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12 posts from February 2015

02/28/2015

~ Creamy Smashed Cheddar 'n Mint Gold Potatoes ~

IMG_3729Lots of people add cheddar cheese to mashed or smashed potatoes.  It's a well-documented fact that "everthing tastes betta with chedda".  That said, if you've never tasted cheddar potatoes with dried mint flakes added to them, I implore to take a page out of my playbook.  Don't roll your eyes.  I've served these potatoes to a couple of schooled restaurant chefs who have changed their menus to serve "Mel's potatoes" with lamb or lamb chops.  You gotta trust me on this one!

IMG_6236I didn't invent the pairing of potatoes, cheese and mint.  My Eastern European ancestors did that for me. Where my people came from, parts of Russia and the now surrounding countries (the maps have changed over the years), the climate was cold and the growing season was short.  Along with chives, dill and parsley, mint was a hearty herb that grew like a weed.  It was the first to come to life in the Spring, but, it was the last to die in the Winter.  They minced it and added it fresh to Summer salads IMG_3668and chilled soups, and, they dried it to add to add to tea and hearty root-vegetable side-dishes during the Winter.  My grandmother used fresh mint like a garnish and dried mint as an ingredient.  That was that. Her rules are the rules.  As for the cheese, the use of white cheddar came along after they immigrated to the USA.  Back in the "old country", homemade farmer's cheese (a very dry, tangy, sliceable cheese made by pressing the liquid from cottage cheese)  was their #1 cheese of choice.  That said, my grandmother had no problem transitioning her own recipes to using white cheddar!

What's wrong with this picture?  Eggs?  You betcha!!!

PICT1549Once again, my grandmother takes center stage with this recipe.  Your not going to find this one hanging out on the information superhighway.  Yes folks, close to the end of the recipe, Baba always added two lightly-beaten eggs.  If you love the way egg enriches and enrobes your pasta in Italian carbonara, you are gonna adore what it does to these potatoes.  I love my life!

4 1/2  pounds peeled, gold potatoes, cut into 1" chunks (about 1, 5-pound bag)

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning water

6  ounces salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 1/2 sticks)

8  ounces grated white sharp cheddar, or grated white horseradish-cheddar if you dare, at room temperature

1/4  cup dried mint flakes

1  teaspoon salt

1  teaspoon white pepper (my grandmother always used white pepper in her potatoes)

2  large eggs, at room temperature, lightly-beaten

1 1/2-1 3/4  cups heavy or whipping cream, warmed in the microwave

PICT1566~ Step 1.  Prep the potatoes as directed, cutting them into 1" chunks, placing them in an 8-quart stock pot with enough cold water to cover them by 1" as you work.

PICT1568~ Step 2. Bring to a simmer over high heat and add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water.  Continue to simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are fork-tender and every-so-slightly undercooked, or, "to the tooth", PICT1574about 9-11 minutes.  These are going to be smashed, not mashed potatoes, which is why it is important to leave a bit of texture.

~ Step 3.  Drain potatoes into a colander.  Immediately return the steaming hot potatoes to the still hot stockpot and place it back on the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter, cheese, and mint flakes. Cover and let sit until butter and PICT1591cheese are melted, stirring occasionally, about 2-3 minutes. This is why it is important for the ingredients to be at room temperature.

PICT1578~ Step 4.  In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, salt and pepper. Uncover pot, and, in a thin stream, while stirring constantly with a large spoon, drizzle in the egg mixture.

PICT1593 IMG_3676~ Step 5. Using your favorite hand-held vegetable masher (not an electric mixer), begin adding the warm cream, in small amounts, while stirring and smashing the entire time, until desired consistency is reached.

These golden, creamy & chunky beauties look perfect to me:

IMG_3688I love to serve these with succulent, boneless roast lamb:

IMG_3633Creamy Smashed Cheddar 'n Mint Gold Potatoes:  Recipe yields 12 cups or 12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler; cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander; fork; large spoon; hand-held vegetable masher

6a0120a8551282970b017c3492ba09970bCook's note:  I use a similar version of these potatoes as the filling for ~Pirogi:  Like My Russian Baba Used to Make w/my method for "Perfect Food Processor Pirogi Dough"! ~.  You can find the recipe in Categories 4, 12 or 22!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015) 

02/26/2015

~Succulent Boneless Leg of Lamb w/Creamy au Jus~

IMG_3633Lamb, one of my favorite meats, was an acquired taste.  My first encounter with it didn't go well. My grandmother and mother never cooked lamb and I got "blindsided" by it in the third grade.  It was my turn to play with Barbie dolls at my girlfriend and neighbor Brenda's house.  Next time, she would come to my house -- we did this often, and, it always included the dinner du jour.

My Lamb Stew (Irish Stew) Story -- "Those poor orphans!" 

Lamb-stew-ck-lBrenda's mom was generally a good cook, but on this day, she was cooking something "foreign" to me.  The "aroma" took over the entire house. Dinner was served when the Judge came home (Brenda's dad was our county's Judge of Orphans' Court), and, by then I had a splitting headache.  I'm sure the Irish stew was delicious, everyone ate it like it was. I found out later it was lamb.  I got through it, without complaint (I was brought up with table manners) by eating the carrots and potatoes (leaving the meat and broth in the bowl), and, Brenda's mom, a Southern lady, made great biscuits.  A lot of things go through the mind of an eight-year-old faced with culinary head-trauma.  As I respectfully watched the Judge eat his second bowl, I remember thinking "those poor orphans"!

Spring Forward!!!  Think Spring!!!

Why is lamb associated with Spring?  It's a pretty logical explanation, and, it has less to do with religion and lore than you'd think (although thousands of years ago a mans wealth was measured by the size of his flock, the Romans sacrificed a Spring lamb to open up military campaigns, the angel of death passed over the home of Israelites who marked their doors with lambs blood, and, Jesus is considered to be the sacrificial lamb of God).  Up until recently in history, lamb was only available in the Spring -- lambs can be born any time of the year, but here in the US most farmers breed in the Fall because the Spring weather is ideal for butchering.  

Thanks to the invention of refrigeration, and, countries like Australia and New Zealand, where vast portions of the landscape have been devoted solely to raising sheep, high-quality lamb is available year-round, and, the USA is one of their largest importers.  This is good news for us lamb-eaters because lamb is one of the most versatile meats in the world as well as one of the richest sources of easily-digestible protein.  Thank-you Australia and New Zealand!

I always roast two.  We love leftover lamb sandwiches!!!

PICT1529For the lamb roasts:

2  3 1/2-4 1/2  pound boneless, New Zealand lamb roasts

garlic powder

sea salt and peppercorn blend

For the creamy au jus:

5  cups beef stock

1/2  cup Port wine

6  tablespoons Pickapeppa sauce, or your favorite steak sauce

6  tablespoons Worcestershire

6-8 tablespoons heavy or whipping cream

PICT1537 PICT1545Step 1. Place roasts, side-by-side, fat sides up, on a rack in a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.  In an 8-cup measuring container, stir together the beef stock, port wine, Pickapeppa and Worcestershire sauce.  Do not add the cream at this time.  You will have a total of 6 cups of this flavorful liquid.

PICT1627~ Step 2.  Season the tops of the roasts with garlic powder, freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Pour half (3 cups) of the au jus liquid into the bottom of the casserole and set the remaining 3 cups aside for making the au jus.

Roast the lamb, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, until, using an instant-read meat thermometer, it reaches an internal temperature of 140-145 degrees (rare- medium-rare).

Here is my estimated time-by-weight chart:

1  hour, 15-20 minutes (for a 3 1/2-pound roast)

1 hour, 20-25  minutes (for a 4-pound roast)

1 hour, 30-35 minutes (for a 4 1/2-pound roast)

IMG_3578Using the thermometer, check your meat during that last 15 minutes of the roasting process.  Insert the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, in 2-3 places. After resting, this will produce the ideal pink, medium-rare lamb roast.

~ Step 3.  Remove roasts from oven, then from casserole.  Wrap them in aluminum foil, and set them aside to rest for 30-45 minutes. Pouring through a mesh strainer, transfer all of the drippings from the casserole to a fat-lean separator.

A bit about the resting process:  Resting meat (or poultry) it is just as important as properly roasting it.  When meat roasts, the juices naturally migrate (bubble up) towards the surface. Once removed from the oven, the juices slowly stop moving upward and need time to redistribute themselves evenly back down and throughout the roast.  This means that if you slice a roast while it's hot right out of the oven, all of the juices will ooze out onto your cutting board and undo all of your good work -- you will have a dried-out roast.  The bottom line is, even if you accidentally overcook your roast a bit, if you rest it properly, it will at least be juicy.  For a boneless lamb roast, I recommend a rest time of a minimum of 30 minutes, with 45 being better.

IMG_3590~ Step 4.  Place the 3 cups of reserved au jus mixture in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan and stir in the cream.  Add the lean part of the lamb drippings from the fat/lean separator to the pan and discard the fat.  Over medium-high heat, whisking frequently, bring the au jus to a gentle simmer and cook for about 5 minutes.  Taste and season with additional freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  

IMG_3596 IMG_3597                                           Remember this is "au jus" (the French words for "with juice") not gravy, meaning:  it will be thin and saucelike, not thick like gravy.

That said, if you want it thicker, stir in a quick slurry of cornstarch and cold water (a 1:4 ratio of 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 4 tablespoons water).

Get out your carving board, remove the netting or strings...

IMG_3598... and with your best knife, slice (thick or thin) your choice! 

IMG_3617Drizzle w/au jus and serve w/your favorite side-dishes:

IMG_3658Succulent Leg of Lamb w/Creamy au Jus:  Depending upon the size each roast, and what you are serving it with, each roast will yield 6-8 servings and 4 total cups of au jus.

Special Equipment List: 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; cooling rack; 8-cup measuring container; instant read meat thermometer; aluminum foil; mesh strainer; fat/lean separator; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides;  carving board; carving knife; carving fork

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d08b91a3970cCook's Note:  As mentioned above, if a thicker au jus is what you prefer, making a slurry couldn't be easier. To learn ~ How to:  Make Roux & Slurry (to thicken foods) ~, just click into Category 15!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

02/24/2015

~ Silky Smooth Creme Caramel (Crema Caramella) ~

IMG_3517Meet my husband Joe's favorite dessert.  I don't mean sort-of his favorite.  It's his all-time favorite. It became incredibly popular in the United States the early 1960's when Mrs. John F. Kennedy hired a French Chef to oversee the White House kitchen.  Everybody who wanted wanted to "be like Jackie" was off buying French ramekins and learning words like "bain-marie"!

A bit about creme caramel:  Creme caramel is a sophisticated dessert that is eaten around the world, but, was made famous in the later part of the 20th century in French restaurants.  It is a silky-smooth custard that is gently baked/steamed in a caramel-coated mold or in individual porcelain ramekins.  When slightly warm or room temperature the delicate custard is turned out onto its serving plate.  It emerges elegantly-glazed and exquisitely-sauced with the caramel from the bottom of the mold.  This is the direct opposite of its rustic cousin, creme brulee, which is a similarly-baked custard with a hard caramel shell on the top that is served and eaten in the vessel in which it is baked.  In France, creme caramel is also referred to as "creme renversee", in Italy it is called "crema caramella", and, if you're in Spain, it is "flan" you are looking for.  It's an exquisite dessert that comes with a built-in elegant presentation.  When prepared using individual ramekins, it is conveniently portioned as well, so serving it is a dream come true!

250px-Westin_Bonaventure_HotelThe first time we ever tasted it was in 1980.  Joe and I were in Los Angeles and were staying at the recently built Bonaventure Hotel.  We were having dinner in The Top of The Bonaventure Restaurant, which is located on the 35th floor and top story of this stunningly beautiful hotel. There's more:  the entire restaurant and bar revolve 360 degrees every hour, giving you a panoramic view of the entire city.  As we were finishing off a bottle of champagne, it came time to order dessert.  I wasn't sure I wanted dessert and our waiter suggested we split a creme caramel between the two of us.  We both loved it and thanked our waiter for his suggestion.  What he said next, was/is the best creme caramel information anyone can/could share: "Ours is exquisite.  Chef makes it fresh every morning, it is never refrigerated, and, it is always served the same day it is made." --   RULES TO LIVE BY!!!

Creme Caramel 101:  It's always served the same day it is made!

IMG_3513For the caramel:

1 1/2  cups sugar

1/4 cup cold water

For the custard:

3  cups heavy or whipping cream

2  whole vanilla beans, cut/split in half lengthwise, seeds scraped out

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract, not imitation

3/4  cup sugar

3  jumbo eggs

6  jumbo egg yolks

PICT5030~ Step 1.  To prepare the caramel: Place 8, 6-ounce ramekins in the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan. Prepare a "bain-marie", or water bath, by filling the baking pan with enough tepid water to half the height of the ramekins. Set aside while preparing the caramel and the custard.

PICT5038Note:  Cooking in a "bain-marie", or a water bath, is a technique designed to gently cook, either in the oven or on the stovetop, delicate dishes such as custards, sauces and savory mousses without separating or curdling them. It can also be used to keep delicate sauces and foods warm.

~ Step 2.  In a 1 1/2-quart, stainless steel saucepan, place 1 1/2 cups of sugar and add 1/4 cup of water. Stir briefly, until the sugar is dissolved.

PICT5047 IMG_3490                                              ~ Step 3. Bring to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat.

DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, STIR THE SIMMERING MIXTURE!

Everyone wants to do it -- don't.  It causes sugar crystals to build up around the sides of the pan and the caramel burns.

PICT5048 

Continue to simmer rapidly until mixture is amber in color, about 8-10 minutes.  DO NOT STIR!

IMG_3500Towards the end of the process the simmering will slow down a bit and big bubbles will be forming on the surface.  That's your cue to remove the caramel from the stovetop.

Hot caramel is dangerous! Be very careful!  Do not attempt to touch it or taste it!

PICT5053

~ Step 4.  Carefully pour and distribute the caramel into the bottoms of the ramekins.

PICT5055Each one will have a little less than 1/4" of caramel in it.  Set aside while preparing the custard.  During this time, the caramel will harden in texture to a glass-like candy.

Note:  To clean the saucepan easily, set it aside to cool and simply run it through the dishwasher!

PICT5058~ Step 5.  To prepare the custard: Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut each vanilla bean in half and then cut each half in half lengthwise. Using a sharp paring knife, scrape the seeds out of the pod.

Note:  I am often asked if it's ok to skip the vanilla beans.  Some say they can't find them, others complain about their cost.  That's valid.  Making this dessert with extract alone is just fine!

PICT5061 

~ Step 6.  In the same 1 1/2-quart saucepan used above, stir together the cream, vanilla beans, empty pods, vanilla extract and sugar.

PICT5065Place over medium heat, stirring often until steaming. Do not allow to simmer or boil. Remove from heat, cover and let steep for 10 minutes. 

PICT5069Remove and discard the pods from the vanilla beans.

~ Step 7.  In an 8-quart measuring container, whisk the eggs and egg yolks.  In very small increments at first, then in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly, add the cream mixture to the eggs.    

Note:  Adding too much hot cream mixture at first can cause the eggs to "scramble", so error on the side of less for the first couple of additions.

PICT5071The technical term for this is: "tempering the eggs".  It simply heats them up very slowly so they don't start to cook!

~ Step 8.  Slowly pour custard into the ramekins, filling each to just short of the brim.

PICT5076The creme caramel are ready for the oven!

PICT5084

~ Step 9.  Place baking pan on center rack of preheated 320-325 degree oven and bake for 40-45 minutes.  Custard will be just set in the center and just short of beginning to brown.

 Do not over bake!  

Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely in bain-marie, about 2 hours.  Remove from water bath and set aside, uncovered, until serving time (6-8 hours).  

PICT5092

~ Step 10.  To serve, run a sharp knife around the inside perimeter of each ramekin, place a dessert plate firmly over the top of each ramekin and invert.  Allow to rest about 30-45 seconds.  If the creme caramel doesn't immediately drop down onto the dessert plate, give it a little shake to break the vacuum.  Lift and remove each ramekin, allowing the golden caramel sauce to form a puddle in the bottom of the plate.

Serve immediately, savoring each and every silky-smooth bite:

IMG_3533Silky Smooth Creme Caramel (Crema Caramella):  Recipe yields 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  8, 6-ounce ramekins; 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan;  1 1/2-quart saucepan w/lid, preferably stainless steel;  kitchen shears; paring knife; slotted spoon; 8-cup measuring container; whisk; paring knife

IMG_3475Cook's Note:  What our waiter at The Top of the Bonaventure shared with us that evening is the truth. Refrigerating creme caramel absolutely compromises its texture, turning it from silky smooth to somewhat rubbery.  Before ordering it in a restaurant always ask your server, "has the creme caramel been made fresh today and has it been refrigerated?"

If you like creme caramel or creme brulee, you are obviously a lover of pastry cream in general.  To learn how I make mine, check out my recipe for ~ Sweet Dreams:  Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream) ~ in Categories 6, 15 or 21!      

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

02/22/2015

~ Sweet Dreams: Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream) ~

IMG_3477Some people dream about chocolate.  I dream about egg-laced pastry cream:  silky-smooth, lushly-thickened creme patissiere.  It's decadent and naughtily-seductive in an elegant sort of way.  Desserts containing this sophisticated custard are at the top of my 'favorite sweet things' VERY short list.  They're up there next to freshly-made real-deal lemon or blueberry Danish, and, the original Lindy's cherry cheesecake with their signature vanilla-wafer cookie crust.

IMG_3303A bit about "creme patissiere" (pah-tees-SYAY):  These are the two fancy French words for "pastry cream".  It's essentially "sauce anglaise" (ahn-GLEHZ), aka a drizzly "vanilla sauce" that has been thickened with a starch (flour can be and is used, but cornstarch is more common nowadays).  It is the density that the thickening agent adds that transforms the delicate sauce into a dessert filling for baked goods like eclairs, cream puffs, fruit tarts, and, between the layers of cakes or Napoleons.  While it can be eaten with a spoon, culinarily, it is classified as a filling.  Pastry cream is classically made with milk flavored with Cointreau, rum and/or vanilla beans or extract.

That said, some cooks opt for using cream or half-and half (not me), and, with the array of flavorings available nowadays, feel free to have fun with that aspect of making pastry cream.  

Making cream patissiere is taught in every culinary school.  It's a technique and it's based on a basic formula.  Some recipes may use flour instead of cornstarch, and a few may include some cream, but, in order for the pastry cream to thicken properly, you gotta play by the rules.  It's cooked on the stovetop over moderate heat, it gets whisked constantly and the ingredients get added at very specific points in time during the process.  One sarcastic comment from me: When pastry cream is removed from the stovetop, it is silky smooth.  Run fast and far from any recipe instructing to "pour the finished product into a strainer and push it through to catch any bits of egg that may be in the cream" -- if that has to be done, that's pastry cream gone wrong!

IMG_32381/2  cup cornstarch

4  cups whole milk

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c6e1e763970b1  vanilla bean, split in half, seeds removed, or, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, or, both (Note: As mentioned above, feel free to experiment with other flavors.  Almond, banana, butterscotch, coconut, rum, lemon or orange are some of my favorite options.  That said, when I do use them, I still include the vanilla bean or 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.)

8  large eggs yolks

1 1/3  cups sugar

4  ounces unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes, kept cold (1 stick)

~ Step 1.  Place 3 1/2 cups of the milk in a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop.  In a 2-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the cornstarch, 1/2 cup of the milk and the extract(s), until smooth.  Set aside.  Cube the butter and return the cubes to the refrigerator.

IMG_3258 IMG_3243~ Step 2.  In a large bowl, on medium speed of mixer, combine the yolks and sugar.  Increase mixer speed to high and beat until light colored, 2 minutes.

IMG_3250Lower speed, add cornstarch mixture and beat until thoroughly combined.

IMG_3264 IMG_3268~ Step 3. Place the saucepan of milk over medium heat.  If using vanilla beans, add them now. Over medium heat, bring milk to steaming (not simmering or boiling), about 3 minutes.  Using a whisk, in a gradual steady stream, whisk in the egg yolk/sugar mixture.  

Continue to cook over medium heat, whisking constantly (this IMG_3274mixture can scorch easily).  In the beginning, the mixture will be foamy on top.  As the mixture begins to thicken, within 3-4 minutes, switch from a whisk to a large spoon.

IMG_3291You'll notice that the foam is beginning to subside. Begin adding the cold butter pieces, 2-3-4 at a time, stirring well after each addition.  Repeat this process untill all of the butter has been added and is thoroughly incorporated.

IMG_3303Step 4.  Continue to cook until the pastry cream is nicely-thickened, silky-smooth and ribbonlike, about 2-3 more minutes.  There will be no more foam on the top.  If you have added the vanilla beans, they will be evenly speckled throughout. Remove from heat and immediately transfer to an 8-cup measuring container to prevent further cooking. Note:  I like to use a measuring container because when it comes time to use the pastry cream, it is already measured for me! 

IMG_3313~ Step 5.  Cover the surface of the pastry cream with plastic wrap, meaning:  don't just cover the container, place the plastic directly on the surface of the pastry cream. This will prevent a rubbery skin from forming on top.  Cool 1-2 hours before refrigerating for several hours or overnight. I almost always chill my creme patissiere overnight prior to using it.  Store in refrigerator for up to a week.

Stay warm, sleep tight & sweet dreams!!!

IMG_3377Sweet Dreams:  Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream):  Recipe yields 7 cups.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart saucepan; 2-cup measuring container; fork; cutting board; knife; hand-held electric mixer; whisk; large spoon; 8-cup measuring container; plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c6e220ca970bCook's Note:  Another technique that all cooks of every skill level should take it upon themselves to learn is:  the art of making sweet and savory compound butters. They are so easy to make and add incredible flavor to all sorts of things.  For my favorite sweet version, which I keep on hand in my freezer almost all of the time, click into Categories 4, 8, 9 or 20 to learn how to make ~ Orange Cinnamon & Vanilla Bean Butter ~!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

02/20/2015

~ Oh Baby it's Never too Cold for Boston Cream Pie ~

IMG_3382Minus ten degrees.  It could be worse.  I could live in Boston.  I don't want to think about that.  I'd rather think about this:  Boston Cream Pie, a feel-good dessert that won the hearts of Americans over a century ago.  What got me thinking about this retro blast-from-my-past dessert?  It was another one of those "thirty-one days to Oscar" flicks I watched on my kitchen TV yesterday:  

Some Like it Hot (Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis & Marilyn Monroe)!

Masterpiece_some_like_it_hotIn this hilarious 1959 Billy Wilder movie Daphne (Jack Lemmon in drag) says,

"When I was a kid, I used to have a dream.  I was locked up in a pastry shop overnight and there was goodies all around.  There were jelly rolls, and mocha eclairs, and sponge cake, and, Boston cream pie"! ~Daphne

I adore Boston cream pie.  After I heard Jack say that line, I thought "why not,  I haven't made one of these cakes in a really long time".  It was a great reason (excuse) to preheat one of my ovens, I had all of the ingredients on-hand in my pantry and refrigerator, and, my own recipe (circa 1990's) in my recipe file!

Wait a minute -- this doesn't look anything like a pie!

IMG_3392A bit about the Boston cream pie:  

#1.  It's the national dessert of Massachusetts' (over the Toll House Cookie and the Fig Newton). That's some very famous company!

#2.  It's not a pie.  It is a cake:  two thin-ish layers of vanilla and/or rum-flavored, golden sponge-cake or butter-cake (your choice) with vanilla-flavored egg-laced pastry cream sandwiched between them, then top-glazed with soft, elegant, almost drizzly chocolate.  It is attributed to be the culinary creation of French chef Sanzian of Boston's Parker House Hotel (now the Omni Parker House).  The Parker House was the first hotel in the city to boast hot-and-cold running water and an elevator.  This now signature-dessert has been served there since the hotel's opening in October, 1856. What made it so unique were two things:  the chocolate frosting and the custardy center.  During that time period, chocolate was consumed in American households in beverage or pudding form, and, pastry-creams were limited to use in "cream cakes" (aka cream puffs). The idea to incorporate the two into a cake recipe called "Chocolate Cream Pie" (later renamed Boston Cream Pie) became quite the rage.

IMG_3377It's a single layer of cake sliced horizontally to form two thinner layers.

E25af33350521123953b4650a80d9fd1So why is this cake called a pie?  It's thin (like a pie), it's soft (like a pie), and, it gets cut into wedges (like a pie). There's a bit more to it than that.  It seems that in early American New England and Pennsylvania Dutch country, cooks were known for baking crossover-cakes (my word) meaning:  sometimes it was hard to tell them apart.  The Pennsylvania Dutch Shoo-Fly pie is a prime example.  That was because pie tins were more common than cake pans.  More often than not, these cooks baked pies and cakes in pie tins.  It is said that the precursor to Boston Cream Pie was the early American "Pudding-Cake Pie".  This "pie" became so popular, it was turned into a boxed mix by Betty Crocker and sold sold nationally in 1958.  At age three, this boxed mix was my introduction to Boston Cream Pie!

I won't lie, this convenient mix containing three packets, one each for mixing the cake, custard and chocolate glaze kept me very happy for a lot of years.  Like a good brownie mix, I always kept a box in my pantry for emergency purposes.  Then, without explanation, they stopped making it -- poof -- it disappeared.  I hate it when that happens.  Fast forward to the year 2000.  I was  hosting a birthday party for two of my neighbors and girlfriends, Carol and Maryann, who celebrate their birthdays on February 10th and 14th.  For their new millennium birthdays, I decided to serve a retro lunch:  my own recipes for Roasted Cream of Tomato Soup, Waldorf Chicken Salad, and, Boston Cream Pie.  For their birthday gifts:  I gave them each a fondue pot!

Part One:  Making My Golden Butter-Rum & Vanilla Butter Cake

IMG_30642/3  cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (10 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons = 2/3 cup)

2 cups sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups whole milk

2  teaspoons butter-rum extract

1  teaspoon vanilla extract

3  cups cake flour

3  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

no-stick cooking spray 

IMG_3067~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees (or 325 degrees if baking in dark or nonstick pans).  Spray 2, 8"-round straight-sided pans with no-stick spray and set aside.

Place the butter, sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the milk and extracts.  In a medium bowl, measure and stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.

IMG_3092 IMG_3074~ Step 2. On medium-speed of mixer, beat butter, sugar and eggs until combined, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and beat for 5 full minutes, scraping down sides of  bowl with a rubber spatula as you beat.  Mixture will be fluffy, smooth and pale yellow.

IMG_3106 IMG_3097~ Step 3. Reduce speed to low and begin adding flour mixture in 3 increments,  alternately with milk IMG_3103mixture, beating well after each addition. When all ingredients are in, increase speed to high and beat for 2 full minutes.

IMG_3172 IMG_3168~ Step 4. Transfer batter evenly between prepared pans.  If you have a kitchen scale, weigh each pan to make sure each pan weighs exactly the same -- this is what professionals do to make sure all layers bake uniformly.  Give each pan a couple of short gentle back-and-forth shakes across the countertop to smooth out the batter.

IMG_3194 IMG_3179~ Step 5. Bake both cake layers, at the same time, on center rack of preheated 350 (or 325) degree oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean. Cakes will be golden and puffed through to their centers. Remove from oven and place pans on cooling rack for 6-8 minutes.

IMG_3210~ Step 6.  When you can comfortably keep the outstretched palm of your hand held over the top of the cake for 10-12 seconds:

IMG_3205One at a time invert each cake layer into the palm of your hand, gently remove the pan, and place the cake layer back on the rack to cook completely, about 1-1 1/2 hours.

IMG_3225Part Two:  Making My Butter-Rum & Vanilla Pastry Cream:

IMG_32381/2 cup + 2 tablespoons cornstarch (Note:  This is more cornstarch than I use for cream puffs and eclairs, but, this cake needs to be sliceable, so, the pastry cream needs to be denser.)

4  cups whole milk

2  teaspoons butter-rum extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

8  large egg yolks

1 1/3  cups sugar

4  ounces unsalted butter, diced into 1/2" pieces, kept cold (1 stick)

Step 1.  Place 3 1/2 cups of the milk in a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop.  In a 2-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the cornstarch, 1/2 cup of the milk and the extracts, until smooth.  Set aside.  Cube the butter and return the cubes to the refrigerator.

IMG_3258 IMG_3243~ Step 2.  In a large bowl, on medium speed of mixer, combine the egg yolks and sugar.  Increase speed to high and beat until light colored, about 2 minutes.  

IMG_3251Lower speed, add cornstarch mixture and beat until thoroughly combined.

IMG_3264 IMG_3268~ Step 3. Place the saucepan of milk over medium heat.  Stir occasionally until milk is steaming (not simmering or boiling), about 3 minutes.  Using a whisk,  in a gradual  steady stream, whisk in the egg yolk/sugar mixture.  

Continue to cook over medium- medium-high heat, whisking constantly (this mixture can scorch IMG_3274easily).  In the beginning, the mixture will be foamy on top.  As the mixture begins to thicken, within 3-4 minutes, switch from a whisk to a large spoon and add the cold butter pieces, 2-3-4 at a time, stirring well after each addition.  Repeat this process until all of the butter has been added and is thoroughly incorporated.

~ Step 4.  Continue to cook until the pastry cream is nicely-thickened, smooth and ribbonlike, about 2-3 more minutes.  There will be no more foam on the top.  Remove from heat and immediately transfer IMG_3303to an 8-cup measuring container to prevent further cooking.  Don't forget to take a taste -- it's unbelievably good!  

~ Step 5.  Cover the surface of the pastry cream with plastic wrap, meaning: don't just cover the container, place the plastic directly on the surface of the pastry cream. This will prevent a rubbery skin from forming on top.  Cool 1-2 hours before refrigerating until well-chilled, several hours to overnight.

IMG_3313Part Three:  Choosing between Two Chocolate Toppings!  

#1.  My Easy-as-Pie Chocolate Glaze:

IMG_33164  tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

4  ounces unsweetened baking chocolate (4 squares)

2  teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2  cups confectioners's sugar

2 tablespoons hot water, possibly a little more to bring glaze to desired consistency*

*Note:  Glaze will thicken a bit as it cools so keep that in mind.

IMG_3320~ Step 1.  In a 1-quart saucepan, melt the chocolate into butter, stirring frequently until mixture smooth, 2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat.

IMG_3331 IMG_3329~ Step 2. Stir in the vanilla.  Add the sugar, in increments, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition.  When all of the sugar is added the mixture will be a "kind of clumpy mess".  

IMG_3335~ Step 3. Add water, until desired consistency is reached. Cool to for 1-2 hours.

#2.  My Classic Chocolate Ganache (I chose to use this one today):

IMG_33511 1/2 cups of heavy or whipping cream,  heated in the microwave until steaming

2  teaspoons vanilla extract

16  ounces semi-sweet chocolate morsels or small chunks of bittersweet chocolate

~ Step 1.  Stir the vanilla extract into the cream, and, in the microwave, heat until steaming.  Place the IMG_3353chocolate in a large bowl.

IMG_3355~ Step 2. Add the hot cream to the chocolate, give it a stir and cover for exactly two minutes.

~ Step 3.  Uncover and whisk vigorously until ganache is smooth and shiny.  Cool to room temperature, about 1 hour, then, cover and  refrigerate until desired consistency is reached.

IMG_3369 IMG_3363For my Boston Cream Pie, I don't want the ganache to be drizzly or pourable.  Why? Because it's my recipe and I prefer it to be spreadable like chocolate frosting. Thirty minutes in the refrigerator is all that it takes.  If it's in there a little too long, just let it sit out on the countertop for a few minutes -- it will soften up to a spreadable consistency again.

Still need instructions?

IMG_3898This recipe makes two whole 'pies'. Slice each cake layer in half lengthwise.  Spread 3-3 1/2 cups chilled pastry cream just to the edge of the perimeter of the bottom halves.  Frost the top halves in any manner you like, but the sides of a traditional Boston Cream Pie are always left open.  Lightly place the frosted top halves on top of the pastry cream halves. Refrigerate 'pies', uncovered, for several hours or overnight prior to slicing cold and serving cold or at room temperature (always slice cake while it's cold).  Tip from Mel:  Cake is easier to slice if you place a wooden skewer down through the center to keep the layers from slipping or sliding from side to side.  Cake is also easier to slice if you use a sharp straight-bladed knife, not s serrated knife.

Smile for the camera!

IMG_3388Oh Baby it's Never too Cold for Boston Cream Pie:  Recipe yields 2 cakes, 6-7 cups pastry cream, 1 1/2 cups chocolate glaze or 4 cups chocolate ganache, enough for 2, 8"-round Boston Cream Pies, 6-8 servings each.

Special Equipment List: 2, 8"-round, straight-sided cake pans; 1-cup measuring container; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; kitchen scale; cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack; fork; 4-quart saucepan; whisk; large spoon; 8-cup measuring container; plastic wrap; 2-cup measuring container; wooden skewer

6a0120a8551282970b0192abfea064970dCook's Note:  For another one of my favorite served-cold desserts you can find my recipe for ~ Treat Yourself to a Slice of Peanut Butter Pie ~ in Categories 6, 11, 15 or 22.  In this recipe, the ganache gets poured over the peanut butter pie filling (which is in a chocolate cookie crust) and the pie goes into the freezer to set up!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015) 

02/17/2015

~ Aurora's 'Famous' Chicken Pepperoni Seems Like Old Times (Dinner and a Funny Movie Review too!) ~

IMG_3026I've got a movie on my menu tonight.  Neil Simon's 'Seems Like Old Times' (starring Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn and Charles Grodin) is a feel-good blast from my retro 1980's past.  I'm not usually a fan of romantic comedies, but, this one keeps me laughing out loud from start to finish every time I see it.  It's no secret that in order to write this blog and do my TV segments I work almost nonstop in my kitchen.  Having always been a movie buff, movies on my kitchen TV keep me company throughout the entire day.  Seems Like Old Times happened to be on yesterday, and, just like old times, it left me wanting some of "Aurora's Famous Chicken Pepperoni"!

IMG_3054"Are you saying you may not become Attorney General if I make veal parmesan?" ~ Glenda

1457645_623909644314240_1465502658_nIn the movie, Glenda and Ira Parks (Hawn and Grodin) are husband and wife.  She's a public defender and he's the LA District Attorney. Nick Gardinia (Chase) is Glenda's ex-husband.  He's a down-on-his-luck novelist. Nick gets kidnapped and is forced, at gunpoint, to rob a bank for his kidnappers, where he accidentally gets caught staring into the security camera.  The criminals ditch Nick and he finds himself on 10484033_733242216714315_2667074064593386977_nthe run and wanted by the police. Nick turns to Glenda for help.

Glenda allows Nick to hide in a room over the garage. After a few more hilarious encounters, we get to Aurora's Chicken Pepperoni. Aurora (Yvonne Wilder) is the Parks' Hispanic maid.  Without notice, on the biggest night of Ira's life (the Governor of CA is coming to dinner to ask Ira to run 281367_227152127323329_1253496_nfor Attorney General), Aurora checks herself into the hospital, and:  The Governor has requested his favorite and Aurora's signature dish: Chicken Pepperoni. This leaves Glenda, Nick, and the newly-hired butler Chester (T. K. Carter) home alone to  figure out how to cook Aurora's recipe, which is written in Spanish.

After another series of hilarious encounters, Chester ends up too tipsy to serve dinner to the Governor, so, Nick puts on Chester's tuxedo and serves 32096_123103867728156_2712174_nthe Chicken Pepperoni himself. Glenda is shocked and horrified, Ira is outraged by Nick's mere presence in his home, and, I'm not going to spoil the screwball ending for you!

After the movie aired, foodies like me started looking for recipes for chicken pepperoni, but, there were none.  Thanks to foodies with creative imaginations, that situation has changed -- there are now quite a few renditions "out there"!  

Here's my version of Aurora's Twist on an Italian Dish:

In all seriousness, I have no idea where the idea for this obviously Italian-American-inspired dish came from.  I don't know if it was cooked-up in the mind of a comedy writer, or, if it was an actual meal served in American homes.  I've surely never encountered it.  That said, years later (2012), on the season finale of Top Chef All-Stars on Bravo TV, Mike Isabella (a good Italian name) made a pepperoni sauce that garnered the attention of the viewers and the internet alike. The end of the story is:  I was merely intrigued by a Hispanic maid with an Italian-style signature specialty-dish which she reserved to serving VIP's.  My very-tasty nice-and-spicy version is as close in appearance to what was served in the movie as I could come!

IMG_2926To prep and stuff the chicken breasts:

3  large 14-16-ounce boneless, skinless, chicken breast halves, trimmed of all large pieces of fat and visible tendons, cut in half to form 6 pieces, each piece placed between two pieces of plastic IMG_2932wrap and pounded with a flat-sided meat mallet to a thickness of slightly more than 1/4" without causing any holes or tears, then placed bottom-sides-up (rough sides up/smooth sides down) on a large baking pan that has been lined with parchment

To stuff and roll the chicken breasts:

IMG_2938On each piece of chicken, place:

4  thin overlapping slices 3" round, deli-style pepperoni (24 slices total)

1,  3/4"-thick slice of mozzarella cheese, cut into 6, 3/4"W x 4" long mozzarella sticks (8 ounces of cheese)

IMG_2948End to end, pull the chicken up and around each cheese stick and roll the bundles over, seam sides down. The chicken will not fully-encase the cheese meaning: the side ends will remain open.  Secure each chicken bundle, directly through the cheese and down through to the bottom, with two toothpicks each.

IMG_2953To coat the chicken bundles:

In a small bowl, whisk together:

1  large egg

1  tablespoon water

In a second small bowl, measure:

1 1/2  cups panko breadcrumbs

IMG_2959Using a pastry brush, paint the top and sides of each chicken bundle with egg.  Using your fingertips, pat and press the panko mixture over the tops of each chicken breast.  

Sprinkle the remaining panko evenly over all.  Using the toothpicks as handles, without lifting the chicken bundles up, rock each one back and forth a few times, to press panko into the sides too.

Each chicken bundle should have a light but even coating of panko. 

IMG_2963To assemble the casserole:

On stovetop, in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, simmer:

1 1/2  quarts ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~, or your favorite brand with 1/2-3/4 teaspoons red pepper flakes stirred in to make it spicy (Note: Having my homemade sauce on-hand in the freezer at all times is IMG_2973what makes my version of this dish extra special.  You can find the recipe in Categories  8, 12 or 22.)

Grate and set aside:

1/2  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

In the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray, place 2 cups of the sauce.  Carefully IMG_2978transfer and arrange the chicken bundles, slightly apart, over the sauce.  Do not remove the toothpicks.  Sprinkle with:

1/4 cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano 

dried basil

red pepper flakes

IMG_3001Bake, uncovered on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 35-40 minutes.  Chicken pepperoni will be lightly but nicely browned on the top with cheese oozing from its sides, and, sauce will be bubbly.  While the chicken is baking, cook:

1  pound spaghetti, cooked al dente according to package directions and lightly-sauced with 2 more cups of the sauce (from above)

Remove the chicken pepperoni from oven and allow to rest about 10 minutes prior to serving warm, on a bed of sauced pasta.  At tableside, drizzle each portion with a bit of remaining sauce and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.  There is only one thing I can say about this funny little dish:

Hooray for Hollywood!!!

IMG_3008Aurora's 'Famous' Chicken Pepperoni Seems Like Old Times (Dinner and a Funny Movie Review too!):  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen shears; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; toothpicks; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; microplane grater; 2-quart saucepan 

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d8798df970dCook's Note:  With the Academy Awards just a few short weeks away, everyone is buzzing about the 2015 nominees.  Aurora's 'Famous' Chicken Pepperoni would surely be a fun movie-inspired dinner to serve on that special night.  Last year I just served appetizers throughout the evening. The one that everyone voted the best on the red carpet ~ Oscar Bites:  BBQ'd Porkrib Tartlets for the Starlets ~.  You can find the recipe in Category 1, 11, 13, 17!  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

02/15/2015

~ My Grandma's Butter-Braised Cabbage & Carrots ~

IMG_2893Both of my grandmothers' kitchens were close to home -- dad's mom lived 4-5 miles from us, mom's mom lived 9-10.  We visited them both often, and, both of them every Sunday -- lunch at mom's mom's, dinner at dad's mom's.  Until I was age ten or eleven and invited to my girlfriend Cathy's house for Sunday dinner, I assumed everybody's house smelled like cabbage on a Sunday.  We Eastern Europeans cook "Sunday cabbage" like Italians cook "Sunday gravy"!

IMG_2923Braised cabbage is buttery & melt-in-your mouth tender!

I like cabbage a lot, but I wouldn't say I'm "crazy for cabbage".  I grew up with people who knew how to properly cook cabbage.  I liked their cabbage.  I've met a lot of people who just don't get cabbage cookery in any form.  I don't like any form of their cabbage.  Properly-cooked cabbage should be buttery and melt-in-your mouth tender.  Properly-braised cabbage should be buttery, tender, and, taste like cabbage, enhanced simply, by the natural sugars in onions and carrots. In my opinion, braised cabbage is not enhanced by the flavor of bacon or smoked pork.  Simmer down.  I'm a cabbage purist.  I enjoy my braised cabbage served as a side to all sorts of pork products -- I just don't appreciate it tasting more like pork than the pork itself.  Period.

IMG_2900The best braised cabbage is pure, simple & unadulterated!

UnknownThere are many types of cabbage:  green, red, Napa (also known as Chinese cabbage), Savoy, Bok Choy and Choy Sum.  For making basic, Eastern-European braised cabbage, the common, compact green cabbage is simply perfect.  It's the one I grew up eating, and, it's the one I use the most to this day.  It makes the best braised cabbage in the world!  

That said, 'The World's Best Braised Cabbage Recipe' did not come from my grandmothers and wishing won't make it so. By the time I got around to wanting to learn how to make it, they weren't there to show me. My recipe is adapted from Molly Stevens' book, All About Braising. I've combined my grandmothers' ingredients list with Molly's method.  The biggest difference:  my grandmother butter-braised (& used more carrots).  Molly uses EVOO.

6a0120a8551282970b014e8b852531970dA bit about green cabbage:  The most common of all cabbages, sometimes affectionately referred to as "the king of cabbages", has wide, pale green leaves with an almost rubbery texture when raw.  My mom taught me how to choose cabbage. The instructions went like this:

"Choose young, tender, medium-sized, pretty green heads that are firm, have no splits or tears, and, feel heavy for their size."

6a0120a8551282970b01539192a5b0970bA bit about coring cabbage:  The hard, tough, core is what holds the cabbage leaves to the head.  When making braised cabbage, I like to remove a shallow portion of it before cutting the cabbage into wedges.  When making stuffed cabbage rolls, I remove a deeper portion of it, so the leaves separate easily.  Using a sharp paring knife, cut around the core to a depth of about one inch.  

6a0120a8551282970b01539192a292970b1  2-2 1/2-pound head green cabbage, cored as directed above and  cut into six wedges

1  large yellow onion, about 8 ounces, 1/2"-3/4" chopped

2 large carrots, peeled and sliced at a 30 degree angle into 1/4"-thick pieces, 8 ounces

6  tablespoons salted butter 

1/4  cup chicken or vegetable stock (grandma used water)

IMG_2855freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole

~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

~ Step 2.  Prep and place cabbage, onion and carrots, in that order, in a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick spray.

IMG_2866 IMG_2860~ Step 3.  In a 1-cup measuring container, in the microwave, melt the butter into the chicken or vegetable stock.

~ Step 4.  Season with sea salt and peppercorn blend.  I use 40 grinds salt and 60 grinds pepper which equates roughly to 3/4 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

IMG_2868~ Step 5.  Cover casserole with aluminum foil and braise on center rack of preheated oven until vegetables are tender and cabbage is turning golden on top, 2 hours.

Note:  Because oven temperatures vary, and, because cabbage varies in density from head to head, I recommend checking the veggies after 1 1/2 hours.  If they are fork tender and to your liking, stop there.

Portion and serve steaming hot with smoked ham, roasted pork or poached chicken breast.

IMG_2879Heavenly -- and just as buttery as Grandma used to make!!!

IMG_2890My Grandma's Butter-Braised Cabbage & Carrots :  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 1-cup measuring container; aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b0154356438eb970cCook's Note:  My grandmothers made braised cabbage often, but my mother did not. Whenever she bought cabbage, we knew what she was making for dinner -- and we didn't need to be called to the dinner table twice.  My recipe for ~ My Mother's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubki) ~ can be found in Categories 3, 12, 17, 19 or 22. Trust me when I tell you, this very well might be 'The World's Best Stuffed Cabbage Recipe'!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie Preschutt/Copyright 2015) 

02/12/2015

~ My Passion for Potato Perfection: Seriously-Crispy Roasted Caraway-Seeded Heart-Shaped Potatoes ~

IMG_2799Seductively crispy on the outside, steamy soft and tender on the inside -- is there anyone who has the will-power to resist perfectly oven-roasted potatoes?  I didn't think so.  From poultry to pork to pot-roast and prime-rib, they are that one special side-dish that everyone desires.  As you can tell, I am quite passionate about this subject -- as it turns out, I am not alone.

What's that you say?  A better way to roast potatoes? 

IMG_2798It seems that while I was stranded on that deserted island with my head stuck in the sand, food scientists took it upon themselves to research the roasting process with regards to potatoes. They determined there is a better way to do it besides the typical and traditional way:  tossing them with a bit of oil or fat and placing them in a hot oven.  We've all been doing it that way forever and while that method works fine (the potatoes do crisp up), we also know that within moments of removing them from the oven, the steam from their centers causes them to soften.   

Read on carefully, this is technical stuff:  It is a gelatinized layer of starch that causes any type of potato to crisp up.  The thicker the layer of gelatinized starch, the crispier the potatoes.  To increase the layer of gelatinized starch on your potatoes, which in turn results in super-crispy potatoes that stay crispy longer, the sliced or chunked potatoes need to be briefly parboiled in acidulated water (water with about 1 tablespoon of vinegar added to it) prior to roasting -- "briefly" is the operative word here, 4-5 minutes, until only the exterior surface is tender.

"Everybody into the pool!"

(4 quart stockpot + 2 quarts water + 1 tablespoon white vinegar + 2 pounds potatoes)

IMG_2741That said, while all potatoes can be roasted, not all potatoes are created equal:  Starchy russets produce the crispiest crust with fluffy, dry interiors; Yukon Golds produce a slightly less crispy crust with creamier centers, and; Waxy reds with their naturally creamy texture get the least crispy and were not recommended for roasting at all (but I beg to differ with that opinion).  In my food world, it's all about "what you like and how you like it", so, use whatever potato you like best and stand with your feet firmly-planted behind your decision.

IMG_2783I'm roasting  a combination of Russets and Yukon Golds today!

IMG_2737In a 4-quart stockpot, place:

2  quarts cold water

1  tablespoon white vinegar

2-2 1/4  pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 3/4"-thick disks, then into 1 1/2" chunks

*Note:  Because I am making heart shapes, I don't peel the potatoes.  If you want to skip the heart-shapes and cut the potatoes into traditional chunks or wedges, you'll need to peel them first.

IMG_2744 IMG_2751~ Step 1. Bring potatoes to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat to simmer for exactly 4 minutes, or until exteriors are starting to soften.  

Transfer potatoes to a colander and drain thoroughly, giving them a few shakes back and forth, about 30-60 seconds.  Do not rinse potatoes.  

Transfer steaming hot potatoes to a large bowl.

IMG_2763~ Step 2:  Using a large rubber spatula, toss potatoes with:

4 tablespoons olive oil

1  teaspoon caraway seed

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground peppercorn blend, about 60 grinds from a mill

Transfer to a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole IMG_2769that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.

Step 3.  Using your fingertips, take a moment to place hearts flat sides down in the bottom of the casserole.

~ Step 4.  Roast on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven for 1 hour, or until potatoes are golden brown and crispy on both sides. There is no need to stir or turn them during the roasting process.

Close your eyes, we eat these like fries:

IMG_2831My Passion for Potato Perfection:  Seriously-Crispy Roasted Caraway-Seeded Heart-Shaped Potatoes:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1 1/2" heart-shaped cookie cutter (optional) 4-quart stockpot; colander; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; large rubber spatula; fork

6a0120a8551282970b017ee5cea67b970dCook's Note:  ~ Two-for-One Effortless Straightforward Side-Dishes:  Roasted caraway-Seeded Carrots and Red Potatoes ~, is not a recipe I am ever going to throw under the bus in deference to food science.  The addition of diced onion to the dish sacrifices a bit of crispiness, but it adds so much flavor, I can't in good conscience omit it.  Check out the recipe in Categories 4, 12 or 20! 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

02/09/2015

~ A Dream of a Creamy Caraway-Spiced Carrot Soup w/Carrot Coins & Caraway-Seeded Rye Croutons!!! ~

IMG_2678I believe I've loved carrots since the day my mom fed me my first spoonful of Gerber strained carrots -- right out of the jar.  Next to onions and celery, the carrot gets used often in my kitchen. I'll eat carrots raw, boiled, sauteed, steamed or roasted.  I like them candied, pickled or marinated.  I have no ax to grind with folks using canned or frozen carrots as a time saver.  I love carrots in soups, stews and braises, I make a great carrot souffle, and, let's not forget carrot cake!

Did you know that besides being a great source of vitamins and minerals they contain more natural sugar than any other vegetable aside from beets?  It is definitely their sweetness (which intensifies during any cooking process) that draws me to them.  Research has even shown that nutrients like beta-carotene and phenolic acid increase with cooking, but, for me, that is neither here nor there because I'd eat carrots even if they weren't so good for me.  I love carrots!

IMG_2556The inspiration for this recipe comes from my Eastern European heritage.

Soups and stews in our house were always served with bread and butter.  Rye bread, more specifically caraway-seeded rye, was, hands-down, our family's favorite.  We all loved the slightly anise taste of caraway.  Eastern Europeans have a fondness for caraway seed much like Italians have an affinity for fennel seed.  Caraway is said to be Europe's oldest spice condiment, with the Romans being credited for spreading the seeds around in ancient times.  

This "peasant spice" has a bold, aggressive, peppery, earthy flavor that cuts through rich dishes and breathes life into bland ones.  When I was growing up, caraway got added to roasted, sauteed or braised vegetable side-dishes like beets, cabbage, carrots and potatoes.  It showed up in potato salad, coleslaw and sauerkraut, and, it got added to pork roast and mixed into pork sausage too.  Even today, my refrigerator is never without a chunk of caraway-seeded Havarti cheese.  Mom never made a "cream of any kind of soup" because dad detested cream soups, but, once I got out on my own, it didn't take me long to come up with this one -- just for me!

IMG_2503Carrots & caraway are a delectable combo.  Native to Central Europe:

The caraway plant is a member of the carrot family!

IMG_25394  tablespoons salted butter

1 1/2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

1 1/2  pounds peeled and 1/4"-thick coined carrots + 1 additional cup peeled and coined carrots for garnish (see below)

coarsely-ground sea salt, about 20-25 grinds from a mill

coarsely-ground peppercorn blend, about 40-50 grinds from a mill

1 1/2  teaspoons whole caraway seeds, ground to a powder in an electric spice grinder (Note:  this will yield a scant tablespoon of powdered caraway.)

3  cups chicken or vegetable stock, your choice

1/2  cup heavy or whipping cream

1  cup additional 1/4" sliced carrots, mentioned above, for making carrot coin garnish

16  small, thin slices caraway-seeded "party rye" bread, for making crouton garnish

small sprigs fresh parsley, for garnish  

IMG_2524~ Step 1.  Peel and coin the carrots as directed.  In "food speak", "to coin" is a verb meaning to cut a cylindrical object into a coin shape. You need 1 1/2 pounds of carrots to make the soup, plus, 1 additional cup to make the coins for garnish.  If you have a kitchen scale, now is the time to get it out and use it to weigh those going into your soup.

IMG_2511~ Step 2. Grind the caraway seed to a powder.

IMG_2559~ Step 3.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the diced onion.  Increase heat to medium-high and saute for about 1-2 minutes, until onion is just starting to get soft and translucent.  

IMG_2568Add the carrots and season with salt and pepper. Lower heat to medium, stir and continue to saute, stirring frequently, until carrots are fork tender, about 10 minutes.

IMG_2576~ Step 4.  Stir in the powdered caraway seed and cook until fragrant, about 1 more minute.

IMG_2583Add the stock. Adjust heat to simmer gently and cook, uncovered for 20 minutes. Carrots will be very, very soft. Remove from heat, cover pan and set aside for 1 hour.

Note:  At this point, the soup needs to cool before it can be processed to a smooth texture.  While the soup is cooling, use the time to make the carrot coins and caraway-rye croutons:

IMG_2534 IMG_2533~ Step 6.  In a 1-quart saucepan, bring 1 cup of water and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to a boil.  Add the reserved coined carrots and simmer until just fork tender, about 3 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Drain into a colander and rinse under cold water to halt the cooking process.  Set aside, or:

IMG_2549Wanna have some fun?  Use a mini-cookie cutter to cut the coins into fun shapes.  My grandmother always said, "waste not, want not".  Just toss all of the tasty leftover bits and pieces back into the pan of cooling soup.

IMG_2600~ Step 7.  Pop the party-rye slices in your toaster until golden, or:

IMG_2614Use cookie cutter again and place shaped slices on rack of a toaster oven.  Toast until golden, 2-3 minutes.  Remove and cool.

IMG_2626 IMG_2620Step 8. Transfer all or half of the soup mixture to work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  

Note:  How much soup you can puree at once will depend upon the size of your processor.  My large-capacity Cuisinart DLC-X PLUS easily handles it all at once.

With motor running, process until thick and smooth, 45-60 seconds.  

IMG_2640 IMG_2632                                    ~ Step 9. Return pureed soup to pan.  Stir in the cream. Over medium heat, stirring frequently, heat until steaming.  Do not simmer or boil.

IMG_2629Taste and adjust seasoning for salt and pepper,   Portion and serve.

Garnish each bowl w/a few carrot coins & caraway croutons...

IMG_2691... and eat your romatic little heart out!

IMG_2686A Dream of a Creamy Caraway-Spiced Carrot Soup w/Carrot Coins & Caraway-Seeded Rye Croutons!!!:  Recipe yields 5 cups or 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; kitchen scale; electric spice grinder or mortar and pestle; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon or spatula; 1-quart saucepan; colander; toaster or toaster oven; food processor; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d078198b970cCook's Note:  Spring is coming and one of my favorite things to make with another of my favorite veggies, asparagus, is ~ My Asparagus, Smoked Salmon and Havarti Tart ~.  Surprise surprise:  there are caraway seeds in both the crust and the cheese in this decadent dish. Just click into Categories 2, 9 or 14 to get the recipe!

PS:  Today's carrot soup is a great side dish to this flavorful tart!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015) 

02/07/2015

~ Rich & Creamy Mushroom & Baked Potato Soup ~

IMG_2495If you are a mushroom lover, this rich, creamy and hearty version of mushroom soup is comfort food for a cold day.  A big bowl along with a slice of warm bread with a slather of sweet cream butter is a delicious dinner.  A small bowl with a crouton floating on top is a sumptuous start to a delicious dinner or a lovely lunch.   My recipe is a spin-off from an Eastern European recipe that many refer to as "Russian Mushroom and Potato Soup".  I can't use that title.  Similar versions of this humble, rustic, peasant soup appear in cold-weather countries all over Eastern Europe.

IMG_2494My version of this soup differs from traditional versions...

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0d14434970cA bit about my version of the recipe~ Decadent & Divine Silky Shiitake Mushroom Soup ~ is a staple in my freezer.  Just click on the Related Article link below to get the recipe.  "Shiitake mushrooms", you exclaim, "what are Asian mushrooms doing in an Eastern European recipe?"  Simmer down.  

I'm Eastern European, more specifically of Russian heritage.  I grew up in Central PA,  "hunting 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c747eacb970b'schrooms" with my dad, in the forest across the street from our house.  It was full of golden-colored mushrooms which grew wild amongst the leaves in and around fallen oak trees.  My dad called them "popinky" (poh-pinky).  

We Eastern Europeans know a thing or two about mushrooms, so, when we tell you Shiitakes are the closest to one or two of our 'heritage mushrooms', rely upon it.  Originally from Japan and Korea, the Shiitake (shee-TAH-kay), when cultivated in IMG_2349the USA (California, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Virginia) is referred to as "The Golden Oak".

The beef-stock based mushroom soup I make is  fully-loaded with sauteed Shiitakes and onions. Mushrooms and onions go hand-in-hand together in the Eastern European kitchen.  Because my mushroom soup is so wonderful, and, because cream soups do not freeze well, I make ~ Rich & Creamy Mushroom and Baked Potato Soup ~, from leftovers, or frozen ~ Decadent & Divine Silky Shiitake Mushroom Soup ~.

... other recipes set out to make Cream of Mushroom and Potato Soup.  Mine is made from my homemade mushroom soup -- either leftover the next day or from a container or two which I have on hand in my freezer.

IMG_2375I always make a big batch of my mushroom soup so I can freeze it.  I use 2-quart, Pyrex containers.  I love freezing in glass because it absorbs no odors, doesn't stain, and, once the investment is made, these containers last forever.  

In case you don't know:  when you freeze liquid in any container, you must allow for "headspace", at the top of each container, because liquids expand when they freeze. The reality is, this is not 2-quarts of thawed soup you're looking at, it is 6-cups, or 1 1/2 quarts.

IMG_23776  cups  my recipe for ~ Decadent & Divine Silky Shiitake Mushroom Soup ~, at room temperature

2 large, 12-14-ounce Russet potatoes, baked in the oven or in the microwave, soft centers scooped out and rough-smashed with a fork (about 3 cups)

1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for garnish

IMG_2406 IMG_2396~ Step 1. Bake or microwave the potatoes. When done and cool enough to handle with your hands, slice them in half.  Using a tablespoon, scoop out the soft centers, allowing them to remain in large chunks.  Using a fork (I use a vintage pasta fork) smash into smaller chunks.  Two large potatoes will yield about 3 cups.

IMG_2382 IMG_2418 IMG_2449~ Steps 2, 3 & 4.  Place soup in 4-quart saucepan. Stir in potatoes.  Over medium heat, warm until steaming. Stir in cream. Warm until steaming.

They say "necessity is the mother of invention".  That's valid.

IMG_2438Economically, this is called "stretching a meal" to feed more people.

Realistically, this is so good, avoid looking at it from that perspective!

IMG_2476Rich & Creamy Mushroom & Baked Potato Soup:  Recipe yields a generous 2 quarts/about 9 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; tablespoon; fork; 4-quart stockpot; large spoon; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b019aff34a6a5970cCook's Note:  Some soups, especially steaming hot and hearty chunky potato soups, just taste better in the Winter.  For another one of my hearty favorites, you can find ~ Bake Potato, Roasted Garlic & Cheddar Soup ~ in Categories 2, 11 or 22.  Bacon anyone?

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015) 

02/04/2015

~ Decadent & Divine Silky Shiitake Mushroom Soup~

IMG_2352I was a child 'shroomer.  I loved mushrooms.  Faced with a plate of sauteed mushrooms or a bowl of mushroom soup, most kids I knew would cry or retch, or both.  Mushrooms tend not to bring out the best in children.  Not me.  I'm pretty sure it was because 'hunting 'shrooms' (picking mushrooms) was one of the things my dad and I did together.  We went 'shrooming together. Interestingly enough, I was not an outdoors kinda kid.  My mother always called me "her little mushroom" because I preferred to stay in my neat and organized pink bedroom quietly reading, drawing and redecorating my Barbie dream house.  Looking at me now, not much has changed!

IMG_2359A 'shrooming we will go, a 'shrooming we will go:

Shiitake Mushrooms #3 (Mushrooms in Boxes Closeup)In the late Spring or early Summer, always when we experienced a few weeks of rainy, damp days, there would be a week or two afterward when my dad would say to my brother and I "put your boots on and get your buckets".  We knew that meant we were going into the woods across the street to pick mushrooms.  This was the one outdoor activity that I did not have to be put  on a leash and drug, kicking and screaming, into participating.  In minutes, I was standing out on the driveway clad in my pink hat, pink sweater and a pair of God-aweful green, goofy-looking plastic boots.  Sans the pink, my brother was similarly clad in hat, sweater and goofy boots. Carrying our buckets, we started into the woods, following dad like a couple of flop-footed ducklings.  

At the outset, dad would always stop to choose a large "walking stick".  Throughout the hunt, dad used it to rustle through thick layers of wet leaves.  Later in life, I came to find out that dad didn't do this to clear a path for us, but as a precaution against snakes.  Snakes were also the reason we were made to wear those ugly plastic boots.  If I had known at the time that snakes were involved, I'm certain my entire perspective of 'shrooming would be different!

6a0120a8551282970b0147e14e6896970bDad was looking specifically for one kind of mushroom and he called them "poh-pinky".  These small, round, honey-colored mushrooms grew in clusters and clumps in and around the fallen oak trees (which our forest was full of).  If it was a "good year", damp and rainy, we'd find so many that we'd go back later in the day, again the next day, or for several days to pick buckets and buckets of them.  If it was a "bad year", we'd be lucky to find any.

After each hunt, mom would spend as many hours as it took to clean and briefly parboil them. After that, they would show up sauteed in butter and onions as a side-dish to dinner that evening, and, with or in scrambled eggs for breakfast the next day.  There was no retching or crying involved -- my brother and I inhaled them.  After parboiling, the rest were cooled, portioned, packaged and frozen.  While they showed up on our table throughout the year, one big package was always saved for our traditional Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve feast.

Shiitake Mushrooms #2 (Mushrooms In Boxes)I don't live across the street from a forest full of fallen oak trees any more, and, even if I did, I'm not sure I'd enjoy the adventure of 'shroom hunting like I did when I was a kid. Luckily, I do live in Pennsylvania, a state well-known for its mushrooms and mushroom farms, so I have a wide variety available to me -- but not popinky.  That said, the Shiitake mushroom is extremely close in flavor and texture.  Special ordering them insures they are plump and fresh, not dry and woody.

We Eastern Europeans know a thing or two about mushrooms, so, when we tell you Shiitakes are the closest to one or two of our 'heritage mushrooms', rely upon it.  Originally from Japan and Korea, the Shiitake (shee-TAH-kay), when cultivated in the USA (California, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Virginia) is often referred to as "The Golden Oak".

This relatively easy to make Shiitake mushroom soup is a favorite recipe of mine.  It is rich, hearty, decadent and divine.  The meaty flesh of the Shiitake mushroom cap has a full-bodied flavor that pairs perfectly with beef stock, so:  When I make this soup, always right after I make a big batch of homemade beef stock, I order 6 pounds Shiitake mushrooms -- I wisely make enough soup to freeze for four more luscious soup-meals.  As for the rest of the ingredients:

Shiitake Mushroom Soup #4 (Ingredients)3-3 1/2  pounds Shiitake mushroom caps, weigh after removing stems from caps, sliced into 1/4" strips

1 1/2-2  pounds yellow or sweet onion, halved and sliced into 1/4" strips

12  ounces unsalted butter (3 sticks)

12  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy (3/4 cup)

3  quarts beef stock, preferably homemade, my recipe or yours, or canned broth 

3  large, whole bay leaves

3/4  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

3/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1-1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt, more or less, to taste

1-1 1/2  teaspoons white pepper, more or less, to taste 

dry sherry (optional)

Shiitake Mushroom Soup #6 (Add the Mushrooms and Shallots or Onions)~ Step 1.  Remove stems from caps. While too tough and woody to eat, stems can be used to make mushroom or vegetable stock.

Shiitake Mushroom Soup #5 (Melting Butter in Pan)~ Step 2.  In 14" chef's pan over low heat, melt butter.  Turn heat off.  Slice and add the mushrooms and onions to pan.

Shiitake Mushroom Soup #7 (Mushrooms Cooked Down) Shiitake Mushroom Soup #8 (Mushrooms Cooked Down with Hand in Pan)                                             ~ Step 3. Increase heat to medium-high and saute, stirring occasionally at first and almost constantly towards the end, until mushrooms have lost almost all of their moisture and over half of their volume.  This will take about 10-12 minutes.

Shiitake Mushroom Soup #10 (Flour Added and Pan is Dry) Shiitake Mushroom Soup #9 (Stirring in the Flour)                                         ~ Step 4. Add and thoroughly stir in the flour.  You will know it is thoroughly blended when you no longer see its white color anywhere in the mixture:

Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mushroom mixture is thick and the bottom of the pan is dry, about 1-2 minutes.

Shiitake Mushroom Soup #11 (Add the Beef Broth and Spices)~ Step 5.  Add the beef stock (or canned broth), the bay leaves, dried thyme leaves and ground nutmeg.

Thoroughly stir and adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer.  Taste the soup about about 2 minutes into simmering.  Add the salt and white pepper to taste.  Continue to simmer until soup is nicely thickened, about 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat.

~ Step 6.  While the soup is sublime and technically ready to serve immediately, my recommendation is to cover the pan and allow it to steep for 1-2 hours, or, refrigerate overnight. Then, reheat it to a steamy state.  Serve each portion with a splash of dry sherry in it:

IMG_2349February 4th:  Happy National Homemade Soup Day!!!

Enjoy every last happy drippy slurp of this one:

IMG_2366Decadent & Divine Silky Shiitake Mushroom Soup:  Recipe yields 4-5 quarts of soup.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b019b0385d32f970cCook's Note:  As you can imagine, if you have homemade beef stock on hand in your freezer, this soup is simply out of this world.  You can find ~  Mel interrupts Christmas to bring you:  Beef Stock ~ in Categories 15 & 22!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

02/02/2015

~ Bacon & Jalapeno-Cheddar French Bread Snacks ~

IMG_2329This ends 'super-easy week' on Kitchen Encounters -- a week of super-easy recipes for your Superbowl party.  Surely you've noticed everyone serves easy snacks for the Superbowl -- I am no exception.  What I like least about the Superbowl is that it is played on a Sunday.  The NFL gives no consideration to people like me who are obligated to entertain, then, get up and face the workweek the next morning.  I've often wondered what the absentee rates at workplaces are the Monday after Superbowl Sunday.  If anyone "knows someone that knows someone" would you please make arrangements to declare the day after this football game a holiday!

IMG_2275My 2015 game day menu stuck strickly to the ever-popular Tex-Mex theme:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c731cfc4970b IMG_1879I posted ~ January "White Out" White Chicken 'n Corn Chili ~ and ~ Super-Sunday Spud Skins of the Taco Tater Type ~.  One is chicken, one is beef, both are hearty.  As a dessert option, I even shared the easiest cake recipe known to mankind ~ A Sweet Cream Cake: A Dream of an Easy Cake ~!

IMG_0325I planned to stop there, until I opened my refrigerator -- full of odds-and-ends  ingredients:  green onions, jalapenos, sour cream, and, lots of cheddar.  I even had a loaf of leftover French bread from my weekly KE & WHVL-TV shoot on Thursday.  I made ~ Pan-Seared Flat-Iron Steak Slider-Sandwiches ~, it aired yesterday, and, it too was about the Superbowl.  Just click on the Related Article links below to get all of these recipes!

1261b1c4eb2e83eb_fbp2French bread pizza is one of the newest oldest tricks in the KISS Book of Entertaining (Keep It Simple Stupid). Making pizza on French bread was made famous in the 1960's by Bob Petrillose, the founder of the legendary Hot Truck on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. His experiment not only spread like wildfire, it was eventually licensed to Stouffer's. After that, it quickly made its way into home kitchens nationwide -- mine being one of them.

Using other breads to make this type of super-easy snack pizza (bagels, English muffins, pita and naan) was a hop, skip and a very short jump for me.  My husband and sons loved pizza made on all of them.  It wasn't long before I started topping French and other breads with ingredients that, while pizza-esque in theory, had nothing to do with classic-type pizza at all.

 This version was one of my family's favorites, and, on more than one occasion we five feasted on them them for dinner.  They go great with a salad and/or a bowl of chili!  

6a0120a8551282970b017c3857ab10970bThat said, my favorite bread to use for pizza-bread and pizza-bread-type snacks (crostini too), is the French batard.  The batard, the first cousin to the baguette, weighs about 8-ounces, is shorter, plumper, and, slightly denser than Italian loaves (like ciabatta), so, it provides the best texture for all sorts of toppings.  Use what you like as long as it is rustic and firm textured. Soft breads and soft-textured hoagie or sub rolls ?  Don't do it!

Our family calls these bread snacks "Texican Pizza Bread"!

IMG_21892, 8-ounce, 12" long French batards, sliced in half lengthwise.  (Note:  When baked and sliced, each half will yield 6 snacks, for a total of 24, 4-5-bite snack breads.)

8  strips crisply-fried bacon, fried and chopped into bits and small pieces (about 1 cup)

1  12-ounce jar sliced, pickled jalapeno peppers, well-drained and diced (about 1 cup, split into two 1/2 cup portions, reserve 1/2 cup for garnish)

1  pound grated jalapeno Jack cheddar cheese, or your favorite cheddar (about 6 cups)

1-1 1/4  cups thinly-sliced green onion, white and light green parts only, reserve green tops for garnish

1/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 stick)

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1/2  cup sour cream

1 1/2  teaspoons garlic powder (Note:  I do not use fresh garlic in recipes such as this because once put in the oven, these snack breads do not bake at a high enough temperature to cook the garlic to a softened state, rendering it raw-ish and harsh tasting in the finished product.)

1/4-1/2 cup additional sour cream, for garnish

1/4-1/2  cup diced pickled jalapenos, reserved from above, for garnish 

1/4-1/2  cup thinly-sliced green onion tops, reserved from above, for garnish

IMG_2243 IMG_2195~ Step 1. Place a sheet of parchment paper in the bottom of a large baking pan and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place the half loaves on the pan.

IMG_2198~ Step 2.  In a large bowl, using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine the butter, mayonnaise, sour cream and garlic powder.

IMG_2205~ Step 3. Add bacon bits, 1/2 cup jalapenos and green onions.  Fold until thoroughly combined.

IMG_2251 IMG_2217~ Step 4. Add all of the cheese and fold again, until thoroughly combined.  Take a moment or two to do a good job with this step.

IMG_2241~ Step 5. Using an ordinary tablespoon dollop topping evenly over the top of all, mounding it towards the center and leaving a small edge of the perimeter of each loaf untopped.

~ Step 6.  Bake on center rack of 325 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling, tops are golden, and, bread is crispy. Remove from oven.

Rest about 5-10 minutes... 

IMG_2259... prior to slicing and serving warm...

IMG_2273... w/a dollop of sour cream, jalapeno & green onion on each!

IMG_2312Bacon & Jalapeno-Cheddar French Bread Snacks:  Recipe yields 2 dozen 4-5-bite snack breads.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; cheese grater; serrated bread knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; large rubber spatula; ordinary tablespoon

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd04644f970bCook's Note:  If I had been in need of one more appetizer, I would have choosen one that  complements my menu and contains seafood.  That would be ~ Jesse's Bacon-Wrapped Dijon-Shrimp Appetizers ~.  You can find the recipe in Categories 1, 11, 14 or 17!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)