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12 posts from October 2015

10/31/2015

~ My A-1 All-Purpose Bread-Machine Pizza Dough ~

IMG_7327A great pizza starts with a great crust, but, finding a pizza dough recipe to suit your requirements is not as easy as the ingredients list indicates:  flour, water, salt, yeast, and sometimes sugar and/or olive oil.  Cooks who take pizza making seriously have more than one pizza dough recipe in their repertoire because certain pizzas require a certain type of crust -- there's no getting around it.  Beyond that, within each type, everyone who takes pizza making seriously, professionally or at home, makes their dough a bit differently.  Pizza dough and pizza is personal -- there's no getting around that either.  That said, if you are new to pizza dough, sans a lot of the chemistry and science behind pizza dough, here's a bit of helpful background:  

1203075-Clipart-Of-A-Vintage-Black-And-White-Fifteenth-Century-Baker-Royalty-Free-Vector-IllustrationThe three best-known Italian-style pizzas are:  1) Neapolitan:  A simple dough containing high-gluten flour, water, salt and yeast that gets a long 2-3 day rise in the refrigerator.  Baked hot and fast, in 1-2 minutes, it's got a thin crispy bottom and a super-airy, chewy center.  2)  New York-Style:  A more complex dough containing all-purpose or bread flour, water, olive oil, salt, sugar and yeast that gets a shorter 8-12 hour rise in the refrigerator.  Baked in a slightly more moderate oven for a longer period of time, 12-15 minutes, while crisp, it's tender, slightly-chewy center makes it pliable enough to fold in half.  While still a thin crust pizza, it is slightly thicker than its Neapolitan cousin.  3) Sicilian-Style Pizza:  Containing the same ingredients as New York-Style pizza, this distinctively thick-crust, square-shaped pizza gets baked with little or no rising time and is the easiest of the three to duplicate in the home kitchen.  It gets patted out into a rectangular pan or sheet tray that has been slathered with olive oil, which when baked in a moderate-for-pizza oven (350-375 degrees) for 12-15 minutes literally fries the bottom of the crust to a crispy state.  With a golden, crisp-fried bottom and a thick, soft, chewy center, this one is my husband Joe's favorite.

IMG_4221Here in the USA, if you travel from region to region, your going to run into some very unique spin-offs too. Two examples:  The Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza (pictured here) with its thick, chewy cornmeal-based crust, and, the St. Louis-Style Pizza (pictured below) with its super-thin, crispy, cracker crust made from baking powder and no yeast.  If you travel, one thing you can count on here in the states is: pizza, in some form, is available to PICT0035you anywhere and everywhere.  

That said, having done my fair share of traveling, I learned, the hard way, to put little stock in those published "best destination-pizza recommendations" from self-proclaimed pizza connoiseurs because I've been burned by them too many times to count.  I've learned to "stick my nose in where it doesn't belong" -- lesser-known off-the-beaten-path pizza joints with a crowd hanging around out front.   

Eat pizza you like, where you like it, &, make pizza the way you like it! 

IMG_6835This is my easy, all-purpose pizza dough -- although it wasn't easy for me to come up with it, as it took several rounds of experimentation.  Like my other 'za dough recipes, this one had to meet my requirements for this type of pizza.  What I wanted from this dough was a high-quality, quick-and-easy time-saving New York-Style pizza dough for those times when I want/need this popular type of pizza in a relative hurry with no worry -- if you have teenage kids, you know what I'm talking about.   Depending upon how large you want the pie, you can make it thicker, thinner, or somewhere in between.  It can be round or square and it can be baked in a pan or on a stone too.  It's versatile.  It is, simply put, a great all-purpose pizza dough for novice pizza makers and busy folks who want to skip pizza delivery, or worse, that horrible store-bought pizza dough.  

IMG_6876Thanks to the combination of all-purpose and high-gluten "00" flour, plus the addition of just the right amount of semolina flour to give it a bit of resilient chew, it turns out two crispy-bottomed pies with tender chewy centers -- it's pliable enough to hold and fold each slice in half too!

IMG_6458For the pizza dough:

1  cup warm water

1  tablespoon olive oil

1  teaspoon sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  cup all-purpose flour

1  cup "00" flour

1/2 cup semolina flour

1  packet granulated yeast, not rapid-rise yeast

IMG_6462 IMG_6464                                      ~ Step 1. Place the water, olive oil, sugar and sea salt in the the bread pan of the bread machine.

IMG_6472Add the all-purpose flour, "00 flour" and semolina. Using your index finger, make a well in the top of the flour and add the yeast to it.  Note:  When making any type of bread machine dough, always add the wet ingredients first and the dry ingredients last.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d16e1e61970cStep 2.  Insert the bread pan into the machine.  Close the lid and push the "select" button.  Then choose the "pizza dough" cycle. Push the "start" button.  While the machine is running, ready your kitchen scale and pastry board.

IMG_6481When the machine signals, remove pan of fully-risen dough from the machine.  In my machine this takes 55 minutes.

IMG_6492 IMG_6483Step 3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured pastry board and briefly knead it into a smooth ball.

IMG_6488Place the ball of dough on a kitchen scale.  You will have 20-21 ounces.  Divide in half and form dough into 2, 10-10 1/2-ounce balls.

IMG_6683~ Step 4.  Using a paper towel, oil 2, 12" round pizza pans or 2, 12" x 9" rectangular pans with about 2 tablespoons olive oil on each pan. Place one ball of dough on each pan and allow to rest, about 10-15 IMG_6687minutes -- to give the gluten time to relax.  Thirty minutes is ok too.

Note:  For demonstration purposes, I'm make one round and one square pizza today, and, I'm not using fancy, expensive pans either.

IMG_6695~ Step 5.  Pat and press dough evenly across bottoms and evenly up sides of pans. I do this in 3 parts taking 15-20 minutes, allowing dough to rest 5 minutes each time before patting and pressing again.

IMG_6696~ Step 6.  Today's subject is not toppings, but, each of these is topped w/6 slices provolone cheese, 3/4 cup pizza sauce, 2 cups grated mozz & prov blend and a sprinkling of dried oregano.

IMG_6716~ Step 7.  At this point pizzas can be baked, one-at-a-time on center rack of a 375 degree oven that has been heated with a pizza stone in it, or, you can let them rise in the pans for 1 to 2 hours prior to baking, which, if you have the time, is worth the wait. This also allows you to assemble the pizzas ahead of time, which is a nice and welcomed convenience.

IMG_6762~ Step 8.  Place each pan of pizza on pizza stone for 6-8 minutes. Using a spatula, lift a corner of the pie up and using your other hand (via a pot holder or mitt), tilt pan and slide pie off the pan onto the stone. Continue to bake for 6-7 more minutes, for a total of 12-15 minutes baking time.  Crust will be lightly-brown and cheese will be molten. Using a pizza peel, transfer pizza to a rack to cool for 3-5 minutes, to allow the cheese to set up a bit, prior to slicing and serving.

Whether you prefer it round or square...

IMG_6801... it's crispy golden crust pliable enough to bend in half -- Game On! 

IMG_6862My A-1 All-Purpose Bread-Machine Pizza Dough:  Recipe yields dough for 2, 12" round, or, 2, 13" x 9" rectangular pizzas.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; bread machine; kitchen scale (optional); 2, 12"-round pizza pans or 2, "13" x 9" baking pans (or one of each); paper towel; pizza stone; large metal spatula; pizza peel; large cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0147e35972df970bCook's Note:  Back in 2011 I wrote a trio of posts regarding making "Preschutti Pizza", more specifically: Sicilian-style pizza.  The first of three parts, my recipe for ~ Preschutti Pizza:  Our Favorite Sauce ~ can be found in Categories 8, 12 or 22.  It's very similar to my marinara sauce, only much thicker.  I make it every year and freeze it in 2-cup containers, which is enough to sauce two "standard-sized" pizza pies!

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

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

10/28/2015

~ For the Times When You Gotta Have Garlic Knots ~

IMG_6615Garlic knots always remind me of the movie Saturday Night Fever (even though not a single knot got eaten in the movie).  That said, in the opening scene, when Tony Manero grabbed "a couple of slices" and did his famous disco-stroll down 86th street, every lover-of-disco who had occasion to travel to Brooklyn wanted to make a pilgrimage to Lenny's Pizza -- including me.

Travolta_PizzaI almost made it too. An October ice storm caused us to cancel our plans, and, soon afterward, the couple we were traveling with moved to Connecticut.  Eileen and I had worked together in a Happy Valley bank.  She, a native of  Brooklyn and daughter of Italian-American parents, had arranged the trip "home", and, the kick-off was going to be garlic knots and baked ziti at Lenny's on Friday night.  Eileen, who'd eaten there before, surprisingly, was not a fan of Lenny's pizza.  "Que sera, sera." (Spanish for "what will be, will be" is something you say when you are stuck in a hopelessly unchangeable situation, but have come to accept, or even embrace the unchangability of it all.)  Happily, Eileen and I were both good cooks -- we made our own garlic knots and baked ziti from her mom's (Mrs. Guadnola's) recipes instead! 

IMG_6642Garlic knots are a form of garlic bread -- they're typically made using the same butter, garlic, parsley mixture the establishment uses to make garlic bread.  In the beginning, they were found primarily in pizzarias in and around New York City because they were invented by Amir Zamani, in Queens, in 1973, as a way of making use of scraps of pizza dough.  As an appetizer, they come to you with a side of marinara sauce for dipping, and, because they are made from scraps, a basket of them often comes complimentary with more expensive menu items.   I can tell you this:  if garlic knots are available on a menu, I will choose them over garlic bread every time.

Garlic knots:  It's all about the dough baby (not the "dough boy)!

IMG_6599In my home kitchen, because I rarely have scraps of pizza dough laying around, when I gotta have garlic knots, I use ~ My A-1 All-Purpose Bread-Machine Pizza Dough ~, which is a quick and easy way to make two great 12"-round pizzas or 16 great garlic knots.  As for store-bought pizza dough, unless you purchase it from your local pizza shop, which is AOK by me, I don't recommend the store-bought kind unless you are prepared to compromise the end result.  That said, while I am not usually a proponent of store-bought spice blends, I do like the flavor that Lawry's Garlic Salt w/Parsley Flakes adds, as opposed to plain garlic powder or garlic salt.  It's got a little sugar in it too, which adds to its pleasant, not overly-salty taste.  That choice, as always, is yours, but, I know a good thing when I taste it -- it has earned a spot in my pantry!

Garlic knots:  golden & crispy outside/tender & slightly-chewy inside.

IMG_6458For the pizza dough:

1  cup warm water

1  tablespoon olive oil

1  teaspoon sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  cup all-purpose flour

1  cup "00" flour

1/2  cup semolina flour

1  packet granulated yeast, not rapid-rise yeast

IMG_6462 IMG_6464                                      ~ Step 1. Place the water, olive oil, sugar and sea salt in the the bread pan of the bread machine.

IMG_6472Add the all-purpose flour, "00 flour" and semolina. Using your index finger, make a well in the top of the flour and add the yeast to it.  Note:  When making any type of bread machine dough, always add the wet ingredients first and the dry ingredients last.

IMG_3846~ Step 2.  Insert the bread pan into the machine.  Close the lid and push the "select" button.  Then choose the "pizza dough" cycle. Push the "start" button.  While the machine is running, ready your kitchen scale and pastry board. 

IMG_6481When machine signals, remove pan of fully-risen dough from the machine.  In my machine this takes 55 minutes.

IMG_6492 IMG_6483~ Step 3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured pastry board and briefly knead it into a smooth ball.  

IMG_6488Place the ball of dough on a kitchen scale.  You will have 20-21 ounces.  Divide and form the dough into 15-16 small, 1 1/4-1 1/2 ounce balls.

IMG_6493 IMG_6504~ Step 4. Between the palms of your hands, roll each 2" ball into an approximate 7"-long rope.

IMG_6513Tie the rope in a knot -- just like you were starting to tie a shoe.

IMG_6518Tuck the two left and right ends underneath the knot.

Note:  Be brave.  Once you form 1 or 2, you'll be done in 6-8 minutes.

IMG_6526~ Step 5.  As you form each knot, place it, well-apart on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  When all of the knots are formed, cover the pan with a flour-sack-type towel and allow them to rise until double in size, 35-45 minutes.  Meanwhile:

IMG_6549

IMG_6535~ Step 6.  In a 1-quart saucepan melt 1  stick salted butter, then stir in, 2  tablespoons Lawry's garlic salt, coarse ground w/parsley.  Remove from heat.

IMG_6552 IMG_6557~ Step 7. When the knots have risen, using a pastry brush, liberally, paint the tops with the garlic butter mixture. What drizzles down is going to make the knots crispy.  That said, you will and should have garlic butter left in the saucepan.  We'll be using it later.

IMG_6567 IMG_6563~ Step 8. Bake rolls on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 16-18 minutes until nicely- and lightly- IMG_6559browned. Remove from oven and paint them with the remaining garlic butter.

Transfer the knots to a cooling rack for about 5 minutes:

IMG_6577For the love of garlic bread, pass those knots & that sauce!

IMG_6651For the Times When You Gotta Have Garlic Knots:  Recipe yields 15-16, 2 1/2" round, palm-sized, not too big, not too small, perfectly-sized garlic knots.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine; 1-cup measuring container;  kitchen scale (optional); large wooden pastry board; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; flour-sack-type kitchen towel; 1-quart saucepan; pastry brush; cooling rack 

IMG_6271Cook's Note:  It should come as no surprise that after my missed encounter with Lenny's Pizza  I find it almost impossible to serve baked ziti without garlic knots.  The two really do go hand-in-hand together. To get my spin-off of Mrs. Guadnoloa's recipe ~ Baked Ziti Casserole w/Sausage & Four Cheeses ~ just click into Categories 3, 12, 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)

10/26/2015

~Pumpkin Spice Cookies w/Cream Cheese Frosting~

IMG_6433My grandmother never made pumpkin cookies, my mother never made pumpkin cookies, and I never felt deprived.  The first time I encountered pumpkin cookies was at an elementary-school Fall-Festival fundraising-bake-sale back in the 1980's.  All of the teachers and staff baked Fall desserts which were served with coffee and tea to us parents as we watched our kids parade through the school in their costumes.  At the end of the festivities, the desserts were sold, some by the piece, some by the dozen -- you get the picture.  My son Jesse's first grade teacher, Mrs. Rhodes, made pumpkin cookies, from a recipe printed on the label of a can of Libby's pumpkin.

6a0120a8551282970b01348850020f970cI liked them enough to buy a dozen, which my family of five inhaled that evening -- what was I thinking, I should have bought two dozen.  On my next trip to the grocery store, I picked up a can of Libby's, and, lo and behold, there was the recipe, and, so started the "pumpkin cookie baking period in my life".  It's been years since I've thought about them, mostly because the only kid I have hanging around the house these days is my husband.  That said:  

Today is National Pumpkin Day, so, here's my contribution -- IMG_6443pretty, puffy pillows of perfectly-pumpkin-spiced goodness: 

IMG_6331For the dry ingredients:

2 1/2  cups all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon baking powder

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon ground ginger

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon salt

IMG_6350For the wet ingredients:

1 1/2  cups sugar

1/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft

1  large egg, at room temperature

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1  cup 100% pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling

Optional add-ins:

IMG_63461  cup golden or dark raisins, soaked in 1 cup of very hot water for 15 minutes (to soften them) and well-drained

1  cup chopped walnuts

Note:  I will at least mention that chocolate chips are a very popular addition in other versions of this recipe.  They are "not my cup of tea", as I think they muddle up the flavor of the aromatic spices.  That choice is up to you.

IMG_6408For the cream cheese frosting:

8  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1  cup Confectioners' sugar

1  tablespoon caramel flavoring (vanilla extract may be substituted)

1-2  tablespoons milk, to adjust consistency

IMG_6355 IMG_6337~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, stir together dry ingredients.

~ Step 2.  In a large bowl, on medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream together the sugar, butter, egg and extract, about 1 minute.  Lower the mixer speed and add the pumpkin.  Continue to beat until thoroughly incorporated IMG_6363and uniform in color.

~ Step 3.  On lowest speed of mixer, fold in all of the flour mixture, in three additions (1/3, 1/3 & 1/3), until thoroughly combined.

IMG_6368~ Step 4. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the optional add-in ingredients.

IMG_6376 IMG_6379                                          ~ Step 5. Line 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper.  Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place 12 level scoops of dough, well-apart on each pan.

IMG_6386~ Step 6. Bake, one pan at a time, on IMG_6401center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 15-16 minutes until very lightly brown around the edges and on the top.  Remove from oven and cool in pan 1-1 1/2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely, 1-1 1/2 hours.

IMG_6426 IMG_6412~ Step 7. While cookies are cooling, prepare the frosting by combining the cream cheese, powdered sugar and caramel flavoring on low speed of mixer until smooth.  Blend in 1 tablespoon of milk.  Add up to another tablespoon of milk, in small increments, until desired consistency is reached.

Once the cookies have cooled completely...

IMG_6398... slather each with some caramel cream cheese frosting.

IMG_6429I'm pretty sure you can handle things from here:

IMG_6448Pumpkin Spice Cookies w/Cream Cheese Frosting:  Recipe yields 2 dozen, 3"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; whisk; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 2, 17 1/2" x 11 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 2 1/4" ice-cream scoop; butter knife, for applying frosting

IMG_6705Cook's Note:  Just because my family never made pumpkin cookies doesn't mean we don't like pumpkin -- we love it.  We grow our own pumpkins, and, make our own ~ Roasted Pumpkin Puree (The Preschutti Way!) ~.  Find it and my recipe for ~ Traditional Thanksgiving Preschutti Pumpkin Pie ~ in Categories 18!

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

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

10/23/2015

~ Baked Ziti Casserole w/Sausage & Four Cheeses ~

IMG_6271Do you have a favorite casserole recipe?  You know "the one".  The one your family loves, the one you take to potluck, the one you donate to a good cause, the one you give to a sick friend -- the one you've made so many times you've got the recipe committed to memory.  Every really good cook or chef, of any level, will be the first to admit they have at least two or three "go to" casserole recipes in their repertoire.  I'm no exception and this one is at the top of my short list.

IMG_6155When it comes to making a great casserole, allow me to say this: you only get out of a casserole what you put into it.  While, on occasion, a casserole made out of desperation using a melange of last weeks leftovers stirred together with a can of 'cream of' soup, stands a chance of turning out tasty, don't expect accolades -- it's not exactly an appetite stimulator.  A well-made casserole should be a family-style fine-dining experience.  In an Italian-American household, if you say "baked ziti" everyone knows exactly what to expect and you won't have to call anyone twice to the dinner table -- they'll be sitting there, forks in hand, waiting for it to come out of the oven.

IMG_6177In its basic form, baked ziti is:  cooked, tubular macaroni, tossed together in a casserole dish with a flavorful 'gravy' ('spaghetti sauce'), then topped with cheese and baked.  Everyone who makes baked ziti makes it a bit differently.  Some folks use ground meat, some folks use sausage, others go meatless.  Some folks like to include sauteed mushrooms, onions and/or bell peppers. Other folks like to sandwich a layer of ricotta cheese in between two layers of sauced macaroni.  I always use sausage, sometimes I include mushrooms, and past that, I make two versions of baked ziti:  'wit' and 'witout' (with a ricotta layer and without a ricotta layer).

Baked Ziti #6 (Ingredients)For my basic baked ziti recipe:

1  pound ziti, penne or rigatoni

1  stick butter, cut into pieces

4  tablespoons olive oil

2  pounds Italian sausage

1  cup port wine

6  cups marinara sauce, homemade or store-bought

12  ounces  grated provolone and mozzarella cheese blend

1/2  cup  finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Italian seasoning blend and red IMG_6186pepper flakes, for topping

For the ricotta layer:

1 1/2  pounds whole-milk ricotta

6  ounces pre-grated mozzarella and provolone cheese blend

6  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2  extra-large eggs, beaten

1/2 teaspoon each:  nutmeg, salt and coarsely ground black pepper

1  10-ounce package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed (do not cook it to thaw it), squeezed dry of as much excess liquid as possible (Note:  I wrap it in paper towels to squeese it dry.)

IMG_6191 IMG_6194 IMG_6197 IMG_6200~Step 1.  Prepare the ricotta layer first.  In a medium bowl, using a large rubber spatula, stirring thoroughly, combine all of the ingredients, as listed, except for the spinach.  Pull the spinach apart, separating it into small bits and pieces then, fold spinach into cheese mixture.  Set aside.

IMG_6150 Baked Ziti #7 (Sausage Coined)~ Step 2. Place 4 tablespoons EVOO in a 12" skillet. Without removing casing from sausage, slice it into 1/2" "coins", placing them in the pan as you work.  Note:  In kitchen terminology, the verb "coin" means to create a coin shape by slicing a cylindrical object, like a carrot, with a knife.

IMG_6159~ Step 3.  Over medium-high heat, saute the sausage coins until they are just cooked through and turning golden brown, stirring frequently, about 12-15 minutes.

Slowly add the wine -- be prepared for some hot steam to come billowing up at you.  Using a spatula, deglaze the pan by gently scraping all of the little browned bits loose from the bottom of the pan.

IMG_6173 IMG_6174~ Step 4. Add the marinara sauce. Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, and continue to cook, uncovered, until nicely-thickend and reduced by about one-third, 25-30 minutes. Remove from the heat, and, if you have the time, allow it to sit for an hour, to allow flavors to marry.  

Note:  Alternatively, the sauce can be refrigerated for several hours or overnight and reheated prior to cooking pasta and assembling casserole.  This sauce also freezes well, so, if you want to make a double batch, you can freeze half to thaw and use later, which, is a nice time-saver. No matter what you read elsewhere, this casserole is not a candidate for freezing prior to baking because the ricotta mixture contains raw eggs -- make and freeze the sauce, not the casserole.  

Baked Ziti #10 (Cooked Pasta  Butter)~ Step 5.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add and cook the pasta until al dente, about 10 minutes.  Do not overcook: the pasta is going to cook more in the oven.  Drain thoroughly and immediately return the hot pasta to hot stockpot.  Place stockpot on still warm stovetop and add butter.  Stir until butter melts and the pasta is coated.  Allow to rest, 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until no butter is puddling in the bottom of the pot.

IMG_6217 IMG_6212~ Step 6. Stir all of the sausage and sauce into pasta.

Tip from Mel:  At this point, I like to let the mixture sit in the warm stockpot another 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  It's not a requirement, but it allows the pasta time to absorb a bit of extra sauce.

IMG_6201 IMG_6224 IMG_6228 IMG_6234 IMG_6239 IMG_6244 IMG_6249~Step 7.  To assemble the casserole, spray a 4-quart casserole dish with no-stick spray.  Be certain to use a 4-quart casserole (a 3-quart, 13" x 9" x 2" casserole is not big enough).  Place half of the pasta mixture in the bottom of prepared casserole.  Using a large spoon, dollop, then evenly spread all of the ricotta mixture over the pasta layer.  Spoon all of the remaining pasta mixture over the top of the ricotta.  Top the casserole with the 12-ounces of grated mozzarella and provolone, then sprinkle the Parmigiano-Reggiano on top of that.  Sprinkle Italian seasoning blend and red pepper flakes evenly over all.  Loosely cover the casserole with aluminum foil.

Bake, loosely covered with foil, in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes:

IMG_6259Remove the foil and continue to bake 15 additional minutes:

IMG_6274Remove from oven & rest 30 minutes prior to serving:

IMG_6305Don't have time to make lasagna?  Make my baked ziti instead!

IMG_6289Baked Ziti Casserole w/Sausage & Four Cheeses:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  large rubber spatula; cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; 1-cup measuring container; spatula; 8-quart stockpot; colander; large spoon 4-quart casserole dish (oval or rectangular, just be sure it is a 4-quart casserole); aluminum foil

IMG_7355Cook's Note: Attention lovers of lasagna and the crockpot:  For another super-easy 'lasagna substitute' ~ Crockpot Lasagna -- I made it, it works & it's good! ~ can be found in Categories 3, 19 or 20!  

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

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

10/21/2015

~ Cinnamon Rolls made w/Food Processor Dough ~

IMG_6113Yes, if you ask me really nice, "pretty please", I will bake you fresh cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and, I won't be getting up in the middle of the night to do it either.  I will mix my dough in the food processor in less than 5 minutes, then it'll take me another 20-25 minutes to roll the dough out, top it with the sugar and cinnamon mixture, slice 'em up and put 'em in a baking dish.  Sans the two dough risings (about 2 1/2 hours) and the baking time (about 30 minutes), the actual hands-on time it takes me (and most bakers) to make cinnamon rolls is, conservatively, 30 minutes.

IMG_6135There's no reason to lose sleep over making cinnamon rolls for breakfast!

IMG_6021Once the rolls are formed and in the baking dish, by letting them rise the second time, in refrigerator overnight (but not longer than 12 hours), all of the stress is removed from an otherwise irritatingly insane morning project -- you have no last minute AM mess to clean up either (even I admit they are a bit messy to make).  When you get up in the morning, set the rolls out on the counter for an hour, preheat the oven, turn the coffee pot on and go take your shower. When you return to the kitchen ready to face your culinary day, they're ready to be baked!

IMG_6030If you're a cinnamon roll lover who has avoided making them all your life, now is your chance to rethink things and give these a whirl! 

IMG_5935For the dough:

4  cups all-purpose flour, plus 4-6 additional tablespoons bench flour for kneading and rolling

2  tablespoons sugar

1  teaspoon salt

1  packet dry yeast granules, not rapid-rise

2  large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork

1  cup buttermilk (whole milk may be substituted)

1  tablespoon vanilla extract

2  tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes

IMG_5937~ Step 1.  In the work bowl of food processor fitted with the steel blade, using a series of 5-10 rapid on-off pulses, combine the 4 cups of flour, sugar, salt and yeast.  

IMG_5941~ Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, lightly-beat the eggs with a fork.  In a 2-cup measuring container, heat the buttermilk in the microwave to get it IMG_5943steaming hot.  Stir vanilla into buttermilk, followed by the butter cubes and stir until butter melts.

IMG_5950~ Step 3. With processor motor running, add the eggs, in a thin stream through the feed tube, followed by the buttermilk/butter mixture.

IMG_5952Important:  Stop adding buttermilk the moment a sticky ball forms.

~ Step 4.  Knead dough for 30-40 revolutions (let the dough spin around in machine 30-40 times).

IMG_5954~ Step 5. Remove dough from processor and transfer to a 2-gallon food storage bag that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray. Close bag and allow dough to rise until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 hours.

IMG_5961~ Step 6.  While the dough is rising get the filling ready according to the following directions:

For the filling:

3/4  cup lightly-packed light brown sugar

1/4  cup granulated sugar

ground cinnamon, in a spice container with a shaker top

4  tablespoons salted butter, melted and slightly cooled

IMG_5963Measure and thoroughly combine the light brown sugar and the granulated sugar.  If your ground cinnamon isn't already in a spice container with a shaker top, transfer it to one.  Tip:  Hang onto empty spice jars -- they come in handy!

IMG_5968Just before rolling the dough, melt the butter in the microwave.

IMG_5979 IMG_5971~ Step 7. Sprinkle a 20" x 16" pastry board with 1/4 cup of flour.  Turn the still sticky dough out onto the board.  Knead until smooth, 45-60 seconds.

IMG_5981~ Step 8. Using a rolling pin, "roll the beast" into a 14" x 12" rectangle:

IMG_5981 IMG_5988~ Step 9. Using a pastry brush, paint the entire surface of the dough with almost all of the butter, leaving a teaspoon or two in the bottom to use a bit later.

IMG_6001 IMG_5992~ Step 10. Using your fingertips, evenly scatter, spread and lightly-press the surface of the dough with all of the sugar mixture, leaving a 1" strip of dough across the top side (the side farthest from you) void of a any sugar.  This strip of untopped dough is going to "seal the deal" in the next step.

IMG_6008 IMG_6005~ Step 11. Sprinkle cinnamon over sugar. Starting at the side closest to you, roll the dough into a tight cylinder, stopping when you IMG_6014get to the empty strip of dough.

IMG_6012Using the pastry brush, repaint (remoisten) the empty strip of dough with some of the remaining butter.  Lift the empty strip up and over top of the cylinder, gently pressing to seal.  Roll cylinder over, seam side down, and tuck the open IMG_6016ends underneath to seal them.

~ Step 12.  Using a serrated bread knife, using a gentle sawing motion (do not chop or press down on the knife), slice the cylinder into 12, 1 1/4"-1 1/2" pieces (I got an extra one today).  As you slice, arrange the rolls, slightly apart, in a 13" x 9" IMG_6039glass baking dish that has been sprayed with no-stick spray.

~ Step 13.  Cover dish with plastic and allow to rise until rolls have doubled in size, 60-75 minutes. Note:  Alternatively rolls can be refrigerated to rise overnight. Remove from refrigerator 1 - 1 1/2 hours prior to baking as follows:

IMG_6055 IMG_6046~ Step 14. Remove plastic wrap and, using your index finger, give each roll a gentle press in the the center.  This prevents the centers from popping up as they bake.  

Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 25-30 minutes until bubbling on the bottom, golden on the top and cooked through.  While rolls are baking, prepare the glaze as follows:

IMG_6068For the sugary glaze:

2  cups Confectioners' sugar

4  tablespoons whole milk

1  tablespoon caramel flavor

IMG_9216Step 15. In a small mixing bowl combine all ingredients together until smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for about 5 minutes. Stir again.  Mixture will be thick, smooth and ribbonlike.

IMG_6076~ Step 16.  Remove rolls from oven and allow to cool, in the pan, about 30 minutes.  Using a sharp paring knife and a thin spatula, gently separate and transfer the warm rolls to a cooling rack to cool until just warm to the touch, another 5-10 minutes, no longer than that.

IMG_6087~ Step 17.  Slowly drizzle all of the glaze over all of the rolls, allowing it to drip down in between them. Note: In order to do this quickly, easily and evenly I transfer my glaze to a plastic squirt bottle -- the type used to dispense vinaigrettes and condiments like ketchup.

Go ahead -- pick one -- they're ready & waiting to be eaten!

IMG_6093Tip from Mel:  When you transfer the rolls to the cooling rack, place them on the rack in the exact formation they came out of the baking dish.  After you drizzle them with the glaze, wash and thoroughly dry the dish, then, return the rolls to it -- in their proper order.  It's a clean, mess-free way to serve them to your family and friends, and, when covered with plastic wrap, it's a great keep-fresh storage container too.  If you have leftovers, reheating each one individually, on a plate, in the microwave for 15-20 seconds, turns them ooey-gooey delicious all over again!

IMG_6099Cinnamon Rolls Made w/Food Processor Dough:  Recipe yields 12 cinnamon rolls.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; 2-cup measuring container; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 2-gallon food storage bag; vary large pastry board; large rolling pin; pastry brush; serrated bread knife; 13" x 9" x 2" glass baking dish; plastic wrap; paring knife; thin spatula; cooling rack; plastic squirt bottle (optional)

IMG_5185Cook's Note:  For another one of my "make it but don't bake it until you want to" breakfast recipes, click into Categories 5, 9 or 20 to learn how to ~ Make the Batter Ahead: Buttermilk & Bran Muffins ~

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

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

10/18/2015

~Beer & Brown-Sugar Braised Kielbasa Sandwiches~

IMG_5888I don't crave kielbasa.  I just don't.  That said, if it's put in front of me, I won't turn my nose up at it. It was a bigger part of my life as a kid.  If you are born into an Eastern European family, standing around watching your dad or one of your uncles make kielbasa is a form of entertainment.  Each has their own special blend but all turn out a really tasty end product -- some are coarse-textured and on the dryer side, others are fine-textured and moister, but none are like the mass-manufactured, vacuum-packed bologna-textured products found in the grocery chains.

IMG_9866"Kielbasa" is the Polish word for "sausage" and it's commonly called Polish sausage.  Just like its German cousin the "wurst", it can come to you in many forms.  Don't ever meander into a Polish, mom-and-pop owned butcher shop and order "a ring of kielbasa" because you will be asked "what kind", and after that, you'll most likely have ten or more types to choose from.

PICT0940Each type has a second Polish name attached to it (Example: kielbasa krakowska,  seasoned with allspice, is bologna-looking in appearance and served in the same manner).  Today, I'm focusing on the one most folks are familiar with -- the one our immigrant ancestors brought to America: Polska kielbasa wedzona. While its makers can take limited liberties with the meat/spice blend, the basic recipe and the method have been well-defined for centuries:

~ It's made with all pork or a mixture of pork and beef (80/20).

~ It's seasoned with salt, black pepper, sugar, garlic and marjoram.

~ The meat is cured before it is mixed with the spices.

~ The meat gets stuffed into all-natural hog casings.

~ Traditionally, it is cold-smoked for 1-2 days.

Because I come from a long-line of kielbasa makers, I never buy the name-brand "stuff" sold in most grocery stores.  Call me elitist, but I demand real-deal kielbasa, which can only be found in butcher shops or at specialty markets.  Manufacturers can and do put anything they want into their sausage (and my blood boils when I see "turkey" on the ingredients list).  If you taste theirs side-by-side real Polish-butcher-made kielbasa, you'll walk away from their "stuff" too.

3 pounds "coal-region kielbasa" + 3 ingredients + 1 crockpot =

An Eastern European version of an Oktoberfest sandwich!

I prefer "coal-region kielbasa".  The kielbasa made in the coal mining regions of states like my own Pennsylvania is some the best you'll taste.  When our son Eliot stopped by unexpectedly yesterday (passing through Centre county on his way from the Scranton area to Pittsburgh) and handed me some kielbasa grillers, which he bought at Kutsop's Olde World Market in Blakely, PA, my appetite for kielbasa was whet.  Pressed for time, I did something I rarely do:

Screen shot 2015-10-18 at 1.28.35 PMI Googled "crockpot kielbasi & sauerkraut", and, this recipe, on the Brown Eyed Baker's blog, came up. Trust me when I tell you, like my own Kitchen Encounters, Michelle Lettrich's blog is one you can depend upon for tested and tasty recipes that work. After reading all the glowing comments her recipe received, it was a very safe bet I would have little risk of ruining my "coal-region kielbasa" by trying it!

IMG_57211  12-ounce bottle or can of beer

1  cup lightly-packed light or dark brown sugar

3  pounds Polish kielbasa, cut into bun-sized lengths (I'm using 12, 6" coal-region kielbasa grillers which amounted to 3 1/2 pounds of kielbasa)*

1  32-ounce bag sauerkraut, rinsed and well-drained

*Note:  My coal-region grillers are FAR SUPERIOR to generic kielbasa rings cut into pieces. 

IMG_5745 IMG_5741~ Step 1.  In a 2-quart saucepan, stir brown sugar into beer.  Bring to a boil, then, adjust heat to simmer, stirring frequently, until slightly-thickened, 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

~ Step 2.  Drain the sauerkraut into a colander,  rinse it in cold water IMG_5739and drain again.

IMG_5735Note: Rinsing the sauerkraut is optional.  My grandmother always did it to take the briny edge off it.

~ Step 3.  Arrange the kielbasa, in two layers, in the crockpot.  Spoon IMG_5752the sauerkraut evenly over the top. 

~ Step 4.  Drizzle the beer  mixture over the top of the sauerkraut.

IMG_5767~ Step 5. Cover the crockpot and cook on high for 4 hours.

Alternatively, cook on high for 3 hours and low for 3 hours.  Four hours on high worked great for me!

Sweet 'n savory sauerkraut & melt-in-your-mouth kielbasa:

IMG_5854Use tongs to plate kielbasa & a slotted spoon to put 'kraut in a bowl:

IMG_5867Stuff each roll w/'kraut, a griller & top it w/more 'kraut!

IMG_5917Beer & Brown-Sugar Braised Kielbasa Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 12, 6" sandwiches or 6-12 servings.     

Special Equipment List: 2-quart saucepan; large spoon; colander; crockpot

IMG_3308Cook's Note:  For another one of my easy-to-make, perfect-for-Oktoberfest recipes, you can find my recipe for ~ Please Pass the Homemade Crockpot Applesauce ~ in Categories 4, 20, 22.

IMG_0503It's a great side-dish to serve with my ~ Succulent Crock-Pot Apple 'n Onion Pulled Pork Sandwiches ~ too.  Click into Categories 2, 3, 17, 19 or 20 to get this super-easy recipe!

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

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

10/15/2015

~ The Bifana: A Perfect Portuguese Pork Sandwich ~

IMG_5630The Portuguese people eat these pork sandwiches like we Americans eat burgers -- anytime and anywhere.  The Bifana is so popular, McDonald's even launched the McBifana in Portugal. Never heard of the Bifana? There's no shame in that.  Two weeks ago, I'd never heard of it either -- now I'm hooked on them. Even in its basic form, there is nothing basic about this relatively easy-to-make, unpretentious sandwich.  It is a perfect storm of flavors and textures coming together to sweep you up and take your taste buds to unforgettable-land and back for more.

The perfect storm of succulent marinated pork & onions on a dreamy roll.

IMG_5613A bit about the bifana (bee-FAH-nah):  It starts off with lightly-pounded pork steaks (boneless cutlets) that have been marinated in a special garlic and all-Spanish spice concoction.  The cutlets are then briefly sauteed, just long enough to cook them through while keeping them tender, moist and juicy. They get served on an oh-so-distinctive crusty-on-the-outside, tender-and-chewy-on-the-inside, floury Portuguese roll that has been slathered on one side with a mild, coarse-grained deli- mustard, then they're topped with a mound of lightly-caramelized onions. That said, I do not like the mustard on these sandwiches, so, you are not going to see it here.

Part One:  Making the Marinade and Prepping the Pork

IMG_5471A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.  There are some special, must-have, pantry ingredients in order to pull the perfect bifana marinade off: Spanish paprika, peri-peri sauce and a uniquely-Portuguese red paste, massa de pimentao (mah-sah de pea-meant-oh).  The first two are relatively easy to find.  The third, not so much.  In fact, unless you know someone who can ship it to you from Portugal, it seems to be impossible to get here in the USA. It is a sweet and salty pepper paste made from salt-cured red bell peppers that get roasted then mixed with garlic, salt and olive oil.  For folks familiar with Portuguese food, its absence in certain dishes is a sure sign the cook is unfamiliar with real-deal Portuguese cuisine.

100% certain I could not find pimiento paste anywhere, and, lacking the desire to salt-cure red bell peppers for a week just to feast on a few bifana sandwiches, I concocted a very-tasty short-cut substitution, using the same four ingredients in the nowhere-to-be-found store-bought stuff.

IMG_54371  12-ounce jar water-packed, roasted red peppers, well-drained on a paper-towel lined plate

6  garlic cloves

1  teaspoon sea salt

2-3  tablespoons olive oil

IMG_5443In a small processor, mince garlic. Add the peppers and salt and IMG_5460process to a puree. Through the feed tube, add EVOO until thick.

Note:  In the case of the above pimiento pepper paste concoction and the marinade below, all of the spices have been measured to suit my taste.  Feel free to adjust them to suit your palate.

IMG_5475For the marinade:

 1  cup white wine

2  tablespoons white wine vinegar

4  bay leaves, broken in half

2  tablespoons massa de pimentao, pimiento paste

1  tablespoon peri-peri sauce, hot or mild (I use hot)

1/4  teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon cracked black pepper

IMG_5493 IMG_5484For the pork:

2 1/2-3  pounds pork loin, trimmed of large pieces of fat, cut into 12-16, 1/2"-thick cutlets and lightly-pounded with a flat-sided meat mallet to a thickness of 1/4"

Note:  I put 2 cutlets on each bifana. This will make 6-8 sandwiches.

~ Step 1.  Place all of the marinade ingredients, as listed, in a 2-gallon food storage bag that has been placed in a large bowl.

IMG_5497~ Step 2.  Slice and pound the pork as directed and pictured above, adding each cutlet to the marinade as you work.  The objective is to lightly-pound it, just to break down the fibers to tenderize it a bit.  Do not smash it to smithereens.  Seal bag and refrigerate for 6-8 hours or up to 12-24 hours.  To get the full-flavored experience, the full 24 hours, overnight in the refrigerator, is best.  Be patient, it's well worth the wait.

Part Two:  Making the Portuguese Sandwich Rolls (Papo Secos)

IMG_5384In a traditional Portuguese home, you will have a round loaf of this crusty bread or these oval rolls with practically every meal. Also known as a "pops", "papo secos" translated into English means "pouch", which describes its shape. These floury rolls have a nice crust outside, and a soft-yet-chewy inside.  They're served alongside main dishes, dipped into stews and used to make sandwiches. While their shape is uniquely Portuguese, they are a IMG_5401great all-purpose roll for all sorts of American dishes too -- these are up there with the best sandwich rolls anywhere.  Once I made these rolls a couple of times, I realized just how much better my deli-style turkey, roast beef and Italian sub/hoagie-type sandwiches tasted on them.  I realized how much better my cheesesteak and pulled-pork sandwiches tasted on them too. Before long, I started making IMG_5428them in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  I also adapted my recipe to make them in the bread machine.  If you want to go old-school, feel free to hand mix, knead and rise it the old-fashioned way.  That said, unless I miss my guess, like mine, your family is going to want these often. Isn't it nice to know there is a machine that can save you almost all of the work.  Click into Category 5 to get my very special recipe for ~ Papo Secos:  Portuguese Dinner/Sandwich Rolls ~.  Make 'em while the meat is marinating!

Part Three:  Sauteing the Onions, the Pork & Eating your Bifana

IMG_5551We're finally coming to the end of the bifana sandwich rainbow.  Get the pork out of the refrigerator 1-2 hours prior to sauteing it.  In order for it to cook properly and evenly, it's very important that it comes to room temperature before it goes into the skillet.  Please do not skip this step.  While the marinated cutlets are coming to room temperature, saute the onions as follows:

IMG_55072  very large yellow or sweet onions (as close to 1 pound each as possible), halved and sliced into 1/4"-thick half-moon pieces

Note:  This will be a little more than or a little less than 8 cups of sliced onions.  It might sound like a lot, but it is not.  Onions lose a lot of volume as they cook.

4  tablespoons olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_5513 IMG_5510~ Step 1.  In a 12" skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the sliced onions and season liberally with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  I start with 30 grinds sea salt and 60 grinds peppercorn blend, but, continue to taste and adjust seasoning throughout the IMG_5521cooking process.   Continue to saute, using a large slotted spoon or spatula to keep tossing them as they cook, until they are light-golden brown, 20-25 minutes.

IMG_5524~ Step 2. Turn heat off. Use the spoon or spatula to transfer onions to a plate and set aside while sauteing the pork as follows:

IMG_5532 IMG_5525~ Step 3. Add and heat 2 tablespoons of EVOO in the skillet over medium-high.  Remove 6 cutlets from the marinade, quickly blot the excess liquid from them in a couple of paper towels -- don't pat or rub them dry.  Add them to the heated skillet.  Saute until just IMG_5533beginning to brown on both sides (not a deep golden brown on either side), turning only once, about 1 1/2 minutes per side.  Do not overcook.

IMG_5551Remove from skillet and transfer to a warmed serving plate.  Add two more tablespoons of EVOO to skillet and repeat this process with remaining 6 cutlets.

IMG_5561 IMG_5575~ Step 4. Once all of the cutlets are sauteed, get the pimiento paste out of the refrigerator and add 1/4 cup to the hot drippings in the pan.  It's going to spatter and sputter a lot -- that's good.  Stirring constantly, cook until mixture is thickened, about 45-60 seconds. Remove from heat.

Drizzle the pan dripping/pimento paste mixture over the cutlets: 

IMG_5587Assemble six absolutely beautiful bifana sandwiches:

IMG_5623Savor every sloppy, juicy, drippy, messy, spicy bite!

IMG_5659The Bifana:  A Perfect Portuguese Pork Sandwich:  Recipe yields 6-8 hearty, Portuguese bifana sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; small food processor; 2-gallon food storage bag;  cutting board; chef's knife; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; large slotted spoon or spatula

IMG_3525Cook's Note:  The last time I was so impressed with a perfect storm of a sandwich combination I was eating a ~ Buffalo-Style Beef-on-a-Weck (Kummelweck Roll) ~.  While completely different in taste from the bifana, it's another example of a sandwich where the meat without the roll is just not not the right combo.  One without the other is a mistake.  Click into Categories 2, 5, or 17 to get this super-succulent, super-sandwich recipe! 

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

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

10/13/2015

~ Papo Secos: Portuguese Dinner/Sandwich Rolls ~

IMG_5384What I do not know about Portuguese food is a lot.  What I've learned has come from cookbooks, not hands-on experience.  Back in 1986, cookbook author Jean Anderson wrote The Food of Portugal.  It won the IACP Tastemaker Award that year for Best Foreign Cookbook.  Then, in 1993, Carol Robertson wrote Portuguese Cooking: The Authentic and Robust Cuisines of Portugal.  Since then, other Portuguese cookbooks have been written, but, these two trail blazers, still available on Amazon, have stood the test of time in my library.  They are full of need-to-know information and reliable recipes that work in the American home kitchen.  Why did I buy them?  Because I enjoy home-schooling myself on cuisines I know little about.

IMG_5254Long before The Food Network was throwing bacalhau (dried salt cod) into the Chopped mystery basket, I knew what it was. I also knew that pork is the most served meat in Portugal, and, Roast Pork w/Piri-Piri (p. 139 of Ms. Robertson's book) is an amazing meal.  One of many things I liked about Ms. Anderson's book was its bread section, most notably her easy-to-make, four-ingredient, Portuguese Country Bread and Bread Rolls (p. 225).

In a traditional Portuguese home, you will have a round loaf of this crusty bread or these oval rolls with practically every meal. Also known as "pops", "papo secos" translated into English means "pouch", which describes its shape. These floury rolls have a nice crust outside, and a soft-yet-chewy inside.  They're served alongside main dishes, dipped into stews and used to make sandwiches. While their shape is uniquely Portuguese, they are a great all-purpose roll for all sorts of American dishes too -- these are up there with the best sandwich rolls anywhere!

IMG_5397Because these are some of the best all-purpose sandwich rolls ever:

IMG_5264I reworked it so the dough could be mixed in my bread machine!

You can thank me later.  Once I made these rolls a couple of times, I realized just how much better my deli-style turkey, roast beef and Italian sub/hoagie-type sandwiches tasted on them.  I realized how much better my cheesesteak and pulled-pork sandwiches tasted on them too. Before long, I started making them in all sorts of shapes and sizes -- "a la", "in the style" of whatever type of sandwich I was serving.  It should go without saying, if you want to go old-school with my recipe, feel free to hand mix, knead and rise it the old-fashioned way -- it's cathartic fun.  That said, unless I miss my guess, like mine, your family is going to want these often.  Isn't it nice to know there is a machine that can save you almost all of the work!    

1 3/4  cups hot water

2  teaspoons sugar

2  teaspoons salt

4  tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes

5 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, plus, about 1/2-3/4 cup additional bench flour

1  package dry yeast granules, not Rapid-Rise yeast

IMG_5271 IMG_5265~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container, heat  water in the microwave.  Add butter cubes.  Add the sugar and salt.  Using a teaspoon, stir until butter melts.  

IMG_5283Add all liquid to the pan of the bread machine.

IMG_5289~ Step 2.  Using a large spoon, add the flour to the water.  Do not stir.  

IMG_5300Using your index finger, dig a shallow well in the top of the flour and add the yeast.  Note: This is "SOP" (Standard Operating Procedure) for bread machine recipes.  Liquid ingredients first, dry ingredients second, yeast last.

IMG_5307 IMG_5302~ Step 3.  As per the machine's instructions, insert the bread pan into the machine, select the dough cycle and push start. In my machine in 1 1/2 hours, I will have perfectly mixed and risen dough.  It'll be ready to punch down, shape into rolls, rise a 2nd time and bake.  Easy enough so far?

IMG_5323 IMG_5311~ Step 4. Remove dough from machine.

IMG_5319Transfer it to a board liberally sprinkled with flour. Briefly knead the dough, just to form it into a smooth ball, incorporating as little of the bench flour as possible.  

IMG_5327~ Step 5.  Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide it into 16 portions and form each portion into a ball. Note:  42 ounces of dough, when divided, will be 16, slightly more than 2 1/2-ounce balls of dough.

IMG_5334~ Step 6. Pat each into a 3" round, slightly less than 1/2" thick disk.

IMG_5335 IMG_5339 IMG_5346Steps 7, 8 & 9.  Using the side of your hand (I find using the handle of a butter knife or a wooden spoon more consistent), make an indentation down the center of each disk. IMG_5358Fold each disc in half by pulling it up and over the indentation.  Pick it up, position it seam side down, then, pinch each end to form the classic pouch shape.  As you work, place 8 rolls on each of 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans than have been lined with parchment.  Cover each pan of rolls with a large flour-sack-type cotton towel and rise a second time, for 45 minutes.  While rolls are rising, heat oven to 375 degrees.

IMG_5395 IMG_5359~ Step 10. One pan at a time, bake rolls on center rack of preheated oven for 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and transfer immediately to a cooling rack to cool completely. Rolls will be floury & crispy on the outside, and, soft & chewy inside.

It's 'Wichcraft:  Sandwich dreams are made of these!

IMG_5401

Turkey today:

IMG_5428The Portuguese Pork Bifana tomorrow:

IMG_5623Toast in the morning too:

IMG_5710Papo Secos:  Portuguese Dinner/Sandwich Rolls:  Recipe yields 16, 4 1/2" oval rolls.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine; 2-cup measuring container; teaspoon; large spoon; large wooden pastry board; kitchen scale; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 2, large flour-sack-type towels 

IMG_2225 IMG_2208Cook's Note: ~ Pillowy-Soft Buttery-Rich Buttermilk Crescent Rolls ~.  What can I say. This recipe for dinner rolls, which also makes some great slider-sized sandwiches too, is another favorite of mine.  You can find it in Categories 5, 9, 11, 18 or 19!

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

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

10/10/2015

~ Make the Batter ahead: Buttermilk & Bran Muffins ~

IMG_5181We all agree that a muffin is at its best as soon as it can be eaten -- as soon as it has cooled enough to pick it up with your fingertips and pull it apart.  For me, a warm muffin with a slather of softened butter or cream cheese is the ideal breakfast.  That's all comfy-cozy sounding, but, even I don't have the time or desire to get up early enough on any given morning to mix a batch of muffin batter. That's why, over the years, I've collected a few muffin recipes that allow me to make the batter ahead and pop it in the refrigerator for 1-3 days.  All I do when I wake up in the morning is scoop about a 1/2 cup of batter into a muffin cup and bake one (or 2-3) in my toaster oven.  By the time I'm out of the shower, my coffee is brewed and my muffin is baked!

IMG_5215Note:  Making muffin batter ahead doesn't work for all recipes. 

It's been my experience that making muffin batter ahead works for muffins that require little or no baking powder, and, works better for recipes that contain baking soda.  Why?  Both leaveners create gas bubbles, which cause the muffins to rise when baked.  In the case of baking powder, bubbles form the moment they are moistened, and, if the batter sits around prior to baking, the bubbles escape and collapse, resulting in dense, flat-topped muffins.  On the other hand, baking soda creates its gas bubbles when it is exposed to heat, making it the better choice for make-ahead batters.  That said, I have had success by adding baking soda to muffin batters that contain baking powder -- not in place of it, in addition to it.  Experiment on a recipe to recipe basis, but a good starting point is:  add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda for every 1 teaspoon of baking powder, keeping in mind that too much baking soda can leave anything with an odd aftertaste (which can be neutralized with some creamy acidity -- buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt).

6a0120a8551282970b017c3733bfd9970bA bit about muffins:  American-style muffins fall into the category of a type of slightly-sweet or savory quick-bread that is made with all-purpose or cake flour, and, are leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda.  They're baked in multiple-cupped muffin pans, to produce individual-sized portions. Sometimes, for ease of serving, paper liners are placed in the cups and that option is yours, except:

Paper liners prevent muffins from browning on the outside.  Tip from Mel:  Use the liners for coarser bread-textured, corn and/or cheese muffins.  When making moister muffins, don't use liners.

Fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice, fruit puree, nuts, seeds and grains (usually bran or oats) are all common additions to sweet muffins.  In the recent history of muffins, chocolate, peanut butter, and/or toffee bits have become popular too. The latter list of sweets, while not my favorite, are not going to prompt me to call the food police -- even I like a chocolate chip thrown into the mix occasionally.  That said, when it comes to making muffin batter ahead of time, the rules change a bit:  dried ingredients (like dried papaya) work better than fresh, juicy ones (like fresh papaya), and, purees (like applesauce) are preferable to liquid ingredients (like apple juice).

IMG_5178My Muffin Commandment #1:  Thou shalt not frost muffins.

Muffins are topped with nothing, a sprinkling of coarse sugar, a mixture of sugar and cinnamon, or, a crumbly "streusel" prior to baking. Both sugar and streusel will add a pleasant crunch to a muffin's top. Please refrain from frosting muffins. I am not alone on this -- most pros won't do it. Save that frosting or glaze for cupcakes or cinnamon rolls, which beg for a sweet and creamy enhancement. While muffins are generally considered breakfast or brunch fare with coffee or tea, savory muffins, like corn or cheese muffins, are a great accompaniment to chili or a stew for lunch, or, a rack of ribs for dinner.

Make the Batter ahead:  Buttermilk & Bran Muffins

IMG_5054Even as a teenager I was a fan of bran cereal (to this day, my pantry is never without Raisin Bran).  This unique recipe was given to me by my neighbor Carol, via a forwarded e-mail from her friend Kathy.  It arrived on Sunday, January 11th, 2004.  Up until that afternoon, the thought of making and refrigerating muffin batter ahead had never occurred to me.  It worked perfectly the first time I tried it.  The ingredients list and the baking instructions remain unchanged.  

IMG_5058For the raisins:

1  cup dark raisins

1  tablespoon baking soda

1  cup boiling water

IMG_5068~ Step 1.  In a small bowl stir together the raisins and baking soda.  Add the boiling water, stir, and set aside IMG_5069to cool, about 20-30 minutes.

For the other wet ingredients:

1  cup sugar

1/2  cup salted butter, very soft

2  eggs

2  cups buttermilk

IMG_5074~ Step 2.  In a medium bowl, using a hand-held mixer on medium- IMG_5083 IMG_5080                                      high speed, cream together the sugar, butter and eggs until light in color, about 1-2 minutes.  Lower speed and fold in buttermilk. 

For the dry ingredients:

2  cups flour

1/2  teaspoon salt

IMG_50862  cups Raisin Bran cereal

1  cup All-Bran cereal

1  cup chopped walnuts

For topping:

store-bought Sugar 'n Cinnamon

IMG_5096~ Step 3.  In a large bowl, stir the dry ingredients together. Add the IMG_5112raisin mixture and all of its liquid.

IMG_5103~ Step 4.  At this point, if you're planning on baking all of the muffins immediately, allow the mixture to rest 30-45 minutes, to give the cereal time to absorb excess moisture (which will also thicken the mixture).  Alternatively, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-3 days.

IMG_5121 IMG_5123 IMG_5130~ Step 5.  When you're ready to bake, spray the inside of as many muffin cups with no-stick spray IMG_5158as you need.  Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, fill each cup.  Sprinkle the tops with Sugar 'n Cinnamon.  You have batter for 24-26 standard-sized  muffins.

~ Step 6.  Bake on center rack of 360 degree oven 18-20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the IMG_5193center comes out clean.  For me, these muffins are consistently done in 19 minutes. Remove from oven and cool in pan for about 1 minute before using a thin spatula to transfer them to a cooling rack. Cool for at least 30 minutes prior to serving warm, or, about 1 hour, to serve at room temperature.  

Recover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate unused batter to use on an as-needed basis.

IMG_5176Tomorrow is another freshly-baked muffin day!

IMG_5153Jus bakin' 'em fresh -- one day at a time:

IMG_5234Make the Batter ahead:  Buttermilk & Bran Muffins:  Recipe yields 24-26 standard-sized muffins.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; spoon; 2-cup measuring container; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; standard-sized muffin tin(s); cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack; thin spatula; plastic wrap

IMG_8010Cook's Note:  Just because I told you not to frost muffins does not mean I do not like frosting.  I like it a lot.  Once of my favorite recipes, ~ For the Love of Vanilla:  Double-Vanilla Cupcakes ~ can be found in Categories 6, 10, 11 or 30!

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

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

10/07/2015

~ It's an Apple, Raisin & Pecan-Streusel Muffin Day ~

IMG_4983I have a love-hate relationship with muffins.  I love them for for breakfast, especially the muffins that I bake, and, I even love muffins that a few of my friends make, but, I hate most store-bought or bakery-made muffins. Why?  I find that most commercially-made muffins contain too few goodies (fresh or dried fruit, chopped nuts, a grain, or, a fragrant spice) and way too much sugar. Their cloying sweetness gives me a headache -- a real head-banger of a headache.  

IMG_4993Similar to the low-key and friendly "welcome guests to your kitchen" ambiance of a coffeecake, to me, muffins are my own, personal, morning-comfort-food.  I want to open one up, use my fingers to pull it apart, eat it slowly, one lip-licking bite at a time, and, feel good about having eaten this small, indulgence for the entire day -- not hate myself for the rest of my life!

IMG_2679The recipe I'm sharing today has been a Preschutti family favorite for as long as I've been a Preschutti.  I remember clipping the recipe out of a magazine shortly after Joe and I got married (1980-ish), tweeking it to suit my taste, then, writing in down, in my own hand, on a 3" x 5" recipe card.  These apple muffins are a perfect accompaniment to coffee or tea at breakfast or brunch. The streusel topping, similar to that found on many a coffeecake, is a crunchy complement to the moist, fruity center.  Be prepared to graciously accept all compliments, but remember, it is not always necessary to reveal how simple and quick a recipe actually is to prepare!

6a0120a8551282970b017c3733bfd9970bA bit about muffins:  American-style muffins fall into the category of a type of slightly-sweet or savory quick bread that is made with all-purpose or cake flour, and, are leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda.  They're baked in multiple-cupped muffin pans, to produce individual-sized portions. Sometimes, for ease of serving, paper liners are placed in the cups and that option is yours, except:

Paper liners prevent muffins from browning on the outside.  Tip from Mel:  Use the liners for coarser bread-textured, corn and/or cheese muffins.  When making moister quick-muffins, do not use the liners! 

IMG_2627Fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice, fruit puree, nuts, seeds and grains (usually bran or oats) are common additions.  In the recent history of muffins, chocolate, cinnamon, peanut butter, and/or toffee bits have become popular additions too. The latter list of sweets, while not my favorite, are not going to prompt me to call the food police.  You see, even I like a chocolate chip thrown into the mix occasionally!

Muffins are typically topped with a sprinkling of sugar or a crumbly mixture prior to baking.   That said, muffins should never be glazed or frosted after-the fact (like cinnamon rolls or cupcakes), although there's always a bakery happy to do it and sell it. While muffins are mostly considered breakfast or brunch fare with coffee or tea, savory muffins, like corn or cheese muffins, are a great accompaniment to chili or a stew for lunch, or, a juicy steak or a rack of ribs for dinner.

IMG_2575Make my day! Make your day! Make someone elses day!

IMG_5043Make my apple muffins!

IMG_2586For the streusel topping:

1  cup finely-chopped pecans

1/2  cup unbleached all-purpose flour

6  tablespoons sugar

1/4  teaspoon allspice

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

4  tablespoons salted butter, cut into thin slices, kept cold

For the wet ingredients:

4  ounces salted butter, melted (1 stick)

4  jumbo eggs, at room temperature

16  ounces sour cream

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

2  cups unpeeled and diced Granny Smith apple

1  cup golden raisins

1  cup coarsely-chopped pecans

For the dry ingredients:

3  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon ground allspice

2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

4  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pans.

IMG_2603~ Step 1.  To prepare the streusel topping, in a medium mixing bowl, place the pecans, flour, sugar, allspice and cinnamon.  Add the cold butter pieces.  

IMG_2609Using a pastry blender and/or a paring knife, "cut"/blend the mixture, until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Set aside.

IMG_2613~ Step 2.  To prepare the wet ingredients, in a second medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream and vanilla.  Set aside.  In the microwave or on the stovetop (your choice), melt the butter over low heat.  Set aside.  

Prep, measure and set aside the apples, raisins and pecans.  

IMG_2629 IMG_2619In a thin stream, whisk the butter into the egg mixture.

IMG_2634Using a large rubber spatula  fold in the apples, raisins and pecans.  Set the mixture aside.

IMG_2644 IMG_2596~ Step 3.  To prepare the dry ingredients, in a large bowl, stir the flour, sugar, allspice, cinnamon, baking soda & salt.

                                 ~ Step 4.  To prepare the batter, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold the two mixtures together, just until moistened.

Note:   The operative phrase here is "just until moistened".  The moment the ingredients come together, stop mixing.  Do not overmix

IMG_2645

~ Step 5.  To prepare and fill the pans, spray the muffin pans with cooking spray.  Working as quickly as you can without getting messy, while at the same time doing as little as possible to the mixture (meaning: don't stir it as your work), use a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop to measure/place batter into pans. Sprinkle tops of the unbaked muffins with about 1 tablespoon of streusel topping, allowing it to get all over the top of the pans.

IMG_2670~ Step 6.  To bake muffins, place filled pans, all at once, on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven, about 18 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Muffins will have the signature domed muffin tops.  Remove from oven.  Cool in pans 2-3 minutes.  Using a thin spatula, transfer muffins to cooling rack to cool until slightly warm or cooled completely.

Cool in pans 2-3 minutes prior to gently transferring to a cooling rack:

IMG_2686

Live it up!  Everything at breakfast tastes better with butter!

IMG_5009It's an Apple, Raisin & Pecan Streusel Muffin Day:  Recipe yields 2 dozen standard-size muffins.

Special Equipment List: 2-4 standard-size muffin pans, enough for 24 muffins; pastry blender; paring knife; cutting board; chef's knife; whisk; large rubber spatula; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; cake tester or toothpick; thin spatula; cooling rack(s)

6a0120a8551282970b017ee8de3819970dCook's Note:  In the event it is an entire apple cake you're looking for, ~ My NY Deli-Style Jewish Apple 'n Almond Cake ~ recipe can be found in Categories 6, or 9.  It's the real-deal and has been on our family's dessert table for at least three generations.  Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall, breakfast, lunch or dinner, ending a meal with an apple dessert quintessential comfort treat!

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

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

10/04/2015

~ The Spice is Right: Baja & Carnitas Blends/Rubs ~

IMG_4951Most Americans love the fiery flavors of our American Southwest.  That said, too many American cooks rely upon store-bought spice blends in an attempt to duplicate authentic flavor and don't realize:  Mexican food is Mexican food.  It can't be bought.  It varies from region to region and cook to cook, and, the blending of the spices is at the discretion of each cook in each region. Because of this, when naming my blends, I am careful to add "-style" at the end, because, while they are "in the style" of a specific flavor profile, they are, after all, concocted to my liking. 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d08e01c4970cA bit about me and spice blends:  Because I cook a wide-range of multi-cultural and ethnic fare often enough throughout the year to merit their purchase, my larger-than-average spice rack is full of worldly flavors. That said, because spices have a relatively short shelf life (and herbs have an even shorter one), I purchase very few in bulk, and, I almost never buy pre-mixed spice blends or rubs.  Why?  Aside from a few classic culinary institutions, like Old Bay Seafood Seasoning, Bell's Poultry Seasoning and Chef Paul Prudhomme's Blackened Steak Magic, pre-mixed spice blends vary in flavor, from manufacturer to manufacturer, WAY too much to suit my taste, and, if they don't sell enough of any one, they pull it from the marketplace -- never to be found again.  I hate it when that happens.  There's more.  In almost all cultures, very few cooks use store-bought spice blends -- they make their own concoctions to their liking.  It's only us Americans who've gone ga-ga for standardization. For taste, consistency and sanity, I make my own blends and rubs.

IMG_8163 IMG_9151 IMG_8305To get my recipes for ~ Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Fajita & Taco Seasoning ~, and, to learn ~ The difference between fajita & taco seasoning is: ~ just click the Related Article links below.

Mel's Baja-Style Spice Blend for Tacos & Quesadillas:

IMG_4517The spice blend I make for Baja-style fish tacos and chicken quesadillas is resemblant of the spices used in Southern California, more specifically San Diego. 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 IMG_4691in 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 and I love chicken quesadillas too.  

Right after I came up with my Baja-style spice blend, it was a "no-brainer" to transition Baja-style and spice from one recipe to the other.

You can find my recipes for, ~ Beer-Batter-Dipped Deep-Fried Cod-Fish Tacos ~ , and, ~ Cheesy Baja-Style Grill-Pan Chicken Quesadillas ~ in Categories 1, 2, 3, 13, 14, 17 or 19.

IMG_4581For Mel's Baja Spice Blend:

4  tablespoons Mexican-style chili powder

1  tablespoon sea salt

2  teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2  teaspoons ground coriander

1 1/2  teaspoons Mexican-style oregano (optional)*

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper, more or less, to taste

* Note:  Mexican-style oregano is not usually added to Baja spice, but, I like it, so I put some in.

 ~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, stir together all of the spices, and, if you have one on hand, transferring the mixture to an empty shaker-type spice container, to store it, is really convenient.

IMG_4588Pushing Baja-style a bit further =  Mel's Carnitas Spice Blend:

IMG_4873"Carnitas" is Mexican for "little meats", in Spanish "carne" means "meat" and "ita", added to the end of a word, implies "small".  This dish is simply small shreds of rich, juicy, pork, with crispy brown bits strewn in throughout.  It's made by braising (low and slow heat) a nicely-seasoned, inexpensive, 8-10 pound, cut of pork known as a "Boston butt", that has been cut into manageable thirds or quarters, in a pot of lard for several hours.  When the desired tenderness is reached, IMG_4854after 3-4 hours, the heat is turned up so the outside begins to crisp.  At this point, the collagen in the meat has broken down enough to allow the meat to be shredded and used as a filling in tacos, tamales and burritos.  The most famous version hails from Central Mexico.  It's flavored with an orange, onion and bay leaf, plus, aromatic dry spices like cinnamon, cloves, cumin, and Mexican oregano -- the dry spices are basically Baja-style with a couple more added to the mixture. 

You can find my recipe (which doesn't require 10 pounds of pork and a few pounds of lard), ~ Justified:  Carnitas w/o a Big Butt & a Vat of Lard ~, by clicking in Categories 3, 13, 17 or 19.

IMG_4739For Mel's Carnitas Spice Blend:

4  tablespoons Mexican-style chili powder

2  tablespoons Mexican-style oregano

1  tablespoon sea salt

2  teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2  teaspoons ground coriander

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

Step 1.  Place ingredients in a bowl and stir together.  If you have an empty spice jar, transfer mixture to it (it makes seasoning the carnitas much easier).  Tip:  Save those empty spice jars!

IMG_4594

The Spice is Right:  Baja & Carnitas Blends/Rubs:  Recipe yields 7 tablespoons Baja Spice Blend, and, 9 tablespoons Carnitas Spice Blend 

Special Equipment List:  measuring spoons; small bowl(s); small spoon; shaker-type spice jar(s) (optional)

IMG_7377Cook's Note:  Poultry seasoning. Typically, these two words get used generically in the writing of lots of recipes, leading the reader to believe they are all basicially the same and can be used interchangeably.  In the world of spice blends, nothing could be further from the truth.  To learn all you need to know about poultry seasoning, and, get my recipe for how to make your own, click into Categories 8, 15, 16 or 18 and read: ~ So what exactly is in Poultry Seasoning?  Poultry? ~.

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

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

10/01/2015

~ Justified: Carnitas w/o a Big Butt & a Vat of Lard ~

IMG_4873When it comes to cooking, if the end justifies the means, I am all for breaking the rules -- as long as no one gets hurt and the end result is not compromised.  Carnitas is the Mexican version of American pulled pork.  I love one as much as I do the other, and, while neither are hard to make, the process to do either authentically is cumbersome -- handling huge hunks of porky porcine is not my idea of hog heaven.  I also have no desire to build a Southern barbecue pit to smoke a pig, or invest in a Mexican cauldron to boil pig parts in lard.  I'll leave that to the experts.

IMG_4854A bit about carnitas (kahr-NEE-tahz):  Mexican for "little meats", in Spanish "carne" means "meat" and "ita", added to the end of a word, implies "small".  This dish is simply small shreds of rich, juicy, pork, with crispy brown bits strewn in throughout.  It's made by braising (low and slow heat) a nicely-seasoned, well-marbled, inexpensive, 8-10 pound, cut of pork known as a "Boston butt", that has been cut into manageable thirds or quarters, in a pot of lard for several hours.  When the desired tenderness is reached, after 3-4 hours, the heat is turned up so the outside begins to crisp.  At this point, the collagen in the meat has broken down enough to allow the meat to be hand-pulled or chopped and used as the meat filling in tacos, tamales and burritos.

6a0120a8551282970b01a73de6d7cf970dA bit about the butt:  "Boston butt", is a bone-in cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the "pork shoulder" from the front leg of the hog.  Smoked or barbecued, Boston butt is a southern tradition.  This cut of meat got its name in pre-Revolutionary War New England:

Butchers in Boston left the blade 6a0120a8551282970b01a511db8178970cbone in this inexpensive cut of pork shoulder then packed and stored the meat in casks called "butts". They sold the pork shoulders individually to their customers, and, when they got popular, they began shipping "the butts" Southward and throughout the Colonies.  Simply stated:  the way the hog shoulder was butchered, combined with "the butt" they arrived in, evolved into the name "Boston butt".

Sometimes, in order to satisfy a hankering for something, a new approach is necessary.

IMG_6987 6a0120a8551282970b01a73de7d10d970dWhen I decided to take a new approach to American pulled pork, I did use the pork butts. 6a0120a8551282970b01a511dc88dd970cThe change I made was to eliminate the BBQ pit and smoke 'em low & slow, 7-8 hours, in my oven.  It was easy, effective, and my barky end result has only been applauded.

Read the Related Aricle link below: ~ My Carolina-Style Pulled Pork BBQ (Oven Method) ~.

IMG_4846Mel's Mexican Carnitas -- w/o a Big Butt & a Vat of Lard

IMG_4851When I decided to take a new approach to carnitas, I switched to pork tenderloins for 3 reasons:  1) They are naturally tender. 2) Experience taught me they can easily be braised to be brown and crispy on the outside, and, moist and shreddable on the inside. 3) No matter what anyone says, leftovers reheat without much compromise, but freezing is bad. Two pork tenderloins, yields a quantity suitable for the average family.

The most famous version hails from Central Mexico.  They're flavored with an orange, onion and bay leaf, plus, aromatic dry spices like cinnamon, cloves, cumin, and Mexican oregano.  They are popularly served taco-style, in corn tortillas.  You can top them with anything you like, but, in a taqueria, your choices will be green salsa, red salsa, or, a mix of onion, cilantro, salt and lime juice. Shredded lettuce might appear, but, never cabbage, and, you won't be offered any guacamole or crema (sour cream) either!  

Once I came up with my Mexican carnitas spice blend...

IMG_4739... I anointed myself "queen of stovetop carnitas"!

IMG_4740For Mel's Carnitas Spice Blend:

4  tablespoons Mexican-style chili powder

2  tablespoons Mexican-style oregano

1  tablespoon sea salt

2  teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2  teaspoons ground coriander

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients in a small bowl and stir together.  If you have an empty spice jar, transfer mixture to it (it will make seasoning the carnitas much easier).

IMG_4748For the pork:

2  whole pork tenderloins, about 2 1/2-3 total pounds

2 cups water (total throughout recipe)

2  large yellow onions, cut into chunks, about 2 pounds

1  large orange, cut into quarters, about 12 ounces

4  whole bay leaves

3  tablespoons Mel's Carnitas Spice Blend (total throughout recipe), from above recipe

sea salt, only if necessary, for seasoning cooked and pulled carnitas

IMG_4749 IMG_4752 IMG_4755 IMG_4758 IMG_4762~Step 1.  Add 1 1/2 cups of water to a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides.  Add  pork tenderloins followed by bay leaves.  Add the chopped onions, dividing them equally on both sides of the tenderloins, then place the orange quarters on both sides of the tenderloins.  Generously sprinkle the spice blend over all, using about 2 tablespoons.  Cover pan and bring to a boil over high heat.

IMG_4774 IMG_4766~ Step 2. Reduce heat to a steady simmer. Partially cover the pan (just allow a crack to allow steam to escape) and continue to cook for 60 minutes.  When you uncover the pan, the bottom of the tenderloins should be browning nicely, but not overly browned, and, the pan will be getting very low on liquid.  What it looks like is more important than the time it takes.

IMG_4779Step 3.  Using a spatula, flip meat over.  Add the last 1/2 cup water to pan.  Flip orange pieces over and briefly deglaze bottom of the pan, gently scraping the browned bits loose from the bottom.

IMG_4781~ Step 4. Season the tops (second sides) of the tenderloins with 1 more tablespoon of the spice blend and partially cover the pan.  

IMG_4791~ Step 5.  Continue to simmer steadily, about 45 minutes, until tenderloins are nicely browned on the bottom, and the pan is very low on liquid.  What it looks like is more important than the time this takes.

~ Step 6.  Uncover the pan, turn the heat up to medium-high, and, using a spatula, turn the meat to quickly crisp the exterior on all sides, about 2-3 minutes (do not scorch).

IMG_4795 IMG_4799 IMG_4802 IMG_4806 IMG_4812~Step 7.  Remove from heat, cover and rest 30-45 minutes.  Discard orange quarters and bay leaves.  In the pan, using your fingers, pull the pork into large, long shreds.  Next, pull the large shreds into thinner, long shreds.  Now it's time to pull the long shreds into bits and pieces. Lastly, using a large spoon, give the mixture a thorough stir to combine the pork with the moist (almost pureed), flavorful onions.

Note:  After the pork has been pulled and mixed, if you still want more crispy browned bits in your carnitas, you can return the pan to stovetop and brown it up even further.  That said, placing small batches in a small skillet (with a small amount of oil), on the stovetop over medium-high heat, is also my preferred method for reheating/"crisping up" enough for 3-4 carnitas at a time.

IMG_4817 IMG_4821 IMG_4826 IMG_4832~Step 8.  Using a paper towel oil an 8" nonstick skillet with about 1/2 teaspoon of corn, peanut or vegetable oil and heat over medium high.  Place 1 corn tortilla in the pan.  Using a pair of tongs, flip it back and forth 3-4 times and allow it to cook until it just starts to bubble up in the center.  Remove it to a paper towel lined plate and fold it in half.  Repeat this process until 12-24 corn tortillas are fried until crispy but still soft (some folks prefer to use 2 tortillas per taco).

IMG_4840Carnitas:  Succulent & kissed w/orange & aromatic spice. 

IMG_4861My favorite:  onion, cilantro, squirt of lime & pinch of sea salt!

IMG_4886Justified:  Carnitas w/o a Big Butt & a Vat of Lard:  Recipe yields 4 cups carnitas filling, enough to fill 12 tacos with 1/3 cup meat each.

Special Equipment List:  small bowl; spoon; empty spice jar w/shaker top (optional); cutting board; chef's knife; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; spatula; 8" nonstick skillet; tongs; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b0168eb977ec9970cCook's Note:  For another "almost" authentic taco recipe (meaning I've made it possible to make at home), check out my recipe for ~ Tacos al Pastor:  "Shepherd's-Style Pork Tacos ~, by clicking into Categories 2, 3, 13 or 19.  I love pineapple!

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

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