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12 posts from December 2016

12/31/2016

~ Finger Food: Eggnog Brioche French Toast Sticks ~

IMG_4681Finger foods for breakfast?  Heck yea.  Well-seasoned tailgaters and football fans do it all the time.  New Years -- 'Tis the season to gather together for bowl parties -- no knives, forks or spoons required.  Appetizers and snacks commonly found at our early-morning finger-food pub-grub buffets are mini-quiche tartlets, bacon wrapped shrimp, hot crab dip, sausage balls, deviled ham and/or salmon spread with bagel chips, and, a big plate of French toast sticks with a bowl of warm maple syrup sitting in the center for dipping.  It's always the duty of the host to prepare "the sticks" and deliver them, golden brown, crispy and hot, to the table just prior to kickoff.

IMG_4661For PSU Tailgates -- I'm the designated French toast stick maker!

It's like being the candlestick maker only for food (haha -- the butcher, the baker, the French toast stick maker).  The French words for French toast are "pain perdu", meaning "lost bread", because it is a way of reviving bread which becomes dry after a day or two.  The concept for French toast is simple:  Thickly-sliced, 2-3-day old bread is dipped into a flavored egg/cream mixture, then fried in a skillet containing a coating of oil.  When executed correctly, it emerges crisp and golden brown on both sides with a creamy, almost pudding-like center.

French toast slices are typically served topped with butter, maple syrup, fruit preserves or powdered sugar and eaten with a knife and fork (although I "don't get" the fascination with powdered sugar as it's cloyingly sweet).  Almost any type of stale-ish bread can be used, but in my opinion, only two types produce superior French toast:  brioche and egg challah (ha-la).  Both are yeast breads that are enriched with eggs and sugar.  Brioche, which I make regularly in my bread machine, is what I use.  That said, for the New Years holiday, I make a slightly jazzier version of brioche ~ Eggnog Breakfast Brioche in the Bread Machine ~ and make French toast sticks with it.  Just click on the Related Article link below to get this festive bread recipe.   

IMG_4662A fun way to ring in the New Year:  Eggnog French Toast Sticks

IMG_46096,  3/4"-thick slices, 2-3 day old eggnog brioche

4  jumbo eggs, preferably at room temperature

1  cup pasteurized eggnog

2  teaspoons butter-rum flavoring 

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

sugar 'n cinnamon, for sprinkling on finished French toast sticks

pure maple syrup, for dipping or drizzling

peanut or corn oil, for frying

IMG_4611 IMG_4613 IMG_4618Step 1.  Slice 6 slices of bread to a thickness of 3/4".  If it is thinner or thicker, it will affect the frying time.  Remove the crust from each slice, then, slice each slice into 5, 3/4" sticks.  You will have 30 total sticks.

French Toast #3 (Two Cups of Whisked Liquid)Step. 2.  In a 2-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk the eggnog, eggs, butter-rum flavoring and vanilla extract together.

Note:  My eggnog brioche contains cinnamon and nutmeg, so there is no need to add it to the liquid.  If you are using plain brioche, whisk 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg into the liquid mixture.

Note:  For 30 sticks of bread, the "magic measurement" is 2 cups.

IMG_4621 IMG_4624 IMG_4627 IMG_4630~Step 3.  Transfer the egg/eggnog mixture to a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish.  Place 5 broiche sticks into the mixture and allow the sticks to soak for 1 1/2 minutes on one side, then flip them over and allow them to soak a second 1 1/2 minutes on the second side, for a total of 3 full minutes.

IMG_4636 IMG_4655 IMG_4653 IMG_4664~Step 4.  Place 5 brioche sticks into a 12" skillet to which a coating (1/16") of oil has been placed over medium-high heat.  To test the oil temperature, drop 1/4 teaspoon of the egg/eggnog mixture into skillet.  If it sizzles immediately, the oil is hot enough.  Do not overcrowd the skillet -- trust me when I tell you:  working in batches of 5 at a time works perfectly.  The moment you place the first 5 sticks of brioche in the skillet, start soaking the second 5 sticks of brioche, 1 1/2 minutes per side, in the remaining egg/eggnog mixture.  Fry the first 5 sticks of brioche until golden on all four sides, for a total of about 3 minutes.  Remove the first 5 sticks of brioche from the skillet and place on a warmed serving plate that as been lined with paper towels.  Repeat the process until all brioche sticks are fried and drained on paper towels.  Game on!  

Serve w/cinnamon 'n sugar & warmed maple syrup for dipping: 

IMG_4694Finger Food:  Eggnog Brioche French Toast Sticks:  Recipe yields 30 French toast sticks.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; 2-cup measuring container; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; 12" skillet; spatula; fork; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b016767f23475970bCook's Note:  To learn everything that I can teach you about using a bread machine and get my recipe for ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~, just click into Categories 2, 5, 9, 15, 18 or 20.

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

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

12/28/2016

~ Eggnog Breakfast Brioche in the Bread Machine ~

IMG_4597Eggnog bread -- most folks associate it with quick bread (like banana, zucchini and date-nut).   It's referred to as quick bread because it's a quick to mix together loaf that is leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda instead of yeast -- it rises as it bakes in the oven. It's semi-dense texture is very similar to a muffin or a poundcake and it's usually topped with a sugary glaze of some sort before slicing.  It's easy to make and it's quite delicious too.  That said:  

I make an eggnog brioche that most folks don't know exists.

6a0120a8551282970b019b00bc244f970dA bit about brioche:  Brioche is a soft, light-textured, sweetened, yeast bread enriched with milk, butter and eggs.  This French classic is traditionally baked in a deep, round, fluted tin that is smaller at the flat base and wider at its top, which encourages the dough to rise.  All brioche takes time to prepare, requiring three, rather than two, risings.  Brioche is usually a delicacy served warm or toasted at breakfast or teatime. 

There are as many versions of brioche as there are countries, but the French brought brioche to the world's stage at Court in Paris in the 17th century when Queen Marie Antoinette (upon being told the poor people of France were rioting in the streets because they had no bread) made the infamous statement, "Qu 'ils mangent de la brioche." ("Let them eat cake.")  Want to know what happens when you substitute eggnog for milk, add a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg and a bit of almond and butter-rum flavoring to brioche?  You get a light and lovely sweet yeast bread perfect for popping in your toaster for breakfast.  I kid you not -- this bread is extraordinary:

IMG_4599It's kissed w/cinnamon, nutmeg, almond & butter-rum flavors too!

IMG_4529For a 2-pound loaf of eggnog brioche:

1  cup pasteurized eggnog

6  tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes

1  teaspoon almond extract

1  tablespoon butter-rum flavoring

2  extra-large eggs

4 1/4  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

5  tablespoons sugar

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons granulated dry yeast (1 packet), not rapid-rise yeast

Bread Machine Brioche (Process) #1Note before starting:  No two bread machines are alike and I follow the instruction manual word for word -- please do the same with yours.

 ~ Step 1.  This is the rectangular-shaped bread pan that came with my Breadman Ultimate.  The paddle (which will do the kneading) has been inserted.  The instructions say to always insert it in this position before adding any ingredients, so I do.

IMG_4531 IMG_4532 IMG_4535 IMG_4536~Step 2.  Place eggnog in a 1-cup measuring container and heat it to steaming in the microwave.  While the eggnog is heating, use a paring knife to cube the butter.  Add the butter cubes, almond extract and butter-rum flavoring to the hot eggnog.  Using a fork stir until the butter is melted.  Pour the eggnog mixture into the bread pan.  Crack the eggs into the measuring container, use the fork to lightly beat them, then, add them to the eggnog mixture.

IMG_4540 IMG_4541 IMG_4543 IMG_4547~Step 3.  After pouring the beaten eggs into the eggnog, add the flour -- do not stir, just add it. After flour is added, sprinkle in the cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and salt.  Using your index finger, fashion a small well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the yeast into the well.

IMG_4548 IMG_4554~ Step 4.  Plug the bread machine in and select the white bread setting.  Click the button to choose whether you want a light, medium or dark crust -- I prefer a light crust and my husband prefers a dark crust.  Press start and do nothing.  

Walk away.  Do not lift the lid to check in on the process.  The moment the bread machine signals, the bread is done:

PICT2706Carefully open the lid of the bread machine.  Using pot holders or oven mitts, remove the bread pan from the machine, using its handle to lift it from the machine.  Turn the bread pan at about a 30-45 degree angle and gently shake/slide the loaf out onto its side.  Turn the loaf upright and place it on a cooling rack to cool completely.  If the kneading paddle remains in the loaf after it is removed from the pan, I find it best to cool the loaf completely before removing it.

PICT2713I made a 2-pound loaf of eggnog brioche today, and from the moment I removed it from the machine,  I knew at first glimpse and first sniff it was going to be amazing.

6a0120a8551282970b019b00c63e74970b-320wiOnce a loaf this size has cooled:  starting at the top, slice the loaf in half to form 2 smaller loaves, about the size of 2, 1-pound loaves --  eat one, freeze one.  I love my bread machine and besides making brioche and eggnog brioche in it, I make great cinnamon-raisin and rye loaves too.  Just click on the Related Article links below to get both of those recipes.

IMG_4583While my eggnog brioche does make fabulous French toast, my favorite way to enjoy it is hot out of the toaster served with a few of my childhood-favorite-things on-hand in my pantry and refrigerator:

hot chocolate, coffee or tea

and topped with fun stuff like:

softened butter

honey 

cinnamon-sugar

strawberry cream cheese

blueberry, cherry, peach or strawberry preserves

Just a bit of lovable butter & cinnamon-sugar for me thanks!

IMG_4585Eggnog Breakfast Brioche in the Bread Machine:  Recipe yields 1, 2-pound loaf of eggnog bread made in the bread machine.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; paring knife; fork; bread machine; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b016767f23475970bCook's Note:  To learn everything that I can teach you about using a bread machine and get my recipe for ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~, just click into Categories 2, 5, 9, 15, 18 or 20.

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

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

12/25/2016

~ Holiday Fun 101: Deck the table w/a Pizza Wreath~

IMG_4458Fact:  I want pizza once a week.  Fiction:  Pizza isn't festive enough to serve on Christmas Day. The fact is, when you crave pizza once a week, you'll figure out a way to serve it for any holiday. The truth:  This post is simply my foodie way of wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year -- or any holiday you celebrate.  I chose pizza because it's universal.

IMG_4492A slice of ooey-gooey cheesy pizza piled high with some great toppings of choice brings a smile to everyones face, and, for as long as I have been on my own and/or married, pizza night has been happening in my kitchen fifty-two weeks a year -- and that includes holidays -- like today.  

In our recent past, since we are empty nesters, unless we have something else planned or have guests, Joe and I have designated Sunday as our pizza IMG_4508night. We open a bottle of red, I get my ~ A-1 All-Purpose Bread-Machine Pizza Dough ~ mixing, and, I thaw a container of my homemade sauce -- while Joe preps all the toppings.  You can find my recipe for the dough by clicking on the Related Article link below.  

Today we're making our annual pizza wreaths.  They're lots of fun, but,  practical too.  When sliced thin, into 12-16 pieces, they make great game day appetizers.

Making a pizza wreath is more of a method than an exact recipe.  Feel free to follow along & make one or two just like mine, or:  Substitute your favorite dough, sauce, cheeses & toppings.

IMG_4468For the pizza dough, sauce, cheese & toppings for two pizzas:

2  pounds pizza dough, my recipe, yours or your favorite store-bought

3  cups pizza sauce, my recipe, yours or your favorite store-bought

1 1/2 cups each:  grated mozzarella and provolovne cheese, tossed together

6  ounces, pepperoni, sliced into slightly less than 1/4" coins

1  16-ounce bag frozen broccoli florets, blanched in boiling water for 1 1/2 minutes & drained

1  pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise

1  4 1/2-ounce jar small whole mushrooms, well-drained and sliced in half lengthwise

1  2 1/2-ounce can sliced black olives, well drained 

1/4  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1  red bell pepper, to fashion two bows, one to garnish each pizza wreath at serving time

olive oil, for preparing pizza pans

IMG_4359 IMG_4364 IMG_4368 IMG_4375~Step 1.  Using a paper towel, lightly oil 2, 12"-round pizza pans and place a 3" round ramekin in the center of each pan.  In both pans, fashion 1 pound of pizza dough into a round and make a hole in the center of it.  Place the dough, like a collar over the top of each ramekin.  DO NOT wrap the dough, necklace-style around the ramekin and join the two ends together -- it won't work.  Working patiently, take about 10 minutes to use your fingertips to pat and press the dough, to form the traditional "pizza crust lip" on the exterior and interior perimeters of both pans.

IMG_4379 IMG_4381 IMG_4384 IMG_4389~Step 2.  Using a tablespoon, spread 3/4 cup of pizza sauce over the top of each crust.  Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups of the grated cheese evenly over the sauce.  Decoratively arrange the sliced pepperoni over the top of the cheese followed by the blanched  and drained broccoli florets.

IMG_4391 IMG_4394 IMG_4396 IMG_4401~Step 3.  Arrange the tomato halves, mushroom halves, and sliced black olives over the top.  Evenly sprinkle 2 tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top of each pizza.

IMG_4404 IMG_4407 IMG_4412 IMG_4416 IMG_4419~Step 4.  Bake each pizza on the center rack of a 375° oven for 17-18 minutes.  remove from oven and place pan on a wire cooling rack to cool about 1 minute.  With the aid of a large spatula transfer the pizza, along with the ramekin, from pizza pan directly to the cooling rack. Allow to cool 1-2 additional minutes, then remove the ramekin from the center of the pizza.  While the pizza is cooling slightly, use a paring knife to slice and fashion two bows (it's easy to do), from either end of a red bell pepper to garnish each pizza wreath.

Merry Christmas to all & to all a good night -- of pizza eating!!!

IMG_4473Holiday Fun 101:  Deck the table w/a Pizza Wreath:  Recipe yields 2, 12" pizza wreaths/8 standard-sized slices each wreath or 16 snack-sized appetizers each wreath.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; bread machine; kitchen scale; 2, 12"-round pizza pans; paper towel; 2, 3" round ramekins; hand-held cheese grater; tablespoon; large metal spatula; 2 wire cooling racks; cutting board; paring knife

IMG_4341Cook's Note:  While it's still the season for desserts and cocktails too (there's only 1 week left until those resolutions kick in), I recommend making yourself a dessert cocktail.  You can find my recipe for ~ Thick Creamy Eggnog & Rum Milkshakes or Malts ~  in Category 11, 16 or 26.

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

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

12/22/2016

~ Thick Creamy Eggnog & Rum Milkshakes 'n Malts ~

IMG_4341Sipping milkshake cocktails in front of a warm fire and a twinkling Christmas tree with the snow falling outside might not be everyone's 'ideal', but, I'm not everyone -- I am an eggnog lover who adores thick, creamy, rum-laced eggnog malts.  On years when Joe and I are alone for the holidays, scratch-making eggnog isn't a priority for me because I can purchase seriously high-quality eggnog from my local Meyer Dairy.  So, once a year, I "milk" the situation.  Whenever applicable, eggnog replaces milk in my beverages, and, I bake and cook with it too.  I make eggnog cookies, poundcake, shortbread, pancakes, French toast and waffles to name a few.

IMG_4351Eggnog -- the official drink of Christmas & the New Year!

PICT2691References to eggnog date back to the 1800's, when, even back then it was served during the Winter holiday season. Known as "egg milk punch", it was and still is a sweetened dairy-based beverage made with milk, sugar, raw egg yolks, whipped egg whites and a splash of rum and/or vanilla extract. Nowadays cream is always included in place of some or all of the milk, because today's milk has a much lower fat content than milk in the 1800's, which had cream on top. Brandy, rum and/or bourbon were and still are almost always added. The plain truth:  Eggnog just tastes better with some alcohol in it.

Eggnog literally means "eggs in a small cup", and it is used on both sides of the Atlantic to toast to ones health.  "Nog" is an old English term for a small wooden cup.  As an English creation, it descended from a hot British drink called posset, made from eggs beaten with milk, sugar and some type of spirit.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0a57be4970cDuring that time period, alcoholic drinks were commonly served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because it was cooked, posset traveled and adapted well to local tastes wherever it landed. One such place was our American colonies.  America was full of farms, which were full of chickens, cows and plenty of cheap rum -- which is America's signature ingredient.

Nowadays pasteurized eggnog is sold in milk-like cartons in almost every grocery store in America.  That said, store-bought eggnog is not created equal.  Most name brands are cloyingly sweet, leaving an almost bubblegum-like aftertaste.  Purists like me agree "don't waste a dime on that stuff".  Head to a local dairy to get a taste of a real-deal high-quality product. 

What's the difference between a milkshake and malt?

PICT2689A malt is a milkshake that has malted milk powder added to it.  I grew up in the 1960's and '70's, which was a period in time after the 1950's malt shops had disappeared and prior to the world being overtaken by fast food chains. There were, however, still mom and pop run ice cream and fast food drive-ins in every town.  These places, besides serving ice-cream (some specializing in hard ice-cream, others in soft-serve) made great hot dogs, hamburgers and fries.  Besides coke and root beer, they also specialized in shakes and malts.  In my hometown of Hometown, PA, we had Kellet's.  They made their own hard ice-cream and Mrs. Kellet did not skimp on the amount of malted milk powder she put in her malts.  On a side note:  No one had to coax me into trying a malted milkshake.  I grew up watching Leave it to Beaver and Wally was always headed to The Malt Shop to hang out with his friends -- what was good enough for the handsome Wally Cleaver, was good enough for me.

PICT2691Vanilla Milkshake, is made of vanilla ice cream, vanilla extract and milk, and it is the basic recipe from which all shakes are made.

The basic recipe can and should be adjusted to suit your taste. Chocolate Milkshakes are vanilla milkshakes to which chocolate syrup has been added. Double Chocolate Milkshakes are made using chocolate ice cream in place of vanilla ice cream. A Strawberry Milkshake is made using strawberry ice cream and a Double Strawberry Milkshake has strawberry preserves added to it for extra flavor.  Vanilla Malts, Chocolate Malts and Strawberry Malts simply have malted milk powder added to them.

My basic recipe ~ How to: Make Great Milkshakes & Malts at Home ~ is in Category 15.

What exactly is malted milk powder?

PICT2693It is a combination of malted barley, wheat flour, malt flour and powdered milk.  It usually contains additives like sugar and flavorings like vanilla or chocolate.  The term "malt" refers to a specific process where a grain is placed in a warm environment, allowed to sprout, and is quickly dried to a fine powder form. Malted milk powder was invented by a London pharmacist, James Horlicks, in 1869.  His intention was for it to be a liquid supplement for infants and invalids, but it quickly found popularity in unexpected food markets.  Because it was lightweight and nonperishable, explorers like Admiral Richard E. Byrd took it to Antarctica.  Because of its pleasant, sweet taste when mixed with milk, people in general started drinking malted milk for enjoyment.  My mother added malted milk powder to my milk (because I hated plain white milk) to entice me into to drinking it -- it worked.

To make Mel's Eggnog & Rum Milkshakes or Malts:

IMG_4330For each eggnog shake or malt:

5  large, 2 1/2" scoops eggnog, vanilla, or French vanilla ice cream, your favorite brand

1/2  cup cold eggnog, more or less depending upon how thick you like your shakes to be

2  tablespoons light rum (for an alcoholic shake), or, 1 teaspoon butter-rum flavoring (for a non-alcoholic shake), or, both (I use both)

4  tablespoons malted milk powder (for turning  an eggnog shake into an eggnog malt)

whipped cream, a sprinkling of ground nutmeg and/or a maraschino cherry, to garnish each shake or malt 

Place all ingredients in drink mixer or blender.  Blend at low speed, to combine the ingredients, about 5 seconds, then increase speed to high and blend until smooth, about 45-60 seconds.

IMG_4336Garnish each shake w/whipped cream, nutmeg & a cherry:

IMG_4352His sled's overhead, so, enjoy a merry little Christmas cocktail:

IMG_4355Thick Creamy Eggnog & Rum Milkshakes 'n Malts:  Recipe yields instructions to make one eggnog & rum milkshake or malt.  That said, each milkshake or malt will also yield 2-3 smaller-sized cocktails.

Special Equipment List:  electric drink mixer or blender; 2 1/2" ice cream scoop; tall glasses; long-handled drink spoons; straws

PICT2688Cook's Note:  In the 1950's, Carnation became a distributor of malted milk powder.  Like Ovaltine, Carnation marketed plain- and chocolate-flavored options.  While Horlicks remains popular in the UK, India and Southeast Asia, Carnation and Ovaltine have pretty much taken over the present day American market.  In 1985 the Nestle corporation acquired Carnation, then in 2007 Nestle acquired Ovaltine, which is a Swiss made malt drink mix.  Can Ovaltine be used to make milkshakes?  You betcha.

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

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

12/20/2016

~ Eggnog Pancakes w/Butter-Rum 'n 'Nog Bananas ~

IMG_4321Eggnog is a staple in my refrigerator during the Christmas and New Years holidays.  Besides sipping on it throughout the days leading up to the holidays, I bake and cook with it too.  To name a few, I make great eggnog cookies, eggnog pound cake and eggnog shortbread, and, when it comes to breakfast or brunch on Christmas or New Years Day, either eggnog pancakes, French toast or waffles always make an appearance.  There's more.  Bananas are one of my favorite fruits (I eat one every day), and caramelized bananas, like the kind used to make Bananas Foster, are my favorite topping for these festive eggnoggy start-to-the-day creations.

IMG_9263Eggnog -- it is the traditional and official drink of the Christmas and New Years holidays.  There is nothing quite like sipping slowly from a punch-cup full of this creamy-rich liquor-laced libation.  In many families, making eggnog from scratch is an event.  The recipe is often times a well-guarded secret, being passed down from generation to generation.  The only egg nog I got to drink as a child were the sips I could sneak out of a jovial adult's punch cup at more than a few neighborhood cocktail parties.  Our nextdoor neighbor, Mrs. Rimm, made great eggnog.

IMG_9963A bit about eggnog:  References to eggnog date back to the 1800's, when, even back then it was served during the Winter holiday season. Known as "egg milk punch", it was and still is a sweetened dairy-based beverage made with milk, sugar, raw egg yolks, whipped egg whites and a splash of rum and/or vanilla extract. Nowadays cream is always included in place of some or all of the milk, because today's milk has a much lower fat content than milk in the 1800's, which had cream on top.

Brandy, rum and/or bourbon are almost always added.  The plain truth:  Eggnog just tastes better with some alcohol in it.  Each smallish finished serving is poured into a punch cup, then it's topped off with a dollop of freshly-whipped cream and a sprinkling of freshly-ground nutmeg.

IMG_9607Eggnog literally means "eggs in a small cup", and it is used on both sides of the Atlantic to toast to ones health.  "Nog" is an old English term for a small wooden cup.  As an English creation, it descended from a hot British drink called posset, made from eggs beaten with milk, sugar and some type of spirit. During that time period, alcoholic drinks were commonly served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because it was cooked, posset traveled and adapted well to local tastes wherever it landed.  One such place was our American colonies.  America was full of farms, which were full of chickens, cows and plenty of cheap rum -- which is America's signature ingredient.

IMG_9268Fast forward to present day.  Over the holidays, pasteurized eggnog is sold in milk-like cartons in almost every grocery store in America.  Here is where I stick my two cents in.  All store-bought eggnog is not created equal.  Most mass-produced name brands are cloyingly sweet, leaving an almost bubblegum-like aftertaste.  Most purists agree that those who don't like this Yultide beverage have simply never had the opportunity to taste real-deal eggnog.

The best place to buy pasteurized eggnog is at your local dairy!

P1000052Meet Meyer Dairy.  Founded in 1970 by two  brothers and located just four short miles from my kitchen door, I have been buying milk and ice cream from these folks since the day I moved to Happy Valley in 1974.  Joseph Meyer, the owner explains, "We're farmers, so we produce our own milk.  We put in a drop tank to bring it up from the farm to process and bottle it in our shop."  Over the years they added many varieties of ice-cream, and the flavors change daily. Besides one of their generous cones of the creamy-dreamy stuff, there's plenty of room to sit down and enjoy a hot dog or a hamburger too.  They sell lots of other local and PA based products too:  grilled stickies from The College Diner, apple butter from the Lions Club and Middleswarth potato chips!

Yes, Meyer's sells their milk in returnable glass bottles:

IMG_9129'Tis the season for Meyer Dairy to roll out their eggnog and eggnog ice cream, and, my holiday season wouldn't be the same without either one.  I adore that ice cream flavor but when I stopped in the shop this AM, the charming gal behind the counter told me they won't start making it for another week yet.  One sip of their eggnog is all anyone needs to know this is not your run-of-the-mill store-bought milkgrog.  It is rich, just the right thickness, pleasantly spiced and not overly sweet.  The only thing left in the back of your throat is the taste of real-deal farm-fresh cream.  Meyer's eggnog is beyond compare, and:

IMG_9125To bake the best:  Mel's Happy Valley Meyer Dairy Eggnog Pancakes -- I insist upon the best locally-made pasteurized eggnog money can buy! 

Note before starting:   If you plan to serving your eggnog pancakes with my butter-rum 'n nog caramelized bananas, and I sure hope you do, prepare the bananas before starting to make the pancakes.  The bananas only take a few minutes to make, and when they are done, simply turn the heat off underneath them.  Top each individual serving of pancakes with warm bananas as you cook the pancakes, or, serve them after cooking all the pancakes.

IMG_4312For the butter-rum 'n 'nog caramelized bananas:

5-7  ripe, yellow bananas, not over-ripe, about 2 pounds before peeling

2  tablespoons butter

1  tablespoon butter-rum flavoring

6  tablespoons eggnog

1/2  cup dark brown sugar

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

IMG_1737Step 1.  Melt and cool the butter in the microwave.  In a medium bowl place the brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Add the butter-rum flavoring and eggnog, followed by the melted butter.  

IMG_1746Step 2. Stir until the mixture is thick and pasty.  Set aside for 5-10 more minutes, to allow sugar to dissolve completely.  Stir again.

IMG_2077Step 3.  Peel and slice the bananas into 1/4"-thick coins, placing them in a measuring container as you work.  I recommend you use a measuring container because every bunch of six bananas varies in weight and size. You'll want about 3 1/2 cups of total coined bananas.

(Note:  Culinarily, the verb "coin" means to slice into little rounds that resemble coins.)

IMG_2087IMG_2082Step 4. Place the sugar paste in a 12" skillet.

Over low heat, allow it to slowly melt.  Lift the pan off the heat occasionally and give it a tip and a turn, until the sugar is completely melted and has evenly coated the bottom of the pan.

IMG_2089Step 5.  Add bananas to skillet.

IMG_2094Using a large spoon, give them a few gentle tosses, to coat them in the sugar sauce.

Note:  Do not coin the bananas until just before you melt the sugar into the skillet or they will turn brown.

IMG_2102 IMG_2116Step 6. Increase heat to medium high.  Stirring/stir-frying almost constantly, cook just until the bananas soften, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.  

Do not cook any longer or the bananas will become mushy and fall apart.  

Remove from heat and set aside for 5-10 minutes before serving hot or warm atop my pancakes.

It's finally time to make the eggnog pancakes:

IMG_4239For the eggnog pancakes:

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2 1/2  cups eggnog

1  tablespoon butter rum flavoring

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  large eggs

2  tablespoons butter, melted

corn or vegetable oil, for frying pancakes

IMG_4241 IMG_4242 IMG_4247 IMG_4249~Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground cinnamon, nutmeg and sea salt.  Set aside.  In a 4-cup measuring container, whisk together the wet ingredients:  the eggnog, butter rum flavoring, vanilla extract and eggs.   In a small bowl or ramekin, melt the butter in the microwave and whisk it into the eggnog mixture.

IMG_4251 IMG_4255 IMG_4258~ Step 2.  Whisking constantly, in a steady stream, drizzle/pour the eggnog mixture into the flour mixture.  Continue mixing until an ever-so-slightly lumpy batter forms.  Do not over whisk.  Small lumps are simply perfect.  Set aside for about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat a thin coating of oil (a scant 1/8") in a 16" electric skillet to 325°.  Ready a 3-ounce ladle and a wide nonstick spatula.

Note:  You certainly can use a griddle or a large skillet on the stovetop.  That said, I prefer an electric skillet to cook pancakes because it is super-easy to constantly control the heat.

IMG_4259 IMG_4261 IMG_4283 IMG_4293~Step 3.  Using a 3-ounce ladle as a measure, add the batter for 3 pancakes to skillet, allowing space for them to spread out into 4" rounds.  Cook until golden on both sides, turning only once, about 2-2 1/2 minutes on first side and 1-1 1/2 minutes on the second.  The time to flip pancakes is when large bubbles appear on the surface of the first side.  Repeat process until all pancakes are cooked, adding 2-3 additional tablespoons of oil to the pan whenever necessary.  

Note:  When extra oil is added to pan, be sure to give it time to heat to temperature (325°) before adding the additional batter to make 3 more pancakes, about 30-45 seconds.

Put 'em all on a platter or just stack 'em up on your own plate:

IMG_4305Top with a few butter-rum 'n 'nog-sauced bananas & celebrate:

IMG_4324Eggnog Pancakes w/Butter-Rum 'n 'Nog Bananas:  Recipe yields 18, 4"-round pancakes.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 16" electric skillet; whisk; 1-quart measuring container; ramekin; 3-ounce ladle; wide nonstick spatula

IMG_7748Cook's Note:  Lucky you.  I have a few favorite pancake recipes -- each one dedicated to a special holiday.  For example, a few short weeks ago, at Thanksgiving, I served up my ~ Pumpkin 'n Spice and Everything Nice Pancakes ~.  You can find the recipe by clicking in Categories 9, 11, 18 or 20.

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

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

12/17/2016

~ Old-Fashioned Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch ~

IMG_4211Caramel, butterscotch, English toffee and American buttercrunch.  These rich butter-and-sugar-based candies are all related, and, I have an affinity for them all.  As a little kid, my hand gravitated to the bag of those little chewy squares of Kraft Caramels, and, when I got a little older, I always kept a few cellophane-wrapped Brach's Butterscotch hard-candies in my purse -- they were a way to enjoy an otherwise long and boring class at school or sermon at church.

1024px-ThorntonstoffeeI developed a crush for English toffee in London the 1990's.  There was a Confectioner across the street from our hotel and it was the first place I wandered into on my way to take a bus tour of the city. When I returned to the hotel, I had savored almost an entire bag of sublime real-deal buttery-smooth caramel-flavored English toffee. Luckily it was a small bag because it was highly addictive.  A week later I bought several pretty bow-tied tins labeled English Toffee to take back to the US to enjoy and give as gifts.

What's the difference between toffee & buttercrunch?

IMG_4218I started almost every day with a stop in that candy shop and it was there that I learned about American Buttercrunch and Almond Roca as well.  In that particular English shop, when their toffee was coated with chocolate and toasted nuts it was labeled American Buttercrunch, but, when made with almonds, it was labeled Almond Roca.  I won't lie, I was confused.  Here in the US, I had often encountered both the plain and chocolate-coated nut versions labeled interchangeably as Toffee or Buttercrunch.  

Over the years I've also come to find out that many English versions use brown sugar and molasses, while American versions use granulated sugar and light corn syrup.  Lessons learned.  It seems, however, the English are quite persnickity about their special branding of toffee, so, FYI:  In America, feel free to use the words interchangeably.  In England, not so much.

Whatever you choose to call it, just make it & don't overthink it!

When it comes to candy making in general, many home cooks, myself included, instinctively want to throw our hands up, walk away from the stove and leave it to the professionals -- the folks trained in the art of doing stuff like spinning sugar and tempering chocolate.  That said, if you're interested in dabbling in it, buttercrunch is a very tasty place to start.  If you don't have one, invest in an inexpensive candy thermometer, and past that, this is seriously easy to make -- and you most likely have all of these common ingredients on hand too:

IMG_41108  ounces unsalted, slivered almonds, lightly-toasted and coarsely-chopped, your favorite nuts can be substituted (about 2 cups)

12  ounces unsalted butter (3 sticks)

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2  cups granulated sugar

2  tablespoons light corn syrup

2  tablespoons water

16-18  ounces semi-sweet chocolate morsels (2 1/2-3 cups)

IMG_4101 IMG_4102~ Step 1.  In a 10" nonstick skillet over medium- medium-high heat, place and stir the slivered almonds until they become golden and fragrant, about 6-8 minutes.  Remove from heat, and allow to cool until they can be handled with your hands, about 10-15 minutes.  Rough chop the toasted slivers into smaller, half-sized bits and pieces.

IMG_4116 IMG_4108~ Step 2. Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with aluminum foil and have ready a 2-quart saucepan and a candy thermometer.  Sprinkle half of the chopped toasted almonds (1 cup) in the bottom of the pan followed by half of the chocolate morsels (1 1/4-1 1/2 cups).  Set aside.

IMG_4114 IMG_4121 IMG_4126 IMG_4129~Step 3.  Place a 2-quart saucepan on the stovetop and clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan.  Add and melt the butter and salt together over low heat.  Stir in the sugar, corn syrup and water.  Bring to a steady, rapid simmer over medium-high heat, stirring often.  When mixture reaches a steady, rapid simmer, stop stirring & do not stir again

IMG_4136 IMG_4142 IMG_4145Step 4.  Continue to cook until syrup has turned amber in color and registers a temperature of 300º on the candy thermometer.  Be patient with the syrup and watch it carefully too.  The process can and will take about 12-15 minutes, and, it won't seem like much is happening in the beginning (it will just keep on bubbling), but, once it starts to turn color, things will happen very quickly.

IMG_4147 IMG_4150 IMG_4153 IMG_4159~Step 5.  Remove from heat and immediately drizzle the syrup quickly and evenly over the almonds and the chocolate in the pan. Immediately sprinkle the remaining chocolate (1 1/4-1 1/2 cups) and chopped toasted almonds (1 cup) over the top.  Do nothing for 8-10 minutes, then, using your fingertips gently pat and press the nuts down into the melted chocolate.

Cool, 1-2 hours then refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight:

IMG_4163Loosen foil, remove buttercrunch from pan in one large piece:

IMG_4171Use a knife to cut, allowing it to crack where it wants: 

IMG_4183Into 16-24 large pieces or 32-48 smaller ones:

IMG_4184Keep stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator:

IMG_4199Old-Fashioned Chocolate-Almond Buttercrunch:  Recipe yields 16-24 randomly-sized large pieces or 32-48 smaller-sized pieces.

Special Equipment List:  10" skillet; cutting board; chef's knife; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; 2-quart saucepan; candy thermometer

6a0120a8551282970b0162fe2345f0970dCook's Note:  For another one of my favorite make-ahead candy-esque confections to serve during the holidays, you can find my recipe for ~ Agnes Starosta's Creamy, Dreamy "Killer" Fudge ~ in Categories 7 or 11.  Peanut butter fudge is pictured here, but, in the recipe you'll find instructions for dark or milk chocolate too.

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

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

12/15/2016

~ Holiday Appetizers 101: Make Lots of Crab Balls ~

IMG_4091As I always tell people, "You can never be too rich or too thin, and, when it comes to holiday entertaining, you can never make too many crab balls."  Crab balls are to the cocktail table what rum balls are to the dessert buffet.  You do not want to risk  running out of either one. I've never hosted a party or attended one where the crab balls weren't the first appetizer to be inhaled by the guests -- and nobody can eat just one.  I plan on a minimum of three-four per person.

"So", you ask, "what makes a crab ball a great crab ball?"

IMG_4087The same thing that makes a crab cake a great crab cake (the crab ball's larger disc-shaped relative): It should always be hand-made, and have a light texture and consistency that barely holds itself together.  "True" Eastern Shore crab cakes or crab balls use just enough fresh, white, crustless breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs along with an egg or two to bind them together with the luscious lumps of fresh, sweet, jumbo lump, blue crabmeat (but any white crabmeant can be used).  Common additions to the mixture are:  mayonnaise, mustard, and Old Bay seasoning, along with lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and/or cayenne pepper sauce. Some folks add minced celery, onion and bell pepper too and they'll get no criticism from me. Many eateries offer 3 options for how you want them cooked:  deep-fried, pan-seared or broiled.

Rule #1.  If you want a party to be a success, serve crab balls!

  IMG_4067Rule #2.  You can never make too many crab balls!

The true Eastern Shore is located along shores of Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay, and, it is there where fishermen (or "watermen" as they are called locally), make their living catching crabs.  That said, the surrounding areas do their part to produce amazing crab cakes, so I try not to be too big of a crab cake and crab ball snob -- with few exceptions, I've eaten some primo crab cakes on my travels.  Back when we were raising three boys, we took them to Ocean City, MD, to vacation each year, which always included at least one meal at Phillips Crab House (the Phillip's chain's original restaurant which first opened its doors in Ocean City in 1956).  I loved their crab cakes and was pleased when they published their recipe -- which I used for years .

6a0120a8551282970b017d3c043c34970cMore recently, Joe and I have had several occasions to visit Baltimore. The last time I was there (which was 3-4 years ago) I had what I thought was the best crab cake sandwich I ever tasted.  It was at a place called Faidley's located in Lexington Market.  Founded by John Faidley, Sr. in 1886, this still-family-run business is one of the oldest seafood restaurants in the Chesapeake region.

Their crab cake extraordinary:  loaded with jumbo lump crabmeat, crispy on the outside, flaky and tender on the inside, and spiced to let the crab meat shine through.  I was told the little bit of filler that was used was crushed saltine crackers.  I was thrilled to find out that Faidley's published their recipe too, and, I've been using it to make crab cakes and crab balls ever since.

For my all-time favorite crab ball appetizers:

IMG_1000For the crab cakes:

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1  teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce

1/2  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2  teaspoon dry English mustard

1/2  teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

1/2  teaspoon sugar -- this is not a mistake, I said sugar, not salt

1  cup crushed saltine crackers, crushed, not crumbs, about 24 saltines

1/4  cup minced fresh parsley, 2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes may be substituted

1  pound jumbo lump crabmeat, the best available

corn oil, for frying crab cakes

IMG_0938Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, mayonnaise, cayenne pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, Old Bay Seasoning and sugar (yes sugar, not salt), until smooth.

Note:  This is my personal favorite blend of flavors (no lemon juice for me), but feel free to taste and adjust the seasonings to suit your palate.

IMG_1010Step 2.  Place the saltines in a large food storage bag and seal closed.  Using a rolling pin, process until crushed into small pieces. When it comes to making crab cakes, you do not want fine crumbs.

IMG_1016Step 3. Fold the crackers into the mayo mixture.

IMG_1028Step 4.  Gently fold the parsley and the crabmeat into the cracker mixture until thoroughly combined, but do not over mix it.  The crab should remain in large lumps.  

IMG_1030Step 5. Set aside to rest,15-20 minutes.

Note:  This rest period is important. It will give the crushed crackers time to absorb moisture and soften, which is "the glue" that holds the crab cakes together.  You will now have about 1 1/2 pounds of total crab cake mixture.

IMG_4061 IMG_4064Step 6. Line a baking pan with parchment. Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place 24 firmly-packed scoops of crab balls on pan. Alternatively, use a kitchen scale to measure and form 1-ounce balls by hand, gently but firmly compressing them between palms.

Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 - 8 hours prior to frying -- they can be made a day ahead too.  Do not remove from refrigerator (keep chilled) prior to frying (as directed below).

IMG_4070 IMG_4077 IMG_4082Step 7. Place 1/8" of oil in a 12" skillet and heat over medium-high heat.  Add the crab balls and fry, until golden brown on both sides, turning only once, about 3 1/2-4 minutes per side.  Transfer to paper towel-lined baking pan to drain and rest, about 5 minutes prior to plating and serving with your favorite sauce.

Note:  I almost always fry my crab ball several hours before my guests arrive, especially when I am making multiple batches for a large crowd, and, if you want to freeze crab balls, you must fry them prior to freezing.  Place them on a rack that has been placed in a baking pan.  When it's time to reheat, place pan on the center rack of a preheated 350° oven for about 8 minutes.

Plate & serve w/your favorite tartar or cocktail sauce:

IMG_4083Holiday Appetizers 101:  Make Lots of Crab Balls:  Recipe yields 2 dozen crab balls.

Special Equipment List:  whisk; 1-gallon food storage bag; rolling pin; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; kitchen scale (optional); 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; plastic wrap; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; large nonstick spatula; paper towels

IMG_0997Cook's Note:  Looking for an elegant alternative to crab cakes for a start to a fancy-schmancy sit down dinner? I've got just the thing.  Try my ~ Crab-ilicious! Maryland Lump Crab Imperial ~.  Simply click on the Related Article link below.

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

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

12/12/2016

~ Boozy Confection: Coconut Rum & Walnut Balls ~

IMG_4020In my lifetime, I can't recall a holiday season without encountering these boozy little sweet treats somewhere.  As a child, one of our neighbors, Agnes, always served rum balls at her Christmas party and we kids made a point of sneaking a few when the adults weren't looking. As an adult, I typically serve them alongside my rum-laced eggnog to ring in the New Year.  If there is a person who doesn't like a chocolatey rum ball rolled in coconut, I've yet to meet him or her.  

Rum balls are on my top 5 list of "easiest holiday confections".

IMG_4035Rum balls couldn't be easier to make -- they get quickly mixed together, rolled in coconut then stashed in the refrigerator for a few days to develop their flavor. This is Agnes's recipe, but, I don't think it was exclusive to her, meaning:  I don't think she made them any differently than anyone else -- the rum balls I ate growing up pretty much all tasted the same -- fantastic.  Times change and people change, but rum balls, the old-fashioned ones that our grandmother's made from five simple ingredients, remain the same -- a staple on almost every holiday dessert table.

Note:  This is Agnes's exact ingredients list.  That said, I've updated the recipe to make use of my food processor to finely process/pulverize the chocolate wafers, coconut and walnuts. 

IMG_39839  ounces chocolate wafers, about 2 1/2 cups cookie crumbs

6  ounces  sweetened, flaked coconut, about 2 1/2 cups total throughout recipe

4  ounces walnuts, about 1 cup lightly-ground walnuts

1  14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

6  tablespoons rum*, light or dark (Note:  I like to use Malibu coconut-flavored rum.)

*Note:  To make an alcohol-free version, substitute 2 tablespoons butter-rum flavoring for rum.

IMG_3984 IMG_3987 IMG_3988 IMG_3991Note before starting:  For consistency, I like to use a kitchen scale to weigh my ingredients prior to processing.  It insures that my rum balls have the same taste and texture every year.

IMG_3994~ Step 1.  Break the cookies into bits and pieces and place them in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 40-45 rapid on-off pulses, process to crumbs.  Transfer cookie crumbs to a large bowl.  Place the coconut in the same work bowl. Using a series of 10-15 rapid on-off pulses, process to smaller bits and pieces.  Place 1 1/2 cups of the coconut in the bowl with the cookie crumbs and reserve the rest (the rum ball will get rolled in the reserved coconut).  Repeat the process with the walnuts, using 10-15 rapid on-off pulses and transfer them to the bowl with the cookie crumbs and coconut.

IMG_3996 IMG_3997~ Step 2.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in in the sweetened condensed milk and the Malibu rum.  Mix thoroughly.  Place in a 1-quart food storage container, cover and refrigerate for 4-6 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.

IMG_4000 IMG_4010 IMG_4012 IMG_4042~Step 3.  Using a 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, between the palms of your hands, form into balls and roll each one in the reserved 1 cup of coconut.  Place side-by-side on a large baking pan, OR, place in small cupcake papers and place side-by-side on a large baking pan, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3-5 days, to develop their flavor, prior to serving.

Refrigerate for 3-5 days to allow the rum flavor to develop: 

IMG_4045Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock -- Patience is a virtue!

IMG_4029Boozy Confection:  Coconut Rum & Walnut Balls:  Recipe yields 40-42 boozy treats.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen scale (optional); food processor; large rubber spatula; 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; plastic wrap; small-sized candy/mini-cupcake papers

6a0120a8551282970b0162fe3acbf4970dCook's Note:  I like to keep  stress to a minimum during the holidays and accomplish as many tasks ahead of time as I can.  Another one of my simple pleasures at this time of year is my recipe for ~ A Make Christmas Morning Hot Chocolate ~.  You can find the recipe in Categories 9, 11 or 16.

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

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

12/10/2016

~ Pantry Cooking: No-Pain Stay-Sane E-Z Lo Mein ~

IMG_3973Lo mein.  In Chinese it literally means "tossed noodles", and, it implies a method in which cooked wheat noodles get tossed into almost any type of stir-fry at the end of the cooking process.  As a result, the noodles absorb some sauce and stay soft while the other previously-cooked ingredients (meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables) get distributed evenly throughout. An example of the opposite would be chow mein, which means "fried noodles", and implies a method in which the noodles are fried to a crispy state at the beginning of the cooking process.

Lo-Mein.  Like spaghetti, I want it when I want it.  ASAP! 

IMG_3971Noodles are universally popular and lo mein is extremely popular in Chinese restaurants all over the world.  I for one have eaten in Chinese restaurants all over the world and have never encountered a Chinese menu sans lo mein.  That would be the equivalent of walking into an Italian restaurant and not being able to order a simply-sauced bowl of stranded pasta.  It's unthinkable.  The same goes in my home kitchen too, and it's why this lo-mein lover came up with a quick-to-make pantry-staple-recipe to quickly satisfy my cravings for lo-mein any time of the day or night.  Just like eating a bowl of spaghetti at midnight, I want it when I want it -- ASAP.

Get out a few pantry staples, slice chicken & cook noodles:

IMG_3893For the marinade/sauce (1 cup -- 1/4  cup for marinade/3/4 cup to sauce stir-fry) & noodles: 

6  tablespoons tablespoons soy sauce

3  tablespoons each:  hoisin sauce, oyster-flavored sauce, Sriracha sauce and sesame oil

12  ounces lo-mein noodles or spaghetti, cooked according to package directions, drained and briefly rinsed under cold running water to keep them from sticking together  

IMG_3913For the stir-fry:

1 1/2  pounds chicken tenders or pork tenderloin, prepped and marinated as directed below

1/4  cup marinade/sauce, from above recipe, for marinating chicken or pork

2  tablespoons sesame oil 

1  tablespoon bottled minced garlic or garlic paste

2  tablespoons bottled minced ginger or ginger paste

3/4-1  cup thinly-sliced sweet onion, half-moon shapes cut into halves

1 1/2-2  cups frozen peas and carrots, frozen broccoli florets may be substituted

1  4 1/2-6-ounce jar sliced mushrooms, well-drained

cooked lo-mein noodles and sauce, from above recipe

IMG_3894 IMG_3902 IMG_3908 IMG_3907~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the ingredients for the marinade/sauce. Set aside.  Cut the chicken tenders into long thin strips, then cut the strips into shorter strips, placing them in a 1-gallon food storage bag as you work.  Add 1/4 cup of the marinade/sauce mixture to the chicken and close the bag.  Using your fingertips, "massage" the bag of chicken until it is evenly coated in marinade and set aside.  Dice onion and set aside.  

IMG_3870 IMG_3887 IMG_3884 IMG_3889~Step 2.  While chicken is marinating, cook lo-mein noodles as directed, drain into a colander and rinse under cold running water.  For a moment or two, give the colander several vigorous shakes to insure excess water is removed.  Set aside to thoroughly drain while preparing stir fry.

Note:  While spaghetti may be substituted for lo-mein noodles without any compromise in taste or texture, be aware that lo-mein noodles cook to al dente in a short 3-4 minutes  and  spaghetti will take a bit longer, 10-11 minutes.  Be sure not to overcook either one.

IMG_3915 IMG_3920 IMG_3922 IMG_3925 IMG_3927 IMG_3932 IMG_3939 IMG_3943 IMG_3945 IMG_3950 IMG_3951~Step 3.  In a 12" stir-fry pan or a skillet, heat the sesame oil over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, until bubbling and fragrant.  About 30 seconds. Add the chicken (or pork) and all of it's marinade and stir-fry, stirring constantly, until chicken is turning opaque and just short of being cooked through, about 3 minutes.  Add the onion, frozen vegetables and mushrooms. Continue to stir-fry, stirring constantly, until veggies are just thawed, about 3 more minutes.  Drizzle in 1/2  cup of the sauce and stir until all ingredients are completely and evenly coated.  Note:  There will be 1/4 cup sauce left for the next step.

IMG_3956 IMG_3959~ Step 4.  Add the cooked lo mein noodles to the skillet.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss, like you would a salad, until noodles are coated in sauce, adding additional sauce, in small amounts, until the mixture suits your taste.  

Remove from heat, portion into warm bowls & serve ASAP:

IMG_3963Skip the take-out or delivery -- get it from your pantry!

IMG_3974Pantry Cooking:  No-Pain Stay-Sane E-Z Lo Mein:  Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; colander; 12" stir-fry pan or skillet, preferably nonstick; two large slotted spoons or spatulas

IMG_3894Cook's Note:  The secret to a great stir-fry is a great sauce and the concoction I used in this recipe, a 2:1  ratio of soy sauce to equal parts hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, Sriracha sauce and sesame oil takes a back seat to none.  I use it as an easy-to-make go-to Asian brown sauce in all sorts of stir-fries.

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

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

12/08/2016

~ A Classic & Comforting Chicken Divan Casserole ~

IMG_3838Chicken divan is a baked casserole containing poached white-meat chicken and blanched broccoli florets enrobed in béchamel sauce (it's called Morney sauce if cheese is added).  It was invented in the 1940's and was a popular, medium-budget chicken entrée on the menus of fine-dining restaurants and country club catering menus during the 1960's and 70's, which is how I encountered it.  When I got married in 1974, it was one of the first meals I cooked out of Betty Crocker's Cookbook (p. 306), which was my 1st cookbook and a bridal shower gift, and afterward, from the 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking (p. 264), which I purchased myself. Both versions are scratch-made (no cream of anything soup or mayonnaise) and are very tasty.

IMG_3824My version is all mine & is a combination of the two.

Card00579_frChicken divan is classic American. It was created in the 1940's in the Divan Parisienne Restaurant of New York City's Chatham Hotel by a chef named Lagasi.  He had entered his dish in a contest, and, after winning money for it, it became the hotel's signature dish.  In French the word "divan" means an elegant meeting place or great hall, and it was this meaning that caught the attention of the owners as they searched for a name implying continental elegance.  In America, the word "divan" had come to mean "sofa", and, in the 1940's and 50's, I have been told that in the Divan Parisien restaurant, diners ate at tables that were drawn up to small sofas (or divans).  Photo courtesy of Card Cow.

6a0120a8551282970b017c321a8a6d970b-320wiWhen I was a young bride and just starting to entertain, chicken divan (dī-van) was one of my favorite go-to all-occasion casseroles.  It is great served for brunch, lunch or dinner.  It can be baked in one large casserole and served family style, or, it can be baked in individual-sized casseroles and served at a fancier gatherings too.  There's more.  It can be served with or atop toast points,  buttered noodles or steamed rice -- buttered noodles are my favorite.

Note:  The following recipe fills a 2-quart casserole (11" x 7" x 2"), and, when served with toast points, buttered noodles or rice, will easily feed a family of six people. In the event you've got hungrier mouths to feed (teenagers), a bigger crowd, or want leftovers (they reheat great in the microwave), do the math, double the recipe, and, bake it in a much larger 4-quart casserole

IMG_3750For the casserole:

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders, about 10 tenders  

1  pound frozen broccoli florets, preferably medium-large, not chopped broccoli

3  14 1/2-ounce cans chicken broth, or 5 1/2-6 cups homemade stock, for poaching chicken and broccoli  (Note:  Plain, nicely salted water can be substituted, but I like the added flavor that stock or broth lends to the chicken and the broccoli.  There's more.  I don't waste a bit of it, meaning:  I don't pour it down the drain.  I add some water to it, to get the necessary amount needed, and, I boil my egg noodles in it too.)

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)

a scant 1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

a scant 1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoons white pepper

1 cup small-diced yellow or sweet onion

1/4  cup Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

2  tablespoons dry sherry  

2  cups heavy cream, half & half or whole milk, your choice

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated Gruyère cheese

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

For the topping:

2 tablespoons salted butter, melted

1/2 cup French-style breadcrumbs or panko

For serving:

toast points, buttered egg noodles or steamed white rice, your choice

IMG_3726 IMG_3731 IMG_3733 IMG_3735~Step 1.  Place the chicken stock in a 4-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat. Add the chicken tenders, adjust heat to a very gentle simmer, and "poach" until just cooked through, about 9-10 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Turn heat off.  Using an Asian spider or a large slotted spoon, remove the chicken to a plate to cool, about 15 minutes, until you can handle it with your hands.  Using you fingers, pull the chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

IMG_3738 IMG_3740 IMG_3747 IMG_3748~Step 2.  Return the saucepan of remaining stock to a simmer and add the frozen broccoli florets.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and partially cook it, until it is just thawed, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Using the same Asian spider or large slotted spoon, transfer it to a colander and rinse it under cold running water, to halt the cooking process.  Allow to drain thoroughly, giving the colander an occasional shake every five minutes or so for about 15 minutes.  Set aside.

IMG_3754 IMG_3758 IMG_3761 IMG_3763~Step 3.  In the same saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, then, using a large spoon, stir in the spices (ground cloves, ground nutmeg sea salt and white pepper).  Add the onion and increase heat to medium and cook until onion is tender, about 1 minute.  

IMG_3766 IMG_3767 IMG_3770 IMG_3773 IMG_3774 IMG_3780 IMG_3785~Step 4.  Stir in the flour.  Stirring constantly, cook for 1 full minute.  The roux will be very pasty.  Add the sherry then the cream (milk or half & half) and adjust heat to simmer.  Continue to simmer, stirring constantly until nicely-thickened but drizzly, about 2 minutes.  Lower heat to low and stir in the Gruyère.  Stir constantly until a thick Mornay sauce has formed, about 1 more minute.  Remove from heat.

IMG_3755 IMG_3789 IMG_3790 IMG_3794~Step 5.  Place the poached chicken pieces and blanched broccoli florets in a large bowl.  Add all of the hot Mornay sauce to the bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the sauce, until everything is evenly enrobed in sauce.  Do not over mix.  Do not risk breaking the chicken or broccoli into smaller pieces.  Using the spatula, transfer all of the mixture to an 11" x 7" x 2" casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick spray.  Set aside while preparing topping.

IMG_3798 IMG_3801 IMG_3806~ Step 6.  In a 1-cup measuring container, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in microwave.  Stir in the 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs.  Using your fingertips, sprinkle the topping mixture evenly over the top of the casserole.

IMG_3814 IMG_3819~ Step 7.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven, until golden brown on top and bubbling around edges, 25-30 minutes.  Remove from oven and rest 15-20 minutes prior to serving.  Use rest time to make toast points, cook egg noodles or steam rice.

Chicken, broccoli & Mornay mixture in 11" x 7" x 2" casserole:

IMG_3804Casserole w/breadcrumb topping & ready to go into oven:

IMG_3809Golden & glorious after baking in 350° oven 25-30 minutes:

IMG_3822Place toast points, buttered egg noodles or steamed rice into the bottom of six 8" -9" round or oval bowls.  Portion & place chicken divan atop each & serve immediately:

IMG_3848A Classic & Comforting Chicken Divan Casserole:  Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart saucepan, preferably nonstick; Asian spider or large slotted spoon; colander; cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; large spoon; large rubber spatula; 11" x 7" x 2" casserole; 1-cup measuring container; ordinary tablespoon

IMG_3585Cook's Note:  For another retro classic and a family-friendly dinner too, try my twist on the 1950's era ~ My Creamy & Comforting Tuna Noodle Casserole ~.  My recipe is in Categories 3, 19, 20 or 26.

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

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

12/05/2016

~ Mel's Deconstructed To-Die-For Pirogi Casserole ~

IMG_3685Pirogi -- a subject I know a thing or three about.  I grew up eating these pillowy handmade-with-love potato-stuffed-dumplings in the kitchens of my Baba and Tettie (my Eastern European grandmother and her sister).  I was about age seven when they added me as a semi-skilled laborer to the assembly line of their twice-yearly day-long pirogi-making marathon. Once filled and formed, they were frozen flat on trays, packaged into bags and divided amongst their two families -- to be cooked and served as a meatless main course or a side-dish to my mom's holiday baked ham or a roasted pork loin with sauerkraut to ring in the New Year.

Screen shot 2016-12-06 at 12.26.21 PMFor the purposes of this deconstructed pirogi casserole, I am talking about potato-stuffed dumplings that get boiled in water, drained and enrobed in a saucy butter and onion mixture.  I mention this because, my grandmother (more so than her sister), stuffed them with other things too -- sauerkraut, steamed ground meats (beef, pork or lamb) and stewed fruit (usually sour cherries or prunes).  Except for the type of dough (noodle vs. pasta), the technique and method is almost identical to making Italian ravioli -- both are time consuming labors of love.

Like ravioli, pirogi are impressive.  They make a statement -- you are an accomplished cook. Over the decades, thanks in part to my husband's Italian family and friends, I've become an accomplished Italian cook.  That said, one thing I learned early on:  When you don't have the time to make ravioli, you make lasagna, and, when you have a large crowd to feed, you make lasagna instead of ravioli.  In my mind, lasagna is basically a casserole full of deconstructed ravioli.  Then came the day this Eastern European gal applied the same principle to pirogi.

I named it the:  Turn pirogi into a casserole principle.

IMG_3651Note:  I am using my favorite potato and cheese pirogi filling recipe and my favorite pirogi butter (& onion) recipe in conjunction with uncooked store-bought lasagna noodles.  If you are Eastern European and you have your own favorite recipes, use them -- they will work and it is important your casserole taste the way you want it to.  For example:  I hate bacon garnishing my pirogi, so, I don't use it, and, my grandmother used dried mint flakes (a common herb which grew like a weed in their harsh climate and was dried for the Winter) in place of fresh chives or green onion (which were only available in the short Spring and Summer).  Don't knock it 'till you've tried it.

Part One:  Making the Potato & Cheese Filling 

PICT0398

3  pounds peeled, quartered and 1" cubed gold potatoes (3 pounds after peeling)

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 pound + 2 cups grated white, cheddar cheese (total throughout recipe)*

3   jumbo egg yolks

1 1/2  teaspoons white pepper

3  tablespoons dried mint flakes 

Note:  I like using LOTS of extra-sharp white cheddar, and, I use white cheddar because, in general, I don't like pirogi that have orange-colored filling with a manufacturerd "Mrs. T's" taste to them, but, that choice is yours.  One last thing:  pirogi filling is NOT like making mashed potatoes.  Do not be inclined to add milk or butter to it.  The filling should be, for lack of better words:  stiff, thick, pasty (and even a bit chunky if that's your style), and, well-seasoned with traditional (not exotic) herbs or spices.  Remember, this is simple, rustic, peasant food.

PICT0400Step 1.  Place the cubed potatoes in an 8-quart stockpot and add enough of cold water to cover them by 1/2"-1".  Bring to a boil over high heat and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Reduce the heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue to cook until the potatoes are fork tender but slightly undercooked, about 10-12 minutes.  Remove from heat and drain potatoes into colander.

PICT0403Step 2.  Return potatoes to the still warm stockpot and return the pot to the still warm stovetop.  Add 1 pound grated cheese, pepper and dried mint.  I do not add salt, as I find the cheddar cheese has an adequate amount of salt in it.

PICT0406Stir.  Cover the pot and set aside for 5-10 minutes.

PICT0410Step 3.  Uncover the pot and stir briefly.  The cheese will be melted or mostly melted.  In a small bowl or 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk the egg yolks together. Add and stir them into the mixture.  

Egg yolks you ask?  Yep.  This is a secret I learned from my Tettie (Baba's sister).  Egg yolks are going to add a decadent richness to the potato and cheese filling.  Trust me.

PICT0414Step 4.   Using a vegetable masher, mash/smash the potatoes to desired consistency. I like mine ever-so-slightly chunky, with small bits of whole potato throughout.

IMG_3610You will have about 7 cups of potato and cheese filling.

Step 5.  Transfer the filling to a bowl or food storage container and cover with plastic wrap or a lid.  Do not refrigerate.  Experience has taught me it's best to keep the potatoes soft and slightly-warm for the assembly.  Set aside while preparing the sautéed butter and onion mixture.

Step Two:  Making the Butter & Onion Sauté

PICT04648  ounces salted butter (2 sticks) 

4  cups small diced yellow or sweet onion

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

Note:  Ignore this photo which represents twice as much as the quantity listed above.  It's because I am making two casseroles today.

PICT0469Step 1.  In a 4-quart stockpot, melt butter over low heat and stir in the garlic powder, sea salt and white pepper.  Add the diced onions.  

PICT0476Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Adjust heat to simmer gently, stirring frequently, until onions are soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes.

Step 2.  Remove from heat and transfer to a 4-cup measuring container.  You will have 3 1/2 cups. Why use a measuring container?  It's simple.  A measuring container will make it easier to measure the proper amount of butter and onion sauté onto each layer.

Part Three:  Assembling & Baking the Pirogi Casserole

IMG_3613One evening, sometime back in the 1990's, while watching Chef Emeril Lagasse (on The Food Network) prepare his lasagna without cooking the noodles (using conventional lasagna noodles, not the "no-boil" kind, which are not a favorite of mine), I felt like the weight of the lasagna world just might be lifted from my shoulders -- and it was, because it worked perfectly.  I never boiled another lasagna noodle to make lasagna again -- and nor should you.

IMG_3620IMG_3621IMG_3625IMG_3629~Step 1.  Spray a 13" x 9" x 2" glass casserole (I use  glass to keep an eye on it as it bakes) with no-stick cooking spray.  Place 3 uncooked lasagna noodles in the bottom and break a 4th to fit the empty space.  Using a large slotted spoon, and allowing a good bit of excess melted butter to drizle back into the container, evenly distribute a generous one-third (1 cup) of the buttery onions over noodles.*  Using a tablespoon, dollop half (3 1/2 cups) of potato mixture over top. Using your fingertips, lightly pat, press and spread the potatoes, to form an even layer.

Note:  You are going to have some leftover butter in the bottom of the container after the casserole is assembled.  It can't be helped.  It was the minimum needed to adequately simmer 4 cups of onions, and, it is was my goal for this recipe to:  not bake it drenched in butter.  This is not because of calories.  You want just enough of the butter's moisture to soften the uncooked noodles as the casserole bakes, but not so much as to render the casserole mushy.

IMG_3632IMG_3634IMG_3640Step 2.  Break and place 6 more lasagna noodles, in the opposite direction of the first layer, over the top of the potatoes.  Distribute the second one-third (1 cup) of the buttery onions over the noodles, once again allowing the excess butter to drizzle back into the measuring container.  Using the tablespoon, then your fingertips, dollop, pat and press the second half (3 1/2 cups) of the potatoes evenly over the top.

IMG_3642IMG_3644IMG_3649Step 3.  Place 4 lasagna noodles, in the same direction of the first layer, evenly over the potatoes and break a 5th noodle to fit in the empty space.  Using the slotted spoon, distribute the last third of the onions over the last layer of noodles, once again, allowing the excess butter to drizzle back into the measuring container.  Top casserole with the 2 cups additional grated white cheddar cheese.

Allow casserole to rest 45-60 minutes, for noodles to soften a bit.

IMG_3659Step 4.  Cover casserole with aluminum foil and bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven for 1 hour.  Remove the foil and continue to bake an additional 15-20 minutes.* Remove casserole from oven and allow to rest 20-30 minutes prior to slicing and serving.

*After 1 hour, when the foil is removed, the casserole should be lightly and nicely browning on the bottom and around the beginning-to-bubble top edges too.  There is more.  A sharp paring knife inserted into the center should reveal the noodles are soft too: 

IMG_3661Continue to bake for 15-20 more minutes, uncovered, until a gorgeous, golden color & bubbly:

IMG_3663Allow casserole to rest 20-30 minutes prior to slicing:

IMG_3669Topped w/my favorite creamy sour cream & chopped chives:

IMG_3697Mel's Deconstructed To-Die-For Pirogi Casserole:  Recipe yields 7 cups of potato filling, 3 1/2 cups of butter and onion sauté, one 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, and, 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler; box grater; cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; vegetable masher; 2-quart measuring container; 4-quart saucepan; 1-quart measuring container; 13" x 9" x 2" (3-quart) glass casserole; large slotted spoon

IMG_5939Cook's Note:  Would you like to deconstruct another Eastern European favorite?  Trust me, it will make your life easier just before the holidays.    Check out my recipe for ~ Unstuffed:  Deconstructed Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ~ in Categories 3, 12 0r 20.

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

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

12/02/2016

~ My Creamy & Comforting Tuna Noodle Casserole ~

IMG_3582I was a foodie sprout back in the latter 1950's, developed a few taste buds during the '60's, and, by the time I left the nest in 1974, had blossomed into a gal with a limited, but, sophisticated palate.  Limited because I wasn't exposed to a wide-variety of multi-cultural fare.  Sophisticated because my mom, aside from an occasional can of cream of tomato soup and a rare TV dinner (which my brother and I had to beg for), never, ever, purchased stuff like cans of "cream of" anything, boxes of mac 'n cheese, 'burger helpers, or, any chef-r-dee products whatsoever.  

IMG_3539The food we ate was simple, but, it was always made-from-scratch and it included a well-rounded Eastern European diet of fresh milk, eggs, butter, cheeses, in-season fruit, meat, cured and smoked meats, poultry, some fish and seafood, potatoes, grains, a small variety of vegetables, pickled vegetables and all sorts of great bread.  For the most part, I liked everything. This having been revealed, it should come as no surprise when I IMG_3552report:  my mom never made a 1950's era tuna noodle casserole. The can of tuna in her pantry was solely reserved for tuna salad.

Decades passed.  Then, in 2006, when Joe's mom moved to Happy Valley, the day came when I was asked to make a tuna-noodle casserole.  I was happy to accommodate, but, I wasn't starting in the cream-of-soup aisle of my grocery store.  I set out to come up with a creamy and comforting casserole, for her, but, it had to be one that Joe and I would enjoy too -- a rich, creamy, cheesy casserole topped with crispy, buttery bread crumbs.  That said, I took into consideration it should be in keeping with the concept of this iconic, retro casserole.  

IMG_3566Tuna noodle casserole:  a creamy, comforting pantry meal that can quickly be mixed together on a bad weather day or if you are just too tired to cook -- or simply because your elderly mother-in-law loves it.

Note:  The following recipe fills a 2-quart casserole (11" x 7" x 2"), and, if served with a nice salad and some crusty bread and butter, it will easily feed a family of six people. In the event you've got hungrier mouths to feed (teenagers), a bigger crowd, or want leftovers the next day, simply do the math, double the recipe, and, bake it in a much larger 4-quart casserole.

IMG_3482For the casserole:

1  12 1/2-ounce can solid white tuna, packed in water, well-drained

8  ounces bow tie noodles (farfalle), cooked al dente and well-drained

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt, for seasoning water for pasta

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoons white pepper

1/4  cup Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1/2 cup small-diced yellow or sweet onion 

1/2  cup small-diced celery 

1 1/2  cups frozen peas and diced carrots, unthawed 

1  4 1/2-ounce jar sliced mushrooms, well-drained

2  cups heavy cream, half & half or whole milk, your choice

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated cheese with creamy melting properties (Note:  My three favorites are Provel, Velveeta or Gruyère, and, I'm using my #1 favorite, Provel.  You can learn more about this cheese by reading my Cook's Note at the end of this post, and, if would like to buy some, you can purchase it at Viviano.)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

For the topping:

2 tablespoons salted butter, melted

1/2 cup French-style breadcrumbs or panko 

IMG_3470 IMG_3471 IMG_3474 IMG_3479 IMG_3488 IMG_3489~Step 1.  In a 4-quart saucepan bring 2 1/2 quarts of water to a boil and add the sea salt.  Add the pasta and cook to a very toothy level of al dente, about 9-10 minutes, instead of the usual 11-12 minutes.  Do not overcook -- the pasta is going to cook a second time in the oven. Transfer to a colander, drain, and rinse in cold water to halt the cooking process.  Set aside to thoroughly drain of water, tossing it occasionally, about 10-15 minutes.  While pasta is draining, place the tuna in a small colander to drain, and using your fingertips, break it into bite-sized pieces.  Place the noodles and the tuna in a large bowl.

IMG_3492 IMG_3494 IMG_3496 IMG_3499 IMG_3500 IMG_3504 IMG_3505 IMG_3508~Step 2.  In the same 4-quart saucepan, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter over low heat then stir in the sea salt and white pepper.  Add the diced celery and onion.  Increase heat to medium and cook until onion begins to soften, about 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add the peas and carrots along with the sliced mushrooms and continue to cook until thawed, about 2 more minutes stirring constantly.  Add the flour, and stirring constantly, cook for 1 more full minute.

IMG_3509 IMG_3512 IMG_3519 IMG_3520 IMG_3522~Step 3.   Add cream and adjust heat to simmer.  Cook until thickened but drizzly, 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Reduce heat and stir in cheese.  Stir until a thick sauce has formed, 1-1 1/2 minutes.

IMG_3528Pour the cheese sauce over the noodles and tuna.

IMG_3546 IMG_3548~ Step 4.  In a 1-cup measuring container, melt the butter in the microwave.  Stir in the breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons at a time, until you have added the full 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons), stirring well after each addition.  Using your fingertips, sprinkle the topping evenly over the top of the casserole.

Bake on center rack of 350°, until golden on top and bubbling around sides, about 25 minutes.

Tuna casserole going into 350° oven to bake about 25 minutes:

IMG_3564Coming out golden on top and bubbling around the sides:

IMG_3574Scoop it out & put it on a plate.  Can you feel the love?

IMG_3585My Creamy & Comforting Tuna Noodle Casserole:  Recipe yields 2-quarts, or 6-8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; colander; large spoon; large rubber spatula; 1-cup measuring container; 11" x 7" x 2", 2-quart casserole

PICT0005Cook's Note: Provel cheese was developed by the St. Louis firm Costa Grocery in the 1950's.  Made in Wisconsin, it's a processed cheese made from provolone, Swiss and white cheddar and sold primarily in the St. Louis area.

6a0120a8551282970b0176177cdb72970cMy critique of Provel cheese:  It's a white, slightly smoky and slightly salty tasting processed cheese, with a texture similar to the orange-colored Velveeta.  The second you take a knife to it, you just know it's going to melt to a creamy state.  It's famously used on St. Louis-style pizza, and, is a great addition to cheese soups and cheese sauces.  

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

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