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9 posts from May 2017

05/23/2017

~Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries~

IMG_9437Sweet potatoes can be cooked via all the same methods all-purpose spuds can.  Baked, boiled, pan-fried, grilled, oven-roasted, microwaved, and, last but not least, deep-fried.  When it comes to sweet potatoes, I am a bone fide lover of this healthy super-food, and, when it comes to cooking and eating them, I love them in any form, any time of year.  I am an equal-opportunity sweet potato eater.  Oven-roasted sweet potato fries, which pair great with so many things (especially poultry and pork) are easy to make, but I'm not going to lie, if they're not prepared correctly, "just so", they can be downright disappointing -- limp and lackluster.  It's exasperating.  It wasn't until I started tossing them with a bit of cornstarch (in addition to the dry spices), then a bit more cornstarch, then a bit more, that I landed on my "secret formula" for seriously-crispy oven fries.

IMG_94422  tablespoons cornstarch (in addition to dry spices as per recipe) tossed w/2 pounds fry-cut sweet potatoes + 1/4 cup vegetable oil = my secret formula for seriously-crispy oven fries.  

IMG_5635A bit about sweet potatoes:  Sweet potatoes were introduced to North America by Christopher Columbus, who brought them from the island of St. Thomas, where this large, edible root (which belongs to the morning glory family) is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most commercially grown are:  a pale-skinned sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety (that many Americans erroneously call "yam" -- the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato).  The pale sweet potato has a thin, light-yellow skin and pale yellow flesh.  Its flavor is not sweet, and after cooking, it's dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato.  The darker variety has a thicker, dark orange skin and vivid orange, sweet flesh. When cooked, it has a very sweet flavor and almost creamy texture and it's the only kind I use.

IMG_9442Mel's easy Caribbean-spiced sweet potato fries:

IMG_93862  large, even-sized sweet potatoes, about 1 pound each* 

2  tablespoons each:  cornstarch and light brown sugar

1  teaspoon each:  allspice and ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon each:  cayenne pepper, ground ginger, sea salt

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

4  tablespoons vegetable oil 

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

*Note:  Do not overcrowd the potatoes on the baking pan, meaning:  if you want to double this recipe, use two baking pans.

IMG_0902Step 1.  I like the classic "fry shape":  about 1/2" thick, 3"-3 1/2" long, square-tipped and boxy-looking. Why? Pointy tips burn.  I don't like fries with burnt ends. Using a sharp knife, trim the left and right ends from each potato, peel and slice ("fry-cut") as directed.

IMG_0916IMG_0920IMG_0925IMG_0927

 

 

 

Step 2.  Place the sweet potatoes in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Add the cornstarch and the dry spices.  Toss to thoroughly and evenly coat potatoes in the dry mixture.  Add the vegetable oil and toss again, until the potatoes look glistening and wet, with no dry, powdery spots.

IMG_0938IMG_0933Step 3. Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil.  Note:  I like to use Reynolds Release, no-stick foil.

Generously sprinkle the bottom of the pan with a coarse grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

IMG_9415 IMG_9409Step 4. Transfer the sliced and seasoned sweet potato fries to the prepared pan.  Using your fingertips, take a moment or two to make sure they are all positioned in a single layer with none of them touching.  

Sprinkle another (this time lighter) grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend evenly over all.

IMG_9428Step 5.  Roast the sweet potatoes on center rack of preheated 450 degree oven for 15 minutes.  

Remove from oven.  Using a large spoon or spatula, a few at time, scoop 'em up and flip 'em over.  

Return to the oven and continue to roast, about 15 more minutes, or until the sweet potato fries are golden brown and caramelized around the edges.

Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate & serve A.S.A.P. 

IMG_9450Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries:  Recipe yields 4 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  Cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; spatula; paper towels

IMG_9352Cook's Note:  I like to serve my Caribbean spiced sweet potato fries with my recipe for ~ Joe's Caribbean Chicken Dog w/Joe's Island Salsa ~ which you can find by clicking on this link or in KE Categories 2, 10, 11, 17 or 20.

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

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

05/21/2017

~ Joe's Caribbean Chicken Dog w/Joe's Island Salsa ~

IMG_9338Because a lot of Americans will be firing up their grills this weekend, there's no time like the present for me to talk about an experiment I conducted on myself this week:  chicken hot dogs. For years I've been telling people "I think I was a hot dog in a past life" (that is how much I love high-quality all-beef franks).  That said,  chicken hot dogs have been popping up (again) in stores of late.  For years I've been saying, "If you dislike something, you really ought to try it once every ten years, just to see if your taste has changed or the product has improved".  Would I love them or would I hate them.  My money was on the latter and I spared no expense (wink) to find out.

The first thing I set out to do was find the best quality chicken dog available to me (as the only one I ever ate was served to me by an over-the-top, health-conscious, extremist-nut job about 8-10 years ago and it tasted like sawdust in a chewy casing).  The second thing I set out to do was come up with a unique flavor profile (traditional toppings typically slathered and heaped on American-regional all-beef dogs were off limits).  My ideal chicken dog would be surrounded with a combination of sweet and savory flavors that enhance the mild flavor of chicken (not hide it in the hopes of passing it off as an alternative all-beef dog) -- all on a soft, slightly-sweet potato roll.

IMG_9306Meet the Trader Joe's all-natural uncured chicken hot dog:

IMG_9311Low-fat, full-flavored and made with boneless, skinless chicken (60% breast meat and 40% thigh meat), what they are not is:  made from mechanically separated meat of any kind, nitrites or nitrates, MSG, gluten or any fillers.  They contain simple spices like garlic, onion, black pepper and paprika, which boost the flavor without adding any fat or calories. They're fully-cooked too, so, they're fine with any method of cooking -- they just need to be heated up.  I cooked mine on the stovetop in a grill pan for 8-10 minutes and they emerged moist and juicy on the inside with a crispy casing, and, they tasted great.

IMG_9326 IMG_9315So simple: Place four Trader Joe's chicken hot dogs in a grill pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat.  Grill, using a spatula to roll them back and forth occasionally to create some nice grill marks, until nicely golden all the way around, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve hot.

Meet Trader-Joe's (chunky & thick) Island Salsa:

IMG_9318Let's face it, 90% of the condiments we put on our all-beef hot dogs are store-bought and ready-to-eat, and, those that are not require just a bit of easy hands-on slicing, dicing or chopping and/or minimal cooking. My goal was to find a store-bought condiment that enhances the mild flavor of chicken, and, to my glee, I did, right at Trader Joe's.  Their Island Salsa is savory, slightly-sweet and a bit spicy too.  It's chunky and thick and chocked full of Caribbean island flavors:  mango, pineapple, red jalapeño peppers, green and red bell pepper, onion, cilantro and lime. This high-quality product is pure perfection atop a Trader Joe's chicken hot dog.  Moving along:

Meet Mel's sweet & savory super-easy Island Slaw:

IMG_9277The next and last thing my newly-invented Caribbean chicken hot dog needed was a fresh, crunchy, easy-to-make cole slaw that DID NOT compete with the flavors in the Island Salsa.  To make my honey 'n lime dressing, I chose three pantry ingredients (all shaken together):

1/2  cup high-quality organic lime juice (not from concentrate)

1/4  cup + 2 tablespoons honey

1/4  cup vegetable oil

Once the dressing was made, I decided on four compatible but not competing ingredients (meaning IMG_9283the flavors are compatible with but not in competition with those of the Island Salsa) to make my Island Slaw:

1  8-ounce bag slaw mix (green & red cabbage & carrot)

1  cup thinly-sliced green onion (scallion)

1  cup chopped, salted macadamias

1  cup sweetened, flaked coconut

all the lime 'n honey dressing (from above recipe)

IMG_9286 IMG_9292Place slaw ingredients in a bowl, add the dressing and toss together. Refrigerate until well chilled, 1-2 hours or overnight, re-tossing a few times now and then, when convenient.  Recipe yields: 1 cup honey 'n lime dressing and 3 cups slaw.

Four components full of compatible flavors =

IMG_9298a truly great, moist & juicy, Caribbean chicken hot dog.

IMG_9352No need to tell 'em it's healthy -- just enjoy the Island flavors

IMG_9379Joe's Caribbean Chicken Dog w/Joe's Island Salsa:  Recipe yields:  1 cup honey 'n lime dressing/3 cups honey & lime slaw/1, 12-ounce jar Island salsa/enough for 16 Caribbean chicken hot dogs.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid & pourer top; cutting board; chef's knife; grill pan

IMG_9442Cook's Note:  "Would You Like ~ Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries ~ with that?" They are the perfect side-dish complement to these Caribbean chicken hot dogs.  Just click on the link to get my recipe.

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

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

05/18/2017

~Thai-Style Grill-Pan Chicken Tacos w/Peanut Sauce~

IMG_9238Over the years, like many other busy foodies, I've come to the conclusion that tacos should be referred to as a style of eating. Like two slices of bread, a tortilla is a great foil for anything that tastes great in a sandwich.  I keep corn and flour tortillas on hand in my refrigerator 365/24/7, and, on any given day, there's "no telling" what cold or hot leftovers I'm going to put in them -- anything and everything is "fair game".  That said, over the years, like many other foodies, I've started coming up with fresh, new-to-me ways to serve tacos that don't involve leftovers.

My love affair with all types of Asian food is no secret.  Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, etc. You name it, I adore it.  Give me a recommendation for an Asian restaurant in your locale, when I'm in your town, you can be sure I'm going there to eat.  I dabble in cooking a great deal of it too. I crave Asian and rarely does a week go by without my needing it.  Some of my recipes have been classically learned, while others are a product of my own creative cravings for Asian fare.

IMG_9254Today:  Thai-Asian flavor meets the Tex-Mex soft taco.

"Fusion cuisine" or "fusion food".  Popularized in the 1970's, these words describe the preparation of a meal that combines two different culinary styles and/or traditions to create a new dish. Today's recipe teams some of my favorite Thai-Asian flavors and traditional Thai-Asian ingredients with the Tex-Mex taco-style of eating grilled meat, poultry or fish.  My marinated chicken mixture is being prepared in a grill pan instead of a wok, it's being heaped into a soft flour tortilla atop a broccoli slaw (which is replacing the typical shredded lettuce mixture), and, a spicy peanut sauce gets drizzled over the top (instead of salsa and/or sriracha-infused crema).

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

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

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

1  tablespoon each: sesame oil and Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons honey

1, 12-ounce bag broccoli slaw + 1/2 cup thinly-sliced scallions

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

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

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

Spicy 5-minutes-to-fix creamy-crunchy peanut sauce too.

I especially love this spicy classic-Thai sauce incorporated into poultry or pork dishes, but, it's great drizzled on my Thai-chicken pizza (another example of a fusion meal), and, it's a fantastic dipping sauce for raw vegetables or a dressing for salads, noodles and noodle salads too.  My recipe yields 2 1/2 cups, and, while that might sound like a lot, it freezes great and thaws relatively fast.  A little goes a long way, so I typically portion it into 5, 1/2-cup containers. 

51ahAHfpozL._AA160_A bit about peanut sauce:  This sauce is widely used in the cuisines of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Africa.  The main ingredients are roasted peanuts or peanut butter (crunchy or smooth), coconut milk, soy sauce and palm sugar.  Pulverized spices (red chile peppers, coriander, cumin, garlic, galangal and /or lemongrass, are almost always added.  You can easily purchase your favorite brand, but, when you see how easy this is to make, I don't know why you would.  My recipe, which came from my Thai girlfriend Kanya, contains one small can of Thai-style red curry paste, which provides all of the above named pulverized spices.

IMG_9773For the peanut sauce:

2  tablespoons sesame oil

1  4-ounce can Thai-style red curry paste

1  13 1/2-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (briefly stir after opening the can)

6  tablespoons smooth or chunky-style peanut butter

2  tablespoons firmly-packed palm sugar (light or dark brown sugar may be substituted

IMG_9777IMG_9781IMG_9783IMG_9787IMG_9790~Step 1. Place the sesame oil and the red curry paste in a small 1-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, until the curry paste is bubbling rapidly and is very fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the coconut milk, peanut butter and sugar.  Continue to simmer steadily but gently, stirring almost constantly, until smooth and thickened, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  

IMG_9804Remove from heat, cover, and set aside, to cool slightly, about 15-20 minutes.  Serve slightly warm, or, place in a food storage container (or two) and cool, uncovered, until sauce is at room temperature.

Store indefinitely in the refrigerator and reheat gently in the microwave, stirring occasionally prior to serving.

Oh my Thai:  Marinated & grilled moist & juicy chicken strips.

IMG_9153I use chicken breast tenderloins because they stay juicier & moister than ordinary boneless, skinless chicken breasts do when subjected to the high, dry heat of a grill or a grill pan.  Feel free to use what you like best, but in either case, lightly-pound them with a flat-sided meat mallet for added tenderness.  That said, feel free to substitute thinly-sliced and lightly-pounded pork tenderloin for the chicken tender -- it'll be just as good.

IMG_9173For the chicken & the marinade:

2  pounds boneless chicken tenderloins, about 10 large tenderloins (pictured above)

1/4  cup each:  honey, lime juice (fresh or high-quality organic), &, Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons each: Thai fish sauce & sesame oil

1  tablespoon each:  garlic paste & ginger paste

1/4  cup minced cilantro leaves

1/4  cup thinly-sliced green onion, white & light green part only

1-2  small, hot, cayenne chile peppers, minced

IMG_9221For the assembly:

12, 6"-round flour tortillas

5 cups, chicken tenderloin strips, marinated and grilled as instructed below

4  cups Asian broccoli slaw, from above recipe

1  cup Thai peanut sauce, from above recipe

1  cup chopped & lightly-toasted unsalted peanuts, for garnish 

IMG_9164 IMG_9158~ Step 1. Sandwich tenderloins between two pieces of plastic wrap on a flat work surface.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, lightly pound them to a thickness of about 1/2" -- do not smash them to smithereens.

IMG_9190 IMG_9179~ Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container or a small bowl, stir together all of the marinade ingredients as listed.  Pour the marinade into a 1-gallon food storage bag, add the pounded tenderloins, seal the bag and toss to coat.  Set aside to marinate for about 2 hours at room temperature, or 4-6 hours in the refrigerator.

IMG_9193 IMG_9202 IMG_9211 IMG_9217~Step 3.  On the stovetop, heat a grill pan that's been lightly- with no-stick cooking spray over medium-high heat.  Add half of the tenders (5) and grill until golden and cooked through on both sides, turning only once, 6-7 total minutes, about 4-4 1/2 minutes on the first side and 2-2 1/2 minutes on the second side, regulating the heat carefully as the honey in the marinade (like sugar) can scorch.  Transfer the cooked tenders to a plate and repeat process with remaining tenders (5). Slice each tender into long thin strips, then, slice strips into thirds.  It's time to eat:

In each of 12, soft flour tortillas, place 1/3 cup Asian broccoli slaw & 1/2 cup grilled chicken strips.  Drizzle w/a generous tablespoon spicy peanut sauce & garnish w/a sprinkling of toasted peanuts:  

IMG_9247These are some rockin' & rollin' soft-taco, Thai-wrap sandwiches:

IMG_9262Thai-Style Grill-Pan Chicken Tacos w/Peanut Sauce:  Recipe yields 4  cups broccoli slaw, 1  cup peanut sauce, &, 5 cups grilled chicken strips/enough to fill 12 tacos/12 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; 1-gallon food storage bag; grill pan

IMG_0825Cook's Note:  This kid-tested mother-approved recipe was one of the ways I introduced my three growing boys to the flavors of Thai food.  You can find my recipe for ~ E-Z Thai-Style Ginger-Chicken Pizza w/Spicy Peanut Sauce ~ in Categories 2, 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)

05/15/2017

~ Cooking 101 for One: Asian Ramen & Steak Salad ~

IMG_9113Occasionally I'm left alone at "the palace".  This means I'm in the odd-for-me predicament of cooking for one.  This typically involves a bowl of raisin bran in front of the computer in the morning, a wrap sandwich on the deck in the afternoon sun, and, a bag of microwave popcorn in front of the TV at night -- certainly nothing to write home about.  Today, however, leftovers (a rare-cooked steak, Asian dipping sauce and diced scallions from my last blog post, a bag of matchstick carrots in the vegetable drawer of my refrigerator and ramen noodles in my pantry), inspired me to create, with little effort, a seriously tasty meal.  Tasty enough write this post.

Ramens-mainInterestingly enough, ramen noodles have only been a staple in my pantry for 5-6 years.  Perhaps all the stories, "when I was (in college, living in my first apartment, etc.), I was so broke I lived on ramen noodles", made them sound unappealing.  That said, on a trip to Japan in 1986, I got to experience 6a0120a8551282970b014e8b43cffd970dreal-deal ramen:  a wheat-noodle dish that consists of a bowl of rich soy- or miso- flavored broth, shredded vegetables and meat.  To learn more about ramen, check out this article A Guide to the Regional Ramen of Japan.  Instant ramen noodles were invented in 1958 by Momofuku Andu, the Taiwanese-Japanese founder of Nissan Foods, and, it's been named the greatest Japanese invention of the 20th Century.  If it's good enough for the Japanese, it's good enough for me.

IMG_9113Ramen has a fascinating history. Prior to World War II, in Japan, ramen was called "shina soba", or, "Chinese soba", and it was sold, along with dumplings, in street-food stalls owned by the Chinese living in Japan -- who made the noodles and wrappers from scratch.  Post WWII, cheap flour imported from the USA swept the Japanese marketplace at about the same time Japanese troops were returning home from China and East Asia (from their posts in the second Sino-Japanese War).  Many of the returnees, who had become familiar with Chinese cuisine, started opening Chinese restaurants across Japan.  That said, ramen, still required eating out.  When Momofuku Ando invented instant ramen, it allowed anyone to make a simplistic version by adding boiling water.  In the 1980's ramen became a worldwide foodie trend -- I was there in 1986. 

The single guy or gal's 10-minute Asian ramen noodle salad:

IMG_90971  3-ounce package, instant ramen noodles (seasoning packet discarded), cooked and drained according to package directions (about 3 minutes), rinsed under cold running water and patted dry (free of moisture) in a few paper towels

6-8  ounces rare-cooked beef top sirloin roast or grilled steak, very thinly-sliced and slices cut into very thin strips, about 3/4-1 cup

1/2  cup store-bought matchstick carrots

6  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions, diced yellow or sweet onion may be substituted

2  tablespoons minced cilantro leaves

2  tablespoons lightly-toasted and chopped unsalted peanuts

6-8  tablespoons recipe for ~ Easy Chinese Dipping Sauce for Dumplings & Such ~ (See Cook's Note Below -- "the secret's in the sauce", so, no complaints if you don't use my recipe.)

Prep & place ingredients (except sauce) in a medium bowl:

IMG_9103Add 6 tablespoons of MY dipping sauce to start, toss & taste:  

IMG_9105Toss in more sauce, in tablespoonfuls, if necessary, to taste:

IMG_9109Serve & savor every seriously scrumptious bite:

IMG_9134Cooking 101 for One:  Asian Ramen & Steak Salad:  Recipe yields 3 cups/1-2 servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan; small colander; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_9089Cook's Note:  For my ~ Easy Chinese Dipping Sauce for Dumplings & Such ~:

4  tablespoons soy sauce

4  tablespoons rice vinegar

2  tablespoons very-thinly-sliced scallions (green onions)

1/2-1  teaspoon finely-minced hot cayenne chile pepper (optional)

1  tablespoon ginger paste

1  teaspoon garlic paste (optional)

4  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon sesame oil

Stir all ingredients together in a small bowl.  Recipe yields 3/4 cup.

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

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

05/12/2017

~ Easy Chinese Dipping Sauce for Dumplings & Such ~

IMG_9076An easy, all-purpose dipping sauce for dumplings and such.  If you love Chinese dim sum, you know the one.  It sits alongside the shumai (steamed dumplings), jiaozi (potstickers) and congyoubing (scallion pancakes) -- small-bite, appetizer-type items made with Chinese hot water dough.  It's light, bright, bold and well-balanced -- slightly salty from soy sauce, pleasingly sweet from sugar, and, pungent from rice vinegar.  Hints of ginger and/or garlic and a splash of sesame are easily identified.  There are usually a few thin-sliced scallions floating around in it, and, sometimes, a minced hot pepper is added to heat things up.  If you're like me, you find this sauce so scrumptious, you're tempted to drink it.  There's more:  It takes just 5 minutes to make.

IMG_9089For the dipping sauce:

4  tablespoons soy sauce

4  tablespoons rice vinegar

2  tablespoons very-thinly-sliced scallions (green onions)

1/2-1  teaspoon finely-minced hot cayenne pepper (optional)

1  tablespoon ginger paste

1  teaspoon garlic paste (optional)

4  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon sesame oil

Place all ingredients in a 1-cup container, stir, and set aside about one hour or overnight prior to serving.  Cover and store in refrigerator for up to three days.

Stir all ingredients together & allow to rest about 1 hour:

IMG_8989Serve w/dumplings, potstickers or scallion pancakes:

IMG_9075Easy Chinese Dipping Sauce for Dumplings & Such:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup dipping sauce.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container

IMG_9065Cook's Note:  If you've never tried to make ~ Savory Chinese-Style Scallion Pancakes ~ at home, be not afraid.  Chinese hot water dough makes them really easy to roll.  You can find my super-simple processor method for mixing and kneading in Categories 1, 2 or 13.

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

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

05/10/2017

~ Savory Chinese-Style Scallion Pancakes (Flatbread)~

IMG_9065Crispy and flaky on the outside, tender and ever-so-slightly chewy on the inside, served hot out of the skillet or reheated in the toaster oven the next day, scallion pancakes are one of my favorite Chinese appetizers.  Unlike our Western pancake, which is made by pouring a thickened batter into a skillet, the scallion pancake is made with an unleavened bread dough -- a kneaded mixture of flour, very hot water and salt which gets rolled into the shape of a pancake.

In China, scallion pancakes are both a street food and a restaurant item.  They are on the menus of Chinese-American eateries specializing in dim sum and/or dumplings.  There is little printed history on the subject, but, it's a fact that Buddhist monks (who influenced cooking throughout China and East Asia) discovered gluten (the protein found in foods processed from wheat, barley and rye flour) in the 7th century (they were vegetarians trying to find a protein substitute for meat). A humble, unleavened, scallion- fennel-green- or garlic-chive- laced flatbread made from their elastic, chewing-gum-like invention is an easy scenario to imagine.  It makes logical sense.

There is a tale they tell in China that suggests pizza is a spin-off of the scallion pancake.  It's said that Marco Polo missed scallion pancakes so much when he went back to Italy, he tried to find a chef willing to make them.  He managed to persuade a chef from Naples to do it, and after half a day without success, Marco Polo suggested putting the filling on top rather than inside the dough, which, by chance, created a dish praised by everyone -- leading to the invention of the pizza. Historical evidence does not support this story, but, I thought it interesting enough to pass along.

Be not afraid. In the scheme of culinary things, these are easy.

IMG_8972Scallion pancakes = hot water dough + sesame oil + scallions.

Be not afraid.  In the scheme of culinary things, even if you have no idea what scallion pancakes are but want to try to make them, these are really easy.  Why?  Chinese hot water dough (which is used to make these pancakes, dumpling wrappers and other Chinese pastries) is dough made with hot water, instead of cold water.  It renders it remarkably easy to work with, meaning:  unlike leavened or unleavened cold water dough, it won't spring back very much when it gets rolled out. I'm making it even easier for you, by mixing and kneading the dough in the food processor.

IMG_8956For four scallion pancakes (yield 8 appetizers each pancake):

2  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup very hot-to-boiling water

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  cup sesame oil (for brushing on the rolled pancakes)

2  cups, thinly-sliced scallions, white and light green parts only (for scattering on the rolled and oiled pancakes)

peanut oil, for frying pancakes

IMG_8957 IMG_8964 IMG_8968 IMG_8977~Step 1.  Place flour and salt in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 5-10 rapid on-off pulses, incorporate the salt into the flour.  On stovetop or in microwave, heat 1 cup of water to steaming or boiling.  With processor motor running, in a slow, thin stream, add water, until the flour forms a ball of dough.  Stop adding water the moment it forms a ball -- this will happen after adding about 3/4 cup of water.  If it doesn't happen, add additional water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it does.  Continue kneading ball of dough in processor 45-60 revolutions. Remove dough from processor, place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and rest for 1 full hour.

IMG_8998~ Step 2.  While dough is resting, slice scallions as directed.  Ready a pastry board, a bit of bench flour and a small rolling pin (or any rolling pin).  You'll also need a pastry brush for brushing sesame oil on rolled pancakes, and, place a 10" nonstick skillet on the stovetop too.

~ Step 3.  Uncover dough, divide and form dough (1 total pound) into 4, 4-ounce balls, then, recover it.

IMG_9005 IMG_9011 IMG_9012 IMG_9016~Step 4.  Working one ball of dough at a time (keep others covered while working), place ball of dough on a lightly floured pastry board and roll into a 7 1/2"-8" circle.  Lightly brush the surface of the circle with about 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, then, sprinkle 1/2 cup scallions over the top.

IMG_9039 IMG_9021 IMG_9045 IMG_9051 IMG_9029~Step 5.  Tightly roll the pancake up (jelly-roll-style) into a log, tuck the two open left and right ends underneath the roll, then, spiral the log up like a snail, tucking the loose end underneath.  Using your hands, compact the disk, then, using your fingertips, gently press down on the surface.  Using the rolling pin, roll again to form a 7 1/2"-8" circle. It's normal to have a few scallions pop out during the rolling process.

Note:  Throughout the rolling process (Steps 4 & 5), keep the board lightly coated with a sprinkling of bench flour.  Not a lot -- just enough to be sure the pancake is at no time sticking to the board.  

IMG_9031 IMG_9034 IMG_9060~ Step 6.  On stovetop, heat 3 tablespoons peanut oil  + 1 teaspoon sesame oil in skillet over medium heat.  With the aid of a large spatula, lift and place the pancake in the hot oil and fry on medium heat, until golden brown on both sides, turning only once, about 3 minutes on the first side and 1-1 1/2 minutes on the second side.  Using the spatula, transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and cool 30-60 seconds prior to slicing into 8 wedges and serving with dipping sauce (See Cook's Note below). Repeat process with remaining 3 balls of dough, adding a bit of additional oil to pan each time.

Slice each pancake into 8 wedges & serve w/dipping sauce:  

IMG_9075These are addictive.  Everybody can eat just one (8 wedges):

IMG_9080Savory Chinese-Style Scallion Pancakes (Flatbread):  Recipe yields 4 pancakes and 32 appetizers (8 pieces per pancake).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 1-cup measuring container; plastic wrap; pastry board; small rolling pin; pastry brush; 10" nonstick skillet; large spatula

IMG_8987Cook's Note:  To make the dipping sauce, in a 1-cup measuring container, stir together:

4  tablespoons soy sauce

4  tablespoons rice vinegar

2  tablespoons sliced scallions

1  tablespoon ginger paste

4  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon sesame oil

Recipe yields:  3/4  cup dipping sauce.  Cover and store in refrigerator up to 3-4 days.

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

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

05/07/2017

~ Sweet Potato, Pecan & Butterscotch Chip Muffins ~

IMG_8917With a grilled steak, I enjoy a baked Russet potato.  With a grilled pork chop, I require a baked sweet potato.  On our deck, if we're "baking" potatoes on the grill, we always put an extra one or two on the grids.  With a cup or two of leftover baked and mashed Russet potatoes, I typically get out my skillet make pan-fried potato cakes.  With a cup or two of leftover sweet potatoes, I often get out my muffin tins.  If you didn't know that sweet potatoes (like pumpkin and zucchini), make great muffins or quick bread, you do now, and, lovers of sweet potatoes: find my muffins divine.

Golden, moist, not-too-sweet & laced w/crunchy, toasted pecans & the amazing flavor of slightly-salty butterscotch chips:

IMG_8935Please:  No cinnamon, clove, nutmeg or ginger -- save them for pumpkin muffins.

IMG_8946Unlike bland pumpkin, sweet potatoes are full of flavor -- they need little embellishment.

IMG_8834For the sweet potatoes:

2 1/4-2 1/2 cups baked and cooled sweet potato, mashed or smashed, from about 3 large sweet potatoes (Note:  In oven or microwave, bake sweet potatoes until soft.  Set aside until they are cool enough to comfortably handle with your hands, about 15-20 minutes.  Using a paring knife, an ordinary tablespoon and a fork, slice the potatoes in half, scoop out the soft centers, transfer them to a measuring container and mash them with a fork.  Set aside.  Many recipes instruct to peel, cube and boil the sweet potatoes until soft.  I find this makes them watery.)

For the wet ingredients:

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

1 1/2  cups sugar

2  teaspoons each:  butterscotch flavoring and pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups milk + 2 tablespoons

For the dry ingredients:

4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

2  teaspoons baking soda

1/2  teaspoon salt

For the add-ins:

2  cups chopped and lightly-toasted pecans

1 1/2  cups butterscotch chips

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin cups

IMG_8823 IMG_8827 IMG_8830~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 350°.  Lightly-spray the cups in standard-sized muffin tins (enough for 24 muffins) with cooking spray and set aside.  Chop and place nuts in a small baking pan and lightly-toast them for about 6 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  (Note:  If you are using unsalted butter, increase the amount of salt to 3/4 teaspoon.)  Mash the cooled sweet potatoes as directed above.

IMG_8837 IMG_8841 IMG_8847 IMG_8849 IMG_8853 IMG_8856 IMG_8861 IMG_8864 IMG_8868~Step 2.  Place butter, sugar, eggs and extracts in a large bowl. Starting on medium mixer speed and working up to high, cream these ingredients together, about 45-60 seconds, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula the entire time.  Lower mixer speed and blend in the milk, followed by the mashed sweet potatoes.  In 2-3 increments, thoroughly incorporate the dry ingredients.  Remove mixer and use the spatula to fold in the nuts and butterscotch chips by hand.

IMG_8873 IMG_8878~ Step 3. Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, distribute batter into each of 24 muffin cups whose tins have been sprayed lightly with no-stick cooking spray.  If there is any batter left in the bowl, use a teaspoon to distribute and dollop a bit of additional batter into the center of each muffin cup.

IMG_8888~ Step 4.  Bake muffins, all at once, on center rack of preheated 350° oven, until puffed up, golden, and, a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 20-22 minutes.  

Remove from oven to cool, in pans, on a wire rack, for 5-6 minutes.  Use a sharp paring knife to carefully and gently loosen and remove muffins from tins to cool on wire rack completely, about 1-2 hours.

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

IMG_8885Muffin(s) out of oven, cooling in pans, 5-6 minutes:

IMG_8894All muffins out of pans & on rack to cool completely:

IMG_8903My Sweet Potato, Pecan & Chocolate Chip Muffins:  Recipe yields 2 dozen muffins.

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

IMG_5294Cook's Note:  I get asked a lot of foodie questions in the course of a week.  Here's one I got asked so many times, I decided to write a post about it.  If you've ever wondered what ~ The Differences Between Cupcakes & Muffins ~ are, you'll probably enjoy reading my post in Categories, 2, 5, 9, 16 or 23.

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

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

05/05/2017

~ Luxurious: Cod Bathed in EVOO w/Fresh Tomatoes ~

IMG_8789As a kid, I adored frozen fish sticks and canned stewed tomatoes -- I still do.  That said, as a grownup, I much prefer the taste of a sweet, fresh, white fish fillet paired with a few acidic, fresh tomatoes.  Sometimes I bake them together in parchment with thyme and some white wine, and sometimes I broil them drizzled with melted butter and a bit of lemon and pepper. Tonight I'm using a method similar to shallow poaching, except:  extra-virgin olive oil is used in place of the traditional liquid.  Today's recipe is simple enough to serve for a weeknight meal at the kitchen island, and, elegant enough to serve for a fancy-schmancy dinner in the dining room.

To prepare this simple meal properly, understand the method: 

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 fish is a worldwide sport and the liquid should be seasoned accordingly. For example: When I'm poaching fish 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.

IMG_8797I am demonstrating how to shallow poach 1, 12-ounce cod loin fillet today.  I'm cooking it in an 8" nonstick skillet, and, it will yield 2, 6-ounce servings.  Placed atop a bed of steamed white rice or saffron rice, it's quite a filling meal.  To make 4, 6 or 8 servings at one time (2, 3 or 4 fillets respectively), increase the skillet size accordingly -- do not overcrowd the skillet under any circumstances:  4 servings/2 fillets = 10" skillet; 6 servings/3 fillets = 12" skillet; 8 servings/4 fillets = 14" skillet.  Common sense says to increase the amount of oil accordingly too, adding enough oil to the skillet to total a 1/8" puddle of oil in the bottom of the empty skillet -- no more, no less.   

IMG_8722For two servings/1 cod fillet:

1  12-ounce fresh, wild-caught, Icelandic cod loin fillet, cut in half to form 2, 6-ounce portions*

1/4  cup extra-virgin olive oil

6-8  small Campari tomatoes, cut into large chunks or wedges

1  teaspoon dried Mediterranean oregano

1/4-1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

* Note:  For best results remove the fish from the refrigerator 45-60 minutes prior to poaching. Why?  Poaching cold fish lowers the temperature of the oil, which affects the cooking time.

IMG_8728 IMG_8732~ Step 1.  Slice the fish fillet into two pieces. Season the tops with sea salt and peppercorn blend and set aside.  Prep the tomatoes as directed and set aside.  Heat the oil in an 8" skillet over medium-low heat for 1 1/2-2 minutes.

IMG_8737 IMG_8739 IMG_8749~ Step 2.  Gently place the seasoned fish into skillet. If there is a slight sizzle that it normal.  If you hear a big sizzle, or the oil sputters up, it's too hot.  Remove the fish and lower the heat.  Place the lid on the skillet and gently cook the fish for six minutes.  I like to use a pan with a glass lid when shallow poaching, because, it allows me to keep an eye on the process and adjust the temperature (up or down) if necessary. Remove the lid from the skillet.  Using a large spoon in one hand, while tilting the pan with the other hand, bathe the tops of the fish with spoonfuls of olive oil, for 45-60 nonstop seconds.

IMG_8754 IMG_8757~ Step 3.  Add the tomatoes to the skillet, placing them around, not on, the fish.  Sprinkle the oregano, optional red pepper flakes and a bit of salt over the tomatoes, doing your best to season the tomatoes, not the fish.  Return the lid to the skillet and continue to cook gently for 1-1 1/2 minutes, just until the tomatoes begin to soften.

IMG_8762 IMG_8764~ Step 4.  Using a spatula, carefully remove fish from skillet and place fillets on each of two serving plates (atop some cooked rice is nice).  Increase the heat under the tomatoes to a rapid simmer and cook 30-45 seconds, until the oil emulsifies with the tomato juices enough to form a nice chunky sauce (without turning the tomatoes to mush).

Spoon perfectly-cooked tomatoes over perfectly-poached fish...

IMG_8819... & enjoy the silkiest, luxurious T.G.I.Fish dinner imaginable:

IMG_8775Luxurious:  Cod Bathed in EVOO w/Fresh Tomatoes:  Recipe yields instructions to poach 1, 2, 3 or 4, 12-ounce fillets/2, 4, 6, or 8, 6-ounce servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 8", 10", 12" or 14" nonstick skillet w/lid (preferably glass); large spoon; slotted spatula

IMG_8271Cook's Note:  My method for ~ Poaching Bone-In Skin-On Real Chicken Breasts ~, which demonstrates the traditional method for shallow poaching in a traditional liquid, can be found in Categories 1, 2, 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)

05/02/2017

~ The Iwatani Twelve-Minute Tornado Cheeseburger ~

IMG_8708 (1)A not-so-funny thing happened last Monday.  Happy Valley, Centre County, PA got hit by a violent storm that rendered a great percentage of us without electricity, and in some cases water as well, for three days.  I've lived here for forty-three years -- this was longest we've ever been without power.  I'm no expert.  I can't prove it was a tornado that hit our street, but, I can't name one other "thing" that moves in a straight line snapping telephone poles and felling trees at their roots, doing virtually no other damage, except a tornado -- my deck and patio furniture didn't move an inch.

Not in the mood for my storm story?  Scroll through to the recipe!

IMG_8516As per our WTAJ news, "The storm will be in Bellefonte in about fifteen minutes and in State College in about half an hour.  It will come on fast, it won't last long, and, it will do damage." Unlike past severe storm warnings, this one seemed different.  All day, the air outside (which is hard for a layman to describe) had been warm and humid with a dry and chilly edge to it.  It was breezy with a mixture of clouds and sun.  At about the 25-30-minute mark, I started to wonder if we were going to get any storm at all, as nothing was happening outside my kitchen window.

IMG_8509I decided to go into my library to get another view.  The black mess coming over Mount Nittany was ominous -- the skies blackened quickly.  On my way back to the kitchen, I took a stop in the family room.  I've heard the sound of a tornado described as "the sound of an oncoming train", so, I stood still for a few seconds and listened.  It was hard to tell if the sound I heard qualified for "oncoming train status", but I did make a fast plan to take my three poodles into our lower level bathroom (a centrally located room) if it got any louder.  Moving along:

IMG_8521Back to my kitchen window -- to watch for  rain to start -- not a drop had fallen yet.  The WTAJ weatherman had spoken truth. This storm came on very fast, didn't last long and did do damage. From first second to last, the sky unleashed rain faster than I have ever experienced.  It was as if someone had covered my window with wax paper.  There was zero visibility.  In hindsight, it was super-stupid for me to stay standing in front of this huge window. Had debris been flying around in the air, it could have shattered the glass.  

IMG_8547Minutes later, through the last few raindrops, two things struck me:  #1) The damage, and; #2) The non-damage.  While poles were snapped, which caused power lines to fall, large trees were also felled from their roots, which blocked access to parts of Bear Meadows Road, yet, none of my deck furniture or anything surrounding my home was the slightest bit disturbed. There was no sleeping Monday night.  My puppies and I collapsed in comfort to listen to sirens and watch flashing lights.  We weren't scared -- relief works like that.

My perfectly-cooked, pan-seared, twelve-minute cheeseburger.

IMG_8571The next two days were "interesting".  Armed with a few pieces of just-in-case-of-emergency equipment (four battery operated lanterns, one battery operated AM/FM world-band radio and two Iwatani butane stoves), I read cooking magazines, listened to tunes, and, cooked.  My Sub-Zero freezers and refrigerators maintained their temperatures (seriously -- my ice cubes never melted and my butter never softened), and, the outdoor temperatures stayed a constant sixty-ish degrees, so, no food got tossed and heating or air-conditioning wasn't missed either. That said, my half-charged cell phone died early and I discovered that my garage doors, which have electric openers, have no handles to open them manually.  Hilariously, my digital bathroom scale and Shark cordless vacuum cleaner worked fantastic (oh joy).  All in all, we faired well.

IMG_8577 IMG_8586 IMG_8593 IMG_8601Meet the Iwantani 35F portable butane stove.  With 15,000 BTU's it's a high-quality workhorse that comes in a nifty protective carry case too.  If you've always wanted a gas stove but circumstances prevent it, this $75-$80 piece of equipment is, without compromise, as good as any residential gas stove and far superior to every electric stove.  It turns on and off with one easy click (which is why it's been given the nickname "click-burner" stove) and regulates heat perfectly. On high, it's hot enough to stir-fry like a pro, and, on low, it will keep sauce simmering gently without any boil overs or fear of scorching.  It runs on inexpensive butane canisters (about $20 for a case of twelve) which will last 45-60 minutes each, depending on how high the flame is set.

IMG_8616For 8 hamburgers (2 batches of 4):

3  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

16  slices American or Velveeta cheese, or cheese of choice

ketchup and/or mustard, or condiment(s) of choice

diced onion (optional)

8  soft hamburger rolls

IMG_8620 IMG_8628 IMG_8638 IMG_8647~Step 1.  Divide the meat into 8, 6-ounce portions.  Form each portion into a 4"-4 1/2"- round disc, approximately 1/2" thick.  Place four in the skillet and season them with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Turn the "click burner" on and adjust the heat to medium high.

IMG_8661 IMG_8665 IMG_8668 IMG_8673 IMG_8675~Step 2.  Cook four 'burgers on the first side for exactly six minutes. Using a spatula, flip them over on their second sides (do not season the second sides).  Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook on second sides another six minutes.  Place two slices of cheese on each 'burger, put the lid on the skillet and turn the heat off until the cheese melts, 30-60 seconds.  Wipe skillet clean and repeat process.

Transfer to rolls & top each perfectly-cooked cheeseburger w/your favorite condiments.  I vote for ketchup & onions:

IMG_8687Iwatani-fried Ore-Idas? You bet -- a post for the next power outage!

IMG_8692The Iwatani Twelve-Minute Tornado Cheeseburger:  Recipe yields instructions to make eight perfectly-cooked pan-seared cheeseburgers in a cast-iron or nonstick skillet over any gas or electric range.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen scale (optional); 12" cast-iron or nonstick skillet w/lid; spatula; Iwatani butane burner (optional)

IMG_8005Cook's Note:  Let's face it, the weather affects how every cook cooks.  It's one of the reasons I refer to cooking as a sport.  Where I live, Winter weather affects us the most -- we plan for and are always prepared to cook the occasional pantry meal.  One of my favorite recipes ~ Snowstorm Steak (How Mel Broils Steak Indoors) ~ can be found in Categories 3, 16, 19 or 20.

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

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