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12 posts from April 2015

04/29/2015

~ Batter-Dipped Avocado Bites w/Chile-Lime Mayo ~

IMG_6726I call these avocado bites, others call them avocado fries.  I avoid the term fries because the pear-shaped avocado, with its golf-ball sized center pit (which in reality is a seed that can be planted to grow an avocado tree) is next to impossible to cut into classic, uniformly-sized, square-tipped French-fry-shaped sticks without a lot of waste.  Plus, you know the drill, once you remove the buttery-rich fruit from its thick, protective skin, you have no time to play around -- once exposed to air, the green starts turning gray with every tick of the clock.  The easily-sliced fruit consists of rounded ends and some half-moon shaped pieces -- nothing that looks like a French fry to me.  Bites is a better word all the way around -- that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

IMG_6696Lots of other people make these snacks.  Everyone coats them in a breading or dips them in a batter of some sort.  Some folks bake them in the oven, others fry them in a skillet.  I do neither because I am a fearless fryer.  I go full-crank with this recipe for this superfood and deep-fry them in peanut oil for optimum results:  a super-crunchy outside and a super-creamy inside. Deep-frying is hands-down the best method -- that's my story and I'm sticking to that one too.

IMG_6608Start by preparing ~ A Versatile Tex-Mex Condiment:  Chile-Lime Mayo ~.  Do this several hours or a day ahead, to give it time to thicken. In a food processor fitted with steel blade, process until smooth:

1  cup mayonnaise

1  cup minced fresh cilantro

1  8-ounce jar sliced, pickled jalapenos, well-drained

1  large lime, all of its zest and 1 tablespoon of its juice

1  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

The right avocado, the wrong avocado and the right ripeness for the right avocado!

6a0120a8551282970b01901c765820970b-800wiTrust me when I tell you, after a taste test between the dark green, bumpy-skinned California Hass (which rhymes with pass) and any other smooth-skinned variety (like Florida's bright-green Fuerte), you will agree there is no comparison in either flavor or texture.  Hass wins. Do not use the smooth-skinned, somewhat watery-tasting avocados in this recipe (or any others either).

Avocados ripen after picking, and, a perfectly-ripe Hass avocado will be firm to the touch with an ever-so- 6a0120a8551282970b01901c76659b970bslight give when gentle pressure is applied.  If it seems even the slightest bit soft, it is over-ripe. When a knife is run throgh and around the perimeter of a perfectly ripe avocado, it will literally cut like butter and the two halves will separate cleanly with a gentle twist. If your avocados are under-ripe (hard), to speed up the ripening process, place them in a paper bag and set aside, at room temperature overnight, or, for 1-2 days.

An avocado tastes best when it is perfectly ripe, and cooking them will not enhance the flavor. For that reason, use perfectly-ripe avocados for this recipe, not slightly under-ripe ones, which some folks are inclined to use, which I've seen others recommend -- usually in recipes using the oven or the skillet.  You see, if you deep-fry like me, the 3 minutes in the fryer is just enough to cook the coating without affecting the texture of the perfectly-ripe, tender avocado inside!

IMG_6643Setting up the deep-frying assembly line (left to right):

Cutting board, chef's knife, tablespoon, fork and 2-3 ripe Hass avocados.

One shallow 2-cup bowl containing 1 cup dry pancake mix.

One shallow 2-cup bowl containing 1 cup pancake mix whisked with 1 cup beer.

One shallow 2-cup bowl containing 2 cups panko breadcrumbs.

Deep-fryer w/peanut oil heated to 350 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.

Misc:  3-minute timer, tongs, cooling rack, paper towels, sea salt grinder.

IMG_6656~ Step 1.  When everything is measured, in place and the deep-fryer is heating, whisk together the pancake mix and beer.  Set aside, for about 5 minutes, before starting the frying process.  This will give the batter time to thicken to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset), if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer to maintain the drizzly consistency.

IMG_6665~ Step 2.  To prep the avocados, one-at a time, slice the avocados in half and twist to separate the halves.  Holding the pitted side in one hand, give the pit a somewhat forceful tap with the center of the knife blade.  Then, with one gentle twist of the knife, voila:  the pit is out.

IMG_6670Using an ordinary tablespoon, working your way around the perimeter, loosen the fruit from the skin.  Scoop each half out onto the cutting board and slice into 4 stubby lengths. Ok, from this angle, they look a bit like fries.

IMG_6676 IMG_6674~ Step 3. Working four strips (1/2 an avocado) at a time (using a fork to maneuver, not to poke), dredge each piece in the dry pancake mix, dip it in the wet batter, gently lift it out, allowing excess batter to drizzle back down into the bowl, and lastly, roll it around in the panko to coat it on all sides.

IMG_6684 IMG_6682~ Step 4. Continuing to work four fully-coated strips at a time, drop the pieces into the hot oil and deep-fry until nicely, but not overly, golden browned, exactly 3 minutes.

While four are frying, dredge, dip and roll the next four.  Using a pair of tongs, remove avocado bites from oil, transfer to a cooling rack with a paper towel placed on top of it and immediately sprinkle with a fresh grinding of sea salt. Continue this assembly-line process until all pieces are fried.

Serve hot, warm or room temp...

IMG_6693... with Chile-Lime Mayo for dipping or drizzling!

IMG_6735Batter-Dipped Avocado Bites w/Chile-Lime Mayo:  Recipe yields 16-24 appetizers and 1 1/2 cups of chile-lime mayo for dipping or drizzling.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; ordinary tablespoon; fork; 3, shallow 2-cup size bowls; deep-fryer; 3-minute timer; tongs; paper towels 

6a0120a8551282970b019b00a90739970dCook's Note:  My ~ Crunchy Thai-Style Deep-Fried Coconut Shrimp ~ are not Tex-Mex, but, contain a lot of the same flavors, and, get batter dipped & fried in the same manner. They're a perfect partner to avocado bites. Click into Categories 1, 11, 13 or 14 to get the recipe!

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

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

04/27/2015

~ Russet & Sweet Potato Salad w/Chile-Lime Mayo ~

IMG_6627One potato, two potatoes, three potatoes, four -- make enough potato salad, they're coming back for more.  While we're playing the counting game, I don't think one can have too many recipes for  potato salad -- people love the stuff.  Baked, boiled or roasted, gold, red, russet or sweet, potatoes, when paired with the right dressing, can complement a meal from a multitude of cuisines -- in fact, every culture that eats potatoes makes a version of potato salad.  Here in America, potato salad recipes vary from region-to-region and our American Southwest is no exception.  Today's recipe is the one I make when I want potato salad with a Tex-Mex zing to it.

IMG_6486This easy-to-make potato salad goes great with quickly-grilled South-of-the-Border-type fare: beef, poultry or pork (typically marinated in concoctions of lime juice, cilantro, chile peppers and cumin).  It's also awesome with low-and-slow Lone-Star-State-type BBQ (slathered with tomato-based sauces made with cumin and chili powder), and, if you're ever looking for something to serve Buffalo-style chicken wings with (to turn this beloved snack into a meal), this is your side-dish. There's more.  I always serve this potato salad with my ~ Chili Cheddar Cheeseburgers w/Chile-Lime Mayo ~.  The same mayo that dresses the salad gets slathered on the burgers.  Just click on the Related Article link below to get the 'burger recipe!

IMG_6402For the chile-lime mayo:

Note:  Prepare & chill several hours or a day ahead of cooking potatoes.

1  cup mayonnaise

1  cup minced, fresh cilantro (Note:  Since the cilantro is going to be processed, including more stem in your minced cilantro than you normally would in other recipes is just fine.)

1  8-ounce jar sliced, pickled jalapenos, well-drained

1  large lime, all of its zest and 1  tablespoon of its juice

1  teaspoon sugar

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d10929c9970c-320wi1/4  teaspoon sea salt

~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  With motor running, process until smooth, 30-45 seconds.  Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate until well-chilled 2-24 hours.  

Note:  This mayonnaise thickens as it chills, and, its flavor intensifies with time as the flavors marry. Overnight truly is best.

IMG_6570For the potatoes:

4-4 1/2 pounds potatoes, all Russets, all sweet potatoes, or, a combination of both

~ Step 2.  Microwave potatoes until just fork tender yet slightly-undercooked in the center. Cool to room temperature, then peel IMG_6577and slice into 3/4"-1" chunks.

Note:  Do not boil the potatoes as boiling causes russets to get crumbly and sweet potatoes to get mushy.  Microwaving truly is the best method.  I microwave my russets separately from my sweet potatoes, and, in my microwave, my potatoes cook in about 11-12 minutes.  I test for doneness often IMG_6587after 8 minutes by inserting a knife in the thickest part of the center. When the center is slightly-undercooked, I remove the potatoes and allow carryover heat to continue to cook them while they are cooling to room temperature.

~ Step 3.  In addition to the potatoes, thinly slice:

3/4-1 cup green onions, white and light green parts only (reserve dark green tops for garnish)

~ Step 4.  Place the potatoes and IMG_6594green onons in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in 1 cup of the chile-lime mayo.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well-chilled, 4-6 hours or overnight.

Note:  You will have about 1/2 cup of mayo left.  Refrigerate until serving time.  After you remove the potato salad from the refrigerator, taste it and add a bit more mayo if you feel you need to.  Otherwise keep this all-purpose Tex-Mex condiment in your refrigerator to slather on sandwiches!

Simply-Savory, Slightly-Sweet, Nicely-Spicy, Addictively-Citrusy: Seize this day to add this potato salad recipe to your repertoire!

IMG_6630Russet & Sweet Potato Salad w/Chili-Lime Mayo:  Recipe yields 8 servings of potato salad and a generous 1 1/2 cups of chile-lime mayo (with the possibility of some mayo leftover).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; microplane grater; rubber spatula; 2-cup measuring container; microwave oven  

IMG_7624Cook's Note:  If it's grilled chicken or your favorite spareribs you'd like to serve this very special potato salad with, allow me to suggest that you try my recipe for ~ Kansas City BBQ Sauce:  Sweet, Spicy & Smokey ~.  Seriously folks, a drizzle or slather of this and you'll never ever consider buying that famous bottled brand (which, in all honesty, is super-good) again!  

Simply click into Categories 8, 10, 17 or 20 to get my recipe!

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

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

04/24/2015

~ Chili Cheddar Cheeseburgers w/Chile-Lime Mayo ~

IMG_6481For me, the only thing that tastes better than a thick, juicy hamburger hot-off-the-gill is:  a thick, juicy cheeseburger, hot-off-the grill.  I don't grill enough to profess to being an expert, but the stuff I do grill is mighty tasty.  I'm cooking these to please me today -- they're my favorite twist on traditional cheeseburgers.  I'm mixing the cheese into the burgers instead of placing it on top of them, and, I'm packing the mixture full of bold, spicy, American-Southwest Tex-Mex flavors. Admittedly, it's unorthodox, but, I've been told, often by the critics themselves, "this is one of the best cheeseburgers I've ever tasted".  Moral of story:  Don't knock it until YOU'VE tried it!

PICT0033When it comes to all recipes that require using an outdoor gas grill, the hands-on cooking instructions (time and temperature) should be used as guidelines.  We own three gas grills, a Viking, a Weber, and, a Solaire.  Recipe testing  on each has taught me that brands vary greatly. Combine that with outdoor temperature and desired doneness, then, factor in cut, thickness and weight of product -- it's impossible to write a precise grilling recipe.

Part One:  Making the Chili Cheddar Cheeseburgers

IMG_6425A bit about this recipe:  It makes a lot -- 12, 8-ounce cheeseburgers.  It's my go-to cheeseburger recipe for tailgates and holidays like Memorial Day, July 4th and Labor day -- times when I'm entertaining hungry family and friends.  Want less?  Do the math -- cut the recipe in half.

IMG_6398Meet a special ingredient that I feature in these burgers (and pretty much every recipe I make using chile powder):  Santa Fe Seasons Chile Blend.  It's an all natural mixture of dried New Mexico red chili powder, herbs and spices (no salt).  Feel free to substitute a 1:1 ratio of Mexican-style chili powder mixed with Mexican-style oregano for this blend, but, if you'd like to experience something super-special, pick up a jar of the blend: it's available on amazon.com.

PICT0008For the cheeseburgers:

5  pounds ground beef (85/15)

1  pound Monterey Jack w/jalapeno pepper cheddar

2  cups diced yellow onion

2  cups minced, fresh cilantro

3  tablespoons Santa Fe Seasons Chile Blend

1  tablespoon each: sea salt and coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_6378~ Step 1.  Prep and place all of the ingredients in a large bowl as you work.  Thoroughly combine the mixture -- the best way to do this is with your hands.

~ Step 2.  Using a kitchen scale as a measure, form meat mixture into 12, 8-ounce balls, placing them IMG_6381on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan lined with parchment paper.

IMG_6390~ Step 3. Using a 4" ring mold, press into 4"-round, 1"-thick discs. Cover & refrigerate 2-24 hours. 

Part Two:  Making the Chile-Lime Mayonnaise

A bit about this recipe:  Consider this all-purpose condiment your Tex-Mex version of French aioli (a strongly-flavored garlic mayonnaise hailing from Provence).  Besides being great on my cheeseburgers, I love it slathered on chicken sandwiches, and, used as a dip for vegetables.

IMG_64022  cups mayonnaise

1  1/2-2 cups minced, fresh cilantro (Note:  Since the cilantro is going to be processed, including more stem in your minced cilantro than you normally would in other recipes is just fine.)

1  12-ounce jar sliced, pickled jalapenos, well-drained

1  large lime, all of its zest and all of its juice (Note:  You want to add 2 tablespoons lime juice.  If the lime is not particularly juicy, make up the difference with bottled concentrate.)

2  teaspoons sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

PICT0031~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  With motor running, process until smooth, 30-45 seconds.  Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate 2-24 hours, and, up to one week.

Note:  This mayonnaise thickens as it chills, and, its flavor intensifies if the flavors are given time to marry, so, if you have the time to make it a day in advance, do it!

Part Three:  Optional Cheeseburger Toppings

PICT0044crisp lettuce leaves, romaine or iceberg

Hass avocado slices

thinly-sliced onion, red or yellow

tomato slices 

~ Step 1.  Just prior to grilling the cheeseburgers, prep all or none of the above as directed and refrigerate until serving time.

Part Four:  Grilling the Cheeseburgers

IMG_6407~ Step 1.  Remove burgers from the refrigerator and return to room temperature prior to preheating gas grill to medium-high.  Just prior to grilling the burgers, using your fingertips, press down on each one again,  flattening a bit more, to form 12, 4 1/2" round 3/4"-thick discs.

Note:  This last press allows for shrinkage as the burgers cook. Each finished burger will fit perfectly on a standard hamburger roll.  

IMG_6419~ Step 5.  Grill over direct heat, about 8-10 minutes per side, turning only once (8 minutes for medium-rare, 10 minutes for well-done.  Remove from heat and serve on your favorite rolls (lightly-toasted or not, your choice) drizzled with chili-lime mayo and your favorite toppings (or none at all).

Nothin' fancy, just-a-lotta easy-to-make fun-on-a-bun...

IMG_6551... that gets spicier and drippier with every flavor-packed bite!

IMG_6510Chili Cheddar Cheeseburgers w/Chile-Lime Mayo:  Recipe yields 12, 8-ounce cheeseburgers and 3 generous cups chile-lime mayo.

Special Equipment List:  cheese grater; cutting board; chef's knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; kitchen scale; 4"-round ring mold (optional); plastic wrap; food processor; microplane grater; rubber spatula; 4-cup food storage container; gas grill or your favorite charcoal grill, used according to manufacturer's specifications; long-handled grilling spatula

IMG_2481 6a0120a8551282970b017d4140e28d970cCook's Note:  Click into Categories 13, 15 or 16 to learn more about: ~ Is it spelled chile or chili?  It is NOT a regional thing! ~, and, ~ The great oregano debate:  Mediterranean Oregano vs. Mexican Oregano. Is there a difference? Yes! ~.

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

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

04/21/2015

~ Madeleines: 'Hoity-Toity' Shell-Shaped Tea Cakes~

IMG_6357If you ever want to be accused of being hoity-toity (a pretentious show-off), serve some freshly-baked buttery-rich madeleines with tea or coffee as a finish to your next ladies luncheon.  Within my small circle of close friends this kind of thing happens all the time.  We take it upon ourselves to poke fun at each others talents -- especially after a few cocktails.  It keeps us grounded. When lunch is at my house, I am the designated target.  "La-tee-da, Melanie made madeleines." Revenge is sweet because the jib-jabs flow both ways.  "Mel, these cookies are great." "Barb, they're not cookies, they're actually little sponge cakes." "Well, isn't that special (church lady)."

IMG_6306They emerge from the oven with a signature hump on top...

A bit about the French madeleine (mad-len):  Defined as a "a small rich sponge cake baked in pans with shell-shaped depressions", it is unofficially called "France's National Cookie".  It's a specialty hailing from the French town of Commercy, North of the Lorraine region of France.  The authentic "madeleines de Commercy" are made from egg yolks creamed with sugar and lemon zest, flour, beurre noisette (brown butter), and, stiffly beaten egg whites.  They depend 100% on the volume of the egg whites for their feathery-light soft texture, and, contain no baking powder or baking soda (which weren't available to cooks in the 18th century).  They are the classic snacky ending to every afternoon gouter (afternoon tea), or, a light ending to a French meal.

... and emerge from the pan marked with a golden shell bottom! 

IMG_6304Madeleines earned their place in literature via Marcel Proust's immortal reference to them as "little shells of cake" in "the episode of the madeleine," in the novel In Search of Lost time. Historically, stories of their origin vary, but, the one I find the most authentic:  they were named after a young French maid who worked for the Duke of Lorraine, Stanislaw Leszcynski, in the 1700's.  She unexpectedly had to step in and replace the cook, and served, for a royal banquet, one of the few desserts she knew how to bake: her family's signature 'shell-shaped soft-cookie' confection.  The Duke was so impressed by them, he named them after the gutsy girl.

IMG_6211A bit about me and madeleines:  I never tasted a madeleine until the day I baked one.  In the late 1980's I was shopping in my favorite store in downtown Boalsburg:  The Country Sampler. At the time, it was our areas premier place to shop for well-made kitchen gadgets, IMG_6215cookware, artisanal dishes, glassware, table linens and candles.  Imagine a gift shop in colonial Williamsburg, VA -- THAT was The Country Sampler.  I came across two curious-looking baking pans on the sale table (in an almost hidden corner of the shop where regular customers knew to go).  The store's owner, Marie Fedon, explained the pans and madeleines to me.  Moments later, I walked out with two shiny pans for $10 -- marked down from $20 each.  Over the years, in my quest for a favorite madeleine recipe, I invested in two standard-sized nonstick pans, and, two nonstick mini-madeleine pans too.

IMG_6223Stumbling upon two madeleine pans was the easy part.  Finding a foolproof recipe was not -- there were very few recipes in print back then.  I turned, of course, to The Joy of Cooking, and, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Both recipes were very good, but, very finicky -- even for an accomplished, fearless baker like me.  From recipes made via the classic method I learned:

 Madeleines are easy to make and easy to screw up -- madeleines can be maddening!

As much as I loved the madeleines, I found the process cumbersome enough to avoid making them unless I was requested or paid to do so (I allowed my pans to age gracefully in my "fancy-baking pan" cabinet -- for years).  Then, thanks to modern-day experts like David Lebovitz and Martha Stewart, recipes incorporating baking powder began appearing in books and on the internet.  Thanks to them, I could give up the tedious whisking of yolks over a double boiler, beating the whites to stiff peaks and browning the butter (I never cared for the browned butter versions anyway).  Wow.  Suddenly, I was back to baking madeleines, and, coming up with my own creative flavoring combinations too!

IMG_6323Meet my basic & foolproof recipe for hoity-toity madeleines!

IMG_62181  cup cake flour, not self-rising + additional flour for preparing pans

1  teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder

1/4  teaspoon salt

4  large eggs at room temperature

2  large egg yolks, at room temperature

2/3  cup granulated sugar

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract, always add vanilla extract to madeleins

1  tablespoon of one other flavored extract, or, 1 1/2 teaspoons of a combination of two other extracts:  almond, banana, coconut and rum are fun options, and, so are citrus flavors such as lemon, Meyer lemon, lime, Key lime, orange, blood orange, Mandarin orange, tangerine and grapefruit (Note: In the case of citrus flavors, if it's fresh fruit you have, substitute fresh juice for the extract and stir 1-2 tablespoons of freshly-grated zest into the mixture too.)

8  tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

confectioners' sugar for dusting cooled madeleines

IMG_6242~ Step 1.  In a large bowl crack the eggs and bring to room temp, 30 minutes.  In the meantime,  melt butter and set aside to cool.  Using a pastry brush, use a bit of the butter to paint insides of the shell-shapes, then, dust shells with a bit of additional flour. Invert the pans and give them a shake, to remove excess flour.  Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Measure sugar and extract(s). 

IMG_6253 IMG_6250~ Step 2. Starting on low speed of hand-held electric mixer for about 1 minute, gradually working your way up to high speed, beat together the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and extracts until pale and thick, about 6 full minutes at high speed, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl frequently.  Remove the mixer.

IMG_6258~ Step 3.  Begin sprinkling in the flour in three increments, using the rubber spatula to throughly fold after each addition, taking the time to make sure there are no dry pockets of flour.

~ Step 4.  Fold in the butter by slowly allowing it to drizzle down the sides of the bowl, in three additions, folding thoroughly after each addition, taking the time to make sure there are no liquid pockets of butter.

IMG_6265~ Step 5.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place batter in refrigerator to chill for 2-3 hours prior to baking.  Remove batter from refrigerator.  Uncover and resist the urge to stir or fold the batter.  That action will just deflate the 1st rise the baking powder has provided.  

~ Step 5.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place a dollop of batter, about 2 tablespoons, into the deep round center of each shell shape in the first pan.

IMG_6273 IMG_6283~ Step 6.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven until lightly-golden and humped-tops spring back when touched lightly, about 8-9 IMG_6296minutes.  While first pan is baking, get second pan ready for the oven and pop them in to bake when you remove the first pan.  

~ Step 7.  The moment madeleines emerge from oven, using a sharp knife underneath one corner of each madeleine, lift and gently transfer to a cooling rack.  Cool completely prior to serving with a dusting of confectioners' sugar.

Due to their humps, they always have that "signature lean"...

IMG_6339... and serving them "same day made" is never a problem!

IMG_6375Madeleines:  Hoity-Toity Shell-Shaped Tea Cakes:  Recipe yields 24 awesome tea cakes.

Special Equipment List:  2, standard-sized madeleine pans, preferably nonstick; pastry brush;  fine mesh sieve or flour sifter; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop or 2 tablespoon measure; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b019b00e7c7e4970b-800wiCook's Note:  Using cake flour to make madeleines makes a big difference -- it's the right thing to do. To learn what using the right flour for the right culinary task can do for you, click into Categories 5, 6, 7, or 16 to read ~ Flour Facts: All-Purpose, Bread, Cake & Pastry ~.

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

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

04/18/2015

~Cheddary Maple-Bacon Scrambled Eggs in Crepes~

IMG_6134Culinarily, when I think of Vermont, pure maple syrup and sharp cheddar cheese immediately come to mind -- Ben & Jerry's, King Arthur Flour and J.K. Adams round out my top five list.  Joe and I spent a week in Killington in July of 1991.  That is where I first encountered maple bacon. Everyday, we ate breakfast where we were staying, and, for the entire week, their artisanal maple bacon was incorporated into the meal in a different way.  Cured in a mixture of maple syrup and salt, then lightly-smoked over corn cobs and maple wood shavings, when you cook it, the maple syrup caramelizes, turning each slice a crisp, golden brown.  It's the perfect balance of sweet, salty and smoky.  One of my favorite days was when they put it in the scrambled eggs.

IMG_6154Eggs wrapped in crepes?  Why not just eat scrambled eggs?  

As for wrapping scrambled eggs in crepes, on a daily basis, I do not stand around making crepes (I usually do serve these special scrambled eggs "as is"), but, when I have savory crepes leftover, which I do a few times a year, this breakfast entree is one of my favorite ways to use them up.  FYI:  When you do wrap scrambled eggs in a crepe you get the added benefit of being able to melt cheese on top, which kids and adults just love.  Today is such a day -- I've got a dozen crepes leftover from our dinner last evening:  ~ Succulent Seafood Newburg Crepes for a Crowd ~.  Conveniently, this recipe for scrambled eggs, which I "once upon a time" made often for our family of five, serves six hungry teenage boys, so, if you've got overnight guests, this is a nice way to "fancy things up" at the breakfast table -- serve these with a fresh fruit salad to the side, a toasted egg bagel on each plate and a bloody Mary in-hand, and, you've got a feast!

PICT270012  previously-made 6" round or square savory French crepes (Note:  Click on the Related Article Link below to get my recipe for ~ How to:  Make 'French' Crepes (Sweet or Savory) ~.)

1  pound maple-flavored bacon, thick- or thin-sliced, your choice (Note:  hickory-smoked bacon may be substituted for a delightful egg & bacon experience, but the sweet maple bacon rocks it!)

10 extra-large eggs

whole milk to total 2 3/4 cups

8-10  grinds freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

1 1/2-2  cups grated cheddar cheese, white or yellow, your favorite, your choice

PICT2707 PICT2697~ Step 1. Dice bacon, placing it in a 12" skillet as you work. Fry, over medium-high heat, until crisp and golden, about 10 minutes.  

Turn the heat off.  Using a small ladle, remove all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings from pan. Leave bacon in pan.

Note:  If you you don't want to prepare the eggs using 2 tablespoons of bacon fat (remove it all), or, if preparing the dish with previously fried and drained bacon, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the pan and proceed with the recipe.  I highly-recommend the maple-flavored bacon fat!

PICT2700 IMG_6101~ Step 2. While the bacon is frying, grate your favorite cheddar.  I like extra-sharp and I like white at breakfast.

~ Step 3.  In a 1-quart measuring container, using a fork, vigorously whisk together the eggs, enough milk to total 2 1/2  cups of liquid, and, 6-8 grinds each of the sea salt and peppercorn blend.

PICT2704 PICT2701~ Step 4. Adjust the heat under the bacon to medium-low. Add the egg mixture to the bacon in pan.  Using a spatula, push the egg mixture towards the center of the pan, and watch the creamy curds form.  The skillet is hotter at the perimeter, so, curds always form there first, which is why you should always push towards the center.

IMG_6112Note:  The eggs are done when they are just set and are still moist (not watery or dry).  The entire process goes quite quickly, just 3-4 minutes.  As is the case with many foods, carryover/residual heat is going to continue to cook the eggs a bit more when they are removed from the skillet.  

6a0120a8551282970b019b018cb084970cTechnically, these eggs are ready to be served, unless, you've got crepes!

IMG_6116 IMG_6118 IMG_6123~Step 5.  One-at-a-time place each crepe on a plate and put a generous 1/2 cup of the scrambled eggs, in a lengthwise strip, IMG_6130across the center of it.  Lift the side of the crepe closest to you, place it on top of the filling, then, firmly roll crepe over. Arrange crepes, seams side down, 2 per dish, in each of 6, shallow 8" x 4 1/2", individual-sized au gratins. Top each portion with a generous 1/4 cup of grated cheddar.

~ Step 6.  Place dishes 5 1/2"-6" under preheated broiler until cheese is melted and lightly browned, 2-3 minutes, watching carefully during this time.  Remove from oven and serve immediately:

Sensuously sweet & savory, slightly salty & smoky too...

IMG_6151... & all wrapped up into one picture-perfect breakfast package! 

IMG_6173Cheddary Maple-Bacon Scrambled Eggs in Crepes:  Recipe yields 6 very-hearty servings, or 12 smaller servings if you want to serve 1 crepe per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; hand-held cheese grater; 1-quart measuring container; fork; nonstick spatula; 6, shallow 8" x 4 1/2" individual-sized au gratin dishes 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb079019d3970dCook's Note:  For one of my favorite frivolous breakfast sandwiches, click into Categories 9 or 20 to get my recipe for ~ The Five-Minute Breakfast-on-the-Go Egg Pocket ~.  Super-yummy and fun too!

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

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

04/15/2015

~ Succulent Seafood Newburg Crepes for a Crowd ~

IMG_6068There was an eight-year timespan in my life when I spent every day cooking for a crowd.  In mom-speak, it is referred to as "the teenage boy years" and I raised three.  During those years, one casserole of anything was not enough -- two was mandatory, and, if I wanted leftovers I made four.  On pizza nights, I made six -- big ones.  I doubled or tripled every recipe that could be doubled or tripled to accommodate their appetites.  I put a second refrigerator in my garage, bought a 24-quart stockpot for my stovetop and a 20-cup food processor for my countertop.  I was on a first-name basis with the manager of every grocery store in town.  I had it easy -- the neighbor to the left of me had five boys and the neighbor just up the street had four!!!

IMG_7013Thanks to this hands-on, learn-as-you-go experience, for me, entertaining a group of friends for a Friday or Saturday evening dinner party wasn't much different than cooking a weeknight meal for my family -- it certainly wasn't any more work -- all I needed to do was buy some wine and "fancy things up a bit".  One way to "fancy up" almost any food that can be served on a bed of rice on a weeknight is to wrap it in a crepe on the weekend. Learning to make crepes was one of the best things I ever did for IMG_5924myself, and, I was thrilled to find out how easy they were to prepare. Like fine linen, the crepe has a place at every occasion.  Click on the Related Article link below to learn ~ How to:  Make 'French' Crepes (Sweet or Savory) ~.

~ Seafood Newburg:  Shrimp, Scallops & Crabmeat ~ was a dish I served, from time-to-time, over rice (or atop store-bought puff pastry shells) for my family.  If that sounds extravagant, it's not.  All of my boys loved seafood (even our youngest and pickiest eater), and, all of my boys, including Joe, got to request what would be served for their birthday dinner.  Just click on the IMG_5955Related Article link below to get my family's favorite Newburg version.

Seafood newburg is simply a mixture of previously-poached, tender seafood stirred into the previously-prepared sauce.  My ~ Sinfully Simple Sherry & Cream Newburg Sauce ~ is versatile too -- it's great drizzled on all sorts of fish, poultry and vegetables. Seafood Newburg crepes quickly became one of my favorite dinner-in-the-diningroom entrees.  Elegant seafood enrobed in a silky-smooth cream sauce encased in a tender crepe.  It's easy-to-make and all of the work can be done ahead of time too.  A dream come true!

Here's everything you'll need to make 24 seafood Newburg-filled crepes (12 servings) and 6 cups of Newburg sauce (3 cups for seafood filling and 3 cups for saucing finished crepes).

IMG_6824For the crepes:

1  cup each: whole milk and flour

1/2  cup club soda, or water

4  large eggs, at room temperature

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick), melted in the microwave and cooled for about 5 minutes

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing crepe pan on skillet

IMG_5772For the Newburg sauce:

8  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

1  cup minced shallots

1/2 cup dry sherry

4  cups heavy or whipping cream

4  jumbo eggs

8  tablespoons tomato paste

2  teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning

For the seafood:

3  pounds extra-large shrimp (26-30 count), peeled and deveined, tails-off, about 2 1/4-2 1/2 pounds shrimp after peeling

IMG_58331 1/2-2 pounds bay scallops, well-drained (about 3-4 cups)

1  pound pasteurized crabmeat, the best available, well-drained

1  quart shrimp stock

3  cups white wine

Prepare crepes and seafood Newburg according to the detailed directions and methods provided in both recipes (click on the Related Article links below), using the quantity of ingredients listed above.

IMG_5970Decide whether you want to bake your assembled crepes in 3, 13" x 9 x 2" casseroles, or, 12 individual-sized au gratin dishes.  While I like to serve this elegant sit-down dinner in individual au gratins containing two crepes each, I also make them in casseroles (8 crepes per casserole dish) whenever I'm serving them for buffet-style dining.

IMG_6944 IMG_6870                                               ~ Step 1. Once the crepes are made and the seafood IMG_5876Newburg is prepared, there is nothing left to do except assemble, bake and serve the crepes.

Note:  I often prepare both of these components 1-2 days in advance of assembling, baking (just to reheat the seafood) and serving.

IMG_5974 IMG_5980 IMG_5983 IMG_5984 IMG_5990                          ~Step 2.  One-at-a-time, place each crepe on a plate and put a generous 1/2 cup of the seafood Newburg mixture, in a lengthwise strip, across the center of it. Lift the side of the crepe closest to you and place it on top of the filling, then, firmly roll the crepe over.  Arrange the assembled crepes, seams side down in either the casseroles (8 crepes per dish), or, the au gratins IMG_6006(2 per dish), which have been sprayed with no-stick spray.

Note:  Because the casseroles are self-explanatory, I'm showing you how I bake the au gratins.

Place 6 au gratins of crepes, side-by-side, on each of 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.  Drizzle the top of each dish with a generous 1/4 cup of the remaining 3 cups of Newburg sauce.

Note:  To cheese or not to cheeese. IMG_6018Some folks have an aversion to grated cheese on seafood.  I do not. Omit it if you are "one of those".

Using a microplane grater, generously sprinkle finely-grated Parmigianno-Reggiano over all.

~ Step 3.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated oven, about 18-20 minutes, until sauce is bubbling, edges of the crepes are browning and cheese is melting. Remove from oven and allow to rest, 3-5 minutes, prior to serving.

As we say in the biz... "that's a wrap"...

IMG_6037... and there's a little bit of everything in each delightful bite:

IMG_6093Succulent Seafood Newburg Crepes for a Crowd:  Recipe yields 12 servings (2, 6" round or square seafood Newburg crepes per person) and is written to easily cut in half, or, double, triple or quadruple (adjusting saucepan and chef's pan sizes accordingly).

Special Equipment List:  1-quart measuring container; hand-held stick blender or blender; plastic wrap; 6" nonstick stovetop griddle, or, round nonstick skillet, or, crepe pan of choice; 1/4 cup ladle or measure; long, thin spatula, preferably nonstick;  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; whisk; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides; colander; 3, 13" x 9" x 2" casseroles, or, 12, shallow 8" x 4 1/2" individual-sized au gratin dishes; 1/2 cup measure; microplane grater (optional) 

IMG_7160Cook's Note:  The recipes for savory and sweet crepes are the same, with sugar being added to the latter. ~ As American as Mom's Apple Pie & French Crepes ~ is one of my favorite sweet crepe desserts. Click into Categories 6, 9, 11, 18, 20 or 21 to get my recipe!

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

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

04/12/2015

~ Sinfully-Simple Sherry & Cream Newburg Sauce ~

IMG_5955Newberg or Newburg sauce is a 100% French sauce with an all-American name, and, is 100% associated with the famous dishes:  lobster Newberg and seafood Newburg.  That said, this sauce is not just for seafood.  In fact, the sauce itself doesn't contain lobster or any other seafood, and, it isn't made with lobster or seafood stock either.  It's a silky-smooth, sinfully-rich, liquor-laced cream sauce, originally made from cream, cognac, sherry, egg yolks and cayenne pepper.  This combination of rather ordinary ingredients renders it very versatile -- perfect for saucing all sorts of fish, seafood, meat, poultry, egg and vegetable dishes.  It is addicting!

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the hardest, I would rate my version and almost all modern-day scratch versions of this sauce a 1 or a 2.  It is simple and straightforward, one can't take too much creative license with a classic, and, it's quick and easy, going from stovetop to table in about 10 total minutes.  About the only mistake a novice can make with it is allowing it to simmer or boil, which will cause it to break (the fat will separate/float to the top), but even if that happens, if you remove it from the heat and keep whisking it as it cools down, it pulls itself back together. It's foolproof, which is why I never understood the need for manufactured alternatives.

51SPii9i4iL Campbells-shrimp-soupSeafood Newburg (a dish of previously-poached, fork-friendly, mixed seafood stirred into previously-prepared Newburg sauce) and seafood Newberg (the same dish prepared using lobster exclusively) became very popular with homemakers during the 1950's, '60's and '70's because it didn't take a ton of time to make or a lot of skill to prepare.  As with almost anything made with a cream sauce at the time, the cream-of-soup and packaged-dry-mix people stuck their two cents in and dumbed-down versions of this super-easy sauce began appearing everywhere.  I know this because when I started making Newburg sauce as a new bride back in 1974, I was determined to never travel down either of those roads.

IMG_57724  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

8-12  tablespoons minced shallots

4  tablespoons dry sherry

2  cups heavy or whipping cream

2  jumbo egg yolks

4  tablespoons tomato paste

1  teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

IMG_5774~ Step 1.  In a 1-quart measuring container, using a stick blender, combine cream, yolks, tomato paste and Old Bay until smooth and pink.

IMG_5777 IMG_5782 IMG_5784 IMG_5790 IMG_5793~Step 2.  Mince the shallots as directed.  In a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, melt the butter.  Add shallots and adjust heat to saute, until shallots are translucent, about 2-3 minutes.  Add sherry and continue to cook about 2-3 more minutes.  Turn heat off.

IMG_5800~ Step 3. Stir in a small, 1/4-1/2 cup of the cream mixture. After that small IMG_5802amount is thoroughly stirred in, switch from using a spoon to a whisk and slowly drizzle in the rest of the cream mixture, whisking constantly.  Over medium heat, whisking constantly (do not stop for any reason), bring the mixture to the point where if you do stop for 1-2 seconds, it is simmering.  This will take about 3 additional minutes.

IMG_5828Remove from heat, cover and set aside. You will have 3 cups of Newburg sauce, which can be covered and refrigerated overnight and reheated/warmed ever-so-gently in the microwave the next day.

Seafood Newburg:  Shrimp Scallops & Crabmeat!

(Just click on the Related Article link below for this simply-divine recipe.)

IMG_5924Sinfully-Simple Sherry & Cream Newburg Sauce:  Recipe yields 3 cups sauce.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; whisk

6a0120a8551282970b01901da4c5da970bCook's Note:  I have a love affair with this sauce served drizzled on vegetables. It's fantastic on asparagus, which is in-season right now, but it's heaven on broccoli and cauliflower too.  Check out my post, ~ Cooking Broccoli or Cauliflower in a Rice Steamer ~ by clicking into Categories 4, 14, 15 or 20.  In the short time it takes these two veggies to steam, the sauce is prepared! 

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

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

04/10/2015

~ Seafood Newburg: Shrimp, Scallops & Crabmeat ~

IMG_5924This sinfully-rich dish of sweet, tender seafood swimming in a silky-smooth cream sauce is one of those quintessential dishes of the latter 1950's, '60's and '70's that sadly, many cooks have forgotten about. Not me.  It's one of the first fancy-schmancy restaurant dishes American housewives started making at home because it didn't take a ton of time or a lot skill to prepare from scratch. Then, as with almost anything made with a cream sauce at the time, the cream-of-soup people stuck their two cents in and began to sell cream of shrimp soup -- dumbed down versions began appearing everywhere.   I know this, because when I started making Newburg as a new bride back in 1974, I was determined to never travel down the cream-of-anything road.

IMG_5922How you spell it = what is in it.  Newberg vs Newburg.  

Newberg = lobster only.  Newburg = other or mixed seafood.

A bit about Lobster Newberg:  This is a 100% French dish with an all-American name.  It was the brainchild of Ben Wenberg, a sea captain in the mid 1800's.  In 1876, he demonstrated his all-lobster dish to the manager of Old Delmonico's Restaurant in NYC. After a bit of recipe tweeking, done by the restaurant's French chef Pascal this elegant dish appeared on the menu as: Lobster a la Wenberg.  After a disagreement between Wenberg and Delmonico, the dish was removed from the menu, then, to satisfy complaints from patrons, it quickly reappeared, under the name of Lobster a la Newberg.  When the recipe appeared in print in 1897, it revealed that live lobsters were boiled, chopped, fried in clarified butter, then simmered in a liquor-laced mixture of cream, cognac, sherry, eggs and cayenne pepper until the mixture reduced by half, then, it was brought back to a boil after adding some Madeira -- a labor-intensive, time-consuming process.

IMG_5895A bit about seafood Newburg and Newburg sauce:  By the 1930's variations of the dish began showing up in restaurants everywhere -- all less complicated to make:  fork-friendly pieces of previously-poached (in stock and white wine) fish, lobster, shrimp, scallops, crayfish and/or crabmeat, gently reheated in the previously-prepared sauce.  In 1938, Delmonico's paid homage to this most famous dish by naming its mixed seafood version:  Newburg. As for the separately prepared Newburg sauce, it became well-known for its versatility to sauce all sorts of fish, seafood, meat, poultry, egg and vegetable dishes.

Choose your favorite foil:  egg noodles, steamed rice or toast points.  

My 1st choice: pretty-to-look-at, oh-so-easy puff pastry shells!

IMG_5733Before you start, decide what you want to serve your Newburg atop.  It's superb over cooked egg noodles or steamed white rice, but, it was classically served over brioche toast points.  I like all of them, but, when I'm in the mood for the classic, an alternative which lends an elegant touch to the presentation, is:  a package of store-bought puff pastry shells.  I'm baking 2 packages today, for a total of 12 shells, which will be enough to serve 6 people as a main course (2 per person).

IMG_5738 IMG_5742~ Step 1.  Place pastry shells, pre-scored sides up, on a parchment lined baking pan.  Bake on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven about 18-20 minutes, until puffed up and golden brown.

IMG_5755 IMG_5760~ Step 2. Remove from oven and immediately transfer pastry shells to a cooling rack.  Allow to cool 5-6 minutes.   Using the blade of a sharp knife, follow the score lines all around each top/perimeter without plunging the knife so far into the centers as to pierce through to the bottom.

IMG_5761~ Step 3.  Using your fingertips and the knife blade, carefully lift off each top, along with the soft pastry attached to it underneath.

IMG_5766Place the tops on a paper towel lined plate and set aside to use as garnish for the finished dish.

My Sinfully-Simple Sherry & Cream Newburg Sauce!

IMG_57724  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

8-12 tablespoons minced shallots

4  tablespoons dry sherry 

2  cups heavy or whipping cream

2  jumbo egg yolks

4  tablespoons tomato paste

1  teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

IMG_5774~ Step 1.  In a 1-quart measuring container, using  a stick blender, combine cream, yolks, tomato paste and Old Bay until smooth and pink. 

IMG_5777 IMG_5782 IMG_5784 IMG_5790 IMG_5793~Step 2.  Mince the shallots as directed.  In a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, melt the butter.  Add shallots and adjust heat to saute, until shallots are translucent, about 2-3 minutes.  Add sherry and continue to cook about 2-3 more minutes.  Turn heat off.  

IMG_5800~ Step 3. Stir in a small, 1/4-1/2 cup of the cream mixture. After that small amount is thoroughly stirred in, IMG_5802switch from using a spoon to a whisk and slowly drizzle in the rest of the cream mixture, whisking constantly.  Over medium heat, whisking constantly (do not stop for any reason) bring the mixture to the point where if you do stop for 1-2 seconds, it is simmering.  This will take about 3 additional minutes.  

IMG_5828Remove from heat, cover and set aside. You will have 3 cups of Newburg sauce, which can be covered and refrigerated overnight and reheated/warmed ever-so-gently in the microwave the next day.

My favorite fork-friendly combination of seafood for Newburg:

IMG_58332  pounds extra-large shrimp (26-30 count), peeled and deveined, tails-off, about 1 1/2 pounds shrimp after peeling

1  pound bay scallops, drained

1  pound pasteurized jumbo lump crabmeat, the best available, well-drained

1  quart shrimp stock, preferably homemade

3  cups white wine (Note:  Feel free to substitute shrimp stock for wine.)

IMG_5837 IMG_5839  IMG_5842 IMG_5851 IMG_5862                                       ~ Step 1.  Place the shrimp stock and white wine in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan and bring to a boil over high heat.  Do not lower the heat. Add the shrimp and wait 3 minutes. Add the scallops and wait 3 minutes, or until seafood returns to a simmer.  Drain into a colander and immediately return shrimp and scallops to the hot pan and return the pan to the still warm stovetop. Gently fold in the lump crabmeat.

IMG_5876 IMG_5867~ Step 2. Add and gently fold in all of the warm Newburg sauce.  Three cups of sauce will be, and is, the perfect amount to enrobe all of this sweet, succulent seafood. This is enough seafood for 6-8 main-course servings no matter what you're serving it atop.  Serve pleasingly warm, not steaming hot.

Pile 'em high and pretty too -- presentation is everything!

IMG_5916Seafood Newburg:  Shrimp, Scallops & Crabmeat:  Recipe yields 6 main-course servings (2 per person) or 12 starter-course servings (1 per person).

Special Equipment List:  baking pan; parchment paper; cooling rack; sharp paring knife; paper towels;  1-quart measuring container; electric stick blender; cutting board; chef's knife; 2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; whisk; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides; colander

6a0120a8551282970b017d431e0c64970cCook's Note:  Whenever I am making a shrimp dish that requires me to peel the uncooked shrimp I place and store the shells in two big bags in my freezer.  The moment I get two pounds, which is a lot of shells, I make shrimp stock.  You can find my recipe ~ Save Those Shrimp Shells!!!  Because I Said So!!! (How to:  Make a Basic Shrimp Stock a la Melanie ~ in Categories 14, 15 or 22!

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

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

04/07/2015

~ Farfalle w/Roasted Asparagus & Grape Tomatoes ~

IMG_5705Today we enjoyed our first thick, juicy outdoor-grilled steak of the Spring season.  Yes, Joe does grill off-and-on throughout the Winter, but, there's just something celebratory about the official opening day of grill season.  This simple, straightforward side-dish was the only thing I needed to turn a steak-on-a-plate into our entire meal, and, we gobbled it all up.  While this pasta dish goes great with chicken or shrimp tossed into it, I enjoy it the most served next to a steak.  That said, it is also well-balanced enough to be served "as is" as a dang-good meatless meal.

PICT2719This has been a banner year for asparagus here in Central PA. They are plump and juicy, and, I've been binge-buying two-pounds of them every few days.  On Easter Sunday, I made my recipe for ~ It's Easy Being Green:  Cream of Asparagus Soup + (How to Choose, Store and Cook Asparagus too! ~.  You can get the recipe by clicking on the Related Article link below.  In preparation for making this side-dish tonight, I set all of the 2" tips aside, using only the stalks to make the soup.

IMG_56482-2 1/2 cups 2"-long asparagus tips, taken from 2 pounds medium-thickness asparagus, about 6-8 ounces

(Note:  This dish looks prettier using all asparagus tips, so, when I'm making it for a special occasion, I use them exclusively, but, feel free to use 2" lengths of the stalks too, after discarding the woody ends from the bottom of the spears.)

2  cups grape tomatoes, cut in half, about 1 pint

3-4  tablespoons olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_56641  pound farfalle (bow ties), or any nontubular fork-friendly pasta like spirals or shells

(Note:  Since this pasta is not tossed with a liquid sauce, fork-friendly pasta that contains holes, like penne or rigatoni, end up bland tasting because there is no liquid to flow through their holes.)

1 1/2  cups well-drained fresh mozzarella pearls (perline), about 1, 8-ounce container

1 1/2  cups finely-grated locatelli cheese, or Parmigiano-Reggiano + 1/2 cup additional cheese for topping finished portions

3/4-1  cup chiffinade of fresh basil (Note:  "Chiffonade" is a French word that means  "little ribbons".)

IMG_5655~ Step 1.  Place asparagus and tomatoes in a 9" pie dish.  Add EVOO  and toss to coat.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.

IMG_5659Roast on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven for 15 minutes, stopping to toss (with two tablespoons) every 6 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

IMG_5676~ Step 2.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon salt.  Sprinkle in the farfalle and cook until al dente, about 9-10 minutes.  Drain into a colander and immediately return pasta to the still hot stockpot.

IMG_5668~ Step 3. While pasta cooks, grate cheese and slice basil.

IMG_5690 IMG_5694~ Step 4. Using two large spoons, toss in the IMG_5699vegetables and all EVOO in pie dish.  Toss in mozzarella and basil.  Toss in grated cheese.

Season to taste with more freshly-ground sea salt and liberally with more peppercorn blend.

A simple, straightforward and seriously Springy side-dish!!!

IMG_5709Portion into warm bowls & serve topped w/more grated cheese.  Open wide for a mouthful of this gloriously happy meal! 

IMG_5717Farfalle w/Roasted Asparagus & Grape Tomatoes:  Recipe yields 6-8 side-servings or 4 main-course servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 9" pie dish; two ordinary tablespoons; 8-quart stockpot; colander; microplane grater; two large spoons or salad servers

6a0120a8551282970b01630255e272970dCook's Note:  For a twist on this recipe (it doesn't contain pasta) that makes a tasty bed to serve grilled steak on, click into Categories 4 or 14 to get ~ Roasted Asparagus, Tomatoes, Mushrooms & Feta w/Balsamic Reduction ~.

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

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

04/05/2015

~ It's Easy Being Green: Cream of Asparagus Soup + (How to: Choose, Store and Cook Asparagus too!) ~

PICT2719The calendar, green grass, daffodils and sunshine tell me it is Spring.  That said, a few days of uncharacteristically warm March temperatures took a dive down into the mid-thirties to start April off.  Yesterday I turned the heat back on in the house and today have declared this to be a soup day.  No vegetable announces the Spring season and the Easter holiday like asparagus!

PICT2715They are in-season, plentiful, plump and flavorful.  I've been buying them in 2-pound quantities every couple of days, and it just so happens I have 1 1/2 pounds of them in my refrigerator, just enough to make my super-easy, creamy, Spring-green asparagus soup for dinner tonight!

When choosing asparagus:  Freshness matters more than thickness!

PICT2694How to choose asparagus:  Look for straight, firm stalks that are bright green in color.  Do not buy asparagus that appears dry, wrinkled or limp.  The tender heads should be compact and deep-green, slightly purple-ish in color, not ruffled or flowery looking.  To ensure even cooking, always purchase asparagus of even thickness.  While thinner asparagus tends to be more tender, medium-thickness, like I am using today, is perfect for boiling or roasting, and, thick asparagus is great when grilled.  Do not purchase asparagus unless you plan to cook it within 2-3 days, and, when you bring it home, don't wash it.  Before you refrigerate it, stand each bunch upright in a glass with about half an inch of cold water in it, or, wrap the woody stem ends in damp paper towels then place the spears in a food storage bag.  Prior to cooking asparagus, rinse it under cold water.  Do not soak it or scrub it.  Holding the stalks upside down, give them a few shakes, to remove excess water and any grit that might be in the tips.  The versatile asparagus can be eaten raw or microwaved, blanched, boiled, stir-fried, baked, roasted, grilled and eaten cold, hot or at room temperature!

PICT2695With the exception of pencil-thin asparagus (which are completely edible), each stalk is structured with a woody end, and, the thicker the stalk the longer the woody end. Holding  each stalk at the base and tip, bend it until it snaps in two. Where the break occurs is where the tender, edible green stalk will separate from its tough, whitish, inedible base.  Discard the woody ends.  Prep and cook the stalks as directed in the recipe you are using.

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Easy Cream of Asparagus Soup

PICT27171 1/2  pounds asparagus spears, medium-thickness, tips and stalks cut into 1-1 1/2" lengths, woody stalk ends discarded

3/4  cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion

1/2  cup finely-diced celery

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)

1 tablespoon dried mint flakes

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4  teaspoon white pepper

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1/2  cup white wine

2  cups chicken stock (vegetable stock may be substituted)

1-1 1/2 cups cream, at room temperature

PICT2717 PICT2715~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart stock pot, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in mint, nutmeg, salt, cayenne and white peppers.  

Add the celery and onions. Increase heat to saute, until onion is soft and translucent, 5-6 minutes.

PICT2722~ Step 2.  Reduce heat to low and stir in the flour.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is very thick and the bottom of the stockpot is dry, about 45-60 seconds.

~ Step 3.  Add the white wine and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is smooth and lump-free, an additional 45-60 seconds.  

PICT2728~ Step 4.  Add the chicken stock and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Add the asparagus tips and pieces.  Adjust heat to a slow, steady simmer and continue to cook until the asparagus is cooked through, about 10-12 minutes.  

Note:  Timing will vary depending upon how thick the asparagus is.

PICT2735~ Step 5.  Turn the heat off.  Add 1 cup of the cream.  Stir thoroughly. Cover the pot and allow the soup to "steep"  30-60 minutes to allow the flavors ample time to marry.

~ Step 6.  Transfer to work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  With motor running, process until smooth, about 45- 60 seconds. Let sit 2-3 minutes.  Process in additional cream, if necessary, until desired consistency is reached. 

This beautiful, subtly-flavored, Spring soup is best served slightly warm or at room temperature:

PICT2716It's Easy Being Green:  Cream of Asparagus Soup + (How to:  Choose, Store and Cook Asparagus too!):  Recipe yields 2 quarts or 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; food-processor; soup ladle

PICT2707Cook's Note:  ~ My Asparagus, Smoked Salmon and Havarti Tart ~ is the perfect compliment to this refreshing, comforting Spring-green soup.  Just click into categories 2, 9 or 14 to get the recipe! 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

04/03/2015

~ My Brown-Sugar-Crusted Crockpot Corned Beef ~

IMG_5630It's no secret:  my crockpot is my least used kitchen appliance.  I don't use it at all unless the end justifies the means without any compromise in the food.  Corned beef is one example.  My stovetop ~ Braised and Brown Sugar Glazed Corned Beef ~ recipe has been very popular ever since I posted it on the blog-o-sphere (in conjunction with a Kitchen Encounters TV cooking segment) back in 2011.  You can get the recipe and watch me cook it too by clicking on the Related Article link below.  I assure you, my recipe cooks up the same on the stovetop or in the crockpot, and, my method preference is based on quantity not quality.  I use the stovetop when I want to make 2-3 corned beef at once, and, I use the crockpot when I'm just making one!

IMG_5629A homemade corned beef sandwich is for anytime of the year!!!

IMG_5475Everyone associates corned beef with St. Patrick's Day, but, the truth be told, Joe and I like corned beef sandwiches so much that I make it several times a year.  That said, anyone and everyone who makes corned beef for St. Patrick's Day knows that a week or two after the holiday they go on sale for almost half the price.  So, yesterday, when I saw them BOGO'd (buy one get one free), I bought one to cook tonight and one to freeze for later.  

IMG_0358In less than ten minutes, our dinner was cooking itself in the crockpot, a loaf of my ~ Try My Rye: It's Homemade in the Bread Machine ~, was baking itself, and, I was free to continue with my Easter preparations for Sunday.  For me, the rye bread is sort of a BOGO too: It's going to make great ham sandwiches using my leftover holiday ham.  You can get my bread recipe by clicking into categories 2, 5, 12, 15 or 20.  Yippie & yummy!

IMG_54741  cup water

1  4-5-pound flat- or point-cut corned beef brisket

1 1/2  cups chopped yellow onion

12  whole allspice

2  whole bay leaves

2  whole cinnamon sticks

12  whole cloves

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

IMG_54781/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4  cup dark brown sugar

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1  additional cup dark brown sugar for finishing roast under broiler

~ Step 1.  Remove brisket from package, discard seasoning packet and rinse meat under cold water. Add the water to crockpot then add the roast, fat side up.

IMG_5482 IMG_5486 IMG_5498 IMG_5500 IMG_5508

 

 

 

~ Step 2.  Layer the chopped onions, all of the spices, the brown sugar and the tomatoes on top of the roast.  Cover and cook on high power for two hours.

IMG_5522~ Step 3. Uncover and give the mixture a "sort of stir". Do not flip the meat over.  Put the lid back on and cook over low power for four hours.

IMG_5553 IMG_5545~ Step 4. Turn the crockpot off.

Using a wide spatula and a fork, carefully remove the meat and place it, fat side up, on a rack in a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole containing about 1/4" water.  Transfer the sauce to a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with straight deep sides and set aside.  

IMG_5574Spoon the additional 1 cup of brown sugar over the top of the meat.  Using your fingertips, spread, pat and press it down to form a thin coating over the surface.

Note:  I add the water to the bottom of the casserole because it will prevent any melting sugar that drips to the bottom of the dish from IMG_5610burning and/or smoking.

~ Step 5.  Place the meat on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven until the sugar is bubbling and golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to rest, uncovered, about 15 minutes, prior to slicing and serving.  This rest will allow the sugar to harden and form a crunchy crust.

IMG_5601 IMG_5586~ Step 6. While meat is in oven then resting, bring sauce to a steady simmer over medium-high heat and cook, uncovered, until reduced by half and nicely-thickened, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  As you find them, discard bay leaves and cinnamon sticks.  

IMG_5614 IMG_5587Note:  Sauce will be the texture of chunky ketchup, and, what began as a generous 6 cups will have reduced to about 3 cups.  I serve mine "as is" because I like the pieces of onion in it, but, if it's a smooth version you desire,  puree it in a blender or food processor.

IMG_7272~ Step 7.  After the meat has rested, carve the corned beef by first slicing it in half, to make two easier-to-manage pieces.  Next slice each half, as thick or thin as you like it, cutting it with the grain (which keeps it from falling apart), OR, against the grain (which gives it a shred-y kind-of falling-apart texture. Serve it warm, at room temperature or even cold:  It tastes fantastic.

Anyway you slice it, this luxurious meat cuts like butter...

IMG_5627... and tastes even better!

IMG_7303My Brown-Sugar-Crusted Crockpot Corned Beef:  Recipe yields enough corned beef to make 6-8 large deli-style sandwiches and 3 cups of sauce for dipping or drizzling.

Special Equipment List:  crockpot; cutting board; chef's knife; wide spatula; fork; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; cooling rack sized appropriately to fit into casserole dish; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon; blender or food processor (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01a73de681d0970d 6a0120a8551282970b01bb07ce982b970dCook's Note: Two things go great with a corned beef sandwich: potato salad or coleslaw.  I prefer the first, Joe likes the second.  To get my recipes for ~ Mel's Creamy Potato and Egg Salad Recipe ~, or, ~ Mel's Creamy Crunchy Seriously-Good Coleslaw ~, click into Categories 4, 10 or 17!

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

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

04/01/2015

~ Macadamia-Mango, Coconut-Rum Banana-Bread ~

IMG_5443From the day I got married, I began celebrating two Easter holidays.  One for Joe's loud, Italian-Catholic family and one for my quiet Russian, Eastern Orthodox family.  While the theme for both is the same, the foodie traditions are very different.  To make a long story as short as possible, they fall on different dates because the Orthodox religion follows the Julian calendar (the calendar of Julius Caesar that was introduced in 46 B.C.), and, the Catholic church follows the Gregorian calendar (instituted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582).  The Pope's reformed calendar was slow to catch on in religions that do not recognize papal authority, but, by the 1700's it was internationally accepted by everyone -- except the Orthodox.  Because Christ's entombment and resurrection occurred during Jewish Passover, we do not celebrate until their Passover ends.

IMG_5410So what does banana bread have to do with Easter?

Nothing, except:  it is a sweet treat that everyone in both families happens to love: toasted and buttered on Easter morning.  Just like my Russian tea cakes and Italian biscotti in their cookie tins at Christmas, they'd be disappointed if there wasn't a mini-loaf or two of my banana bread in their Easter baskets -- it's earned its spot in the mix of traditional Eastern European and Italian ethnic favorites -- it's become our newest tradition.  As the family baker, this easy-to-make quick bread kicks off my Easter bake-fest because I can make and freeze them 1-2 weeks in advance.

PICT2714A bit about quick bread:  "Quick bread" is an American term that refers to bread that is quick to make because it doesn't require kneading or rising time.  It originated during the American civil war, when the demand for food and bread was high.  Innovative cooks began rapidly producing bread and baked goods that were leavened with baking soda rather than yeast.  Nowadays, the leavening agent is predominately double-acting baking powder, or, a combination of baking powder and baking soda.  In the case of baking powder, it is called "double acting" because the rising process starts the moment it makes contact with the liquids, and, gives a second burst of rising power when the bread enters the hot oven.  Typically, quick breads contain eggs, flour, salt and fat (butter, margarine, shortening or oil) and leavening.  That said, they can be sweet or savory and contain sugar, fruits, fruit puree, vegetables, vegetable puree and various liquids (milk, buttermilk, fruit juice or stock).  The wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately, in two different bowls, then briefly stirred together just prior to baking.  Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, scones, soda bread and waffles all fall into the quick-bread category too!

PICT2716For the dry ingredients:

7  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

3  tablespoons baking powder

2  teaspoons salt

PICT2721For the banana puree:

4-5  cups mashed bananas, from 11-12 large, over-ripe bananas (Note:  When I know I'm going to be baking banana bread, I buy my bananas a week ahead of time. The bananas pictured here took a full 7-8 days to get to the perfect banana-bread ripeness.  Over-ripe bananas, are incredibly fragrant, sweet and flavorful -- a lot more than the pretty yellow ones.)

2  tablespoons butter-rum or rum extract

1 teaspoon each:  banana, coconut and vanilla extract

For the wet ingredients:

1 1/3  cups butter-flavored vegetable shortening, at room temperature

2 1/2  cups sugar

8  large eggs, at room temperature

For the dried fruit and nuts:

2  cups coarsely-chopped dry-roasted macadamia nuts

1  cup finely-diced dried mango

1  cup sweetened, flaked coconut

For preparing the pans:

no-stick cooking spray (for nonstick pans), or, butter and flour (for conventional pans)

PICT2714Step 1.  Coarsely chop the macadamias as directed, placing them in a shallow baking pan as you work.  Roast on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, until lightly-toasted and fragrant, about 12-15 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.  Do not turn the oven off.

~ Step 2.  Dice the dried mango as directed and set aside.  Measure the coconut and set aside.  In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, baking powder and salt.

PICT2726 PICT2722~ Step 3.  In a medium bowl, place the peeled bananas, along with all of the extracts.  

On medium-speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the bananas until well combined, yet smashed and still lumpy, about 45-60 seconds.  Set aside.

PICT2731~ Step 4.  In a large bowl, place the shortening and sugar.  Starting on low speed of mixer, then gradually increasing speed to medium-high, combine the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.  

PICT2734Two-at-a-time, beat in the the eggs, until thick and smooth.

PICT2737~ Step 5.  Using the electric mixer on low speed, or just a large rubber spatula, add and fold the banana mixture into the shortening mixture.

PICT2744~ Step 6.  In three parts (1/3, 1/3 & 1/3) add the flour mixture to the wet mixture, beating the batter after each addition until smooth, while using the rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

PICT2746~ Step 7.  Add the toasted macadamias, diced mango and flaked coconut to the bowl.  Using the spatula, fold until all ingredients are thoroughly combined and a thick, chunky batter has formed.

PICT2753~ Step 8. Ladle batter evenly into 12 mini-loaf pans (prepared as directed above).

PICT2755Note:  After pans have been filled with batter, I place each one on a kitchen scale.  Using an ordinary tablespoon, I adjust the amount in each pan to insure even baking and even-sized loaves. Today, each pan weighs 14 ounces.

Additionally, while I bake all 12 loaves on the center rack of a preheated oven at the same time, I PICT2716place and bake 10 of them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan.  This allows for a quick and easy transfer in and out of the hot oven, as well as prevents heat loss caused by keeping the door open too long.

~ Step 9.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester (or toothpick) when inserted into their centers comes out clean. Loaves will have risen, tops will be golden brown and sides will be separating from sides of pans.  Remove from oven and cool, in pans, about 8 minutes, prior to inverting loaves out of pans and transferring to a cooling rack.

PICT2713Slice and serve slightly warm or at room temperature:

IMG_5421Macadamia-Mango, Coconut-Rum Banana-Bread:  Recipe yields 12 mini-loaves, 6-8 slices per loaf, 3-4 servings per loaf.

Special Equipment List:  8" x 8" x 2" baking pan; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; whisk; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 12, 5 3/4" x 3 1/4" x 2" (2-cup size) mini-loaf pans; soup ladle; kitchen scale (optional); 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0168e9b2a4c8970cCook's Note:  At Easter, I also make a savory "quick bread" that my husband's family also loves toasted for breakfast. Technically, it's not quick bread because it's yeast risen, but, I call it one because it gets mixed together quickly in the food processor, and has the same dense texture.  You can find my recipe for ~ Italian Easter: Peppery Egg & Cheese Crescia ~ in Categories 5, 11, 12 or 22!

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

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