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12 posts from May 2016

05/31/2016

~ Herbed Pork Skewers w/Apricot-Mustard Sauce ~

IMG_7452Store-bought seasoning blends and bottled sauces.  Every home cook has their favorite brands and there is no shame in that.  I am no exception.  When pressed for time, some days I reach for a container of Chef Paul Prudhomme's Meat Magic and other days a bottle K.C. Masterpiece will do just fine.  When correctly paired together, a high-quality store-bought spice blend and bottled sauce can be a busy cook's best time saver.  That said, all serious cooks make the time to prepare their favorite homemade concoctions too.  I am no exception, and, at any given time, if you peek into my pantry or refrigerator, you're bound to find a few that I keep on-hand.

Thinly-sliced, nicely-seasoned pork loin, threaded onto a skewer...

IMG_7384... w/sweet peppers 'n onions & grilled to perfection...

IMG_7429... served on a bun & drizzled w/a sweet 'n savory sauce:

IMG_7458Positively perfect fare for any outdoor barbecue or tailgate! 

IMG_7356Simon & Garfunkel Seasoning.

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme + a little granulated garlic, sea salt and pepper too.  Quickly mix them all together and you've got a dynamite seasoning blend for pork -- it's great on the other white meat, poultry, and, vegetables too.  

IMG_7354Pair it with my easy-to-make, fruity, apricot-mustard sauce (recipe below) and you've got the makings for all sorts of great grill-meals -- chops, ribs & kabobs. To be honest, it's a pleasant change-of-pace from the typical chile-powder-based blends that hook up with tomato-based barbecue sauces in the end to flavor our porcine and poultry. Everyone loves them, including me, but, let's face it, it's going to be a long, hot Summer --  why not plan to add something new to your grill-meal rotation.  The unique seasoning-and-sauce combo I'm making today is just the ticket.

IMG_7361

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

2 teaspoons sea salt

Tip from Mel:  Don't throw those empty bottles of dried herbs and spices away.  Hang onto them to use for your own concoctions!

IMG_7363Apricot-Mustard Sauce.

In the late 1970's, two women, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins opened a small food shop in Manhattan named:  The Silver Palate.  For that period in history, they had an extremely unique concept:  gourmet take-out meals, for all courses and all occasions.  Their shop met with rave reviews and national acclaim, which was followed by The Silver Palate Cookbook, then a second book, The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook.  A line of specialty food products was then marketed to gourmet food shops across America, which made it possible for all of us cooks to enhance our own food using their condiments and sauces.

One of their products, Apricot-Mustard Sauce, became a staple in my pantry.  When my boys were turning into hungry men, I was purchasing it several bottles at a time. I had been dabbling around in recipe development for a few years by then and was getting good at imitating recipes based upon the label.  What I came up with is extremely close and when my husband said he liked mine better -- I stopped buying it!

PICT22151  12-13-ounce jar apricot preserves, the best available

1/2  cup Dijon mustard

1/4  cup honey

2  tablespoons apple juice

2  tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/4  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

1  tablespoon granulated sugar

PICT22301/4  teaspoon each:  ground ginger, ground mace and dry English mustard

1/8  teaspoon each, ground: allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and sea salt

PICT2240Place all ingredients in a 3-quart saucier (read Cook's note below).  Stir and simmer over medium heat, for 3 minutes.

Assembling the Herbed Pork, Pepper & Onion Skewers:

IMG_73721 1/2  pounds pork loin, sliced into 32 slightly-less than 1/8" pieces, 4 slices per 8" skewer (Note:  I do not trim any of the thin layer of fat from the bottom of the loin to make these skewers.  It browns nicely and adds flavor too, but, that choice is yours.)

Simon & Garfunkel seasoning, from above recipe 

2 each:  orange and yellow sweet IMG_7350bell peppers, sliced into 1" squares (Note:  I like the subtle flavor and the colors of the orange and yellow peppers with the apricot-mustard sauce instead of the bolder green and red bell peppers, but, that choice is yours.)

1  large sweet onion, sliced into 1" squares

8  hot dog rolls, or, 4 cups steamed white rice

apricot-mustard sauce, from above recipe, for drizzling on finished sandwiches or meals

IMG_7386To assemble each of 8, 8" bamboo skewers, season tops of 4 slices of pork with seasoning blend. Fold one slice of pork in half, loosely roll it up and thread it onto a skewer, followed by one slice each of orange pepper, onion and yellow pepper.  Continue alternating pork, and vegetables until each skewer contains 4 slices of pork and 3 groups of peppers and onion.

Eight skewers ready to go on the gas grill (or onto a grill pan):

IMG_7379Grilling skewers on the gas grill (or on a grill pan):

IMG_7400Arrange skewers on grill grids over direct 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.

IMG_7416Grill skewers (all at once or in batches depending upon the size of your grill) turning four times, until pork is cooked through and light golden on all sides, and, peppers are showing signs of light charring around the edges.  On grill and in grill pan, about 14-15 total minutes.

Unthread onto buns or atop rice & serve drizzled w/sauce: 

IMG_7444Herbed Pork Skewers w/Apricot-Mustard Sauce: Recipe yields 8 skewers for 8 sandwiches of 1 skewer each, or 4 servings of 2 skewers each served atop a bed of steamed rice.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3-quart saucier; large spoon; 8, 8" bamboo skewers; gas barbecue grill or large double-burner-sized grill pan

IMG_7461Cook's Note:   In French cooking, a saucier is the title of a chef who devotes his or her career to making sauces.  The French also came up with a vessel, of the same name, to make whisking easy:  a shallow, wide-bottomed pot with rounded sides.  Reduction is quicker and easier because of the larger surface area, as:  the larger the surface area, the faster the liquid evaporates.  Whisking is easier because of the rounded bottom. 

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

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

05/28/2016

~ Tropical Fruit, Nut & Chocolate-Chip Congo Bars ~

IMG_7340In most circles, Congo squares or Congo bar-cookies are made by spreading a batch of Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip cookie batter into a square or rectangular pan, then cutting the big cookie into smaller, cookie-sized squares or bars after baking.  They shouldn't be confused with layered or 'magic' cookie bars -- the kind with a graham cracker crust and held together with condensed milk.  The Congo square is a WWII era pan-cookie marketed like this back in 1942: 

Congo Squares Screen shot 2016-05-27 at 9.25.09 AMThe Original NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Chocolate Chip "Congo Square" Pan-Cookie is like a brownie with all the rich flavors of a Toll House cookie!

< As per the Milwaukee Sentinel Newspaper on February 22, 1942. After an exhaustive search, this is the only reference I can find for the Congo Square, so I am officially crediting Nestlé with the invention. 

What does the Congo, a tropical African rainforest jungle, have to do with a chocolate chip pan-cookie?

That's exactly what I wanted to know.  As a savvy cook, baker and movie watcher, when I think of ingredients I might use to make a Congo-themed dessert, chocolate does not immediately come to mind.  My thoughts turn toward dried fruits or candied fruits associated with hot, humid, tropical regions -- bananas, coconuts, dates, mangos, papayas and pineapple.  I think of crunchy tropical grown nuts too -- macadamias, peanuts and pecans.  After all, in the 1932 movie Tarzan the Ape Man, Tarzan and Jane were swinging through the rainforest stopping to peel and eat bananas and crack a few coconuts along the way.  And, in the 1933 movie King Kong, on the fictitious but tropical Skull Island, the restless natives were feasting on more of the same.

I never saw Tarzan or King Kong take one bite of chocolate!  

4545583732_2aff7a5f43_zDeep into the pages of Google and just as I was about to give up my Congo-bar-chocolate-chip-bar-cookie-research, I came across a link regarding the relationship chocolate has to our United States military.  It had picked up on my search word "tropical" and I found the read fascinating.

Military chocolate has been a part of the standard United States ration since the original D Ration bar of 1937.  Chocolate rations served two purposes:  a morale booster and a high-energy, pocket-sized emergency ration.  When provided as a morale boost or care package, military chocolate was no different than normal store-bought chocolate bars in taste and composition -- it was a treat.  When provided as an emergency field ration, it was formulated to be very bitter so the troops were not  tempted to eat it unless they absolutely needed it.

S2003.53The first emergency chocolate ration was commissioned by Army Colonel Paul Logan in 1937. He presented the Hershey's Corporation chemist with four requirements for the chocolate bars:

1) Must weigh 4 ounces.  2) Must Img_5223-copybe high in food energy value.  3) Must be able to withstand high temperatures of tropical and desert climates. 4) Must taste "a little better than a boiled potato".  

The end result was an extremely hard block of dark brown bitter chocolate that would crumble with some effort and was heat-resistant to 120ºF.  Three bars sealed in a parchment packet made up a daily ration of 1,800 calories -- every soldier's minimum daily sustenance requirement.  In June of 1937, Logan Bars were field tested at bases in the Philippines and Panama, and some even found their way into the supply packages of Admiral Byrd's third Antarctic expedition.  While they did not get rave reviews from anyone, they served their purpose perfectly.

By the end of World War II, Hershey was producing 24 million bars a week and between 1940 and 1945 Hershey's estimates over 3 billion Tropical Bars were sold, and, they went on to see action in Korea and Vietnam and went aboard Apollo 15 in 1971 too.  In the late 1980's a new high-temperature, better-tasting bar that could withstand temperatures to 140ºF was created.  It was dubbed the Congo Desert Bar and was shipped to troops in the southwest Asia theater, but, the bars were never put into full production and no more were made when supplies ran out.

Putting two & two together in the hopes of tying this all together.

IMG_7335I'm guessing that the creatively-named "Congo Square" pan-cookie recipe was a marketing idea on the part of Nestlé, aimed at getting the American housewife to choose their chocolate chips over Hershey's, which was the American military's choice for their "Tropical Bar".  Mass-marketing and advertising was in its infancy at the time, but I'm sure that more than one soldier remarked that his mom's Congo squares tasted a whole lot better than Hershey's Tropical bars!

As for my recipe, I load my Congo bars with Congo flavors that Tarzan and King Kong would love:  candied papaya, mango and ginger, chewy coconut, crunchy macadamias and Nestlé's own milk-, semi-sweet- and white- chocolate chips.  Feel free to create your own Congo combo!

IMG_72653/4  cup salted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted and cooled 2-3 minutes

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2  cups lightly-packed light brown sugar

3  large eggs, at room temperature

2 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2 1/2  teaspoons baking powder

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  cup each, small-diced, candied: ginger, mango and papaya + 1/2 cup flaked coconut

1 1/2  cups chopped, salted, dry-roasted macadamias

1/2  each:  milk-, semi-sweet- and white- chocolate chips

IMG_7266 IMG_7276 IMG_7270 IMG_7268~Step 1.  To insure that all the ingredients get uniformly mixed together, do the following:  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and sea salt  Set aside. Prep the candied fruits as directed and stir them together in a medium bowl with the coconut.  Set aside.  Chop the macadamias and set aside.  Stir the milk-, semi-sweet- and white chocolate- chips together.

IMG_6489 IMG_6494Step 2.  Prepare the cake pan.  Cut a piece of parchment paper to the fit the bottom of a 10" x 10" square baking pan w/a removable bottom. Insert bottom of pan into pan and spray the bottom of the pan with no-stick cooking spray. 

Insert the parchment  and spray top of the parchment and inside of pan with cooking spray too.

IMG_7279 IMG_7280 IMG_7282 IMG_7285 IMG_7288 IMG_7290 IMG_7293 IMG_7295~Step 3.  In a large bowl, melt butter in microwave and cool 2-3 minutes.  Whisk in the vanilla extract followed by the brown sugar and continue to whisk until the brown sugar is completely dissolved.  One-at-a-time, vigorously whisk in each egg.  Add the flour mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture to thoroughly combine.

IMG_7297 IMG_7298 IMG_7303 IMG_7304~Step 4.  A thick cookie batter will have formed in the bowl.  Fold in the diced fruits, followed by the chopped nuts and the chocolate chips, folding thoroughly after each addition.

IMG_7315~ Step 5.  Transfer batter into prepared pan and use spatula to spread and press it evenly across bottom and into sides.  Bake on center rack of 350 degree oven 16-18 minutes until puffed up, light golden on top and a cake tester inserted in several spots comes out clean. Place pan on wire rack to cool for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, remove sides of the pan by pushing up on the bottom.  Return pan-cookie to rack to cool completely 1-1 1/2 hours.

Congo bar batter going into 350º oven to bake 16-18 minutes:

IMG_7306Baked Congo pan-cookie on rack to cool in pan 30 minutes:

IMG_7310Sides removed & pan-cookie cooling completely, 1-1 1/2 hours:

IMG_7318Slice into 25, 2" Congo squares & serve:

IMG_7322Tropical Fruit, Nut & Chocolate-Chip Congo Bars:  Recipe yields 2 dozen Congo bars or squares.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; whisk; large rubber spatula; 10" x 10" x 3" square baking pan w/removable bottom; parchment paper; wire cooling rack

IMG_5483Cook's Note:  For an over-the-top all chocolate bar cookie experience, right down to the chocolate graham cracker crust, check out my recipe for ~ Chocolate-Glazed Chocolate-Raspberry Tart Bars ~ in Categories 6, 7, or 21.

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

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

05/25/2016

~ Chocolate & Crunchy-Peanut-Butter Brownie Bites~

IMG_7238Things I know:  I know I will always choose a chocolate brownie over a slice of chocolate cake.  I know I will always choose chunky over smooth peanut butter too.  I like the informality of the pick-up-and-eat moist and cohesive user-friendly brownie over the refined use-a-fork-and-don't-get-any-crumbs-on-my-floor, moist and grainy cake.  As for peanut butter, I choose Jiffy over Skippy, never was a fan of Peter Pan, and I adore the flavor and texture that roasted peanuts add to it.  I know that chocolate and peanut butter is an irresistible combination.  Put peanut butter frosting on a chocolate brownie and I'll follow you anywhere.

The brownie is an all-American chocolate confection and the first printed recipe referencing a "brownie" to describe a mildly-chocolate cake-like dessert appeared in 1896 in Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cookbook.  By 1910, the brownie had taken on its current form and the word "brownie" was the term used to describe a rich, chewy, fudge-esque, chocolatey dessert that is eaten out-of-hand -- a cross between a cake and a very soft cookie.

IMG_7214Unlike the American Toll House Cookie, which has a sort-of true tale to tell about its origin (Ruth Wakefield did invent it, but it wasn't an accident), no one can say with certainty that the brownie is not the happy result of a cake mistake -- like forgetting to add the baking powder or adding too few eggs.  

That said, one story about the brownie's origin is: In 1893, Bertha Palmer, a Chicago socialite whose husband owned the Palmer House Hotel, asked the pastry chef to create a cake-like confection, smaller than a piece of cake, for boxed lunches suitable for ladies attending the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition.  It's said that the Palmer House Brownie (which they still serve on their menu today), a small chocolatey square containing walnuts and an apricot glaze, while well-known, was not published in any cook books or written about by any journals of the time.

Brownies fall into three categories:  fudge-y, chew-y & cake-y.  I love them all.

IMG_7260These are cake-y, but very moist, with a perfect balance of peanut-y salty & sweet too.  Tip: For chewier brownies, only use 1 egg.  For cakier brownies, switch to granulated sugar.

IMG_7168For the chocolate & peanut butter brownies:

1/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature (4/ounces/1 stick)

1/4  cup cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft (2 ounces)

1/4  cup crunchy-style peanut butter (2 ounces)

1  cup firmly-packed light brown sugar

2  large eggs, at room temperature

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2  cup all-purpose cocoa powder, your favorite brand (Note:  My favorite all-purpose cocoa powder is Hershey's, natural, unsweetened, 100% cacao powder.)

1/4  teaspoon salt

1/2  teaspoon baking powder

1  cup peanut butter chips

IMG_7223For the peanut-butter cream-cheese frosting:

1/4  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (2 ounces/1/2  stick)

1/2  cup cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft (4 ounces/1/2 of an 8-ounce brick)

1/2  cup creamy peanut butter (4 ounces)

1/2  cup Confectioners' sugar (powdered sugar)

IMG_7173 IMG_7170~ Step 1. Spray the inside of a mini-cheesecake pan (the kind with removable bottoms) with no-stick cooking spray.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder.

IMG_7175 IMG_7176 IMG_7178 IMG_7180~Step 2.  In a large bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the butter, cream cheese, peanut butter and brown sugar together until thoroughly combined and uniform in color, scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently with a large rubber spatula, about 1 minute.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract until combined, about 30 more seconds.  

IMG_7183 IMG_7184 IMG_7189 IMG_7191~Step 3.  Lower mixer speed to low and add the flour/cocoa powder mixture, all-at-once. Continue to beat, on medium-low speed until the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated into the wet ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl with the spatula, about 2 minutes. Turn the mixer off.  Using the rubber spatula, add and thoroughly fold in the peanut butter chips.

IMG_7194 IMG_7201 IMG_7204~ Step 4.  Spoon the brownie batter evenly into each of 12 mini-cheesecake cups, about 3 tablespoons in each cup.

IMG_7220~ Step 5.  Bake on center rack of 325 degree oven until set, about 14-15 minutes.  Remove from oven and place pan of brownies on a cooling rack to cool about 20 minutes prior to removing brownies from pan to cool completely on rack. When brownies are completely cooled, which takes about an hour, remove the round pan bottom from each one and frost tops as follows:

IMG_7228 IMG_7226~ Step 6.  To prepare the frosting, in a medium bowl, on medium-high speed of mixer, cream the butter, cream cheese and peanut butter.  Add  Confectioner's sugar.

On low mixer speed at first, working your way up to high speed, until frosting is smooth and creamy, about 1- 1/2 minutes.  

Transfer frosting to a pastry bag fitted w/your favorite star tip & decoratively pipe the tops w/a pretty peak of frosting:

IMG_7244Three-four bite brownies are perfect for indoor or outdoor, &, casual or upscale gatherings or celebrations any time of year!

IMG_7237Chocolate & Crunchy-Peanut-Butter Brownie Bites:  Recipe yields 1 dozen brownie bites -- 3-4 bites each.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; mini-cheesecake pan w/removable bottoms or 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; wire cooling rack

IMG_9703 Ruth_Graves_Wakefield-800x0-c-defaultCook's Note: To get the full story about ~ The Original Nestle's Toll House Cookie Recipe ~, which details the facts vs. the fiction, just click into Category 7, 11 or 26.

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

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

05/23/2016

~ Thai-Style Wok-Roasted-Peanut Red Pork Curry ~

IMG_7139Thai curry meals are relatively easy to prepare and can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish. Seasonal vegetables can be included, or, the dish can be made of vegetables (vegetarian). Thai curry dishes are also a staple in Thailand.  They range from soupy to stewlike and are ladled over steamed jasmine rice or rice noodles.  In many homes they are made from ingredients growing around the house and are eaten on a daily basis.  They typically contain less protein than Westerners like me often add, and, they're are an economical, healthy part of the Thai diet.

IMG_7140Thai curry meals are an economical, healthy part of the Thai diet.

IMG_8760The starting point for every Thai curry is Thai curry paste, and, in Thai cuisine there are three, which are identified by color:  green, red and yellow.  Each one is a pulverized blend of fresh ingredients and herbs, which balances the classic Thai flavors: hot, sour, sweet and salty.  To learn more, just click on the Related Article link below to read my post ~ Demystifying Thai Curries:  Green, Red & Yellow ~.  It explains in detail how the three differ.  Once you understand how each one of these curries is typically used, you can mix and match proteins, fruits and/or vegetables with a curry paste to suit you and your family's taste.

IMG_8954Curry pastes are traditionally made from scratch in the Thai home kitchen using a kruk (a mortar and pestle) to pulverize the ingredients -- to release the essential oils and fully develop the flavors.  While purists disagree, in my kitchen a food processor is a viable substitute for this ancient tool.  While I make Thai curry pastes the traditional way on occasion, for quick weeknight meals, I take a different approach:

IMG_9142Nowadays, busy cooks, even Thai cooks, purchase canned curry pastes, and, the ones sold in Asian markets are of high-quality. That said, savvy Thai cooks add a few things to store-bought curry paste to brighten and personalize the flavor -- which is exactly what I've learned to do.

Today's stewlike red pork curry recipe is a dish I was taught to make back in 1993 by a Home Economist from Thailand living in Happy Valley with her husband Fu. Kanya and I became foodie friends fast, and, over the course of two years, I had the priviledge of learning how to combine Thai ingredients to properly balance the classic four Thai flavors -- hot, sour, sweet & salty -- and serve them in authentic Thai style too.  Read on:

IMG_7095Thai-style is family-style.  All food is placed on the table at the same time, each dish in its own serving vessel.  Everyone, all at once, sits down and the food is passed.  It's impolite to take too much of any one item at any one time, but, please go back for more of any leftovers.  You won't find any knives at a Thai table.  Because the food (proteins and vegetables) is all sliced, chopped or pulverized into small bite-sized bits and pieces, they provide only a plate and/or a bowl, a fork, a spoon and a glass to drink from, at each place setting.

Thai red pork curry -- my kids took to this dish immediately!

Thailand is no different than any other culture.  For every dish cooked, there are many versions of it, and, they vary from region to region, family to family and cook to cook.  After all, that is what cooking is all about -- pleasing those you feed.  My three boys took to the red pork curry recipe that Kanya taught me how to make almost immediately.  That said, our middle son Eliot, who particularly loved Thai peanut sauce and all dishes made and served with Thai peanut sauce, made the suggestion that I stir some peanut butter into this curry -- it was and is wonderful!  

IMG_71063 1/2  pounds pork loin, trimmed of all visible fat, sliced into 1/2" slices, slices cut into 1/2" cubes and coarsely-ground (directions below)

1  8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, well-drained

6  tablespoons sesame oil + 1-2 tablespoons for wok-roasting the peanuts

1  tablespoon curry powder

1  tablespoon powdered turmeric

2  4-ounce cans Thai red curry paste (Note:  Red curry paste is your heat gauge.  Feel free to drop back to 1 can, or 1 1/2 cans to suit your taste.  I always use two cans.)

2  cups medium-diced red bell pepper

1  cup thinly-sliced green onion, white and light-green part only (diced yellow or sweet onion may be substituted)

1  15-ounce can straw mushrooms, well-drained

2  13 1/2-ounce cans coconut milk

1-2  tablespoons Thai fish sauce (Note:  Thai fish sauce is the "salt" of Thailand.)

3-4  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce (Note:  Thai soy sauce differs from Chinese soy sauce, so, make sure the label reads "seasoning soy" or "Thai soy" sauce.)

4  tablespoon palm sugar (light or dark brown sugar may be substituted)

6-8  tablespoons crunchy-style peanut butter

1 1/4  cups chopped, wok-roasted peanuts (directions below), from 1 1/2 cups blanched, unsalted peanuts

8  kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen (Note:  I keep fresh kaffir lime leaves stored in my freezer at all times.  I drop them whole and frozen into whatever I'm cooking.)

1  cup  minced, fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

12  cups steamed jasmine rice (Note:  This allows 1-1 1/2 cups steamed rice per person.)

IMG_7103 IMG_7100~ Step 1. Place the meat cubes in the work IMG_7101bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, along with the well-drained water chestnuts.  Using a series of 20-22 rapid on-off pulses, coarsely grind the meat and rough chop the water chestnuts.  Remove from work bowl and set aside.

IMG_9155 IMG_9151~ Step 2.  To wok-roast the peanuts, place a thin coating of sesame oil in bottom of a wok and swirl it to coat the wok a few inches up the sides -- the amount of oil will vary depending upon size of  wok. Heat over medium-high, add peanuts and stir-fry, stirring constantly, until golden, 1-2-3 minutes.  Cool and chop peanuts.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d14be3de970cNote:  I like to use a 16" electric skillet to prepare this Thai dish for my family.  Why?  It has the capacity to make enough to feed 6-8 people + surface area to produce a rather quick evaporation of liquid, which thickens the curry, and, it controls the heat perfectly too (a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides on the stovetop may be substituted.  

IMG_7108 IMG_7110 IMG_7112 IMG_7115~Steps 3 & 4.  In skillet, heat the sesame oil over 250 degrees (medium-high on the stovetop). Add the curry paste, curry powder and powdered turmeric.  Using a nonstick spatula, work the curry and the dry spices into the sesame oil and cook until curry paste is bubbling and fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the pork/water chestnut mixture, bell pepper, onion and straw mushrooms. Using a large spoon, stir until all ingredients are evenly coated in the curry and spices.

IMG_7117 IMG_7119 IMG_7123 IMG_7128 IMG_7133~Steps 5 & 6.  Sauté, stirring constantly, until pork is cooked through, 6-8 minutes.  Add and stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, seasoning soy, palm sugar, peanut butter and 1/4 cup of wok-roasted peanuts.  Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined and curry sauce is uniform in color, about 1-2 minutes.  Add kaffir lime leaves. Adjust heat to simmer steadily at 225 degrees (medium on the stovetop), until curry sauce is nicely thickened, about 15-20 minutes.

~ Step 7.  Turn heat off and cover skillet while steaming the rice and mincing cilantro garnish.

Ladle red pork curry atop a bed of steamed Jasmine rice...

IMG_7148... sprinkle w/wok-roasted peanuts, cilantro garnish & dive in! 

IMG_7164Thai-Style Wok-Roasted-Peanut Red Pork Curry:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; wok; 16" electric skillet or 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large nonstick spatula; large nonstick spoon

IMG_0825Cook's Note:  Thai food is user-friendly and its bold, fresh, flavors adapt well to the American family. For another kid-tested, mother approved favorite, click into Categories 2, 19 or 20 to get my recipe for ~ E-Z Ginger Chicken Pizza w/Spicy Peanut Sauce ~.

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

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

05/20/2016

~ Thai-Style Chicken or Pork Satay w/Peanut Sauce~

IMG_6882Get out the turmeric and attire yourself in something you don't mind discarding because we're making satay today.  If your manicure is French, put on a pair of latex gloves too.  Why? Because, in case you don't know, turmeric (TER-muh-rihk), that earthy-colored, pleasantly-fragrant powdered-spice (that rarely gets used in American cooking) will permanently paint your world a vivid yellow-orange.  Made from grinding the rhizome root of the curcumin plant and a close relative of ginger, it's a prime ingredient in curry and mustard powders, and, it's used to give many of the rice dishes, soups and sauces of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Africa a mildly-spicy, earthy flavor along with a signature yellow-orange color.  

IMG_6976Turmeric is a necessary ingredient to make satay as it is always used in the marinade.

IMG_7021Turmeric can & will permanently paint your world a vivid yellow-orange!

IMG_7092Are you ready to eat some Thai-style satay today?  I sure am!!! 

IMG_6865A bit about satay (sah-TAY):  Satay originated in Java, Indonesia.  It's said that the Javanese street vendors adapted their version from Indian kabobs after the influx of Muslim Tamil Indians and Arab immigrants to Dutch East Indies in the early 19th century.  Its popularity spread quickly to other Southeast Asian countries.  In Indonesia and Malaysia, satay is primarily made with lamb or beef, and, in China and Thailand, chicken and pork is preferred.  All satay consists of  IMG_6877small marinated cubes or thinly-sliced meat or poultry threaded on bamboo skewers and grilled.

Throughout Southeast Asia a wide variety of satays are served and sold in numerous ways:   it's a favorite snack food that's grilled and eaten at home; it's sold by traveling satay vendors as well as street-side vendors in tent-restaurants;  it's on the menus of fine-dining restaurants, and; it's found at private and public festivals, celebrations and ceremonies too.  

Satay is mostly served as an appetizer or snack, but, occasionally you'll come across it served as a main dish accompanied by noodles and crudité.  Satay is always served with peanut sauce (directions below) and often accompanied by a crunchy cucumber salad.  Click on the Related Article link below to get my recipe for ~ Oh My Thai:  Spicy Quick-Pickled Cucumber Relish ~.

IMG_6867A bit about peanut sauce:  Like turmeric, this sauce is widely used in the cuisines of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Africa.  The main ingredients are roasted peanuts or peanut butter (crunchy or smooth), coconut milk, soy sauce and palm sugar. A spice paste made from red chile peppers, coriander, cumin, garlic, galangal and/or lemongrass, are added too.  My recipe contains one can of Thai red curry paste, which contains all of the above spices.

IMG_9773For the peanut sauce:

2  tablespoons sesame oil

1  4-ounce can Thai-style red curry paste*

1  13 1/2-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (briefly stir after opening the can)

6  tablespoons smooth or crunchy-style peanut butter

2  tablespoons firmly-packed palm sugar** (light or dark brown sugar may be substituted

IMG_9777 IMG_9781 IMG_9783 IMG_9787 IMG_9790~Step 1. Place the sesame oil and the red curry paste in a small 1-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, until the curry paste is bubbling rapidly and is very fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the coconut milk, peanut butter and sugar.  Continue to simmer steadily but gently, stirring almost constantly, until smooth and thickened, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.

IMG_9804Remove from heat, cover, and set aside, to cool slightly, about 15-20 minutes.  Serve slightly warm, or, place in a food storage container (or two) and cool, uncovered, until sauce is at room temperature. Store indefinitely in the refrigerator and reheat gently in the microwave, stirring occasionally prior to serving.

Slicing the pork loin & the chicken tenders:

IMG_6982To make satay, I use pork loin (not the smaller pork tenderloins) or chicken tenders exclusively.  You'll need 1-1 1/4 pounds of loin or tenders.  That is 1/8th of this IMG_6980inexpensive 8-pound pork loin or 6 large chicken tenders.

IMG_7033Slicing the pork is simple. Slice the loin into 12, thin ovals of 1/4" thickness.  Trim each slice of all visible fat, then thread each piece of pork onto an 8" bamboo skewer.  

IMG_6984To more easily slice the tenders, place them on a cutting board and freeze for about 35-40 minutes (no longer), to firm them up a bit.   

IMG_6989Slice each one in half lengthwise, to form 2 thinner pieces.  Set aside for a few minutes to allow them to thaw completely.  Thread each piece onto an 8" bamboo skewer.

Thread each piece of pork & chicken onto its own 8" bamboo skewer:

IMG_6995Making the marinade & marinating the satay:

IMG_6999For the marinade:

1/4  cup peanut oil

2  tablespoons sesame oil

1 13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk

2  tablespoons Madras curry powder

1  tablespoon powdered turmeric

2  tablespoons palm sugar (light or brown sugar may be substituted)

1  teaspoon sea salt

6  tablespoons smooth or crunchy-style peanut butter

IMG_7003 IMG_7024                                          ~ Step 1.  In a 2-quart saucepan, place all marinade ingredients.  

Over medium-high heat, bring mixture to a steady simmer, stirring almost constantly.  When the peanut butter is thoroughly incorporated, continue to simmer, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. The marinade will be slightly-thickened and smooth with small bits of peanuts throughout.  Transfer to a 2-cup measuring container.

IMG_7039~ Step 2.  Tip from Mel:  The cleanest way I have found to marinate the skewers, which keeps the bamboo "handle" clean and dry (which is a big help when grilling), is to pick up each satay, dip it into the marinade then stand it up in a 1-quart disposable plastic container. Don't worry if the top of the skewer does not get coated -- that will IMG_7041happen in a few minutes.  

Note:  I save containers from cottage cheese, sour cream and yogurt each year just for the purpose of marinating satays and kabobs of many types.  If you don't have any on hand, 1-quart-sized wide-mouthed mason jars work well too.  I just throw the plastic ones away when the satays or kabobs go on the grill -- how easy is that.

IMG_7053Once all of the satays are in the containers, you will still have about half of the marinade left.  Drizzle it into the centers of and evenly between the two containers. Using a silicone pastry brush, brush the marinade over the tops and work it down in between the skewers.

Cover containers with plastic wrap, place them in the refrigerator and marinate for 4-6-8 hours or overnight and up to 24 hours.

Grill the satay on your own terms under your own conditions:

Use what you've got -- anything that looks and acts like a grill will work.  Just be well familiarized with how it works so you can control the heat perfectly.  Joe and I do it outside on our gas grill over indirect heat, and, I've done it over medium-high heat on my stovetop using a large, rectangular double-burner grill pan too.  In both cases, the satays cook in 4-5 minutes per side. 

My favorite: this vintage & inexpensive countertop DAZEY "bar-b-grill":

IMG_7055Circa 1995.  I came across this less-than-$20.00 countertop appliance at our local K-Mart.  It was Fall and I was hosting a tailgate party in our home for a PSU away game.  I was serving Thai food, and, satay was on the menu.  For the price, I decided to buy one.  I tried it out.  It exceeded my expectations.  The black ceramic base keeps the unit cool to the touch, which means it is safe to place on any type of surface.  It works like an electric skillet does, which allows me to control the heat perfectly too.  I went back to K-Mart and bought a second one the next day. I set them both up on our rec-room bar.  I grilled and served satay appetizers to our guests while Joe mixed and poured drinks.  To this day I use one or both grills, placed on my kitchen countertop, exclusively for grilling satay over medium-high for 5 minutes per side.

Grill over medium-high heat indoors or indirect heat outdoors...

IMG_7058... until golden & just cooked through, 4-5 minutes per side:

IMG_7066Thai-Style Chicken or Pork Satay w/Peanut Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups peanut sauce and instructions to marinate and grill 12 pork satay and 12 chicken satay/24 total appetizers or snacks/6 servings at 4 satay per person/8 servings at 3 satay per person.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart saucepan; spoon; 2-cup food storage container; 2-quart saucepan; 24 bamboo skewers; 2-cup measuring container; 2, 1-quart sized disposable plastic containers or wide-mouthed mason-type jars; silicone pastry brush; plastic wrap; small indoor electric countertop grill, large, double-burner stovetop grillpan, or, outdoor gas grill

IMG_6958Cook's Note:  When my three sons were growing up, they loved it when I made satay, and, when I served it, it was usually for a Summertime dinner on the deck.  My relatively easy-to-make ~ Cold 'Chicken Noodle Salad' w/Thai Peanut Sauce ~ was hands down our whole family's favorite side-dish for satay.  The recipe can be found in Categories, 2, 3, 10, 13 or 14.

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

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

05/17/2016

~ Cold 'Chicken Noodle Salad' w/Thai Peanut Sauce~

IMG_6954Planes, trains and automobiles.  I get my inspiration for recipes in the darndest places.  In the Summer of 1986, there was a day trip from San Diego to Tijuana in a rental car on our agenda.  I ordered a Baja Fish Taco at a taco stand as a snack to eat en route -- I wish I'd ordered six.  In the Winter of 1990, there was a train ride from England to Wales.  I ordered the Cottage Beef Pie for dinner -- I licked the casserole clean.  In the Spring of 1993, on a flight from Taipei to Tokyo, a  Peanut-Sauce-Dressed Noodle Salad was served -- I kept the cute little plastic lunch box:  

IMG_6958Cold main- or side-dish pasta or noodle salads of the American type.  I don't dislike them, they're just not something I gravitate toward.  That said, when I opened up that unique little lunch box on the plane that day, I instinctively knew I was in for a treat.  The distinctive aroma of Thai-Asian flavors in conjunction with roasted peanuts was ethereal.  There's more.  There were little wisps and chards of poached chicken, matchstick carrots and green onion scattered throughout. Sigh.

You know you are old when:  You not only remember when airlines served food to their passengers, the food was remarkably good too.  A tale to tell your grandchildren.

IMG_6872A bit about peanut sauce:  This sauce is widely used in the cuisines of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Africa.  The main ingredients are roasted peanuts or peanut butter (crunchy or smooth), coconut milk, soy sauce and palm sugar.  Pulverized spices (red chile peppers, coriander, cumin, garlic, galangal and /or lemongrass, are almost always added.  My recipe, from my Thai girlfriend Kanya, contains one small can of Thai-style red curry paste, which provides all of the above named pulverized spices.

IMG_9773For the peanut sauce:

2  tablespoons sesame oil

1  4-ounce can Thai-style red curry paste

1  13 1/2-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (briefly stir after opening the can)

6  tablespoons smooth or chunky-style peanut butter

2  tablespoons firmly-packed palm sugar (light or dark brown sugar may be substituted

IMG_9777 IMG_9781 IMG_9783 IMG_9787 IMG_9790~Step 1. Place the sesame oil and the red curry paste in a small 1-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, until the curry paste is bubbling rapidly and is very fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the coconut milk, peanut butter and sugar.  Continue to simmer steadily but gently, stirring almost constantly, until smooth and thickened, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.

IMG_9804Remove from heat, cover, and set aside, to cool slightly, about 15-20 minutes.  Serve slightly warm, or, place in a food storage container (or two) and cool, uncovered, until sauce is at room temperature. Store indefinitely in the refrigerator and reheat gently in the microwave, stirring occasionally prior to serving.

PICT2120A bit about Thai soup stock:  It is the base for most Thai soups and many Thai dishes, including this noodle salad.  While many versions will tell you to use generic "chicken stock or broth", and you certainly can, I don't and here's why:  Classic chicken stock is prepared with an entirely different flavor palate in mind.  Thai soup stock is full of the flavors of Thailand:  fish sauce, seasoning soy sauce, cilantro roots, kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, bird chilis and white pepper.  I make it in a large stockpot and freeze it  in 1-quart containers to use in many of my Thai-Asian recipes.  You'll need 6 cups and you can find my recipe, ~ Thai Chicken Stock (Real Thai Food Starts Here) ~, in Categories 13 or 15.

My Spicy Peanut-Sauce-Dressed 'Chicken Noodle Salad':

This recipe shouldn't be confused with the one of the most popular and world-reknowned Thai dishes:  Pad Thai. Today's recipe is a poached and simmered cold noodle salad that is made in a stockpot using pasta-esque lo-mein noodles.  Pad Thai literally means  "Thai-style frying". Pad Thai is fried in an oiled wok using delicate rice noodles.  While somewhat similar in taste (they're both delicious) pad Thai, which is sold all over the streets of Thailand, is made quickly and is best eaten immediately.  This cold noodle salad, while relatively quick to make, takes a bit more time, and, can be prepared ahead of time.  It's one of my favorite next-day lunch box meals.

IMG_68891-1 1/2  cups peanut sauce, from above recipe, at room temperature

6  cups Thai chicken stock (generic canned chicken stock or broth may be substituted with minor compromise)

12  ounces/5-6 raw chicken tenders, cut into thin strips, strips cut into 1"-1 1/2" lengths,  about 2 cups (boneless, skinless chicken breast may be substituted)

IMG_68961  generous cup 1"-long matchstick carrots (peel and cut 2-3 carrots into 1" lengths and cut each length into 6-8  sticks)

12  ounces lo-mein noodles

1  cup thinly-sliced green onions, white and firm light-green parts only (3/4  cup for tossing into salad, 1/4 cup for garnishing each portion, about 14 green onions)

1  cup chopped, unsalted, raw peanuts, lightly-toasted (3/4 cup for tossing into salad, 1/4 cup for garnishing each portion)

IMG_6899 IMG_6902 IMG_6904 IMG_6918~Step 1.  In a 4-quart saucepan, bring stock to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Add chicken and simmer until just cooked through, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Using an Asian spider or a large slotted spoon, remove the chicken and place on a paper-towel-lined plate to cool to room temperature.

IMG_6908 IMG_6912~ Step 2. Add the carrots to the simmering stock and blanch until crunch-tender, 45-60 seconds. Using the Asian spider or large slotted spoon, remove the carrots and place in a colander.  Rinse under cold running water to halt the cooking process, then, place them on a paper-towel-lined plate to  thoroughly drain.

IMG_6921 IMG_6924 IMG_6925 IMG_6929 IMG_6931~Step 3.  Add the noodles to simmering stock and cook until al dente, 4-5 minutes.  Using Asian spider, transfer to colander.  Rinse under cold water to halt the cooking, then, set aside to thoroughly drain, 10-15 minutes.

IMG_6934~ Step 4. Put the hot broth back into the food storage container and refrigerate -- it'll be a luscious bowl of noodle soup tomorrow!

IMG_6935 IMG_6938 IMG_6941~ Step 5.  Place  noodles in a large bowl.  Add 1 cup of peanut sauce and toss, like you would a salad, to evenly coat noodles.

IMG_6946 IMG_6943~ Step 6. Add the chicken, carrots, 3/4 cup of onions and 3/4 cup of peanuts.  Toss again. Add up to 1/2 cup sauce, in small increments, only if necessary, to add additional flavor and spice.

Portion and serve, garnishing each portion with a sprinkling of green onion and peanuts.

Portion & serve sprinkled w/green onion & peanuts:

IMG_6961I miss the good old days but still use & love my train case!

IMG_9640Poached Chicken w/Thai Peanut Sauce & Noodles:  Recipe yields 2 1/2  cups peanut sauce and 4-6 servings chicken noodle salad.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart saucepan; 3-quart saucepan; Asian spider or large slotted spoon; colander; paper towels

IMG_4517 IMG_3475Cook's Note: Planes, trains and automobiles. I get my inspiration in the darndest places.  As per the first paragraph of this post, you can both of the recipes mentioned, ~ Beer-Batter-Dipped, Cod-Fish Tacos ~, and, ~ Easy Cottage Pie (Beef) & Shepherd's Pie (Lamb) ~ by clicking into Category 3 (Entrées and Main-Dish Casseroles).

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

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

05/15/2016

~ Thai-Style Spicy Peanut Sauce for Poultry or Pork ~

IMG_6872Oh my Thai.  Oh my -- I love Thai food.  When I get to craving it, unlike a lot of city dwellers, here in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, running off to a Thai restaurant is not an option (for me).  That's mostly because I spent a great deal of time, almost two years, learning to cook Thai. Happy Valley's Thai eateries:  they're good, they're just not great.  They leave me saying, "I could have done better at home", because I really can, and that takes the fun out of going out for me. 

That period of time, under the tutelege of a Home Economist from Thailand who subsequently returned to her homeland, culinarily, was one of the remarkable experiences of my life.  She and her husband were living here in Happy Valley while he was earning an engineering degree from Penn State.  Kanya is a talented woman and was a wonderful teacher.  What I liked best about her, besides her kind, generous, sharing nature was: her "no nonsense but common sense" "be realistic and practical" approach to teaching an American woman how to cook Thai.  

16333645For example:  One minute I'd be standing around a granite kruk (a Thai mortar and pestle) hand pulverizing the ingredients to make a curry paste, and, the next minute I was learning how to save time and make the same in a food processor. There's more.  Occasionally, we'd take a trip to the Asian market, where she would teach me what Thai pantry staple items to have on-hand to "short cut" the prep work, while still turning out a tongue-tingling product.  With Kanya, the end always justified the means without compromise -- my kinda gal!

One of my first lessons was about peanuts and peanut sauce.  It was also one of my favorites because it was a great way to introduce some of the flavors of Thailand to my three elementary-school-aged boys.   They loved dipping carrot and celery sticks into smooth and coconut-creamy peanut sauce, they adored grilled pork and chicken satay drizzled with a chunkier and thicker peanut satay sauce, and, they went went nuts for peanut-sauce-dressed noodle dishes.

IMG_6867Thai Peanut Sauce:  I especially love it incorporated into poultry or pork dishes, but, it's a great dipping sauce for vegetables & a dressing for noodles & salads too. 

51ahAHfpozL._AA160_A bit about peanut sauce:  This sauce is widely used in the cuisines of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Africa.  The main ingredients are roasted peanuts or peanut butter (crunchy or smooth), coconut milk, soy sauce and palm sugar.  Pulverized spices (red chile peppers, coriander, cumin, garlic, galangal and /or lemongrass, are almost always added.  You can easily purchase your favorite brand, but, when you see how easy this is to make, I don't know why you would.  My recipe, which came from my Thai girlfriend Kanya, contains one small can of Thai-style red curry paste, which provides all of the above named pulverized spices.

IMG_9773For the peanut sauce:

2  tablespoons sesame oil

1  4-ounce can Thai-style red curry paste*

1  13 1/2-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (briefly stir after opening the can)

6  tablespoons smooth or chunky-style peanut butter

2  tablespoons firmly-packed palm sugar** (light or dark brown sugar may be substituted

IMG_8765*A bit about Thai red curry paste: Thai cooking is about balancing hot, sour, sweet and salty and Thai curry paste (green, red and yellow), depending upon the dish being prepared, is made fresh in the Thai home kitchen.  Red curry is  a spicy blend of pulverized red chiles, garlic, shallots, galangal root and shrimp paste, and, the proportions are adjusted to suit each family's taste.  Here in my American kitchen, store-bought Thai curry pastes are a great time-saving pantry staple.

IMG_6885**A bit about palm sugar:  Made from the sap of the coconut or sugar palm, it varies from light to dark brown and resembles light and dark brown sugars, with its texture being slightly softer (it's finer grained).  It is used to balance many Thai dishes with a distinct, sharp sweetness. For example:  It is the sweet ingredient in the famous and very popular sweet and sour tom yam soup. Once opened, I keep mine stored in the refrigerator, where it will get quite hard, so remove it an hour or two prior to using.  If you have a hard time finding it, or if you don't cook enough of Thai food to make this modest investment, brown sugar is an fine substitute.

IMG_9777 IMG_9781 IMG_9783 IMG_9787 IMG_9790~Step 1. Place the sesame oil and the red curry paste in a small 1-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, until the curry paste is bubbling rapidly and is very fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the coconut milk, peanut butter and sugar.  Continue to simmer steadily but gently, stirring almost constantly, until smooth and thickened, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  

IMG_9804Remove from heat, cover, and set aside, to cool slightly, about 15-20 minutes.  Serve slightly warm, or, place in a food storage container (or two) and cool, uncovered, until sauce is at room temperature.

Store indefinitely in the refrigerator and reheat gently in the microwave, stirring occasionally prior to serving.

The peanut sauce is made -- time for me to go on a Thai-rade!!!

IMG_6882Thai-Style Spicy Peanut Sauce for Poultry or Pork:  Recipe yield 2 1/2 cups peanut sauce.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart saucepan; spoon; food storage container(s) w/tight-fitting lid(s)

IMG_8753Cook's Note:  To learn more about Thai curry, which is not the same as Indian curry, read ~ Demystifying Thai Curries:  Green, Red & Yellow ~, in Categories 8, 13 or 15.

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

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

05/12/2016

~ Rich & Creamy Celery Soup (Isn't Ho-Hum at All) ~

IMG_6849Celery.  It's the swizzle stick in my Bloody Mary, a must have in my egg, tuna and potato salad, and, send back those Buffalo wings if they don't come with a crudité of celery and some blue cheese dip.   That said, in my food world, celery is not considered an exciting vegetable. No one ever gleefully remarks, "my Bloody Mary had the best stalk of celery in it", "the celery in her tuna salad was divine", or, "the celery that came with his chicken wings was outstanding".

IMG_6782Celery, however, is one of the world's most used vegetables, coming from the same plant family as carrots, parsley, fennel and caraway.  Celery, onions and carrots make up the classic French mirepoix.  Celery, onions and bell peppers are the holy trinity of Lousiana's Cajun and Creole cuisines.  Celery is a staple in almost every kitchen as it's used as a base to make many sauces, soup stocks, soups and stews.   Its highly-flavored leaves are a wonderful fresh or dried herb, and, its seeds are a popular dried spice.  Here's some info as per the trade-consumer website:

Md_20_Celery_2HRTS_15-2_rgb72ppiCelery is composed of leaf-topped stalks arranged in a conical shape and joined at a common base.  The stalks have a crunchy texture and a delicate, but mildly salty, taste. The stalks in the center are called the heart and are the most tender. Celery is an excellent source of vitamin C.  Celery should have straight, green stalks with rigid Md_19_Celery_1stalk_72_rgb72ppiribs that snap crisply when bent. The inside surfaces should be clean and smooth, and the leaves should be fresh and well colored, with no signs of wilting.  Celery Hearts represent the best of the celery stalk and are closely trimmed approximately 9 inches from the base, uniformly cut and premium packaged.  Store celery in the crisper or Md_18_CelerySingleHead_NAKEDproduce drawer of the refrigerator, up to one week. Wash right before eating. Store away from ethylene-producing fruits to avoid discoloration, spotting or decay. 

Rich and creamy soups have always been a love of mine, but, it wasn't until I actually tasted homemade cream of celery soup that I added it to my "must make" soup list.  I'm guessing here, but, I think that's how we who make homemade cream of celery soup came to start making it. Unless one has eaten it in a fine-dining restaurant or in a talented cook's home first, no one wakes up one morning and says "I think I'll make some cream of celery soup today".  

My first experience with it was in a London Restaurant, Brown Brothers.  I was told their thyme-flavored version was French in origin, and, instead of any type of roux, it was thickened with a bit of potato -- just enough potato to pull the soup together without turning it into potato soup.  

IMG_6847"I think I'll make some cream of celery soup today." ~ Melanie

IMG_67884  cups small-diced celery stalks, leaves reserved for garnish

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

1 1/2  cups peeled and small-diced gold potato

6  tablespoons salted butter (3/4 stick)

2  teaspoons herbes de Provence

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder 

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon white pepper

2  whole bay leaves

2  cups homemade chicken stock, or, 1  14 1/2-ounce can chicken broth + enough water to total 2 cups

1/2-1  cup heavy or whipping cream

small inner celery stalks w/leaves, for garnish

IMG_6791 IMG_6792 IMG_6794 IMG_6797 IMG_6802~Step 1.  Small dice the celery, onion and potato as directed.  

In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt butter over low heat.  Add the diced celery, onions, potatoes, herbs de Provence, garlic powder, sea salt and white pepper.  Give the mixture a thorough stir.  

Adjust heat to gently sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onion is tender, 6-8 minutes.

IMG_6805 IMG_6811 IMG_6814 IMG_6819~Step 2.  Add the bay leaves and chicken broth and simmer until the potato is very tender, falling apart, and starting to make the soup creamy, about 10-12 minutes.  Remove the bay leaves.

IMG_6823 IMG_6827 IMG_6828 IMG_6832 IMG_6841~Step 3.  Turn the heat off.  Using a stick blender, purée the soup mixture until smooth.  

Note:  The alternative is to transfer the soup to a food processor or a blender and purée it, in batches if necessary, then return it to the pan.

Stir in the cream, until desired taste and consistency is reached.  Warm soup over medium heat, stirring frequently, until soup is steaming.

Serve hot w/a French baguette & Brie for me please!

IMG_6843Oh my divine, sublime & refined, rich & creamy, celery soup!!!

IMG_6854Creamy Celery Soup (Isn't Ho-Hum at All):  Recipe yields 6 cups soup.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with straight, deep sides; large spoon; stick blender; soup ladle

IMG_3744Cook's Note:  If you like to entertain for special occasions and holidays, today's soup is an elegant start to any sit-down-in-the-dining-room meal.  My recipe for  ~ Meatless Mushroom Duxelles & Gruyère Crostini ~ is the perfect accompaniment.  It can be found in Categories 1, 2, 9, 11, 14, 18 or 21.

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

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

05/09/2016

~ Tamagoyaki: A Fried & Rolled Japanese Omelette~

IMG_6768Leave it to the Japanese to turn a plain omelette into a work of neatly-rolled edible art that's as good tasting as it is pretty to look at.  "Tomago" means "egg" in Japanese and "yaki" means "to grill or grilled".  Tomagoyaki is essentially:  the scrambled egg of Japan.  They eat them for breakfast, pack them into bento boxes for lunch, and, serve them alongside other foods, like sushi.  Back in 1986, on my first morning in Tokyo, my first tamagoyaki was served with a small salad of pickled fish and pickled ginger.  It was in our hotel's dining room (The Imperial Hotel), and, it was such a delightful way to start the day, it became my breakfast for the next 10 days.

IMG_6760A bit about tamagoyaki:  Unlike other omelettes, this two- or four-egg omelette does not typically contain any herbs or filling.  The subtle but significant flavor comes from the amount and balance of sugar, soy sauce and mirin (rice wine) that gets whisked into the eggs.  How it's seasoned differs from cook to cook and some tamagoyaki are quite sweet from sugar, while others are saltier from soy sauce.  Since it holds its shape so well, the omelette can be served hot, warm, at room temperature, or cold.  The process is a simple one whereby the egg mixture is added to the pan in increments and thin layers are rolled into itself (into a log shape) until the egg mixture is gone.  It's taught to Japanese children at a young age, and, while it seems complicated, once mastered, the omelette can be made in less than five minutes.

IMG_6695A two- or a four- egg tamagoyaki is prepared in the home in a small or medium-sized rectangular pan called a makiyakinabe.  A larger square-shaped pan is used in sushi restaurants to make a slightly-thicker variation.  In Japan, the pans are often given as a small wedding gift, and, I think they'd make a great gift for any cook here in the USA too.  These nicely-priced pans are available on-line (about $15.00).

If you think it's more trouble than it's worth -- it's worth it -- and it's charmingly fun too! 

IMG_6700For each 2- or 4-egg tamagoyaki (2-egg prepared in a small 6" x 4" makiyakinabe, 4-egg prepared in a medium 7" x 5" makiyakinabe):

2 or 4  large eggs

2 or 4 teaspoons  sugar

1/2 or 1 teaspoon soy sauce

1/2 or 1  teaspoon rice wine (not rice wine vinegar)

1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

no-stick cooking spray or vegetable oil

IMG_6703 IMG_6706~ Step 1. Using a fork, whisk together the eggs, sugar, soy sauce, rice wine and salt.  Note:  At this point, the mixture is typically poured through a fine mesh strainer to remove tiny pieces of membrane from the egg, which turn white when cooked. I don't do this, but, feel free to do so if those little pieces of perfectly edible white bother you.

Spray inside of makiyakinabe with no-stick or add a thin coating of vegetable oil and ready a thin nonstick spatula and 2 tablespoon measure.  Place pan over medium heat, 20-30 seconds.

This series of unedited time-lapse photos illustrates the process perfectly:

IMG_6710 IMG_6712 IMG_6714 IMG_6716 IMG_6719 IMG_6720 IMG_6723 IMG_6724 IMG_6726 IMG_6729 IMG_6730 IMG_6733 IMG_6737 IMG_6738 IMG_6740 IMG_6742 IMG_6744 IMG_6746 IMG_6748 IMG_6751 IMG_6752 IMG_6754 IMG_6756 IMG_6758Making a 5-minute time-lapse photo-story short & simple:

Photos 1 thru 4.  For a two-egg omelette (which I've made and photographed today), place a scant 2 tablespoons of egg mixture into hot pan.  Lift and rotate pan to evenly distribute egg mixture in bottom.  Lifting the pan up and off the heat and back down and onto the heat 2-3 times, cook the first egg layer until it is just short of being set, about 20-30 seconds.  Using the spatula, gently roll the egg layer up and into the opposite side of the pan.

~ Photos 5 thru 24.  Repeat this process 5 more times, until the egg mixture is gone.  Remove from heat and allow omelette to rest and set up a bit in the pan about 1-2 minutes.

Transfer to a plate & slice a 2-egg omelette into 4-6 slices (a 4-egg omelette into 6-8)...

IMG_6765... & enjoy each sophisticated looking, sublimely-flavored bite!

IMG_6770Tamagoyaki:  A Fried & Rolled Japanese Omelette:  Recipe yields instructions to make one 2-egg or one 4-egg rolled omelette.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; small- (6" x 4") or medium-sized (7" x 5") makiyakinabe; thin nonstick spatula; 2 tablespoon measure

IMG_0729Cook's Note:  I have lots of foodie tales to tell about Japan and have shared several here on KE.  My favorite perhaps, revolves around yakitori.  You can find all of my posts ~ My Japanese Takitori Story & All the Facts Jack ~, ~ Japanese 'Yakitori no Tare' (BBQ/Basting Sauce) ~, ~ Japanese 'Yakitori' (Skewered & Grilled Chicken) ~, and, ~ Time Out to Define:  Sukiyaki, Teriyaki & Yakitori ~, in Category 13.

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

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

05/07/2016

~ Nana's Oatmeal-Applesauce-Raisin-Walnut Cake ~

IMG_6684I've always loved oatmeal and anything edible containing oatmeal, and, let me tell you:  this recipe "takes the cake" in terms of oatmeal recipes.  When I was 19 and still living in Tamaqua, PA, my fiancé's grandmother, Nana, made this for dessert the first time I was invited to their house for dinner.  For me, it was genuine "love at first bite".  After that, she made it almost every time I visited, just because she knew I liked it so much.  Fond memories of a lovely, gentle lady.

IMG_6598For my bridal shower, Nana gave me the identical stainless steel baking pan, spatula, measuring cups and measuring spoons that she used to bake her cake.  Instead of a Hallmark card, there was a handwritten copy of the recipe taped to the bottom of the cake pan. Forty-two years later, I still have all of the original hardware she gave me, and, here is a picture to prove it.  Alas, the original copy of the recipe no longer exists, but it remains unchanged to this day.

On occasion, I've seen similar versions of this recipe in local Pennsylvania Dutch church-type cookbooks, but none seem to compare with Nana's because:  each one seems to be missing at least one of the ingredients that was on her very specific list:  oatmeal, applesauce, raisins and walnuts.  For example:  Some recipes use water in place of applesauce, while others don't include nuts or raisins in the cake.  To each his own, but, Nana's cake has "got it all".  I've also seen versions refer to it as an Amish recipe, but Nana was Pennsylvania Dutch.  The term "Dutch" was the early English slang for the German word "Deutsch".  So:  When most people incorrectly say "Pennsylvania Dutch", they should be saying "Pennsylvania Deutsch", crediting the Germanic or German-speaking immigrants from Germany and Switzerland for this cuisine.

IMG_6673From my perspective, this cake is Pennsylvania Deutsch -- a German-heritaged dessert.

IMG_3308Nana used her own highly-flavored applesauce to make this cake.  Joe and I make our own too:  Joe picks the apples from one of his trees and I make the applesauce, in batches in the crockpot.  You can find my recipe, ~ Please Pass the Homemade Crockpot Applesauce ~, by clicking into Categories 4, 8, 18 19, 20 or 22.  Like Nana's, my applesauce is full-flavored too, which adds a lot to this cake's taste. If you're using your favorite store-bought brand, that's fine, just don't be afraid to add a bit of extra spice to it (a pinch or two of ground cinnamon, cloves and/or ginger).

Oatmeal + Homemade Applesauce + Raisins + Walnuts =

IMG_6660Nana's Over-the-Top Cake

IMG_6606For the cake:

1 1/2  cups applesauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite brand

1  generous cup raisins

3/4  cup old-fashioned oats

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

3/4  cup firmly-packed light or dark brown sugar

1/2  cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1/4  cup butter, at room temperature, very soft

1  extra-large egg

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

1  teaspoon baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon salt

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

IMG_6617 IMG_6619 IMG_6622 IMG_6623~Step 1.  In a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the applesauce to a rapid simmer, stirring almost constantly.  Stir in and thoroughly combine the oats and raisins.  Turn the heat off, cover the saucepan, and, allow to sit on the warm stovetop for 30 minutes.  This rest time will give the oats and raisins time to soften and plump.  While the mixture is resting:

IMG_6626IMG_6629 IMG_6633 IMG_6636~Step 2.  In a large mixing bowl, place the flour, brown sugar, chopped walnuts, very soft butter, egg, vanilla, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.  Using a large rubber spatula, combine the mixture until it resembles large, coarse crumbs.  Because the butter is soft, while this might seem like it won't work, trust me, it does, and it takes less than one minute.  Add and thoroughly stir the oatmeal, applesauce mixture from the saucepan into the crumb mixture.

IMG_6638 IMG_6660~ Step 3.  Transfer the cake batter into an 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  Using the rubber spatula, spread it as evenly as you can into the pan.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into several places comes out clean. Remove cake from oven, place it on a wire cooling rack, then:  change the oven settings to broil, which includes leaving the door open a crack.  Do not change the position of the oven rack.

Brown Sugar + Coconut + Walnuts + Creme + Melted Butter =

IMG_6681Nana's Over-the-Top Broiled Cake Topping

IMG_6612For the topping: 

2/3  cup firmly-packed light or dark brown sugar

1  cup sweetened flaked coconut

1  cup coarsely chopped walnuts

6  tablespoons salted butter

1/4  cup heavy or whipping cream

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Ten Minutes before the cake comes out of the oven, prepare the topping as directed below:

~Step 1.  In microwave or on stovetop, melt the butter and set it aside to cool about 5 minutes.

IMG_6641 IMG_6643 IMG_6649 IMG_6651~Step 2.  In a medium bowl, place the brown sugar, coconut and walnuts, then, using a large spoon, give them a thorough stir.  Add the melted and slightly-cooled butter, cream and vanilla extract, then thoroughly stir the mixture again.  When the cake comes out of the oven:

IMG_6667 IMG_6669~ Step 3.  Spoon and spread topping evenly over hot cake.  Return cake to the oven, placing it under broiler until topping is bubbly and golden, 3-4 minutes.  Remove cake from oven, return it to wire rack and cool, in pan, 2 hours prior to slicing.

Nana's cake, hot out of the oven & cooling for 2 hours:

IMG_6672Wait 'till you taste that first forkful of a still-sort-of-warm slice:

IMG_6690Nana's Applesauce-Oatmeal-Raisin-Walnut Cake:  Recipe yields 8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; large rubber spatula; 8" x 8" x 2" square baking pan; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack

IMG_1323Cook's Note: My recipe for ~ Old-Fashioned Oatmeal-Raisin-Walnut Cookies ~, can be found by clicking into Categories 7 or 12.  This is my grandmother, Baba's, recipe.  She knew how much I loved oatmeal too and made these for me "all the time".  No secret ingredients either, just ordinary pantry staples.  

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

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

05/05/2016

~ Deli-, Bakery-, & Coffee-Shop- Style Crumb Cake ~

IMG_6583If you're under the impression that "coffeecake" and "crumb cake" are words that can be used interchangeably, you haven't spent much time in the delicatessens, bakeries and coffee shops of the Northeast, namely:  New York, New Jersey, and here in Pennsylvania too.  We take our crumb cake seriously.  Simply stated:  it is a medium-textured buttercake with a coarse-grained, flour-based cohesive-crumb layer on top.  Confusing it with other types of crumby cakes (which sometimes contain fruit or nuts and get topped with a sort-of similar-looking but looser streusel topping), is easily avoided -- once you taste a crumb cake, the difference is obvious:  

IMG_6594Crumb cake is a subtle balance of sweet & salty in every bite.

00072030019949GUSSET_F5D0F55CC9DD42EB80FE9D6FD9B9E02DCoffecake and crumb cake both came to America with German immigrants who initially settled in New York and New Jersey.  When I was growing up in the 50's, and 60's, I experienced bakery and coffee-shop crumb cakes in my home state of PA, as well as when we visited Uncles and Aunts living in Long Island and the Jersey Shore.  And, when mom told dad to "pick up a crumb cake while you're at the the grocery store", he knew exactly what brand to buy. Baking my own crumb cakes didn't start until the latter 80's, and, I must admit, as simple as they are in concept, getting the crumbs and the cake "exactly right" took practice.

The classic crumb cake is:  a medium-textured, buttery-rich, fluffy yellow cake, not as airy as a sponge cake and not as dense as a pound cake. It's topped with a layer of coarsely-textured, slightly-crunchy and cohesive, slightly-sugary, slightly-salty, very-buttery, cinnamon-flavored crumbs, and, make no mistake:  the crumbs are key to this cake.  Also, crumb cakes are baked in shallow, rectangular or square pans, as opposed to round, high-sided tube or bundt pans.

Successfully making a crumb cake requires:  the ability to not over-think it while using your common sense.  Recipes for crumb cake, and its cousin the coffeecake, were invented long before electricity, meaning:  no electrical appliances required.  Regarding the cake layer, cakes using baking powder and/or baking soda as leavening agents fall into the category of quick breads, meaning:  they can be successfully mixed together in one bowl with nothing more than a wooden spoon.  Regarding the crumb topping, like its cousin, streusel ("streusel" being the German word for "scattered or sprinkled"), "back-in-the-day", cooks quickly and simply "cut" the fat or shortening into the flour using their fingertips, a knife and spoon or a pastry blender.

IMG_6567The day I stopped over-thinking crumb cake = the day I started making great crumb cake.

IMG_6511Part One:  Making some Big, Fat, Buttery Crumbs  

IMG_6486For the crumb cake crumbs:

1  cup cold, salted butter (2 sticks), cut into cubes

2 1/2  cups cake flour, not self-rising (not all-purpose flour)

6  tablespoons brown sugar

6  tablespoons sugar

2  teaspoons cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon salt

IMG_6496Step 1. Cut butter into 1/2" cubes and place in a large bowl.

IMG_6500 IMG_6506 IMG_6509~ Step 2.  Using a pastry blender and a sharp knife, combine the cubed butter, flour, both sugars, cinnamon and salt.  

"Cut" butter into the dry ingredients and stop when mixture is full of lots of dime-sized crumbs.  Set crumb mixture aside, and, without delay, prepare the cake pan and cake batter as follows:

Part Two:  Preparing the Cake Pan & the Crumb Cake Batter

IMG_6387For the crumb cake batter:

3  cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2  teaspoons each:  baking powder and baking soda

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2  cups sugar

3/4  cup salted butter, softened

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3  large eggs

1 1/2  cups sour cream

IMG_6489 IMG_6494~ Step 1.  Prepare the cake pan.  Cut a piece of parchment paper to the fit the bottom of a 10" x 10" square baking pan w/a removable bottom. Insert bottom of pan into pan and spray the bottom of the pan with no-stick cooking spray. 

Insert the parchment  and spray top of the parchment and inside of pan with cooking spray too.

IMG_6389 IMG_6391 IMG_6394 IMG_6398~Step 2.  Prepare the crumb cake batter.  In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla extract together for a full two minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.  On low mixer speed, in three increments, add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream, beating well after each addition.

Part Three:  Layering & Baking the Crumb Cake

IMG_6515 IMG_6520~ Step 1.  Transfer batter to prepared pan.  Using a large rubber spatula, spread batter evenly, then, give the pan a few back and forth shakes across the countertop to even it out completely.  Using a large spoon, distribute crumb topping over batter.

IMG_6522 IMG_6530~ Step 2.  Bake cake on center rack of 325 degree oven 45-50 minutes, making sure a cake tester inserted into several spots comes out clean prior to removing cake from oven and placing it on a cooling rack to cool, in the pan, for 30 minutes.

Cool crumb cake completely, about 1-1 1/2 hours...

IMG_6552... dust w/powdered sugar, slice, &, enjoy every crumby bite!

IMG_6575Deli- Bakery- & Coffee-Shop- Style Crumb Cake:  Recipe yields 12, 2 1/2" squares of crumb cake, or, 12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; pastry blender; paring knife; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 10" x 10" square baking pan w/removable bottom; parchment paper; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack

IMG_6478 IMG_6459Cook's Note: I grew up in the Lehigh Valley region of Eastern Pennsylvania.  Because of the large Pennsylvania Dutch influence in this area, I am no stranger to coffeecake either. My recipe for ~ Come on Over for Coffee & a Classic Coffeecake ~ can be found by clicking into Categories 6, 9 or 26.

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

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

05/02/2016

~ Come on Over for Coffee & a Classic Coffeecake ~

IMG_6478Thanks to post WWII advertising campaigns by the American Coffee Bureau, by 1950, America was a country of coffee drinkers.  In the workplace, the 15-minute coffee break was born, and, if you were a housewife, once you got your husband off to work and the kids off to school, you likely participated in a daily, weekly or occasional mid-morning "coffee klatch" with neighborhood friends.  The term "coffee klatch" comes from the German word "kaffeeklatsch", meaning "coffee chat" -- a casual gathering for sharing coffee and conversation with close confidants.  Literally translated: kaffee = coffee, and, klatsch = gossip.  I like to think of this social activity as kitchen therapy, and, in today's super-busy world, almost nothing sounds more relaxing than a neighborly invitation for coffee and cake:  I'm feelin' the love.

IMG_6459Classic Coffeecake:  Simple, Straightforward & Not-Too-Sweet  

6a0120a8551282970b0163051076c8970dI grew up in the Lehigh Valley region of Eastern Pennsylvania.  Because of the large Pennsylvania Dutch influence in this area, I am no stranger to coffeecake.  Everybody bakes them, eats them and loves them.  There are many versions, but in this locale, almost all coffeecakes are rich buttercakes topped with a streusel of some sort.  The term "Dutch" is slang for the German word "Deutsch", so, when we say Pennsylvania Dutch, we mean Deutsch and are crediting the German people for their delicious recipes.

6a0120a8551282970b01630510cdb5970dBesides eating a lot of homemade coffeecakes, I also grew up during the heyday of the Drake's empire. Drake's (now owned by Hostess Brands) has been providing the Northeastern United States with snack-sized coffeecakes for over a century.  In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, they compete head-to-head with Tastykake.  Back in my elementary school days, my lunch box usually contained one of my two favorite desserts:  a small, round Drake's coffeecake, or, a rectangular, snack-sized, lemon pudding-filled Tastykake pie.

A bit about coffeecake: Coffeecakes are rich, sweet, cake-like breads which are usually eaten for breakfast or brunch.  While they are rich with butter and eggs, they are considerably less sweet than a standard cake, which is why they are perfect fare for breakfast or brunch.  Some are made with yeast, but those made with baking soda and/or baking powder, which take less time to prepare and fall into the category of "quick" coffeecakes, are just as delicious.  The batter is often made with with buttermilk, cream cheese, sour cream or yogurt, which adds a lovely tang. They often contain fresh or dried fruit or berries, jam, preserves, and, sometimes nuts, which adds even more delicious taste and texture.  They can be served unembellished or with a dusting of confectioners' sugar, a glaze, a frosting, or a crumb or streusel topping.  They can be round, square or rectangular, thick or thin, and, eaten at room temperature or slightly warm.

IMG_6372For the streusel filling and topping:

IMG_63743/4  cup small-chopped pecans, 3/4 cup after chopping (walnuts may be substituted)

2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

3/4  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

IMG_6387For the coffeecake batter:

3  cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2  teaspoons each:  baking powder and baking soda

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2  cups sugar

3/4  cup salted butter, softened

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3  large eggs

1 1/2  cups sour cream

IMG_6432For the vanilla glaze:

1 1/2  cups Confectioners' sugar

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

3-4  tablespoons milk

In a small bowl, stir the sugar, extract and 3 tablespoons of milk. Add more milk until a smooth, drizzly consistency is reached, cover with plastic wrap and set aside while preparing coffeecake.

IMG_6383 IMG_6374~ Step 1.  Prepare the filling. Chop the pecans as directed, placing them in a medium bowl as you work.  Note:  I like to chop the pecans on the "smallish side", but that choice is yours.  

Add the brown sugar and cloves. Stir to coat the nuts in the spices. Do this prior to adding brown sugar.

Add the brown sugar and stir to combine.  Set aside and prepare the cake batter as directed below.

IMG_6389 IMG_6391 IMG_6394 IMG_6398~Step 2.  Prepare the cake batter.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  In a large mixing bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla extract together for a full two minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.  On low mixer speed, in three increments, add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream, beating well after each addition.

IMG_6399 IMG_6401 IMG_6404 IMG_6407 IMG_6413 IMG_6416~Step 3.  Layering the batter and the filling in the cake pan.  Spray the inside of a 10" angel-food-type 10" tube pan with no-stick cooking spray. Spoon about 2 cups of the batter into the bottom of pan and spread it around as evenly as you can. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the filling mixture over top of batter.  Repeat this process (2 cups batter, 1/2 cup filling, 2 cups batter, 1/2 cup filling) two more times, ending with a topping of filling.  Give the pan a few gentle shakes back and forth on the surface of the counter to even batter out a bit.

IMG_6422~ Step 4.  Baking the coffeecake. Bake cake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven until a cake tester inserted into the thickest part of the center comes out clean, about 50-55 minutes.  

Remove coffeecake from the oven and place it on a cooling rack to cool, in the pan, for 20 minutes.  

Remove the cake from the pan by using the center tube as a handle to gently pull it up and out.  Cool the coffeecake, on the bottom tube part of the pan, another 1-1 1/2 hours, prior to removing cake from the bottom tube part.

Cool cake on tube,1-1 1/2 hours, prior to removing from tube:

IMG_6429Using your hands, gently lift cake from tube & place it on a plate...

IMG_6436... &, using a spoon or a pastry bag, drizzle on the glaze!  

IMG_6440Come over, to the sunny side of the street, for coffee & coffeecake!

IMG_6476Come on Over for Coffee & a Classic Coffeecake:  Recipe yields 1, 10" coffeecake, and, depending on how thick you slice it, 16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  spoon; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 10" angel-food-type tube pan; wire cooling rack; spoon or pastry bag (I use a pastry bag)

6a0120a8551282970b0168eb0bc39c970cCook's Note:  Some people add berries or fruit to their coffeecake, while others prefer the rich taste of chocolate with their java.  My recipe for ~ Coffeecake:  Cinnamon-Orange, Chocolate-Chip, Pecan-Streusel ~ can be found in Categories 6 or 9.

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

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