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12 posts from April 2016

04/30/2016

~ Unstuffed: Deconstructed Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ~

IMG_6346Deconstruct.  It is perhaps the oddest new-age foodie word I have ever encountered.  When the word "deconstructed" appears in front of a menu item, I find myself wanting to ask, "what was wrong with it to begin with?"  That's because, historically, in my kitchen, the reason for me to deconstruct, or, "dismantle a dish piece by piece", is usually to find out why a recipe doesn't work.  In today's world, it's trendy for some chefs to artfully arrange the wreckage on a plate, serve it "deconstructed", then, charge you twice as much to put it back together on your fork. 

Feel free to conclude I'm not a fan of deconstructed dishes.  I am, however, the first to admit there are exceptions to every rule, and, today's recipe is one such exception.  Why? Because the end justifies the means in a big, beautiful way:  Every forkful of the finished "deconstructed" version of the dish is uncompromisingly just as delicious as the classic original, and, the time saved by not cooking many of the components first and assembling them together in the typical manner is marked.  All I can say is:  Where has this "deconstructed" recipe been all my life?

IMG_6345It took years for mom to teach me how to make her stuffed cabbage rolls to perfection.  Yesterday, she taught me how to unmake them in one short afternoon. ~ Melanie.    

IMG_5770When we arrived at my parents, I immediately deduced we were having stuffed cabbage rolls for dinner on this visit.  Mom's 8-quart stainless-steel Farberware pot was on the stovetop, and, her extra-large yellow Pyrex bowl was sitting on the countertop with the big Farberware spoon in it, right next to her favorite wooden cutting board and all-purpose knife.  It's worth mention than all of these "vintage" items were bridal and wedding gifts to them -- and, on May 16th, 2016, that makes them all 63 years old.

IMG_5782Stuffed cabbage rolls, known as "holubki" to me and "golumpki" to many of you, are a beloved favorite in every Eastern European kitchen. Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), cooked rice or grain, steamed green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce. Because they are sort of labor-intensive,  they are often served for holidays or special occasions.

PICT0416It takes a lot of work to construct a traditional cabbage roll:  

First, the leaves must be removed whole, one-at-a-time from the head of cabbage -- this is usually done via steaming them off in a large pot of boiling water.  Next, in order to make the meat filling, in a saucepan, the rice must be cooked, and, in a skillet, the onion must be sautéed in some butter and spices.  Once the meat is mixed, the wrapping and rolling takes place.  After all of that is done (and cleaned up), the cabbage rolls get placed in a pot or a casserole, a sauce gets made and poured over the top of them, and, finally, it's onto the stovetop or into the oven they go.  It's a project, and, don't get me wrong, it's worth the effort.  That said, this new-to-me method that my mother just showed me rocked my stuffed cabbage world.   

Mom had a mischievous chuckle in her voice when she told me she was going to show me how to make her "Lazy Lady's Halupki".  It was the type of chuckle that that comes from a cook who is about to reveal a "well-guarded cheaters secret" to another cook.  Apparently, this is how she's been making stuffed cabbage for weeknight fare for herself and dad for years.  Trust me, I was all ears -- I decided to get out my camera, a notepad and a pen for the afternoon too.

IMG_57651  medium-sized head green cabbage (about 2 1/2 pounds)

2 1/2-2 3/4  pounds extra-lean ground beef (93/7 or 90/10) (Note:  This photo shows a package of 85/15.  Underneath it is a second package of 95/5.  Mom combined the two.  She also explained that on that day, her local grocery store did not have two packages of 93/7 or 90/10.)

2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1  cup uncooked long-grain white rice, not "Minute rice" (8 ounces)

2  medium-sized yellow onions, about 6-ounces each, finely diced (about 2 cups)

1  seasoning packet from 1  box of G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (1/2 teaspoon salt may be substituted)  (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand in my pantry so I can duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's readily available to me at my local grocery store and on-line as well.)

2  large eggs, beaten 

2  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (3 cans if you like your broth extra-tomato-y)

2 1/2  quarts water (10 cups)

2  additional teaspoons salt + 1 teaspoon additional coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_5795 IMG_5802 IMG_5803 IMG_5805 IMG_5809 IMG_5811 IMG_5772 IMG_5815 IMG_5816 IMG_5820 IMG_5835 IMG_5840 IMG_5848~Step 1.  Mixing the meat.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly over the top.  Using a large spoon or your hands, mix to combine. Measure and sprinkle the rice over the top, then, give that a thorough mix too.  Finely dice the onion, add it along with the G.Washinton's seasoning packet and mix again.  In a small bowl, using a fork, beat the eggs, add them, and, you guessed it, give the whole thing one last very thorough mix.  Easy enough so far?

IMG_5859 IMG_5872~ Step 2. Forming the meatballs. Between the palms of your hands, form the meat mixture into 3 1/2 dozen meatballs, approximately 1 1/2-ounces each, placing them on a large plate as you work.  Note:  In my kitchen, I use a kitchen scale which makes it really easy to insure the meatballs are all the same size.  My mom uses a round tablespoon.

IMG_5784 IMG_5892~Step 3.  Cabbage prep.  Remove a few soft, leafy outer leaves from the head of cabbage and layer them in the bottom of an 8-quart stockpot. Cut the head in half, remove the hard core section and coarsely chop the two halves.

IMG_5874 IMG_5896 IMG_5902 IMG_5903 IMG_5907 IMG_5910 IMG_5926 IMG_5933 IMG_5913~Step 4. Everybody into the pot. Arrange half the meatballs on top of cabbage in the bottom of the pot. Top meatballs with half the chopped cabbage.  Arrange the remaining half of the meatballs on top of the chopped cabbage and, top the meatballs with the remaining half of the cabbage.  Add the tomato soup, water, salt and pepper.  Cover the pot and bring to a steady simmer/almost boil over medium-high heat.  Remove the lid and, using a large spoon, gently push down on any cabbage floating on the top.  Cover the pot, adjust heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook for 1 1/2 hours.

Note:  If you have the patience to wait,  turn the heat off and allow your deconstructed stuffed cabbage rolls to "steep" in the brothy goodness for an hour prior to reheating a bit and serving.

My food world works in mysterious ways... 

IMG_6352... and for that, I am very grateful!

IMG_5981Mels's Crockpot Method for Making Mom's Recipe:

IMG_0868The ingredients list stays the same and so does the layering process.  The only change I made was to use a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure for the meat mixture instead of a soupspoon. The meatballs are bit smaller, each one weighs 1 1/4 ounces instead of 1 1/2 ounces, so, you get more, 44-50 (depending on whether you use 2 1/2 pounds of ground beef or 2 3/4 pounds of ground beef -- I used 2 3/4 pounds today and there are 24 on the first layer and 26 on the second layer.  When everything is in a 6 1/2-quart crockpot, you'll use a bit less water, 8-9 cups rather than 10.  Put the lid on and cook on high for 4 hours, then on low for 2 more hours.

IMG_0870 IMG_0873 IMG_0877 IMG_0882 IMG_0884 IMG_0890 IMG_0896 IMG_0904Unstuffed:  Deconstructed Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon; fork; round tablespoon or kitchen scale; 8-quart stockpot w/lid or 6 1/2-quart crockpot

6a0120a8551282970b0154356438eb970cCook's Note: If it is a tutorial on the traditional method for making stuffed cabbage, it's all in my post, ~ My Mother's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubki) ~, which can be found by clicking into Categories 3, 12, 17, 19 or 22.

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

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

04/28/2016

~ Chinese Sweet & Sour Pork Meatballs w/Lo Mein ~

IMG_6318Chinese spaghetti and meatballs.  That's what my boys named this meal, they loved it, and, just saying it brings a reminiscent smile to my face.  In reality, it was just me serving some easy-to-make sweet-and-sour-sauced pork meatballs atop a package of store-bought fresh Chinese egg noodles for a change-of-pace dinner.  On occasion, I served the meatballs with cooked and drained, spaghetti-esque lo-mein noodles too, but, my kids preferred the yellow-colored fresh ones better, so, whenever my Asian market had them in stock, that's what I bought.

IMG_5559 IMG_5754 IMG_6152Doesn't this trio look yummy?  Having just spent the week writing a series of posts about and for sweet and sour sauce (just click into Category 13 to learn how I make ~ Sweet & Sour Sauce for Seafood, Poultry or Pork ~, ~ Stick It:  Sweet & Sour Shrimp & Pineapple Kabobs ~, and, ~ A Chinese Cantonese Classic:  Sweet & Sour Pork ~), I decided I'd be remiss if I didn't conclude with this kid-tested, mother approved fourth.

Part One:  Making the Sauce (+ a bit of sauce history too)

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1d22999970cThe first Chinese immigrants to the US were mostly Cantonese, and, Canton, China is the home of the famous "sweet and sour pork" dish eaten annually for Chinese New Year.  With the Cantonese came their love for bright, bold flavor and fresh ingredients -- their sauce is a perfect balance of sugar, vinegar, chile pepper and ginger. It was we Americans who added ketchup to it, and, don't laugh, it's so good, the Chinese adopted it.  If you've never tasted homemade sweet and sour sauce, prepare to be wowed, because:  unless you're eating it in a place that makes their own, sadly, it's a concoction of corn syrup, citric acid and food coloring.

Anyone, anywhere can do better than that in 3 easy steps in less than 10 minutes!

IMG_55051/2  cup each:  water and ketchup

1/3  cup each:  brown sugar, orange juice and rice vinegar

1 1/2  tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2  teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2-3  tablespoons, peeled, thinly-sliced, then minced ginger

1 1/2  tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water

IMG_5507IMG_5510IMG_5511IMG_5519~Step 1.  In a 1-quart measuring container, stir together the water, ketchup, dark brown sugar, orange juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce and red pepper flakes.  Set aside.  Peel, thinly-slice and mince the ginger as directed and set aside.  Stir together the cornstarch and water.  Set aside.

IMG_5521IMG_5522IMG_5526IMG_5532~Step 2.  Place the vegetable oil in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the ginger and sauté, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 45-60 seconds.  Add all of the liquid mixture from Step 1 and adjust heat to simmer steadily, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.

IMG_5534IMG_5550Step 3.  Add cornstarch/water mixture and simmer gently until nicely thickened, about 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a food storage container.  Use as directed in specific recipe or store in refrigerator 1-2 weeks.

Part Two:  Making Mel's E-Z as 1-2-3 Chinese Pork Meatballs

As far as meatball making goes, these are "as easy as it gets".  There's more:  the end result, is "as good as it gets".  In a matter of minutes, my food processor does all of the hard work.  It grinds the meat, then minces and mixes the remaining three ingredients and the spices.  I use an ice-cream scoop to quickly portion and form the mixture into meatballs, placing them on a baking pan as I work.  Into the oven they go and 15 minutes later:  they're done.  The process is so stress-free, I always make a double or triple batch and freeze them for 1-2-3 more meals.

IMG_6270This recipe yields 66-70 meatballs -- easily enough to feed 4-6 people for two meals.  For my husband and I, it's enough for four meals  -- one tonight, then I'll freeze three for later!

IMG_62012-2 1/4 pounds pork loin, trimmed of all visible fat, cut into 1/2"-3/4" slices, slices cut into 1/2"-3/4" cubes (boneless, skinless chicken breast may be substituted) (Note: I purchase a 3 pound piece of pork loin & after trimming the math works out right.)

4  ounces green onion, white and light green part only, cut into 1 1/2"-2" lengths

1   cup panko breadcrumbs

2  8-ounce cans sliced water chestnuts, well-drained

4  extra-large eggs

2  teaspoons ground ginger

2  tablespoons soy sauce

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons white pepper

IMG_6207 IMG_6209 IMG_6212 IMG_6215 IMG_6219 IMG_6221~Step 1.  Prep pork as directed, placing it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade as you work.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, grind meat, then transfer it to a large bowl.  Don't wash the work bowl or blade. Add onion, breadcrumbs and water chestnuts to the work bowl.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-of pulses, mince and combine all.  Add eggs, soy sauce, ginger, salt and pepper.  Turn motor on and process to a paste, 10-15 seconds.

IMG_6228 IMG_6233~ Step 2.  Transfer paste to the bowl with the ground meat.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine the two.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the panko breadcrumbs to absorb excess moisture for about 25-30 minutes.

IMG_6241 IMG_6246 IMG_6247~ Step 3.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, roll meatballs between the palms of your hands and place them,  IMG_6263slightly apart on each of 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.  Bake, one-pan-at-a-time on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 18-20 minutes.  Meatballs will be firm, sizzling a bit, and, turning a light golden brown in color. Remove from oven and use as directed in recipe or cool on pans prior to portioning and freezing.

IMG_6278Note:  Yes, of course you can fry the meatballs conventionally, in batches, in any large-size skillet containing a thin coating of corn or peanut oil.  When I do that, I use my 16" electric skillet.  It allows me to fry in two batches of 30-35, which is the same amount of meatballs that are on each of the baking pans.

Part Three:  The Pineapple, Veggies, Noodles, &, a Quick Stir-Fry

IMG_62806-8  tablespoons corn or peanut oil, for frying

6-8  tablespoons minced, fresh ginger

1 1/4-1 1/2 cups each:  1/2"-3/4" diced green & red bell pepper, and, yellow or sweet onion

3  cups 1/2"-3/4" chunked fresh pineapple

30-35  baked or fried pork meatballs, from above recipe, warm or at room temperature

1 1/2-2  cups sweet and sour sauce, from above recipe, warmed

1  16-ounce package fully-cooked, fresh Chinese egg noodles*, or, 1  16-ounce package dried Chinese lo-mein noodles, cooked according to package directions

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08b463ee970d*A 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.

IMG_6282 IMG_6285 IMG_6287 IMG_6290 IMG_6292 IMG_6293 IMG_6295 IMG_6297~Step 1.  In a 16" electric skillet or a large 14" skillet on the stovetop, heat 6-8 tablespoons corn or peanut oil over medium-high heat.  Add ginger and sauté until fragrant, but not browned, about 1 minute.  Add the diced bell peppers and onion and sauté, stirring constantly, until vegetables are starting to soften, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Add the pineapple chunks and continue to sauté, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Add the meatballs and sauté until heated through, about 1 minute.

IMG_6303~Step 2.  Cut a small 1" slit in the top of the package of fresh Chinese egg noodles and reheat them on high power in the microwave oven for about 1 minute.  Add the hot, reheated Chinese egg noodles, or, the cooked, drained and hot lo-mein noodles to the skillet.  Sauté, tossing constantly until heated through, about 1 minute.

Chinese noodle trivia:  The word "lo mein" comes from the Chinese Cantonese word "lou mihn" meaning "stirred noodles", with the word "lou" meaning "to stir".

IMG_6309Step 3. Adjust heat to very low or turn the heat off. Add 1 1/2 cups of the warm or reheated sauce, in 1/2 cup increments, tossing like you would a salad using two large forks or spoons after each addition, until all ingredients are evenly coated. Add the last 1/2 cup sauce, only if you think you need it.  Do not over sauce.  Portion into four warmed pasta-type bowls or onto plates and serve immediately.

Chinese Spaghetti & Meatballs:

IMG_6315Take the challenge & pick up those chopsticks.

IMG_6330You owe it to the kid in yourself to try!

IMG_6341Chinese Sweet & Sour Pork Meatalls w/Lo Mein:  2 cups of sweet and sour sauce, 65-70 meatballs and 4 servings of "Chinese spaghetti and meatballs".

Special Equipment List:  1-quart measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart saucepan; large spoon; 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; food processor; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop; 16" electric skillet or large 14" skillet on the stovetop

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fa9cb0f2970bCook's Note:  Another dish I learned to cook using fresh Chinese egg noodles was via a hands on lesson from Chef Martin Yan, in person. You can find my recipe for ~ Chinese Chicken Chow Mein a la Melanie ~ by clicking into Categories 3, 13, 19 or 26!

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

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

04/25/2016

~A Chinese Cantonese Classic: Sweet & Sour Pork~

IMG_6155Sweet and sour pork is one of the most well-known Chinese dishes in the world, and, amongst Americans, it's extremely popular.  Marinated, crisply-fried cubes of pork butt or loin, and, stir-fried bell peppers, onion and pineapple -- the two unite at the end when they get tossed together in a perfectly-balanced sweet and savory, ginger-laced ketchup-based sauce to coat.  Pork, "the other white meat", is the Cantonese classic, but, if you prefer poultry over porcine, boneless, skinless chicken breast is a common substitution in Chinese and American kitchens. 

IMG_6199Classically served as a "sauced-pork dish" with fried rice for accompaniment, in American home kitchens, it's not unusual to see the pork, vegetable and pineapple mixture spooned atop a bed of freshly-steamed white rice.  The colorful end result is pretty to look at and a joy to eat -- it's a welcome change of pace from humdrum dinnertime fare.  It makes adults happy and kids tend to love it too, so, if you are looking to introduce Chinese flavors to your youngsters, experience has taught this mother and grandmother:  sweet and sour pork or chicken is a kid-tested safe bet.

Relatively speaking, sweet and sour pork is not hard to make and all of the prep (which is minimal compared to other Chinese dishes) can be done a day ahead.  While some basic deep-fry and stir-fry technique is helpful and fresh ingredients are important, the secret to this dish is achieving the perfect sugary sweet and vinegary sour balance in the easy-to-make sauce.  The sauce is the heart and soul of this dish -- it's the center of the sweet and sour pork universe! 

IMG_6146Part One:  Making the Sauce (+ a bit of sauce history too)

IMG_5575The first Chinese immigrants to the US were mostly Cantonese, and, Canton, China is the home of the famous "sweet and sour pork" dish eaten annually for Chinese New Year.  With the Cantonese came their love for bright, bold flavor and fresh ingredients -- their sauce is a perfect balance of sugar, vinegar, chile pepper and ginger. It was we Americans who added ketchup to it, and, don't laugh, it's so good, the Chinese adopted it.  If you've never tasted homemade sweet and sour sauce, prepare to be wowed, because:  unless you're eating it in a place that makes their own, sadly, it's a concoction of corn syrup, citric acid and food coloring.

Anyone, anywhere can do better than that in 3 easy steps in less than 10 minutes!

IMG_55051/2  cup each:  water and ketchup

1/3  cup each:  brown sugar, orange juice and rice vinegar

1 1/2  tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2  teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2-3  tablespoons, peeled, thinly-sliced, then minced ginger

1 1/2  tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water

IMG_5507 IMG_5510 IMG_5511 IMG_5519~Step 1.  In a 1-quart measuring container, stir together the water, ketchup, dark brown sugar, orange juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce and red pepper flakes.  Set aside.  Peel, thinly-slice and mince the ginger as directed and set aside.  Stir together the cornstarch and water.  Set aside.

IMG_5521 IMG_5522 IMG_5526 IMG_5532~Step 2.  Place the vegetable oil in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the ginger and sauté, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 45-60 seconds.  Add all of the liquid mixture from Step 1 and adjust heat to simmer steadily, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.

IMG_5534 IMG_5550Step 3.  Add cornstarch/water mixture and simmer gently until nicely thickened, about 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a food storage container.  Use as directed in specific recipe or store in refrigerator 1-2 weeks.

Part Two:  Cutting, Marinating and Frying the Pork 

IMG_5996For the pork, marinade & deep fry:

2-2 1/2 pounds pork loin, trimmed of all visible fat, cut into 1/2"-3/4" slices, slices cut into 1/2"-3/4" cubes (boneless, skinless chicken breast may be substituted) (Note: I purchase a 3 pound piece of pork loin & after trimming the math works out right.)

2  tablespoons soy sauce

2  tablespoons orange juice

1  tablespoon firmly packed cornstarch

1  tablespoon sugar

2  large eggs

additional cornstarch, for dredging, about 3/4 cup

IMG_6002 IMG_6010~ Step 1.  To slice.  Slice the pork as directed, placing it a 1-gallon food storage bag as you work.  I simply cut the loin into 8 slices, trim the fat from each, and cut each slice into 15 cubes.  

IMG_6035 IMG_6024~ Step 2.  To marinate.  In a 1-cup measuring container, whisk, the soy sauce, orange juice, cornstarch, sugar and eggs.  Add the marinade to the food storage bag containing the pork, seal the bag and toss to coat.  Set aside for about 1 hour.

While the meat is marinating, use your time wisely -- get your "mise en place".

IMG_6039"Mise en place" is a fancy French phrase meaning, "everything in its place" so no time gets wasted from the beginning to the end of the cooking process.  Preheat deep-fryer containing corn or peanut oil to 360 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.  The frying process goes fast so, set up a "deep-frying" assembly line in this order:  marinated pork, cornstarch, bowl for dredging, deep-fryer for frying and a baking dish lined with paper towels for draining.  

IMG_6044 IMG_6061 IMG_6047~ Step 3.  To fry.  When oil reaches temperature, dredge 15-18 pieces of pork in the cornstarch by tossing them with a fork.  

IMG_6055 IMG_6057 IMG_6068 IMG_6072 IMG_6091Load them onto an Asian spider (or large slotted spoon), lower them, all-at-once into the hot oil, and, deep-fry until just cooked through, about 2 minutes.  Repeat this process, adding about 2 more tablespoons of cornstarch to the bowl each time, until all of the pork has been dredged and deep-fried. Note:  The deep-frying can be done 2-3 hours in advance of preparing the stir-fried fruit and vegetables.

Part Three:  Prepping Pineapple & Veggies, &, a Quick Stir-Fry 

IMG_6103For the fruit, veggies & stir-fry:

4  tablespoons corn or peanut oil

1/4  cup minced, fresh ginger

1-1 1/4 cups each:  1/2"-3/4" diced green & red bell pepper, and, yellow or sweet onion

3  cups 1/2"-3/4" chunked fresh pineapple

6  cups deep-fried pork cubes, and, 1 1/2-2  cups sweet and sour sauce, from above recipe, both slightly-warm

IMG_6105 IMG_6107~ Step 1.  In a 12" stir-fry-type pan or a skillet, heat 4 tablespoons corn or peanut oil over medium-high heat on the stovetop.  Add ginger and sauté until fragrant, but not browned, about 1 minute.

Note:  Relax.  I'm here to tell you, you do not need a stir-fry-type pan or a wok to successfully stir-fry.  I am using a nonstick skillet to prove my point. 

IMG_6110 IMG_6114 IMG_6119 IMG_6122 IMG_6126 IMG_6128~Step 2.  Add peppers and onion and sauté, stirring constantly, until vegetables are starting to soften, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Add pineapple and continue to sauté, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Add pork and sauté until heated through, 1-1 1/2 more minutes.

IMG_6133 IMG_6141~ Step 3. Adjust heat to very low or turn the heat off. Add 1 1/2 cups of the warm sauce and toss until all ingredients are evenly coated.  Add more sauce, if needed, until  it's coated and tastes the way you want it to.  Serve immediately with fried rice or white rice to the side, or, with a bed of fried or white rice underneath each portion.

Whether you prefer a bowl or a plate, with or atop a bed of rice...

IMG_6152... this recipe, w/3 parts & 3 steps in each part = 1 memorable meal!

IMG_6194A Chinese Cantonese Classic:  Sweet & Sour Pork:  Recipe yields 2 cups of sauce and 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart saucepan; large spoon; 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; 1-gallon food storage bag; 1-cup measuring container; small whisk or fork;  deep-fryer; 12" stir-fry-type pan or skillet

IMG_5754Cook's Note: Once you start making your own yummy sweet and sour sauce, I'm certain you'll be looking for others ways to enjoy it. One of my favorites, made outdoors on the grill or indoors on a grill pan: ~ Stick It:  Sweet & Sour Shrimp & Pineapple Kabobs ~ can be found in Categories 3, 10, 13, 14 or 17.

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

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

04/22/2016

~Stick It: Sweet & Sour Shrimp & Pineapple Kabobs~

IMG_5754Everyone loves to eat food on a stick.  Hot, cold, raw or cooked, it's pre-portioned, super-easy to serve, and, it's portable too.  Just take a walk around the world.  Food-on-a-stick is street food, and, everyone eating it has a happy look on their face.  When it comes to grilled food on a stick, I think people get a spring in their step.  Be it thin pieces of meat threaded onto a skewer or bite-sized chunks of meat, vegetables and/or fruit all in a row, folks will stand in line for a kabob.

PICT0016It's been going on for centuries.  "Kabbaba" is the ancient Aramaic word for "to char" or "to burn".  It's no accident that medieval Persian soldiers, who used their swords to grill their food over open fires in the field are credited with inventing "kabobs".

IMG_8575While simple in theory, there are a few easy techniques you can learn to achieve the perfect kabobing experience.  For example, double skewering some foods to prevent them from spinning around on the stick when you try to turn them over. I've written all about it in my post ~ How to:  Properly Skewer food for Grilling Kabobs ~ which can be found in Categories 10 or 15.

There's more.  When making IMG_5612kabobs, I put the protein on one set of skewers and the fruits and or vegetables on a second set.  Why? Because all proteins have different cooking requirements.  Some cook fast and some cook slow.  Some are best served medium-rare while others need to be fully cooked. Fruits and ready-to-eat vegetables get grilled to enhance their flavor and only need to be cooked to the desired degree of doneness.  Tip from Mel:  For perfectly cooked kabobs, skewer like items together.

Fire up your grill or get out your grill pan, today we're making Chinese-inspired sweet & sour shrimp & pineapple kabobs!

IMG_5559Pineapple goes well with several proteins:  poultry, pork, seafood and tofu too, and, it's a popular combo in many cultures.  The first Chinese immigrants to arrive in the US were mostly Cantonese, and, Canton, China is the home of the famous "sweet and sour pork" dish eaten annually for Chinese New Year.

With the Cantonese people, came their love for bright, bold flavor and fresh ingredients.  Sweet and sour sauce is a perfect balance of sugar, IMG_5575vinegar, chile pepper and ginger. Funny enough, it was we Americans who added ketchup to it, and, don't laugh, it's so good, the Chinese adopted it!

If you've never tasted homemade sweet and sour sauce, prepare to be wowed, because:  unless you're eating it in a place that makes their own, sadly, it's a concoction of corn syrup, citric acid and food coloring. Anyone, anywhere can do better than that in 5 minutes.  My easy recipe ~ Sweet & Sour Sauce for Seafood, Poultry or Pork ~, in Categories 8 or 13, yields 2 cups.

Skewering the Shrimp, Pineapple, Bell Peppers & Onions:

IMG_5592For the shrimp:

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

IMG_5621~ Step 1.  On each of 12, 8" skewers, skewer 4 shrimp. IMG_5615Pick one up and push it on at two points: where the tail meets meat, and, through the thick part of the body.

IMG_5589For the pineapple:

1  large, ripe pineapple

~ Step 1.     Using a large chef's knife, remove the top and bottom, then stand it up and slice down the sides to remove the prickly skin. IMG_5582Slice it in half, then, slice each half into four quarters. Remove about 1/2" from the center core of each eighth, then, slice each length into 1/2"-3/4" chunks.

For the bell peppers and onions: IMG_5596

3-4  each:  green and red bell peppers, sliced into quarters, white ribs removed, chopped into 1"-1 1/4" pieces

1  very large sweet onion, chopped into 1"-1 1/4" pieces

IMG_5601~ Step 1.  On each of 12, 8" skewers, alternately place 4 pieces of pineapple with a piece of green pepper, onion, and red pepper sandwiched in between:

IMG_5628Grilling the Kabobs (on a gas grill or on a large grill pan):

IMG_5730Arrange kabobs on grill grids over indirect heat on medium-high heat of gas grill, or, on grill grids of a large grill pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop.  The heat on all grills and stovetops is not created equal, so, be sure to monitor the process, which goes quickly, carefully.

Grill kabobs (all at once or in batches depending upon the size of your grill) turning only once: until shrimp are cooked through and light golden on both sides, and, pineapple is showing signs of light browning around the edges.  On grill and in grill pan, about 8-9 minutes for shrimp (4-4 1/2 minutes per side) and 7-8 minutes for pineapple (3 1/2-4 minutes per side).

Serve w/steamed jasmine rice + warm sweet & sour sauce:   

IMG_5655Stick it:  Sweet & Sour Shrimp & Pineapple Kabobs:  Recipe yields 2 cups sweet and sour sauce, 12 shrimp kabobs and 12 pineapple, pepper & onion kabobs/12 small servings or 6 large servings.

Special Equipment List: 24, 8" metal or wooden skewers; cutting board; chef's knife; gas grill or large, double-burner-sized grillpan

PICT0007Cook's Note:  Want to REALLY impress people? Steam your rice a day ahead.  My recipe for ~ Leftover Rice?  Use it to Make Chinese Fried Rice ~, which can be found in Categories 3, 4, 13, 14 or 26, is an over-the-top accompaniment to these kabobs.

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

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

04/19/2016

~ Sweet & Sour Sauce for Seafood, Poultry or Pork ~

IMG_5562Duck sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and, brown sauce -- if you associate them with Chinese and Chinese-American cuisine, you'd be correct.  All three are cooked, pantry-staple condiment-sauces that are thickened with cornstarch.  The first two cousins are used primarily as glazes and dipping sauces.  The latter, brown sauce, is used mostly to finish quick stir-fries.  You can find my recipes for ~ "Would You Like Duck Sauce With That?" "Yes!" ~ and,  ~ A Chinese Staple:  Real-Deal Basic Brown Sauce ~ by clicking into Categories 8 or 13.  Today's topic is:

Chinese-Style vs. American-Style Sweet & Sour Sauce:

IMG_5559The first Chinese immigrants to the United States were mostly Cantonese.  Canton, China, is home to the famous dish "sweet and sour pork", where it is traditionally eaten on Chinese New Year.  When the Cantonese arrived, they brought their love for fresh ingredients and bold bright flavors.  Sweet and sour flavor combinations, common to many cultures, are achieved via the perfect balance of two ingredients: sugar and vinegar.  The sugar can be white or brown, and, honey can be substituted if the sauce is to be used to dress a salad.  Cantonese "sour" is what makes their version of sweet and sour unique.  It comes from acidic rice vinegar and soury fruit juice in combination with a bit of salty soy sauce, peppery chile, pungent gingerroot and an occasional pinch of aromatic clove.  Chinese sweet and sour sauce quickly became a favorite of us Americans, who, took it upon ourselves to add:  tangy ketchup.  Don't roll your eyes:

Tangy, acidic, sweet and spicy ketchup is a wonderful addition to this sauce.

IMG_5575Even the Chinese have adopted it, and, when you order "sweet and sour" anything here in the USA (typically a dish of batter dipped chicken, pork or shrimp), the sauce usually contains ketchup -- if said sauce is homemade.  Sadly, too many places purchase manufactured sauce, and, sadly, that is the only sweet and sour sauce many Americans have ever experienced.  My best description of store-bought:  It's an inferior concoction of corn syrup, citric acid and red food coloring.  When tasted next to homemade sauce, it is an insult to the tastebuds.   

IMG_5496My recipe for sweet and sour sauce comes from Chef Martin Yan.  The author of many Chinese cookbooks, most Americans got to know him as the host of the acclaimed YanCanCook show on PBS.  I had the pleasure of getting to know him a bit while working by his side on a cooking demo for our local WPSU PBS station, and, having him as a guest right here in my kitchen too.

The following recipe appears on page 88 of his book, Chinese Cooking for Dummies.  Of this book I will say, if you are a Western cook who  fears cooking Chinese fare: This is the best Chinese cooking school book you will ever purchase!

"If Yan can cook -- so can YOU!" ~ Chef Martin Yan

Two excerpts from his (the following) recipe:  "North America's favorite Chinese restaurant sauce has finally come to your own kitchen, and, when you make it yourself, you can control the sweet and sour flavors to the proportion that's just right for your palate." "Sweet and sour sauce wouldn't be sweet and sour without an ample helping of acidic ingredients such as rice vinegar and orange juice, but, any starch-thickened sauce becomes thin and watery if you add too much acid, so, if you are playing with proportions, don't get out of hand when upping the sour."

IMG_55051/2  cup water

1/2  cup ketchup

1/3  cup packed brown sugar

1/3  cup  orange juice (Note:  Pineapple juice is a common substitution and it tastes great.  That said, Chef Yan uses orange juice in his sweet and sour sauce recipes, so, Mel does too!)

1/3  cup rice vinegar

1 1/2  tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2  teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2-3  tablespoons, peeled, thinly-sliced, then minced ginger

1 1/2  tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water

IMG_5507 IMG_5510 IMG_5511 IMG_5519~Step 1.  In a 1-quart measuring container, stir together the water, ketchup, dark brown sugar, orange juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce and red pepper flakes.  Set aside.  Peel, thinly-slice and mince the ginger as directed and set aside.  Stir together the cornstarch and water.  Set aside.

IMG_5521 IMG_5522 IMG_5526 IMG_5532~Step 2.  Place the vegetable oil in a 1-quart saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the ginger and sauté, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 45-60 seconds.  Add all of the liquid mixture from Step 1 and adjust heat to simmer steadily, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes.

IMG_5534 IMG_5550~ Step 3.  Add cornstarch/water mixture and simmer gently until nicely thickened, about 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a food storage container.  Use as directed in specific recipe or store in refrigerator 1-2 weeks.

Long live the saucy sweet & sour in of all of us!

IMG_5568Sweet & Sour Sauce for Seafood, Poultry or Pork:  Recipe yields 2 cups sweet and sour sauce.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0168e560b188970cCook's Note: My recipe for ~ Sweet & Sour Broccoli-Orange-Cashew Chicken ~, is a spin-off of another Martin Yan recipe.  It uses the Chinese (no ketchup) version of sweet and sour sauce to glaze the finished stir-fry.  It can be found by clicking into Categories 3, 13 or 19.

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

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

04/17/2016

~ Chocolate-Glazed Chocolate-Raspberry Tart Bars ~

IMG_5489The purchase of a few rectangular- and square-shaped tart pans were some of the best baking investments I've ever made.  When it comes to serving crumbly cookie-type crusted tarts with custardy-textured centers, I find portioning and slicing a tart into bars or squares, instead of wedges from a round-shaped pan, more "user friendly" -- it's a kind of unique presentation too. There's more: When I'm making tarts that require refrigeration, I find these shapes to be a more efficient use of refrigerator space -- which, in my kitchen, is valuable real estate.

IMG_5303"Tarte au chocolat" -- no special skills required!

IMG_5483A French chocolate tart, or as they say in France "tarte au chocolat", is not as fussy to prepare as you might think.  Classically, the French pour a relatively easy-to-make chocolate filling into a thin, crispy, delicate, very-buttery pastry shell.  Sometimes they top it off with a glaze, sometimes they don't.  Over the years, I've taken a liking to chocolate tarts (and chocolate cheesecakes too) that are prepared with a chocolate graham-cracker or chocolate wafer-cookie crust.  

IMG_5360A 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. In the event you are wondering what part sugar plays in a graham cracker or cookie crust:  sugar crystals aid the butter in binding the dry crumbs together -- think of them as sticky glue. Depending upon the recipe, sometimes I use brown sugar, other times I use granulated sugar, and, in all recipes, the two can be used interchangeably, so, that choice is always yours.

IMG_53062 1/4 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs (18 whole graham crackers), not chocolate-covered graham crackers

6  tablespoons granulated sugar

12  tablespoons salted butter, melted on the stovetop or in the microwave (1 1/2 sticks)

Note:  This will make 2, 13" x 3 1/2" rectangular tarts.  To make 1, 10"-round tart, use:  12 graham crackers, 4 tablespoons sugar and 8  tablespoons butter.

IMG_5308 IMG_5311 IMG_5312Step 1.  Break the graham crackers into smaller pieces, placing them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade along with the sugar as you work.  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_5314 IMG_5322 IMG_5324~Step 2.  With processor motor running, drizzle the melted butter through the feedtube into the crumbs in a thin stream. Transfer this moist, grainy, semi-cohesive, crumb mixture to a medium bowl.  Using a spoon, stir to break up any big-ish clumps that might have formed.  Ideally, you want the mixture to have a sandy texture.

IMG_5341 IMG_5329~Step 3. Divide the mixture between two, 13"L x 3 1/2"W x 1"D tart pans with removable bottoms, about 1 3/4 cups in each pan. Using a tablespoon, spread the mixture IMG_5332loosely and evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan.

~ Step 4.  Using a wooden tart tamper (or the flat bottom of a measuring cup if you don't have a tamper), flatten/compress the crumbs to form an even crumb crust across the bottom.  When the bottom is in place, use the tablespoon in conjunction with your fingertips to press the crumbs against the sides of the pan.

IMG_5359 IMG_5352Step 5. Bake the crusts on center rack of preheated 300 degree oven for 10 minutes or a 325 degree oven for 8 minutes.  

~ Step 6.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool to room temperature, at least one hour, or, uncovered overnight.  I almost always make the crust a day ahead.

IMG_5364It's time to prepare the ultra-rich super-smooth chocolate filling:

IMG_536814  ounces high-quality dark chocolate, preferably 70% - 85% cacao, chopped into small pieces

2  cups heavy or whipping cream

3  large eggs, at room temp

2  teaspoons pure red raspberry or vanilla extract

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

Note:  To make 1, 10"-round tart, use: 9  ounces chocolate, 1 1/4 cups cream, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon extract and 1/8 teaspoon salt.

IMG_5372 IMG_5378Step 1.  Chop the chocolate as directed and place in a large heatproof bowl.

Step 2.  In a small saucepan on the stovetop (or in the microwave), heat the cream until steaming, but not boiling.  Do not allow to simmer or boil.

IMG_5385 IMG_5394Step 3.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and set aside, without stirring, for 2 minutes.

Note:  I always time this.  Two minutes is the magic number.

IMG_5381 IMG_5396 IMG_5402 IMG_5403~Steps 4, 5 & 6.  During the two minute wait time, in a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the eggs, extract and salt.  Set aside.  After the two minute wait time, using a wire whisk, vigorously stir the chocolate and cream, until all of the cream is drawn into the chocolate and the mixture is smooth, uniform in color and shiny.  Whisking constantly, slowly and in a thin stream, slowly incorporate the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture.

IMG_5409~ Step 7.  Ladle the chocolate filling into the tart shells, a little over 2 cups in each tart.  

IMG_5415Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment and place the filled tarts, slightly apart, on the pan.

~ Step 8.  Bake tarts on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes, until barely set and wobbly in the centers.  Do not overbake -- filling will continue to set as the tarts cool.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely, 2 hours.

Two tarts going into a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes:

IMG_5419Two tarts coming out of the oven to cool completely:

IMG_5425Chocolate crust (done), chocolate filling (done), chocolate glaze:

IMG_54346  tablespoons heavy cream

6  ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small bits

4  teaspoons light corn syrup

1 1/2  teaspoons raspberry extract

3  tablespoons hot water

Note:  For a 10"-round tart, use 4 tbsp. cream, 4 ounces chocolate, 3 tsp. corn syrup, 1 tsp. raspberry extract & 3 tbsp. hot water.

~ Step 1.  As pictured below, in a 1-quart saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer.  Turn the heat to extra-low.  Add the chocolate. Stir until chocolate is smooth.  Thoroughly stir in the corn syrup, followed by the extract, then the water, stirring well after each addition. Remove from heat.

IMG_5435 IMG_5438 IMG_5442 IMG_5447 IMG_5453~Step 2.  Drizzle half of the glaze over each tart.  One-at-a-time, pick up each pan and tip, tilt and rotate it to distribute the glaze evenly over the top.  Allow to sit, at room temperature, until glaze sets up a bit, about 1 hour, then refrigerate tarts, uncovered, for 1-2 hours or overnight prior to slicing chilled (slice while cold) and serving chilled or at room temperature.

Tip from Mel:  I immediately transfer the glaze to a plastic squeeze-type bottle.  This makes it super-easy (not to mention mess-free and drip-free), to drizzle it over the tops of the tarts.

Two tarts w/the chocolate glaze on top waiting to be sliced:

IMG_5466We all have our moments of divine intervention -- meet mine:

IMG_5476Chocolate-Glazed Chocolate-Raspberry Tart Bars:  Recipe yields 8-10 servings per tart.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; 2, 13"L x 3 1/2"W x 1"D tart pans with removable bottoms; spoon; tart tamper; cooling rack; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart saucepan or microwaveable container; whisk; 1-cup measuring container; fork; ladle; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 1-quart saucepan; plastic squeeze-type bottle (optional) 

IMG_3117Cook's Note:  To learn everything I know about ~ Making Graham Cracker & Cookie Crumb Crusts ~, click into Categories 6, 7, or 15. Real-deal scratch-made crusts are so much better than bland-tasting store-bought ones made with vegetable shortening instead of butter. They are super-quick and easy to make too (5-6 minutes total work using 3 basic ingredients), so there's really no reason to opt for store bought. 

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

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

04/14/2016

~ Carol's Herbaceous Simon & Garfunkel Potatoes ~

IMG_5283Carol is my neighbor -- across the street and a few doors down.  Door-to-door -- about a 10-minute dog walk.  I've known her for nineteen years now.  She and her cocker spaniel Jack were the first to welcome me and my poodles to the neighborhood -- we were playing in the middle of a field, the future site of our new home, when she and Jack came by to say "hi".  That chat started on a fine Spring afternoon in 1996, and, just ask our husbands, it has never stopped.

IMG_5272Like a lot of you, I love potatoes and I especially love roasted potatoes -- seductively crispy on the outside, steamy soft and tender on the inside.  Is there anyone who has the willpower to resist?  From poultry to pork to pot-roast and prime-rib, they are a side-dish that everyone loves.  While roasting potatoes is a simple and straightforward process (chop into desired- but even-sized pieces, toss in fat or oil, season with salt and pepper and roast), after tasting the first forkful of herbaceous spuds Carol served to us one evening at dinner, I said "you've got to tell me what you seasoned these potatoes with."  Her husband Dick chuckled and proudly replied,

"These are her Simon & Garfunkel potatoes:  Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme!"

Experts will tell you that while all potatoes can be roasted, not all potatoes are created equal: Starchy russets produce the crispiest crust with fluffy, dry interiors; Yukon Golds produce a slightly less crispy crust with creamier centers, and; Waxy reds with their naturally creamy texture get the least crispy and are not recommended for roasting at all (but I beg to differ with that opinion).  In my food world, it's all about "what you like and how you like it", so, use whatever potato you like best and stand with your feet firmly-planted behind your decision.

IMG_52412 1/2  pounds gold potatoes, peeled or unpeeled, cut into even-sized 3/4"-1" cubes

1/2  cup olive oil

1 teaspoon each: dried parsley flakes, rubbed dalmatian sage, crushed rosemary, thyme leaves, granulated garlic powder and cracked black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

IMG_5249Step 1.  Cube the potatoes as directed, placing them in a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish as you work. Drizzle olive oil over top of potatoes, and, using a large spoon toss until potatoes are coated.  

IMG_5253~ Step 2. Sprinkle spices evenly over the top.  Toss again, until all of the spices are evenly incorporated.

This can be done up to an hour prior to roasting as follows:

IMG_5260~ Step 3.  Roast potatoes on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours.  After thirty minutes of roasting, give them a stir.  After 45 minutes of roasting, stir them every 15 minutes until golden brown.  Remove from oven and serve immediately.

A blend of a few common (dried) herbs, playing in harmony together, make this sublime potato side-dish sing with flavor:

IMG_5263Carol's Herbaceous Simon & Garfunkel Potatoes:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler (optional); cutting board; chef's knife; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; large spoon

IMG_5192 IMG_5182Cook's Note: My recipe for ~ The Lazy Lady's Corned Beef Hash Recipe ~, can be found in Categories 9 or 20, and, unlike other recipes, I do not use store-bought frozen hash browns.  My secret is to medium-dice (1/2") the gold potatoes and roast them using Carol's recipe, then, stir them into the sautéed corned beef cubes.

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

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

04/12/2016

~ The Lazy Lady's Homemade Corned Beef Hash ~

IMG_5192Who's the lazy lady?  At breakfast time, that would be me.  Here's the thing:  When you are the family cook, exemptions from morning detail are few and far between.  Everyone wakes up hungry -- babies, kids, adults, dogs, cats -- even goldfish.  The whole danged world wants to eat first thing in the morning, and, the last thing I want to do in the morning is cook.  That said, my conscience doesn't allow for slacking.  Instant oatmeal packets, pancake and waffle mixes, and, pop-in-the-toaster tarts of any type are frowned upon.  Exceptions are:  high-quality store-bought doughnuts and pastry.  Cooking morning fare to be proud of -- it's my culinary conundrum.

IMG_5208Over the years I've squirreled away a secret stash of made-from-scratch breakfast and brunch recipes that require minimal morning effort on my part -- the reality of life as the family cook is, nothing cooks itself, so, expendable available energy differs from cook to cook on any given morning.  For my family and friends, these recipes deliver maximum, uncompromising, yummy-in-the-tummy satisfaction to them.  Corned beef hash is one such recipe.  That said:  My corned beef doesn't slide out of a tin can* -- it's been perfectly-cooked, cubed and refrigerated or frozen in advance.  My potatoes aren't flash-frozen store-bought hash browns -- unpeeled, quickly-cubed "red news" or "baby golds" get roasted separately for ultimate crispness.

*A bit about canned or tinned corned beef:  It certainly had its place on the table during and after the WWII years.  It was a necessity and a staple in the pantries of British and French cooks, where rationing limited the availability of fresh meat to them and I have the utmost respect for that.  On a side note, the word "hash" is derived from the French verb "hacher" meaning "to chop", and, is the British slang for "messing up a situation" or "throwing things together".

In the event you want to be a total slug when making this recipe:  prepare it through to the end, as directed below, a day in advance.  Refrigerate it overnight.  In the AM, return it to the skillet (w/a thin coating of olive oil in the bottom) and reheat it.  No one will know. ~ Melanie

IMG_5179Part One:  The Corned Beef & Caramelized Onions

IMG_5131I never make just one corned beef brisket.  It's counter-productive.  In one big pot, in three hours, I can make three:  one to eat that day, one for sandwiches during the week, and, one to cube and freeze in 3, 1-pound packages, which, is enough to make 3 hearty corned beef hash breakfasts.  Use your favorite recipe, or, click on the Related Article link below, ~ My Braised & Brown Sugar Glazed Corned Beef ~ to get mine.

IMG_5138 IMG_51401  pound cooked, chilled and 3/4" cubed corned beef, about 3-3 1/2 cups (Note: The corned beef is easier to cube if it's been refrigerated.)

1  cup 1/2" diced yellow onion

~ Step 1.  Cube corned beef and chop onions ahead of time.  In the AM, place them in a 12" skillet with 4  tablespoons EVOO.

Note:  Do not be inclined to add salt or any seasoning to the skillet.  The corned beef is full-of-flavor, and, once caramelized, the onions will add their own sweetness to the mixture.

IMG_5182Part Two:  The Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme Potatoes

IMG_5146 IMG_5150~ Step 2.  In an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish, toss together:

1  pound 1/2" cubed red or gold potatoes (Note:  I use my vintage French-fry cutter to make the first very fast cut through each potato and my chef's knife to cut the "fries" into cubes. This takes me about 5 minutes.)

IMG_5156 IMG_5158 IMG_5161 IMG_5164 IMG_5180spices: 1/2 teaspoon each, dried parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder and coarsely ground black pepper + 3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4  cup olive oil

~ Step 3.  Roast potatoes on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour.  After thirty minutes of roasting, give them a stir.

IMG_5175~ Step 4.  Continue stirring the potatoes every 10 minutes after that.  Thirty minutes into roasting potatoes, turn the heat under the skillet of corned beef and onions to medium-high.  Sauté, stirring once-in-a-while, resisting the urge to stir too often, until both the meat and the onions are "crispy" and golden, lowering the heat as necessary to keep them from scorching, about 20 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_5186~ Step 5.  Remove the potatoes from the oven and immediately add them to the skillet with the corned beef and onions.  Over medium-high heat, sauté and stir, until mixture is steaming, 1-2 minutes. Portion and serve immediately.

One last detail:  the eggs.

While corned beef is delicious just as it is, an egg or two to the side (or on top) and toast is customary.

Poached, fried or scrambled -- the choice is yours!

IMG_5193I like poached, the hubs is a fried kinda guy:

IMG_5225The Lazy Lady's Homemade Corned Beef Hash:  Recipe yields 4-6 hearty servings.  

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; nonstick spatula

IMG_0485Cook's Note:  The toast, of course, is up to you too.  For me, caraway-seeded rye bread is the ticket with this rustic breakfast.  You can find my recipe, ~ Try My Rye:  It's Homemade in the Bread Machine ~ in Categories 2, 5, 9, 12, 15 or 20.

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

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

04/10/2016

~ My Ultimate Chicken-Fried Steak-Fillet Sandwich ~

IMG_5100The French have a pretty-sounding phrase, "comme-ci comma-ça" (kohm-see kohm-sah), which I use a lot.  It's a to-the-point way of saying something is "so-so", "neither good or bad" -- it's tolerable.  That pretty much sums up my general feelings about chicken fried steak:  its taste and texture are passable.  To use another one of my favorite expressions, "it is what it is":  a thin, tough, budget-friendly, pounded or cubed or forked, beefsteak.  I don't sit down at the table with high expectations for CFS nor do I leave the table disappointed.  Comme-ci comma-ça.

IMG_5090A bit about chicken-fried steak:  The tenderized steak, most-commonly a store-bought tenderized cube steak taken from the round, is dipped in an egg batter, dredged in seasoned flour (or sometimes breadcrumbs), then, pan-fried in almost the same manner as Southern fried chicken. After frying, it's removed from the skillet and a peppery cream- or milk-based gravy is made in the pan drippings (cayenne pepper or cayenne pepper sauce are commonly used for "heat").  

When served for breakfast, chicken-fried steak is commonly served with hash browns and toast. When served as a dinner entrée, mashed potatoes and biscuits are on the ticket. That said, a popular modern-day midwestern variation is to serve it on a hamburger-type roll with a basket of French fries and gravy, which, in my kitchen is by far the overwhelming favorite.  

The origin of chicken fried steak is debated.  Southerners will show you recipes dating back to the 1830's & '40's with Mary Randolph's 1838, The Virginia Housewife, containing one of the earliest recipes for veal cutlets prepared in the style of chicken-fried steak.  

ChickenFriedSteakFestivalTexans claim it came to them earlier than that via German and Austrian immigrants from Europe, who arrived in America and brought their Weiner schnitzel recipes to Texas.  Lamesa, the seat of Dawson County on the Texas South Plains, claims to be the birthplace of chicken-fried steak.  According to legend, the dish was created by accident in 1911 in Ethel’s Home Cooking Restaurant, when then cook, Jimmy Don Perkins, placed steaks into fried chicken batter after he missed a comma in a waitress’ order for “chicken, fried steak,”.  The town hosts their annual "Lamesa Original Chicken-Fried Festival & Cook-Off" the last weekend in April -- register now!

The first time I encountered chicken-fried steak was in Texas and I assumed it was a Texas take on a Southern dish.  What's not disputed:  Our early settlers, out of necessity, shared, learned and/or developed methods for making undesirable, tough cuts of meat palatable. 

Cube steak in to and out of the mouths of babes:

IMG_4980A bit about cubed round steak: Being a grownup is hard.  My mother peddled cube steak to my brother and I under the name "funny steak".  For a period of years, her schtick worked well for her.  If memory serves me correctly, my little brother giggled at his "silly steak" during dinner while my mom pandered to him encouragingly with every forkful.  I just sat there and ate it.  I found it to be just plain odd in a silly steak sort of way -- the word "funky" hadn't been invented yet.

IMG_4970Ideally, a cube steak is a round steak that has been run through an electric tenderizing machine called a "cube steak machine" (which was invented in 1941).  It pokes enough cube-shaped imprints slightly through the surface to render it hamburger-esque in appearance. This leads most people into thinking it must be tender, but, it's not -- what the cube steak machine does do is render it uniquely chewy.  Now for some potentially bad news. Sometimes cube steaks are made up of tough, stringy meat scraps that couldn't be sold otherwise (trimmed from tough round steaks of course), that have been knitted together in a cube steak machine.  Cube steak advice: Watch your butcher cube the steak or read the label carefully.

My Ultimate Chicken-Fried Steak-Fillet Sandwich:

IMG_5078The cube steak has never been my favorite plate of steak, so, when I decided to make chicken-fried steak at home, I reached for the stars:  fillet mignon.  Once pounded, it cooks in about the same amount of time a cube steak cooks, and, more importantly, it's super tender. (Sometimes referred to as "minute steaks" cube steaks fully cook in about 3-3 1/2 minutes per side, fillets take 4-4 1/2 minutes per side for medium rare.)  That said, this once-in-a-blue moon indulgence isn't going to break my budget -- one fillet makes two large sandwiches, which is plenty for the hubs and I.  I admit, this is definitely a different take on traditional chicken-fried steak, so, for authenticity, or more importantly budget constraints, if you want to substitute 4, 4-ounce cube steaks to make my recipe for these sandwiches, you have my blessing.  I even cooked that raw cube steak (three photos up) to show you it works beautifully (see above "cooked" photo). 

IMG_4830For the steaks:

2  6-8-ounce, 1"-thick beef fillets (beef tenderloin), nicely trimmed of excess but not all fat, sliced lengthwise to form 4, 1/2" thick steaks 

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for pre-seasoning the meat

IMG_4836 IMG_4838 IMG_4839 IMG_4842~Step 1.  Note:  Freezing the steaks for about two hours will make them very easy to slice in half. Here's how I do it:  Remove the steaks from their packaging, pat them dry in a few paper towels, wrap them in plastic wrap and freeze for 2 hours (no longer than that).  Remove steaks from freezer, slice as directed and place the four 1/2"-thick steaks between two large layers of plastic wrap.  Lightly-pound with the flat-side of a meat mallet to a thickness of about 1/4".  Lightly season the tops of the pounded steaks with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.

IMG_4995For my slightly-thickened nicely-spiced egg batter:

2  extra-large eggs

1/2  cup whole milk 

6 tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauce & gravy (a granulated flour that won't clump)

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2  teaspoons cayenne pepper sauce, more or less, to taste

~ Step 1.  In a 1-quart bowl, whisk together all ingredients as listed.  I like to use my old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater to do this.

IMG_4998For the initial dry dredge and the final-coat of "breading":

2  cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1  tablespoon garlic powder

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons cayenne pepper

~ Step 1.  In a 2-quart bowl, stir all ingredients, as listed, together.

For the creamy gravy/sauce

pan drippings from steak

2  tablespoons Wondra flour

IMG_50003/4  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/4  cup whole milk

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  tablespoon cayenne pepper sauce

additional milk, to add at the end if you want a thinner sauce

~ Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container,  stir together the cream, milk, sea salt and cayenne pepper sauce.  Set the liquid mixture aside, along with the Wondra flour, until the chicken-fried steak has been, dipped, dredged, fried and is out of the skillet, about 10-15 minutes.

Ready, set, go.  Three easy steps: Dredge, fry, &, make gravy!

IMG_5004~ Step 1.  Dredge steaks in the flour and place on a wire rack on a plate. Allow steaks to sit 5-10 minutes, to allow flour to absorb excess surface-moisture from meat.

IMG_5003Ready a 12" skillet by placing 3 tablespoons butter and 3 tablespoons olive oil in it.

IMG_5010 IMG_5014                                        Dip each steak in the batter, then dredge it back in the IMG_5020flour, then return it, briefly, to the rack on the plate.

Melt the butter into the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat.

IMG_5026~ Step 2.  When skillet is hot, using your fingertips so as to disturb as little coating as possible, gently lift and place each steak into the butter mixture.  Sauté, turning only once, until steaks are golden and crispy on both sides, 4-4 1/2 minutes per side for medium rare, adjusting the heat as necessary to keep the steaks sautéing without burning the coating.  Remove steaks from skillet and return them to the rack.

IMG_5038 IMG_5039 IMG_5041 IMG_5046~Step 3.  Sprinkle the Wondra flour over the pan drippings.  Stir until flour is smooth, 8-10 seconds.  Add the seasoned cream and simmer until nicely-but-not-overly thickened, 1-1 1/2 minutes.  In the event your cream does thicken a bit to much, stir in a bit of extra milk.

IMG_5050 IMG_5056You will have 1 1/2 cups of slightly-thickened, nicely-spiced sauce and four crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside steaks.  Serve chicken-fried steak on a plate drizzled w/sauce, a couple of sides and a knife and fork, or:  place your steak on a bun with some sauce, lettuce and tomato.

My indulgent face rests its case -- it's in your hands now! 

IMG_5128My Ultimate Chicken-Fried Steak-Fillet Sandwich:  Recipe yields 4 sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; plastic wrap; cutting board; chef's knife; flat-sided meat mallet; 1-quart bowl; hand-held hand-crank egg beater or whisk; 2-quart bowl; spoon; 1-cup measuring container; wire cooling rack; 12" nonstick skillet; fork; spatula 

6a0120a8551282970b017d3cf61d77970cCook's Note:  I demand that only the best be served with this hum-dinger of a carnivorously-decadent steak sandwich.  You can find my post ~ Do You Want (Perfect "French") Fries with That? ~ in Categories 2, 4, 15 20 or 21.

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

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

04/07/2016

~ Tender Steak Scallops w/Herbed Mustard Sauce ~

IMG_4923"This is Steak Diane".  That's what I said to our "twenty-something" waiter in a steakhouse not long ago.  I was generically expressing my pleasure at seeing a blast-from-my-past, famous-and-favorite steak dish on a millennial restaurant menu.  My comment didn't require a response. That said, it did prompt a polite, ever-so-slight nod-of-agreement, accompanied by a "if you say so lady, but I have no idea what you are talking about" look.  This lead me to conclude:

IMG_4873Steak Diane has skipped a generation or two of Americans.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c76953f4970bA bit about Steak Diane:  Prepared using common French techniques, the dish isn't French -- it's a mid-20th Century New York City all-American invention -- an American take on French cuisine.  Named after, "Diane", the Roman goddess of the hunt, in essence, it is a slice of thinly-pounded, pan-seared beef tenderloin served with an earthy mushroom, shallot and mustard sauce made from the pan juices plus a healthy splash of Worcestershire sauce too.  In its heyday (the 1940's) steak Diane was served in upscale black-tie restaurants and supper clubs and prepared with pomp and circumstance:  It was cooked for two people, at their table, and, just before plating, a splash of brandy provided the fuel for a flambé.

A bit about steak "scallops":  "Escalop" (eh-SKAL-ohp) is the French word for a very thin, sometimes flattened piece of meat, poultry or fish which requires only seconds of sautéing on both sides.  Here in the USA, the term for this cut of meat is a "scallop".  "Paillard" (PI-yahrd), in French, means "to pound" (and also references a lightly-pounded slice or medallion of meat, poultry or fish).  It's done with a flat-sided meat mallet and the intention is not to "smash the meat to smithereens".  Pounding should make it wider and thinner, just enough to make it even in thickness and break down the fibers, to tenderize and make it cook evenly.  A "medallion" refers to a coin-shaped slice of meat (beef, pork, veal, lamb) taken exclusively from the tenderloin.

IMG_48152  6-8-ounce, 1"-thick beef fillets (beef tenderloin), nicely trimmed of excess but not all fat, sliced lengthwise to form 4, 1/2" thick steaks 

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for pre-seasoning the meat

3  tablespoons salted butter

3  tablespoons olive oil

1  tablespoon each:  minced fresh chives, thyme and parsley

1  tablespoon minced garlic cloves (roughly 2 large cloves)

3/4 cup finely-diced shallots, or yellow or sweet onion (about 4 ounces)

1 1/2  cup very thinly-sliced baby bella mushroom caps (about 4 ounces)

1/4  cup Madeira (a flavorful, fortified Portuguese wine excellent for cooking)

3/4  cup beef stock

1/4  cup Worcestershire sauce

3  tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cornstarch

fresh herb sprigs, for garnish

IMG_4836 IMG_4838 IMG_4839 IMG_4842~Step 1.  Note:  Freezing the steaks for about two hours will make them very easy to slice in half. Here's how I do it:  Remove the steaks from their packaging, pat them dry in a few paper towels, wrap them in plastic wrap and freeze for 2 hours (no longer than that).  Remove steaks from freezer, slice as directed and place the four 1/2"-thick steaks between two large layers of plastic wrap.  Lightly-pound with the flat-side of a meat mallet to a thickness of about 1/4".  Lightly season the tops of the pounded steaks with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.

IMG_4819 IMG_4823~ Step 2. Prep the herbs as directed, followed by the garlic, shallots and mushroom caps.  

In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard and cornstarch.  Set everything aside.  Ready, set, go:  

IMG_4853 IMG_4855 IMG_4867 IMG_4864~Step 3.  In a 12" skillet, melt the butter into the olive oil over low heat.  Add the steaks to pan, seasoned sides down.  Lightly season the tops with more freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Increase heat to medium-high and sauté until steaks are lightly-browned on both sides, turning only once, exactly 2 1/2 minutes per side (2 minutes for rare, 2 1/2 minutes for medium-rare).  Remove steaks from skillet, place on a warmed plate, cover with foil & set aside while preparing the herbed mustard sauce according to the following directions:

IMG_4874 IMG_4877 IMG_4878 IMG_4880~Step 4.  Stir the herbs into the pan juices and allow them to cook gently, on low heat, about 30 seconds, to give them time to begin to release some flavor into the fat.  Add the garlic, shallots and mushrooms.  Sauté, stirring almost constantly, until shallots are translucent, mushrooms have lost their moisture and almost no liquid remains in the bottom of skillet, about 3 minutes.

IMG_4885 IMG_4889 IMG_4890 IMG_4896~Step 5.  Add the Madeira and deglaze the pan by scraping loose all of the browned bits on the bottom.  Give the beef stock mixture a brief restir and add it to the skillet.  Stir to thoroughly combine and bring to a rapid simmer, just short of a full boil.  Continue to simmer rapidly, stirring almost constantly, until mixture has thickened, about 1- 1 1/2 minutes.  To serve:

Place 2 steaks on 2 warmed plates, top w/sauce, & serve...

IMG_4912... ASAP, traditionally, w/a green vegetable & potato of choice:

IMG_4905Tender Steak Scallops w/Herbed Mustard Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 servings.  To make Steak Diane for 4 or 6, double or triple the recipe and prepare it, all at once, in a 16" electric skillet.
 
Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; flat-sided meat mallet; plastic wrap; 12" nonstick skillet; nonstick spatula; aluminum foil; 1-cup measuring container 
 
6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0d5e6da970cCook's Note:  In my kitchen, Steak Diane almost always gets served with my recipe for ~ Two-for-One Effortless Straightforward Side Dishes:  Roasted Caraway-Seeded Carrots & Red Potatoes ~. The recipe is in Categories 4, 12, 19 & 20.  Feel free to omit the caraway seeds if you're not a fan, and, fingerling or small, new gold potatoes can be substituted for small, new red potatoes too!
 
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/04/2016

~A Sophisticated Indulgence: Mousse au Chocolate~

IMG_4787Not being a chocolate lover (yes, that's what I said, I am not a lover of chocolate), when pressed to name my favorite chocolate confection, the French dessert, mousse au chocolate, is at the top of my very short list, which includes truffles and chocolate cheesecake made with a chocolate cookie crust.  For me, mousse au chocolate is chocolate confection perfection.  Calorie for calorie, every light, airy, creamy, thick spoonful is full of deep, rich, intense chocolate flavor.  

IMG_4800As easy as chocolate mousse is to make in theory, if you've never made one, it can be a bit confounding.  Demystifying it is my mission today.

A bit about mousses:  "Mousse", the French word meaning "foam or froth", refers to any food, savory or sweet, that has air incorporated into it to give a light, airy, smooth texture.  Examples of savory mousses, which are typically cooked gently in a water bath and served warm or cold are: asparagus, chicken and salmon.   In the case of dessert mousses, they are typically prepared with whipped egg whites and/or whipped cream, and, often stabilized with gelatin.  Common flavorings for dessert mousses include chocolate, coffee, caramel and a host of pureed fruits.

A bit about mousse au chocolate:  No one knows who invented the first chocolate mousse but it's believed to have occurred sometime the second half of the 1800's.  That said, it became an instant hit with housewives all across America when The New York Times published its first recipe for the dessert in 1955.  Everyone who entertained was whipping egg whites, folding them into melted chocolate and serving this fancy-named French dessert at their dinner parties.

IMG_4768What you need to make a real-deal chocolate mousse:  

Besides the requisite dark chocolate, the second essential ingredient is egg whites.  After that, the most common additions are:  sugar (for sweetness), heavy cream (for airy texture), egg yolks (for richness), and/or alcohol, liqueur, extracts or coffee (for flavoring).  Read your recipe to see if it requires you to have unflavored gelatin on hand (for stability), or, to pick up a special garnish (for a pretty presentation).  While the concept for making chocolate mousse remains constant in all recipes, the technique varies slightly, so, check the equipment  list too. More often than not, you'll need a double boiler (for melting chocolate), an electric mixer (for whipping egg whites and cream), and, two or three appropriately-sized mixing bowls.

Tip from Mel:  When making anyone's recipe for mousse au chocolate, read the recipe through carefully, make note of what needs to be done, in the specific order it needs to get done, then arrange the hardware and the ingredients in that order.  If you do this, and you work from start to finish without interurruption, you will have a very successful chocolate mousse experience!

IMG_46508  ounces high-quality dark chocolate, preferably 70% - 85% cocoa, chopped or broken into pieces

1/2  cup sugar + 1/2  cup water

5  egg yolks, at room temperature

1  tablespoon unflavored gelatin

1  tablespoon cherry extract + 1  tablespoon cherry brandy  (Note:  You need 2 tablespoons of liquid.  Use what suits you.  Example:  2 tablespoons rum, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract + 1 tablespoon water, 2 tablespoons very strong coffee, etc.

5  egg whites, at room temperature

1/4  teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

2  cups chilled whipping cream, whipped and chilled

additional whipped cream and grated or shaved chocolate, for garnish

IMG_4651Tip from Mel:  Freshly whipped cream is almost always the last ingredient to get folded in, but, after making more than a few chocolate mousses, I have found that whipping it at the very beginning of the process and placing it in the refrigerator works best.  Why?  It gets folded in after the freshly whipped egg whites -- which are quite fragile.  Having the cream on-hand and ready, allows the whites zero time to lose any of their all-important volume.  Make sure your cream is cold when you start, and IMG_4654for added protection, chill your bowl in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes prior to whipping it too.

~ Step 1.  On high speed of hand-held electric mixer, in a medium bowl, whip the cream to stiff peaks, about 3 minutes.  Place bowl, uncovered, in refrigerator.

IMG_4658~ Step 2. Place 1"-1 1/2" of water in bottom of double boiler and bring to IMG_4669 IMG_4671a simmer over medium heat.  Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, place top on boiler and add the chocolate.  Melt, whisking constantly, 4-5 minutes. Transfer to a very large bowl to cool a bit.

IMG_4681                        IMG_4675                                             ~ Step 3. In a 1-quart saucepan, stir together the sugar and water. Place on stovetop and bring to boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to simmer rapidly, until transparent and syrupy, 5-6 minutes.  You will notice large, slow to burst bubbles forming on the top.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly. While sugar syrup is cooling:

IMG_4690 IMG_4686~ Step 4.  In a small ramekin, stir together the cherry extract and cherry brandy.  Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top of the liquid and set aside to "bloom" for 3-4 minutes.  Do not stir.

IMG_4692~ Step 5. Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a small bowl and whites in a large bowl.  Set the whites aside.

IMG_4696 IMG_4700 IMG_4701 IMG_4704~Step 6.  On low speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the yolks to thoroughly combine. Beating constantly, slowly and in a thin stream, drizzle  the sugar syrup into the egg yolks.  Add the gelatin mixture and continue to beat on low speed to thoroughly combine.

IMG_4712 IMG_4716~ Step 7.  Using a whisk, whisking vigorously, slowly incorporate the egg/sugar/gelatin mixture into the chocolate.  This mixture will get thick quickly, and, in case you're thinking there's something wrong, relax, there isn't.

IMG_4723 IMG_4728 IMG_4730 IMG_4746~Step 8.  In the large bowl, on high-speed of mixer, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar and salt to stiff peaks, 3-4 minutes.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate.  Remove the cream from the refrigerator and thoroughly fold it into the chocolate.

IMG_4762~ Step 10.  Spoon the mousse into 6, 1-cup serving dessert cups or ramekins, lightly cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4-6 hours prior to serving garnished with whipped cream and chocolate shavings or grated chocolate. Chocolate mousse is best served the same day it is made.

Refrigerate several hours & serve the same day...

IMG_4765... garnished w/whipped cream & grated or shaved chocolate. 

IMG_4803A Sophisticated Indulgence:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings, depending upon the size of the servings.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; double boiler; whisk; 1 quart saucepan; large rubber spatula; 8, 1-cup dessert cups or ramekins; plastic wrap 

IMG_0035Cook's Note:  Next to fruit desserts, creamy, pudding-like desserts in general are my favorite.  ~Tapioca Pudding:  Just like Grandma used to make! ~ is a recipe that is another indulgence of mine.  You can find my recipe by clicking into Categories 6, 12 or 19.

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

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

04/02/2016

~The Only Way You Will Get Me to Eat a Tuna Melt~

IMG_4590I adore tuna salad -- ice cold, creamy, crunchy and chunky classic tuna salad.  I love tuna salad subs too -- ice cold tuna salad on an Italian hoagie roll with shredded lettuce, tomato, onion and Swiss cheese.  I made tuna salad and tuna subs for the hubs and I for dinner last night.  After thirty-five years of marriage, he, out-of-nowhere, asks me why I've never made him a tuna melt.

"The only way you will get me to make you a tuna melt...  

... is if you agree upfront to eat it the way I make it.  Over the years, I've seen the tuna melts you order when we're out for lunch.  They're disgusting.  Warm tuna salad is revolting.  Period."  

IMG_4566When it comes to a tuna melt in my kitchen, there are few options.  It is mostly a my-way-or-the-highway sandwich.  The crispy, butter-fried bread must be high-quality brioche or seedless rye -- for my taste, white bread is wimpy and whole grain is overbearing.  The mild-flavored Swiss or provolone cheese must be ooey-gooey perfectly-melted -- cheddars are too assertive and don't melt well either. When served, the chunky and crispy (not mushy and pasty) tuna salad must be chilled, and, for full effect, this hot 'n cold sandwich must be eaten immediately and without interruption.  What about crispy, shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato, and/or onion slices?  As much as I love them, they turn 'a melt' into an overstuffed, messy 5-napkin meal -- serve 'em as a side-salad to this rich, filling sandwich.

Simmer down -- I know that most of the tuna-melt eating food world disagrees -- I don't care. 

IMG_4560For each sandwich:

2  slices brioche or seedless rye bread* 

1-2  tablespoons Dijon mustard

4  slices Swiss or provolone cheese

1  tablespoon salted butter

1/2  cup high-quality tuna salad, your favorite recipe (See Cook's Note below to get my recipe.)

IMG_4565shredded iceberg lettuce, sliced tomato, onion and/or gherkins, for topping or accompaniment

*Note:  You can find my easy-to-make recipes for ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~ and ~ Try My Rye:  It's Homemade in the Bread Machine ~ in Categories 2, 5, 15 or 20.

~ Step 1.  Prep and have ready each and every ingredient, including your garnishes.

IMG_4570 IMG_4572 IMG_4575~ Step 2.  Lightly spread Dijon mustard over the tops of each of two pieces of bread.  Top each with two slices of  cheese.

IMG_4578 IMG_4581 IMG_4583 IMG_4585~Step 3.  Over low heat, melt  butter in a 10" nonstick skillet.  Place bread slices in skillet, side-by-side, cheese sides up.  Adjust heat to medium and cook 1 1/2 minutes.  Cover pan and cook an additional 1 1/2 minutes, just until the cheese is starting to melt down sides of bread slices. Remove from heat.  Using a spatula, remove and plate half of the sandwich. Top plated half with chilled tuna salad.  Place the second slice of bread, cheese-side-down on top and eat ASAP.

Note:  If you want to add shredded lettuce, onion and/or tomato to your sandwich, do it in the following order:  Using a spatula, remove and plate half of the sandwich.  Place a thin layer of shredded lettuce on top of the cheese, followed by shaved onion, chilled tuna salad and thin tomato slices.  Place second slice of bread, cheese-side-down on top and eat ASAP.

Crispy grilled bread + gooey melted cheese + crunchy chilled tuna salad = Mel's mouthwatering, ultimate, non-messy, tuna melt:

IMG_4603For an open-faced, knife-and-fork and much more ladylike version (with all the trimmings), use the same concept to build a hot 'n cold melt on a nicely-toasted English muffin!

IMG_4628The Only Way You Will Get Me to Eat a Tuna Melt:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many tuna melt sandwiches as you want to make.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet w/lid; spatula

IMG_4704 IMG_4717Cook's Note: My recipe for ~ Creamy, Crunchy & Chunky "Classic" Tuna Salad ~ can be found in Categories 2, 14, 20 or 26.  In my tuna-salad world, hard-cooked eggs are mandatory. When I'm making tuna salad to eat with a fork, I chop them, in tact, into bite-sized pieces.  When I'm making tuna salad to put in sandwiches, I small-dice the whites and the yolks separately.  To learn how I perfectly cook the eggs, read my post ~ A Little Thing Called: Boiling Eggs (Hard-Cooked) ~ in Category 15.

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

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