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12 posts from August 2017

08/31/2017

~ Say Cheese: How to Make Velveeta from Scratch ~

IMG_3351Scrootch over homemade mozzarella and ricotta -- make some extra space in the cheese section of the refrigerator.  Two days ago, my friend Teresa shared "a link to a link" for today's recipe on Facebook.  I could barely compose myself.  I,  Melanie Preschutti, almost always being of sound mind, always have, and always will be:  a Velveeta cheese lover.  Everything from its pale-orange color to its squeaky-smooth texture and tangy American-processed flavor appeals to me.  

Teresa's Facebook share couldn't have been more timely for me.  The college football season started this week, and, living in one of our nation's premier tailgating towns (State College, "Happy Valley", PA, the home of the Penn State University's Nittany Lions) I'd already proclaimed it "cheese feed week" here on Kitchen Encounters.  I immediately placed Homemade Velveeta on the top of my stack of upcoming blog posts to write, and, it is with great glee, I can report:  

IMG_3344Homemade Velveeta is everything it's "cracked" up to be.

Quoting the linked article written by P.J. Hamel (10/1/14 for the King Arthur Flour blog:  Flourish):  

"The New York Daily News reports Chef Michele Weber, of Manhattan's Upper West Side restaurant Good Enough to Eat, plows through four cases of it a week, making "Crack Dip" and her house special scrambled eggs.  Chef Ron Eyester, from Rosebud in Atlanta, uses it in his restaurant mac and cheese -- it's so creamy -- but doesn't say it on the menu description.  And, last winter, when there was a shortage of this key ingredient just before the Super Bowl, the Today show urged consumers not to resort to hoarding -- their favorite queso dip could be made with substitutes.  You've probably guessed we're talking about:  Velveeta cheese."

Pass or fail, I couldn't resist giving it a whirl today:

IMG_32956  tablespoons dry milk powder

1  1/4-ounce packet (one packet) Knox unflavored gelatin

1  cup boiling water

16  ounces mild orange cheddar cheese, shredded (Note:  I used mild shredded cheddar from a big, 5-pound bag that I purchase at Sam's Club, and, after weighing out 1 pound in a Ziplock bag, I set the cheese on the counter about 30 minutes so it would not be ice cold when I used it.)

IMG_3305 IMG_3307 IMG_3312 IMG_3313 IMG_3315 IMG_3318~Step 1.  Place milk powder and gelatin in a food processor.  Use a series of 5-6 rapid on-off pulses, to briefly combine the two.  With motor running, through the feed tube, add the boiling water in a thin stream and blend until smooth.  Immediately, open the lid, add all of the cheese, return the lid and process until ultra smooth, 20-30 seconds.

IMG_3321 IMG_3324 IMG_3329~ Step 2.  Immediately, using a large spoon or spatula, scoop and divide the mixture into and between 2, 5 3/4"L x 3 1/2"W x 2"D mini-loaf pans that have been lined with plastic wrap with a lot of excess draped over the sides of the pans.*  Gather up the excess plastic wrap and form an airtight seal across the surface of the cheese.  Refrigerate until set, 8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.

*Note:  I decided to use the empty cardboard box from a 2-pound block of Velveeta as my mold.  It worked perfectly, it's reusable, and it's more fun -- I even put the lid on it.

Remove cheese from refrigerator:

IMG_3331Open the box (this is so much fun):

IMG_3334Remove from box & remove plastic wrap:

IMG_3339Use a cheese wire to slice & eat, or, use as directed in recipe:

IMG_3357Tightly wrap leftovers in plastic & store in refrigerator:  

IMG_3368Say Cheese:  How to Make Velveeta from Scratch:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 pounds homemade Velveeta/2 small blocks or 1 large block.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; 1-cup measuring container, 2, 5 3/4"L x 3 1/2"W x 2"D mini-loaf pans, or, the cardboard box bottom from 1, 2-pound block Velveeta cheese; plastic wrap; large spoon or spatula

IMG_3031 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09bebca1970dCook's Note: "Cheese feed week" on KE consisted of recipes for: ~ Southern Comfort: Classic Pimento Cheese Spread ~, ~ Old English Cheese Spread & Crabmeat Canapés ~, ~ Creamy Old English and Pimento Cheese Crab Dip ~. Making homemade Velveeta cheese was the perfect ending -- eternal thanks to my girlfriend Teresa.

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

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

08/28/2017

~ Creamy Old English and Pimento Cheese Crab Dip ~

IMG_3275During the college football season, I add a few staples to my pantry and refrigerator lineup.  When you live in a college town, you never (and I mean never) know when you're going to need to fix a quick appetizer.  I make sure I'm never without pasteurized crabmeat in my refrigerator and Kraft Old English and Pimento Cheese spreads in my pantry.  If the doorbell rings or the fans on the couch run out of wings, I can have crab dip on the cocktail table in about five minutes.

IMG_3284Give me five minutes, I'll make you some great crab dip:

IMG_32691-pound pasteurized crabmeat, drained of any excess moisture

8  tablespoons salted butter, melted (1 stick)

1/4-1/2  teaspoon (a generous/heaping 1/4 teaspoon) garlic powder

1/4-1/2  teaspoon (a generous/heaping 1/4 teaspoon) onion powder

1  5-ounce jar Kraft Old English Cheese Spread, softened-slightly in the microwave

1, 5-ounce jar Kraft Pimento Cheese Spread

1/2  cup high-quality mayonnaise, preferably Duke's or Hellmann's

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a5e3d2970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a5e3ec970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c91b744e970b 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09beb415970d 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a5e405970c~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, place the butter, garlic and onion powders.  In the microwave, melt the butter and set aside.  In a medium bowl, place the crabmeat, Old English cheese spread and pimento cheese spread and mayonnaise.  Drizzle in the melted butter. Using a spoon, thoroughly combine all ingredients together.  Serve immediately and/or keep stored in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.  Serve at room temperature.

Got leftover crab dip?  Try it hot:  

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09bec41d970dBroiled atop toasted English muffins for breakfast:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c91b82a6970bCreamy Old English and Pimento Cheese Crab Dip:  Recipe yields 4 cups dip or spread.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; spoon; 4-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid.

IMG_3031 IMG_3048Cook's Note: When I was a kid, my mom kept the Old English next to the Pimento Cheese  -- on the door of our refrigerator.  I adored them, but, was a young adult when I learned pimento cheese was Southern.  I thought it was Kraft. Live and learn -- I learned how to make my own ~ Southern Comfort: Classic Pimento Cheese Spread ~.

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

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

08/25/2017

~ Old English Cheese Spread & Crabmeat Canapés ~

IMG_3224These appetizers were one of our Happy Valley tailgate traditions.  I fondly remember one of our members, Joan Reilly, making them for our early AM pre-tailgate tailgates -- prior to leaving for the stadium.  She and her husband Joe lived close to Beaver Stadium, and, it was not unusual for us to meet, as a group, on the cul-de-sac in front of their house, to wait for our friend with the RV to arrive from Harrisburg.  While we were all chatting and sipping Stan's Bloody Mary's, Joan would pass around a baking sheet full of her cheesy English-muffin-based crabmeat canapés.

IMG_3128Crab bites, crab melts, crab toasties, crab melt-a-ways, say-cheese appetizers, English muffin crab cakes.  These are just a few of the names you'll find associated with this vintage (circa 1970's) recipe.

All recipes for  these rely on an English muffin base and a concoction consisting of pasteurized crabmeat and Old English cheese spread.  Some recipes are baked, and others are broiled.  Mine (actually Joan's) is a combination of both.  I lightly toast the muffins first, heap them with the crab mixture, then broil them for a few short moments.  Some folks claim they can be assembled and frozen, to be baked and/or broiled at a later date, but, these "crab thingies" are so gosh darned easy to make, I've never been willing to risk compromising them by freezing.  When I was a kid, my mother kept Kraft Old English cheese spread in our refrigerator right next to their pimento cheese spread.  I like to use 1, 5-ounce jar of each to make my crabmeat canapés -- that choice is yours.

Steaming-hot & straight-out-of-the-oven --

IMG_3241What a yummy little way to start game day.

IMG_31351  1-pound can pasteurized crabmeat, drained of any excess moisture

8  tablespoons salted butter, melted (1 stick)

1/4-1/2  teaspoon (a generous/heaping 1/4 teaspoon) garlic powder

1/4-1/2  teaspoon (a generous/heaping 1/4 teaspoon) onion powder

2  5-ounce jars Kraft Old English Cheese Spread, softened-slightly in the microwave, or, 1, 5-ounce jar Old English + 1, 5-ounce jar Kraft Pimento Cheese Spread, which is my favorite

1/2  cup high-quality mayonnaise, preferably Duke's or Hellmann's

9  Thomas' English Muffins, split to form 18 pieces (Note:  I purchase 9-packs at our local Sam's Club.)

sliced grape or cherry tomato "coins", for garnish

IMG_3142 IMG_3144 IMG_3150 IMG_3154 IMG_3158~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, place butter, garlic and onion powders.  In the microwave, melt the butter and set aside.  In a medium bowl, place the crabmeat, Old English cheese spread and optional pimento cheese spread and mayonnaise.  Drizzle in the melted butter. Using a spoon, thoroughly combine all ingredients together.

IMG_3161 IMG_3168 IMG_3175 IMG_3178 IMG_3183~Step 2.  Using a serrated knife, slice muffins in half.  Don't split them with a fork. Slicing them will yield 12 even-sized halves.  Splitting them will not. In toaster or on rack of toaster oven, toast English muffin halves until nicely-browned.  Place toasted halves on baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.  Using a spoon, scoop 3 tablespoons filling onto the center of each muffin.  Use the spoon to flatten and spread the filling out across the top. Place pan of muffins, 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler, for 3 minutes, watching carefully during the last 30 seconds, as they will go from nicely-golden to horribly burned very quickly.

It's ok eat one whole too, as a breakfast or brunch entrée:

IMG_3194It's just a bigger, yummier way to start game day:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c91b82a6970bOld English Cheese Spread & Crabmeat Canapés:  Recipe yields 4 cups crabmeat & cheese filling,  enough to top 18 English muffin halves, and, 6 dozen bite-sized appetizers/72 bite-sized triangular-shaped pieces.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; serrated bread knife; toaster or toaster oven; 1, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan, or, 3, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans; parchment paper

IMG_3031 IMG_3048Cook's Note: As mentioned above, my mom kept the Old English next to the Pimento Cheese  -- on the door of our refrigerator.  I adored them, but, was a young adult when I learned pimento cheese was Southern.  I thought it was Kraft. Live and learn -- I learned how to make my own ~ Southern Comfort: Classic Pimento Cheese Spread ~.

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

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

08/22/2017

~ Southern Comfort: Classic Pimento Cheese Spread ~

IMG_3031When I was a little kid, pimento cheese spread was a staple in our refrigerator -- right next to the Old English cheese spread.  I had absolutely no idea it was Southern.  I thought it was Kraft. To this day, if someone puts a jar on of the store-bought stuff on the table next to a box of Ritz crackers, I'm more than happy to sit down and dig right in.  Slather it between two slices of white bread and make me a pimento-cheese grilled-cheese sandwich and I'll follow you anywhere.

Known as "the caviar of the South, or, "Southern pâté",

IMG_2989pimento (or pimiento) cheese is a Southern thing.

Throughout my adulthood, I've had occasion to travel to various destinations in more than a few Southern states, and, whether I'm looking for it or not, more often than not, pimento cheese appears on pub grub or restaurant menus in some fashion.  Sometimes I don't even have to look or ask for it -- it shows up as a complimentary snack.  No two cooks or establishments make it the same way, some versions are better than others (I'm not a fan of those containing cream cheese), but, rare is the person who doesn't take a liking to it immediately given the chance to sample it.  

Pimentol.pictA bit about pimento cheese:  In its basic form, it consists of few ingredients:  shredded and mashed or processed yellow cheddar and/or processed cheese (like Velveeta), a jar or can of diced or sliced pimentos (a small, 2"-3" wide, 3"-4" long, red, heart-shaped, sweet, succulent pepper), high-quality mayonnaise (Duke's or Hellmann's -- more mayo than you think is necessary), Louisiana-style cayenne pepper sauce and/or Worcestershire sauce, plus, seasonings (like garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper.  Its consistency ranges from ultra-smooth to slightly-chunky. It can be soothingly mild or spicy hot.  

It can be used to make pimento cheese sandwiches or as a spread in all sorts of sandwiches or on crackers, a dip for vegetables (its especially good scooped into a stalk of celery), mixed into deviled egg filling, added to grits, or used as a yummy topping for hamburgers or hot dogs.  

IMG_3126Pimento cheese trivia:  Fancy pimento cheese, finger-food-sized tea sandwiches (with the crusts removed from the white bread) are a signature item served at the Augusta National Golf Club at The Masters Tournament every year.  Controversy arose in 2013 when the golf club switched food suppliers and the new supplier couldn't duplicate the previous supplier's recipe, resulting in sandwiches with a markedly different taste -- it didn't happen twice.  In an episode of AMC's Breaking Bad, Mike Ehrmantraut offers a pimento cheese sandwich to Jesse Pinkman on a stakeout together.  In an episode of AMC's Breaking Bad spinoff show, Better Call Saul, Mike (Ehrmantraut) brings a pimento cheese sandwich to a bodyguard job instead of a weapon.  After binge-watching Breaking Bad in reruns (for the second time) over the past few days, I've got pimento cheese sandwiches fresh on my mind.

IMG_29956  tablespoons high-quality mayonnaise, preferably Dukes or Hellmann's with Dukes being the traditional and Southern favorite

1  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2  teaspoon Louisianna-style cayenne pepper sauce, to taste (optional)

1/2  ounce diced yellow or sweet yellow onion

1  large garlic clove

1/2  teaspoon celery salt

1/4-1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

4  ounces shredded sharp yellow cheddar cheese

4  ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese, with or without Jalapeños, your choice

1  4-ounce jar pimentos, well-drained (Note:  Pimentos are sold sliced or diced, in 2-, 4- and 7-ounce jars.  A 4-ounce jar measures just shy of 1/2 cup, so, if you are measuring from a different size jar, use that amount.  A 2-ounce jar yields a generous/heaping 2 tablespoons.)

IMG_2996 IMG_2999 IMG_3000 IMG_3003~Step 1.  In the work bowl of a small-capacity food processor, place the diced onion and garlic clove.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses, process to just short of a purée, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a small spatula every 5-6 pulses.  Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate for a moment or two, to allow the paper towels to absorb excess moisture. You will have a generous tablespoon of onion and garlic mixture.  Place the pimentos on a paper-towel-lined plate to absorb excess moisture.  Grate the cheeses and set aside.

IMG_3006 IMG_3009 IMG_3014 IMG_3016 IMG_3021~Step 2.  In a large bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, Worcestershire, optional cayenne pepper sauce, celery salt and coarsely-ground black pepper.  Add the grated cheeses and well-drained pimentos.  Throughly fold and stir the mixture together, using the side of the spatula to chop up the cheeses as you work.  Transfer to a 2-cup-sized food storage container, cover, and refrigerate, 2-3 hours or overnight, prior to serving as it is, slightly chunky, or, whirring it in the food processor for a few seconds to give it an ultra-smooth consistency.

Slightly-chunky or ultra-smooth -- it's your choice:

IMG_3048This Yankee gal likes hers smooth -- slathered on a Rtiz:

IMG_3059

Southern Comfort:  Classic Pimento Cheese Spread:  Recipe yields a generous 1 1/2 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small-capacity food processor; paper towels; hand-held box grater; large rubber spatula; 2-cup-sized food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b017d41db380a970cCook's Note:  Next to pimento cheese spread, there is only one cheese concoction that I can't live without.  It's another blast-from-my-past, but I think, ~ Confessions from a Port Wine Cheese Ball Lover ~, is a post you might enjoy reading. 

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

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

08/20/2017

~Oatmeal Peanut-Butter Milk-Chocolate-Chip Cookies~

IMG_2969At 6:30AM I took my poodles outside and turned the sprinklers in our vegetable gardens on.  As the water droplets hit the leaves, I watched as the red tomatoes, green basil, purple eggplant and other prime produce started to glisten in the early morning sun.  While walking my pooches back to the house, I decided to bake cookies today.  A girl cannot live on tomato sandwiches and caprese salad forever.  The eggplant will live to see another day too.  It's cookies I crave.

This is the paragraph where I am supposed to divulge where I got this recipe, share a personal story about it and/or report its history.  Truth told, I have no recollection of how I got it (no record of my original source).  That's easy to understand.  Having raised three boys during the 1980's, I have numerous recipes for chocolate-chip-based cookies -- us moms who volunteered to bake for elementary school fundraising bake sales exchanged our cookie recipes freely.  It happened all the time, but, back then, I had no idea I'd be writing a cooking blog someday.  Trust me.  It's an excellent recipe.  Why?  Because it is still in my file.  It's kid-tested and mother approved.

Oatmeal, peanut butter & chocolate chip: 3 favorites in 1 cookie.

IMG_29071/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 stick)

1/2  cup lightly-packed light brown sugar

1/2  cup sugar

3/4  cup crunchy peanut butter

1  large egg

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1  cup unbleached-all-purpose flour

3/4  cup old-fashioned rolled oats, not instant oatmeal

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/4  teaspoon salt

1  cup milk-chocolate chips

IMG_2912 IMG_2916 IMG_2918 IMG_2922~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place butter, brown sugar, sugar, peanut butter, egg and vanilla.  On high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream ingredients together, while scraping sides of bowl down with a rubber spatula, about 1 full minute.  Lower mixer speed to medium and incorporate the flour, baking soda and salt, followed by the oatmeal, scraping down sides of bowl as you mix.

IMG_2923 IMG_2929 IMG_2932 IMG_2937~Step 2.  Remove mixer.  Using spatula, fold in the chocolate chips.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place balls of cooking dough, well-apart, on each of 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment.  Bake, one-pan-at-a-time on center rack of 340º oven, 12-14 minutes, until barely browned.  Remove from oven and cool, in pans, 3 minutes prior to using a spatula to transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely, 1-1 1/2 hours.

Bake in 340° oven, 12-14 minutes, remove from oven & cool in pans 3 minutes, transfer to wire rack to cool completely: 

IMG_2953Crispy outside & chewy inside w/a salty edge -- perfection:

IMG_2983Oatmeal Peanut-Butter Milk-Chocolate-Chip Cookies:  Recipe yields 2 dozen, 3"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; thin spatula; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d29456a8970cCook's Note:  For generations, we Americans have had a love affair with chocolate chip cookies. Surveys unanimously and overwhelmingly place the chocolate chip cookie at the top of our all-time favorite cookie list for over three-quarters of our population, and, it all started with the all-American Toll House cookie.  Who do we thank for and what's the history behind this iconic cookie?  To find out, read my post  ~ The Original Nestlé's Toll House Cookie Recipe ~.  Trust me. I'm certain you'll find it fascinating.

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

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

08/18/2017

~ Nice & Easy No-Nonsense Quick-Mix Apple Bread ~

IMG_2889Nice and easy, no-nonsense, quick-to-mix.  One bowl, a whisk and a spatula -- no mixer required. Yep.  Those words accurately sum up this recipe, and, the end more than justifies the means, meaning:  it's hard to believe something this easy can taste this divine.  While apple bread isn't the the most photogenic (brown food in general isn't), don't let its monochromatic appearance fool you.  It's dense but not heavy, has a delicately-moist crumb, and, it's bursting with apple flavor -- perfect for any Fall breakfast or brunch buffet table.  Me?  I love it toasted (on the rack of my toaster oven, not a conventional toaster) and slathered with soft, creamy butter.

IMG_2829A bit about quick bread:  "Quick bread" is an American term that refers to bread that is quick to make because it doesn't require kneading or rising time.  It originated during the American civil war, when the demand for food and bread was high.  Innovative cooks began rapidly producing bread and baked goods that were leavened with baking soda rather than yeast.  Nowadays, the leavening agent is predominately double-acting baking powder, or, a combination of baking powder and baking soda.  In the case of baking powder, it is called "double acting" because the rising process starts the moment it makes contact with the liquids, and, gives a second burst of rising power when the bread enters the hot oven.  Typically, quick breads contain eggs, flour, salt and fat (butter, margarine, shortening or oil) and leavening.  That said, they can be sweet or savory and contain sugar, fruits, fruit purée, vegetables, vegetable purée and various liquids (milk, buttermilk, fruit juice or stock).  The wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately, in two different bowls, then briefly stirred together just prior to baking.  FYI:  Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, scones, soda bread and waffles -- they all fall into the quick-bread category too.

IMG_27731  cup vegetable oil

3  large eggs

1  teaspoon pure apple extract (optional)

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  cups sugar

2 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon apple pie spice

3 cups peeled and medium-diced apples, about 3, 8-10-ounce apples

Sugan 'n Cinnamon, for topping loaves

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

IMG_2774 IMG_2780 IMG_2784~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk the oil, extracts and eggs together until smooth. Add the sugar and whisk again, to thoroughly combine.  Set aside 5-10 minutes, to give the sugar plenty of time to dissolve, then whisk again.

IMG_2789 IMG_2790 IMG_2793 IMG_2796 IMG_2799~Step 2.  While the oil mixture is resting, peel and dice the apples.  

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and apple pie spice.  Add half of the flour mixture to the oil mixture. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the flour into the oil.  Add the second half of the flour and repeat, folding until the ingredients are just moistened.  A thick batter will have formed.  Fold in all of the apples.

IMG_2803 IMG_2807 IMG_2808 IMG_2815~Step 3.   Spoon and divide batter between two loaf pans that have been sprayed with no-stick. Generously sprinkle top of each loaf with Sugar 'n Cinnamon.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven, 55-60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and place loaves, in pans, on a wire rack to cool for 15-20 minutes prior to inverting them out of pans onto rack to cool 1 1/2-2 hours, prior to slicing warm or at room temperature.

Bake in 325° oven, 55-60 minutes & cool in pans 15-20 minutes prior to inverting onto wire rack to cool completely:

IMG_2810Dense but not heavy, delicately moist & slathered w/butter:

IMG_2885Nice & Easy No-Nonsense Quick-Mix Apple Bread:  Recipe yields 2 loaves, approximately 10 slices per loaf, depending upon how thick or thin loaves are sliced.

Special Equipment List:  wire whisk; large rubber spatula; 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart loaf pans, preferably glass; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b017c32821725970bCook's Note:  Whether we want to admit it or not, Fall is just around the corner.  Pumpkins are synonymous with Fall, and, my husband Joe grows them in our backyard -- the little sweet "sugar pumpkins" as they are affectionately called.  If you're so inclined, check out my recipe for Joe's Favorite Roasted-Pumpkin Quick Bread.  Paired with today's apple bread, they're a dynamite duo on any breakfast or brunch table.

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

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

08/15/2017

~ Rich, Toasted Indian Basmati Rice Pudding (Kheer) ~

IMG_2650When it comes to worldly or exotic recipes, I always do my research and my best to keep them as close to authentic as I can.  When it comes to Indian food, I always reply upon the advice of my four Indian girlfriends, and the woman who owns Krishan, Happy Valley's Indian grocery store, because you're all such good cooks.  That said, when it comes to kheer, a delicately-spiced addictively-rich rice pudding dessert, if you're one of my Indian girlfriends, you might find yourself wincing in one or two spots while reading my recipe.  Why?  While the flavors in my recipe are authentic enough and the end result divine, I've strayed off the beaten path a bit in terms of the method, because you, my Indian girlfriends, all have a slightly-different way of making it. 

IMG_2656Kheer, also called payasam (which means "milk" in Sanskrit), is one of the oldest desserts in the world, having been made in Indian and neighboring cultures for over 2000 years.  It's a pudding made by boiling ghee-toasted rice, broken wheat, tapioca or vermicelli with cardamom-and-saffron-spiced milk and white sugar, and, it's additionally flavored with plumped raisins and toasted nuts (almonds, cashews and/or pistachios).  Some cooks add cream to the milk for added richness, and, in some regions of India, they use coconut milk to make kheer.  It's perfect at the end of a spicy meal.  In India, kheer is served at festivals, temple, weddings and all special occasions.  Kheer is believed to have come from the city of Puri.  Legend says:  A man who had loaned money and rice to a poor king, took pity on the king when he couldn't repay him in time. The lender requested that the king use whatever he had and make offerings to Krishna, instead of paying him back.  In many temples today, kheer is cooked daily, as an offering to the gods.

It's time to add this American girl's kheer recipe to the internet: 

IMG_26051/2  cup basmati rice

1/4  cup golden raisins

1/4  cup nuts (slivered almonds, chopped cashews &/or chopped pistachios)

2  tablespoons salted butter

3 1/2  cups whole milk, plus 1/2-1 cup additional milk, if necessary, to control consistency

1/2  cup sugar

IMG_26071/2  teaspoon cardamom powder, or, the seeds from 2-3 green cardamom pods, processed to a powder in a spice grinder or pulverized in a mortar and pestle

(Note:  Cardamom powder is traditionally used in kheer.  That said, I am not the biggest fan of the flavor of green or black cardamom -- and if you use too much, your recipe will taste like medicine rather than food.  I have found ginger powder to be a delightful substitution.)

pinch of saffron threads, crushed

additional lightly-toasted nuts (almonds, cashews &/or pistachios), for garnish

IMG_2610 IMG_2613 IMG_2615 IMG_2618~Step 1.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt butter over low heat.  Add rice, raisins and nuts of choice. Increase heat to medium-high and sauté, stirring constantly (like a stir-fry), until rice is lightly-toasted, raisins are plump and nuts are fragrant.  Remove from heat and set aside.

IMG_2620 IMG_2623 IMG_2627Step 2.  In a 4-quart saucepan, place the milk, sugar, cardamom or ginger powder.  Pick up a pinch of saffron threads, whatever you can pick up in your fingertips, and crush it into the milk too.  Take a moment to stir the mixture, to dissolve the sugar.  Over medium heat, bring milk to a boil, stirring frequently.  When boiling milk, it's important to keep an eye on it as it can and will boil over quickly.  Adjust heat to simmer for 15 minutes, to allow milk to reduce by 1/4, thicken a bit, and allow the spices to work their magic.  I started out with 1" of milk in this 4-quart saucepan and now have 3/4".

IMG_2633 IMG_2636~Step 3.  Add all of the toasted rice mixture to the simmering milk mixture and give it a good stir. When the mixture returns to a simmer, continue to cook, uncovered and stirring almost constantly, until rice is very tender and mixture is nicely-thickened, but still a bit soupy, about 30-35 minutes.  If, for any reason, the rice is not very tender, add an additional 1/2 cup of milk and simmer another 5-10 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside about 10-15 minutes, to thicken up a bit more, prior to serving warm.

Note:  Kheer can be served chilled, or it can be chilled overnight and reheated the next day.  To reheat, place 1/2 cup additional milk in a 1-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  Stir kheer to the simmering milk and gently reheat, stirring constantly, 1-2 minutes.

Serve kheer warm or chilled -- your choice:

IMG_2661Rich, Toasted Indian Basmati Rice Pudding (Kheer):  Recipe yields 2 cups/4, 1/2 cup servings.

Special Equipment List:  10" skillet; large slotted spoon; 4-quart saucepan

IMG_0354Cook's Note:  I don't profess to be an expert at cooking Indian food, but, thanks to my girlfriends, what I do cook is very, very good.  For another "American girl's take on an Indian classic", I think you'll enjoy my recipe for ~ Easy Indian Curry in a Hurry w/No Worry ~.

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

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

08/13/2017

~ Hatch Green Chile Chicken Enchilada Tortilla Pizza ~

IMG_2720High-quality made-from-scratch crust, a fresh or slow-simmered sauce and some great melting cheese -- the three components of a well-made pizza.  I'm no slouch when it comes to making homemade pizza, it's one of my favorite past-times for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon -- especially during the football season.  That said, when I've gotta have "a slice", unfortunately, the world will only deliver the entire pie.  That's why I've come up with a few creative ways to make what I refer to as "snack pizza", aka snack-sized pizza, using pita bread, naan, or, flour tortillas.

IMG_2743Mexican-style snack pizza -- Taco Bell made me to do it.

I haven't eaten at a Taco Bell in years, but, it's worth mentioning the first time I ate a Mexican pizza was the first time I ate at a Taco Bell -- and I liked it a lot.    My personal-sized snack pizza came as a pleasant surprise.  It contained refried beans, nicely-seasoned ground beef, cheddar cheese, a few small-diced tomatoes and red enchilada sauce -- all sandwiched between two slightly-crispy flour tortillas.  It wasn't my choice to stop at their drive-thru window on that day, but, I must admit, it indeed inspired me to make many a Mexican snack pizza for our three boys.

IMG_2557 IMG_2385Having just finished cooking and writing two posts about New Mexico's Hatch Green Enchilada Sauce and the the ever-popular kid- and tailgate-tested New Mexico-Style Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas, I have just enough of yummy "this" and "that" leftover in my refrigerator to make a really tasty "snack pizza", just for myself, about the equivalent of "two slices of 'za."

That said, when it comes to Mexican-style flour-tortilla pizza in general, I've often made several of them at once (four will fit on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking sheet lined with parchment paper).  Once they're cut into wedges, I place 'em all on a big plate and serve 'em up as super-wonderful appetizers at cocktail or tailgate parties. They're also a great idea for a kids party.  They're fun.

Use the following recipe as a template (a guide, a method).  Pick and choose your favorite toppings -- or use what you have leftover.  Taco Bell copycat recipes use all store-bought ingredients: ground beef or chicken seasoned with Taco seasoning, a can of red enchilada sauce (or a jar of salsa), refried beans and sliced black olives, and, a bag of shredded cheddar.  Don't roll your eyes -- all kids love Taco Bell Mexican Pizza, and, secretly, almost all adults do too.

IMG_2468Note that anything that you would roll up inside a quesadilla, will work in a tortilla pizza and anything you would put on a pizza will work in a tortilla pizza -- it doesn't have to be Mexican fare.  I just happen to have leftover homemade green enchilada sauce, grated Monterey Jack jalapeño cheese, diced tomatoes and minced cilantro, plus, ground chicken filling (from the enchiladas pictured above) -- it's going to be a terrific combination.  I can't wait.

It's easy being green:  Making a 6"-round Mexican tortilla pizza.

IMG_2682For each tortilla pizza (ingredients are in "layering order"):

1  flour tortilla  

1/4  cup refried beans

1 1/2-2  tablespoons Hatch green chile enchilada sauce, preferably homemade

1/2  cup seasoned and cooked ground chicken  

6  tablespoons grated jalapeño Jack cheese  

1  flour tortilla

1 1/2-2  tablespoons Hatch green chile enchilada sauce

6  tablespoons grated jalapeño Jack cheese

1  tablespoon minced, fresh cilantro, for garnish after baking pizza

spicy avocado crema (a mixture of avocado, Mexican crema and Sriracha sauce) and lime wedges, for topping/accompaniments

IMG_1967 IMG_1970 IMG_1974~ Step 1.  Spray an 8" nonstick skillet with no-stick cooking spray and place it over medium-high heat.  Place one flour tortilla in the skillet and spray the top of the tortilla too.  Cook, flipping the tortilla frequently (three-four times), until it is turning lightly-golden and puffing up in random spots across the surface, 1-1 1/2 minutes per side.  Repeat this process with second tortilla (or as many as you are making).

IMG_1965 IMG_2684 IMG_2685 IMG_2688 IMG_2691 IMG_2700~Step 2.  Line a pie dish with parchment paper. Place one tortilla on parchment.  Spread 1/4 cup refried beans across the surface, then spread 1 1/2-2 tablespoons Hatch green enchilada sauce atop the beans.  Sprinkle 6 tablespoons jalapeño Jack cheese over the sauce.  Distribute 1/2 cup chicken filling atop the cheese.

IMG_2693 IMG_2696 IMG_2705 IMG_2707~Step 3.  Place a second tortilla atop filling and spread 1 1/2-2 tablespoons enchilada sauce across the surface.  Distribute 6 tablespoons jalapeño Jack cheese atop the sauce. Bake on center rack of 350° oven 8-10 minutes, until cheese is melted and bubbly.  Remove from oven and cool for 4-5 minutes prior to garnishing with minced cilantro, slicing and serving.

Bake in 350° oven 8-10 minutes & cool 4-5 minutes:

IMG_2709Garnish w/cilantro, avocado crema & lime -- eat ASAP:

IMG_2727Hatch Green Chile Chicken Enchilada Tortilla Pizza:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1, individually-sized, 6"-round Mexican tortilla pizza/1 serving/4 small wedges per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 8" nonstick skillet; 9" pie dish (for 1 pizza) or 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan (for 4 pizzas); parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09b5cdd1970dCook's Note:  Flour tortillas, along with most types of flatbread, make a delicious base for pizza.  When our garden tomatoes and basil are at their peak (which is just about two weeks from now) I make a fantastic tomato-basil pita pizza to snack upon on an almost daily basis.

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

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

08/10/2017

~ Red or Green: New Mexico-Style Enchilada Sauce ~

IMG_2599Red or green?  That's the question you'll be asked in every New Mexican restaurant.  In fact, New Mexico is the only state in the USA that has an official state question:  "Red or Green?"  I learned that on my first trip through New Mexico, and, I was further told, "if you're not asked this question in a New Mexican restaurant, you're not eating New Mexican food."  While many of us out-of-staters (who love our Mexican and Texican fare) generically refer to this type of red or green chile pepper- or powder-based sauce as "enchilada sauce", and, mistakenly assume it's reserved for enchiladas, in New Mexico, you'll learn that almost everything gets smothered in it.  You name it, the dish gets sauced.  Can't decide?  Just answer "Christmas" -- they'll bring you both.

IMG_1907Enchiladas are one of those Tex-Mex specialties that taste a bit different everywhere you eat them.  In a Mexican-American restaurant or in the home kitchen, they are lightly-fried corn tortillas that have been dipped in either a deep reddish-brown chili-powder-based sauce, or, a roasted green chile and tomatillo-based sauce.  After that, they're filled, rolled up, topped with cheese and baked.  The filling can consist of a seemingly endless variety of meats (beef, chicken or pork), fish or seafood, cheese and/or beans and/or various other vegetables (for a vegetarian option).

IMG_2588The word "enchilada" comes from the Spanish word "enchilar" which means "to add chile pepper to" as well as "to season or decorate with chile pepper".  In English, the phrase "the whole enchilada" means "the whole thing" or "the entire situation".  In Mexico, they're sold by vendors in the streets, much like hot dogs are sold in the United States.  The practice of rolling maize (corn) tortillas around other food dates back to Mayan times.  In their original form, enchiladas were simply corn tortillas dipped in chili sauce and eaten without fillings. There are many varieties of enchiladas, which are distinguished primarily by the sauce (most commonly a red chile and/or tomato-based sauce or a green chile and/or tomatillo sauce). That said, if you're not using corn tortillas to make your enchiladas, technically speaking, you're not making enchiladas.

Chil"e" or Chil"i" -- know the spelling, know what's in it:

Depositphotos_1944824-Red-and-green-chili-peppersCHILE:  Spelled with an "e" at the end, refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod or fruit of any member of the pepper family (example:  chile peppers grow in the garden).

CHILI:  Spelled with an "i" at the end, refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers (example:  white chicken chili, chili con carne, chili sauce).

CHILE POWDER:  When spelled with an "e" at the end, means it is a powder made from one or more types of dried chiles exclusively.  This is sometimes referred to or marketed as POWDERED CHILES, or CHILE BLEND (if it contains more than one kind of chile powder).

CHILI POWDER:  When spelled with an "i" at the end means it is a mixture of chile powder and ground, dried spices (common examples:  ground cumin, garlic and/or onion powder), meaning: the manufacturer has added various spices to pure chile powder or a blend of chile powders.

A bit about Easy New Mexico-Style Red Chile Enchilada Sauce:

IMG_1650Red enchilada sauce, also referred to as "red chile gravy" is said to be the heart and soul of Tex-Mex cuisine, and, it isn't reserved solely for enchiladas -- it's often served with burritos, tamales and other Tex-Mex specialties.  As for its history, the rich, brownish-red flour-roux based gravy is described as neither truly Mexican nor American (it's Mexican-American).  It's said to have been invented by Anglo-owned Mexican restaurants in San Antonio, Texas.  Recipes for it have been in print since the early 1890's, and, by the 1900's, "enchilada sauce" was being sold in cans.

New Mexico is known for its fresh and dried red chile peppers, so, it should come as no surprise that any recipe for New-Mexico-style red enchilada sauce would revolve around high-quality chile powder, most commonly:  ancho, guajillo and/or New Mexico chile powder (which is pricier than generic chili powder).   Some versions of this sauce contain tomatoes, tomato sauce, or, tomato paste, which add acidy tang and gives it a brighter red color -- my version does not.  I fell in love with New Mexico-style red chile enchiladas in San Antonio, Texas, and, I was told the bold-flavored amber-red sauce (that I couldn't get enough of), got its tang from vinegar, and its color from chile powder -- not tomatoes.  I didn't question it.  I went shopping for chile powder.

I don't proclaim my recipe "easy" because I have an easy or easier version of a hard recipe. I'm saying it's "easy" because:  it is easy.  It's so easy, I don't understand why anyone who loves enchiladas with red sauce would purchase any of the brand name enchilada sauces (and there are plenty to choose from) -- unless they don't realize how quick and easy red enchilada sauce is to make.  I know, because for a number of years I bounced around from label to label, sampling store-bought brands, trying to find "the one just for me" in which "the spice was right". 

A bit about New Mexico's Green Hatch Chile Enchilada Sauce:

IMG_2385In New Mexico chile peppers grow in abundance everywhere.  It's believed they were brought to NM, from Central America, by the Spanish, in the 1500's.  The most common New Mexican chile is long, narrow and picked while green and is mostly grown from much-coveted heirloom seeds.  

Hatch-chile-split"New Mexico chiles" can be from anywhere in New Mexico, and, when buying any green or red NM chiles, they're usually offered up as mild, medium, hot, or extra hot, meaning:  not as a specific variety. That said, the Hatch chile is from Hatch, a small village in the southern part of the state, and, while it's not a variety of chile pepper, both inside and outside the state of New Mexico, it's sold as a "Hatch chile". It's become so popular that every Labor Day weekend, Hatch, known as the Chile Capital of the World, hosts the Hatch Chile Festival, which draws more than 30,000 people each year.

What's the difference between red & green enchilada sauce?

IMG_2311New-Mexico-style red enchilada sauce uses red ingredients: red chiles or red chile powder and/or red tomatoes. Their green enchilada sauce uses green ingredients:  green chiles or green hatch chiles and tomatillos.  Both contain spices, garlic and/or onion, and vinegar, and, like salsa, they can be enjoyed raw or cooked.  A common misconception is:  green chile sauce is mild and red chile sauce is hot.  Not true.  Both range from mild and soothing to knock-your-socks-off hot.

TomatilloTomatillo, also called "tomate verde", means "husk tomato" with "verde" meaning "green" in Spanish. The tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family, which, while related to the red tomato family, and remarkably similar in appearance to the green tomato, cannot be used interchangeably with green tomatoes.  It's a staple in every Tex-Mex gardener's garden.  The fruit of the tomatillo is green and relatively small compared to red tomatoes (about the size of a large, cherry tomato).  They grow to maturity inside of an inedible husk (which gets disgarded), and, range in color from pale green to  light brown.  The tomatillo is a staple in Mexican ethnic cuisine.

IMG_2303That said, here in Happy Valley, fresh tomatillos are sometimes hard to find, and, even when I find them, it's always a bit of a hassle to ask the produce manager if I can peel back the husks to insure the fruit is firm (not squishy) and ripe (green).  

In case you don't know, always look for tomatillos that have filled their husks or broken through their husks (photo to right) -- no matter their size, this means they're fully mature. Avoid tomatillos that look withered or dried out (see photo below).

IMG_2306Once you get them home, remove the husks and rinse the tomatillos off (because they will be sticky), then use them as directed (which typically requires simmering or broiling as the first step) and/or store in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life.  That said, high quality canned tomatillos are a staple in my pantry. They've already been simmered until soft -- all I have to do is thoroughly drain them. Speaking in approximations, I've deduced:

one 28-ounce can = 2 pounds fresh

New Mexico-style red & green "enchilada sauces" are both relatively simple to prepare w/the green sauce being more refined & requiring a tad (not much) more effort.

My green enchilada sauce starts out in the food processor, simmers on the stovetop, then, ends up back in the food processor at the end.  It's easy, it just takes more time than the 15 minutes it takes me to make red enchilada sauce.  I use chicken stock to make it, because I like green sauce served with chicken enchiladas, whereas I use beef stock in my red sauce, because I like it served with my recipes for beef and cheese enchiladas. In a stockpot:  Use beef, chicken or vegetable stock to make red or green enchilada sauce, depending on what filling you're making. 

Meet my Spicy Ground Beef Enchiladas:

IMG_1802Meet my Cheese Corn & Bean Enchiladas:

IMG_1917Meet my Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas:

IMG_2567"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipes, Commentary & Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

08/08/2017

~ New Mexico-Style Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas ~

IMG_2557Enchiladas are one of those Tex-Mex specialties that taste a bit different everywhere you eat them.  In a Mexican-American restaurant or in the home kitchen, they are lightly-fried corn tortillas that have been dipped in either a deep reddish-brown chili-powder-based sauce, or, a roasted green chile and tomatillo-based sauce.  After that, they're filled, rolled up, topped with cheese and baked.  The filling can consist of a seemingly endless variety of meats (beef, chicken or pork), fish or seafood, cheese and/or beans and/or various other vegetables (for a vegetarian option).

IMG_1803The word "enchilada" comes from the Spanish word "enchilar" which means "to add chile pepper to" as well as "to season or decorate with chile pepper".  In English, the phrase "the whole enchilada" means "the whole thing" or "the entire situation".  In Mexico, they're sold by vendors in the streets, much like hot dogs are sold in the United States.  

The practice of rolling maize (corn) tortillas around other food dates back to Mayan times.  In their IMG_1933original form, enchiladas were simply corn tortillas dipped in chili sauce and eaten without fillings. There are many varieties of enchiladas, which are distinguished primarily by the sauce (most commonly a red chile and/or tomato-based sauce or a green chile and/or tomatillo sauce). That said, if you're not using corn tortillas to make your enchiladas, technically speaking, you're not making enchiladas.

IMG_1650In my Happy Valley kitchen, the two kid- and tailgate-tested favorites for my New Mexico-style Red Chile Enchilada Sauced enchiladas are ground beef, lots of onion and green chiles, and, grated cheese, black beans and sweet corn -- the two pair well together on the same plate too. The favorite filling for my New Mexico-style Green Hatch Chile Enchilada Sauced enchiladas is coarsely ground chicken, lot of onions and green Hatch chiles. There's more.  While we IMG_2385prefer our chicken enchiladas smothered in green enchilada sauce, we also prefer our green sauced-chicken enchiladas made with flour, not corn tortillas.  For authenticity sake, feel free to to use corn tortillas -- they'll turn out great.  My green enchilada sauce starts out in the food processor, simmers on the stovetop, then, ends up back in the food processor at the end.  I use chicken stock to make it, but, feel free to use beef or vegetable stock, depending upon the filling you are using.

Part One:  Making the Chicken, Onion & Green Chile Filling

IMG_2468FYI:  I make 12 cups & freeze 8 cups for two more meals.

IMG_2417For 8 cups of the chicken mixture:

2  tablespoons neutral-flavored cooking oil (avocado, canola, corn or vegetable, etc.)

3  pounds chicken tenders

12  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

16  ounces Santé Fe Seasons Hatch green chiles, hot or medium, your choice, or, canned green chiles (your favorite brand) (Note:  The Hatch green chiles I order from Apple Canyon Gourmet, are roasted and contain garlic and lime juice, instead of vinegar, which I like a lot, and, their product is far and above better than other store-bought brands.)

IMG_2420 IMG_2423Step 1.  Cut the chicken tenders into 1"-1 1/2" chunks and place them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses, coarsely-grind the chicken.  Do not over process the chicken.  

Note:  My large-capacity Cuisinart DLC-X Plus food processor easily grinds 3 pounds of meat or poultry chunks in one batch.  If using a smaller food processor, grind the chicken in 2-3 batches. 

IMG_2425 IMG_2427 IMG_2430 IMG_2433~Step 2.  Place oil and chicken in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with straight, deep sides.  Dice the onion, adding it to pan as you work.  Add the garlic powder, cumin, salt and pepper.  Using a large spoon or spatula give the mixture a thorough stir (to incorporate onion and spices throughout).

IMG_2435 IMG_2438 IMG_2439 IMG_2441~Step 3.  Adjust heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is just cooked through, onions are very soft and there is almost no liquid remaining in the bottom of the pan, about 15-18 minutes, lowering the heat as necessary so the chicken remains steamy and moist.

IMG_2445 IMG_2448 IMG_2450~ Step 4.  Turn heat off. Add and stir the green Hatch chiles into the steaming hot meat mixture. Remove from heat. There's no need to cook the chiles, they were previously cooked during the canning process.

Go ahead, take a taste, it's scrumptious:

IMG_2455Part Two:  Assembling & Baking the Enchiladas

Before starting, it's worth mention that I use 2, 8" x 8" x 2" square casserole dishes, rather than 1, 13" x 9" x 2" dish, to make 12 enchiladas.  They fit in the two pans perfectly without squeezing them to oblivion, and, they bake up perfectly.  Next.  I don't dip my corn tortillas in the sauce, which gives them a heavy coating, because my homemade sauces are bolder-flavored than watered-down store-bought versions.  After frying the tortillas, I prefer to use a pastry brush to paint them, on both sides, with the sauce.  It works nicely.  One more item.  I fry my corn or flour tortillas one-at-a-time in a small skillet, not all-at-once on a griddle -- it controls the texture better.

IMG_2473For the assembly:

12  6"-round flour tortillas

1 1/2 cups my recipe for New Mexico's Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Sauce (store-bought enchilada sauce will be a compromise)

3  cups grated jalapeño Jack cheese

no-stick cooking spray

an array of your favorite toppings (shredded iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes, scallion tops, cilantro, Mexican crema or sour cream and/or guacamole)

IMG_2475 IMG_1967 IMG_1970 IMG_1974~Step 1.  Spray the inside of 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes with no-stick cooking spray, then, add and evenly distribute 1/4 cup of enchilada sauce into the bottom of each dish.  Spray the bottom of an 8" nonstick skillet with no-stick spray and place it over medium heat.  Place one flour tortilla in the skillet and spray the top of the tortilla too.  Cook the tortilla over medium heat, flipping it over once or twice, until it is soft, pliable and starts to bubble up in random spots throughout its center, about 1 1/2-2 total minutes.  Transfer the tortilla to a plate and repeat process with remaining tortillas (spraying and cooking), stacking the warm tortillas on the plate as you work.

IMG_2481 IMG_2483 IMG_2486 IMG_2488~Step 2.  Working one-tortilla-at-a-time and using a pastry brush, generously paint both sides of tortilla with enchilada sauce. Distribute 1/3 cup ground chicken filling lengthwise across the center.  Lastly, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of grated Jack cheese on top of the poultry.

IMG_2493 IMG_2495 IMG_2497 IMG_2501~Step 3.  Roll each enchilada up and place, seam-side-down, in baking dish.  Continue filling and rolling until six enchiladas are filled, rolled and placed side-by-side, seam-side-down, in each dish. Evenly drizzle and distribute 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce over the tops of enchiladas in each dish. Sprinkle a generous 1 cup of remaining grated cheese over the tops of enchiladas in each dish. Bake on center rack of 350° oven, until bubbling and cheese is melted, 18-20 minutes.

Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 18-20 minutes:

IMG_2519Serve ASAP w/your favorite "green stuff":

IMG_2567Go ahead, take a taste, they're scrumptious! 

IMG_2582New Mexico-Style Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas:  Recipe yields 12 cups filling (enough to fill 36 enchiladas (I freeze 8 cups, in 2, 4-cup containers, enough for two more meals)/12 enchiladas/4-6 servings/2-3 per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon &/or spatula; large slotted spoon; 8" nonstick skillet; pastry brush; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes

IMG_2177Cook's Note:  Can't make up your mind between guacamole or Mexican crema?  Whir them up together in a food processor with a bit of Sriracha sauce and give my recipe for ~  Spicy Avocado Crema: Avocado, Crema & Sriracha ~ a try. It's luxuriously smooth, refreshingly cool, and, there's just enough vinegary spice in the Sriracha to make it addictively interesting.  Live dangerously -- cha, cha, cha!

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

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

08/06/2017

~ New Mexico's Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Sauce ~

IMG_2385Red or green?  That's the question you'll be asked in every New Mexican restaurant.  In fact, New Mexico is the only state in the USA that has an official state question:  "Red or Green?"  I learned that on my first trip through New Mexico, and, I was further told, "if you're not asked this question in a New Mexican restaurant, you're not eating New Mexican food."  While many of us out-of-staters (who love our Mexican and Texican fare) generically refer to this type of red or green chile pepper- or powder-based sauce as "enchilada sauce", and, mistakenly assume it's reserved for enchiladas, in New Mexico, you'll learn that almost everything gets smothered in it.  You name it, the dish gets sauced.  Can't decide?  Just answer "Christmas" -- they'll bring you both.

A bit about New Mexican chile (w/an "e") peppers:

RedGreenWebChile with an "e", is the fruit of the Capsicum plant and New Mexico is known for its fresh and dried red and green chile peppers -- they grow in abundance everywhere and it's believed they were brought to NM, from Central America, by the Spanish, in the 1500's.  The most common New Mexican chile is long, narrow and picked while green Hatch-chile-split(similar in appearance to the Anaheim) and is mostly grown from heirloom seeds.  "New Mexico chiles" can be from anywhere in New Mexico, and, when buying any green or red NM chiles, they're usually offered up as mild, medium, hot, or extra hot, meaning:  not as a specific variety.  That said, the Hatch chile is from Hatch, a small village in the southern part of the state, and, while it's not a variety of chile pepper, both inside and outside the state of New Mexico, it's sold as a "Hatch chile".  It's become so popular that every Labor Day weekend, Hatch, known as the Chile Capital of the World, hosts a Hatch Chile Festival, which draws more than 30,000 people each year.

"e" or "i" -- know what the spelling means & you'll know what's in it:

CHILE:  Spelled with an "e" at the end, refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod or fruit of any member of the pepper family (example:  chile peppers grow in the garden).

CHILI:  Spelled with an "i" at the end, refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers (example:  white chicken chili, chili con carne, chili sauce).

CHILE POWDER:  When spelled with an "e" at the end, means it is a powder made from one or more types of dried chiles exclusively.  This is sometimes referred to or marketed as POWDERED CHILES, or CHILE BLEND (if it contains more than one kind of chile powder).

CHILI POWDER:  When spelled with an "i" at the end means it is a mixture of chile powder and ground, dried spices (common examples:  ground cumin, garlic and/or onion powder), meaning: the manufacturer has added various spices to pure chile powder or a blend of chile powders.

What's the difference between red & green enchilada sauce?

IMG_2311New-Mexico-style red enchilada sauce uses red ingredients: red chiles or red chile powder and/or red tomatoes. Their green enchilada sauce uses green ingredients:  green chiles or green hatch chiles and tomatillos.  Both contain spices, garlic and/or onion, and vinegar, and, like salsa, they can be enjoyed raw or cooked.  A common misconception is:  green chile sauce is mild and red chile sauce is hot.  Not true.  Both range from mild and soothing to knock-your-socks-off hot.  

TomatilloTomatillo, also called "tomate verde", means "husk tomato" with "verde" meaning "green" in Spanish. The tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family, which, while related to the red tomato family, and remarkably similar in appearance to the green tomato, cannot be used interchangeably with green tomatoes.  It's a staple in every Tex-Mex gardener's garden.  The fruit of the tomatillo is green and relatively small compared to red tomatoes (about the size of a large, cherry tomato).  They grow to maturity inside of an inedible husk (which gets disgarded), and, range in color from pale green to  light brown.  The tomatillo is a staple in Mexican ethnic cuisine.

IMG_2303That said, here in Happy Valley, fresh tomatillos are sometimes hard to find, and, even when I find them, it's always a bit of a hassle to ask the produce manager if I can peel back the husks to insure the fruit is firm (not squishy) and ripe (green).  

In case you don't know, always look for tomatillos that have filled their husks or broken through their husks (photo to right) -- no matter their size, this means they're fully mature. Avoid tomatillos that look withered or dried out (see photo below).  

IMG_2306Once you get them home, remove the husks and rinse the tomatillos off (because they will be sticky), then use them as directed (which typically requires simmering or broiling as the first step) and/or store in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life.  That said, high quality canned tomatillos are a staple in my pantry. They've already been simmered until soft -- all I have to do is thoroughly drain them. Speaking in approximations, I've deduced:

one 28-ounce can = 2 pounds fresh 

New Mexico-style red & green "enchilada sauces" are both relatively simple to prepare w/the green sauce being more refined & requiring a tad (not much) more effort.

My green enchilada sauce starts out in the food processor, simmers on the stovetop, then, ends up back in the food processor at the end.  It's easy, it just takes quite a bit more time than the 15 minutes it takes me to make red enchilada sauce.  I use chicken stock to make it, because I like green sauce served with chicken enchiladas, whereas I use beef stock in my red sauce, because I like it served with my recipes for spicy ground beef enchiladas and cheese, corn and bean enchiladas. In a stockpot:  Use beef, chicken or vegetable stock, depending on the filling.

IMG_23232  tablespoons neutral-flavored cooking oil (avocado, corn or vegetable, etc.)

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

3  large,  whole, peeled garlic cloves, smashed & minced

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce & Gravy

1  14-ounce can tomatillos, well-drained

1  cup Santé Fe Seasons Hatch green chiles, hot or medium, your choice, or, canned green chiles (your favorite brand) (Note:  The Hatch green chiles I order from Apple Canyon Gourmet, are roasted and contain garlic and lime juice, instead of vinegar, which I like a lot, and, their product is far and above better than other store-bought brands.)

1  large, green jalapeño pepper, seeds and white rib sections removed, coarsely-chopped

1 cup minced cilantro leaves, some stems are ok

2  teaspoons fresh lime juice

1  14 1/2-ounce can chicken stock

2  teaspoons ground cumin

1  teaspoon dried Mexican oregano leaves

2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_2325 IMG_2327 IMG_2331 IMG_2333~Step 1.  Place the oil, diced onion and minced garlic in a 3-quart saucier or saucepan over medium-high heat.  Sauté until onion and garlic are tender, about 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for another full minute.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_2334 IMG_2338~ Step 2.  Place tomatillos, Hatch chiles, jalapeño, cilantro and lime juice in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, followed by the motor running for 15-20 seconds, process to a purée.

IMG_2341 IMG_2345 IMG_2352 IMG_2355~Step 3.  Stir the purée into the onion and garlic mixture in the saucier, then add the chicken stock, cumin, Mexican oregano, sugar, salt and black pepper.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, adjust heat to a steady simmer, and continue to cook until nicely thickened, 25-30 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover, and allow to cool 25-30 minutes.

Take a taste & adjust seasoning if necessary...

IMG_2363... but you won't have to.  It's divine.

IMG_2368 IMG_2370 IMG_2377~ Step 4.  Return sauce mixture to the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  With motor running, purée, 30-45 seconds.  You will have 3 cups of New Mexico-style green chile "enchilada" sauce.  Cha-cha-cha!

Enjoy a taste of New Mexico's finest.  Chips & dip tonight -- Green Hatch Chile Chicken Enchiladas tomorrow!

IMG_2404New Mexico's Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Sauce:  Recipe yields 3 cups "enchilada" sauce, which freezes well.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3-quart saucier or stockpot w/lid; large spoon; food processor

IMG_1650Cook's Note:  I don't proclaim my recipe for ~ Easy New Mexico-Style Red Enchilada Sauce ~ easy because I make an easy version of a hard recipe.  This chile powder-based sauce is so easy to make, I haven't a clue why folks purchase any watered-down canned versions.

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

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

08/03/2017

~ She's Gone Bananas: Banana-Walnut Bundt Cake ~

IMG_2131How many bananas can a gal put into a bundt cake?  Every time I bake this banana cake, I push the envelope a little farther, and, today I used the entire bunch.  Six bananas.  It yielded a total of 3 cups mashed bananas, and, the recipe, which started out using 1 3/4-2 cups, came out super-moist and full-flavored -- just perfect.  Often times, this is how recipes are developed or improved upon (by trial, error and gutsy experimentation).  That said, me thinks I'll stop improving this one.

IMG_2140The original recipe came from my mother's recipe box and I'm pretty certain she got it from her mother.  Why?  Because my grandmother, a woman who cooked her way through the depression, used oil instead of butter to bake most of her cakes (even after the depression, she still used oil). If you're thinking oil is a compromise, you're wrong.  It makes for a very moist cake.  My mom made banana cake often because dad loved bananas and all things bananas.  Mom made it in a 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan, so, if you'd rather a sheet cake than a bundt cake, it will work just fine.

Rather make a sheet cake?  Bake it in a 13" x 9" x 2" pan.

IMG_2054For the banana-walnut cake:

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

2 3/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  cups sugar

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon salt

3  large eggs

2 3/4-3 cups mashed banana purée  (from 5-6 large, very ripe, peeled and sliced bananas)

2  teaspoons pure banana extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4  cup vegetable oil

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8f38a50970bFor the cream cheese glaze & walnut topping:

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons butter-rum flavoring

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

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

1/2  cup lightly-toasted and finely-ground walnuts

IMG_8357 IMG_8359 IMG_8368 IMG_8369~Step 1.  Coarsely chop the walnuts.  Place nuts in a small, shallow baking pan.  Roast nuts on center rack of 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 3 cups of the bananas, then add and stir both extracts into the bananas.  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_2059 IMG_2064 IMG_2067 IMG_2070~Step 2.  In a large bowl, using a large rubber spatula, place and stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the beaten eggs, followed by the banana purée, then, using the spatula fold the mixture together until roughly moistened.  On medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, add and thoroughly incorporate the vegetable oil, about 1 minute.

IMG_2073 IMG_2077 IMG_2085Step 3.  Using the rubber spatula, fold in 2 cups of the lightly-toasted chopped walnuts (set the remaining 1/2 cup walnuts aside and use as directed below).  Transfer/pour 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_2091 2To prepare the cream cheese glaze & walnut 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 walnuts 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, banana and vanilla extracts and 2  tablespoon milk.  Starting with 5-10 on-off pulses and then with the 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_2100Step 3.  When the cake has cooled completely, and with the cake still sitting 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 the glaze over the 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 harden a bit prior to slicing cake, 1-2 hours.

Go bananas.  Banana-walnut bundt cake.  Simply irresistible...

IMG_2107... & scrumptious from first bite to last:

IMG_2146She's Gone Bananas:  Banana-Walnut 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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27d969e970cCook's Note:  For another "fruity" cake recipe, this one containing pineapple, bananas and aromatic spices (cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg), check of my recipe for ~ Charmingly Southern: Hummingbird (Bundt) Cake ~.  Originating in Jamaica, this cake has got a fascinating history worth reading.

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

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