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12 posts from February 2016

02/29/2016

~ Making Graham Cracker & Cookie Crumb Crusts ~

IMG_3129Cheesecakes, cream pies, many layered bar-type cookies, and, some refrigerated pudding and frozen ice-cream desserts call for using a graham cracker or cookie crumb crust as a buttery, crunchy base.  While homemade graham crackers, sugar cookies, gingersnaps and chocolate wafers make exceptional crumb crusts, I won't lie, it would have to be one heck of an insanely over-the-top dessert for me to bake any of them for the sole purpose of starting with a real-deal scratch-made base.  That said, I don't at all care for the quality of ready-made crumb crusts.

IMG_3086Why?  They taste bland to me, and that's primarily due to the fact that they're made with vegetable shortening instead of butter.  The good news is, crumb crusts are super-quick and easy to make (5-6 minutes total work using 3 basic ingredients), so there's really no reason to opt for store bought.  

After a bit of refrigeration (to solidify the butter which is the binding IMG_2952agent), they are ready to use just as they are.  They can be lightly-baked too, in a 325 degree oven for 8 minutes, and, if they are baked, once cooled, in their pie tins, they can be stacked and frozen to keep on hand -- no thawing necessary.

Once you master making a graham cracker crust, all others are made the exact same way.  My foolproof formula is: 7 ounces graham cracker or cookie crumbs, 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1 stick salted butter (melted).  Since most cookies contain quite a bit of sugar, you might be wondering what its purpose is:  sugar crystals aid the butter in binding the dry crumbs together.  I like the added flavor that IMG_3095brown sugar provides, but feel free to substitute granulated sugar.

For 1, 9" crumb crust:

1 1/2  cups graham cracker or cookie crumbs (7 ounces cookies/12 graham crackers)

1/4  cup firmly-packed brown sugar

8  tablespoons salted butter, melted (1 stick)

A tip about turning graham crackers and cookies into crumbs:

My grandmother placed the crackers or cookies between two kitchen towels and used a rolling pin to crush them.  My mother put them in a food storage bag and used a flat-sided meat mallet. I put mine in the food processor.  Why?  Because the finer the crumbs the firmer your crust will be.

IMG_2953 IMG_2955Step 1.  Break the graham crackers into smaller pieces and place them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses process them to crumbs, then, with the motor running, process them to fine crumbs, about 10 more seconds.

IMG_2959 IMG_2963 IMG_2967 IMG_2969~Step 2.  Place the crumbs in a medium bowl.  Add the brown sugar, and using your fingertips, work the sugar into the graham cracker crumbs.  Melt the butter and add it.  Using a spoon, thoroughly incorporate the butter until a moist, grainy, semi-cohesive, crumb mixture forms.

IMG_3098 IMG_3102 IMG_3109 IMG_3115~Step 3.  Transfer the crumbs to a 9" pie dish. Using a tablespoon, spread the mixture evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  Using a wooden tart tamper, flatten/compress the crumbs to form an even crumb crust across the bottom.  When the bottom is in place, use the tamper in conjunction with your fingertips to press the crumbs against the sides of the pan.

IMG_3117Step 4.  Prior to filling the crust one of two things must be done: Either refrigerate the crust for 2-4 hours, or, bake it in a 300 degree oven for 10 minutes (or a 325 degree oven for 8 minutes).  I almost always bake and cool mine prior to filling them because I think it improves their flavor and texture, but, recipes for both baked and frozen desserts with crumb crusts vary, so, always follow the recipe's instructions. 

IMG_3124Making Graham Cracker & Cookie Crumb Crusts:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups crumb crust mixture which is enough to make 1, 9"-round crumb crust.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; 9" pie dish or tin; tablespoon; tart tamper

IMG_7342Cook's Note: In the event you're making an insanely over-the-top recipe requiring a graham cracker crust and you have the desire and time, you can find my recipe for ~ It's the Little Things: Homemade Graham Crackers ~, in Categories 2, 7 or 26.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016) 

02/27/2016

~ Pretty in Pink: No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecakes ~

IMG_3033When you find a big beautiful box of fresh strawberries in your market in February, you don't pause to ponder.  Into the cart they go, you checkout, and, by the time you're out of the parking lot, your mind is recollecting "that recipe" you made "that time" for "that woman", who, two days before her Oscar party, decided to add mini-strawberry cheesecakes to her menu -- which caused you to go looking for strawberries in February -- not to mention 28 mini-cheesecake pans.  "That woman" would be me, and, as I always say, "the devil is always in the details."

IMG_2947The proof is in the photo.

Truth told:  While I never use all 28 of them at once any more, I'm never sorry I invested in them.  We have three kids.  There for a few years, within a span of about ten years, my life was full of graduation and engagement parties, bridal and baby showers, one in-my-home wedding, and, a 50th wedding anniversary party for my parents -- all catered by me.  During that period of my life, I purchased many things in semi-large quantities.

IMG_2952For the graham cracker crusts:

1 1/2  cups graham cracker crumbs (12 whole graham crackers)

1/4  cup firmly-packed brown sugar

8  tablespoons salted butter, melted (1 stick)

~ Step 1.  Break the graham crackers into smaller pieces and place them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses process them to crumbs, then, with the motor running, process them to fine crumbs, about 10 more seconds.

IMG_2959 IMG_2963 IMG_2967 IMG_2969~Step 2.  Place the crumbs in a medium bowl.  Add the brown sugar, and using your fingertips, work the sugar into the graham cracker crumbs.  Melt the butter and add it.  Using a spoon, thoroughly incorporate the butter until a moist, grainy, semi-cohesive, crumb mixture forms.

IMG_2975 IMG_2978 IMG_2986~ Step 3.  Place 1/4 cup of crumb mixture in 8, 3"-round x 2"-high mini-cheesecake pans w/removable bottoms. Using a wooden tart tamper,  flatten/compress the crumbs to form an even crumb-crust layer.

~ Step 4.  Place the cheesecake pans on a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan and refrigerate the crusts while preparing the cheesecake filling according to the following directions: 

IMG_2991For the strawberry cheesecake filling:

1  pound strawberries, hulled and sliced into quarters

1/4  cup granulated sugar

1  tablespoon strawberry extract (vanilla extract may be substituted)

3-4 tablespoons cold water

2  envelopes unflavored gelatin

1  pound cream cheese, at room temperature

1/4  cup Confectioners' sugar

1/2  cup sour cream or heavy cream, your choice*

Note:  In my original recipe for these cheesecakes, I used heavy cream (which is pictured here because it has seniority rights and it works great).  I whipped it to stiff peaks and folded it into the cream cheese filling mixture at the very end of the mixing process.  I have since decided that I like the tangy taste of sour cream, which requires no whipping, folded in better.  Your choice. 

IMG_2992 IMG_2995Step 1.  Cut the strawberries into quarters, placing them in a medium bowl as you work.  Add the sugar and the extract. Using a spoon, stir to thoroughly combine.  Set aside, to allow the strawberries to macerate, for 15 minutes, stirring with the spoon 3-4 times during this time.

IMG_3942 IMG_3946Step 2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer strawberries to the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, reserving the juices remaining in bowl.  Process the strawberries to a puree, starting with 15-20 rapid on and off pulses, then turning the motor on for 45-60 seconds.

IMG_3934 IMG_3939~ Step 3.  Measure the reserved strawberry juices and add enough cold water to total 5 tablespoons.  Sprinkle gelatin over the top and set aside to "bloom" for 5-10 minutes.  Do not stir.

IMG_3960Step 4.  While gelatin is blooming, transfer the strawberry puree to a medium bowl.

Step 5.  Place the gelatin, which is now very thick, in the microwave. Melt it, without allowing it to simmer or boil, 8-12 seconds.

Step 6.  Add the gelatin to the puree and stir thoroughly.  Set aside for about 15 minutes.

Note:  If you are using whipping cream,  using a hand-held electric mixer, use this time to whip it to stiff peaks and  place it in the refrigerator to chill.

IMG_3012 IMG_3000~ Step 7. Place the cream cheese, sugar and sour cream in a large mixing bowl.  Note: If you are using the whipped heavy cream, do not add it yet.

Starting on low speed of hand-held electric mixer and working your way up to high speed, beat until creamy IMG_3013and smooth, about 45-60 seconds. Add the strawberry puree and beat until smooth and uniform in color. Note:  If using the whipped cream, lower the mixer speed and fold it in.

~ Step 8.  Remove cheesecake pans from refrigerator.  Ladle 5-5 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup + 1- 1 1/2 tablespoons) of filling into each.

Return to refrigerator & chill for 4-6 hours or overnight, then...  

IMG_3016... freeze 45-50 minutes (no longer).  These are to be "semifreddo", the Italian word meaning "half frozen".  Remove from freezer,  run a paring knife around the perimeters, remove from pans and serve with whipped cream and strawberry slices.

IMG_3022The best picture award goes to:  Strawberry Cheesecake!!!

IMG_3059Pretty in Pink:  No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecakes:  Recipe yields 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; spoon; slotted spoon; 8, 3"-round x 2" high mini-cheesecake pans w/removable bottoms; tart tamper; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; sharp paring knife

IMG_7573Cook's Note:  Another one of my favorite cheesecake recipes, which is made with a gingersnap cookie crust and baked, then finished off with a caramel-pecan topping is ~ Oh My Cup of Tea:  Pumpkin Cheesecake Squares ~ can be found in Categories 6, 11, 18 or 21. What an dreamy indulgence. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

02/24/2016

~ Take it Easy: Cherry-Berry & Triple-Ginger Crisps ~

IMG_2927This luscious, easy-to-make dessert turns a gloomy, cold, wet, end-of-February day into a bright taste of sunny, hot, Summer.  Made with frozen tart pie cherries, sweet blueberries and ingredients I keep on-hand in my pantry, it didn't require a trip to the grocery store or more than about twenty minutes of my time.  FYI:  A "crisp" is an American heritage dessert consisting of a fruit mixture topped with a crispy streusel usually made with oats.  I happen to love gingersnap cookies (and all things ginger), which, when used in place of oats, gives it an extra-crunchy top.  

Why don't I call it a "crunch" instead of a "crisp"?

IMG_2925Our forefathers' wives invented a lot of amusing words to define American heritage fruit desserts that do not fall under the category of pie. A crisp is a fruit mixture topped with a crispy crumb or streusel (a streusel contains oats, a crumb does not, which makes it crumbly). If a crisp has a bottom crust, it's a crunch.  To turn a crisp or a crunch into a betty, the fruit gets layered between slices of buttered bread or bread crumbs and spices. To turn a crisp into a cobbler, mix up a rough, "cobbled up" biscuit-like topping and plop/drop it on top of the fruit.  For a grunt or a slump (very similar to a cobbler), cook berries on the stovetop and listen to them make a grunting sound while they cook, then watch them slump under the weight of the topping.  To bake a buckle, you need to stir fruit into a buttery-rich, coffeecake-type batter and top it with streusel, then, bake it and watch it buckle (sink down) in the center as it cools due to the liquid in the fruit.  It's a sinking feeling.  

Memorize these words:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb079864d5970dThere might be a quiz at the end of this post!

IMG_2832For the topping:

1  cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2/3  cup sugar (10 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons)

1  teaspoon ground ginger

8  tablespoons salted butter, cut into small cubes, kept chilled 

1 1/2  cups crushed gingersnap cookies ( 7-ounces)

1 1/2  cups sliced almonds, lightly toasted and completely cooled (For detailed instructions, read my post, ~ How to:  Roast/Toast Some Nuts & IMG_2885Seeds ~, found in Category 15.)

1/4  cup minced, crystallized (candied) ginger

For the berry filling:

3/4  pound each:  frozen pie cherries and blueberries

1/2  cup sugar

2  tablespoons cornstarch

1/2  teaspoon each:  cherry and blueberry extract (optional)

2  tablespoons ginger brandy (optional)

IMG_2843 IMG_2838~ Step 1. Place the gingersnaps in a food storage bag, close and seal.  Using your hands break them into pieces, then, using a rolling pin, crush them to smaller bits and coarse crumbs.  

IMG_2846~ Step 2. Lightly-toast the sliced almonds in a 350 degree oven for 5-6 minutes, and, mince the candied ginger as directed.

IMG_2854 IMG_2858~ Step 3.  In a large bowl, place the flour, sugar, ground ginger and the cubed, chilled butter.

Using a pastry blender and a paring knife (or two knives if you don't have a pastry blender), cut the butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture resembles pea-sized crumbs.

IMG_2878 IMG_2871~ Step 4. Add the crushed ginger-snaps, the cooled almonds and the minced ginger. Using a large spoon, stir until thoroughly combined.  You now have a tasty all-purpose streusel topping.  Set aside and prepare the cherry-berry filling as follows:

IMG_2888 IMG_2890 IMG_2892 IMG_2895~Step 5.  In a large bowl, place the frozen pie cherries and blueberries.  Add the sugar, cornstarch and optional extracts and ginger brandy.  Add a generous half cup of the streusel topping too.  Using a large spoon, stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

IMG_2849 IMG_2898 IMG_2907 IMG_2913~Step 6.  Portion the cherry-berry mixture into 6, 1-cup ramekins that have been placed on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Using a large spoon, portion and spread the streusel topping evenly over all (about a generous 1/2 cup on each). Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 25-30 minutes.  The topping will be golden brown and the berry juices will be just beginning to bubble up through the topping in spots.

Remove from oven & allow to cool 20-30 minutes...

IMG_2916... prior to serving warm w/a scoop of French vanilla ice cream!

IMG_2940Take it Easy:  Cherry-Berry & Triple-Ginger Crisps:  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food storage bag; rolling pin; pastry blender; paring knife; large spoon; 6, 1-cup size ramekins; parchment paper; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan

6a0120a8551282970b0168ebb21ba7970cCook's Note:  For another one of my seriously easy fruit desserts, which can be made with fresh or canned fruit, check of my recipe for ~ A Simple, Summertime Treat:  Pineapple Cobbler ~ in Categories 6, 10 or 20.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

02/21/2016

~ Green Bean, Tomato and Fingerling Potato Salad ~

IMG_2798Green beans, tomatoes and potatoes all tossed together with a vinaigrette and some basil. There are lots of minor variations to this classic, rustic Italian-heritaged salad, but, those four components remain constant.  I serve it as a side-dish to grilled tuna or chicken, but, many add high-quality oil-packed tuna or chopped roasted chicken and serve it as a main-dish.  Some folks add bits of fried pancetta, others throw in a few capers, but, for me, I don't like anything messing with the subtle flavor of the vegetables, and that includes:  refrigeration.  Read on.

IMG_2768It's all about me:  My green beans get blanched, rinsed under cold water and set aside to dry free of moisture.  My potatoes get cooked until fork tender, and they too get set aside to cool completely to room temperature.  My tomatoes and onions, which are at room temperature, get sliced and set aside. My salad gets tossed 45-60 minutes ahead of serving, because it definitely benefits from this (the veggies absorb the flavor of the vinegar), but, if left go any longer than that, the acid begins to discolor the green beans.  There's more, I dislike it after refrigeration for any length of time, so, even when expecting a crowd, I don't ever make any more than I need.

IMG_2732For the red wine vinaigrette:

1  cup red wine vinegar

1/2  cup vegetable oil

1/4-1/2  cup sugar, to taste

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

freshly-ground black pepper, to taste (I use 50 coarse grinds)

~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container, combine all ingredients by shaking vigorously.  Set aside. Shake again prior to tossing desired amount into salad.

Note:  This recipe makes more vinaigrette than you will need, but, this is my all-purpose vinaigrette recipe and there is always a container of it in my refrigerator, where it keeps indefinitely.

IMG_2739For the green beans:

12  ounces fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into fork-and-mouth-friendly bite-sized lengths

1  tablespoon sea salt

~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart saucepan bring two quarts of water to a boil over high heat and add the salt. Add the green beans and cook for 3-4 minutes -- three minutes if you insist upon crunch tender, and four minutes if, like me, you prefer slightly-crunch-tender green beans that taste sweet rather than raw.

IMG_2747 IMG_2743~ Step 2. Drain the beans into a colander and immediately start tossing them under cold running water to halt the cooking process and get them to almost to or to room temperature.  Transfer beans to a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.

IMG_2754For the potatoes

1 1/2  pounds fingerling potatoes, cut into 1/2"-3/4" coins

1  tablespoon salt

~ Step 1.  In the same 4-quart saucepan, place the potatoes with enough cold water to cover them, then add the salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat to simmer rapidly for 3-4 minutes, or until al dente (just slightly undercooked, yet pleasantly "to the tooth).  My fingerlings were done in a very short 3 1/2 minutes today.

IMG_2757~ Step 2.  Drain the potatoes into the same colander and immediately start gently (they are more delicate than the green beans) tossing them under cold running water to halt the cooking process and get them to, almost to or to room temperature.  

Note:  This will take a minute or two longer than it did for the beans.

Transfer potatoes to a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.

IMG_2763For the tomatoes, onion & basil, prep and set aside as follows:

1  pint grape tomatoes, sliced into thirds

1/2 cup red onion, sliced into half-moon shapes, cut into thirds

24 fresh basil leaves, torn

IMG_2771 IMG_2773 IMG_2777 IMG_2779Place the green beans, potatoes and onions in a large, preferably shallow, salad bowl.  Shake the container of dressing and add 1/2 cup.  Using a pair of salad servers, toss the ingredients together and allow them sit, about 45 minutes, stopping to retoss about every 10 minutes.  Add the tomatoes along with another 1/4 cup of the dressing and toss again.  Allow to sit another 15 minutes, stopping to toss about every 5 minutes.  Just prior to serving, tear and toss in the basil leaves.  Portion and serve immediately garnished with freshly-ground sea salt and pepper.

Easy to make, colorful, flavorful, satisfying, fresh & healthy too...

IMG_2782... you & yours will eat more of this than you think!

IMG_2808Green Bean, Tomato and Fingerling Potato Salad:  Recipe yields 6 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top;  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; colander; paper towels; salad bowl; salad servers or two large spoons

IMG_2092Cook's Note:  While this salad pairs great with tuna or chicken and a glass of chilled chardonnay, it's equally delicious with ~ Mel's Pan-Seared Crimini Crusted Sirloin Steaks ~ and a nice chianti.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016) 

02/19/2016

~ Sea Scallops & Spaghetti w/Tomato-Cream Sauce~

IMG_2701Every once in a while, my ability to cook is overshadowed by my desire to cook something remarkably easy yet good enough to serve to guests -- no special skills, tools or knowledge required.  Today is such a day.  This simple, straightforward and scrumptious recipe, taken from the pages of absolutely nowhere, goes from stovetop to table in the time it takes to cook spaghetti, and, when beautifully plated, will bamboozle everyone into thinking I cooked all day.

"I dream of stirring cream into marinara sauce." ~ Melanie

IMG_2611The only thing more rewarding than having a freezer shelf full of my perfectly-seasoned ~  Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~ (made from our own garden's tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil), is being able to use it as a base for this decadent tomato-cream sauce.  My recipe can be found in Categories 8, 12 or 22, but, feel free to use your own homemade marinara if you've got it IMG_2618on-hand.  Store-bought?  I think not, but, nonetheless, that choice is yours to make.  My ratio is 2:1, or:

2  cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

This can be changed to suit your taste, but, do not substitute half and half or milk.  Just don't do that.

IMG_2627 IMG_2621~ Step 1. Place the marinara sauce in a 2-quart saucier or saucepan.  Add and stir in the cream.  

IMG_2633~ Step 2. Over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, heat until sauce is steaming.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

Pretty, pink & perfectly-seasoned sauce.  Easy enough so far?

IMG_2635For the spaghetti:

1  pound spaghetti

1  tablespoon  sea salt

4-6  tablespoons butter

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, well-drained

the tomato-cream sauce

IMG_2638~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil and add the salt.  Add spaghetti and cook until al dente, 10-11 minutes.  

Note:  While spaghetti is cooking, pat scallops dry as directed below. 

IMG_2646~ Step 2. Turn heat off.  Drain spaghetti into a colander and immediately return it to the still hot stockpot.  

IMG_2652 IMG_2660 IMG_2664 IMG_2672~Step 3.  Place the stockpot on the still hot/warm stovetop and toss in the butter and diced tomatoes.  Ladle in two cups of the now lukewarm sauce, and, using two forks or two spoons, toss as you would a salad, until the pasta is lightly and evenly coated.  Cover pot and set aside.

IMG_2672^^^Perfectly-cooked & sauced spaghetti.^^^  Game on: 

IMG_2680 IMG_2676For the scallops:

24  large, U/12 (12 per pound/2 pounds) wild, sea scallops, patted dry and placed on a layer of paper towels for about 5 minutes

6  tablespoons salted butter

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

freshly-ground red pepper flakes, 20-25 coarse grinds

~ Step 1.  In a 12 " skillet, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in salt and coarsely-ground red pepper flakes.

IMG_2690 IMG_2683~ Step 2. Increase heat to medium-high/shy of high and add the scallops. Regulating the heat carefully, saute the scallops until lightly golden, turning only once, about 4-5 minutes on the first side and 3-4 minutes on the second side.  The entire process will take 7-9 minutes.

Step 3.  Turn heat off and use a pair of tongs to transfer scallops to a paper-towel-lined plate.

IMG_2697^^^Perfectly butter-"poached" & lightly-browned scallops!^^^

~ Step 3.  Remove all but a scant 1/4" of the scalloped-flavored butter from the skillet.  Stir in the remaining one cup of sauce and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat.  Add the cooked and still warm pasta and toss until just reheated through, 45-60 seconds.  Do not overcook.

Portion pasta into 4, 6 or 8 bowls (for a starter, luncheon or dinner course) & top each, respectively w/6, 4 or 3 scallops:     

IMG_2700Pretend like you've slaved over the stove all day!

IMG_2723Sea Scallops & Spaghetti w/Tomato-Cream Sauce:  Recipe yields 3 cups tomato-cream sauce and 4-6-8 starter, luncheon or dinner servings of scallops & spaghetti.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucier or saucepan w/lid; large spoon; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; paper towels; 12" nonstick skillet; tongs

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7be0eed970bCook's Note:   For another super-easy way to prepare scallops, you might want to check out my recipe and method for making ~ Broiled Wild Sea Scallops w/Broiled Brown Butter ~, which can be found in Categories 3, 14, 20 or 21. Served atop a bed of my ~ Fluffy Lemon & Pepper Rice for Fish &/or Seafood ~, found in Categories 4 or 14, this is another bamboozler of  an impressive meal fit for any fancy-schmancy occasion!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

02/17/2016

~Peaches & Cream, Date & Nut Bread French Toast~

IMG_2584When short on time, breakfast is a meal I can speed-eat through, standing up, with no regret -- "tea and toast" and "I'm good to go", satisfied and focused.  That said, I have a weakness for French toast, and if I spy it on the breakfast buffet, this otherwise punctual gal is either gonna be a few minutes late or in a rather bad mood for the better part of the morning.  You choose.

A bit about French toast:  The French name for it is "pain purdu", meaning "lost bread", referencing bread that becomes dry after a day or two.  The basics of making French toast: Thickly-sliced, 2-3-day old bread is soaked in a whisked egg and cream or milk mixture, then fried in a skillet containing a bit of butter and/or oil. When executed correctly, the bread emerges from the skillet crisp and golden brown on the outside with a creamy, almost pudding-like center. It is simple, straightforward and scrumptious, and, it can be done with almost any type of bread.

IMG_25612-3- day-old bread is recommended because stale bread will soak up more of the egg mixture without falling apart.

In the case of yeast breads (French brioche, rustic Italian, sour dough, Pullman loaves, etc.), the French toast is usually served with a few pats of butter and topped with some sort of a sweet sauce, syrup, preserve or Confectioner's sugar.  This makes sense, since, on their own those types of yeast breads have very little flavor of their own.  In the case of quick-breads, which are typically enhanced with lots of flavors and textures (banana, pumpkin, zucchini bread, etc.), topping them with anything other than a bit of whipped butter or cream cheese and a few pieces of fresh fruit is missing the point -- if it is cloyingly sweet you want, iHop will be happy to oblige.

IMG_2294French toast made with quick-bread is not something I grew up eating.  I want to say it's because a loaf of quick-bread never hung around our house long enough to get "stale", but, truthfully, I don't think the thought ever occurred to my mother.  The first time I encountered it was in Atlanta, GA in 1986.  We were there for a Penn State tailgate and staying with friends.  Alice called it "French Toast Casserole" and she made it with store-bought banana bread.

IMG_2305Once that seed was planted in my head, before long I was baking my grandmother's vintage quick-bread recipes for the sole purpose of making French toast for my family of five.  Making stuffed quick-bread French toast came next and it was often their choice for a weekend or special occasion breakfast.  The recipe below was one of their favorites and my recipe for ~ Back to Basics, Plain & Simple, Date & Nut Bread ~ can be found in Categories 5, 12 or 20.

Date & Nut Bread + Peaches & Cream Cheese = Tres Magnifique French Toast!

IMG_2464For the Peaches 'n Cream Cheese Center:

8  ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks

2  canned peach halves

2  teaspoons peach extract

IMG_2465~ Step 1. Place all ingredients in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process until smooth, stopping once or twice during the process to IMG_2472scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  You will have about 1 1/2 cups of very tasty "whipped" cream cheese which can be used as a spread for bagels, muffins or any toast too.

IMG_2474~ Step 2. Transfer the mixture to a 2-cup food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or overnight.

IMG_2481For the Stuffed French toast (4 servings):

8  slightly-less-than-1/2"-thick slices 2-3- day old date and nut quick-bread

8  tablespoons of chilled peaches & cream cheese mixture

4  extra-large or jumbo eggs

1/2  cup heavy or whipping cream

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

IMG_25011/2  teaspoon apple pie spice

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

canola or corn oil, for frying

canned peach slices, for topping, and crisply-fried bacon, for a salty accompanyment

IMG_2506~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container, vigorously whisk together the eggs, cream, apple pie spice and salt.  Set aside.

IMG_2485 IMG_2489 IMG_2494~ Step 2.  Place 2 tablespoons of chilled cream cheese mixture on center of 4 of the bread slices. Using a knife, spread it to within 1/2" of the perimeter on all four sides of each slice.  Place remaining 4 slices of bread on top and gently press down -- enough so cream cheese flattens out a bit more but does not ooze out the sides.

Note:  To this point sandwiches can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated several hours or overnight.  The egg mixture can also be whisked together and refrigerated several hours or overnight too.  This is really convenient when making breakfast for overnight guests.

IMG_2514 IMG_2509~ Step 3. Pour half of the egg mixture (1 cup) into an 8" x 11" x 2" casserole.  Place the sandwiches into the egg mixture and drizzle the remaining egg mixture over their tops.  Allow the bread to soak for 10 minutes, stopping to flip the sandwiches over after 5 minutes.

IMG_2522 IMG_2531                                       ~ Step 4.  Heat a thin coating of oil (a scant 1/4") in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat. Using a wide spatula, one-at-at-time remove sandwiches from egg mixture and place in the hot skillet. Fry until golden brown on both sides, turning only once, about 2-3 minutes per side.  

Serve ASAP garnished w/sliced peaches & bacon to the side.

IMG_2577The only thing you have to fear, is fear itself (& the bathroom scale):

IMG_2597Peaches & Cream, Date & Nut Bread French Toast:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups cream cheese spread, which is enough to make 8 servings of stuffed French toast.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; food processor; rubber spatula; 2-cup food storage container; serrated bread knife; 2-cup measuring container; whisk ; 8" x 11" x 2" casserole dish; 12" nonstick skillet

6a0120a8551282970b01a73da325da970dCook's Note: To learn how I make classic French toast, using homemade brioche (which I effortlessly make in my bread machine) you can find my recipe for ~ Mel's French-Vanilla French Toast (Pain Purdu) ~ in Category 2.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright2016)

02/14/2016

~ A Peachy All-White-Meat 'Melanie' Chicken Salad ~

IMG_2447Chicken salad -- I'm persnickity about it.  If the chicken is the least bit dry, or kinda gray looking because it's made with leg and thigh meat, I won't touch it.  It's gotta be moist, fork tender, nicely seasoned and snowy white.  Poaching chicken breasts or tenders in a mild court bouillon accomplishes all of that (and feel free to do it), but, for me, there is nothing tastier than the juicy white meat pulled away from the breast bone of a perfectly-roasted whole chicken.

"You can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by roast chicken." ~ Julia Child

IMG_8322Rotisserie chicken is not my "gig".  It takes all the sport out of cooking.  I roast chickens.  I have roasted many chickens in my life, and, I've been roasting chickens since before some of you were born.  I've never served roasted chicken to a guest that didn't mention how moist and perfectly cooked it was and ask how in the world I got it that way.

Everyone and anyone who cooks has an opinion on roasting chicken, and, mine is quite basic:  One six-pound chicken, a 350 degree oven and two hours of the chicken's time.

Click on the Related article link below, ~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree "Carving for Dummies" Methodology ~.  to learn everything you need to know.

IMG_2447A few days ago I wrote a post ~ Maurice Salad Dressing and Mel's Maurice Salad ~ (recipe is in Categories 2 or 26).  FB readers commented on how the dressing would be great used in other ways. I'm continuing the conversation. It is indeed great on any sandwich you'd put mayo on, used as a dressing for any mayo-based potato or macaroni salad, and, if you are a lover of chicken or tuna salad looking for a new twist on the classics, "what's old is new". This retro dressing is dynamite in place of typical mayo concoctions.

Maurice Salad Dressing isn't just for Maurice Salad!

IMG_2195Who was Maurice?  Most people will tell you he was the chef or a chef at J.L. Hudson's (a famous Detroit department store that later became Marshall Field's), because it is, more-likely-than-not:  true. Sadly however, there's no written record of a chef named Maurice or which in-store restaurant his salad debuted in.  As a culinary history buff, I hate it when details like that fade into obscurity -- I'm still lamenting taking a pair of scissors  IMG_2132to their classy-looking credit card when Macy's took over and issued me a new card with their logo.

That said, there's no disputing that the Maurice chef salad (which could have been named for a customer, a relative, a salesperson, etc.) was the #1 selling menu item in the history of all the Field's Michigan restaurants.  The dressing, a lemony, onion-juice-laced mayo concoction containing tiny bits of hard-cooked egg was, and is, amazing.  Luckily, the recipe for the salad and the dressing are documented on page 33 of The Marshall Field's Cookbook.

Canned peaches w/roast chicken & chicken salad?  You betcha!

IMG_2355The shelf life of freshly-picked peaches is short and a perfectly-ripe peach has a shelf life of one day.  When I was growing up, my grandmother had two peach trees, and, whatever she did while tending to them, they produced the most flavorful peaches I ever tasted.  I'll bet the people who live there now say the same thing.  As they ripened, over the course of a few days every year, she canned the peaches in batches. Don't ask me why or where she came up with the combo, but, her fresh or canned peaches were always served as a sweet side dish to her savory hot roast chicken, cold chicken salad or chicken sandwiches.

IMG_2346For Mel's Amped-Up Maurice Salad Dressing (yields 3 cups), combine the following:

4  teaspoons white vinegar

4  teaspoons fresh lemon juice

4  teaspoons bottled onion juice*

4  teaspoons sugar

4  teaspoons Dijon mustard

3/4  teaspoon dry English mustard

1/2  teaspoon celery seed

IMG_2341freshly-ground sea salt and black pepper, to taste (Note:  I use 30 coarse grinds of sea salt and 50 coarse grinds of pepper.)

2  cups mayonnaise

1/4  cup finely-chopped parsley

2  hard-cooked eggs, finely-diced

*A bit about about onion juice:  This is an ingredient I keep on-hand. Available everywhere it's not easy to locate -- usually it's amongst the dressings, juices or spices. Mostly, it's easier to ask, "where do you keep the onion juice!"

IMG_2367For the chicken salad (yields 6 cups/6 servings), prep as follows:

4 cups (1 pound) hand-pulled roasted chicken breast

1  cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion (4 ounces)

1  cup finely-diced celery (4 ounces)

1  cup finely-diced hard-cooked egg, whites and yolks diced separately (2 eggs/4 ounces)

1 1/2 cups Mel's Amped-Up Maurice Salad Dressing

IMG_2373 IMG_2376 IMG_2381Place all ingredients in a large bowl, thoroughly combine and refrigerate until well-chilled, at least two hours.  Just prior to serving, stir, taste and add additional dressing, if necessary, in small amounts, to achieve desired taste and consistency.  I added an additional 6 tablespoons of dressing today.

IMG_2395For the salad assembly:

6  cups 1/4"-1/2" "chiffonade" of iceberg lettuce ("shredded" )

6  cups all-white-meat 'Maurice' chicken salad, well-chilled

3-4 perfectly-ripe fresh or home-canned peach slices per portion (1/2 peach per portion)

6  thin slices date & nut bread, sliced in half, slathered with cream cheese and sandwiched together to make six, small tea sandwiches (1 per portion)

Place a 1-cup bed of lettuce on each of six serving plates.  Top each with a generous portion of chicken salad and decoratively arrange the peach slices to the side.  Grind some salt and pepper over the chicken salad, place a tea sandwich on each plate and serve immediately:

IMG_2440Have a Peachy-Keen Valentine's Day today!

IMG_2401A Peachy All-White-Meat 'Melanie' Chicken Salad:  Recipe yields 3 cups of Mel's Amped-Up Maurice Salad Dressing, 6 cups of All-White-Meat 'Maurice' Chicken Salad.  This is enough for 6 main course servings or 8-10 luncheon-sixed servings.

Special Equipment List:  whisk; cutting board; chef's knife; large, shallow salad bowl and salad servers; serrated bread knife; heart-shaped cookie cutter (optional)

IMG_2305Cook's Note:  I prefer dates to raisins in many culinary applications because they are softer, plumper and sweeter.  When I was a child, we used to make small tea sandwiches by sandwiching some cream cheese between two slices of date-nut bread.  I adored them and they complement this chicken salad perfectly. My version of my grandmother's recipe ~ Back to Basics, Plain & Simple, Date & Nut Bread ~ can be found in Categories 5, 12 or 20.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

02/11/2016

~ Back to Basics, Plain & Simple, Date & Nut Bread ~

IMG_2305I found myself chewing on some dried, pitted dates yesterday.  Nothing unusual in that.  We were visiting my parents and my mom stepped out to go to the hairdresser.  I volunteered to organize her refrigerator and freezer for her while she was gone.  That might sound odd, but, I like to organize everything and my mom gives me carte blanche to organize whatever the h*** I want when I'm there.  I found dates in the her refrigerator.  The mind works in mysterious ways.  

Dates yesterday, a vintage date-nut quick-bread recipe today.

IMG_2242Recipes for Date & Walnut Bread started being published in the 1920's and became very popular with housewives during the 1930's and '40's.  My grandmother, a great cook, would have been 23 years old in 1930, and, since she was married at the age of 14, math tells me that her recipe, which likely got clipped out a  McCall's or Woman's Day magazine, is somewhere in the neighborhood of 87 years old.  She passed away 10 years ago today, at the age of 97, so, 2016 minus 1930 = 87.  Yep.

IMG_2246Being Eastern European, dried fruits (currants, dates, raisins, prunes, apricots) were staples in her pantry, and as for walnuts, she felt that "everything tasted better with walnuts added".  That said, plenty of housewives, in all cultures globally, baked and cooked with many a dried fruit back then because:  the marketplace only had a limited selection of fresh fruits, which in general have a relatively short shelf life, based upon what was in-season and available within a limited delivery area.

Dates grow in clusters on, and are the sweet fruit of, the palm tree.  The word "date" comes from the Greek word "daktulos", which means "finger", and, they range in size from 1"-3" long.  Drying dates increases their already high sugar content and keeps them from spoiling.  A dried date is plump, soft and a bit sticky.  I find them in the produce section of our grocery stores and buy them pitted in tubs, and, do my best to use them within a couple days of purchase.

A bit about quick bread:  "Quick bread" is an American term that refers to bread that is quick to make because it doesn't require kneading or rising time.  It originated during the American civil war, when the demand for food and bread was high.  Innovative cooks began rapidly producing bread and baked goods that were leavened with baking soda rather than yeast.  Nowadays, the leavening agent is predominately double-acting baking powder, or, a combination of baking powder and baking soda.  In the case of baking powder, it is called "double acting" because the rising process starts the moment it makes contact with the liquids, and, gives a second burst of rising power when the bread enters the hot oven.  Typically, quick breads contain eggs, flour, salt and fat (butter, margarine, shortening or oil) and leavening.  That said, they can be sweet or savory and contain sugar, fruits, fruit puree, vegetables, vegetable puree and various liquids (milk, buttermilk, fruit juice or stock).  The wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately, in two different bowls, then briefly stirred together just prior to baking.  Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, scones, soda bread and waffles all fall into the quick-bread category too!

IMG_2316Nothin' fancy, just ordinary ingredients from the pantry:

IMG_22506  tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature, very soft

3/4  cup sugar

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1/2  cup applesauce

1/2  cup sour cream

3/4  teaspoon apple pie spice

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

1 3/4  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2 - 2 1/4  cups sliced dates (Note:  1, 10-ounce tub will yield a little more than 2 cups and I use the entire tub.)

1 - 1 1/4  cups chopped, lightly-toasted walnuts (Place in a shallow baking pan on center rack of preheated oven for 6-7 minutes until lightly-browned and fragrant.  Cool completely.)

IMG_2252 IMG_2261 IMG_2264 IMG_2269~Step 1.  In a large bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar and eggs until smooth, 45-60 seconds.  Add applesauce, sour cream, apple pie spice and vanilla extract.  Over medium-low speed of mixer, combine ingredients, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula almost constantly, until uniform in color, another 45-60 seconds. Add all of the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Over low mixer speed, fold in the dry ingredients until a thick, uniform in color, quick-bread batter forms, 45-60 more seconds.

IMG_2275 IMG_2276~ Step 2. With spatula, fold in dates & walnuts.

IMG_2280~ Step 3.  Spoon mixture into an 8" x 4" loaf pan sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.

IMG_2286 IMG_2287Step 4.  Bake on center rack of moderate 345-350 degree oven for 42-45 minutes, or, until a cake tester inserted several places into the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and place pan on a wire rack to cool, in pan about 15 minutes prior to inverting out of pan and cooling completely prior to slicing, about 1-2 hours.

Cease, desist & resist the urge to slice before cooled! 

IMG_2298Date-nut quick bread today, toast for breakfast tomorrow...

IMG_2331... and tea sandwiches w/cream cheese for snacks or celebrations!

IMG_2401Back to Basics,  Plain & Simple, Date & Nut Bread:  Recipe yields 1, 8" x 4" loaf, and about 12, 1/2" slices or servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 8" x 4" loaf pan; cake tester; cooling rack

IMG_1298Cook's Note:  For another one of my grandmother's "dried fruit, walnut and apple pie spice" combinations, you should try my recipe for her ~ Old-Fashioned Oatmeal-Raisin-Walnut Cookies ~.  The recipe  is in Categories 7 or 12.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016) 

02/09/2016

~ Maurice Salad Dressing and Mel's Maurice Salad ~

IMG_2195Who was Maurice?  Most people will tell you he was the chef or a chef at J.L. Hudson's (a famous Detroit department store that later became Marshall Field's), because it is, more-likely-than-not: true.  Sadly however, there's no written record of a chef named Maurice or which in-store restaurant his salad debuted in.  As a culinary history buff, I hate it when details like that fade into obscurity -- I'm still lamenting taking a pair of scissors to their classy-looking credit card when Macy's took over and issued me a new card with their logo.  Great memorabilia lost.  Sigh.

Th-3That said, there's no disputing that the Maurice chef salad (which could have been named for a customer, a relative, a salesperson, etc.) was the #1 selling menu item in the history of all the Field's Michigan restaurants.  The dressing, a lemony, onion-juice-laced mayo concoction containing tiny bits of hard-cooked egg was, and is, amazing.

Luckily, the recipe for the Maurice salad, the Maurice dressing, and, many of their famous recipes are documented in The Marshall Field's Cookbook.  I bought my copy, a first printing, in 2006 (there are used copies available on the internet). I fell in love with it immediately, especially the history contained in the first twenty-one pages.  Here's my favorite excerpt:

IMG_2132Much of what is current standard practice in department stores everywhere was pioneered at Marshall Fields.  A few Field's firsts:

the bridal registry

the women's restroom

fixed, guaranteed pricing

satisfaction guaranteed returns policy

fully-realized scenes in window displays

the bargain basement

a European buying office

food service

Maurice Salad is nicely-composed, partially-tossed & plated:

IMG_2235Besides the amazing dressing, and trust me, this salad is ALL about the dressing, the thing I like best about this salad is:  the dressed, julienned, freshly-roasted ham and turkey, Swiss cheese and sliced sweet pickles are placed atop a bed of crisp, shredded, undressed iceberg lettuce.  I have taken to serving many of my chef-type salads in this fashion because I'm never at risk of the lettuce getting even the slightest bit soggy.  Not in their salad recipe (on page 33 of their cookbook), I added a sliced, hard-cooked egg to each portion because I like it, and, because it complements the egg in the dressing so well.  One item noticeably absent from their recipe, and added by me because it deserves mention:  The Maurice salad was always accompanied by freshly-baked, warm French bread slices and sweet cream butter -- no croutons please. 

IMG_2136For the Maurice Salad Dressing (yields 1 1/2 cups):

2  teaspoons white vinegar

1 1/2  teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 1/2  teaspoons bottled onion juice*

1 1/2  teaspoons sugar

1 1/2  teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/4  teaspoon dry English mustard

freshly-ground sea salt and black pepper, to taste (Note:  I use 10-15 coarse grinds of salt and 20-25 coarse grinds of pepper.)

1  cup mayonnaise

2  tablespoons finely-chopped parsley

1  hard-cooked egg, finely-diced

*A bit about about bottled onion juice:  If you have a juicer, like any other fruit or vegetable, it's easy to extract juice from an onion, and, for centuries, onions and their juice have been used for nutritional and medicinal purposes.  All that aside (I don't use enough of onion juice to juice onions), I've been buying it for years, and, like Worcestershire sauce, when you are looking to amp the flavor up in many a dish or beverage, it's a great "secret" ingredient to have on-hand in your pantry.  Trust me, it's available everywhere but not always easy to locate -- sometimes it's in the aisle with salad dressings, sometimes it's in the juice aisle, and, sometimes its tucked in with the spices.  Most times, it's just easier to ask a clerk, "where do you keep the onion juice!"

IMG_2137 IMG_2140 IMG_2145 IMG_2147~Step 1.  In a small bowl place vinegar, lemon juice, onion juice, sugar, Dijon and dry mustards. Whisk until sugar and dry mustard are completely dissolved.  Whisk in the mayonnaise and season, to taste with freshly-ground sea salt and black pepper (I use a peppercorn blend).

IMG_2153 IMG_2156 IMG_2161 IMG_2162~Step 2.  Chop and stir the parsley into the seasoned mayo.  Dice the egg and stir it in too.

IMG_2172

Tip from Mel:  Even when I am making egg salad, I chop the white and yolk separately.  It's easier to control the texture of them both, and, it makes for a prettier presentation too.

~ Step 3.  Transfer to a 2-cup size food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for several hours, overnight and up to three days.  Prep the ingredients for the salad as directed below.

Note:  A correctly prepared Maurice salad, without exception, contains julienned, not diced, ingredients and iceberg lettuce (no substitutions).

Maurice Salad = julienne not dice & iceberg without exception!

IMG_2173For the Maurice salad (yields 6 servings):

1  pound julienned ham, preferably not deli-style luncheon meat (Read my Cook's Note at the end of this post.)

1  pound julienned turkey breast, preferably not deli-style luncheon meat (Read my Cook's Note at the end of this post.)

1  pound julienned Swiss cheese

1/2  cup slivered sweet gherkin pickles

1  large head iceberg lettuce, cored and cut into 6 wedges, each wedge sliced into thin 1/4"-1/2" chiffonade (thin strips or ribbons)

6  hard-cooked eggs, cut into wedges, 1 egg per portion, for garnish (optional)

12-24  pimento-stuffed green olives, 2-4 per portion, for garnish

freshly-baked, French baguette slices and sweet cream butter, for accompaniment

IMG_2179~ Step 1.  Julienne the ham, turkey and Swiss cheese.  My julienne strips are a about 1/4" thick and 2 1/2"-3" long.  Yes, julienne is a bit (not a lot) of extra effort, but, the Maurice salad was never diced, so, stick to the recipe or be prepared to feel guilty.  Slice the gherkins into the thinnest slivers you can.  Place each ingredient in a large, shallow bowl as you work.  Add 3/4 cup of the dressing and gently toss until IMG_2189ingredients are lightly coated.

~ Step 4.  Make a bed of two generous cups of shredded iceberg lettuce (again, stick to the recipe, it's gotta be iceberg for it to be a Maurice salad) on each of 6 plates. Neatly portion and mound dressed ingredients in the center of each lettuce bed and garnish with olives and optional egg wedges.  Serve with additional dressing to the side, warm French bread and butter.

In the event you've never sat down to a Maurice salad...

IMG_2202... I can tell you, the first forkful will be a memorable one!

IMG_2222Maurice Salad Dressing and Mel's Maurice Salad:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups of Maurice dressing and 6 generous main-course servings of salad.

Special Equipment List:  whisk; cutting board; chef's knife; large, shallow salad bowl and salad servers

IMG_1411Cook's Note:  I roast a turkey breast almost every week.  I do it for the sole purpose of making sandwiches and salads -- two of my favorite things.  You can find my simple (much easier that roasting the entire bird) recipe, ~ Mel's Perfectly-Roasted Rosemary Turkey Breast ~ by clicking into Categories 2, 3, 18, 19 or 20.

6a0120a8551282970b017c36773853970bAs for the ham, I usually only have baked ham around the holidays (Christmas and Easter).  That said, I'm never without a ham steak in my freezer.  It thaws in about 30 minutes and cooks up in a skillet with a bit of butter in 5-6 minutes.

Once cooled and chilled overnight, both the turkey breast and the ham steak are ready to trim, slice and use as directed in all sorts of sandwich and salad recipes. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

02/07/2016

~ Mel's Pan-Seared Crimini-Crusted Sirloin Steaks ~

IMG_2092Fact:  I will not stand outside and grill if the temperature is below 40 degrees.  Fact:  It is below forty degrees.  Fact:  I am cooking steaks indoors today and the line forms to the left of the stove.

Great steak dinners & our original hunters and gatherers:

IMG_1661I'm guessing mushrooms have been paired with steak, since, um, fire was invented?  I imagine a big hairy guy, standing in a cave, yanking a hunk of red meat off a sharp spear and throwing it on an open fire to cook.  Meanwhile, an equally-hairy but less imposing woman picks a few mushrooms (growing up through the cracks of her cave-kitchen floor) and tosses them on top along with some wild onion grass for good measure. Voila: The first mushroom and herb topped steak recipe, straight from The Cave Network Kitchen.

 So easy even a caveman can do it!

IMG_1941For the steaks:

4, 1 1/2" thick top-loin strip steaks, at room temperature, about 16-ounces each

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

8  tablespoons salted butter, divided

2  tablespoons olive oil

IMG_1945 IMG_1948 IMG_1951 IMG_1969~Step 1.    Liberally season the tops of the steaks with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, melt 4 tablespoons butter into 2 tablespoon olive oil.  Place two steaks in the skillet, seasoned sides down and season the tops of the second sides.

IMG_2051~ Step 2.  Increase heat to medium-high and sear, 6 minutes on first side and 4 minutes on  second side, turning only once, or until the steaks reach an internal temperature of 110-112 degrees when an instant-read meat thermometer is placed into each one of their centers.

~ Step 3.  Transfer steaks to a 17 1/2" x 12 3/4" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper and set aside.  Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter into the pan drippings from the first two steaks and repeat this process with the remaining two steaks.  Set all four steaks aside.

IMG_1984For the mushroom crust:

all of the pan juices from pan-searing the steaks

12  ounces crimini mushroom caps, sliced into 1/4"-thick strips (about 4 cups)

4 ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1 cup)

2  tablespoons minced garlic

1/4  cup dry sherry

3/4  cup heavy or whipping cream

6  4"-5" fresh thyme sprigs

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_2002 IMG_1987~ Step 1. Heat pan juices from steaks over medium. IMG_1993Add the mushrooms and saute for about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, leaving any liquid remain in the skillet.  Walk away.

IMG_2003 IMG_2006 IMG_2013 IMG_2017 IMG_2024~Step 3.  Return the still hot skillet of drippings to the heated stovetop. Add onions and garlic.  Cook until onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add sherry, and using a spatula, deglaze pan by scraping browned bits from bottom of skillet.  Continue to cook for about 30-60 seconds.  

~ Step 4.  Add the cream and the thyme sprigs and adjust heat to simmer gently, until nicely thickened, about 4-5 minutes.

IMG_2032 IMG_2037 IMG_2045~ Step 5.  Add all of the cream mixture, including the thyme sprigs to the food processor containing the mushrooms.  Process the mushrooms and cream mixture to a pasty mix of small mushroom bits using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula about half way through the process.  You will have 1 1/2-1 3/4 cups of mushroom topping.

IMG_2059 IMG_2056~ Step 6. Spoon and distribute the topping evenly over the steaks, stopping short of the edges around the perimeter (meaning you don't want it drooping down over the sides of the steaks) and mounding it slightly towards the center.

~ Step 7.  Place pan of topped steaks on center rack of 400 degree oven for exactly 6 minutes. Remove from oven, plate and serve immediately.  If you have followed this recipe as written using 1 1/2"-thick steaks, you will have four medium-rare steaks topped with a golden, slightly-creamy sherry-laced mushroom crust:

IMG_2074Oh my perfectly-cooked fair-weather-girl indoor steak!

IMG_2119Mel's Pan-Seared Crimini-Crusted Sirloin Steaks:  Recipe yields 4 large servings. 

Special Equipment List:  12" nonstick skillet; instant-read meat thermometer; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; large spoon; nonstick spatula; food processor; rubber spatula

IMG_2111 IMG_2081Cook's Note: Along the same lines as today's recipe, only using filet mignon and wrapped in puff pastry, my recipe for ~ My Love Affair with: Individual Beef Wellingtons ~, along  with my step-by-step instructions and photos, can be found in Categories 3, 11, 21 & 26.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

02/04/2016

~ The Hasselback Potato: A Majestic Baked Potato ~

IMG_1830The next time baked potatoes are on your mind or menu, and you have a bit of extra time, make a batch of sexy, stylish Swedish Hasselback potatoes.  Want to feel like a rock star?  Go the extra mile and make them using using small, fingerling potatoes -- people adore fancy-schmancy, darling-to-look-at, petite food.  Place two or three on a plate next to a perfectly-cooked steak or pass a tray of them around at a cocktail party -- majestic -- to say the least.

DSC_2524The Hasselbecken Tavern was established in the 1700's as a small red hut located in a hazel thicket in Stockholm, which is how it got its name.  The Hasselbacken Hotel and Restaurant opened in 1853 in a grand, new building.  It was a destination for the rich upperclass and quickly developed a reputation for grandiose gatherings and celebrations. Hasselbacken Potatoes were 1invented by their chef in the 1940's and were an instant success.  Still prepared the same way, here's how they appear on their menu today:

Hasselbackspotatis serverad med oxfilé, baconlindad haricots vertes, gremoulatabakad tomat, konjaks velouté samt senapskräm  

Hasselbacken potatoes served with beef tenderloin, bacon wrapped green beans, baked tomato gremolata, cognac velouté and mustard cream 

IMG_1858A bit about fingerling potatoes: These small, elongated, finger-shaped potatoes come from a family of heritage potatoes that naturally grow smaller than conventional potatoes.  They are fully mature when harvested and should not be confused with new potatoes, which are potatoes harvested before they mature.  The three most popular varieties are: the Yellow Russian Banana (pictured here), the Peruvian Purple, and, the Swedish Peanut fingerling.

IMG_1781~ Step 1.  To make 24 fingerling potatoes, which serves 6-8:

Cut each potato into 1/4" slices, stopping short of cutting through to the bottom with each slice.

Note:  My "trick" is to place the potato in the trough of the carving board I use to slice roasts.  Doing this stops the knife, making it impossible to slice to the bottom.

IMG_1789~ Step 2.  In a small bowl, melt

8 tablespoons salted butter

and stir in:

1/2  teaspoon sea salt & 1 teaspoon white pepper

IMG_1799~ Step 3. Spray 6-8 individual-sized au gratin dishes with

no-stick cooking spray

IMG_1813~ Step 4.  Two at a time, submerge potatoes in the seasoned butter mixture, allowing them to sit for 10-15 seconds prior to transferring them to prepared dishes.

IMG_1833~ Step 5. When I am adding an herb, I like to shake a few dried rosemary leaves over the top, and, IMG_1849I take a moment to poke a few leaves down into a few or all of the slices in each each potato.

Using a pastry brush, lightly paint a bit more of the melted butter mixture over the tops and liberally sprinkle coarse sea salt over all.

IMG_1852~ Step 6. Transfer au gratins to a baking pan lined with parchment paper.

~ Step 7.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven 45-50 minutes, or until potatoes are bubbly and golden brown.  They will be crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Serve ASAP -- I like to reheat and drizzle/dribble the remaining butter mixture over the tops.

IMG_1923Hasselback Potatoes:  A Majestic Baked Potato:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; spoon; pastry brush; baking pan; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c740a1d4970bCook's Note:  To get my tips for baking a conventional potato, read my post ~ Dear Perfectly Baked Potato:  Your Crispy Skin and Fluffy Center, Make My Steaks Taste Even Better!!! ~ by clicking into Categories, 4, 10, 15 or 20.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

02/01/2016

~Bok Choy w/Ginger, Garlic, Mushrooms & Noodles~

IMG_1748Eat your vegetables.  No problem.  I've always loved vegetables.  Granted, I typically like some form of protein with or in my veggies, but, every once in a while, an all-veg meal is AOK with me. This is one of them, and, it's one of the quickest, easiest meals you will ever make.  Cabbage, a cruciferous vegetable, is one I grew up eating, but, until I was thirty-something, it came to my table via round green or red heads.  Thanks to publications like Bon Appetit,  Food & Wine, and Gourmet magazine, I began experimenting with recipes for Chinese bok choy (an elongated green and white "non-heading" cabbage), in the 1980's, mostly in quick stir-fries.

A bit about cruciferous (krew-SIH-fer-uhs) vegetables:  A group of high-fiber vegetables containing antioxidants that research claims may provide protection against certain cancers.  Also rich in numerous vitamins and minerals, they include:  broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, collard and mustard greens, kale, rutabagas and turnips.

IMG_1652A bit about bok choy:  When it comes to vegetables, the Chinese have always been a step ahead of us Westerners.  They've been eating 3-5 servings a day for centuries without coaxing or advice from medical professionals.  Bok choy, a once hard-for-me-to-find ingredient is now available everywhere. Lightly-seasoned with garlic and a bit of soy sauce, I love its naturally sweet, slightly peppery taste when cooked.  If it's a large head of bok choy you've got, give the leaves a good rinse in cold water and drain them thoroughly (a salad spinner works great), then, trim the woody stem ends off and diagonally slice the stalks and leaves.  If it's small heads of baby bok choy you bought, slice them in half lengthwise, rinse, and drain. Cook either of them as directed.

IMG_0930A bit about Chinese Egg noodles:  The Chinese have an almost overwhelming variety of noodles to choose from.  Fresh Chinese egg noodles (the four most common being thin and wide wonton noodles, and, Hong-Kong-style chow mein noodles and lo mein noodles), found in all Asian markets (and larger grocery stores) are made with wheat flour and eggs and are yellow in color (which is often attributed to the addition of yellow dye).  Fresh egg noodles are also cooked to the point of only needing to be briefly reheated in a pot of simmering water or broth, and/or, tossed into a stir-fry at the end of the cooking process.  If kept sealed, they keep in the refrigerator about a week, and, once opened, for best results, should be used within 24 hours.

Here are the top three complaints I routinely receive about stir-fry recipes:

IMG_17411)  They're not as quick as they're talked-up to be.  2) Yea, they cook in less than 5 minutes, but it takes an hour do the chopping.  3) All that work and it's only enough food to feed 1 or 2 people.  My E-Z stir-fry feeds 4-6:

IMG_1654For the vegetables & noodles

1  large head bok choy, cut into 1" chiffonade (strips), rinsed and run trough a salad spinner, about 10 cups

2  dozen smallish shiitake or crimini mushroom caps, or a combination of both

1/2  cup thinly-sliced green IMG_1665onions, white and light green parts only

1/4  cup thinly-sliced garlic cloves (1 ounce/about 3 large cloves)

1/4  cup thinly-sliced ginger (1 ounce/about a 2 1/2" piece)

3  tablespoons vegetable oil

1  pound fresh Chinese egg noodles

IMG_1667For the sauce:

3/4  cup chicken or veggie broth

3/4  teaspoon sugar

1/4  cup Oyster-flavored sauce

2  teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 3 tablespoons chicken stock

Note:  This all-purpose sauce is great for many stir-fried veggies.

IMG_1674~ Step 1.  Prep all vegetables as listed and set aside.  In a small container, combine the chicken broth, sugar and Oyster sauce.  Set aside.  In a second container, combine cornstarch and water.

~ Step 2.  Place the oil in a 12" wok or stir-fry-type pan.

IMG_1680 IMG_1687 IMG_1690 IMG_1701~Step 3.  Over medium-high heat.  Give the pan a couple of tilts to swirl the oil around to coat the bottom and lower sides of the pan.  Add the garlic, ginger and green onions and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 45-60 seconds.  Add the mushroom caps and cook, stirring constantly,  for 3 minutes.  Add the sauce, stir thoroughly and return to a simmer.

IMG_1709 IMG_1714 IMG_1721 IMG_1726~Step 4.  Add and stir in the bok choy, cover and cook over medium heat (lower the heat from medium-high) for 3 minutes.  Uncover and stir in the cornstarch/water mixture.   Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the simmering sauce thickens slightly, 1-2 minutes.  Turn heat off.

IMG_1731~ Step 5.  Go ahead, taste the sauce, it's delicious.  Poke a small hole or two in the package of Chinese egg noodles with the tip of a knife and cook them on high or express setting of microwave for 1 minute.  Portion the hot noodles into four-six bowls.  Using a large slotted spoon portion the bok choy mixture over noodles, then drizzle the sauce in the pan equally over and amongst all servings.

Get out the chopsticks & serve THIS delish veggie & noodle dish:

IMG_1747No fresh egg noodles in your town?  Cook 4-5, 3-ounces packages of pantry-staple ramen noodles (sans the seasoning packets) in water for 3 minutes.  Drain well and toss them hot, right into the bok choy mixture!

IMG_1764Bok Choy w/Garlic, Ginger, Mushrooms & Noodles:  Recipe yields 4-6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife;  12" wok or stir-fry-type pan w/lid, preferably nonstick; large slotted spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fa9cb0f2970bCook's Note:  For another one of my chopsticks (or fork) Asian-noodle-meals, also made with fresh Chinese egg noodles and full of vegetables and chicken too, my recipe ~ Chinese Chicken Chow Mein a la Melanie ~, can be found in Categories 3, 13 or 26.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos Courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)