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12 posts from August 2016

08/31/2016

~ That's a Wrap: Creamy & Crunchy Shrimp Salad ~

IMG_0394Wrap sandwiches were not something I grew up eating in the 1960's or '70's, and my children, who were growing up in the '80's didn't either.  Mexicans, Middle Easterners and Greeks have been eating wraps since before the 1900's, but, the "American wrap sandwich", the one all of us are familiar with now (a soft flour tortilla or thin flatbread wrapped in such a way as to fully encase any combination of cold or hot ingredients one could put between two slices of bread or on a roll), wasn't invented until the 1980's.  The concept of the wrap is as simple as the sandwich:  pick it up and eat it out of hand, it's easily transportable and can be eaten on the go.  

IMG_0402Tales of the wrap's creation are vague.  The creator is not known for sure.  One claim comes from baseball's Bobby Valentine, who says he invented it in his Sports Gallery Cafe in Stamford, CT, in the 1980's.  He says a toaster broke so he wrapped the ingredients for a club sandwich in a tortilla.  He called it a Club Mex but didn't officially rename it a wrap until the mid 1990's (a waitress has verified this).  A second claim, is from a Southern California chain, I Love Juicy, who did in fact start selling wraps in the 1980's (as a spin-off of the Tex-Mex burrito), and, by the 1990's most of the USA was catching onto them.  Not to be too cliche, but, I really did eat my first wrap sandwich, labeled a "California chicken club wrap", in CA in the latter 1980's.  Read on:

It was a room temperature wrap.  A mixture of shredded, grilled chicken breast, bacon, tomato, avocado and lettuce leaves, with just enough Ranch dressing slathered on the soft flour tortilla to hold it all together.  On that same trip, I ate a "Texas ranch wrap" too.  It was served in a warm tortilla and contained warm, sliced rare steak, melting Jack cheese and pickled onions, and, it came with creamy horseradish sauce -- I adored it.  My love affair with wrap sandwiches  began on that trip.  It didn't take me long to realize that some of my favorite quick-to-make-for-lunch creamy and crunchy egg, seafood or tuna salads taste even better wrapped in a soft flour tortilla.

IMG_0409A shrimp salad wrap w/a pickle & potato chips is a simply satisfying brunch or lunch! 

IMG_0334My favorite shrimp salad (besides perfectly-cooked sweet, tender shrimp), contains crunchy celery, tiny bits of onion, Dijon-flavored mayonnaise (I prefer the tang of Dijon in shrimp salad as opposed to lemon juice, which I think overpowers the salad) and slightly-undercooked hard-cooked egg (I like the yolk to be a little creamy). Avocado may be substituted for the egg, but, because it discolors so quickly, If my family is not eating these wraps the moment I make them, I prefer the egg.  A pinch of sea salt and black pepper and voila -- it's ready to be snugly wrapped. 

IMG_87771  pound extra-large shrimp (16-20 count), peeled, deveined, tails removed, cooked, drained, chilled and chopped into small 1/4"-1/2" pieces, about 2 cups of small-chopped cooked shrimp (Note: For detailed instructions, read my recipe for ~ Once upon a time... A Tale about Shrimp Cocktail ~ in Categories 1, 11, 14, 16 or 21.)

IMG_0340Note:  To small chop the shrimp, I like to cut each one in half lengthwise prior to chopping.

IMG_03482  ounces each:  small-diced celery and sweet onion (1/2 cup each)

2  extra-large eggs, hard-cooked, peeled and small-diced (3/4 cup)

Note:  My eggs were cooked in "shivering" (barely simmering) water for exactly 10 minutes.

IMG_0351~ Step 1.  Place the diced shrimp, celery, onion and eggs in a medium bowl and add:

4-5  tablespoons mayonnaise

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/4  teaspoon each:  celery seed and sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-gound black pepper

~ Step 2.  Gently but thoroughly stir, cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.

Go on, take a taste & admit it, this shrimp salad is divine:

IMG_0360There's no trick to making a tortilla wrap, except, to make one properly, the sandwich needs to be fully-encased -- it's not an open-sided sandwich.  If it's open-sided, it's a taco.  The easiest way to fold the tortillas is to place them (2-4-6 at a time) in the microwave for 10-15 seconds -- this renders them soft and pliable.  Once out of the microwave, fill and roll them immediately. The general rule is, the wrap should be amply filled and plump, but not overstuffed, as, too much filling causes it to split open.  Each wrap must be snugly wrapped, to keep all ingredients from falling out, and, once wrapped, experts usually hold the two end sides temporarily in place, using two toothpicks, prior to slicing -- once you fold one or two, you'll see how simple this is.   

IMG_0365For the tortillas and the add-ins:

8  8"-round flour tortillas (Note: Smaller 6"-round tortillas can be substituted and will yield 12 appetizer-sized wraps.)

1 1/2  cups chiffonade of romaine lettuce, about 1/4 cup per wrap

3/4  cup seeded and drained on paper towels, small-diced tomato, about 2-3 teaspoons per wrap

IMG_0367 IMG_0370 IMG_0371 IMG_0374~Step 1.  To fill each 8" tortilla wrap:  place a warm tortilla on a flat surface.  Place 6 tablespoons of filling, in a 5"-long "log shape" on the lower third of the tortilla.  Place 2-3 tablespoons of lettuce next to the filling on the side closest to you, followed by a "strip" of tomatoes over the top.

IMG_0375 IMG_0379 IMG_0380 IMG_0382~Step 2.  To wrap, pick up the side of the  tortilla closest to you, pull it up over the filling and tuck it in underneath the filling.  Lift, fold and press the open left and right ends up and over the top, then roll the tortilla over, seam side down.  Secure either end with a toothpick.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice each sandwich, on an angle, through the center.  Serve immediately, or:

IMG_0412To wrap the wraps ahead of time (pictured above), in lieu of toothpicks, wrap each uncut sandwich in plastic wrap.  Place on a plate and refrigerate for several hours (4-6 hours, but, I do not recommend overnight), prior to slicing and serving chilled with pickles and potato chips.

IMG_0397That's a Wrap:  Creamy & Crunchy Shrimp Salad:  Recipe yields 3 1/2 cups shrimp salad and 8 wrap sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; paper towels; toothpicks; plastic wrap (optional); serrated bread knife

IMG_6302Cook's Note:  Perfectly-cooked eggs are a passion of mine, and, when it comes to egg salad, I am a snob.  My recipe for ~ Simplicity:  Creamy-Crunchy, "Classic" Egg Salad ~, found in Categories 2, 15, 20 or 26, plus some bacon, lettuce and tomato makes for another fabulous wrap sandwich.

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

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

08/29/2016

~ Batter-Dipped & Deep-Fried Campari Tomatoes ~

IMG_0318Tossing and turning -- I couldn't sleep at all last night.  A lot of "stuff" rattles around in my brain on a daily basis.  Problem is, if I don't let go of "it" before I turn in for the night, I'd be better off not turning in, because: all that "stuff" seems worse -- magnified -- lying in bed in the dark. Last night was one such night, and, in the midst of a host of keep-me-up-all-night issues, wondering if I could deep-fry our homegrown* (read about this below) Campari tomatoes  entered into the mix.

The answer is heck yea:  deep-fried Campari's are great!

IMG_0313The always-in-season "tomato lovers tomato" tomato!

IMG_3536A bit about Campari tomatoes:  Known as "the tomato lovers tomato" (both the name and  slogan are trademarked), they are known for their juiciness, tart and sweet taste without being acidic, and, firm user-friendly texture.  They are deep red in color, round and smallish in size (a little bigger than a golf ball and much smaller than a tennis ball), and, more often than not, sold TOV (tomato on vine).  They've become very popular, especially with tomato lovers like me, because they are available all year long.  Unlike ALL other store-bought tomatoes, they pack all of the flavor of locally grown and backyard garden tomatoes at the height of the Summer season.

IMG_9778*I love Campari tomatoes, and, at some point during the past Winter I asked my husband Joe if it was possible for him to grown some.  He had no luck on an internet and catalog search to buy seeds -- our guess is their trademark prevents the sale of Campari seeds and plants.  So, my man with two green-thumbs dried seeds from a few store-bought Campari's and planted them in little egg cartons in our garage.  They ALL sprouted, and, right now as I type, we've got IMG_978024 plants that are producing about 6-8  pints of ripe tomatoes a day.

Either they are generally easy to grow or Joe's garden and our Central PA climate is the perfect habitat for them.

I'll be taking some to my mom and dad's house this week, have been sharing them with my tomato-loving neighbors (Dick and Carol), and, yes, now, staying awake nights trying to think of ways not to waste one single, solitary one of them.

Deep-fried ripe red or even green Campari tomatoes are diVINE:

IMG_0285When choosing red tomatoes for deep-frying, go with that-day-ripe to slightly-under-ripe, not over-ripe ones (save those past their prime for sauce making).  For lovers of fried green tomatoes, you'll be happy to know they can be batter-dipped and deep-fried too.  Allow me to add my two cents though:  In my opinion the best fried green tomatoes (even the traditional buttermilk, cornmeal and skillet fried ones) are made with green tomatoes that are just at the beginning stages of turning red.  When it comes to green Campari tomatoes, they will be slightly smaller than the red ones, but, that won't affect the deep-frying time at all (1/2-2 minutes).  In the case of both, to insure this even cooking time, choose tomatoes that are 1"-1 1/4" in size.

Setting up the deep-frying assembly line (left to right):

6a0120a8551282970b01901e68dca4970bOne 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 1 cup dry pancake mix.

One medium bowl containing 3 cups pancake mix whisked with 2 1/2 cups beer or buttermilk (Note:  Buttermilk is classic Southern, but both buttermilk and beer add a tangy flavor, and, because I enjoy drinking beer more than buttermilk, that is my choice.)

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 2 cups panko breadcrumbs.

Deep-fryer w/peanut oil heated to 360 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.

5-6 dozen 1"-1 1/4" Campari tomatoes, red or green or a combination of both

Misc:  3-minute timer, Asian spider, cooling rack, paper towels, sea salt grinder.

6a0120a8551282970b01a73dfbc560970dStep 1When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer. Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer (or some water) to maintain a drizzly consistency.

IMG_0288 IMG_0293 IMG_0297 IMG_0301~Step 2.  Rinse and pat the tomatoes completely dry.  Place them in the first dish of dry pancake batter.  Using a large spoon, toss them around to give them a light, dry, floury coating.  Place a toothpick about 1/4" into the stem end of each tomato and dip it in the batter, then dredge it in the panko breadcrumbs.  Note:  When coating the batter-dipped tomato in the panko, take the time to pat and press the crumbs evenly onto the tomato.  After I quickly get some crumbs lightly coated on the surface,  I  "cup" a palmful of panko in one hand, and, holding the skewered tomato in the other, work the tomato around in my palm-of-crumbs to press them firmly on.     

Immediately after coating, (do not wait until you have 1 or 2 more coated), drop the tomato into the hot oil of the deep fryer by removing the toothpick, and coat the next tomato.  Fry the tomatoes, in batches of 2-3 at a time until lightly golden, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.

IMG_0303~ Step 3.  Using an Asian spider or a large slotted spoon, transfer deep-fried tomatoes to a wire cooling rack that has been placed atop a few layers of paper towels. Immediately, grind  some sea salt over their tops.  Repeat this process until all tomatoes are deep-fried.  Note:  I made half a batch today, 2 1/2 dozen.  This recipe yields enough dry dredge, batter and panko to fry 5-6 dozen.

I prefer red to green -- that choice is yours -- green are great too:

IMG_0327Batter-Dipped & Deep-Fried Campari Tomatoes:  5-6 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  2 shallow 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes or 9" pie dishes;  medium-large bowl; whisk; toothpick(s): deep-fryer; 3-minute egg timer; Asian spider or large slotted spoon; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; paper towels; cooling rack

IMG_0129Cook's Note:  These tomatoes are a great appetizer or snack but they need a dipping sauce.  They lend themselves best to creamy, herby concoctions, and I enjoy them the most with my recipe for ~ Mel's "Happy Valley" Ranch-Style Salad Dressing ~ which you can find in Categories 1, 2, 8, 10 17, 19 or 20.

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

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

08/26/2016

~ I'm in the Mood for: Plain-Jane Chocolate Cookies ~

IMG_0270Hold the chocolate chunks, hold the chopped nuts and hold everything you think you can put in a chocolate cookie to impress me.  Don't bother sprinkling them with fancy sea salt, slathering them with caramel frosting or sandwiching them together with a layer of your best buttercream either.  It won't work.  As a well-seasoned foodie who lives in the blog world, where everyone strives to make each and every recipe unique in some way or another, in my kitchen, every once in a while, plain is the best flavor of all -- especially when it comes to these chocolate cookies.

Mostly crunchy, slightly chewy, just like mom used to make.

IMG_0280"Every once in a while, plain is the best flavor of all." ~ Melanie 

IMG_0266Generally speaking, when it comes to "chocolate anything", I don't crave it like most folks do -- I crave, for example, things like, mashed potatoes or french fries, fried chicken or hot dogs, and, rice pudding or a strawberry shake.  That said, I can't pass by a plate of basic chocolate cookies and not want one.  The kind I found in my lunch box at school or was given as a snack afterward. The kind that didn't take my mom five hours and a list of expensive ingredients to make.  The kind that doesn't get entered in a cookie competition but brings a smile to everyones face.  The one that was printed on the back of a tin of Hershey's cocoa powder back in the 1960's.  Sigh.

IMG_02061 1/4  cups salted butter, at room temperature (2 1/2 sticks)

2  cups sugar

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

IMG_02633/4  cup "sort of firmly-packed" cocoa powder (Note:  My mom, and everyone in PA during the '60's and '70's, used Hershey's. Why wouldn't we?  Hershey's is a very-respected Pennsylvania company.  That said, unless you're buying Hershey's Dutch process cocoa powder, Hershey's cocoa powder is not Dutch process cocoa powder, which is why baking soda is used as a leavening agent.  If you choose to use Dutch process cocoa powder in this recipe, that is fine, but, substitute baking powder in place of baking soda.)

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 1/2  teaspoons baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_0207 IMG_0209 IMG_0211~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  cocoa, flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  Line three 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

IMG_0214 IMG_0216 IMG_0219 IMG_0222 IMG_0224 IMG_0226~Step 2.  In a large bowl, place butter and sugar. On high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl almost constantly.

IMG_0226~ Step 3 (pictured above).  Add and beat in the eggs and vanilla extract, about 1 minute.  Mixture will be soft and creamy.  On low- medium-low mixer speed, add and thoroughly incorporate the dry mixture in 2-3 increments, scraping down the sides of the bowl with the spatula constantly, until a thick, pasty cookie batter forms.  Note:  If the batter gets too thick for your hand-held mixer to handle, remove the mixer and fold it in with the spatula.

IMG_0227 IMG_0234~ Step 4. Working one-pan-at-a-time and using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place scoopfuls of dough, well apart, 12 on each pan.  Place the first pan in refrigerator to chill, while scooping the next pan, about 10 minutes. Repeat this "chilling/baking" process with second pan while first pan is in the refrigerator and subsequently in the oven to bake, and, a third time with the third pan.

IMG_0243~ Step 5.  Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  Cookies will be puffed and cracks will appear across the surface. Do not overbake.  Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan for 5-6 minutes prior to transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.  Cookies will and should flatten as they cool.

A beautiful ball of cookie dough ready to go into the oven:

IMG_0235A beautiful puffed-up cookie coming out of the oven:

IMG_0238I'm in the Mood for:  Plain-Jane Chocolate Cookies:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 dozen, 3 1/2"-round, mostly-crunchy, slightly-chewy, plain, chocolate cookies.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 3, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; wire cooling rack; small spatula

IMG_9598Cook's Note:  For a completely-loaded chocolate cookie recipe, complete with chocolate chunks, dried cherries, aromatic spices and a bit of cayenne pepper too, check out my recipe for ~ Loco for Cocoa: Spicy Chocolate Cherry Cookies ~ in Categories 7 or 13.  They're a chocolate-lovers dream come true!

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

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

08/23/2016

~ Jalapeno, Cilantro, Lime & Yogurt Salad Dressing ~

IMG_0196It is salad season.  From the end of July through the end of September, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, onions, all sorts of herbs (and a host of other vegetables) get picked daily, right in my own backyard.  Rare is the day some sort of salad or crudités isn't on our table for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.  It's simply appropriate that a salad composed of the freshest, homegrown ingredients get enhanced by an equally bright and bold scratch-made dressing.

A quick scroll through Category 8 (Condiments, Sauces & Gravies) here on Kitchen Encounters will reveal many of my favorite salad dressings and vinaigrettes, each one appropriate for either a specific salad or a salad geared to pair with a specific cuisine.  I've carefully developed these recipes over a long period of time, as, I take my salad dressings seriously.  Trust me, when I post a salad dressing on my blog, it has my family's whole-hearted stamp of approval on it.

IMG_0197Today's dressing is one that I make often during the grilling and tailgate season, as, Tex/Mex fare is a particular favorite of my family and is very popular with a lot of our tailgating friends too. Almost anything Tex/Mex that can be conjured up requiring a side-salad to complement it, this five-minute-to-make dressing is the ticket for it.  There's more:  It can be used as a dip, a spread, and, it goes great with a variety of meat, poultry, fish, seafood and vegetable dishes too.

IMG_01591  cup plain yogurt

1-1 1/2 cups minced, fresh cilantro (Note:  Since the cilantro is going to be processed, including more stem in your minced cilantro than you normally would in other recipes is just fine.)

1  8-ounce jar sliced, pickled jalapenos, well-drained

1  large lime, all of its zest and all of its juice (Note:  You need 1 tablespoon lime juice.  In a pinch, bottled concentrate is ok.)

1  teaspoon sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

PICT0031Step 1.  Place all ingredients in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  With motor running, process until smooth, 30-45 seconds.  Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate 2-24 hours, and, up to one week.

Note:  This dressing thickens as it chills, and, its flavor intensifies if the flavors are given time to marry, so, if you have the time to make it a day in advance, yes, please do it.

A DIP for my Batter-Dipped Avocado Bites:

IMG_6726

A DRESSING on my Corn Cakes  & BLT Salad:

IMG_0171

A TOPPING for my Chili Cheddar Cheeseburger:

IMG_6481

Jalapeno, Cilantro, Lime & Yogurt Salad Dressing:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; food processor

IMG_0129Cook's Note:  For a kid-tested favorite, my recipe for ~ Mel's "Happy Valley" Ranch-Style Salad Dressing ~ is one that every mom should have in her repertoire.  I can't promise your kids will eat all of their healthy veggie snacks, but they will eat more of them!

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

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

08/20/2016

~ Garden Fresh Brunch: Corn 'Cakes & BLT Salad ~

IMG_0171Skip all the cloyingly-sweet things iHOP offers and pay attention -- there is more than one way to eat a pancake, and it's not just a sugary treat for breakfast or dessert.  Brunch is served, and this savory pancake meal is full of at-their-peak, in-season ingredients, all local, many from my own backyard.  Mix a batch of bloody Mary's, sit back, and savor the moment -- this is a bold-flavored, fresh-tasting way to celebrate the fruits-of-your-labor and an end-of-Summer garden.

IMG_0183A quick-trip back in American-pancake history & time:

I didn't invent adding cooked corn kernels, savory herbs and/or spices to pancake batter.  Our Native Americans are credited with that, the precursor to our present-day pancakes. They were called "nokchick", translated to mean "no (or not) cake" by the European colonists (who arrived with a host of their own pancake recipes which had existed in Europe for centuries, dating all the way back to the Romans who called them "alita docia", which is Latin for "another sweet".)

IMG_0191In the American colonies, pancakes were known as hoe cakes or johnny cakes, and, flapjacks or slapjacks, made with buckwheat flour or cornmeal.  In Amelia Simmon's American Cookery, published in 1796, hoe cakes and johnny cakes used milk, cornmeal and molasses. Recipes for flapjacks or slapjacks dropped molasses and added eggs. George Washington's favorite breakfast was 'pancakes' literally swimming in all-American maple syrup.  By Thomas Jefferson's time, the early 1800's, griddlecakes came into play -- they were lighter due to baking soda invented by French and Belgian chemists. After the invention of baking powder by a British chemist in the 1840's, our modern-day pancake was born.

For my quick & easy chile-lime yogurt dressing:

IMG_0159Feel free to use any dressing you like -- even store-bought ranch dressing drizzled over this corn 'cake BLT salad is great.  Trust me on one point though, now is not the time to use a vinaigrette, as, it will render the crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the inside corn cakes mushy. This recipe requires creamy dressing, and, in my kitchen, this dish screams for full-throttle chile-lime and jalapeño flavor.  Typically I make this dressing with mayo (feel free to do that), but, yogurt is more in the spirit of breakfast or brunch, so I use it in mayo's place today.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7827468970bMake the chile-lime dressing before the corn 'cakes, and place it in the refrigerator, to allow it time to to chill and thicken.  To prepare it, in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree until smooth (about 30 seconds):

1 cup plain yogurt1 cup minced cilantro, a well-drained 8-ounce jar pickled jalapenos, the juice and zest of 1 lime1 teaspoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt.

For the BLT (bacon, lettuce & tomato salad):

IMG_0161BLT salad, it goes without saying, requires crisply-fried and chopped bits of bacon, a chiffonade of crunchy iceberg or romaine lettuce, and, diced garden-ripe tomatoes. In addition to those, I add some diced red onion and grated cotija or queso fresco cheese. Avocado is an option too, but, since it discolors so quickly and contributes little taste compared to the other ingredients, I do not bother with it (trust me, you will not miss the avocado).  

Whatever ingredients you use, in any quantity that makes you happy, when prepping them, aim for user-friendly bits and bites, not chunks and hunks.  Depending on whether you are serving one or two corn 'cakes per person, plan on needing a generous 1/2-3/4 cup salad per serving.

For my easy-to-make modern-day sweet corn (pan)'cakes: 

IMG_01072  cups + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

2  tablespoons sugar

2  teaspoons fine sea salt

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

2  large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork

1 3/4  cups milk

4  cups cooked (boiled or grilled) corn kernels 

corn or peanut oil, for frying pancakes, not butter (Note:  Frying pancakes in butter is just plain wrong.  Just in case you don't know, if you fry pancakes in oil instead, they will fry up with seriously-crispy-and-light doughnut-esque edges.  You can thank me for this tip later.) 

IMG_0109 IMG_0111 IMG_0113 IMG_0120~Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and pepper.  Add eggs and give them a quick whisk, about 10-15 seconds.  Don't try to thoroughly incorporate eggs. Whisk in the milk.  You'll have a smooth drizzly batter.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the corn.

Tip about mixing batter:  Allow batter to rest about 5 minutes -- about the time it takes to heat the skillet in the next step.  No matter what anyone else tells you or what you read elsewhere, do not mix your pancake batter any farther ahead of time than that.  In order to save time in the morning, do what I do:  Mix the dry ingredients together the night before, and, mix the wet ingredients together too.  Let the dry ingredients sit on the counter overnight and refrigerate the wet ingredients.  Mix the two together just before proceeding with the recipe as directed below.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d14be3de970cStep 2.  In a 16" electric skillet, heat a thin, 1/16" coating of oil, not butter, to 350 degrees (medium on my gas stovetop).  Note:  I prefer the electric skillet over the traditional griddle.  It's got a big, flat surface area, which gives me plenty of space to cook and flip 3-4-5-6 even-sized pancakes and it makes heat control a breeze.

IMG_0140 IMG_0145~ Step 3.  Using a 3-ounce (1/3 cup) ladle, add ladlefuls of batter for 5 pancakes to skillet.  Do not overcrowd  skillet.  This batter, because of the chunks of corn, will not spread out on its own. Use a spoon to help it form 5, 4"-round pancakes.

Tips on cooking and flipping:  The heat should be hot enough that you hear and see an initial sizzle around the edges of each pancake, but, not hear or see a sizzle throughout the cooking process.  Sometimes it is necessary to adjust the heat as they cook, but, my skillet never leaves the 325-350- degree range.  Pancakes should not be rushed.  When bubbles rise to the surface, which can take 1-2 minutes, they are approaching being ready to gently flip -- but not quite. Pancakes are ready to flip when the bubbles begin to burst and no or little batter fills the holes back up.  When it comes to flipping, be gentle.  Skip the drama -- don't throw them up in the air or slap them over.  The object of the pancake game is to protect their hole-y-ness.

IMG_0155~ Step 4.  Cook pancakes, in batches of 5, turning only once, until golden on both sides, about 3-3 1/2 minutes on the first side and 1 1/2-2 minutes on the second, but, once again, time is not as important as those bubbles.  This recipe yields 14 pancakes -- two are missing from the photo.  Joe and I each ate one hot right out of the skillet.

Crispy outside & creamy-corn-kernel-crunchy inside:

IMG_0182Top 'em w/BLT salad, drizzle w/dressing & dig in: 

IMG_0176Garden Fresh Brunch:  Corn 'Cakes & BLT Salad:  Recipe yields 14 pancakes, 1 1/2 cups of salad dressing, and 6 servings at 2 corn cakes per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; whisk; large rubber spatula;  16" electric skillet; nonstick spatula; ordinary tablespoon 

IMG_2563Cook's Note:  If you want to serve a BLT salad alongside a corn muffin instead of atop a corn 'cake (a great alternative for a picnic or tailgate, my recipe for ~ It's a Triple-Corn Jalapeño Corn-Muffin Kinda Day ~, is in Categories 5, 9 & 20.

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

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

08/17/2016

~ My Deep-Fried Mexican Sweet Street Corn Fritters~

IMG_0075In my kitchen, when one recipe can be turned into a second dish the next day, foodie life is good.  When the second recipe can be turned into a third on yet another day, foodie life is great. When dish number three tastes as good or better than the previous two and none of them make me feel like I am eating leftovers, that's when I take a bow.  This scenario is especially appreciated by me, the family cook, when our fruit trees and vegetable garden is  producing at peak levels.  For example:  I've got lots of prime-quality local sweet corn at my fingertips now.

IMG_0086^The trifecta of Mexican street corn:  Mexican corn fritters.^

Here in Pennsylvania, I grew up eating savory deep-fried corn fritters in July and August (when local sweet corn is in season) and sweet apple fritters in September and October (when local apples are in season).  I grew up eating potato pancakes as well, which are technically a type of fritter, but, we don't refer to them as such because they are pan-fried.  Doughnuts were/are made on Doughnut Day, and, even though they're deep-fried, we don't call them fritters either. Why? Like their precursor cousin, the beignet, they don't contain any chopped protein, fresh or dried fruits and/or vegetables, and, with or without holes, they're just plain old deep-fried dough.

IMG_0062Fritters are deep-fried.  Fritters contain protein, fruit or veggies.

A bit about fritters:  Defined as small, sweet or savory, deep-fried (not pan fried), dough- or batter-based cakes (fritters contain no bread or bread crumbs) made by combining chopped food (not whole pieces or chunks) with a thick, seasoned batter, dropped into hot oil and deep-fried until crisp on the outside and cooked-through on the inside. Depending on the consistency of the batter, fritters can emerge flat (like pancakes) or round (like golf balls).  Once chopped, almost anything can be made into a fritter:  meat, poultry, fish, seafood, fruits or vegetables.  

Fritters can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner, as a snack, side-dish, main-course or dessert.  Fritters are sold on street corners and in five-star restaurants where they can be picked up and eaten with the hand or eaten with a fork.  Fritters are the original fast food and pub grub. Fritters are multi-cultural -- you can find a fritter anywhere in the world where they deep-fry food.

You can find fritters anywhere in the world where they deep-fry food. 

IMG_9971 IMG_9972Mexico is no exception, and, while I have a host of sweet corn recipes in my repertoire, this year I decided to explore the world of Mexican sweet corn recipes -- after all, who really knows more about corn than the Mexican culture?  They eat, drink and enjoy corn in every way imaginable. 

IMG_0038First I made ~ Classic Grilled Mexican Sweet Street Corn (Elotes) ~.  I followed it up by making ~ Warm Mexican Sweet Street Corn Cups (Esquites) ~.  I have four cups of leftover esquites in my refrigerator today, and, I'm doing with it what my Mexican-born San Antonio-based girlfriend Toni taught me to do with it -- make fritters, "comida frita", which simply means "food that is fried".

The detailed recipes can both be found by clicking on the Related Article links below, but, since you indeed need to make esquites to make comida frita, I'm including the important part of my recipe for esquites here for you.  If you use your own recipe, it goes without saying, you may need to adjust the amount of flour needed, not to mention amp up the seasonings a bit too.

Remove husk, silk & trim 6 large cobs of sweet corn.

IMG_0822IMG_0837IMG_0838IMG_0842IMG_9998~Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons sugar to water. One-at-a-time, lower the corn into the water. When the water returns to a boil, simmer the corn for 5 minutes. While the corn is simmering, use a pair of tongs to dunk the tops down into the water. Do not overcook -- the kernels are going to cook a second time in a few minutes.  Using the tongs, remove the corn to a large plate and set aside until corn can be easily handled with your hands, about 20-30 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c6ce352f970bStep 2.  When the corn has cooled to the point where you can comfortably hold it with your hands, it's time to shave the kernels from the cobs.  This is quite easy.  For details and tips, click into Category 4, 15 or 20 to read my post ~ How to:  Shave Corn Off the Cob with No Mess!!! ~.  Note: Corn shaving is not a precise sport.  Three large cobs will yield about 1 1/2-2 cups shaved corn kernels.  Six cobs, about 3-4 cups, and so on.

Shave kernels from boiled or grilled corn & make a quick sauce.

It's worth mentioning, there are as many recipes for esquites as there are cooks, and, many do not take the time to make this or any sauce to stir into the sautéed corn.  They simply add some mayonnaise, crumbled cojita, garnish with lime juice, chile powder, salt and call it a day.  It's easier and it is ok, but, that is not the way I was taught to make esquites (by Mexican born, San Antonio-based girlfriend Toni).  Her recipe is perfect -- her esquites is "off the hook cob" elotes.

IMG_00021/2  cup Mexican crema (or sour cream)

1/2  cup mayonnaise

3/4-1  teaspoon ancho, chipotle or guajillo chile powder + additional chile powder for garnish 

IMG_9930Epazote-3003/4-1  teaspoon dried, crushed epazote leaves (Note:  "Eehp-ah-ZOH-teh" is a pungent, uniquely-flavored leafy herb that grows wild in the United States and Mexico and has been used in Mexican cuisine for thousands of years dating back to the Aztecs.  Its distinctive flavor cannot be replaced by other herbs, so, if you don't have access to it, its simply better to leave it out.  In the Mexico, fresh leaves are available everywhere all year round.  Here in the USA, dried is all I can ever find, and I keep them on hand in my pantry.  1 teaspoon dried = 7 leaves or 1 stem)

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

2  garlic cloves, run through a press

1/2  cup minced fresh cilantro leaves, no stems included, 1/4  cup for stirring into sauce and 1/4  cup for garnish

2  teaspoons lime zest from 1 lime

2 tablespoons lime juice from 1 lime

IMG_99363/4  cup finely-crumbled cotija cheese, or, 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco cheese tossed with 4 tablespoons finely-grated Parmesan cheese (Note:  "Coh-CHEE-ha" cheese, a Mexican cow's milk cheese, can be hard to find.  Its texture is similar to feta, but it doesn't taste quite like feta.  It is, however, affectionately referred to as "Mexican Parmesan" because its flavor is very similar to fresh Italian Parmesan.

6a0120a8551282970b01630627a618970dQueso fresco cheese is a Mexican cow's milk cheese which is common in authentic Tex/Mex dishes.  It's a fresh cheese, similar to feta, with a shelf life of about 5 days.  When placed on top of a dish, or stirred into it, it softens rather than melts, and, with enough heat becomes slightly creamy.  When queso freso is tossed with a a bit of Parmesan, it's a great texture and flavor substitution for hard-to-find cotija.)  

IMG_9948IMG_9951In a medium bowl, stir together the crema, mayonnaise, your choice of chile powder, dried epazote, salt, garlic, 1/4 cup of the cilantro, lime zest, lime juice and 6 tablespoons of crumbled cheese (a hand-held box grater works really well for crumbling cotija or queso fresco).

Note:  Sauce can be made a day ahead and refrigerated.  Return to room temperature prior to using.

Sauté the corn, first to brown in oil, second to flavor in butter.

Important note -- read before proceeding with recipe:  If using grilled corn kernels instead of boiled corn kernels, no problem.  Skip the step of browning the boiled kernels in oil, simply melt the butter in the skillet, add the grilled kernels and proceed with recipe as directed.

IMG_00043 1/2-4  cups cooked corn kernels

enough vegetable oil to lightly-coat a 10" skillet

4  tablespoons salted butter

1/2  cup finely-diced sweet onion

1  minced serrano pepper or jalapeño pepper

1  teaspoon dried epazote leaves

1/4  teaspoon salt

reserved crumbled cotija & minced cilantro (from above prep)

chile powder & lime wedges, for garnish

IMG_0006IMG_0008IMG_0014IMG_0018IMG_0019IMG_0021~Step 1.  Heat a thin coating of vegetable oil in a 10" skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the corn and sauté, stirring often but not constantly, until corn is developing golden brown spots, about 4-5 minutes.  Adust heat to low, add the butter, and stir until butter has melted.  Add the onion, minced chile pepper, epazote and salt.  Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté until onion is softening but still has some crunch to it, 2-3 minutes.  

IMG_0023IMG_0025IMG_0028Step 2.  Remove pan from heat and allow to cool about 5-10 minutes. Add the reserved 6 tablespoons of crumbled cotija cheese and 1/4 minced cilantro.  Give the mixture a thorough stir.  Begin adding sauce, 1/2 cup at a time, until the desired flavor and consistency is reached.  I added 1 cup today, and, how much sauce to add depends on how many actual cups of cooked corn kernels there were to begin with.  Portion into bowls and garnish each portion with a sprinkling of chile powder and a lime wedge or two.  Serve remaining sauce at tableside.  It is common for folks to dollop and stir additional crema or mayonnaise into their own portion -- the sauce is better than either.

Mix the fritter batter & deep-fry the fritters.

IMG_00404  cups esquites, preferably refrigerated overnight and returned to room temperature

1  cup + 6 tablespoons flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon each: sugar and sea salt

3/4  cup whole milk

2 extra large eggs

IMG_0052~ Step 1.  Place the esquites in a large bowl and set aside.  In a 1-quart measuring container, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.  In a 1-cup measuring container, whisk together the eggs and milk.  Whisk the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients to form a thick slow-drizzling batter.  You will have about 4 cups of batter.  Using a rubber spatula, fold 2 cups of  IMG_0054batter into the esquites.

IMG_0948~ Step 2. Continue folding batter into corn mixture until a loose, sticky mixture has formed and stop when it does.  How much batter you use depends on the amount of esquites.  I had 1/2 cup of batter leftover.  Fritter batter is not formable, it is spoonable.

Note:  If you've never made fritters and are in doubt, error on the side of less batter and fry one fritter as a test.  If it holds together you've got enough batter.  If it doesn't, add a bit more batter.

IMG_0056~ Step 3.  Preheat peanut or corn oil in deep-fryer to 360 degrees, according to manufacturer's specifications.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, drop 4 loose scoops (do not press into scoop) of batter down into the fryer basket which is submerged in the oil (do not place scoops directly onto dry fry basket).  Fry for 1 minute. Lift lid and shake basket to loosen any stuck fritters.  Fry until golden, 1 1/2-2 more minutes.

Transfer fritters to a wire rack that has been placed atop a few layers of paper towels and sprinkle with a grinding of sea salt.  Continue frying in batches of four until all fritters are fried.

Note:  To make fritters a day ahead, after deep-frying, cool them to room temperature.  Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Remove from refrigerator and return to room temperature, 1-2 hours.  Place fritters on a rack inserted in a baking pan and reheat on center rack of 400 degree oven for 8-9 minutes.  Trust me, they will crisp up beautifully!

IMG_0064Last, stir together this quick & easy dipping & drizzling sauce.

IMG_4369For the Sriracha-infused crema:

1/2  cup crema or sour cream

1/4  cup Sriracha hot sauce

IMG_4368Step 1.  In a small bowl combine crema and Sriracha.  If you have a squirt bottle, the kind used to dispense salad dressings, transfer the mixture to it -- it makes drizzling the fritters mess free.

Drizzle w/sauce, a sprinkle of cotija cheese, cilantro & squirt of lime:

IMG_0089My Deep-Fried Mexican Sweet Street Corn Fritters:  Recipe yields 24-28 fritters and 3/4 cup Sriracha-infused crema for dipping or drizzling.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot; tongs; chef's knife; cutting board; garlic press; microplane grater; hand-held box grater; large spoon; 10" skillet, preferably not nonstick; whisk; 1-quart measuring container; 1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula, 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; deep-fryer; wire cooling rack; paper towels

IMG_4517Cook's Note:  If you don't mind eating two deep-fried items at once (it's indeed an indulgence) my recipe for ~ Beer-Batter-Dipped Deep-Fried Cod-Fish Tacos ~ goes great with two or three of these corn fritters. Just click into Category 2, 3, 13, 14 or 17 to get the recipe.

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

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

08/15/2016

~Warm Mexican Sweet Street Corn Cups (Esquites)~

IMG_9972When you travel, if you enjoy exploring the ethereal world of street food, Mexico City just might be the mecca for this foodie sport.  The native locals call it street-food-hopping -- it's bar hopping for foodies.  While it's oh-so-much fun to participate in a street-to-street eat-fest like this with well-seasoned friends who have their own list of top-secret hot-spots, the street scene is so vibrant, if you're alone, you can sign on to take a professionally-arranged "street eats" or "taco tour" too.

When it comes to Mexican street foods, high on my short list are:  Barbacoa (agave-wrapped slow-roasted lamb barbecue), chicharrónes (deep-fried pork rinds), cochinita pibil (whole suckling pig), tacos al pastor (shaved spit-roasted pork and pineapple), and frutas en tacha (figs, pumpkin and/or sweet potatoes preserved in syrup).  That said, no one knows more about corn than the Mexican culture, and, when it comes to corn as street food (not just in tortilla or bread form), they serve two items that you must try:  elotes (ay-loh-tee) and esquites (es-kee-tay).

IMG_9971Mexican street food staples: elotes (ay-loh-tee) & esquites (es-kee-tay).

IMG_9957Elote (ay-loht) is the Spanish word for "corn", and in Mexico, it typically references a very special street-snack food:  grilled corn-on-the cob slathered in a crema, mayo, chili-powder and lime-laced sauce, then sprinkled with crumbled cotija cheese and chile powder (similar in texture to feta but similar in taste to Parmesan).  Street vendors typically pull back the husk but leave it attached, remove all of the silk,  IMG_9963return the husk to its original position, secure it at the open end with a piece of twine or husk and place it over hot charcoals.  In modern home kitchens with outdoor gas grills, it's common practice to remove the husks and simply place the cobs on a hot grill to char a bit.

You can find my recipe ~ Classic Grilled Mexican Sweet Street Corn (Elotes) ~ by clicking on the Related Article link below.

IMG_9991Esquites (es-kee-tays), meaning "cup of corn", is corn-on-the-cob, that has been grilled or boiled (a simple matter of preference), shaved from the cob, then sautéed in oil and butter along with minced onion, serrano chiles and epazote leaves.  While often referred to as corn salad, it is served warm (not cold), in a bowl, garnished with cotija cheese, chile powder and lime juice, and, eaten with a spoon. It's a marvelous side-dish to make when serving sweet corn to fussy women, like myself, who don't fancy gnawing it off the cob.

Remove husk, silk & trim 6 large cobs of sweet corn.

IMG_0822 IMG_0837 IMG_0838 IMG_0842 IMG_9998~Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons sugar to water. One-at-a-time, lower the corn into the water. When the water returns to a boil, simmer the corn for 5 minutes. While the corn is simmering, use a pair of tongs to dunk the tops down into the water. Do not overcook. Error on the side of undercooking -- the kernels are going to cook a second time in a few minutes.

Using the tongs, remove the corn to a large plate and set aside until corn can be easily handled with your hands, about 20-30 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c6ce352f970bStep 2.  When the corn has cooled to the point where you can comfortably hold it with your hands, it's time to shave the kernels from the cobs.  This is quite easy.  For details and tips, click into Category 4, 15 or 20 to read my post ~ How to:  Shave Corn Off the Cob with No Mess!!! ~.  Note: Corn shaving is not a precise sport.  Three large cobs will yield about 1 1/2-2 cups shaved corn kernels.  Six cobs, about 3-4 cups, and so on.

Shave kernels from boiled or grilled corn & make a quick sauce.

It's worth mentioning, there are as many recipes for esquites as there are cooks, and, many do not take the time to make this or any sauce to stir into the sautéed corn.  They simply add some mayonnaise, crumbled cojita, garnish with lime juice, chile powder, salt and call it a day.  It's easier and it is ok, but, that is not the way I was taught to make esquites (by Mexican born, San Antonio-based girlfriend Toni).  Her recipe is perfect -- her esquites is "off the hook cob" elotes.

IMG_00021/2  cup Mexican crema (or sour cream)

1/2  cup mayonnaise

3/4-1  teaspoon ancho, chipotle or guajillo chile powder + additional chile powder for garnish 

IMG_9930Epazote-3003/4-1  teaspoon dried, crushed epazote leaves (Note:  "Eehp-ah-ZOH-teh" is a pungent, uniquely-flavored leafy herb that grows wild in the United States and Mexico and has been used in Mexican cuisine for thousands of years dating back to the Aztecs.  Its distinctive flavor cannot be replaced by other herbs, so, if you don't have access to it, its simply better to leave it out.  In the Mexico, fresh leaves are available everywhere all year round.  Here in the USA, dried is all I can ever find, and I keep them on hand in my pantry.  1 teaspoon dried = 7 leaves or 1 stem)

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

2  garlic cloves, run through a press

1/2  cup minced fresh cilantro leaves, no stems included, 1/4  cup for stirring into sauce and 1/4  cup for garnish

2  teaspoons lime zest from 1 lime

2 tablespoons lime juice from 1 lime

IMG_99363/4  cup finely-crumbled cotija cheese, or, 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco cheese tossed with 4 tablespoons finely-grated Parmesan cheese (Note:  "Coh-CHEE-ha" cheese, a Mexican cow's milk cheese, can be hard to find.  Its texture is similar to feta, but it doesn't taste quite like feta.  It is, however, affectionately referred to as "Mexican Parmesan" because its flavor is very similar to fresh Italian Parmesan.

6a0120a8551282970b01630627a618970dQueso fresco cheese is a Mexican cow's milk cheese which is common in authentic Tex/Mex dishes.  It's a fresh cheese, similar to feta, with a shelf life of about 5 days.  When placed on top of a dish, or stirred into it, it softens rather than melts, and, with enough heat becomes slightly creamy.  When queso freso is tossed with a a bit of Parmesan, it's a great texture and flavor substitution for hard-to-find cotija.)  

IMG_9948IMG_9951In a medium bowl, stir together the crema, mayonnaise, your choice of chile powder, dried epazote, salt, garlic, 1/4 cup of the cilantro, lime zest, lime juice and 6 tablespoons of crumbled cheese (a hand-held box grater works really well for crumbling cotija or queso fresco).

Note:  Sauce can be made a day ahead and refrigerated.  Return to room temperature prior to using.

Sauté the corn, first to brown in oil, second to flavor in butter.

Important note -- read before proceeding with recipe:  If using grilled corn kernels instead of boiled corn kernels, no problem.  Skip the step of browning the boiled kernels in oil, simply melt the butter in the skillet, add the grilled kernels and proceed with recipe as directed.

IMG_00043 1/2-4  cups cooked corn kernels

enough vegetable oil to lightly-coat a 10" skillet

4  tablespoons salted butter

1/2  cup finely-diced sweet onion

1  minced serrano pepper or jalapeño pepper

1  teaspoon dried epazote leaves

1/4  teaspoon salt

reserved crumbled cotija & minced cilantro (from above prep)

chile powder & lime wedges, for garnish

IMG_0006 IMG_0008 IMG_0014 IMG_0018 IMG_0019 IMG_0021~Step 1.  Heat a thin coating of vegetable oil in a 10" skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the corn and sauté, stirring often but not constantly, until corn is developing golden brown spots, about 4-5 minutes.  Adust heat to low, add the butter, and stir until butter has melted.  Add the onion, minced chile pepper, epazote and salt.  Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté until onion is softening but still has some crunch to it, 2-3 minutes.  

IMG_0023 IMG_0025 IMG_0028~ Step 2.  Remove pan from heat and allow to cool about 5-10 minutes. Add the reserved 6 tablespoons of crumbled cotija cheese and 1/4 minced cilantro.  Give the mixture a thorough stir.  Begin adding sauce, 1/2 cup at a time, until the desired flavor and consistency is reached.  I added 1 cup today, and, how much sauce to add depends on how many actual cups of cooked corn kernels there were to begin with.  Portion into bowls and garnish each portion with a sprinkling of chile powder and a lime wedge or two.  Serve remaining sauce at tableside.  It is common for folks to dollop and stir additional crema or mayonnaise into their own portion -- the sauce is better than either!

Portion & garnish w/lime, chile powder & additional sauce.

IMG_9974Properly prepared esquites is amped-up elotes.  Cha-cha-cha!

IMG_0032Warm Mexican Sweet Street Corn Cups (Esquites):  Recipe yields 2 generous cups sauce and 6-8 servings esquites.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot; tongs; chef's knife; cutting board; garlic press; microplane grater; hand-held box grater; large spoon; 10" skillet, preferably not nonstick 

6a0120a8551282970b0168ebf0c318970c-800wiCook's Note:  Purchasing chile powder or chili powder blends can be confusing, but once you know what the spelling means, you will know what it is and what is in it.  ~ Is it spelled chile or chili?  It's Not a regional thing! ~ can be found in Categories 13, 15 or 16.

There is indeed a difference between a chile, chili, chile powder and powder and chili powder.

IMG_2464CHILE:  Spelled with an"e" at the end, refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod or fruit of any member of the pepper family.

CHILI:  Spelled with an "i" at the end, refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers (like chili con carne).

CHILE POWDER:  When spelled with and "e" at the end, means it is a powder made from one or more dried chiles exclusively.  This is sometimes referred to or marketed as POWDERED CHILES, or CHILE BLEND (if it contains more than one kind of chile powder).

CHILI POWDER:  When spelled with an "i" at the end means it is a mixture of ground, dried spices (for example:  cumin, garlic, onion) and chile powder, meaning:  the manufacturer has added spices to the chile powder or a blend of chile powders.

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

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

08/12/2016

~Classic Grilled Mexican Sweet Street Corn (Elotes)~

IMG_9963It's that time of year:  sweet corn season.  Where I live here in Central Pennylvania, it's hard to drive a mile in any direction and not encounter vendors selling it at a farmer's market or a home-grown stand in front of their farm.  While in season, I buy it twice a week.  We enjoy it, on and off the cob, cooked in lot of ways -- I even freeze the cooked kernels.   For six years now, I make it a point to post a recipe or two each year that gives my sweet-corn-loving readers another way to serve this beloved vegetable.  In my food world, no culture knows more about cooking with corn than the Mexican people, so, this year, I'm sharing two Mexican street-food specialties.

Mexican elotes today (a grilled sweet corn appetizer/snack):

IMG_9971Elote (ay-loht) is the Spanish word for "corn", and in Mexico, it typically references a very special street-snack food:  grilled corn-on-the cob slathered in a crema and chili-powder and lime-laced sauce, then sprinkled with crumbled cotija cheese (similar in texture to feta but similar in taste to Parmigiano-Reggiano).  Street vendors typically pull back the husk but leave it attached, remove all of the silk, return the husk to its original position, secure it at the open end with a piece of twine or husk and place it over hot charcoals.  In modern home kitchens with outdoor gas grills, it's common practice to remove the husks and simply place the cobs on a hot grill to char a bit.

Mexican esquites tomorrow (warm sweet corn salad):

IMG_9972Elotes (ay-loh-tee) is one of two sweet street corn dishes usually sold together by Mexican vendors. The second, esquites (es-kee-tays), meaning "cup of corn", is corn-on-the-cob, that has been grilled or boiled, shaved from the cob, then sautéed in a butter and oil mixture along with some minced serrano chiles and epazote leaves.  While often referred to as corn salad, it is served warm (not cold), in a bowl, garnished with cotija cheese, chile powder and lime juice, and, eaten with a spoon.  It's a marvelous side-dish to have in your repertoire when you want to serve fresh sweet corn to fussy women, like myself, who don't fancy gnawing it off the cob.

IMG_99396  even-sized ears sweet corn, husks and silks removed

1/2  cup Mexican crema (or sour cream)

1/2  cup mayonnaise

3/4-1  teaspoon ancho, chipotle or guajillo chile powder + additional chile powder for garnish 

IMG_9930 Epazote-3003/4-1  teaspoon dried, crushed epazote leaves (Note:  "Eehp-ah-ZOH-teh" is a pungent, uniquely-flavored leafy herb that grows wild in the United States and Mexico and has been used in Mexican cuisine for thousands of years dating back to the Aztecs.  Its distinctive flavor cannot be replaced by other herbs, so, if you don't have access to it, its simply better to leave it out.  In the Mexico, fresh leaves are available everywhere all year round.  Here in the USA, dried is all I can ever find, and I keep them on hand in my pantry.  1 teaspoon dried = 7 leaves or 1 stem)

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

2  garlic cloves, run through a press

1/2  cup minced fresh cilantro leaves, no stems included, 1/4  cup for stirring into sauce and 1/4  cup for garnish

2  teaspoons lime zest from 1 lime

2 tablespoons lime juice from 1 lime

IMG_99363/4  cup finely-crumbled cotija cheese, or, 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco cheese tossed with 4 tablespoons finely-grated Parmesan cheese (Note:  "Coh-CHEE-ha" cheese, a Mexican cow's milk cheese, can be hard to find.  Its texture is similar to feta, but it doesn't taste quite like feta.  It is, however, affectionately referred to as "Mexican Parmesan" because its flavor is very similar to fresh Italian Parmesan.

6a0120a8551282970b01630627a618970dQueso fresco cheese is a Mexican cow's milk cheese which is common in authentic Tex/Mex dishes.  It's a fresh cheese, similar to feta, with a shelf life of about 5 days.  When placed on top of a dish, or stirred into it, it softens rather than melts, and, with enough heat becomes slightly creamy.  When queso freso is tossed with a a bit of Parmesan, it's a great texture and flavor substitution for hard-to-find cotija.)

Remove husks & silks from corn, leaving woody stalk intact.  

IMG_9945Just prior to grilling corn, prepare sauce as follows:  

IMG_9948 IMG_9951In a medium bowl, stir together the crema, mayonnaise, your choice of chile powder, dried epazote, salt, garlic, 1/4 cup of the cilantro, lime zest, lime juice and 6 tablespoons of crumbled cheese (a hand-held box grater works really well for crumbling cotija or queso fresco). Set aside 1/4 cup of cilantro and 6 tablespoons cheese.

Heat the grids of gas grill over high. Place corn directly on heat.

Grill until kernels are golden on all sides, about 8 total minutes.

IMG_9957Slather w/sauce & sprinkle w/cheese, cilantro & chile powder:  

IMG_9962Classic Grilled Mexican Sweet Street Corn (Elotes):  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List: garlic press; microplace grater; hand-held box crater; large spoon; long-handled tongs for grilling 

6a0120a8551282970b0168ebf0c318970c-800wiCook's Note:  Purchasing chile powder or chili powder blends can be confusing, but once you know what the spelling means, you will know what it is and what is in it.  ~ Is it spelled chile or chili?  It's Not a regional thing! ~ can be found in Categories 13, 15 or 16.

There is indeed a difference between a chile, chili, chile powder and powder and chili powder.

IMG_2464CHILE:  Spelled with an"e" at the end, refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod or fruit of any member of the pepper family.

CHILI:  Spelled with an "i" at the end, refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers (like chili con carne).

CHILE POWDER:  When spelled with and "e" at the end, means it is a powder made from one or more dried chiles exclusively.  This is sometimes referred to or marketed as POWDERED CHILES, or CHILE BLEND (if it contains more than one kind of chile powder).

CHILI POWDER:  When spelled with an "i" at the end means it is a mixture of ground, dried spices (for example:  cumin, garlic, onion) and chile powder, meaning:  the manufacturer has added spices to the chile powder or a blend of chile powders.

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

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

08/10/2016

~ A Big Fat Greek Lamb 'Burger. Where's the Beef? ~

IMG_9904A cheeseburger, eaten anywhere in the good old USA -- each one a cheeseburger in paradise. It's become the quintessential American food.  There are two claims* as to who slapped that first slice of processed American cheese on the lonely hamburger, but, we can all agree it was the best marriage of food since sliced white bread married peanut butter and jelly.  And, we've come a long way baby -- nowadays the cheeseburger is eaten in fast food chains, fine-dining restaurants and all points in between.  Cheeseburgers are for pick-up, delivery, drive-thru, eat-in, eat-out, eat-alone or invite-some-friends from sea to shining sea.  They're kind of patriotic.

*Most historians credit the all-American cheeseburger to Lionel Sternberger, a 16-year-old fry-cook from Pasadena, CA, who, in kindness, placed a piece of American cheese on a sizzling hamburger at the request of a hungry, homeless man.  This occurred in his father's sandwich shop, the Rite Spot, in 1924 or 1926.  He named his new menu item the "cheese hamburger", and some claim this small technicality disqualifies Lionel from having invented the cheeseburger.  (Some things never change.)  The first sandwich to actually be called a "cheeseburger" was at a restaurant in Louisville, KY, called Kaelin's, in 1934.  Charles Kaelin claims he wanted to add some a tang to a hamburger, so he topped it with a slice of cheese.

PICT0040Over the years, the American 'burger & cheeseburger went global.

Nowadays hamburgers and cheeseburgers can be found in almost every corner of our planet. That said, depending on your destination, you shouldn't be surprised to find the traditional ground beef replaced with other meats, poultry, grains and/or vegetables -- to satisfy the dietary restrictions and taste preferences of that culture.  For the same reasons, toppings, condiments and cheese choices will be different too.

Nowadays, here in this melting pot we call America, in home kitchens like my own, we the people are free to get really creative with the 'burger/cheeseburger concept.  A quick glance at the Related Article links at the bottom of this post will show you a few of my personal favorites.

IMG_9894Today it is lamb 'burgers I crave -- so let it be written, so let it be done!

A bit about ground lamb and lamb 'burgers:  Lamb meat is more flavorful and more tender than beef or pork, and by adding the right combination of herbs and spices to ground lamb, this meat will take your tastbuds places that ground beef and pork cannot.  Ground lamb gives a whole new meaning to the word 'burger.  Because lamb in general is at its best when served rare- to medium-rare, when it comes to forming patties don’t over-flatten them. To get an outside sear with a rare and juicy middle, they should be a good 3/4"-1"-thick.  While lamb burgers are great on the grill, they're great cooked on the stovetop in a cast-iron skillet or on a flat griddle too.

IMG_9785 IMG_9790 IMG_9792Purchasing ground lamb can be tricky.  If you can't find lean ground lamb (90/10) in your grocery store (which happens to me a lot), purchase a boneless lamb roast.  You will need a food processor to grind it (which takes seconds), but past that, making the meat mixture is straightforward and simple.  I purchase an entire 4-6-pound boneless lamb roast, cut it into 1 pound portions, untrimmed (leave the fat on), cut each portion into 3/4" cubes, place them in the food processor and grind them, 1-2 pounds at a time, using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses.  That's that.  I use what I need and portion and freeze the rest -- I have lean ground lamb (90/10) on hand any time I need it.

IMG_9882For the lamb 'burger mixture:

2  pounds lean ground lamb (90/10)

1  medium yellow or sweet onion, finely-diced (8 ounces)

6  large, minced garlic cloves (1 ounce)

1  tablespoon each: dried marjoram and rosemary leaves

2  teaspoons each:  sea salt and coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_9883~ Step 1.  Prep and place all ingredients in a large bowl.  Using your hands, thoroughly mix.  You will have a total of 2 pounds, 8 ounces of lamb 'burger mixture.  

IMG_9886Divide and form the mixture into 6, even-szed, 3/4"-thick, 4" round discs.

Note:  Whether cooking on a gas grill (over indirect heat) or on the stovetop (over medium-high) using a grill pan or cast-iron skillet:

IMG_9889~ Step 2.  Cook 10 minutes on the first side, flip them over and cook for 8 minutes on the second side.  At this point, use an instant-read meat thermometer and remove from grill when they reach an internal temperature of 130 degrees.

Remove from grill (or other ) and allow to rest about 5 minutes.

Please pass the lettuce, feta, tzatziki & tomatoes: 

IMG_9899Put a lid on it (feel free to toast the bun -- I don't)...

IMG_9911... wrap your hands around it, and eat:

IMG_9912My Big Fat Greek Lamb 'Burger.  Where's the Beef?:  Recipe yields 6, large, hearty lamb 'burgers and 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale; food processor; outdoor gas grill or indoor grill pan, griddle or cast-iron skillet; long-handled grilling spatula; instant-read meat thermometer

IMG_9768Cook's Note:  Tzatziki (dzah-DZEE-kee) is a cool, creamy, refreshing condiment made from yogurt, cucumber, garlic, herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper.  You can find ~ It's all Greek to Me:  Except this Tzatziki Recipe ~, by clicking into Categoties 1, 4 or 13.

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

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

08/07/2016

~ My Greek Gyro-Style Beef & Lamb 'Burger' Pitas ~

IMG_9864When it comes to street food, it's almost impossible to walk past any vendor selling gyros.  My first gyro encounters were limited to the Jersey Shore in the latter 1960's and '70's and Mr. Krinos (a friend of my cousin and no relation to the famous Krinos brand of Greek products sold in stores everywhere) explained they were, Greek-style, in that they were a combo of beef and lamb wrapped in a pocketless pita with lettuce, tomato and onion, and, served with a cucumber-yogurt-based tzatziki sauce (save the fried potatoes and mustard for souvlaki pork kabobs).

484200809_oGyro (YEE-roh) making.  It's a fascinating process to watch.  The men (I've never witnessed a woman doing it) grill the conical-shaped pressed and stacked pre-spiced meat pieces on a vertical rotisserie (formerly charcoal, nowadays an electric infrared broiler).  If the meat is not fatty enough, pieces of fat are layered throughout to insure that the meat remains crisp and moist. As the outside of the stack of meat cooks, they shave thin strips from the sides and throw them onto a flat grill to quickly sear them prior to portioning onto pita and serving.  

As much as I love gyros, I won't lie, duplicating the process in my home kitchen never occurred to me.

That changed back in 2010 when I read an article posted on the Serious Eats website in their Food Lab.  Written by J. Kenjil López-Alt, it detailed a very workable, not-to-mention genius, home-kitchen method and included a recipe too.  While I didn't use or adapt the recipe, I did adopt the method.  To make a long article short, the meats and spices are mixed in the food processor (like a meatloaf mixture) then shaped into a loaf and baked in a foil packet, to prevent it from browning.  (I prefer to bake mine in mini-loaf pans and that is the only method change I made.)  Once cooled and refrigerated, the loaf is sliced into thin strips and put under the broiler to reheat and crisp up.  They are the best faux gyros to come out of the home kitchen.

The best faux gyros ever to come out of the home kitchen!

IMG_9865Part One:  Processing, Baking, Slicing & Grilling the Meat

IMG_9785 IMG_9790 IMG_9792You will need a food processor, but past that, making the meat mixture is straightforward and quite simple.  If you can't find ground lamb in your grocery store (which happens to me occasionally), purchase a boneless lamb roast, cut 1 pound of it, untrimmed (leave the fat on), into 3/4" cubes and place it in the food processor. Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, grind it.  While you're at it, grind the rest of the roast too.  Portion and freeze, and, you'll have ground lamb on hand any time you need it.

IMG_9797For the ground beef and lamb mixture:

1  pound lean ground beef (90/10), or, 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef

1  pound lean ground lamb (90/10), or, 1/2 pound lean ground lamb

1  medium yellow or sweet onion, peeled, coarsely chopped (8 ounces chopped onion)

6  large garlic cloves (1 ounce)

1  tablespoon dried marjoram leaves

1  tablesoon dried rosemary leaves

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_9600Step 1.  In traditional recipes, the onion and garlic are grated on a box grater and then the juices are strained out through a cheesecloth. In my kitchen, the food processor and a few paper towels make very short work of this task.  

1 medium yellow or sweet onion, peeled, coarsely chopped (8 ounces chopped onion)

6  large garlic cloves (1 ounce)

IMG_9604IMG_9602In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade  place the chopped onion and whole garlic cloves.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process to just short of a puree.  

Transfer the vegetables to a paper-towel-lined plate, gather up the paper towels and by squeezing  IMG_9612IMG_9610                                            package, allow them to absorb as much moisture as they can. Replace the paper towels and repeat this process two more times.

IMG_9616You will have 3/4 cup of almost totally moisture-free grated onion and garlic.

IMG_9801 IMG_9798~ Step 2. Place the ground meats, onion and garlic mixture, marjoram, rosemary, salt and pepper back into the work bowl of the food processor.  Using a series of 40-45 rapid on-off pulses, thoroughly combine.  You will have 2 1/2 pounds of a pasty, meatloaf-esque mixture.

Remove meat from processor, and, using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide it into four equal portions of 10 ounces each.

IMG_9807~ Step 3.  Place each portion in each of 4, 5"L x 2 1/2"W x 2"D, mini-loaf pans, and, using your fingertips, pat and press them flat.

~ Step 4.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 325 IMG_9808degree oven until, using an instant-read meat thermometer, the centers reach an internal temperature of 150 degrees.  Remove from oven. Using a fork to hold each loaf in place, drain and discard the juices IMG_9811out of each pan and place all the pans on a rack to cool, in pans, about 10-15 minutes.

~ Step 5.  Remove the "meatloaves" from the pans, return them to the rack and allow them the time they need to cool to room IMG_9814temperature, about 1 hour.  Wrap each in foil and refrigerate for 2-4 hours or overnight.  It's important that when slicing the loaves into strips the strips stay intact, not crumble -- refrigeration accomplishes this.

Note:  While the meat is in the refrigerator, prepare the tzatziki, and, prep and assemble the accompaniments, as directed below.  When both of these tasks are finished, ready and waiting:

IMG_9828 IMG_9831~ Step 6. Remove the meatloaves from the refrigerator. While they are cold, slice each one, lengthwise (holding the knife straight up and down and parallel to the longest side of the loaf), into thin, 1/8"-thick (and absolutely not thicker than 1/4" thick), pieces.  You should get 12-13 slices per loaf.  If you do not, the slices are too thick.  

IMG_9835Arrange the sliced meat, side-by-side in a single layer and not overlapping, on each of 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with aluminum foil and parchment paper.

IMG_9838~ Step 7.  Preheat the broiler and position oven rack to within 3" underneath the heating elements.  

Place the baking pan of meat in the oven and broil until the edges are brown and crispy, about 3-3 1/2 minutes.  These were in for 3 1/2 minutes.  Remove from oven and assemble gyros immediately, as pictured throughout recipe.

Part Two:  Making the Tzatziki

IMG_9733A bit about tzatziki (dzah-DZEE-kee):  Tzatziki is a creamy condiment made from yogurt, cucumber, garlic, herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper.  While mostly associated with Greek cuisine, versions of it exist in Iraq, Cyprus and Turkey too.  This simple-to-make sauce tastes best made a few hours or a day ahead and it's served cold in a variety of ways -- as an appetizer with vegetables and pita chips, as a accompaniment to main course meat and fish dishes with rustic bread, or classically as a topping for gyros  and souvlaki.

IMG_9762For the tzatziki:

16  ounces (1 pint/2 cups) plain, whole-milk Greek-style yogurt

1  large (13-14-ounce or larger) hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded and very small diced

4-6  large cloves garlic, run through a press

1-2 tablespoons minced, fresh dill leaves, as few stems as possible

1  tablespoon high-quality, fruity extra-virgin olive oil

1  tablespoon red wine vinegar

freshly-ground salt and pepper 

IMG_9747Step 1.  An important step to making tzatziki is making sure the yogurt and cucumber are free of excess moisture.  Many strain the yogurt in cheesecloth overnight. Now that high-quality, whole milk, Greek-style yogurt is available to me everywhere, I skip the cheesecloth, put it in a fine mesh strainer and let it sit for just an hour.

IMG_9741Step 2.  Peel the cucumber and slice it in half lengthwise.  Using a melon baller, remove seeds. Slice each half into 8 long strips and finely-dice strips into 1/8"-1/4" bits.  

IMG_9612Step 3. Bundle the cucumber up in a some paper towels and squeeze to remove as much moisture as  IMG_9753possible.  Set aside, to continue to drain, until yogurt is ready.  Run garlic through a press and allow it to drain on a bed of paper towels too.

Step 4.  Place yogurt, cucumber and garlic in a medium bowl.  Add EVOO and vinegar.  Stir.  Season w/salt and pepper to taste (I use 15 grinds of salt and 30 grinds of pepper).  Stir thoroughly, cover and refrigerate until well-chilled.

Part Three:  Assembling the Gyros  

A gyro, like most other sandwiches, starts with bread, and, in Greece that would be pita. Occasionally you will see a Greek-American gyro served in a pita pocket, but, in Greece, this beloved sandwich is served on pocketless, Mediterranean pita.  After the bread,  if lettuce is going on, the torn leaves are used as a bed for the meat.  Not a fan of lettuce?  No problem.  Just pile the meat in on top of the bread.  After that, unless a "hold" is placed on the sandwich order, expect a gyro to come with thinly-sliced tomatoes and red onion placed on top of the meat (no feta cheese on a gyro please), and tzatziki drizzled over the top or served to the side.

IMG_9822For the accompaniments (per sandwich -- pictured here is what I need for lunch today):

1  Mediterranean pocketless pita bread, warmed

1/2  cup torn or shredded  lettuce lettuce leaves

6  slices shaved gyro meat, from above recipe

4-6  thin slices tomato (I use one Campari tomato per sandwich.)

1/8-1/4  cup thinly-sliced and chopped red onion (I like a lot of onion on my gyro.)

1/4  cup tsatziki, from above recipe

Top w/zatziki & don't think about the mess -- just: open wide!

IMG_9875My Greek Gyro-Style Beef & Lamb 'Burger' Pitas:  Recipe yields enough meat for 8 gyros and 2 1/2 cups of tzatziki.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; paper towels; 4, 5"L x 2 1/2"W x 2"D, mini-loaf pans; instant-read meat thermometer; wire cooling rack; aluminum foil; cutting board; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; melon baller; paring knife; garlic press; large spoon; 1-quart food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b019aff64b0c3970dCook's Note:  For another classic Greek recipe, this one given to me by my close Greek girlfriend, Jeanne Cocolin, just click into Categories 2 or 13 for ~ Greek Lemon, Egg & Orzo Soup (Avgolemono) ~.  It's silky smooth, hearty and full of lemon flavor!

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

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

08/05/2016

~ It's all Greek to Me: Except for this Tzatziki Recipe~

IMG_9768When it comes to posting ethnic recipes, even if the ethnicity is the one you inherited by birth and have the papers to prove it, it's best to start with a disclaimer.  Too many an ethnic cook self-appoints him- or herself the sole authority on an entire cuisine, and, quite frankly, they get snarky about what goes on in the kitchens of others.  If it's not the way their family prepares it, it's wrong.  That's wrong.  Disclaimer:  I am not Greek.  What I don't know about authentic Greek cuisine is a lot.  What I do know about Greek cuisine is, however, authentic from the standpoint that I learned from both Greek-born and Greek-heritaged acquaintances and personal friends.

IMG_9762Mr. Krinos is a Greek man, who funny enough, is called "Jimmy the Greek" (he's a poker-buddy of my NJ cousin and no relation to the Krinos brand of Greek products sold in stores or the Jimmy-the-Greek restaurant chain).  On the subject of tzatziki, he pointedly told me, "leave it to the Americans to 'muck' this recipe up with lemon juice and mint." Folks, when you've got a Greek diner owner wearing a thick gold chain around his neck telling you to use red wine vinegar and dill in tzatziki -- you take his word for it. When he gives you his recipe, you respect it and honor it.  (BYI:  If you prefer lemon juice, and mint, use it.)

A bit about tzatziki (dzah-DZEE-kee):  Tzatziki is a creamy, refreshing condiment made from yogurt, cucumber, garlic, herbs, olive oil, salt and pepper.  While mostly associated with Greek cuisine, various versions of it exist in Iraq, Cyprus and Turkey too.  This simple-to-make sauce tastes best made a few hours or a day ahead and it's served cold in a variety of ways -- as an appetizer with vegetables and pita chips, as a accompaniment to main course meat and fish dishes and rustic bread, or as a topping for gyros (sandwiches) and souvlaki (kabobs).

IMG_973316  ounces (1 pint/2 cups) plain, whole-milk Greek-style yogurt

1  large (13-14-ounce or larger) hothouse cucumber, peeled, seeded and very small diced

4-6  large cloves garlic, run through a press

1-2 tablespoons minced, fresh dill leaves, as few stems as possible

1  tablespoon high-quality, fruity extra-virgin olive oil

1  tablespoon red wine vinegar

freshly-ground salt and pepper*

*I use 15 coarse grinds of freshly-ground sea salt and 30 coarse grinds of peppercorn blend. 

IMG_9747~ Step 1.  An important step to making tzatziki is making sure the yogurt and cucumber are free of excess moisture.  Many strain the yogurt in cheesecloth overnight. Now that high-quality, whole milk, Greek-style yogurt is available to me everywhere, I skip the cheesecloth, put it in a fine mesh strainer and let it sit for just an hour.

IMG_9741~ Step 2.  Peel the cucumber and slice it in half lengthwise.  Using a melon baller, remove seeds. Slice each half into 8 long strips and finely-dice strips into 1/8"-1/4" bits.  

IMG_9612~ Step 3. Bundle the diced cucumber up in a few layers of paper towels and squeeze to remove as much moisture as IMG_9753possible.  Set the packet aside, to continue to drain, until you're ready to use the drained yogurt.

~ Step 4.  Run the garlic through a press and allow it to drain on a small bed of paper towels too, until you are ready to use the yogurt.

~ Step 5.  Place the drained yogurt, drained cucumber and drained garlic in a medium bowl.  

Add the dill, olive oil & wine vinegar.  Season w/salt & pepper.

IMG_9754Thoroughly stir, cover & refrigerate until well-chilled.

IMG_9759~ My Greek Gyro Style Beef & Lamb 'Burger' Pitas ~ (in 'Cats' 2, 13 or 17):

IMG_9875It's all Greek to Me:  Except for this Tzatziki Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler; melon baller; cutting board; paring knife; paper towels; garlic press; large spoon; 1-quart food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

023Cook's Note:  Ever consider throwing a Greek-themed party? Back in August of 2012, my Greek girlfriend, Jeanne Cocolin, was becoming a 1st time grandmother. To get my menu, click into Category 11 for: ~ It's A Girl!  A Pretty in Pink, Greek, Baby Shower!!! ~.

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

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

08/02/2016

~ My Mother-in-Law's Philly Hamburger Pepper Pot ~

IMG_9712Rethink your position if you think this frugal recipe isn't delicious.  My mother-in-law, Phyllis, didn't cook a lot.  She didn't have to.  She hailed from Ardmore, Philadelphia (Mainline Philly) and became a doctor's wife.  That said, what she did cook, butter-drenched oven-fried chicken, hamburger pepper pot, and, lemon sponge cake (which she learned to make from the woman her family hired to cook), were her childhood favorites, and, she excelled at them.

IMG_9720This recipe is an odd twist on Philly's classic Pepper Pot Soup.

511c75869b1db339d23690a46a8f53acPhyllis explained that this soup is an obtuse version of classic Philadelphia Pepper Pot -- a drab looking but tasty soup made of honeycomb beef tripe, a meaty beef bone (usually leftover from the Sunday roast) and bell peppers.  As her story goes, on the nights it was being served in their home, their cook made two versions:  one for the adults and one for the kids. Beef stomach and bell pepper soup for the adults, and, a second pot made with hamburger and kid-friendly vegetables (carrots and potatoes).  

She also explained that Philadelphia Pepper Pot did not classically contain egg noodles, even though Campbell's put macaroni in their 1950's tripe pepper pot (now a discontinued product).  She told me it was only after she married her husband, who's parents were Pennsylvania Deutsch, that she started adding noodles to this very popular 1920's and '30's pre-WWII-era soup. 

The first time I tasted this soup back in 1972, I must say, I paused.  I had never seen what looked to be boiled hamburger swimming around with some noodles in some celery-colored broth. If the saying "people eat with their eyes first" means anything, at first glance, this soup is could be a reason not to eat.   That said, I wasn't married or engaged to her son yet, just going steady, so, I hoped for the best and put the spoon to my mouth. I liked it so much, Phyllis would often make it because she knew I was coming for dinner.  It was the first recipe I asked her for.

IMG_96792 1/2  pounds lean ground beef (95/5 or 90/10), no substitutions

1  cup each: chopped  sweet onion, carrot and celery

2 quarts beef stock, preferably homemade (8 cups) (Note:  You can find my recipe for ~ Mel interrupts Christmas to bring you: Beef Stock ~ by clicking into Categories 15 & 22.)

6a0120a8551282970b01a5101f9b7d970cNote:  When using my homemade stock, I don't need to season it.  When using your own homemade beef stock, you may or may not need to season it.  When using canned beef stock, you need to season it with:  1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, 1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper, 1/2  teaspoon garlic powder, 2 bay leaves and salt to taste

1  cup peeled and diced gold potatoes (dice potatoes just prior to adding them to the soup)

12  ounces extra-wide Pennsylvania Dutch egg noodles, to be cooked in the soup 

IMG_9680IMG_9683IMG_9687IMG_9689~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 6-quart stockpot, place the beef, onion, carrot and celery.  Lightly season it with a sprinkle of salt and pepper (I use 15 grinds each of sea salt and black pepper). Cook over medium heat, stirring almost constantly until the meat is no longer pink.  Do not brown the meat, and, while the meat is cooking, using a large spoon, break it up a bit, into bite-sized bits and pieces, but do not break it up into tiny bits and pieces, about 12 minutes.  Note:  If you have indeed used lean ground been (90/10) there is no need to remove or drain the juices.

IMG_9693 IMG_9694 IMG_9704 IMG_9706~Step 2.  Add the beef stock and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  While the soup is coming to a simmer, peel and dice the potatoes, then, add them to the simmering soup.  When the potatoes have been added and the stock returns to a simmer, add and stir in all of the egg noodles.  Continue to cook, uncovered, until noodles are tender, about 8-9 minutes.

Serve & savor each & every scrumptious slurp!

IMG_9709My Mother-in-Law's Philly Hamburger Noodle Soup:  Recipe yields 5 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 6-quart, wide-bottomed stockpot w/lid; large spoon; small ladle; soup ladle

IMG_9686Cook's Note:  For my own favorite ways to make traditional, from scratch beef soup, click into Categories 2, 19, 20 or 22 to read  ~ One recipe, two soups:  Beef Barley or Beef Noodle ~.  Both can be made ahead and frozen too.

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

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