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12 posts from February 2017

02/28/2017

~ What the Heck are Capers & Non-Pariel Capers? ~

IMG_6162Culinarily speaking, capers are a small, round, dark-green condiment pickled in a salty brine. Similar to green olives, the curing process brings out their tangy, pungent, lemony flavor which pops in your mouth.  Technically, they are the flower buds of the shrubby caper bush (Capparis spinosa), which grows in and around regions of  the Meditterranean.  The buds are picked before they flower, dried in the sun, and then packed in salt.  It's a labor-intensive process, as they can only be harvested by hand.  The buds range in size from that of a tiny baby pea to that of a small olive.  They are sold by size and they are priced accordingly.  They've been around since ancient times, and, for cooks then and now, they are an ingredient essential to the kitchen.

I am never without them, as they are common to many cuisines.

Caper-bush_medium^^^ All parts of a caper bush are shown in the above photo: the round, fleshy leaves, the white-purple flowers, and the small, round buds. Capers are the pickled bud of this bush.  This photo is courtesy of Dr. Roy Winkelman and was taken at the Bontanical Garden of Munich, Germany.

IMG_6160As per wikipedia, capers are categorized and sold by size, defined as follows:  non-pariel (up to 7 mm), sufines (7-8 mm), capucines (8-9 mm), capotes (9-11 mm), fines (11-13 mm) and grusas (14+ mm).  If the caper bud is not picked and allowed to flower and produce fruit, it is called a caper berry, which bears some resemblance to an olive, and, is mostly eaten like an olive -- as a snack.  Caper leaves, which are extremely hard to find outside of the immediate areas where they are grown, are also pickled and preserved, and, are mostly added to salads or fish dishes.

Non-pariel.  Is it a candy, a confection, or, a caper?  Read on:

White Maxi NonParelsWhen I was a kid, non-pariel referred to small, round, domed chocolate candies (about the size of a quarter) sprinkled on their tops with white sugar dots.  I used to buy them at Paperman's.  Barney Paperman ran a specialty shop in our town that sold newspapers and magazines along with cigars, deli-meats and cheeses, and, a grand assortment of penny candies.  The dots themselves, were and are sold separately, and were also called non-pariels.  My mom always had a container of them and sprinkled them on all sorts of baked goods.

"Non-pariel" is a French term meaning "without equal", or "has no equal".  Calling something "non-pariel" means, "it's the best".

When purchasing capers, those labeled non-pareil (non-puh-REHL) have been designated the best in flavor and texture -- they are also the most expensive.  Others are good too, but, they tend to be a little tougher, larger, and not as delicate -- the smaller the caper, the more delicate in texture and intense in flavor it is.  When cooking with capers, in most culinary applications, capers are added to cooked dishes near the end of the cooking process, which allows them to maintain their shape and taste. That said, if using larger capers, it's often recommended to chop them prior to adding them to cooked dishes.  Always follow the recipe as directed.

Capers add flavor to vinaigrettes, salad dressings and creamy sauces, like horseradish, tartar and remoulade.  They're common additions to egg, potato, pasta or tuna salads, not to mention the famous Niçoise salad.  Egg dishes galore, like deviled eggs, eggs Benedict and plain scrambled eggs, benefit from a garnish of a caper or two or a few.  They're a perfect topping for fish, chicken, meat or meatless meals -- one can't make chicken piccata or puttanesca without capers.  Exotic soups and stews from all over the globe, especially those containing fish or seafood include capers.   With lox and cream cheese on a bagel -- capers are non negotiable.  

Capers -- an ingredient no kitchen should be without. 

IMG_6174"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

02/26/2017

~ Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (Prostitute's Spaghetti) ~

IMG_6144Say what?  Yep.  "Alla puttanesca" literally means "in the style of a prostitute".  The day I heard that, I hit the streets -- in search of more history behind this delicious dish's sordid-sounding name.  Not growing up in an Italian household or in the company of a lot of Italian-Americans, I was in my early 30's in the early '80's watching Mario Batali make it and translate the name on TV.  I did a double take.  Before that, I thought puttanesca was just a quick-to-make pasta dish with a vibrant sauce that one could throw together using a few pantry staples.  Chuckle.

Try think to of it as a "happy meal" -- for everyone involved.

IMG_6150Three cheers for Italy's ladies of the evening!!!

The sauce is called "sugo" alla puttanesca, meaning, "sauce" in the stye of a prostitute.  The word "puttanesca" derives from the Italian word "puttana", which means "whore".  Puttana comes from the Latin word "putina", which means "stinking".  Whether truth or myth, research revealed three stories that, when referencing "whores" and "stinking", most couldn't resist mentioning: 1) Puttanesca was a cheap dish "working girls" could cook from the cupboard between "customers".  2)  When referencing "stinking", the strong aroma of the sauce would lure men from the streets into houses of ill repute.  3)  The dish was served to men awaiting their turn.  

Personally, I don't care if the harlots of Italy invented the dish.  Good for them.  The reality is, puttanesca is a WWII war- and post-war era dish, born at a time when fresh ingredients were in short supply everywhere and subsequently popularized when tomato-based sauces for pasta were gaining in popularity, especially here in the USA due to the soldiers returning home.

Puttanesca = BOLD flavors packed into an inexpensive meatless meal.

One thing is certain, the components (a canned tomato product, olive oil, garlic and/or onion, dried red pepper flakes, oregano, basil or parsley, and, salt in the form of anchovies, black olives and/or nonpareil capers), packed a whole lot of flavor into an inexpensive meatless meal when people craved it the most.  Experts disagree on the finishing addition of grated parmesan or pecorino -- I personally dislike cheese on my spaghetti alla puttanesca.  That said, like all Italian and Italian-American dishes, recipes vary from region to region and cook to cook, so put in it what you like, in quantities you like, within the parameters.  After all, it's "comfort food".  Sigh.

Garlic, onion, capers, anchovies, olives, red pepper & oregano!

IMG_60931/4  cup extra-virgin olive oil

1  cup medium-diced yellow or sweet onion

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon cracked black pepper

2  2-ounce cans anchovy fillets, packed in oil, well-drained & diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2  tablespoons tomato paste

1  teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1/4  cup large non-pareil capers

1  cup sliced or chopped pitted black olives

1  teaspoon sugar

1  tablespoon minced, fresh oregano leaves

zest of 1/2-3/4 of a lemon for adding to sauce + the additional zest for garnishing individual portions

1  pound spaghetti, cooked al dente, as package directs*

*  Note:  Spaghetti is traditional, but, other stranded pastas, like linguine work nicely too, so feel free to substitute.  That said, puttanesca is a quick-to-make sauce.  Cooks who make it often, meaning they have the recipe committed to memory, will tell you that as they are bringing a pot of water to a boil, and, cooking and draining the spaghetti, they prepare the sauce.  Feel free to cook your pasta while making the sauce or do it afterward, whichever is most convenient.  

IMG_6095 IMG_6096 IMG_6098 IMG_6101 IMG_6104 IMG_6108~Step 1.  Heat olive oil in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add onion, salt and black pepper.  Adjust heat to gently sauté, until the onion is soft, stirring frequently, about 6 minutes.  Add anchovy fillets and garlic.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until anchovies have disappeared into mixture and garlic is soft, about 3 minutes.  Add and stir the tomato paste and red pepper flakes into the mix.  Cook for 1 more minute.  Add the crushed tomatoes, capers, black olives and sugar.

IMG_6111 IMG_6113~ Step 2.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially cover the pot and continue to cook until thickened and saucelike, about 15 minutes.  Stir in the oregano and lemon zest and continue to cook an additional 5 minutes.

IMG_6123 IMG_6134~ Step 3.  In an 8- quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil and add 1 tablespoon salt.  Add and cook the spaghetti, until al dente.  Drain cooked pasta into a colander and immediately return pasta to still hot stockpot.  Return the stockpot to the still warm stovetop.

Ladle sauce into pasta, a cup or two at a time, until pasta is generously coated in puttanesca sauce, but not drenched in the bold-flavored puttanesca sauce, about 2 1/2-3 cups of sauce.

Portion & serve ASAP garnished w/additional lemon zest:

IMG_6157Spaghetti alla Puttanesca (Prostitute's Spaghetti):  Recipe yields 5 cups of puttanesca sauce and, once tossed into cooked pasta, 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; 8-quart stockpot; colander

IMG_3267Cook's Note:  Fall, Spring, Summer or Winter, every good cook has a couple of go-to "pantry cooking recipes".  The list of reasons to need or want to cook something fast, that tastes like you cooked all day, is endless.  Another one of my favorites, ~ Pantry Cooking: Chicken & Rice (Arroz con Pollo) ~ can be found by clicking in Categories 3, 13, 19 or 20.

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

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

02/24/2017

~ My Buttery Sour Cream & Buttermilk Pound Cake ~

IMG_6087No embellishments necessary.  There is nothing like the first slice of a perfectly baked, slightly-warm pound cake.  With or without a dusting of Confectioners' sugar or a drizzling of sweet creamy glaze, it's the perfect foil for berries, ice cream, whipped cream or all three.  For me, just as pictured here, it is all I need for breakfast or brunch with a cup of coffee or tea.  It's irresistible.

Pound cake is personal.  I'd never proclaim to have the best recipe because almost everyone's mother or grandmother made the best pound cake they ever tasted.  I'm no exception:  My grandmother made the best pound cake I ever tasted.  Like all pound-cake-baking grandmas, she used the same basic ingredients as everyone (flour, sugar, butter and eggs plus vanilla), then she incorporated two tangy ingredients common to her Eastern European heritage:

Sour cream & buttermilk teamed up w/a double dose of vanilla.

IMG_9649My grandmother didn't own a bundt pan, she owned a tube pan.  Why? Because she was baking long before two women from Minneapolis approached the Nordic Ware founder, H. David Dalquist (in the 1940's), to ask him if he would produce a modern version of the IMG_9683German Gugelhupf pan.  In 1950, the bundt pan (the "t" was added to the name for trademarking purposes) was sold for the first time. My mom bought one sometime in the latter 1950's and this is her pan -- one of the originals -- cast in unembellished aluminum.

The bundt pan itself, didn't gain in popularity until a woman by the name of Ella Heifrich won second place in the 1966 Pillsbury Bakeoff with her "Tunnel of Fudge" cake.

I only remember my mom using this  IMG_9688pan during the 1960's to make bundt cakes from recipes she clipped out of magazines like Redbook and Women's Day.  She never made my grandmother's pound cake in a bundt pan, and, until today, neither did I.

IMG_5995I just bought a Nordic Ware Platinum Collection "Anniversary" 10-15  cup nonstick bundt pan and I can't wait to try it.

To learn the difference between a bundt pan and a tube pan, read my post ~ Bakeware Essentials:  A Bundt Pan & A Tube Pan ~ simply by clicking on the Related Article link below.

A bit about pound cake ("quatre-quarts" in French, meaning "four fourths":  Originally, this fine-textured loaf-shaped cake was made with 1-pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs, plus a flavoring, most commonly vanilla.  That is the original recipe, nothing more, nothing less.  Over the years, variations evolved, mostly adding leaveners like baking powder and baking soda to encourage rising, resulting in a less dense cake.  Vegetable oil is sometimes substituted in place of some of the butter, to produce a moister cake.  "Sour cream pound cake" and "buttermilk pound cake" recipes substitute sour cream or buttermilk in place of some of the butter to produce a moister cake with a pleasant tang too.  My grandmother's recipe uses a bit of both.

IMG_6074It's time to bake an old-school pound cake in my new bundt pan!

This is an easy cake to bake.  That said, it's important to make sure that the butter is very soft and the eggs are at room temperature.  I remove the butter 2 1/2-3 hours prior to baking the cake and my eggs about an hour in advance.  The extra step of separating the eggs and whipping the whites before folding them in the batter is well worth the extra few moments it takes.  That said, before whipping those whites, be sure to wash and dry the beaters or they won't whip. 

IMG_60006 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

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

3  cups sugar 

3  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1/2  cup sour cream

1/2  cup buttermilk

1  tablespoon vanilla extract (Note:  Sometimes I add a tablespoon of butter-rum flavoring too. Yes, that's correct:  1 tablespoon each vanilla and butter-rum -- yum.)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

IMG_6006Step 1.  Place the egg whites in a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.  In a second medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt and baking powder and set aside.  In a 1 cup measuring container, stir together the sour cream, buttermilk and vanilla extract, until smooth.  Set aside. Spray a 15-cup bundt pan with no-stick cooking spray and preheat oven to a moderate 325°-330°.

IMG_6009 IMG_6012 IMG_6016~ Step 2.  In a large bowl, place butter, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla.  Beat on medium-high speed of mixer for three minutes. Reduce mixer speed to medium and in a thin stream add and thoroughly incorporate the sour cream and buttermilk mixture, increase speed to medium-high and beat another minute.  

IMG_6018 IMG_6023~ Step 3.  Lower mixer speed.  In 3 increments, incorporate the flour mixture, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula constantly.  Increase mixer speed to medium-high again and beat three more full minutes.  Set batter aside.

IMG_6024 IMG_6028 IMG_6027 IMG_6034~Step 4.  Wash and  thoroughly dry beaters.  On  high speed, whip the egg whites until soft curly peaks form, about 3 minutes.  Using the spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

IMG_6039 IMG_6040~ Step 5.  Transfer batter by large scoopfuls to prepared pan.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven 50-55 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool, in pan, 10-15 minutes.  Invert cake onto rack to cool completely, about 2-3 hours.

Pound cake going into 325° oven to bake for 50-55 minutes:

IMG_6040Pound cake out of oven, cooling in pan for 15 minutes:

IMG_6051Poundcake inverted on rack to cool completely, 2-3 hours:

IMG_6054That very first irresistible slightly-warm slice:

IMG_6064My Buttery Sour Cream & Buttermilk Pound Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16-20 servings, depending on how thick or thin you slice it.

Special Equipment List:  plastic wrap; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; cake tester

IMG_0270Cook's Note:  When it comes to dessert, I don't like things overly sweet or over embellished.  For example, when I want a chocolate cookie, I keep it simple. My recipe for, ~ I'm in the Mood for:  Plain-Jane Chocolate Cookies ~ can be found in Category 7.

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

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

02/22/2017

~ Pretty in Pink: Thousand Islands Salad Dressing ~

IMG_5978No matter how easy or complicated, recipes that have a history or a lore are always on my short list of blog posts to share because, for me, they are the most fun to write.  They fascinate me.  I'd like to think that, like myself, if one knows the story, it's more fun to prepare and eat the dish.  Let me explain it this way:  Part of the fun of eating a Caesar Salad or a Toll House cookie is pondering what part of their story is documented fact, romantic fiction or a combination of both.  

IMG_5960Growing up in the latter 1950's, '60's and into the 1970's, Thousand Islands dressing was a common condiment option for all sorts of salads and sandwiches -- besides Italian, it was the only dressing my dad would eat, so we always had a bottle on the door of our refrigerator.  As a kid and a young adult,  I found a thousand ways to love it.  I ordered it on wedge salads, chef salads, and, to this day I adore it in place of mayo on a turkey club.  It's a fantastic dressing for potato salad or cole slaw, and, like Ranch, is a great dip for veggies.  When fast food chains started offering a "special" or "secret" sauce, it was nothing more than a version of this iconic dressing.  I never gave its history much thought, until, a few years ago.  After returning from a trip along the upper St. Lawrence River between the United States and Canada, my parents handed me a copy of the following famous "Thousand Islands Dressing Legend" -- a handout at lunch during their boat ride.

Bolt Castle on Heart Island located in the Thousand Islands.

HelicopterIt was supposed to be a six story, 120 room dream of a castle  -- a symbol of George Boldt's love for his wife Louise.

Boldt-Castle-castles-543276_500_333Boldt Castle is the palatial Rhenish structure perched atop a high hill on Heart Island, in the 1000 Islands. George Boldt came to the United States as a poor immigrant boy at age 13 from Germany.  Through perseverance and hard work, he achieved fame and fortune as one time owner of the well-known New York Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and, the equally renowned Bellevue Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia.

Boldt Castle OverviewAs a tribute to his wife, he decided to build a castle reminiscent of those he had admired as a youth in the Rhineland.  First, he had the then named Hart Island reshaped as a heart, and then, renamed it Heart Island.  Construction on his castle began, and materials started arriving from all over the world. With the outside shell of the building completed, and over $2,000,000 into the project, word came that his beloved wife had sadly and suddenly passed away.  

Grief stricken, Boldt halted work and never returned.  It stands today, just as it was left, with some restoration and interpretive work undertaken in recent years to preserve this unique and historic structure.  Tourists now wander in awe and and only imagine "what might have been".

Bits and tidbits about Thousand Islands salad dressing:

It's said to have been the creation of a fishing guide's wife, Sophia LaLonde.  After trying it, actress May Irwin requested and gave the recipe to her friend, another Thousand Islands part-time Summer resident, George Boldt.  While cruising on his yacht, Boldt requested the easy-to-make dressing be prepared by his steward and served on his luncheon salad.  After trying it, Boldt was so impressed, he decided to serve it in his hotel restaurants.  He named it "Thousand Islands Dressing" in honor of the beautiful area where it was first served to him.  Boldt's steward later became the internationally famous chef "Oscar (Tschirky) of the Waldorf".

All Thousand Islands dressings have bits of ingredients floating around in them.  Many think that's how it got its name -- the tiny bits represent the islands.

IMG_5970The two main ingredients in Thousand Islands salad dressing are mayonnaise and some type of tomato product (chili sauce, ketchup or tomato purée) and sometimes a splash of cayenne pepper or Worcestershire sauce. Past that, recipes vary quite a bit from region to region.  Minced onion and/or pressed garlic are common additions.  Some versions add minced green pepper or olives and/or pimento.  Others add minced hard-cooked egg and/or sweet pickles.  That said, all recipes contain tiny bits of minced something floating in the dressing.

My Favorite Thousand Islands Dressing Concoction:

IMG_59441  cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chili sauce, or a bit more, to taste

1/4 cup sweet pickle relish, or a bit more, to taste

1  hard-cooked egg, white and yolk separated and minced separately (optional)

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, or a bit more, to taste

IMG_5953 IMG_5958~ Step 1.  Place all of the ingredients in a 2-cup food storage container.  Stir to thoroughly combine the dressing.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.  Overnight is great because it gives the flavors time to marry.

Store in the refrigerator up to one week or indefinitely if egg is omitted: 

IMG_5964Pretty in Pink:  Thousand Islands Salad Dressing:  Recipe yields 1 3/4 cups Thousand Islands salad dressing.

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

6a0120a8551282970b019102066fb1970cCook's Note:  I love hard-cooked egg in my Thousand Islands salad dressing as much as I love them in a chef's salad, tuna salad or an egg-salad sandwich (as long as they are perfectly cooked with tender whites and bright yellow yolks).  I am so picky about how my eggs are hard-cooked, it was one of the first posts I published here on Kitchen Encounters back in September of 2010.  ~ A Little Thing Called: Boiling Eggs (Hard-Cooked) ~, can be found by clicking into Category 15.  Think Spring!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017.  Photos of the Thousand Islands, Boldt Castle and Heart Island courtesy of the Thousand Islands website.)

02/20/2017

~ All-American Presidents' Day Gingerbread Cake ~

IMG_5900Say "snack cake" and folks my age think "Twinkie" or "TandyCake".  Interestingly, snack cakes have been in America since Colonial times.  Recipes for gingerbread, both the hard cookie and the soft cake or loaf, came to the us with the English and German settlers.  Gingeroot was delivered by boat to the pilgims -- they used it fresh, dried it, and, made syrup from it. Ginger beer, made by pouring boiling water over brown sugar and pounded ginger combined with yeast proofed in warm milk was bottled and served as a refreshing beverage on hot days.

The first recipe for gingerbread is said to have come from Greece in 2400 BC (see Plebeian Ginger Bread recipe below).  Thanks to Crusaders returning from the Middle East with ginger and spices, by the middle ages, European countries each had their own version, although it was baked and served only by government recognized guilds at and for state-sanctioned events. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of handing out decorated cookies made to resemble the images of visiting dignitaries.  Gingerbread baking in home kitchens was allowed sometime in the 15th century, then made its way to the New World sometime in the latter 1600's.

IMG_5883Gingerbread generally refers to one of two desserts. It can be a dense, hard ginger-spiced cookie cut into fanciful shapes, or, particularly in the United States, it can describe a dense, moist cake flavored with molasses, ginger and other spices. In the US, the terms "gingerbread cake" or "ginger cake" are used to distinguish it from the harder forms.  American bakers usually sweeten gingerbread with molasses, while British bakers use brown sugar and German bakers use honey.  Aside from ginger (in fresh, preserved and/or powdered form), cinnamon is almost always included, with allspice, cloves and nutmeg being the next most common spices. 

IMG_5936Americans have been baking gingerbread for over 200 years.

IMG_5890  Washington, Jefferson & Lincoln all had a favorite family recipe.

IMG_58496a0120a8551282970b01a73dca8dba970dMary Ball Washington, George's mom, served her gingerbread to the Marquis de Lafayette when he visted her Virginia home -- soon afterward it was formally named Gingerbread Layfayette.

On pages 159 and 160 of The Virginia House-Wife (the first cookbook published in America and written by Mary Randolph, a relative of founding foodie Thomas Jefferson) three recipes for three types of Ginger Bread appear.

Abraham Lincoln said, "Once in a while my mother used to get some sorghum and ginger and made some gingerbread cake.  It wasn't often and it was our biggest treat." It's said that ginger cookies were used to sway Virginia voters to choose a favorite candidate too.

 "Once in a while my mother used to get some sorghum and ginger and made some gingerbread cake.  It wasn't often and it was our biggest treat." ~ Abraham Lincoln

99ebc650-4605-4eac-882a-435fa563d1dc_2.c58d70c3a9bff86e2c2235475fe9c196I'm not going to lie.  I do not have Abraham Lincoln's mother's recipe for gingerbread cake -- heck I don't even have my own grandmother's. There's more.  When my mom made gingerbread cake for a snack or dessert, she used a Betty Crocker mix.  Once again, I'm not going to lie. She served it warm with Cool Whip on top and our family of four would eat almost the entire 8" x 8" x 2" cake in one sitting.  During the latter 1970's and all through the '80's, my pantry was never without two boxed gingerbread mixes in it.  My kids loved it, and, no alternative facts here:  If someone called me to say they were stopping by, it got served to them too.  Haha -- If I could still buy it, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

IMG_6400 IMG_5854It should come as no surprise, the first place I looked to find a recipe was in a 1970's edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook.  Their recipe, found on page 180, was the one I tried first.  It was very good (and very easy too).  As Betty Crocker says in the book, "Measure everything into a bowl and beat.  It couldn't be easier except with a mix."  That said, as you shall see below, over time I did quite a bit of tweeking to the recipe, mostly in the form of additional spices.

"Fairly often, my mom would buy a Betty Crocker gingerbread mix and bake a gingerbread cake.  Served warm, topped with whipped cream, we adored it."  ~ Melanie Preschutti

IMG_58582 1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

6  tablespoons granulated sugar

2  teaspoons baking soda

2  teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon ground allspice

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon salt

1  cup dark or light molasses, or a combination of both, your choice

1/2  cup butter-flavored shortening, at room temperature, cut into pieces

1  large egg, at room temperature

1/4  cup hot water

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

IMG_5863 IMG_5866~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Starting on low speed of mixer and working your way up to medium- medium-high speed, beat a full three minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula frequently.

IMG_5871 IMG_5876~ Step 2.  Transfer mixture into a 8" x 8" x 2 " baking pan sprayed with no-stick.  Bake in 325° oven, 40-45 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and invert onto a wire rack to cool.

Note:  As often as I have baked and do bake this gingerbread cake, it always slumps a bit in the center as it cools.  I do not take it personally as its dense, moist texture and rich taste is divine.

Slice & serve, warm or at room temp, topped w/whipped cream. 

IMG_5911All-American Presidents' Day Gingerbread Cake:  Recipe yields 9-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack

IMG_6769Cook's Note:  I love ginger in all of its forms, so, it goes without saying I adore ginger cookies too.  To get my recipe, which I posted back in 2013,  for ~ My Favorite Spice-y Cookie:  The Ginger Snap ~, just click into Categories 7 or 26.

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

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

02/17/2017

~ In the Beginning: Basic Vinaigrette Demystified ~

IMG_5827I have no idea who prepared the first salad -- no one does.  Whoever it was, I'm guessing it was an accident, and more likely than not, as a result of hunger.  Gathered from fields, around streams and in wooded areas, a mixture of wild greens, an herb or two, wild mushrooms, flowers and a some berries and/or seeds would surely satisfy the appetite.  As time passed, a pinch of salt got added.  A little later, a squirt of citrus, then a splash of vinegar.  Last to the party: oil.  Yes indeed, he or she was definitely onto something.  That something, the well dressed salad, has become very sophisticated, but, basic vinaigrette has remained unchanged since ancient times.

Here's what one expert source has to say about vinaigrette:

As per the Oxford Companion to Food:  Vinaigrette (vihn-uh-greht), also known to Europe as French dressing, is probably the most common dressing for salad (barring commercial preparations) to the Western world.  It is essentially a 'mixture' (oil and vinegar are, strictly speaking, immiscible) of olive or other oil with vinegar (or lemon juice or a combination both), plus salt and pepper and optionally herbs, shallot and/or mustard.  The generically accepted proportion of oil to vinegar is 3 to 1, although some prefer 4 to 1.  If lemon juice replaces vinegar, the proportion is closer to 1 to 1.  Some authorities recommend that one should begin by dissolving the desired amount of salt in the vinegar, since it will not dissolve in the oil.

The main use of vinaigrette is for green salads, but it is also appropriate for other salads (e.g. tomato or potato salad).  It's also used as a dressing for avocado or artichoke hearts, and, meat preparations such as fromage de tête (pig's head terrine).  When a vinaigrette is destined for a green salad, it must be mixed immediately before serving, and, the salad should be tossed without delay.  This is because of the problem posed by the immiscibility of oil and vinegar, and because the green leaves will wilt after a while under the influence of the dressing.

IMG_5805Immiscibility is a big word for:  oil and vinegar don't mix.

IMG_5812Emulsion.  That's another big word for what happens when you force two items that don't play well together to form a homogeneous mixture.  In the case of vinaigrette, that would be oil and vinegar (or lemon juice).  Put them together in a bowl or in a blender and vigorously whisk or process them and they will indeed come together, but, within moments, they will go their separate ways -- each back to their own corner of the playground.

IMG_5823Surfactant.  Yet another big word for a third party that the two miscreants both are attracted to. Culinarily, common surfactants are egg yolks, mayonnaise, mustard and honey.  An egg yolk or a tablespoon or two of mayonnaise, mustard and/or honey whisked or processed into the oil and vinegar will stabilize the vinaigrette.  The love won't last forever, eventually they'll separate again, but it will last long enough to make your salad eating experience more enjoyable.

To make 1/2 or 1 cup of my favorite basic vinaigrette:  

IMG_58072 or 4 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar, or vinegar of choice*

1 1/2 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard or mayonnaise

1/2 or 1  teaspoons honey

1/8 or 1/4  teaspoon sea salt, more or less, to taste

1/8 or 1/4  teaspoon black pepper, more or less, to taste

6  or 12 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil or vegetable oil, or oil of choice*

*Note:  There are all sorts of oils and vinegars and flavor-infused oils and vinegars in our food world.  They can be combined to make all sorts of vinaigrettes.  Be creative, but, mix with caution as they vary in strength of flavor.  It's important when mixing them together to taste often to reach a pleasing balance.  For example:  When using a strong-flavored oil, like sesame oil or walnut oil, it's usually necessary to "tone it down" a bit by diluting it with a generically flavored oil, like peanut or some type vegetable oil.  When using a strong-flavored vinegar, like balsamic, depending on the brand and quality, it's wise to start with less and add more, to taste.

~ Step 1.  There are three ways to mix a vinaigrette.  In order of shortest- to longest-lasting emulsion:  1) In a bowl, in a thin stream, vigorously whisk the oil into all the other ingredients. 2) Place all ingredients in a jar, tightly cover and vigorously shake.  3)  In a blender with the motor running, in a thin stream, feed the oil into the other ingredients.  Note:  Number 2 is my favorite.

~ Step 2.  Shake, taste, and, adjust to your liking.  Use immediately or refrigerate until ready to use, and, always:  shake vigorously just before tossing judisciously, a little at a time, into salad -- just enough to lightly coat the greens.  Store leftover vinaigrette in the refrigerator.   

Vinaigrette is not salad dressing, it's a type of salad dressing: 

IMG_5840In the Beginning:  Basic Vinaigrette Demystified:  Recipe yields 1/2 or 1 cup basic vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List:  whisk or 1- 2- cup measuring container or jar w/tight-fitting lid or blender

IMG_5846Cook's Note:  When I am adding minced fresh herbs, shallot, or pressed garlic to basic vinaigrette,  I add them last -- 1-2 hours before serving.  I let the vinaigrette stand for those 1-2 hours at room temperature, to give the flavors time to marry.  There's more, once fresh ingredients have been added to a basic vinaigrette, leftovers should be discarded after 3-4 days, even if stored in the refrigerator, because of the possibility of the growth of harmful bacteria. 

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

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

02/14/2017

~ How to Make Whole Buttermilk & Crème Fraîche ~

IMG_5774Once upon a time here in Happy Valley, circa the 1970's and into the 80's, crème fraîche wasn't an item one could find in the dairy case of any market.  Why?  Most folks had no idea what it was except for schooled chefs and those of us who scoured French cookbooks and/or read magazines like Bon Appétit, Food & Wine and Gourmet.  Yes indeed -- foodie life was very different pre- Food Network and the information superhighway we refer to as the internet.  

A bit about crème "fraîche" (pronounced "fresh" and meaning "fresh cream"):  In technical terms, it's a French-invented soured cream containing 30%-40% butterfat and a pH of about 4.5.  While its name is French, soured creams are common in most of Eastern and Northern Europe.  Similar to sour cream, which contains about 15%-20% butterfat, it's soured with bacterial culture found in buttermilk.  In cooking it's preferred over sour cream because its higher fat content prevents "breaking" or becoming unstable when stirred into sauces or soups.  Because crème fraîche is less tangy than sour cream, it can be sweetened with powdered sugar and flavored with vanilla and ladled over desserts or fresh fruit -- it can be whipped to soft peaks as well.  

IMG_5764Crème fraîche is seriously, astonishingly easy to make.  

Simply stir a bit of buttermilk into some heavy cream and let it sit at room temperature until it thickens, which takes 12-24 hours.  The standard ratio is 1:16, or 1 tablespoon buttermilk: 1 cup heavy cream.  Within reason, the ratio can be adjusted too.  For example:  If you want to hasten the thickening process or desire a more drizzly consistency (similar to Mexican-style crema), just add an extra tablespoon of buttermilk.  Every time the discussion of crème fraîche arises, someone always asks, "won't the cream spoil if left at room temperature?"  Worry not.  The good bacteria in the buttermilk multiplies and overtakes the bad bacteria which prevents that from happening.  And that is why I prefer old-fashioned buttermilk over lowfat to make crème fraîche -- which can be problematic since almost all of the buttermilk sold in the USA today is lowfat. 

How to Make Old-Fashioned Buttermilk from 1%- 2%- fat Buttermilk

IMG_5751Here in Happy Valley, home of The Pennsylvania State University, we have a place called the Berkey Creamery.  They make and sell all dairy products -- and are known for their ice cream.  No one visits campus without a stop there, they ship it to alumni all over the globe, and, people come from all over the world to learn how to make ice cream from them.  Over twenty-years ago, one afternoon I placed a call to them and asked to speak to the manager.  I explained my "lowfat" buttermilk problem.  An hour later, he called me with this formula, which their lab scaled down from giant, commercial-sized thousand-gallon vats to quarts and cups for my home kitchen.

To 1-quart, 2% buttermilk: stir in 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) heavy cream

To 1-quart, 1% buttermilk: stir in 16 tablespoons (1 cup) heavy cream

In a 2-quart saucepan, stir together the buttermilk and cream.  Partially cover and set aside at room temperature for 24-36 hours.  Do not stir.  Using a large spoon or ladle, carefully skim as much of the thickened buttermilk from the top as possible.  Discard the looser bottom liquid.  

Yield: 3 - 3 1/2 cups old-fashioned buttermilk.  Need less?  Do the math -- cut the recipe in half.

How to Make Crème Fraîche with Old-Fashioned Buttermilk

IMG_57673  cups heavy or whipping cream

3-6  tablespoons whole buttermilk (Note:  As discussed above, 6 tablespoons buttermilk thickens cream faster, but, yields a slightly creamier, drizzlier consistency.)

In a 2-quart saucepan, stir the cream and buttermilk.  Over low heat, stirring constantly, gently heat to 85°F.  Remove from heat, partially cover and set aside at room temperature 12-24 hours. Gently stir, cover and refrigerate for up to 10 days.  At any time during these ten days, leftover crème fraîche can be used in place of old-fashioned buttermilk to start a "fresh" supply.  Sigh.

Simply, scrumpious & slightly-sweet:  Happy Valentine's Day!

IMG_5796How to Make Whole Buttermilk & Crème Fraîche:  Recipe Yields 3-3 1/2 cups old-fashioned buttermilk and 3 cups crème fraîche.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan w/lid; instant-read thermometer

IMG_5742Cook's Note:  Another product that many folks don't know about and fits into this discussion, which is perfect for cooks who use so little buttermilk that all they need is an occasional cup to bake or cook with is: ~ Buttermilk Powder:  What it is and and How to use it. ~.  To get the details, just click on the Related Article link below and read.

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

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

02/12/2017

~ Powdered Buttermilk: What it is & How to use it. ~

IMG_5742Once upon a time, buttermilk was something I kept on hand.  As a cook and baker for our family of five, I used it regularly to make quite a few things:  pancakes, waffles, biscuits, scones, coffee cake, pound cake, fried chicken and salad dressing.  To breads and cakes it adds tangy flavor and volume and produces a fine, soft crumb.  Its acidity when used as a marinade is a natural tenderizer for poultry and meat.  There's more.  It does all this without adding a lot of extra fat.

IMG_5747Times change.  Our children grew up and left the nest.  That left me with buttermilk that went bad before I could use it, so, I stopped buying it. That also left me without buttermilk when I needed it. Then, for some reason I've never been able to figure out, real-deal buttermilk disappeared from the dairy cases of my local grocery stores -- true buttermilk is the liquid that remains when butter is churned from cream. It was replaced by, 1%- and 2%- fat, meaning:  it's made from skim milk with lab cultures added to replicate the acidity of old-fashioned, buttermilk.  While it might be healthier to drink, it poses cooking problems in recipes that require buttermilk to thicken them. For example:  the consistency of crème fraîche isn't ideal made with 1%- or 2%- fat buttermilk.

How to Make Old-Fashioned Buttermilk from 1%- 2%- fat Buttermilk

IMG_5751Here in Happy Valley, home of The Pennsylvania State University, we have a place called the Berkey Creamery.  They make and sell all dairy products -- and are known for their ice cream.  No one visits campus without a stop there, they ship it to alumni all over the globe, and, people come from all over the world to learn how to make ice cream from them.  Over twenty-years ago, one afternoon I placed a call to them and asked to speak to the manager.  I explained my buttermilk problem.  An hour later, he called me with this formula, which he had their lab scale down from giant, commercial-sized thousand-gallon vats to quarts and cups for my home kitchen.

To 1-quart, 2% buttermilk: stir in 8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) heavy cream

To 1-quart, 1% buttermilk: stir in 16 tablespoons (1 cup) heavy cream

In a 2-quart saucepan, stir together the buttermilk and cream.  Partially cover and set aside at room temperature for 24-36 hours.  Do not stir.  Using a large spoon or ladle, carefully skim as much of the thickened buttermilk from the top as possible.  Discard the looser bottom liquid.  

Yield: 3 - 3 1/2 cups old-fashioned buttermilk.

Buttermilk powder, is made by drying buttermilk to a powder.

IMG_5759This nice man from the Berkey Creamery also told me about a product called dried buttermilk powder -- which he explained is ideal when you don't have use for 3 - 3 1/2 cups of real deal buttermilk. Buttermilk powder is made with old-fashioned buttermilk that has been pasteurized, then concentrated with an evaporator, and, spray or roll dried at a low temperature.  It can be used as a dried ingredient -- you’ll come across it included with flour mixtures in recipes for pancakes or bread, or with the coating mixtures in recipes for fried chicken or pork chops.  That said, it can also be reconstituted with water (although I often use whole milk), but, it is not meant for drinking.  It has a long pantry shelf life or longer freezer shelf life, which is perfect for me.  The brand that I use is organic and from Barry Farm Foods (http://barryfarm.com), in Ohio. The directions instruct to stir 1/3 cup powder w/1 cup water; 2/3 cup powder w/2 cups water; 1 cup powder w/3 cups water.  

Read and follow the directions on the label -- they can and do vary.  In the case of Barry Farms buttermilk powder, 1/3 cup dry buttermilk powder is equivalent to 1 cup buttermilk.  

IMG_5753Powdered Buttermilk:  What is is & How to use it.:  Recipe yields instructions for making old-fashioned buttermilk from skim buttermilk, and, instructions for reconstituting buttermilk powder.

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

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

02/10/2017

~ My Guys Italian-American Sicilian-Style Pizza Pie~

IMG_5715Americans eat over three billion pizzas a year and that doesn't include store-bought frozen pies or those made at home.  That is quite a statistic, and, a testament to the love affair we Americans have with pizza.  From sea-to-shining-sea, every region of our country has developed their own "style of pie", and, pizza shops and home cooks all proudly prepare their own version of it. I make several types of pizza.  That said, my guys (my husband and three sons) hands-down favorite is my Sicilian-style pizza, made and baked in the manner my husband grew up eating it --  in the small town, mom-and-pop pizza shops located in the areas surrounding Scranton, PA.

Sicilian pizza vs. Italian-American Sicilian-style pizza.

IMG_5720Many folks think Sicilian pizza is any pizza that is rectangular in shape, and, that's not true.  In Sicily, it's shockingly round, and, there are other noteworthy differences too:  

Let's start with the crust.  The best way I can describe the crust of a Sicilian pizza is:  It is thicker and the texture is breadier, similar to that of focaccia.  The dough, which is proofed twice, the second time in the pan, gets a crispy, almost "fried" bottom due to an ample amount of oil in the pan -- yes, this is a pizza that gets baked in the pan.  In Sicily, it's called sfincione, which means "thick sponge", as the dough absorbs a bit of the oil on its bottom and a bit of sauce on its top.   

PICT0492Moving on to the sauce.  Tomatoes didn't arrive in Sicily until the 16th Century, so originally, Sicilian pie was basically a focaccia topped with a sprinkling of "leftovers".  That said, Sicily produces some of the world's best tomatoes, and, nowadays, sauce for sfincione (similar to marinara), contains  tomatoes along with: garlic, onion, anchovy and herbs.  But -- not a generous slathering, just a thin coating.  You can find my recipe for the sauce by clicking on the Related Article link below.

Let's talk toppings.  Sicilian pizza is not layered with copious amounts of grated cheese or heavy toppings.  Since sheep and goats produced almost all of the milk in Sicily, bolder-flavored, soft and hard, sheep and goats milk cheeses were chosen, while mild-flavored cows milk cheeses were rarely used.  As for cooked or cured meats, fresh or marinated vegetables, herbs, etc., they are traditionally thinly-sliced, diced or minced and lightly and lovingly sprinkled over the top.      

When you think "Sicilian", think "thick crust" & "moderation" -- thin layers of sauce & cheese w/light sprinklings of toppings.

IMG_5699I'm not going to lie, I always make four of my Sicilian-style pies -- even when it's just Joe and I. Why? Because after they are baked and cooled, left uncut, I freeze them. They thaw and reheat beautifully -- placed directly on a hot pizza stone that has been heated in a 350° oven  (as pictured here).  There's more.  I mix the dough for all four, all-at-once, in my 22-cup large-capacity Cuisinart DLC-X Plus food processor in less than 5 minutes.  If you don't have one, do the math and cut the recipe in half, or, mix the dough the traditional way -- with your hands.

PICT05369  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (2 3/4 pounds of unbleached flour)

6  packets granulated dry yeast, NOT rapid-rise

1 1/2  teaspoons garlic powder

1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning blend or Mediterranean oregano

1 1/2  teaspoons cracked black pepper (optional)

2  teaspoons sugar

2  teaspoons salt

3-3 1/2  cups hot tap water

6-8  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, for preparing pans, plus additional oil for brushing on tops of crusts

4-8  tablespoons additional extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing crusts

olive-oil no-stick cooking spray

PICT0539 PICT0537Step 1.  In the work bowl of a large-capacity food processor fitted with the steel blade, place all of the flour, the yeast, garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend, optional cracked black pepper, sugar and salt.

Step 2.  Place the top/lid on the food processor and, using a series of 10-15 rapid on-off pulses combine the dry ingredients thoroughly, about 10-15 seconds.

PICT0547Step 3. Measure and have ready 3 1/2 cups of very hot tap water.

PICT0551With processor motor running, add the water, in a thin stream, through feed tube. Continue to add water until a ball of dough forms.  This will take 3-3 1/2 cups of hot water.  Stop adding water the moment the ball of dough forms. Continue to knead dough in processor, with the motor running, for 30-45 more seconds. This means, the dough will spin around in the processor for 30-45 revolutions/30-45 seconds.

PICT0556~ Step 4. Spray the inside of a 2-gallon food storage bag w/no-stick.

PICT0557 PICT0564~ Step 5.  Transfer dough to bag, seal or zip it closed and rise until doubled in bulk, about 40-45 minutes.  Remove from bag. Using a kitchen scale, divide into 4 equal parts. Yield = about 4 pounds, 4 ounces total pizza dough.  

PICT0566Step 6.  Using a pastry brush or a paper towel, oil each of 4, 13" x 9" baking pans with 1 1/2-2 tablespoons olive oil.  Place one part of dough on each pan and allow to rest 10-15 minutes.

Note:  Allowing the dough to relax a bit is going to make it easy to pat and press into the pans, so, don't skip or shorten this rest period.

PICT0573 PICT0571~ Step 7. Using your fingertips, gently pat and press each piece of dough into and up the sides of the pan to form a flat bottom and a side crust.  

Using a pastry brush, drizzle and paint a light coating of additional olive oil over their surfaces.

PICT0579For the sauce and toppings:  This is why I call my pizza Italian-American Sicilian-style pizza.  My homemade pizza sauce is full of crushed garden tomatoes, onions, garlic and fresh basil.  I skip the anchovies. My family's favorite combination of cheeses are mozzarella, provolone and Locatelli, with a layer of sliced cheese on the bottom and some sauce sandwiched in between grated cheese on the top.  Don't PICT0581knock it 'till you've tried it.    

2  pounds thinly-sliced mozzarella or provolone cheese

4 - 6 cups pizza sauce (1 - 1 1/2 cups sauce per pizza)

2  pounds grated mozzarella or provolone cheese (Note:  I use a combination of both.)

4-6  tablespoons finely-grated Locatelli cheese (an Italian sheep's milk cheese similar in PICT0590texture to Parmigiano-Reggiano), for sprinkling over tops of pizzas

Italian seasoning blend or Mediterranean oregano, for sprinkling over tops of pizzas

~ Step 8.  Layer the pizzas as pictured in the photos and set aside, to allow the crust to rise up the sides of the pans, about 1 hour (and up to three hours if you want to make them slightly in advance). Bake one-at-a-time, as follows:

Place each pan on center rack of preheated 360° - 375º oven, 18-21 minutes, remove from oven, slide onto a wire cooling rack & allow to cool 6-8 minutes:

PICT0606Place on a cutting board, &, enjoy a slice or three ASAP:

IMG_5706Sicilian pizza in my kitchen gives Neapolitan a run for its money:

IMG_0466My Guys Italian-American Sicilian-Style Pizza Pie:  Recipe yields 4, 13" x 9", rectangular-shaped Sicilian-style pizzas/8 servings each pie.

Special Equipment List:  large-capacity food processor; 4-cup measuring container; 2-gallon food storage bag; kitchen scale (optional); paper towels; 4, 13" x 9" baking pans; pastry brush; wire cooling racks

IMG_0451Cook's Note:  When it comes to pizza in America, everyone has a favorite, and, even the pros gave up criticizing other peoples preferences.  The last I heard, creativity is still alive and well in every kitchen in this great country, and I for one enjoy exercising my right to it.  You can find my recipe for individual-sized ~ Pizz' alads: Salad Pizza (Pizza w/a Salad on Top) ~ in Category 2.  

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

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

02/07/2017

~ Chilled Asian Chicken, Broccoli & Lo Mein Salad ~

IMG_5692What do Italian-American spaghetti and Chinese lo mein have in common?  When you have a craving for a bowl full of noodles, you want them ASAP.  Now.  Immediately.  In Chinese, "lo mein" literally means "tossed noodles" and it implies a method of cooking 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.

This recipe is based on the same lo mein principle, except, it's served cold.

IMG_5693Lo Mein.  Like spaghetti, I want it when I want it.  ASAP!

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.  After a quick mix of the pre-shredded store-bought raw slaw 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.  The addition of cooked and diced chicken was a no-brainer, and, it revealed Asian chicken and broccoli slaw perfection. The addition of cooked lo mein noodles (spaghetti can be substituted) was quick to follow, which turned my Asian side-dish slaw into a main-dish noodle salad full of crunchy vegetables.

Honey-Sesame Dressing + Broccoli Slaw + Cooked Chicken & Noodles.

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_0982

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

Note:  This recipe yields 3/4 cup of salad dressing and 4 cups of my basic Asian broccoli slaw. 

Step 3.  To turn it into my chicken-broccoli slaw, toss in:

2 generous cups bite-sized diced or pulled, IMG_5598roasted chicken

1 cup thinly-sliced green onion

IMG_5602Place the chicken-broccoli slaw in the refrigerator for 2-6 hours (or overnight will work too), stopping to toss it about every 30-35 minutes in the beginning so the slaw gets to absorb the dressing equally.  The new yield will be a generous 6 cups of my Asian chicken-broccoli slaw.

~ Step 4.  To turn it into Asian chicken, broccoli & lo mein noodle salad, (now it will be a main-dish salad rather than a side-dish slaw), you'll need 8  ounces lo mein noodles, or spaghetti*.  

IMG_3870IMG_3887IMG_3884IMG_3889About 30-60 minutes before you plan to serve the salad, cook the lo-mein as directed, drain them into a colander and rinse them under cold running water until the lo mein is as cold as the water.  For a moment or two, give the colander several vigorous shakes to remove excess water.

*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_5660 IMG_5663 IMG_5666 IMG_5668~Step 5.  To "dry" and season the noodles, place them on a large, cotton flour-sack-type towel, gather up the sides, and toss them around to blot up even more water.  Transfer noodles to a large bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce, or a bit more, to taste.  Using two large forks or spoons, toss, like you would a salad, until noodles are coated in the flavorful, salty soy sauce.

IMG_5671 IMG_5673~ Step 6.  Add all of the Asian chicken-broccoli slaw and toss it into the noodles, until all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated.  Serve the noodle salad immediately or chill for 1-2 hours prior to briefly retossing and serving chilled.  

Yummy -- This is one delish cold noodle dish:

IMG_5697Chilled Asian Chicken, Broccoli & Lo Mein Salad:  Recipe Yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-2-cup measuring container w/tight fitting lid & pourer top; cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander; 100% cotton flour-sack-type towel; salad servers or two large fork or spoons  

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)

02/04/2017

~Cold & Creamy Crab Rangoon Dip w/Wonton Cups~

IMG_5647Crab meat.  I love it.  Fresh, frozen or pasteurized, it's an ingredient that has rocked my food world.  With it, I make an array of hot and cold appetizers and hors d'oeuvres.  I use it to make steamy crab bisque and add it to several seafood soups and stews too.  I adore an ice-cold crab salad or crab salad sandwich, and, I can't resist a well-made crab cake or crab cake sandwich. There's more.  I can't count the of number classic main-course meals I make with crab.

IMG_5444If you've eaten in a Chinese-American restaurant you know what crab Rangoon is -- it's a staple appetizer on the menu.  It consists of: crab meat, scallions and seasoned cream cheese all wrapped up in a wonton, deep-fried and served with a sweet dipping sauce.  What some folks don't realize is:  All crab meat is fully-cooked and ready to eat.  That means:  The filling used to make crab Rangoon is delicious served chilled as a dip or spread.  

I use my food processor to make my dip in 3-4 minutes.  

IMG_5364To make enough dip to fill 2 or 4 dozen appetizers:

8 or 16 ounces jumbo lump or 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*

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

duck sauce or sweet and sour sauce, for garnishing each appetizer

*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, garnish with Mae Ploy (sweet chili sauce).

IMG_5366 IMG_5372 IMG_5374 IMG_5376 IMG_5379~Step 1.  Place crab meat on a paper-towel lined plate, to allow paper to absorb excess moisture. Prep and place the 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 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 thoroughly combined and smooth, about 25-30 seconds.

IMG_5384IMG_5386Step 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.

Note:  Dip is ready to serve now or can be covered and refrigerated several hours or overnight.

I use my oven to bake my wonton cups in 5-6 short minutes.  

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.

Note:  Wonton cups can be made several hours or up to one day in advance -- Do not cover.

Fill each wonton cup with 2 teaspoons of crab Rangoon dip & garnish with a bit of sweet & sour sauce or duck sauce:

IMG_5658Cold & Creamy Crab Rangoon Dip w/Wonton Cups:  Recipe yields enough dip to fill 2 or 4 dozen  appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; large rubber spatula; miniature-sized muffin tins, enough for 2-4 dozen appetizers.

IntroPageTip3Cook's Note:  Colossal-, Jumbo- and Lump- crabmeat all come from the two largest muscles  connecting the swimming legs of the crab. Colossal and Jumbo are whole, unbroken pieces with the latter being smaller.  Lump consists of broken pieces of jumbo lump. Backfin crabmeat consists of flakes of white meat from Lump and Special (meat from the body cavity). Claw Meat is pink meat from the swimming fins and Claw Fingers are pink meat tips of the pinchers.

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

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

02/02/2017

~ How to Make: Baked Mini- Wonton Cups & Tacos ~

IMG_5625In my food world, I associate fun food with small, two-three bite appetizers and snacks -- I don't think I'm alone.  Ever notice how folks always gravitate around a table, cocktail table or picnic table containing an array of small-bites, noshes and nibbles?  We are indeed all in this food world together, but, it's small food that makes the world go round.  It makes people smile.  Real world fact:  It is more fun to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if it is cut into four triangles.

Like French puff pastry, the Chinese wonton can be used as a foil for many of the fine flavors the food world has to offer:

IMG_9071Wonton skins (also called wonton wrappers, and, also spelled wantan, wanton or wuntun) are an essential ingredient to a number of Chinese cuisines -- Cantonese, Mandarin, Sichuan and Shanghai (to name four off the top of my head).  They use them to make a host of dumplings and potstickers that get served as appetizers or in soups.  That said, just because they were invented by the Chinese, they are not exclusive to Chinese fare. I liken them to French puff pastry because both of them adapt beautifully to fillings bursting with flavors from all around the globe.

Purchasing & storing wonton skins/wrappers.

IMG_9044A bit about wonton skins/wrappers. Just like larger-sized egg roll skins, they're made from eggs, wheat flour and water and come in 3"-3 1/2" squares or rounds, usually 50 per package.  I keep them on-hand in my freezer because opened or unopened they have an expiration date -- and a sort of short shelflife. 

IMG_9054Because they dry out quickly, my method is to take out half of the package (one stack) and wrap it in a dampened (not soaked) towel, keeping the rest wrapped in plastic until I am ready to use them.

Wonton cups & 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

Serving up crab Rangoon dip cups & Asian chicken salad tacos:

IMG_5643How to Make: Baked Mini- Wonton Cups & Tacos:  Recipe yields instructions to form and bake mini- wonton cups and mini- wonton taco shells.

Special Equipment List:  miniature muffin tin; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish

IMG_9174Cook's Note:  French onion soup dumplings came into my life late at night via a rerun of The Food Network Show:  The Best Thing I ever Ate.  The show visited a Lower East Side NYC restaurant located at the intersection of Stanton and Ludlow streets called The Stanton Social. The show's host,  Claire Robinson extolled the virtues of their signature "one bite wonders": French onion soup dumplings.  My recipe for ~ Ooh-La-La:  Beefy French Onion Soup Dumplings ~ is in Categories 1, 2, 11, 21. 

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

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