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12 posts from January 2017

01/31/2017

~ Open Sesame Asian Chicken Slaw Wonton Tacos~

IMG_5616What in the wild-world-of-culinary-sports made me ponder turning wonton skins into mini-taco shells?  Over the weekend I made two popular deep-fried Chinese-American appetizers to celebrate Chinese New Year:  crab Rangoon and firecracker shrimp.  Yesterday, I roasted a chicken, for the purpose of making some Asian chicken salad today -- to use up a few of the miscellaneous Asian ingredients that were leftover, which, included some wonton skins.

Wonton tacos?  Why not?  They're a ton of tasty fun.

IMG_5592A bit about making mini- wonton cups & wonton taco shells:

IMG_5541IMG_5534For those who don't know, these small squares of flattened dough are very versatile. They can be boiled, steamed, pan-fried, deep-fried and/or baked. When I bake with them, I usually place them in mini-muffin cups. When they emerge from the oven, they are brown and crispy -- pretty little cups, each one ready and waiting for a dollop of an interesting savory or sweet filling.

IMG_5571IMG_5574IMG_5586IMG_5592Making mini-wonton cups is straightforward:  Lay one wonton skin on top of each of 12 mini-muffin cups.  Using a wooden tart tamper or your fingertips, push each skin down to form a flat bottom.  Bake in a 350° oven, until pretty golden brown around the edges, 5-6 minutes.  Remove from oven and immediately remove from pans.  Cool and fill with a savory or sweet filling.

IMG_5577IMG_5563IMG_5566IMG_5569Making mini-wonton taco shells requires a contraption:  Place a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan into which a smaller, oven-safe baking pan has been placed in order to elevate one side of the baking dish about 2" -- this elevation enables them to bake "open" (a la taco-style) rather than hanging straight down, which causes them to "close" or "clam up".  

Place the "contraption" in a preheated 350° oven about 10 minutes.  Working 3 wontons at a time, drape them over the low side of the baking dish.   Bake until golden around the edges, 5-6 minutes.  Using your fingertips, remove them from the side of the pan (I just place them on my pot holder).  Repeat this process until you've made as many wonton taco shells as you want.   

IMG_5596

Indulge me in this delish 5-minutes-to-fix Asian slaw recipe.

No pretense here.  They day I came across store-bought "broccoli cole slaw mix" (cole slaw mix made with crunchy green broccoli stems instead of green cabbage), my mind immediately raced to the flavors of soy sauce and sesame oil.  Why?  Broccoli is classic Asian.  There's more.  I didn't have to experiment with the perfect dressing for it -- I'd already come up with one for my Asian chicken salad recipe.  After a quick mix of the pre-shredded store-bought raw vegetables and my honey-sesame dressing, Asian slaw perfection was revealed.  The brand I use is organic, and, contains just three crunchy ingredients:  broccoli, carrots and red cabbage. It truly is a high-quality time-saving mixture that any busy cook can and should appreciate.

IMG_09781/4  cup each: vegetable oil and white rice vinegar

1  tablespoon each: sesame oil and Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons honey

1, 12-ounce bag store-bought broccoli cole slaw

IMG_0977Step 1.  In a measuring container w/a tight fitting lid, combine all the liquid ingredients.  Shake vigorously.

IMG_0986IMG_0982Step 2. Place the broccoli cole slaw in a medium bowl and add all of the dressing.  Give it a thorough stir.

Place the slaw in the refrigerator for 2-6 hours (or overnight will work too), stopping to stir it about every 30-45 minutes in the beginning so that all the slaw gets to absorb the dressing equally.  Note:  This recipe yields 3/4 cups of salad dressing and 4 cups of basic broccoli slaw.

IMG_5598 IMG_5602~ Step 3.  To turn it into chicken-broccoli slaw, I toss in 2 cups bite-sized diced or pulled, roasted chicken and 1 cup thinly-sliced green onion and refrigerate as directed above.  The new yield will be a generous 6 cups of chicken-broccoli slaw.

Scoop a generous 1/4-1/3 cup into each wonton taco shell:

IMG_5604What a great snowy-day Asian "soup 'n sandwich" combo:

IMG_5606Open-Sesame Asian Chicken Salad Wonton Tacos:  Recipe yields enough filling to make about 18-24 appetizers.

Special Equipment List: 13" x 9 x 2" baking dish; 17 1/2" x 12" baking pan; 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid & pourer top; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_8322Cook's Note:    Skip the store-bought rotisserie chicken.  Roast two chickens in two hours.  Yep that's what I said, and, they come out moist and juicy with crispy skin every time.  ~ This Womans's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree "Carving for Dummies" Methodology ~ can be found in Categories 3, 15, 19 or 20.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

01/28/2017

~ Have a Blast: Hot and Crispy Firecracker Shrimp ~

IMG_5531Start with really big shrimp (no alternative facts here).  Simmer down.  What's the point of having a blog and being on social media if you're going to lie -- about anything?  Here on KE, where I test, write and photograph my own recipes, it's easy to speak truth.  Experience has taught:  the bigger the shrimp the better the firecracker shrimp, and, since their count, which determines their size, is clearly-labeled, you will have no where to run or hide if you don't use 21-25 count (jumbo), or ideally, 16-20 count (extra-jumbo) shrimp, to make this appetizer.  No matter what you say or how hard you try to skew it, the end result will be obvious.  You've been warned.

IMG_5526So exactly how does shrimp-sizing work?

IMG_8530In a shrimp shell -- it doesn't.  There is no industry standard. One vendor's medium, may be another's extra-large. This explains why so many are confused by these words: small, medium, large, extra-large and jumbo.  When buying shrimp, the most important words to know aren't words, they're numbers.  To learn more, click on the Related Article link below: ~ Purchase Shrimp  by "Count", not "Size" ~.

Count = the number of shrimp per pound.  The smaller the number the bigger the shrimp.  16/20 = 16-20 shrimp per pound.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08975709970d-800wiThaw the shrimp if they are frozen, peel and devein them, and, be sure to leave the tails on.  Why?  A shrimp with the tail left on is a very pretty presentation, particularly if there is a chance the diner can enjoy the shrimp whole.  It serves as a convenient "handle" -- especially if there is a dipping sauce.  There's more:  All shrimp connoisseurs know the last bite of shrimp (located inside the tail), is the most succulent bite.  That said: Whether in the home kitchen or in a restaurant, peeling shrimp is labor intensive. Leaving the tail on is an indication that the cook or chef cares about you and is serving you the best quality shrimp possible.

The only reason to ever remove the tail from a shrimp is when the shrimp, usually smaller ones, are inclusive in the dish, meaning:  the diner needs a fork, spoon and/or a knife to eat the dish.

IMG_0912Ever wonder why the jumbo, batter-dipped or wrapped, deep-fried shrimp served in restaurants or seen on television look so much better than the ones most folks make in the home kitchen -- fingerlike looking, instead of curled up in tight little balls?

IMG_0755Here are the two steps that are going to result in that picture-perfect presentation.  On each of:

1  pound extra-jumbo (16-20 count) shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails left on and patted dry

Step 1.  Using a sharp paring knife or a pair of kitchen shears, trim the end tips off the tails at angle.

IMG_0758Next, stand each shrimp upright and use your fingertips to gently fan out the tail.  

Doesn't that look prettier already?

This little (Japanese) trick, which takes almost no time, works great when boiling, steaming, sautéing or broiling shrimp too. 

IMG_0762Step 2.  Flip/turn each shrimp over on its back and score two or three shallow slits in the belly (as if you were going to slice each shrimp into thirds or fourths).  Do not cut too deep, just "nick it" with the knife along the inside curve.  This allows the shrimp to "relax" and straighten out instead of curling up.

IMG_0766Notice how flat this shrimp is laying?  This nifty step is going to prevent the shrimp from curling up when they are deep-fried.

Note:  Both of these steps can be done up to one day prior to deep-frying shrimp.  Cover prepped shrimp with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated until ready to proceed.

Moving along to my easy six-ingredient Asian marinade.

Made from Asian staples I keep on-hand in my pantry and refrigerator, this is my favorite combination.  Some folks add some Sriracha sauce, others add chili-garlic sauce -- especially if those ingredients are to be used in their dipping sauce recipe too.  I add sweet chili sauce, because that is what I use as dipping sauce, and, because it's sweet, it serves as my substitute for palm sugar, light brown sugar or sugar (some form of sugar is common in most recipes).

IMG_54531  tablespoon garlic paste

1  tablespoon ginger paste

1  tablespoon soy sauce

2  tablespoons sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy) or palm sugar, light brown sugar or sugar

1  tablespoon sesame oil

2  teaspoons cornstarch 

~ Step 1.  In a shallow bowl with sloped sides and  a flat bottom (like a rimmed-soup bowl) stir all of the ingredients together.  Take a taste and feel free to adjust the seasonings to suit yourself.

Note:  Minus the cornstarch, this mixture makes a tasty dipping sauce for many Asian appetizers.

IMG_5458~ Step 2.  Working one-at-a-time, holding each shrimp by the tail, swish it in the marinade, to coat the meat while doing your best not to get marinade on the tail.  As you work, place shrimp, tails up, into a second, shallow-bottomed bowl with sloped sides and a flat bottom. Marinate for 30-45 minutes.  

Ready, set, go -- it's time to wrap, roll & deep-fry.

IMG_5463~ Step 1.  While the shrimp are marinating:  Heat peanut or vegetable oil in a deep-fryer to 365°-375° according to manufacturer's specifications.  In a small bowl, using a fork, whisk 1 large egg with 1 tablespoon water -- this egg wash will be used to seal the wraps on the firecracker shrimp. Slice 8-10, 5 1/2"-square egg roll wrappers, corner-to-corner, into triangles.  One-at-a time, pick each shrimp up by the tail, remove it from the marinade and blot the meat in a paper towel, to remove as much excess liquid as possible.

IMG_5465 IMG_5474 IMG_5477 IMG_5479 IMG_5481~Step 2.  To wrap and deep-fry each shrimp:  Starting at a lower corner of the egg roll wrapper, position the shrimp so that the point where the "shrimp meat meets the crunchy tail" is on the edge.  Begin rolling, cigar-style, as tightly as you can, until the shrimp is positioned directly below the pointy top of the triangle.  Using a pastry brush, paint the remaining open surface with the egg wash.  Lift and pull the pointy top of the triangle down over the top of the shrimp, then, continue rolling until a compact cylinder has formed. Continue rolling until all the "firecrackers" are formed.

IMG_5497 IMG_5483~ Step 3.  Open the lid of the fryer. One-at-a-time, using your fingertips, gently place 4-5 firecracker shrimp into the hot oil -- it's important not to crowd the fryer basket.  Close the lid on the fryer and allow to cook for 3-3 1/2 minutes until a pretty golden brown.

IMG_5503The timing, 3-3 1/2 minutes, will depend on whether you used jumbo or extra jumbo shrimp. Using an Asian spider, remove shrimp from fryer transfer to a cooling rack that has been placed over a layer or two of paper towels to catch the drips.  Repeat this process until all shrimp are deep-fried.

 Be patient.  Wait 1-2 minutes prior to  serving hot & crispy:

IMG_5508With your favorite dipping sauce (mine is sweet chili sauce): 

IMG_5516Have a Blast:  Hot and Crispy Firecracker Shrimp:  Recipe yields 21-25 or 16-20 appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; paper towels; deep-fryer; Asian spider or large slotted spoon; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01774381887b970dCook's Note:  Occasionally I serve firecracker shrimp as a main-course.  My recipe for ~ Leftover Rice?  Use it to Make Chinese Fried Rice ~, omitting the chicken or pork and made with vegetables alone, is the perfect accompaniment.  You can find the recipe in Categories 3, 14 or 26.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

01/25/2017

~ Crab Rangoon w/More Crab than Cream Cheese ~

IMG_5437Crab meat, scallions and seasoned cream cheese all wrapped up in a wonton, deep-fried and served with a sweet dipping sauce (like duck sauce or sweet and sour sauce).  It's a staple appetizer on most Chinese-American restaurant menus, and, an appetizer I almost never order. Why? Because 99% of the time, both the sweet flavor and delicate texture of the crab (or worse -- imitation crab) is 100% lost to the cream cheese -- akin to seasoned cream cheese spread.

IMG_5444With Rangoon (the capital city  of Burma) in its name, most people think this is an authentic Asian specialty.  It's not.  It's claimed to be the creation of a chef at Trader Vic's, a California-based restaurant chain started by Victor Jules ("Trader Vic") Bergeron in Oakland in the 1950's. They became famous for exotic Polynesian cuisine, cocktails and atmosphere -- he was one of two people who claimed to have invented the Mai Tai.  During the Tiki-culture-fad of the 1960's (yes, there indeed was one), as many as 25 restaurants were in operation around the world.

Screen shot 2017-01-25 at 12.04.00 PMOn the Trader Vic's menus, crab rangoon was a pricey menu item -- $10.50 when I ate there in Atlanta in the '80's.  For the price, I should have loved it, but, I did not.  I did, however, come to the conclusion that crab Rangoon, which is not at all hard to make, could be a crowd-pleasing appetizer that should be made in the home kitchen, where the flavor and texture could be controlled -- by me.  

There's more:  The investment in 8 or 16 ounces of fresh or pasteurized crab meat (both work fine -- it just depends on where you live and availability) turns out to be surprisingly economical, as, the recipe turns out enough appetizers for a nice-sized get-together:  2 or 4 dozen.  When reading my recipe below, notice, I've done the calculations for you, for a small- or large-batch.

Next:  Everyone always asks if Rangoon can be made ahead and frozen.  Some folks say they freeze them, after assembly and short of frying, flat on a baking pan for 2-4 weeks.  Hear me:  I do not like the texture after freezing -- the filling gets a bit mealy, so, I don't do it.  That said, I do assemble them 4-6 hours in advance, cover the baking pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate prior to deep-frying.  After frying, if left at room temperature, uncovered, for a few hours (on the cooling rack placed in a baking pan), then, baked in a 350º oven for 3-4 short minutes, they will crisp up beautifully and taste wonderful.  They'll stay puffy too -- can't ask for more than that.  

Here's a bit more make-your-life-easier news:

IMG_5431I use the food processor to make the filling in 3-4 minutes!  

IMG_5364To make 2 or 4 dozen (a small batch or a large batch):

8 or 16 ounces jumbo lump crab meat, well-drained, the best available

4 or 8  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1/4 or 1/2  cup 1/4"-sliced scallions, white and light-green parts only (1 or 2 ounces)

1 1/2 teaspoons or 1  tablespoon garlic paste

1  tablespoon or 2 tablespoons ginger paste

1 1/2 teaspoons or 1  tablespoon Chinese-style soy sauce*

peanut oil or vegetable oil for deep-frying

2 or 4 dozen, 3"-3 1/4"-square wonton wrappers

IMG_5388 IMG_53891 or 2  large eggs, whisked with 1 or 2 tablespoons water, for sealing wontons

duck sauce or sweet and sour sauce, for dipping or drizzling

freshly-ground sea salt, for sprinkling on appetizers as they come out of the fryer

*Note:  To steer this appetizer in the direction of Thailand, add 2 or 4 tablespoons minced cilantro to the cream cheese mix, substitute 1 1/2 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon Thai seasoning soy sauce for Chinese soy sauce, and, serve with Mae Ploy (sweet chili sauce) for dipping. 

IMG_5366 IMG_5370 IMG_5372 IMG_5374 IMG_5376 IMG_5379~Step 1.  Place the crab meat on a paper-towel lined plate, to allow the paper to absorb any and all of the excess moisture.  Preheat the oil in a deep-fryer to 365°-375°.  Prep and place the sliced scallions in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process to small, minced bits and pieces, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice during the processing.  Add the cream cheese, garlic paste, ginger paste and soy sauce.  With motor running, process until combined and smooth, about 25-30 seconds, again, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with the spatula during the process.

IMG_5384 IMG_5386~ Step 2.  Transfer the cream cheese mixture to a medium or large bowl.  Add the well-drained crab meat.  Using the rubber spatula, gently fold the crab meat into the cream cheese, doing your best to allow the meat to remain in large lumps.

IMG_5392 IMG_5394 IMG_5400 IMG_5402~Step 3.  Working in batches of 4-6 appetizers at a time (because it is important not to overcrowd the fryer basket, brush the edges of each of 4-6 wonton wrappers with the egg wash.  

Place 1 1/2-2 teaspoons of filling mixture into the center of each wrapper -- I use a small, 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure.  

Lift and fold one corner of the wrapper over the top of the filling, to create a triangle, then, using your fingertips, pinch the edges together to form a tight seal.

IMG_5410 IMG_5412 IMG_5417 IMG_5425~Step 4.  Open the lid of the fryer.  Using your fingertips, one-at-a-time, gently drop 4-6 filled rangoon down into the fryer basket.  Close the lid and fry until light-golden, about 3 minutes.  Do not overcook or the filling will being to ooze out.  Using an Asian spider or a large slotted spoon, remove from fryer, transfer to a wire rack that has been placed on a  layer or two of paper towels (to absorb the oily drips), and, immediately sprinkle with a fresh grinding of sea salt.  Repeat this process until all Rangoon (2 or 4 dozen) are filled, fried and ready to serve ASAP.

Rangoon:  filled, formed & awaiting a 3-minute deep-fry:

IMG_5406Rangoon:  fried, drained, salted & awaiting dipping sauce:

IMG_5421Crab Rangoon w/More Crab than Cream Cheese:  Recipe yields 2 or 4 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; large rubber spatula; pastry brush; 1-2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; plastic wrap; pastry brush; 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop; deep fryer; Asian spider or large slotted spoon; wire cooling rack.

6a0120a8551282970b017ee7540d14970dCook's Note:  You can find my recipe for making homemade ~ Sweet & Sour Sauce for Seafood, Poultry or Pork ~ by clicking on the Related Article Link below.  To get my recipe for ~ "Would You Like 'Duck' Sauce with That?" "Yes!" ~, just click into Categories 8, 13 or 26.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

01/22/2017

~ A Plain, All-Purpose, No-Nonsense Muffin Recipe ~

IMG_5338Who bakes plain muffins and why?  I do and here's why.  I enjoy a lot of treats unembellished  -- doughnuts, cake doughnuts, cream cakes,  crumb cakes and coffeecakes to name a few.  Heck, I even like plain cheesecake.   That said, for those who prefer their muffins chocked-full of goodies (fresh or dried fruits, berries, nuts, chocolate- peanut butter- or cinnamon-chips and/or toffee bits), having a basic muffin batter recipe in your back pocket takes the guess and stress out of making all sorts of muffins exactly the way your family, friends and you like them -- simply by adding a cup or two of this or that and a pinch of spice and other things nice.

Similar to the low-key and friendly "welcome to my kitchen" ambiance of any of the aforementioned unembellished treats, a plain muffin is my own, personal, morning-comfort-food. I can't wait to open one up, use my fingers to pull it apart, eat it slowly, one lip-licking nibble at a time.  Afterward, I can feel good about having eaten this small, sweet indulgence for the entire day.  From start to finish, I can make ten simply-delicious, nothin'-muffins in 30 minutes or less.

From start-to-finish, 30-minutes or less, I promise:

IMG_5299For the wet ingredients:

4  tablespoons salted butter, melted

1/2  cup sugar

1  large egg

1  cup whole milk

1  tablespoon vanilla extract

For the dry ingredients:

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/4  teaspoon salt

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin cups

IMG_5301~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly-spray the cups in standard-sized muffin tins (enough for 12 muffins) with no-stick spray and set aside.  In a small bowl stir together the dry ingredients:  flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  Note:  If you are using unsalted butter, increase the amount of salt to 1/2 teaspoon.  

In a 1-cup measuring container, stir the milk and vanilla together.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, melt the butter in the microwave and set aside to cool a bit, 1-5 minutes.  Ready, set, go:

IMG_5305 IMG_5307 IMG_5309 IMG_5312 IMG_5314 IMG_5319~Step 2.  Add the sugar and the egg to the bowl of melted butter.  Using an old-fashioned hand-crank mixer, combine until thick and smooth, about 30-45 seconds.  Add the milk and blend again, until milk is thoroughly incorporated. Remove the mixer and add all of the dry ingredients.  Using a large rubber spatula, incorporate dry ingredients into wet ingredients.  Don't over mix.  Batter will be slightly-lumping looking.

IMG_5320 IMG_5326~ Step 3. Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, distribute the batter amongst each of ten of the prepared muffin cups.

~ Step 4.  Bake muffins, all at once, on center rack of preheated 350° oven, until puffed up, golden, and, a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 14-16 minutes.

IMG_5335 IMG_5346~ Step 5. Remove from oven to cool, in pans, on a wire rack for 2-3 minutes, just long enough for them to shrink from sides of cups.  Use a sharp paring knife to carefully and gently remove muffins from tins to cool on rack completely about 1 hour.

I just adore a simply-splendid nothin'-muffin in the mornin':

IMG_5352A Plain, All-Purpose, No-Nonsense Muffin Recipe:  Recipe yields 10 muffins.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; old-fashioned hand-crank mixer; large rubber spatula; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; standard-size muffin tins, enough for 10 muffins; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack; sharp paring knife

IMG_5228Cook's Note:  Feel free to add any combination of "your favorite things" to this muffin mixture -- chocolate chips and chopped, lightly-toasted walnuts are pictured here.  That said, limit the grand total of all add-ins together to 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cups. The new yield will be 12 muffins.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

01/20/2017

~ The Differences Between: Cupcakes and Muffins ~

IMG_5294Cupcakes and muffins.  Past their shape and portable-foodness, they have less in common than one might think.  The fast, simple generic answer is:  Cupcakes are fancy little cup-sized cakes and muffins are plain little cup-sized quick-breads.  Served with an ice-cold glass of milk or cup of piping hot coffee, rare is the person who would take a pass on either.  That said, I will always choose a muffin over a cupcake.  Sorry cupcake -- this post is going to be a bit biased.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1667c12970cShape. They're both baked in multiple-cupped pans, to produce individual-sized, portable portions. Prior to the invention of the pans, they were baked in cup-sized pottery ramekins. Sometimes, for ease of serving, paper liners are placed in the cups, except:  paper liners prevent browning on the outside (which I think is fine for cupcakes but not for muffins) so, I only use them for coarse, crumbly, bready corn and/or cheese muffins.

Cupcakes require a cake recipe.  Muffins require a bread recipe -- Never the twain shall meet.

IMG_7934A cupcake is made from a cake recipe, often with cake flour, rendering it light and soft.  Cupcake batter is the same smooth consistency of cake batter: thick enough to mound slightly when dropped from a spoon back into the bowl, and thin enough to pour from the bowl to the pan. Baking cakes and cupcakes is a precise sport:  for best results, all of the dry and wet ingredients should be weighed and measured carefully and at the proper temperature.

IMG_5225A muffin is made from a quick-bread recipe (a quick-to-mix bread leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda rather than yeast) with a dense, crumby texture. Once the dry ingredients are added to the wet ingredients, while it's important to incorporate them, it's important not to over mix them, even if the mixture appears a bit lumpy.  Each mixture looks a bit different and many recipes do not even require an electric mixer -- they just get stirred together.

Cupcakes get frosted &/or decorated.  Muffins do not.

IMG_7999Like cakes, cupcakes are piped or slathered with frosting on their tops -- like cakes, some cupcakes are elaborately decorated.  Muffins get nothing at all, a sprinkling of sparkling, coarse-textured sugar, and/or, a crumbly streusel sprinkled on their tops.  Both sugar and streusel will add a pleasant crunch to a muffin's top.  As a purist, I am here say:  muffins should never be glazed or frosted after-the fact (like cinnamon rolls or coffeecakes, which beg for a sweet, creamy enhancement), although there's always a bakery or coffee shop happy to do it and sell it.

IMG_4983A cupcake is sweeter than a muffin and a muffin is sweeter than a traditional loaf of bread with one caveat: Muffins (like corn or cheese muffins) can be savory too -- a cupcake is sweet 100% of the time. Cupcakes are dessert.  Muffins can surely be served for dessert, but, they are generally considered a breakfast fare. That said, savory muffins (like corn and/or cheese muffins) are great with chili or a stew for lunch, or, a juicy steak or a rack of ribs for dinner.

IMG_2563Savory corn and/or cheese muffins are muffins made from cornmeal and are popular all over the USA. Corn muffins are basicially muffin-shaped cornbread, but, are usually sweeter.  Common add-ins are corn kernels, cheddar cheese, bacon bits and or jalapeño peppers. Because corn muffins are made with a healthy amount of cornmeal, they will not have the signature domed-top that other kinds of muffins and their cupcake cousins, which are made with all-purpose flour or cake flour, do.

Muffins are healthier than cupcakes?  Add-ins = calories.

IMG_5181Cupcakes and muffins were originally baked at home and the home cook knew that muffins were not as sweet as cupcakes, so, in their basic form, muffins are healthier than cupcakes. When coffee shops and cafés became trendy, muffins were marketed as the healthier alternative to donuts and other pastries.  Nowadays, many muffins are so sugar-laden and chocked-full of add-ins, the calorie count is higher than the calorie count in the doughnuts and pastries -- it's seriously deceiving to the unsuspecting consumer.  It's lucky for me I like muffins made with bran or oatmeal a lot, so, in the face of danger, that's what I choose when in my local coffee shop.  

For anyone to say that muffins are inherently healthier than cupcakes is a misconception -- the muffins at your local bakery or coffee shop often have as many as 600+ calories.  Wow.

IMG_5228Fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice, fruit purée, nuts, seeds and grains (usually bran or oats) are common additions.  As mentioned above, in the recent history of muffins, chocolate, cinnamon, peanut butter, and/or toffee bits have become popular additions too. The latter list of sweets, while not my favorite, are not going to prompt me to call the food police.  Even I like a chocolate chip or a toffee bit thrown into my homemade mix  occasionally.

That said, when it comes to fruity add-ins to muffin batter, experience has taught me that dried fruits and berries work better than fresh, juicy and/or water-laden ones.  For example: Dried cherries or papaya work better than fresh cherries or fresh papaya, and, mashed fruit or thick fruit purées, like applesauce or mashed bananas, are preferable to all liquid fruit juices.

Given a choice between a cupcake or a muffin?  My winner is: 

IMG_5272"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos Courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)
 

01/18/2017

~ Go Bananas: Banana-Nut Chocolate-Chip Muffins ~

IMG_5272Go bananas or gone bananas -- an idiom implying one is or has gone mildly crazy.  When it comes to well-made muffins, I am not mildly crazy about them, I am certifiably crazy about them. I prefer a muffin to a cupcake, and, to be clear, I personally would choose a banana-nut muffin over a banana chocolate-chip muffin.  That said, it's not always about me:  some folks dislike or have a bona fide allergy to nuts, and, unlike me, many others just love and crave chocolate.

IMG_5289"Let's meet for coffee." (Said by me never.)

"Let's meet for coffee."  It's something I rarely agree to, but, when I do, if I can order a muffin too, I do. The golden-domed banana-nut muffin I ordered at a local café yesterday sucked.  When I pushed it to the side after nibbling on two small pieces, my friend Bob offered to try a piece.  He agreed it had about as much taste as tofu, suggested that chocolate chips might taste better (than nuts), then made the questioning statement, "that's if chocolate chips can be substituted for nuts."  Bob's not a cook.  I replied, "One reason the muffin has no flavor is the bananas used were not ripe enough, and yes, chocolate chips can be substituted for nuts, or, you can add 'em both.  It's like making chocolate-chip cookies with or without nuts -- you do what you like best."

IMG_8010"So, what's the difference between a muffin & a cupcake?"  

"So, what's the difference between a muffin and a cupcake?"  One tasteless banana muffin turned into an interesting conversation (and this blog post).  Generally speaking, I like to keep the answer to this question simple.  A cupcake is a cup-sized cake with a light, soft texture, and, a muffin is a cup-sized loaf of "quick-bread" (a quick-to-mix-together bread leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda rather than yeast) with a denser, crumbier texture.  A cupcake is sweeter than a muffin and a muffin is sweeter than a traditional loaf of bread with one caveat:  a muffin can be savory too, a cupcake cannot.  Cupcakes are usually piped or slathered with frosting, while muffins get nothing at all, a sprinkling of sparkling, coarse-textured sugar, and/or, a crumbly streusel sprinkled on their tops -- sometimes they have a thin glaze too, but, that's not my cup-of-tea.  Cupcakes are, in fact: dessert.  Muffins can be dessert, but, they are generally considered a breakfast treat.  To say that muffins are inherently healthier is a misconception -- the muffins at your local bakery or Starbucks often have as many as 600+ calories.

IMG_2068Go bananas, but, PLEASE use over-ripe bananas when baking.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08141119970dI eat a pretty yellow banana almost every day of my life.  Pretty yellow: that is my favorite stage of ripeness for eating and it's one of my favorite snacks on a busy day.  I only buy bananas 2-3 at a time because I won't eat them past pretty yellow.

That said, when I know I'm going to be baking banana muffins or banana bread, I purchase my bananas about week ahead of time. The bananas pictured here took a full 7-8 days to get to the perfect banana-muffin ripeness.  Over-ripe bananas, are incredibly fragrant, sweet and flavorful -- a lot more than the pretty yellow ones.

Time to bake banana-nut chocolate-chip muffins.

IMG_5191For the bananas:

2 - 2 1/4  cups mashed bananas, from 5-6 large, over-ripe bananas (pictured above)

For the wet ingredients:

1  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (2 sticks)

1 1/2  cups sugar

2  large eggs, at room temperature

2  teaspoons each:  banana and vanilla extract

1/2  cup + 2 tablespoons milk

For the dry ingredients:

4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

For the add-ins:

2  cups chopped walnuts or pecans

1 1/2  cups chocolate chips

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin cups 

IMG_5194 IMG_5204 IMG_5195 IMG_5198 IMG_5202~Step 1.  Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly-spray the cups in standard-sized muffin tins (enough for 24 muffins) with no-stick cooking spray and set aside.  Chop and place the nuts in a small baking pan and lightly-toast them for about 6 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Note:  If you are using unsalted butter, increase the amount of salt to 3/4 teaspoon.  

In a second medium bowl, on medium speed of hand-held electric mixer and working your way up to high speed, process the bananas until "mashed".  Measure and set aside 2-2 1/4 cups.

IMG_5207 IMG_5209 IMG_5211 IMG_5213 IMG_5215 IMG_5217 IMG_5218 IMG_5222 IMG_5224 IMG_5225 IMG_5228 IMG_5233~Step 2.  Place butter, sugar, eggs and extracts in a large  bowl.  Starting on medium mixer speed and working up to high, cream these ingredients together, about 30-45 seconds, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula the entire time.  Lower  mixer speed and blend in the milk, followed by the mashed bananas.  In 2-3 increments,  thoroughly incorporate the dry ingredients.  Remove mixer and use the spatula to fold in the nuts and chocolate chips by hand.

IMG_5236 IMG_5239~ Step 3. Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, distribute batter into each of 24 muffin cups whose tins have been sprayed lightly with no-stick cooking spray.  If there is any batter left in the bowl, use a teaspoon to distribute and dollop a bit of additional batter into the center of each muffin cup.

IMG_5246~ Step 4.  Bake muffins, all at once, on center rack of preheated 350° oven, until puffed up, golden, and, a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes.  Remove from oven to cool, in pans, on a wire rack for 5-6 minutes.  Use a sharp paring knife to carefully and gently loosen and remove muffins from tins to cool on rack completely, about 1 hour.

Muffin(s) going into oven to bake in 350° oven, 20-22 minutes:

IMG_5244Muffin(s) out of oven, cooling in pans, 5-6 minutes:

IMG_5254All muffins out of pans & on a rack to cool completely: 

IMG_5257Go Bananas:  Banana-Nut Chocolate-Chip Muffins:  Recipe yields 2 dozen muffins.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small baking pan; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; standard-size muffin tins, enough for 2 dozen muffins; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack; sharp paring knife

IMG_2563Cook's Note:  Corn muffins are an example of savory muffins that get served as a side-dish.  They taste spectacular with a bowl of chile, a rack of barbecued spareribs and Tex-Mex breakfast casseroles.  I take my recipe for ~ It's a Triple-Corn Jalapeno Corn-Muffin Kinda Day ~ very seriously.  You can find it in Categories 5, 9, 13 or 20. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

01/15/2017

~ Butter Me Up: Mel's Capellini a la Clams Casino ~

IMG_5180Classic and fantastic, I made clams casino over the weekend -- a retro Italian-American favorite appetizer that pleases everyone who loves clams.  Steamed clams, on the halfshell, slathered with an herby bacon-and-garlic compound butter, topped with a mound of crunchy bacon-and-breadcrumb mixture, baked until golden brown.  What's not to love.  There were just three of us, two guys and moi -- we ate two dozen and would have eaten more (and I stopped at four).  

IMG_5162Earlier in the afternoon, as I was preparing the compound butter and breadcrumb topping, it occurred to me how yummy the butter would be if tossed into a bowl of steaming hot pasta and topped with a sprinkling of crunchy breadcrumbs -- to serve as a side-dish to clams casino.  It was only natural for my foodie mind to take it one step farther:  toss steamed, shucked clams into the pasta too -- to serve as an entrée.  I slept on it, awoke with it, and decided to get on it.

IMG_5110It only took about 30 minutes to whip up another batch of compound butter and make the breadcrumb topping (that's how quick and easy they are to make), adjusting (cutting back) both recipes quantities a bit to accommodate 1 pound of pasta -- a family-friendly amount.  I sent Joe off to get more clams and here I am -- happy as a clam in Happy Valley writing about my latest creation.  It didn't take me long to come up with a name for it either, after Joe opined that I use capellini -- not spaghetti.

Part One:  Burping or Purging the Clams of Sand:

IMG_5086Soaking clams in cold water helps them burp out or purge the sand.   All clams, which live on the ocean floor, contain sand.  It's caused by their constant siphoning the sandy ocean water through their shells. One of the least appetizing foodie experiences is to eat a forkful of perfectly-cooked clams and end up with grit in your teeth -- a clear sign that the cook or chef didn't burp or purge the clams.  Its an easy process but requires a couple of hours, so include that in your game plan (or do it the day before).    

Gently tap each uncooked clam whose shell is open against your countertop. It should close immediately upon tapping. If it does not, it's dead and should be discarded.  Rinse the clams under cold running water and use a stiff brush to scrub the shells of dirt or grit.  Place the clams in a large bowl and cover with a mixture of 1 gallon of water + 1/4 cup sea salt per 2 pounds of clams.  Let for about 30-45 minutes, then remove the clams individually and place in a colander. Discard the water in the bowl, replace with a fresh water and salt mixture, then return the clams to soak for another 30-45 minutes. Repeat the process another two or three times, until the water is clear of sand and grit.  Drain and cook the clams in any manner you like.

Part Two:  Making Breadcrumb Topping & Compound Butter

IMG_50157  ounces finely-diced uncooked bacon or pancetta (total throughout recipe -- 4  ounces for breadcrumbs, 3 ounces for compound butter)

1/2  cup panko breadcrumbs, no substitutions

8  ounces salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (2 sticks)

1/2  cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion

1/4  cup each:  red and yellow bell pepper

2  tablespoons minced fresh garlic

2  tablespoons dried parsley flakes or tarragon leaves (total throughout recipe -- 1  tablespoon for breadcrumbs, 1  tablespoon for compound butter)

1 1/2  teaspoons fennel powder (total throughout recipe -- 1/2 teaspoon for breadcrumbs, 1 teaspoon for compound butter)

3/4  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper (total throughout recipe -- 1/4  teaspoon for breadcrumbs, 1/2 teaspoon for compound butter)

scant 1/2  teaspoon sea salt (total throughout recipe -- 1/8 teaspoon for breadcrumbs, 1/4 teaspoon for compound butter)

lemon wedges, for squirting each finished serving of capellini a la clams casino

IMG_5024IMG_5026IMG_5027IMG_5029IMG_5030IMG_5034IMG_5050~Step 1.  To make the breadcrumb topping, place 4 ounces of the finely-diced bacon or pancetta in a 3-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon fennel powder, 1/4 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper and 1/8 teaspoon sea salt.  Over medium-high, medium-, medium-low heat, stirring frequently, fry the meat until it is golden brown and crispy and has rendered its fat, about 6 minutes, lowering the heat as necessary if the mixture begins to smoke. Add the panko breadcrumbs and parsley or tarragon.  Stirring constantly, cook until breadcrumbs are lightly-toasted, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to thoroughly drain and cool.  You will have 3/4 cups of breadcrumb topping.

IMG_5036IMG_5039IMG_5042IMG_5043IMG_5052IMG_5055~Step 2.  To make the compound butter,  place the remaining 3 ounces of the finely-diced bacon or pancetta in the same 3-quart chef's pan.  Over medium-high, medium-, medium-low heat, stirring frequently, fry the meat until it is golden brown and crispy and has rendered its fat, about 6 minutes, lowering the heat as necessary if the mixture begins to smoke.  Stir in the onion, bell peppers, garlic and parsley or tarragon.  Add the 1 teaspoon fennel powder, 1/2 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt.  Stirring constantly, cook until vegetables are softened, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to thoroughly drain and cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.  Place butter in a large bowl and add the cooled meat/veggie mixture to the bowl. Using a rubber spatula, thoroughly combine.  You will have 1 1/2 cups of compound butter.

Part Three:  Perfectly-Steaming the Clams

IMG_5097The shells on clams should be closed when you buy them, or, they should close when tapped (as explained above).  A clam that will not close when prodded is a dead clam.  Throw it away.  Fiction:  A clam that doesn't open during the cooking process is a dead clam. Fact:  A clam that doesn't open during the cooking process is a live clam that needs to be cooked longer.  I've got 48 live topneck clams which have been purged as directed above -- that works out to IMG_5125be a generous 2-cups of shucked clams -- one dozen for each of four servings of pasta.  Feel free to change the amount to suit yourself.  

I am giving them a basic steam in plain water today,  until each one opens up wide.  I like to use my electric skillet for this task because it controls the heat perfectly, and, it has a glass lid which acts as a window -- allowing me to remove each clam the moment it opens up, so it doesn't overcook.  I do this in two batches of 24 clams each so as not to overcrowd the skillet.

IMG_5057 IMG_5058 IMG_5061 IMG_5126~Step 1.  Place 1 quart water in bottom of electric skillet and insert the rack.  Close the lid and adjust the heat to high (400° on this skillet).  In the meantime, drain and discard the water from the bowl of clams.  When the water in the skillet is boiling, open the lid and place 24 clams on the rack.  Close the lid and steam clams until each one pops open. Opening and closing the lid on the skillet as you work, use a pair of tongs to remove the steamed clams as they open, transferring them to a plate or a bowl to cool.  Repeat this process with the second 24 clams, adding 1-2 cups more water to the skillet to make up for what evaporated.  When cool enough to handle, pluck the clams from their shells and place in a bowl.  You will have 2+ cups.

Part Four:  Cooking, Tossing & Serving the Capellini a la Casino

IMG_51301  pound capellini

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1  teaspoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta 

1  cup compound butter, slightly more or less to your liking (from above recipe)

48  steamed and freshly-shucked clams (from above recipe)

3/4  cup breadcumb topping (from above recipe)

lemon wedges, for garnishing each portion

IMG_5131 IMG_5135 IMG_5141 IMG_5144~Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil and add the salt.  Add the capellini and cook until al dente, about 4-5 minutes.  Check it every few seconds after 4 minutes. Do not over cook.  Drain into a colander and give it a few quick shakes to remove excess water.

IMG_5146 IMG_5147 IMG_5150 IMG_5189~Step 2.  Place 1 cup of the compound butter in the still hot stockpot and add the garlic powder, red pepper flakes and sea salt.  Return the steaming hot pasta to the pot and place the pot on the still-warm stovetop.  Using two forks or spoons, toss like you would a salad, until butter is melted and pasta is coated in butter "sauce".  Cover the pot and give the pasta a moment or two to absorb all of the butter and it flavors.  Taste and add a bit more butter, to your liking, or, serve the remaining 1/2 cup with a crusty loaf of bread at the table (it's great).  Place one dozen clams in each of four warmed bowls and portion the pasta over the top of each.  Sprinkle breadcrumbs over each portion and serve immediately with lemon wedges for squirting over the top.

Mel's capellini a la clams casino?  I'll be making this again!

IMG_5178Butter Me Up:  Capellini a la Clams Casino:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup breadcrumb topping, 1 1/2 cups compound butter and 4 generous servings.

Special Equipment List:  stiff scrub brush; board; chef's knife; 3-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; spatula; paper towels; large spoon or spatula; large rubber spatula; 16" electric skillet w/wire rack insert; tongs; 8-quart stockpot; colander; two large forks or two large spoons

6a0120a8551282970b01bb096ca115970dCook's Note:  It's funny how a craving for seafood always hits me around this time of year. Luckily, high-quality, flash-frozen, king crab legs are available to me year-round at our Happy Valley Sam's Club.  ~ Mel's Wine & Tarragon-Steamed King Crab Legs w/Creamy Lemon-Tarragon & Shaved-Corn Orzotto ~ is a dish I simply adore.  It's a perfect cold-weather seafood-craving indulgence.  The recipe is in Categories 3, 4, 14 & 21.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

01/12/2017

~ Classier Classic Clams (on the Halfshell) Casino ~

IMG_5110I've never gone to a casino for the sole purpose of gambling -- I've never even had the urge to. That said, thanks to more than a few of Joe's business trips I've been to Las Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City several times for days-at-a-time -- complete with gorgeous hotel rooms, tickets to live shows and dinners in fabulous restaurants.  That said, casinos are indeed a glitzy, glamorous full-of-fun place to visit.  They're akin to amusement parks for adults, and, just like the latter, "the bloom comes off the rose" rather quickly  -- fun facades that suck up your bucks.

Clams Casino is considered a Classic Italian-American Dish.

Interestingly, clams casino is a clams "on the halfshell" dish that has little to do with the gaming industry per se, although every casino restaurant or restaurant in the vicinity of a casino has a variation of the dish on their menu.  Clams casino, which means "big mess" in Italian, is a basic concoction of clams, bacon, butter, and breadcrumbs that work spectacularly together.  Onion, garlic and bell peppers are common additions along with various herbs and seasonings.  

IMG_5104According to legend the recipe was developed in 1917 by Julius Keller, the maître d'hôtel of the Little Casino in Narragansett, Rhode Island, for a Mrs. Paran Stevens, who wanted to treat her guests to a special appetizer.  The dish was named "Casino" after the hotel and quickly became a signature appetizer throughout New England, then throughout the United States, including New Orleans, where oysters are substituted for clams.  It's worth mention that in the early decades of the last century, if a restaurant wanted to be well-known, they came up with a signature dish that involved the baking of shellfish, often with the meat taken out of the shell, prepared with a sauce, then returned to and served in the shell.  This dish became extremely popular with Italian-Americans and to this day has a spot on just about every trattoria menu.

Clam-guide2Clams casino is traditionally made with littleneck or cherrystone clams.  That said, gorgeous top necks is what was available to me in Happy Valley today and they're gonna work out just fine.

Part One:  Burping or Purging the Clams of Sand:

Soaking clams in cold water helps them burp out or purge the sand inside the shell.    All clams, which live on the ocean floor, contain sand.  It's caused by their constant siphoning the sandy ocean water through their shells.  One of the least appetizing foodie experiences is to pick up a forkful of perfectly-cooked clams and end up with grit in your teeth -- a clear sign that the cook or chef didn't burp or purge the clams to remove the sand.  Its an easy process which requires a couple of hours, so include that in your game plan, but, it can be done hours or a day ahead.    

Gently tap each uncooked clam whose shell is open against your countertop. It should close immediately upon tapping. If it does not, it's dead and should be discarded.  Rinse the clams under cold running water and use a stiff brush to scrub the shells of dirt or grit.  Place the clams in a large bowl and cover with a mixture of 1 gallon of water + 1/4 cup sea salt per 2 pounds of clams.  Let for about 30-45 minutes, then remove the clams individually and place in a colander. Discard the water in the bowl, replace with a fresh water and salt mixture, then return the clams to soak for another 30-45 minutes. Repeat the process another two or three times, until the water is clear of sand and grit.  Drain and cook the clams in any manner you like.

Part Two:  Making Breadcrumb Topping & Compound Butter

IMG_501510  ounces finely-diced uncooked bacon or pancetta (total throughout recipe -- 7  ounces for breadcrumbs, 3 ounces for compound butter)

1  cup panko breadcrumbs, no substitutions

8  ounces salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (2 sticks)

1/2  cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion

1/4  cup each:  red and yellow bell pepper

2  tablespoons minced fresh garlic

2  tablespoons dried parsley flakes or tarragon leaves (total throughout recipe -- 1  tablespoon for breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon for compound butter)

2  teaspoons fennel powder (total throughout recipe -- 1 teaspoon for breadcrumbs, 1 teaspoon for compound butter)

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper (total throughout recipe -- 1/2  teaspoon for breadcrumbs, 1/2 teaspoon for compound butter)

1/2  teaspoon sea salt (total throughout recipe -- 1/4 teaspoon for breadcrumbs, 1/4 teaspoon for compound butter)

lemon wedges, for squirting each finished serving of clams casino

IMG_5024 IMG_5026 IMG_5027 IMG_5029 IMG_5030 IMG_5034 IMG_5050~Step 1.  To make the breadcrumb topping, place 7 ounces of the finely-diced bacon or pancetta in a 3-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon fennel powder, 1/2 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt.  Over medium-high, medium-, medium-low heat, stirring frequently, fry the meat until it is golden brown and crispy and has rendered its fat, about 6 minutes, lowering the heat as necessary if the mixture begins to smoke. Add the panko breadcrumbs and parsley or tarragon.  Stirring constantly, cook until breadcrumbs are lightly-toasted, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to thoroughly drain and cool.  You will have 1 1/2 cups of breadcrumb topping.

IMG_5036 IMG_5039 IMG_5042 IMG_5043 IMG_5052 IMG_5055~Step 2.  To make the compound butter,  place the remaining 3 ounces of the finely-diced bacon or pancetta in the same 3-quart chef's pan.  Over medium-high, medium-, medium-low heat, stirring frequently, fry the meat until it is golden brown and crispy and has rendered its fat, about 6 minutes, lowering the heat as necessary if the mixture begins to smoke.  Stir in the onion, bell peppers, garlic and parsley or tarragon.  Add the 1 teaspoon fennel powder, 1/2 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt.  Stirring constantly, cook until vegetables are softened, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to thoroughly drain and cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.  Place butter in a large bowl and add the cooled meat/veggie mixture to the bowl. Using a rubber spatula, thoroughly combine.  You will have 1 1/2 cups of compound butter.

Part Three:  Partially-Steaming the Clams

IMG_5086The shells on clams should be closed when you buy them, or, they should close when tapped (as explained above).  A clam that will not close when prodded is a dead clam.  Throw it away.  Fiction:  A clam that doesn't open during the cooking process is a dead clam. Fact:  A clam that doesn't open during the cooking process is a live clam that needs to be cooked longer.  I've got 24 live topneck clams which have been purged as directed above.  I am giving them a basic steam, in plain water today,  until they just begin to open up, 1/4"-1/2", to partially-cook them.  Some recipes don't steam them at all, they just pry the shells open (which takes quite a bit of strength) and work with raw clams. Partial-steaming makes them easy to pry open -- the clams themselves remain plump and juicy.  I like to use my electric skillet for this task because it controls the heat perfectly, and, it has a glass lid which acts as a window -- allowing me to know just when to remove each clam.

IMG_5057 IMG_5058 IMG_5061 IMG_5064~Step 1.  Place 1 quart water in bottom of electric skillet and insert the rack.  Close the lid and adjust the heat to high (400° on this skillet).  In the meantime, drain and discard the water from the bowl of clams.  When the water in the skillet is boiling, open the lid and place all of the clams on the rack.  Close the lid and steam clams until each one opens up between 1/4"-1/2". Opening and closing the lid on the skillet as you work, use a pair of tongs to remove the partially-steamed clams as they open, transferring them to a plate or a bowl to cool.  

IMG_5066~ Step 2.  When the clams are cool enough to handle with your hands (about 15 minutes), pry them open. Using a pair of kitchen shears clip and remove the empty shell side, then, use the shears again to carefully clip and loosen the clam from it's half of the shell.  Place "clams on the halfshell" on one large baking pan (or two smaller pans if you won't be baking them all at once).

Part Four:  Assembling and Baking the Clams Casino

IMG_5070 IMG_5074Step 1.  Dollop a generous teaspoon of the compound butter onto the top of each clam and spread it around to the edges.  When this melts around and down underneath the clam it is going to keep it plump, moist and juicy as it bakes.

Note:  At this point, clams can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours or overnight.  Remove from refrigerator 1-2 hours prior to continuing with recipe as directed below:

IMG_5076 IMG_5080~ Step 2.  Top each clam with a scant tablespoon of the breadcrumb mixture, allowing it to mound a bit toward the center.  Bake on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven until golden brown and bubbly, about 6 minutes.  Do not over bake.  

Remove pan of clams from oven and rest about 3-5 minutes.  Trust me on this.  The heat of the shell will keep them warm while the time allows all of the flavors and textures to come together.

Serve 4-5-6 per person, garnished w/lemon wedges:

IMG_5103Happy as a clam can get in Happy Valley:

IMG_5116Great to the last flavorful slurp too:

IMG_5122Classic & Classy Clams (on the halfshell) Casino:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups breadcrumb topping, 1 1/2 cups compound butter and 24 topneck-clam-sized appetizers/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  stiff scrub brush; board; chef's knife; 3-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; spatula; paper towels; large spoon or spatula; large rubber spatula; 16" electric skillet w/wire rack insert; tongs; kitchen shears; 1, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan or 2, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans (Note:  I like to use two disposable aluminum broiler pans, the kind with the corrugated bottoms.  They prevent the clams from sliding around and there is zero cleanup.)

6a0120a8551282970b015390c1d94c970bCook's Note:  It's funny how a craving for seafood always hits me around this time of year. Luckily, high-quality, flash-frozen, king crab legs are available to me year-round at our Happy Valley Sam's Club.  ~ Mel's Wine & Tarragon-Steamed King Crab Legs w/Creamy Lemon-Tarragon & Shaved-Corn Orzotto ~ is a dish I simply adore.  It's a perfect cold-weather seafood-craving indulgence.  The recipe is in Categories 3, 4, 14 & 21.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

01/10/2017

~ Deep-Fried Pork Fingers w/Bone Suckin' Sauce ~

IMG_4987Appetizers.  Snacks.  Pub grub.  Whatever you want to call it, the Winter just brings out the best/worst in me.  I'm completely contented to hibernate indoors, let the snow pile up on the doorstep, and, watch movies while drinking cocktails and munching on hot, crispy snacks until Spring.  Trust me when I tell you, during the Winter, deep-frying is one of my of favorite sports. 

IMG_5005There's more. I've recently "gotten into" purchasaing those big, boneless pork loins at Sam's Club -- they're extremely economical considering ALL the things you can cook with just one. Pork is indeed "the other white meat" and my motto is: "Almost anything chicken can do, pork can do better" -- you can't make chicken wings with pork.  Sometimes I roast or braise the whole loin and sometimes I slice it into chops (thick ones for stuffing or thinly-pounded ones for a flash-in-the-pan sauté).  Other times I dice a bit of it for a quick stir-fry and still other times I grind it up and freeze it 'cause I've got a whole host of uses for ground pork loin.  I truly love pork. 

IMG_4980For some foodie fun for a Friday 13th Happy Hour in Happy Valley, I'm making my batter-dipped, deep-fried pork fingers.

Just like chicken fingers, pork fingers are popular with everyone.  That said, my guys prefer them to chicken tenders, and, they like to dip them in barbecue sauce -- any kind that goes great with pork ribs but their all-time favorite is Bone Suckin' Sauce (read Cook's Note below).  As for me, I love and have served them with Asian dipping sauces which is super-good too.  I'm posting this recipe today because I'm going to be serving them with beer and cocktails as an appetizer at a Happy Hour get-together this Friday the 13th.  That said, while pork fingers are great pub grub, when put on a plate next to a salad and a baked potato, they make a great dinner entrée too.

IMG_4950For the beer-batter-dipped pork fingers:

12-15,  4"L x 1/2"W x 1/2"H pork loin fingers, cut from 4-5, 1/2"-thick, 4-ounce pork loin chops trimmed of fat (Note:  1 pound of pork loin = 4, 1/2" thick chops = 12 pork fingers (three from each chop).  1 1/4 pounds of pork loin = 5, 1/2"-thick chops = 15 pork fingers.)

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 1 1/2 cups pancake mix whisked with 1 1/2 cups beer.

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 8-ounces panko breadcrumbs.

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

Misc:  3-minute timer, tongs, 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_4956 IMG_4958 IMG_4961 IMG_4964 IMG_4967~Step 2.  Working in batches of 3 pork fingers at a time, dredge each one in the dry pancake mix to coat it on all sides.  Note:  I fry 3 at a time because that is what fits comfortably in the basket of my fryer without overcrowding it.  Next, move up the assembly line and dip each finger into the batter. As you lift each one out of the batter, hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the batter to drizzle back into the bowl. As you batter dip each finger, place it into the dish of panko. Dredge each finger the moment it enters the panko meaning:  don't wait to coat 3 until all 3 are in the dish.  Why?  You do not want to give the thin coating of batter time to drip down off the sides.

IMG_4968 IMG_4972~ Step 3.  Place each finger into the fryer basket, then carefully lower the basket down into the hot, 360° oil.  Close the lid and fry at 360 degrees for 6-7  minutes.  Pork fingers will be a beautiful golden brown.  Do not overcook.

IMG_4976Step 7.  Open fryer lid and slowly lift basket up and out of deep-fryer.  Transfer fingers to a wire rack in a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Tip:  To transfer the fingers , I simply tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack.  Using tongs is a mistake -- an easy way to damage their crust.

Immediately sprinkle pork fingers w/a grinding of sea salt.  

Repeat the dredging, dipping and coating process until all fingers are deep fried.  Serve hot (almost immediately), warm (within 30 minutes), or at room temperature (within 1 hour).  There's more:  trust me when I tell you, pork fingers will remain crunchy well past the four hour mark!

IMG_4979Just perfect.  Happy-Valley Happy-Hour Hog-Heaven!

IMG_5001Deep-Fried Pork Fingers w/Bone Suckin' Sauce:  Recipe yields 12-15 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2 shallow 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes or 9" pie dishes;  medium-large bowl; whisk; deep-fryer; 3-minute egg timer; tongs; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; paper towels; cooling rack  

BSS_SquareCook's Note:  Tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, honey, molasses, mustard, horseradish, lemon juice, onions, garlic, peppers, natural hickory smoked flavor, natural spices, salt and xanthan gum.  It's the xanthan gum, which they used in place of cornstarch as a thickener, that makes it gluten-free and keeps it a transparent light-red color.  Bone Suckin' Sauce hails from Raleigh, NC, and, is the brainchild of Phil Ford. Back in 1987, Phil was trying to copy his mother's recipe for a western North Carolina-style barbecue sauce.  His creation was so delicious his sister-in-law, Sandi Ford, convinced Phil to partner with her and her husband to sell it.  It was coined "bone suckin' " because it made Sandi suck on the rib bones to get every last bit of flavor from them.

IMG_1063Mel's critique:  This addictive sauce is slightly-sweet, similar to ketchup, but with a whole lot more goin' on, including that hint of hickory smoke.

It's brighter, fresher and crisper than any other barbecue sauce too -- nothing is overdone.  It is a well-balanced blend of sweet-savory BBQ perfection.  Its texture is thin-ish, but, don't confuse that with watery, because it not.  It is perfect for dipping, drizzling, slathering, or basteing, and, there is nothing from A-Z in the world of grilling or barbecuing it isn't fantastic on.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017) 

01/07/2017

~ Nana's Pennsylvania Deutsch Sand Tart Cookies ~

IMG_4890Over the weekend we took a quick trip to Eastern Pennsylvania (Hometown) to visit my parents. Mom and dad subscribe to The Morning Call newspaper, which publishes quite an impressive food section each Wednesday.  My mother saves them for me, so whenever I visit, I have a short stack of "foodie reading" to peruse during our two hour ride back to Happy Valley.  It's very enjoyable, and, on occasion, one inspires me to write a blog post.  Today is such a day.

IMG_4944On Wed., Dec. 7th, the foodie headline in The Morning Call read:  "Macungie woman finds late Great-Aunt's recipe for sand tarts."

It immediately evoked fond memories for me.  These very thin, crisp, addictive cookies are a Pennsylvania Deutsch tradition.  They're typically made around the Christmas holidays, but, truth be told, my then husband's Nana (a lovely PA Deutsch* woman and a talented cook and baker) made them much oftener -- they were her husband's favorite cookie. It wasn't unusual to find a small tin of sand tarts on the side-table next to Pap-Pap's chair in their living room -- where he enjoyed offering one (or two if he really liked you) to almost anyone who visited.

IMG_4898The article went on to explain in detail how the texture is what makes these cookies unique.   It contains only a handful of ingredients:  butter (no substitutions), flour, brown sugar, eggs, cinnamon and walnuts.  There is no leavening agent in these cookies, and, because they're rolled extremely thin, they "bake up in a flash" -- about 7 minutes.  They are not hard to make, they are just "finicky".  The dough must be kept cold while rolling and cutting -- for best results it's refrigerated overnight.  Why?  As the dough warms up, the butter softens and the dough gets sticky and tears -- which is why Nana taught me to refrigerate the dough in small batches and work in small batches, removing only one-at-a-time, when it's time to roll, cut and bake it.  

IMG_4832A personal comment and tip from Mel:  You do not need any fancy equipment to make these cookies. No powerful stand mixer required -- a hand-held one works fine.  

Keep in mind, when these types of treasured, now-vintage recipes were being baked by our ancestors, many folks didn't have electricity -- not even to control the heat source of the hearth or oven.  That most likely explains why these cookies IMG_4831were traditionally made around the Christmas holidays (the cold months of the year) -- the dough could be placed in a safe spot outside to chill.  That said, since Nana's recipe was/is weight specific (equal weights of sugar and flour and she was CLEAR on that point), I use and rely on my digital kitchen scale to insure an exact measure.  It's a modern day invention, but it sure does take all the guesswork out of this recipe!

Why do they call them sand tarts?  

IMG_4854Because the dough is initially the texture of moist sand.

IMG_48408  ounces light brown sugar (about 1 1/4 lightly-packed cups)

1  large egg, at room temperature

5  ounces salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 1/4 sticks/10 tablespoons)

8  ounces unbleached, all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 cups), plus additional bench flour for rolling each batch of cookies

1  large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, for brushing tops of cookies

ground cinnamon, or a mixture of cinnamon and granulated sugar, for sprinkling on "wet" cookies immediately after brushing with egg wash prior to baking 

approximately 1 cup walnut halves cut in half (traditionally just 1 per small cookie)

IMG_4841 IMG_4846~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, place sugar, egg and butter.  Starting at low speed of mixer and working up to high, cream together, about 3 full minutes, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula.   A creamy, paste will have formed.

IMG_4851 IMG_4854~ Step 2.  Lower the mixer speed to low- medium-low and slowly, in 3-4 increments, thoroughly incorporate the flour, again, scraping down the sides of the bowl with the spatula the entire time. A sandy, grainy mess will have formed.

IMG_4855 IMG_4861~ Step 3.  Gather the dough up in your hands while dividing and forming it into two equal-sized balls, about 11 ounces each.  Form each ball into a 4 1/2-round, 3/4"-thick disc, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate until well-chilled, 8-12 hours.

IMG_4865~ Step 4.  Line 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans (or 4, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" pans if you are feeling timid) with parchment paper and preheat oven to 340°-345°.  In a small bowl, using a fork, whisk the egg with the water and ready a pastry brush.  Choose and have ready the cinnamon or sugar-and-cinnamon mixture and ready the walnuts.

IMG_4866Note:  If this is your first time making these cookies and are a bit apprehensive, each disk of dough can be sliced in half prior to rolling, cutting and baking, meaning:  you can work with and bake in four smaller parts (hence the smaller pans) rather than two larger ones -- a wise starter decision.   

IMG_4870 IMG_4873 IMG_4875 IMG_4878 IMG_4880~Step 5.  Generously flour a pastry board.  Remove one disc or half-disc of dough from the refrigerator and lightly flour the top of it.  Allow it to rest about 2 minutes to soften up just a bit.  Roll the dough to a thickness of about 1/8", adding flour as necessary to prevent it sticking to both the board and the pin. Working as quickly as you can, using a 2" round cookie cutter, cut the cookies, placing them on the prepared pan as you work.  Lightly dab the top of each cookie with some egg wash, then, sprinkle cinnamon or sugar-and-cinnamon evenly over all.  Place a half of a walnut half in the center of each cookie.  That wasn't so hard.

IMG_4903 IMG_4904 IMG_4910 IMG_4917 IMG_4920~Note:  Place the cookies side-by-side on pan(s).  They do not spread out as they bake.  Two+ dozen will fit on each of the two larger pans, and, one+ dozen will fit on each of the four smaller-sized pans.

IMG_4891~ Step 6.  Bake on center rack of preheated oven for 6 1/2-7  minutes, until lightly-browned on the bottoms and slightly-browned around the edges and top.  Be sure to use a thin metal spatula to check the bottom of a cookie at the 6-minute mark to check for browning. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.  Repeat this process with second disc of dough.

I've never met a person who can eat just one!

IMG_4894*You say Pennsylvania Dutch, We say Pennsylvania Deutsch:

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcafef88970bLet me make it clear that Pennsylvania Dutch cookery does not belong solely to PA and it is not Dutch either.  The term "Dutch" was the early English settlers slang for the German word "Deutsch".  So:  When most people incorrectly say "Pennsylvania Dutch", they should be saying "Pennsylvania Deutsch", crediting the Germanic or German-speaking immigrants from Germany and Switzerland for this cuisine.  The majority of these people were either Amish, Mennonite or Brethren, all of which were considered "Anabaptist".  They were fleeing the mountains of Switzerland and southern Germany to avoid religious persecution and established several communites in the Lehigh Valley.  Why?  Thank William Penn for his free-thinking, open-door, equal-opportunity-for-all of any religion or race politics.  Pennsylvania set an example for the other colonies, who all had established an official "State" religion. Pennsylvania.  The first to welcome people of all beliefs and walks of life?  You betcha.

Nana's Pennsylvania Deutsch Sand Tart Cookies:  Recipe yields approximately 4 1/2-5 dozen, 2" round cookies/2-2 1/2 dozen per disc of dough.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen scale (optional); hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; 2, 17 1/2 x 12 1/2" baking pans, or, 4, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" pans; parchment paper; fork; pastry brush; ordinary wooden pastry board; rolling pin; 2"-round cookie cutter; thin metal spatula; cooling rack

4605008726_aa92c61f77_zCook's Note:  It is worth mentioning that there is another type of sand tart cookie.  It is a granulated sugar cookie enhanced by almond extract and topped with sliced almonds. They are similarly prepared, are very thin and crisp, but, because of the almonds on top, when they emerge from the oven they resemble a sand dollar.

<This image courtesy of Flickr.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

01/04/2017

~ Alice's Super-Simple Georgia Peach-Pie Cobbler ~

IMG_4816Alice was a friend and a member of our tailgate group back in the 1980's and 1990's.  Alice was a Southern Belle who lived most of her life in Atlanta, Georgia.  She made no secret of the fact that she detested the sport of cooking -- which complicates things for a woman in a tailgate group like ours.  That said, she participated and prepared something good each week, and, from her, I got a few very nice recipes that were easy to make too.  Since Georgia is known as the Peach State, it wasn't surprising that one of Alice's dessert recipes was a juicy peach cobbler.

PICT1212A bit about Georgia peaches: Peaches were in Georgia before there was a Georgia.  Franciscan monks introduced them to St. Simons and Cumberland Island in the 16th century. Cherokee Indians grew peaches through the 18th century, and, Raphael Moses, a Columbus planter, began marketing peaches in Georgia in 1851 and is credited with being the first to sell peaches outside the South.  Peach production exploded after the Civil War, when Georgia farmers were looking for alternatives to cotton. They were so successful that in the following decades Georgia earned the nickname “the Peach State.” Increased railroad lines and refrigerated boxcars meant faster shipment to markets and pushed peach production to 8 million bushels a year by 1928.  Other states have since gotten in on the peach action so Georgia’s share decreased, but in popular culture, Georgia will always be the Peach State, and the peaches became Georgia’s official state fruit on April 7, 1995.

IMG_2355A bit about cobbler:  Cobbler is almost always associated with a baked, deep-dish fruit or berry dessert that emerges from the oven with a semi-crispy top that has been made with a batter, a biscuit dough or a pastry.  There is no right or wrong topping for a cobbler -- it depends on your preference, where you live and/or who taught you how to make cobbler.  Cobbler recipes have been printed in European cookbooks since the 19th century and were originally main-dish, protein-based meals. Cobblers in the US originated in the Colonies because the English settlers were unable to make their traditional suet puddings for lack of ingredients and proper equipment.  The name is said to derive from the finished product taking on the appearance of a rough cobblestone street.

Don't have fresh peaches?  Home-canned (or canned) work fine.

IMG_4793I won't lie, there is nothing like a peach cobbler made with freshly-picked local peaches, but, if I were to be a purist on this point, I would only eat peach cobbler during a period of a week or two in the mid-to-late Summer when they're ripe -- which would be stupid on my part.  Luckily, Joe grows peaches in our yard, so, I make a point of canning several jars every year.  With very little compromise, canned peaches make peach cobbler a yummy year-round treat in my house.

IMG_47654  cups well-drained canned peach chunks, or peeled fresh peach chunks (Note:  If you are buying canned peaches, you will need 2, 29-ounce cans peach halves.)

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

1  cup pancake mix

1  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1  cup milk

1  teaspoon almond extract

Sugar 'n Cinnamon

IMG_4768 IMG_4769~ Step 1. Chop the peaches into chunks as directed and set aside.  Place the butter in an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish and melt the butter in the microwave. Tilt the dish to evenly coat the entire bottom with the melted butter.  Set aside.

IMG_4772 IMG_4775 IMG_4776 IMG_4779~Step 2.  In a large bowl, stir together the pancake mix, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the milk and almond extract.  Add the milk mixture to the pancake mix mixture.  Whisk the mixture together until a thin, smooth batter forms.

IMG_4781 IMG_4784 IMG_4785 IMG_4788~Step 3.  Pour all of the batter into the baking dish right on top of the butter. Do not stir the batter into the butter.  Using a slotted spoon, spoon/distribute the peaches evenly over the batter. Generously sprinkle the top of the peaches with Sugar 'n Cinnamon.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven 40-45 minutes.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

IMG_4800Note:  While the cobbler is baking, the peaches (or any fruit) are going to sink to the bottom of the baking dish.  At the same time, the batter is going to bubble and bake up to the surface in random spots across the surface.  The cobbler will be golden brown and will spring back slightly when touched in the center.  Cool at least 15 minutes prior to serving.

Serve steamy-hot, slightly-warm or at room temperature...

IMG_4805... w/ice cream, whipped cream or crème fraîche: 

IMG_4824Alice's Super-Simple Georgia Peach-Pie Cobbler:  Recipe yields 8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-cup measuring container; 1-cup measuring container; whisk; large rubber spatula; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish

IMG_2447Cook's Note:  Another one of my favorite year-round uses for my home-canned peaches is my recipe for ~ A Peachy All-White-Meat 'Melanie'  Chicken Salad  ~, and, I like to serve each portion with a slice of my succulent ~ Back to Basics, Plain & Simple, Date & Nut Bread ~.  Both recipes can be found in Category 12.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

01/02/2017

~ Sweet or Spicy Easy Sausage and Cheese Balls ~

IMG_4738On a scale of one-to-ten, with one being super-easy and ten being extremely-hard, these are a one.  No slicing, dicing or chopping, just hand-mix four ingredients together, form into "meat" balls and pop 'em in the oven to bake.  So easy a caveman can do it -- but that's not the point. They can be made in an RV -- a recreational vehicle -- the kind you drive from Atlanta, Georgia, to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, while partying with five other couples from your tailgate group en route to a Penn State game (which we won).  The year was 1986 and we all flew into Atlanta then picked up our RV rental.  Everything for our tailgate got bought at local grocery stores en route to the stadium and got made at the stadium.  It was one of many memorable tailgates.

One bowl + four ingredients & six women in an RV kitchen.

IMG_4749I remember more than a few of us Happy Valley gals watch with serious skepticism as Alice (our Atlanta friend who made no secret of the fact that she detested the sport of cooking) mixed her sausage balls together that morning -- it was hard to miss as we were all crammed, like sardines, side-by-side around the table in that tiny kitchen trying not to get in each others way (or on each others nerves).  Alice did her very best to assure us she had made them before and that they were very good (wink, wink), but, it wasn't until we tasted the finished product that we assigned her the task of making them every year.  It is just one of many memorable tailgate stories.

IMG_47041 1/4-1 1/2  pounds sweet or hot seasoned pork sausage, casing removed, at room temperature

1 1/4-1 1/2 cups store-bought shredded yellow cheddar cheese, at room temperature

1  cup pancake mix

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

IMG_4708 IMG_4711~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Using your hands, smoosh everything together until thoroughly combined.  Set aside for 10 minutes -- this allows the pancake mix to absorb moisture so it can hold everything together.

IMG_4716 IMG_4717~ Step 2.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350°. Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, form into 40 even-sized balls and place on pan. Bake on center rack of 350° oven 23-25 minutes.

IMG_4728 IMG_4724~ Step 3. Do not overcook. Sausage balls will be lightly golden brown and bubbly.  Remove from oven and immediately transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and cool slightly, about 5 minutes, prior to serving with your favorite barbecue sauce -- one that is compatible with pork ribs or chops.

One bowl + four ingredients & six women in an RV kitchen.

IMG_4758Sweet or Spicy Easy Sausage and Cheese Balls:  Recipe yields 40-45 appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop  

BSS_SquareCook's Note:  Tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, honey, molasses, mustard, horseradish, lemon juice, onions, garlic, peppers, natural hickory smoked flavor, natural spices, salt and xanthan gum.  It's the xanthan gum, which they used in place of cornstarch as a thickener, that makes it gluten-free and keeps it a transparent light-red color.  Bone Suckin' Sauce hails from Raleigh, NC, and, is the brainchild of Phil Ford. Back in 1987, Phil was trying to copy his mother's recipe for a western North Carolina-style barbecue sauce.  His creation was so delicious his sister-in-law, Sandi Ford, convinced Phil to partner with her and her husband to sell it.  It was coined "bone suckin' " because it made Sandi suck on the rib bones to get every last bit of flavor from them.

IMG_1063Mel's critique:  This addictive sauce is slightly-sweet, similar to ketchup, but with a whole lot more goin' on, including that hint of hickory smoke.

It's brighter, fresher and crisper than any other barbecue sauce too -- nothing is overdone.  It is a well-balanced blend of sweet-savory BBQ perfection.  Its texture is thin-ish, but, don't confuse that with watery, because it not.  It is perfect for dipping, drizzling, slathering, or basteing, and, there is nothing from A-Z in the world of grilling or barbecuing it isn't fantastic on.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)