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12 posts from April 2017

04/30/2017

~ Five-Minute Food-Processor Cream-Cheese Glaze ~

IMG_8464Everyone loves cream cheese frosting sandwiched between the layers and slathered on the sides and top of an applesauce, banana, carrot, coconut or pumpkin cake -- meet my short list of layer-, sheet-, or cup- cakes that require cream cheese frosting.  That said, certain quick breads and muffins (which traditionally don't get frosted), many bundt cakes, cinnamon rolls, pastries and even an occasional cookie, benefit from a smooth, drizzly, glaze, and, the tang that cream cheese adds to the classic confectioners'-sugar-and-milk mixture is:  a perfect finishing touch.

IMG_8573I've decided, in tandem with a few professionals, that making the ultimate smooth, creamy glaze is best done in the food processor -- NOT an electric mixer.  It is faster and cleaner than any mixer (hand-held or stand), and, it produces a superior result.  The processor blade whirs at warp speed, so, there's no need for sifting the confectioners' sugar, and, if you're pressed for time, the cream cheese doesn't have to be softened to the ideal room temp -- neither makes a difference.  There's more:  

Because there's a lid on the processor, none of the pesky powdered sugar flies out of the bowl onto the countertop.  With the processor motor running, via the feed tube, by adding an extra teaspoon or two of milk, to achieve a thinner extra-drizzly glaze (almost transparent) that spreads itself -- no problem.  By adding a bit less milk (one or two teaspoons less), the glaze can be made a tad thicker too -- NOT spreadable frosting thick -- one that flows effortlessly through a pastry bag fitted with even the smallest, plain, round pastry tip nozzle (to make pretty lines, cross hatch marks, or write a happy birthday wish).  My recipe is in between.  It drizzles freely from a cup and flows nicely through a pastry bag.  Adjust it accordingly to achieve glaze perfection:

IMG_6440Thick or thin, glaze is free flowing.  It's not frosting.

IMG_8429For the cream cheese glaze:

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2  teaspoons additional flavoring (Note: banana, butter-rum, butterscotch, coconut and maple are a few of my favorites.)

2  tablespoons milk, plus 1-2 teaspoons more, if necessary


IMG_8431IMG_8434IMG_8441IMG_8445
~Step 1.  In a food processor fitted with steel blade, place confectioners' sugar, cream cheese, vanilla extract, additional flavoring and 2 tablespoons milk.  Starting with 5-10 on-off pulses and then with motor running, process for 25-30 seconds until smooth and drizzly.  If necessary, through feed tube, add 1-2 teaspoons additional milk, until desired consistency is reached.

Transfer glaze to a 1-cup measure or a pastry bag and glaze away: 

IMG_8445Five-Minute Food-Processor Cream-Cheese Glaze:  Recipe yields 1 cup appropriately-flavored cream cheese glaze for 1 standard bundt or tube cake, 2 loaves quick bread, or, 2 dozen cinnamon rolls or muffins.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; rubber spatula; 1-cup measuring container; pastry bag (optional)

IMG_3452Cook's Note:  Cream cheese has a fascinating place in American history.  And yes, of course, American Neufchâtel can always be substituted without compromise in any recipe -- it contains a little less fat and has a slightly grainier texture, but that is that.  To learn the differences, read my in-depth post, ~ Neufchâtel vs. Cream Cheese: Are they the Same? ~ by clicking into Categories 15 or 16. 

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

04/28/2017

~ Charmingly Southern: Hummingbird (Bundt) Cake ~

IMG_8493Best described by me as "an extremely moist, banana and pineapple, cinnamon 'n spice cake containing toasted pecans and topped with cream cheese frosting", this absolutely scrumptious cake concoction is impossible for me to resist.  It's simply irresistible.  If you're like me, when you hear "bananas and pineapple", you likely say to yourself "that sounds tropical, akin to Caribbean, more than it does Southern."  That's because it is.  Hummingbird cake was created on the island of Jamaica during the 1960's and is named after their national bird, where the cake is also known as Doctor Bird Cake ("doctor bird" being their affectionate name for the hummingbird).  

IMG_8478A Caribbean cake made famous by a Southern magazine.

After air Jamaica was formed in 1968 and chose the beloved doctor bird as their logo, shortly thereafter, the Jamaican Tourist Board included the recipe in press kits destined for the United States as part of a marketing campaign aimed at getting American consumers to vacation on their island.  As per the March 29, 1979 issue of the Kingston Daily Gleaner (Jamaica): "Press kits presented included a Jamaican menu modified for American kitchens, and featured recipes like the doctor bird cake."  The first known publication of the recipe in the US was in the February 1978 issue of Southern Living magazine (which is how I came upon it as a young foodie bride).  But, even before then, references to it appear in county-fair baking-competition reports across Southern America (sometimes under the names Paradise Cake, The Cake that Doesn't Last, and Tropical Treat Cake).  Post publication, some Southerners chose to call it Doctor Byrd Cake, a prominent Southern family name dating bake to early Virginia.  In 1990, it was selected as Southern Living's all-time favorite recipe as well as declared the most requested recipe in the history of the magazine.  Over the years, Southern Living has published several variations of their original recipe, which are all together in this article: Six Ways with Hummingbird Cake.  

Bcd8e05068a662ac5c6d487798917cd4< (Photo courtesy of Southern Living website).  Typically the cake has two or three layers, with lots of cream cheese frosting sandwiched in between the layers and slathered all around the sides and on the top.  It's an impressive, beautiful-to-look-at layer cake, but, for my taste, it's simply too much frosting.  Even the smallest, indulgent slice leaves me with a guilty feeling (akin to eating three scoops of ice cream when one would have been just as satisfying). For that reason, skipping the layers and going with a bundt or a sheet cake was a wise compromise.

"The most beautiful bird in Jamaica, and some say the most beautiful bird in the world, is the streamer-tail or doctor hummingbird." ~ The opening line of For Your Eyes Only by Ian Fleming

My version of the Southern Living Hummingbird Cake:

IMG_8346For the cake:

2 1/2  cups chopped pecans, lightly toasted (total throughout recipe, 2 cups for the cake, 1 cup for the topping)

3  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  cups sugar

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/16  teaspoon ground nutmeg

3  large eggs

1  3/4  cups mashed banana purée (from three very large, very ripe, peeled and sliced bananas)

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1  cup canned crushed pineapple, undrained (one half of a 20-ounce can)

3/4  cup canola, peanut or vegetable oil

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

IMG_8423For the cream cheese glaze & pecan topping:

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons butter-rum flavoring

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2  tablespoons milk, plus 1-2 teaspoons more, if necessary

1/2  cup lightly-toasted ground pecans

IMG_8357 IMG_8359 IMG_8368 IMG_8369~Step 1.  Coarsely chop 2 1/2 cups pecans.  Place the nuts in a small, shallow baking pan.  Roast nuts on center rack of preheated 350° oven until fragrant and lightly-toasted, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.  While nuts are toasting, in a medium mixing bowl, on medium speed of hand-held electric mixer, purée the sliced bananas*. Measure 1 3/4 cups of the bananas, stir in the vanilla extract and set aside.  In a small bowl, using a fork, whisk the eggs.

*Note:  Bananas don't need to be a smooth purée.  Small bits of fruit laced throughout is perfect.

IMG_8366 IMG_8373 IMG_8374 IMG_8377 IMG_8381~Step 2.  In a large bowl, using a large rubber spatula, place and stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.  Add the beaten eggs, banana purée and crushed pineapple, then, using the spatula fold the mixture together.

IMG_8387~ Step 3. Using a whisk or medium-speed of a hand-held electric mixer (I prefer the mixer to hand-whisking), thoroughly incorporate the oil.

IMG_8391 IMG_8392 IMG_8395 IMG_8400~Step 4.  Using the rubber spatula, fold in 2 cups of the lightly-toasted chopped pecans (set the remaining 1/2 cup aside).  Transfer/pour the batter into a 12-cup bundt pan that has been lightly sprayed with no-stick.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven 55-60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the thickest part of the cake comes out clean.  Remove from oven, place on a wire rack and cool, in pan, 15 minutes.  Invert cake onto wire rack to cool completely, 2-3 hours.

IMG_8404To prepare the cream cheese glaze & pecan topping:

IMG_8410 IMG_8412 IMG_8415 IMG_8420~Step 1.  To prepare the cream cheese glaze and pecan topping, if you have a small, "mini" food processor, now is the time to use it.  Place the remaining 1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans in the work bowl and using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process them to small bits and pieces.

IMG_8431 IMG_8434 IMG_8441 IMG_8445~Step 2.  In a food processor fitted with steel blade, place confectioners' sugar, cream cheese, butter-rum flavoring, vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons milk.  Starting with 5-10 on-off pulses and then with motor running, process for 25-30 seconds until smooth and drizzly.  If necessary, through feed tube, add 1-2 teaspoons additional milk, until desired consistency is reached.

IMG_8456~ Step 3.  When cake has cooled and with the cake on the wire rack: holding your hand 4"-6" above the surface of the cake and moving it (your hand) back and forth, in a slow, steady stream, drizzle glaze over cake, while turning the wire rack about 1/4" with every back-and-forth drizzle, until all the glaze is gone. While glaze is still moist/sticky, sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top.  Allow glaze to dry a bit prior to slicing cake, about 1 hour.

Hummingbird cake.  Simply irresistible and...

IMG_8464... scrumptious from first bite to last:

IMG_8507Charmingly Southern:  Hummingbird (Bundt) Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16-20 servings (depending upon how thick or thin you slice the cake).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small baking pan; hand-held electric mixer, large rubber spatula; 2-cup measuring container; 1-cup measuring container; fork; whisk; 12-cup bundt pan; wire cooling rack; cake tester; mini-food processor; food processor

IMG_9315 IMG_9306Cook's Note: For another "fruity" cake recipe with a fascinating history (this one containing pineapple with a coconut-macadamia topping), you can find my recipe for ~ Plantation Cake:  A Very Southern Vintage Cake ~ in Categories 6, 9, 10, 17, 19 or 26.  Perfect to take to a picnic, tailgate or a potluck.

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

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

04/26/2017

~ Open Sesame: Asian Sweet Chili Crockpot Chicken ~

IMG_8328Calling all faithful users of crockpots and couch potatoes with crockpots who crave Asian food.   Whether you're exhausted and trying feed a family of four after a busy day at the office or just lazily lounging on the sofa watching the NFL draft for two days, I've got a recipe for you.  I won't lie.  I don't use my crockpot on a regular basis, but I do know that really good recipes for slow-cooked Asian fare are few and far between.  There is a reason for that.  Aside from soup, when most of us think Asian, we think fast-and-furious stir-fries with crunch-tender vegetables and velvety-textured meat, poultry or seafood.  In our minds, it hard to associate Asian with the steamy one-textured food that emerges from the crockpot.  In the case of this recipe, that's a non issue.  Served over rice, ramen, or simply heaped on a sandwich roll, I promise you this:

Succulent chicken in a bold-flavored slightly-spicy sauce. 

IMG_8281For the chicken (not pictured in the above photo):

2 1/4-2 1/2  pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders or thighs

For the sauce:

6  tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy)

6  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce

6  tablespoons American chili sauce

2  tablespoons hoisin sauce

2  tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1  tablespoon sesame oil

1  teaspoon garlic paste

1 teaspoon ginger paste

4  tablespoons light-brown sugar

1/2  cup thinly-sliced scallions, white and light green part only, tops reserved for garnish 

For the slurry to thicken the sauce at the end:

1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons corn starch

2  tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy)

1  tablespoon Thai seasoning soy

1  tablespoon water

For the garnish:

thinly-sliced scallion tops, reserved from above scallions

lightly-toasted sesame seeds

Arrange the tenders or thighs in the bottom of a 6 1/2-7-quart crockpot:

IMG_8278Stir together all of the sauce ingredients and slice the scallions.  Pour all of the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle all of the scallions over the sauce:

IMG_8288Program the crockpot to slow cook on high for 4 hours:

IMG_8296After 3 hours of cooking, using a slotted spoon, transfer the fully-cooked tenders or thighs from the sauce to a cutting board (do not turn the crockpot off):

IMG_8308Using a fork, in a small bowl or 1-cup measuring container, whisk the slurry ingredients together and add them to the still simmering sauce in the crockpot:

IMG_8313Slice the tenders or thighs, return them to the crockpot and give the mixture a stir:

IMG_8319Put the lid back on the crockpot and continue to cook until the 4 hours are up:

IMG_8322Steamed rice is nice, ramen noodles are another option: 

IMG_8343Open Sesame:  Asian Sweet Chili Crockpot Chicken:  Recipe yields 5 cups, sliced-chicken mixture/4-6 servings when placed over rice or ramen.

Special Equipment List:  6 1/2-7-quart crockpot; 1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; large slotted spoon; fork

IMG_0984Cook's Note:  If it's a full-flavored Asian soup recipe you're interested in, you can find my one and only other Asian crockpot recipe for ~ Chinese:  Crockpot Chicken & Egg Noodle Soup ~ in Categories 2, 13 or 20.  Just microwave some fresh Chinese egg noodles, portion them into a few bowls and ladle the soup right over the top.

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

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

04/23/2017

~ Poaching Bone-In Skin-On Real Chicken Breasts ~

IMG_8271Leftover shredded or chopped chicken.  It's an ingredient we all come across on a regular basis in a wide variety of recipes for appetizers, salads, sandwiches and casseroles -- I've even seen it called for in some throw-together soup and stew meals.  That said, I rarely use true "leftover" chicken to prepare any of them.  Here's why:  Most times, when I have leftover chicken, it's been seasoned and cooked to suit a specific recipe.  Nine out of ten times, the flavor profile doesn't align with the recipe du jour.  Example:  The grilled chicken breast rubbed with fajita seasoning leftover from dinner last night, is hardly going to taste great in my Sour-Cream-and-Dill-Dressed Chicken Chef Salad today.  The perfect solution:  poach chicken on an as-needed basis.  

IMG_8277I rarely poach a whole chicken because when I need chopped or shredded chicken, I typically only need two-three-four cups.  There's more.  I never poach boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs.  Here's why:  The flavor is in the skin and the bones.  When you remove either, the end result is too sad to talk about. "Rubber chicken" did not get it's nickname for any other reason than:  Back in the 1990's, we were informed by the food police to cut back on eggs and well-marbled red meat -- two of my favorite foods.  Poultry processors began mass-marketing boneless, skinless chicken breasts to the newly-enlightened sheeple.  Tasteless, boneless, skinless chicken breasts began replacing fat, juicy steaks on dinner tables in homes and restaurants everywhere.  This was America's boneless-skinless rubber-chicken-dinner era.  

I did not buy into America's "rubber chicken" era -- I resisted.

IMG_8267Poaching vs. Roasting = Low Moist Heat vs. High Dry Heat.

IMG_8322"You can always judge the quality of a cook by their roast chicken."  ~ J. Child.  I roast chickens.  I have roasted many chickens in my life, and, I've been roasting chickens since before some of you were born. I've never served roasted chicken to a guest that didn't mention how moist and perfectly cooked it was and asks how I got it that way.  

Everyone and anyone who cooks has an opinion on roasting chicken, and, mine is quite basic: One 6-pound chicken, a 350° oven and 2 hours of the chicken's time.

6a0120a8551282970b019aff52d2b5970bTo learn everything I know about roasting an entire chicken, click here to read, This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree "Carving for Dummies" Methodology.  If it's roasted chicken breasts you prefer, My E-Z "Real" Roasted Chicken Breasts is another option: 2-4-6 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, a 350° oven and 1 1/2 hours of the chicken's time. Both yield perfectly-cooked, moist and juicy, fork-tender chicken.

Poaching = 30-45 minutes.  Roasting = 1 1/2-2 hours.

The term "poach" is from the French verb "pocher" meaning to cook gently in water or seasoned liquid.  The liquid, called "court bouillon" or "short broth", is classically a mixture of water, an acid (such as lemon juice, wine, and/or vinegar or wine vinegar), aromatics (such as onion, celery and/or carrot), an herb or two (such as parsley, thyme and/or bay leaf), salt and peppercorns. That said, poaching chicken is a worldwide sport and the liquid should be seasoned accordingly. For example: When I'm poaching chicken for Asian fare, I use ginger, lemongrass and/or lime leaves, cilantro, soy sauce and/or fish sauce (in place of salt) and a cayenne chile pepper.

Shallow poaching involves placing the food to be poached, presentation side up, atop or in the center of the aromatics, herbs and spices in a shallow cooking vessel.  Cold or room temperature court bouillon is added until the food is partially-submerged in liquid.  The pan gets covered and the food gets cooked gently at a low temperature (barely simmering/shivering), which preserves both the flavor and the structural integrity of the food.  Deep poaching is almost identical, except the food is placed in a deep vessel and fully-submerged in liquid.  In both cases, depending upon the recipe, the liquid might require skimming at the start of or throughout the cooking process.

Place two large 1-1 1/4 pound, bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves, skin-side-up, in a wide-bottomed 3 1/2-quart "chef's pan" w/straight deep sides:

IMG_8205Around the perimeter, arrange 6 ounces chunked onion (half a medium onion),  4 ounces carrot cut into 2" lengths (one large carrot), 2  ounces celery cut into 2" lengths (1 large stalk celery), 2 bay leaves, and, 2 teaspoons each coarse salt and whole peppercorns:

IMG_8210Add 1 quart water, or, 3 1/2 cups water + 1/2 cup white wine:

IMG_8214Cover and place on stovetop over high heat.  When liquid comes to a rapid simmer, adjust heat to a very gentle simmer/shiver and continue to cook until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 170°, 40-45 minutes (Note:  smaller breasts will cook more quickly):

IMG_8218^^^ Tip from Mel.  If you have a pot with a glass lid, it's ideal, as it allows you to watch the poaching process and regulate the heat as necessary.  Remove from heat.

IMG_8225Using a large spoon, transfer chicken from the liquid to a plate (Note:  There is no need to discard the liquid, it's quite tasty.  Simmer some egg noodles in it or strain and freeze it.):  

IMG_8232Gently and carefully loosen and remove the skin while it is soft and pliable (this insures a pretty presentation, particularly if the breast is to be thin-sliced):

IMG_8237Cover with plastic wrap and wait until the chicken has cooled until you can comfortably handle it with your hands, prior to gently removing the bones from the meat: 

IMG_8248Poached perfection, fork-tender, moist and juicy too.  Each breast yields 2-3 servings sliced and about 2 generous cups of chopped or shredded chicken:

IMG_8260Poaching Bone-In Skin-On Real Chicken Breasts:  Recipe gives instructions to poach 2 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves and yields 1 total pound of poached chicken/roughly 4 generous cups chopped or shredded chicken.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides and lid (preferably glass); instant-read meat thermometer; large slotted spoon; plastic wrap

IMG_2440Cook's Note:  The alternative to moist-heat poaching is dry-heat roasting, and, if done correctly, the end result is equally as delicious. My recipe for ~ A Peachy All-White-Meat 'Melanie' Chicken Salad ~ is in Categories 2, 12 or 26.

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

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

04/20/2017

~ Sour Cream and Dill Dressing for Cucumber Salad ~

IMG_8196Fresh, feathery and fragile dill "leaves" or "weed".  It's a bit early for it to be available to me in my Central PA garden, but:  big, beautiful bunches of it are showing up in my grocery stores.  In Eastern European kitchens everywhere, dill, along with chives, mint and/or parsley, are commonly used to flavor all sorts of heritage dishes:  fish (like salmon or sturgeon), various soups (notably red or white borscht), many vegetables (especially carrots or potatoes), and, classic dill pickles (or anything that can be pickled).  The sweet, subtle flavor of dill is delightful in many of our ethnic vinaigrettes, dressings, sauces, dips and spreads, and, it's even used to make a savory compound "dill butter", which dreamily spreads over or melts into almost anything.  Sigh.

IMG_8159While dill is native to Central and Eastern Europe, it's grown all over Scandinavia (Northern Europe) and Eurasia too, where its leaves and seeds are used as an herb or spice in  Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Lao, Arabian, Indian and Iranian cuisines too (to name a few from a long list).  

There are many variations to the Eastern European (Russian) sour-creamy dill dressing I am making today, but two things are common to IMG_8203all:  Fresh dill is used because the dried herb loses its flavor rapidly, and, the cool and creamy dressing is classically used to dress cucumbers and/or tomatoes freshly-picked from the Summer garden.  I drizzle the dressing over the cucumbers or tomatoes at serving time.  The common practice is to stir in enough dressing to enrobe them. In my opinion, the common practice alternative, no matter how judicious one is with the dressing, generally renders an over-dressed salad, plus, cucumbers and tomatoes (which lose their textural integrity quickly -- within 10-15 minutes), renders the dressing watery.  It's silly to do that.

My way renders perfectly-dressed, pretty-to-look-at cucumber or tomato side-salads.

IMG_8174For 1 cup dressing:

1  cup sour cream

2  teaspoons lemon juice, fresh or high-quality organic juice not from concentrate

1  teaspoon dried, minced garlic

1  teaspoon dried, minced onion

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

3-4  tablespoons minced-fresh dill leaves, or more, to your liking

IMG_8167 IMG_8177 IMG_8175 IMG_8180~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the  sour cream, lemon juice, garlic, onion, pepper and salt.  Mince the dill and stir it in.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 1-2 hours or overnight.  

Dollop 2 tablespoons dressing over each 1/2-3/4 cup salad. 

IMG_8199It's a tasty dressing for a classic chef salad too:

IMG_8271Sour Cream and Dill Dressing for Cucumber Salad:  Recipe yields 1 cup dressing/enough to dress 8, 1/2-cup side-salads.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; spoon; 1-cup food storage container with tight-fitting lid

IMG_8049Cook's Note:  When I've got lots of dill, one of my favorite things to make is ~ Mel's Petite Porketta for Joe's Jessup Sandwiches ~ (pork stuffed w/a mix of dill and garlic. Today's salad(s) are a wonderful accompaniment to them.  Get my recipe in Category 2, 3, 10 12 or 17.

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

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

04/18/2017

~ A Must Have Recipe: Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake ~

IMG_8129If I knew you were coming I'd have baked you a mayonnaise cake.  While that might not sound appetizing, I always say, "what happens in my kitchen, stays in my kitchen" and in my food world, there is no reason to reveal to anyone they are eating a mayonnaise cake unless they ask for the recipe.  In the event anyone rolls their eyes or turns up their nose, the joke's on them, as, they obviously don't know mayonnaise is a concoction of oil (which makes cakes tender), eggs and a bit of flavor-boosting acid (like vinegar or lemon juice) -- all common-to-cake ingredients.

2ee392b218c24743a31a0b007328fe58Most folks think this cake was invented by Hellmann's and that's a natural assumption.  The truth -- it was not.  The earliest recipe in print titled "Mayonnaise Cake" was published in 1927.  The Hellmann's brand didn't come along until 1937. That said, their aggressive ad campaign for "Mayonnaise Cake", sure did popularize it with World War II/depression era housewives, who were in the market for inexpensive substitutions for butter and milk. When you get right down to the common sense of it, a cake recipe containing mayonnaise is not much different than a cake recipe containing sour cream or buttermilk. < My recipe is neither Hellmann's vintage recipe pictured here nor the updated recipe on their website.  It is the recipe my grandmother used, and, while I wish I did, I have no idea where it originated.

For "those times" when you are tempted to use a boxed mix -- don't.  This super-easy scratch-made alternative is delightful. 

IMG_80642  1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4  cup cocoa powder

1  teaspoon baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1  3/4 cups sugar

3  large eggs

1  cup mayonnaise

1  cup + 6 tablespoons whole milk (Note:  My grandmother's depression-era recipe originally called for water.  I like the richness of whole milk better.)

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan (Note:  The original recipe calls for flouring 2, 9"-round cake pans.  When I prepare this cake, I prefer 1, 13" x 9" x 2" one-layer, rectangular cake and no-stick spray makes life a bit easier.

IMG_8065 IMG_8070Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda until thoroughly combined.  Set aside.  Note:  This "cake mix" can be made ahead and stored in the pantry.

IMG_8073 IMG_8076 IMG_8080 IMG_8083 IMG_8086 IMG_8089 IMG_8097~Step 2.  Place the sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl.  Starting on medium speed of hand-held electric mixer and working up to high, beat until mixture is smooth and light and pale yellow in color, about 1 full minute, while scraping down sides of bowl with a large rubber spatula.  Lower the mixer speed and blend in the mayonnaise, about 30 more seconds.  Stir the vanilla extract into the milk.  On medium mixer speed, blend in half of the milk mixture followed by half of the flour mixture, continuing to scrape down the sides of the bowl with the spatula.  Blend in the second half of the milk followed by the last of the flour, increase mixer speed to high and beat another 45-60 seconds.

IMG_8102 IMG_8111~ Step 3.  Transfer batter to a 13" x 9" x 2" cake pan or 3-quart casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven for 28-30 minutes, or until puffed through to the center with a slight spring on top when touched with index finger.  Remove from oven, place on a wire rack and cool completely, about 2 hours, prior to slathering with your favorite frosting or dusting with Confectioners' sugar.  Better yet:  A simple dollop of freshly-whipped cream or a generous scoop of ice cream will do nicely.

Light & moist & so easy even a cave man can bake it!

IMG_8116If you're going to eat cake, eat a great (mayonnaise) cake:

IMG_8152A Must Have Recipe:  Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake:  Recipe yields 1, 13" x 9" cake/12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart cake pan or casserole dish; wire cooling rack

IMG_6014Cook's Note:  When it comes to baking, even a recipe as easy as today's is a semi-precise to precise sport.  It's important to use the ingredients called for in the recipe, weigh or measure them accurately, and not make any substitutions or whimsical additions.  A complete understanding of  flour types is a great place to start.  Click into Categories, 5, 6, 7, 13 or 16 and read: ~ Flour Facts:  All-purpose, Bread, Cake and Pastry ~.  A successful baker is a happy baker!

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

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

04/15/2017

~ Mel's Petite Porketta for Joe's Jessup Sandwiches ~

IMG_8049It was the Spring of 1980.  That's when I had my first encounter with this unique roasted pork roll -- in the form of a cold sandwich.  Joe and I (newlyweds of four months) were visiting his mother Ann in his hometown of Jessup, (Northeastern) PA.  Joe's brother Tom and his wife Kathy walked through Ann's kitchen door on Wilson Street shortly after us, and, once the mandatory cocktails were poured, Ann placed a brown bag on her kitchen table.  It was quite informal and I had no idea what to expect, until Tom and Joe tore into it (which indicated her beloved sons knew exactly what was in it).  It was full of porketta sandwiches from their favorite Italian market:  Alunni's. 

IMG_8028Porketta (that's how it's spelled in the Scranton/Wilkes'Barre area) is extremely popular in all the Italian-American communities throughout NE PA, and, in pockets of the Philadelphia area too. The seasoned, rolled and tied pork loin can be purchased uncooked in the meat departments of local grocery stores, or, cooked and sliced at the deli-counter of the same stores.  At specialty markets like Alunni's, they make and sell the sandwiches too, as well as trays of sandwiches -- which show up at all sorts of large street festivals, church picnics and family gatherings.

Porketta is a cute Italian word for a small, stuffed suckling piglet.

IMG_7914 IMG_7903Traditionally, porketta/porkequetta/porchetta (all pronounced por-KAYT-tah), is an Italian dish prepared using a whole, small piglet.  Prior to roasting, the meat is stuffed with a mixture of salt, herbs and spices, which serve as the seasoning. During the roasting process, the meat is basted with olive oil to give it a golden, crispy skin.  That said, for ease of preparation, most home cooks simply butterfly, pound, roll and tie a boneless pork loin (although pork belly or shoulder can be used too). It can be sliced and served hot as a knife and fork meal, or, refrigerated and sliced cold in a deli sandwich, and, it is common to make porketta for the sole purpose the latter.

Nowadays, most cooks butterfly, pound, stuff & roll a pork loin.

IMG_7987My porketta is made from petite, stuffed pork tenderloins...

IMG_7919 (1) IMG_7896As Joe's mom started getting older, I slowly-but-happily, started taking over the holiday cooking responsibilities for her.  I thoroughly enjoyed it because it caused me to get to know the cooks in their family. Uncle Geno was the first.  He was a fabulous cook, and, on a trip to his San Cruz, CA home in 1981, I not only learned how to make polenta, I learned what a polenta board is. Aunt Anne's forte was baking, and I am grateful to her for passing along several traditional cookie recipes.  Aunt Susie cooked and baked, but, getting an exact recipe for anything from her proved futile.  She told me what she put in her porketta and I was expected to take it from there.  (The list goes on -- Aunt June, Teresa and Albina -- they all contributed to my recipe box over the years.)

Armed with a piece of porketta purchased in Jessup, for side-by-side taste-testing of Aunt Susie's ingredients list, it didn't take long for me to concoct the "right" herb and spice mix.  By "right" I mean the way they make it in Jessup, which means dill (not fennel or rosemary) takes center stage on the flavor profile.  There's more.  There came a time when I wanted to incorporate porketta into Joe's family's Easter celebration without serving it as part of the main meal.  That's when I decided to use small pork tenderloins, in order to serve small slider-sized sandwiches, along with deviled eggs, as appetizers.  Everyone loved the idea, so, I've done it every year since.

... to serve as slider-sized appetizers w/deviled eggs in the Spring!

IMG_79274  small, whole pork tenderloins, about 1-1 1/4-pound each

3  ounces minced, fresh dill, mostly feathery greens, some stems thinner stems are are ok, thick woody stems are not fine

2  tablespoons garlic powder

2  tablespoons dry English mustard

2  teaspoons sugar

2  teaspoons salt

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_7923~ Step 1.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with aluminum foil and place a sheet of parchment over the foil.  Set aside.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut 16 pieces cotton kitchen twine (it's necessary to have this twine) into 13"-14" lengths.

~ Step 2.  To prepare the herb/spice blend, mince the dill as directed and place it in a medium bowl along with the garlic powder, dry mustard, sugar, salt and black pepper.  

IMG_7929 IMG_7933 IMG_7935Using a spoon, toss, to incorporate the spices throughout the fresh dill. Set aside 13-15 minutes, stopping to restir the mixture every 3-5 minutes.  The salt will wilt the dill and spices will absorb moisture from the dill, resulting in a mixture that resembles clumpy, wet grass clippings.  Preheat oven to 500°.

IMG_7939 IMG_7942 IMG_7945 IMG_7951 IMG_7947~Step 3.  To assemble and tie each porketta, just like drawing vertical lines on a sheet of paper, place 8 lengths of the twine, spaced about 1 1/2" apart, on a clean, flat work surface (I use a sheet of parchment).  Place 1 tenderloin, the flattest "rough" side, facing up across the center of the strings. Spoon/distribute 1/2 of the dill mixture evenly over the top of the tenderloin.  Place a second pork tenderloin, the flattest "rough" side, facing down on top of the dill mixture. Starting in the center and working towards the ends, lift and tie each piece of twine into a simple, tight knot.  Using the kitchen sheers, snip off the loose excess ends of the twine.  Place the assembled porketta on the prepared baking pan.

IMG_7954 IMG_7968 IMG_7971~ Step 4.  Repeat this process a second time, placing the second porketta 1"-2" apart from the first one, on the same, IMG_7979prepared pan.  Examine each porketta, and, using the fingertip of your index finger, tuck/poke as much of any exposed dill mixture as possible back into the center. This will keep the dill a nice green color after roasting.  Using a pastry brush, liberally paint each porketta with olive oil, coating all of the exposed, visible surface.  Grind a generous coating of sea salt and peppercorn blend (or black pepper) over all.

IMG_7996~ Step 5.  Place porketta on center rack of preheated 500° oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 350°.  Roast, uncovered, about 65-75 minutes, or, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into 3-4 spots reads 155°-160°, checking the temperature diligently every 5 minutes after 55 minutes of cooking.

Porketta will be golden brown and juices will be running clear.

IMG_8008~ Step 6.  Remove from oven. Immediately cover and tightly seal pan with aluminum foil. If planning to serve hot, allow porketta to rest 30 minutes, prior to slicing and serving. For sandwiches, allow to cool until slightly warm, 3 1/2-4 hours, prior to individually wrapping each porketta with plastic wrap and refrigerating overnight prior to slicing.

Appetizers are served:  porketta sliders w/deviled eggs!

IMG_8055Mel's Petite Porketta for Joe's Jessup Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 2, 2-pound porketta, enough meat for 8-12 slider-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; kitchen shears; cotton kitchen twine; cutting board; chef's knife; pastry brush instant-read meat thermometer; plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07ce982b970dCook's Note:  When Ann served Alunni's porketta sandwiches, she served them with 'Luni's homemade-on-site potato salad.  To get my recipe for ~ GrandMel's Creamy Potato and Egg Salad Recipe ~, which tastes just as good as deviled eggs with porketta, click in Categories 4, 10, 17 or 20.

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

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

04/12/2017

~ Happy-Valley-Ranch Deep-Fried Chicken Sandwich ~

IMG_7872One of my favorite all-weather meals is a piece or two of crispy and nicely-seasoned roasted, grilled or fried chicken.  Pair it up with a well-appointed salad drizzled with creamy Ranch dressing and I can't resist it.  It's gotta be Ranch dressing too -- no substitutions.  Save the blue cheese dressing for chicken wings, Buffalo-style chicken 'burgers and all things beef.  In my Happy Valley, PA kitchen, "if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy", and this is my sandwich.

Hidden Valley Ranch dressing has a fascinating history:

A little over 50 years ago no one had ever heard of ranch dressing and now it is America's most popular salad dressing.  We do much more than top our salads with it too.  It is our dip of choice for vegetables, a marinade for our meat or poultry, and, a flavoring in our favorite brands of corn and potato chips.  I buy very little bottled salad dressing in general (although I do keep a bottle of Wish-Bone Light Italian in my refrigerator at all times), but, when my boys were small, I was one of those mom's who kept a stack of Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning packets in my pantry at all times.  Why?  Like many of you, it was the only way I could get my kids to eat raw vegetables.

ImagesA bit about ranch dressing:  It is a wholly American invention with a bona fide rags-to-riches story.  In 1954, Nebraska-born Steve Henson (once a homeless child of the Great depression, former plumbing contractor and a cook in Alaska) and his wife Gayle, bought the sprawling, picturesque, 120-acre Sweetwater Ranch in Santa Barbarba, CA.  They renamed it Hidden Valley, opened a guest-type dude ranch and attempted to live out their life's dream of entertaining and cooking for their paying guests. But, due to the remote location and lack of funds for advertising, Henson found himself facing bankruptcy.  One thing the few guests he did have left the ranch talking about was:  the salad dressing.  Henson had developed the recipe back in Alaska: a garlicky emulsion of mayonnaise, buttermilk, herbs and spices.

Hvr_packetHenson knew how popular his dressing was when guests started asking to purchase jars of it to take home with them, but, it wasn't until one of them asked to take 300 bottles back to Hawaii that he saw a business opportunity.  Henson didn't have 300 jars, so he took a few hours to package his dry spice blend in a bunch of envelopes.  He instructed his customer to mix each envelope with 1-quart of buttermilk and 1-quart of mayonnaise.

In 1964, Henson closed his ranch to guests and entered into the salad dressing business full-time.  He assembled a small team of workers in his home and developed a small-scale mail-order business that mailed 75-cent packets of Hidden Valley salad dressing mix to the local community. It wasn't long before he moved into a larger manufacturing facility that produced 35,000 packets every eight hours.  In 1972, Henson sold his business to Clorox and the rest is history.

Mel's "Happy Valley" version of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing:

IMG_0129I developed my own version of these beloved seasoning packets here in my Happy Valley, PA kitchen to rival the original.  I must have done a pretty good job, because every time I make this dressing there is rarely any leftover and almost everyone asks me for the recipe.  It is a requested favorite at our Penn State tailgate every year.  If you have the time, prepare it a day before you serve it, to give all of the great flavors time to marry with the mayonnaise and buttermilk.

Can you add fresh ingredients (minced chives, parsley, garlic and onion) to it?  Well of course you can, and I often do, but, I add them as flavor enhancers after the fact, not in place of any of the dry spices and herbs.  Why?  Because, like Steve Henson, I like to make and keep a few small ziplock bags of my pre-mixed dry mixture on hand in my pantry at all times -- how convenient.

PICT2048For the dry spice blend:

1  teaspoon dried, minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon dried, minced onion

PICT21411  tablespoon dried chives (Note:  Dried chives are not pictured above because Joe dries chives from our garden for me and they are in a large mason jar that didn't fit nicely into this photo.)

1  teaspoon dried parsley

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon celery salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

For the additions:

1  cup buttermilk  (Note:  If this dressing is refrigerated for several hours or overnight, it will thicken to a creamy consistency, which I consider perfection. If you want a thicker, scoopable consistency, substitute sour cream for a portion or all of  the buttermilk.)

1  cup mayonnaise

IMG_0093IMG_0084Step 1.  In a medium bowl, place mayonnaise and all of the dry spices as listed.  Add the buttermilk.

IMG_0105Step 2. Whisk until mixture is smooth and drizzley.

IMG_0110Step 3.  Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate for several hours or overnight, until nicely thickened (for perfect taste and consistency, overnight is best).

Note:  Dressing may be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week (or the shelf life of the expiration date on the buttermilk).  If fresh ingredients are added, the shelf-life is shortened to 3 days.  For this reason, I stir any fresh ingredients in 1-2 hours prior to serving.  Stir prior to serving chilled.  Yield:  2 1/2 cups.

Prepping & lightly-pounding the chicken tenderloin patties:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1476096970c~ Step 1.  Cover a cutting board or work surface with a layer of plastic wrap.  Curl up, "doughnut-style"...

12  large boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins, no substitutions, close to room temperature (Note:  I remove them from the refrigerator 30-45 minutes prior to starting.  If the tenders are too cold, they will lose IMG_7788their "doughnut" shape when you pound them, and, they will not cook through to the the center in the time it takes to prevent the crispy outside coating from over-browning.)

IMG_7790... tightly overlapping their ends. Cover with a second layer of plastic and firmly press down on their tops w/the palm of your hand to "glue" them together.

~ Step 2.  Using the flat side of a meat mallet, gently-pound them, until they are half their original thickness and about twice their size.  Twelve pounded-patties appear in the small photo above. 

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

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 375° according to manufacturer's specifications.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01a73dfbc560970dStep 1. When 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_7808 IMG_7811 IMG_7814 IMG_7819 IMG_7823 IMG_7827~Step 2.  Working in batches of 3 chicken patties 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 pattie 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 one, place it into the dish of panko.  Coat patties on all sides in the panko.

IMG_7829 IMG_7837Step 3.  By hand, carefully and gently, drop/lower each patty into the hot 375° oil (don't place them directly in the basket).  Close the fryer lid and fry 4-5 minutes. Chicken patties will be a deep golden brown.  Do not overcook.

IMG_7843Step 7.  Open fryer lid and slowly lift basket up and out of deep-fryer. Transfer patties to a wire rack that has been placed over a few layers of paper towels.  Tip:  To transfer the patties , I simply tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack.  Using tongs is tricky -- it can be done but it's an easy way to damage (rip, tear or poke holes in) their crust.

Immediately sprinkle chicken patties w/a grinding of sea salt.  

Repeat the dredging, dipping and coating process until all patties 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, chicken patties will remain crunchy well past the four hour mark, so, do not hesitate for one moment to fry them (and do your cleanup) well in advance of serving.

IMG_7848Super-crispy on the outside & super-tender on the inside:

IMG_7855I've yet to taste a better chicken patty in any sandwich:

IMG_7888Happy-Valley-Ranch Deep-Fried Chicken Sandwich:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups homemade Ranch dressing and 12 chicken sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  medium mixing bowl; whisk; 4-cup food storage container w/lid; 2 shallow 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes or 9" pie dishes;  medium-large bowl; whisk; cutting board; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; deep-fryer; 3-minute egg timer; tongs (use at your own risk);  paper towels; wire cooling rack 

IMG_7761Cook's Note:  For a classic Italian recipe for a delightfully-delicate, lightly-pounded, traditionally-breaded, pan-fried chicken cutlet bursting with buttery lemon flavor, click into Categories 3, 12 or 20 to get my recipe for ~ A Flash-in-Pan Dinner:  Chicken all Milanese ~.

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

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

04/10/2017

~ A Flash-in-the-Pan Dinner: Chicken alla Milanese ~

IMG_7761I love it when I am inspired by something I eat in a restaurant -- when it's worth every penny and I can't stop thinking about it.  Adversely, I dislike it when I'm disgusted by something I eat in a restaurant -- a waste of money I can't stop thinking about.  I abhor it when I order a restaurant meal, fall in love with it, and a few weeks later, order it again and hate it.   Dining in a college town is a frustrating sport -- inconsistency seems to reign supreme.  With the exception of three now two establishments, I avoid it.  That said, it's the reason a great percentage of our college-town's locals are some of the finest home cooks you'll ever meet -- we've grown weary of visiting any number of eateries "on a wing and a prayer" (relying on hope to see us through).  Enough said.

IMG_7763Milanese requires just a few basic ingredients and a process.  

IMG_7736It's bright and frivolous -- delightfully delicate and elegant.

"Alla Milanese" (mee-lah-NEH-zeh) is Italian for "in the style of Milan" and refers to a thin-sliced and lightly-pounded protein dredged in flour, dipped in beaten egg and a light-coating of breadcrumbs.  It's quickly-sautéed in butter and/or olive oil until a pretty yellow-golden. It's crispy on the outside, fork-tender, and juicy on the inside.  It gets a squirt of fresh lemon juice, a parsley garnish and is served the moment it comes out of the skillet.  It is elegantly delicate. The original version of the dish, "la cotoletta (the cutlet)" or "cotoletta alla Milanese", a typical "secondo" (second course) to a meal in Milan, refers exclusively to a veal cutlet.  I am not a fan of grated cheese mixed into the breadcrumbs or used as a garnish, but, that choice is yours.

Milan is Italy's financial, industrial, cultural and fashion capital.  Home to the Italian stock exchange, it is to Italy what New York City is to the USA -- diverse and affluent.  The best way to define the cuisine is "rich" with milk, cream, butter and cheese.  Butter is the fat of choice and with it they love to prepare beef and veal dishes.  The famous Milanese saying, "La bocce l'è manga stracca sel la san ò de vacca", translates to, "the mouth is not tired enough if it doesn't taste of cow".  It means:  for lunch or dinner, the meal ends by eating a piece of cheese.  While pasta is popular, rice is more popular and they explain it's because rice absorbs more cheese, butter and broth than pasta (their signature rice and risotto dishes contain pricey saffron too).   

When did classic veal Milanese transition to chicken Milanese?

Veal milanese is what I grew up eating when my family went to Italian-American restaurants -- and loved every crispy-textured, lemony-buttery bite.  When I was in my early '20's, veal milanese is one of the first fancy-schmancy, cheffy "flash-in-the-pan" dinners I entertained guests with in the latter 1970's and '80's -- and in my electric skillet, I could make four servings at once. 

IMG_9428Then, in the 1990's, we foodies were told, by the powers-that-be, to cut back on eggs and red meat.  I had never encountered a boneless, skinless chicken breast prior to that, which is when they began mass-marketing them across America. The boneless, skinless chicken breast revolution had begun.  They began replacing fat, juicy chops IMG_9453and steaks everywhere.  I refer to this as America's "rubber-chicken dinner" period.  Milanese, which was an easy target, became a victim.

While the boneless, skinless chicken breast replaced the veal cutlet or escalope with ease, I was never quite satisfied with it.  Even when butterflied and/or pounded, I've always found the boneless, skinless breast to be a compromise in this dish.  Unlike naturally tender IMG_9595veal, chicken needs to be cooked to a safe 165 degree temperature*, which no matter how you slice or tenderize it, dries it out.  My solution was to use the naturally tender chicken breast tenderloin to make Milanese.  Once I 'switched', I liked the dish better prepared with thinly but lightly-pounded chicken tenders (chicken paillards) than my original and classic veal Milanese.

Note:  In the case of Milanese, the pounded chicken breast tenderloins should be slightly-firm to the touch and slightly-pink in the center when you are removing them from the skillet.  An internal temperature of 160°-162° is fine (actually perfect).  Once removed from the skillet and allowed to rest a few moments, carry-over heat will continue cooking them to the proper temperature.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08663848970dA bit about paillard (PI-yahrd):  This French word means "to pound", and, references a lightly-pounded portion-sized slice or medallion of meat, poultry or seafood that gets quickly sautéed.  A paillard is not smashed to smithereens.  Pounding should make it wider and thinner, with the point being to pound it in a manner that makes it even in thickness --  to break down the fibers, to tenderize it, and, to make it cook evenly.  It's usually done with a flat-sided meat mallet, not a sharp, pyramid-toothed gadget guaranteed to pulverize the subject-at-hand.  To those who smack away using the back of a heavy skillet, while your bravado is amusing, you can't concentrate the necessary force directly on the places that need it to do a truly expert job.

Are you ready to see how easy this 25-minute meal is to make?

IMG_15328  large boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins (Note: This is approximately equivalent to 2, boneless, skinless, chicken breast halves that have been butterflied, to form 4 pieces.)

Step 1.  Place the tenderloins between two large layers of plastic IMG_1537wrap and lightly pound with the flat side of a meat mallet to a thickness between 1/8" and 1/4".

Step 2.  Lightly season the tops of the pounded tenderloins with:

Lemon and Pepper Seasoning

Wondra Quick-Mixing flour for IMG_1540Sauce and Gravy, or, ordinary all-purpose flour 

IMG_7675~ Step 3.   Allow chicken to rest 5 minutes, so the flour can absorb moisture. During this time, sprinkle a light layer of flour in bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole, and, in a small bowl, whisk 4 large eggs with 2 tablespoons water.

IMG_7677 IMG_7682 IMG_7685 IMG_7690 IMG_7692~Step 4.  Pick the chicken tenders up and flip them  over, placing them, floured sides down in the lightly-floured casserole.  Season and flour the second sides (now the top sides) and set aside 5 additional minutes. Add the whisked eggs to the casserole, and allow the chicken to rest in the egg liquid, stopping to "flip-flop" the chicken around in the eggs 2 or 3 times for 5 last minutes.  

IMG_7698 IMG_7705 IMG_7708~Step 5.  In each of two, shallow 9" pie-type dishes, place 3/4 cup  dried breadcrumbs (I use either French-style breadcrumbs or Japanese-style panko for their extra-crispy texture).  Place four chicken cutlets in each dish and coat in the crumbs, taking the time, 2-3 minutes, to stop and "flip-flop" them 2-3 times, to make sure they are evenly and completely coated.  Taking a few minutes to do this insures the crumbs will stay in place as they sauté -- because they've absorbed moisture from the eggs. 

IMG_7701 IMG_7710 IMG_7716 IMG_7723 IMG_7719~Step 6.  In a 16" electric skillet over low heat (225°) melt 4 tablespoons butter into 4 tablespoons olive oil.

Increase heat to medium- medium-high (240º-250º).  Add all of the cutlets to the skillet.  Sauté, until they're a nice light-golden color on both sides, turning only once, about 4-5 minutes per side, adjusting the heat as needed to prevent over-browning (which will dry them out).  

Note:  If doubling or tripling the recipe to feed 8-12 people, transfer cooked cutlets to a wire cooling rack that has been placed on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking sheet lined with parchment in a modest 225°-230º oven (for up to 30 minutes) while continuing to dredge, dip, coat and fry.

Portion & sprinkle w/sea salt & garnish w/lemon & parsley:

IMG_7752A Flash-in-the-Pan Dinner:  Chicken alla Milanese:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 2, 9" pie dishes; 16" electric skillet; long-handled fork and/or spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; wire cooling rack

IMG_1616Cook's Note:  For a similar dish (a variation of the same theme without the crispy breadcrumb coating), containing white wine, capers and lemon, click into Categories 12, 20 or 26 to read my recipe ~ For those Times When Ya Just Gotta Have Piccata ~.  In Italian, "piccata" translates to "piquant" or "tangy" or "zesty", and, in the case of this recipe, a few pats of cold butter are stirred into the pan-drippings to make a tangy sauce for drizzling over the top of the finished dish.

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

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

04/08/2017

~ I Love My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf ~

IMG_7652The fabulous '50's may be gone forever, but they are certainly not forgotten.  Remember the stainless steel diner in your hometown that served up a thick slice of mouthwatering meatloaf smothered in a smooth, rich pan gravy alongside a big scoop of fluffy mashed potatoes? Remember meatloaf day in your school cafeteria with stewed tomatoes and macaroni and cheese?  Remember the Swanson frozen meatloaf dinner slathered with a thick brown gravy and French fries?  I remember them all, but, mostly, I remember my mom's "special" meatloaf.

Meatloaf-frozen-dinner-kid"Meatloaf."  Say the word aloud in the company of family or friends, even in the company of culinary professionals, and you'll find that almost everyone wants to share a fond memory, tell an interesting story, or, recite a favorite recipe or three.  Once a Depression era meal to help home cooks stretch precious protein to feed more people, everyone will nod in agreement that, nowadays, meatloaf can be whatever you want it to be: an economical family-style meal or a culinary masterpiece fit for a king.

The industrial revolution placed meatloaf squarely on America's foodie road map -- the invention of the hand-crank (and later the electric/automated), meat grinder was historic. 

IMG_7545According to The Oxford Companion to Food:  Meatloaf is a dish whose visibility is considerably higher in real life than in cookery books.  This situation might be changed if it had a fancy French name (pâté chad de viand hachée, préalablement marinée dans du vin de pays et des aromatiques).  In the USA, the term was recorded in print in 1899, in Britain, 1939.  The use of the word 'loaf' is appropriate as most recipes include a portion of a loaf of bread, usually in the from of soft, fresh breadcrumbs.  Also, meatloaf is shaped like a loaf of bread, typically baked in a loaf pan, and sliced like a loaf of bread.  It is a worthy dish that embodies the word peasant (rustic), but can also exhibit refinement associated with bourgeois (upper middle-class) cookery.  Meatloaf does not extend into the realm of haute cuisine (artful or imaginative cuisine).

6a0120a8551282970b0162ff840af2970dA bit about grinding meat:  While the thankless task of mincing meat has been going on since ancient times, Karl Drais, a German aristocrat, is credited with inventing the cast-iron, hand-crank meat grinder in 1785.  This portable, countertop appliance made it possible for frugal home cooks to take advantage of its economic, time-saving benefits:  

1) Ground meat feeds more people.  2) Grinding meat makes tough, lesser expensive cuts of meat more palatable and easier to digest.  3)  Combining and grinding small pieces of various types of meat together makes a meal of otherwise useless leftovers.

^^^ Nowadays, grinding your own meat is even easier than this.  Trim it of unnecessary fat, cut it into 1"-1 1/2" chunks and pulse it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.

IMG_7589By the 1950's meatloaf was in America to stay, and, recipes were in print everywhere.

IMG_7592A bit about meatloaf in America: American meatloaf originated in the form of scrapple, a grainy-textured mash of ground pork scraps and trimmings mixed with moistened cornmeal prior to baking in a loaf shape.  Scrapple has been served by German-speaking Americans in Pennsylvania (the PA Deutsch) since Colonial times. From this somewhat unappetizing, born-out-of-necessity beginning, savvy home cooks adopted the concept of combining ground meat(s) with milk-moistened bread, egg, onion, salt and pepper, thus, evolving meatloaf D73faa54f8f38aed16c7afe476067a1binto its current  state:  homey, great-tasting, old-fashioned comfort food. Because cows were butchered before Winter, as feeding them was difficult and expensive, the first modern recipes for meatloaf contained just beef.

SwansonmeatloafdinnerA bit about my family's "special" meatloaf: My grandmother and mother used saltine cracker crumbs in place of fresh or dried breadcrumbs in a whole host of recipes.  Truth told: Saltines, when moistened in milk until soft, are:  more flavorful than breadcrumbs, and, they maintain a bit of texture too. Their pantries were never without a box and neither is mine.  

There's more.  Both my mother and grandmother used beef exclusively, never a combination of beef, pork and veal.  My grandmother, who owned a mom and pop grocery store during the Depression era, simply did not like the gelatinous texture that comes from adding mild-flavored veal and did not approve of mixing pork and beef together -- no bacon strips were ever draped over a meatloaf baking in any of my family's kitchens.  To this day, we all prefer brown gravy to tomato-based glazes (ketchup, tomato sauce or barbecue sauce) too.  Meatloaf is personal. 

IMG_7477For 2, 1 3/4-pound meat loaves:

3  pounds lean or extra-lean ground beef (85/15 or 90/10)

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

4  ounces saltine crackers (1 sleeve of crackers from a 1-pound box), crumbled by hand into small bits and pieces, not processed to crumbs.

1  cup milk

3  tablespoons salted butter

1 1/2  cups small diced yellow or sweet onion

1 1/2  cups small diced celery

3/4  cup minced parsley leaves

1  .13-ounce packet G. Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand so I can duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's available at many local grocery stores and on-line.)

2  teaspoons salt

1 1/2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans 

IMG_7478 IMG_7483 IMG_7488 IMG_7490~Step 1.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl.  Using a fork, lightly beat the eggs and add them to the meat.  Using your hands (it's the most efficient way), thoroughly combine the two.

IMG_7491 IMG_7497 IMG_7500 IMG_7501 IMG_7511~Step 2.  Using your fingertips, crush the crackers into small bits and pieces, letting them fall into a medium mixing bowl as you work. Add the milk and stir to combine. Set aside about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the crackers to absorb all of the milk.  The mixture will be thick and pasty.  Add the cracker mixture to the beef/egg mixture, and once again, using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_7507 IMG_7512 IMG_7519 IMG_7520 IMG_7523 IMG_7528~Step 3.  In a 10" skillet melt butter over low heat. Add the diced onion and celery along with the G.Washington's Seasoning, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium- medium-high and sauté until both onion and celery are nicely softened, 4-5 minutes.  Stir in the parsley, remove from heat and allow to cool for 30 full minutes.  Add the cool but still-a-little warm vegetable mixture to the meat.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_7542~ Step 4.  Spray 2, 1 1/2-quart loaf pans with no-stick cooking spray. Note:  My grandmother and mother always baked meatloaf in clear glass dishes and so do I.  The advantage is being able to see exactly how fast and how well the loaves are browning.  Divide the meat mixture in half, form each half into a loaf shape and place it in dish. Note:  If you have a kitchen scale, now is the time to use it. There will be 3 1/2 pounds meatloaf mixture.

IMG_7561~ Step 5.  Bake meatloaves on center rack of preheated 350° oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer placed in the the thickest part of the center reaches 168°-170º.  Loaves will be bubbling and juices will be running clear.  Remove from oven and place, in pans, on a wire rack to cool about 15 minutes.  Use a spatula to remove loaves from pans.  Slice and serve hot, or, warm or cool to room temperature and refrigerate.

IMG_7570 IMG_7574 IMG_7579 IMG_7586~Step 6.  It is worth mention that ground beef loses moisture as it cooks, so, there will be some very flavorful drippings in the bottom of each loaf pan -- not a lot of them, but enough to run through a fat/lean separator, place in a saucepan and add 1, 18-ounce jar beef gravy to.

Humble & Homey, Old-Fashioned, Great-Tasting, Comfort-Food:

IMG_7597I Love My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf:  Recipe yields, 2, 1 3/4-pound meatloaves.

Special Equipment List:  fork; 1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; nonstick spoon or spatula; 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart loaf pans, preferably glass; kitchen scale; instant-read meat thermometer; wire cooling rack; fat/lean separator

IMG_7515 IMG_7515Cook's Note: For just about any time you want to have stuffing with your roasted meat or poultry, my mom has a unique recipe, which, is made using saltine crackers in place of bread cubes. ~ I Just Love My Mom's Cracker Stuffing Casserole ~ can be found in Categories 4, 12, 18 or 19.

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

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

04/06/2017

~My Fully-Loaded Roast Beef Grilled Cheese Sammie~

IMG_7434Calling all carnivores.  Gather round my table.  You've got a friend in Pennsylvania.  I love beef, and, when it comes to beef sandwiches, as much as I love a great cheeseburger with all the fixin's (on a cottony-soft white-sandwich-bread-type roll), I like a roast beef grilled cheese sandwich with all the fixin's (on two slices of firm-textured sourdough-type-bread) better.  There's more. I prefer my cheeseburger to be thick, juicy, medium-rare cooked and topped with a slice or two of American cheese, ketchup and caramelized onions.  I demand my roast beef grilled cheese be loaded with thinly-sliced rare-cooked beef (preferably home roasted, not store-bought) and a goodly amount of grated Monterey Jack cheese, horseradish sauce and raw, thinly-sliced, onions.

IMG_7466Fully-loaded doesn't mean a lengthy list of absurd ingredients.  Per sandwich it means:  8-ounces rare roast beef, 4-ounces ooey-gooey cheese, horseradish sauce & shaved onions.

6a0120a8551282970b014e8a73d347970dRoasting beef for sandwiches is easy, economical, and, tastes amazing.  I do it often -- for the sole purpose of having roast beef for weekday sandwiches.   While I won't call the food police if you purchase high-quality, deli-style roast beef to make these sandwiches, if chance allows you to taste one made with deli-meat alongside one made with home-cooked oven-roasted meat, I am certain you will take a page out of my playbook.  

For the beef roast:  Place a 5-6 pound eye-of-round roast, unseasoned, on a rack in a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish. Roast, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and rest 30 minutes prior to serving, or, for sandwich meat, after the rest period, wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Slice it thin and use it as directed in almost any roast beef sandwich recipe.

IMG_73744 large 1/2"-thick center-cut slices from a sourdough loaf (the largest slices), cut in half to make 8 total slices

4  ounces butter (1/2 stick/4 tablespoons/1 total tablespoon per sandwich)

4  tablespoons horseradish sauce, the best available, preferably Russian ZAKYCOH (Note: I buy this locally at my local Russian Market, but, it is available on-line at Amazon.com too.  If you like horseradish sauce, this is the one you will want to keep in your refrigerator at all times.

1  pound thinly-sliced, rare-roasted beef, prepared as directed above

8  ounces grated Monterey Jack cheese (2 cups/1/2 cup per sandwich) 

1/2-1  cup very-thinly-sliced, "shaved" yellow or sweet onion

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grill pan

I'm demonstrating making one fully-loaded sandwich today.

IMG_7380 IMG_7386 IMG_7391 IMG_7394 IMG_7395 IMG_7399 IMG_7402 IMG_7409~Step 1.  To assemble each sandwich working on a sheet of parchment or wax paper, butter the tops of 4 bread slices (1 1/2 teaspoons each) then flip them over, buttered sides down, on the paper. Slather tops of all 4 slices with 1 tablespoon of horseradish sauce.  On two of the slices, place 1/4 cup of grated cheese followed by a generous scattering of onions.  Arrange 4-ounces sliced beef atop the cheese on each half, followed by another 1/4 cup of cheese.  Flip the two unfilled slices of bread up and over the tops of the filled slices, placing them, buttered sides up, to form two sandwiches. Using your fingertips, gently press down on the top of each sandwich

IMG_7414 IMG_7426Step 2.  To grill two sandwiches, lightly-spray a grill pan with no-stick cooking spray and place pan over medium- medium-high heat -- give it a moment or two to heat up.  Add the sandwiches to the hot pan and cook until golden on both sides and cheese is melted, turning only once, about 4-5 minutes per side.  Remove from heat.

No fancy embellishments -- pickles & potato chips are grand.

IMG_7453Truly one of the best roast beef sandwiches you'll ever eat:  

IMG_7469My Fully-Loaded Roast Beef Grilled Cheese Sammie:  Recipe yields two, large, hearty grilled cheese sandwiches or 4 smaller-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; butter spreader; grill pan; spatula

IMG_0262Cook's Note:  Baked ham, paired with rye bread, Jarlsberg cheese and hot Russian mustard makes a dynamite grilled cheese sandwich too.  My recipe for ~ Melanie's Hot Russian Ham & Cheese Meltdowns ~ can be found in Categories 2, 12 or 20.

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

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

04/03/2017

~Braaibroodjie: South African Grilled Cheese Sammie~

IMG_7364Grilled cheese sandwiches.  They've been embedded in our American food culture since the 1920's.  That's approximately when affordable sliced white bread and inexpensive processed American cheese hit the market. Because this hunger-satifying sandwich was inexpensive, easy to make (under a broiler, on a flat-top griddle, or, in a skillet), and, met our government's nutritional standards, our Armed Forces began serving thousands of them to servicemen stationed all over the globe.  Post WWII, the institutional food service industry (hospitals, prisons, school cafeterias, etc.) started pairing grilled cheese with tomato soup to provide the required Vitamin C component in order to call it a complete meal.  That said, pairing bread and cheese and grilling it (initially open-faced -- two-sided sandwiches came along later), over an open flame until the bread toasted and the cheese melted has been going on since Ancient Roman times.

In South Africa, "braaing" is the word for "grilling", and, grilling (over open coals) is South Africa's culinary passion.  Braaibroodjie, is a real tongue-twister to say.  Pronounced "bra-ee-bro-ee--kee", it's their iconic version of the grilled cheese sandwich, and, it can be prepared, before, during or after the "braai" (barbecue) -- as a sweet and savory start, accompaniment, or end to the feast. The five components are:  bread (white sandwich or sourdough), butter (softened or melted), any nice melting cheese, with cheddar being traditional (grated or sliced), thin-sliced fresh tomatoes, paper-thin sliced sweet onion, and, fruit chutney (homemade or high-quality store-bought).

For lovers of sweet & savory, the combination of cheese & chutney is: A brilliant match made in heaven!

IMG_7326For four sandwiches:

8  slices white sandwich bread, or, 4 large 1/2"-thick center-cut slices from a sourdough loaf (the largest slices), cut in half to make 8 total slices

4  ounces butter (1/2 stick/4 tablespoons/1 total tablespoon per sandwich)

1/2  cup fruit chutney, homemade or high-quality store-bought (2 total tablespoons per sandwich)

8  ounces grated melting cheese (2 cups/1/2 cup per sandwich) (Note:  I'm using brick cheese today.  It's perfect for these grilled cheese sandwiches.  To learn more about it, read my Cook's Note at the end of this post.)

1  cup very-thinly-sliced, "shaved" yellow or sweet onion

8 medium-large-sized thin slices of tomato (2 per sandwich), or, 16 small-sized thin-slices of tomato (4 per sandwich)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grill pan

I'm demonstrating making two sourdough sandwiches today.

IMG_7330 IMG_7332 IMG_7337 IMG_7339 IMG_7342 IMG_7348~Step 1.  To assemble two sandwiches, working on a sheet of parchment or wax paper, butter the tops of 4 bread slices (1 1/2 teaspoons each) then flip them over, buttered sides down, on the paper. Slather tops of all 4 slices with 1 tablespoon of chutney.  On two of the slices, place 1/2 cup of grated cheese.  Arrange 2-4 (medium-large or small) tomato slices atop the cheese, followed by a generous scattering of onions.  Flip the two unfilled slices of bread up and over the tops of the filled slices, placing them, buttered sides up, to form two sandwiches. Using your fingertips, gently press down on the top of each sandwich.

IMG_7350 IMG_7353~ Step 2.  To grill two sandwiches, lightly-spray a grill pan with no-stick cooking spray and place pan over medium- medium-high heat -- give it a moment or two to heat up.  Add the sandwiches to the hot pan and cook until golden on both sides and cheese is melted, turning only once, about 4 minutes per side.  Remove from heat.

No embellishments necessary.  Serve and eat ASAP!     

IMG_7359Braaibroodjie:  South African Grilled Cheese Sammie:  Recipe yields 4 grilled cheese sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; butter spreader; grill pan; spatula

IMG_7188Cook's Note:  "What is brick cheese", you ask?  Brick cheese is white to pale yellow in color and can range from sweet, buttery and mildly-salty when young, to strong, sharp and savory when aged. It melts great, which means it can be used in a wide variety of dishes.  It goes great with crackers and fruit -- it loves chutney.  It is indeed the kind of cheese you want in any type of grilled-cheese sandwich!

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

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