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13 posts from June 2015

06/30/2015

~ Cheese-Filled Blintzes with Sour-Cherry Topping ~

IMG_9008Whoa Nellie -- please hold -- wait a minute -- is Mel making blintzes or blini?  That's a valid question with an all-too-often misunderstood answer.  Most experts will tell you the name is used interchangeably all over Central and Eastern Europe, with "blinchick" being the generic word for pancake in general, and, "blintchiki" being the plural.  The slang terms "blintz" and "blin" were born from those words, and, nowadays, here in the USA, what they're called depends upon where your European ancestors came from, where they settled when they immigrated to America, and, who your American grandma got her recipe from.  As per the culinary gospel of my Russian/Slovak, Russian Orthodox grandmother, there is a big difference between the two.

In my kitchen a blintz and a blin are two different pancakes! 

IMG_8911A blintz is an extremely thin, rather large, 6"-10" round, unleavened, twice-cooked crepe-like pancake made from a drizzly, thin, frothy batter of flour, eggs, milk and/or water or club soda, sugar, salt and melted butter. A few tablespoons of the batter are swirled around in a flat skillet (or crepe pan), and, one-at-a-time, each one cooks in a matter of seconds.  The pancakes are filled with quark (curd cheese), or, cottage cheese enriched with a IMG_8930good bit of cream cheese.  FYI:

In Eastern Europe, cottage cheese is considered to be a less firm version of quark, which while similar in texture to ricotta, differs from ricotta in that ricotta is made from scalded whey.  Quark is made from fermented, soured milk.

Each blintz is folded into a neat package, to fully-encase the filling, then lightly-fried a second time, in some butter, in a skillet. The blintzes are served for breakfast or dessert topped with fresh fruit, a warm fruit sauce or cold fruit preserves and/or sour cream.

Depending upon the Eastern European country the blintzes are being made, they can be affectionately referred to as palacinki (Czech, Slovak, Croatian, Slovenien), palatschinken (Austrian), palascinta (Hungarian) and nalesniki (Polish).  My dad made the palacinki in our house, and, he skipped the cheese and the second fry.  He simply slathered them, while they were hot, with softened butter and jam or honey, then, rolled them up "cigar-style" to serve.

IMG_9045blin is a small 3"-4" round, 1/4"-1/2"-thick, 100% yeast-leavened griddlecake (resemblant of a small American pancake) made from a thick, spoonable batter of buckwheat flour, warm milk, melted butter, egg yolks and egg whites. Stacks of them are served alongside iced bowls of pickled herring, smoked sturgeon and salmon. Russian buckwheat blini are the classic foil for the classic caviar service with minced onions, sauteed mushroom mixtures and sour cream. Russian cuisine gets full credit for blini -- no one can eat just one blin.  You can argue this point amongst yourselves all you want.  I won't.   Repeat:  Blini resemble American pancakes. 

If you don't rise blini using yeast (they are NEVER made with baking powder or baking soda), and you don't make them with buckwheat flour, you ain't makin' real-deal Russian blini baby.  

So -- what's the difference between an Eastern European blintz and a French crepe?

IMG_7015While the difference between a blintz and blin is like comparing apples to oranges, you'll be happy to know that the difference between a blintz and crepe is, well, pretty much:  there is very little difference.  If you've got a spot-on classic recipe for French crepes, you've got the base for a classic recipe for Eastern European blintzes.  Here's what I do:  When I'm making blintzes, I follow my crepe recipe adding two extra eggs to the batter.  Why?  Traditional blintzes are slightly eggier than crepes (or at least the ones my Russian Baba made were) -- which makes them even easier to make than the slightly-more-delicate crepe.  When I'm serving these ultra-thin pancakes "a la France" (in the style of France), I refer to them as "crepes", and, when I'm serving them classic "a la Russe" (in the style of Russia), I refer to them as "blintzes".  In the case of crepes and blintzes, the difference is just an egg or two -- it is a very small food world indeed!

IMG_8915Part One:  Making the Blintz Batter and 'The First Fry'

IMG_6824For the blintzes:

1  cup all-purpose flour

1  cup whole milk

1/2  cup club soda, water may be substituted

6  large eggs, at room temperature

4  tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled about 5 minutes

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2  teaspoons sugar (for sweet blintzes only)

2  teaspoons pure cherry or pure vanilla extract (for sweet blintzes only)

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

IMG_6839 IMG_6832Step 1. Place all ingredients, as listed in a 1-quart measuring container.  Using a hand-held stick blender, process until smooth, about 1 full minute.  Cover container with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.  You will have 3 1/2 cups of blintz batter.

Note:  Refrigerating the batter for a minimum of 1 hour is an important step, so, don't be inclined to skip it or rush it.  Refrigeration relaxes the gluten in the flour, which produces light, airy blintzes.  It is perfectly acceptable to make your blintz batter up to a day in advance.

IMG_6851Step 2.  Before starting to make the blintzes, you must decide what size and shape you want, meaning, you'll need to choose a pan to cook them in.  In the event you don't IMG_6848have an offensively-expensive, long-handled French crepe pan, relax.  A nonstick skillet or stovetop griddle work great.  But:  the pan's size affects the amount of batter you need to add to it, and, the number of blintzes you will end up with!

Note:  I'm using the inexpensive, 6" square stovetop griddle that I bought at the grocery store to demonstrate for two reasons:  A $6.00 pan works as well as a $106.00 pan, and, if you've never made blintzes, start small.  Once you perfect your technique you can graduate to a larger pan.

IMG_6895 IMG_6870Step 3. Remove batter from refrigerator and stir. "Spritz" griddle w/no-stick spray and place over medium-high heat.  Ladle 4 tablespoons of batter onto griddle. Lift and tilt pan to distribute batter evenly.  Place on heat and cook about 30 seconds.   Batter will be bubbled and surface will look dry.

Note:  My stove is gas and I set my heat to just above medium.  Use the first blintz or two to find a setting that is neither too high nor too low.  You should hear a low sizzle when the batter is added to pan.  If the heat is "right" you won't have to adjust it for the remainder of the process.

IMG_6944 IMG_6942Step 4. Slide a long, thin, spatula under the crepe and carefully lift it up.  Be brave.  This is easier than you think.  If the spatula doesn't slide underneath easily, let the blintz cook another few seconds.

IMG_6938Place it back in the pan, second side down and cook for another IMG_692330 or so seconds, or, until, without the aid of the spatula, blintz will slide with ease onto a large plate or platter.  Once on the platter, flip blintz over (first side down and second side up).  Repeat this process, for as long as batter lasts, "spritzing" the griddle with a bit of cooking spray and restirring the batter each time you make a blintz.

IMG_8872 IMG_8884 IMG_8896The size of the classic-styled round crepe pan is 9" -10". While the cooking process is identical, a larger size blintz even cooks in the same amount IMG_8898 IMG_8907 IMG_8908of time, the amount of batter changes.  In a classic 10" crepe pan, I use 6 tablespoons of batter per blintz.

Note:  Blintzes can be prepared several hours and up to 3-4-5 days in advance of serving.  Once cooled, just cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  I have not had good results freezing them, so, there is no need to waste your time with that experiment.  When serving, if blintzes are stacked, the first side (the smoother, slightly darker side) is referred to as the "top".  If blintzes are filled and folded, the first side (the smoother, slightly darker side) is referred to as the "outside".

IMG_8954Part Two:  Making Filling, Folding Blintzes, &, 'The Second Fry'

IMG_9185When it comes to the cheese filling, I am not nearly so opinionated. Every cook in every family makes their filling a bit differently, and, while I know for a fact the Eastern Europeans of our past did not use ricotta or mascarpone (in place of quark or cottage cheese mixed with cream cheese), or, creme fraiche (in place of sour cream), I also know that in today's food world, those soft-cheese substitutions are IMG_9193perfectly acceptable and tasty.  

That said, I can't end this discussion without mentioning farmer cheese (or farmer's cheese) -- which is essentially cottage cheese that has been pressed to remove the liquid. Farmer's cheese is what my grandmother used to fill her blintzes and her pierogi too.  It has almost the same consistency as whole milk ricotta with the tasty tang of cream cheese -- I adore it.  If you can find it, make it your #1 choice.

That said, do not substitute other types of generically labeled farmer cheese -- those that are dry and crumbly (resemblant of feta or queso fresco), or, firm but springy (like colby or cheddar).    

IMG_89352  cups of a soft farmer's cheese or whole-milk ricotta (1, 16-ounce container of either)

8  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1/2  cup large-curd cottage cheese

2  teaspoons pure cherry extract or vanilla extract

IMG_89401  large egg 

1  large egg yolk

IMG_8943~ Step 1.  On high speed of electric mixer, beat all ingredients until smooth, 1 minute. You will have 4 cups of filling. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours (or overnight) -- so the cream cheese can chill and stiffen.

IMG_8945 IMG_8948 IMG_8949 IMG_8951 IMG_8954~Step 2.  One at a time, pick a blintz up off the stack and flip it over so the smooth, pretty outside is facing down.  If you made large 9"-10"-round blintzes, place 5 tablespoons of the chilled filling in a 4"-5" strip across the center.  If you made smaller 6"-square blinzes, place 2 1/2 tablespoons of the filling in a IMG_89552"-3" strip across the center. Lift the side closest to you up and over the top of the filling.  Fold the left and right sides of the blintz over the first flap and towards the center.  Roll the blinze over, seam side down. Repeat this process until all or the desired number of blintzes have been filled and formed into even-sized packets (these pictured here today are 4 1/2" x 2 1/4").

Note:  Blintzes can be fried immediately or covered and refrigerated for several hours or overnight.  Some cooks will tell you that, at this point, the filled blintzes can be frozen.  While they can indeed be successfully frozen, I find that freezing compromises their texture somewhat.

IMG_8959 IMG_8965 IMG_8974 IMG_8980~Step 3.  You can fry as many or as few as you want in an appropriately sized nonstick skillet, or, for a large batch, an electric skillet.  As an example:  melt 2 tablespoons salted butter in a 10" skillet over low heat.  Increase heat to medium and add 2 blintzes, seam side down.  Fry until lightly golden on both sides, turning only once, about 2 minutes per side.  Serve immediately:

IMG_8983Part Three:  Topping and Eating the Blintzes

6a0120a8551282970b01538fc594ba970b-800wiWe've arrived at the best part. When it comes to sweet cheese-filled blintzes, feel free to use your favorite fruit sauce, fruit jam or fruit preserve recipe (peaches, plums, blueberries and strawberries are excellent choices).  Because sour cherries (pie cherries) are commonly used in many Eastern European recipes (chilled cherry soup, cherry-filled piroshki, cherry PICT0008pound cakes, cherry pies, tarts and cookies, and, in savory sauces for game birds like duck and goose too) they are my all-time favorite topping.  Fortunately for me, we've got a "bird cherry" tree (sour cherries are nicknamed "bird cherries" because once they ripen, they must be picked ASAP -- or the birds will eat every last one of them). We have one sour cherry tree, which thrives in our climate, and gifts us every year with an overwhelming amount of fruit -- 125 pounds of cherries this year alone!

PICT0001If I do say so myself, ~ 'Tis True: Sour Cherries Do Make the Best Jam ~, and, mine, which has a good dose of cherry brandy added to it, is the ultimate topping for my blintzes.  I add it to my custard to make a sublime sour cherry ice cream, and, when I add a bit of my duck stock to it, it becomes a superb sweet and savory sauce for all sorts of poultry and pork too.  Once you pit the cherries, it's really easy to make and you can get the recipe by clicking into Categories, 8, 9, or 22!

A sparse sprinkling of Confectioners' sugar is shameless...

IMG_8991... and a spoonful of my sour cherry jam is sinful! 

IMG_9027Cheese-Filled Blintzes with Sour Cherry Preserves:  Recipe yields 2 dozen, 6" square blintzes or 1 dozen, 10" round blintzes, 4 cups filling, and, my recipe for ~ 'Tis True:  Sour Cherries Do Make the Best Jam ~.

IMG_9055 IMG_9060Special Equipment List:  1-quart measuring container; stick blender; 6" square or 10" round crepe pan, preferably nonstick; long, thin spatula; hand-held electric mixer; rubber spatula; plastic wrap; appropriately sized nonstick skillet or electric skillet (controls the heat perfectly); spatula

PICT0520Cook's Note:  After they are pitted, I love to freeze these cherries in 2-pound bags.  I make cherry pie with them all year long.  You can find the recipe, ~ I Can't Lie:  This is Real Sour Cherry Streusel Pie ~, by clicking into Category 6.

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

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

06/26/2015

~ GrandMa's Incredible Edible Classic Deviled Egg ~

IMG_8806We grandmothers of today are much different than the grandmothers of past generations.  I know.  I've been GrandMel for eight years, and, when I look around my kitchen, I see a sea of countertop appliances that make my work a whole lot easier:  grind my coffee beans, blend my smoothies, chop my vegetables, mix my cake batters, steam my rice, make my pasta, bake my bread, press my sandwiches, fry my fritters and freeze my ice cream.  The list goes on.  By the time I was born in 1955, my grandmother had acquired a toaster, and, a fancy-schmancy Sunbeam stand mixer.  Past those, she relied 100% on the basic cooking skills she learned from her mother and grandmother to get meals on the family table in an efficient, timely manner.

IMG_8765My grandmother almost always had a few hard-cooked eggs on hand in her refrigerator.  Hard-cooking eggs was a great way to extend the shelf life of her farm-fresh eggs and an inexpensive source of protein for her family --  she chopped and used them in her egg, tuna and potato salad.  If friends or family dropped by, in less than 5 minutes, she would slice, mash and concoct, then, place a plate of deviled eggs on the table to offer as a snack. Back then, deviled eggs were simple and basic:  they were good food for good people sharing good conversation and a good time (plus a few good drinks or cocktails too).

GrandMa's deviled eggs weren't fancy, they were simply delicious! 

IMG_8667Deviled eggs have come a very long way baby.  They aren't just a quick snack for impromptu get-togethers, backyard barbecues and neighborhood picnics. This humble, rustic, cold appetizer or side-dish has been elevated to near celebrity status. Fine chefs and gutsy gourmets are adding everything from ancho chili pepper to wasabi paste to them. Elegant looking and divine tasting, deviled eggs are making appearances in upscale restaurants, as pub grub in IMG_8729microbreweries, at fancy caterings and elegant dinner parties.  They can be quite pricey too -- depending upon the ingredients, $7.00 - $8.00 for a small plate of 3-4 egg halves in a restaurant, or, $1.75 - $2.00 per piece for a catering.  If that surprises you, elegant-looking, meticulously-garnished deviled eggs are labor intensive.  

For those of you who never encountered or experienced the humble, classic deviled egg:

As far back as the 18th century, the term deviled was used to describe spicy food in general, more specifically:  cooked eggs whose yolks were mashed together with mustard, pepper and a few other flavorful additions including fresh or dried herbs, then returned to the yolk cavities, which were used as portion-sized serving vessels.  Culinarily, the verb "devil" means:  to combine any food with hot or spicy seasonings such as pepper, red pepper, dry or prepared mustard, Worcestershire or cayenne pepper-type sauces, resulting in a "devilish" dish.

IMG_8815A hand-mashed & stirred blend of on-hand "of the era" pantry ingredients!

IMG_8759 IMG_8764 IMG_8775 IMG_8780 IMG_8787Extra-large eggs, 6 eggs, taken right from the refrigerator hard-cooked, peeled and sliced in half (Note:  Click on the Related Article link below, ~ A Little Thing Called: How to Hard-Cook an Egg ~, to get my detailed instructions, helpful tips and eggs-act egg-timing chart.)

6 tablespoons mayonnaise, plus a little extra, if necessary, enough to make the mixture creamy-dreamy and 'dollopable' 

2  tablespoons sweet pickle relish or minced sweet onion, your choice but not both

IMG_87912  teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/4  teaspoon each:  celery seed, coarsely ground black pepper and sea salt

a sprinkling of paprika and/or a few parsley sprigs, for garnish

~ Step 1.  Using a fork, vigorously mash and stir egg yolks with all ingredients until combined. Mixture will be creamy with tiny bits and pieces of yolk and relish (or onion) throughout.  Dollop into yolk cavities, garnish and serve.

Simple, straightforward old-fashioned Summertime goodness!

IMG_8817Fix a plate & take a creamy-dreamy taste:    

IMG_8863GrandMa's Incredible Edible Classic Deviled Egg:  Recipe yields 1 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart sauce pan (for hard-cooking eggs; cutting board; paring knife; table fork; ordinary tablespoon

6a0120a8551282970b0163031433df970dCook's Note:  Something else my grandmother made with hard-cooked eggs, always for Easter and a few other special occasions too, was her ~ Pretty in Pink:  Pennsylvania Dutch Pickled Eggs ~, and, from those, she made ~ Pretty in Pink:  Devilied Eggs ~. Just click into Categories 1, 4 or 12 to get my recipe for this ethnic family favorite.  No one I know can eat just one of these hot little devils!

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

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

06/24/2015

~ Jamaican Curried Deviled Eggs w/Mango Chutney~

IMG_8729The incredible edible egg.  That four-word sentence is Don Draper-esque advertising genius.  Joe and I have been starting our days with eggs several times a week for almost thirty-five years -- even during 'the dark period' when the food police were patrolling the streets proclaiming the cholesterol in eggs was going to lead to the early demise of us American egg eaters. When it comes to food I love, I believe in living  dangerously, and, eggs are the perfect eggs-ample.  

If you scout around Kitchen Encounters, you'll find all sorts of really good egg recipes from all over the world, including:  how to's for soft-cooking and hard-cooking; fried; baked, scrambled and poached eggs; omelettes, quiches and frittatas; souffles, custards and meringues; egg noodles, egg sandwiches, egg salads, egg drop soup and fried-rice.  When it comes to eggs, I've pretty much covered it all, egg-cept for:  deviled eggs -- which I'm "fixing" this week.  

IMG_8667In the ethnic recipe for deviled eggs I grew up eating, ~ My Devilishly Hot-Russian-Mustard Deviled Eggs ~, the 'secret weapon' ingredient is the very special Zakuson brand of Russian mustard. Just click on the Related Article link below to get the recipe for this Eastern European family favorite. It was as an adult that I encountered the flavorful and colorful world of Indian and Carribean curry (and Thai curry too, but, it's a fresh paste, not a dried powder, so it's not part of today's discussion).

6a0120a8551282970b01a73dae3659970d"Curry" is a catch-all English (British) term used in Western cultures to denote stewike dishes from Southern and Southeast Asia, as well as, Africa and the Caribbean.  Curry powder (the commercially marketed blend of spices we buy in our American markets) doesn't really exist in any of these places.  Hand-made pulverized blends of dried spices, the amounts of which vary to suit the palate of each family or cook are prepared in a mortar and pestle. Dishes called curry, which all contain curry powder (or paste) are relatively easy to prepare and can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish.  Seasonal vegetables can be included, or, the dish can be made of vegetables (vegetarian). When most Americans see the words "curry powder", they assume that the dish is Indian.  I did the same thing until a few years ago.

What's the difference between Indian & Jamaican curry powder & curry?

Turmeric gives both curry powders their distinctive color and slightly-earthy flavor. Jamaican curry powder contains allspice and Indian-style curry powder does not.  Indian curry powder contains cardamom and mace, Jamaican curry powder does not.  All Jamaican curries contain coconut milk, but only South Indian curries do.  Jamaican curries tend to be spicy and sweet while Indian curries are mild and slightly tart.  It's Jamaican curry powder, combined with a bit of mango chutney, that gives this version of deviled eggs an unexpected sweet and savory zing!

If you love curry & all things sweet & savory, you'll want this easy recipe:

IMG_868816  extra-large eggs, hard-cooked

3/4  cup mayonnaise

4  tablespoons mango chutney

2  tablespoons minced chives

1 tablespoon Jamaican curry powder, hot or mild, your choice

1/4-1/2  teaspoon each:  sea salt and cayenne pepper, to taste

2  tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled  

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0846b6c9970dStep 1.  Hard-cook the eggs as directed in my post ~ A Little Thing Called:  How to Hard-Cook an Egg ~.  It will tell you everything you need to know to perfectly cook an egg that does not suffer from "green ring-around-the-yolk" (which is caused by overcooking).  Just click on the Related Article link below to learn my foolproof method.

Note:  In a perfect world, 1 dozen hard-cooked eggs would crack and peel perfectly, but, even with an egg-cooking method as perfect IMG_8607as mine, unfortunately, eggs, like humans, are not perfect. If you are making things like egg, tuna or potato salad, a few nicks or tears in the white won't matter, but, it does when making deviled eggs, so, I always recommend cooking a few more than you need.

IMG_8632Step 2.  Gently crack and peel the eggs within three minutes of cooking, draining and cooling them in cold water.  Using a sharp paring knife, slice them in half lengthwise. Using the pointed tip of the knife, carefully remove the yolks.

Tip from Mel:  Use a moistened paper towel to wipe the knife blade clean after slicing each egg and you will not smear excess yolk over the surface or around the sides of the whites.

IMG_8696Step 3.  As you remove them from the whites, place yolks from all 16 eggs in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Melt butter and cool 2 minutes.

IMG_8700~ Step 4. Add the mayonnaise, chutney, chives, curry powder, salt and cayenne pepper to the work bowl. Process with several rapid on-off pulses.  Stop and scrape IMG_8709down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then, turn the motor on and process until smooth, 15-20 seconds.  Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl again, then, with motor running, through the feed tube, drizzle in the butter and process for 5-10 seconds.

~ Step 5.  Place a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip in a tall glass and invert the sides of the bag down around the glass.  Using a spoon transfer approximately half of the filling to the bag.  Do not overfill the bag.  Trust me:  it's easier to pipe in two or three smaller batches IMG_8714than one large one.

~ Step 6.  Twist the pastry bag closed at the top and decoratively fill the empty yolk cavities, forming a peaked-mound towards each of the centers as you work.

As an added step, just before serving the eggs, I like to garnish the top of each egg with a tiny dollop of additional mango chutney.

IMG_8739~ Step 7.  To store the eggs in the refrigerator until serving time (or overnight), place 10-12 toothpicks in a few of the eggs, spacing them randomly but well apart, so they can support a "tenting" of plastic wrap -- this will keep them moist and fresh without damaging the surfaces. Refrigerate for 2-4 hours, or overnight, until well-chilled.

In a hurry?  Don't worry.  Be happy.  Jamaican Curried Deviled Eggs! 

IMG_8716Devilishly Curried Deviled Eggs w/Mango Chutney:  Recipe yields 2 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  wide-bottomed stockpot (for cooking eggs); cutting board; paring knife; food processor; rubber spatula; 10" #3118 Ateco pastry bag fitted w/medium star tip; tablespoon; toothpicks; plastic wrap

PICT2720Cook's Note:  The word "deviled" is used to describe spicy food in general, more specifically:  cooked eggs whose yolks are prepared with mustard, pepper and a few other flavorful additions, then returned to the yolk cavities, which are used as portion-sized serving vessels.  The verb "devil" means:  to combine any food with hot or spicy seasonings such as red pepper, mustard, Worcestershire or cayenne pepper-type sauces, resulting in a "devilish" dish.  

You can find my retro recipe for ~ Leftover Ham?  Please Pass Me the Deviled Ham Salad! ~, in Categories 2, 20 or 26! 

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

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

06/22/2015

~ My Devilishly Hot-Russian-Mustard Deviled Eggs ~

IMG_8667When you get invited to a backyard barbecue or a neighborhood picnic, what do you get asked to bring -- a dessert, a side-dish, an appetizer?  Nine times out of ten,  I get asked to make these deviled eggs.  Amongst friends they're simply called "Mel's Eggs", and, they have a reputation for being egg-strordinary, which makes me chuckle because when I was growing up, they were quite ordinary.  It's how my grandmother made them and taught me to make them.  Horseradish is one of our most beloved Eastern European 'secret weapons'.  Like any other deviled egg recipe, you can make as many or a few as you want or need (or are asked to bring), but:

IMG_8673What eggs-actly do eggs need to do to quality for "deviled" status?

IMG_8651As far back as the 18th century, the term deviled was used to describe spicy food in general, more specifically:  cooked eggs whose yolks were prepared with mustard, pepper and a few other flavorful additions, then returned to the yolk cavities, which were used as portion-sized serving vessels.  Culinarily, the verb "devil" means:  to combine any food with hot or spicy seasonings such as red pepper, mustard, Worcestershire or cayenne pepper-type sauces, resulting in a "devilish" dish.

In the case of "Mel's Eggs", if you are not making them using this specific brand of hot Russian mustard, you are not making "Mel's Eggs".  It, and it alone, is the 'secret weapon'.  We have a Russian market here in Happy Valley, so I can purchase it locally.  It can also be found on Amazon.

IMG_8654Herbs are commonly found in deviled egg recipes, and, if your making "Mel's Eggs", "it's all about the dill baby":  baby dill.  It's got to be fresh, not dried, and, it's got to be minced.  Dill and chives are the premiere herbs of Russian cooking.  It's almost impossible to find a salad (salat) or dressing that doesn't contain one or both, and, both are commonly used as garnishes for cooked meat, fish, seafood and vegetable dishes.

PICT269916  extra-large eggs, hard-cooked

2  heaping tablespoons minced, fresh dill

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

3/4  cup mayonnaise

4  tablespoons hot Russian horseradish mustard

2  tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled

IMG_6257~ Step 1.  Hard-cook the eggs as directed in my post ~ A Little Thing Called:  How to Hard-Cook an Egg ~.  It will tell you everything you need to know to perfectly cook an egg that does not suffer from "green ring-around-the-yolk" (which is caused by overcooking).  Just click on the Related Article link below to learn my foolproof method.

Note:  In a perfect world, 1 dozen hard-cooked eggs would crack and peel perfectly, but, even with an egg-cooking method as perfect as IMG_8607mine, unfortunately, eggs, like humans, are not perfect. If you are making things like egg, tuna or potato salad, a few nicks or tears in the white won't matter, but, it does when making deviled eggs, so, I always recommend cooking a few more than you need.

IMG_8632~ Step 2.  Gently crack and peel the eggs within three minutes of cooking, draining and cooling them in cold water.  Using a sharp paring knife, slice them in half lengthwise. Using the pointed tip of the knife, carefully remove the yolks.

Tip from Mel:  Use a moistened paper towel to wipe the knife blade clean after slicing each egg and you will not smear excess yolk over the surface or around the sides of the whites.

PICT2705 PICT2697~ Step 3.  As you remove them from the whites, place yolks from all 16 eggs in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Melt butter and cool 2 minutes.

~ Step 4.  Add the dill, salt, white pepper, mayo and mustard to the work bowl. Process with several rapid on-off pulses.  Stop and PICT2698scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, then, turn the motor on and process until smooth, 15-20 seconds.   Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl again, then, with motor running, through the feed tube, drizzle in the butter and process for 5-10 seconds.

~ Step 5.  Place a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip in a tall glass and invert the sides of bag down around the glass.  Using a spoon transfer approximately half of the filling to the bag.  Do not overfill the bag.  Trust me:  it's easier to pipe in two half-sized batches.

PICT2707~ Step 6.  Twist the pastry bag closed at the top and decoratively fill the empty yolk cavities, forming a peaked-mound towards each of the centers as you work.  

As an added step, I like to garnish the top of each egg with a large, plump, briny caper (also commonly used in Russian recipes).

PICT2697~ Step 7.  To store the eggs in the refrigerator until serving time (or overnight), place 10-12 toothpicks in a few of the eggs, spacing them randomly but well apart, so they can support a "tenting" of plastic wrap -- this will keep them moist and fresh without damaging the surfaces.

How many of these hot little devils do you think you can eat?

IMG_8681My Devilishly Hot-Russian-Mustard Deviled Eggs:  Recipe yields 2 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  wide-bottomed stockpot (for cooking eggs); cutting board; paring knife; food processor; rubber spatula; 10" #3118 Ateco pastry bag fitted w/medium star tip; tablespoon; toothpicks; plastic wrap

IMG_1335Cook's Note:  Want a Russian-style potato salad to go with these deviled eggs?  This one, consisting of four root veggies is perfect.  You can find ~ Russian Red Salad: Potato, Beet, Onion & Radish ~ in Categories 2, 4, 10, 12 or 14!

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

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

06/20/2015

~ A Little Thing Called: How to Hard-Cook an Egg ~

IMG_6257I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more.  Life is too short to eat a hard-cooked egg with an unappealing greenish-gray ring-around-the yolk.  I ordered a chef-salad yesterday.  Not just any chef's salad, one at my favorite place, made the way I like it:  extra onions and tomatoes, all-turkey, extra turkey in place of ham, an extra hard-cooked egg and balsamic vinaigrette. Elaine on Seinfeld called it "a big salad -- it's a salad, only bigger, with lots of stuff in it."  

In a classic chef salad, hard-cooked egg is a standard ingredient.  

IMG_6245Why bother to put a chef salad on the menu if the chef can't cook an egg?

IMG_8622When it comes to breaking eggs, fried, scrambled and even poached, most cooks are pretty good at it. Everyone does it a bit differently, mostly because everyone likes their yolk cooked to a different degree of doneness, but, the results are pretty to look at and taste good too.  

When it comes to hard-cooking eggs in the shell, "hard-boiled", it seems that a lot of people have a lot of trouble producing the perfectly-cooked and perfectly-shaped egg: one that reveals a tender white and a creamy, flaky, lemon-yellow yolk.

IMG_8631 Eggs IIWhen it comes to hard-cooked eggs, if you are serving eggs with so much as a hint of a greenish-gray halo around the yolks, you are over-cooking your eggs.  You have no where to run, no where to hide, cut it out, the problem is you, not the egg.

NO ONE LIKES A RUBBERY WHITE WITH A GREEN RING AROUND THE YOLK!

Here's eggs-actly why this happens:

When the egg white, which is rich in sulfur amino acids, cooks, hydrogen sulfide gets released. Cooking the white for too long causes a reaction with the yolk, which is rich in iron-binding proteins.  Even though this unappetizing ring-around-the-yolk is harmless, the egg is quite safe to eat, it simply shouldn't be allowed to happen -- it's astonishingly THAT easy to eliminate.

Boiling Eggs #1Never boil eggs.  "Boil" refers to food cooked in a liquid maintaining a temperature at or above 212 degrees F, the boiling point.  Large bubbles rapidly break the surface of the liquid throughout the process.  

Barely simmer eggs.  "Simmer" refers to food gently cooked in liquid at a temperature around 185 degrees F.  Tiny bubbles slowly break the surface of the liquid throughout the cooking process.

Only cook eggs of the same size. For the purpose of this post:  jumbo, extra-large, or large eggs.

Place cold eggs in a single layer in the bottom of a pot.  Use eggs Boiling Eggs #2straight out of the refrigerator and adjust the pot size accordingly. Cover the eggs with enough cold tap water to cover by 1/2"-1".

Bring eggs to a bare simmer over high heat.  Immediately adjust heat to maintain a bare simmer and begin timing immediately.  Adjust the time according to the size of the eggs, meaning:  the larger the egg, the longer the cooking time, using my foolproof guidelines:

Time as follows for large, extra-large or jumbo eggs:

Coddled Eggs (partially-cooked white/very loose yolk): 30-45-60 seconds

Soft-Cooked Eggs (just set-up white/slightly-thickened yolk):  2-2 1/2-3 minutes

Medium-Cooked (Mollet) Eggs (tender white/semi-soft yolk): 4-5-6 minutes

Hard-Cooked Eggs (firm-but-tender white/tender, flaky yolk):  9-10-11 minutes

Boiling Eggs #3Remove eggs from the stovetop. Drain as much water from the pot as possible.  Start adding cold tap water to the eggs in the pot and allow it to continue to run for about 2-3 minutes, allowing it to flow out of the top of the pot into the sink.

Note:  This will halt the cooking process and quickly cool the eggs, which will make them easier to peel by causing a slight contraction of the egg within the shell.

Gently crack and peel ASAP.  I recommend within  3 minutes of the cold water bath.

Perfectly-shaped, perfectly-cooked, incredible, edible eggs!

IMG_8628A Little Thing Called:  How to Hard-Cook an Egg:  Recipe yields instructions for perfectly hard-cooking as many as you need or desire.

Special Equipment List:  wide-bottomed, shallow stockpot (sized determined by how many eggs are being cooked)

IMG_8613 IMG_8607Cook's Note: In a perfect world, 1 dozen hard-cooked eggs would crack and peel perfectly, but, even with an egg-cooking method as perfect as mine, unfortunately, eggs, like humans, are not perfect. If you are making things like egg, tuna or potato salad, a few nicks or tears in the white won't matter, but, if you making, for instance, deviled eggs, which I am going to be posting next,   I always recommend cooking a few more than you need.

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

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

06/18/2015

~ How and When to use Liquid or Powdered Pectin ~

IMG_8645I grew up eating home-canned jellies, jams and preserves (and lots of apple butter too).  In all seriousness, in their lifetimes, between my grandmother and her sister, Ann and Mary, no one in either family ever had to pick up a jar of Smucker's or Welch's.  For a child like me, I found watching these two rocket scientists at work more interesting than anything on television.  This type of fruit preservation can be very frustrating to the uniformed novice:  every fruit gets treated a bit differently, no two recipes are alike and many recipes are cryptic.  It really is rocket science! 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c79e4352970bIf you've never experienced the old-fashioned canning process, it's a lot of hard work that requires attention to every last detail:  weighing and measuring everything precisely, peeling, chopping, mashing and/or straining the fruit, standing over a big hot, spattering maslin pot while constantly stirring until the right consistency is reached, sterilizing the canning jars, filling them via a big funnel to the right level, boiling the filled jars in an even bigger canning pot, then, waiting for the signature "popping sound" of each lid as they cool to insure the all-important seal-of-safety.  

What's the difference between jelly, jam, preserves and marmalade?

IMG_8545It all boils down to the form the fruit takes on in the end.  Jelly is made from fruit juice and is gelatinous. Jam is made from pulp, pureed, mashed or smashed fruit and is softer, more spreadable than jelly. Preserves are made from diced, chunked or whole fruit with it being looser than jam, spoonable rather than spreadable. Marmalade is usually made from citrus fruit, sometimes containing chards of rind or bits of zest, and, it has a consistency between jelly and jam.  

As for jam and preserves specifically:  Depending upon the recipe, it can be difficult to differentiate between the two, and, you will very often see the terms used interchangeably. Why? Past one being mushier and one being chunkier, in both cases, the thickness of the liquid is controlled by how much pectin gets added, which is determined by personal preference.

IMG_8641What's pectin and what's the difference between liquid and powdered? 

IMG_8649Pectin is an all-natural substance found in fruits and vegetables, and, a store-bought product used to thicken jelly, jam, preserves and marmalade.  Some fruits contain so much natural pectin, they require very little or none to thicken it (apples, apricots, citrus fruits and cherries contain the most).  In other cases, mother nature needs a bit or a lot of help -- that's where store-bought pectins comes in (water-soluable, thick gelatin-like liquid or IMG_8648powder made from apples).  Pectin requires sugar and some citric acid to work its magic, and, thickening begins when it comes to a boil, creating a thick, crystal-clear set when it gels.  Pectin is a natural part of the human diet, but does not contribute significantly.  It was first isolated and described in 1825 by Henri Braonnot, though how it works in jellies, jams, preserves and marmalades was known long before with "Pektikos", in Ancient Greek meaning "congealed."

IMG_8644Pectin is not the same as gelatin.  Liquid and powdered pectin are water-soluable plant fiber used almost exclusively in high-sugar products. Gelatin, derived from animal protein, can be used in a variety of ways because it sets without having to be boiled and does not need sugar and citric acid to activate it.  Every brand of pectin is a bit different, so, use what is recommended.  I use Certo and Sure-Jell because they are sister-products marketed by Kraft foods and give me great results.

The amount of pectin used depends upon the fruit you choose & the desired thickness of the end product (spreadable, spoonable or sauce-like).  Here are some helpful conversions:

1 box liquid pectin contains:  2, 3-ounce pouches

1 box powdered pectin contains: 1, 1 3/4-ounce packet

2 tablespoons (6 teaspoons) liquid = 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) powdered

3  ounces liquid pectin (a generous 6 tablespoons) thickens 2-4 cups crushed fruit

1 3/4  ounces powdered pectin (a scant 6 tablespoons) thickens 4-8  cups crushed fruit

IMG_8518While liquid and powdered pectin both achieve the same thing, they're a thickener, they are not used in the same manner.  For stovetop methods, liquid pectin is always added to the boiling mixture near the end of the cooking process while powdered pectin is stirred into the raw fruit at the beginning.  In the case of cooking on the stovetop, the decision to use liquid or powdered is up to you (although you should always follow the recipe).  That said, modern day bread machines come equipped with a jam-cycle and they are great for making small-batches of jams and preserves.  

When it comes to making jam and preserves in  the bread machine, once you start the automatic jam cycle, stirring liquid pectin in at the end is no longer an option.  Therefore, powdered pectin should be used in bread machine recipes.  That said, if you only have liquid pectin on hand, you do have an option which works just fine:  add no pectin to the fruit mixture, let it run through the jam cycle, and when the machine stops, transfer the hot fruit mixture to a 2-quart saucpan, bring it to a boil, add liquid pectin and allow it boil, stirring constantly, for one full minute.  Proceed with the recipe, as directed, filling the jars, then canning, refrigerating, and/or freezing.

IMG_8585"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

06/16/2015

~ Super-Easy Strawberry Bread-Machine Preserves ~

IMG_8585This has been a banner year for strawberries.  Our little backyard strawberry patch gifted us with almost more than we could eat -- almost, but not quite, we ate them all.  Each one seemed to be perfectly ripe, juicy and full of flavor.  Then, strawberries started showing in both of our local farmers markets.  Over the past couple of weeks, I've been picking up a box or two to make small, super-easy batches of strawberry preserves in my bread machine.  I enjoy preserves more than jam, because it's like finding a two-for-one special at the grocery store -- unlike spreadable jam, spoonable preserves give me the opportunity to use them as a sauce as well! 

PICT1306I'm no stranger to making jelly, jam, preserves, marmalades, chutneys, conserves, etc., and, I've got the fancy-schmancy maslin pot to prove it.  This 10 1/2-quart vessel is ideal for other long, slow methods of food preparation too (soups, stews, chowders, chili, etc).  It's heavy bottom and wide, sloping sides, reduce the possibility of scorching and promote evaporation.  It's long loop and helper handles make transporting and transferring a large quantity of hot food easy and safe. It's seriously one of the best investments in a pot I ever made.

PICT1320 6a0120a8551282970b0177433079db970dI love it for making big batch jams from fruits and berries 6a0120a8551282970b01910418a733970cmy husband grows right in our very Happy Valley backyard. Two of my favorite recipes, ~ Blue Berry Jam:  The End of My Blueberries 2012 ~, and, ~ 'Tis True:  Sour Cherries Do Make the Best Jam ~, can be found in Categories 8, 9 or 22. My recipe for ~ Perfect Peach Preserves from the Bread Machine ~ is in those same Categories too!

IMG_8518The bread machine?  Yes indeed. My bread machine, which has a "jam cycle", has become my best friend for making small batch preserves -- it takes most of the guesswork out of the process. There's a bit more to it than that: When it comes to home grown peaches and strawberries, more-often-than-not, I don't have a lot of them to process all at once because they tend to ripen rather randomly.

The only change I made from my big batch stovetop recipes to my small batch bread machine recipes:

use powdered, not liquid, pectin.

Here's why, &, what you need to know about the bread machine method:

IMG_8450While liquid and powdered pectin both achieve the same thing, they're a thickener, they are not used in the same manner.  For stovetop methods, liquid pectin is always added to the boiling mixture near the end of the cooking process while powdered pectin is stirred into the raw fruit at the beginning.  In the case of cooking on the stovetop, the option of liquid or powdered is available to you (although you should always follow the recipe).  When it comes to the bread machine, once you start the automatic jam cycle, stirring liquid pectin in at the end is no longer an option.  Therefore, I use powdered pectin in my bread machine recipes.

Two very important points of note:  #1)  Do not double this, or any jam or preserve recipe that gets made in any bread machine.  They will not thicken properly -- repeat, will not thicken properly.  The bread machine has neither the capacity or the proper stirring control to handle that amount safely.  Use the bread machine exclusively for small batches of jams or preserves yielding 3 1/2-4 total cups of end product.  #2)  Unless a recipe specifically proclaims, under oath, that it is ok to use frozen, partially-thawed or thawed fruit or berries in any recipe made in the bread machine or on the stovetop, proceed with extreme caution before considering that substitution -- on second thought -- run away, don't do it.

IMG_8586What's the difference between jelly, jam, preserves and marmalade?

IMG_8545It all boils down to the form the fruit takes on in the end.  Jelly is made from fruit juice and is gelatinous. Jam is made from pulp, pureed, mashed or smashed fruit and is softer, more spreadable than jelly. Preserves are made from diced, chunked or whole fruit with it being looser than jam, spoonable rather than spreadable.  Marmalade is usually made from citrus fruit, sometimes containing chards of rind or bits of zest, and, it has a consistency between jelly and jam.  

As for jam and preserves specifically:  Depending upon the recipe, it can be difficult to differentiate between the two, and, you will very often see the terms used interchangeably. Why? Past one being mushier and one being chunkier, in both cases, the thickness of the liquid is controlled by how much pectin gets added, which is determined by personal preference.

What's pectin and what's the difference between liquid and powdered?

IMG_8520Pectin is an all-natural substance found in fruits and vegetables, and, a store-bought product used to thicken jelly, jam, preserves and marmalade.  Some fruits contain so much natural pectin, they require none or very little to thicken it (peaches, apples, citrus fruit and apricots contain the most).  In other cases, mother nature needs a bit or a lot of help -- that's where store-bought pectins comes in  (water-soluable, thick gelatin-like liquid or powdered substances usually made from apples).  Every brand is a bit different, so, always use what is recommended in the recipe.  I stick to Certo and Sure-Jell because they are reliable sister-products marketed by Kraft foods and give me great results.

The amount of pectin used depends upon the fruit being used and the desired thickness of the end product.  Here are some helpful conversions:

1 box liquid pectin contains:  2, 3-ounce pouches

1 box powdered pectin contains: 1, 1 3/4-ounce packet

2 tablespoons (6 teaspoons) liquid = 1 tablespoon (3 teaspoons) powdered

3  ounces liquid pectin (a generous 6 tablespoons) thickens 2-4 cups crushed fruit

1 3/4  ounces powdered pectin (a scant 6 tablespoons) thickens 4-8 cups crushed fruit

IMG_8442For the strawberry preserves:

5-6  cups hulled and 1/2" diced slightly under-ripe or ripe but not over-ripe strawberries

a scant 6 tablespoons powdered pectin (1 box of Sure-Jell)

1 1/2  cups sugar

1  tablespoon lemon juice, preferably fresh or high-quality bottled concentrate

2  teaspoons pure strawberry extract (optional)

IMG_8477 IMG_8446~ Step 1. Prep berries and place in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir thoroughly. Macerate for 15 full minutes, stirring often to dissolve sugar and pectin.  

~ Step 2.  Transfer the mixture to the bread pan of bread machine to IMG_8492which the kneading paddle has been attached.  When making jam in the bread machine, you still need to use the paddle attachment.

IMG_8490~ Step 3. Insert pan into machine, close the lid, plug machine in and select "jam" cycle.  Press "start" button.  When IMG_8502the cycle is complete, open the lid and carefully remove the pan from the machine -- this is very hot stuff!

~ Step 4.  Using a large slotted spoon transfer and evenly divide the chunky fruit between 2, 2-cup food storage containers, then, pour the liquid into the containers.

~ Step 5.  Partially cover the containers and allow the preserves IMG_8512to come to room temperature, about 2-3 hours, prior to covering completely and refrigerating overnight.  The preserves will thicken as they chill.  Chilled preserves can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks (if they last that long) or frozen without compromise for a year or longer.

Note:  This method of chilling and refrigerating prior to freezing prevents condensation from building up, which causes ice crystals to form and freezer burn.

Super-Easy, Super-Delicious, Superb Strawberry Preserves!

IMG_8540Super-Easy, Super-Delicious, Superb Strawberry Breakfast!

IMG_8597Super-Easy Strawberry Bread-Machine Preserves:  3 1/2 cups of preserves per batch.  

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; bread machine; large slotted ladle or spoon; 2, 2-cup size freezer-safe containers w/tight-fitting lids

6a0120a8551282970b01538f5214fb970bCook's Note:  Every year during strawberry season, which conveniently coincides with the Father's Day holiday, I can't resist making one of my father's signature recipes.  You can find my recipe for ~ It's a Dad Thing!  My Dad's Strawberry Soup ~, by clicking into Categories 6, 11, 16 or 20.  I grew up eating this and I can tell you it is perhaps my favorite all-time way to enjoy our freshly-picked perfectly-ripe backyard strawberries!

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

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

06/14/2015

~ My Sweet 'n Spicy, Summer Tropical Fruit Salsa ~

6a0120a8551282970b014e8960cdd8970dIf you're looking for a change of pace to spice up your Summer menu, my tropical fruit salsa is your answer.  While I love it served atop grilled white fish (like grouper and sea bass) on a bed of steamed jasmine rice, it is delicious on cheesy Tex-Mex nachos and chicken quesadillas. That said, it pairs equally as well with Thai-Asian fare like my ~ Crunchy Thai-Style Deep-Fried Coconut Shrimp ~ as an appetizer (recipe found in Categories 1, 11, 13 & 14), and, my East-meets-West fusion main course ~ Thai Turkey Patties & Rice w/Creamy Coconut Sauce ~.

Newsflash -- Salsa has never been "all about" tomatoes!

PICT5076

This is my favorite combination of fruits because when mixed together they keep, refrigerated,  4-5 days!

12-16  ounces diced fresh pineapple (1 large ripe pineapple)

12-16  ounces diced mango (2 large, ripe mangos)

1-1 1/2  pounds diced papaya (1 large "Caribbean Red" papaya)

1- 1 1/2 cups diced red onion

2-3  minced jalapeno peppers w/seeds, more or less, to taste

1  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, no stems included

2  limes, all juice and all zest

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

PICT5086 PICT5131 ~ Step 1.  If you don't have a pineapple slicer, which is a nifty, inexpensive gadget that makes short work of getting a pineapple sliced and cored ($20.00):

Using a large chef's knife, remove the top and bottom from the pineapple.  Slice down the sides to remove the tough skin.  After that, using the sharp tip of a paring knife, be sure to remove all of the tough, brown, unappetizing nubbly spots.  Slice the pineapple into 1/2"-3/4" slices and dice the slices into bite-sized 1/2"-3/4" pieces.  That said, if you want to buy a whole fresh pineapple at your market that has been conveniently pre-peeled and cored, you have my blessing!

PICT5105 ~ Step 2.  Peel, slice and dice the mangos.  I am here to tell you, if you don't have a mango splitter, this is a nifty inexpensive little gadget that makes short work of splitting a peeled mango, easily removing its odd-shaped large pit.  While I like my pineapple slicer, I love my mango splitter and I recommend investing in one ($12.00).  Once the mango has been peeled and the fruit removed from the large pit, slice the mango into 1/2"-3/4" strips and dice the strips into bite-sized 1/2"-3/4" pieces.

PICT5100 ~ Step 3.  In the above photo of the ingredients, please notice how much yellow color the skin of papaya has.  That is how you can tell how ripe it is.  All green = not ripe.  Half green/half yellow = ripe.  

Using a large chef's knife, slice the papaya in half.  Using a tablespoon, scrape out and discard the seeds. Slice the halves into 1/2"-3/4" strips. Peel the strips and dice the fruit into bite-sized 1/2"-3/4" pieces.

PICT5115 ~ Step 4.  As you dice each fruit, place them all together in a large mixing bowl as you work.  Dice the red onions and mince the jalapeno peppers and cilantro leaves, adding them to the bowl.  Zest the limes adding the zest to the bowl along with all of its juice and the sea salt.

PICT5118

Note:  This recipe isn't so much about adding these exact fruits, but, a combination of any or all of them, if they are perfectly ripe.  If you can't find one, double up on another.  I've added fresh strawberries to this salsa and everyone adored it!

~ Step 5.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine all ingredients.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best, as it gives all of the flavors time to marry.

If you have the time, give the salsa a thorough stir two or three times during the refrigeration time. Remove the salsa just prior to serving or within 10-15 minutes of serving as, it is truly best when served chilled atop a hot entree.

Thai Turkey Patties & Steamed Rice w/Creamy Cilantro Sauce:

IMG_8419My Sweet 'n Spicy, Summer Tropical Fruit Salsa:  Recipe yields about 10-12 cups of salsa.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; paring knife; pineapple slicer (optional); mango splitter (optional); tablespoon; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap

IMG_8229Cook's Note:  If you love the bold, spicy flavors of Tex-Mex cuisine and/or Thai Asian fare, I'm certain you'll find all sorts of uses for this salsa in your Summer repertoire.  For example, click on the Related Article link below to get the recipe for ~ My Moist, Juicy, Grilled Thai-Style Turkey Burgers ~.

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

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

06/11/2015

~ Thai Turkey Patties & w/Creamy Coconut Sauce ~

IMG_8419Americans do not require an excuse to indulge in a thick, juicy 'burger, complete with a slathering of sauce, and/or few savory toppings served on the perfect bun.  We will hike, bike or drive to our favorite joint to eat one.  We've declared May, National Burger Month, and, May 28th, National Burger Day.  We adore them.  That said, have you ever wondered:  when does a burger turn into a patty?  What's the difference between a patty and a cake?  Aren't they all one-and-the same?  In my opinion (and probably yours too), it depends where you grew up.  In my neck of the woods, when it comes to this type of technical culinary trivia, folks don't play burger patty-cake, they choose their words carefully.  Here's my understanding (as per my dad):  

IMG_8160The word 'burger is a carnivorous American slang term that refers to the hamburger, which was originally made of ground beef. Herbivores (vegetarians and vegans) have their own non-meat concoctions which they refer to as 'burgers, and, while I have no ax to grind with them, past that mention, I have no more to say about that.  To the average American, the word 'burger, implies ground meat.  

IMG_8336The way my people differentiate a burger, from a patty, from a cake, verbalizes like this:  A "burger" is ground meat or poultry, shaped into a disc, cooked, and placed on a round bun to eat (beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey).  A "patty" is a burger that is eaten with a knife and fork, or, placed between two square slices of bread to eat (patty-melt-style).  A "cake" refers to burgers and patties made with delicate fish, seafood or vegetables and can be eaten like a burger or a patty (fish, crab, potato, rice cakes).  In the case of vegetables, cakes can be served as a side-dish too.

IMG_8164 IMG_8235I love it when one basic recipe can be prepared two or three ways, and, it has nothing to do with leftovers. Today, I am using the meat mixture for ~ My Moist, Juicy, Grilled Thai-Style Turkey Burgers ~ to make pan-fried patties.  When the patties come out of the skillet I'll be using their flavorful  drippings to make a creamy cilantro-laced coconut IMG_8167sauce full of bold Thai flavors.

For the patty mixture:

2  pounds ground turkey (90/10)

1 1/2  cups thinly-sliced green onions (white and light green part)

1  cup chopped cilantro

1  extra-large egg

1  tablespoon Thai fish sauce

1  tablespoon Thai seasoning soy

1  tablespoon Sriracha hot chili IMG_8172sauce, more or less, to taste

1  teaspoon ground ginger

~ Step 1.  Prep and place all ingredients in a large bowl.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, 2-3 hours, or, as long as 5-6 hours. Note:  I experimented with adding minced, Thai chile peppers and fresh ginger in place of the Sriracha sauce and ground ginger.  The result was less than desirable. After frying, the heat and spice were not evenly distributed throughout.

6a0120a8551282970b014e897bb438970dFor the creamy coconut sauce:

1  13 1/2-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk

2  tablespoons lime juice

2  tablespoons Thai fish sauce

2  tablespoons Thai soy sauce

1  tablespoon sesame oil

2  tablespoons palm sugar, or light brown sugar

1  tablespoon Wondra flour

IMG_82701  cup minced cilantro

For the accompaniments:

6a0120a8551282970b014e8960cdd8970d

3  cups of ~ My Sweet 'n Spicy Summer Tropical Fruit Salsa ~, which you can find in Categories 1, 4, 8 or 10 or, your favorite store-bought brand

4  cups uncooked Jasmine rice 

1  cup lightly-toasted, chopped cashews, for garnish

6a0120a8551282970b0154333c31d8970c~ Step 2.  While patty mixture is chilling, if preparing salsa from scratch, make it and chill it too.

~ Step 3.  Place ingredients for sauce in food processor fitted with a steel blade & process until smooth, 20 seconds. Don't be inclined to adjust the seasoning of this subtle-flavored sauce.  When it mixes with the pan drippings, the flavor is going to dance in your mouth!

IMG_8275~ Step 4. Roast cashews in a 350 degree oven 12-15 minutes, stopping to stir about every 5 minutes throughout the process. Cool and coarsely chop cashews.

~ Step 5.  On the stovetop or in an electric rice steamer (my favorite way), cook or steam the rice.

IMG_8293 IMG_8281Note:  Now that the hard work is done and everything is in place, it's time to fry patties and make sauce!

~ Step 6.  In a 14" nonstick skillet, heat about 1/8" of peanut oil over medium-high.  Using a 2 1/2" ice cream scoop as a measure, IMG_8302arrange 14 scoops of turkey mixture in the hot pan.  Note:  If you are using a smaller skillet, you will have to fry the patties in two batches.

IMG_8301Using your fingertips, press each ball into a 3/4" patty.

Fry patties until golden brown on both sides, turning only once, about 7-8 minutes per side.

IMG_8305 IMG_8314~ Step 7. Turn heat off.  Transfer patties to a large plate or platter, cover with aluminum foil and set aside.

IMG_8356~ Step 8. Reheat pan drippings over medium-high heat IMG_8371until just starting to sizzle.  Lower heat to medium then add all of the sauce mixture all at once.  Give the mixture a thorough stir.

IMG_8368Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until nicely-thickened, about 4-5 minutes.  Remove sauce from heat.

Something tells me you can take it and plate it from here...

IMG_8405... when all-American poultry meets Thai flavor -- gobble, gobble!

IMG_8428Thai Turkey Patties with Creamy Coconut Sauce:  Recipe Yields 14 patties, 2 cups of sauce and 8 cups of steamed rice, or, 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; small baking pan; electric rice steamer; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; 14" skillet, preferably nonstick; spatula; aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b019103473811970cCook's Note: Occasionally, instead of serving these patties on a bed of steamed rice, I serve them with my really easy-to-make ~ Thai-Style Broccoli & Jasmine Rice Patty-Cakes ~.  You can find this fun-to-eat side-dish recipe in Categories 4, 13, 14 or 20.  They can be prepared ahead-of-time and are a perfect complement to all sorts of Thai-Asian meals!

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

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

06/09/2015

~ My Moist, Juicy, Grilled Thai-Style Turkey Burgers ~

IMG_8229I raised three boys.  When I was making cheeseburgers, chili, tacos or spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, no one had to be called to the table twice.  On those nights, our dinner conversation was downright pleasant too.  It was smooth sailing for lasagna, stuffed peppers, meatloaf and sloppy Joe's too.  You could say, ground beef brings out the table manners in boys growing up in America.  From my perspective, ground beef made me happy for a lot of years too -- it was budget friendly, and, meals made from it were relatively quick and easy to prepare as well.

IMG_8160About the time my boys were graduating from high school, ground turkey was being marketed as a healthy alternative to ground beef -- after all, if the advertisement says it, it must be true.  Talk about rocking my boat.  After a trial or two, my young men protested and prohibited the use of it in their food. My feelings weren't hurt.  I was 100% in agreement.  Turkey had won no ones heart in my house.

Pork is the other white meat, but, turkey is not the other ground beef!

I don't think ground turkey ever stood a chance of winning the hearts of American eaters.  While pork has become the other white meat, turkey is not the other ground beef.  I don't understand how anyone, anywhere could have ever expected it to be.  From a taste and texture standpoint, when compared apples-to-apples with ground beef, no one with a palate could possibly make it their first choice.  From a marketing perspective, "they" got it all wrong.  To learn more, click on the Related Article link below to ~ Know the Pros & 'Cons' of Ground Turkey vs Beef ~.

Turkey isn't meat -- it's poultry -- treat and appreciate it as such! 

IMG_8233That said, I like the taste of farm-raised turkey -- I like it a lot.  It's got a bolder flavor than chicken, without the gamey taste of wild turkey.  I adore a traditionally roasted turkey, am a connoisseur of the classic turkey club sandwich, love a turkey sub too, and, it's awesome in a chef's salad. Once my men were on-their-own, I slowly began to rethink ground turkey -- this time, as a "poultry product" with its own flavor profile, not as a second-class substitution for beef.  With its appealing rosy-pink color and neutral taste, in some culinary applications, it occurred to me it could be better than beef.  Over the years, I've come up with a few recipes that I can honestly tell you, if you substitute ground beef for ground turkey, you will ruin the dish. Gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble!

My Thai turkey burgers are one example -- the mild-flavored ground turkey allows all of the fresh, bold Thai flavors to shine through.  Ground beef would be all wrong in this recipe.  This was the first ground turkey recipe I developed in my quest to prove that ground poultry has a place in my kitchen.  While this is not a classic Thai recipe (but it easily could be), it is a wonderful way to introduce the spot-on taste of Thailand to folks who have never experienced it!

IMG_8164For the turkey burgers:

2  pounds ground turkey (90/10)

1 1/2  cups thinly-sliced green onions (white and light green part)

1  cup chopped cilantro

1  extra-large egg

1  tablespoon Thai fish sauce

1  tablespoon Thai seasoning soy

1  tablespoon Sriracha hot chili sauce, more or less, to taste

1  teaspoon ground ginger

IMG_8182For the rolls and toppings:

6  sesame-seeded burger rolls

6  fresh pineapple slices, hand-trimmed from 1 fresh pineapple then grilled on both sides

Thai sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy), for dipping or drizzling (Note:   When you taste this sweet, slightly-spicy sauce, your refrigerator will never be without a bottle -- we call it "the ketchup of Thailand"!)

IMG_8167~ Step 1.  Prep and place all ingredients for the turkey burgers in a large mixing bowl as you work.

Note:  I experimented with adding minced, fresh Thai chile peppers and minced, fresh ginger in place of the Sriracha sauce and ground ginger.  The end result was less than desirable in that the heat and spice were not properly cooked or evenly distributed throughout the burgers after grilling.  The Sriracha and ground ginger work perfectly!

IMG_8172~ Step 2.  Using your hands, combine  all of the ingredients thoroughly.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30-45 minutes or in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.

Note:  The mixture will resemble the soft "sticky" consistency of a meatloaf mixture rather than a typical burger concoction.  This is intentional.  Because ground turkey is naturally dry when it is cooked, extra moisture must be added to the poultry mixture at the outset.

IMG_8175~ Step 3.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with parchment paper. Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide the meat mixture into 6, 6-ounce portions, form the portions into 3 1/2"-round x 3/4"-thick discs and place them side-by-side on the pan.  Cover with plastic wrap and place the pan of burgers IMG_8186in the freezer for 50-60 minutes, no longer than that.

Note:  Partially freezing the burgers is going to make them very easy to handle when it comes time to put them on the hot grill grids.  Do not freeze the burgers completely.  You want them to be just firm enough to easily lift off the parchment while maintaining their shape.

~ Step 4.  Preheat the grill to IMG_8198medium.  Place the burgers, side-by-side, either over indirect heat or on the upper rack of grill (if you have one).  Close the lid and allow the burgers to cook 13-15 minutes.

Note:  Turkey burgers need to cook lower and slower than conventional hamburgers in order for them to IMG_8205cook completely and thoroughly, which takes about 25-30 minutes.  

Caution:  It's not safe to eat a medium-rare turkey burger!

~ Step 5.  After 13-15 minutes, open the grill lid.  Using a long-handled grilling spatula, flip the burgers over.  They will have firmed up and be golden brown on the first side.

IMG_8214Close the grill lid and continue to cook on the second side for 13-15 additional minutes, or, to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  Safe temperature = safe to eat poultry.

~ Step 6.  Transfer burgers to a warmed serving platter, loosely cover with aluminum foil and allow IMG_8218to rest for 3-5 minutes.  

~ Step 7.  During this time, grill the pineapple slices until light golden grid marks appear on their surface, about 1-2 minutes per side.  If you want lightly-toasted rolls for your burgers, toast them along with or just after the pineapple slices.  This will take 1-2 more minutes.

Assemble and serve immediately with Thai sweet chili sauce...

IMG_8235... and fall in love from the very first, moist, flavor-packed bite!

IMG_8261My Moist, Juicy, Grilled Thai-Style Turkey Burgers:  Recipe yields 6, large, hearty, 6-ounce turkey burgers.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; plastic wrap; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; kitchen scale (optional); gas grill; long-handled grilling spatula; instant-read meat thermometer (optional but recommended); aluminum foil

IMG_6481Cook's Note:  If it's a traditional hamburger with a Southwestern theme you're craving, click into Categories 2, 10, 13, 17, 19, 20 to get my recipe for ~ Chili Cheddar Cheeseburgers w/Chile-Lime Mayo ~.  In this flavor-packed burger, the cheddar cheese gets mixed into the meat mixture rather than melted on top of it!

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

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

06/06/2015

~ Know the Pros & 'Cons' of Ground Turkey vs Beef ~

IMG_8160Between you and I, Joe and I are not lovers of ground turkey, turkey franks, turkey kielbasa, turkey sausage, turkey bacon, etc.  We do, however, love real-deal roast turkey with all the trimmings, and, adore turkey sandwiches.  I in particular get really annoyed by television chefs and advertisements that peddle these products as "just as good as" ground beef or pork, sausages and cured bacon products.  In my opinion, they are a disparagingly dry, bland, boring "look alike" alternative for folks who can't or won't eat beef or pork.  They're usually marketed as being "healthier" or "lighter" -- which, in the case of these two proteins, is just not the case.

IMG_8144If you're switching from ground beef to ground turkey for nutritional reasons, here's a few things you need to know:

When it comes to turkey, white meat (the breast and wing) has less calories than dark meat (the legs and thighs).  When purchasing "ground turkey", unless you are specifically buying it labeled "all white " or "all dark", you are getting IMG_8145a mixture of both, with a percentage of fat mixed in.  Reading and understanding how it is labeled is very important, and, both ground turkey and ground beef are labeled identically, clearly stating the lean/fat ratio:  95/5, 90/10, 85/15, 80/20, etc.  The higher the second number, the more calories and fat.  

What this means is:  when comparing ground turkey to ground beef, you must compare two identically marked labels.  The moment you do that, the obvious will be revealed:  from a nutritional perspective, there is very little difference between ground beef and ground turkey. Turkey will save you a few calories per serving, and cut down on a small percentage of fat, but, it typically contains a bit more cholesterol and sodium. Neither contains carbohydrates, and, from a protein standpoint they are about equal too.  Well then:  

In my house, we only eat ground beef or ground turkey a handful of times a year, so, for me I do not care about that extra 22 calories in my bowl of red beef chili.  I make my choice based on which IMG_8148protein suits the flavor profile of the recipe better.

When choosing between ground beef and ground turkey here's a few things you need to know about flavor and texture:

Turkey has a bolder flavor than chicken, but a much milder flavor than beef.  In ground form, it resembles beef, but, from a flavor and texture comparison they are two different animals.  Turkey is bland and dry.   Meals that rely on IMG_8155the robust flavor and juicy texture of beef are quite disappointing if turkey is substituted without making adjustments to the recipe.  It's less evident in "wet" dishes like chili or sloppy Joe's or meat sauce, but in mixtures for burgers, meatloaf and meatballs, if you insist on turkey:  

To add just flavor:  boost the herbs and spices.  If normally adding 1 teaspoon of a dried herb to a beef recipe, add 1 1/2 teaspoons to a turkey recipe.  If normally adding 1 teaspoon of a spice, add 1 1/4-1 1/2 teaspoons -- except for pepper and salt (which includes salty items like soy and Worcestershire sauce).

To add moisture and flavor:  add an extra 1/2-1 cup of diced fresh ingredients that exude moisture as they cook.  Mild-flavored leafy herbs (like dill, cilantro and parsley) and watery vegetables (like celery, bell peppers and onions) work best.

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

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

06/04/2015

~ "Secrets" to Seriously Moist Cakes and Cupcakes ~

IMG_7766"It's a piece of cake" is an old saying that was popularized in WWII in reference to how easy the upcoming mission was going to be.  "A cake walk" was military slang for a raid that turned out to be much easier than expected.  "Takes the cake" is an expression that means "wins the prize". "If I knew you were coming I'd've baked a cake" is an expression of delightful surprise at having a special someone drop back into your life.  Cakes really do play a significant role in all our lives!

"Anyone can bake a cake" is a true statement.  Anyone can -- if they are so inclined.  "Cake baking is not rocket science" is a misleading statement.  While cake baking is not hard (a mixture of eggs, flour, sugar, butter, eggs and milk get mixed together), that's a naive way of explaining it to someone.  Knowing how and when those simple ingredients get beaten together requires a basic knowledge of the chemical processes that take place, along with the proper technique.  A better phase would be, "Anyone can learn how to bake a cake", because, in fact:

IMG_7808Cake baking is a learned skill that no one is born with!

To learn how to bake a cake:  You can read about it in a book (or on the internet) and leave yourself to the mercy of yourself, or, you can have someone physically teach you hands-on.  The latter is by far the least painful -- I learned the first way and it wasn't always pretty.  My grandmother didn't bake a lot of cakes, and, my mother (a product of her generation), relied upon boxed mixes.  (I have no ax to grind with folks who use a boxed mix or "doctor up" a mix, just don't call yourself a cake baker, you are not -- baking out of a box has little to do with actual cake baking.)  For better and worse, it was me, myself and I -- going "by the book".

Almost nothing is worse than following a recipe as written, having it bake up pretty as a picture, only to be disappointed by a dry first forkful.  "As written" means zero ingredient substitutions, weighing and measuring each one precisely, combining them as instructed without over-mixing, using the specified size and type of pan, and, adhering to the temperature, time and cooling guidelines -- if you do not play by these rules, blame no one but yourself for the end result.

That said, unless you are a super-savvy home baker or a professional baker, if you are following a recipe that you have never used before, playing by the rules, for better or worse, is the common sense decision.  Admittedly, it can feel like a roll of the dice (there are lots of untested recipes on the  internet nowadays), but, all of us home bakers buck up and do it -- sometimes we get excellent results, other times, "not so much".  We do it because it's in our best interest.  The maiden voyage serves as mission control for changes we may want to make to it next time. 

IMG_8009Baking a cake recipe for the 1st time?  Common sense rules.  Thou shalt:

make no substitutions to the ingredients list

weigh and measure dry and wet ingredients properly and precisely

in the order listed, combine the ingredients as instructed

use the specified size and type of baking pan

adhere to oven temperature, baking and cooling time guidelines

IMG_8135Good recipe developers write cake recipes keeping in mind how the major ingredients react together (it's called chemistry).  Always use the specified type of flour and sugar, the preferred shortening, and, the right size eggs.  Unlike cooking, when baking, sometimes even a benign substitution, like the wrong size egg, can upset the balance.  

Baking is a precise sport, the rule is: weigh dry ingredients and measure wet ones.  It's especially important to weigh flour because each type is different in weight and texture:  1 cup of cake flour does not weigh the same as 1 cup of all-purpose flour, and, 1 cup of flour, sifted after weighing, does not weigh the same as 1 cup of sifted flour.  

The typical mixing scenario is to stir the dry ingredients together with the leavening agent(s) then beat in the wet ingredients, either all at once or in increments. Chemical reactions IMG_8140begin almost immediately, and, under- or over-mixing causes problems.  Long story short: mixing is about creaming fats and sugar together, adding protein for structure, then beating to aerate.  At this point, the batter needs to go into the pans and get baked ASAP.  

Pan size controls surface area and thickness.  Changing the pan size affects the baking time and can affect the general texture of the cake, and, changing from a shiny metal pan to a dark one requires lowering the oven temperature by 25 degrees.  Once baked, removing a cake from the pan too soon, or allowing it to cool in the pan too long will affect its texture too.     

What can you substitute or add to make a cake recipe moister?   IMG_1990Mel's Top 10 List.  Thou shalt:

not mess around with the recommended type or amount of flour

substitute light or dark brown sugar for all or a portion of the granulated sugar

always choose butter over margarine or shortening

replace a portion or all of the butter w/an equal amount of flavorless vegetable oil

add an extra 2-4 tablespoons of flavorless vegetable oil to the recipe

use 1 large egg and 2 large egg yolks in place of 2 large eggs

use 4 large egg yolks in place of 2 large eggs

substitute buttermilk for milk

substitute sour cream or yogurt for 1/2-3/4 of the buttermilk or milk

 add an extra 2-4 tablespoons of sour cream or yogurt to the recipe

IMG_3475Flour, sugar, butter, eggs and milk. Those are the key ingredients in most of the cakes we home-bakers make.  My list is 100% approved by me.  Making 1, 2 or even 3 of those changes to a cake recipe will do no harm, but, please know, you can only push the envelope so far when adjusting a cake recipe.  If pressed to divulge my favorite three ways to get a cake recipe to turn out super-moist: vegetable oil, egg yolks and sour cream.  Read on:  

That said, my list does not apply to "special cakes", like angel food, chiffon or sponge cakes, or any cake that is not baked via the same method as a typical cake.

You really can have your cake and eat it too!

IMG_3377"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

06/01/2015

~ GrandMel is Not a Campfire Girl: S'mores Indoors ~

IMG_8102I hate camping.  Camping caused me to quit the Girl Scouts in 1965.  I was nine.  Hiking into the woods, pitching a tent, building a campfire, singing songs, telling ghost stories, sleeping on the ground in a bag with a zipper, gazing at the stars, listening to the crickets, smelling the night air -- I hated it all.  All it took was one night in the woods and I quit -- the very next day.  I gave my green uniform to my girlfriend Brenda and went AWOL.  I did, however, enjoy the s'mores.

You don't have to love the lifestyle of a hunter-gatherer to love s'mores! 

Girl-scouts-booklet-coverS'more:  A gooey-sweet all-American dessert made by toasting a skewered marshmallow over a campfire then placing the hot marshmallow on a thin square of room temperature chocolate that has been placed atop a graham cracker.  A second cracker goes on top of the marshmallow to form a sandwich.  Proper etiquette is to slightly squeeze the crackers together so that the hot marshmallow spreads out across the chocolate, melting it slightly.

The invention of the s'more isn't attributed to any one person, however, the Girl Scouts, who published the recipe ("Some More") in 1927 in Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts, launched its popularity on a nationwide scale.  The name "s'more" or "smore" comes from the notion that these treats are so good everyone wants "some more" (for me, one is the perfect portion).

Smores-1927Their short and sweet recipe, sans me, resulted in a lot of happy campers -- everyone's outdoor adventure had to include the makings for s'mores. Nowadays, some versions add a layer of sliced bananas or strawberries, and others slather one of the graham crackers with some peanut butter.

IMG_7344I've tried all three of those variations, and, while they are excellent, I pretty much stick to the iconic, unembellished, original s'more recipe, with one exception:  I make my own graham crackers.  If I do say so myself, this elevates the s'more to a whole new level.  ~ It's the Little Things:  Homemade Graham Crackers ~ are remarkably better than store-bought ones.  I'm not trying to rain on your campfire, they just are -- and they're as easy to make as most cookie recipes.  Just click into Category 7 to get my recipe and bake some!

IMG_8027The classic brand-name ingredients for s'mores (circa my 1960's youth):

1 sleeve of Nabisco graham crackers, 8 crackers broken in half to form 16, 2 1/2"-square crackers

4  full-1 1/2-ounce-sized Hershey's milk chocolate bars, broken in half to form 16, 2 1/2" squares

8-16 full-sized Kraft jet-puffed marshmallows, 1 or 2 per sandwich, your choice 

Save yourself the agony of a night in the woods -- make s'mores indoors!

I do not make s'mores often, but, when I make graham crackers, I almost always save the last few to fit one or two into our late-night snack-attack diet.  Occasionally I splurge and substitute one of my favorite Lindt Swiss milk chocolate bars for the beloved Pennsylvania Hershey bar -- this gives me a feeling of superiority in the s'more world.   On the  other hand, my husband Joe prefers his made with a standard-sized Reese's peanut butter cup -- which is simply irresistible.

IMG_8035To toast the marshmallows at the stovetop, I simply place one marshmallow on a long-handled fork with a heatproof handle and, adjust one of the gas burners to low IMG_8041flame.  At the stovetop the fork works better than a skewer because it almost guarantees that the cooking marshmallow can't fall into the flame -- which is a big mess.  

To toast the marshmallows under the broiler, place one or two on the pointed end of a long wooden skewer and place them directly underneath the preheated broiler. Make sure the skewer is long enough to keep your hand well IMG_8046away from the heat.  When one side turns golden (in about 20-30 seconds), turn the skewer to allow them to brown on the second side (about 15-20 seconds).  

IMG_8053That said, the easiest method, especially if you want to make several s'mores all at once, is to place one marshmallow on each graham cracker half, and the IMG_8057half a chocolate bar on the other half.

IMG_8074Position the oven rack about 6" underneath the broiler and broil the marshmallow halves until their tops turn golden, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Don't walk away. Watch carefully.  They will go from golden to burned very quickly.

IMG_8086Remove from oven and invert the graham cracker half with the chocolate bar on top of it squarely on top of the molten marshmallow.

Note: Do not try to invert the molten marshmallow half onto the chocolate (which is how it would be done if the marshmallows were coming off the fork or the skewer) -- it is hot and dangerous.

Press down ever so gently. Be patient.  You've gotta wait a moment for the chocolate to melt!

Eat two if you can -- otherwise share one with your best friend!

IMG_8095GrandMel is Not a Campfire Girl:  S'mores Indoors:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many s'mores indoors as you or your family and friends can eat.

Special Equipment List:  long-handled fork with heatproof handle, or, 12" wooden skewer, or, an ovenproof plate, or, a baking pan lined with parchment (for making several at once)

IMG_7336Cook's Note:  If you've come this far on this post, there's a bit more to my Girl Scout story.  National S'mores Day is August 10th -- which just happens to be my birthday and just happened to be day our scout troop planned the trip for in 1965 (in honor of the s'mores not me).  The good news is, my mom did have a 10th birthday party planned for me the following Saturday -- I got a portable, but adult-looking record player and the first of many albums!

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

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