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12 posts from July 2015

07/30/2015

~ The Facts about ClearJel (Cook-Type vs. Instant) ~

IMG_0646On more than an occasional basis, everyone who enjoys the sport of cooking needs to thicken food, and, choosing the right thickening agent for the particular job can mean the difference between delight and disaster.  Because thickeners come in many forms and they all work a bit differently, depending upon what's being prepared (a savory sauce, gravy or stew, or a sweet preserve, pie filling or pudding), it's in one's best interest to be well-informed in this arena.   

I am not a rocket scientist, so when it comes to discussing thickening agents, I stick to discussing what I know:  how each one hands-on works in the home kitchen rather than the full-blown chemical processes.  I disuss them, in my own words to the best of my ability, on an as-needed basis -- just click on the Related Article links below to learn about pectin, flour, cornstarch, gelatin and eggs.  The pie baking season is here, which prompts me to discuss ClearJel today.

ClearJel: the professionals secret weapon for fruit pie fillings!

IMG_9439ClearJel (Cook-Type) is a powdered modified cornstarch commonly used by professional bakers and canneries.  Like cornstarch it produces a clear, glistening product without any of the aftertaste from thickeners like tapioca starch or flour.  Unlike cornstarch it tolerates high temperatures over a long period of time, and most importantly:  it doesn't begin to thicken until it cools, which makes it ideal for traditional water-bath canning (because it allows the heat to be more evenly distributed in the jar during processing).  That said, if you prefer freezing over canning, ClearJel Instant is your best friend.  

IMG_9457Pudding and pie fillings made with cornstarch begin to break down (get sauce-like) after 1-2 days in the refrigerator and cannot be frozen. Pie fillings made with ClearJel Cook-Type can be refrigerated but don't freeze and thaw well. Some say the ClearJels react better to acidic foods than cornstarch, but, I've not experienced problems using cornstarch in my small-batch/quick-batch/use-immediately pie fillings. To avoid clumping during cooking, mix either ClearJel product with sugar prior to cooking.

IMG_9497ClearJel (Instant) requires no cooking to thicken.  It thickens when liquid is added and remains smooth when hydrated.  It's excellent for refrigerated or frozen pie fillings.  It thickens a bit when heated, but doesn't like to be heated twice, so, instant is a no-no for canning.

Do not confuse ClearJel Cook-Type or Instant with liquid pectin or powdered pectin (like Certo or Sure-Gel).  They're very different and can't be used interchangeably.

ClearJel products are available on-line but not in the average grocery store, which I find odd.

How to measure and use ClearJel Cook-Type:

Large batch water-bath canning:  plan on using 1/4 cup ClearJel per 1 quart of liquid*

Small-batch quick-batch preserving: use 1 tablespoon ClearJel per 1 cup of liquid*

*Combine ClearJel with sugar and any dry spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.) before stirring into wet ingredients (water, juice, etc.).  Cook on medium-high heat until mixture thickens.  Fold in warm precooked, or room temperature uncooked, fruit (as per recipe) and proceed as directed.

How to measure and use ClearJel Instant:

For one pie:  Combine 3 tablespoons Clearjel Instant with 1/2 cup sugar and any dry spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc).  Add 1 cup liquid (water or juice) and enough room temperature precooked or uncooked fruit for 1 pie (about 6 cups).  Proceed with recipe as directed.

PICT0520"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

07/27/2015

~This Spuds for You: Loaded Twice-Baked Potatoes~

IMG_0599Everything tastes better with bacon, and, cheddar makes everything better too -- even broccoli. Everyone loves a steamy, creamy, buttered baked potato, and, twice baked potatoes are, well -- they're the Rolls Royce of the baked-potato world.  Men love them, kids adore them, and, from a mom's perspective, they'll get you as many accolades as a hot fudge sundae.  Every once in a while, I get so hungry for a twice-baked spud that I just gotta make 'em.  Today is such a day.

IMG_0593Making twice-baked potatoes is a method, not an exact recipe.

IMG_1696A twice baked potato is exactly what the name implies:  It's a potato that gets baked in the oven twice.  After the first bake, the potato is sliced in half and the light, fluffy soft-center is carefully scooped out, leaving the shell/the potato skin undamaged. The cooked center is then mashed, mashed-potato-style, with butter, salt, pepper and/or various IMG_0547seasonings and creamy options like sour cream, yogurt and/or cream cheese.  Then the fun begins:

"Add-ins", absolutely anything you want, usually family-friendly favorites (like today's combo of bits of bacon and blanched chopped broccoli topped with shredded cheddar cheese), get folded in.  The flavor-packed potato mixture is scooped back into the the potato skins and baked a second time, which makes the skin crispy and melts the cheese on top -- it's twice baked potato perfection.

IMG_0565From a method standpoint, the way I make them is not the quickest, but, that does't mean it's tedious.  I simply don't take short cuts, which are a definite compromise.  The microwave is a no-no (I want crispy, not soft steamed, potato skins), I use real-deal bacon (not store-bought bacon bits), and, my broccoli is freshly chopped (not frozen and thawed).  I have no exact recipe, but here's my estimated formula:  the mashed centers from 3-4 large Russet potatoes + 3-4 cups of add-ins, then sprinkle the tops of all with additional shredded cheese.

My recipe = cheese on the bottom, in the potato-y center & on the top too!

Tip from Mel:  I've tasted a lot of creative versions of twice-baked potatoes in my lifetime and the best combinations always contain some type of cooked meat or poultry, a vegetable, and, grated cheese.  Great twice-baked potatoes are not pot-luck or a place to throw your leftovers -- they are usually very-well conceived.  That said, I've never tasted a lo-calorie version of a twice-baked potato that had a purpose.  Who in the world counts calories when eating these?

IMG_0584When making twice-baked potatoes, the Russet potato reigns supreme:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c740aa5a970bA bit about the Russet potato: Known as the Idaho or Burbank (after their developer, horticulturist Luther Burbank), these potatoes are generically labeled "baking". They're long, slightly-rounded, and, have thick rough skins, which when baked are quite tasty. When cooked, they have pearly white, dry flesh. Their low moisture/high starch content gives them superior baking and frying qualities.  For more details, read my post ~ Dear Perfectly Baked Potato:  Your Crispy Skin and Fluffy Center, Make My Steaks Taste Even Better ~ in Categories 4, 15 or 20!

While they make great mashed potatoes and potato salad too, they don't do well when boiled, so bake them for use in those two culinary applications too.  For the best texture and most even cooking, always choose (preferably hand-pick), medium-large (10-12-ounce), even-sized, very firm potatoes. Stay away from ones that are spongy, have dark spots and/or a lot of eyes.  Store them singularly (not in a plastic bag), in a cool, dry, dark place, and, never, ever, refrigerate!

Whomever invented the twice-baked potato deserves a standing ovation!

PICT2736For the potatoes and the first bake:

3-4 large (10-12-ounce), whole, even-sized Russet potatoes  

3-4  tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon fat

3-4  tablespoons coarse sea salt

3-4  tablespoons salted butter, melted

6-8 tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese

6a0120a8551282970b0163055c3d7f970dStep 1.  Using a vegetable brush, thoroughly scrub the desired number of potatoes under tepid water, to remove any dirt.  I'm making six today.  Pat them dry in a few paper towels.  Using a fork, prick the skin of each one 16-18 times evenly around the surface.  

Note:  Pricking the potatoes is the step that allows steam to escape as the potatoes bake, which results in light, fluffy centers.

PICT2736Step 2. One at a time, place each potato in a shallow bowl or on a plate.  Drizzle each with about 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil, and, using a pastry brush, paint the entire surface of each potato with oil.

Note:  If you are making any version of twice-baked potatoes that includes fried bacon, feel free to paint the potato skins with the bacon fat rather than the vegetable oil.  Or, if you keep bacon fat on hand, feel free to use it instead of vegetable oil throughout this recipe.

PICT2739Step 3.  Line a baking pan with parchment paper.  A 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" pan will hold 6 potatoes, a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" pan will hold 8-12. Depending upon the size of the pan, sprinkle  2-4 tablespoons of coarse sea salt over the parchment. Arrange the oil-coated potatoes, well apart, on the prepared pan. Sprinkle more salt over the tops, about 1/2-1 teaspoon atop each.

PICT2737Step 5.  Bake on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven about:

30-40 minutes for small potatoes

60-70 minutes for large potatoes

Potatoes should be very soft and tender when pierced with a fork, and, slightly-crisp on the outside. Remove from oven and let rest until cool enough to handle with your hands, about 20-30 minutes.

IMG_1686 IMG_1696Step 6. Using a serrated knife, cut potatoes in half horizontally and open them up like a book.  Using a paring knife and a tablespoon carefully scoop out the soft center from each half, leaving about 1/4" of potato around the sides and on the bottoms.  Note:  Use the knife to mark a 1/4" line around the sides -- not so deep as to pierce the skin, just to loosen the proper amount.

IMG_1702 IMG_1698Step 7. Return all of the potato skins to the pan, insides up. Melt butter in microwave.  Brush insides with butter, flip potatoes over and brush outsides.  Return to oven and bake, 6 minutes.  Note: I'm doing mine in two batches of six tonight because I have to take  a series of photographs.  It's complicated.

IMG_1714 IMG_1708                                            ~ Step 8. Remove potatoes from oven. Flip them over, insides up.  Return to oven and cook until edges are turning brown, 12-15 minutes.  This is an important step.  Give them all the time they need to crisp up.

IMG_1744 IMG_1719Step 9. Remove potatoes from oven and immediately sprinkle about 1 1/2-2 tablespoons of shredded cheddar into the cavities.  

IMG_1721Return to oven and bake briefly, just until the cheese melts, 3-4 minutes. Remove from oven and fill cavities with:

IMG_0551For the mashed potato filling, the add-ins and the second bake: 

Advance Prep Note:  The potato mixture stirs together in less than five minutes provided the bacon has been fried and diced, and, the broccoli has been blanched and chopped in advance.

4  cups potato flesh, scooped from the soft centers of above baked potatoes, hot

4  tablespoons salted butter, very soft or melted

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, to taste

1/2  cup sour cream

2  (generous) cups very very small broccoli florets, blanched in boiling water for about 45-60 seconds, until 'al dente', well-drained and cooled

1  (generous) cup crisply-fried and diced bacon, about 8 strips of thick-sliced bacon

1 (generous) cup shredded cheddar cheese, for stirring into potato filling

6-8 additional tablespoons shredded cheddar cheese, for topping

IMG_0546 IMG_0547 IMG_0565 IMG_0568~Step 10.  In a large bowl, using a fork smash the potatoes.  Add the butter and stir until thoroughly incorporated.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Fold in the sour cream, followed by the broccoli florets, bacon bits and the 1 cup of shredded cheddar.

IMG_0585 IMG_0587 IMG_0614~Step 11.  Fill potato cavities with  potato mixture and top with cheese.  Return to oven and bake for a second time, about 15 minutes.  Cheese will be melted and tops will be golden.

Serve hot or warm.  Love 'em with a knife and a fork...

IMG_0618... or pick'em up and enjoy 'em as an appetizer or a snack.

IMG_0636This Spuds for You:  Loaded Twice-Baked Potatoes:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable brush; fork; pastry brush; baking pan; parchment paper; serrated bread knife; paring knife; tablespoon; 1-cup measuring container; cheese grater; cutting board; chef's knife; skillet (for frying bacon); saucepan; for blanching broccoli

IMG_6481Cook's Note:  Twice-baked potatoes are a great side-dish to serve with all sorts of grilled chicken or steak, and, they pair nicely with a bowl of chili too.  That said, my family really loves them served with my ~ Chili Cheddar Cheeseburgers w/Chile-Lime Mayo ~.  You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 2, 10, 13, 17, 19 or 20.

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

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

07/24/2015

~ Succulent Crockpot Apple 'n Onion Pulled-Pork ~

IMG_0503As much as I adore all the fruits and veggies Joe grows, from mid-July until end of September, the quantities of produce I have to process can get overwhelming.  This is a "that's the facts Jack" statement of truth, not a complaint.  At present, my culinary focus is on eating what we can of the daily harvest and preserving as much of the rest as humanly possible for our cold-weather enjoyment.  It's no secret, I've never been a crockpot kinda gal, but, over the past few years I've mellowed.  I've made peace with mine.  I've learned:  a crockpot can be a gardener's wife's best friend.  At present, I have more than a few uncompromisingly yummy slow cooker recipes.

My recipe moved from stovetop to crockpot out of Summertime necessity!

IMG_0508This is crazy-easy to make.  It takes about 15 minutes to season and brown the pork, plus, 5 minutes to put it, along with the apples, onions and spices into the crockpot.  After slow cooking itself and 5 minutes of easy shredding -- you and yours are sitting down to a melt-in-your mouth dinner.  Joe and I love it on sandwiches, but, it's also delicious atop mashed potatoes or rice.  This recipe is not an attempt to imitate any type of real-deal pulled-pork barbecue with its crispy outer bark and smokey flavor.  It's neither Southern nor Southwestern either. There is no dry rub or barbecue sauce involved.  This pulled pork is a spinoff of my stovetop ~ Braised Pork Tenderloins w/Apple & Onion Puree ~, which is a spinoff of my mom's pork pot roast, both of which are two of our favorite cold-weather comfort-food meals.

Note:  Cut this recipe in half if using a crockpot smaller than 6 quarts. 

IMG_0312~ Step 1.  The succulent pork is the star of this show and I choose to use boneless pork loin. Conveniently, our grocery stores sell it cut into 3 pound pieces, each with a nice fat cap.  You'll need two.

IMG_0318If you can't find this cut, purchase a boneless pork loin and slice it yourself.

IMG_0319Generously season the fat sides with: freshly ground sea salt, peppercorn blend & garlic powder. Set aside for 15-30 minutes.

IMG_0332 IMG_0336 IMG_0343 IMG_0349 IMG_0364~Step 2.  In an electric skillet (or a 14" skillet on the stovetop) melt 4 tablespoons salted butter.  Adjust heat to 300 degrees (medium-high on the stovetop).  Place the seasoned roasts in the skillet fat side up.  Saute until browned on both sides, turning only once, about 8-10 minutes per side.  Remove pork roasts from skillet and deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup apple juice.

IMG_0382~ Step 3.  Coarsely chop:

2  medium yellow or sweet onions

2  unpeeled Granny Smith apples

IMG_0376Have ready:

8 each: whole allspice and whole cloves

2 each:  whole bay leaves and cinnamon sticks

IMG_0378 IMG_0387 IMG_0393 IMG_0403~Step 4.  Transfer all of the pan drippings from the skillet into a 6-quart crockpot.  Add the allspice, cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks to the drippings, followed by the chopped onions and apples.  Generously season the top of all with freshly ground sea salt, peppercorn blend and garlic powder.  Place the pork roasts, side-by-side, fat side up, on top of the apples.

IMG_0406 IMG_0419~ Step 5. Cover the crockpot and slow cook on high setting for 2 hours, then low setting for 6 hours.

IMG_0424~ Step 6. Transfer roasts (not the liquids) to a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish, cover and set aside until cool enough to handle with your hands, about 2 hours. Cover crockpot and allow liquids to remain on the warm setting while the meat is cooling down.

IMG_0440 IMG_0432~ Step 7. When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove and discard any large pieces of fat remaining on the tops.

IMG_0449Using your fingertips, pull/shred the pork, placing it back in the casserole as you work.

IMG_0451~ Step 8.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer all of the the large pieces of apples and onions to the pulled pork.  Toss, like you would a salad, until thoroughly combined.

IMG_0471~ Step 9. Using a soup ladle begin adding the liquids from the crockpot to the meat, tossing after each IMG_0476addition.  Stop when the meat is very most and no liquid is puddling in the bottom of the dish.  I added 4, 4-ounce ladlefuls today (2 cups).

~ Step 10.  Place the remaining liquid from the crockpot (2 cups) in a container and set aside.  Serve it at the table as a sandwich dipper.

Note:  Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to a week.  As for reheating leftovers,  I portion out as much as I need for 1-2-3 sandwiches and reheat them in the microwave.  As for freezing leftovers, I am sorry to report that while they taste fine, upon reheat they tend to get a bit mushy.

Have yourself a heaping helping of our hospitality:

IMG_0489It's delicious served hot, warm or at room temperature!

IMG_0511Succulent Crockpot Apple 'n Onion Pulled-Pork:  Recipe yields 12 large sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; electric skillet or 14" skillet; large spatula; 6-quart crockpot; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish/casserole; large slotted spoon; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0789654f970dCook's Note: For one of the most delicious twists on traditional Tex-Mex chili you're ever going to taste, try my "Winner Winner Crock-Pot Dinner":  A Scrumptious, Slow-Cooked Sweet Potato and Ground Beef Chili ~.  Along with the recipe, which you can find in Categories, 2, 3, 13, 19 or 20, you can read all about the invention and history of the original Crock-Pot!

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

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

07/21/2015

~ Dehydrated Pie Cherry & Pistachio Zucchini Bread~

IMG_0283You show me your recipe for zucchini bread and I'll show you mine.  Everyone who has ever planted a zucchini seed has a recipe for zucchini bread -- every last zucchini-growing one of us. This is my homegrown version and I only make it once or twice, at this time, each year.  Why? 'Tis the end of the sour cherry season and the beginning of the zucchini season.  While it's common to find dried fruits and nuts added to zucchini bread, I happen to think mine, made with my own dried sour cherries, plus toasted pistachios, is is one uniquely tasty combination!

IMG_0273Here in Happy Valley, 'tis the end of cherry season and the beginning of zucchini season! 

6a0120a8551282970b0192ac26e5f9970dPersonally, I prefer zucchini that are picked when small and tender, and, I like it served in an identifiable manner.  Plain and simple:  I am a zucchini snob.  That said, renegade zucchini, super-sized ones, are almost impossible to avoid -- they increase in size by the hour.  It's these monster-size zucchini I grate and use when I'm trying to sneak a vegetable into my family's diet without them knowing  it (zucchini bread, zucchini cake, zucchini muffins, zucchini fritters, zucchini pancakes, zucchini waffles, etc.).  

IMG_0175A bit about zucchini/corgette:  In the big picture, all squash fall into two categories:  Winter or Summer. Zucchini (both green and yellow) are Summer squash, they are a member of the Italian marrow squash family, and, were brought to the USA by Italian immigrants in the 1920's.  The most common zucchini is a dark green, cylindrical Summer squash which is best harvested around 8" in length, while the seeds are still soft and immature.

A small, "baby zucchini", with the edible flower/blossom attached, designates a truly fresh, immature fruit.  Baby zucchini are a delicacy and are sought by many for their sweet flavor.  

IMG_9689Aside from color, its hybrid relative, the golden yellow-orange zucchini, is identical to green zucchini (with yellow zucchini being slightly-sweeter but not enough for me to prefer one over the other).  While yellow zucchini are indeed a type of yellow squash, correctly labeled they are still: zucchini. They remain cylindrical in shape, do not taper at one end and get bulbous at the other, and/or have crook necks.

Today's big picture:  all ready for my zucchini bread!

6a0120a8551282970b019104d5e12b970cA bit about my recipe:  When it comes to zucchini bread, I was a very late bloomer.  Neither my grandmother nor my mother made it, so, I have no top-secret family recipe to share.  The first time I tasted zucchini bread the year was 1980 and I was 30 years old.  Our new neighbors, two doors away, were a retired couple, Don and Mary Barrett.  That Summer, Mary invited me to come to her house for coffee and chit-chat.  The warm 'quick bread' she served was moist and delicious.  I was astonished to find out it was the bland, watery zucchini that gave the bread its melt-in-your mouth texture (similar to what carrots do to carrot cake).  A few hours later, I arrived home with a loaf of bread and her recipe, which, over the years, evolved into my own recipe.

Most zucchini bread recipes fall into the "quick bread" category.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d13becf0970cA 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 baking powder, or, a  IMG_0276combination 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 always mixed separately, in two different bowls, quickly stirred together (without over-mixing) to form a thick batter, then baked.  Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, scones, soda bread and waffles all fall into the quick-bread category too!    

IMG_0119For the dry ingredients:

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the wet ingredients:

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/4  cups sugar

2  teaspoons vanilla bean paste (Mary used pure vanilla extract)

3/4  cup salted butter, melted and cooled (1 1/2 sticks)

3-4  cups shredded green or yellow zucchini, or a combination of both (Mary used green), from about 1 1/2 pounds of zucchini

For the add-ins:

1  cup dehydrated (dried) sour (pie) cherries, coarsely chopped (Mary used raisins) (Note:  If you have fresh cherries, and, if you own a dehydrator, click on the Related Article link below ~ Culinary Jewels: Dehydrated Sour "Pie" Cherries ~ to learn how I do it.)

1  cup shelled pistachios, lightly-toasted and coarsely-chopped (Mary used walnuts)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

IMG_0178 IMG_0121Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Place pistachios in a baking pan and toast in 350 degree oven 8-10 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon every 3-5 minutes. Remove from oven, set aside to cool, then chop.  Chop cherries as directed then melt the butter.  Set aside.

IMG_0159 IMG_0162 IMG_0173 IMG_0186~Step 2.  Trim the stem ends from the zucchini, but do not peel it.  Drape a flour-sack-type towel over a colander.  Using a hand-held box grater, grate the zucchini, placing all of it in the towel as you work.  When finished grating, gather the towel up around the zucchini, twist, and, gently but firmly squeeze to remove excess moisture from zucchini.  Continue turning and squeezing until almost no moisture remains -- when the towel is unwrapped, if the zucchini will stay in a ball, you have properly squeezed the moisture from it.  You will have 3-4 cups grated zucchini.

IMG_0201 IMG_0209 IMG_0211 IMG_0214~Step 3.  In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla bean paste. While whisking vigorously, in a thin stream drizzle in and thoroughly incorporate the melted butter.  When you stop no butter should be laying on top of liquid.  Fold in the shredded zucchini.

IMG_0224 IMG_0230 IMG_0233 IMG_0235

IMG_0240~Step 4.  Put down the whisk and switch to a rubber spatula.  In two increments, begin incorporating the flour mixture, folding it just until a thick batter forms.  Fold in the cherries, followed by the pistachios.

~ Step 5.  Spoon and divide the batter equally between two 8" x 4" loaf pans that have been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  

Note:  I always like to weigh the filled pans on a kitchen scale to insure batter is divided equally.

IMG_0250~ Step 6.  Bake both loaves at once, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  Loaves will be lightly golden and spring back when gently touched.  Remove from oven and place pans on a rack to cool for about 10 minutes prior to removing from pans to cool completely, about 2 hours or longer, prior to slicing.

Tip from Mel:  Always bake two and freeze (or share) one.

IMG_0265All buttered up and beautiful -- serve warmed or toasted!

IMG_0292Dehydrated Pie Cherry & Pistachio Zucchini Bread:  Recipe yields 2, 8" x 4" loaves.

Special Equipment List:  8" x 8" x 2" baking pan; cutting board; chef's knife; box grater; cotton flour-sack-type towel; whisk; large rubber spatula; 2, 8" x 4" loaf pans; kitchen scale (optional); cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack

IMG_0351Cook's Note:  For one of my favorite savory uses for young, tender zucchini, my recipe for ~ Sauteed Summer Squash and Saffron Rice Stuffed Tomatoes ~ can be found in Categories 4, 14 & 20.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0f9ea69970cFor another one of my favorite quick bread recipes, click into Categories, 5, 9, 11, 12 or 22 for my ~ Macadamia-Mango Coconut-Rum Banana Bread ~!

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

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

07/19/2015

~ Sweet and Savory K.C.-Style Cherry BBQ Sauce ~

IMG_0075I'm a huge fan of real-deal barbecue, and, I'm well-acquainted with most of the conventional, regional styles too:  North and South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee (Memphis), Missouri (St. Louis and Kansas City).  That said, I neither pretend to be nor want to be 'a player' in this particular sport.  I'm merely in awe of the people I know who have mastered and excel at its preparation.  My participation is happily limited to being a free-thinking, cocktail drinking, fair-weather fan.  I'm content to stand on the sidelines, watch intently and learn -- independent of the ever-present, my-way-or-the-highway, holier-than-thou:  barbecue police. I gleefully partake in eating their finished products, relishing in the complex flavors of their rubs and/or mops, but:

IMG_0071More often than not, for me:  it's the sauce that turns me on! 

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times, "almost everything tastes better with a perfectly executed sauce on top of it, underneath it or to the side of it."  I stand by these words with barbecue being no exception.  When I'm eating barbecue, more often than not, it's the sauce that "turns me on".  For every style there is a sauce, and while I know what type of sauce to pair with which each style of barbecue, I also know when not to sauce at all (Texans are crazy).  

That said, when it comes to making barbecue sauces, I'm a hang-onto-the pot and enjoy the ride kinda gal.  I'm an advocate of the don't be afraid to think-outside-the-box "flavored-sauce" category.  The category in which, within each style of barbecue, within reason, it's acceptable to be creative and judiciously add underlying flavors (like chocolate, coffee or cola), exotic spice blends (like Jamaican curry, Japanese 7 spice or Middle Eastern Za'atar), and/or the taste-and-texture of fresh fruits (like berries, stone fruits and apples).  When done correctly, it's game on!  

IMG_7550 IMG_75983-4  tablespoons butter (3 tablespoons if using a round-sided saucier as pictured in this photo, or, 4 tablespoons if cooking in a typical flat-bottomed saucepan)

1  cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion

2-4  large garlic cloves, run through a garlic press

1  12-ounce bottle chili sauce (1, 12-ounce bottle = 1 cup chili sauce)

1  cup ketchup

6  tablespoons full-flavor molasses

6  tablespoons firmly-packed dark brown sugar

6  tablespoons apple-cider vinegar

2  tablespoons yellow mustard

1  tablespoon chili powder

1/2  teaspoon smoked paprika

1  teaspoon cracked black pepper

1/4-1/2  teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, to taste

1/4-1/2  teaspoon hickory-flavored liquid smoke, to taste

3  cups, pitted (absolutely no pits) and coarsely chopped sour cherries, chopped (from freshly picked or frozen and completely thawed cherries

6  tablespoons cherry juice

IMG_7558 IMG_7556~ Step 1. Melt the butter over low heat. Add the diced onion and pressed garlic.  Increase heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is very soft and just beginning to brown, about 6-8 minutes.  Do not over-brown the onion or the garlic.

IMG_7573~ Step 2.  Add all of the remaining ingredients, except for the cherries, and, when you get to the cayenne pepper and liquid smoke, only add 1/4  teaspoon of each initially.  Stir to thoroughly combine.  Bring mixture to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, stirring almost constantly.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue cooking and stirring for 10 minutes.

IMG_0020 IMG_0028Step 3. Stir in cherries and the cherry juice. Return to a gentle simmer and cook 10 more minutes.

IMG_0038Note:  After sauce has simmered 20 minutes, taste. Add additional cayenne & liquid smoke, if needed. Simmer 1-2 more minutes.

IMG_0061Step 4.  Sauce will be thick enough to coat  the spoon.  Turn heat off, cover pan and allow sauce to steep for 1-2 hours, to allow all of the flavors time to marry.  Don't skip this step -- it matters -- trust me.

Note:  Technically the warm sauce is ready to use, but, if you don't like your sauce with a slightly-chunky consistency, which my family insists on, feel free to process it in a food processor or with a stick blender.

Use immediately and/or refrigerate 2+ weeks.  Reheat prior to using.

IMG_0103Savory and Sweet K.C.-Style Cherry BBQ Sauce:  Recipe yields 6 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cherry pitter; cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; 3-quart saucier w/lid, or a 3-4-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; food processor or stick blender (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b0167671a1189970bCook's Note:  For another of my fruityBBQ-type sauces with a Tex-Mex flare, check out ~ Sweet Heat: Strawberry & Guajillo Chile Sauce, or:  Summer Strawberries Never Tasted Sooooo Good! ~ in Categories 6, 8, 13, 20 or 22!

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

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

07/17/2015

~ Andrew's Favorite: His Mom's Cherry Cookie Bars ~

IMG_9986Cherries and cherry desserts -- more specifically sour cherries and sour cherry desserts -- I don't know anyone who doesn't love cherries.  My husband picked 150 pounds of pie cherries from our backyard tree last week, and ever since, I've been "making hay while the sun shines" -- posting as many of my favorite cherry recipes  as I am physically capable in order to use up all of these culinary jewels.  Click on the Related Article links below to get the most recent ones.

IMG_9984Andrew is the Production Manager for WHVL-TV here in State College, PA.  He's the host of their For the Record show, and, the man behind the cameras for my Kitchen Encounters cooking segments on their Sunday morning Centre of it All show too.  For my segment last week, I made cheese-filled blintzes with sour cherry topping.  While chatting about cherries during a break, Andrew mentioned his favorite cherry dessert, he texted mom and she responded almost immediately with her recipe!

A cross between a little cake and a little cookie...

IMG_9965... simple, straightforward, easy-to-make, totally-tasty goodness:

IMG_9874A bit about the recipe and my version of it:  First of all, it is simple and straightforward goodness -- there can never be too many easy-to-make totally-tasty dessert recipes in my food world.  It's fun to watch the batter rise up around pie filling as it bakes, which, to my amazement, happens absent the aid of any leavening agents like baking powder or soda (which I honestly questioned at first).  As for ingredients:  Andrew's mom uses margarine, and I use butter, and, while I currently have a pint of homemade cherry pie filling on- IMG_9497hand in my refrigerator, and I am using it,  Andrew's mom uses a can of pie filling when she doesn't have the time to make, or the cherries to make her own (which, because of the short growing season for cherries, is ok by me).  For flavorings, I use my favorite trio of extracts, flavors that complement a whole host of cherry desserts. Lastly, Andrew's mom uses lemon juice in place of extract, which is pure, simple and classic too!

Andrew's Favorite:  His Mom's Cherry Cookie Bars! 

IMG_98798  ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 cup/2 sticks) 

1 1/2  cups sugar

4  large eggs, at room temperature

2  cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon pure cherry extract

1/2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon: almond extract 

2  cups of my homemade ~ Seriously Simple Stovetop Sour Cherry Pie Filling ~ (Note:  Just click on the Related Article link below to get my recipe.)

No-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting tops of cookie bars

IMG_9881 IMG_9886 IMG_9889 IMG_9895~Steps 1 & 2.  Place butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Starting on low speed of electric mixer and working your way up to high speed, cream the two together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Lower mixer speed to medium and, one at a time, beat in the eggs, beating well after each addition, then, add all of the extracts and beat well again, about 1 minute.

IMG_9898 IMG_9901~ Step 3.  Add flour and salt and continue to beat until a smooth, sticky, spreadable batter forms, about 2 more minutes.  The texture is best described as softer than the average drop-cookie batter and stiffer than the average cake batter.

IMG_9919~ Step 4.  Transfer batter to a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" x 1" baking pan (also known as a standard-sized jelly roll pan) that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  

IMG_9921Using an offset spatula, spread the batter across the bottom of the pan to form a thin, even layer.  

IMG_9930~ Step 5.  Using a sharp knife, lightly score (try not cut through to the bottom but it won't matter of you do as the batter closes up as it bakes) the top of the batter to mark the size  bars or squares you want.

Note:  I have divided the long side of the pan into 8, 2" wide sections and the short side of the pan into 4, 3" sections.  This will  yield 32, 4" x 2" bar shapes.

IMG_9937~ Step 6.  Spoon about 1 tablespoon of cherry pie filling into the center of each bar or square (I place 3-4 cherries on each bar).  Do not press the filling down into the batter.  The batter will bake up around the filling as it bakes.

~ Step 7.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 30-35 minutes, or until the batter is nicely golden and a cake tester or a toothpick inserted into the middle of the batter comes out clean.

Here's what they look like going into the oven:

IMG_9935Here's what they look like coming out of the oven:

IMG_9960Place pan on a cooling rack, about 1 1/2 hours, before slicing...

IMG_9978... and serving with a light dusting of Confectioners' sugar! 

IMG_0002Andrew's Favorite:  His Mom's Cherry Cookie Bars:  Recipe yields 32 bar cookies.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" x 1" baking pan (jelly roll pan); offset spatula; sharp knife; ordinary tablespoon; cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack

IMG_9891Cook's Note:  In the event the occasion you're baking for requires an entire cake, I'd like to suggest you give ~ My Buttery Sour-Cream Sour-Cherry Pound-Cake ~ recipe a try.  It's full of the same flavors and buttery goodness as today's cookie bars.  You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 6, 9, or 19!

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

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

07/15/2015

~ Butter-Browned & Broiled BBQ'd Chicken Thighs ~

IMG_9800Real-deal outdoor-grilled chicken, the bone-in kind, juicy on the inside with crispy skin on the outside, all slathered in sweet and savory barbecue sauce, served with a crisp green salad full of garden-ripe tomatoes and a cob of in-season sweet corn -- this is perhaps my favorite Summertime meal.  I fantasize about it -- I don't care who grills it, if I'm invited, I'm showing up.

The bar I've set for my ideal grilled chicken with barbecue sauce is high, but make no mistake, I'm completely capable of making a perfectly-good version under less than ideal circumstances -- indoors.  In this food world, a lot of people have a long list of valid reasons why they can't cook real-deal grilled food,  but they shouldn't have to abandon their desire for finger-lickin' good food just because they can't, or don't, own a grill.  If you're rolling your eyes, "be off with you".

ImagesThat said, if you're interested in how I know this and came up with this recipe read on: Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, in 1974, I was an apartment dweller.  The kind of apartment with no balcony or patio.  If you wanted to eat 'barbecued' anything, you figured out a way to make it indoors.  It gets worse.  It was the "Shake-and-Bake" era, and, one try of this was one taste too many. < Here is a vintage 1970's photo of the box.

Necessity is the mother-of-invention & this is one of my vintage, inventive recipes!

IMG_9794If you didn't grow up sharing a bedroom, never experienced dorm living, or, never stayed in a small space that wasn't a hotel room while on vacation, apartment living can be a challenge -- it should be considered a sport. So it was for me, but, as a gal who can turn any space into my own clean canvas, I found myself enjoying the challenge.  What I learned: a really good cook can enjoy cooking anywhere, and, more importantly, uses the opportunity to share with fellow dwellers living upstairs, downstairs or across the hall -- I made some of my best friends while living in my first three apartments!

This recipe evolved over time.  In 1974 I was making it with two bone-in chicken breast halves and four leg-thigh portions, and, store-bought BBQ sauce.  I quickly learned the need to remove the skin from the chicken, as that contributed to smoke under the oven broiler.  In the 1980's boneless, skinless chicken breasts and thighs began appearing in markets all across America.  I was raising three boys by then.  It's because of them this 'winner-winner chicken dinner' got made exclusively with the tastier, juicier chicken thighs (and served with mac and cheese).  By the 1990's I was making it in large quantities for my son's Penn State fraternity.  Nowadays, I make it with my own homemade barbecue sauce.  Rain, snow, or full sunshine, Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter, what a delightful way to enjoy family-friendly barbecue for any occasion!

IMG_966112 -14 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (Note:  Chicken thighs come conveniently shaped into little rolls/roulades.  Leave them that way.  Don't unroll them and don't trim away the pieces of fat, which will add flavor and get crispy.  Do nothing -- how easy is that!)

Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauce and gravy

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_96734  tablespoons salted butter, more or less depending upon the size of the skillet or electric skillet (Note: In 1974, in my first apartment, my electric skillet was my best friend.  I use it to this day to make this barbecued chicken as it controls the heat under 14 thighs perfectly.)

IMG_96751 1/2  cups barbecue sauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite brand (Note:  You can find my recipe for homemade ~ Kansas City BBQ Sauce:  Sweet, Spicy & Smoky ~ by clicking on the Related Article link below.)

~ Step 1.  Sprinkle the tops of the chicken thighs with flour and freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Set aside for about 15 IMG_9685minutes, to allow flour to absorb moisture from the chicken.

~ Step 2.  Over low heat, melt butter in skillet. Grind some additional salt and pepper across the bottom of the skillet, into the butter.  Add the chicken thighs, seam sides down.

~ Step 3.  Increase heat to 225-250 degrees.  Maintain a slow, steady saute, until bottoms of thighs are deep golden, about 25 minutes.

IMG_9701 IMG_9693Note:  Not only will the bottom of the thighs be deep golden, the thighs will be turning opaque about half-way to the tops.

~ Step 4.  Using a spatula (not a fork), flip the thighs over.  Once again, maintain a slow, steady saute, until tops of thighs are deep golden, about 25 more minutes.

IMG_9705 IMG_9714~ Step 5.  Turn heat off.  Cover skillet and allow the chicken thighs to rest, about 20-30 minutes, to allow the juices to redistribute themselves.  

IMG_9722~ Step 6.  While chicken is resting, preheat oven broiler with oven rack positioned about 6"-7" underneath the heating element.  Spray a 4-quart casserole with no-stick cooking spray.  After chicken has rested, using a spatula, transfer the thighs, top sides up, side-by-side to prepared casserole, allowing all chicken juices and butter to remain in skillet.

^^^Note:  Meet my vintage, clear glass, 4-quart Pyrex casserole.  It's been with me since 1974!

IMG_9733 IMG_9744~ Step 7.  Reheat drippings in skillet to 225-250 degrees.  Add barbecue sauce.  Stir and simmer for 1 minute.  Turn heat off.  Transfer sauce mixture to a 2-cup measuring container.

Read and follow this last step carefully.

IMG_9748 IMG_9750 IMG_9771 IMG_9777~Step 8.  Using a pastry brush, drizzle and glaze the tops of the thighs with 1 cup of the barbecue sauce mixture.  Place under broiler until bubbling and lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes.  Remove from oven and brush the tops with 1/2 cup of the sauce mixture.  Return to broiler for 2-3 more minutes.  Remove from oven and brush tops with the remaining sauce mixture.  Return to broiler for 1-2 minutes, or until tops are bubbling and nicely caramelized.

Remove from oven & rest 5 minutes prior to serving.

IMG_9789Mel's finger-lickin' 'winner winner indoor BBQ chicken dinner': 

IMG_9833Butter-Browned & Broiled BBQ'd Chicken Thighs:  Recipe yields 2 pieces of chicken per person or 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  electric skillet w/lid or 14" skillet w/lid; large spatula; 4-quart casserole; large spoon; 2-cup measuring container; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b019aff52d2b5970b-800wiCook's Note:  Even back in the 1980's, neither I or my kids were fans of tasteless, dry, boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  You can find ~ My E-Z "Real" Roasted Chicken Breasts & Gravy ~ recipe in Categories 3, 19 or 20.  

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

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

07/12/2015

~ Sweet Treats: Sour-Cherry-Pie Cookie Squares ~

IMG_9636When it comes to cherry desserts, these sweet little easy-to-make cherry treats hold their own amongst the heavy hitters.  I can't lie either, this is not an original recipe of mine, it is my amped-up version of one that came straight from the pages of Taste of Home magazine, which, as most home cooks know, is one of a handful of reliable sources for good-tasting, easy-to-make, family-friendly, kitchen-tested recipes made from readily-available or on-hand ingredients.

IMG_9457When it comes to baking fruit pies, tarts and galettes, with few exceptions, I never consider using pre-cooked, store-bought, canned pie filling (which is what the Taste of Home version specified).  Lots of people do, and, I'm not here to criticize.  If the end justifies the means, there is nothing wrong with pre-cooked.  In fact, it's a commonly used, kid-tested, mother-approved method.  There's more.  Even when I'm faced with an over-abundance of fruit, depending on the fruit, whenever it's applicable, I choose IMG_9497freezing the fruit or cooked fruit concoction over the more laborious option:  water-bath canning.  That said, when I'm baking certain confections, like fruit-filled pastries and today's sour-cherry-pie cookie bars, like everyone else, I do have a need for pre-cooked fruit filling -- but, no matter how convenient, I avoid the urge to buy a can of the store-bought stuff.  Click on the Related Article link below to get my recipe for ~ Seriously Simple Stovetop Sour Cherry Pie Filling ~.

What happens when cookie crust meets pie filling?

IMG_9649Pie OH MY domestic-goddess-of-cookies goodness!!!

IMG_95033  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2  teaspoons baking powder

3/4  teaspoon salt

1 3/4  cups sugar

1  cup salted butter, at room temperature (2 sticks)

3  large eggs, at room temperature

2  teaspoons pure cherry extract (Note:  I purchase this on-line from www.OliveNation.com.  If you bake a lot of cherry desserts, this extract will take any recipe over-the-top.  I highly recommend adding a bottle of it to your pantry, and, check out all of their other flavors too.)

1/2  teaspoon each:  pure almond and pure vanilla extract

4  cups cherry pie filling, preferably my recipe for homemade ~ Seriously Simple Stovetop Sour Cherry Pie Filling ~

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing baking dish

IMG_9514 IMG_9509~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  In a very small mini-measure or a small bowl, place the extracts and set aside. 

~ Step 2.  In a large bowl, starting on low speed of hand-held electric mixer and working up to high speed, cream together the butter IMG_9525and sugar until light-colored and fluffy, about 1 1/2-2 minutes, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl almost constantly.

IMG_9517~ Step 3. Lower mixer speed to low.  One-at-a-time beat in the eggs, followed by all of the extracts. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat about 1 more minute.

IMG_9529 IMG_9527~ Step 4. Begin adding the dry ingredients IMG_9535(the flour mixture), in three parts, and, continue to beat until thoroughly combined.  There will be 4+ cups of smooth, thick, cookie batter.

IMG_9543~ Step 5.  Remove a scant two cups of the batter from the bowl and set it aside (for the topping).  

IMG_9536~ Step 6. Transfer the rest of the batter to a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish that has been sprayed with no-stick spray.  

Moisten your fingertips with a bit of water, then pat and press batter evenly across bottom of the dish to form a thin, even cookie crust layer.

IMG_9562 IMG_9546                                          ~ Step 7. Spoon and spread the cherry pie filling, over the top of the crust layer.

IMG_9550~ Step 8. Using an ordinary teaspoon, dollop 1/2 teaspoonfuls of reserved batter strategically over the pie filling.  After that, dollop around the perimeter and fill in center spaces until all batter has been used.

IMG_9559~ Step 9.  Place on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven and bake about 25-30 minutes, or until pie filling is bubbling around the edges and cobbled-looking top is a nice golden brown.  

IMG_9569~ Step 10.  Place pan on a rack to cool completely, 4-6 hours.  For neater squares, place cooled pan of squares, uncovered, in refrigerator for 2-4 more hours.  Slice into squares, and individually:  dust each one with Confectioners' sugar, top with ice cream, or, glaze with the following,

IMG_9585Pretty in Pink Cherry Glaze:

1  cup Confectioners' sugar

1  teaspoon cherry extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

3  tablespoons milk

1 drop red food coloring

~ Step 1.  Stir all ingredients together until smooth. Cover and set aside, at room temperature, for about 1 hour.  Via a pastry bag fitted with a #4 round tip, drizzle glaze on each sliced cookie square. 

Dare to be square -- sweet dreams are made of these:

IMG_9616Sweet Treats:  Sour-Cherry-Pie Cookie Squares:  Recipe yields 15 cookie squares, or more if cut smaller.

Special Equipment List: hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart baking dish; ordinary teaspoon; cooling rack

IMG_3472Cook's Note:  Cookie squares or bars are a great way to serve dessert at a large gathering -- kids and adults love them.  For another one of my recipes, which is actually a great companion to sour-cherry-pie cookie squares, click into Categories 7, 20 or 26 and try this retro classic ~ Hello Dolly!  The 5-6-7 Layer 'Magic' Cookie Bar! ~.

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

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

07/09/2015

~ Seriously Simple Stovetop Sour Cherry Pie Filling ~

IMG_9457When it comes to baking fruit pies, tarts and galettes, with few exceptions, I never consider using pre-cooked pie filling, the kind made-from-scratch, in advance, on the stovetop.  Lots of people do, and, I'm not here to criticize.  If the end justifies the means, there is nothing wrong with pre-cooked.  In fact, it's a commonly used, kid-tested, mother-approved method.  There's more.  Even when I'm faced with an over-abundance of fruit, depending on the fruit, whenever it's applicable, I choose freezing the fruit or cooked fruit concoction over the more laborious option:  water-bath canning and preserving (which was a necessary way of life for our freezer-less grandmothers and great-grandmothers).  That said, when I'm baking certain confections, like fruit-filled pastries and fruity cookies bars, like everyone else, I do have a need for pre-cooked fruit filling -- but, no matter how convenient, I avoid the urge to cave-in and buy a can of the store-bought stuff.

IMG_9376 IMG_9439A leisurely stroll through the baking isle of any grocery store will reveal a lot of tempting canned 'pie fruit filling' choices:  apple, apricot, banana, blueberry, cherry, dark cherry, tart cherry, key lime, lemon, peach, pineapple, pumpkin, raisin, raspberry, strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, and, mixed berry -- there are other non-fruit 'pie filling choices too, like chocolate, coconut and vanilla. In all honesty, I have never once tried any, so, I can't attest to their exact taste or texture, but, today, in honor of this post, I did cave-in:  

I sent my hubby Joe to the market to pick up one can of a well-known, respected and recommended brand for the sole purpose of doing a comparison study of store-bought to mine.

PICT5308A bit about sour cherries vs. cherries in general:  Sour cherries should not be confused with their cousins, the reddish-black Bing cherry and the peachy-blush Rainier cherry.  These two sweet cherries (which are larger and firmer than sour cherries) are great for eating "as is" like any other fresh fruit, but they do not make for great baked desserts.  When sour cherries are cooked, they become quite sweet, plus, they hold their shape better than their sweet relatives. Sour cherries are a bit too tart to eat more than just a few out-of-hand, but they make superb preserves, pies and cobblers.  The sour cherry season is quite brief, with the cherries being ready to pick at the very end of June or the very beginning of July.  Picking them is a bit tricky, as they are at their absolute best if left on the tree until you think they will begin to spoil if left there one more day, while at the same time getting them all picked, at once, before the birds devour an entire tree of cherries for you -- which is why they are nicknamed "bird cherries".

Meet my small-batch quick-batch stovetop cherry pie filling! 

A bit about this recipe:  This is not a big-batch recipe, it makes enough for 1 pie, about the same equivalent as 2 cans of store-bought pie filling.  Unless you need a lot of pre-cooked pie filling that you intend to use immediately or within a week, don't make a big batch.  Why? This recipe contains cornstarch, which does not hold up well to freezing or prolonged cooking.  

41gvXuLhY0L._AA160_AA165_If you wish to make a big batch to freeze or can, you'll have to switch from cornstarch to a product called Instant ClearJel (for freezing) or ClearJel Cooktype (for traditional water-bath canning).  Do not confuse ClearJel with either liquid pectin or powdered pectin (like Certo or Sure-Gel) -- it's quite different.  ClearJel is a modified cornstarch used by professional bakers and canneries.  Like cornstarch it produces a clear, glistening product without any tapioca starch or flour taste, but, unlike cornstarch it 415YFrKvE8L._AA160_tolerates high temperatures over a long period of time, and, doesn't begin to thicken until it cools, which makes it ideal for traditional canning. Many experts will tell you that ClearJel per se reacts better to acidic foods than cornstarch does, but, I've not experienced any problems using cornstarch in my "quick batch" pie fillings.  This is good news for me, and for you too, because oddly, ClearJel is not readily available in most markets and has to be special-ordered on-line -- which I find odd.

IMG_93822  pounds pitted, sour cherries, 6 cups, fresh or frozen and thawed

all juice from cherries (about 1/2 cup) + enough water to total 1 cup liquid (Note:  Including 1 tablespoon of cherry brandy or extract in this mix is delicious too.)

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1  cup sugar

5 tablespoons cornstarch

1/8  teaspoon salt

IMG_9378 IMG_9390 IMG_9393~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart saucepan, place and stir together the sugar, cornstarch and salt.  Add the water mixture and stir to thoroughly combine.

IMG_9400 IMG_9396~ Step 2. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, and simmer until nicely-thickened, about 2 minutes. Immediately remove from heat.

~ Step 3.  Gradually fold in the cherries.  Cool to room temp, stirring occasionally, 45-60 minutes.

IMG_9852 IMG_9858Advance troubleshooting tip:  If you choose to refrigerate pie filling and it gets "weepy" (gets liquid-y and/or appears separated), worry not. Just put it back in the saucepan over medium-high heat and simmer for 1-2 more minutes.  

Use, as is, at room temperature, as directed, or, portion into desired-sized containers & refrigerate until well-chilled, overnight or up to 1 week:

IMG_9415Comparison study complete -- there is no comparison -- mine wins!

IMG_9500Seriously Simple Stovetop Sour Cherry Pie Filling:  Recipe yields  enough pie filling for 1, 9" pie and is equivalent to approximately 2, 21-ounce cans cherry pie filling.

Special Equipment List:  cherry pitter; 1-cup measuring container; 4-quart saucepan, preferably nonstick; large spoon; 2, 1-pint jars, or, 2, 2-cup food storage containers w/tight-fitting lids

6a0120a8551282970b01538fe3093e970bCook's Note:  ~ I Can't Lie:  this is Real Sour-Cherry Streusel Pie ~.  This family recipe is made the old-fashioned way: by tossing cherries with sugar,  flour, tapioca, a pinch of salt and a splash of cherry brandy. Get my recipe in Category 6!

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

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

07/07/2015

~ Making Clafoutis and the Classic Cherry Clafoutis ~

IMG_9368If I were to write The Big Book of Effortlessly-Regal No-Brainer Desserts, clafoutis would be on the cover.  Whisk up a simple batter (eggs, cream or milk, sugar, salt, flour, melted butter and brandy or extract), pour it over some fresh fruit and bake.  Cherries are the classic addition, with berries or stone fruit like apricots, plums and peaches being common substitutions.  I was pleased with one I once made with ripe pears.  Apples work too, but, apples are firm and crisp by nature, so, they need to be peeled and very thinly-sliced to get a luxurious texture -- truth be told, I prefer to use my apples in a crisp or a cobbler).  I'm continually astonished by how many home cooks have no idea what clafoutis is, or, assume from it's name that it's hard to make!

Even easier to make than a cobbler, crisp or crumble...

IMG_9321... clafoutis is my 'secret weapon' Summertime fruit dessert!

IMG_9358A bit about clafoutis (kla-foo-tee): Hailing from the Limousin region in Central Southern France, this country-style dessert is made with unpitted black cherries -- which lend a slight almond flavor to the dessert. The name is derived from the verb "clafir", which means "to fill" (the thick, flan-like batter with cherries). Purists will tell you that if made with anything other than black cherries, the name of the dessert changes to "flaugnarde" (which, to me, sounds like a derogatory term for a clafoutis that got thrown under the bus). After baking, it is served warm with a dusting of Confectioners' sugar and a dollop of freshly whipped cream. Depending who's making it, some have a cake-like texture, but French farm-kitchen versions are pudding-like.  In either case, it's an impressive dessert that can be successfully made by novice cooks.

For the love of effortlessly-regal, no-brainer desserts:

IMG_92813 cups fresh, whole sour cherries, pitted, or, black cherries, pitted and halved (Note:  Frozen cherries can successfully be used to make clafoutis, but, they can affect the outcome.  Do not thaw berries completely, as they ooze a lot of their juices, which can render  the clafoutis soupy. I recommend partially thawing the cherries, to an icy point where they are still hard and can be separated into pieces or small clumps, to form a layer in the bottom of the baking dish.)

3  large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/4  cups heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature

1/2  cup sugar

1  tablespoon pure cherry extract (Note:  I purchase cherry extract on-line from www.OliveNation.com.  If you are not inclined to do that, substitute an equal amount of cherry juice, or, some cherry brandy.)

1  teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon almond extract

1/2  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

2  tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled

Confectioners' sugar and/or freshly whipped cream, for garnish and topping

IMG_9294 IMG_9288~ Step 1. Melt butter and set aside.  In a 1-quart measuring container, place eggs, cream, sugar, extracts, flour and salt.

~ Step 2.  Using a hand-held rotary mixer, vigorously whisk the egg mixture until smooth, about 1 minute.  Drizzle in the melted butter and whisk again, until butter is thoroughly incorporated.

IMG_9304 IMG_9298~ Step 3. Add the cherries to an 11" x 7", 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT a 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole, then add the batter. You're adding 3 cups batter to 3 cups cherries, a 1:1 ratio.

Read the recipe, don't be fooled by a photo:  this is an 11" x 7", 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT, a 13" x 9", 3-quart casserole!

IMG_9305Bake in a 335-340 degree oven about 45 minutes or until just set.

IMG_9309Cool 30 minutes, slice & serve warm (or at room temperature). 

IMG_9333Clafoutis and the Classic Cherry Clafoutis:  Recipe yields 8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; 1-quart measuring container; hand-held rotary mixer,  or, hand-held electric mixer; 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT, a 3-quart casserole, preferably ceramic

IMG_9635Cook's Note:  When properly prepared, clafoutis will remind you a lot of a properly prepared bread pudding -- sans the bread.  Click into Categories 5, 6, 9, or 20 to get my recipe for ~ Sour Cherry and White Chocolate Bread Pudding ~.

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

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

07/05/2015

~ Easy Cinnamon-Orange Berry-Blend Fruit Topping~

IMG_9266Berry season is about to begin.  Berries, the kind that grow on bushes.  For me, that means: blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.  The thing about berries is:  in the beginning, they ripen in "dribs and drabs" -- you never know how many of which ones your going to get, or, how many you're going to get at one time.  Here in my Happy Valley backyard, at their peak, I can count on enough blueberries to make a few pies, enough raspberries and/or blackberries for some smaller tarts or galettes, and, enough of all to sprinkle into a daily bowl of cereal too!

This easy-to-make sauce is neither fancy nor pretentious -- just a berry good recipe!

IMG_9210It's that "dribs and drabs" berry-ripening process, in conjunction with their very short shelf life, that caused me to start freezing freshly-picked berries a long time ago.  

PICT0523Eventually, I end up with enough of one or a combination of berries to make wonderful desserts or smoothies, or, this all-purpose fruit topping, which is great on pancakes, waffles, blintzes, chocolate brownies, ice cream, or, even just a slice of plain white cake.

Berries_1435584879-300x200While I make it using my own, hand-picked and frozen berries (It can be made with fresh berries too, but I use my fresh berries for loftier purposes), it's perfectly ok to use store-bought frozen berry blends.  

Six ingredients & 10 minutes is all you need to make a luscious topping:

IMG_92151/4  cup orange juice

2  tablespoons Grand Marnier (a sweet orange-flavored French liqueur) (Note: If you don't want to use liqueur, use 2 additional tablespoons of orange juice + 1 teaspoon granulated sugar to add the necessary sweetness.)

6 tablespoons orange marmalade, the best available*

1/2  teaspoon cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves (optional)

a scant 1/8 teaspoon sea salt

6-8  cups frozen, not fresh, berries or berry blend:  blueberries, raspberries and/or blackberries

* Note:  Besides adding the nice orange flavor, the marmalade causes the topping to thicken slightly as it cools, and, more if it is refrigerated until well-chilled.  If you still want the topping thicker, increase the amount of marmalade and it will deliver the result you like.  After the topping is chilled, 6 tablespoons of marmalade makes the juicy liquid like drizzly maple syrup.  

IMG_9224 IMG_9219~ Step 1. Place the orange juice, Grand Marnier, orange marmalade, cinnamon and salt in a 3-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides and a lid (this type of pan works better than a shallow skillet).  

Note:  If you are using a skillet, that's ok, just make sure you have a lid to fit it, because you will need it at the end of the recipe.

IMG_9230 IMG_9227                                          ~ Step 2. Over low heat, whisking constantly, allow the ingredients to melt together.  This will take less than 1 minute. Increase heat to medium-high, whisking constantly until mixture becomes bubbly and foamy.  This will take less than 30 seconds.

~ Step 3.  Add the frozen berries and stir until they are coated in the warm sauce.  Continue to IMG_9233'cook' and stir for 1 minute.  Berries will not yet be thawed. Turn the heat off. Cover the pan and allow to rest on the still-warm stovetop for 10-12 minutes.

~ Step 5.  Berries will have thawed completely without breaking down and "melted" into the sauce, which is now pretty much just slightly above room temperature and ready to serve.  If you want to serve this sauce warmer than it is, gently reheat it for an oh-so-short period of time, as you don't want to destroy the texture of the delicate berries.  

Note: Sauce can be made several hours in advance and left at room temperature.  Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-4 days.  If you want to serve it warm, reheat it gently in the microwave, or, don't reheat it at all (which is how I like it the best) -- the choice is yours.  This is a juicy, sauce-like  topping, and, unlike jam or preserves, freezing it is not recommended. 

IMG_9246Easy Cinnamon-Orange Berry-Blend Fruit Topping:  Recipe yields 3-4 cups.

Special Equipment List:  3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides and lid; whisk; large spoon

PICT0689Cook's Note:  As I mentioned above, I always get a much bigger ratio of blueberries to raspberries or blackberries.  You can find my recipe for ~ The True-Blue, Very-American Blueberry 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/Copyright 2015) 

07/02/2015

~ Hungarian Sour Cherry Soup (Hideg Meggyleves) ~

IMG_9146In my opinion, sour cherries are one of the most regal, refined fruits you will ever eat.  My grandmother simply referred to these ruby-red jewels as "pie cherries", but, if you are on a quest to purchase them, they are sometimes marketed as "tart cherries".  Joe and I live at a high elevation here in Central Pennsylvania, which I have come to learn is ideal for them, which is why our tree thrives, and thrives, and thrives.  That said, even in this ideal environment, the sour cherry season is quite brief, with the cherries being ready to pick at the very end of June or the very beginning of July.  Picking them is a bit tricky, as they are at their absolute best if left on the tree until you think they will begin to spoil if left there one more day, while at the same time getting them all picked, at once, before the birds devour an entire tree of cherries for you.

PICT5308Joe spent this past week "up a tree" -- his sour cherry tree!

1010437_520457528013296_662635763_nA bit about sour cherries vs. cherries in general:  Sour cherries should not be confused with their cousins, the reddish-black Bing cherry and the peachy-blush Rainier cherry.  These two sweet cherries (which are larger and firmer than sour cherries) are great for eating "as is" like any other fresh fruit, but they do not make for great baked desserts.  When sour cherries are cooked, they become quite sweet, plus, they hold their shape better than their sweet relatives.  Sour cherries are a bit too tart to eat more than just a few out-of-hand, but they make superb preserves, pies and cobblers.  That said, I make a marvelous sweet-and-savory sauce by cooking sour cherries with reduced duck stock.  It is absolutely decadent served with roast duck or pan-seared duck breast, pheasant or quail.

When one finds oneself with 150 pounds of pie cherries:

IMG_9409 IMG_9882 IMG_9635 IMG_9608 PICT0520 PICT0007 6a0120a8551282970b01901e159de2970b PICT0024 IMG_9008                                                        Expanding ones sour cherry recipe repertoire becomes a must!

Sour cherry soup? You betcha -- fruit soups are quite common in Eastern European, European and Scandinavian countries, but, this stellar stone-fruit soup was one I'd never heard of until my friend, Mike Colicchio told me about it.  Mike, his wife Sue and their twin daughters, Kim and Jen, lived in Hungary a few years ago, and, it seems this soup won a place in all of their hearts.

IMG_9158"Meggyleves", is a traditional Summertime Hungarian treat -- "meggy" means "sour cherries", "leves" means soup, and, "hideg" means "cold".  Every family has their version and it's usually served before the meal.  In Hungary, this soup is typically prepared with un-pitted cherries, but, American versions commonly stray from that. It's always made from tart cherries, never sweet cherries, cherry juice, water, sugar, flour and sour cream (which gives it its pretty pink color). Lemon slices, cinnamon sticks, cloves and brandy or sherry are common additions.  I "cherry picked" through a few recipes to plan my version, and, one thing the experts all agree on is:  use fresh or frozen cherries (which, when thawed, provide a nice amount of juice), not cherries that come out of a can or a jar (which they consider an insulting compromise).  Once the soup is cooked and chilled, it is sometimes blended until smooth prior to serving garnished with a few freshly-picked cherries.

IMG_90642-2 1/2  pounds fresh (or thawed) pitted sour cherries + all juice

1 1/2  cups sugar

2  whole cinnamon sticks

6  whole cloves

6  cups water

2  cups sour cream

4-6  tablespoons cherry brandy

6  tablespoons Wondra Flour

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

fresh, sour cherries for garnishing each portion (optional) 

IMG_9075~ Step 1.  Place cherries and all juice, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves and water in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot.  Stir and allow to sit, for about 5 minutes, stirring off and on, to dissolve sugar.

IMG_9088Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently, then, adjust IMG_9086heat to simmer vigorously, stirring frequently, for 15-16 minutes.

IMG_9083~ Step 2.  In a 1-quart measuring container (or a bowl bigger than you think you need), stir together the sour cream, brandy, flour and salt, until smooth.  Set aside.

Note:  For those occasions when meggyleves is served as a dessert, IMG_9097or, if you just like your soup a little sweeter, the experts say it is ok to stir 2 tablespoons Confectioners' sugar into the sour cream mixture as well.  I am not adding any today.

IMG_9099~ Step 3. When the cherries are cooked, temper the sour cream mixture with a soup ladleful of the hot cherry liquid, stir until smooth, IMG_9106then add all of the sour cream mixture to the cooked cherries in the pot.  Bring to a very gentle simmer and barely simmer, do not boil, for 15-16 more minutes.

~ Step 4.  Remove from heat, cover, and allow to steep and cool for 2-4 hours.  Refrigerate, covered, for several hours or overnight.  Soup will thicken as it cools.  Note: Covering keeps a sticky film from forming on the surface.  Serve cold.

~ Optional Step 5.  Using a hand-held stick blender, process soup until smooth, then, serve cold.

Pretty in pink: old-school whole-cherry hideg meggyleves:

IMG_9122Sometimes, life really is a bowl full of cherries...

IMG_9143... or, if you live dangerously, a cone of sour cherry 'ice cream'!

 (Freeze 1-quart of chilled soup in your gelato or ice-crem machine, as per manufacturer's directions,  for 45-60 minutes.  Is best if eaten immediately.  Since it contains no milk or cream, it is not technically ice cream, but, the tangy sour cream makes it better in taste and texture than best frozen yogurt you've ever tasted.)

IMG_9184Hungarian Sour Cherry Soup (Heideg Meggyleves):  Recipe yields 11-12 cups, or, about 3 quarts, or, about 6-8, 1 1/2-2 cup servings.  Leftovers, which are a joy if you have any, will keep well in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.  Do not freeze leftover soup.

Special Equipment List:  cherry pitter; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; 1-quart measuring container; large spoon, soup ladle; hand-held stick blender (optional) 

6a0120a8551282970b01538f5214fb970bCook's Note:  I just love this new-to-me chilled, Summertime, sour-cherry soup recipe.  Thanks again Mike.  For one I grew up eating, equally as decadent, ~ It's A Dad Thing:  Strawberry Soup ~, can be found in Categories 6, 11, 12 or 21.

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

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