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12 posts from August 2015

08/31/2015

~Philadelphia-Style Cheesesteak Pizza a la Melanie~

IMG_2488I haven't decided if this post is going to be a rant or not.  I'll just keep writing and see where I end up.  As a well-seasoned woman who spent quite a bit of her young-adult life in Philadelphia, from my perspective, the iconic Philly cheesesteak neither needs nor deserves a "new twist" on it.  That said, conceptually, I clearly see how it could be morphed into a pizza IF one plays by some long-standing, well-defined Philly cheesesteak rules (which apparently, many misguided pizza lovers are too lazy to research).  Ok, I suppose I'm headed in the direction of a rant: 

IMG_2588#1.  Thou shalt not put deli-beef on a traditional pizza and call it "cheesesteak pizza".

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07e2ba65970dA Philly cheesesteak is always made with high-quality, nicely-marbled, thinly-sliced, rib-eye steak. For example:  this rib-eye would be cut lengthwise into 4-5 thin steaks. The sliced meat is quickly cooked on a large lightly-greased flat-top griddle.  As the meat cooks it gets rough chopped into bits and pieces.

IMG_2252 IMG_2256That said, "I get it", pizza toppings are associated with "easy", so, for a 2nd choice but acceptable substitution, head for 2 boxes of user-friendly, 100% beef Steak-umms. Don't roll your eyes -- salty deli-beef gets funky-greasy in the oven and belongs on no earthly pizza.  

#2.  Thou shalt not use broccoli or Alfredo sauce to top cheesesteak pizza.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c73f09cc970bEach cheesesteak sandwich is made-to-order.  You decide what you want from a short list of options. Vegetable options are limited to:   sauteed (not raw) onions, peppers and/or mushrooms, which get tossed into the sauteing meat. "Steak sauce" in Philly lingo means "a tomato product similar to pizza sauce", and, if you want it,  IMG_2312it gets judiciously mixed into the sauteed meat/veggie mixture.  As for cheese, which melts over the top of the sandwich, the options are provolone or Cheez Whiz ( and occasionally American cheese).  I use them both when making cheesesteak pizza.  To make 2, 12" pizzas purchase 1 jar Cheez Whiz and 1 pound sliced provolone.

Alfredo sauce in place of "steak sauce" and/or any of the traditional cheesy choices?  Seriously dude -- take a "time out" from pizza making. 

#3.  Thou shalt not use a pretzel crust to make cheesesteak pizza.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07e2c825970dIn Philadelphia, cheesesteaks are placed on an Amoroso or Italian Vilotti-Pisanelli roll, with the Amoroso being the most famous. They are long, 10"-12", thinnish and medium-textured -- neither fluffy nor soft, and decidedly not hard.  A cheesesteak is an all-Italian sandwich invented by two Italian-American guys who value the right roll for a sandwich as much as they do the right crust for a pizza. 

IMG_8197While Philadelphia is famous for its soft pretzels, using a pretzel crust instead of a traditional crust to make a cheesesteak pizza is not only an abomination, it shows lack of respect for the iconic cheesesteak. While you're at it, put some ballpark mustard on your bastardized pizza too.  In the name of brotherly love, don't embarrass yourself like that -- even a Boboli would be better.

Now that the facts are on the tailgate table, let's make a cheesesteak pizza to be proud of. 

IMG_2593Part One:  Making the Pizza Crust

IMG_2432Use your favorite pizza dough recipe and pat it out to form 2, 12"-round pizza crusts.  There are a few pizza crust recipes here on KE, but, for my cheesesteak pizza, I use my recipe for ~ Nobody's Pizza - For the Somebody in All of Us ~.  I choose it because it is resemblant of "the crispy chew" of a loaf of superb Italian bread.  I make and rise this dough in the bread machine too, which frees up my hands and time to make the meat and veggie topping while the machine is working its magic for 58 minutes. Just click into Categories 2, 12 or 25 to get this easy recipe.

Part Two:  Making the Meat and Veggie Toppings

IMG_22792 boxs frozen Steak-umms, unthawed and cut into 1/2" strips

2  tablespoons olive oil

2  tablespoons salted butter

2  teaspoons dried oregano for seasoning meat + 1/2 teaspoon for seasoning veggies

1/2-1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for seasoning both meat and veggies

2  cups halved and very thinly-sliced yellow or sweet onion (6 ounces)

1  cup 1/4" julienne of green bell pepper, julienne strips cut in half (4 ounces)

1  cup 1/4" julienne of red bell pepper, julienne strips cut in half (4 ounces)

1  cup stemmed, cleaned and thinly-sliced white button mushroom caps (3 ounces)

IMG_2309 IMG_2298~ Step 1. In a 12" skillet melt butter into oil over low heat. Stir in oregano and pepper flakes.  Add Steak-umms strips and lightly season with salt and pepper. Increase heat to saute, stirring almost constantly, until steak is just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the "chipped" meat to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and cool.

IMG_2310 IMG_2303~ Step 2. Add the veggies to remaining meat juices in the hot skillet and lightly season with 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, salt and pepper.  Saute, stirring almost constantly, until veggies are softened, but still a bit colorful and a bit crunchy, about 3 more minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the veggies to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and cool. 

Part Three:  Topping and Baking the Pizza

IMG_2343pizza dough, enough to form 2, 12"-round unbaked pizza crusts

1  pound sliced provolone cheese, about 24 slices, keep 12 slices (8 ounces in slices) and grate the rest (8 ounces = 2 cups grated) 

1-1 1/2  cups pizza sauce, preferably homemade (Note:  I find store-bought pizza sauces to be too thick and too sweet.  I use ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~.  It is typical of the sauce you find in a Philly cheesesteak.  Click into Categories 8, 12 or 22 to get the recipe.)

1  15-ounce jar Cheez Whiz, you will only use about 1/2 of the jar

all of the meat & veggie topping, from above recipe

4-6  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

IMG_2318 IMG_2328 IMG_2332 IMG_2334 IMG_2337 IMG_2340 IMG_2345~Step 1.  Once the crusts are in the pans, add the toppings, in the following order, to each one:  6 slices provolone cheese; a IMG_2370generous 1/2 cup pizza sauce; 1 cup grated provolone; 1/2 teaspoonful dollops of Cheeze Whiz (use half the jar between both pieces and refrigerate the rest); 1/2 of the meat topping; 1/2 of the veggie topping; 2-3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Allow the assembled pizzas to rest, uncovered, about 45-60 minutes. This rest will allow the dough to rise up around the toppings.

IMG_2424 IMG_2392~ Step 2.  Place pizza stone on center oven rack and preheat to 365 degrees.  Because door will get opened during the baking process this insures the temp won't drop below 350 degrees.

IMG_2468One-at-a-time place pan of pizza on stone and bake for 9 minutes. Open the oven door and, with the aid of a spatula, lift a corner of the pie up, and, using your other hand (and a pot holder or oven mitt), tilt the pan to slide the pie off the pan and onto the stone.  Close the door and bake the pizza an addition 8-9 minutes. Using a pizza peel, transfer pizza from stone to cooling rack to cool for about 10 minutes prior to slicing and serving.  Remember to return the oven to 365 degrees before baking the second pizza.

It's a tough job but ya gotta do it -- wait the 10 minutes prior to eating it.

IMG_2616Now allow me to offer you a slice of a Philly cheesesteak!

IMG_2511Philadelphia-Style Cheesesteak Pizza a la Melanie:  Recipe yields 2, 12" cheesesteak pizzas.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet w/lid, preferably nonstick; 2, 12" pizza pans; pizza stone; large thin spatula; pizza peel; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0c80e4a970cCook's Note:  Cheesesteak pizza is a fun recipe to keep in your recipe box for the tailgate season. Everyone really does enjoy eating it.  If it is the sandwiches you'd rather serve, click on the Related Article link below to get my recipe for ~ Philadelphia's Famous Cheesesteaks a la Melanie ~.  PS: It's full of cheesesteak history and cheesesteak eating etiquette too!

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

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

08/28/2015

~Pillowy-Soft Buttery-Rich Buttermilk Crescent Rolls~

IMG_2208I made dinner rolls today because I had buttermilk leftover in my refrigerator.  I wish they'd sell buttermilk like cream, in one and two cup cartons -- a full quart is usually about twice as much as I need.  For example:  On Friday of last week, I used one cup to make my ~ Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing ~, to use as a dip for my ~ Seriously E-Z & Crispy Oven-Fried Chicken Wings ~.  One week later, I still had three cups of buttermilk lollygagging around in my refrigerator.  Happy ending:  These dinner rolls will make everyone very happy!

IMG_2196Every serious home cook needs one go-to dinner roll recipe.  It doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to be really good.  Everyone loves a freshly-baked, warm dinner roll, and, there are, in fact, occasions when nothing store-bought will do.  This is a treasured recipe of mine, but it didn't start out as mine.  You can find it, in its original form, on page 72 of any 1972 edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook, and, it is responsible for my first attempt at baking dinner rolls from scratch being a successful one.  Over the years, I've used it as a template to experiment with a few variations, including this one, which for the most part, simply substitutes buttermilk for regular whole milk.  I'm rolling them into crescents today, but, it makes nice cloverleaf, pull-apart and parker house rolls too (as per Betty Crocker's helpful and instructional illustrations):

IMG_2072Their original recipe, taste and texturally, worked just fine.  That said, when I decided to use tangy buttermilk in place of whole milk, after the first go-round, I felt that it could benefit from a bit more salt, sugar and shortening.  I didn't go overboard and that little bit went a very a long way, because I couldn't have been happier with the slightly saltier, sweeter, buttery-rich end result! 

IMG_20794 1/2-5  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  envelopes Fleishmann's yeast, not rapid-rise yeast

6  tablespoons sugar

1 1/2  teaspoons salt

1 1/2  cups buttermilk

2  large eggs

6  tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature, very soft

6  more tablespoons salted butter, melted, for brushing over rolled dough & the finished, baked rolls

1/2  cup bench flour, for rolling 

IMG_4561 IMG_4557                                          ~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, stir together 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the yeast, the sugar and the salt.

~ Step 2.  In a small saucepan, heat the buttermilk and butter over medium heat.  Stir until the butter is melted and mixture has reached a temperature between 120-130 degrees.  The best way to insure the proper temperature is to monitor the mixture as it heats using an instant-read thermometer.

IMG_4567 IMG_4576 IMG_4581 IMG_4583~Step 3.  Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture.  Using a hand-held electric mixer on medium-speed, beat until mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula frequently, about 30 seconds.  Beat in the eggs.  Increase mixer speed to high and beat in another 1 cup of flour.  Beat until thoroughly incorporated.  Remove the mixer and begin stirring in the the flour, in 1/2 half cup amounts, until a soft, manageable dough forms.

IMG_4595 IMG_4602~ Step 4. Using the heal of your hand, begin kneading the dough, turning the bowl a quarter turn with each push down, until a smooth ball forms, continuing to sprinkle in additional flour to keep it from sticking to sides of bowl.  Kneading takes 4-5 minutes and I always need to use the full 5 cups of flour.

IMG_2088 IMG_4603                                        ~ Step 5. Cover the dough in the bowl with a clean towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes.  

Note:  This rest will allow the gluten in the flour to develop which will make the dough easier to roll.

Uncover the dough.  If you have a kitchen scale, use it.  You will have 2 pounds, 10-12 ounces of dough.

IMG_2106 IMG_2093                                           ~ Step 6. Divide the dough into two equal parts.  

IMG_2104Lightly-flour the work surface and roll first ball into a 14"-15" circle.  Brush the top surface with a light coating of butter.  

IMG_2129 IMG_2120~ Step 7. Cut the circle into 4 quarters, then cut each quarter into 3 wedges.  Beginning on the wide outside end, roll each wedge up.  

IMG_2135As you work, place the rolls, slightly- IMG_2144apart, on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Repeat process with the second ball of dough. When finished, you will have 3 rows of 8 rolls on the baking pan.

~ Step 8.  Cover the pan with the clean towel and allow the rolls to rise until doubled in size, about 45-60 minutes.  Mine rose in a quick 40-45 minutes today.

IMG_2170~ Step 9.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven until golden brown, about 18-20 minutes.  Mine baked for 18 minutes today.  Remove from oven and brush the tops with the remaining melted butter.  You will probably have some butter leftover.

IMG_2188~ Step 10.  Using your fingertips, gently pull rolls apart and transfer them to a cooling rack to cool to slightly-warm or room temperature. Note:  By the time you brush the tops with butter, they will be cool enough to handle.

Paint with butter as soon as they emerge from the oven:

IMG_2157Give the melted butter about a minute to soak in:

IMG_2166Gently pull rolls apart & place on a rack to cool!

IMG_2184TGIF:   Slightly larger than slider-sized subs in Happy Valley!

IMG_2225Pillowy-Soft Buttery-Rich Buttermilk Crescent Rolls:  Recipe yields 2 dozen.

Special Equipment List:  large bowl, preferably oversized; 2-quart saucepan; instant-read thermometer; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; clean cotton kitchen towel; kitchen scale (optional); rolling pin; pastry brush; chef's knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; cooling rack; small metal spatula

IMG_4684Cook's Note:  In the event you are new to dinner-roll baking and you'd like to try your hand at a simpler recipe, my recipe for ~ Want buttery, 'pull-apart' rolls with dinner tonight? ~ can be found in Categories 5, 9, 11, 18, 19 or 20.

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

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

08/25/2015

~ My Traditional Gazpacho: Fresh from Our Garden ~

IMG_2017"I could have had a V-8."  If you've ever leisurely sipped on a chilled glass of traditional gazpacho you wouldn't say that, even in jest.  It is the ultimate vegetable smoothie.  Here in my Happy Valley kitchen, me making gazpacho is a sure sign that Fall is around the corner.  Our vegetable garden is producing almost more stuff than I can use efficiently. Gazpacho is a bright, refreshing, cool way for me to put a bounty of produce to a delicious use.  Gazpacho is quite easy to make, but if you're under the impression it's as simple as throwing some veggies and seasonings in a blender, you'd be wrong.  A really well-balanced appropriately-seasoned gazpacho recipe, with no single ingredient taking center stage, is:  a work of slurpable art.

Gazpacho has been a staple in the Spanish kitchen for centuries and originated in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia shortly after the tomato was introduced to the Iberian Peninsula.  It was, however, made using a combination of ancient Spanish, Portuguese, Roman, Moorish and Arabic techniques.  While it is eaten all year long, it's particularly enjoyed when the temperatures soar in the Summer.  It is traditionally served in a small glass or an earthenware cup as a refreshing but filling savory beverage, or, ladled into a bowl and garnished with an array of diced vegetables and served as a light meal or a light ending to a large meal.  

IMG_2032Understanding Gazpacho's past is key to preparing a proper gazpacho.

IMG_2058Traditional old-world gazpacho is a cold, raw soup prepared by pounding vegetables in a mortar with a pestle.  Nowadays, it's mostly prepared in a blender or a food processor, which gives it its smooth, airy consistency.  It all starts with a paste made from firm-textured bread that has been soaked in water, pulverized garlic, sea salt and fruity olive oil -- the paste is the thickener for the soup.  In it's most basic form, tomatoes and an acid are the base to which other vegetables, herbs, spices and EVOO get added.  Once pulverized and sieved to reveal a smooth vegetable concoction, the garlic-y bread paste gets stirred in. How thick or thin the gazpacho becomes is sometimes controlled by adding chilled water.  Its thickness varies regionally and from cook to cook, depending upon how it is being served. Anything from drinkable to dip-able is accepted and allowed.

Vegetables + Garlic + Salt + Acid + Olive Oil + Bread = Basic Gazpacho

IMG_2070Gazpacho has come a long way baby.  It's popular in homes and restaurants all over the world, and, as long as it's made with fresh, local ingredients, it's ok to add almost anything to it (in terms of vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices), as long as they play well together -- it's not pot luck. While the ripe red tomato-vegetable-based gazpacho is by far the most well-known and popular, there are also white and green versions (which contain creative mixtures of other fruits and vegetables) and versions that are garnished with cured and shredded artisanal ham.

Mel's thoughts on peeling & seeding the tomatoes for Gazpacho.

Many modern-day food-processor versions skip this step -- I've done it myself on occasion and I have no ax to grind with that as the gazpacho still tastes really, really good.  That said, since this post is about making a traditional semblance of gazpacho, I am getting this not-fun task done up front and in less than 5 minutes, via the aid of my favorite, time-saving secret weapon.

IMG_1893Thanks to a "spoofy" little kitchen gadget, the Velox Tomato Press & Strainer, the task of peeling, seeding, crushing and/or sieving any type of tomatoes for any purpose has been eliminated for me.  I bought mine from William-Sonoma before Amazon even existed.  This sturdy, easy-to-clean machine costs around $50.00, and, if you are a tomato-lover, it is worth every cent.  Here's how it works:

There's a suction cup that holds the press firmly to the work surface.  You fill the upper bin with chunked tomatoes and turn the crank, like you would a food mill or food grinder.  Into the square, white plastic tray (which comes with the machine) flows a river of perfectly crushed tomatoes, free of skins and seeds, which exit out the side of machine into any type of container.  Men love this machine.  Joe uses it outside, on a table on our patio, which means I have zero mess!  

IMG_1903 IMG_1897Start with 6 cups of cored and coarsely chopped tomatoes.  I recommend using your favorite "eating tomatoes".  The kind you pick off the vine and slice for a sandwich.  After all, this is a raw (uncooked), rather unembellished "out of the garden" soup.  Everything that goes into it should be perfectly-ripe and at its prime.  I'm using Better Boy tomatoes today.  That said sweet grape tomatoes work great too.

IMG_1914 IMG_1911After running the chopped tomatoes through the press, I've got 4 cups of very-soupy crushed tomatoes, free from skins and seeds.  Note the container of skins and seeds the machine impressively extruded out the side.

Once the tomatoes are prepped, it's time to make gazpacho! 

IMG_1924For the bread paste:

1,  12-ounce French batard or baguette, sliced into 1" slices, crusts removed to reveal 6-ounces of crustless bread slices

1/2 cup water for soaking bread

1  teaspoon sea salt

4-6  large garlic cloves, run through a garlic press

2 tablespoons olive oil

IMG_1932 IMG_1929~ Step 1. Place bread in an 8" x 8" casserole and add the water.  Allow to soak for 1 minute, then flip it over. Let it sit for 1 more minute to allow the water on top to soak back down to the bottom.  Squeeze out the excess moisture and place squished bread in a medium bowl.

IMG_1938 IMG_1942 IMG_1945 IMG_1952~Step 2.  Season the bread with the salt.  Run the garlic cloves through a garlic press, adding them to the bowl as you work.  I added all six cloves today.  Drizzle in the olive oil and use a fork to smash the mixture into a pasty, lumpy sort-of mass.  It's dang tasty though.  Set aside. 

IMG_1956For the gazpacho:

6 cups chopped tomatoes, peeled and run through a tomato press or a food mill to remove skins and seeds, use your favorite "eating tomatoes"

2  cups peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber

1 1/2 cups chopped green and/or red bell pepper, all white ribs and seeds removed

1 cup chopped red onion

1/4  cup chopped chives, fresh parsley or cilantro

all of the bread paste, prepared as directed above

3   tablespoons sherry vinegar

1  tablespoon ground cumin

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon sugar

6  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

IMG_1958 IMG_1962 IMG_1966 IMG_1971 IMG_1974~Step 1.  Place  cucumbers, bell peppers, red onion and chives in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 25-30 on-off pulses, finely-mince the vegetables together.  Add all of the bread paste.  Turn the motor on and process for about 30 seconds. Using a large rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the work bowl, then add the sherry vinegar, cumin, sea salt and sugar to the processor.  Place the lid on, turn the motor on and process again for another 30 seconds.

IMG_1981 IMG_1976~ Step 2. With motor running, through the feed tube add the tomatoes followed by the EVOO.

IMG_1985~ Step 3. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, several hours or overnight.

IMG_1995Traditionally, when gazpacho is served in a bowl, a few diced add-ins are placed on the table.  They are the same vegetables used to make the gazpacho (tomato, cucumber, bell pepper and onion). That said, knowing I'm getting a full dose of vegetables in my soup, I like to add some croutons for much-needed crunch.  You can find my recipe for ~How to:  Make Croutons (& Toasts) ~ by clicking into Categories 2, 5, 9, 15 or 20!

Please pass Mel's Garlic & Cracked Black Pepper Croutons:

IMG_2014My Traditional Gazpacho:  Fresh from Our Garden:  Recipe yields 9 cups or 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; tomato press; serrated bread knife; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; 1-cup measuring container; garlic press; vegetable peeler; large-capacity food processor; large rubber spatula; soup ladle; plastic wrap

IMG_7490Cook's Note:  Gazpacho is my vegetable-smoothie fix.  For a fruit fix, try ~ Making Citrus Smoothies w/Fruit Puree Ice Cubes ~.  My recipe can be found in Categories 6, 9, 10, 11, 16 or 20.

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

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

08/22/2015

~ Plumb Scrumptious: E-Z Plum & Almond Galettes ~

IMG_1860Our purple plum tree is up to its old tricks again -- it's gifting us with these tart, juicy beauties faster than we can eat them hand-to-mouth, right-off-the-tree (which is my favorite way to enjoy them). Plums and peaches are my two favorite stone fruits.  When they begin coming into my kitchen a basket or two at a time, using them to make a few rustic, freeform French galettes is a great way to keep up with them without a lot of effort on my part.  When they pick up the pace and start coming in faster than that, I turn to making plum preserves to preserve my sanity.

IMG_1656Galettes:  Easier than pie, and, in my opinion just as good! 

IMG_1752Easier than pie?  Absolutely.  Better than pie?  That's a toss up.  Hailing from France, a galette is usually a round, flat, free-form, unpretentious, rustic pie- or tart-like dessert made of flaky pastry dough (although in some regions a galette is a flat cake made of yeast dough).  There are probably as many variations as there are regions in France.  Just like pie and quiche, galettes can be sweet or savory and can be filled with almost anything you can think of:  fruit, jam, dried fruit and/or nuts, meat, cheese, vegetables, etc.  

"Flat as a pancake" translated into French:  "plat comme une galette"!

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd1ccef1970bWe all have our favorite recipe for pate brisee,  and pate sucree (unsweetened and sweetened recipes for quiche, pie and tart pastry). Some folks simply purchase pie pastry and I am neither going to judge nor criticize.  What happens in your kitchen stays in your kitchen.

The phrase "it's as easy as pie" originated a century ago when almost every American homemaker baked pies several times a week.  It was a task so familiar, it was done without any real effort.  When it came to fruit pies, they used the what fruit grew in their climate and adapted the recipes of their family's heritage to suit that fruit.  More often than not, they picked them off a tree in their backyard or bartered for a basket from their neighbor.  They did not have the luxury of walking into a market and choosing from five or six varieties (from the hundreds of varieties mass produced in the world today).  Once the fruit was prepped, a few handfuls of flour were thrown on the table and some shortening was cut in.  The pastry got rolled, plopped into a pie tin and into the oven the filled pie went.  They really did consider pie baking  "as easy as pie!"

There are 14-16 purple plums in 1 pound.  You'll need 4 pounds to make 2 galettes.

IMG_1668Meet my all-purpose "easier than pie" galette recipe:

IMG_16791  15-ounce box Pillsbury Pie Crusts, containing 2, 9" pie crusts, at room temperature (Note:  By all means use homemade pie pastry if you have it or the time to prepare it.  That said, I want to use this super-easy, time-saving substitution as example that good things, occasionally, can and do come out of a box!

6  cups fresh fruit or berries, prepped as follows:

peeled, cored and sliced apples, or:

IMG_1692blueberries, or:

pitted sour cherries, or:

unpeeled, pitted and chopped or sliced peaches or plums

6  tablespoons cornstarch

2  teaspoons quick-cooking tapioca

2  teaspoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

2  tablespoons apple, blueberry, cherry, peach or plum sweet brandy or Schnapps

IMG_16811/2  teaspoon almond extract

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice, preferably fresh but bottled concentrate works just fine

1  cup sugar

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon salt

IMG_16848  tablespoons crushed almond biscotti, about 3, 3/4-ounce almond biscotti, for sprinkling on crusts (Note:  Biscotti add flavor & soak up excess juice.  TipProcess several biscotti in a food processor & freeze to have on hand.)

4  tablespoons lightly-toasted sliced almonds, for sprinkling over fruit (Note:  While you might be inclined to experiment with other types of nuts and flavors of biscotti, trust me when I tell you that almond is the perfect complement to any and all fruit galettes.)

1  large egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water, for glazing crusts

a sprinkling of bottled Sugar 'n Cinnamon, for topping crusts

IMG_1711 IMG_1701~ Step 1. Prep the plums, or whatever fruit you have decided to use, as directed and place it in a large mixing bowl as you work.

Measure and add the cornstarch, tapioca, flour, brandy, almond extract, lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and salt.

IMG_1716~ Step 2.  Stir ingredients together and set aside for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until a thick pie filling has formed.  While filling is thickening, cover a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with a layer of aluminum foil, then place a sheet of IMG_1721parchment paper over the top. Place biscotti in a food storage bag. Using a flat-sided meat mallet, pound biscotti to crumbs.

~ Step 3.  Place pie pastries on pan, overlapping them about 1" towards  center of pan, as well as hanging over the left and right sides.

IMG_1726 IMG_1729~ Step 4.  Place 4 tablespoons of biscotti crumbs on the bottom of each crust.  Spread them to within 1" of the border around each.

IMG_1739                        ~ Step 5.  Using  a large slotted spoon, evenly distribute/mound pie filling over crumbs, leaving excess juices in the bowl.  While this seems like a waste of perfectly good juices, because these galettes will bake for only about 30 minutes, there is not time for any excess to thicken, meaning:  they will just ooze out of the galettes onto the pan as they bake.  Sprinkle 2  tablespoons of almonds over the filling on each.

IMG_1742 IMG_1747~ Step 6. Using your fingertips, making your way around each crust, fold the dough, like you would fold fabric, up and 1"-1 1/2" over the fruit filling, pleating the dough to form a protective rim to keep the filling from oozing out.  Galettes are a rustic, freeform dessert.  Do not concern yourself with uniformity.

IMG_1754~ Step 7.  In a small bowl, using a fork, whisk the egg and the water together.  Using a pastry brush, liberally paint the surface of both crusts with the egg wash.  

IMG_1762~ Step 8. Sprinkle the Sugar 'n Cinnamon liberally over all of the surface crust and the exposed filling.  Easy enough so far?

IMG_1766~ Step 9.  Bake on center rack of preheated 450 degree oven for 15 minutes.  Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake for 10-15 additional minutes.

IMG_1779The fruit juices will be just bubbly, not boiling, and the pastry will be a lovely golden brown.  Note:  Because galettes will cool on the pan, they will continue to cook, thicken, and set up during the cooling process. 

Remove from oven and allow galettes to cool on pan, about 15-30 minutes prior to transferring to a cooling rack to cool to room temperature, or, to a large round plate to slice and serve warm.

Slice each galette into six wedges:

IMG_1847Serve w/a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.

IMG_1874Plumb Scrumptious:  E-Z Plum & Almond Galaettes:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings per galette.  It's really easy to eat two slices of this fruit dessert!

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; flat-sided meat mallet; large slotted spoon; pastry brush; cooling rack

IMG_1107Cook's Note:  Plums come in many varieties, but, they be used interchangeably.  When my purple plums become overwhelming (in a few short days), I'll be making my recipe for ~ Pucker Up:  Tart and Sweet Shiro Plum Preserves ~. You can find the recipe in Categories 8, 9, 20 or 22!

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

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

08/19/2015

~ For the Times When Ya Just Gotta Have Piccata ~

IMG_1625Lemon and Pepper Seasoning has been on my spice rack for as long as I've had my spice rack.

IMG_1526The brand I use is a tasty blend of black pepper, sea salt, sugar, dehydrated lemon peel, garlic, onion and citric acid (which gives it its signature tang and "pop").  

I'm certain I could mix up my own blend, but, I like the stuff I use too much to bother.  It's a great seasoning for cooked or steamed vegetables -- I particularly like it tossed into broccoli, cauliflower or Summer squash. It's excellent judiciously incorporated into mild-flavored protein dishes too -- my favorites being chicken breasts, crab legs, shrimp, scallops, lobster and even tofu.  The day I decided to incorporate Lemon and Pepper Seasoning into my chicken piccata changed my recipe forever.

IMG_1563Piccata (pih-KAH-tuh) is an Italian-American dish, and, "piccata" (which means "larded") refers to a boneless cutlet or escalope (eh-SKAL-ohp), which is a flat, thinly-sliced, sometimes-pounded piece of meat that cooks, in some form of fat.  Depending upon the thickness, it cooks in a matter of seconds or minutes.  The dish originated in the USA sometime in the 1930's, and, it was originally/classically prepared with veal, which during that period in history, was much cheaper than chicken -- imagine that.  

While no search I've conducted reveals an inventor, it's safe to assume he or she was most likely Sicilian, because the piquantly-flavored dish contains tart and zesty ingredients commonly used in Sicialian-style cuisine.  While every cook prepares piccata a bit differently, piccata implies: Meat dredged in seasoned flour, quickly sauteed and served drizzled with a tart, white-wine and butter pan-sauce made with the addition of lemon juice and capers.  The finished dish is garnished with a bit of minced parsley.  For the same reason we Americans like our spaghetti served with meatballs as one course, piccata is usually served with pasta, polenta or rice.

IMG_1616When did classic veal piccata transition to chicken piccata?

Veal piccata is what I grew up watching adults eat in Italian-American restaurants -- and, by the time I was a teenager, my palate had learned to love every lemon-y, caper-y, pepper-y butter-y bite.  Veal piccata is one of the first fancy-schmancy, cheffy "flash-in-the-pan" dinners I entertained guests with in the latter 1970's and '80's -- and I prepared it in my electric skillet. 

IMG_9428Then, in the 1990's, we foodies were told, by the powers-to-be, to cut back on eggs and red meat.  I had never encountered a boneless, skinless chicken breast prior to that, which is when they began mass-marketing them across America. The boneless, skinless chicken breast revolution had begun.  They began replacing fat, juicy chops IMG_9453and steaks everywhere.  I refer to this as America's "rubber-chicken dinner" period.  Piccata, which was an easy target, became a victim.

While the boneless, skinless chicken breast replaced the veal cutlet or escalope with ease, I was never quite satisfied with it.  Even when butterflied and/or pounded, I've always found the boneless, skinless breast to be a compromise in this dish.  Unlike naturally tender IMG_9595veal, chicken needs to be cooked to a safe 165 degree temperature*, which no matter how you slice or tenderize it, dries it out.  My solution was to use the naturally tender chicken breast tenderloin to make piccata.  Once I 'switched', I actually liked the dish better prepared with thinly but lightly-pounded chicken tenders (chicken paillards) than my original and classic veal piccata.

* Note:  In the case of piccata, the pounded chicken breast tenderloins should be slightly-firm to the touch and slightly-pink in the center when you are removing them from the skillet.  An internal temperature of about 155-158 degrees is fine (actually perfect).  Once removed from the skillet and covered, carry-over heat will continue cooking them to the proper temperature.

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

Are you ready to see how easy this 25-minute meal is to make?

IMG_15328  large boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins (Note: This is approximately equivalent to 2, boneless, skinless, chicken breast halves that have been butterflied, to form 4 pieces.)

~ Step 1.  Place the tenderloins between two large layers of plastic IMG_1537wrap and lightly pound with the flat side of a meat mallet to a thickness between 1/8" and 1/4".

~ Step 2.  Lightly season the tops of the pounded tenderloins with:

Lemon and Pepper Seasoning

Wondra Quick-Mixing flour for IMG_1540Sauce and Gravy, or, ordinary all-purpose flour 

~ Step 3.  Set the tenderloins aside for about 10 minutes while readying the following:

4  tablespoons salted butter

1/4  cup olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

6  tablespoons chicken stock*

6  tablespoons white wine*

*Note:  All stock (3/4 cup) or all wine (3/4 cup) may be used in place of a combination of both.

IMG_15421/4  cup drained nonpareil capers

1/4  cup minced, fresh parsley

IMG_4955~ Step 4.  In the bottom of an electric skillet*, melt IMG_4982the butter into the olive oil over low heat.  When melted:

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

IMG_1545 IMG_1547 IMG_1557 IMG_1560~Step 5.  Add paillards to skillet, seasoned sides down.  Sprinkle Lemon and Pepper Seasoning and flour over second sides.  Adjust heat to gently saute at about 250 degrees (medium-high on the stovetop), until barely-browned and just cooked through, 2 1/2-3 minutes per side.

IMG_1567Step 6.  Turn the electric skillet off.  Transfer the cooked paillards to a plate (allowing all of the flavorful juices to remain in skillet), cover the paillards with aluminum foil, to keep warm, and set aside while preparing the piccata sauce according to the following directions:

IMG_1569 IMG_1576~ Step 7. Return pan drippings in skillet to 250 degrees. Add the lemon juice, wine, stock and capers.  Adjust heat to simmer until sauce is reduced by about one-third. This will only take about 1 1/2 minutes.  Turn the heat off and stir in 2 additional tablespoons of cold salted butter and stir.

As butter melts the sauce will quickly thicken.  No time to waste.  It's time to plate each portion, drizzle w/sauce & serve ASAP!

IMG_1582Sometimes ya just gotta piccata!!!

IMG_1644For the Times When Ya Just Gotta Have Piccata:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; cutting board; chef's knife; electric skillet; fork; spatula 

IMG_5245Cook's Note:  For another similarly-prepared, family-friendly main-dish, which cooks up in almost the same amount of time, check out my recipe for ~ Tender Chicken Paillards with Mushroom Sauce, or: Southern Smothered Chicken with Mushroom Gravy ~ 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) 

08/16/2015

~ Lemon-Pepper Pasta & Oodles of Zucchini Noodles w/Butter, Basil, Peperoncino & Parmgiano-Reggiano~

IMG_1481Pasta and noodles.  Noodles and Pasta.  It's hard for most of us to resist either in any shape or form any time of the year.  Both staples in the world's kitchens, over the years, on our travels, I've experienced myriads of cultural versions.  To the best of my recollection, I've never encountered a pasta or noodle dish that I didn't like, and, I don't think I've ever observed anyone eat either and walk away in a bad mood.  Pasta and noodles are quintessential feel-good fare.

What exactly is the difference between noodles and pasta?

PICT3721The difference between noodle dough and pasta dough is:  noodle dough refers to a product containing only eggs (or egg yolks) and flour, while pasta dough, which usually contains eggs (or egg yolks), also contains a liquid such as water or oil.  Macaroni, which falls into the pasta category, contains no eggs or egg products. Both noodles and pasta get rolled to the desired thickness, then cut into flat, thick-or-thin strips of various lengths or into squares. IMG_1262Dried pasta just is what the name implies:  it's laid flat or hung and dried prior to cooking.  Fresh pasta, shortly after being rolled and cut (or extruded out of a machine) gets cooked and eaten immediately or covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days prior to cooking.  Noodles are similar to fresh pasta, but, they're dropped into boiling water and cooked ASAP after being rolled and cut.  Once drained, rinsed and cooled, noodles are eaten or stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

IMG_1348Recently, Americans have been captivated by "veggie noodles" or "veggie pasta", especially zucchini noodles.  I wish there was a better word to describe them because, aside from their shape, taste and texturally, they're really nothing like pasta or noodles.  They're surely not what I would call "hunger-satisfying comfort-food". They're a relatively quick-to-make, healthy and fun veggie side-dish.  But, when tossed into real pasta or noodles, they are a neat way to sneak vegetables into your family's diet without too much resistance.

What exactly is the best method to make zucchini noodles?

IMG_1341Veggie noodles and pasta have become trendy because of inexpensive gadgets like hand-held spiralizers and julienne peelers.  Both are great for soft, cylindrical vegetables like zucchini, but not-so-hot for hard root vegetables like carrots.  Use the spiralizer for small, even-sized zucchini and the julienne peeler for large zucchini.  I prefer to peel the zucchini first -- that choice is yours.  I used the peeler on three medium-large zucchini today and have 1 pound uncooked zucchini noodles.

IMG_1351 IMG_1357 IMG_1367 IMG_1385 IMG_1370Zucchini noodles, get briefly-blanched, not cooked like any type of fresh or dried pasta.  In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot bring 2 1/2 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt.  In handfuls, sprinkle in the noodles.  Using a fork to keep the noodles moving around constantly, cook until al dente or slightly less (your choice) 30-45 seconds.  Drain into a large colander.  Immediately run cold water through them to halt the cooking process.  Gently place the noodles (they are delicate), on and in between layers of paper towels to absorb their excess moisture. Set aside to drain thoroughly while preparing the pasta.

Traditional fresh pasta + fresh veggie noodles = 1 fun side-dish!

IMG_1437Mel's Foolproof Lemon-Pepper Pasta for Fish or Seafood:

IMG_1314Unless you have a source for high-quality, store-bought lemon-pepper pasta (I do not), you have to prepare it by hand, unless you own an electric extruder pasta machine. My Simac is the pasta-workhorse of my kitchen.  In less than 30 minutes, 1 1/2 pounds of pasta is mixed, kneaded, extruded and ready to be cooked or refrigerated overnight.

IMG_1228To make lemon-pepper pasta, I'm following my recipe for ~ My Electric-Extruder Pasta-Machine Pasta Dough ~, substituting lemon-infused olive oil for plain EVOO and adding 1 tablespoon of black pepper along with the salt.  To learn everything you need to know about making electric-extruder pasta dough, just click into Categories 12, 14, or 15.

IMG_13891  pound King Arthur, unbleached, all-purpose flour (weighed not measured)

3/4  teaspoon fine sea salt

1  tablespoon coarsely-ground black pepper

5  whole large eggs

2  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

IMG_1155 IMG_1393                                         ~ Step 1. Measure and have ready all ingredients as listed above.  Add the flour, then the salt and pepper to the work bowl of the pasta machine. It isn't uncommon to find black pepper added to pasta.  It adds a touch of zippy heat to pasta, and, it gives it a pretty appearance.

IMG_1194 IMG_1181                                      ~ Step 2.  Lock the lid in place and turn the machine on. IMG_1202Add the eggs, one-at-a-time, followed by the EVOO. Allow the machine to knead the dough for a full six minutes.  

IMG_1395~  Step 3.  Turn the machine off. The dough will not be grainy (which would mean it's to dry) and it will not have formed a ball (which would mean it is too wet).  It will be a sort-of rough, lumpy mass.

IMG_1210~ Step 4. Choose and place a pasta disc in hot water.

IMG_1220After about 30 seconds, then secure the pasta disc on the front of the machine as manufacturer directs.

Place a large flat tray or platter in front of the machine and get out a sharp paring knife too.

IMG_1223~ Step 5. Pull shutter out of side of machine IMG_1412and turn machine on.  With shutter out, machine will feed dough down through the opening and extrude it out the front.  It takes 1-2 minutes for the pasta to start appearing.

IMG_1419I'm making spaghetti today because it is the same shape as zucchini noodles and I'll be cutting it into 9 1/2"-10" lengths as it extrudes from machine.

IMG_1435My 1 1/2 pounds of pasta is now ready to be cooked and eaten or covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.  I'm cooking half today and half tomorrow.

IMG_1262Cook 3/4-1 pound of pasta in 5-quarts of boiling water to which 1 IMG_1447tablespoon of sea salt has been added for 2-3 minutes.

~ Step 6.  Drain hot pasta into colander and add half of the zucchini noodles (I'm refrigerating the other half for tomorrow too). The room temperature zucchini will be heated by the hot pasta.

~ Step 7.  Return still hot stockpot to still warm stovetop and add 4 tablespoons salted butter.  When butter has melted stir in 1/2-3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. (Double this amount if cooking the entire 1 1/2 pounds of pasta.)

IMG_1471 IMG_1475~ Step 8.  Toss the pasta/noodle mixture to evenly coat it in the butter mixture.  Add 1/2 cup of fresh basil chiffonade and 1/2  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  Toss again. Portion and serve immediately -- as in ASAP.

Garnish w/additional Parm-Regg, peperoncino & a basil sprig!

IMG_1480Lemon-Pepper Pasta & Oodles of Zucchini Noodles w/Butter, Basil, Pepperoncino & Parmigiano-Reggiano:  Recipe yields 6-8 side servings (if you cook the entire 1 1/2 pounds of pasta and toss with all of the zucchini noodles, or, 4-6 servings (if you cook half of the pasta and add half of the cooked noodles.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; hand-held spiralizer or julienne peeler; kitchen scale; electric-extruder pasta machine; large shallow plate or platter; paring knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander

IMG_3022Cook's Note: My recipe for ~ Farfalle w/Butter, Basil, Peperoncino & Parmesan (Basic Pasta al Burro con Formaggio w/Panache ~ can be found in Categories 3, 4,12, 14 & 20.  Along the same lines as today's trendy side-dish, this classic Italian main-dish gets sauced with sweet-cream butter and cheese too! 

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

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

08/13/2015

~ My Electric-Extruder Pasta-Machine Pasta-Dough ~

IMG_1228I love my pasta machine.  By today's standards, it's is a dinosaur.  It celebrated its 25th birthday over the weekend.  I celebrated my 60th birthday over the weekend.  It was my 35th birthday present.  How's that for Kitchen Countertop Appliance Statistics 101.  I'm hoping "they still make 'em like they used to" because the Italian-made Simac is an amazing piece of high-quality equipment.  It has earned a place on my kitchen counter right next to my Simac gelato machine.

IMG_1314No store-bought pasta product compares to scratch-made pasta in taste or texture.  I've hand-mixed plenty of pasta dough and a put a lot of muscle into kneading it too. Over the years, my Cuisinart food processor, KitchenAid mixer and Atlas pasta machines (hand-crank and electric) have taken a lot of the work out of the labor-of-love pasta making process.  That said, my Simac, for a great percentage of my 'fresh pasta' needs (pasta that is to be cooked and eaten rather immediately, not hung up to dry), is my go-to favorite.  No fuss, no mess, voila: homemade pasta -- even on weeknights.  In less than 30 minutes, 1 1/2 pounds of pasta is mixed, kneaded, extruded and ready to be cooked or refrigerated overnight.   A machine of this type is by no means a compromise -- it's a time-saving asset.  All of the parts, except the base, are dishwasher safe, so cleanup is a breeze too!

Like bread machines, ice-cream machines and a host of other kitchen appliances, pasta machines come with instructions and recipes.  It goes without saying, always follow the manufacturer's instructions, but, when it comes to their recipes, they are the leading cause of people storing an appliance in a closet, selling it at a garage sale or returning it for a refund.  

For the most part, the recipes that came with my Simac worked ok.  I had no inedible disasters.  I just felt they could be better, and, with a little work, I improved upon the ones that interested me and my family.  I'm going to share a few of them here on Kitchen Encounters this week.   I'm starting with egg pasta dough because it is, hands-down, a favorite of everyone I know, and, it is the perfect introductory recipe for people who are new to the pasta making process.  Before starting, assemble your pasta machine according to manufacturer's specifications, then, before adding any ingredients, turn it on and off -- if it doesn't turn on, something isn't secured properly.

IMG_1256Mel's Basic & Foolproof Egg-Pasta Dough!

IMG_11481  pound King Arthur, unbleached, all-purpose flour (weighed not measured)

3/4  teaspoon fine sea salt

5  whole large eggs

2  tablespoons olive oil

~ Step 1.  Measure and have ready all ingredients as listed.  I cracked five eggs into the measuring container that came with my machine, which is slightly more IMG_1155than they recommend for one pound of flour.  That was my first improvement to their recipe.  Five eggs are perfect.

IMG_1174~ Step 2. Add the flour, then the salt to the work bowl of the pasta machine.  Salt is the second improvement I made to the recipe.   IMG_1181They recommend none.

IMG_1194~ Step 3. Lock the lid in place on the top and turn the machine on.  Begin adding the eggs, slowly, as close to one-at-a-time as you can manage, followed by the olive oil.  Olive oil is the IMG_1208third improvement I made to their recipe. They recommend none.

IMG_1202~ Step 4. Allow the machine to knead the dough for six full minutes. The dough will not be grainy (which would mean it's too dry) and it will not have formed a ball (which would mean it's too wet). It will be a sort-of lumpy mass.

IMG_1215 IMG_1218~ Step 5. Turn the machine off, but leave the lid on.  Place a pasta disc in hot water for 30 seconds, then secure it on machine as directed.

IMG_1220Place a large flat tray or platter in front of the machine and IMG_1223get out a sharp paring knife.

~ Step 6.  Pull the shutter out of the side of the machine and turn machine on.  With the shutter out, machine will start feeding dough down through the opening where it will be extruded out the front.

IMG_1227It takes 1-2 minutes for pasta to start appearing in front.

IMG_1239 IMG_1245~ Step 7.  Depending on what pasta disc you chose, just keep cutting pasta into even-sized pieces or strands, and moving the tray as you go. Even-sized pieces or strands = even cooking. There is no need to flour the surface of the tray.

IMG_1252Step 8.  My  1 1/2 pounds of pasta is ready to be cooked in boiling salted water, or, it can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight prior to cooking.  The fresher the pasta the faster it cooks and fresh pasta cooks much faster that dried pasta, but, the timing varies depending on the size and shape.  Spaghetti = 2-3 minutes.

Cook in plenty of boiling, salted water & drain:

IMG_1259Lightly sauce with the proper pasta sauce:

IMG_1285Eat & enjoy homemade pasta any time, any day of the week!

IMG_1302My Electric-Extruder Pasta-Machine Pasta-Dough:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 pounds of egg pasta.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen scale; electric-extruder pasta machine; large shallow plate or platter; paring knife; 8-quart stockpot (for cooking pasta); colander (for draining pasta)

6a0120a8551282970b0133f33a94bc970bCook's Note:  My spaghetti is sauced with ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~, which I make and freeze each and every year from the Roma tomatoes Joe grows in our garden.  Click into Category 8 or 12 to get the recipe!

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

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

08/11/2015

~ Broiled Wild Sea Scallops w/Broiled Brown Butter ~

PICT4032I am here today to report scallop abuse.  Over the weekend I ordered pan-seared sea scallops in a restaurant.  I was less than impressed -- overcooked on the outside, undercooked on the inside.  It was disheartening because they were really big and beautiful, and, I never relish sending a dish back to the kitchen in any establishment -- ever.  That said, as one who knows a thing or three about cooking scallops, I do get somewhat upset when a restaurant chef doesn't know, or hasn't taken the time to teach the person in charge of cooking the scallops, how to pan-sear scallops (plus, undercooked seafood simply is not safe to eat), so, back they went.  During a brief conversation at our table, my friend asked, "can scallops just be broiled"?  "Of course", I said, "it's one of my favorite ways to cook them, and, I think that'll be one of my next blog posts!"

PICT3574A bit about scallops:  Scallops are shellfish, mechanically similar to clams, and the round part we all eat is the abductor muscle that hinges the two shells together.  Because they do not survive for very long out of water, they are almost always sold shucked (out of the shells):

PICT4056Bay scallops, the smaller of the two are about 1/2" in diameter and come about 100 to the pound.  Sea scallops are about 1 1/2" in diameter and come about 30 to the pound. They both range from pale ivory to creamy pink in color, and, when properly cooked, produce sweet, succulent meat, with the small bay scallop being slightly sweeter.  As with all fish and shellfish, they should be kept refrigerated and used within one or two days of purchasing.

PICT0984Scallops are at their best when cooked as briefly as possible, and, they are best suited for simple cooking methods like sauteing, broiling or poaching, although breading and deep-frying is quite good too. I like and use both bay and sea scallops, but don't usually use them interchangeably.  

I like to add the small bay scallops to seafood soups and stews or poach them and serve them chilled on a seafood salad.  You can find PICT3589my recipe for ~ Provencal Seafood (Lobster) Stew w/Lemon Rice ~ in Categories 2, 11, 14, 21.

As for the larger sea scallops, I like to broil or pan-sear them and serve them as a main course.  When broiling or searing them, my general rule is "keep it simple", meaning:  no heavy breading or overpowering sauces, that can mask their delicate, sweet flavor. This incredibly simple broiling method I'm  sharing with you today is one of my all-time favorites!

PICT3494Brown butter = a secret weapon of all great chefs and home cooks! 

The French term for it is "beurre noisette", and, it refers to butter that has simply been simmered over low heat until it turns hazelnut in color. As the butter melts, the milk solids sink to the bottom and as the butter simmers, the milk solids turn brown and take on a scrumptious nutty flavor.  It is commonly flavored with an acid such as lemon juice, white wine, or both.  In the case of the following recipe, the broiler is going to do the browning for you!

PICT395324  large, wild, sea scallops

4  tablespoons salted butter

1 1/2  teaspoons garlic powder

3/4-1  teaspoon ground red pepper

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

2  tablespoons fresh lemon juice

no-stick cooking spray

lemon zest, reserved from above lemon, for garnish

red pepper flakes, for garnish (optional)

PICT3963 ~ Step 1.  Rinse the scallops under cold running water.  Place on a paper towel lined plate to drain and dry for about 5-10 minutes.

Spray a 9"-round au gratin dish (or a glass pie plate) with no-stick cooking spray and arrange the scallops, side-by-side, in the bottom of the dish.

PICT3972 ~ Step 2.  Using a microplane grater, zest the lemon.  Set the zest aside.

In a 1-cup measuring container, melt the butter in the microwave. Stir in the garlic powder, ground red pepper and sea salt.  Through a fine mesh strainer, juice 1/2 of the lemon and add it to the butter mixture.  Stir the mixture thoroughly.

PICT3467 ~ Step 3.  Position the oven rack as close to 8" under the broiler element of your oven as your oven allows.  Preheat the broiler.

Using a pastry brush, distribute the butter mixture evenly over the top and sides of of the scallops.

Broil the scallops for about 8-10 minutes, or as long as 10-12 minutes (depending upon where your oven rack is situated and the heat of your broiler), or until the butter is golden brown and bubbly.

PICT3618Step 4.  Serve immediately.  I like to serve my scallops atop my recipe for ~ Fluffy Lemon & Pepper Rice for Fish &/or Seafood ~, which you can find in Categories 4 or 14, accompanied by some quick-to-make tomato concasse*.  Lastly, I garnish the entire dish with additional lemon zest and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes.  

*Note:  Concasse" (kawn-ka-SAY), is a French noun and verb that means to rough chop or grind any ingredient, classically tomatoes, into small, even-sized pieces.  

PICT3574I often use a 28-ounce can of high-quality canned Roma tomatoes to make concasse.  I drain, seed and uniformly chop them (rough chop, small dice, medium dice or large dice, your choice).  The tomatoes are added and sauteed over medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes in 2 tablespoons melted butter and 1 tablespoon EVOO, which has been seasoned with a sprinkling of sea salt, red pepper flakes and a squirt of fresh lemon juice, to taste.

Perfectly cooked & perfectly presented, sea scallop perfection:

PICT4032Boiled Wild Sea Scallops w/Broiled Brown Butter:  Recipe yields 6 entree servings as shown in the above picture.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; 9"-round au gratin dish or glass pie plate; microplane grater; 1-cup measuring container; fine mesh strainer; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b014e88d2861c970dCook's Note:  These scallops make a lovely starter or main course at a sit-down dinner if broiled in small, individual-sized, round- or oval-shaped au gratin dishes.  This 6 1/2" dish easily holds 6-8 scallops, smaller au gratins hold 3-4. Divide/drizzle the butter mixture evenly amongst the dishes and broil as directed -- the size of the dish does not affect the timing.

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

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

08/09/2015

~ Fluffy Lemon & Pepper Rice for Fish &/or Seafood~

PICT3630The perfect, carefully-chosen side-dish really can turn an ordinary meal into an extraordinary one.  Recipes for side-dishes aren't usually the most exciting thing to write home about, but, as a food blogger, I can attest to the fact that home cooks routinely conduct searches that clearly inquire: "What to serve with (meat, poultry, fish, seafood, etc.)?"  That said, it's not uncommon to have narrower searches include the word(s) "vegetable" or "starch", and/or, "quick" or "easy" -- it seems that people don't like to spend a lot of time hovering over complicated side-dishes.

I'm not making this up.  I check my blog for what people are searching for on a daily basis (and they're often the inspiration for a post).  Here is one that appeared yesterday:  "rice dish to serve with shrimp".   Fall, Spring, Summer and Winter, rice-based side-dishes are popular with a lot of folks.  Rice is nice for  several reasons:  It's economical, is usually a staple in the savvy cook's pantry, and, most importantly, it welcomes all sorts of herbs, spices and colorful vegetables with open arms. The bold, bright, zesty flavor combination of fresh lemon and freshly ground black pepper pair seriously well with all sorts of baked, broiled, steamed, grilled or poached fish and seafood, and, this easy recipe has been keeping my family and friends happy for a lot of years!

PICT0919 3  cups extra-long grain white rice

6  cups water, minus 6 tablespoons water

4  ounces (1 stick) salted butter, total butter throughout recipe

1  lemon, juice and zest

1  teaspoon cracked black pepper

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

red pepper flakes, for garnish

PICT1436

PICT0931

~ Step 1.  Unless otherwise specified, always rinse your rice before cooking it.  Do not soak it, quickly rinse it, and keep the rice moving while you do.  I simply place it in a small-holed colander and with cold tap water running through it, move the rice around with my fingertips until the water running out is clear.  After that I let it sit in the sink while I bring the water to a boil on the stovetop.

~ Step 2.  In a 4-quart stockpot, bring the water and 6 tablespoons of the butter to a boil over high heat. Gradually, but in a constant stream, add the rice to the boiling water. Adjust the heat to a gentle, steady simmer, stirring constantly.  Cover the pot and continue to cook, until the rice is fully-cooked and has absorbed all of the liquid, 12-16 minutes.  Do not uncover or stir.

PICT0937 6a0120a8551282970b014e60f63889970c                                              Note:  A saucepan with a glass lid goes a long way to insure rice gets perfectly cooked. You can observe and adjust the heat without uncovering the pot!

~ Step 3.  While rice is simmering, use a microplane grater to zest the lemon.  Cut the lemon in half and strain the juice through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl.

PICT0944

6a0120a8551282970b014e60fbc108970c~ Step 4. When the rice is cooked, remove the pot from the heat and allow it to rest about 1 minute.  

Add and thoroughly stir all of the lemon juice, zest, the black pepper, sea salt and the 2 remaining tablespoons of butter into the rice.

Cover the pot and set aside again for about 5-10 minutes, and, for as long as 15-20 minutes.

PICT3446 PICT3452Step 5. Just prior to serving, "fluff" the rice with a fork. The term "fluff" means to use the prongs of a fork to carefully separate the cooked grains.  I like to describe it as a "gentle raking motion" that breaks up any lumps without mashing the rice.  It also releases steam and imparts volume to the rice/finished rice dish.

Note:  The grains of rice will be plumped up, cooked al dente and slightly clinging to each other. Transfer rice to a serving bowl and garnish with additional lemon zest and red pepper flakes. The same "fluffing" process is also used when preparing couscous, quinoa or bulgur. 

PICT3634 ~ Step 6 (Optional).  After the rice is cooked and fluffed, the option to fold 2-3 cups of steamed baby peas, green beans, small broccoli florets, asparagus tips, diced carrots etc.,  into the rice is yours.  

Veggies add a lot of color and flavor to the rice, eliminate the need to make two side-dishes, and complement almost any broiled, baked or grilled fish, seafood (or poultry) you're serving.

This is the side-dish to enjoy your "catch of the day" with!

PICT4032Fluffy Lemon & Pepper Rice for Fish &/or Seafood:  Recipe yields 6 cups of cooked rice, more if you add cooked vegetables!

Specialty Equipment List:  small-holed colander or mesh strainer;  4-quart saucepan or stockpot w/tight-fitting lid; spoon; microplane grater; small mesh strainer; fork

PICT0984 Cook's Note:  One of my favorite ways to serve this rice, especially in the Winter, is stirred into my ~ Provencal Seafood Stew w/Lemon-Rice ~.  Get the recipe, along with all of my step-by-step instructions and photos by clicking into Categories 2, 11, 14 or 21!

PICT3574 That said, Joe and I both adore it used as a bed for simple broiled sea scallops w/browned butter!

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

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

08/06/2015

~ Pucker Up: Tart and Sweet Shiro Plum Preserves ~

IMG_1107The Japanese Shiro plum is indeed the golden, greenish-yellow goddess of the yellow plum world.  "To know them is to love them", I couldn't agree more, and, this has been a banner year for our 18-year-old backyard tree.  Every year, we eat a lot of these very sweet, mildly-tart beauties by the handfuls, and, every year I make a ~ Golden Goddess:  Shiro Plum & Egg Custard Tart ~ or two or three (just click on the Related Article Link below to get the recipe).

IMG_0930 IMG_0900They store well in the refrigerator for about ten days too. This has served me well in the past because I've never had an overwhelming amount of this very-tasty clingstone fruit to process (they are much to watery to freeze without cooking them in some manner).  This year, when Joe presented me with two 25-pound baskets of picked plums, I had to think fast, and, lets face it, making jam or preserves is a fruit gardener's wife's secret weapon.

That said, I've always avoided making plum preserves in general because I remember watching my grandmother stand around a pot of simmering water, gently lowering batches of purple plums into it for a brief scald to loosen their skins, then, removing them from the water bath, removing their skins, then dicing the fruit.  It's labor intensive.  Not wanting to do that, I decided to make a small test batch of Shiro plum preserves in my bread machine, without peeling them, just to see if skin-on plum preserves would be plumb pitiful -- they turned out plumb wonderful!

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, and, once the fruit is diced, it does all of the work.  To make preserves in the bread machine, the only change you have to make to traditional stovetop recipes is:  use powdered, not liquid pectin.  Here's why:

While 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.

IMG_0653Two very important points of note: #1)  Do not double any jam or preserve recipe that gets made in any bread machine.  They will not thicken properly.  Use the bread machine exclusively for small batches yielding 3 1/2-4 total cups of end product.  #2)  Unless a recipe states that it's ok to use frozen, partially-thawed or thawed fruit in the bread machine or on the stovetop, proceed with caution before considering that substitution -- on second thought, don't do it.

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

IMG_1123It 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 made from citrus fruit, sometimes containing chards of rind or bits of zest, and, has a consistency between jelly and jam. As for jam and preserves, it's difficult to differentiate the two, and, the terms are often used interchangeably. Past one being chunkier, in both cases, the thickness is controlled by how much pectin gets added, which is determined by personal preference.

IMG_1056For the Shiro plum preserves:

5-6  cups unpeeled and chunky-diced Shiro plums

1 1/2  cups sugar

1  teaspoon each:  pure almond and vanilla extract

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

Note: To learn more, click on the Related Article link below ~ How and When to use Liquid or Powdered Pectin ~.

IMG_1067~ Step 1.  Prep plums as directed and place in the pan of the bread machine to which the kneading paddle has been attached.

IMG_8490~ Step 2. Insert pan into bread machine, close lid, plug machine in and select "jam" cycle.  Press "start".  When cycle is complete, open the lid and carefully remove the pan from the machine -- IMG_1072this is very hot stuff!

IMG_1077~ Step 3. Using a large slotted spoon, transfer and evenly divide the chunky fruit between 2, 2-cup food storage containers, then pour the remaining liquid into the containers.  Note: This insures that all of the chunky fruit gets distributed evenly.  That  IMG_1134said, depending upon how ripe and juicy the fruit was, it is not unusual to have a small amount of liquid leftover in the bread machine pan.

~ Step 4.  Partially cover the containers and allow the preserves to come to room temperature, about 2-3 hours, prior to covering completely and refrigerating several hours or overnight.  The preserves will thicken as they chill.  Preserves can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks (if they last that long) or frozen without compromise for a year or longer.  Thaw in refrigerator.

Small-batch bread-machine preserves couldn't be easier to make.

IMG_1141Ten containers = 5 quarts = plumb wonderful!

IMG_1146Pucker Up:  Tart and Sweet Shiro Plum Preserves:  Recipe yields 3 1/2-4 cups of preserves per batch.

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

6a0120a8551282970b014e89e63163970dCook's Note: Stone fruits, like peaches and plums make delicious pies too.  My recipe for ~ Easier than Pie:  Rustic Peach & Almond Galettes ~ is in Categories 6 or 20!

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

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

08/03/2015

~ Golden Goddess: Shiro Plum & Egg Custard Tart ~

IMG_1028Plums fall into two categories:  European and Japanese.    Did you know that?  I never knew that.  I grew up thinking all plums were blue-ish purple and they showed up in farmers markets in August.  Mostly I remember my mom putting them in a bowl on the kitchen counter for us to snack on 2-3-4 at a time -- nobody can eat just one plum.  My grandmother turned them into thick jam, which we adored slathered on crepe-like pancakes called palacinki.  And -- you can't grow up in an Eastern European house without acquiring a taste for slivovitz (plum brandy).

Mel meets the golden greenish-yellow Japanese Shiro plum!

IMG_0653The Japanese Shiro plum is reported to be the goddess of yellow plum varieties.  

IMG_0900"To know them is to love them" and I couldn't agree more.  We've had a Shiro plum tree  in our backyard for 18 years, and, the first time I saw the plums, I assumed from the color they weren't ripe.  Oh my was I ever wrong.  The fruit grows in clusters throughout the 20' tall tree, causing the branches to weep to the ground under the weight -- which is convenient for the one picking.  The luminous greenish-yellow skin covers the very sweet, mildly tart flesh of this clingstone fruit.

IMG_0930As with all things that Mother Nature provides, no two are the exactly the same.  Immediately after picking, I sort them into two containers: large plums and small plums.  I  keep them stored in the refrigerator for up to ten days.  They are too watery to freeze so they must be eaten or cooked in some way.   Clingstone fruit is not easy to stone (pit), so I use the small plums to make jam, and the larger, easier-to-manage ones to make a couple of these yummy tarts.  In my food world:

1 pound large = about 18 plums

1 pound small = about 32 plums

For my Golden Goddess tart, pick 1 1/2 pounds of Shiro plums...

IMG_0990... and get out a 12" tart pan w/a removable bottom.

IMG_0915We all have our favorite recipe for pate brisee,  and pate sucree (unsweetened and sweetened recipes for quiche, pie and tart pastry). Some folks simply purchase pie pastry and I am neither going to judge nor criticize.  What happens in your kitchen stays in your kitchen. Just remember: Whether making it from scratch or taking it out of a box, it's got to be rolled enough to fit into the bottom and up the sides of a 12" tart pan with a removable bottom.

IMG_0919For the custard (read note below)*:

1  jumbo egg

3  jumbo egg yolks

1/2  cup sugar & 1/8 teaspoon salt

IMG_0689~ Step 1.  In a 1-quart measuring container, vigorously whisk together egg, yolks, sugar and salt, until thick and well-combined.

IMG_09222  cups heavy or whipping cream

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon pure almond extract

~ Step 2.  In a small 1-quart saucepan stir together the cream, vanilla extract and almond extract. Over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, heat to a steaming state. Do not allow to simmer or boil.  Set aside to cool for about 5 minutes.

* Note:  This version of custard is quite simple as I use vanilla extract, rather than beans scraped from the pod.  The reason is:  The plums are so flavorful, even after the addition of beans from two pods, and, the traditional 15-20 minutes of steeping, the vanilla took a big back seat.  Trust me, going with a healthy dose of extract is just what the doctor ordered in this recipe!

IMG_0725~ Step 3.  While whisking constantly, begin slowly adding the cream mixture to the egg/sugar mixture, in a few small ladlefuls.

IMG_0926After tempering* the eggs with at least 3, 1/4 cup ladlefuls, whisk in all the rest of the cream all at once.  Set aside.  

You will have 3 cups of flavorful and classic egg custard-type base.

IMG_0939*Note: Adding too much hot cream mixture at first can cause the eggs to "scramble", so error on the side of less for the first couple of additions. The technical term for this is called "tempering" the egg mixture.  It simply heats them up very slowly so they don't start to cook.  

For the plums:

1 1/2  pounds "large" (as described above) Shiro plums, cut into quarters from pole to pole and stoned (about 27-28 plums)

IMG_0948~ Step 4.  Slice the plums as directed above, carefully removing/pulling and slicing each quarter away from the center stone. Arrange them, skin-side-down and slightly-overlapping, in a single layer of concentric circles around the bottom of the tart pastry.

IMG_0951~ Step 5.  In small 1/4 ladlefuls, slowly add the custard mixture to the center of the tart.

IMG_0955Note:  Allow each ladleful to drizzle through the nooks and crannies. Stop when tart is just short of being full.  Depending upon the thickness of the pastry and size of the plums, you may or may not have a ladleful or two of custard  mixture leftover. Some of the plums, especially the ones in the center are going to begin to float around.  That's fine.

~ Step 5.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, about 40-45 minutes until bubbly, golden and set but still "jiggly like Jell-O".

IMG_0966 IMG_0962~ Step 6. Turn heat off, open oven door and allow tart to remain in oven until bubbling stops, about 5-6 minutes.  

~ Step 7.  Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool completely, about 2 hours. Refrigerate uncovered for 2-4 hours (I always do this), or, cover and chill overnight prior to serving.

Remove the sides of pan, slice & serve chilled. 

IMG_0977Golden tart plums & sweet creamy goodness need no embellishment!

IMG_1050Golden Goddess:  Shiro Plum & Egg Custard Tart:  Recipe yields 10-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  12" tart pan w/removable bottom; 1-quart measuring container; whisk; 1-quart saucepan; small paring knife, preferably serrated (for slicing plums)

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d078198b970cCook's Note:  While everyone loves a tart for dessert, savory versions make for a delicious lunch or dinner.  You can find ~ My Asparagus, Smoked Salmon & Havarti Tart ~ recipe by clicking into Categories 2, 9, or 14.

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

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

08/01/2015

~ Love is Blue: Very Berry Blueberry Creme Brulee ~

IMG_0888Resisting a rich, creamy, vanilla-laced egg-custard topped with a crackly layer of caramelized sugar is not something many people can do.  I certainly don't have that kind of will-power.  For us custard lovers, creme brulee and its cousin, creme caramel (flan), are the definition of decadent.  Could anything possibly make it more tempting?  Heck yea.  Throw in a handful of freshly-picked blueberries, or, blackberries, or raspberries, or a combination of all three.  

IMG_0786A bit about creme brulee:  Literally translated, "burnt cream" is a silky-smooth egg custard that is gently baked/steamed in a porcelain mold or in individual ramekins at a moderate temperature in a "bain marie" (water bath).  Just before it is served chilled or at room temperature, the top is sprinkled with brown or granulated sugar which is quickly caramelized under a broiler or with a blow torch.  The caramelized sugar becomes a brittle, crackly shell -- a tasty contrast to the creamy custard below.  Cracking through the top with ones spoon gives this dish its rustic, fun appeal, which, is the direct opposite of it's more sophisticated, slightly-harder to prepare cousin: creme caramel -- which gets turned out of the mold onto a serving plate to expose the custard, elegantly-glazed and exquisitely-sauced with the golden caramel from the bottom.  Both desserts are eaten around the world but were made famous in the latter part of the 20th century in French restaurants.  FYI:  Here is the USA, July 21st is National Creme Brulee Day!

IMG_06782 1/2 cups fresh blueberries

1  large egg

3  large egg yolks

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

2  cups heavy or whipping cream

1  tablespoon vanilla bean paste

1  teaspoon pure blueberry extract

1/2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

IMG_08451/2-3/4  cup turbinado sugar, for topping, 2 tablespoons per ramekin (Note:  Turbinado sugar is a minimally-refined cane sugar. Because of its color, it's often mistaken for brown sugar, but it's made differently.  Many consider it healthier than regular sugar, but, that's not why I like it.  Its large crystals make it great for topping cookies and it's commonly used in graham crackers.  It also caramelizes beautifully.  Feel free to substitute light brown sugar.) 

IMG_0661 IMG_0660Step 1. Place 8, 6-ounce ramekins in the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan. Prepare a "bain-marie", or "water bath", by filling the baking pan with enough tepid water to half the height of the ramekins.

Note:  Cooking in a "bain-marie", or a "water bath", is a technique  IMG_0668designed to gently cook, either in the oven or on the stovetop, delicate dishes such as custards, sauces and savory mousses without separating or curdling them. It can also be used to keep delicate sauces and foods warm.

IMG_0674~ Step 2. Place a generous 1/4 cup (5 tablespoons) of blueberries in the bottom of each ramekin.

IMG_0689 IMG_0685~ Step 3.  In a 1-quart measuring container, whisk the egg, egg yolks, granulated sugar and salt.  

IMG_0695~ Step 4. Place cream in a 1-quart saucepan. Add vanilla bean paste and stir in the extracts.

IMG_0725 IMG_0704~ Step 5. Place cream mixture on the stovetop over medium-high heat, and whisking almost constantly, bring the mixture to a steaming, just short of simmering state.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly, 5 minutes.  

~ Step 6.  While whisking constantly, begin adding some of the cream mixture to the egg IMG_0734mixture in 2-3 small ladlefuls.

Note: Adding too much hot cream mixture at first can cause the eggs to "scramble", so error on the side of less for the first couple of additions. The technical term for this is called "tempering" the egg mixture.  It simply heats them up very slowly so they don't start to cook!

After tempering the eggs with 3, 1/4 cup ladlefuls, whisk in all the rest of the cream.  You will have 3 cups of flavorful egg custard base.

IMG_0749 IMG_0738~ Step 7. Slowly pour the custard into the ramekins, filling each to the "fill line" (the indentation located just below the top rim).

IMG_0744The creme brulee are ready for the oven!

IMG_0762 IMG_0788~ Step 8. Place baking pan on center rack of preheated 320-325 degree oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. Custard will be just set in the center and just beginning to brown, or, ever-so-slightly brown on top.

Do not over bake!

Remove from oven and cool completely, in bain-marie, about 2 hours.  Remove ramekins from water bath and dry them off.

~ Step 9.  Cover each one with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3-4 hours and up to 3-4 days.  On an as-needed or as-wanted basis, remove as many as you need or want from refrigerator.  Top with sugar and broil as directed below.  Do not re-refrigerate brulee with caramelized tops.

IMG_0832Top with 1 generous tablespoon turbinado sugar:

IMG_0850Give the ramekin a shake to distribute the sugar:

IMG_0853Place 3" under preheated broiler for 2 1/2-3 minutes: 

IMG_0865What are you waiting for?  Get cracking!

IMG_0871Experience instant gratification:

IMG_0879Love is Blue:  Very Berry Blueberry Creme Brulee:  Recipe yields 8 servings.

Special Equipment List: 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan; 8, 6-ounce ramekins; 1-quart measuring container; whisk; 1-quart saucepan

IMG_0060Cook's Note:  ~ Tapioca Pudding:  Just like GrandMa used to Make! ~ is another creamy favorite.  ~ There's Fruit on the Bottom of My Tapioca Pudding ~ is one of my berry delicious ways to serve it.  Get the recipes in Categories 7 or 12!

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

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