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12 posts from March 2015

03/30/2015

~ Exquisite Crabmeat Stuffed Omelette a la Benedict w/shallots, truffle cheese, asparagus and bearnaise! ~

IMG_5369"A la Benedict" means "in the style of" eggs Benedict.  For runny-egg lovers, this is the la-tee-da, ooh-la-la, creme-de-la-creme of fancy-schmancy, artery-clogging AM indulgences:  two golden-toasted English muffin halves, each topped with a slice of smoky ham, a perfectly poached egg and a generous drizzle of buttery hollandaise sauce.  This all-American breakfast and brunch specialty has been gracing the tables of high-end restaurants for over a century.  There are three claims to the dish's origin (click on the Related Article link below ~ Mel's Over-the-Top but Very Easy Eggs Benedict ~ to read them all), with one being widely-accepted as the real-deal:

Abc_wabc_bedbugs_101105_wgIn 1942, a wealthy, elderly gentlemen, Lemuel Benedict, a retired Wall Street Stock Broker did an interview which appeared in the "Talk of the Town" column of The New Yorker Magazine.  In it, Benedict confesses to having drunkenly stumbled into NYC's Waldorf Astoria in need of a good fix for a bad hangover.  As the story IMG_4923goes, "back in 1894", he ordered buttered toast, poached eggs, bacon and a "hooker" of hollandaise (slang for a "shot glass).  Oscar Tschirky, the maitre d'Hotel of the Waldorf found the combination to be so delicious, he added it to his menu the same year, substituting ham for the bacon and an English muffin for the toast.  In his 1896 cookbook, the Cookbook of the Waldorf, chef Tschirky writes of a twist on this dish, which he named "Philadelphia eggs", in which poached chicken is served in place of ham -- yummy!

As eggs Benedict gained in popularity, chef's began taking creative license with inventive, palate-pleasing spin-offs, as well they should, because the dish is so user-friendly and adaptable.  My favorite is eggs Oscar: crabmeat with a layer of blanched asparagus.  If I sprinkle the same dish with Old Bay, the name changes to eggs Chesapeake.  Eggs Hemmingway means served with smoked salmon in place of ham, and, eggs Florentine means please add a layer of steamed spinach.  If I order Eggs Blackstone, I'll get bacon and fresh tomato.  Several sauces can be substituted for the hollandaise too:  bearnaise (hollandaise containing shallot and tarragon), mornay (a cheese sauce), and, blanchard (bechamel)!

Prefer an omelette to a poached egg?  Omelette a la Benedict! 

IMG_5298While I like eggs cooked all sorts of ways, poached eggs are my favorite, but, I sometimes find myself in the minority.  My husband is an omelette man.  Because I make one for him 2-3 times a week, I long ago started keeping a two small bags of diced onion and grated cheese in the refrigerator to minimize the AM prep.  Depending upon what I've got on hand (bacon, ham or sausage and/or bell peppers, mushrooms or spinach), he's pretty much happy with whatever meat and/or veggie combo I create. 

IMG_5318Past that, all he requires is a bottle of hot sauce and coffee. Today, thanks to my last few blog posts, I have enough superb leftovers to make two SPECIAL omelettes:

1/3  pound truffle cheese, grated

1+ dozen blanched asparagus spears

1  cup pasteurized crabmeat

1/2  cup bearnaise sauce*

* Note:  Click on the Related Article Link below to get my recipe for ~ The Big Easy:  Making Blender Hollandaise Sauce ~.  The directions for making bearnaise are located there too!

"The Mel Way" to Prepare a French Omelette:

IMG_1174If you've ever eaten an omelette in Europe, more specifically, in France, you know it's different than our American omelette.  It is buttery, delicate and creamy.  On the outside, it is a pretty-yellow color, showing little or light signs of browning, and, on the inside, it is tender and slightly-creamy (perfectly undercooked but perfectly safe to eat).  Just click on the Related Article link below, ~ My E-Z Creamy-Dreamy Folded French Omelette ~ to get all of my photos and a more detailed explanation!

IMG_1026~ Step 1.  For each omelette, in a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together:

1  jumbo egg (or 2 large eggs), at room temperature

1  tablespoon heavy or whipping cream

2  grinds freshly-ground sea salt

4  grinds freshly-ground peppercorn blend

IMG_1038 IMG_1036~ Step 2.  In an 8" omelette pan over low heat, melt:

2  teaspoons salted butter 

Increase heat to medium (no higher), wait about 10-15 seconds, briefly rewhisk the egg mixture and pour it into the pan.  Sprinkle in:

2-3 tablespoons diced shallot or onion, one is as good as the other

IMG_1045~ Step 3.  Working quickly,  using a thin spatula, begin pushing egg solids to center of pan, as they form, in combination w/lifting, tilting and swirling the pan, then returning it to the heat for about 4-5 second intervals.  Do this 5-6 times, for 25-30 seconds.  The object of this is to get the omelette to start to set up using just enough heat to keep the bottom from over-browning.  

When the surface is almost set, slightly-creamy and shiny, sprinkle:

IMG_5325 IMG_5326 IMG_53312-3  tablespoons truffle cheese over the surface, mounding some in a 2" strip across the center.

Over the top of the mounded strip of truffle cheese, arrange 1/2 cup pasteurized crabmeat, followed by 6 blanched asparagus spears, allowing their tips to hang out a bit over the sides.  Ready, set, go:

IMG_5336~ Step 4.  Turn heat off.  Using a wide spatula and your fingertips, lift and fold 1/3 of the unfilled side over the asparagus spears. To fold the omelette into thirds:  Pick the pan up with your dominant hand.  Tilt the pan downward at an angle over the center of a plate, allowing the unfolded side of the omelette to gently slide from the pan to plate, then, using the pan, give the omelette a quick "third of a roll", by inverting the pan at the end.  Allow omelette to rest about 1 minute.

Slice in half, place each half on a toasted English muffin half, drizzle w/half of the bearnaise, and, indulge in elegance w/your "better half"!!!

IMG_5375There are two sides to every story & this one deserves to be told:

IMG_5399Exquisite Crabmeat Stuffed Omelette a la Benedict w/shallots, truffle cheese, asparagus and bearnaise!:  Recipe yields ingredients list to make two omelettes.  Each omelette, sliced in half, yields 1-2 servings.

Special Equipment List: hand-held cheese grater; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 8" omelette pan, preferably nonstick, thin spatula; wide spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0162fd6850c1970dCook's Note:  If you love crabmeat served at a lovely, festive breakfast or brunch, my recipe for ~ Creamy Crabmeat Quiche or Crabmeat Croissant ~, can be found in Categories 2, 9, 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)

03/27/2015

~ Mel's Over-the-Top but Very Easy Eggs Benedict: A Rich Dish w/a Great Story -- HISstory vs HERstory! ~

IMG_4924Eggs Benedict.  For us runny-egg lovers, this is the la-tee-da, ooh-la-la, creme-de-la-creme of fancy-schmancy, American AM indulgences.  American?  Really?  I, an all-American girl, did not grow up eating this.  Heck, I never even heard of it until I found myself eating breakfast and brunch in some high-end restaurants in Philadelphia during the mid-1970's, and, I always assumed it was French -- until I started to do a bit of research.  It seems this rich, artery-clogging delight has a fascinating story (HISstory vs. HERstory).  This is a tale just begging to be told:

Culinary Fisticuffs?  The Battle Between the Benedicts!!!  

HISstory vs. HERstory:  

IMG_5285Thanks to a food article appearing in the New York Times Magazine in 1967, written by the late, great NYT Food Editor Craig Claiborne, American foodies were led to believe this dish was French in origin, invented by the mother of French Commodore E.C. Benedict. Mr. Claiborne reported this to us shortly after receiving a letter from Edward P. Montgomery, an American living in France, who claims to have gotten the recipe via his uncle who was a friend of the Commodore.  Edward, it seems, had just forgotten about it for forty-some odd years.  HISstory.

DelmonicosIn a rather immediate, scathing response to Mr. Claiborne's article, a woman named Mabel Butler sent her own letter to the New York Times Magazine, basically calling Mr. Montgomery a fraud and a liar, because she knew EXACTLY who invented the now famous dish.  Ms. Butler, a relative of Mrs. LeGrand Benedict went on to say:  It was invented in the kitchen of Manhattan's famous Delmonico's Restaurant when Mr. and Mrs. Benedict (two wealthy, influential patrons who dined weekly at Delmonico's) complained to the maitre d'Hotel that the chef never added anything new to the brunch menu.  Upon their next visit, the chef responded to them in a very LeGrand way:  two golden-toasted English muffin halves, each topped with a slice of smoky ham, a perfectly poached egg, a drizzle of buttery hollandaise and topped with a shaving of musky truffle.

Enter the Party-of-the-Third-Part & voila:  the REALastoria!!!

Abc_wabc_bedbugs_101105_wgIt seems that a wealthy, elderly gentleman, Lemual Benedict, a retired Wall Street Stock Broker, had done an earlier interview with the New Yorker Magazine, in 1942, which appeared in their "Talk of the Town" column.  In it, he confesses to having drunkenly stumbled into NYC's Waldorf Astoria in need of a good fix for a bad hangover.  As Benedict explains,  "back in 1894", he ordered buttered toast, poached eggs, bacon and a "hooker" of hollandaise (slang for a "shot glass").  Oscar Tschirky, the maitre d'Hotel of the Waldorf found the combination to be so delicious, he added it to his menu the same year, substituting ham for the bacon and an English muffin for the toast.  In his 1896 cookbook, the Cookbook of the Waldorf, chef Tschirky writes of a twist on the dish, which he named "Philadelphia Eggs", in which poached chicken is served in place of the ham.

As eggs Benedict gained in popularity, chef's began taking creative license with inventive, palate-pleasing spin-offs, as well they should, because the dish is so user-friendly and adaptable.  My favorite is eggs Oscar: crabmeat with a layer of blanched asparagus.  If I sprinkle the same dish with Old Bay, the name changes to eggs Chesapeake.  Eggs Hemmingway means served with smoked salmon in place of ham, and, eggs Florentine means please add a layer of steamed spinach.  If I order Eggs Blackstone, I'll get bacon and fresh tomato.  Several sauces can be substituted for the hollandaise too:  bearnaise (hollandaise containing shallot and tarragon), mornay (a cheese sauce), and, blanchard (bechamel)! 

An all-American eggs Benedict is easier to make than you think! 

IMG_4926I don't know anyone who can't successfully toast an English muffin or heat a small slab of ham, but, the latter two components of this dish require learned techniques that require hands-on practice to master.  For restaurant chef's who repetitively make both, the process is second nature. For home cooks, even some well-seasoned ones, poaching eggs and whisking hollandaise strikes fear in their hearts.  Sadly, this is why this classy specialty dish is all-too-often reserved for those "honey, let's go out for breakfast" occasions.  "A la Claiborne", who dedicated the better part of his life to encouraging home-cooking in America, I'm going to attempt to entice you into making eggs Benedict for your family.

IMG_4874Part One:

Making the hollandaise is the most finicky part of this recipe. Like the other French mother sauces, it is a liquid combined with a thickening agent and some flavoring (liquid + thickener + flavoring = sauce), but, unlike the others, it is made by vigorously whisking clarified butter (a fat) into warmed egg yolks in the top of a double boiler. Voila:  The perfect emulsification -- the perfect butter sauce.  Voila in reverse:  One wrong move or momentary lapse in judgement and you're screwed -- you've got scrambled eggs or a broken, greasy mess.  I'm not perfect.  I've done it.  I know.

IMG_4848I stopped being a martyr over hollandaise over a decade ago!

The past is the past -- let bygones be bygones.  Change comes slow to some -- I am one such person.  It took one of my chef friends to pull me out of the dark ages on this one. He laughingly explained that no busy restaurant can afford to waste time having someone standing around hand-whisking hollandaise all day -- it's what blenders, stick-blenders and food processors are for.  As a gal who's been making her mayo in a food processor for over two decades, this should have occurred to me own my own -- a no-brainer, an ah-ha moment.  The IMG_4880plain-as-day truth is: mayonnaise and hollandaise are nearly identical in structure -- they're cousins!

The day I started making hollandaise in a blender or a food processor I never looked back. With the motor running on either appliance, it vigorously whisks the eggs while you dribble in the melted butter.  This foolproof, never fail method for hollandaise has made my food world a kinder, gentler place.  Just click on the Related Article link below, ~ The Big Easy, Making Blender Hollandaise ~, to get the details.

IMG_7534Part Two:

Poaching the eggs.  My method is my method, and, it came about after a series of egg-poaching disasters I encountered back in the latter 1970's. My mother never poached eggs, so I was never witness to a strategy, plan of attack or technique. She did make lots of eggs, with soft-cooked ones being my favorite, so, when I had my first eggs Benedict for brunch at the Lehigh Valley Country Club with my soon-to-be mother- and father-in-law in 1974, 6a0120a8551282970b019b02141395970banyone could have guessed I was going to love them. After getting married and settled into our first apartment, I wanted to recreate that wonderful brunch, and, it failed horribly on two counts:  the poached eggs and the hollandaise. The English muffins and ham, however, were very good.  I admit, it was a high-risk undertaking with my culinary expertise at the time, but, I've always been fearless in the kitchen.  In my own defense, there was no food TV or internet back 6a0120a8551282970b019b0215ba4d970cthen.  Cookbooks didn't include step-by-step photos and their directions were vague at best.  One often had to rely on the "practice makes perfect" approach to achieve success, and, so it was for me and poached eggs.  That said, even an ugly-duckling of a poached egg still tastes good, so, you get to take pleasure in your mistakes.  Once again, click on the Related Article link below and read, ~ It's Monday Morning!  Wake Up and Poach an Egg! ~.  I've included the necessary step-by-step photos for you too!

If you can toast an English muffin & heat a piece of ham, you've got an over-the-top, real-deal, stress free eggs Benedict!

IMG_4923Mel's Over-the-Top but Very Easy Eggs Benedict:  A Rich Dish w/a Great Story -- HISstory vs HERstory!:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many eggs Benedict as you want to.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; small saucepan or butter warmer; blender or mini-food processor; small spatula; 1-cup food storage container w/lid or plastic wrap; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; 1-cup measuring container or ramekin; spoon; slotted spoon; rubber spatula; paper towels

IMG_5048Cook's Note:  For another one of my favorite dishes, also a retro classic with a hollandaise heritage, click into Categories 3, 11, 19, 21 or 26 to get my recipe for ~ All that Jazz Chicken Oscar w/Blender Bernaise ~.  I should mention it is REALLY easy too!

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

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

03/24/2015

~ Tender Chicken Paillards with Mushroom Sauce, or: Southern Smothered Chicken with Mushroom Gravy~

IMG_5249Pick a name, they're both the same, and, whichever  you choose, a quick, delicious, chicken dish with a tangy, creamy sauce should be in every cook's recipe box.  What amuses me about a great recipe like this is:  I can creatively "sell it" to my family and friends in one of two ways -- fancy French restaurant-style or down home country-style.  Any recipe that can be served two ways is worth its weight in gold.  I can serve this on china with asparagus and a buttery croissant, or, on stoneware with peas and a buttermilk biscuit.  Potatoes?  Rice?  Noodles?

IMG_5285No cookbook library is complete without a stack of these.  My recipe is a spinoff of the late, great Craig Claiborne's Smothered Chicken recipe.  Craig, a Mississippi boy, became the food editor of The NY Times in 1957, and, for decades, did everything in his power to help and encourage home cooking in America.  About smothered chicken, in 1983 he wrote, "this dish belongs in the comfort category.  It's a dish that gives solace to the spirit when you dine on it."  He suggested giving it an earthy, European twist by adding mushrooms and onions, as well as tomatoes, to the gravy.  

In true Southern smothered chicken style, his dish was cooked on the stovetop in a cast iron skillet and made with a spatchcocked chicken (a chicken with its backbone removed so you can lat it out flat in the skillet and cook the whole thing), and, he served his on white rice with green beans.  Instead of spatchcocking, I decided to take an easier approach to flattened chicken!

IMG_5094A bit about paillard (PI-yahrd):  This French word means "to pound", and, references a lightly-pounded portion-sized slice or medallion of meat, poultry or seafood that gets quickly sauteed.  A paillard is not smashed to smithereens.  Pounding should make it wider and thinner, with the point being to pound it in a manner that makes it even in thickness --  to break down the fibers, to tenderize it, and, to make it cook evenly.  It's usually done with a flat-sided meat mallet, not a sharp, pyramid-toothed gadget guaranteed to pulverize the subject-at-hand.  To those who smack away using the back of a heavy skillet, while your bravado is amusing, you can't concentrate the necessary force directly on the places that need it to do a truly expert job.

6a0120a8551282970b017c359a7380970bBecause of the 'state-of-affairs' of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts nowadays ("they just don't make 'em like they used to" -- I find them to be tough, tasteless and odd-textured), I use them for almost nothing anymore.  I choose to use chicken tenders almost exclusively. They are a bit more expensive, but, you do get what you pay for.  That is 6a0120a8551282970b017d3fcacd1f970cwhy manufacturer's remove them from the breasts and sell them separately -- they're the tender and tasty part of the breast.  It's similar to buying a beef round roast vs. a beef tenderloin.  If tenderness is what you desire, the decision is easy. For more details, go to Category 16 and read:  ~ Love Me Tenders:  Is there a difference between a boneless chicken finger and a chicken tender?  Yes! ~.  Let's cook:

IMG_4971For the chicken:

8  boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders, placed between two pieces of plastic wrap, lightly-pounded with the flat side of a meat mallet then trimmed of any visible fat and/or tendon (I use kitchen shears to trim them.)

Lightly season tops of tenders with:

Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for IMG_4975Sauce and Gravy

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

Set aside for 5 - 10 minutes.  In an electric skillet* over low heat, melt:

IMG_49821/2  stick salted butter into 1/4 cup EVOO

IMG_4955Note:  I use my 16" x 12" x 3" electric skillet to make this dish. It's got the surface area to cook eight paillards at once and regulates the heat so they saute properly. Once the mushroom sauce is prepared and paillards are returned to the pan, it will keep the dish warm until serving time too.  Feel free to use a large (12") nonstick skillet.

IMG_4994 IMG_4988Add paillards to skillet, seasoned sides down.  Sprinkle flour, salt and pepper over second sides.  Adjust heat to gently saute, 230-250 degrees, until barely-browned and just cooked through, turning only once, 2 1/2-3 minutes per side.

Turn heat off.  Transfer paillards to a plate (allowing all of the flavorful juices to remain in skillet), cover with aluminum foil, to keep warm, and set aside while preparing the mushroom sauce.

IMG_5124For my creamy, dreamy, tangy, smothery, mushroom sauce:

IMG_5132~ Step 1.  Heat the drippings in the skillet to 275 degrees, add:

1/2  cup white wine

IMG_5135There will be a lot of steam. Using a spatula, deglaze pan by loosening all of the browned bits from the bottom of pan. ~ Step 2.  Immediately, add:

IMG_51418-12  ounces thinly-sliced white button or cremini mushroom caps, 8-12 ounces after removing the stems from the mushrooms, about 4-6 cups

along with

1-1 1/2 cups diced shallots or yellow onion, one is not better than the other, your choice

IMG_5162 IMG_5155Saute until shallots are translucent, mushrooms have lost their moisture and almost no liquid remains in skillet, 3-4 minutes.  

~ Step 3.  Without hesitation, add,

IMG_5175 IMG_5182 IMG_5187 IMG_5192

 

 

 

and thoroughly stir in, 1  cup chicken stock, followed by 2 cups heavy or whipping cream, 1/4 cup large-sized capers, and, 1/4 cup Dijon mustard.  Return to a gentle, steady simmer.  Note: Don't add salt or pepper.  The drippings are seasoned -- Dijon and capers will add a salty tang!

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07cad79b970d IMG_5208Increase heat a bit, to simmer rapidly, stirring almost constantly, until mixture has thickened enough so that when the spoon is pulled from the pan, you can draw a line through the sauce with your finger. Depending upon how rapidly the mixture is simmering, this can and will take 6-9 minutes.  Be patient. Don't rush.  Go ahead, take a taste!

IMG_5228Now you have a choice to make. Either add the chicken tenders to this decadent sauce and smother them in it, or, plate them and drizzle them with this addictive, almost drinkable, tangy mushroom sauce. Today, I'm serving them over nutty-flavored basmati rice (You might think I added saffron for the pretty yellow color, but I did not.  I prefer the earthy taste of turmeric with mushrooms.), with blanched, fresh asparagus, and, I'm drizzling the sauce over each portion!

When one is day-dreaming of a heavenly, easy-to-make meal...

IMG_5250... it should be easy to imagine the taste of this one!

IMG_5268Tender Chicken Paillards with Mushroom Sauce, or:  Southern Smothered Chicken with Mushroom Gravy :  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; kitchen shears; 16" x 12" x 3" electric skillet or 12" skillet; long-handled fork; aluminum foil; spatula

IMG_3587Cook's Note:  If you are like me and truly love a creamy sauce or a great gravy on all sorts of poultry or pork, this is a photo of a recipe you are going to adore.  Click into Categories 3 or 19 to get my recipe for this well-known Southern favorite: ~ Smothered with Love: Pork Chops w/Onion Gravy ~!

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

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

03/21/2015

~ All that Jazz Chicken Oscar w/Blender Bearnaise ~

IMG_5048The first time I ate "Oscar" was in 1983 and I was in "The Big Easy".  Four of us were sitting in a fancy New Orleans French-Quarter restaurant, Arnoud's, listening to a jazz band and groovin' to the tunes.  My meal arrived and it was all sorts of wonderful:  a lightly-pounded, gently-sauteed, succulent, fork-tender veal paillard, piled high with tender Louisiana crayfish, drizzled with buttery bearnaise sauce and garnished with steamed asparagus.  I was also drinking French 75 cocktails that night (gin, champagne, lemon juice and sugar) -- it was a most memorable dinner.

IMG_5077After the first bite or two, I gave pause to the simple, decadent elegance of the dish.  When it comes to over-the-top scrumptiousness, no one does it better than the French.  This now famous dish is said to have been named for King Oscar II, the king of Sweden and Norway in the late 19th century after his classically-trained French chef composed a meal containing all of the king's favorite things.  For a number of years during the 1980's, veal Oscar made its way onto my dining room table because, while impressive, it's not all that hard to prepare.  It's a great dish to know how to make when you're having one of those "guess who's coming to dinner moments" -- the kind where you need to come up with a really nice nice dinner on very short notice! 

IMG_4992That said, the first time I had Oscar prepared with chicken (instead of the traditional veal) was in an Italian restaurant near Joe's hometown in Scranton, PA:  Alexanders.  Joe's mom liked to eat there because she loved their "gravy".  During that period of time, the latter '80's early '90's, boneless skinless chicken breasts were "all the rage", very trendy and on menus everywhere. Back then, IMG_4999boneless, skinless breast halves  were of good quality and very tasty too -- not the fake, tasteless, rubber chicken boneless breasts we buy today -- I use them for almost nothing anymore.  That said, I enjoyed the chicken version of the classic veal dish so much, I made sure it worked its way onto my family's weeknight or Sunday dinner table menu too -- lightly-pounded chicken tenders are no compromise to the veal in any way!

Hollandaise Sauce + Shallots + Tarragon = Bernaise Sauce!

IMG_4948 IMG_4870Bearnaise sauce is hollandaise sauce with shallots and tarragon added to it. For years I avoided recipes that required making either.  Why?   Hollandaise is, quite frankly, finicky and fickle to make via the whisk in a double boiler method.  The day I started making it in my blender I never looked back.  This foolproof method of doing it is the real-deal too --  no compromise whatsoever!

IMG_4819For 1 1/2 cups hollandaise sauce:

6  egg yolks, at room temperature

16  tablespoons butter, cut into cubes, at room temperature

2  tablespoons lemon juice stirred together with:

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper or white pepper, your choice

IMG_4929For my bearnaise sauce(Note:  To make 2 cups of bearnaise like I do, in the blender, click on the Related Article link below and DOUBLE my recipe for ~ The Big Easy:  Blender Hollandaise Sauce ~, adding:

IMG_48154-6  tablespoons very finely-diced shallots and 2 tablespoons dried tarragon leaves to the butter cubes.  Gently melt the butter as directed and follow the rest of the recipe as directed.) Bearnaise IS hollandaise w/ shallots & tarragon! 

Chicken or Veal + Asparagus + Crabmeat + Bearnaise = Oscar!

IMG_49578  boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders, lightly-pounded, or, 8 veal scaloppine

Wondra flour, for dredging

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for seasoning

4  tablespoons butter + 4 tablespoons EVOO, for sauteing 

24  asparagus spears, medium-thick, trimmed to a length of 5"

1 pound lump crabmeat, the best available, fresh or pasteurized

2  cups bearnaise sauce

IMG_4964~ Step 1.  Prepare the hollandaise sauce, doubling my recipe, adding the shallots and tarragon as directed.  Cover and set the bearnaise sauce aside.  

~ Step 2.  Trim asparagus as directed.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan bring 1" of water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon salt.  Add the asparagus and blanch until tender, not fully-cooked through or limp, about 3 minutes.  Drain into a colander and rinse in cold water to halt the cooking process.  Set aside.

IMG_4955Note:  I use my 16" x 12" x 3" electric skillet to make Oscar.  It's got the surface area to cook eight paillards at once and regulate the heat so they saute properly.  If need be, I can even place the blanched asparagus and crabmeat on top of the sauteed paillards, cover, and, keep it all warm for 10-15 minutes!

IMG_4971~ Step 3.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim any visible fat and/or tendon from the chicken tenders. Place them between two pieces of plastic wrap.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, lightly-pound them, just to flatten them out.  Do not smash them to smithereens.

~ Step 4.  Remove the top layer of plastic wrap. Lightly and evenly sprinkle the tops with Wondra flour, followed by a grinding of sea salt IMG_4975and peppercorn blend.  Set aside for 5-10 minutes.

~ Step 5.  In skillet over low heat, melt butter into olive oil.  Add the chicken paillards, seasoned side down.  Sprinkle Wondra flour, salt and pepper over the second sides. Adjust heat to a gentle saute, 230-250 degrees, until barely-browned and just cooked through, turning only once.  Chicken tenders cook quite fast, and mine are IMG_4988 IMG_4994always done in 2 1/2-3 minutes per side.  Turn the heat off, place the lid on the skillet and allow them to rest about 3 minutes.  They need this short rest for the juices inside to redistribute themselves.

IMG_5271~ Step 6.  Just prior to this rest period, using the spatula, move the paillards to one side of the pan. Add the asparagus, to a third of the other half of the pan, followed by the crabmeat to the last third of the pan. Do nothing except cover the pan. While the chicken rests, the asparagus and crabmeat will warm to proper temperature.  

To serve, divide the crabmeat into two halves: big lumps and chunks, and, smaller pieces and flakes.  Make a bed of of the smaller pieces on the bottom of each of 8 warmed salad-size plates.  Top each portion with a warm chicken paillard, three asparagus spears, some large lumps of crabmeat, and a generous drizzle of bearnaise.  I like to sprinkle each portion lightly with cayenne pepper.  This dish is meant to be served warm, not steaming hot:

IMG_5081All that Jazz Chicken Oscar w/Blender Bearnaise:  Recipe yields 8 small but very rich and filling servings fit for a king.  This dish is also very nice served with a bed of steamed white rice underneath the bed of crabmeat.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; mini-food processor or blender; small saucepan or butter warmer; 1-cup measuring container; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; colander; kitchen shears; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; 16" x 12" x 3" electric skillet or 14" skillet; long-handled fork; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01901bcf4047970b-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my favorite French a la NOLA dishes, click into Categories 2, 3, 14, 19 or 21 to learn how I make ~ Shrimp Etouffee:  A Hallmark of Louisiana Cuisine ~.  Full of classic Louisiana flavor, it's a wonderful meatless meal, appropriate for Easter/lent, or almost any celebration!

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

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

03/19/2015

~ The Big Easy: Making Blender Hollandaise Sauce ~

IMG_4870My love and enthusiasm for French food and cooking in the style of France has spanned almost four decades.  When time permits, I have no problem spending eight hours or the better part of two days doing whaever it takes to make something superb.  That said, when I find a shortcut way of doing anything that causes me no compromise in flavor and texture, I am like the proud pig who just dug up the world's largest truffle.  Blender hollandaise is one such example.  

A bit about hollandaise sauce:  Hollandaise is one of the five famous Mother Sauces of France: bechemel, veloute, espagnole, tomate and hollandaise.  Each one is said to be "the head of its own sauce family", because from each one, other sauces  can be made.  Hollandaise came late to the party, having been added by Chef Auguste Escoffier in the 20th century.  I love them all, I know how to make all of them, and, I'm addressing each one, as my need for it occurs here on KE (just click on the Related Article link below to learn ~ How to: Make a Classic Bechamel Sauce ~.  Vinaigrette is wisely and widely-accepted as a modern-day sixth mother sauce.

IMG_4874Today's attention is on hollandaise. I must say, I find hollandaise (and my favorite spinoff of it,  bearnaise) to be the most finicky.  Like the other mother sauces, it is a liquid combined with a thickening agent and some flavoring (liquid + thickener + flavoring = sauce), but, unlike the others, it is made by vigorously whisking clarified butter (a fat) into warmed egg yolks in the top of a double boiler. Voila:  The perfect emulsification -- the perfect butter sauce.  Voila in reverse:  One wrong move or momentary lapse in judgement and you're screwed -- you've got scrambled eggs or a broken, greasy mess.  I'm not perfect.  I've done it.  I know.

I stopped being a martyr over hollandaise over a decade ago!

The past is the past -- let bygones be bygones.  Change comes slow to some -- I am one such person.  It took one of my chef friends to pull me out of the dark ages on this one.  He laughingly explained that no busy restaurant can afford to waste time having someone standing around hand-whisking hollandaise all day -- it's what blenders, stick-blenders and food processors are for.  As a gal who's been making her mayo in a food processor for over two decades, this should have occurred to me own my own -- a no-brainer, an ah-ha moment.  The plain-as-day truth is: mayonnaise and hollandaise are nearly identical in structure -- they're kissing cousins!

IMG_4806~ Step 1.  Into two small bowls carefully crack and separate:

3  large eggs, separate while cold

Cover the yolks with plastic wrap and allow them to come to room temperature, about 45-60 minutes. Cover and refrigerate the white for another use -- allow me to suggest an egg white omelette.

Note:  All eggs are easier to separate if you do it while they are cold -- right out of the refrigerator.

IMG_4815~ Step 2.  Using a sharp knife, cube:

8  tablespoons salted butter (1 stick)

placing it in a saucepan or butter warmer.  Note:  I prefer the butter warmer because it has a pourer spout on the side which makes for a mess free transfer to the blender.

Set butter cubes aside, with the egg yolks to come to room temperature, about 45-60 minutes.

IMG_4819~ Step 3.  In a very small bowl or dish, combine:

1  tablespoon lemon juice

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8  teaspoon ground sea salt

1/8  teaspoon ground cayenne or white pepper, your choice

Set aside until yolks and butter are at their proper temperatures.  While your waiting get out your blender...

IMG_4824... or, in my case, a 20-year old mini-food processor with a 2-cup capacity.  I love this little appliance.  It is just perfect for processing small batches of almost anything: mayo, salad dressings and/or sauces!

IMG_4845~ Step 4.  Melt the butter over extremely low heat. Even if you have to keep lifting the saucepan on and off the stovetop to control the heat, do everything in your power to keep the butter from bubbling or simmering.  If butter starts out at room temperature, this will take a short 30-45 seconds. Set aside for about 2 minutes.

IMG_4848 IMG_4852~ Step 5.  Place the egg yolks in the blender or in the mini-food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the lemon juice, nutmeg, cayenne and salt mixture.  Put the lid on and process for a full 2 minutes.  The mixture will be light in color and slightly-thickened (due to the fact that air was just incorporated into it for 2 minutes).

IMG_4880Step 6.  With the motor running, begin adding the warm, melted butter.  Normally, when making an emulsion for a salad dressing, I would tell you to add this, the emulsifying agent, in a thin, steady stream, but this is even less than that.  The best way for me to describe it is:  add the butter in a thin stream in dribs and drabs.  A thin stream, in about 10-15 small increments, giving it time to process for 5-10 seconds after each addition.  This process will take about 2 minutes too, and, at the end, you will have created the perfect hollandaise sauce.

IMG_4894A bit about using and storing hollandaise.  Hollandaise is classically served drizzled over eggs, vegetables, fish and seafood.

Use your hollandaise immediately, or, place it in a 1-cup food storage container, cover it, and, set it aside to use within 2-3 hours.  If you want to make your hollandaise a day in advance, that's fine too.  Place the covered container in the refrigerator overnight.  Just return it to room temperature (this will take about an hour), then, give it 1-2-3 short 10-15-second stints in the microwave over low power, stirring gently in between -- just warm it to above room temperature, NOT, to steaming hot.

IMG_4948 IMG_4929A bit about turning hollandaise into bearnaise: Bearnaise sauce is hollandaise with shallot and tarragon added to it.  To make bearnaise in the blender, add:

2-3  tablespoons  finely-minced shallots, and 1 tablespoon dried tarragon to the butter cubes.  Melt butter as directed and proceed!

Introducing:  Mel's Over-the-Top but Very Easy Eggs Benedict:

IMG_4924The Big Easy:  Making Blender Hollandaise Sauce:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup (12 tablespoons), or, 6-8 servings, and, is written to easily double, triple or quadruple to suit the quantity needed.  

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; small saucepan or butter warmer; blender or mini-food processor;  small spatula; 1-cup food storage container w/lid or plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b0147e274afe9970bCook's Note:  To learn ~ How to: Make Homemade Mayonnaise ("Mayo") ~ the way I do (quick, easy and stress free), click into Categories 8, 15 or 20.  Homemade is always better than bought, and, like blender hollandaise, all you have to do is make it once to realize what a treat you've been missing!

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

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

03/17/2015

~ Top of the Mornin' to Irish Cream & Raisin Scones ~

IMG_4761"I asked the maid in dulcet tone, to order me a buttered scone.  The silly girl has been and gone, and ordered me a buttered scone."  Scone.  What an odd little word.  All I really knew about them as a child was I loved them.  That said, the ones I grew up eating were round, single-serving little cakes resemblant of biscuits, not a raggedy, rough, plate-sized round cut into triangles.  So, before I sat down to share my recipe with you, I did look it up to be sure mine are indeed scones -- they are.  Scones are universal, but, they are most associated with the British and the Irish.

IMG_4725A bit about the scone (SKOHN):  Originally, scones were indeed large, flat, unleavened rounds. They were made with oats and cooked on a griddle.  The large round cake was referred to as a "bannock", and, the triangles cut from it:  "scones".  When baking powder became available to the world, the scone began to "take shape" (they were cut into individual rounds, squares or triangles), and, they were baked in the oven. The end product was much lighter, and, it wasn't long before bakers began incorporating flour into their recipes for a less crumbly texture.  Baking powder classifies the scone as a quick-bread or a type of pastry (since it is slightly sweetened). This differs from the English tea cake and other sweet buns that are made using yeast.

IMG_46152  cups all-purpose flour + a bit of additional flour (only if necessary) & bench flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1/4  teaspoon salt

1/2  cup salted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes and kept chilled (1 stick)

2/3  cup Bailey's Irish Cream coffee creamer + a small amount of milk (only if necessary)

1  large egg, beaten

1  cup raisins, dark or golden 

1  large egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash

Let's chat:  Because I like a blurp of cream in my coffee and my tea, and, because I enjoy fancy-schmancy flavored-creamers, it's natural for me to use them to make scones (in place of milk and sugar).  My favorite flavors:  Bailey's Irish cream, French vanilla and hazelnut.  If you're not a fan of these sweet indulgences, you can still make these scones.  In place of the creamer use: 2/3 cups whole milk, 1/3 cup sugar, and 2 teaspoons of vanilla or your favorite extract!

IMG_4618 IMG_4621 IMG_4624 IMG_4635Note:  It is important to work quickly and steadily from the beginning to the end of this recipe.

~Step 1.  In a large bowl, stir the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add the butter cubes.  Using a pastry blender and a knife, cut butter into the dry mix, until it resembles pea-sized crumbs.

IMG_4639 IMG_4645 IMG_4654 IMG_4660~Step 2.  Fold in half of the creamer, followed by the egg.  Begin folding the rest of the creamer in, a little at a time, until a rough dough starts to form.  Add the raisins.  Using your hand, fold the raisins into the dough and gather the dough up into a very soft but easily manageable ball.

Troubleshooting tips from Mel:  I add all of the creamer, but depending upon your brand of flour, stop adding it if the dough starts to get sticky.  In the event your dough does get sticky add a bit of additional flour.  In the event your dough won't form a manageable ball, add a bit of milk.

IMG_4675 IMG_4670~ Step 3. Dust pastry board with flour.  Using a rolling pin and a light touch, roll the dough to a thickness of a little more than 1/2".  

IMG_4681~ Step 4. Using a 2" round biscuit cutter cut the dough into IMG_4686circles, placing them well-apart on 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" parchment-lined baking pans as you work.  

Gather up the scraps of dough and reroll them, continuing to form scones until all dough is used.  You should have two dozen.

IMG_4693~ Step 5.  Using a fork, in a small bowl whisk the egg white with the water.  Using a pastry brush and a light touch, paint the tops of the the scones on the first pan only.

IMG_4695~ Step 6. Bake on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven for 14-16 minutes until lightly browned.  Paint tops of second pan, then bake them.

IMG_4730As each pan comes out of the oven, immediately transfer scones to a cooling rack.  If you've lined your baking pans with parchment, you can just pick them up with your fingertips.  Serve warm or at room temperature with sweet cream butter and/or jam.  Enjoy with your favorite cup of coffee or tea!

IMG_4719Crunchy on the outside, slightly-sweet & tender on the inside:

IMG_4749Serve warm w/a pat o' butter.  Sour cherry preserves anyone?

IMG_4797Top of the Mornin' to Irish Cream & Raisin Scones:  Recipe yields 2 dozen 2 1/2" round scones.

Special Equipment List:  spoon; pastry blender; paring knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; large spoon; pastry board; rolling pin; 2"-round biscuit cutter; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b016763bf05d6970bCook's Note:  For my ~ Irish Eyes are Smilin' on  Mary's Irish Soda Bread ~, just click into Categories 5, 11 or 20.  This recipe was given to me by my close-friend Irish girlfriend Mary Teresa Howe.  I hope she's doing something fun today -- I think I'll give her a call!

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

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

03/14/2015

~ Asparagus Flans Floating on a Sea of Pea Puree ~

IMG_4509I consider the latter 1980's and '90's to be the Golden Age of Cooking and Entertaining.  The style of everything was elegant and the taste of everything was exquisite -- nowadays, pundits say it was excessive or extravagant, but, I disagree.  I say it was a sophisticated awakening of American cooking.  Everyone who loved to cook was finally thinking out-of-the-box.  We left the Jell-O-esque Spam-y Cream-of-Soup foods of the '50's-generation behind us, and, we weren't afraid to shed our ethnic skins, or, wear them as a badge of honor.  We had come of age -- we were hard-working, prosperous and open-minded.  We enjoyed cooking great food and serving it with style and grace to our family and friends.  AND -- we made it look oh-so-damned-easy.

IMG_4502By the latter 1980's and '90's, I was a smart, confidant, young woman with a passion for  cooking and entertaining.  Thanks to Joe's career, we traveled a lot, so I was exposed to fine food all over the world.  Magazines like Bon Appétit, Gourmet and Food & Wine, became my sources for recipes that honed my culinary skills, increased my foodie vocabulary, and, kept my pulse on unique, new-to-me ingredients.  As for cookbooks, my library began to increase at an alarming rate of speed.  Super-chefs, I mean the real-deal masters, were finally starting to publish.

Meet Roger Verge (VAIR-zhay):  My Favorite French Chef!   

Roger_VergeRoger Verge was one such super-chef. By 1974 his restaurant Moulin de Mougins had three Michelin stars.  In 1987 he was made Maitre Cuisinier de France.  His students included Daniel Boulud, Alaine Ducasse and Hubert Keller (to name a few).  His books, published between 1978 and 1999, changed my life:  Roger Verge's Cuisine of the Sun, Entertaining in the French Style, Vegetables in the French Style, Cooking with Fruit, and, Cuisine of the South of France.  Masterpieces written by the master himself.

French cooking is all about taking simple, fresh ingredients and making them taste extraordinary.  The process can be easy and quick, or, slow and complicated.  French chefs are patient, efficient and machinelike, with the utmost regard for cleanliness and organization, technique, timing and presentation.  For them, the end always justifies the means, and in between, they do not mince words, they mince ingredients -- with the skill of surgeons.  In their kitchens, they don't say things twice or necessarily nice, so, if you can't stand the heat, leave.  Their kitchen is their ship -- they are the commander, task-master and professor.  They are not your mother, father or therapist. It's their reputation, they own it, their words and their recipes.  Past that, they are really nice people!

Meet my favorite cookbook written by my favorite French chef: 

IMG_4329Roger Verge's Entertaining in the French Style is the one I have used the most.  It is from this book that I learned how to make sweet and savory crepes, flans, omelettes, souffles, soups and tarts.  His wild mushroom quiche became my base recipe for all of my quiche recipes.  I learned how to make puff pastry, poach pears and shave chocolate. He taught me to keep creme fraiche in my refrigerator at all times, and, that American sour cream is NEVER a substitution for it.  Herbes de Provence was added to my spice rack and Pernod was added to my liqueur cabinet.  Some of the recipes in this book span four pages.  No detail was too small to mention and no shortcuts were taken.  The photographs are superb too.  Good luck finding all of that in anyone's cookbook nowadays!

Les Petit Flans d'Asperges, Sauce Creme aux Petit Pois

IMG_4515(My version of Asparagus Flans with Cream of Baby Pea Sauce) 

"It's not easy being green", but in the case of this elegant starter-course, it sure is delicious.  This fancy-schmancy dish has been impressing my guests at formal luncheons and dinners in my dining room for a number of years now.  I particularly like it served prior to my main-course of Easter lamb or ham, and, I always have one ready and waiting at each person's place-setting before I even announce that the meal is being served.  What a beautiful welcome to a Spring table set with china, crystal and fresh flowers, and, they indeed set the tone for the celebratory feast that will follow.  On a difficulty scale of 1-10 (with 10 being very difficult), I would rate them a moderate 3-4, even if you've never made a savory flan before.  Before starting, let's chat:

IMG_4482This photo of the photo which I shot from Chef Verge's book, looks a bit different than mine because I made a few changes to suit my taste.  His flan is not green, but quite white.  If it is a white flan you prefer, you need to use a vegetable peeler to remove the green skin from the asparagus.  I choose not to, because I do not mind the slight bit of extra texture and pretty color the skin from tender, young asparagus lends to the flans.  That said, if you peel your asparagus, you'll need a few more spears to insure you have the full 10 ounces. Chef's pea puree is also a bit more refined than mine.  He runs it through a fine mesh sieve prior to serving it.  If is is a finer texture you are looking for feel free to do that too.  The choice is yours!

IMG_4349For the asparagus flans:

2  tablespoons butter, melted

10  ounces fresh, medium-thickness asparagus spears, trimmed of woody ends (10  ounces after trimming)

1  cup crème fraîche

3  large eggs

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon white pepper

IMG_4420For the pea puree:

10  ounces frozen baby peas

2  tablespoons butter

1/4  cup finely-diced yellow onion

1/4  teaspoon curry powder

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon white pepper

3/4  cup crème fraîche

IMG_4337~ Step 1.  To prepare the asparagus flans:  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  In microwave, melt butter. Using a pastry brush, generously paint the bottom and sides of 6, 6-ounce (1/2 cup) ramekins with butter (you'll probably have some leftover butter).  Place the ramekins in a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan and fill the pan with tepid water to half the height of the ramekins.  Set aside.

IMG_4348 IMG_4343~ Step 2. Trim the woody stock ends, about 4", from one pound of asparagus.  Set aside for use in another recipe (they are perfect to add to vegetable stock).  

Place the asparagus on a kitchen scale and weigh out 10 ounces. Reserve the rest for use in another recipe.  Choose 12 stalks with the prettiest tops and cut the pretty tops off , 2" from the top.

IMG_4363 IMG_4360~ Step 3. Place 1 quart of water in a 2-quart saucepan and add 1 teaspoon of salt.  Bring to a simmer. Add the 12 reserved asparagus tops and blanch until they are tender but just short of being cooked through, about 3-3 1/2 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tops to a colander and rinse under cold running water to halt the cooking process.  Remove from colander and set aside.

IMG_4382 IMG_4367~ Step 4. Add all of the remaining asparagus to the simmering water and cook until very tender, about 8-10 minutes (this timing will vary depending upon the thickness of the asparagus).  Drain into colander, rinse under cold water to halt the cooking process.  Allow to drain really well for 1-2 minutes. Transfer the room temperature asparagus to the work bowl of a food processor fitted w/steel blade.

IMG_4389 IMG_4392~ Step 5.  Add the crème fraîche, eggs, salt and pepper to the work bowl.  With motor running, process to a puree, for 1 full minute, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula 2-3 times throughout this process. You will have 2 1/2 cups of asparagus mixture.    

Note:  For ease of pouring puree into the ramekins, transfer to a 1-quart measuring container.

IMG_4403 IMG_4407~ Step 6.  Pour and evenly divide the pureed asparagus mixture between the ramekins.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven 30 -35 minutes until flans are just set.  

IMG_4413How to know when they're done. Flans will not be browned and will appear dry on the top with small cracks starting to appear on the surface.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool, in the pan of water, for 1-2 hours.  Note:  Flans are best served the same day they are made and are delicious served warm or at room temperature.  That said, I have covered them with plastic wrap and refrigerated them overnight.  Once returned to room temperature, a few seconds in the microwave revealed little compromise.

IMG_4433 IMG_4426~ Step 7.  To prepare the pea puree: In the 2-quart saucepan, cook the peas according to the package directions.  Drain into colander and rinse under cold water to halt the cooking process.  Allow to drain well for another 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the room temperature peas to the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade and set aside.

IMG_4439~ Step 8.  In saucepan over low heat melt butter.  Add onion, curry powder, salt and pepper.  

IMG_4443Increase heat to saute until onion is translucent, 2-3 minutes.

~ Step 9. IMG_4447Lower the heat, add the crème fraîche and simmer 2-3 minutes.

IMG_4475 IMG_4465~ Step 10. Add the creme fraiche mixture to the peas in the food processor.  With motor running, process for a full 1 minute, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with rubber spatula 2-3 times during this process.  You will have 2 cups of pea puree.  

Both the flans and the puree are ready to serve as is, slightly warm, or at room temperature.

~ Step 11.  To serve, divide a puddle of puree amongst six small salad-type plates.  One-at-a-time, invert flans onto a wide spatula and slide/gently place each flan carefully into the center of each plate.  Garnish each portion with two of the reserved asparagus tips.  Serve immediately.

Don't forget to include a few brioche toast points...

IMG_4577... take a taste and allow the decadent indulgence to begin!

IMG_4565Asparagus Flans Floating on a Sea of Pea Puree:  Recipe yields 6 asparagus flans and 2 cups of pea puree or 6 small appetizer/starter-sized servings.

Special Equipment List:  6, 6-ounce ramekins; pastry brush; 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan; cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale; 2-quart saucepan; slotted spoon; colander; food processor; large rubber spatula; 1-quart measuring container; wide metal spatula

IMG_3658Cook's Note:  As mentioned, these savory flans are perfect served as a starter to lamb or ham (and I always serve one or the other for our Easter holiday).  To get my recipe for ~ Succulent Boneless Leg of Lamb w/Creamy au Jus ~, just click into Categories 3, 8, 11, 19 or 20.

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

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

03/11/2015

~The day I turned Pastry Cream into Frozen Custard~

IMG_4261Me talking to Me at 9:00AM today:  Seriously?  Seriously.  Seriously?  Can I turn pastry cream into ice cream?  I don't see why not, it contains all the same stuff.  What do I do --  just empty this container of leftover pastry cream into the gelato machine and see what happens?  Think this through -- your mad-science experiments never end well.  You probably should add some cream to it -- it's much thicker than any ice-cream base you've ever worked with.  Add the cream -- pastry cream IS egg custard.  So, am I making frozen custard then?  It would seem so silly.  Go for it genius -- if it fails it's not like the food police can force you into writing a blog post about it.

Noon-ish:  This is SOOOO good.  Now -- what should I name it?  

IMG_4246Is this really frozen custard or is it homemade ice cream?  

The difference between frozen custard and homemade ice cream:  I'm leaving store-bought American ice cream products out of this discussion.  It is federally defined as "a frozen dessert containing 10% milkfat", and, in almost all cases, even the slow-churned types, they always contain corn syrup, and, no eggs.  The original, old-fashioned, simplicity of making "ice cream" has been so convoluted by high-tech machinery, preservatives and additives that one couldn't reproduce it at home if one wanted to -- which I don't.  For me, I like the old-fashioned way.  

IMG_4221If you make your own ice cream by starting with a cream, sugar and egg yolk base recipe, there is almost no difference between frozen custard and homemade ice cream.  If you make it using milk and no eggs, you are making gelato, not egg custard.  

That said, if you're making either egg custard or gelato in an electric ice-cream machine with a paddle that incorporates air into the base to create volume, the texture of the end product is closer to store-bought ice cream (which doesn't contain the 10+% butterfat content or the 1.4% egg yolk solids of real-deal frozen custard).

IMG_4325Frozen custard was invented in Coney Island, NY, in 1919.  Two ice cream vendors, Archie and Elton Kohr discovered that adding egg yolks to ice cream produced a richer, creamier, and smoother ice-cream.  On the first weekend, they sold 18,460 cones. They had invented the precursor to soft-serve ice-cream, except:  air was not pumped into it.  True frozen custard, is a very dense dessert.  The mix enters a refrigerated tube, and, as it freezes, blades scrape the frozen product from the sides of the barrel walls.  The mixture is in the machine for a short period and is discharged into the container from which it is served (immediately, or the same day it's made).

IMG_41992  cups pastry cream, chilled (Note:  Click on the Related Article link below to get my recipe for ~ Sweet Dreams:  Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream) ~.  

1  cup heavy or whipping cream, chilled

~ Step 1.  Place the pastry cream in a 1-quart measuring container. Whisk in 1/2 cup of the cream. IMG_4213Whisk in the remainder of the cream, in increments of 2 tablespoons, until the mixture is thick, smooth and drizzly.  You will have 3 cups of ice cream base.  

Note:  If you are using my pastry cream recipe, you will use a ratio of 2:1 (two cups of pastry cream to every 1 cup cream).  If you are using another recipe, you may need a little more, or, a little less cream.

IMG_4226~ Step 2.  From here on out, follow the directions that came with your ice-cream maker.  Because mine has a built-in freezing system, I simply pour all of the base into the stainless steel work bowl of the ice-cream maker that the machine has pre-chilled and waiting for me.  

IMG_4236I place the lid on the work bowl, then, turn the machine on to churn for 1 hour - 1 hour, 10 minutes.

I think I'll name my creation:  Pastry-Cream Ice-Cream!!! 

IMG_4242Presenting the Perfect Pastry-Cream Ice-Cream Cone:

IMG_4611The day I turned Pastry Cream into Frozen Custard:  Recipe yields about 1 quart of pastry cream ice cream or 4, 1-cup servings, or, 8 standard-sized one-scoop cones.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart measuring container; whisk; ice-cream maker; ice-cream scoop

PICT0010Cook's Note:  I'm no stranger to ice-cream making, and, when strawberries are in season, this is one of my favorites:  ~ Sweet Heat: Strawberry & Guajillo Chile Ice Cream + Strawberry & Guajillo Chile Sauce!  Cha-Cha-Cha! ~.  If that sounds like a mouthful, it is -- a wonderful one.  This one is what I call "quick ice cream" because you don't need to make a custard base. You can get the recipe by clicking in Categories 6, 13 or 20!

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

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

03/08/2015

~ A Creamy 'n Sweet Strawberry Souffle Omelette ~

IMG_4154This isn't your grandmother's omelette recipe.  It's Hubert Keller's grandmother's recipe.  Well, it's my spin-off of a recipe this Master Chef of French cookery published in 2012.  When I came across it, my immediate thought:  "A combination of puffy eggs and sweet strawberries.  Where has this been all my life?"  Our ancestral American grandmothers have been serving strawberries and/or strawberry sauce with griddlecakes and flapjacks in America ever since they picked their first strawberries.  Strawberries are native to North America and Europe, so they were most-likely thrilled to find them growing wild that first glorious American Spring.  As a gal who prefers eggs to pancakes or waffles for breakfast, I fell in line with the entire concept.   

IMG_4180"Puffy eggs and sweet strawberries.  Where has this been all my life?"

To some, pairing strawberries with a savory omelette may come as surprise -- and make no mistake, this is a pure and simple omelette, it contains no flour.  This caught me off-guard too, but, the obvious deliciousness of it put me in an "I've gotta try this now" mood.  I did and I loved it. That said, I did make Chef Keller's recipe my own by adapting it to suit my needs and taste -- nothing drastic.  I cut the quantities in half.  Chef makes his in a 13" skillet and it serves four people.  I make mine in an 10" skillet and it feeds two people.  Both of us use a nonstick skillet. His omelette contains no cheese.  Mine does.  It does not make mine better (it's impossible to improve on perfection).  I just like the creamy goodness of triple-creme Brie or Cambozola (a triple-cream, Brie-style, blue-veined cheese) co-mingling in the center with the tart strawberries!

IMG_40911 1/2-2  cups hulled and thinly-sliced strawberries

3  total tablespoons sugar, 1  tablespoon for macerating strawberries and 2 tablespoons for beating into egg yolks

1  tablespoon Grand Marnier (a French, orange-flavored liqueur)

6-8  thin slices Triple-Creme Brie or Cambozola, at close to room temperature so it melts quickly (Note:  I remove the rind as well.  This choice is yours.)

3  large eggs, separated

1  teaspoon salted butter

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting finished omelette

1-2  strawberry fans, for garnish

crisply-fried bacon, sausage patties or ham slices, for accompaniment (optional)

IMG_4088 IMG_4085~ Step 1. Slice the strawberries as directed, placing them in a small bowl as you work.  Add the 1 tablespoon of sugar, then the Grand Marnier and stir thoroughly.  

Set aside, at room temperature for 15-20 minutes to allow the strawberries to macerate, giving them an occasional stir about every 5 minutes throughout the wait time.

IMG_4072~ Step 2.  Because I love creamy triple-cream Brie in this omelette, for ease of slicing, I buy an 8-ounce, 4"-round wheel.  It's small and easy to deal with, and, you end up using about half of it (4 ounces).  Starting in the center and working your way out, slice into six long, thin pieces. Reserve the rest for another use.  I also trim off the rind, but if you are a rind lover, skip it.  After that, I cut each long strip in half, to form 12, shorter pieces (see photo below).

You've come this far without error.  The rest of this recipe requires your undivided attention, so, preheat your oven to a moderate 340-345 degrees and pay close attention!

Note:  Chef Keller uses a 375 degree oven.  I had problems with my omelette almost-burning on the bottom & sides prior to it setting up, so, I lowered the temperature.  My ovens are of professional quality & well-calibrated.  I feel secure in pointing this out to you

IMG_4104 IMG_4108~ Step 3. Whip the egg whites to soft peaks.  I just use an old-fashioned rotary beater.  This will take about 1 1/2 minutes.

~ Step 4.  Using the same beater, whip the egg yolks and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar together until yolks are pale yellow and ribbon like.  This too will take about 1 1/2 minutes.  Easy enough so far?

IMG_4115~ Step 5.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold half of the egg whites into the yolk mixture.  

IMG_4116When the first half of the whites are in, fold in the second half of the whites.  Please do not over mix.

Note:  Fold gently and quickly and be sure not to overfold.  It is ok to have a few small lumpy spots.

IMG_4121~ Step 6.  Over medium heat, melt butter in a 10" skillet.  All at once, add the egg mixture to skillet. Using the rubber spatula and a light touch, level out the mixture.  

IMG_4130Lower heat slightly. Watch carefully until edges turn a very light golden, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.

IMG_4134~ Step 7.  Place skillet on center rack of preheated oven until omelette is puffed up and just about set (it will look dry on the surface), about 5-7 minutes.  Check in on it often after the first four minutes.  

Note:  This timing all depends upon your oven temperature, so check often and don't walk away.

IMG_4137 IMG_4143~ Step 8.  Remove from oven and return to stovetop over extremely low heat (or no heat). Arrange the cheese, close to the edges, over a little less than half of the omelette.  Using a slotted spoon, place strawberries over top of cheese.

~ Step 9. There's no way for me to photograph this step.  Taking the skillet in one hand, and using a long thin spatula for support underneath the filled side of the omelette, glide/slide it onto a warm serving plate, lifting the pan and folding the unfilled half over the top as you do so.  

IMG_4170Dust with Confectioners' sugar -- slice and serve ASAP! 

IMG_4185The Tangy 'n Sweet Puffy Strawberry Omelette:  Recipe yields 1, 10" omelette, or, 2 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held rotary mixer or hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 10" nonstick skillet; slotted spoon; nonstick spatula

6a0120a8551282970b017c317f7c9e970bCook's Note:  For another one of my favorite ooey-gooey Brie cheesy breakfast or brunch selections, you can find ~ An End of Summer Tomato, Basil & Brie Quiche ~ in Categories 2, 9, 11 or 14.  Real men really do eat quiche -- especially this one!

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

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

03/05/2015

~ Pretty in Pink: Easy, Elegant Strawberry Mousse ~

IMG_4028It's amazing what biting into a fresh, juicy strawberry can do to lift your spirits up and out of the Winter doldrums.  Strawberries are in season in Florida right now and I for one am grateful.  I've been binge-buying these plump, sweet beauties for about two weeks now -- this is my third 2-pound box.  We've enjoyed strawberries with homemade rum cake and pastry cream, strawberry sauce on strawberry ice cream, sliced strawberries with fig-infused balsamic vinegar, and, because these are so sweet, just plain strawberries with softly-whipped cream dolloped on top! 

IMG_4035A bit about mousse (mOOse):  This French term means  "froth" or "foam" because the technique involves whipped egg whites or whipped cream to give the end product its signature light, airy texture.   It has both sweet and savory applications, and, it can be eaten cold or hot.  

Savory mousses, which typically use egg whites, can be made of meat, fish, shellfish, fois gras, cheese or vegetables, and, many times they are baked in the oven, in a bain marie (water bath) to prevent the mixture from curdling.  That said, for the home cook, the word mousse is usually associated with an easy-to-prepare cold dessert made from fruit puree or chocolate that is typically fortified with unflavored gelatin and folded into stiffly-whipped cream.

Fruits that make the best mousse:  This is personal.  I am not a botanist, but, I've made enough of mousse in my lifetime to know that some fruits work better than others.  Drupe fruit, also known as stone fruit (apricots, cherries, mangos, peaches, etc.), and berries (blueberries, blackberries, kiwi, raspberries, etc.), make magnificent mousse.  I've also made decent mouse with pome fruit (apples, pears, quince, etc.), but, because of their naturally gritty texture, I don't love the end result nearly as much as the aforementioned.  While other fruits can certainly be used, I find watery fruits in general, citrus and melons, the most difficult to work with, plus, they usually require more gelatin and result in a product more resemblant of Jello-O than I prefer.  

Mousse is an excellent way to use up a goodly amount of slightly-overripe strawberries!!!

IMG_4040^Aren't these the definition of "pretty in pink"???^

IMG_39061 1/2  pounds fresh strawberries (Note:  Do not use frozen berries. No matter how well-drained, they do compromise the end result.)

3  tablespoons granulated sugar

3  tablespoons Grand Marnier (a French orange-flavored liqueur)

1  envelope unflavored gelatin

2  cups whipping cream, cold

3  tablespoons Confectioners' sugar

1 1/2  teaspoons vanilla extract

IMG_3919~ Step 1.  Slice the strawberries into 1/4"-thick pieces, placing them in a medium bowl as you work.  Add the sugar and the Grand Marnier. Using a large rubber spatula, stir to thoroughly combine.  Set aside, to allow the strawberries to macerate, for 15 minutes, stirring with the spatula 3-4 times during this time. This will infuse the berries with the flavor of the liqueur, as well as draw excess liquid from the berries.

IMG_3930 IMG_3925~ Step 2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the strawberries to the workbowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, leaving all juices remaining in bottom of bowl. There will be about 1/4 cup. Measure them.  If you don't have 1/4 cup, add water to total 1/4 cup.

IMG_3942 IMG_3946~ Step 3.  Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top of the liquid in the bowl and set aside to "bloom" for 5-10 minutes.  Do not stir.

~ Step 4.  While gelatin is blooming, process the strawberries to a puree, starting with 15-20 rapid on and off pulses, then turning the motor on for IMG_396045-60 seconds.  Transfer the berry puree to a medium bowl.

~ Step 5.  Place the gelatin, which is now very thick, in the microwave. Melt it, without allowing it to simmer or boil, 10-15 seconds.

~ Step 6.  Add the gelatin to the puree and stir thoroughly.  Set aside for 15-20 minutes.

Note:  Because the next step is to whip the cream, I use this 15-20 minute time period to place a stainless steel bowl and the stainless steel beater blades of my mixer in the refrigerator to chill.

IMG_3977 IMG_3978 IMG_3982 IMG_3986~Step 7.  Place the chilled cream, Confectioner's sugar and vanilla extract in the chilled bowl. IMG_3997Over high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat until stiff peaks form, scraping down the sides of the bowl constantly, about 3-4 minutes. Turn mixer off and set it aside.

~ Step 8.  Using a large rubber spatula, working quickly but gently, begin folding the strawberry puree into the whipped cream, in four increments, folding well, but not necessarily thoroughly after each addition.  When all puree has been  IMG_4000added, now is the time to fold until mixture is uniform in color.

~ Step 9.  Gently spoon and evenly divide mousse between 8, 8-ounce parfait glasses, stemmed wine glasses or your favorite 1-cup dessert bowls or ramekins.  

~ Step 10.  Refrigerate 3-4 hours or overnight prior to serving chilled.  At serving time garnish each portion with a dollop of freshly-whipped cream and a whole strawberry or a festive strawberry fan.

Celebrate Spring in a scrumptious way...

IMG_4012

... topped w/freshly-whipped cream & garnished with a berry!

IMG_4025Pretty in Pink:  Easy Elegant Strawberry Mousse:  Recipe yields 8, 1-cup servings servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; large slotted spoon; food processor; hand-held electric mixer; 8, 8-ounce parfait glasses or stemmed wine glasses, or, 1-cup dessert bowls or ramekins

IMG_3475Cook's Note:  For another one of my favorite "think Spring" ways to serve strawberries, you should try my recipe for ~ Sweet Dreams: Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream) ~.  Pictured here are 3" rounds from a layer of rum cake (the cake I use to make my ~ Oh Baby it's Never to Cold for Boston Cream Pie ~), topped with a layer of thinly-sliced strawberries, pastry cream and a strawberry fan.  Both recipes can be found in Category 6 or 26!

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

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

03/03/2015

~ I've Got Ganache! Gotta make Chocolate Truffles ~

IMG_3819Chocolate truffles.  Sigh.  I know people who pay big bucks for them.  Sigh.  I am not of that mindset  -- I make my own, and the end 100% justifies the means.  Chocolate truffles are the easiest  confection you will ever make resulting in the most gratitude and accolades.  You got kids?  Conduct an experiment.  Give them a choice between a chocolate cupcake, a brownie, or, a truffle as an after-school snack.  Truffle moms are the best moms -- call it "truffle love"!

IMG_3866A sweet treat as an after school snack?  Simmer down & read:

Save your "don't give your kid a sweet snack after school" rant for another blog.  I grew up getting a cookie and a glass of milk after school and I turned out better than a lot of kids walking around the neighborhood with an apple.  Also, when I was raising my boys, they got home about 2:45PM.  We didn't eat dinner until Joe got home, which always hovered around 6:00PM.  In my own "Theory of Everything", I gave them their sweet snack and sent them outside to run-off their "sugar high"  in the afternoon.  Bedtime was when they got the cheese, cracker and apple slices.

You only get out of something what you put into it.  Let's chat:

IMG_3733For the most part, I totally agree with that blanket statement, and, when it comes to chocolate in general, the higher-quality the chocolate the better -- it does affect the end result, somewhat. That said, if you're on a budget, there's no need to seek out expensive 65% cacao bars and imported cocoa powder in order to enjoy one of life's simple pleasures.  Your truffles will still come out really, really good with a bag of lesser-expensive morsels, and, it's a way to share some homemade love with those you care about.  This is the real world, and in it, unless you're a graduate of La Maison du Chocolat in Paris, most people don't give a damn -- all they want is a truffle.  If ya got it, use it, even suggest it, but don't pretentiously insist on it -- it's unbecoming.

IMG_3381Truffles are little two-bite balls of smooth concentrated chocolate ganache (gahn-AHSH) goodness. To learn more about the differences in quality amongst chocolates and more in general about ~ Chocolate Ganache:  What is is & How to Make It! ~, just click on the Related Article link below.  Thanks to my ~ Oh Baby it's Never to Cold for Boston Cream Pie ~ post of last week, I've got two-thirds of a container of ganache on-hand.  It doesn't have to be a holiday to make truffles!  Feel the love!!!

FYI:  The bigger the percentage of cacao, the less sweet the chocolate.

IMG_3746A lot of novice cooks don't know that when you get in the 65-75% range, you need to start considering adding a bit of sifted confectioners' sugar to the ganache.  I don't like to "guess" my way through ganache, so, I don't put myself through the drama.  Even when I'm making ganache using my favorite higher-end chocolate (Lindt), I stick to the one simply labeled: "bittersweet". Chocolate generically labeled "bittersweet" hovers around 50-55% cacao (a little more, a little less), and, you never have to experiment!

Trust me, nothing is worse than a chocolate truffle made cloyingly sweet with the addition of too much sugar, or worse, condensed milk.  Stick with bittersweet.  It tastes superb just the way it is, making it the all-purpose and wise choice.  Speaking of taste.  A lot of novice cooks also don't know that the only way to choose chocolate is to taste several brands side-by-side.  Chocolate is as personal as buying a car.  No one can do it for you --  you've got to test drive it yourself!  

The classic way to make ganache, the easy way to make ganache & flavoring ganache.

IMG_3369Classically, ganache is an emulsion of finely-chopped chocolate and cream that gets whisked together in a double-boiler on the stovetop.  It's easy.  That said, I threw 'easy' under the bus for 'even easier' a couple of years ago:  I heat the cream in the microwave and pour it into the bowl of chopped chocolate, cover it, wait a couple of minutes for the cream to melt the chocolate, then stir it together.  It's foolproof and there's almost no cleanup involved -- if you're refrigerating the ganache, just keep it in the same bowl!  

Whenever I'm making ganache I almost always flavor it with 2  teaspoons of vanilla extract, but, unlike some of the experts, I do not add it at the end, when I'm getting ready to whisk the cream and melted chocolate together.  I stir it into the cream before I heat it in the microwave.  I have no scientific evidence to prove this, but I think the evenly-flavored cream insures evenly-flavored ganache. There's more:  ganache loves other flavors too.  In addition to 1 teaspoon of vanilla, some of my other favorites are 1 teaspoon of almond, coconut, orange, rum, hazelnut or walnut!

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

2  teaspoons vanilla extract

16  ounces finely-chopped bittersweet chocolate, your favorite brand (or 16-ounces  ounces bittersweet chocolate morsels, preferably mini-morsels), placed in a large bowl

IMG_3353 IMG_3355 IMG_3360 IMG_3363~Steps 1 thru 4.  Add the hot cream to the chocolate, give it a stir and cover it for 2 minutes. Uncover and whisk vigorously until ganache is smooth and shiny.  Use as directed, or, cool to room temperature, about 1 hour, then cover and refrigerate until desired consistency is reached. For making truffles, you want the chocolate to be stiff, but scoopable, about 2-2 1/2 hours.

IMG_3766 IMG_3774~ Step 5. Using a 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place flat-sided portions into the palm of your hand, quickly roll each one into a ball and place it on a baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Repeat this messy process, working as quickly as possible, until all truffles are rolled into balls.  Wash your hands.

Note:  If you are using a 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, you will have 3 dozen truffles. There's only 2 dozen pictured because I used 1/3 of my ganache to frost my Boston Cream Pie!

Refrigerate, 2-3 hours or overnight...

IMG_3781... roll chilled balls in cocoa powder (about 1/2 cup)...

IMG_3787... and return to baking pan (on fresh parchment paper).  

IMG_3807Refrigerate for 1-2 more hours, overnight, or, several days.  

For a neat & tidy presentation, transfer to candy papers.

Serve chilled (for firm truffles) or room temp (for softer truffles)!

IMG_3875I've Got Ganache!  Gotta make Chocolate Truffles:  Recipe yields 3 dozen chocolate truffles.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2-cup measuring container;  large bowl w/lid, or large bowl and plastic wrap;  whisk or large spoon; baking pan; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b017ee6938296970dCook's Note:  For another on of my favorite bite-sized candy-type desserts,  you really should give:

~ Confection Perfection:  Teresa's Buckeye Candies ~ a try.  You can find the recipe in Category 7 or 20!  

Is there anyone that doesn't love the combination of chocolate and peanut butter?  I didn't think so!

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

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

03/01/2015

~ Roasted Lamb Sandwiches w/Lemon-Mint Mayo ~

PICT1788As a teenager in high school, I loved walking around county fairs, at night, at the end of every Summer.  The memories are vivid:  the lights on the ferris wheel, the music blaring from the bandstand, the smell of engine oil from the drag-race track, and, the oh-so-glorious food.  My friends each had their favorite "fair food" (corn dogs, foot longs, Italian sausage, Belgian waffles, PA Dutch funnel cakes, etc.).  Me?  I headed like a heat-seeking missile straight to the vendor selling gyros -- notoriously overstuffed Greek lamb sandwiches.  This was back in 1971, '72 and '73, and, this American-Greek invention hailing from New York City was the hot new trend.

Gyros_C5878A bit about the gyro (YEE-roh):  I'm told that "gyro" is the #1 mispronounced food name -- I believe that because I was guilty for years.  Food historians agree that the current sandwich we Americans eat is a spin-off of the ancient Turkish "Doner Kebab".  A proper gyro is made from well-seasoned lamb (or beef) which is stacked and pressed into a conical shape on a large cylinder.  The cylinder rotates vertically on a rotisserie and is slowly spit-roasted.  It's an intriguing thing to watch.  As the exterior meat cooks, the sandwich-maker shaves thin strips of it onto a super-hot grill before assembling the sandwiches.

1280px-Pita_girosA generous portion of meat is placed on a round, soft, flatbread (similar to, but thicker than, a pita) that has been slathered with tzatziki (dzah-DZEE-kee), a sauce made of strained Greek yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, salt, pepper, EVOO, lemon juice, dill, mint or parsley.  "Salad stuff", like lettuce, tomato and sometimes onion top it off and the entire thing is served as a wrap -- for the convenience of munching on it as you meander around. This elaborate process is one even I can't duplicate in my home kitchen, so, I invented my own spin-off!

IMG_3617These refreshing, flavor-packed roasted lamb pita sandwiches are the reason why I always cook two boneless lamb roasts.  I refrigerate one entire roast (or the better part of one entire roast overnight), just so my family can enjoy these for lunch or dinner the next day, and let me tell you, they are one delicious, really easy-to-make meal.

Use your favorite recipe for roast lamb, or, click on on the Related Article link below to get my ~ Succulent Boneless Leg of Lamb w/Creamy au Jus ~ recipe.

I usually serve my sandwiches cold, PICT1749carefully trimming, slicing and shaving the meat as free of fat and as thinly as possible.  Occasionally I serve the sandwiches warm, thinly slicing the meat after it comes out of the oven and has been rested. They are delicious either way and I leave that choice up to you.  

I serve my sandwiches on pita, which is the vessel that holds the traditional lamb, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, shaved red PICT1754onion and crumbled feta.  You can use any kind of pita you want, but I think whole-wheat complements the flavor of lamb really well.  Even though authentic gyros are served on a thicker form of flatbread which is grilled and served as a wrap sandwich, for me in my kitchen, mine are more user-friendly and no one has ever complained.

You'll want to make my all-purpose Lemon-Mint Mayonnaise and refrigerate it for several hours or overnight prior to assembling the sandwiches, so, I'll show you how to do that first.  I love this stuff!

6a0120a8551282970b014e611634bb970cAs mentioned above, the traditional sauce for a gyro is tzatziki.  I like it alot, but twenty years ago when I started cooking lamb for my family, my kids would not eat that sauce -- they hated yogurt. So, this is why and where my sandwiches take a small detour.  I use mayo, and, I use mint because that is what I classically associate with lamb, but, feel free to substitute fresh dill.

For the lemon-mint mayonnaise:

1  cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade, or the best available (read my post for ~ How to:  Make Homemade Mayonnaise ~, in Categories 8, 15 or 20)

1  large lemon, zested and juiced, about 2 tablespoons of zest and 2 tablespoons of juice

1  ounce coarsely-chopped, fresh mint leaves (no stems), about 1 lightly-packed cup

1 1/2  teaspoons Greek seasoning blend

1  teaspoon sugar

a generous 1/4 teaspoon each:  garlic powder, sea salt and white pepper 

PICT1726 ~ Step 1.  Prep and measure all ingredients, placing them in a medium mixing bowl as you work. Note:  It's ok to add more zest, but do not add more than 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

PICT1728 ~ Step 2. Using a large spoon or spatula, thoroughly combine all ingredients. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.

Drumroll please:  Here's what you'll need to assemble 6-8 sandwiches! 

PICT1757For the lamb sandwich assembly:

2-3 cups soft, "baby" or "Spring" lettuce mix, torn into small pieces

1  6-8-ounce red onion, halved and shaved (sliced as thinly as possible)

3/4-1  cup crumbled feta cheese

3/4-1  cup diced grape tomatoes

6-8  soft, whole-wheat pita pockets, sliced in half to form 12-16 pieces (Note:  Feel free to substitute plain pita, but I think the whole-wheat complements the flavor of lamb really well.)

all of the lemon-mint mayonnaise (recipe above)

2 1/2-3 pounds thinly-sliced and trimmed roasted lamb, about 3 ounces per sandwich half

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for topping assembled sandwiches

One-at-a-time, open up each pita half & cup it in the palm of your hand.

PICT1765 PICT1766 PICT1769 PICT1771Slather on the mayo.  Pile in some lamb.  Greens please.  And onions too.  

Top with some crumbled feta and don't forget the diced tomatoes!

PICT1773Lamb Sandwiches w/Lemon-Mint Mayo:  Recipe yields 6-8 lamb pita sandwiches/12-16 halves.

Special Equipment List:  large spoon or spatula; microplane grater; cutting board; chef's knife

6a0120a8551282970b019aff64b0c3970dCook's Note:  If it is an over-the-top soup-and-sandwich combination that you're in the mood for, I must insist that you give my ~ Greek Lemon, Egg & Orzo Soup (Avgolemono) ~ a try.

This super-flavorful soup recipe is no spin-off.  It's the real-deal, right down to the Greek girlfriend who not only gave me her recipe, she taught me how to make it too.  Just click into Category 2 to get this luscious, lemony recipe!

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

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