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12 posts from November 2015

11/30/2015

~ Purchase Shrimp by their "Count", not their "Size" ~

IMG_8530How does shrimp sizing work?  In a shrimp shell -- it doesn't.  There is no industry standard for it. One vendor's medium, may be another vendor's extra-large and vice versa.  This explains why many new-to-shrimp buying cooks are confused by these five words:  small, medium, large, extra-large and jumbo.  When purchasing shrimp, the most important words to know aren't words, they are numbers.  Using the photo at the top of this post, let's read the label together:

Wild American White Shrimp -- 16/20 E-Z Peel

PICT4452Wild shrimp:  All experts agree, wild shrimp are sweeter tasting and firmer textured than farm-raised shrimp, which, almost always makes their higher price worth it. While I buy wild most of the time, and always when I'm making shrimp cocktail or using it in a fresh salad, when I'm purchasing shrimp that will be batter-dipped and deep-fried or cooked in a bold-flavored creamy sauce, I don't find the more economical farm-raised shrimp to be too much of a compromise.

American white shrimp:  Only 10% of the shrimp sold in this country come from U.S. waters, and, 75% of them come from the Gulf of Mexico. While I personally have no ax to IMG_7920grind with pink shrimp or black tiger shrimp, or any shrimp imported from places like Thailand, Indonesia or Ecuador, when shrimp is labeled American, I buy American shrimp. That said, once again, the experts seem to agree that white shrimp are sweeter and firmer than other species.  Judge for yourself.

Fresh vs. flash-frozen shrimp:  Ok -- so you live next door to a shrimp boat captain who docks his boat in your backyard.  Your shrimp are fresh and they are better than mine. IMG_0012Now shut up.  I live here in land-locked Central Pennsylvania and I always, ALWAYS, buy my shrimp flash-frozen. This means they were placed on a conveyor belt and frozen at sea, to lock in their freshness.  What I never purchase in my grocery store is raw shrimp. Why?  99.9% of the raw shrimp in grocery stores today is flash-frozen shrimp that has been defrosted, and, since shrimp loses its freshness over several hours, or by the day, I prefer to defrost it myself and cook it the very same day.

Scampi #616/20 (going by the numbers) & E-Z peel:  In the case of this 2-pound bag of shrimp, "16/20" means there are sixteen to twenty shrimp in each pound, which means I can expect to find 32-40 shrimp in this bag.  E-Z peel means the heads have been chopped off and the sand vein that runs down the back of each shrimp has been removed.  Between you and I, I prefer my shrimp headless and I dislike removing the disagreeable sand veins from them too.  Here is a rundown of the shrimp "sizes" and their counts:

"Small" -- 51/60 shrimp per pound

"Medium" -- 41/50 shrimp per pound

"Large" -- 26/30 shrimp per pound

"Extra-Large" -- 21/25 shrimp per pound

"Jumbo" -- 16/20 shrimp per pound

"Colossal" -- 10/15 shrimp per pound

6a0120a8551282970b01910356d67d970cWhy to leave the tails on & knowing when to remove them:

IMG_0922A shrimp with the tail left on is a very pretty presentation, and, depending upon the dish being served, if there is a chance the diner can enjoy the shrimp whole, it serves as a convenient "handle" -- especially if there is a sauce it can be dipped into.  There's more:  As all shrimp connoisseurs know, the last bite of shrimp (located inside the tail), is the most succulent, tasty bite of shrimp.  That said:  Whether in the home kitchen or in a restaurant, peeling shrimp is labor intensive. Leaving the tail on is an indication that the cook or chef cares about you and is serving you the best quality shrimp possible.

The only reason to remove the tail is when the shrimp, usually smaller size ones, are inclusive in the dish, meaning:  the diner needs a fork, spoon and/or knife to eat the dish.

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

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

11/27/2015

~ La-di-da Breakfast: Lox, Caviar & Frambled Eggs ~

IMG_8503If you are ever lucky enough to have lox and caviar in your refrigerator in the morning, there is no reason under the sun not to make this decadent three-minute breakfast -- it is an exercise in simplicity and tastes as pretty as this picture too.  The classic caviar service I served as an hors d'oeuvres on Thanksgiving Day left me with a package of lox, a container of caviar, and a few small bowls of meticulously chopped accompaniments -- all good stuff. What's a girl to do?  

Turn yesterday's classy appetizer into today's lazy-day la-di-da breakfast!

IMG_8223Besides caviar and buckwheat blini (or toast points), a caviar service includes:  Sour cream (or creme fraiche), chopped hard-cooked egg (whites and yolks served separately), minced red onion and minced chives. Small chunks of  pickled herring and thin slices of smoked salmon are often included too.  Any or all of these items, fresh or leftover, are easily incorporated into a decadent breakfast sandwich or omelette.

So, what the heck is a frambled egg?  A funny typo?

IMG_8450 IMG_8457 IMG_8460 IMG_8463 IMG_8465 IMG_8468"Frambled".  The first time I saw this funny word in print I thought it was a typo.  The definition revealed it is a new-fangled cooking term for something many of us "older" foodies, like myself, have been doing for years:  

Making scrambled eggs without whisking the egg first.  

IMG_8468Making a frambled egg is even easier than making a scrambled egg (you don't even need to get out a bowl or a whisk):  

Break one or two eggs into an 8" skillet over medium-high heat containing 1-1 1/2  teaspoons melted butter (as if you were going to fry an egg).  Using the spatula, break the yolk (on purpose), season with salt and pepper, then, fry until the yolks are just set, less than one minute -- do not overcook.  

IMG_8472The end result is a "marbled" effect: Perfectly cooked egg white with streaks of perfectly cooked yolk running through it.  If you want to add other ingredients (an herb, minced onion, bacon bits, etc.), add them with the salt and pepper. Depending upon how you play this game, if you add some grated cheese near the end, you can even make a frambled omelette!  

"Frambled" is supposed to mean "a cross between a fried egg and a scrambled egg".  For fifty years I've been calling these "lazy scrambled eggs", because it is easier than making scrambled eggs.  For forty years my kids have been calling them "ugly eggs" because they are!

Lightly toast & butter an English muffin -- trust me, butter makes this better: 

IMG_8476Add a couple of really nice slices of lox (smoked salmon):

IMG_8483Add a frambled egg.  Top w/sour cream, chives & caviar (I like mine w/o the roe):  

IMG_8490La-di-da Breakfast: Lox, Caviar and Frambled Eggs:  Recipe yields instructions for making one or two frambled eggs at a time and a darn good open-faced la-di-da breakfast sandwich too.

Special Equipment List:  8" nonstick skillet; nonstick spatula

6a0120a8551282970b017d3eee0d28970cCook's Note:  While I love a fancy la-di-da breakfast as much as the next person, I like another 3-minute breakfast even more -- a perfectly cooked 3-minute egg.  My recipe for ~ A Simply Satisfying Breakfast:  Soft-Cooked Eggs ~ can be found in Categories 3 or 20.

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

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

11/24/2015

~It's Not Easy Being 60: The Green Bean Casserole~

IMG_8414Newsflash:  The iconic green bean casserole turns 60 years old this year.  Depending upon who you talk turkey to, the subject of "green bean casserole" will garner one of two responses:  a loving look of childlike glee or a loathsome adult eye roll.  In the event you are talking turkey to me, you'll get a unknowing shoulder shrug because the only thing I have in common with the green bean casserole is we were both born in 1955 -- I in a hospital in Palmerton, PA, and, the casserole in a Campbell's Test Kitchen in New Jersey.  I've never made it or tasted it!

A bit about the original green bean casserole:  The classic recipe consisted of five pantry-staple ingredients + "a dash of pepper": canned green beans, canned cream of mushroom soup, canned fried onions, milk and soy sauce (which surprises me because I would have guessed Worcestershire sauce).  It is a true representation of 1950's style American 'cooking from cans and boxes' -- open the cans and/or boxes, mix everything together in one casserole and bake it.

"Ho, Ho, Ho!" ~ The Jolly Green Giant

IMG_8407I'm not here to criticize.  Too many people love the tradition of this iconic casserole on their Thanksgiving table for me to do that, and, I am all about tradition -- while I like green beans in general, I've just always been a Brussels sprouts kinda gal on Thanksgiving.  That said, if I'm going to make and taste a green bean casserole for the first time, I'll pass on all the canned stuff and create a version that, who knows, might become a tradition on my own Turkey Day table.  

While the goal is to keep it simple, it goes without saying, I'm starting with fresh green beans -- blanched until crunch-tender.  After that, just enough bacon (pancetta would be nice too) to add a bit of smoky flavor, sauteed with earthy mushrooms and the mandatory onion.  The sauteed mushroom mixture combined with a creamy, nutmeg-kissed Gruyere cheese sauce, made with real cream, replaces the "cream of mushroom soup" -- a nice touch, don't you think? 

IMG_82802  pounds fresh, whole green beans, ends trimmed and discarded, remaining lengths cut in half (Note:  When in comes to green beans, I prefer them cut into user-friendly lengths, as I find shoving 4" long green beans into my mouth most unladylike.)

4  strips thick-sliced bacon, cut into small 1/4" strips, 1/3 pound of bacon

2  cups medium-diced white mushroom caps

1  cup small-diced white yellow or sweet onion

4  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1  cup whole milk

2  cups heavy or whipping cream

2  teaspoons sea salt

freshly-ground and coarsely-groun peppercorn blend, to taste (Note:  I use 60 grinds.)

2  cups finely-grated Gruyere cheese

1  cup panko breadcrumbs, for topping casserole

IMG_8283 IMG_8289~ Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan bring 2 quarts of water to a boil.  Add 2  teaspoons sea salt and the green beans.  When water returns to a boil,  adjust heat to a simmer and cook 4 minutes. Remove from heat, drain into a colander and run cold water through beans, tossing them in the colander, until cooled to room temp. Set aside to drain thoroughly.

IMG_8297 IMG_8302 IMG_8303 IMG_8307 IMG_8312~Step 2.  In the same chef's pan, place the bacon pieces over medium heat and cook for 3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and onions to the pan and continue to saute, using a spatula to keep the mixture moving around in the pan, until the bacon, mushroom and onions are nicely golden around their edges, about 8-9 minutes.  

Remove from heat, transfer mixture to a bowl or a plate and set aside.

IMG_8333~ Step 3.  In the same chef's pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  

IMG_8326Add the flour and the nutmeg to the butter. Using a whisk or a large spoon, cook until all of the flour is thoroughly incorporated, smooth and foamy, about 1 minute.

IMG_8336 IMG_8340 IMG_8344 IMG_8346~Step 4.  Pour the milk into the pan, all at once, and, stir or whisk constantly until thickened, less than 1 minute.  Add the cream, all at once, followed by the salt and freshly-ground peppercorn blend.  Continue to stir or whisk constantly until the cream is ever-so-gently simmering and nicely thickened, about 2 minutes.  Turn the heat off but leave the chef's pan remain on the hot stovetop.  Add the grated cheese and stir until the mixture is thick and smooth.

IMG_8367 IMG_8370 IMG_8375~ Step 5.  Thoroughly stir in the mushroom mixture followed by the green beans.  Lightly spritz a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole with no-stick cooking spray.

IMG_8388 IMG_8379~ Step 6. Transfer green bean mixture to prepared casserole.  Sprinkle panko breadcrumbs over the top.

Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 28-30 minutes. Casserole will be bubbling around the edges and panko will be golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool about 15-20 minutes, to set up a bit, prior to serving.

It's never easy being a generic green bean casserole.

IMG_8402But, if updated & made with high-quality ingredients...

IMG_8416... it can be a heart-warming reminder of kinder, gentler times!

IMG_8433It's Not Easy Being 60:  The Green Bean Casserole:  Recipe yields 12-16 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; cheese grater; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/deep sides; colander; large spatula; whisk or large spoon; 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07b1262a970dCook's Note:  In the event you are new to roasting a turkey for a traditional Thanksgiving feast, click into Category 15 or 18 of Kitchen Encounters to learn everything I know, plus all sorts of tips and advice, about ~ Roasting Poultry and Making Gravy Too:  My Own Techniques and Oration (the long and not so short of it) ~.  Gobble, gobble & Happy Thanksgiving!

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

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

11/22/2015

~ Pass the Buckwheat Blini: We are Serving Caviar ~

IMG_8223"I'd rather have a hot dog than caviar."  That's how I feel about caviar, so, when I came across that quote by famed Colombian race car driver Juan Pablo Montoya, I had to share it.  Don't get me wrong, caviar is not on my 'foods I hate' list, I just like a long list of other things more, and, I love the humorous comparison.  From a perceived foodie standpoint, caviar vs. a hot dog is the difference between "classy" and "trashy", which makes me feel a bit naughty in a Groucho Marx sort of way.  That said, a lot of people adore caviar and all the ritualistic glitz and glamor associated with it, so, every now and then, on appropriate occasions, I serve it.  Why wouldn't I:

IMG_8230Serving caviar is (almost) as easy as serving hot dogs.

For a hot dog you need a roll to place it on and some condiments to top it with.  For caviar you need some form of bread to place it on and some condiments to accompany it.  That said, hot dogs, one of my favorite foods, usually get served as a meal at super-casual get-togethers and caviar usually gets served as an hors d'oeuvre at super-fancy ones.  While a great majority of people serve caviar for Christmas or New Years, in my house it's been a Thanksgiving tradition. It's festive and it sets the tone for the upcoming evening feast.  Everything can be prepped ahead of time, which frees me up for the "matters at hand" and everyone (sans me) loves it!  

Perfect for one of our busiest food holidays:  Thanksgiving!

IMG_8150A bit about caviar:  The word "caviar", lightly-salted roe (fish eggs), comes from the Turkish word "khavyar" and dates back centuries. There are many types of caviar, but "true caviar" comes from sturgeon, which has been a big part of the Middle Eastern and Eastern European diet for almost all of their history, and, caviar from the Caspian Sea and rivers of Russia has always been considered uber-premium.  Because I am not a lover of caviar, I'll let the aficionados and caviar connoisseurs supply the IMG_8188detailed characteristics concerning size, color, texture and taste.  That said, in order of high-end to low-end pricing, there four types of sturgeon caviar:  beluga, sevruga, oestra and ship.  Even the experts will tell you, when choosing caviar, let your palate, not the price, be your guide.  I am a prime example as I find some of the inexpensive caviar choices (the Japanese black tobiko roe and American Alaskan red salmon roe for example), more to my liking. Once upon a time in the Middle East and Europe, caviar was reserved for royalty and their guests.  Here in 19th century America, when our waters were full of sturgeon, salty caviar was sold cheap or served free in saloons to get customers to drink more beer!

IMG_8207A bit about caviar utensils and etiquette:  Just like fish and seafood, all caviar should be very fresh, so, purchase it from a reliable source within 1-3 days of serving it. Because heat and oxygen are caviars worst enemies, it should be kept refrigerated and unopened until just prior to serving it in a non-metallic bowl nestled in a larger bowl of cracked or crushed ice. Since metal affects the taste of caviar, caviar spoons are typically made of mother-of-pearl, bone, tortoise shell, glass, wood or plastic.

IMG_8202Unless it is being used as a garnish, caviar is served as an hors d'oeuvre.  It's meant to be eaten in 1/2 teaspoon portions, and, it's considered bad manners to heap more than that on each appetizer. 

As for what to drink with caviar, while I like fine French champagne as much as the next person, no self-respecting gal of Russian descent would ever serve her caviar with anything other than iced shots of the finest frozen Russian vodka available. "Nasdrovia!" "To health!"

My guidelines for creating a classic caviar service.

IMG_8240Don't get nervous, none of this is etched in stone.

IMG_8217It's all about the caviar baby, it's the star of the show, so, traditionally caviar is accompanied by items that will enhance its flavor, not interfere with it.  When it comes to the foil, meaning the bland, edible, bread vessel it will be placed atop, while toast points or water biscuits are perfectly acceptable, purists all agree that Russian buckwheat blini (small, 2"-2 1/2"-round yeast-risen pancakes) are considered classic.

My recipe ~ Please Pass the Caviar: Russian Buckwheat Blini ~ is in Categories 1, 12, 14 & 21

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d17a3fed970cEstimating how much caviar to buy: There are, give or take, 8-10, 1/2 teaspoon servings of caviar in 1 ounce.  That means, the 2-ounce jar of caviar pictured here should be enough to make 16-20 appetizers -- if everyone plays by the 1/2 teaspoonful rule.  I plan on 2 ounces of caviar serving 4 people.

Tip: Because caviar is best served opened fresh (within the hour) and chilled, I purchase a few smaller containers, rather than one large one, and refresh it as needed.  

IMG_8227What to serve with caviar:  Once you've decided on the foil (which in my case is always buckwheat blini), plan and prep the accompaniments. Sour cream (or creme fraiche if you are French), chopped hard-cooked egg (whites and yolks chopped and served separately), minced red onion and minced chives are mandatory.  I also include, for those not fond of caviar and to stretch the amount of caviar consumed, small chunks of pickled herring and thin slices of smoked salmon.  Other options, but not my favorites, are lemon wedges and capers -- acid and brine in conjunction with caviar is not my ideal cup of tea.

Pick up a linen cocktail napkin, a blini & build an appetizer:

IMG_8256

Pass the Buckwheat Blini:  We are Serving Caviar:  Recipe yields instructions for buying and creating a classic/traditional caviar service.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; saucepan for hard-cooking eggs; caviar server; caviar spoon; set of small glass bowls and spoons; serving tray

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1792626970cCook's Note:  On any Russian table, besides vodka, there will be always be sour cream ("smetana"), and, many times it will be mixed into a fresh salad -- Russians love salad ("salat").  If you chop the ingredients for my ~ Creamy Russian Cucumber & Radish Salad ~ small enough, place it in a small bowl, it's perfect to add to the caviar service. Get the recipe in Categories 4, 10, 12 or 14!

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

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

11/20/2015

~ Please Pass the Caviar: Russian Buckwheat Blini ~

IMG_8188For centuries, these small yeast-risen buckwheat pancakes have been traditional fare on the opulent "zakuska table" ("appetizer table") at important Russian gatherings and festive celebrations.  "Zakuska" literally means "little bite".  Stacks of them are served alongside iced bowls of pickled herring, smoked sturgeon, salmon, many types of caviar, aspics and pates. There are plenty of condiments too: tangy sour cream, finely-chopped eggs, onions, briny pickles and sauteed mushroom mixtures.  No one can eat just one blin (singular), so, make plenty, and, don't forget to freeze the Russian vodka as an accompaniment -- it's mandatory.

IMG_8003"Nasdrovia":  "to health" and "thanks for the food"!

Times have changed, and, even though the splendor and opulence of Czarist Russia is past, the zakuska table is still alive and well in Russian life.  Even in the poorest of households, the Russians are known for their hospitality and generosity to guests, even if you drop in unexpectedly.  The moment you enter a Russian home, small plates of food will be placed on the table and vodka will be poured.  As a guest, you are expected to take a taste of everything, and, even if you don't drink, be sure to take a sip. "Nasdrovia", meaning "to health", is not as much a Russian toast as it is a thank-you to the host and hostess for the food, drink and hospitality.

IMG_9045blin is a small 2 1/4"-2 1/2"-round, 1/4"-thick, 100% yeast-leavened griddlecake (resemblant of a small American pancake) made from a thick, spoonable batter of buckwheat flour, warm milk, melted butter, egg yolks and egg whites. Russian buckwheat blini are the classic foil for the classic caviar service with minced onions, sauteed mushroom mixtures and sour cream. Russian cuisine, no one else's, gets full credit for blini. You other Eastern Europeans can argue this point amongst yourselves all you want.  I won't.   That said, while blini resemble small, American "silver dollar" pancakes, they are not made like American pancakes.

If you aren't making blini with yeast (they are NEVER EVER made with baking powder or baking soda) and you are not using buckwheat flour: You ain't makin' real-deal Russian blini baby!

IMG_8006A bit about buckwheat flour:  Native to Russia, buckwheat is thought of more as a cereal, but, it's actually an herb that provides a rich source of vitamins and minerals to a poor population.  Buckwheat porridge, made from roasted groats* cooked in broth or water similarly to rice or bulgur, is the definitive peasant dish.  The seeds are milled to make buckwheat flour and its assertive, pungent flavor makes it a favorite addition to Russian baked goods.  

*Buckwheat groats, "kasha", are the hulled, crushed buckwheat kernels. Available in coarse, medium and fine grinds, both the flour and the groats are available in American specialty and health food shops.

Buckwheat flour + yeast = real-deal Russian blini. 

IMG_80212  cups milk, scalded*

2  packets dry yeast granules, not rapid-rise

1 1/2  cups buckwheat flour

1  tablespoon sugar

1  tablespoon salted butter, melted

3  jumbo egg yolks, at room temperature

3  jumbo egg whites, at room temperature

1/2  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour 

1  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_8025* A bit about scalding milk:  In many "old" recipes (recipes passed down from generation to generation), especially recipes for yeast doughs, milk is "scalded" prior to using it. Scalded milk is milk that has been gently heated to 182 degrees -- the temperature at which bacteria are killed, enzymes are destroyed and proteins are denatured.  These are recipes that were written for food safety prior to pasteurization (which accomplishes the first two but not the third -- denaturing the proteins). In the case of yeast doughs, it is wise to carry on the tradition of scalding milk because denatured milk proteins promote a better rise. Fast forward to present times.  Milk can successfully be scalded in the the microwave by heating it slowly.

IMG_8039~ Step 1.  To "scald" milk the old-fashioned way, in a 1-quart saucepan, place the milk.  Over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally and checking the temperature often, heat to 182 degrees.  This will take about 10-12 minutes.  Tiny bubbles will have formed around the perimeter but the mixture will not be simmering or boiling.  Remove from heat allow to cool to 80-85 degrees -- this cool down will take about 20-30 minutes.  Pour the 80-85 degree milk into a large bowl.

IMG_8051 IMG_8054~ Step 2. Stir the yeast into the warm milk.  Using a large rubber spatula, gradually stir in the buckwheat flour and sugar until just blended.  Do not over mix -- small lumps in the batter are desirable.  I know, it's disagreeable looking.

IMG_8067 IMG_8069 IMG_8071Cover bowl with plastic wrap and rise for 30-45 minutes.  Mixture will be doubled with large bubbles on the surface.

IMG_8081 IMG_8079~ Step 3.  In each of two medium bowls, separate the eggs, placing the yolks in one and the whites in the other. Set the egg whites aside.

~ Step 4.  On stovetop or in microwave, melt the butter and set aside.  On low speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the egg yolks, gradually drizzling in the melted IMG_8088butter as you work.  When butter is thoroughly incorporated, gradually add and beat in the all-purpose flour and the salt.  The mixture, while sticky and wet, should look light and dry and resemble tiny, irregular flakes and crumbs.

~ Step 5.  Using the rubber spatula, fold the yolk mixture into the buckwheat batter mixture.  On medium IMG_8093speed of mixer, beat until well IMG_8090blended, about 1 minute, once again, ignoring any small lumps.  Do not over mix

Recover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the batter rise a second time until almost doubled in bulk, about 45 more minutes.

IMG_8099~ Step 6.  Clean the mixer blades and dry them thoroughly.  When the buckwheat batter mixture is looking like it is just about doubled in bulk, on high speed of mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  

IMG_8104Using the spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the buckwheat batter, using smooth but quick strokes.  Do not over mix.  Set aside about 5-10 minutes. 

IMG_8109~ Step 7.  Spray an electric skillet with no-stick and heat to 325 degrees.  Test heat by allowing a few drops of water to fall onto it.  If water bounces and sputters, heat is hot enough.  If water sits and boils, skillet is not hot enough.  Adjust heat accordingly.

IMG_8111~ Step 8.  To assure well-rounded blini, do not drop the batter onto the skillet from high.  Using a round-shaped tablespoon held close to the skillet's surface, roll a generous tablespoon of batter off the end of the tablespoon using your index finger to guide it.  The blini will be about 2 1/4"-2 1/2" in diameter. Cook one or two blini, as a test, before filling the entire skillet. Note: Don't overcrowd skillet -- I cook 12 at a time in my 16" electric skillet.

IMG_8125 IMG_8128~ Step 9. Once the blini are in the skillet, cook them for about 45-60 seconds, or until broken bubbles appear on their surface.  Using a thin spatula, gently check one or two to see how browned the first sides are.  If they are nicely golden, gently flip the blini and cook them an additional 20-30 seconds.  The second side will take about IMG_8134half as long as the first side to cook and will will not be evenly browned.  Using the spatula, transfer blini from griddle to cooling rack to coolcompletely.  Do not stack blini during cooling process as steam will make them soggy.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Note:  To freeze blini, place completely cooled blini in an airtight container, interleaving each layer with wax paper.  Tightly seal container and freeze.  To reheat, place frozen blini, in a single layer  IMG_8119on a large baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Loosely cover with aluminum foil. Place in a preheated 350 degree oven until thawed and heated through, about 8-10 minutes.  Do not use a microwave to thaw or reheat blini as it will toughen their light, airy, delicate texture.

Meet 5 1/2-6 dozen Russian buckwheat blini...

IMG_8135... up close and personal!

IMG_8178Please Pass the Caviar:  Russian Buckwheat Blini:  Recipe yields 5 1/2-6 dozen, 2 1/4"-2 1/2"-round appetizer-sized blini 

Special Equipment List:  1-quart saucepan; instant read thermometer; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; hand-held electric mixer; nonstick electric skillet; round tablespoon; thin spatula; large cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b019104c636ac970cCook's Note:  Somewhere on the Russian table, besides vodka, there will be always be a bowl of sour cream ("smetana"), and, many times it will be mixed into a fresh salad too -- Russians love salad ("salat"), and, if thay have fresh vegetables, there will be a salad served with the meal.  You can find my recipe for ~ Creamy Russian Cucumber & Radish Salad ~ can be found in Categories 4, 10, 12 or 14!

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

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

11/17/2015

~ My Favorite Tartar Sauce (For Fish and Seafood) ~

IMG_7996Tartar sauce can be bought at any and every grocery store.  They must sell a lot of it, because just yesterday I had to choose from, and bought, five jars of five different brands -- just for me to conduct a taste test before writing this.  The one that got top billing was our own local Wegman's brand.  Bookbinders came in second with Hellman's a distant third.  As for 4th and 5th places, "if one can't say anything nice, one shouldn't say anything at all", but it's my guess that when someone says they don't like tartar sauce, it's because they tried one of those two -- which tasted like mayonnaise with lemon and salt stirred into it.  That said, the one that stole the show was the one I've been mixing together for ages now, and, it takes less than 10 minutes to make, so, if you are buying tartar sauce in the name of convenience, it's time to rethink its purchase.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d176fa3e970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7ed2e68970bA bit about tartar sauce: Tartar sauce is a thick, rich, white mayo-based sauce that is typically served alongside or atop fish or seafood, however, it is quite delicious served with any number of raw or cooked vegetables -- including French fries.  The French invented it, calling it "sauce tartare", and, they start by making mayonnaise made from scratch, which by all means do if you have the time and/or expertise.  You can find my easy food-processor recipe, ~ How to:  Make Homemade Mayonnaise ("Mayo"), ~ in Categories 8 or 20.  When the classic egg yolk, lemon juice (or vinegar) and oil emulsion is complete, they simply add an herb (like chives, dill, parsley or chervil) some chopped gherkins and occasionally a minced shallot.

IMG_7776My recipe evolved over time, with the final "tweek" being:  I'm wed to adding dried or fresh dill (if it is in season) to the mixture.  It makes perfect sense, as dill pairs so well with fish and seafood.  Personally, I think that whatever tartar sauce recipe you are making:  mine, your grandmother's, a friend's or a stranger's, dill is the ingredient that really takes this simple recipe over the top!

IMG_7770For the tartar sauce:

1  cup mayonnaise

1/2  cup finely-diced sweet gherkins or sweet pickle relish or a cominbation of both, to taste

1/4  cup very-finely diced yellow or sweet onion, to taste

1  tablespoon lemon juice, preferably fresh

3/4 teaspoon dried dill weed

IMG_77771/2  teaspoon sugar

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_7783Step 1.  In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients as listed. Transfer to a food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours or overnight prior to serving chilled.  Overnight is truly best, and, tartar sauce can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for about a week .

Throw a line in the water and hook up w/some fish or seafood ...

IMG_7782... poach, fry or broil it -- then top with or dunk in tartar sauce! 

IMG_7973My Favorite Tartar Sauce (For Fish and Seafood):  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups tartar sauce.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; large spoon; 2-cup measuring container w/tight fitting lid

IMG_7920 IMG_7950Cooks Note: Tartar sauce is classically served with beer-batter-dipped deep-fried "fish 'n chips", cod or crab cakes.  One of my favorite recipes, which would be a perfect appetizer to pass around at the upcoming Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays, ~ Anchor-Deep Deep-Fried Shrimp w/Tartar Sauce ~, can be found in Categories 1, 2, 11, 14 or 17.

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

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

11/15/2015

~ Anchor-Deep Deep-Fried Shrimp w/Tartar Sauce ~

IMG_7920Circa 1960's and 1970's Anchor Deep Seafood was the name of a take-out seafood joint in my town, Tamaqua, PA.  It was a block from my Great Aunt Mary's house, which was three-four blocks from the high school, where I had band or majorette practice after school three-four days a week, and, way back then, there was no "activities or sports bus" to shuttle us kids who lived in the burbs home -- our parents had to "deal with it".  For years, I walked to Aunt Mary's after practice, then, around 5:15PM, my mom would pick me up after she left work.  Mom and I both loved "The Deep's" deep-fried shrimp, and, I won't lie, a couple of times a week we'd pick up 'a basket' and snack on them during the 10-minute car ride home, to our home, in Hometown.

While we never ordered the optional side of French fries, we always asked for extra tartar sauce -- a creamy, lemony, mayonnaise concoction with bits of onion and sweet gherkins swimming around in it.  It came with most of their fresh and fried fish and seafood selections (to name a few:  baked haddock, crab cakes, beer-batter-dipped cod, clams and oyster "platters").  If a regular customer asked really nice, they'd sell him or her a cup of their "secret sauce" "under the table". Sadly, as with many main-street Mayberry-esque businesses in small towns with dwindling populations, incoming fast-food chains and strip malls caused them to close.

IMG_7925This fond shrimp memory deserves homemade tartar sauce!

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c766995c970b 6a0120a8551282970b0147e274fd81970bA bit about tartar sauce: Tartar sauce is a thick, rich, white mayo-based sauce that is typically served alongside or atop fish or seafood, however, it is quite delicious served with any number of raw or cooked vegetables -- including French fries.  The French invented it, calling it "sauce tartare", and, they start by making mayonnaise made from scratch, which by all means do if you have the time and/or expertise.  You can find my easy food-processor recipe, ~ How to:  Make Homemade Mayonnaise ("Mayo"), ~ in Categories 8 or 20.  When the classic egg yolk, lemon juice (or vinegar) and oil emulsion is complete, they simply add an herb (like chives, dill, parsley or chervil) some chopped gherkins and occasionally a minced shallot.

My recipe evolved over time, with the final "tweek" being:  I'm wed to adding dried or fresh dill (if it is in season) to the mixture.  It makes perfect sense, as dill pairs so well with fish and seafood.  Personally, I think that whatever tartar sauce recipe you are making:  mine, your grandmother's, a friend's or a stranger's, dill is the ingredient that really takes this simple recipe over the top!

IMG_7770For the tartar sauce:

1  cup mayonnaise

1/2  cup finely-diced sweet gherkins or sweet pickle relish or a cominbation of both, to taste

1/4  cup very-finely diced yellow or sweet onion, to taste

1  tablespoon lemon juice, preferably fresh

3/4 teaspoon dried dill weed

IMG_77771/2  teaspoon sugar

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_7783~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients as listed. Transfer to a food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours or overnight prior to serving chilled.  Overnight is truly best, and, tartar sauce can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for about a week .

Let's talk beer-batter dipping & deep-frying shrimp!

IMG_7789For the beer-batter-dipped shrimp:

2  pounds extra-large (26-30 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on

2  cups pancake & waffle mix, for dredging

3  cups pancake & waffle mix, for batter

2 1/2  cups light beer, plus up to 1/2 cup additional beer (2, 12-ounce bottles)

1 1/2-2  8-ounce boxes panko breadcrumbs

peanut or corn oil for frying

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

6a0120a8551282970b01901e68dca4970bOne 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 2 cups dry pancake mix.

One medium bowl containing 3 cups pancake mix whisked with 2 1/2 cups beer.

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 2 cups panko breadcrumbs.

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

Misc:  3-minute timer, tongs, cooling rack, paper towels, sea salt grinder.

6a0120a8551282970b01a73dfbc560970d~ Step 1. When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer. Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer (or some water) to maintain a drizzly consistency.

IMG_7805 IMG_7807~ Step 2.  Working in batches of 6 shrimp at a time, dredge each one in the dry pancake mix to coat it on all sides.  Note:  I fry 6 at a time because that is what fits comfortably in the basket of my fryer without overcrowding it.

IMG_7811 IMG_7814~ Step 3.  Next, move up the assembly line, and, using each shrimp tail as a handle, dip it into the batter, but not so deep as to coat the tail in batter. As you lift each one out of the batter, hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the excess batter to IMG_7828drizzle back into the bowl. As you batter dip each shrimp, place it into the dish of panko breadcrumbs.

~ Step 4.  Dredge each shrimp on all sides the moment it enters the panko meaning:  do not wait to coat 6 shrimp in panko until all 6 are in the dish.  Why?  You don't want to give the thin coating of batter time to drip down off the sides.

~ Step 5.  Using your fingertips or tongs (whatever you feel most IMG_7844comfortable using), carefully and gently lower each  shrimp down into the oil (and fryer basket below) which has been preheated to 360 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.  

~ Step 6.  Close the lid and fry at 360 degrees for exactly 3 1/2 minutes.  Shrimp will be a beautiful golden brown.  Do not overcook.

IMG_7842~ Step 7.  Open fryer lid and lift basket up and out of deep-fryer.  

IMG_7859~ Step 8. Transfer shrimp to a rack in a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.

Tip:  To transfer the shrimp, I like to tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack.  Using  tongs is a easy way to damage their crust.

Immediately sprinkle shrimp with a grinding of sea salt.  

Repeat the dredging, dipping and coating process until all shrimp are deep fried.  Serve hot (almost immediately), warm (within 30 minutes), or at room temperature (within 1 hour).  There's more:  trust me when I tell you, these shrimp will remain crunchy well past the 4 hour mark!

IMG_7863Happy tales of happy tails...

IMG_7931... and happy tartar-sauced tails to you too!

IMG_7950Anchor-Deep Deep-Fried Shrimp w/Tartar Sauce:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups tartar sauce and 4-5 dozen deep-fried shrimp.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2 shallow 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes or 9" pie dishes;  medium-large bowl; whisk; deep-fryer; 3-minute egg timer; tongs; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; paper towels; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01630398d963970dCook's Note:  Anchor Deep served some seriously good batter-dipped chicken too -- my brother loved it. For my take on batter dipped chicken, using user-friendly boneless chicken tenders, click into Categories 1, 2 or 17 to get my recipe for ~ Chicken Things: Better Than Fried Chicken ~!

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

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

11/12/2015

~ Pumpkin 'n Spice and Everything Nice Pancakes ~

IMG_7725A stack of pancakes with a dollop of whipped butter and drizzled with pure maple syrup -- it's an iconic breakfast that few people can resist.  Add a few strips of salty, crisply-fried bacon to the side and even I'll hang around the breakfast table until, astonishingly, I manage to finish it.  A pancake breakfast is special to us Americans and there is lot of evidence to prove it:  All sorts of community organizations host pancake breakfasts as a way to raise money for a good cause, iHop thrives in every town or city, and, when any mother in America announces she is making "breakfast for dinner" it is internationally understood that pancakes are included!

IMG_3618Pancakes are easy to make, which makes it hard for me to understand why so many folks rely on boxed mixes, and, you can fill-up a lot of people, while making them very happy at the same time, for very little money.  I rarely stray from my go-to recipe for ~ My Mother's Day Tradition:  Buttermilk Pancakes ~ (you can find it in Categories 9, 11 or 20), except for pumpkin pancakes which I make, at some point, around the Thanksgiving holiday, and is in fact, a spin-off of my buttermilk pancake recipe.  They are a  indeed a special  change-of-pace treat for this time of year.

Pumpkin 'n spice and everything nice: 

IMG_7592For the dry ingredients:

2  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

4  tablespoons sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon ground ginger

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

For the wet ingredients:

1  cup 100% pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling 

1  teaspoon vanilla bean paste (pure vanilla extract may be substituted)

1  large egg, lightly beaten

1 3/4  cups whole milk

corn or vegetable oil, for cooking pancakes

IMG_7598 IMG_7596~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, stir together all of the dry ingredients.

IMG_7600~ Step 2.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, vanilla bean paste and egg.

IMG_7605Add the milk and continue to beat until smooth.

IMG_7608 IMG_7617~ Step 3.  All at once, add  wet ingredients to dry ingredients.  Using a hand-crank egg beater, while scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula, beat until mixture is combined. Do not over mix batter -- little lumps are perfect.

Tip about mixing batter:  Allow batter to rest about 5 minutes -- about the time it takes to heat the skillet in the next step.  No matter what anyone else tells you or what you read elsewhere, do not mix your pancake batter any farther ahead of time than that.  In order to save time in the morning, do what I do:  Mix the dry ingredients together the night before, and, mix the wet ingredients together too.  Let the dry ingredients sit on the counter overnight and refrigerate the wet ingredients.  Mix the two together just before proceeding with the recipe as directed below.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d14be3de970c~ Step 4.  In a 16" electric skillet, heat a thin, 1/16" coating of oil, not butter, to 350 degrees (medium on my gas stovetop).  Note:  I prefer the electric skillet over the traditional griddle.  It's got a big, flat surface area, which gives me plenty of space to cook and flip 3-4 pancakes at a time and it makes heat control a breeze.

Using a 4-ounce (1/2 cup) ladle as a measure, add ladlefuls of batter for 3 pancakes to the skillet.  Do not overcrowd the skillet.  The batter will spread out, on its own to form 3, 4"-4 1/2"-round pancakes, so, make sure you space the ladlefuls well apart "in a triangular configuration".

Tips on cooking and flipping:  The heat should be hot enough that you hear and see an initial sizzle around the edges of each pancake, but, not hear or see a sizzle throughout the cooking process.  Sometimes it is necessary to adjust the heat as they cook, but, my skillet never leaves the 325-350- degree range.  Pancakes should not be rushed.  When bubbles rise to the surface, which can take 1-2 minutes, they are approaching being ready to gently flip -- but not quite. Pancakes are ready to flip when the bubbles begin to burst and no or little batter fills the holes back up.  When it comes to flipping, be gentle.  Skip the drama -- don't throw them up in the air or slap them over.  The object of the pancake game is to protect their hole-y-ness!

Into the skillet, the batter for each pancake gets added:

IMG_7620When the bubbles that form on the top begin to burst:

IMG_7639It's time to give each "hole-y pancake" a gentle flip!

IMG_7642Stack 'em up, as many as you can eat...

IMG_7677... top 'em with butter & a drizzle of maple syrup...

IMG_7715... indulge in pure pumpkin pancake perfection!

IMG_7748Pumpkin 'n Spice and Everything Nice Pancakes :  Recipe yields 10, 4"-4 1/2" round pancakes.

Special Equipment List:  old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater; large rubber spatula; electric skillet or large nonstick skillet; 4-ounce ladle; spatula

IMG_7679Cook's Note:  The stack of pancakes pictured here today are topped with my ~ Orange Cinnamon & Vanilla Bean Breakfast Butter ~.  I make this compound butter a couple of times a year and keep in on hand in my freezer.  You can find the recipe in Categories 4, 8, 20 or 22!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)

11/09/2015

~ Oh My Cup of Tea: Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares~

IMG_7545I love cheesecake -- on many levels, it's my ultimate-indulgence dessert.  For me, a slice of cheesecake is a celebration on a plate.  Ponder that last statement for one moment.  Now: Would you rather celebrate your birthday with a candle in a slice of real-deal cheesecake, or, no matter how moist and decadent, a piece of cake or a cupcake?  You've guessed my answer.  I'm guessing I'm not standing anywhere close to alone.  I hear a resounding cry for "cheesecake"!

7a75ba5e054018efd64a5f44fa32ce5dA bit about cheesecake:  Cheesecake, a sweet dish of one more layers, is a beloved dessert around the world.  A lot of Americans are under the impression it was was invented in New York City, but, it actually dates back over 4,000 years to ancient Greece. The Greeks believed it to be a nutritional source of energy and it's said that cheesecake was served to athletes at the first Olympic Games in 776 B.C.   They also served cheesecake at important or festive gatherings, and, Greek brides and grooms also served cheesecake at wedding celebrations.  

The original Greek cheesecake, which was quite firm, contained flour, wheat, honey and a tangy cheese, which got pounded to a paste and baked in a brass pan.  When the Romans conquered Greece, cheesecake was a spoil of war, and they are the ones who added eggs, to make a softer version, which was occasionally baked in a pastry under a hot brick and served warm.  As the Roman Empire expanded, cheesecake got introduced to the rest of Europe.  By the 18th century, cheesecake began to look slightly more like what we currently eat, and, we can thank our immigrant European ancestors for bringing their ethnic recipes along with them.  Then:

A little invention called cream cheese changed the cheesecake world.

IMG_3439In 1872, William Lawrence, a NY dairyman, created the first American cream cheese in a failed attempt to reproduce Neufchatel.  He made the cheese in the same manner as Neufchatel, with cream added to the milk mixture. He named his company Empire Cheese, but named his product Philadelphia Cream Cheese, because he sent it to Philadelphia for packaging and shipment to his buyers.  In 1903, Phoenix Cheese of NY bought Empire Cheese along with the "Philadelphia" trademark for it. Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese was bought by Kraft in 1928. James L. Kraft invented pasteurized cheese in 1912, and: Pasteurized Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese was born!

Yes, you can substitute our American-style Neufchatel cheese for American brands of cream cheese in all cheesecake recipes, and, to learn more about this, click on the Related Article link below and read my post ~ Neufchatel vs Cream Cheese:  Are they the same? ~.

The rest is American cheesecake-style history!

All over the world, each country has its own cheesecake style.  The Italians use ricotta to make theirs and the Greeks use mizithra or feta.  Germans use quark, which is similar to cottage cheese, while the Japanese use a combination of egg white and cornstarch.  Depending upon "which immigrants settled where" in the USA, our country has several cheesecake styles: New York-, Pennsylvania Deutsch-, Philadelphia-, Chicago- and Country-style are the most well known.   Some are dense and heavy, some are light and creamy.  Most are made with some sort of a bottom pastry crust or a sponge-cake layer, others are made with a crunchy graham cracker or cookie crust (like vanilla or chocolate wafers).  All are delicious and none are particularly hard to make.  I'm sharing my Thanksgiving-style cheesecake with you today.  Gobble, gobble!

IMG_7571Part One:  Making the Gingersnap Crust

IMG_73308  ounces gingersnap cookies, processed to crumbs (1 1/2 cups crumbs after processing)

3  ounces salted butter, melted and slightly cooled (3/4 stick)

IMG_7336Step 1.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, process gingersnaps to crumbs, 40-45 rapid on-off pulses followed by 10-15 seconds of processing.

IMG_7343 IMG_7342Step 2. With motor running, in a thin stream, add butter through feed tube and continue to process until crumbs are coated in butter, about 15 seconds.

IMG_7348Step 3. Using a large rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the processor bowl with a large rubber spatula and transfer IMG_7350 IMG_7353the crumbs to a 9" x 9" x 3"-square cheesecake pan with a removable bottom that has been lined with a square of parchment paper.  Using your fingertips and/or a tablespoon,  evenly distribute the crumbs across the bottom of the pan.

IMG_7356~ Step 4.  Using a heavy, flat-sided meat pounder (or the flat bottom of a measuring cup), gently tamp the crumbs into the bottom of the pan.  

IMG_7361Use the fingertip of your index finger to make sure they are tamped down around the edges and into the corners.  Check to be sure the crust isn't too thick or IMG_7363too thin in any spots.  

~ Step 5.  Bake crust on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven for about 7-8 minutes, or, until almost firm to the touch and fragrant.

Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool to room temperature about 45-60 minutes.  Crust can be prepared one day in advance.

Lower the oven temperature to 275 degrees.

Part Two:  Preparing the Two-Layer Cheesecake Center

IMG_7370For the basic cheesecake filling (yields 5 cups total throughout recipe):

2  pounds cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1  cup sugar

4  large eggs at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

For the pumpkin mixture, for the top layer (yields 1 cup):

1  cup 100% pure pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling

1  teaspoon cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon ground ginger

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

IMG_7372 IMG_7373~ Step 1.  In a small bowl combine the pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Set aside. Note:  In this recipe, 5 cups of cheesecake filling will be prepared and 3 cups will be used to form bottom layer.  The pumpkin mixture will be added to the remaining 2 cups to form the top layer.

IMG_7377 IMG_7381Step 2.  In a large bowl, place the cream cheese and the vanilla extract, then, on low speed of mixer, thoroughly combine.  Add the sugar and once it is incorporated, increase the mixer speed to medium.  When the sugar is incorporated:

IMG_7392 IMG_7385Begin beating in the eggs, one at a time.  

IMG_7389When all of the eggs are added, increase mixer speed to high and continue to beat for about 1 minute, until filling is ultra-smooth.

IMG_7406~ Step 3.  Using a 1-cup measure, remove and transfer 3 cups of the cheesecake filling to the prepared pan, placing it on top of the cooled gingersnap crust.  

Using a tablespoon and a light touch, gently and carefully spread the filling evenly across the top of the crust, then, holding the pan firmly on the countertop, give the pan a couple of back-and-forth shakes to level the mixture out.

IMG_7397 IMG_7402~ Step 4.  Add the pumpkin mixture to the 2 cups of remaining cheesecake filling in the large bowl. On lowest speed of mixer, fold the pumpkin into the cheesecake filling, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula until:

IMG_7414The mixture is uniform in color.

IMG_7410~ Step 5. Using a tablespoon dollop spoonfuls of pumpkin-cheesecake mixture over top of cheesecake filling.  When all the pumpkin mix is in pan, using the tablespoon and a super-light touch, "connect the dots" to evenly spread the mixture over the surface.

Note:  DO NOT pour the pumpkin-cheescake filling onto the top of the cheesecake filling. 

IMG_7420~ Step 6.  Bake cheesecake on center rack of 275 degree oven for 45-50 minutes -- surface will look dry and center will not look done (it will be "jiggly").  Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.

IMG_7424~ Step 7. Insert the tip of a paring knife to a depth of 1/4" and run it around all 4 sides of pan. 

This will help to prevent cracking as the cheesecake cools.  Allow to cool to room temperature, 3-3 1/2 hours prior to covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating for 6-8 hours or overnight.

Part Three:  Making the Caramel-Pecan Topping

IMG_74256  tablespoons salted butter

6  tablespoons firmly-packed dark brown sugar

6  tablespoons heavy or whipping cream

1  generous cup chopped and lightly-toasted pecans (about 1 1/4 cups)

IMG_7428~ Step 1. Chop pecans, placing them in a single layer in a small, shallow baking pan (for small quantities of nuts, I use a pan that will fit in my toaster oven).  Roast on center rack of 350 degree oven, until lightly-toasted and fragrant, 5-6 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool about 10-15 minutes.

IMG_7433 IMG_7435 IMG_7438 IMG_7439~Step 2.  In a 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Stir in the brown sugar and keep stirring until sugar is dissolved, and mixture is simmering, about 45-60 seconds.  Add the cream. Increase heat to medium and bring to a boil.  Add the toasted pecans and stir until evenly-coated.  Remove saucepan from heat.  Allow mixture to cool and thicken at bit, 15-20 minutes.  

IMG_7451 IMG_7441~ Step 3. Remove cheesecake from refrigerator. Spoon the topping onto the center of the cold cake, then, using the spoon, gently and carefully spread it to within 1/4" of edges.  Return the cheesecake, uncovered, to the refrigerator until topping firms up, 2-4 hours.

IMG_7473~ Step 4.  Remove  cheesecake from refrigerator.  Run a paring knife around the insides of the pan, then, by pushing up on the removable bottom, lift the cheesecake up and out.  Slice into 16, 2 1/4" squares and serve chilled or at room temperature.  Note:  For clean slices, wipe the knife with a wet cloth between each cut.  Cover and store leftovers in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Everyone smile for the camera and say, "Cheesecake"!!!

IMG_7477Sliced chilled & served at room temperature...

IMG_7573... this gorgeous glamour-girl dessert is one guys can't resist!

IMG_7558Oh My Cup of Tea:  Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares:  Recipe yields 16, 2 1/4" squares of cheesecake.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; 1-cup measuring container; 9" x 9" x 3" square cheesecake pan; parchment paper; large rubber spatula; hand-held electric mixer; cooling rack; sharp paring knife; plastic wrap; cutting board; small, shallow baking pan; 2-quart saucepan

IMG_6433Cook's Note:  November is indeed the month to celebrate the flavor of pumpkin spice.  Another one of my favorite recipes of the season,   ~ Pumpkin Cookies w/Cream Cheese Frosting ~ can be found in Categories 7 or 18! 

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

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

11/07/2015

~ Hungarian Galuska (Small Soft Eggy Dumplings) ~

IMG_7297Raise your hand if you love doughy, hand-crafted noodles and dumplings.  Among my favorites: flat and square Pennsylvania Deutsch pot pie noodles, odd-shaped short strands of German spatzle, my mom's almost-golf-ball-sized Russian halusky, small and nubby Italian gnocchi, and, I'm about to add these Hungarian galuska to this list (very, very similar to spatzle, galuska, a bit more "bare bones", are typically made with water, not milk, and contain no nutmeg).

IMG_7290"If you can't make galuska, you can't cook Hungarian!" 

IMG_7284If you want to dabble in putting some authentic Hungarian fare on your family's table, which I have been doing this week, I highly-recommend you start by learning how to make galuska (gah-loosh-ka).  It has been said, "if you can't make galuska, you can't cook Hungarian" and here's why:  Since soups and stews are at the heart of Hungarian cuisine, the Hungarians take their noodles and dumplings very seriously.  While it is perfectly acceptable to serve many of their soups and stews with potatoes or rice, the Hungarians don't feel you are doing them proper justice unless you're serving them with their galuska -- which are quite easy to make!

IMG_7198Hungarian cooking is simple and straightforward.  With bread crumbs, butter, caraway seeds, onions, paprika, sour cream and tomatoes in your kitchen, you're set to cook all sorts of Hungarian fare.  You'll need no special equipment, but, a potato ricer is sure handy, and, one inexpensive ($10-$15) time-saving device, a spatzle maker, makes short work of making galuska.

IMG_72053  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

3  large eggs, well beaten

3/4-1  cup water

~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, stir together the flour and salt and set aside.  In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, vigorously beat the eggs.

IMG_7218 IMG_7214~ Step 2. Add enough of the water to the eggs to total 1 cup of liquid.  Set the water aside.  Make IMG_7221a well in the center of the flour, add half of the egg mixture and stir.

IMG_7231 IMG_7222~ Step 3. Continue to stir and incorporate the rest of the egg mixture into the flour.  When all of the egg mixture has been incorporated, begin slowly adding the rest of the water, in small amounts, stirring constantly until a gooey mess forms.  Do not be inclined to add any more flour.

Ideally, you want a soft, sticky, cohesive mass of dough with an elastic texture that forms holes in itself (it tears) when lifted up on a large spoon (perhaps the photo below will explain this better).

Set the gooey mess aside for about 15 minutes.

IMG_7237While the gooey mess is resting:

IMG_7200~ Step 4.  in a wide-bottomed, 4-quart stockpot, bring 2 1/2-quarts of water to which 1 tablespoon sea salt has been added to a boil. Place the spatzle maker on top of the pot of boiling water.

Note:  If you do not have a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil in a standard-sized 8-quart stockpot. The spatzle maker is designed to sit perfectly on top of any 10"-bottomed pot without sliding.

IMG_7254 IMG_7251                                           ~ Step 5. Spoon some of the gooey mess into the trough of the spatzle maker, filling it to about 3/4 capacity.  Immediately begin slowly sliding it back and forth allowing the galuska to drop down into the boiling water.  Repeat this process 2 more times until all of the galuska IMG_7259are in the boiling water.

IMG_7261~ Step 6. Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to IMG_7269cook until galuska are tender and just cooked through, 5-6 minutes.

IMG_7275~ Step 7.  Remove from heat and drain into a colander.  Do not rinse.

IMG_7272~ Step 8. Add 6 tablespoons salted butter to the still hot stockpot, return the hot galuska to the stockpot and place the pot back on the still warm stovetop.  Gently stir until the galuska are coated in and have soaked up all of the butter.

Serve with or in Hungarian soups & stews or as a side-dish to a meal:

IMG_7278To get my recipe for ~ Mrs. Varga's Evolving Hungarian Paprikas Recipe ~, just click into Categories 2, 3, 12, 19 or 20!

IMG_7300Hungarian Galuska (Small Soft Eggy Dumplings):  Recipe yields 6 cups of galuska.

Special Equipment List:  2, 1-cup measuring containers; fork; large spoon; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; spatzle maker; colander

IMG_7166Cook's Note:  Another one of my favorite Hungarian recipes, which is outstanding on its own, ~ Gizella's Hungarian Potato Soup (Krumpli Leves) ~ is even more decadent w/galuska stirred into it. Just click into Categories 2, 12 or 20 to get the recipe!

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

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

11/04/2015

~ Gizella's Hungarian Potato Soup (Krumpli Leves) ~

IMG_7166I'm no J. Edgar Hoover, but, in my office, there is a well-organized file drawer in my credenza containing nothing but recipes that I've collected from foodies I've encountered over the years -- if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.  Because I know or knew each foodie personally, I know these recipes are kitchen-tested and tasty.  One such file, marked "Gizella" is a 1"-thick compendium of her recipes, many of which are from her country of birth: Hungary.  Lucky for me, for a few short years, on occasion, I got to eat Gizella's food, and, it was amazing to say the least.  The file was given to me shortly after Gizella's death, by her daughter, and, every now and then, I share one or two of her recipes here on Kitchen Encounters.

IMG_7041'Tis the season for rustic, peasant soups and stews -- especially if you live here in the Northeastern USA. Monday, I posted ~ Mrs. Varga's Evolving Paprikas Recipe ~, which is a flavorful stew served with or over dumplings or egg noodles.  If you've never tasted Hungarian fare, this is a good place to start.  Today I chose her Hungarian potato soup. It's incredibly easy, and, it's meatless too (although Gizella notes that Hungarian sausage or kielbasa are commonly added to it -- I don't think it needs either one.)

This soup is the easiest, tastiest soup you might ever make!

IMG_7096This potato soup is a "lean soup" meaning, it was a common staple in post-war Budapest.  It was served as a "filler-upper" a few times a week in most Hungarian kitchens.  It is simple and straightforward, making an efficient use of the few "bare bones" and/or fresh vegetables commonly available to cold-climate Eastern European kitchens (carrots, celery, onion and potatoes).  Even though Gizella's recipe is brimming with vegetables, this is still a brothy soup, meaning:  even with the starch from the potatoes, along with the addition of the designated amount of flour and the addition of some sour cream, this hearty, filling soup is not thick and it is not supposed to be thick -- take no creative license on this front.

For inquiring minds who want to know:  Krumpli Leves vs. Burgonya Leves

Because I like to learn as I go, I looked up the word for "potato" in Hungarian -- it is "burgonya".  I found it odd that the soup is not called "burgonya leves" (with "leves" being the Hungarian word for soup).  I reached out to my friend Mike, who lived in Hungary for a few years in his recent past.  Mike explained that there are two Hungarian words for potato.  Typically "krumpli" refers to baked potato dishes or baked dishes containing potatoes. On the other hand, boiled and mashed potatoes are referred to as "burgonya" and he'd use "burgonya leves" as the name for this soup.  I agree 100% on this point, and, if this were my original recipe, I'd change it!

IMG_70644  tablespoons salted butter

1  cup diced onion

1  cup diced celery

2 cups diced carrots

1 teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon cracked black pepper

2  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika

IMG_70674  cups hot beef, chicken or vegetable stock (Note:  I take the easy way out and just heat it in the microwave until steaming.)

2  tablespoons dried parsley flakes

4  cups peeled and 1/2"-3/4" cubed potatoes (Note:  I use gold potatoes, Gizella used red.)

1/2  cup sour cream

1/4  cup minced fresh parsley, for garnishing soup

IMG_7072 IMG_7075 IMG_7078~ Step 1.  Over low heat, melt the butter in the bottom of a wide-bottomed, 4-quart stockpot.  Add the onion, celery and carrots and season with the salt and pepper.  Increase heat to medium-high and saute until the onion is soft and the carrots are beginning to soften, about 6-8 minutes.

IMG_7081 IMG_7084 IMG_7085~  Step 2.  Lower heat to low and stir in flour and paprika. Stir constantly for about 30 seconds until the mixture thickens.  

IMG_7092~ Step 3.  Add the hot broth and the parsley flakes.  Increase heat to a gentle, steady simmer, then add the potatoes.  When the liquid returns to a simmer, continue to cook until potatoes are tender, 6-8 minutes.

IMG_7133~ Step 4. Turn the heat off and stir in the sour cream.  

Remove from heat, cover  pot and allow the soup to steep for 15-20 minutes prior to serving hot.

Think you're looking at an ordinary bowl of potato soup?

IMG_7172You're busted -- this is an extraordinary bowl of potato soup! 

IMG_7191Gizella's Hungarian Potato Soup (Krumpli Leves):  Recipe yields 3 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot w/lid

IMG_2923Cook's Note:  If I could or would add anything to this soup, it would be cabbage.  We Eastern Europeans love cabbage.  For one of my favorite side-dishes, click into Categories 4, 12, 19 or 20 to get my recipe for  ~ My Grandma's Butter-Braised Cabbage & Carrots ~.

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

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

11/02/2015

~ Mrs. Varga's Evolving Hungarian Paprikas Recipe ~

IMG_7022Although limited, my encounters with Hungarian cuisine have all been good ones, and, to the best of my knowledge, authentic too.  While my family is not Hungarian, we are Eastern European (of the Slovakian type), which means the food of other Eastern European countries, generally speaking, appeals to our appetites.  Thanks to a recipe my mom got from a Hungarian co-worker, she made really good Hungarian "goulyas".  As for paprikas, that's a recipe I got from my current neighbor Gabriella's mother (both of whom immigrated from Hungary to the USA in the 1950's).  A copy of Gizella Varga's paprikas was given to me, along with a copy of her entire recipe collection, by Gabriella after her mother's death.  What a fine gift and how lucky I am.   

Four Hungarian soup & stews (goulyas, porkolt, paprikas and tokany) (GOO-lahsh, PUR-kolt, PAH-pree-kash, to-kany):  "Goulash" (as most Americans refer to it), is a hearty, paprika-laced, small-cubed beef, pork or sometimes game soup -- it's not a thick stew (which is a common American misconception).  The Hungarian word for "thick stew" is "porkolt" which is made with larger cubes of beef, pork or game and less broth or water. Tokany, a very thick version of porkolt, contains just enough liquid to keep it moist, and, this stew is made without paprika.

IMG_7046How does Paprikas fit in this mix & what makes it different?

IMG_6973Paprikas, while obviously laced with sweet Hungarian paprika, is typically made with chicken or veal and is very similar in thickness to porkolt, which classifies it as a stew.

It differs from goulyas, porkolt and tokany in that it is finished with cream or sour cream that is sometimes mixed with flour. Goulyas, porkolt & tokany contain no cream, sour cream or flour.  

IMG_7011Also, goulyas, porkolt and tokany contain garlic -- paprikas does not.  

Paprikas, like porkolt and tokany, is served with or atop Hungarian dumplings, while diced potatoes and/or dumplings usually get added to goulyas (being a gal of Russian decent, my mom always added carrots to goulash too and that was fine by me).  Here in the USA, egg noodles are often substituted.

A few other noteworthy, but not-written-in-stone guidelines:  All four of the dishes are made with lard or bacon fat, onions, tomatoes and sometimes tomato paste.  All four contain broth or water -- wine is rarely used. While all four of the dishes are seasoned with salt, pepper and (except for tokany) paprika, caraway seeds are sometimes added to goulyas and marjoram is added to tokany. Green pepper is an option in all, and, while mushrooms can be added to paprikas, porkolt and tokany, they're not typically added to goulyas (which I find odd as I think they'd taste really good in it).  Chopped parsley is commonly sprinkled on top of all four finished dishes.

Mrs. Varga's Evolving Hungarian Paprikas Recipe:

IMG_6919Interestingly, Mrs. Varga made a few changes to her recipe after moving to the United States. Her chicken paprikas originally used a whole chicken cut into 8 pieces, or, all bone-in breasts and/or leg/thigh portions.  This transitioned into boneless breasts or thighs cut into chunks.  I hope you are following along here folks, because it is obvious to me these changes took place as these newer cuts of chicken hit our American marketplace in the 1960's.  Her veal paprikas originally used chucks of "stew meat", then, when "the other white meat" became popular in the 1970's, she, like everyone else who was sick of boneless, skinless chicken breasts fell in love with boneless pork cutlets, as a much less pricey substitution for veal, which, she smartly cut into strips to make a super-quick version of paprikas!

IMG_69162  pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts or 1/2"-thick pork cutlets, trimmed of all visible fat, lightly-pounded with the flat-sided meat mallet and cut into 1/4"-1/2" strips

4  tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika, the best available (total throughout recipe)

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

4  tablespoons olive oil 

12-ounces peeled, halved and thinly sliced yellow or sweet onion (about 4 cups)

2  14 1/2-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained

1/2 cup sour cream mixed with 1 teaspoon Wondra flour

chicken stock, only if paprikas accidentally becomes too thick, or, for reheating leftovers

1/2-3/4  cup chopped parsley, for garnish

12-ounces wide egg noodles, cooked, drained and tossed with 6 tablespoons butter*

IMG_6999*Note:  For a quick weeknight meal, I serve paprikas with buttered noodles.  That choice is yours.  That said, if you plan to do this, after you prep all of your ingredients for the paprikas, cook and drain your noodles as directed, returning them to the still warm stockpot. Add the butter and toss until butter melts.  Cover and set aside while preparing the paprikas.

IMG_6911 IMG_6921Step 1. Using a flat-sided meat mallet, pound the meat, just enough to break down the fibers. Do not smash them.  Slice into strips, placing them in a bowl as you work.  Add 2 tablespoons of paprika and season liberally with sea salt and peppercorn blend.  I use 40 grinds of salt and 60 grinds of pepper.  Toss to combine.

IMG_6941 IMG_6928~ Step 2.  In a 12" skillet heat EVOO over medium-high.  Add the meat.  Saute, stirring constantly with a large slotted spoon, until meat is cooked through and just starting to turn brown, about 4-5 minutes.  Turn the heat to low and using the slotted spoon, transfer meat from skillet to a plate.

IMG_6951 IMG_6942~ Step 3. Return heat to medium-high.  Add the onions to the drippings in the skillet along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of paprika.  Season with salt and pepper.  I use 20 grinds of salt and 40 grinds of pepper.  Saute until onions are just beginning to soften, about 3 more minutes.

IMG_6957 IMG_6953~ Step 4. Return the meat to the skillet of onions, along with the tomatoes and all of their juice.  Once the mixture returns to a simmer, adjust the heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue to cook until sauce is nicely, not overly thickened, 15-18 minutes.

IMG_7006 IMG_7009                                                 ~ Step 5. In a small bowl, stir sour cream and flour together.  Reduce heat to low and stir the mixture into the paprikas. Allow to simmer for 1 minute or enough to thicken to a silky, sauce-like consistency.  If it gets too thick, add a bit of chicken stock to bring it back to desired consistency.

Paprikas = Red, White & Green (the colors of the Hungary's flag):

IMG_7041Mrs. Varga's Evolving Hungarian Paprikas Recipe:  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; 1-cup measuring container; large slotted spoon; 8-quart stockpot and colander (for cooking noodles)

IMG_7297Cook's Note:  All Eastern Europeans are known for their dumplings and  noodles.  To take paprikas to a upper level, try my ~ Hungarian Galushka (Small Soft Eggy Dumplings) ~ which you can find in Categories 4, 12 or 19.

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

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