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12 posts from March 2016

03/30/2016

~ Another Crockpot Corned Beef & Cabbage Recipe~

IMG_4544There's always room for one more, and today, the food world can make room for mine.  Why? When asked, I always answer.  While I've shared my recipes for ~ Braised & Brown Sugar Glazed Corned Beef ~, and, ~ My Brown-Sugar Crusted Crockpot Corned Beef ~, the two are essentially the same recipe, cooked via two different methods, and, they are both geared toward making corned beef sandwiches -- a year round favorite of my husband and I.  Corned beef and cabbage, served as a knife and fork dinner or a main-course soup, isn't something either of us grew up eating, so, I only tend to make it when the occasion calls for it.  That is today:

IMG_4473"Yes Marsha, I do have an excellent, nicely-spiced recipe for the traditional New England Boiled Dinner."  ~ Melanie

IMG_4477In honesty, with all of the recipes for traditional corned beef and cabbage "out there", I find it flattering that Marsha, a regular Kitchen Encounters reader wants my recipe "out there too" because she finds my contributions to be "easy-to-follow and reliable".  A foodie blogger couldn't ask for higher praise.  The request couldn't have come at a better time either:  Anyone and everyone who makes corned beef for St. Patrick's Day knows that a week or two after the holiday they go on sale for almost half the price.  So, yesterday, when I saw them BOGO'd (buy one get one free), I bought four -- one to cook tonight and three to freeze for making sandwiches later.

A bit about Corned Beef and Cabbage/New England Boiled Dinner:  While traditional fare for St. Patrick's Day USA, corned beef and cabbage is not the traditional holiday meal in Ireland. Corned pork and cabbage is what they serve there.  When the Irish immigrants started coming to America in the early 1900's, beef in Ireland was very scarce and very expensive -- pork was cheap and available.  Once in America, they readily found beef and corned beef in their lower Manhattan ghettos, where the butchers were kosher Jews and pork was strictly prohibited.  The concept of the dish is to simmer the corned meat (which has been rubbed with salt and cured in a spice-infused brine) to "desalinate" it (remove the salt).  Vegetables like cabbage, carrots, potatoes, turnips, parsnips, etc., not only flavor the broth, they love to absorb the salt.

IMG_4377For the meat, vegetables and broth:

1  4-4 1/2 pound flat- or point-cut corned beef brisket, thoroughly rinsed under cold water

1 1/2  pounds 1" thick carrots, peeled and cut into 3 1/2" -4" lengths about the same size as the fingerling potatoes

12  ounces yellow or sweet onion, cut into 3/4"-1" chunks

2  small-medium, young, firm and tender heads of green cabbage, about 1-1 1/2 pounds each, each sliced into six wedges (Tip from Mel:  Smaller wedges cut from small heads fit better into the crockpot than large wedges taken from large heads.)

1 1/2  pounds fingerling potatoes

2  12-ounce bottles beer (Note:  I do not recommend Guinness or any other heavily-flavored  or dark beer.  A pale lager or light beer will add plenty of flavor without overpowering the broth.)  

2  14 1/2-ounce cans beef broth

IMG_4389For the spices:

all of the pickling spices from the seasoning packet that came with the corned beef, along with:

6  whole allspice

4  medium bay leaves

2  whole cinnamon sticks

6  whole cloves

1/4  teaspoon whole coriander seeds

1/2  teaspoon whole mustard seeds

1  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon red pepper flakes

IMG_4384 IMG_4393~ Step 1.  Toss the onions and carrots together in the bottom of the crockpot.  Place the corned beef, fat side up, on top of the vegetables.  Add the beer and the beef broth.  Add the spices to the liquid (don't scatter them on top of the meat).  

IMG_4406Do not add the cabbage or the potatoes at this time.

Even though the cabbage is a key component to the flavor of this recipe, it, and the potatoes, will both turn to mush if they are cooked for the entire, lengthy and slow six hour cooking process.  Add both of them during the last two hours.

~ Step 2.  Cover the crockpot and cook on high power for four hours.

IMG_4420 IMG_4415 IMG_4417 IMG_4424~Step 3.  At the end of four hours, cut each cabbage into six wedges.  Remove the lid from the crockpot.  Add the potatoes to the liquid and arrange the cabbage wedges, overlapping them slightly without crowding them, evenly over the top of all.  Note:  How many wedges of cabbage you can fit in the crockpot will depend upon how large your cabbages were.  I fit 9 wedges in the crockpot today, which is  1 1/2 heads (which came from 2, 1 1/2-pound cabbages).

IMG_4437 IMG_4442~ Step 4.  Put the lid back on and reprogram the crockpot to cook on high for two additional hours. If you have followed my instructions, every component, including the fork-tender cabbage wedges will be perfectly cooked.  Whether you plan to serve it as a family-style knife and fork dinner, or as a rustic main-dish soup, do not allow it to sit in the crockpot.  Deconstruct it immediately, according to the following directions:

IMG_4458 IMG_4462 IMG_4460 IMG_4456 IMG_4450~Step 5.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the cabbage to an 8" x 8" x 2" casserole.  Using a large spatula, transfer corned beef to a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.  Using the slotted spoon, transfer all of the carrots, potatoes and onions to a second 8" x 8" x 2" casserole.  Pour broth through a strainer into an 8-cup measuring container.  Cover each with plastic to keep moist.

Slice meat, arrange on platter, portion, & eat w/knives & forks...

IMG_4496... or slice meat, place in bowls, ladle in broth & eat w/spoons!

IMG_4495Another Crockpot Corned Beef & Cabbage Recipe:  Recipe yields 8 servings with/or without 1 cup of broth (8 cups total) for each serving.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 6 1/2-quart crockpot; large slotted spoon; large slotted spatula; mesh strainer; soup ladle; plastic wrap

IMG_2890Cook's Note:  A favorite cabbage side-dish recipe of mine, which fingerling potatoes can be added to, is: ~ My Grandmother's Butter-Braised Cabbage & Carrots ~ can be found by clicking into Categories 4, 12, 19 or 20.  My grandmother like to serve it with baked ham.

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

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

03/27/2016

~ 'Ye Olde' Diner-Style Creamed-Spinach Omelette ~

IMG_4361The French omelette is iconic, but, miracle of miracles, we Americans actually improved it.  By allowing our omelette to get a little golden on the outside, which gives it a bit of extra flavor and texture, and, by generously filling it with a heavenly host of filling combos, egg lovers like me have turned the omelette into the hot pocket of beloved egg dishes.  While I make quite a few omelettes during the course of any year, classic recipes with a clear history, popular breakfast-joint favorites, and, recipes with eggs-traordinary stories are the only ones I share.

IMG_9356 IMG_0357For example.  My recipe for ~ My Kinda Cowboy Breakfast:  A Denver Omelette ~ is a classic recipe with a clear history.  My recipe for a ~ Steak, Habanero, Cheddar & Chimichurri Omelette ~ is a popular breakfast-joint favorite.  

If you peruse my Related Article links at the end of this post, you'll find several other omelette options from around the world too.  Today's recipe happens to be one with a unique-to-me story.

IMG_4336While I never make creamed spinach for the sole purpose of making this omelette, I always make this omelette when I make creamed spinach.  When I moved to Happy Valley on September 1st of 1974, the very first place we ate breakfast on our very first day here was:  Ye Olde College Diner on College Avenue in downtown State College, PA.  While we assuredly went there for a taste of their famous grilled stickies, we went there for breakfast too.  We were waiting for the moving truck to arrive at our apartment complex and it was going to be a very long day.  I ordered a "spinach, mushroom & onion omelette" -- my favorite combination.

Yeolde 77370The omelette was far and above the generic SMO omelettes I'd eaten elsewhere. The onions almost melted into the nutmeg-scented eggs, the mushrooms were so finely-diced they probably only took seconds to cook, and, the spinach was creamy-dreamy and green.  My cheese choice, "Swiss", played great with all the other components too.  The best news:  "The Diner" was only a block from my new Sc2a-img_0527apartment.

This is how the face-lifted diner looks today.

IMG_4102 IMG_3735After an on-line check of their current menu, I am sad to report that creamed spinach no longer appears as an option on The Diner's menu.  Sigh.

That said, creamed spinach and mushroom duxelles, which in combination with Gruyère cheese makes for an eggs-traordinary omelette combo, are easy to make and can be kept on-hand for several days.  My recipes ~ It's Not Easy Being Green:  Me & Creamed Spinach ~, and, ~ Duxelles:  Rich, Refined, Mouthwatering Mushrooms ~, can both be found in Category 4 & 14.  Here's my Diner-inspired recipe for:

Mel's Creamed Spinach, Duxelles, Onion & Gruyère Omelette!

IMG_4251For each omelette:

2  large eggs

2  tablespoons heavy or whipping cream

5  grinds each:  freshly-ground sea salt & peppercorn blend

a literal pinch of ground nutmeg

2  teaspoons salted butter

2  tablespoons very-finely-diced yellow or sweet onion

IMG_42702  tablespoons grated Gruyère cheese (pictured in above photo)

1 1/2  tablespoons mushroom duxelles (optional)

6  tablespoons creamed spinach

IMG_4264~ Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk the eggs, cream, nutmeg salt & pepper.

IMG_4276 IMG_4279 IMG_4281~Step 2.  Melt butter in skillet over low heat. Adjust heat to medium and add all of the egg mixture to the skillet.  

IMG_4283 IMG_4285 IMG_4288Lift pan from heat and tilt it to roll the egg mixture around the sides of pan. Repeat lifting and rolling 2-3 more times until bottom of eggs are beginning to set and sides are firming up.  Sprinkle onions over surface of the eggs -- do not stir.  Using a thin spatula, gently push the delicate, soft edges of the omelette towards the center while gently lifting and tilting the pan to allow uncooked egg mixture to flow into the bottom.

IMG_4290 IMG_4291 IMG_4294 IMG_4295 IMG_4298~Step 3.  When almost all of the liquid has been transferred to the bottom of the omelette (the surface will still be moist), lower the heat to medium-low.  Sprinkle the grated cheese over 1/2 of the omelette, and, after it has partially melted, which will take 45-60 seconds, top the cheese with random "dots' of the duxelles.  Using a very light touch, so as not to rip or tear the egg mixture, distribute the creamed spinach over the duxelles.

IMG_4304 IMG_4307~ Step 4. Using a wide spatula, lift the unfilled side of the omelette up and over the filled side.

Turn the heat off and allow the omelette to sit, in the pan on the warm stovetop, for a full 1-1 1/2 minutes, for the spinach (which is fully cooked) to heat through.

Hold the skillet over a 9" plate, tilt skillet 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 it, down onto the plate.

Serve w/toasted bread -- trust me this omelette requires toast:

IMG_4358

Enjoy every rich, creamy, dreamy, meatless bite:

IMG_4369'Ye Olde' Diner-Style Creamed-Spinach Omelette: Recipe yields instructions to make as many 2-egg omelettes as you want to make.  Note from Mel:  Because creamed spinach and mushroom duxelles are both rich, creamy and filling, I find that making a smaller, 2-egg omelette is preferable to a larger 3-egg omelette (enough to feed two people).  That choice is yours.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 8" omelette pan, preferably nonstick or 8" nonstick skillet; fork; thin-spatula; wide spatula

6a0120a8551282970b017ee81a6e6f970dCook's Note:  Besides toast, I love to serve creamed spinach omelettes with my recipe for ~ Grandma Ann's 6-Minute Maple-Glazed Ham Slice ~.  The sweet maple glaze (not to mention ham in general) is the perfect complement to the savory spinach and duxelles. You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 3, 9, 19 or 20.

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

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

03/24/2016

~ What's Up Doc? A Carrot Pie w/Gingersnap Crust ~

IMG_4244In the Fall, we all flaunt our favorite recipes for pumpkin, squash and sweet potato pie. Well, it's Spring now, and I am here to tell you:  anything a pumpkin, a squash or a sweet potato can do, a carrot can do better.  It's got way more flavor than a pumpkin or a squash and a lot less calories than a sweet potato.  There's more:  besides being a great source of vitamins and minerals carrots contain more natural sugar than any vegetable aside from beets, which intensifies during the cooking process.  Also, I have it on good authority, it's the Easter Bunny's favorite dessert!

IMG_4238I believe I've loved carrots since the day my mom fed me my first spoonful of Gerber strained carrots -- right out of the jar.  Next to onions and celery, the carrot gets used often in my kitchen. I'll eat carrots raw, boiled, sauteed, steamed or roasted.  I like them candied, pickled or marinated.  I have no ax to grind with folks using canned or frozen carrots as a time saver.  I love carrots in soups, stews and braises, I make a great carrot souffle, and, let's not forget carrot cake.

Carrot lovers all love carrot cake, and, besides a heavenly host of ethnic Easter desserts, carrot cake is a universal favorite.  I am not here to argue that point.  I am here to offer you an intriguing alternative, and perhaps, a recipe you've never heard of or given any thought to.  There is a first for everything, and, my first experience with carrot pie was on a trip to Dallas in the latter 1980's in Neiman Marcus's Zodiac Room.  It appeared on the menu as "Helen's Carrot Pie."  

Helen-corbittIn case you've never heard of Helen Corbitt, she was a gal from NYC who was hired as the food-service manager for Neiman Marcus in Dallas, TX, during 1940's and 50's, for the Zodiac Room, the restaurant in Neiman Marcus's flagship store. Stanley Marcus declared Helen "the Balenciaga of food", Earl Wilson said "she's the best cook in Texas" and LBJ just plain loved her.

Texas Monthly magazine referred to her as "Tastemaker of the Century" and wrote:  "In the years B.C. (Before Corbitt), Texans had no artichokes, no fresh raspberries, no herbs except decorative parsley, only beef (chicken-fried, barbecued, or well-done), potatoes (fried or mashed and topped with a glop of cream gravy), and wedges of iceberg with sweet orange dressing." "Into this bleak culinary landscape came a young Yankee named Helen Corbitt.  In a career that spanned nearly forty years in Texas, she delivered us from canned fruit cocktail, plates of brown food, and too much bourbon and branch into a world of airy soufflies, poached fish, chanterelle mushrooms, fresh salsify, Major Grey's chutney, crisp steamed vegetables and fine wine."

$T2eC16hHJHcFFkRhtsOlBR+E+-NPzg~~60_35Ms. Corbitt wrote five cookbooks and I'm lucky enough to have a 1st edition, copyright 1957, of her 1st.  It is dedicated:

 "to the men in my life"

and, in her introduction (which is fascinating) she writes:

"... these recipes I have put into book form are ones my customers have asked for time and time again.  Strange as it may seem, it has been the male half of the universe with which I have made gastrononomical friends, and I work overtime catering to their likes and dislikes.  However, I do not believe that the man who says he likes a thick steak and a green salad always feels that way.  Perhaps it is in defense, who knows?  Anyhow, I say "I love men" -- tall ones, short ones, old ones, young ones, fat ones, thin ones:

"All men.  All the ones who eat.  And they all eat!" ~ H. Corbitt

IMG_4229Helen's Carrot Pie, sometimes referred to as Zodiac Room Carrot Pie, was baked in a typical pastry crust and it was very good.  My decision to substitute a gingersnap crust for the pie pastry was an easy one since carrots and ginger are classically paired together in savory recipes (two of my favorites being Candied-Ginger Carrots and Creamy Carrot-Ginger Bisque).  There's more.  While I started out with their recipe for the pie filling, which provided no instructions for cooking the carrots, I made several changes, which makes this recipe kinda my own:  

I cut the amount of evaporated milk in half, added 2 extra egg yolks (which allowed me to skip the cornstarch completely), cut the amount of sugar in half, doubled the amount of ground ginger, swaped out cloves for nutmeg, and, substituted caramel flavoring for vanilla extract.  

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

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

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

IMG_7343IMG_7342Step 2. With motor running, in a thin stream, add butter through feed tube and continue to process until crumbs are coated in butter, about 15 seconds.

IMG_4153~ Step 3. Scrape down sides of  processor bowl and transfer crumbs to a 9"-round pie dish.

IMG_4155 IMG_4158 IMG_4164 IMG_4167~Step 4.  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 a tart tamper in conjunction with your fingertips to press the crumbs against the sides of the pan.  Bake the crust on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven for about 7-8 minutes, or, until slightly firm to the touch and fragrant. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely.  While crust is cooling:

IMG_41942-2 1/4  cups carrot puree, at room temperature (you'll need 1 1/2 pounds peeled carrots)

2  large eggs, + 2 large egg yolks

1/2  cup sugar

1/4  teaspoon ground allspice

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1 1/2  teaspoons ground ginger

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4 cup evaporated milk

2  teaspoons caramel flavoring

IMG_4174 IMG_4171 IMG_4176 IMG_4180~Step 1.  Peel  carrots and cut into 1/2" coins, placing them in a 4-quart saucepan as you work.  Add enough cold water to cover and add 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a simmer and cook until carrots are very tender, about 7-8 minutes.  Drain into a colander and rinse under cold water to halt the cooking process.

IMG_4181 IMG_4183 IMG_4185 IMG_4189~Step 2.  Transfer carrots to work bowl of of food processor fitted with steel blade.  After using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses to chop the carrots, stop to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula, then, process until smooth, about 10-15 seconds.  

IMG_4200 IMG_4208~ Step 3. Transfer carrots to a large bowl and add all IMG_4205remaining ingredients. Beat on medium-high speed of mixer until combined, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Ladle into prepared pie crust.

Going into a 325 degree oven to bake until set, 35-40 minutes:

IMG_4214Remove from oven, cool completely (3-4 hours), then,refrigerate until well-chilled, several hours or overnight.

IMG_4218Slice & served chilled w/whipped cream & a mint leaf garnish:

IMG_4242What's Up Doc?  A Carrot Cake Lover's Carrot Pie:  Recipe yields 8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; 1-cup measuring container; rubber spatula; 9"-round pie dish; tablespoon; tart tamper; cooling rack; vegetable peeler; cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; colander; hand-held electric mixer

IMG_8968Cook's Note:  For another one of my Zodiac Room inspired recipes, click into Categories 5, 9, 10 or 20 for ~ Perfect Popovers:  When doing less really is More! ~.  Pretty, puffed-up, golden-brown pockets of crusty, light, airy carbohydrate perfection, they served theirs with a sublime strawberry butter.

"We are all in this food world together."

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie Preschutti/Copyright 2016)

03/21/2016

~It's Not Easy Being Green: Me & Creamed Spinach~

IMG_4102"Why can't you be more like your friend Melanie?", said the mothers of many of my childhood friends.  A long, long time ago, middle-class mothers all cooked, and, when you were invited to a friend's house after school, it was common practice to be asked to stay for the evening meal. Those were hospitable times, and, that was my life during the 1960's (age 5 thru 14).  If you are old enough to remember June Cleaver, Margaret Anderson and Donna Stone (Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best and Donna Reed), the image of each of those TV moms serving dinner to her family is etched in your black-and-white TV-watching memory.  Don't roll your eyes.

Back then, we kids knew what to expect, and, aside from the occasional casserole, bowl of soup or spaghetti and meatballs, dinner was typically meat, potatoes and a vegetable.  I'm not talking canned peas and corn here.  Green beans almondine (Audrey's mom w/brisket), candied carrots (Brenda's mom w/lamb chops), sauteed squash (Susie's mom w/fried chicken), roasted brussels sprouts (Karen's mom w/ham) and creamed spinach (Sally's mom w/steak) -- every friend's mother had her specialty, and, I liked them all.  I ate my vegetables.  My friends did not.

"Why can't you be more like your friend Melanie?"  It wasn't easy being me.

IMG_4100A bit about creamed spinach:  If vegetables enrobed in a seasoned cream sauce appeal to you, creamed spinach is a dish you are going to love.  As far as leafy greens go, spinach is one that has quite a bit of its own flavor.  That means, the key to a great creamed spinach recipe is not to overpower the sauce.  Stick to making a milk or cream-based sauce that starts with a butter and flour roux.  Versions containing tangy substitutes like sour cream, yogurt or cream cheese, are, excuse my French: nasty.  Save those add-ins for your spinach and artichoke dip.  One more note of disdain: Versions containing bacon or bacon fat.  It may come as a shock, but, not everything tastes better with bacon.

Into my adulthood and on my travels, I discovered creamed spinach to be a staple on the menus of many truck-stop-type diners and almost all upscale steakhouses.  It makes sense.  Diners specialize in hearty breakfasts and creamed spinach pairs well with many an egg dish.  If you've never tasted creamed spinach in conjunction with a rare- medium-rare double-cut prime rib or a thick flame-grilled steak, your carnivorous diet requires a reboot -- it's the best green vegetable concoction ever to be served with a slab of red meat since the caveman invented fire.

IMG_4008For the spinach:

2  9-10 ounce bags triple-washed, no preservatives, organic, ready-to-use spinach leaves

IMG_4014~ Step 1.  To prepare the ice bath (which will be used to shock the cooked spinach leaves), in a large bowl, place two trays of ice cubes and 6 cups of cold water.

IMG_4023 IMG_4020                                          ~ Step 2.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of IMG_4026water to a boil over high heat. Add all of the spinach leaves, all at once, to the water.  Cook until leaves are tender, wilted and bright green, 1 1/2 minutes.  Do not overcook.

IMG_4029 IMG_4032~ Step 3. Drain the spinach into a large colander and quickly rinse with cold water. Immediately transfer spinach to the ice bath and allow to remain there to chill down, 2-3 minutes.

~ Step 4.  Place 3-4 layers of paper towels on the countertop next to the bowl of iced spinach (a couple of kitchen towels may be substituted but paper towels work better).

IMG_4045 IMG_4036~ Step 5. Using a large slotted spoon or scoop, transfer the spinach leaves to the paper towels, allowing excess water to drain back into the bowl, spreading the leaves out across the surface of the paper towels as you work.

IMG_4055 IMG_4051~ Step 6. Cover the spinach leaves with a few more layers of paper towels and roll the whole "thing" up jelly-roll-style.

Gather the whole "thing" up, and, standing over the drain of your sink, squish the whole "thing" to remove almost all of the moisture from the spinach.  Add more paper towels to the outside of the "thing" if they start to break apart.

IMG_4062You will have 3 1/2-4 cups of squished spinach leaves.

IMG_4066~ Step 7. Remove the paper towels and place the spinach leaves in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Using a series of 10 on-off pulses, chop the spinach.  Transfer chopped spinach to a bowl that has been lined with paper towels and set aside.

The spinach is finished.  To prepare the creamed spinach:

IMG_4072For the creamed spinach:

3 1/2-4  cups blanched, shocked, squished and chopped spinach leaves (from above)

8  tablespoons salted butter (1 stick)

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1  cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion

2  tablespoons minced garlic

1 1/2  cups heavy or whipping cream

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves 

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon white pepper

IMG_4079 IMG_4081 IMG_4084 IMG_4087~Step 1.  Melt butter in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan over low heat.  Stirring constantly, add the flour, increase heat to a boil and cook until smooth, thickened and foamy, about 30 seconds. Lower heat to medium, add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring constantly, 3 1/2-4 minutes.

  IMG_4089 IMG_4091 IMG_4093 IMG_4096~Step 2.  Add and stir in the cream, followed by the ground cloves, nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper. Adjust heat to simmer until thickened, stirring constantly, about  3 1/2-4 minutes.  Adjust heat to low.  Stir in the spinach and continue to cook until steaming, about 2 minutes.

Place a nice big scoop next to a perfectly-grilled steak...

IMG_4108... and don't wait one more minute to stick a fork in it!

IMG_4137It's Not Easy Being Green:  Creamed Spinach:  Recipe yields 3 1/2-4 cups of creamed spinach.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot; colander; paper towels; large slotted spoon or scoop; food processor; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon

IMG_2092Cook's Note:  While creamed spinach pairs wonderfully with any type of grilled steak, for an over-the-top alternative, try serving it with ~ Mel's Pan-Seared Crimini Crusted Sirloin Steaks ~.  You can find this very special recipe in Categories 3, 11, 21 or 26.  I promise you, this classic combo is an impressive meal your guests will never forget.

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

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

03/18/2016

~ Classic Coquilles St. Jacques (Gratin of Scallops) ~

IMG_3986Once upon a time in Happy Valley we had a fancy-schmancy resort restaurant called LePapillon.  As the name implies,  it specialized in French cuisine.  If you were into a swanky, suit-and-tie, heels-and-hose, Saturday-night-date-place to enjoy a wonderful meal while listening to the best grand piano player in the area, and, take in a breathtaking sunset, this is where you went.  For a period of about ten years, Joe and I frequented the place often, and, I arranged for many family celebrations and business gatherings to be held there.      

11601-01Times change, people change, and, back in the late 1990's, when they transformed their elegant casual-dining indoor-outdoor Eagle's Nest Lounge (overlooking the swimming pool, tennis courts and grounds of the championship golf course) into an Outback Steakhouse, the handwriting (more like graffiti) was on the wall.  Since LePapillion and the Eagles Nest shared the same elegant portico and worked together in a lot of ways, the dumb-it-down atmosphere of a chain steakhouse quickly trickled into the LePapillion and Camelot was no longer. 

Note:  Technically, LePapillion still exists, except:  it is only open for caterings, and, the Outback Steakhouse is now a gourmet burger joint called The Field.  We've not been there in 20+ years.

170px-Carlo_Crivelli_064A gratin (GRAH-tn) or gratinee (Grah-tee-NAY) refers to any dish that is topped with cheese and/or breadcrumbs mixed with a bit of butter, then heated in the oven or under the broiler until bubbly and browned.  

Coquille St. Jacques (koh-KEEL sahn-ZHAK) is a gratin of scallops in a creamy white-wine sauce topped with cheese and/or breadcrumbs, and, it is typically cooked and served in a scallop shell or a scallop-shaped dish.  Because it is so rich, it is almost always served as an appetizer or starter course to a meal.  Back in its heyday, LePappillon made a superb version of this classic dish, which I splurged my calories on almost every time I ate there. Coincidentally, their chef at the time (whom I came to know quite well) was named Jim, which is short for James, which in French translates to Jacques.  We always had some fun with that.

That said, "coquille" is the French word for "shell" and "St Jacques" is associated with Saint James, the apostle that is said to have rescued a knight who fell off his horse into the water and emerged covered in scallop shells.  Poor medieval Christians, making the pilgrimage to his shrine wore a scallop shell on their hat or clothing, and, carried a scallop shell with them to churches where they could expect to be given as much food as one could pick up with one scoop.  (The above photo of a portrait of St. James is courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Coquille St. Jacques a la LePappillon (circa 1980's-1990's)...

IMG_3956... A recipe I'm glad I had the God given sense to ask for!

IMG_1984For the duxelles (mushrooms)*:

4  tablespoons salted butter

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

4 ounces shallots, or, 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, to taste

*Duxelles (dook-SEHL) is a French term referring to a savory mixture of finely-chopped mushrooms, shallots and herbs cooked in butter until it forms a thick paste.  Duxelles is commonly used as a bed for the scallops when making Coquille St. Jacques, and, it is how this divine dish was prepared at LePappillon.

IMG_2002 IMG_1987~ Step 1.  In a 12" skillet over low heat, melt the butter.  

IMG_1993Step 2. Add the mushrooms and lightly season with salt and pepper.  I use 20 and 30 coarse grinds respectively. Increase heat to medium-high and sauté for 9 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, leaving all of the liquid remain in the skillet.

IMG_2003 IMG_2006 IMG_2013 IMG_2017 IMG_2024~Step 3.  Return the still hot skillet 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 45-60 seconds.  

Step 4.  Add the cream and the thyme sprigs and adjust heat to simmer gently, until nicely thickened, about 9 minutes.

Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste (I use 20 and 30 coarse grinds respectively).

IMG_2032 IMG_2037 IMG_2045Step 5.  Add all of the cream mixture, including the thyme sprigs to the food processor containing the sauteed 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 duxelles.

To prepare a classic Coquille St. Jacques mixture (the scallop mixture):

IMG_3816For the white wine cream sauce

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)

1/2  teaspoon dried tarragon leaves

1/2  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 cup bottled clam juice

1/2  cup white wine

2  large egg yolks, at room temperature

1 1/4  cups heavy or whipping cream

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, to taste (Note:  I use 15 coarse grinds of each.)

IMG_3822 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

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)

2  tablespoons all-purpose flour 

2  large garlic cloves, run through a garlic press (optional)

IMG_38281/2  cup very-finely-diced shallots, or, yellow or sweet onion 

For the foil (the bed), topping & garnish:

1 1/2  cups duxelles (from above recipe)

1 1/2  cups grated Gruyère cheese

fresh thyme sprigs, for garnish

IMG_3830 IMG_3833 IMG_3835~ Step 1.  In a 10" nonstick skillet,  melt 4 tablespoons of the butter together with the dried tarragon and thyme over low heat.   IMG_3838 IMG_3842 IMG_3846Whisking constantly, add the flour, bring to a boil and cook until thick and pasty, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the clam juice and wine.  Adjust heat to simmer until thickened, whisking constantly, about 30-45 seconds. Remove the skillet from the heat and set to the back of the stove.  Without wasting any time:  

IMG_3849 IMG_3851 IMG_3853 IMG_3855 IMG_3856~Step 2.  In a 4-quart saucepan, thoroughly whisk  the egg yolks and cream together.  Add all of the skillet roux to the egg/cream mixture.  Place on stovetop over medium-high heat.  Whisking constantly, cook until smooth and thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Season with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend (I add 10 coarse grinds of each).  Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

IMG_3859 IMG_3860 IMG_3862~ Step 3.  Cut the scallops into quarters, place them a small bowl, add the 2 tablespoons of flour and, using a large slotted spoon, toss to coat.  

IMG_3864 IMG_3866 IMG_3868 IMG_3873~Step 4.  In skillet melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over low heat.  Add the garlic and shallots plus a scant 1/2 teaspoon sea salt.  Over medium-high, saute, stirring constantly, until garlic and onion softens without browning, 2-3 minutes. Add the scallops and adjust heat to saute until they are opaque and short of being cooked through, 5 minutes.  Don't overcook.  

IMG_3888 IMG_3880~ Step 5. Transfer all of hot scallop mixture into the white wine cream sauce in the saucepan.  Over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, bring the mixture to just steaming, not simmering or boiling. This will only take 1-2 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat. 

Note:  At this point, both the duxelles and the scallop mixtures can be refrigerated until ready to use, several hours or overnight.  Return to room temperature, about 2 hours, prior to proceeding.

IMG_3890Let's talk serving size:  As mentioned above, Coquille St. Jacques is a very rich dish and is typically served as a starter course. That said, a slightly-larger portion can be served as a small meal (a luncheon-sized portion).  How many portions you get from my recipe will fully depend upon the size of your shell-shaped ramekins.

IMG_3894 IMG_3899 IMG_3900 IMG_3907~Step 6.  Portion the duxelles, 3 tablespoons, into each of 8, 5" shell-shaped-ramekins placed on a very large baking pan (or two smaller pans) that have been lined with parchment paper. Portion the scallop mixture evenly over the duxelles and top -- I use a 3-ounce ladle to do this. Top each portion with a generous mound of grated Gruyère cheese, about 3 tablespoons.

~ Step 7.  Place the pan of Coquille St. Jacques 8" underneath preheated broiler and cook until bubbly and very lightly-browned on top, about 3 1/2-4 minutes.  Over browning = over cooking.

 Remove from oven and serve this decadence bubbling hot:

IMG_3981Classic Coquilles St-Jacques (Gratin of Scallops):  Recipe yields 8 appetizer/starter servings. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; large spoon; food processor; rubber spatula; 10" nonstick skillet w/lid; whisk; 4-quart saucepan w/lid; 2-cup measuring container; paper towels; large slotted spoon; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 8, 5", individual-sized, scallop-shell-shaped ramekins

IMG_3722 IMG_3744Cook's Note: For an exquisite and memorable meal,  especially appropriate for a festive Spring brunch, I love to serve Coquille St. Jacques with a small bowl of ~ Get Out Your Whisk & Make this Tomato Bisque ~, accompanied by a few ~ Meatless Mushroom Duxelles & Gruyère Crostini  ~ You can find both recipes in Category 21.

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

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

03/16/2016

~ Meatless Mushroom Duxelles & Gruyere Crostini ~

IMG_3744For lack of better words, I'm going to refer to this mouthwatering crostini recipe as an "all-purpose, all-occasion" hors d'oeuvre.  They complement a host of foods, and, can be served (for brunch, lunch, or dinner), at casual or upscale gatherings.  They pair well with all sorts of cocktails, as well as red or white wine.  They can be passed prior to an entrée of fish, seafood, poultry, porcine or meat.  They can be served with a cup of soup and/or a salad. They are meatless too.  That makes them perfect for meatless meals, certain religious holidays, and, entertaining vegetarian friends.  There's more:  they are, relatively speaking, easy to make.

IMG_3735A bit about duxelles (dook-SEHL): "Considered easy to prepare", it's a mixture of finely-chopped (minced) mushrooms, shallot or onion, sometimes garlic and herbs that are slowly cooked in butter until it takes on the form of a nicely-browned creamy paste.  Cream is sometimes added as well, and, cream is a preference of mine.  Any type of cultivated or wild mushrooms can be used, as long as they are fresh, and chefs choose which ones to use depending upon the depth of flavor they hope to achieve.  

While "considered easy", because making duxelles relies on evaporation to thicken it and concentrate the flavor (the longer you cook it, the better it gets), the cooking time is a bit lengthy. You'll need 3 cups duxelles to make these crostini and you can find my "easier" method and recipe for ~ Duxelles:  Rich, Refined Mouthwatering Mushrooms ~ in Categories 14, 15 or 21. You will also need 3 cups grated Gruyère cheese, and, fresh thyme sprigs for garnish.

PICT1438A bit about crostini:  In Italian, "bruschetta" means "oiled slice". "Crostini" simply means "toast", meaning it doesn't always end up drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic.  Like bruschetta, crostini are topped with savory toppings. Unlike bruschetta, they are made using smaller, long and thin-shaped bread, like a baguette or a batard. Crostini are always served as a snack or an appetizer before a meal, or, an accompaniment to the meal.  In the case of both bruschetta and crostini, any size, color or flavor of bread can be used, but it must be crusty and firm textured.

PICT1404For the toasts I'm making today,  I'm using 2, 12-ounce batards and 2 sticks salted butter, at room temperature, the softer the better.

Note:  A French batard is first cousin to the baguette.  Batards are shorter than baguettes and a bit plumper, which give my crostini the perfect surface area for the topping.

PICT1405This popular hors d'oeuvre recipe makes enough to pass at a cocktail party.  Feel free to cut it in half.

IMG_2409~ Step 1.  To prepare the toasts, cut each batard into approximately 20, 1/2"-thick slices.  Place the bread slices, in a single layer, on 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.

PICT1412 PICT1426 PICT1430~ Step 2.  Preheat the broiler and position the oven rack 7"-8" underneath it.  Spread an even layer of softened butter over the top of each slice of bread on both pans.  Place one pan under the broiler and cook until lightly-browned and bubbly on the first side, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Remove from oven and flip slices over.  The second sides do not get buttered.  Return to broiler and cook on the second side, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Repeat this process with the second pan.

IMG_3782 IMG_3788 IMG_3790~ Step 3.  Top each bread slice with a tablespoon of duxelle.  Spread the duxelle evenly over the top, stopping just short of the edge all the way around the perimeter (don't let the duxelles hang down over the sides). Mound (don't sprinkle it evenly over the top) a generous tablespoon of grated Gruyère over the duxelles on each slice.  One-at-a-time, place each pan under the broiler again just long enough for the cheese to melt without browning, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Remove from oven, transfer to a serving platter, garnish each crostini with a small sprig of fresh thyme and serve immediately.

Care for a few crostini w/a bowl of my tomato bisque? 

IMG_3801Meatless Mushroom Duxelle & Gruyere Crostini:  Recipe yields 40 hors d'oeuvres.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; hand-held box grater; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper

IMG_3722Cook's Note:  You can find my recipe for ~ Get Out Your Whisk & Make this Tomato Bisque ~ in Categories 1, 2, 14, 21.  You need recipes like this, I need recipes like this, all of us cooks need recipes like this.  This creamy, rich tomato bisque is what I call a "go to" recipe -- one I rely upon for a variety of kitchen encounters.  With Easter quickly approaching, my plan is to serve it and my crostini with my holiday ham -- it also goes great with lamb or lamb chops too!

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

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

03/14/2016

~Duxelles: Rich, Refined Mouthwatering Mushrooms~

IMG_3735Mushroom duxelles.  To a mushroom lover like me, this is the crème de la crème of mushroom preparations -- the earthy caviar of my fungi food world.  Each time I prepare it, I pay homage to the French for their meticulous attention to culinary detail.  Without duxelles, my Veal Orloff, Beef Wellington and Coquilles St. Jacques would be ordinary veal, beef and seafood dishes.  

With duxelles on-hand in my refrigerator, I can change an unpretentious piece of toasted bread or a scrambled egg into a fine-dining experience.  It enhances many of my sauces and gravies, and, soups and stews too.  I enjoy it tossed it into plain vegetables, pasta or rice, and, also use it as a foil (a bed) or a topper for fish, seafood, poultry, porcine or meat.  There's more:  It can be formed, wrapped and frozen to slice and use like compound butter.  The list goes on. 

IMG_1865A bit about duxelles (dook-SEHL):  "Considered easy to prepare", it's a mixture of finely-chopped (minced) mushrooms, shallot or onion, sometimes garlic and herbs that are slowly cooked in butter until it takes on the form of a nicely-browned creamy paste.  Cream is sometimes added as well, and, cream is a preference of mine.  Any type of cultivated or wild mushrooms can be used, as long as they are fresh, and chefs choose which ones to use depending upon the depth of flavor they hope to achieve.  Created by the 17th Century French chef Francois Pierre La Varenne and named after his employer, Nickolas Chalon du Blé, marquis d'Uxelles, they were originally used as stuffings and savory pastry fillings.  While "considered easy", because it relies on evaporation to thicken it and concentrate the flavor (the longer you cook it, the better it gets), the cooking time is a bit lengthy.  I, however, have an easier, stress-free method of making it.

IMG_1984For my favorite "easier" way to prepare mushroom duxelles:

4  tablespoons salted butter

1  pound crimini mushroom caps, sliced into 1/4"-thick strips (about 6 cups)

4 ounces shallots, or, 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, to taste

IMG_2002 IMG_1987~ Step 1.  In a 12" skillet over low heat, melt the butter.

IMG_1993~ Step 2. Add the mushrooms and lightly season with salt and pepper.  I use 20 and 30 coarse grinds respectively. Increase heat to medium-high and sauté for 9 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, leaving all of the liquid remain in the skillet.

IMG_2003 IMG_2006 IMG_2013 IMG_2017 IMG_2024~Step 3.  Return the still hot skillet 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.

Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste (I use 30 and 60 coarse grinds respectively).

IMG_2032 IMG_2037 IMG_2045Step 5.  Add all of the cream mixture, including the thyme sprigs to the food processor containing the sauteed 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 about 2 cups of duxelles.

Want a ~ Meatless Mushroom Duxelles & Gruyère Crostini ~?

IMG_3744Duxelles:  Rich, Refined Mouthwatering Mushrooms:  Recipe yields about 2 cups of duxelles.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; large spoon; food processor; rubber spatula

IMG_2070 IMG_2081Cook's Note: Now that you have some mushroom duxelles on-hand and ready-to-use, there is no time like the present to try ~ My Love Affair with: Individual Beef Wellingtons  ~.  Check out my post for ~ Some Beef Wellington Facts & Some Fiction too ~.  Both posts are in Categories 3, 11 & 26.

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

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

03/11/2016

~ Get Out Your Whisk & Make this Tomato Bisque ~

IMG_3722You need recipes like this, I need recipes like this, all of us cooks need recipes like this.  This creamy, rich tomato bisque is what I call a "go to" recipe -- one I rely upon for a variety of kitchen encounters.  From unpretentious eat-in-the-kitchen meals to upscale dinner-in-the-dining-room soirees, it's a perfect starter course to plug into a host of menus, and, it pairs great with many salads and sandwiches too.  Plus, there is little risk serving tomato soup because almost all folks like it a lot.  I've handed out this recipe countless times, which is just how I got my hands on it:

Wes1052ex-140500-Galleria_Shopping_Center_PWe were staying at The Westin Galleria Hotel in Houston, TX, circa 1980.  At dinner, both Joe and I ordered "the bisque".  It took restraint for us to not lick our bowls clean, and, when the waiter came to clear our starters and asked how we enjoyed our soup,  I replied with a glowing review.  He asked if I would like the recipe. "Of course I would", said I.  Initially that made me feel very special, but, a moment later I was given a photocopied handout.  He explained, "so many people asked for the recipe, the Westin Group decided to allow Bon Appetit magazine to publish it, and, all customers who order it are given a copy."

A bit about bisque:  It's a thick, rich, finely-textured 'soup' usually consisting of pureed seafood and/or vegetables (and occasionally poultry), along with a copious amount of cream and spices suited to each version, which varies regionally and from cook  to cook.  Bisques originated in France, but nowadays, they're made all over the world -- with lobster bisque being the universal favorite.  Bisques are easy to make, but, the cooking process is a bit lengthy because it relies on time to concentrate the flavor.  Bisque is often referred to as "the refined city relative" of "the less-sophisticated country" chowder (a rustic, chunky, cream-based soup).

A bit about my version of their recipe:  The ingredients list is theirs (plus two additions of mine) and the text is mine.  I also made this change to the method:  If you are not a restaurant chef with expert, full-throttle knife skills, using the food processor to get the onion and celery extra-finely diced (which gives bisque its signature uniform texture) is going to save you a lot of time and angst.  My additions were:  adding sea salt and white pepper to the tomato mixture.  In the Westin recipe, neither were added (until "seasoning to taste" at the very end), which I found odd because when I made their recipe, it was bland as compared to what I tasted at their restaurant.

IMG_36251/4  pound bacon

4  large garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2  cups extra-finely-diced yellow or sweet onion + 1/2 cup additional finely-chopped onion (two cups total throughout recipe)  (Note from Mel:  If you are using my food processor method for "extra-finely-diced", coarsely chop 1 pound onion & follow the directions in Step 1.

2 cups extra-finely-diced celery (Note from Mel:  If you are using my food processor method for "extra-finely diced", coarsely chop 1 pound celery & follow the directions in Step 1.

2  bay leaves + 1 bay leaf (3 bay leaves total throughout recipe)

1  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

1  28-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

4  tablespoons tomato paste

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2  stick)

2  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1  quart heavy or whipping cream at room temperature

4  whole cloves

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_3610 IMG_3613 IMG_3616 IMG_3619~Step 1.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, place 1 pound of coarsely-chopped onion.  Using a series of 18-20 on-off pulses, process the onions to a very fine dice, just short of mincing or pureeing them, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula once during the process.  Transfer to a 2-cup measuring container. Repeat this process with 1 pound of coarsely-chopped celery.  This takes less than 5 minutes! 

IMG_3628 IMG_3629 IMG_3631 IMG_3634~Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, over medium-high heat, cook bacon until very crisp, turning only once, about 6-8 minutes.  Transfer bacon to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.

IMG_3636 IMG_3638 IMG_3644 IMG_3647~Step 3.  Add the garlic to the  drippings and saute until lightly browned, 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Add 1 1/2 cups of the onion and all the celery to skillet along with the 2 bay leaves, dried thyme leaves, sea salt and white pepper. Adjust heat to saute until vegetables are softened, 5-6 minutes.

IMG_3651 IMG_3648~ Step 4. Add the can of diced tomatoes (undrained) and the tomato paste.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a slow, steady simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, 40-45 minutes.  

While tomato/vegetable mixture is simmering:

IMG_3654 IMG_3655 IMG_3660 IMG_3665 IMG_3673                                       ~Step 5.  In a 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in the flour and bring to a boil while whisking constantly.  Lower the heat heat (to low) and slowly, in a thin stream, whisk in the cream, followed by the remaining 1/2 cup of onion, bay leaf and the cloves.

~ Step 6.  Adjust heat to simmer very gently, uncovered, whisking frequently while monitoring it for 40-45 minutes, especially during the first 15 minutes, as, until it reduces a bit, it wants to, and will, boil over.

IMG_3695 IMG_3700~ Step 7.   Remove the cream mixture from the heat.  

Pass/pour the cream through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl or a measuring container.  As you work, use a spoon to keep stirring the mixture as it passes through the strainer (which is collecting all of this bits on onion, the bay leaf and the cloves).  You will have about 3 cups of nicely-thickened, nicely-flavored, silky-smooth cream.

IMG_3704 IMG_3707 IMG_3711 IMG_3715~Step 8.  Stir  cream mixture into  simmering tomato mixture and stir it thoroughly in. Season with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, to taste. Partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, 15-20  minutes.  Turn heat off, cover and allow to steep 15 additional minutes.

Portion & serve garnished w/crisply-fried bits of bacon:

IMG_3727Get Out Your Whisk & Make this Tomato Bisque:  Recipe yields 7 1/2-8 cups/about 2 quarts, depending upon how much the tomato and cream mixtures reduce.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; large rubber spatula; 12" skillet; large slotted spoon; paper towels; 2-quart stockpot; whisk; fine mesh strainer

IMG_3427Cook's Note:  Classic, creamy, and chocked full of chunky goodness, my recipe for ~ Creamy New England-Style Clam & Corn Chowder ~ has been served at many a Summer-holiday picnic (Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day), and, at Fall tailgates for over thirty years.  It's a requested favorite, and you can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 2, 14, 17, 18 or 19.

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

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

03/09/2016

~ An Awesome Angry Sauce: Arrabbiata (w/Shrimp)~

IMG_3570If you are a person that likes your food "extra spicy", asks the chef to "add extra heat" to your meal, and, has an epic variety of bottled hot sauces stored on the door of your refrigerator, the Italian word "arrabbiata" is one you probably have in your vocabulary.  Loosely translated, it means "angry" or "angry mood", and, when you order a dish "a la arrabbiata", or, "in the style of anger", you've given the chef carte blanche to throw a healthy dose of "peperonchino" ("crushed red pepper flakes") into your dinner.  Arrabbiata is also a popular, easy-to-make, meatless, spicy Southern Italian red sauce for pasta and pasta dishes containing but not limited to seafood.

IMG_3519My shrimp arrabbiata, is a very angry two-in-one knockout punch.

Scampi #6Sweet, tender shrimp are a great sparring partner for an angry sauce. My method for making shrimp arrabbiata differs from most recipes in that I don't just toss generically cooked shrimp into the  finished pasta dish.  I cook the shrimp in a similar manner to how I prepare them when making my ~ Succulent Shrimp Scampi w/Lemony Linguini~, with diced tomatoes taking the acidic place of the the lemon and lemon zest.  You can find my scampi recipe by clicking into Categories 3, 12, 14 or 19.

First I saute the spicy shrimp and second I make the fiery sauce in the shrimp juices:

IMG_3496For the arrabbiata shrimp:

1 1/2  pounds peeled & deveined extra-large (26-30 count), tails-on-or-off shrimp, your choice (2 pounds of total shrimp prior to prepping)

4  tablespoons olive oil

4  tablespoons salted butter

1/2  teaspoon dried basil

1 1/2  teaspoons peperonchino (crushed red pepper flakes)

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

5-6  ounces finely-diced onion (1 cup - 1 generous cup)

2  tablespoons minced garlic cloves (about 4 large cloves)

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

IMG_3499 IMG_3501 IMG_3502 IMG_3504~Step 1.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, over low heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter into 4 tablespoons of olive oil.  Stir in the dried basil, peperonchino and salt, followed by the prepped garlic and onions.  Increase heat to medium-high and using a large, nonstick slotted spoon, saute, stirring constantly until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes.  Do not allow the mixture to brown.

IMG_3506 IMG_3509 IMG_3514 IMG_3516~Step 2.  Add and stir in the diced tomatoes and cook for about 1-2 minutes.  Add and stir in the shrimp. Continue to saute, stirring constantly until shrimp are firming up, turning a pretty pink color and are just cooked or ever-so-slightly undercooked about 4-5 minutes.

IMG_3518~ Step 3.  Remove pan from heat and using the same slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a large plate and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Return the pan of shrimp juices to the stovetop and prepare the arrabbiata sauce as directed below:

IMG_3525For the arrabbiata sauce & pasta:

4  cups crushed tomatoes (32 ounces, but, one 28-ounce can will do) (Note:  I am using crushed tomatoes from our garden which I keep on-hand in my freezer.)

2  tablespoons tomato paste*

2  cups medium-diced onion

4  tablespoons minced garlic

1  tablespoon peperonchino

1/2 teaspoon each:  dried basil leaves, sugar and salt

1  ounce "chiffonade" of fresh basil (a French word meaning "sliced into little ribbons")

1 pound linguini, cooked al dente as directed in Step 2 below

*Note:  When using store-bought, canned crushed tomatoes, it is not necessary to add tomato paste. I'm using freshly-crushed garden tomatoes and I need the tomato paste to thicken it.

IMG_3527 IMG_3532 IMG_3535 IMG_3539 IMG_3541~Step 1.  Add the medium-diced onion, garlic, peperonchino, dried basil leaves, sugar and salt to the shrimp juices in the skillet. Adjust heat to medium-high and saute until onion is soft and translucent, about 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the crushed tomatoes and the tomato paste. Adjust heat to simmer gently, about 10-12 minutes.  Add the basil chiffonade and continue to simmer another 3-5 minutes.  Turn heat off.

IMG_3549 IMG_3543~ Step 2. While the sauce is simmering, in an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon sea salt.  Add the linguini and cook until al dente, 9-10 minutes.  Quickly drain the pasta into a colander and immediately IMG_3557return the steaming hot pasta to the still hot stockpot.  Return the stockpot to the still warm stovetop.

~ Step 3.  Add two cups (half) of the sauce and toss like a salad.

Note:  This recipe makes enough sauce for two meals and I always make this amount.  Eat half -- freeze half -- how convenient is that!

IMG_3565~ Step 4.  Add all of the shrimp, along with any and all of juices that have gathered in the bottom of the plate or bowl (there will be some), and using two large spoons, toss the shrimp into the pasta too.

Transfer to a 3-quart casserole, place on the table and serve, family-style, by portioning into individual bowls.  Serve garnished with ground peperonchino flakes.

Please -- no grated cheese on top for me, but, it's your dinner: 

IMG_3571An Awesome Angry Sauce:  Arrabbiata (w/Shrimp):  Recipe yields 1 quart of arrabbiata sauce (which is enough for two meals and freezes great/6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet; large nonstick slotted spoon; plastic wrap; 8-quart stockpot; colander

IMG_3590Cook's Note:  In case your curious to know the specifics about buying shrimp (what kind to buy and where), just click into Categories 14 or 15 to read my post ~ Purchase Shrimp by their "Count" not their "Size" ~.  Ever wonder why restaurants leave the tails on their shrimp?  That info is in there too!

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

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

03/06/2016

~ Easy Cottage Pie (Beef) & Shepherd's Pie (Lamb) ~

IMG_3475Sunday.  When I was growing up, as a family we got up, went to church, and, when we got home the house smelled ethereal.  Mom's eye-of-round roast beef had cooked itself in our absence. We changed out of our "Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes", then mom boiled a few potatoes (and peas -- there were always peas -- my dad loves peas) and made a quick pan gravy.  While she did that, my brother and I set the table (mostly I set the table while he goofed off), we four sat down and we ate.  By 1:00PM we were all "doing our own thing", or, back in the car to visit grandparents or various uncles, aunts and cousins -- or vice versa.  Sundays were nice.

IMG_3463Monday.  My mom reheated the leftovers -- repeat meal.  They were great and there is nothing wrong with that.  Something mom never did with all those yummy leftovers was make cottage pie or shepherd's pie.  I'm not sure why, but if I had to take a guess, it was because my dad didn't and doesn't like casseroles of any kind -- seriously -- not even lasagna.  Period.  The first time I had cottage pie I was in my mid-twenties, in "a London pub"*.  Tender beef swimming around in a thick "brown-gravy-stew" containing peas, carrots and mushrooms.  The entire crock was topped with a layer of mashed potatoes and baked until the potatoes took on a browned crust. From the first slurpy spoonful to the last, I was, on that cold, damp day, 100% thrilled with it.

* While I don't recall the name of the pub, it was in the neighborhood of the British Museum, which was on the top of my short-list of places to visit.  I've always been fascinated by ancient Egypt and their Egyptian Galleries house the largest collection of Egyptian objects outside of Egypt -- including the Rosetta Stone and a large collection of mummies.  It was fascinating.

The last I heard, shepherd's herd flocks of sheep not cattle. 

IMG_3404A bit about cottage and and shepherd's pie:  They are basically the same thing:  an easy way to use up the omnipresent "Sunday roast", along with any leftover gravy, vegetables and potatoes that got served with it.  Nowadays, some folks use the two words interchangeably but, in my food world, cottage pie means I'm making the dish with roasted beef. When I'm making shepherd's pie it IMG_3413means, I'm using roasted lamb.  It makes sense:  shepherds herd flocks of sheep not cattle.  

Many present-day foodies start by sauteing raw ground beef or lamb. While I have no ax to grind with that, I do not. I like these meat pies made with finely-diced freshly-roasted meat -- just like I ate it in London. It's got a chewy texture that you just can't duplicate with ground meat.

Roasted beef or lamb, vegetables and gravy.  Yes indeed.  That said, I rarely use leftover mashed potatoes or leftover roast (but feel free to do so) to make this casserole for two reasons:

1)  I typically don't have enough leftover potatoes to put a generous top on a full-sized casserole, and, since this is a dish that is perfect to serve for a tailgate or take to a pot luck, you'll usually find me sticking a roast in the oven and boiling a pot of potatoes in order to make a crowd-pleasing amount.  2)  I like the taste and texture of slightly-chunky cheesy-cheddary smashed potatoes better than smooth and creamy potatoes.  There's more, I add eggs (in place of milk) to the potatoes, which, when baked, makes the topping cook up firm, yet light and airy.

IMG_54805  pounds peeled, rinsed, then cut into 1" chunks, gold potatoes

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning water

4  ounces butter, at room temp

4  jumbo eggs, at room temp

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon white pepper

1  pound store-bought, pre-grated white sharp cheddar cheese

IMG_5494 6a0120a8551282970b017d3de23f84970c~ Step 1. Prep and place potatoes in an 8-quart stockpot with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon of salt.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and cook until al dente, meaning:  cooked through but with a bit of texture left in their centers, about 8-10 minutes.

Note:  This timing is going to vary depending upon the size you have chunked your potatoes.

IMG_5501 IMG_5496Step 2. Drain potatoes into a colander. Immediately return the hot potatoes to the still hot stockpot and return the pot to the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter and cheese.  Give the mixture a stir and cover the pot, until the butter has melted, about 5 minutes.

IMG_5512 IMG_5506Step 3. Remove pot from heat and set aside to cool about 5-10 minutes.  In 1-cup measuring container, whisk together the eggs. Uncover the pot, drizzle in the eggs and add the salt and white pepper.

IMG_5534Step 4.  Using a hand-held vegetable masher, smash and mash the potatoes until desired consistency is reached.  In my house, we like them left a bit chunky in this casserole.  Take a taste!

Note:  These aren't your typical light and smooth mashed potatoes. They are going to seem thick and heavy, but, the eggs are going to make them cook up light and airy!

Cover pot and set potatoes aside.  Prepare the meat, vegetable and gravy mixture as follows:

IMG_34251 1/2-1 3/4 pounds rare- medium-rare roasted beef or lamb, trimmed of all exterior fat, small diced (See Cook's Note below.)

4  tablespoons salted butter

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

2  bay leaves (for cottage pie) or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (for shepherd's pie)

2  cups chopped yellow or sweet onion

2  4 1/2-ounce jars sliced mushrooms, undrained

16  ounces frozen mixed vegetables

1/2  cup fat-free drippings from beef or lamb roast + enough beef stock to total 1 cup of total liquid

3  firmly-packed tablespoons cornstarch dissolved into 6 tablespoons cold water (Note from Mel:  If you must thicken these meat pies further, because you want a pretty picture or something that sticks together, think twice.  Served with a piece or two of crusty bread, or a buttermilk biscuit to sop up the juices, this is a sloppy treat you do not want to miss out on.)

all mashed potatoes from above recipe

IMG_3428 IMG_3430 IMG_3432 IMG_3436~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot, melt butter over low heat and stir in salt, pepper and bay or thyme leaves.  Add the onions and increase heat to saute until onions are soft and translucent, 5-6 minutes.  Stir in mushrooms followed by frozen vegetables.  Bring to a simmer and continue to cook until vegetables are  just cooked through, another 5-6 minutes.

IMG_3439 IMG_3442~ Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir the drippings with enough stock to total 1 cup.  Add them to pan and return to a steady simmer.  In the same measuring container, combine the cornstarch with the water then add that too.

IMG_3448 IMG_3451~ Step 3.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until a nice thickened sauce-like gravy has formed.  Stir in all of the diced meat and cook, stirring constantly, until meat is warmed through, about 1-2 minutes.

Transfer the savory meat mixture to a large 4-quart casserole...

IMG_3453... dollop the cheesy potatoes evenly over the top of all...

IMG_3456... bake at 325 degrees until brown & bubbly, 35-45 minutes. 

IMG_3467Wait about 10-15 minutes, then slice & scoop yourself a bowl of not-so-glamorous thickened, slurpy, stewy, earthy goodness:

IMG_3489Easy Cottage Pie (Beef) & Shepherd's Pie (Lamb):  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board, chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; 1-cup measuring container; fork; hand-held vegetable masher; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; 1-cup measuring container; large spoon; 4-quart casserole

IMG_2062 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0df3944970cCook's Note: Roasting beef and lamb is better than store-bought ground meat in cottage or shepherd's pie. Click into Categories 2 or 3 to get my recipes for ~ Eye-of-Round = Back-to-School Sandwiches ~ and ~ Succulent Boneless Leg of Lamb w/Creamy au Jus ~

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

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

03/03/2016

~ Upscale TV-Dinner-Style Salisbury Steak & Gravy~

IMG_3371Salisbury steak.  I was first introduced to it as a child, in our home, via the Swanson TV Dinner -- my generation's fast food.  Once a week, when mom or dad went grocery shopping, my brother and I were allowed to pick one TV Dinner, which we would eat on Thursday.  To this day, I associate Thursdays with TV Dinners.  TV Dinner Thursday:  sitting on the carpeted floor, in front of our TV, legs crossed, in my PJ's, in front of a short-legged folding table, watching The Flintstones and Bewitched with my brother -- me eating Salisbury Steak, he Fried Chicken.

6a0120a8551282970b019b02beea1b970bOnce I got a bit older, Salisbury steak was a favorite of mine when we ate at our hometown's Taylor's and Beacon Diners, and later in my Junior high school's cafeteria.  I never turned my nose up at it.  That said, as an adult and a cook, there came a time, when it was time, for me to learn to make it. Without a recipe, I turned to my #1 reference and recipe source at the time: the 1977 edition of The Joy of Cooking. Here's what they had to say:

The Joy of Cooking, page 486.  Merchants of the German port of Hamburg through centuries of trade with Estonians, Latvians and Finns, had acquired the Baltic taste for scraped raw beef, but it was not until the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 that broiled, bunned beef was introduced to the rest of the world by the Germans of South St. Louis as "the hamburger".  Americans quickly latched onto it.  For a bustling people it offered a combination of convenience, economy and tasty nourishment that was "just what the doctor ordered".  As a matter of fact, it was.  Its more glamourous hotel-menu name, Salisbury steak, harks back to the end-of-the-century London physician Dr. J. H. Salisbury, who invented a regimen based on broiled, lean, minced beef, three times a day.  Nowadays, alas, some American children are unconsciously such fans of Dr. Salisbury's diet that they will eat nothing else.  One mother has described it as "the daily grind".

A bit about my recipe:  After that writeup, I found it disappointing that this bible of cooking did not publish a recipe for Salisbury steak.  And, neither did any of my other source books of that early 1970's period: Better Homes & Gardens, Betty Crocker or Family Circle.  I was on my own, and, while I relied on my memories of the Salisbury steak I ate at the diners of my youth, I wanted mine to be a step above an oval-shaped ground-beef patty with canned gravy drizzled on top.

6a0120a8551282970b0162ff840af2970dI began by grinding my own meats and chose a combination of good-quality London broil and pork tenderloin.  

A bit about grinding meat:  The thankless task of mincing meat by hand started in ancient times.  Karl Drais, a German aristocrat, is credited with inventing the cast-iron, hand-crank meat grinder in 1785.  This portable appliance made it easy for savvy cooks to take advantage of its economic,  health and taste benefits: 1) Ground meat feeds more people.  2) Grinding meat makes tough, lesser expensive, cuts of meat more palatable and easier to digest.  3) Grinding and combining various types of meat together, in this case, steak and pork, produces a concoction full of beefy flavor with the tenderness of super-tender pork.

IMG_3211Nowadays, grinding meat in the food processor is super easy. Simply trim it of visible fat, cut it into chunks, and, pulse until you get the texture you want.  Once you try meat ground in this manner, you will agree 100% that its shredded, "to-the-tooth" texture is far superior to the quality of even the best store-bought ground meats.

IMG_3318Part One:  Making 12 Salisbury steaks ('cause they freeze great).

IMG_3246For the Salisbury steaks:

2 1/2  pounds ground London broil (sometimes labeled "bottom round steak")

1 1/2  pounds ground pork tenderloin

2  cups fresh, potato breadcrumbs (3 slices of potato bread)

1/2  cup milk

1  large egg, at room temperature

1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

8  ounces finely-diced yellow or sweet onion

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)

1  teaspoon dried marjoram

2  tablespoon dried parsley flakes

1  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

3  tablespoons each:  salted butter and olive oil, for frying Salisbury steaks

IMG_3234 IMG_3236 IMG_3239 IMG_3243~Step 1.  Trim the London broil and the pork tenderloin of all visible fat and cut the meat into 1" - 1 1/2" chunks/cubes.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, grind the chunks of London broil using a series of 30-40 on-off pulses.  Repeat the process with the pork.

IMG_3231Note:  My large, 20-cup capacity, Cuisinart DLC-X Plus food processor easily grinds 3 pounds of meat in one batch.  The number of batches (and pulses in each batch) required will be determined by the size and brand of your processor. 

In a large mixing bowl, using your hands (it's the best way), thoroughly combine the meat.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

IMG_3212 IMG_3215 IMG_3251 IMG_3256 IMG_3259~Step 2.  Clean and dry the work bowl and steel blade from the food processor.  Tear the bread into large pieces and place them in the work bowl fitted with the blade. Using a series of 40-50 rapid on-off pulses, process the bread to fine crumbs.  You will have 2 cups of bread crumbs. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the milk.  Mixture will be thick and pasty.  Set aside.

~ Step 3.  In a small bowl, using a fork, vigorously whisk the egg and Worcestershire sauce.  Set aside.

IMG_3268 IMG_3270 IMG_3275 IMG_3279~Step 4.  Add the breadcrumb mixture to the meat mixture, followed by the whisked egg mixture.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

IMG_3218 IMG_3221 IMG_3286 IMG_3289~Step 5.  In the work bowl of processor fitted with a steel blade, using a series of 12-15 rapid on-off pulses, finely-dice/mince the onions.  In a 10" skillet, melt the butter.  Add the onion and all of the spices.  Adjust heat to saute until onion is soft, about 5-6 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool for 10-15 minutes, or until cool enough to handle with your hands.  Add the onion mixture to the meat mixture, and, once again, using your hands thoroughly combine.

IMG_3298~ Step 6.  Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide the mixture into 12 equal portions weighing about 6 1/2 ounces each.  Using your hands, form each portion into a 3/4" thick, 5" long oval, placing them on a large baking pan lined with parchment paper as you work.

IMG_3304 IMG_3309~ Step 7.  In a 16" electric skillet, over low heat, melt the butter into the olive oil.  Add the Salisbury steaks.  Increase heat to 225 degrees and saute until nicely-browned on both IMG_3322sides and cooked through, about 6 minutes per side.  Remove steaks and place back on the baking pan that has been lined with a new sheet of parchment.  Set aside while preparing onion and mushroom gravy as follows:

IMG_3340Part Two:  Making the classic onion & mushroom gravy.

IMG_3328For the onion and mushroom gravy:

all drippings from sauteing the Salisbury steaks

1-1 1/4  pounds yellow or sweet onions, sliced into 1/4" thick half-moon shapes

14-16  ounces crimini mushroom cups, sliced 1/4" thick

1/4  teaspoon dried marjoram

1/4  teaspoon dried parsley flakes

1/4  teaspoon dried thyme

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1  14 1/2-ounce can beef stock

1/4  cup heavy cream

1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

4  teaspoons cornstarch stirred into 4 tablespoons cold water

IMG_3332 IMG_3333 IMG_3336 IMG_3339~Step 1.  Add  onions, mushrooms and spices to  drippings.  Saute at 225 degrees, stirring often, until onions are translucent and mushrooms have lost most of their volume, about 6 minutes.

IMG_3343 IMG_3349 IMG_3358 IMG_3364~Step 2.  Add the beef stock, cream and Worcestershire sauce.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and cook for about 1 minute.  Once the mixture is simmering, stir in the cornstarch mixture and continue to simmer until nicely thickened, about 6 minutes.  Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and return the Salisbury steaks to the skillet.  Cover the pan and continue to cook them about 12-15 minutes, stopping to flip them over in the gravy once or twice during the cooking process.

Take you & your hungry man on a trip down memory lane...

IMG_3383... & enjoy every retro bite on dinner-for-two & a movie night!

IMG_3398Upscale TV-Dinner-Style Salisbury Steak & Gravy:  Recipe yields 12 Salisbury steaks/12 normal servings/6 'Hungry Man' servings.  To freeze Salisbury steak (like Swanson), place one or two steaks in a food storage container, divide and add gravy to the containers, seal and freeze.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; plastic wrap; spoon; fork; 10" nonstick skillet; large spoon; kitchen scale; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 16" electric skillet; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b019affd5ec58970dCook's Note:  If my memory serves me correctly (and I'm pretty sure it does), back in the 1960's my Salisbury Steak served up a steaming hot chocolate brownie for dessert -- my mom always put a scoop of ice cream on top of it for me too.  If you're in the market for an upscale brownie recipe to go with your TV dinner, give my recipe for ~  Chocolate Cinnamon-Orange Brownies ~ a try.  It's in Categories 7 or 13.  Got milk?

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

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

03/01/2016

~ Pie-O-My: The Famous Mar-a-Lago Key Lime Pie ~

IMG_3178Don't shoot me I'm only the messenger.  Finding common political ground with anyone this election cycle is harder than it has ever been.  The climate is downright trash-talkin' nasty "out there".  That said, when a friend suggested I post a recipe for key lime pie yesterday, I couldn't wait to get up this morning and make this particular one -- I could hardly sleep.  For the first time ever here on Kitchen Encounters, I am mixing food with politics (and my wickedly-sarcastic sense of card-carrying DNC Super-Tuesday humor).  I'm making what is touted to be "the most requested dessert on the menu" at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.

Mar-a-LagoBought by 'The Donald' in 1985 for 5M, to use as a private home, the now 'ultra-exclusive' Mar-a-Lago Club, in Palm Beach, boasts 20 acres of manicured lawns, two grand ballrooms, croquet facilities, six championship tennis courts and a private beach.  This property sits on what is now said to be the most valuable piece of land anywhere in Florida -- with a membership only granted to an exclusive few.  

The "Mar-a-Lago" estate (Spanish for "sea to lake") opened officially in January of 1927 after four years of construction.  Marjorie Meriweather Post (then Mrs. E.F. Hutton) had searched for several years to find a proper location between the ocean and Lake Worth.  Her quest for a new home began when it became apparent that she was to be the dowager queen of Palm Beach. The hurricane resistant structure is anchored by concrete and steel to a coral reef.

Will this famous pie be a winner or a loser?  I haven't a clue.  

IMG_3129I have never made this key lime pie before, but, when I heard about it via Oprah a few years back, I was intrigued enough to stick a copy in my over-stuffed file of citrus dessert recipes.  Aside from the graham cracker crust, the ingredients list w/o change, belongs to Oprah, Oprah.com and/or OWN.  

My own recipe for ~ Making Graham Cracker & Cookie Crumb Crusts ~ was posted yesterday and can be found in Categories 6, 7 or 15.  It (the crust) has been pre-baked in a 325 degree oven for 8 minutes, and, it is cooled completely.  Let's pick it up from there and find out together. 

Let's find out together!  This could be HUUUGE!!!

IMG_3137A bit about limes vs. key limes: Lime is a citrus fruit loved for its acidic, tart juice all over the globe.  There are several varieties with lime being the generic name for the Persian lime, and Key lime being the name of the noticeably smaller, rounder, thinner-skinned limes grown in the West Indies and Mexico for thousands of years.  Key lime was brought to the Americas by the Spanish and got its new-world name in the Keys region of Florida where it was grown in abundance.   IMG_3136Key limes are in fact juicier than Persian limes, they have more seeds, and they have a particular flavor and aroma that is loved by chefs, pastry chefs and bartenders too.  They can be substituted for Persian limes in all culinary applications, but, after you taste them, you'll agree that, because of their intense, concentrated flavor, you'll want to use a somewhat lesser quantity of their juice.

A bit about Key lime pie: Key Lime pie is the official pie of the state of Florida.  Besides always making this pie with Key limes, not Persian limes, "Conchs" (Key West locals) have two more rules about making this pie.  #1.  The pie is never green.  It is a natural pale yellow which comes mostly from the addition of egg yolks.  #2.  It is always made with condensed milk, never milk, because milk was not available in the Florida keys until  the 1930's -- when the overseas highway opened and allowed refrigerated tanker trucks access to the region to deliver it.

During the mixing process, which is a bit lengthy, 11-12 full minutes, a chemical reaction occurs between the condensed milk and the lime juice which causes the filling to thicken on its own. Early versions of the recipe did not require baking and relied on this chemical reaction alone to thicken the pie.  Today, for food safety reasons (we all know that consuming raw eggs can be dangerous), the pie gets baked for a short time, which thickens the pie even further.

For the Key lime filling:

4  large egg yolks, at room temperature

1  14-ounce can condensed milk

2/3  cup fresh Key lime juice

zest of 1 key lime (This liberal Democrat progressive woman used the zest of two Key limes.)

For the traditional sweetened whipped-cream topping:

1  cup heavy or whipping cream, chilled

2  tablespoons Confectioners' sugar

1/2  teaspoon vanilla extract

IMG_3142 IMG_3143 IMG_3147 IMG_3150 IMG_3152~Step 1.  On high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the egg yolks until light in color and quite thick, a full 6 minutes.  

Gradually add the condensed milk and continue to beat until thickened, 5-6 additional minutes.  

Stir the key lime zest into the key lime juice, lower the mixer speed to low, and very slowly, drizzle, in a thin stream, all of the lime juice and zest until thoroughly incorporated.

IMG_3156~ Step 2.  Transfer (pour or ladle) every last drop of the filling mixture into the cooled or slightly warm crust and bake on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven, 15 minutes, or until the filling has just set.  Mine was in for exactly 15 minutes and emerged set.  

Remove from oven, place on a cooling rack to cool completely, about 2 hours.  Refrigerate for 30-60 more minutes, or overnight.

Closeup of 'The Donald's Dessert' going into the oven:

IMG_3162Closeup of 'The Donald's Dessert' coming out of the oven:

IMG_3170~ Step 3.  Just prior to serving, place the pie in the freezer for 20-30 minutes.  While the pie is in the freezer:  Place the chilled cream, Confectioners' sugar and vanilla in a large bowl.  On high speed of mixer, beat until stiff peaks form.  Slice and pipe whipped cream over each slice.

Yes, I would vote for the Mar-a-Lago Key lime pie.  Past that:

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an' pretend
'cause I've heard it all before
And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again

CHORUS
Oh yes I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible)
I am woman

You can bend but never break me
'cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
'cause you've deepened the conviction in my soul.

This gal's message for TRUE change, that has taken my gender generations to achieve, has been paid for & approved by me:

IMG_3202Pie-O-My:  The Famous Mar-a-Lago Key Lime Pie:  Recipe yields 8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  microplane grater; citrus juicer; hand-held electric mixer; rubber spatula

PICT0013Cook's Note:  I love all citrus fruit.  I always have, and, ~ My Love Affair w/Lemon & Lemon Meringue Pie ~ is hardly a secret.  Click into Categories 6, 21 or 26 to get my recipe for the pie filling and learn how to make and top a meringue pie -- which is also a great alternative topping to the traditional sweetened whipped cream spread or piped atop most key lime pies.  

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

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