when he decided to add a bay laurel tree to his herb garden, for me it meant one more in a long list of wonderful fresh herbs I get to cook with throughout the year.  The good news for the bay tree is, it gets to come indoors for the Winter and enjoys a sunny spot in front of my kitchen patio doors.

IMG_7404There was never a time that I didn't have a jar of Turkish bay leaves on my kitchen spice rack.  Over the years, I've given my fair share of small spice racks to new brides and I'm always careful to include bay leaves on it.  I always thought bay leaves were one of those must-have herbs that no good cook can bear to be without.  Duh?

Two days ago I was chatting with my cousin who has decided to serve my recipe for shrimp cocktail at Thanksgiving.  His mother, my mother, and, pretty much everyone who has ever tasted my shrimp always say they're the best they've ever tasted.  (Secret:  I poach really big shrimp in equal parts water and white wine to which 1 lemon and 4 bay leaves have been added).

He didn't ask for the recipe, he knows where to find it, he was just being sweet in telling me.  I, in kind, offered to mail him a few fresh bay leaves, to use in place of dried -- I thought I would impress him.  He said,  "Oh, you add bay leaves to your shrimp, someone in my office told me they read somewhere bay leaves are poisonous."

This kind of misinformation makes me stark raving crazy!

Within a few minutes I had my dear cousin on the same page as me and we were laughing about it.  I promised to write this for the folks in his office.  To whom it may concern:

Bay leaves sold for culinary purposes are not poisonous and are perfectly safe to cook with.  But, because they're very tough and hard to digest, they are always discarded, not eaten, after cooking.

Moving right along.  Once we got past food safety, his next question, which I found quite curious, was "if I don't put it in the shrimp, will anyone notice?" My answer, "between you, me and the wall cousin (I was losing patience with him), all you have to do is taste two identical dishes, one made with bay leaves and one made without bay leaves to know how important they are."

While tender, leafy herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley) loose their intensity after drying, becoming almost useless, tougher, woody ones (oregano, rosemary, marjoram) do not -- bay leaves fit into this latter classification.  In the case of bay leaves, they are quite mild after harvesting and do not develop their full flavor until several weeks after drying.  The climate of the Mediterranean is condusive to bay laural, with Turkey being the largest producer, which is why the term "Mediterranean" and "Turkish" is used interchangeably depending upon the manufacturer.  

Fresh or dried bay leaves, which come from the laurel tree are the most used herb in the world. In ancient times they were woven into garlands worn by Roman and Greek Emperors, poets, Olympians, scholars and super-heros.  Today we drop them into all sorts of slow cooked foods and they're always included in a classic bouquet garni (boo-KAY, gahr-NEE) -- a bunch of herbs (the classic being parsley, thyme and bay leaf) that are either tied together or wrapped in cheesecloth, which makes for their easy removal from stocks, soups, stews and braises.

IMG_7434 Umbellularia_californica_phyllumFresh Turkish bay leaves (on the left) are the best in the world. Not as strong as the USA's CA variety (right), they have a musty, deep flavor the menthol-esque tasting CA varieties can't hope to match.  They have oval leaves, 1"-4" long, while the CA leaves are longer and slenderer.  Julia Child was not a fan of CA bay laurel.  Classic bay leaves are labeled as "Turkish" or "Mediterranean".  The California variety will always be labeled as "California".  There are Indian bay leaves too, which while not the subject of this post, are worth mentioning because their distinct and delightful cinnamony taste means they should not be used as a substitution for Turkish or California varieties.  Fresh bay leaves, of any culinary variety, are considerably milder than their dried counterpart.

IMG_7422The larger a fresh or dried bay leaf, the larger the amount of flavor it imparts.  This is why recipes usually instruct using small, medium or large-sized leaves. When dried, the fragrance of the Turkish bay leaf is herbal, kinda floral, and kinda similar to oregano or thyme.  My rule is to use twice as many fresh bay leaves to dried bay leaves.

Dried bay leaves can be crushed or ground to a powder.  Because of the increased surface area, crushed leaves impart more flavor, but, they are hard to remove from the finished dish, so they need to be wrapped and tied into a piece of cheesecloth before adding them to cooking food.  Ground bay leaves, while they do not need to be removed, are quite strong, which is why they are often found as a component in savory spice blends, the most famous being: 

IMG_7392Cooking with Bay Laurel (Dried vs. Fresh Leaves):  Commentary explains the difference between cooking with culinary safe fresh or dried bay laurel leaves.

Special Equipment List:  food dehydrator (for drying fresh bay leaves); electric spice grinder or mortar and pestle (for processing dried bay leaves to a powder)

PICT4452Cook's Note:  ~ Once upon a time... A Tale about Shrimp Cocktail ~ can be found by clicking into Categories 1, 11, 14, 16, 18 or 26. 

6a0120a8551282970b015437a1e06e970cMy shrimp deserve great sauce and I've got ~ Two "Cocktail" Sauces:  Classic and Creamy ~.  They're in Categoriees 8 & 20! 

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

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

11/08/2014

~ So what exactly is in Poultry Seasoning? Poultry? ~

IMG_7377My grandmother ("Baba") and my great aunt (my grandmother's sister "Tettie") always had a small tin of poultry seasoning in their respective pantries.  My grandmother used Durkee's and my great aunt used McCormick.  My mother does not care for poultry seasoning, so, her pantry is bare.  I actually keep two brands on hand, McCormick and Bell's -- I like them both, but I don't always use them interchangeably.  I use McCormick because it is the flavor blend I grew up with, so it goes into family recipes like ~ Tetties Baked Mashed-Potato Stuffing Casserole ~.

IMG_7381A bit about "poultry seasoning": Typically, these two words get used generically in the writing of lots of recipes, leading the reader to believe they are all basicially the same and can be used interchangeably.  In the world of spice blends, nothing could be further from the truth. Poultry seasonings are all relatively strong-flavored blends of ground (almost powdered), aromatic herbs and spices, and, they vary considerably from manufacturer to manufacturer. None of them contain the same list of herbs and spices, most are salt-free, many are all-natural, and, others are organic. NONE contain any poultry products or bi-products of any type of poultry --  good news:

No birds ever get harmed in the making of poultry seasoning!  

If you grew up liking foods seasoned with poultry seasoning, it's a 'no-brainer' -- stick to the brand your mom or grandmom used.  If you've never used poultry seasoning, you can't decide what to buy based on pretty packaging or price.   I suggest you invest in 2 or 3 (they're all good) and taste them side by side.  For instance, I like McCormick and Bell's because they both contain lots of rosemary, but, Bell's contains oregano, a spice I do not associate with a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner, so I don't use Bell's seasoning to prepare any of my family's vintage Turkey day recipes.  That said,  I do use Bell's in plenty of my other recipes all year round!

IMG_2464Here is an example of how a small sampling of five common brands differ amongst each other:

Bell's:  rosemary, oregano, sage, ginger, margoram, thyme, pepper

Durkee's:  thyme, coriander, summer savory, allspice

McCormick:  thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary, black pepper, nutmeg

Penzeys:  white pepper, bell pepper, lemon, savory, rosemary, dill, allspice, thyme, marjoram

Spice Hunter:  onion, garlic, basil, rosemary, coriander, sage, thyme, black pepper, marjoram

If you do a lot of cooking, a quick glance over the ingredients lists indicated you have all or most of these on your spice rack or in your pantry.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with making your own spice blend, it's easy to do, but if your trying to mimic a specific brand's concoction, note:  ingredients are listed in order of largest to smallest quantity. Example: McCormick lists thyme first, so it contains more thyme than sage, or possibly the same amount of thyme and sage, and so on down the line ending with a small amount of nutmeg.

I'm using McCormick as my first example because they make the #1 selling poultry seasoning in the USA, and, if one brand can be singled out to use in recipes that generically call for poultry seasoning, it would be theirs.  If I woke up on Thanksgiving morning to discover I had no poultry seasoning on hand, to copycat their recipe, I'd place the following in my Cuisinart mini-mate chopper/grinder and process to a powder, about 30-40 seconds.  This will make 4 tablespoons:

IMG_73631  tablespoon + 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (4 teaspoons)

1  tablespoon dried rubbed dalmatian sage (3 teaspoons)

1  tablespoon dried marjoram leaves (3 teaspoons)

2  teaspoons dried rosemary leaves 

1/2-1  teaspoon black pepper

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

I'm using Bell's as my second example because they are America's oldest purveryor of seasonings, spices and stuffing mixes -- it all started in Boston in 1867 when Mr. Bell created a combination of herbs and spices that he called "Bell's Seasoning".  Trading ships carried his ingredients into Boston Harbor and his blend was soon a beloved staple in kitchens throughout New England.  Over a century later, the mixture remains unchanged.  To mimic and make 4 tablespoons of Bell's poultry seasoning at home, I process the following to a powdery state:

29903002 1/2  teaspoons dried rosemary leaves

2  teaspoons dried oregano leaves

2  teaspoons dried rubbed dalmatian sage

1 3/4-2  teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2  teaspoons dried marjoram leaves

1 1/2  teaspoons dried thyme leaves

1/4-1/2  teaspoon black pepper

Note:  Store poultry seasoning in a tightly-covered container as you would any other seasoning blend.

A point to ponder:  Consider this before you purchase that pricey jar or box of poultry seasoning. If you only use a few tablespoons a couple of times a year (mostly during the holiday season), there is a case for making your own.  All dried herbs and spices have a relatively short shelf life before they start to lose their intensity, six months to a year.  Poultry seasoning (or any herbaceous spice blend) is no exception.  For me, making my own poultry seasoning once or twice a year is an efficient to use up those herbs and spices before they end up in the trash! 

IMG_7341So, what exactly is in Poultry Seasoning?  Poultry:  Recipes yields instructions to copycat recipes for McCormick Poultry Seasoning and Bell's Poultry Seasoning.

Special Equipment List:  measuring spoons; electric spice grinder, or, mortar & pestle

IMG_7294Cook's Note:  To get my vintage recipe for ~ Tettie's Baked Mashed-Potato Stuffing Casserole ~, just click on the Related Article link below.  It is one of my family's vintage recipes, so I use McCormick poultry seasoning in it.  That being said, it is not your family's vintage recipe, so don't be afraid to substitute Bell's poultry seasoning or your own favorite brand!

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

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

11/06/2014

~ Tettie's Baked Mashed-Potato Stuffing Casserole ~

IMG_7294If you're sarcastically mumbling, "just what the food world needs, another stuffing recipe", you are going to regret it.  This is my Great Aunt Mary's recipe -- she lived to be 99 and was one of the best cooks I have ever known.  This is a trip back to a kinder, gentler time.  A time before self-appointed gourmets and TV celebrities started adding everything from chorogi artichokes to whortleberries to stuffing.  This is pure, simple, unadulterated, beloved, comfort food:  that warm, soft, subtly-flavored white bread stuffing that nobody talks openly about but everybody remembers, loves and longs for.  Cathy Guisewhite, in her acclaimed comic strip "Cathy", describes it as "big sticky blobs of white bread, celery and seasonings", which is quite accurate!

IMG_7345^I had this framed years ago -- it hangs in my kitchen!^

Tettie & BabaA bit about Tettie (Tetta being an affectionate term for "auntie" in Eastern European vocabulary): Tettie was my grandmother's younger sister. This is a photo of the two of them taken in my house in 2001.  Tettie is on the left, Baba ("grandmother"), is in the right. Tettie owned and operated a farm in South Tamaqua's Lehigh Valley -- her husband worked for the railroad. Baba owned and operated a grocery store -- her husband was a coal miner.  They were:

IMG_5419Hard working and all business. Tettie baked her bread, grew and canned her fruits and vegetables, raised her own chickens and milked her own cows.  She kept a good deal of her large family's tables full of food during the depression years. Baba cooked hot meals in a small kitchen in the back of her store. She sold hot, wholesome meals (some for profit, some for not, and many more for free) to miners who were injured, miners who could not work, and, miners without a wife or family member to cook for them!

It was 40 years ago this month that I asked Tettie for this recipe:

Tettie's Potato Stuffing #1 (Into Picture)A bit about Tettie's Stuffing:  It is anything but sticky or blobby.  It is a uniquely homogeneous mixture of mashed baked russet potatoes combined with soft breadcrumbs and tangy buttermilk. Butter, sauted onions and celery, lightly-seasoned with dried parsley flakes*, poultry seasoning and white pepper add a subtle, irresistable flavor to the mixture.  She always served it  with her turkey at Thanksgiving, but, it is also great alongside pork roast or meatloaf.  When I first got married in 1974, I asked her for the recipe and she happily gave it to me.  The following is her recipe, with one exception:  microwaving rather than baking the potatoes saves a lot of time!

* Some folks balk about dried herbs, but Tettie dried her own to see her through the Winter!

Tettie's Potato Stuffing #4 (Unprepped Ingredients)6  cups baked and mashed or smashed Russet potatoes, about 6-7 large, even-sized potatoes, warm or at room temperature

8  cups fresh, potato bread breadcrumbs, about 14 slices potato bread, white bread may be substituted

8  tablespoons salted butter

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2  cups diced celery

2  tablespoons dried parsley flakes

1  teaspoon pountry seasoning, your favorite brand (Note:  Poultry seasoning is a strong-flavored blend of aromatic spices which very quite a bit from manufacturer to manufacturer, so, always purchase the one your grandmother or mother used, or, taste a few side-by-side to decide which one you like.  I use McCormick in this recipe because that is what Tettie used. )

1  tablespoon sea salt

1  teaspoon white pepper

2  cups buttermilk, or whole milk

4  jumbo eggs, lightly beaten

no-stick cooking spray

Tettie's Potato Stuffing #6 (Bread Pieces  in Cuisinart)~ Step 1.  Making your own fresh breadcrumbs is really easy and you can make them 1-3+ days in advance of using them.  First:

Tear the potato bread into pieces (or slice it into large cubes) and place in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.

Depending upon the size of your food processor, you might have to process the bread to breadcrumbs in two batches.  My Cuisinart DLC-X Plus easily and effortlessly handles all 14 slices of bread at once.

Tettie's Potato Stuffing #7 (Bread Crumbs in Cuisinart)~ Step 2.  Using a series of 20-25 rapid on-off pulses, process the bread to fine, even-sized breadcrumbs.  You will have about 8 cups.  Depending upon your processor, the number of pulses is not as important as the evenness and size of the breadcrumbs.  Set the breadcrumbs aside, or, transfer them to a ziplock bag if preparing 1, 2 or 3 days in advance.

Note:  Feel free to substitute plain white breadcrumbs, but, if you have access to potato bread, its slight sweetness really does contribute to the end result of this recipe.

Tettie's Potato Stuffing #8 (Scooping out Potatoes)~ Step 3.  Bake the potatoes in the oven or in the microwave.  I like to use the microwave because it saves a lot of time.  Set aside until the potatoes are cool enough to handle with your hands, about 1 hour.  Slice the potatoes in half and using an ordinary tablespoon, scoop out the soft centers.

Note:  You can do this task a day in advance but do not refrigerate the scooped out potatoes.  Just cover the container with plastic wrap.

Tettie's Potato Stuffing #10 (Vegetable Saute)~ Step 4.  Prep the onion and celery as directed.  In a 12" skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Stir in the dried parsley flakes, poultry seasoning, sea salt and white pepper.  Add the onion and celery. Adjust heat to saute, until the vegetables are tender, but not browned, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly, about 10-15 minutes.

Tettie's Potato Stuffing #12 (Fold Vegetable Saute into Potatoe & Milk Mixture) Tettie's Potato Stuffing #11 (Stir Buttermilk Mixture into Potatoes)                                  ~ Step 5. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl. Using a vegetable masher, mash or smash.  In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and buttermilk.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold the buttermilk mixture into the potatoes.  Next, fold in the vegetable mixture.

Tettie's Potato Stuffing #13 (Fold Breadcrumbs into Mixture)~ Step 6.  Fold the breadcrumbs into the potato mixture. Fold until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.  Mixture will be thick and pasty.  When uniform in color and consistency throughout:

Tettie's Potato Stuffing #14 (Ready for Oven)~ Step 7. Transfer to a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick.

Tettie's Potato Stuffing #15 (Out of Oven)~ Step 8.  Cover casserole with aluminum foil.  Bake, covered, on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15 minutes.  Casserole will be puffed through to the center and lightly browned.  Do not overcook this casserole or it will be dry!

Tettie's Potato Stuffing #2 (Exit Shot)Tettie's Baked Mashed-Potato Stuffing Casserole:  Recipe yields 16-20 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet; very large mixing bowl; vegetable masher; whisk; large rubber spatula; large spoon; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish or 3-quart casserole; aluminum foil

IMG_5556Cook's Note:  For another way to make and serve mashed potatoes in casserole form, click into Categories 4, 9, 11 or 18 to get my recipe for ~ Beehive Mashed-Potato Bread-Stuffing Casserole ~.  Personally, I love ways to make mashed potatoes ahead of time!

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

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

11/04/2014

~For the Love of Meatballs from Sweden (Kottbullar)~

IMG_7249Svenska kottbullar.  Swedish meatballs.  The only two Swedish words you'll ever need to know. The National Dish of Sweden, and famous throughout the world, I've never met a person who doesn't adore them -- soft, one-inch meatballs bathed in beefy, creamy sauce love.  Traditionally served during the holidays as an appetizer or main-course at smorgasbord (an elaborate, festive buffet), typically accompanied by buttery egg noodles or creamy mashed potatoes, and, always with lingonberry preserves as a condiment, they're elegant, extraordinary and exquisite.

Sweden's culinary gift to meat, gravy & potato lovers:

IMG_7204(God bless us every one.)  

Swedish-style meatballs were first brought to America in the early 1900's by Swedish immigrants who settled in America's upper midwest.  These meatballs (which were very different in taste from the Mediterranean-type meatballs many Americans were familiar with) quickly gained in popularity and by the 1950's and 1960's recipes for them were being published everywhere.  Every American housewife wanted a cutesy little chafing dish with a candle on the bottom so they could showcase this 'gourmet' addition to their holiday cocktail party buffet!

IMG_7064The basics:  Recipes for Kottbullar (tshut-boo-luh) vary regionally but not drastically in Sweden, as well as from household to household in each region.  All recipes contain ground beef or a combination of ground beef and pork (I'm told beef is more common in Northern Sweden and the beef/pork combo is more common in Southern Sweden).  Fresh, crustless bread crumbs soaked in milk are the component that lends all versions their signature soft consistency. Seasonings include a subtle, well-balanced blend of salt, black pepper, nutmeg and/or allspice. The meat(s), soaked crumbs and seasonings get mixed together with beaten egg to bind them together, formed into 1" balls (Swedish meatballs are never over-sized), then sauted in butter. Once lightly-browned on all sides, the meatballs are removed from the pan and set aside.

To make beefy gravy or not make gravy at all:  It's an option!

Traditional Swedish meatballs are topped with or simmered in a beefy brown gravy or a creamy, beefy brown sauce (not everyone adds the cream or sour cream) and served as a hearty main course.  But, believe it or not, even in Sweden they don't always serve their meatballs simmered in sauce.  Because of their smallish size, they make a tasty appetizers too -- served, of course, with toothpicks and traditional Swedish lingonberry preserves as a condiment for dipping!

IMG_7113Making beefy gravy:  Once the meatballs have been removed from the skillet, some flour gets stirred into the golden pan drippings to make a roux, and then it's time to add two to a few cups of stock.  Get out your homemade beef stock because this is is a recipe that deserves the best (not shortcuts like canned broth).  I am going to interject something personal now:  chicken stock has no place in a recipe for Swedish meatballs.  I've seen it done and it upsets me.  In the name of common sense and creamy goodness, why would anyone add chicken stock to meaty, beefy pan drippings?  They would not.  Period.  Once the gravy thickens, you can drizzle it atop the warm meatballs or simmer the meatballs in the gravy for 5-10 minutes.  The choice is yours.

To make beefy gravy or beefy cream sauce:  It's an option too!

IMG_7168Turning beefy gravy into beefy cream sauce:  While the beefy gravy is coming to a simmer and thickening up, if it's the creamy version of Swedish meatballs you are looking for (and we Americans do love our creamy version -- it is said that we, not the Swedes, added the cream to the gravy) there are two schools of thought, so, you have to make a decision: add some heavy cream or sour cream.  No, you cannot substitute skim milk, lowfat milk, almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk or yak milk.  Your choices are heavy cream or sour cream.  Pick one.  One is not better than the other, it is a simple matter of personal taste -- a subtle creamy taste or a tangy creamy taste.  I like the beefy cream sauce and I'm opting for the sour cream today.

Here's my recipe for 'authentic' Swedish Meatballs:

IMG_7000For the meat mixture:

2  pounds ground beef tenderloin, not ground beef

1  pound ground pork tenderloin, not ground pork

2 1/2  cups fresh, crustless, potato bread breadcrumbs, about 7 slices of potato bread after removing crusts

1/2  cup  + 2-3 tablespoons whole milk, enough milk to make the breadcrumbs very wet without any milk puddling in the bottom of the bowl 

2  extra-large eggs

2  teaspoons ground allspice

1  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 3/4  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon cracked black pepper or coarsely-ground black pepper

2  tablespoons salted butter

1  cup minced yellow or sweet onion

4  tablespoons butter + 8 tablespoons EVOO for frying first batch of meatballs, 2 tablespoons butter + 4 tablespoons EVOO for frying second batch (Note:  This amount will vary depending upon the size of your skillet or electric skillet.  Adjust it accordingly, using the same proportions of each to fry meatballs.)

IMG_7122For the beefy creamy sauce mixture:

all the golden-brown pan drippings and fond from frying the meatballs, OR, 8  tablespoons salted butter  (Note:  Butter is only necessary if you have no pan drippings to work with, for example:  if making gravy or sauce to finish-cook a batch of Swedish meatballs that have been fried in advance, frozen and then completely thawed.

1/2  cup all-purpose flour

3/4  teaspoon ground allspice

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

4  cups beef stock, preferably homemade, very warm to hot + up to 1 cup of additional sauce for contolling consistency of sauce (Note:  You can find my recipe ~ Mel interrupts Christmas to bring you:  Beef Stock ~ in Categories 15 & 22.)

1/2-1  cup lingonberry preserves, to your desired degree of sweetness

1/2  cup sour cream, to your desired degree of tanginess

For accompaniment and garnish:

cooked and buttered egg noodles or creamy mashed potatoes

additional lingonberry preserves, for dolloping alongside each portion

minced, fresh parsley, for garnishing each finished portion

IMG_6988 IMG_6992~ Step 1.  Using a serrated bread knife, trim the crusts from 7 slices of potato bread.  Slice bread into large pieces and place in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Using a series of 16-20 rapid on-off pulses, process to crumbs.  Transfer crumbs to a small bowl.

IMG_6994 IMG_6996~ Step 2.   Tenderloin is perfectly suited for this recipe so I grind them myself.  After cutting the proper quantities of beef and pork into chunks, working in batches, I place it in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of 16-20 rapid on-off pulses, grind it up.  

IMG_7010~ Step 3.  Transfer the ground meats to a large bowl and give them a rough mix.  Place the eggs in a small bowl with the allspice, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  The breadcrumbs are already in a small bowl, so, measure out the milk.

IMG_7020Using a fork, whisk the eggs with the spices. Add milk to breadcrumbs, stir to thoroughly combine and set aside 5 minutes.

IMG_7037 IMG_7038~ Step 4.  In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the minced onion.  Increase heat to saute, stirring frequently until onions are soft and translucent -- not browned.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool about 10-15 minutes.

IMG_7050 IMG_7025~ Step 5. While the onions are cooling, add the whisked egg mixture and the milk-soaked breadcrumbs to the bowl with the ground meats. Using your hands, combine.  Add the cooled onions, and again, using your hands, thoroughly combine. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside, about 45-60 minutes to give all of the flavors time to marry.

IMG_7061~ Step 6.  Line a 17 1 1/2" a 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper.

IMG_7063Using a 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure portion meat mixture into balls.  You will have approximately 7 1/2-8 dozen.  Line a second 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil and parchment.

IMG_7073~ Step 7.  Place 4  tablespoons butter and 8 tablespoons olive oil in the bottom of an electric skillet and preheat it to 300 degrees.  My electric skillet is about the same internal size as a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, so this amount of each gives the bottom a nice even coating of 'fat'.

Note:  I use butter and EVOO rather than all butter because butter, with its low smoke point, can and will burn easily.  The EVOO prevents that from happening.  I like to fry all types of meatballs in an electric skillet because it allows me to be in control of the temperature at all times.

IMG_7093 IMG_7090~ Step 8. Once the butter has melted, turn the heat off.  Take the time to pick up each meatball and roll it between the palms of your hands to make it as round as possible before placing it in the skillet.  I'm working in two batches of about 4 dozen meatballs each.  Do not crowd the pan.  Heat the skillet to 275 degrees IMG_7112and fry gently and slowly, until lightly browned on all sides, but NOT completely cooked through, lowering the heat if necessary, about 6-8 minutes total.  Do not overcook meatballs.  Using a pair of tongs, remove from skillet and place on foil/parchment lined baking pan. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and 4 tablespoons of EVOO to skillet and repeat process with second batch of meatballs.  Cover pan with foil and set aside to keep warm.

IMG_7129Step 9.  Heat the beef stock until steaming (I use the microwave).

IMG_7128Heat the drippings to 250 degrees. Sprinkle and stir in the flour, allspice and nutmeg. Keep the roux moving constantly, until it is foamy and the color of coffee with cream, about 1 minute.

IMG_7144~ Step 10.  Add and stir the beef stock into the roux, in three parts, stirring after each addition.  

IMG_7155With each addition, the initially thick mixture will loosen up to form a smooth gravy.  Note:  At this point, the skillet can be covered and everything can stay "on hold" for 1-2 hours in advance of finishing.

IMG_7181 IMG_7175~ Step 11. Bring the beefy gravy to a very gentle simmer.  Add meatballs:  I am adding half and freezing half today, but, all will fit in an electric skillet this size.  Continue to simmer gently for 6-8 minutes, adding additional stock at any time if the gravy becomes too thick.

IMG_7186 IMG_7190~ Step 12.  Stir in the lingonberry preserves, a few tablespoons at a time, tasting after each addition until you like the sweetness.  I add 1 cup.  Turn the heat off and do the same with the sour cream, until you like the tanginess.  Sauce tasting is fun:

IMG_7220Whether served as an appetizer or as a main course, words to describe this exceptional combination are almost impossible to come by:

IMG_7268For the Love of Meatballs from Sweden (Kottbullar):  Recipe yields approzimately 7 1/2-8 dozen (90-96) Swedish meatballs.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; chef's knife; fork; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; 8" skillet, preferably nonstick; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop; aluminum foil; electric skillet; tongs; spatula; large spoon 

PICT0002Cook's Note:  Every cook needs to know ~ How to:  Make a Roux & Slurry (to Thicken Foods) ~.  To get the specifics about each one, and learn differences between the two too, click into Category 15!

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

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

11/01/2014

~ Crockpot Lasagna - I made it, it works & it's good! ~

IMG_7360Proving I am not a food snob isn't always easy because on many levels I am.  I believe in cooking with real butter, real cream, real cheese and real eggs.  I believe in a diet that consists of meat, poultry, fish and seafood balanced with potatoes, pasta, rice and grains, and, vegetables galore.  Every bite of every thing, in moderation, should be worth every calulated calorie.  I want it cooked properly by the best method available, whether that be low and slow or fast and furious using moist or dry heat, and, I want it to emerge as pretty as a picture too. 

My overall opinion about food cooked in the crockpot is snobbish (definition:  just short of being complete snobbery), meaning: for the most part, food cooked by any conventional method is almost always the better alternative to food cooked in a slow cooker.  An oven is an oven, a skillet is a skillet, and a crockpot is not a substitute for either.  I am not alone in this mindset. Aside from foods that benefit from lengthy slow simmering, like chili, most stews and a pot roast (which must be seared on the stovetop first), my personal feelings are to avoid the crockpot.   

The times, they are a changing:

IMG_6906That said, I'm not trying to work two jobs and serve home-cooked meals to a family in today's economy.  Working moms and dads who are skipping the drive-through and cooking at home need to be commended for each and every meal they bring to the family dinner table by whatever means they used to cook it, which is why when I received this "cry for help" from a reader, I decided to spend this quiet afternoon trouble-shooting a crockpot recipe for her.

These folks need to be celebrated, not criticized: 

Background:  Donna and her husband Seth both work as EMT's and are raising three children. Both parents rely on the crockpot to cook their family's meals several times a week.  Until I received this e-mail, the thought of making lasagna in a crockpot not only never occurred to me, I had never even heard of it.  I have only considered lasagna to be an oven-baked casserole.  

PICT2619Q.  Donna says and asks: "Seth makes  chili, and bean soup too. He made your recipe for Crockpot Chile and we loved it. My youngest son even ate the sweet potatoes. I make a couple of chicken dishes, meatballs and BBQ'd ribs.  My children love lasagna (I buy the boxed, frozen kind), so, I tried this recipe for crockpot lasagna (Donna included the recipe and the website - I'll post neither.).  The noodles were gummy and the ricotta mixture was bland and runny.  It looked nothing like the photo.  I would love a crockpot lasagna recipe that works -- do you have one?

PICT2656A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Donna, so happy that you and yours liked my recipe for ~ A Scrumptious, Slow-Cooked, Sweet Potato and Ground Beef Chili ~ (recipe can be found in Categories 2, 3, 13, 19, or 20).  I do not have a recipe for crockpot lasagna, but after looking at the one you included, I'm sure I can make it work, starting with three important changes:  do not use no-boil noodles, simmer the tomato sauce w/the meat mixture (it should be meat sauce, not meat and sauce), and, the ricotta mixture will need egg and spices added to it.  I do not consider the website you used a reputable one.  They are well-known and share all sorts of recipes, but much of what they share, in my opinion, is poorly-written and untested.

Imagine if you will, crockpot lasagna that has heart & soul:

IMG_6971My version of the recipe is written for a 6-quart crockpot:

IMG_678011-12  lasagna "noodles", uncooked, NOT no-boil lasagna

For the meat mixture:

2-2 1/2  pounds 90% lean ground beef

1  generous cup diced yellow or sweet onion

3 1/2 cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite brand (28 ounces)

IMG_6808For the ricotta mixture:

2  cups whole milk ricotta cheese

1 1/2  cups each:  grated mozzarella and provolone cheese

6  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1  extra-large egg, preferably at room temperature

1  tablespoon dried parsley flakes*

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground IMG_6813black pepper

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

* Note:  Feel free to substitute 2 tablespoons of fresh, minced parsley for dried.  I chose to write the recipe using dried because "in the spirit of things" this is a very busy family, and, I wanted to come up with a tasty end result using on-hand pantry items.

IMG_6792 IMG_6786~ Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan place the ground beef. Dice the onion, adding it to the pan as you work.  Over medium-high heat, saute, stirring frequently, using a spatula to break the meat up into small bits and pieces, about 15-20 minutes, or until almost no liquid IMG_6801remains in the bottom of the pan.

IMG_6803~ Step 2. Add all of the marinara to the pan. Adjust heat to a gentle simmer and continue to simmer, 15-20 additional minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Note:  You will have about 6 cups of a basic but very tasty meat sauce which can be used to sauce pasta too.

IMG_6827 IMG_6818~ Step 3.  In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of mozzarella & 1/2 cup of  provolone. Refrigerate until near end of cooking process.

In a large bowl, using a fork, whisk the egg.  Add the ricotta, remaining mozzarella & provolone, 1/4 cup of Parmesan, and, the spices.  Using a large spoon thoroughly combine.

IMG_6829 IMG_6834 IMG_6835 IMG_6839~Step 4.  To assemble the first layer of the lasagna:  In the bottom of a 6-quart crockpot, using a large spoon, evenly distribute 2 cups of the meat sauce.  On top of the sauce, place 3 lasagna "noodles", breaking the corners of two of them to fit the shape of the crockpot.  Spoon and spread1/2 of the ricotta mixture (about 1 1/2 cups) evenly over the top of the noodles.  Add about 2 more cups of the sauce, and distribute it over the ricotta mixture.

IMG_6843 IMG_6847 IMG_6853 IMG_6855~Step 5.  To assemble the second lasagna layer:  Break and place 5 more lasagna "noodles", in the opposite direction of the first layer, over the top of the sauce.  Spoon and spread the remaining half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, followed by the last two cups of the meat sauce. Finish with 3 more lasagna noodles, facing the same direction as the first layer, again, breaking the corners of two of them to fit the shape of the crockpot.  Place the lid on the pot.

IMG_6892~ Step 6.  Cook on low for 4 hours. After 3 hours, Uncover and sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella and provolone cheeses, followed by the remaining 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan.  If you want to sprinkle a bit of Italian seasoning blend and/or red pepper flakes over all, do it now.

Cover the crockpot and allow the mixture to cook for 1 more hour prior to slicing and serving.

After three hours of cooking, lasagne will look like this:

IMG_6874Top w/remaining cheeses, season, cover, & cook for last hour:

IMG_6876Uncover, turn crockpot off & rest 15 minutes prior to serving:

IMG_6882Freezing Instructions:  Remove crock from crockpot.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate uncut lasagna overnight.  Remove from refrigerator.  Uncover and slice into perfect portions.  Wrap each portion in plastic wrap, place them all together in a ziplock bag and freeze.  Remove all or one-at-a-time, thaw and reheat in microwave. How convenient is that!

IMG_6982Tip from Mel:  I'm not going to lie, if you have the time to make this lasagna a day ahead and refrigerate it uncut, then slice it and reheat each portion atop a puddle of extra marinara sauce, do it.  Not only does it look picture perfect, it tastes even better than on day one!

IMG_7355Crockpot Lasagna - I made it, it works & it's good!:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan; spatula; large spoon; 6-quart crockpot

6a0120a8551282970b0162ff5a0b7c970dCook's Note:  If you'd like to make a somewhat similar version of this recipe conventionally in the oven, click into Categories 3, 12, 14, 19, 20 or 22 for ~ Jesse's E-Z Spatini Lasagna (& Mrs. DiCindio) ~.  Yes, of course it is more work than making it in the crockpot (everything is), but, it makes two -- eat one, freeze one, be happy!

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

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