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12 posts from December 2015

12/31/2015

~ Butter-Rum, Vanilla Bean & Eggnog Pound Cake ~

IMG_9963If you're planning on drinking some eggnog over the course of the next two days, set a cup of it aside until you read the rest of this post.  You can thank me later.  In my opinion, any cake, cookie or confection that starts out as plain vanilla, gets jettisoned to star status with the addition of the flavors of eggnog:  cinnamon, nutmeg, and, of course, rum.  Even folks who don't care to drink eggnog per se seem to love it if it is used as a flavoring in a dessert -- like this cake.

Eggnog literally means eggs in a "nog" (a little wooden cup).

IMG_9263A bit about eggnog:  References to eggnog date back to the 1800's, when, even back then it was served during the Winter holiday season. Known as "egg milk punch", it was and still is a sweetened dairy-based beverage made with milk, sugar, raw egg yolks, whipped egg whites and a splash of rum and/or vanilla extract. Nowadays cream is always included in place of some or all of the milk, because today's milk has a much lower fat content than milk in the 1800's, which had cream on top.

Brandy, rum and/or bourbon are almost always added.  The plain truth:  Eggnog just tastes A LOT better with some alcohol in it.  Each smallish finished serving is poured into a punch cup, then it's topped off with a dollop of freshly-whipped cream and a sprinkling of freshly-ground nutmeg.

IMG_9129Eggnog means "eggs in a cup", and it is used on both sides of the Atlantic to toast to health.  "Nog" is an old English term for a small wooden cup.  It descended from a hot British drink called posset, made from eggs beaten with milk, sugar and some type of spirit. During that period, alcoholic drinks were served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because it was cooked, posset traveled and adapted well to local tastes.  One such place: the America colonies, which were full of farms which were full of chickens, cows and lots of cheap rum -- our signature ingredient. 

Fast forward to present day.  Over the holidays, pasteurized eggnog is sold in milk-like cartons in almost every grocery store in America.  Here is where I stick my two cents in.  All store-bought eggnog is not created equal.  Most mass-produced name brands are cloyingly sweet, leaving an almost bubblegum-like aftertaste.  Most purists agree that those who don't like this Yultide beverage have simply never had the opportunity to taste real-deal eggnog.  While I make my own eggnog for drinking, I do buy eggnog for baking, but, when I do, I head to one of two of our local Happy Valley dairy's to get it:  Meyer's Dairy or The Berkey Creamery.

IMG_9939When eggnog meets my foolproof "4:3:2:1" poundcake formula:

A bit about pound cake:  Pound cake, which is a type of butter cake, gets its name from vintage recipes stemming from the famous French "quatre-quarts" ("four-quarters") cake that called for weighing a pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs.  I made one -- once.  It tasted fine, but I didn't care for the heaviness of it at all.  That is precisely why present day pound cake bakers vary the proportions to achieve a sweet, buttery-tasting, moist, fine-crumbed cake.  I like them better than most other cakes, and, that's not because they are easier to bake (but that is indeed a plus).   My basic and favorite pound cake formula is an easy-to-remember one ("4:3:2:1"):

"4:3:2:1":  4 large eggs, 3 cups flour, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup butter

+ 1 cup of liquid dairy, 2 teaspoons baking powder & flavorings   

IMG_9877For dry ingredients:

3  cups all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon salt

For the wet ingredients:

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

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1  cup pasteurized egg nog

1  tablespoon butter-rum flavoring

1  tablespoon vanilla bean paste

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

IMG_9197For the eggnog glaze:

2  cups confectioners' sugar

5  tablespoons pasteurized eggnog

1  tablespoon butter-rum flavoring

IMG_9216In a small bowl stir together all ingredients until smooth and ribbonlike.  Cover and set aside while preparing cake.

IMG_9883 IMG_9884~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, stir together the dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt.  

IMG_9889~ Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container.  Stir together the eggnog, butter rum flavoring and vanilla bean paste.  Set aside.

IMG_9905 IMG_9902~ Step 3.  In a large bowl, place the butter, sugar and eggs.  

Starting on low speed of hand-held electric mixer and working your way up to high, cream them together until they are smooth and light colored, about 1-1 1/2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula constantly.

IMG_9909~ Step 4.  On low speed of mixer, gradually beat in the eggnog mixture.  Increase heat to medium-high and beat 30-45 seconds.

IMG_9913~ Step 5. Back on low speed, add the flour mixture in 3-4 increments, scraping down the sides of the bowl with the spatula until a thick, smooth batter forms.

IMG_9918 IMG_9921~ Step 6. Using a large spoon, begin dolloping batter into a bundt pan that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  Once all of the batter has been transferred to pan, give the pan a few back and forth shakes across the countertop to settle it in and level it out.

IMG_9928~ Step 7.  Bake on center rack of a preheated, moderate 325-350 degree oven 45-50 minutes.  

Here's what to look for:  Cake will be puffed through to the center, golden brown and showing signs of separating from the sides of the pan.  A cake tester inserted in several places will come out clean, and, the top will spring back when gently pressed with the index finger.

That about covers it!

IMG_9939 IMG_9933~ Step 8. Remove cake from oven and cool in pan for a full 15 minutes.  The cake will still be warm but firm to the touch at this point.  Place a cooling rack over the top of the pan and invert the cake out onto the rack.  Place the cake, on the rack on top of a sheet of parchment or wax paper.

~ Step 9.  Once cake has cooled completely, about 2-3 hours, using a pastry bag fitted with a wide tip, a ziplock bag with the corner clipped out, off the edge of a large spoon, or, out of your gravy boat, drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake.  Transfer cake to a serving plate:

IMG_9946Butter-Rum, Vanilla Bean & Eggnog Pound Cake:  Recipe yields 16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  spoon; 1-cup measuring container; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; bundt pan; large spoon; cooling rack; parchment paper

IMG_9607Cook's Note: While this pound cake, as far as cakes go, is very easy to make, if you still don't have the time to bake and glaze a cake, no problem.  I've got one more eggnog-flavored dessert idea up my sleeve for you.  Try recipe for ~ My Six-Ingredient Last-Minute Eggnog Shortbread ~.  You can find it by clicking into Categories 7,9, 11 or 20.  Don't let the year end without getting the great taste of a dessert containing all the great flavors of eggnog in your life. 

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

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

12/29/2015

~ Mushrooms Stuffed w/Garlic & Fine Herbs Boursin~

IMG_9836Boursin cheese -- it's in my refrigerator at all times.  If guests drop by unexpectedly or on short notice, it, a box of crackers and zero effort is all you need to relax and enjoy your time with them. Boursin is technically classified as a "specialty" cheese, however, I classify it as a "party" cheese, because, if you serve it at a party with crackers or toasts, people flock to it.  This soft, spreadable, cow's milk cheese has a creamy, buttery texture and a full, slightly-tangy flavor, similar to that of cream cheese.  It's perfect to serve as a snack with wine or cocktails.

IMG_9831As they say in French, "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin!" 

IMG_9710A bit about Boursin (boor-SAHN): The Boursin brand is available in five flavors. Garlic & Fine Herbs is my personal favorite.  No matter which flavor you choose, there are two ingredients present in all:  garlic and peppercorns. Boursin was the creation of Francois Boursin in 1957, in Normandy.  It was "his take" on the French tradition of serving cheese with an assortment of minced, fresh herbs, which guests sprinkled willy-nilly atop their cheese to suit their own palate.

Note: When purchasing Boursin, if the package doesn't say "all natural Gournay cheese on it", it is not authentic Boursin. "Gournay" is the word Mr. Boursin chose (naming it after the town he grew up in) when he was required to declare its origin to customs officials.  The Boursin brand was first advertised on television in France and Britain using the slogan, "Du Pain, Du Vin, Du Boursin", translated to mean, "some bread, some wine, some Boursin!"

As we say in English, "Some bread, some wine, some Boursin!"

6a0120a8551282970b014e6067cfa0970c-320wiEach small, 5.2-ounce wheel of Boursin comes wrapped in corrugated foil inside of a small white and green box, and, the expiration date will often be a year away. If you happen to have any leftover, store it wrapped in the original corrugated foil wrapper in the refrigerator. While it is delicious if eaten immediately, when I have the time, I remove it from the refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to serving it at room temperature -- when it's at its creamy, spreadable best.

That said, like American cream cheese or Neufchatel, Boursin is very versatile and can be used in many savory culinary applications -- spread onto sandwiches, stirred into soups, added to omelettes, used to make tangy cream sauces, etc.  Almost everyone I know loves to eat stuffed mushrooms, and, stuffed mushrooms can be served for any occasion -- they taste just as good with a cold beer as they do a champagne cocktail.  I have many recipes for stuffed mushrooms, but, whenever I make my Boursin stuffed mushrooms, someone always asks for this recipe.

Garlic & Fine Herbs Boursin Stuffed Mushroom Caps:

IMG_972524, 1 1/2" - 2" white button mushrooms, about 1 1/2 pounds, prepped as directed below:

~ Step 1.  Using a damp paper towel, gently wipe any dirt from them.  Note: Never wash or soak fresh mushrooms in water as they absorb moisture like a sponge and will become mushy.  Using your fingertips, remove the stems, being careful not to break or crack the caps.  Using a sharp paring knife, trim the perimeter of the caps.

IMG_9730~ Step 2.  Using a grapefruit spoon, scrape/remove the furry gills from the inside of the cap.  You will have a clean cap with a clean cavity which will hold a big scoop of filling. As you work, save all of the stems, trimmings and gills.

IMG_9741~ Step 3. Place the caps on a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.

IMG_9746 IMG_9737~ Step 4. Place the stems, trimmings and gills in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade along with:

6  ounces chopped sweet onion 

IMG_9749Using 10-12 on-off pulses, process to small bits and pieces.

IMG_9753For the filling:

raw mushroom/onion mixture (prepped as directed above)

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)

1  teaspoon garlic powder

2  tablespoons dried parsley flakes

1/4  cup dried French-style breadcrumbs

1  5.2-ounce wheel Boursin w/Garlic & Fine Herbs, at or close to room temperature

IMG_9759 IMG_9764 IMG_9768 IMG_9773 IMG_9782~Steps 1 thru 4.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, over low heat melt the butter. Stir in the garlic powder and dried parsley flakes.  Stir in all of the mushroom/onion mixture.  Increase heat to saute until mushrooms have lost their moisture and the onions are very tender, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in the breadcrumbs.  Lower the heat to very low and add the Boursin.  Continue to stir until the Boursin is thoroughly incorporated.

IMG_9791 IMG_9786~ Step 5. Depending upon the size of each mushroom cap, spoon and mound about 1-1 1/2 tablespoons filling into each cap.  Set aside.

For the topping:

4  ounces grated Gruyere cheese

cayenne pepper

IMG_9801 IMG_9792~ Step 6. Top each cap with a small mound of Gruyere and lightly sprinkle the tops of all with cayenne pepper.

IMG_9808~ Step 7. Bake in 350 degree oven 12-14 minutes.  Gruyere will be melted and mushrooms bubbling.

Remove 'shrooms from oven.  Serve immediately (or ASAP):

IMG_9809Pass 'em or plate 'em and don't forget the Champagne!

IMG_9857Mushrooms Stuffed w/Garlic & Fine Herbs Boursin:  Recipe yields 2 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; paring knife; grapefruit spoon; cutting board; chef's knife; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; food processor; 10" nonstick skillet; large spoon or spatula 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07ebb4be970dCook's Note:  I go in one of two directions on New Years Eve:  A cocktail party or a sit down dinner. One is not harder than the other, but,  when sitting down to a Prime Rib for dinner, a perfect start to that meal is my recipe for, ~ Decadent & Divine Shiitake Mushroom Soup ~ (found in Categories 2, 12 or 21). Happy New Year!!!

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

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

12/26/2015

~ The Original Nestle's Toll House Cookie Recipe ~

IMG_9703When my mom asked me to bake the Toll House cookies for Christmas, I did it with more joy than all the fancy-schmancy stuff I have baked in a long while.  When I was a kid, Toll House cookies reigned supreme.  Besides store-bought Fig Newtons and Pecan Sandies, homemade gingersnaps and Toll House were one of the few cookies my dad would eat.  The apple didn't fall far from the tree -- we both dislike Oreos too.  So, every year, amongst an array of fancy confections, the basic Toll House cookie proudly takes its place on our holiday cookie tray.

For generations, Americans like my dad have had a love affair with chocolate chip cookies. Surveys unanimously and overwhelmingly place the chocolate chip cookie at the top of the all-time favorite cookie list for three-quarters of our population, and, it all started with the Toll House cookie.  Who do we thank and what's the history behind this iconic chocolate cookie?

Ruth_Graves_Wakefield-800x0-c-defaultRuth Wakefield.  Back in 1930, she and her husband Ken opened a restaurant along a heavily traveled road between Boston and New Bedford.  They named it the Toll House Inn, because it was originally the stopping point for colonial stagecoaches paying toll.  

Mrs. Wakefield was a Home Economist and Registered Dietition with excellent cooking skills and high-standards who paid attention to every detail of its operation -- including measuring the placement of the silverware on the tables.  Not surprisingly, due to her great food and excellent service, the Inn met with success in its very first year. Food critic Duncan Hines was particularly fond of her Indian pudding and Joe Kennedy Sr. loved her Boston Cream Pie.

What's the scoop?  Was the recipe REALLY a happy accident?

IMG_9699Fiction: As the story often gets wrongly told, Mrs. Wakefield found her pantry without the nuts she needed for a butter cookie she was preparing.  She did have a Nestle semisweet chocolate bar, which she chopped into small pieces (to substitute for the nuts), fully expecting the chocolate to melt through the dough as the cookies baked, resulting in chocolate cookies.  She was surprised to find that the chocolate pieces did not melt -- they remained in soft chunks.

Fact:  As a well-seasoned professional Mrs. Wakefield often experimented with cookie recipes and continued testing until she got exactly what she wanted.  Years later, Mrs. Wakefield told a reporter she was indeed working on a recipe that involved adding bits of chopped chocolate to her Butterscotch Nut Wafers.  Her "Chocolate Crispies" became a fast favorite with her customers.  After a Boston newspaper printed her recipe in 1938, the sale of Nestle chocolate bars skyrocketed in the Boston area.  Shortly thereafter, Nestle began manufacturing the semi-sweet morsel.  In 1940, Nestle bought the recipe from the Wakefield's and printed her recipe on the back of their semi-sweet chocolate morsel package, where it remains today.  Here it is:

IMG_96152 1/4  cups all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon salt

1  cup butter, at room temperature, very soft (2 sticks)

3/4  cup granulated sugar

3/4  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  large eggs

12  ounces Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels

1  cup chopped nuts (optional) (Note:  My mom adds 1 extra cup of morsels to the mixture in place of nuts which is why her version of this beloved recipe is our family's favorite.) 

IMG_9622 IMG_9627 IMG_9633 IMG_9637~Step 1.  In a small mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

IMG_9646 IMG_9641~ Step 2.  In a large bowl, place the butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract.  On high-speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat until creamy, about 3 minutes.  Beat in the eggs, about 1 minute.  Lower the mixer speed and gradually beat in the flour until a smooth, sticky dough forms.

IMG_9655~ Step 3.  Using a large rubber spatula fold in the chocolate morsels and optional nuts.

IMG_9667~ Step 4. Drop, well apart, by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.  

Note:  I use a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure and line my IMG_9684baking pans with parchment paper.

IMG_9672~ Step 5. Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 9-10 minutes, or until puffy and lightly-browned.  If you like your cookies a bit chewy, do not bake them until golden.

 Remove from oven, transfer to rack & cool completely.

IMG_9680The Original Nestle's Toll House Cookie Recipe:  Recipe yields 5 dozen cookies.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper;  1 1/2" ice-cream scoop; cooling rack 

IMG_4618Cook's Note:  With the New Year's holiday on our doorstop, if you're looking for another chocolate confection with a rich retro history, click into Categories 6, 11 or 26 for ~ Not just any chocolate will do:  Toblerone Fondue ~!

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

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

12/23/2015

~ My Six-Ingredient Last-Minute Eggnog Shortbread ~

IMG_9607There are two kinds of people.  Those who finished their holiday baking last week and those who haven't started.  If your holiday is under control in a Martha Stewart-esque sort of way, the force is with you and you need no help from me today.  If, however, you fall into the category of those who just got home from doing all of your gift shopping and find yourself panic stricken in the kitchen in need of a last-minute cookie recipe, preheat your oven to 325 degrees now.

IMG_9489 6a0120a8551282970b016766430a97970b~ Step 1. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of an 8" square or round cheesecake pan with a removable bottom.  A springform pan will work too, or:

IMG_9583Just, cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom of an 8" square baking dish so the parchment comes up the sides.

IMG_9492Place parchment in pan and spray it and the inside of the pan with no-stick cooking spray.

1  cup salted butter (2 sticks)

1/2  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2  teaspoons eggnog flavoring

1  teaspoon butter rum flavor

2 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

IMG_9498 IMG_9501 IMG_9505 IMG_9507~Step 2.  Starting on low speed of hand-held electric mixer, in a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, sugar, salt and flavorings.  Increase mixer speed to high and and cream until mixture is light, fluffy and pale yellow, about 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl constantly with a large rubber spatula.  Remove the mixer and add the flour.  Using the spatula, fold in the flour until a shaggy, ragged looking dough comes together.  Transfer dough to prepared pan.

IMG_9510 IMG_9520~ Step 3. Using a small roller, work dough into bottom.

IMG_9524Using your fingertips, pat and press dough to be sure it's 1/2" thick throughout and into the four corners and sides.

IMG_9529 IMG_9526~ Step 4. Using a fork, prick the entire surface a little less than half-way through to the bottom. Place the pan of dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  

Note:  In a hurry?  Skip the refrigeration -- nothing bad will IMG_9532happen.  That said, refrigerated dough tends to bake up a bit more tender than non-refrigerated dough. Some experts like to refrigerate theirs a full 24 hours.

~ Step 5.  Remove from refrigerator and place cold pan of dough on center rack of 325 degree oven for 25 minutes, stopping give the pan a quarter turn every 5 minutes to insure even "browning".  Edges should be lightly browned and top just showing signs of browning.

IMG_9541~ Step 6.  Remove from oven, place on a heat resistant work surface, wait about 1 minute, then by pushing up on the bottom of the pan, remove the shortbread.

IMG_9547While the shortbread is hot, cut it into 16, 2" squares.  I use a ruler to measure and guide my knife for precise cuts.

Invert & place squares on a rack to cool completely:

IMG_9584Dust tops liberally with Confectioners' sugar & serve:

IMG_9595Simple, Straightforward, Stress-free Indulgence:

IMG_9602My Six-Ingredient Last-Minute Eggnog Shortbread:  Recipe yields 16, 2" squares of shortbread.

Special Equipment List: kitchen shears; parchment paper; 8" square or round cheesecake pan with removable bottom or springform pan; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; small pastry roller; fork

IMG_3472Cook's Note:  Bar cookies in general are a way to remove some of the stress from your holiday baking marathon.  You cannot go wrong with the quick-to-make crowd-pleasing chocolate-lovers confection ~ Hello Dolly!  The 5-6-7-Layer 'Magic' Cookie Bar ~. Just click into  Categories 7, 20, 26 to get my version of this famous retro recipe.  Happy Holidays!

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

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

12/20/2015

~ My Big Baked Denver Omelette Brunch Casserole~

IMG_9460Yes Virginia, there is more than one way to make an omelette, especially if you are cooking breakfast or brunch for a crowd.  The Denver omelette in particular, which is a festive-looking Southwestern omelette that is loaded with lots of smoky diced ham, bell peppers, onions and grated cheddar cheese, once the ingredients are diced, which takes about 10 minutes, transitions from making omelettes one-at-a-time to one crowd-pleasing casserole so easily, if you're like me, it's going to end up at or near the top of your go-to AM casserole recipes list.

IMG_9348Here's my photo of ~ My Kinda Cowboy Breakfast:  A Denver Omelette ~.  Denver and the early American Southwest share a fascinating history.  You can learn all about it, and, get my recipe by clicking into Categories 9, 11,  or 13.  I posted it a few days ago, and, since lots of home cooks are always looking for a GREAT time-saving breakfast casserole, especially around the tailgating and holiday seasons of the Fall and Winter, I decided to write this follow-up post. I would feel guilty if I didn't.

IMG_92501  1-pound, center-cut, 1/2" thick, bone-in, fully-cooked ham steak, cooked and diced (3 cups diced)

3  tablespoons salted butter, for cooking the ham

IMG_92711 1/2  cups each:  small diced green and red bell peppers

1 1/2  cups small diced scallions or sweet onion

IMG_9385all pan drippings from cooking ham, for sauteing the vegetables

1  dozen extra-large eggs

1  cup cream

freshly-ground sea salt

freshly-ground peppercorn blend

2  cups grated white or yellow cheddar cheese, or, a white and yellow cheddar blend (8 ounces)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

IMG_9261 IMG_9263Step 1.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  

Place the ham in the pan, increase the heat to medium-high and saute until ham is beginning to brown around the edges and on the bottom, about 3 minutes per side, turning only once.  Turn heat off.

IMG_9265 IMG_9269Step 2. Remove ham slice from skillet and place on a cutting board to cool about 10 minutes.  Section the ham into 5-6 pieces. The ham steak will show you where to make the cuts between the lines of fat.  Next, trim each section of all visible fat and dice into small 1/4" pieces.

IMG_9386 IMG_9390 IMG_9395 IMG_9396 IMG_9400                          ~Step 3.  Add the bell peppers and onions to the drippings remaining in skillet.  Season with salt and pepper.  I use 10 coarse grinds of salt and 20 coarse grinds of peppercorn blend.  Over medium-high heat, saute until veggies are crunch tender, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the ham and cook until ham is   IMG_9408heated through, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and transfer the mixture to the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2"/3-quart casserole.  Set aside.

IMG_9404~ Step 4. Break the eggs into a 1-quart measuring container and add the cream. Using a hand-held hand-crank egg beater, vigorously whisk the eggs and the cream together.

IMG_9416 IMG_9411~ Step 5. Sprinkle the cheese over the veggie layer. Drizzle the egg mixture over all.

IMG_9422~ Step 6. Season the top with 20 coarse grinds of sea salt and 40 coarse grinds of peppercorn blend.

Bake on center rack of 350 degree oven...

IMG_9429... until puffy, golden & set -- about 25 minutes.

IMG_9448Cool 15 minutes prior to slicing...

IMG_9470... & serving with your favorite hot sauce!

IMG_9484My Big Baked Denver Omelette Brunch Casserole:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; large spoon; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish/3-quart casserole; 1-quart measuring container; hand-held hand-crank egg beater

IMG_9458Cook's Note:  This casserole can be put together in advance and refrigerated, just short of adding the egg and cream mixture.  Remove it from the refrigerator about an hour prior to baking and add the liquid just before putting it in the oven. That said, because the entire thing, or individual squares reheat beautifully in the microwave, feel free to bake it a day or three in advance of reheating it.

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

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

12/18/2015

~ My Kinda Cowboy Breakfast: A Denver Omelette ~

IMG_9348My phone conversation yesterday.  "I'd like to order a Denver omelette with home fries and an order of French toast with a side of bacon."  "Sorry m'am, we don't make Denver omelettes." Short pause. "Ok, do you make an omelette full of ham, bell peppers, onions and cheddar?" "Yes m'am, that's our Western omelette."  Longer pause (where I'm calling from, as the crow flies, my gateway to the West is through Ohio to Chicago, which has zero to do with a Denver omelette).  I wanted to say, "I think you mean Southwestern omelette", and further prove my point by explaining "our early trail blazers only had access to green peppers if and when they were in the American Southwest."  Instead, I politely said, "That's great, I'll take one of those."

7076I know my omelettes, and, I'm not not here to say anything negative about Happy Valley's premier breakfast joint and beloved institution since 1966, The Waffle Shop. They will serve you a breakfast that will rival anyone's, anywhere. Their food is second to none, and, if you call ahead, you can pick it up to take home.  This friendly AM word joust was my fault -- I should have gone on-line to peruse the menu before dialing.  I just assumed everyone knows what a Denver omelette is -- a Southwestern omelette.  Sigh.

How did a Southwestern omelette get made famous in Denver? 

To make a long story short, call it Manifest Destiny:  The 19th-century doctrine that the United States had the right and duty to expand throughout the North American continent.  Denver, back in the manifest destiny days of the latter 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries in America was the hub where the East met the Southwest.  We can thank the cowboys and their cattle drives through Mexico and Texas to the wide-open grazing spaces of Colorado for bringing the taste of the Texican Southwest to Denver, where Easterners bound for the Southwest got their first taste of their final destination.  Fresh and dried peppers native to Mexico, wild onions which were picked along the way, and, cured ham, bacon and dried meats, which traveled well over the long haul -- all were staples of a well-stocked chuck wagon.  As for eggs, live chickens were brought along on the journey by the cook.  Cheddar?  It didn't get added until decades later.

O_centennial-tv-mini-series-complete-4274Back in 1978 I had the pleasure of watching what I believe to be one of the best mini-series ever aired on television:  Centennial.  This huge-budget, twelve-episode, 26-hour show, based upon James Michener's book, Centennial, though fiction, carefully documents the history of Colorado.  One sub plot devotes quite a bit of time to a long and dangerous longhorn cattle drive from Texas to Colorado and the range wars that developed between the cattle ranchers in the area.  Amongst a star-studded cast, the creative and entertaining Mexican cook, Nacho Gomez (played by Rafael Campos) was one of my favorite characters.

Think BIG breakfast:  3 eggs, lots of ham, vegetables & cheese!

IMG_9359If you were a cowboy on a cattle drive, whatever you ate for breakfast had to be substantial and the Denver omelette is a protein-packed meal in itself.  It's said that this omelette started off as a melange of scrambled eggs, green peppers and onions that was placed on bread and eaten as a sandwich, which, makes sense to me, since it could be wrapped and taken to eat on-the-job. As far as modern-day omelettes go, this one defines "overstuffed", and, wherever you order it, expect it to come with home fries or hash browns and toast too -- and don't forget the hot sauce.

IMG_9250The Ham.  

Save the thinly-sliced deli-meat for a girly sandwich.  The manly ham in this omelette is supposed to be diced.  If you have leftover holiday ham, use it -- it's perfect -- which is why I find myself making Denver omelettes around the Christmas or Easter holidays.  If you don't, buy a ham steak.  It cooks up in about 6 minutes, lends a nice smokey taste to the finished dish and yields enough meat to make six omelettes.

1  1-pound, center-cut, 1/2" thick, bone-in, fully-cooked ham steak, at room temperature

3  tablespoons salted butter

IMG_9261 IMG_9263~ Step 1.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  

Place the ham in the pan, increase the heat to medium-high and saute until ham is beginning to brown around the edges and on the bottom, about 3 minutes per side, turning only once.  Turn heat off.  

IMG_9269~ Step 2.  Using a fork and a wide-spatula, remove the ham slice from the skillet and place on a cutting board to cool about 10 minutes.  

Note:  When making a Denver omelette, unless you want severely overcooked eggs, it's necessary to cook the veggies before adding them to the eggs. If you're cooking for a crowd and want to saute all of the vegetables at once don't discard the drippings in the skillet -- use them to saute the veggies as they are full of smoky flavor.  If you're prepping ingredients to make 1-2 omelettes a day over the course a IMG_9265couple of days (which is how I normally do it for Joe and I), discard the drippings and saute a small batch in a bit of butter each day.

Section the ham into 5-6 pieces. The ham steak will show you where to make the cuts between the lines of fat.  Next, trim each section of all visible fat and dice the ham into small 1/4" pieces.  You will have about 3 cups, which is enough for six omelettes.

IMG_9271The Veggies.

I add red bell peppers as well as the mandatory green ones because I like their sweet taste and color.  Also, I like a lot of veggies in my omelette so I add the full 1 1/2 cups of each.

1-1 1/2  cups each: small diced green and red bell peppers

1-1 1/2  cups small diced scallions or sweet onion

IMG_9287 IMG_9291 IMG_9293 IMG_9294~Step 1. To saute veggies for 1 omelette, melt 1 tablespoon salted butter in an 8" nonstick skillet.  Add 1/4 cup each: diced green peppers, red peppers and onion.  Lightly season with freshly-ground sea salt and black pepper.  Saute until crunch tender, about 2 minutes.  Stir in 1/3 cup diced ham and cook until ham is just heated through, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Immediately prepare omelette according to the following directions:

IMG_9301The Eggs & Cheese

For each omelette:

3  extra-large eggs

1/4  cup heavy or whipping cream

freshly-ground sea salt & peppercorn blend

1  tablespoon salted butter

1/3  cup grated white and yellow cheddar cheese blend

IMG_9302 IMG_9308 IMG_9316 IMG_9312~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, vigorously whisk together the eggs, cream, salt and pepper.  I use 4 coarse grinds of salt and 8 coarse grinds of pepper.  Melt butter in skillet over low heat.  Adjust heat to medium and add all of the egg mixture to skillet -- when making a Denver omelette, I error on the side of moderate heat to prevent over-browning.  Lift pan from heat and tilt it to roll the egg mixture around the sides of the pan.  Repeat lifting and rolling 2-3 more times until the bottom of omelette is beginning to set and the sides are firming up. Using a thin spatula, push the soft edges of the omelette back towards the center while gently lifting and tilting the pan to allow uncooked egg mixture to flow into the bottom.

IMG_9321 IMG_9325 IMG_9329 IMG_9331 IMG_9336~Step 2.  The surface of the omelette should be moist, not wet. Lower the heat to medium-low. Add the cheese to half of the omelette and when it has partially melted, about 45-60 seconds, top the cheese with all of the warm filling mixture.  Turn the heat off.  Using a wide spatula lift the unfilled side of the omelette up and over the filled side and allow omelette to sit in pan on the warm stovetop a minute, to allow the cheese to finish melting.

IMG_9345 IMG_9346~ Step 3. Hold the skillet over a 9" serving plate, tilt it downwards, and, using the aid of the wide spatula placed at the folded side of the omelette, gently push and slide it, don't lift the omelette, down onto the plate. Once you transfer the omelette to the plate, serve with buttered toast and hash browns or home fries.

  Pretty as a picture, perfectly cooked & festive too...

IMG_9356... add a taste of the American Southwest to your holiday menu!  

IMG_9381My Kinda Cowboy Breakfast:  A Denver Omelette:  Recipe yields one very large, hearty omelette, which serves one hungry man or two hungry women.

Special Equipment List:  12" nonstick skillet; fork; spatula; cutting board; chef's knife; 8" omelette pan, preferably nonstick and 8" nonstick skillet or 2, 8" nonstick skillets; 1-cup measuring container; fork; thin spatula and/or wide spatula

IMG_2445Cook's Note: If it's a breakfast casserole with a Southwestern theme you're looking for, I have just the thing.  My version of my Denver girlfriend, Robin Mullen's recipe,  ~ Chilly-Day Comfort:  Robin's Chile Rellenos Bake ~ can be found in Categories 3, 9, 13, 19 or 20.  This one has received rave reviews from our Penn State tailgate group on more than one occasion!

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

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

12/15/2015

~ Ooh-La-La: Beefy French Onion Soup Dumplings ~

IMG_9174When it comes to Soupe a l'Oignon a la Francaise (French Onion Soup), I take no shortcuts -- the time it takes to achieve perfection is irrelevant.  I'm not interested in amateurish thirty-minute-or-less dumbed-down versions -- using flour to thicken the homemade beef stock and/or sugar to sweeten the caramelized onions is sacrilege. There's more:  you'll be verbally abused for suggesting vegan stock, beaten with a baguette for any utterance about gluten-free bread, and, ejected from my kitchen if you say soy cheese can be substituted for nutty Gruyere.

When it comes to French Onion Soup, I'm a by-the-book purist.

Prime Rib Roast #9My tradition has always been to serve a ~ Perfect "Prime" Rib Roast (Standing Rib Roast) ~ on Christmas Day, and, I begin that fancy-schmancy sit-down dinner by serving ~ French Onion Soup (Soup a l'Oignon) a la Mel ~ as the starter course.  That means that every year at this time, ~ Mel interrupts Christmas to bring you: Beef Stock ~.  (Click on the Related Article links below to get both recipes.)  I made 12 quarts of primo beef stock yesterday.

When it comes to French Onion Soup Dumplings -- I'm a cheat.

SSOnionSoupFrench onion soup dumplings came into my life late at night via a rerun of The Food Network Show:  The Best Thing I ever Ate.  The show visited a Lower East Side NYC restaurant located at the intersection of Stanton and Ludlow streets called The Stanton Social. The show's host,  Claire Robinson extolled the virtues of their signature "one bite wonders": French onion soup dumplings.

"French onion soup you can eat with a toothpick!"

< Photo courtesy of The Food Network & The Stanton Social.

The Stanton Social's schtick is "small plates designed to be shared" -- everything comes in the form of a happy little meal and/or small-bite food in general.  It's like tapas but not in Spanish. I call it "global fusion" -- "recipes from around the world that are sometimes fused together".

IMG_8924In the case of this $15 menu item: French onion soup meets Chinese dumplings.  Chinese wonton wrappers are filled with a thick but soup-juicy French onion soup mixture of beef broth, caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese.  Once steamed, the dumplings are placed in an escargot dish, topped with more Gruyere, baked until bubbly and golden, then, poked with a cocktail skewer containing a crunchy French bread crouton.  

The Stanton Social will not reveal to anyone how they keep the slurpy soup concoction inside the dumplings, but, having watched The Food Network video carefully, several times, I think the soup mixture is placed in the dumplings in the form of a semi-frozen slush or a frozen cube, then, as the dumpling steams, the center mixture thaws  -- it makes sense to me.  That said:

IMG_9173As the saying goes, "Not my circus, not my monkeys!"

Ooh_la_la_poodle_wall_artFrom the moment I watched their episode it wasn't my desire to duplicate this wild-ride of a restaurant recipe.  I wanted to borrow the concept and uncomplicate it as much as possible for the home kitchen.  I wanted this frivolous, impressive and unique dish to be a fun undertaking.  I succeeded, and, while it's still a wild-ride of a recipe, it's considerably less time consuming than scratch-making all of the components for real-deal French onion soup -- eight hours to make my gelatinous beef shank stock and four hours to caramelized onions via a slow oven-roasting process. Thanks to my "quicker methods", used below, the stock cooks itself in two hours while I caramelize onions and make the croutons on the stovetop, and, all three deliver all of the ooh-la-la flavor you could possibly ask for.

Part One:  Making the Filling for the Dumplings

IMG_8849For my quicker beef stock:

2  quarts store-bought beef stock

2  2-pound beef chuck roasts

2  each:  large celery ribs and peeled carrots

1  onion, peeled and cut in half

1  small bunch fresh parsley

2  whole bay leaves

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_8877 IMG_8854~ Step 1. Place all of the ingredients in an 8-quart stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat to a steady, but gentle simmer, partially cover the pot and let it cook itself for 2 hours.  If the meat is not falling off the bone, cook it longer.

IMG_8890 IMG_8880~ Step 2. Discard the bones, place beef on a cutting board and pour stock into a fat/lean separator.

IMG_8903Using a fork, shred the meat into small bits and pieces.

IMG_8915Note:  You'll have about 4 1/2 cups each: shredded beef & beef stock.  

Why add beef to store-bought beef stock, especially since only stock, not the meat goes into classic French onion soup?

As a card-carrying carnivore, I felt I would liked the dumplings better with a bit of beef in them.  I did, and, I think you will too!

IMG_8932For my quicker caramelized onions:

2 1/2  pounds sweet onion, cut in half, then quarters, then sliced into 1/4"-thick pieces*

3  tablespoons olive oil

3  tablespoons butter

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2  tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

IMG_89251/2  cup beef stock (from above recipe)

Note:  The Stanton Social uses a combination of four different onions: white Spanish, red, cipolloni and shallots.  Since my objective was KISS (keep it simple stupid), I went with one easy-to-find kind.

~ Step 1.  Prep the onions as directed.  In a deep, 12" skillet, melt the butter into the olive oil over low heat.  Add the onions to the skillet.

IMG_8936 IMG_8937 IMG_8948 IMG_8950Season with the sugar, sea salt and Worcestershire sauce.  Using a large spoon or spatula, toss until onions are evenly coated in the oil/butter mixture.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Continue to slowly cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until onions have lost a lot of their volume, are limp and steamed through (photo #2 below).  They will not be browned.

IMG_8951 IMG_8954 IMG_8961 IMG_8990~Step 2.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another 15 minutes.  At this point,  onions will be lightly browned (photo #3 above).  From this point on, do not leave the stove.  The onions will require almost constant stirring and they can go from browned to burned very quickly.  

IMG_8978~ Step 3.  Deglaze pan by adding 1/4 cup of beef stock and continue stirring for 5-6 minutes.  Add  a second 1/4 cup of the beef stock and continue stirring another 5-6 minutes.  Remove from heat.*

IMG_8982Set aside and cool to room temperature, 30 minutes.

*Note:  You will have about 2 cups of the best-tasting caramelized onions you could ask for (done in this shortened period of time). At this point, if you have no objection to alcohol, stir up to 1 tablespoon of good-quality dry sherry, to taste, into the onions to add some authentic French onion soup flavor.

IMG_9005For the grated cheese:

2  cups finely-grated Gruyere cheese (Note:  It's important to finely-grate the Gruyere for the filling -- use the small blades on the box grater pictured here.)

Tip from Mel:  Gruyere cheese, which is known for its nutty flavor and creamy-smooth melting quality is traditional when making French onion soup. Even though it is Swiss cheese, the cheese with large holes labeled Swiss cheese is not a substitution for it.  If you must substitute, I suggest Fontina.

IMG_9010To mix the filling:

~ Step 1.  Place 2 cups shredded beef in a medium bowl.  Set aside the remaining two cups (you'll see why later).  Using your fingers, feel your way through it (and the reserved 2 cups too), breaking up any chunks, making sure that it is in very small bits and shreds.  

IMG_9019~ Step 2. Add all of the onions to the beef.  

IMG_9032 IMG_9022Using two forks, toss like a salad, until the onions are evenly distributed throughout the beef.  

IMG_9028~ Step 3. Add 1 cup grated Gruyere, and, using the forks, toss again.  Repeat with the second cup of grated Gruyere.

Part Two:  Making My Ten-Minute French Bread Croutons

IMG_9133Classic French onion soup is known for that toasted piece of French bread floated on the top, just underneath the molten cheese layer -- it sops up the broth as you eat.  In the case of this appetizer, the Stanton Social replaced it with a crunchy crouton at the top as the "piece de resistance" (which, in French, refers to "the best or most important thing", "an outstanding item", and,"the chief component of a meal".  My own ten-minute crouton recipe is exactly that.

~ Step 1.  Trim the crust from a 1-pound baguette or batard and cut the rest into 1/2"-3/4" cubes.

IMG_9141 IMG_9143 IMG_9145 IMG_9153~Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet over low heat, melt 2 sticks salted butter.  Stir in 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder and 3/4 teaspoon white pepper.  Add the bread cubes and, using two large slotted spoons, toss like you would a salad, until the cubes are evenly coated in the butter. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to toss the cubes until they are golden brown and crunchy, 8-10 minutes.  Transfer croutons to a paper-towel lined plate to cool completely.

Part Three:  Filling and Cooking the Dumplings

IMG_9044A bit about wonton wrappers.  They come in 3" squares or rounds (I'm using square ones today), usually 50 per package.  I have enough filling to fill 8 dozen, so I bought 2, 12-ounce packages, 50 count, wonton wrappers.  Yes, this is a lot, but, once they are filled and formed, I will freeze six dozen of them.   

IMG_9054Because they dry out quickly, my method is to take out half of the package (one stack) and wrap it in a dampened (not soaked) towel, keeping the rest wrapped in plastic until I am ready to use them.

IMG_9048~ Step 1.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment.  Fill a small bowl with room temperature water.  Get out a pastry brush and a round, 1" ice-cream scoop (1 tablespoon).

IMG_9056 IMG_9058 IMG_9062 IMG_9063~Step 2.  Working one or two at a time (so the wrappers don't dry out), using the ice-cream scoop as a measure, place a well-packed but scant tablespoon of filling (be sure to use less than a tablespoon -- a full or heaping tablespoon is too much filling) in the the center of each wrapper.  Using a pastry brush, paint a 1/2" strip of water on the surface of all four sides.

IMG_9071 IMG_9066~ Step 3. Picking up a lower-right hand corner and an upper left-hand corner, lift until they meet at the top then press the two top tips together. Press the open sides together to form a triangle that will sit up .  

IMG_9069Using your fingertips dipped in water, wet the two end tips facing you and pull them together, overlapping them at the center -- pretend the triangle is giving itself a big bear hug!

IMG_9088Continue working until all of the dumplings are formed.  For demonstration purposes, I am making 24 today, which, once we cook them according to the directions below, will be enough to show you how to make four appetizers, or, eight small appetizer-sized bowls of soup!

IMG_9095Note:  At this point, the pan of dumplings can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours, overnight or, frozen for several weeks or months.

Heads up.  Steps 4 & 5 go really fast, so, read them through carefully prior to proceeding.

~ Step 4.  To cook 24 dumplings at a time, place a thin coating, about 6 tablespoons vegetable oil in the bottom of the same 12" pan used to caramelize the onions.  Do not overcrowd the pan.  Don't do it.  

IMG_9104Over low heat, one at a time, using your fingertips, place the dumplings in the pan, making sure you "scoot" (swirl it around) each one around in the oil to coat its bottom.  

Increase heat to medium-high and continue to cook, until the bottoms are golden brown, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  They will tell you when they're golden, as they will cleanly and easily release themselves from the pan without resistance.

IMG_9118~ Step 5.  Be careful and be prepared for a lot of steam.  

IMG_9111Add 1 cup of the beef stock to the pan, immediately cover pan, and allow the dumplings to continue to cook through to their tops, 5-6 minutes.

IMG_9123 IMG_9127~ Step 6. Remove from heat. Wait a moment or two or five, then, using your fingertips (don't use tongs -- it will damage them), transfer dumplings to four escargot dishes that have been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  Note:  At this point, without compromise, you can cover the dishes with plastic wrap and refrigerate them overnight, which, is very convenient.

Part Four:  Assembling and Finish-Cooking the Appetizers

IMG_9160I told you this was a wild-ride of a recipe and I hope you've had as much fun as I have.  The only thing left to do now is grate some more Gruyere (this time use the medium blades of the box grater).  For every plate of appetizers, grate a generous 1/2 cup.  For garnishes: use chopped chives if you've got them or thinly-sliced green scallion tops if you don't. Preheat your broiler with the oven rack positioned 6" below the heat.

IMG_9162Top each plate with a generous 1/2 cup cheese and place under broiler for a short 2 1/2-3 minutes.  

Watch carefully!

The tops of the dumplings should be golden and the cheese should be melted and bubbly and just short of turning brown.  

To serve poke each dumpling with a fancy-schmancy cocktail toothpick containing a crunchy crouton and garnish with a sprinkling of chopping chives.

For New Year's Eve, Superbowl or Oscar Night...

IMG_9182... Enjoy every cheesy beefy slurpy bite!

IMG_9191They just might be the best appetizer I ever ate!

IMG_9209Then there's the "throw tradition out the window" option -- OMG:

IMG_9242Ooh-La-La:  Beefy French Onion Soup Dumplings:  Recipe yields about 4 1/2 cups beef stock, 4 cups shredded beef, and, 2 cups caramelized onions.  There will be 5 cups of filling, or, enough to to fill 8 dozen dumplings, which can be frozen in advance of cooking them.  All in all, enough ingredients to make 16 appetizers or 24 small appetizer-sized bowls of soup.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; cutting board; fork; fat/lean separator; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides & lid, or, 12" skillet w/lid; large slotted spoon or spatula; box grater; two forks; serrated bread knife; 2 large slotted spoons; paper towels; 1-2, 17 1/2"x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 100% cotton, flour-sack-type kitchen towel; pastry brush

IMG_9220 IMG_9222 IMG_9225 IMG_9227Cook's Note:  To serve French Onion Soup Dumplings a la French Onion Soup, just portion a bit of that leftover beef in the bottom of eight traditional crocks.  Add four dumplings, some additional store-bought beef broth (or homemade if you have it in the freezer which is what I did), a few croutons, then top with cheese.  Place under the broiler and finish as directed above!

IMG_3513Extra Cook's Note:  If you're going to start a meal with an ooh-la-la of an appetizer like French Onion Soup Dumplings, you probably should finish it with an ooh-la-la of a dessert too.  Just click into Categories 6, 21 or 26 to get my recipe for ~ Silky Smooth Creme Caramel (Crema Caramella) ~.

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

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

12/12/2015

~ A Rustic Wintertime Chicken & Mushroom Risotto ~

PICT0227Sometimes you just know when you've got to to slow down, take a step back, and, allow your mind to unwind.  Today is that day.  'Tis the busiest time of year and I need a bit of stress-relieving "kitchen therapy".  What's on the agenda for my self-imposed holiday from the world? An afternoon of movies on my kitchen TV, a glass or three of wine, and, cooking a nice and slow, laid-back pot of my favorite rich, creamy and comforting chicken risotto for dinner.

"There are no two ways to make risotto.  Either you make it right or it is not risotto."  ~ Lidia Matticchio Bastianich

I didn't grow up eating risotto and neither did my husband.  As adults, yes, of course, we've eaten it in fine, upscale Italian restaurants, which under the best of circumstances seem to have a hard time preparing it "just right".  Over the years, I dabbled in risotto making on my own (it isn't hard to make) and mine was quite good, but then, in February of 2006, the perfect risotto recipe showed up on my doorstep.  None other than Lidia Bastianich, herself, in person.  Lidia was in town doing a cooking demonstration at WPSU-TV to promote her book, Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen and I was assisting.  Off camera, I was to prepare her recipes, according to her specifications, enough to feed a studio audience of 100 people, while she was "on set" demonstrating how to make the same.  Her "basic risotto recipe" was the first of four dishes.

PICT0130Traditionally, risotto is made in a pan with round, sloping sides and is stirred with a wooden spoon.  This sexy Mario Batali 4-quart risotto pan/saucier is the perfect vessel for cooking and serving risotto.  I know, because this one is, literally, the pan and spoon Lidia used to cook hers that day -- it's mine now!

Prior to the actual cooking of your risotto, if you're planning on adding any meat, poultry, seafood, shellfish or vegetables to it, know that these ingredients need to be diced and cooked ahead of time.  You'll need a good amount of stock too (5-6 cups per 1 pound Arborio rice).  The stock needs to be steaming, and, common sense tells you the stock should match the add-ins (if your adding chicken, use chicken stock, if your adding vegetables, use vegetable stock, etc).  

Here's my favorite Wintertime chicken & mushroom combo:

PICT0132For the chicken and mushrooms:

1  pound uncooked, trimmed of any fat and 1/2"-3/4" cubed, boneless, skinless chicken thighs (breasts can be substituted)

8  ounces thinly sliced mushroom caps, no stems included (crimini or white button, or, a combination of both work nicely)

3-4  minced garlic cloves, about 2 tablespoons minced garlic, more or less, to taste (run it through a press if you prefer it finer)

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

4  tablespoons olive oil

PICT0142 PICT0137Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, place the olive oil. Add the cubed chicken and lightly season with sea salt and peppercorn blend. Adjust heat to medium-high and saute until the chicken is cooked, through, about 3-4 minutes.

Step 2.  Sprinkle the garlic over the chicken and add the mushrooms to the pan.  Stir briefly.  Lightly season with sea salt and peppercorn blend. Continue to saute over medium-high heat until the mushrooms have lost all of their moisture and almost no liquid remains in the bottom of the pan, about 4-6 minutes.  The consistency is more important than the time it takes.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

PICT0145For the stock:

5-6 cups hot chicken stock, preferably homemade

Note:  The amount of stock needed will vary depending upon the pot you are cooking your risotto in, what type of risotto you are making, and, your own personal preference. Traditionally, risotto made with seafood is looser, while risotto made with meat or poultry is denser.  That said, the stock must be kept hot or steaming throughout the cooking process, as cold stock causes the surface of the rice grains to seize up, which means they won't release their starch -- which is what makes risotto creamy.

PICT0148For the basic risotto:

2-3  tablespoons olive oil

1 1/4-1 1/2  cups finely-diced onion

1  pound Arborio rice, a generous 2 cups (no substitutions)*

1/4  cup sweet white wine

2-3  tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces

1/2  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

*Note:  The high-starch kernels of this Italian-grown rice are shorter and fatter than any other short-grain white rice.  This rice, upon being cooked, releases this starch, resulting in its signature super-creamy texture.  Arborio rice makes great rice pudding too!

PICT0156Step 1.  Heat the olive oil in the risotto pan over medium heat.  Stir in the onion.  Cook, over moderate heat, stirring almost constantly with a large wooden spoon (Italians insist it be wooden), until onion is soft, tender, translucent and just beginning to brown, 8-10 minutes.

Note:  During this process, regulate the heat carefully, up or down, in order to keep the mixture gently bubbling.  Do not try to rush it.

PICT0166~ Step 2.  Stir in the Arborio rice and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the grains are coated with oil and the edges are ever-so-slightly toasted, about 2-3 minutes.

PICT0164Add the wine and simmer for 1 minute, or until the liquid has all evaporated, stirring frequently.

PICT0177Step 3.  Ladle enough of hot stock into the pan to cover the rice, about 1 1/2-2 cups to start.  On this first addition of stock, you want to make sure the rice is fully covered.  

Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until all of the stock gets absorbed and you can see the bottom of the pan while you are stirring, about 3-4 minutes.  Time is not as important as the end result.

6a0120a8551282970b0154388d0acf970c~ Step 4.  Continue the process of adding stock, about 1 cup at a time and stirring constantly until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid, three more times.  A total of 4 1/2-5 cups of stock will have been added.

~ Step 5.  Stir in the chicken and mushroom mixture.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, adding additional stock in 1/4 cup increments, until rice is al dente, or cooked to your liking.

PICT0206Note:  Lidia will be the first to tell you that risotto will not cook the same, or in the same amount of time every time, which is why making risotto is more about understanding the method than having an actual recipe -- risotto can be made using just Arborio rice and hot water.  She also explains that at the very end, the rice should be to your liking -- some like it crunch tender, others very soft.

PICT0217~ Step 6.  Stir in the butter and grated cheese.  When the butter is melted and thoroughly incorporated, remove the pan from the heat, cover it, then, let it sit for 4-5 minutes.  Patience is a virtue.

~ Step 7.  To serve, ladle into bowls (shallow bowls, the type used for serving pasta and the famous fish stew, cioppino, are traditional) and serve as a main-dish.

Top w/freshly ground sea salt, peppercorn blend & a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

"Ho, Ho Ho -- It's Risotto!" ~Mrs. Clause

PICT0220A Rustic Wintertime Chicken & Mushroom Risotto:  Recipe yields 4-6 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; 4-quart risotto pan/saucier w/lid; wooden spoon 

PICT0228Cook's Note:  Risotto is classic, Italian cooking at its best.  Respect that.  It is not a dish to make in advance or cheat on by using canned stock.  I have a love affair with it every time I make it.  I caress it, carefully watching it and methodically stirring it, while it gently simmers.  Only I know when it is done, and, when it is:  it is a meal fit for a king, a queen or me!

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

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

12/09/2015

~ Easy, Creamy & Dreamy: Mushroom Bruschetta ~

PICT3448My history with this decadent dish dates back to December, 2011.  I ordered it in a recently-restored, historic hotel and fine-dining restaurant in our area.  Everything my girlfriend Jeanne and I ate that afternoon was superb, but, this dish, my appetizer, blew me away.  I liked it so much, I left a big tip and asked for the recipe.  A few minutes later, I was handed a computer-generated copy.  If you've ever been given a recipe by a chef, you know there is not much too it: a very short list of ingredients, garnishes, and, a few cryptic instructions.  Chef's write/type like they talk -- fast and to the point:  all business, no nonsense, and I'm very comfortable with that.

PICT1790This photo (which I took that day) is their mushroom bruschetta: two thick pieces of day-old Italian bread (surprisingly, they used an Italian sub/hoagie roll) get toasted, top and bottom, in some butter, then plated.  After a quick saute of garlic, shallots and mushrooms, cream and Parm-Regg goes into the skillet to boil along with a sprig of fresh rosemary.  The sauce goes over the bread and the garnishes go on.

For those of you who don't know, bruschetta (broo-skeh-tah) means "oiled slice" in Italian, and comes from the Italian word bruscare (broo-scar-ay), which means to toast over coals. Bruschetta is the original garlic toast.  Its preparation is so simple, it really requires no formal instructions.  Traditionally, large, thick slices of firm, crusty, bread are toasted over an open wood fire, rubbed with plenty of fresh garlic while they are still warm, generously drizzled with the finest olive oil available, sprinkled with salt and served alongside or topped with fresh basil, tomatoes and buffalo-milk mozzarella.  When/if a sauce is drizzled over the top, the toasts turn into a decadent knife-and-fork meal, which is exactly how this is prepared and served.  From start to finish, this one takes just 5-6 minutes to prepare -- even less time in a restaurant kitchen.

It is divine, refined & has a deliciously scandalous story too:  

If you're wondering why I'm not throwing around the name of the restaurant, it's because it closed-without-notice. The owners left a note on the door in the middle of the night and weren't available for comment -- rumor had it they took off to Florida.  The place had been shamelessly mismanaged, community investors lost money and employees lost jobs without notice.  Scandal and gossip circulated everywhere, lawsuits got filed, and, to this day, all I can say with certainty:

To the victor goes the spoils -- I got this recipe & made it mine!

PICT3415For the bread:

1  medium-textured, day-old, 6"-7" hoagie- or sub-type roll, crusty ends trimmed off

3 tablespoons salted butter

For the sauce:

2  tablespoons salted butter

1/4  teaspoon white pepper

1  garlic clove, run through a press, 1/2 teaspoon 

1 1/2  teaspoons minced shallots (sweet onion may be substituted)

1  cup thinly-sliced white button mushroom caps, no stems

2-3  tablespoons white wine

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  3"-4" sprig fresh rosemary

2  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For the garnish:

2  tablespoons peeled, seeded & small-diced tomato

1-2  teaspoons additional finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/2-1  teaspoon minced, fresh parsley

1  tomato rose (made from the above tomato) and a small sprig of fresh rosemary (both optional)

PICT3421~ Step 1.  Trim the ends from the roll and slice the center section into two pieces, about 2 1/2" long each.  In a restaurant, where they make a lot of bruschetta, they save and use the ends to make croutons.

PICT3428~ Step 2.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of butter over low heat.  Add the bread.  Increase heat to medium-high and toast the bread until golden on both sides, about 30-60 seconds per side, turning only once.  The second side will cook faster than the first. Remove bread from the skillet and place on a paper-towel lined plate. Set aside.

PICT3436 PICT3432~ Step 3. Wipe the skillet clean. Return to stovetop and melt 2 tablespoons butter over low heat.  Stir in the white pepper.  Add garlic, shallots and mushrooms. Increase heat to saute until vegetables are softened, but not browned, about 1 minute.  Add the wine and continue to saute PICT3441about 1 minute, or until reduced slightly.

~ Step 4.  Add the cream and stir in the sea salt.  Place the sprig of rosemary on top of the mixture. Adjust heat to a rapid simmer and continue to cook until the cream is thickened, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.

PICT3447Remove the rosemary after about 45 seconds of cooking.

PICT3450Note:  Rosemary, an overpowering herb, should be used judiciously.  It should be in the cream just long enough to add a hint of flavor.

~ Step 5.  Remove from heat and stir in the grated cheese.

~ Step 6.  To serve, arrange toasted bread in a shallow soup plate.  Pour all of the sauce over the top. Garnish with diced tomato, a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a bit of minced parsley.

A perfect way to start an elegant holiday meal:

PICT3467Easy, Creamy & Dreamy:  Mushroom Bruschetta:  Recipe yields 2 appetizer-sized servings, or, 1 small-meal serving.  By increasing the size of the skillet to 12"-14" the recipe can be increased to make as many as 8 appetizer-sized servings, or, 4 small-meal servings at one time.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife and/or paring knife; microplane grater; 10" skillet, preferably nonstick; slotted spoon or spatula; paper towels

PICT3748Cook's Note:  A tomato rose is a classic way to garnish a dish in an elegant manner.  To learn ~ How to: Make an Incredible Edible Tomato Rose ~, click into Categories 15 or 21.  It's easy too -- make one or two and you'll see!

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

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

12/07/2015

~ Dad's Mac & Cheese, or: What I Cook Just for Me ~

PICT2687This isn't the recipe I planned to post today, but, it's what I'm cooking today, so, why not take a few photos along the way and type a few words too -- it's easy for me to do.  Joe is traveling, so, what I eat on this day is all about me, and coincidentally, while entertaining some friends on Saturday, I got asked, "when you're not cooking for the blog or TV, what do you cook just for you?"  It's not the first time I've been asked this, and, my answer is always the same:  "Most times I just make a sandwich or nuke some homemade soup (which require no actual cooking), but, when I want to get out a pot and place it on the stovetop, I treat myself to something special."

PICT2693My Dad's "Eastern Europe meets America" mac & cheese!

Vintage-boxWhen I was growing up in the 1960's and '70's, mom and dad both worked and dad did his share of the cooking and housework -- imagine that.  When dad was pressed to get lunch or dinner prepared for us in a hurry (in between lots of family and school activities), he would make this "Eastern Europe meets America" version of mac & cheese, and, my brother and I adored it. 

In terms of macaroni and cheese, this one is "off the beaten path".  Given the time period, it's downright renegade.  My dad was/is not a card-carrying member of the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese generation. He is a member of the "I don't eat fake-looking, orange-colored food" society.  I was twenty-something before I tasted boxed mac & cheese, and while I didn't hate it, I sure didn't love it. Despite a TV that told me "America spells cheese K-R-A-F-T", and, "it's the cheesiest", I was never sold on anyones powdered cheese or "cheese-feed" concoctions.

PICT2697My dad's mac & cheese is a comforting, flavor-packed dish that will provide almost instant gratification because it goes from stovetop to table in the time it takes to cook the macaroni.  His unusual combination of hot, spicy, buttered elbow macaroni, tossed with cold cottage cheese (he liked farmers' cheese more but began substituting cottage cheese as farmers' cheese started to get harder to come by)  literally bursts with flavor.   

If you can't quite grasp the concept of hot and cold in in the same bowl, please rethink your position.  Resist every urge to heat or melt the cottage cheese, or, God forbid, create a baked casserole out of this recipe (which actually might be good but totally misses the point).  

This meatless meal is wonderful just as it is, but, if you happen to have a tomato and/or some fresh parsley, don't hesitate to chop either or both and toss them in at the end as well!

PICT26851  pound elbow macaroni

4  ounces salted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature (1 stick)

1/2-3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2-3/4  teaspoon salt, more or less, to taste

1/2-3/4  teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less, to taste

12 ounces, large-curd cottage cheese, somewhat cold (Note:  Just before you are ready to start boiling the water for the pasta, remove the cottage cheese from the refrigerator and set it aside.  At serving time, it will be cold, but not ice cold.)

4-6 small, peeled, seeded and diced Campari tomatoes (optional)

1/4-1/2  cup minced fresh parsley leaves (optional)

1/2  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional), for topping

additional crushed red pepper flakes, for garnish

PICT2686~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 6-8 minutes.  Transfer to a colander.

PICT2688Drain well and return hot pasta to still warm stockpot on still warm stovetop.  Immediately:

PICT2689~ Step 2.  Add the butter, garlic powder, salt and red pepper flakes. Using two forks or two spoons, toss as you would a salad, until butter is melted and pasta is evenly coated.

PICT2695~ Step 3. Add the cottage cheese in spoonfuls, along with the optional Parm-Regg, and lightly toss, just to distribute cheeses throughout pasta.  

Toss in optional diced tomato and/or minced parsley too.  EAT!  

PICT2698Dad's Mac & Cheese, or:  What I Cook Just for Me:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander

PICT2687Cook's Note:  The first time I served this dish to Joe (almost 35 years ago), he looked at me like a man who was ready to rethink his recent Brady-Bunch marriage to me.  Our three kids were in bed and we were up very late listening to one of his favorite shows, Austin City Limits. After a few bites, he proceeded to eat the better part of the entire pot. Nowadays, he just says "Honey, wanna make your dad's macaroni?"

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

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

12/04/2015

~ Breadcrumbs, Butter, Garlic + Shrimp 'de Jonghe' ~

IMG_8786Chances are, if you have never been to Chicago, you have never heard of shrimp de Jonghe -- it's virtually unknown outside of the windy city.  Dating back to the late 19th Century, it is said to be one of the city's oldest "gastonomic glories" -- in Chicago it's an immortal institution.  Close your eyes and conjure up an image of a plate of succulent, jumbo shrimp bathed in a rich herb-butter, sherry and garlic sauce, topped with the most divine, golden, homemade French breadcrumbs and doused with few generous squirts of fresh lemon juice.  Tres magnifique!

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08975709970dInvented by Belgian-born immigrant brothers, Henri, Pierre and Charles DeJonghe, who came to Chicago a year prior the World's Fair Columbian Exposition in 1893 in order to open a cafe at the expo, with this shrimp dish, success came unexpectedly and quickly. Before long, they could afford to buy an entire building and opened De Jonghe's Hotel and Restaurant.  It operated successfully until a Prohibition raid, which seized 30 cases of liquor, shut them down in 1923.  Even though the judge said they could reopen after a year, they didn't, and, the secret shrimp recipe (which coincidentally contained booze) was never shared.  

That said, by that time, the recipe had become so famous across the city that hundreds of Chicago restaurants began putting Shrimp de Jonghe on their menus, where it remains today.

IMG_8792The recipe that I used as the base inspiration for my version was published by The Chicago Tribune.  That said, after doing a search for other versions, it seems that no one took much creative license with it.  As far as I can tell, everyone did their best to imitate the recipe, rather than change it, which is a glowing tribute to how good the original must have been.  All of them used jumbo shrimp as well as French-style breadcrumbs, some used more garlic than others, a few tea-totalers sadly skipped the sherry, and, thankfully, no one added Parmesan cheese.  

IF YOU TAKE THE TIME to compare my recipe to others, you will see it is indeed mine all mine, which includes my method for mixing the dish together, and if I do say so myself, it is better than than everyones.  This dish is meant to be served in individual au gratin dishes as an appetizer, or, on a plate as a main course, but, not with or on any type of rice, noodle, pasta or potato.  

IMG_8811What to serve w/shrimp de Jonghe?  Nothing, but, if you must:  a green salad, French bread w/butter & a nice Riesling is recommended!

IMG_8614 IMG_8571Thanks to a friend who hailed from Chicago proper, along with a plate of shrimp de Jonghe, I was introduced to Gonnella French breadcrumbs in the early 1990's. Not a commercial bakery, for over 125 years, this company has been making their breadcrumbs made from their own hearth baked breads, purchasing no outside products.  Thanks to the internet, you no longer have to know someone in Chicago to get them.  French-style breadcrumbs really do take this recipe over-the-top, so, I've taken it one step further:  I make my own.  You can learn ~ How & Why to Make:  (French-Style) Breadcrumbs ~ by Clicking into Categories 5 or 15.

IMG_8530For the shrimp:

2  pounds jumbo shrimp (16/20 count), peeled, deveined, tails left on, the best shrimp available to you (Note:  To learn everything I can teach you about choosing shrimp, click into Categories 14 or 15 and IMG_8641read my post ~ Purchase Shrimp by their "Count", not their Size ~.  To learn why to leave the tails on and when to remove them, read my Cook's Note at the end of this post.) 

4  cups water

2  cups white wine

1  large, juicy lemon, cut in half

4  medium-sized bay leaves

For the sherry & butter-garlic mixture:

IMG_86502 tablespoons good-quality dry sherry, not cream sherry

1/2 cup salted butter (1 stick)

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1/4  cup minced, fresh parsley

6  tablespoons minced shallot

1  teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4  teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/2  cups French-style breadcrumbs

lemon wedges and parsley sprigs, for garnishing each finished portion

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing 6, individual-sized or 2-quart au gratin dish

IMG_8662 IMG_8653~ Step 1.  To cook the shrimp, place the wine and water in a 4-quart stockpot.   IMG_8659Squeeze about half of the juice from each lemon half into pot, then add lemon halves. Add bay leaves.  Bring to a boil, add shrimp, &, when water returns to a boil, cook exactly 1 minute.

IMG_8665 IMG_8668~ Step 2. Drain shrimp into a colander, &, remove and reserve lemon halves. Rinse shrimp under under cold water until they are cool on the outsides but warm in their centers.  Transfer shrimp to a large bowl.  Add sherry, squeeze in the liquid from the lemons and toss to coat.  Set aside.

IMG_8676 IMG_8679 IMG_8682 IMG_8686~Step 3.  In a 1-quart saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Stir in the garlic, parsley, shallot, paprika, cayenne and nutmeg.  Adjust heat to very gentle simmer and cook about 1 minute. Remove  butter mixture from heat and transfer to a 1-cup measuring container.

IMG_8695 IMG_8689~ Step 4. Place the bread crumbs in a medium bowl, and, 2 tablespoons at a time, add and stir 6 tablespoons from the liquid-y top surface of the butter mixture into the the breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs should be moistened but still quite crumbly. Do not add too much butter.

IMG_8699 IMG_8708~ Step 5. Using a large rubber spatula, add and fold all of the remaining butter mixture into the shrimp.  Next, add 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) of the moistened breadcrumbs to the shrimp and fold the breadcrumbs in.  Continue folding until the breadcrumbs have absorbed all of the liquids (which IMG_8726includes the sherry and lemon juice puddling in the bottom of the bowl), and, the shrimp have a light coating of crumbs all over them.  Oh yum -- I told you my method was better!

~ Step 6.  Arrange 6 shrimp in the bottom of 6 small au gratin dishes that have been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray, or in the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.

IMG_8727~ Step 7.  Using your fingertips, not a spoon sprinkle all of the remaining breadcrumbs over the top of all.  The fingertips work better.

IMG_8739Note:  If using small au gratins, place them on a large baking pan lined with parchment paper.

IMG_8758Step 8.  While shrimp can be placed in dishes 30-45 minutes prior to baking, they should not be topped with breadcrumbs until just before baking on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven a very short 6-8 minutes, until breadcrumbs are nicely golden.  Do not not overbake, and, serve ASAP.

Shrimp de Jonghe going into the oven:

IMG_8744Shrimp de Jonghe coming out of the oven:

IMG_8764The first big, beautiful, buttery, breadcrumb bite:

IMG_8827Breadcrumbs, Butter, Garlic + Shrimp 'de Jonghe':  Recipe yields 6 appetizer servings (what you would expect to get in a shrimp cocktail -- 6 shrimp per person), or, 4 main-course servings (10 shrimp per serving).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; colander; 1-quart saucepan; 1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula; 6 individual-sized au gratin dishes, or, 1, 3-quart 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan & parchment paper (for individual-sized au gratin dishes only)

IMG_0922Cook's Note:  A 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 food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

12/02/2015

~ How & Why to Make: (French-Style) Breadcrumbs ~

IMG_8614Buying store-bought breadcrumbs is like buying a store-bought pie crust.  It's an all-too-convenient time-saver in a very busy world, but, when you get down to brass tacks, there's no tasteful way to compare the two.  Economically, the cost differential is comparable to spending a hard-earned dollar vs. finding a shiny penny -- it's extreme.  While, whenever I need them, I always make my own fresh breadcrumbs in the food processor, up until a few years ago, I was a full-blown buyer of dried, seasoned and unseasoned breadcrumbs -- Progresso or 4C.

Images BreadCrumbs-1These are good products.  I am not criticizing them.  If you are not inclined to dabble in "the easy art of making  breadcrumbs", I recommend keeping one or the other in your pantry. Both companies sell the coarser, crispier, and lighter-textured Japanese panko breadcrumbs too, but, since making panko is a different process (the bread is baked via electric current, which yields a crustless loaf prior to the drying process) I'm leaving it out of this European-style breadcrumb discussion today.

IMG_8580Meet the breadcrumbs that changed my outlook on all breadcrumbs:

IMG_8571Thanks to a friend who hailed from Chicago proper, I was introduced to Gonnella French-Style breadcrumbs in the early 1990's. Not a commercial bakery, for over 125 years, this company has been making their breadcrumbs made from their own hearth baked breads, purchasing no outside products.  Thanks to the internet, you no longer have to know someone in Chicago to get them.

Gonnella French-style breadcrumbs are as close to homemade as you can buy!

Prior to American sliced-white bread, and the American bastardization of all bread in general, in old-world Europe, when a French or Italian chef or cook needed breadcrumbs, they would reach into their 'stale bread basket' -- a basket where they kept 2-3-4 day old bread (not moldy bread). He or she would pick up a crusty, now-hardened loaf and use a meat mallet to pulverize it -- those were real-deal unadulterated, dried breadcrumbs.  Because the bread was hearth-baked in-house, the crumbs were delicious and the quality was consistent too.  I'm using the French and the Italians as examples because their breads are loved and recognized by all. 

What's the difference, or, is there a difference between French and Italian bread?

IMG_8538In the present-day bread world, there is little or no difference -- most people distinguish the two by shape because bakeries often use the same dough recipe to make French baguettes and Italian loaves.  In my baking-bread-at-home food world, yes, there are a couple of noteworthy differences.  Sans the shape, when I bake French baguettes, I get out special U-shaped pans with little holes poked in them for circulation, a spray bottle of mineral water, and, put a bain Marie (water bath) in the bottom of the oven to keep the air circulating around the bread moist. IMG_8541When I bake Italian loaves, I put a pizza stone in the oven.  While my recipes for both are similar, my French bread is a bit sweeter, while my Italian bread is a bit saltier, and, I often add some oil to my Italian bread too.  While both breads emerge crusty, I describe my French bread as having a thin crust with a delicate, soft center and my Italian bread as having a thicker crust, with a chewier, soft center.  

I will also add, at great risk of starting a border-war amongst bread bakers: the art of baking an old-school French baguette is much harder to master than baking a rustic loaf of Italian bread. 

 And you thought this was going to be a boring post!

6a0120a8551282970b019b00c63e74970bBoth French and Italian bread, homemade or high-quality store-bought, makes great homemade breadcrumbs, but, I am here to tell you that breadcrumbs made from a loaf of French brioche (an enriched yeast dough containing milk, butter, eggs and a bit of extra-sugar) is extraordinary.  With the holiday season upon me, I always find myself cooking a few seafood and vegetable dishes that get topped with breadcrumbs, and, having brioche breadcrumbs on- 6a0120a8551282970b015391cb26eb970bhand in my kitchen genuinely and seriously takes them over-the-top. Don't be a doubter, these breadcrumbs do make a difference.

Let the brioche bake itself!

Because I love brioche, I developed a recipe for making it in the bread machine, and, it has received nothing but accolades.  Just click into Categories 5 or 15, to learn ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~.  Because I am a very good bread baker in general, I've adapted other recipes for the bread machine too, and, they're available in the same Categories.

Also worth mentioning:  making your own breadcrumbs from any type home-baked bread will render them devoid of all artificial flavors, additives and chemicals.  They are, sigh, all-natural.

IMG_8556Let's make my super-easy buttery brioche breadcrumbs:

IMG_8552 IMG_8561~ Step 1. Remove the crust from a 1-pound loaf of 2-day-old brioche (my brioche was baked, cooled to room temperature, wrapped in plastic and left at room temperature for two full days).  You will have 13-14 ounces of bread.  Cut the bread into 1/2" slices, then 1/2" cubes, placing them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper as you work. Preheat oven to 220-225 degrees.

Note:  Whenever I make any type of breadcrumbs from any type of bread, for color and consistency, I always remove the crust.  That said, the option to leave the crust on is yours.

IMG_8575~ Step 2.  Bake on center rack of oven for about 45-60 minutes*, or until cubes are crunchy, dried out and slightly browned.  Turn oven off, crack door open and allow to cool to room temperature, in the oven,  about 1 1/2-2 hours.  It is also ok to let them sit in the opened oven for several hours or overnight.

*Note:  If you are not using my brioche recipe, this could take a shorter or longer period of time.

IMG_8597 IMG_8591~ Step 3.  In 1-2 batches, place the cubes in work bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade. Starting with a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, then, turning motor on for about 10-15 seconds, process to crumbs. Transfer to an airtight container.  Breadcrumbs can remain at room temp for about 2-3 days, in the refrigerator a month, or in freezer 4-6 months.

You will have 2 cups of amazing French-style breadcrumbs!

IMG_8604 Whether you make mine (left) or buy theirs (right)...

IMG_8626...Vive le France!!!

IMG_8610How & Why to Make:  (French-Style) Breadcrumbs:  Recipe yields 2 cups of French-style brioche breadcrumbs.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; food processor; food-storage container w/tight fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b017ee6316515970dCook's Note:  During the holidays, I tend to serve quite a fit of seafood. One of my favorite uses for my French-style brioche breadcrumbs is as a topping for my ~ Festive Seafood Gratinee (Gratin de Fruite de Mer) ~.  Just click into Categories 3, 11, 19 or 20 to get this delicious over-the-top recipe!

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

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