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14 posts from September 2015

09/29/2015

~Cheesy Baja-Spiced Grill-Pan Chicken Quesadillas~

IMG_4691My mother made me grilled cheese -- I would eat one anytime she made me one.  I made my kids quesadillas -- they would eat them anytime I made them.  There was a span of time, 6-7 years, when my refrigerator was never without flour tortillas, Monterey Jack and salsa. Comparatively speaking, there's little difference between a classic grilled cheese sandwich and a cheese quesadilla -- except you use butter to grill the bread and oil to grill the tortilla.  

In terms of a quick-to-make & satisfying lunch or snack...

IMG_4707... my quesadillas are kid tested & mother approved!

IMG_4574Quesadilla (keh-sah-DEE-yah):  A round, flat, cooked-until-soft corn or flour tortilla, folded in half to form a half-moon with a savory filling sandwiched in the center.  It is fried on a well-seasoned cast-iron comal (a flat, round griddle), using no or very little oil, although in many modern kitchens, mine included, a grill pan is a great substitution.  

Almost any cooked and chopped or shredded meats and/or vegetables can be used as a filling for a quesadilla (fish and seafood are not typically used) -- the meats and vegetables must always be cooked first because a quesadilla cooks in a few short minutes.  That said, since "queso (KAY-soh)" is the Spanish word for "cheese", the obvious should be obvious:  a quesadilla is a container for ooey, gooey melted cheese.  Quesadillas require cheese.

Pg-oaxacaIn Mexico, Oaxaca cheese (wuh-HAH-kuh), a white, semi-hard cheese similar to mozzarella string cheese, is used.  It's available in braids, bricks and rounds.  In brick form it is called "asadero" (ah-sah-DEH-roh), which means "roaster", and refers to its melting quality.  It's flavor is mild and buttery and does not intrude on the foods it is served with, making it a favorite for nachos, tacos, tostadas and quesadillas.  It's said to "taste like Monterey Jack with the texture of mozzarella."

A bit about Mel's Cheesy Baja-Spiced Chicken Quesadillas:

IMG_4497The spice blend I make for these chicken quesadillas is resemblant of the spices used to make  deep-fried or grilled fresh fish tacos. Because of the abundance of fish in the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean around the Baja, Mexico region, it was the inhabitants of the region who invented fresh, catch-of-the-day Baja fish tacos.  That said, a US college student named Ralph Rubio, who was visiting San Felipe on Spring break back in 1974, fell in love with a particular fish taco made by a vendor named Carlos.  

Rubio asked Carlos to open a taco stand in San Diego, but he declined because he didn't want to leave Mexico.  Carlos did give Rubio a list of ingredients, which resulted in Rubio opening a stand in San Diego in 1983.  I love fish tacos, deep-fried or grilled, with all the traditional trimmings:  slaw, crema and pico de gallo.  My recipe, ~ Beer-Batter-Dipped Deep-Fried Cod-Fish Tacos ~ is in Categories 2, 3, 13, 14, 17 or 19.  I love quesadillas too.   It was a "no-brainer" to transition Baja-style and spice from a fish taco to a chicken quesadilla starting with these:

Baja Spice Rub, Southwestern Slaw, Pico de Gallo & Sriracha-Crema!  

IMG_4581For my dry Baja spice rub/blend:

4  tablespoons chili powder

1  tablespoon sea salt

2  teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2  teaspoons ground coriander

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper

~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, stir together all of the spices, and, if you have one on hand, transfer to an empty shaker-type spice container.

Every bit will fit!  Tip:  Always keep a few clean, empty spice jars on hand!

IMG_4594

IMG_4350For the Southwestern slaw:

4  cups store-bought coleslaw mix, a mixture of green cabbage and matchstick carrots

3/4  cup each: thinly-sliced green onions, white and light green part only, and, minced cilantro

2  tablespoons finely-diced jalapeno pepper, 2 tablespoons after removing seeds and ribs

2  tablespoons each: fresh lime juice and honey

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_4355 IMG_4359 IMG_4360 IMG_4365~Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk the lime juice, honey and salt.  Using a rubber spatula, stir in the onions, cilantro and jalapenos.  Fold in the slaw mix.  When mixture is thoroughly combined, refrigerate 4-6 hours, or overnight, stopping to stir every now and then, until serving chilled.

IMG_4292For the pico de gallo:

2  cups 1/2" diced plum or cherry tomatoes, or a combination

3/4  cup each: diced yellow onion and minced, fresh cilantro

2  garlic cloves, pressed

2  tablespoons finely-diced jalapeno pepper, 2 tablespoons after removing all seeds and ribs

1 1/2-2  tablespoons lime juice

1/2-3/4  teaspoon sea salt, to taste

IMG_4300 IMG_4304 IMG_4309 IMG_4311~Step 1.  Place the diced onion and the pressed garlic in a medium bowl.  Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon of the sea salt.  Stir and set aside 10 minutes. 

IMG_4315 IMG_4317 IMG_4321Step 2.  Add and stir in the finely-diced serrano chiles or jalapeno peppers, followed by the cilantro and the tomatoes. Set aside at room temperature for 10 minutes, then, stir and taste.  Add the additional salt and/or lime juice if you feel the mixture needs it -- I added no salt and additional lime juice today.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 6 hours, to allow flavors to marry, prior to serving chilled or at room temperature.  While the pico de gallo is marinating, stir it occasionally throughout this time, whenever it's convenient.

IMG_4369For the Sriracha-infused crema:

1/2  cup Mexican crema, or American sour cream

1/4  cup Sriracha hot sauce, more or less to taste

IMG_4368Step 1.  In a small bowl combine crema and Sriracha.  If you have a squirt bottle, the kind used to dispense salad dressings, transfer the mixture to it.  This type of bottle will make topping the quesadillas easy & mess free.

The condiments & crema are made.  It's time to make some quesadillas!

IMG_4603For the chicken, cheese & slaw filling:

6  boneless, skinless, chicken thighs,  trimmed of fat, about 1 1/2 pounds, 3 cups grilled & chopped chicken, 1/3 cup per quesadilla

2  tablespoons Baja Seasoning Rub/Blend, from above recipe

4  cups grated Monterey Jack cheese, about 1 pound, 3/4 cup per quesadilla

IMG_46071 1/2-2  cups Southwestern slaw, from above recipe, a generous 1/4 cup per quesadilla

For the quesadillas and condiments:

6, 8" round flour tortillas

Sriracha-Infused Crema, from above recipe

Pico de Gallo, from above recipe

IMG_4611 IMG_4613~ Step 1. Use a pair of kitchen shears to trim thighs of excess fat -- leaving small bits on the chicken is ok. Place thighs on a cutting board or baking pan that has been lined with a sheet of plastic wrap and liberally season tops with Baja seasoning. Set aside 15 minutes.  The plastic wrap makes cleaning up easy.

IMG_4618 IMG_4616~ Step 2. After the 15 minute rest is over, use a paper towel to oil the bottom of a 12-inch grill pan, or, a cast-iron comal, or, nonstick skillet with 1 tablespoon of corn, canola, peanut or vegetable oil.  

Note:  While you can use butter or olive oil, that is so NOT Tex-Mex. Adjust heat in pan to medium-high.

IMG_4620 IMG_4623 IMG_4626 IMG_4630~Step 3.  Place the chicken thighs, seasoned sides down in the hot grill pan.  Liberally season the seconds sides with the Baja seasoning.  Continue to grill until thighs are cooked through on both sides, turning only once, about 6 minutes per side, about 12 minutes total.

Note:  Even when liberally seasoned, you will only use about 1 tablespoon of seasoning, per side, for seasoning 6 chicken thighs (2 tablespoons total).  This will leave you with about 4 tablespoons to keep on hand on your spice rack or in your pantry for future use!

IMG_4650 IMG_4638~ Step 4. Using a spatula, transfer the chicken thighs from the grill pan to a cutting board and allow to rest at least 15 minutes, and up to 30 minutes (they must rest at least 15 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute themselves throughout the meat), prior to chopping them in small bite-sized bits and pieces.  

You will have 3 cups of perfectly grilled, chopped, moist and very-flavorful chicken.

IMG_4652 IMG_4656 IMG_4658 IMG_4661 IMG_4666~Step 5.  Clean  pan, oil it with 1 tablespoon of oil, and heat pan over medium.  Place one flour tortilla in pan and sprinkle 3/4 cup of cheese over the top to within 1/2" of the edge all the way around.  Place 1/3 cup of chicken over one-half, then, top the chicken with 1/4 cup of slaw.  By the time you put the slaw on top, the cheese will be melted.  Using a spatula, lift and fold the unfilled half up and over the filled half and transfer to a cutting board.  Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Wait 1 minute prior to slicing each quesadilla into 3 triangles...

IMG_4683... drizzle each piece w/crema & a dollop of pico de gallo...

IMG_4728... plate, serve & enjoy each & every bite!

IMG_4718Cheesy Baja-Spiced Grill-Pan Chicken Quesadillas:  Recipe yields 6, 8" half-moon-shaped quesadillas/18 pieces after cutting them all into thirds/4-6 servings allowing for 3-4 pieces per serving.  Recipe also yields 6 (almost 7) tablespoons Baja seasoning, 3 cups Southwestern slaw, 2 cups pico de gallo, 3/4 cup Sriracha crema, and, 3 cups grilled, chopped chicken.

Special Equipment List:  small spoon; empty spice jar (optional); cutting board; chef's knife; small whisk; large rubber spatula; garlic press;  hand-held cheese grater; plastic wrap; kitchen shears; 12" grill pan or nonstick skillet; paper towel; wide spatula

IMG_2662Cook's Note:  For another Tex-Mex all-American favorite, "queso dip" ("cheese dip"), try my recipe for ~ Tex-Mex Soul-Consoling Food: Chile con Queso ~.  You can find it by clicking into Categories 1, 2, 13, 17, 23 or 24. This ooey-gooey family-friendly, snack-appetizer is one you definitely want to have in your Tex-Mex tailgate recipe box. 

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

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

09/26/2015

~ Southwestern-Style Honey, Lime & Jalapeno Slaw~

IMG_4562Coleslaw, one word, or, cole slaw, two words.  It's a humble side-dish.  It doesn't pretend to be flashy.  It just sits in its bowl, patiently waiting for someone to take a scoop.  What's sad is the quotes and jokes that get made about coleslaw, which, in my opinion are 100% unwarranted. When it's properly prepared, and correctly paired with the right entree, it is the master of crunchy cabbage goodness.  It amps up the volume, of many meals, from ordinary to extraordinary.

54797471A bit about coleslaw:  The words "cole" "slaw" come from the Dutch word "koolsla", meaning: "cold" "salad".  Coleslaw is a salad of shredded green or red cabbage that gets mixed with other vegetables (onion, carrot and bell pepper being most common) then seasoned and tossed with a tangy mayonnaise-, buttermilk-, sour cream-based dressing, or a vinaigrette.  All versions contain some sort of acid, usually vinegar or citrus juice, and salt, which wilts the cabbage as it marinates.

Coleslaw is neither bland nor soggy, it is bright and crisp!

6a0120a8551282970b01bb087838bf970dThe key to great coleslaw is to make sure the vegetables are "dry", meaning: dry of as much moisture as possible before adding the dressing.  My grandmother taught me to shred my cabbage, chop my vegetables, then, wrap them individually in a kitchen towel and refrigerate them overnight prior to mixing the slaw.  The day I started using the store-bought, pre-washed, dried and shredded slaw mix, instead of shredding a head of cabbage, I never looked back.  If my grandmother had this available she would have used it too!

Many popular versions amp up the flavor with pickles or pickle relish, prepared or dry mustard, Tobasco-type pepper sauces and/or seasonal, fresh herbs.  It is safe to say there are as many versions as there are cooks and cuisines.  One of my local favorites, a Pennsylvania Deutsch version, features shredded fennel, apples and bacon tossed with a sweet and sour dressing.

This super-easy, sweet, savory & slightly-spicy Southwestern-style slaw... 

IMG_4497... made with honey, lime juice and jalapenos, complements all sorts of Tex-Mex fare.  For example:  My recipe for ~ Beer-Batter-Dipped, Deep-Fried, Cod-Fish tacos ~ (pictured above), and, my ~ Mexican-Style Baha Grill-Pan Chicken Quesadillas ~ (pictured at the end of this post).  It makes a sassy side-dish for many barbecued, smoked or grilled beef or pork dishes too.

Super easy:  7 ingredients, 5 minutes of prep, 1 bowl & 1 step!

IMG_4350For the Southwestern slaw:

8  cups store-bought coleslaw mix, green cabbage w/matchstick carrots (14 ounces)

1 1/2 cups each: thinly-sliced green onions, white and light green part, and, minced cilantro

4  tablespoons finely-diced jalapeno pepper, 2 tablespoons after removing seeds and ribs

4  tablespoons each: fresh lime juice and honey

1 teaspoon sea salt

IMG_4355 IMG_4359 IMG_4360 IMG_4365~Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk the lime juice, honey and salt.  Using a rubber spatula, stir in the onions, cilantro and jalapenos.  Fold in the slaw mix.  When mixture is thoroughly combined, refrigerate 4-6 hours, or overnight, stopping to stir every now and then, until serving chilled.

Great slaw isn't flashy -- just a jazzy way to amp up an entree!

IMG_4563Southwestern-Style Honey, Lime & Jalapeno Slaw:  Recipe yields 6 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula

IMG_4327Cook's Note: My recipe for ~ Mexican Pico de Gallo (Salsa Freesca/Fresh Salsa) ~ is another one of my super-easy, all-time favorite Tex-Mex condiment/side-dishes, and, more often than not, I serve it alongside this slaw.  You can find the recipe in Categories 4, 8, 10, 13, 14, 17 or 20.

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

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

09/24/2015

~ Beer-Batter-Dipped, Deep-Fried, Cod-Fish Tacos ~

IMG_4517Excuse me, I'm just going to go ahead and eat this fish taco while you all argue over what constitutes a perfect fish taco and its toppings -- deep-fried vs. pan-fried (sometimes grilled), corn tortilla vs. flour tortilla, green slaw vs. red slaw, pico de gallo vs. salsa, and, crema vs. sour cream.  My favorite fish taco, as long as it is well-balanced in both flavor and texture, is the one that is in front of me, and, the first one I ever ate was so good I've declined to debate this issue with anyone -- if you bring it up, I'll just hit the mute button.  It was 1986, and, there was a day trip from San Diego, CA to Tijuana, Mexico on our agenda.  As I recall, the trip took about an hour and I'd ordered a "Baja Fish Taco" at a taco stand, which I ate en route -- I wish I'd ordered two.

IMG_4489I ordered the batter-dipped option (you only live once), and, it came topped with a tangy and sweet green cabbage slaw, a drizzle of Sriracha-infused crema, and, a small container of pico de gallo in the corner of the red and white paper food tray.  Their deep-fried fish tacos were served on warm flour tortillas -- their "other" fish tacos were served on corn tortillas.  This made sense to me -- the texture of the crunchy fish next to the soft, steamy flour tortilla was perfection. At first glance, it looked like there was a "whole lot going on" but I was wrong.  Each component was seriously simple and straightforward, and, they all played together in perfect harmony.  

Avoid versions of fish tacos that embellish the components with outlandish stuff like:  tequila marinade, blackened seasoning, smoked sea salt, and (gag), guacamole -- KISS (keep it simple stupid)! 

OAs I later came to find out, because of the abundance of fish in the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean around the Baja, Mexico region, it was the inhabitants of the region who invented fresh, catch-of-the-day fish tacos.  That said, a US college student named Ralph Rubio, who was visiting San Felipe on Spring break back in 1974, fell in love with a particular fish taco made by a vendor named Carlos.  Rubio tried to talk Carlos into opening a stand in San Diego.

Carlos declined because he didn't want to leave Mexico, but, he did give Rubio a "sort of" recipe -- an ingredients list with no specific amounts.   Thanks to a $70,000 investment from his dad, Rubio introduced his Baja fish taco to San Diego in 1983, in an old, failed hamburger stand near Mission Bay.  Its popularity was almost instant, and, nowadays, San Diego is the place to go, and the unofficial home of, the fish taco (and Rubio's is a multi-million dollar company).

When it comes to versions of fish tacos made with grilled or pan-fried fish, you can pretty much make them with the fish you like best -- any type of fish can be put into a grilled or pan-fried fish taco.  That is not so for the batter-dipped, deep-fried fish taco -- thin filets and/or delicate fish will not hold up to the rigors of deep-fat-frying.  For me, cod is the best.  I'm not alone.  It's the #1 choice amongst all of us fearless fryers. It's thickness and firm texture can't be beat.  If I had to make a substitution, I'd most likely go with grouper or mahi mahi, or sea bass, but, because cod is so readily available, even here in Central PA, I've never had to make a substitution.

IMG_4350For the Southwestern slaw:

4  cups store-bought coleslaw mix, a mixture of green cabbage and matchstick carrots

3/4  cup each: thinly-sliced green onions, white and light green part only, and, minced cilantro

2  tablespoons finely-diced jalapeno pepper, 2 tablespoons after removing seeds and ribs

2  tablespoons each: fresh lime juice and honey

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_4355 IMG_4359 IMG_4360 IMG_4365~Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk the lime juice, honey and salt.  Using a rubber spatula, stir in the onions, cilantro and jalapenos.  Fold in the slaw mix.  When mixture is thoroughly combined, refrigerate 4-6 hours, or overnight, stopping to stir every now and then, until serving chilled. 

IMG_4292For the pico de gallo:

2  cups 1/2" diced plum or cherry tomatoes, or a combination

3/4  cup each: diced yellow onion and minced, fresh cilantro

2  garlic cloves, pressed

2  tablespoons finely-diced jalapeno pepper, 2 tablespoons after removing all seeds and ribs

1 1/2-2  tablespoons lime juice

1/2-3/4  teaspoon sea salt, to taste

IMG_4300 IMG_4304 IMG_4309 IMG_4311~Step 1.  Place the diced onion and the pressed garlic in a medium bowl.  Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon of the sea salt.  Stir and set aside 10 minutes.

IMG_4315 IMG_4317 IMG_4321Step 2.  Add and stir in the finely-diced serrano chiles or jalapeno peppers, followed by the cilantro and the tomatoes. Set aside at room temperature for 10 minutes, then, stir and taste.  Add the additional salt and/or lime juice if you feel the mixture needs it -- I added no salt and additional lime juice today.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 6 hours, to allow flavors to marry, prior to serving chilled or at room temperature.  While the pico de gallo is marinating, stir it occasionally throughout this time, whenever it's convenient.

IMG_4369For the Sriracha-infused crema:

1/2  cup Mexican crema, or American sour cream

1/4  cup Sriracha hot sauce, more or less to taste

IMG_4368~ Step 1.  In a small bowl combine crema and Sriracha.  If you have a squirt bottle, the kind used to dispense salad dressings, transfer the mixture to it.  This type of bottle will make topping the fish tacos easy and mess free.

IMG_4374For the fish and the beer-batter:

3 whole cod fillets, about 2 1/2 total pounds

2  total cups pancake mix

1  cup beer

IMG_4377freshly-ground sea salt, for salting fish as it comes out of the fryer

~ Step 1.  Place filets on a large cutting board.  Using a large chef's knife, trim about 2" off the thin narrow end of each one, then, cut each one in half to form two long pieces of fish.  Cut each long piece into thirds, to form 18 pieces.  This will be enough to fill 9, 6"-round, warmed flour tortillas.

It's finally time to batter dip & deep-fry some fish sticks!

IMG_4381Setting up the deep-frying assembly line (left to right):

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

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

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

Sea salt grinder.

Misc:  3-minute timer, whisk, fork, tongs, baking pan w/parchment paper & cooling rack.

IMG_4393~ Step 2.  Place one cup of the pancake mix in the first bowl (this will be used for dredging the fish, to dry its surface area).  

IMG_4385Whisk the second cup of pancake mix with 1 cup of beer in the second bowl to form a smooth drizzly batter.  Easy enough so far?

IMG_4397 IMG_4403 IMG_4405 IMG_4409 IMG_4414                                ~Step 3.  Use a fork to dredge 3 "fish sticks" in the dry pancake mix, then dip them in the wet beer batter. Remove them from the batter, allowing all of the excess batter to drizzle back down into the bowl.  

~ Step 4.  Fry 3 at a time for 3- 3 1/2 minutes.  Using tongs, transfer from fryer to a large baking pan that has been lined with parchment and fitted with a cooling rack. Grind sea salt on them the moment you put them on the cooling rack. Repeat process until all the fish is fried.

IMG_4437Place 2 "fish sticks" side-side-by side, hot-dog-style, on each warm flour tortilla.  Top each with about 1/3 cup of Southwestern Slaw and a drizzle of Sriracha Crema and a generous tablespoon of pico de gallo to the side.

IMG_4497Once you bite your way out of this one, make another one!

IMG_4535Beer-Batter-Dipped, Deep-Fried, Cod-Fish Tacos:  Recipe yields 9 fish tacos, 3 cups Southwestern slaw, 2 cups pico de gallo and, 3/4 cup Siracha crema

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small whisk; large rubber spatula; garlic press; fork; 2, shallow 2-cup size bowls; deep-fryer; 3-minute timer; fork; tongs;  17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; cooling rack

IMG_9177Cook's Note:  If you think getting your children to try a fish taco is "a tough sell" (which I do not because kids like fish sticks), click into Categories 2, 13, 19, 20 or 22 to get my recipe for ~ Kid's Stuff: Jesse's Favorite Tex-Mex Beef Tacos ~.

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

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

09/22/2015

~ Mexican Pico de Gallo (Salsa Fresca/Fresh Salsa)~

IMG_4327For those who home cook more than their fair share of Tex/Mex fare, you likely have your pico de gallo recipe committed to memory -- I do.  You also know that pico de gallo is much more than a condiment to dip tortilla chips into or plop on your tacos.  In my kitchen it's a tasty topper for grilled or broiled chicken and fish, it's great on thinly-sliced flank, skirt or flat-iron steaks, and, a spoonful on fried, poached or scrambled eggs in the AM will change your outlook of the day ahead.  Here in Central PA, my garden is still producing most of the stuff I need to make it daily!

 6 or 7 diced ingredients + 1 bowl = a raw & rustic salsa... 

IMG_4338... with a crisp, clean burst of fresh & spicy flavor in every bite!

IMG_0539A bit about pico de gallo:  In Mexican, "pico de gallo" literally translates to "rooster's beak". Native Mexicans of the Sonoran region explain that the serrano chile pepper, a key component of the dish, resembles a rooster's beak in shape.  Also referred to a "salsa fresca"  pico de gallo is a carefully concocted mixture of small-diced, fresh, uncooked "salad" ingredients: tomato, onion, cilantro, serrano peppers, salt and lime juice.

IMG_0507Recipes for pico de gallo are not written in stone.  There are as many variations as there are cooks. While this is my own recipe, made to my own liking, I do stick to the basic six ingredients.  We grow serrano chiles in our garden, so, for me I've got them on-hand all year long.  I pick them and freeze them whole in a big ziplock bag.  I take out what I need and by the time I'm done slicing or dicing them, they are thawed and ready to go into whatever dish I am preparing.  If you can't find serrano chiles, a jalapeno or two is a perfectly acceptable substitution.  Note:  I use the same freeze and dice method for the jalapenos we grow too!

As for the rest of my ingredients, plum tomatoes are great because they have more meat and less juice, but, grape or cherry tomatoes are full of sweet tomato flavor, so, whenever I can, I use some of each.  I like sweet onions (most Mexicans use white), but, you'll get no criticism from me for using red instead.  I run a couple of garlic cloves through a press and add them too, because, I think they contribute a nice sharpness in contrast to the sweet onion -- that choice is yours. You will, however, get thrown out of my kitchen if you don't use cilantro -- it is mandatory.  If you don't like cilantro, you don't like pico de gallo, so don't make it.  Some sea salt and freshly squeezed lime juice are necessary to bring up the flavors -- you can use more or less, to your liking, but neither can be omitted.  I advise resting the mixture on the counter or in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to 6-8 hours, to marry the flavors.  It's important to note that pico de gallo is best served the day it is made (but next day leftovers, which get a bit watery, are still very tasty).

IMG_42922  cups, slightly smaller than 1/2" diced plum tomatoes, or cherry tomatoes, or grape tomatoes, or a combination of both, seeded or unseeded, your choice

3/4  cup diced yellow onion, or red onion, your choice

1/2  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves

2  garlic cloves, run through a press

1-2  tablespoons finely-diced green or red serrano pepper, or jalapeno pepper, 1-2 tablespoons after removing all seeds and bitter white ribs

1 1/2-2  tablespoons fresh lime juice, to taste

1/2-3/4  teaspoon sea salt, to taste

IMG_4300 IMG_4304 IMG_4309 IMG_4311~Step 1.  Place the diced onion and the pressed garlic in a medium bowl.  Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon of the sea salt.  Stir and set aside 10 minutes.

IMG_4315 IMG_4317 IMG_4321~ Step 2.  Add and stir in the finely-diced serrano chiles or jalapeno peppers, followed by the cilantro and the tomatoes. Set aside at room temperature for 10 minutes, then, stir and taste.  Add the additional salt and/or lime juice if you feel the mixture needs it -- I added no salt and additional lime juice today.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 6 hours, to allow flavors to marry, prior to serving chilled or at room temperature.  While the pico de gallo is marinating, stir it 3-4 times throughout this time, whenever it's convenient.

C'mon baby light my fire, it's time to set my night on fire: 

IMG_4344Mexican Pico de Gallo (Salsa Fresca/Fresh Salsa):  Recipe yields 2 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; large spoon

IMG_2014Cook's Note:  For another Spanish favorite, only in the form of a raw, uncooked,  soup/beverage that gets served chilled, ~ My Traditional Gazpacho:  Fresh from Our Garden ~ can be found by clicking into Categories 2, 10, 13, 14, 17 or 19.  It's a great  bloody Mary base!

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

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

09/20/2015

~ Breakfast Bacon, Potato, Onion & Pepper Hash ~

IMG_4272Topped with two fried sunny-side-up eggs and any type of toasted bread to the side, this is a tasty way to start the day -- heck you can even make a sandwich out it.  At early morning at-the-stadium tailgates, we used to call it "cowboy breakfast", but, I think that had more to do with the fact that we were cooking it in cast-iron skillets on camp stoves in the great outdoors than it being some sort of official name.  With one gal manning her own station, one of us would make hash, one would fry  bacon and eggs, one would grill bread and one would pour bloody Marys. Cafeteria style, our line of Happy Valley tailgaters filed past as we dished up their grub.

IMG_4237That said, we tailgated for away games too -- in our homes.  The fare we served didn't change, just the way we cooked it.  In the case of this dish, we plugged in our electric skillets and a toaster.  Every one of us owned an electric skillet back in those days, and, like us, our skillets came together on common ground -- wherever the party was held.  

The line formed at one side of any kitchen, each tailgater filed through, stopping along the way to fix his or her own plate.  The kitchen table almost always functioned as a bar/snack station.   Once everyone found a comfortable seat in someone's family room, it was game on -- on the TV.

IMG_424216 slices thick-cut bacon, about 1 1/2 pounds thick-cut bacon

2-2 1/2  pounds peeled and 1/2" diced gold potatoes

2  teaspoons dried oregano

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1  pound thinly-sliced yellow onion

1  pound green bell pepper, or a combination of red and green bell pepper, your choice

IMG_4249 IMG_4253 IMG_4257~ Step 1.  Place the bacon, in a single, slightly-overlapping layer, in the skillet.  The bacon will shrink as it fries and by the end it won't be overlapping.  Fry over 275 degrees until crispy on both sides, about 12-15 minutes.  Using a long-handled bacon fork, remove the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and set aside.  Leave all of the bacon drippings in the skillet.

IMG_4151 IMG_4156 IMG_4163~ Step 2.  Add the diced potatoes to the salty, smokey-flavored bacon drippings in the skillet. Fry/saute the potatoes, using a large, slotted spatula to keep turning them as they cook, until they are tender through to the center and nicely browned.  This will take 12-15 minutes, or a bit longer, depending upon the size of your dice.  Take a taste, if you think they need a bit of salt, now is the time to season them.  Using the spatula, remove potatoes to a paper-towel lined plate.  Set aside.  It's really hard not to eat these tasty morsels -- show some will-power.

IMG_4169 IMG_4172~ Step 3.  Add the sliced onions and bell peppers to the skillet.  Sprinkle the oregano and pepper flakes over all.  Fry/saute theses veggies at 275 degrees, using the spatula to keep them moving  IMG_4177around in the pan as they cook, until they are crunch tender (or to your liking).  For me, this takes 8-10 minutes.  Add and toss the potatoes into the cooked veggies.  Set skillet temperature to warm.

~ Step 4.  On your stovetop, fry or poach 2 eggs per person.  Portion hash into 8 warmed serving bowls and serve each topped with two eggs, two slices of bacon and a piece or two of toasted bread.

Like football, tailgating is a rough, tough sport...  

IMG_4267... and hash is a hearty, tasty way to start the tailgate day!

IMG_4278Breakfast Bacon, Potato, Onion & Pepper Hash:  Recipe yields 8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  electric skillet; long-handled bacon fork; paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; large, nonstick slotted spatula

IMG_1665Cook's Note:  No matter how you slice or dice them, potatoes are always popular served at breakfast. For one of the easiest potato side-dishes you'll ever make (no peeling or dicing required), check out my recipe for ~ Creamy & Cheesy Hash Brown Potato Casserole ~ in Categories 4, 9, 17 or 20!

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

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

09/17/2015

~ Hot Diggity Dog: New Jersey's Italian Hot Dogs +: Mel's Version of the NJ 'Pizza Bread' Hot Dog Roll ~

IMG_4210I think I was a hot dog in a past life -- that's how much I love hot dogs.  If that is true, I was a Jerzey Girl in a past life, because, New Jersey is hot dog heaven.  If a hot dog can make it there, it can make it anywhere.  There are more hot dog stands, carts and trucks there than anywhere on this planet -- and I mean anywhere.  I've heard NJ referred to as "the cradle of hot dog civilization", which pretty much sums up the hot dog universe as I know it.  That said, I make some dang good doggies here in my kitchen.  I've developed my own versions of a few out of dog-gone desperation, because when it comes to certain "show dog types", outside of their place of origin, some of the ingredients are impossible to find.  For example: 

6a0120a8551282970b0134892d3b28970cMy favorite hot dog is the Texas chili dog, and, you can find my recipe for ~ Mel's Texas-Style Chili Sauce & Texas Chili Dogs ~ in Categories 2, 10, 17 or 26.  It might interest you to know it was invented by a Greek immigrant in Paterson, NJ.  I grew up eating these in a dive called The Texas Lunch in Tamaqua, PA.  My version of the recipe was featured in Cook's 6a0120a8551282970b017d3c954a1f970cIllustrated's America's Best Lost Recipes cookbook back in 2007.

As for Chicago's famous dog (Vienna beef w/ mustard, kriptonite-colored relish, tomatoes, pickles, sport peppers and celery salt), I can order the special stuff on-line, but the poppy-seeded roll just can't be bought and it's not a Chicago dog without it.  See Related Article link below for my recipe.

Today's "Best in Show" post:  New Jersey's Italian Hot Dog

The-jimmy-buffs-classic-16-pack.467eddca580b16db501ef33dd47d8057Drumroll please:  New Jersey's Italian Hot Dog.  Said to have been invented at Jimmy Buff's, in Newark, NJ, in 1932, this is one of the most unique hot dog eating experiences I've ever had. Almost no one can eat more than one.  I could barely finish mine, but finish I did.  Where do I start:  It's served on a "roll" they refer to as "pizza bread" -- it's almost like Muffuletta bread but with a bagel-esque hole in the middle. The bread is big -- big enough to cut each one into halves or quarters that get sliced lengthwise, to form two or four hot dog rolls.  

IMG_4234^ The above photo is courtesy of the Jimmy Buffs website.^  Depending upon the size of the roll, one or two deep-fried or flattop griddled, natural casing, all-beef hot dogs get stuffed inside and topped with a generous heap of fried peppers, onions and potatoes.  The pizza bread, impossible to find outside New Jersey, is the vessel that holds everything together -- it's just firm enough to soak up the grease without falling apart.  These hot dogs can't be served on generic hot dog rolls, so don't go there -- it just ain't right.  That said, if you're not in the mood to bake my version of pizza bread (which is super-easy to do), substitute a high-quality submarine/torpedo/hoagie roll.

IMG_4012A bit about my version of pizza bread:  I've been making another version of "pizza bread" for a long time -- 30+ years. It's a rolled sandwich containing a savory combination of antipasto staples. Click on the Related Article link below to get my recipe for ~ Mel's Rotolo di Pizza (Stuffed Pizza Rolls/Bread) ~.  The dough is a cross between a sandwich roll and a pizza crust.  Two-three years ago, out of the blue, it occurred to me "if it's good enough for this kind of IMG_4021Italian sangwich loaf, why wouldn't it work for the NJ Italian hot dog roll. Well, it did -- to a point.  Read on: NO ONE can duplicate New Jersey's round pizza bread, and, there are no recipes for it that I can find, so, you are stuck with mine. Take it or leave it, but, it's close. My dough contains garlic powder, Italian seasoning and pepper -- NJ's does not.  Omit them if you want, but they're darn tasty.

IMG_3835For the dough:

1 1/2  cups warm water

2  tablespoons olive oil

4 1/2  cups all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon each:  garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend and coarsely-ground black pepper

1  packet granulated dry yeast

2-4  additional tablespoons olive oil, for preparing baking pans

IMG_3843Step 1.  To prepare the dough, place all of the items in pan of bread machine in the order listed,except for the yeast.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation ("a well") on top of the dry ingredients, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer.  Place the yeast into the indentation.  Insert the pan into the bread machine, IMG_3846plug the machine in, press the "Select" button, choose the "Pizza Dough" cycle, then press "Start". You will have 2 pounds of dough, ready to use, in about 55 minutes.

IMG_3851While the dough is rising in the machine, using a pastry brush or a paper towel, generously oil 2, 15 1/2" x 10 1/2" rectangular baking pans with the additional olive oil.

IMG_3859 IMG_3869Step 2. Remove dough from bread machine pan and divide it in half.  The best way to do this is with a kitchen scale.  The dough will be slightly sticky, yet very manageable.

IMG_3880 IMG_4078 IMG_4087 IMG_4091 IMG_4118~Step 3.  Form each piece of dough into a ball and place it in the center of an oiled pan.  Using the handle of a wooden spoon, poke a hole through the center.  Using your fingertips, form into a 6" round ball of dough with a 1" round hole in the center.  Set aside to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour-1 hour 15 minutes.  Dough will be about 7"-7 1/2" round with a 1/2" hole in the center.  One-at-a-time, bake each pizza bread on center rack of 350 degree oven, 15-18 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely, about 1-1 1/2 hours.  Please serve these the same day they are baked.

IMG_4225One-half of one pizza bread will hold a "double dog dare you": two manly 1/4-pound hot dogs that have been sliced in half lengthwise, heaped with toppings.  One-quarter of one bread will hold a "Jerzey girl": one girly neater-to-eat 1/4" pound dog with a bit less toppings.

What this means is:  from these two pizza breads, you will get 4 or 8 New Jersey Italian hot dog rolls.  

Fryin' the dogs & fixin' the toppings:

My 16" electric skillet is the next best thing to a flat top -- it controls the heat perfectly and it's got the capacity to cook the hot dogs and the toppings all in one spot.  Three things you need to know about my home-kitchen method:  1)  First I brown the hot dogs in olive oil rather than deep-frying them.  That choice is yours, but, I do this because I like the way the dogs infuse their smokey flavor into the EVOO.  2)  Once I remove the hot dogs from the skillet, I add some salt to the oil and fry the potatoes until golden brown.  They get removed to a paper-towel lined plate to drain which keeps them moderately-crispy until the end.  3) Lastly, some red pepper flakes and dried oregano get added and I saute the onions and bell peppers until crunch tender.

IMG_41238+2+2  tablespoons olive oil

8  1/4-pound all-beef franks

1  tablespoon sea salt

2-2 1/2  pounds peeled and 1/2" diced gold potatoes (be generous)

2  teaspoons dried oregano

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1  pound each:  thinly-sliced yellow onion & green bell pepper

yellow ballpark or deli-brown mustard, for slathering on each roll -- it's optional but I like it

IMG_4125 IMG_4128 IMG_4133 IMG_4146~Step 1.  Heat 8 tablespoons of olive oil in the skillet over 250 degrees.  Add the hot dogs, increase the temperature to 260-275 degrees and fry/saute, using a pair of tongs to keep turning them as they cook, until they are golden on all sides.  This will take 10-12 minutes.  Remove the hot dogs to a paper-towel lined plate and set aside (they'll go back in to warm up later).

IMG_4151 IMG_4156 IMG_4163~ Step 2.  Add 2 more tablespoons of EVOO to the skillet and stir 1 tablespoon of salt into the oil.  Increase the skillet heat to 275-300 degrees and add the diced potatoes.  Fry/saute the potatoes, using a large, slotted spatula to keep turning them as they cook, until they are tender through to the center and nicely browned.  This will take 10-12 minutes, or a bit longer, depending upon the size of your dice.  Using the spatula, remove the potatoes to a paper-towel lined plate and set aside.  It's really hard not to eat these salty morsels -- show some will-power!

IMG_4169 IMG_4172~ Step 3.  Add the last 2 tablespoons of EVOO to the pan, followed by the onions and green bell peppers.  Sprinkle the oregano and pepper flakes over all.  Return skillet temperature to 260-275 degrees and fry/saute these veggies, using the spatula to keep them moving around in the pan as they cook, until they are crunch-tender (or too your liking).  For me, this takes 8-10 minutes.

IMG_4177~ Step 4.  Add the potatoes and toss to combine them with the onions and bell peppers.  Do not cook for any amount of time, just toss 'em in.

IMG_4183Place the hot dogs on top of all and allow them to reheat, about 1-1 1/2 minutes. Turn skillet off, slice the bread, slice the dogs & heap on your toppings!

Not so fast cowboy -- I want some mustard slathered on mine!

IMG_4189Hot Diggity Dog:  New Jersey's Italian Hot Dogs +: Mel's Version of the NJ 'Pizza Bread' Hot Dog Roll:  Recipe yields 4-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine; 2-cup measuring container; kitchen scale; pastry brush or paper towels; 2, 15 1/2" x 10 1/2" rectangular baking pans or round pizza pans; handle of a wooden spoon; cooling rack; cutting board; chef's knife; electric skillet; tongs; large, nonstick slotted spatula; paper towels; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b016767a952eb970bCook's Note:  It's a little late, but not too late to still find some great sweet corn at your local farmer's market or in the grocery store.  I just bought some yesterday afternoon at our Happy Valley Boalsburg farmers market. Sweet corn goes great with a New Jersey Italian Hot Dog.  Check out my recipe for ~ How to:  Roast or "Bake" Sweet Corn in the oven ~ by clicking into Categories 4, 10, 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)

09/15/2015

~ Mel's Rotolo di Pizza (Stuffed Pizza Rolls/Bread) ~

IMG_4012This rolled sandwich, containing a savory combination of antipasto staples, is in the top five of my family's any-time-of-day snacks -- it's a perfect lunch too.  My kids always called it pizza bread, because before it's sliced it looks like a loaf of bread.  Once sliced, it reveals a cross between everything they love about a pizza and everything they love about a baked sub (hoagie) -- sans the shredded lettuce and sliced tomato.  I'd been making it for years before I heard Mary Ann Esposito refer to it as "Rotolo di Pizza" on her Ciao Italia TV show.

IMG_4002From a family-friendly standpoint, mine will eat their "pizza bread" any way I serve it:  slightly warm, about an hour after it's baked, with marinara sauce for dipping.  If it's on the counter, they'll pick up a room temperature slice as they pass by, and, if it's in the refrigerator they'll eat it cold while standing in front of the open refrigerator door (sigh).  Before you can say "pizza delivery", for a late night snack, they'll pop a piece or three into the microwave or toaster oven.

IMG_4046From a practical standpoint, it's in my best interest to make several, 4-6 at a time, and keep a few in my freezer for those times when I run out of time to make something to take to a get-together, or, have guests showing up with little lead time.  When sliced and placed on a platter, accompanied by an assortment of Mediterranean olives and a glass of Chianti, it's a delicious and beautiful deli-tray all by itself.  I've passed it around at upscale cocktail parties, casual TGIF happy hours at our rec room bar, and, because it travels well, I've taken it to tailgates too.  I always feel better going into the Fall/Winter season with these appetizers in my freezer!  

IMG_4040Any way you slice it, my rotolo di pizza is one keeper of a recipe.  For complete success, please follow it, as it is written!

IMG_3979I'm wed to my meat and cheese choices -- they're the ones my family and friends rave about. Substitute what you like, just remember:  Don't overstuff it or the dough will split and the filling will ooze out while it bakes.  If you've never made "pizza bread", I want you to succeed on the first try, so follow my recipe "to the letter", as written, because it is very specific -- and that includes the dough.  Everyone's dough is a bit different, and, I can't vouch for anyone else's when it comes to making rotolo di pizza.  You can make my dough via conventional hand mixing and kneading, you can make it via a stand mixer or a food processor, or, you can do what I currently do:  make the dough in my bread machine, which simplifies the process considerably!

IMG_3835For the dough:

1 1/2  cups warm water

2  tablespoons olive oil

4 1/2  cups all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon each:  garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend and coarsely-ground black pepper

1  packet granulated dry yeast

2-4  additional tablespoons olive oil, for preparing baking pans

IMG_3856For the filling (ingredients as fills 2 rotolo di pizza):  (Note:  Request your deli person to to do two things:  1) Slice each item as thinly as possible without it falling apart, ripping or tearing.  This is very important.  The meats and cheeses can be neither too thin or too thick.  2)  While slicing the meats and cheeses, have them stack neatly on top of each other so they lay flat.

12  slices deluxe ham (the large, rectangular shaped ham)

12  slices provolone cheese

16  slices Genoa salami

12  slices mozzarella cheese

20  slices pepperoni (the larger, round deli-style pepperoni)

12  slices Cooper CV sharp cheese, or white American cheese

1/2  cup finely-grated Asiago cheese

IMG_3843~ Step 1.  To prepare the dough, place all of the items in pan of bread machine in the order listed, except for the yeast.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation ("a well") on top of the dry ingredients, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer.  Place the yeast into the indentation.  Insert the pan into the bread machine, plug IMG_3846the machine in, press the "Select" button, choose the "Pizza Dough" cycle, then press "Start".  You will have 2 pounds of dough, ready to use, in about 55 minutes.  

IMG_3851While the dough is rising in the machine, using a pastry brush or a paper towel, generously oil 2, 15 1/2" x 10 1/2" rectangular baking pans with the additional olive oil.

IMG_3859 IMG_3869~ Step 2. Remove dough from bread machine pan and divide it in half.  The best way to do this is with a kitchen scale.  The dough will be slightly sticky, yet very manageable.

IMG_3882 IMG_3883Place one piece of dough on each pan and let rest for 10 minutes.  Pat and push dough evenly into the bottom of and toward the sides of each pan.  Unlike a pizza crust, no sides will be formed.

PizzaRoll                         Note:  Before layering the meats and cheeses on the surface of the dough, carefully review this diagram I drew.  As you layer the meats and cheeses on top of each other, you must leave a 3" strip of untopped dough on the side farthest away from you, almost no untopped dough on the side closest to you, and, about a 1/2" border of untopped dough on the remaining two sides.   (See - I can sketch too!)

IMG_3890 IMG_3895 IMG_3903 IMG_3908 IMG_3913 IMG_3918~Step 3.  Place 6 slices of ham on the dough as pictured above in the diagram.  Continue layering the cheeses and meats, on top of the ham, as follows:  Place 6 slices of provolone cheese on top of the ham.  Place 8 slices of salami on top of IMG_3931the provolone.  Place 6 slices of mozzarella cheese on top of the salami.  Place 10 slices of pepperoni on top of the mozzarella. Place 6 slices of the Cooper CV cheese on top of the pepperoni. Sprinkle 4  tablespoons of Asiago evenly over the layered meats and cheeses.  Sandwich heaven!  

Set aside and repeat this process with the second pan of dough.

IMG_3937~ Step 4.  To roll the rotolo, starting with the filled, lengthwise side closest to you, roll dough up, jellyroll-style, gently, but firmly, pulling and tugging towards you as you work, to form a tight cylinder. When you reach the 3" strip of untopped dough, pull and stretch the untopped dough over the top, IMG_3942as taut as you can, without ripping the dough, as if you were using plastic wrap to make a tight seal. Roll the cylinder over, so the seam side is located directly at the bottom.  Using the heels of both of your hands, gently but firmly rock the cylinder gently back and forth a few times, to insure a sealed seam. IMG_3948Return the cylinder to seam side up and carefully stretch and pull the flaps of dough on the left and right sides up and over the top, press to seal both ends and roll the cylinder over, facing seam side down. 

~ Step 5.  Set both pans of rotolo aside, uncovered, to rise slightly, about 1 hour.  Just prior to baking them, prick the tops of the rotolo with the tines of a fork at IMG_3958approximately 1" intervals, deep enough to almost reach the center of the filling in each roll.  

~ Step 6.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree, 25-30 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to cool on pans for 45-60 minutes prior to transferring to a cooling rack to cool an additional 46-60 minutes or to room temperature, 1-2 more hours.

Note:  Completely cooled, uncut, room temperature rolls can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for 2-3 days, or refrigerated until well-chilled then frozen.  Remove the plastic wrap, place on a sheet of paper towels, thaw completely and/or return to room temperature prior to wrapping in aluminum foil and reheating in a moderate 325 degree oven about 15-20 minutes.

Patience is a virtue my friends.  Let them cool to perfection!

IMG_3984Using a serrated knife, slice each roll into 18-20 pieces...

IMG_4021... and savor every ooey, gooey, cheesey, slightly-spicy bite! 

IMG_4038Mel's Rotolo di Pizza (Stuffed Pizza Rolls/Bread):  Recipe yields 2, 14" pizza rolls/18-20 slices each (a little more than 3 dozen total appetizers).

Special Equipment List:  bread machine; 2-cup measuring conainer; kitchen scale; pastry brush or paper towels; 2, 15 1/2" x 10 1/2" rectangular baking pans; fork; cooling rack; serrated knife

6a0120a8551282970b0133f33a94bc970bCook's Note: ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~ recipe can be found in Catetories 8, 12 or 22.  I make it every Fall and it's in small containers, in the freezer, right next to a 3-4 Rotola di Pizza -- how convenient is that! 

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

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

09/13/2015

~Jerzey Girls Disco Fries (Not your Mama's Poutine)~

IMG_3771I love NJ -- I've spent more time there than any other state except for my home state of PA.  I'm related to scores of New Jersey born folks, and, I am close personal friends with plenty of Jersey girls.  As a kid I played on the Jersey shore, walked the Jersey boardwalk and knew the words to every Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons song.  I know a Jersey tomato when I see one, love their sweet corn, blueberries and peaches -- their sandy soil is blessed, and, their bagels are the best.  Bruce Springsteen is The Boss and Tom Colicchio is Top Chef.  For me, The Sopranos is "bada-bing" TV and American Hustle is my "don't put metal in the science oven" movie.

IMG_3787Disco Fries:  Thick-cut fries topped w/gravy & cheesefeed.

IMG_3823Up until yesterday, I'd never heard of  disco fries.  Today I'm writing a blog post about them. Disco fries: Thick-cut fries topped with gravy (beef, chicken or turkey) and melted cheese (American, cheddar or mozzarella).  I found this artery-clogging concept just disgustingly off-the-wall enough to educate myself on them.  As my NJ cousin Vic told me yesterday, "don't knock 'em until you've tried 'em.  I'm going to do just that, but as one who has barely wrapped my head around cheese messing with a perfect French fry in general?  Now gravy? 

Disco-ball-disco-background-decorative-32331327Apparently, disco fries are so popular in New Jersey, they claim them as one of their culinary accomplishments.  For those of you who don't know, New Jersey is known as The Diner Capital, having more diners per square mile than any other state in the USA. Diners, as we all know, are often open all night, and, this is where, back in the 1980's, in the wee hours of the morning, the disco guys took their disco dates to eat disco fries, in an attempt for all concerned to stave off their oncoming disco hangovers. Can you feel the disco love? (<Free image courtesy of dreamstime.)

French Canadian Poutine:  duck-fat-fried fries topped w/cheddar cheese curds & drizzled w/enough special beef gravy to start melting the curds.  Sometimes upscale poutine is served w/fois gras  -- light my disco ball! 

IMG_3794In my opinion, disco fries are another example of Americans dumbing down a classic -- and there are only 3 ingredients in this one.  I'm not pointing a finger at NJ either -- we do it with food in all 50 states all the time. Poutine: Quebec's French-Canadian dish consists of duck-fat fried potatoes topped with white cheddar cheese curds and a beef stock &/or demi-glace based smooth, peppery gravy. The gravy gets poured on last, to start to melt the curds.  In Montreal, some versions are served with fois gras -- now you're talkin'!  

Poutine lovers will be quick to tell you that our disco fries are not their poutine.  They understand that cheese curds are not easy to find in the USA (meaning:  they can accept a real-cheddar cheese substitute), but, as for versions made with yellow chicken- or turkey gravy -- those bastardizations don't fly.  Poutine lovers take this beloved hangover-curing comfort food seriously.  Sans the cheese curds, I am intent on upscaling a recipe for disco fries today.

IMG_3726 IMG_3718For the potatoes:

6  large, 10-ounch-ish Russet potatoes, peeled and hand-cut to 1/2" thick fries, soaked in ice water, in the the refrigerator for 2-3 hours

peanut, corn or canola oil, for deep-frying (or duck fat -- wink)

freshly-ground sea salt, for salting fried potatoes

IMG_3712For the cheese:

12  ounces white cheddar cheese, cut into small 1/4" cubes, at room temp (Cube the cheese in advance but remove from refrigerator when you start to fry the potatoes.)

*If you find cheddar cheese curds, use them.  Cheese curds are the byproduct of milk solids created by an enzyme as the cheese curdles the milk.  The small elastic pieces of "almost cheese" that form are curds.

Hardware Note:  The tools I use to make short work of cutting the potatoes and cubing the cheese are my vintage, cast-aluminum and wire French-fry cutter and butter slicer.

IMG_3732For my easy, spicy beefy gravy:

4  tablespoons salted butter 

1  teaspoon each:  garlic powder and onion powder

2  teaspoons cracked black pepper

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

14 1/2-ounces beef broth*

6 1/2-ouncs demi-glace*

2  ounces Worcestershire sauce*

4-6 tablespoons ketchup, to taste

* Note:  When it comes to these three liquid ingredients, feel free to make substitutions within reason to suit your taste, just make sure they total 22 ounces of liquid.  Once the sauce is cooked and thickened (which takes less than 5 minutes), stirring some ketchup in at the end, brings up the flavor and pulls it all together.  Doesn't every French fry deserve some ketchup?

IMG_3735 IMG_3740 IMG_3743 IMG_3745 IMG_3764~Step 1.  Once potatoes are soaking, and cheese is cubed, to prepare the sauce:  Over low heat, melt butter.  Whisk garlic powder, onion powder, cracked black pepper and salt into the melted butter.  Whisk in the flour and keep whisking until the mixture is smooth. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer the roux for 1-1 1/2 minutes, whisking constantly.  All at once, add the beef broth followed by the the demi-glace.  Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly, until mixture is nicely thickened, about 3-4 minutes, or up to 5 minutes, depending upon how rapid your simmer is.  Stir in the ketchup, to taste.  Cover the pan and turn the heat off until the potatoes are fried as follows:

IMG_3623~ Step 2.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with 3-4 layers of paper towels.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer potatoes from bowl to pan.  Cover with 3-4 more layers of paper towels and place in refrigerator for 1-2 hours, to dry and thoroughly chill.

IMG_3634~ Step 3.  Preheat oil in deep-fryer to a moderate 325 degrees, according to manufacturer's specifications.  Line a second 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with several layers of paper towels.

Don't have a deep-fryer?  Fill an 8-quart stockpot half-way with oil and insert a frying/"candy" thermometer.

Note:  If you're doing this on the stovetop, you MUST use a thermometer to control the temperature.  Heat your oil slowly, over medium-low, and proceed, as follows, with caution.

IMG_3648 IMG_3639~ Step 4. Depending upon the size of the basket of your deep-fryer, in 4-6 batches, pre-fry the potatoes, for 3 1/2-4 minutes.  The fries will be blonde in color and limp.  Transfer to the paper towels and repeat until all potaotes are pre-fried.  I did this in four batches.

IMG_3670~ Step 5.  Allow the pre-fried fries to cool to room temperature, 45-60 minutes, prior to proceeding.  Make a drink or two, pace around the house and listen to some music.

When the potatoes have reached room temperature, increase the heat of the deep-fryer to 375 degrees.  It's time for the final fry.

IMG_3725~ Step 6.  Place a large cooling rack in the first baking pan.  I do not bother to remove/replace the original paper towels.  I just let them in there to catch the excess oil.

~ Step 7.  Deep-fry the potatoes, in the same number of batches as before, until they are golden brown, about 6-7 minutes.  Transfer them to the cooling rack and season immediately with sea salt.

Place hot fries in a bowl, top w/cubed cheddar, drizzle w/hot gravy & eat!

IMG_3805Jerzey Girls Disco Fries (Not your Mama's Poutine):  Recipe yields 6 servings of French fries, 3 cups cubed cheese and 3 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vintage French-fry cutter and butter cutter (optional); 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight-deep sides & lid; whisk; small ladle; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; paper towels; large cooling rack;  large slotted spoon; deep-fryer

IMG_3779Cook's Note:  In honesty, I like my fries unadulterated.  To learn all that I know about making French fries in general, click into Categories 2, 4, 15, 20 or 21 to get my instructions for ~ Do You Want (Perfect "French") Fries with That? ~.

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

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

09/11/2015

~ Roast Beef Eatin' Horseradish-Mayo Potato Salad ~

IMG_3697Horseradish.  It's powerful stuff and most folks aren't on the fence about this ingredient.  They either love it or they hate it.  If you are a lover of the stuff, you know you've got to carefully pick and choose what you pair it with and how you do it too.  For my taste, freshly-grated horseradish, prepared horseradish and horseradish cream, mustard or mayonnaise go best with beef and ham.  Some folks like it with lamb, but, for me, that's pushing the envelope a tad to far.

IMG_3648My favorite way to enjoy horseradish is served with or on a good roast beef sandwich:  anything from  a deli-style roast-beef-on-rye to one piled high with mouth-watering hand-carved prime rib or sirloin served on the perfect roll with jus for dipping or drizzling.  When it comes to a roast beef sandwich, I won't turn my nose up at any horseradish product you serve it with, as long as you serve me horseradish with it in some form.  That said, if given a choice, I'll request horseradish mayonnaise.  AND, if you ask me for a recommendation, I'll say, "Zakuson".  While all brands of horseradish mayonnaise pale in comparison to freshly-grated horseradish and prepared horseradish products, Zakuson actually does pack enough of a wallop to open up your sinuses.  I purchase it at our local Eastern European market, but, it's available on Amazon too.

IMG_3525When I order a roast beef sandwich in a deli or a resto, if it doesn't arrive with a side of potato salad, I'm ordering it a la carte.  For me, potato salad belongs with a roast beef sandwich -- it's mandatory.  If I'm serving you a roast beef sandwich in my kitchen, I'm going to be offering you potato salad:  My horseradish-mayonnaise potato salad.  I don't serve this potato salad with anything else, not even ham sandwiches (because I put Zakuson's horseradish mustard on those).  This is strictly my roast-beef-eatin' potato salad recipe.

6 ingredients & 3 steps in 20 minutes.  The heat's on the table! 

IMG_36572  pounds small, red potatoes

1/2  cup small diced red onion

1/2  cup small diced celery

1/2  teaspoon celery seed

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/2-1  cup horseradish mayo

IMG_3663~ Step 1. Dice and place celery and onions in a bowl along with the celery seed and black pepper. Stir in 1/2 cup of the mayo.

IMG_3667~ Step 2.  Place the potatoes, in a single layer on a large plate and microwave them until just cooked through.  My microwave has a setting for baking potatoes by weight and for me, this takes 7 minutes.  Remove the potatoes from oven and immediately slice them in half.  This will stop the cooking process.  Slice the halved potatoes into 1/4" thick semi-circles.

IMG_3678 IMG_3675~ Step 3. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the potatoes into the mayonnaise mixture.  Eat it now or cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours. Before or after chilling, by the tablespoonful, stir in additional horseradish mayo until you get the creaminess or heat you desire.  I add none. Best served the same day it's made or within 24 hours.

There's no doubt about it, this defines "dressed for success":

IMG_3690Roast Beef Eatin' Horseradish-Mayo Potato Salad:

IMG_3546Roast Beef Eatin' Horseradish-Mayo Potato Salad:  Recipe yields 6 cups/12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap

IMG_3427Cook's Note:  The roast beef sandwich pictured today is my ~ Buffalo-Style Beef-on-a-Weck (Kummelweck Roll) ~ sandwich.  In German, "kummel" is the word for "caraway" and "weck" means roll.  It is indeed the caraway-seeded salt-crusted roll that gives this iconic sandwich its distinctive taste and its name.  To get my recipe for roasting the top sirloin, making the jus, and, baking the rolls, click into Categories 2, 17 or 19.

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

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

09/10/2015

~ Buffalo-Style Beef-on-a-Weck (Kummelweck Roll) ~

IMG_3525What the heck is "beef on a weck"?  It's Buffalo's "other" famous food.  When it comes to this German-rooted sandwich, the slow-roasted, melt-in-your-mouth, thin-sliced top sirloin, combined with the coarse-salt and caraway-seed crusted roll is a match made in heaven. Served with a bowl of jus for dipping, grated horseradish for topping, usually a side of German-style potato salad and always a pickle, the weck is one heck of a fine roast beef sandwich.  

6a0120a8551282970b017ee7f2d1dc970dThanks to two founding members of our PSU tailgate group who hail from Buffalo, NY, I heard tales of "beef on a weck" for over thirty years.  On more than a few occasions, Mary and her husband Joe served their version of this revered sandwich at cocktail parties and tailgates. Schwable's, a family-run business since 1837, is where a good majority of Buffalonians go to whet their appetites for wecks (and German fare in general). Thanks to my husband Joe, who, in the recent past, has had a business reason to shuffle off to Buffalo, I got to sink my teeth into a one-and-only real-deal Schwables weck.  To learn more, just click on the Related Article link below, ~ Road Trip:  Buffalo NY's One & Only -- Schwable's ~.

IMG_3427Buffalo's kummelweck roll is a round, Kaiser-type roll topped with caraway seeds and coarse salt -- crusty on the outside and firm enough on the inside to hold up to the sliced beef and its juices without getting soggy (meaning:  the roll isn't going to fall apart as you eat the sandwich).  In German, "kummel is the word for "caraway" and "weck" means "roll". If you are planning to make "beef on a weck" sandwiches outside of the Buffalo area, you'll discover that it's next to impossible to find these rolls in any grocery store.  As the name implies, "sliced, slow-roasted beef served on a kummelweck roll", without the roll you're not eating a real-deal weck sandwich -- It's the roll that gives this sandwich its distinctive taste and its name.  You can find my recipe for ~ Caraway-Seeded Salt-Crusted Kummelweck Rolls ~ in Categories 2, 5 and 17. 

IMG_2384A typical beef-on-a-weck is made from slow-roasted, well- but mildly-seasoned, rare- to medium-rare, roast beef that is always hand-carved (never machine cut) into 1/8"-1/4" slices (not paper-thin or shredded) and heaped directly onto a waiting weck.  Depending upon how "wet" with jus you want your sandwich, it can be a drippy mess to eat, so, dress casual.  To my tooth, eating a weck is like biting into a cross between a mouth-watering prime rib and a filet mignon sandwich.  Schwabl's ties two big center-cut top sirloin roasts together, which, makes  hand-carving a lot of beef at once really efficient.  When it comes to roasting the beef in my home kitchen, I find a single top sirloin roast more manageable. Making a Buffalo-style beef-on-a-weck sandwich a la Mel is a lot easier than you think, but:

YOU NEED AN INSTANT-READ MEAT THERMOMETER!!!  

If you do not have one, go buy, beg, borrow or steal one.  Come back and read the rest of this post when you have it in hand.

IMG_3437For the beef:

1  12-pound top sirloin roast, at room temperature (Note:  Never put a large piece of ice-cold meat into the oven to roast.  It will not cook evenly and it will lower the oven temperature considerably.)

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_3445For the jus:

1  large yellow or sweet onion, coarsely-chopped, about 12 ounces

8  large, whole garlic cloves

1 48-ounce box-of-beef broth

1/2  cup Worcestershire sauce

IMG_3447Hardware: 2, 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum pans doubled to form one sturdy pan w/an 18" x 10" cooling rack inserted into it.

IMG_3449 IMG_3451~ Step 1.  Add the onion, garlic, beef broth and Worcestershire to the pan.  Insert the rack and place the roast on top of the rack.

IMG_3464Note:  Measurements are hardware specific.  The roast on the rack, should not be touching any liquid.

~ Step 2.  Top roast with a copious amount of ground peppercorn blend and sea salt, allowing the excess to drop down into the liquid.

~ Step 3.  Roast, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, about 2-2 1/2 hours, or, until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the center, in 2-3 spots, reads 125-130 degrees.  Do not overcook!

IMG_3469Remove roast from oven.  Do not be inclined to cut or taste even the smallest of pieces or bites.  Any cut you make now will result in a loss of a lot of juice which will dry it out.

IMG_3481~ Step 4. Tightly seal the entire pan with aluminum foil.  Set aside to rest, about 2 hours.  This allows residual heat to cook the roast to medium-rare, and, gives the juices time to distribute themselves evenly throughout the roast.  This rest period is very important.

IMG_3496 IMG_3489Step 5. Uncover the pan, remove the roast, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, place it on a plate and set it aside.

IMG_3491~ Step 6. Transfer pan juices, via a mesh strainer into a fat/lean separator.  Add the lean portion of the jus to a 2-quart saucepan.  Bring the jus to a simmer over medium-high heat and continue to simmer for 1 minute. You now have 4-5 cups of jus for dipping your sandwiches into.

IMG_3510~ Step 6.  Using a large chef's knife thinly-slice the beef 1/8"-1/4" thick. Slice the kummelweck rolls and assemble the sandwiches.

Options:  Feel free to use a pair of tongs to dip an entire sandwich's worth of sliced beef into the hot jus prior to piling it high onto each kummelweck roll and/or serving each sandwich with a small bowl of jus to the side for dipping or drizzling on each weck at the discretion of each eater.

Note:  Dipping the sandwiches prior to placing them on the weck rolls will use up enough of the jus that you might run short if you plan to served it on the side too.  To avoid that, simply add 1 cup of beef broth + 2 tablespoons Worcestershire to the jus prior to simmering it for 1 minute. 

Surround every weck with love:  jus, potato salad* & pickles!

* The weck is classically served w/grated horseradish.  I put the horseradish in the potato salad.  Stay tuned for ~Roast Beef Eatin' Horseradish-Mayo Potato Salad~.

IMG_3539Dip, drip & savor every mouth-watering beefy bite!

IMG_3631Buffalo-Style Beef-on-a-Weck (Kummelweck Roll):  Recipe yields 12 very large sandwiches with leftovers for 6 more sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  2, 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pans, doubled to form one sturdy pan; 18" x 10" cooling rack; cutting board; chef's knife; instant-read meat thermometer; aluminum foil; plastic wrap; mesh strainer; fat/lean separator; 2-quart saucepan

6a0120a8551282970b01a5118bcb91970cCook's Note:  Buffalo-style Beef-on-a-Weck is not the only thing I serve on  weck rolls.  For a sweet and savory treat, try 'em with ~ My Braised & Brown Sugar Glazed Corned Beef ~ .  You can find the recipe in Categories 2, 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)

09/08/2015

~ Caraway-Seeded Salt-Crusted Kummelweck Rolls~

IMG_3427Nothing is more important to a well-constructed sandwich than the bread or roll it gets served on -- the shape, texture and taste all play a role in the production, and, all affect the end result. While it's not against the law to make substitutions, name one kid that wants their PB&J served in a pita pocket.  The thought alone brings tears to my eyes.  When it comes to run-of-the-mill family-friendly sandwiches like the patty melt, club, sub or sloppy Joe, we all know exactly what bread product to buy, and, we have zero trouble finding it at our local grocery store or any typical market in America.  That said, if you're planning to make, for example, a Chicago-style hot dog, finding poppyseed-crusted hot dog rolls outside of Chicago is next to impossible.

Buffalo's famous "beef on a weck" sandwich requires a kummelweck roll!

IMG_3417Buffalo-NY's famous kummelweck roll is a round, crusty, medium-textured Kaiser-type roll topped with caraway seeds and coarse salt.  In German, "kummel is the word for "caraway" and "weck" means "roll".

If you are planning to make their famous "beef on a weck" sandwich outside of the Buffalo area (which I am), you know it's next to impossible to find these rolls.  As the name implies, "sliced, slow-roasted beef served on a kummelweck roll", without the roll you're not eating a real-deal weck sandwich.  Why?  It is the roll that gives this sandwich its distinctive taste and name.  Click on the Related Article link below and read ~ Road Trip:  Buffalo NY's One & Only -- Schwable's ~ to learn  more about their iconic sandwich. 

For the same reason I learned to make Chicago-style hot dog rolls (exasperation and desperation), I persevered to make my own version of the kummelweck too.

A bit about my method and recipe:  Written for the food processor, the dough gets mixed and kneaded in less than two minutes -- what's not to love about that.  My Cuisinart DLC-X processor, with its 20-cup capacity, allows me to make big batches of everything imaginable, so, if you don't have a large-capacity food processor, cut the recipe in half and make it in two quick batches.  Once baked, the texture of the rolls will be much like a Kaiser:  crusty on the outside and firm enough on the inside to hold up to the sliced beef and its juices without getting soggy (meaning:  the roll isn't going to fall apart as you eat the sandwich).  I love the taste of caraway seed, and, a while back, I started putting some into the dough as well as sprinkling them on top, because I really, REALLY like the way their flavor gets incorporated into each and every bite!  

IMG_3334For the rolls:

6  cups all-purpose flour

4  packets granulated dry yeast

1  tablespoon caraway seed

2  teaspoons sugar

2  teaspoons fine sea salt

2-2 1/4 cups very hot tap water

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing food storage bag

For the topping:

1  extra-large egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water

coarse sea salt and additional caraway seeds

IMG_3342 IMG_3343~ Step 1.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, using a series of 10-15 rapid on-off pulses, blend together the flour, yeast, caraway seed, sugar and salt.

Note:  When making any type of dough in a food processor, always pulse the dry ingredients before adding any of the wet ingredients.

IMG_3353 IMG_3349~ Step 2. With the motor of the processor running, slowly pour the hot tap water through the feed tube into the dry ingredients.  Stop adding water when a ball of dough forms. Continue kneading the dough in the processor for about 40-45 seconds. This means the ball of dough will revolve/spin around in the bowl.

IMG_3360 IMG_3356                                              ~ Step 3. Spray the inside of a large 1-gallon food storage bag with no-stick cooking spray.  Carefully (do not cut yourself on the sharp steel processor blade) remove the ball of dough from the processor and place it in the IMG_3364prepared bag.  Allow dough to rise, in bag, about 45 minutes.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut the bag open to form a flat, greased work surface.  Punch the dough down and knead it briefly to form a ball.

Tip from Mel:  As the dough rises in the bag, the yeast creates heat and humidity inside the bag.  This is a perfect environment for rising all sorts of bread and pizza dough!

IMG_3373~ Step 5.  It's time to divide the dough into 12 parts and roll each part into a ball.  The best way to do this is with a kitchen scale.  I have 47 ounces of dough today, which means each one of my rolls will weigh just under 4 ounces.

IMG_3379~ Step 6.  As you work, place rolls on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan lined with parchment paper that has has been sprayed with no-stick.

~ Step 7.  Cover the rolls with a cotton, flour-sack-type kitchen towel and set aside to rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

IMG_3396 IMG_3388The rolls will have doubled in size and will be touching each other.  

~ Step 8.  In a small bowl, whisk together the egg white and water. Using a pastry brush and a light touch, paint tops and any exposed surface with egg-white wash. Sprinkle tops of all with coarse sea salt and caraway seeds.

IMG_3398~ Step 9.  Bake rolls on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven for 16-18 minutes.  The tops will be nicely-golden brown and will sound hollow when tapped with your knuckle.  Remove from oven.  Using a gentle shake and a quick tug on the parchment paper, immediately IMG_3405transfer all of the rolls, as an attached group, from the pan to a large cooling rack.  Discard the parchment paper immediately after the transfer is complete.  This is easy to do, it will just slide out from underneath.  Cool completely prior to separating the rolls (although they are delicious served warm).

Meet the weck:  crusty on the outside, tender on the inside:

IMG_3430Where's the beef on a weck?  Stay tuned for my next post!

IMG_2384Caraway-Seeded Salt-Crusted Kummelweck Rolls:  Recipe yields 1 dozen sandwich rolls.

Special Equipment List:  large-capacity food processor; 2-gallon food storage bag; kitchen shears; kitchen scale (optional); chef's knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; cotton, flour-sack-type kitchen towel; fork; pastry brush; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07ce982b970dCook's Note:  The beef-on-a-weck sandwich is always served with a bowl of jus, grated horseradish, a big scoop of potato salad and a pickle.  For the perfect side-dish, click into Category 4, 10, 17 or 26 to get ~ GrandMel's Creamy Potato and Egg Salad Recipe~!

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

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

09/06/2015

~Please Pass the Homemade Crockpot Applesauce~

IMG_3308When my family of five sat down to dinner, unlike a host of other foods, I never had occasion to say "eat your applesauce".  When applesauce was on the dinner table my kids would eat it. Applesauce had bargaining power too:  "Finish your pork chop, then you can have another helping of applesauce."  "Eat half of your green beans and you can have more applesauce." There's more:  My boys weren't "big" on eating apple slices, but, if there was applesauce in the refrigerator, they were happy to slather it on a Ritz with a piece of Cracker Barrel cheddar.  

IMG_3330Applesauce was a feel-good snacky-type condiment in our house.

IMG_3132For the obvious reason, I've always associated "back to school" with applesauce making:  The kids went back to school after Labor day and apples started appearing at our local fruit farm's roadside stand. Over the years I've made applesauce with all sorts of different apples and combinations of different apples, but these days, I make it with Fuji's alone -- picked straight from our backyard tree.

A bit about the Fuji apple:

Named for the Japanese town of Fujisaki, the super-crispy, super-sweet  Fuji apple was introduced in the USA by Japan in the 1980's, and, nowadays, they've become so popular that we produce more of them than they do.  Known for its hard texture and syrupy sweetness, it is perfect for eating as is, adding fresh to salads or cooked into baked desserts.  They have a long shelf life too -- several months if kept in a cool place and up to a year if stored in the refrigerator.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d089a1a9970cThe slow-cooker was originally invented by Chicago's Irving Naxon (Naxon Utilities Corporation).  It was introduced, in August 1970, as the Naxon All-Purpose Cooker, or Bean Cooker.  As the story goes, Irving was a great inventor but lacked marketing skills and his bean machine flopped. Later that same year, the Rival company bought Naxon and reintroduced the product in 1971 under the trademarked "Crock-Pot" name.  

Shortly after I got married in 1974, the crock-pot craze occurred -- every new bride got one, including me.  That said, for twenty+ years, I continued to make applesauce on the stovetop the way my grandmother did.  It's not hard to do, but you do have to babysit it (carefully watch it as it simmers).  Four years ago this October, I invested in a new crockpot with a 6-quart capacity.  I don't think I had it a week when I noticed a crockpot applesauce recipe in the newspaper.  Using my own recipe, I threw all of my ingredients into the crock and never looked back. 

IMG_31417 pounds unpeeled, cored and coarsely-chopped apples (about 20 large-medium-large apples) (Note:  Weighing the chopped apples on a kitchen scale is the best way do do this.)

1/2  cup apple juice

1  cup lightly-packed dark brown sugar

1  tablespoon ground cinnamon

1  teaspoon ground ginger

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

IMG_3152 IMG_3155 IMG_3159Step 1.  Rinse/wash the apples in cold water then coarsely chop them, placing them in a 6-quart crockpot as you work.  Add IMG_3163 IMG_3169 IMG_3165the apple juice, followed by the brown sugar, ground cinnamon, ginger and cloves.  There is no need to stir anything yet.

IMG_3173 IMG_3182~ Step 2. Put the lid on the pot and cook on high power for 4 hours.

IMG_3199~ Step 3. After 2 hours give the mixture a good stir.

IMG_3216Go ahead, treat yourself -- taste it. Put the lid back on and cook on high for the last 2 hours.

IMG_3211~ Step 4. Remove the lid, give everything another good stir and allow it all to rest, uncovered, for 1 hour, to cool slightly, prior to processing to a chunky or smooth consistency.

IMG_3223~ Step 5.  To process my applesauce, I use a hand-held stick blender -- it keeps all of the mess in one spot (the crockpot).  If you do not have one, a food processor fitted with a steel blade or an ordinary blender will work fine too.

Note: Even if you like your applesauce chunky-style, you really do have to process it somewhat, to keep it from being a bit watery.  

When it comes to applesauce, I like mine silky smooth, so, I give mine a solid 1-2 minutes of whirring with the stick blender.

IMG_3225 IMG_3234If you followed my recipe, you will have 3 quarts of applesauce. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well-chilled, several hours or overnight (overnight is best).  Once chilled, I portion mine into 2-cup containers and freeze to have on hand all year round.  Thaw in the refrigerator.

Applesauce:  Subtley-spiced & silky-smooth...

IMG_3300... fall in love w/Fall's quintessential side-dish!

IMG_3313Please Pass the Homemade Crockpot Applesauce:  Recipe yields 3 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  chef's knife; cutting board; 6-quart crockpot; large spoon; plastic wrap; soup ladle; 6, 2-cup sized food storage containers w/tight-fitting lids

6a0120a8551282970b019afff10b49970cCook's Note:  My nicely-spiced applesauce is the secret ingredient in my ~ Nana's Applesauce-Oatmeal-Raisin-Walnut Cake ~. This is indeed my favorite Fall-cake recipe.  Click into Category 6 or 19 to get this heirloom recipe.

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

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

09/04/2015

~Go Back to School: One-Skillet Chicken Parmesan~

IMG_3112I do not miss getting up with the birds to get three kids off to school.  That said, on Tuesday morning, 7:45AM on-the-dot, when I'm laying in bed and I hear the brakes squeal on the school bus, at the school bus stop across the street and just outside our bedroom window,  I won't be able to not reminisce about how much I do not miss the organized, orchestrated, whirlwind chaos. School shopping, lunches, after-school activities, fund-raisers, homework, playtime, bedtime -- and, of course, getting a really good meal on the dinner table in the midst of it all.

IMG_4955Lot's of busy moms turn to the slow cooker to help them through these trying times.  I rarely did, because most recipes can't be cooked to perfection in a Crockpot.  When my kids went back to school, my electric skillet was my go-to secret weapon.  There's more: my family preferred a skillet dinner over a Crockpot dinner -- unless it was my chili or pulled-pork sandwiches.

In terms of countertop appliances, I think the 16" electric skillet is one of the most versatile.  Its big surface area allows you to pan-fry or saute an array of foods (meatballs, hamburgers, steaks and/or chops) in one large batch -- enough to feed a family of 6.  It's great for making pancakes for breakfast, grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, and, reheating late-night leftover pizza.  You can even boil water in it to cook a lot of pasta or ravioli.  My favorite feature (which you can't easily do on the stovetop) is:  On the warm setting, with the lid kept on, your on-the-go family can grab a hot meal when it is convenient for them -- in between inconveniently scheduled activities.

1 electric skillet + 1 baking pan = stress-free, mess-free chicken parmesan

IMG_2957My method for making chicken parmesan takes all of the stressful mess out of making chicken parmesan and I came up with it all by myself.  I think you know what I am talking about -- conventional methods require three pans (one for IMG_2961a dry flour dredge, one for a wet egg dip, and, one for a breadcrumb coat).  It's not hard to do, but, by the time you're done, you have quite a mess to cleanup before you even start to saute the parmesan.  I figured out a way to eliminate 99.9% of the cleanup.  Read on:

I'm limiting all of the mess to 1, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan lined with plastic wrap and parchment paper, and, when I'm done, I don't even have to wash the baking pan.

IMG_2964~ Step 1.  Place 10 chicken tenderloins on prepared pan. Cover tops of tenders with plastic wrap and using a flat-sided meat mallet lightly-pound them into thinner cutlets (don't smash them).

~ Step 2.  Season and sprinkle tops with freshly ground sea salt, peppercorn blend and Wondra flour.  Flip them over.  Salt, pepper and flour the second sides.  Set aside 5-10 minutes, to allow the IMG_2983flour time to absorb moisture.

IMG_2978~ Step 3.  In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk 3 large eggs with 1/4 cup water.  Pour the mixture over the chicken.  Using your fingertips, flip each piece of chicken back and forth, two or three times, until it is completely coated in egg mixture.

IMG_2994 IMG_2986~ Step 4. Top each piece of chicken with about 2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs (about 1 1/4 total cups of panko breadcrumbs).  Using your fingertips, pat and press the breadcrumbs onto the tops.  Don't flip the chicken over.  We'll coat the second sides in the next step.

IMG_3000 IMG_3006~ Step 5.  With skillet at 150 degrees melt 4 tablespoons salted butter into 4 tablespoons olive oil.  Add chicken to pan, crumb coated sides down.  Coat 2nd sides w/panko and press it in.

IMG_3042 IMG_3047~ Step 6. Are you ready?Take five seconds to clean up the mess.  Roll up the plastic wrap and the parchment and throw it all away. Wipe the baking pan with a damp paper towel and put it way.  Done.

IMG_3011~ Step 6.  Increase heat to 250-260 degrees and cook chicken until nicely golden on the first side, 4-5 minutes.  Just after turning chicken over to the second side, add 3-4 more tablespoons of EVOO to pan.

IMG_3013Cook chicken on the second side, until nicely golden, another 4-5 minutes.

IMG_3027 IMG_3018~ Step 7. Sprinkle top of each cutlet with a generous 1 teaspoon Parmigiano-Reggianno cheese (I eyeball this and use a microplane grater), then, place 1 folded slice of mozzarella cheese on the top of each cutlet. Reduce heat to 125-150 degrees, put lid on skillet and wait for cheese to melt, about 3 minutes.

IMG_3034Step 8.  You have a choice to make here and it all boils down to a matter of personal preference.  You can drizzle about 1-1 1/2 cups of your favorite marinara sauce around the chicken cutlets, working it underneath each one by lifting it up a bit with the spatula, and bring them to a simmer for about 1 minute, or, you can serve the chicken and sauce it afterwards.  I serve it as is, because I prefer my chicken parmesan with a crispy top and bottom crust.

Note:  Parmesan that has not been sauced reheats better than previously-sauced parmesan.

Serve garnished with a sprig of fresh parsley or basil:

IMG_3082Go Back to School:  One-Skillet Chicken Parmesan:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; plastic wrap; parchment paper; flat-sided meat mallet; 1-cup measuring container; fork; electric skillet; spatula; microplane grater

6a0120a8551282970b019b04749fb4970dCook's Note:  I'm no stranger to Parmesan recipes that are off the beaten path.  ~ Not Your Mama's Parmigiana" (Chicken or Veal) ~ is one such example.  To get my recipe for batter-dipped deep-fried Chicken Parmesan, just click into Categories 3, 11, 12 or 19. 

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

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

09/02/2015

~ Mel's Philly-Style Slider-Sized Soft-Pretzel Knots ~

IMG_2888I love biting into a steaming-hot, crispy and salty on the the outside, chewy and tender on the inside, soft pretzel.  More than eating it as is, I adore pulling bite-sized pieces from it and dipping each one into some Gulden's brown mustard.  I save the knot for last -- it's the brass ring of the soft-pretzel world.  Yes indeed-y, for me, the soft pretzel is on my short list, with a hot dog or a slice of pizza, in terms of "walk around the county fair or carnival" and eat yourself happy foods.

J3You can find soft pretzels nationwide -- they're a mass-marketed snack-food institution.  

That said, NO WHERE will you feel their presence more than in The City of Brotherly Love -- Philadelphia.  They sell them on street corners and in cafes, convenience and grocery stores, gas stations, sports stadiums and race tracks, movie theaters and concert halls, and, they hand them out in school cafeterias too.  

As per Wikipedia:  The signature S-shaped soft pretzel, served with brown mustard was established as a part of Philadelphia's cuisine for snacking at school, work or home and considered by most to be a quick meal.  The average Philadelphian consumes twelve times as many soft pretzels as the national average. (The above "S-pretzel" photo is courtesy of philadelphia.backstage.com.)

IMG_2768I mostly find myself baking soft pretzels in the Fall because they are the quintessential snack food for tailgate and Oktoberfest.  They're not as hard to make as you might think (they're actually fun), but, I know my limitations.  Not being a professional pretzel twister by trade, I quickly realized they were much easier for me to handle if I made small slider-sized ones, and, once I figured that out, there was no reason to go big -- everyone adored the little ones.  There's more: half-sized pretzels bake up into an adorable pretzel knot -- what's knot to love about that!

IMG_2879If I hadn't watched Alton Brown make them on TV, you probably wouldn't be reading this post. By meticulously following his recipe, my first attempt came out great.  What I'm telling you is:  this is his ingredients list -- I've noted the minor changes I made to it.  The major change I made was to prepare the dough in the food processor (rather than in a stand mixer), and, rise the dough in a food storage bag that has been sprayed with no-stick (rather than in an oiled bowl)  -- the food processor is much faster and lots easier, and, the food storage bag is mess free.  His recipe is written, in my own words with my photographs, to reflect my food processor method.

IMG_2665For the dry ingredients:

22 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour, weighing the flour is important, do it

1  tablespoon sugar

2  teaspoons fine sea salt (Mr. Brown uses kosher salt.)

1  envelope Fleishmann's yeast (Mr. Brown uses rapid-rise yeast I do not.)

For the wet ingredients:

4  tablespoons salted butter, melted

1 1/2 cups hot tap water (Mr. Brown uses warm water, the food processor requires hot water.)

no-stick cooking spray (Mr. Brown uses canola oil to coat the bowl the dough rises in.)

For the water bath:

8  cups water (Mr. Brown uses 10 cups water -- he's making bigger pretzels in a bigger pot.)

1/2  cup baking soda (Mr. Brown uses 2/3 cup baking soda -- he's using more water.)

For the pre-baking finish:

1  large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water

coarse sea salt, for sprinkling on pretzels

IMG_2675 IMG_2677~ Step 1.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, using 5-10 on-off pulses, combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast.

IMG_2684~ Step 2. Melt the butter in the microwave. In a separate container measure the hot water.  

IMG_2689~ Step 3.  With processor running, via the feed tube, in a slow steady stream, drizzle in the butter, then start adding the water (pictured above).  Continue adding the water until a ball forms, meaning: stop adding water when a ball forms. Continue to knead dough in the processor for 30 seconds.

~ Step 3.  Place dough in a food storage bag that has been sprayed with no-stick spray, seal the bag closed and set aside until dough is doubled in bulk, 40-45 minutes. Mine took 40 minutes today.

IMG_2707 IMG_2693~ Step 4. Place dough on a scale and weigh it. IMG_2704You should have 2 pounds, 4 ounces of dough. Portion the dough into 18, 2-ounce balls.

Note:  If you haven't invested in a kitchen scale  -- do it.  This recipe is foolproof if you have a scale. 

IMG_2719~ Step 5.  One-at-a-time, place a ball of dough on an unfloured surface.  I use a wooden pastry board.  This may seem odd, but I find this dough remarkably easier to work with on an unfloured surface. Using the palm of your hand, start by fashioning it into a cigar-shape IMG_2721by rolling it up and down the board.

As it gets longer, use the palms of both hands to roll it into a 16" rope. Fashion the rope into a a classic pretzel knot as follows:

IMG_2724 IMG_2725 IMG_2727~Step 6.  Pull the rope into a U-shape.  Lift one end over the other to form what looks like an unclasped necklace.  Lift the same end again and give it a second twist.

IMG_2729 IMG_2732 IMG_2736Form the drop-shaped bottom into a curved-sided triangle.  Lift the two loose top ends up and drape them down over the triangle.  Tuck the two loose ends underneath and voila:  you've got a classically shaped pretzel knot.  A full-sized pretzel, of course, would be formed in the same manner, using a longer rope and the same knot tying skill, only it would be much looser.

IMG_2774 IMG_2767~ Step 7.  As you continue to form the knots, place them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  You will have three rows of six knots.  Cover with a flour-sack-type cotton towel for about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, line a second baking pan with parchment paper, then, prepare the water bath as directed below:

IMG_2800 IMG_2699~ Step 8.*  In a wide-bottomed 3 1/2-quart chef's pan stir the water and the baking soda together. Bring to a boil over high heat and adjust heat to simmer.  One-at-a-time carefully and gently drop four pretzel knots into the the water.  I do this with my fingers, but, you can use a large slotted spatula if you are afraid to do that.  Simmer pretzel knots, for 30 seconds.

*Note:  Poaching the unbaked soft pretzels in alkalized water is key to this recipe.  The water bath gives soft pretzels their shiny, crackly crust and dark brown color.  Test one to prove how easy this is.  The baking soda gets very foamy when the pretzels get dropped in, and it tends to sputter too.  The white residue it creates on the side of the pot is harmless, and, because baking soda is a natural cleaner, it leaves your pot and stovetop shiny clean too.

IMG_2801 IMG_2804~ Step 9. Using a large slotted IMG_2806spatula, remove each knot from the simmering water, in batches of four, arranging them, well-apart, nine-to-a-pan, on each of the two parchment-lined baking pans.  How adorable!

IMG_2822 IMG_2819~ Step 10. Using a pastry brush, paint the tops of one pan of the pretzels with the egg wash, then sprinkle them with the coarse sea salt.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven for 14-15 minutes.  Pretzel knots should be a deep golden brown.  

Note:  Do not paint and sprinkle 2nd pan until 1st pan is out of  oven.

IMG_2845~ Step 11.  Using your fingertips or a spatula, immediately transfer the baked pretzel knots to a cooling rack.  Wait 5-10 minutes prior to serving hot, or longer to serve warm or at room temp -- and always the same day they are made.

Don't throw mama from the train just yet boys...

IMG_2860... you're gonna need her around to make many more of these! 

IMG_2943While soft pretzels are best served the same day they are made, don't dispair.

You can successfully make them a day ahead of serving them with little compromise -- I won't say no compromise, because that's just not so.  Allow them to stay on the cooling rack, uncovered, overnight.  Place the day-old pretzels on a plate or on a platter and heat, uncovered, in the microwave (a conventional oven will dry them out) for about 30 seconds.  

They will emerge in a totally enjoyable state -- if they are consumed immediately!

IMG_2955Mel's Philly-Style Slider-Sized Soft Pretzel Knots:  Recipe yields 18 slider-sized soft pretzels.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; 1-cup measuring container; food processor; food storage bag; kitchen scale; pastry board, preferably wood; paring knife; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; flour-sack-type kitchen towel; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large slotted spatula; cooling rack; thin metal spatula

IMG_2488Cook's Note:  To get my recipe for a classic ~ Philadelphia's Famous Cheesesteaks a la Melanie ~, just click on the Related Article link below.  For a twist on that recipe, you can find ~ Philadelphia-Style Cheesesteak Pizza ~ by Clicking into Categories 2, 12, 17 or 19!

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

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