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12 posts from September 2017

09/30/2017

~ Caprese Chicken Meatballs w/Mozzarella & Sauce ~

IMG_4389A Summertime caprese salad.  It's classic Italian, and, it's my favorite way to enjoy our Summer garden. Nothing compares to same-day-picked tomatoes and basil leaves served with fresh mozzarella cheese, a drizzle of fruity olive oil, and, some freshly-ground sea salt and pepper. That said, in my food world, for most food, I can find a way to enjoy its flavors in every season, so, come Fall, a warm bowl of caprese-style ground chicken meatballs simmered in a warm, garlicy, homemade crushed-tomato and basil sauce served with a few bocconcini (small, fresh mozzarella balls) along with some spaghetti is Italian-American caprese-style comfort food.

IMG_4414A bit about fresh mozzarella cheese: Mozzarella is a unique Italian cheese known for its soft, moist texture and delicate, fresh taste of milk.  Traditionally it's made from the milk of the water buffalo, although cows milk versions are used more and more due to the limited amount of water buffalo milk available.  It's been made by hand in home kitchens throughout Italy for centuries.  It got popularized in the 20th Century when refrigeration escorted in refrigerated trucks that were able to deliver this delicate cheese long distances.  Fresh mozzarella is sold in various sizes, but, it's always packed in a brine. (On a personal note, while I have access to fresh buffalo milk mozzarella, I prefer the taste of the cows milk mozzarella.)

IMG_4379It's time to make some full-throttle caprese chicken meatballs:

IMG_3795For the chicken meatball mixture:

2  pounds chicken breast tenderloins, sliced into 1"-1 1/2" pieces

1  medium yellow or sweet onion, medium-diced, 6-7 ounces, about 1 1/2 cups 

2  large garlic cloves

1/2  cup chiffonade of fresh basil leaves

1  extra-large egg

1/2  teaspoon dried basil leaves

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

2  cups soft fresh breadcrumbs from 3 ounces soft potato bread or rolls, or almost any type of soft white or the soft center of rustic Italian bread, torn into pieces (Note:  When making bread crumbs, 1 ounce of bread produces 1/2 cup of crumbs.  I hesitate to talk in "slices" because size and thickness varies so much from manufacturer to manufacturer.)

3/4  cup whole milk

1 1/2-2  cups plain, dry breadcrumbs

1-3 quarts tomato-basil sauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite brand (Note:  Three quarts of sauce is enough to simmer all 3 dozen of the meatballs at the same time.  To cook in batches, plan on 1 quart of sauce per dozen meatballs.), for simmering meatballs

For serving:

1  pound spaghetti per 1 dozen meatballs, cooked al dente, as package directs, 4 servings spaghetti per pound

3  dozen bocconcini, fresh mozzarella balls about the size of cherry tomatoes, (Note:  For every meatball I serve per person, I serve one bocconcini per meatball.

minced fresh basil and fresh basil sprigs, for garnish

IMG_3800 IMG_3802 IMG_3807 IMG_3812 IMG_3815~Step 1.  Slice and place the chicken pieces in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, along with the onion, garlic and basil chiffonade.  Using a series of 20 rapid on-off pulses, coarsely-grind the chicken, along with the onion and basil.  Add the egg, dried basil, sea salt and pepper to work-bowl of processor.  With processor motor running for 10-15 seconds, incorporate the egg and spices throughout the now finely-ground chicken.  Place in a large bowl.

Note:  You will have a little over 2 1/2 pounds chicken mixture.  The mixture will resemble the soft "sticky" consistency of a meatloaf mixture rather than a typical burger mixture.  This is intentional. Because ground chicken is naturally dry when it is cooked, extra moisture must be added to the poultry mixture at the outset, and, it was done in the form of onion, garlic and fresh basil.

IMG_4264 IMG_4267 IMG_4273 IMG_4278 IMG_4287 IMG_4291~Step 2.  Wash and dry the processor work bowl. Place the bread in the work bowl.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process to crumbs. Transfer to a medium bowl and add the milk.  Stir to combine and set aside for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to give the bread time to absorb all of the milk.  Add the bread mixture to the chicken mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula (or your hands) thoroughly combine the two mixtures.

IMG_4293 IMG_4297 IMG_4300 IMG_4304 IMG_4313~Step 3.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350°.  Place the dry breadcrumbs in a shallow soup- or salad-type bowl.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure and working one-at-a-time, scoop, drop and roll each meatball around in the dry breadcrumbs until it is lightly and evenly coated.  As you work, place meatballs, side-by-side on pan. There will be about 3 dozen (36-38) standard-sized meatballs.

Note:  Even though the chicken mixture is quite sticky, the coating process is not messy.  The dry breadcrumbs keep the meat mixture from sticking to your hands while rolling them around.

IMG_4315~ Step 4.  Bake meatballs on center rack of preheated 350º oven for about 25 minutes, or until an internal temperature of 162º-165º is reached.  If you have an instant-read meat thermometer, now is the time to use it.  Safe temperature = safe-to-eat poultry.  That said, because I am going to simmer my meatballs in sauce, which will further cook them,  I remove them from the oven when an internal temperature of 158°-160° is reached.

IMG_4329 IMG_4330 IMG_4334 IMG_4341~Step 5.  In a 14" chef's pan, bring 3 quarts of your favorite tomato-basil sauce to a simmer over medium heat.  Add all of the meatballs to the pan.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially-cover the pan and simmer meatballs for 10-12 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover the pan and allow meatballs to steep while cooking spaghetti according to package directions.

Note:  I cooked all of my meatballs all at once today.  To cook them in batches, use a smaller pan and one quart of sauce per dozen meatballs.  To freeze meatballs, do it prior to cooking in the sauce, then, once the sauce is simmering on the stovetop, drop frozen meatballs into the simmering sauce.  When the sauce returns to a simmer, cook the meatballs as directed. 

What?  No Parmigiano-Reggiano?  No.  It's just caprese baby!

IMG_4386A whole lot of caprese-heaven on a plate:

IMG_4404Next up:  The Incredible Edible Caprese Chicken Meatball Sub.

IMG_4451Caprese Chicken Meatballs w/Mozzarella & Sauce:  Recipe yields approximately 3 dozen (36-38) 1 1/2"-round ground chicken meatballs.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid

IMG_3854Cook's Note:  The difference between meatballs (a diminutive form of meatloaf) and any type of burger is:  bread or breadcrumbs. Meatballs contain breadcrumbs, burgers do not.  For a variation on the same caprese theme, this time a moist, juicy, chicken 'burger (containing no breadcrumbs) check out my recipe for ~ Grillmarked: Ground Chicken Caprese-Style Burgers w/Balsamic Mayo ~. Unlike my chicken meatballs, which are baked in the oven, they're made in a grillpan on the stovetop.

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

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

09/28/2017

~ Seriously Special K Crispy & Chewy Sugar Cookies ~

IMG_4254Sugar cookies traditionally fall into the category of "rolled cookies" which are cut into shapes to suit your fancy and the occasion, but, they can be treated as "drop cookies" too, meaning:  they can be formed into uniform-sized balls and baked.  They can be crisp and thin or soft and thick. They should melt-in-your mouth, taste rich and buttery and have a flaky, delicate texture. Perfectly baked sugar cookies have clean edges that hold shape when baked.  They emerge from the oven just cooked through and puffy, with almost no signs of browning.  Sugar cookies require patience and love -- except for this super-easy, seriously-special recipe courtesy of:  Kellogg's Special K.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08b15209970dIt's odd, but, as a child, when all the other kids were reaching for the Frosted Flakes and Sugar Pops, the only two cold cereals I would eat were: Kellogg's Special K and Raisin Bran exclusively. The only hot cereal I would eat was Quaker oatmeal.  Some things never change.  All three cereals are staples in my pantry to this day. Now that you know that, it should come as no surprise that when my mom was baking cookies for me or with me,  IMG_3786quality mother-daughter time, she or we would choose (top photo) oatmeal cookies, (bottom photo) raisin bran cookies, or, these Special K sugar cookies, and, use the recipes printed on their respective boxes.  It is, in fact, how I learned to bake basic drop cookies. There's more.  The three together make a great trio on a cookie plate, and, from a nutritional standpoint, they're a step above cookies loaded with chocolates or candies.

Crispy outside, chewy inside, buttery flavor w/a salty edge:

IMG_41774  ounces Kellogg's Original Special K Cereal (about 3 cups), crushed to fine bits and pieces (about 2 cups)

1  cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft

2/3  cup sugar

1  large egg, at room temperature

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

IMG_4166 IMG_4167 IMG_4170 IMG_4172~Step 1.  Weigh or measure the Special K cereal and place in a ziplock bag.  Seal bag, and using a small rolling pin, crush to fine bits and pieces.  Do not process to crumbs in a food processor.

IMG_4184 IMG_4187 IMG_4190~ Step 2.  Divide the crumbs in half, placing 2 ounces (about 1 cup) in a small bowl and the other 2 ounces (1 cup) in a medium bowl.  Add the flour to the medium bowl of crumbs and stir until thoroughly combined.

IMG_4193 IMG_4196 IMG_4199 IMG_4202~Step 3.  In a large bowl, over high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.  Add the egg and the vanilla.  Continue to beat until creamy.

IMG_4206 IMG_4208~ Step 4.  Lower the mixer speed and blend in the flour/crumb mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl constantly with a large rubber spatula, until thoroughly combined, about 1 1/2-2 minutes. Line a large baking pan with parchment paper.

IMG_4211 IMG_4215 IMG_4219 IMG_4221~Step 5.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure and working one scoop of dough at a time, drop a scoop of dough into the small bowl of crumbs and roll it around until completely coated in crumbs.  Place coated balls of dough, well-apart (2 1/2"-3"), on prepared pan.

IMG_4224 IMG_4229~ Step 6. Bale on center rack of 360°-365° oven until very lightly browned and puffed up in their centers, about 11 minutes, watching them carefully after 10 minutes so they don't over-brown*. Remove from oven and cool in pans 3-4 minutes prior to using a thin spatula to transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely, 1 hour.

* Note:  For cookies crunchy-through-to-their-centers, brown a bit more and bake for 12 minutes.

A drop-sugar-cookie that competes w/a rolled sugar cookie?

IMG_4237You betcha.  Try the recipe & judge for yourself:

IMG_4261Seriously Special K Crispy & Chewy Sugar Cookies:  Recipe yields 12-14, 3"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List: kitchen scale or 1-quart measuring container; 1-gallon food storage bag; small rolling pin; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; thin metal spatula; wire cooling rack

IMG_8762Cook's Note: ~ "My" No-Fail Easy-to-Make Sugar Cookie Recipe ~ has been my go-to special-occasion sugar-cookie recipe since 1974. Because the recipe worked perfectly the very first time, I've never looked for another.  They've made appearances at a wide range of festive get-togethers: bridal and baby showers, weddings, and, of course, my annual Christmas and New Years Day cookie trays.

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

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

09/26/2017

~Grillmarked: Thai-Inspired Hot & Sticky Honey Wings~

IMG_4148Wings and tailgate.  Tailgate and wings.  If two words ever went hand-in-hand onto the gridiron, yep, it would be those two.  If I say tailgate, you say wings, and, if there is one thing we tailgaters can't resist, it's a new wing-flavor-profile to experiment with.  I came across this one in the Parade Magazine insert of our local newspaper back in August.  Parade credits the recipe to Michael Gulotta, chef-owner of MoPho and Maypop restaurants in New Orleans.  Thank-you chef Gulotta.

IMG_4153The moment I read through the ingredients list, I knew I was gonna love this recipe.  For starters the combination of Greek-style yogurt and honey is, um, the bees knees. It's divine.  Stir in some Thai seasoning soy, fish sauce and Sriracha.  What's not to love about that trio.  Personally, I'd be willing to drink the marinade -- it is that good. Chef Gulatta cooks his outside on a gas grill, turning them frequently, while keeping the grill covered in between turns.  I did mine inside, in my grill pan, on my gas stove, uncovered.  They cooked longer, 25 minutes, but came out perfect.

Hey, Honey!  I've got a hankering for some wings!

IMG_40832  pounds, large, meaty chicken wings, about 20-24 wings (Note from Mel:  If you want to push the wing count to 3 pounds, about 30-36 wings, the marinade amount can handle it.)

1  cup plain yogurt, preferably Greek-style

1/2  cup honey

1  tablespoon Thai fish sauce

2  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce

1-2  tablespoons Sriracha sauce, to taste (Note:  Chef Gulatta says Sambal chile paste can be substituted.)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grill grids or grill pan

lime wedges for garnish and for squirting lime juice on wings

2-3  tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves, for sprinkling on wings prior to serving + cilantro sprigs for garnish

IMG_4090 IMG_4091 IMG_4093 IMG_4097~Step 1.  In a small bowl, place the yogurt, honey, Thai fish sauce, Thai seasoning soy sauce (not Chinese soy sauce) and Sriracha.  Thoroughly stir it all together.  Place wings in a 1-gallon ziplock bag.  Add all the marinade to bag.  Close bag, toss to evenly and thoroughly coat wings in marinade and place in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours, turning/tossing occasionally.

Note.  Remove the wings 45-60 minutes prior to cooking them (so they are not ice cold going onto the hot grill grids).  Open the bag and using a pair of tongs, remove wings from the marinade, gently shaking all the excess marinaded off, allowing it to drizzle back down into the bag. Transfer marinade to a small bowl and set aside -- it will get used as a basting sauce.

IMG_4102 IMG_4104 IMG_4107 IMG_4111 IMG_4116 IMG_4121 IMG_4123 IMG_4126~Step 2.  Liberally spray gill pan with no-stick, place on the stovetop and heat over medium- medium-high.  Add the wings to pan, as many as will fit without crowding the pan.  Cook, regulating the heat over medium- medium-high, using a pair of tongs to turn the wings four times, about every 5 minutes, for 20 minutes, until golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes, using a pastry brush to lightly baste (dab their tops) every time you flip them over.  After 20 minutes, stop basting and spend the next 5-6 minutes turning & flipping the wings constantly, until they are nicely-browned over their entire surface area.  The entire process will take 25-30 minutes.

Garnish w/cilantro & lime wedges.  Asian broccoli slaw anyone?

IMG_4149Simply & undeniably some of the best wings I've ever eaten:

IMG_4133Grillmarked:  Thai-Inspired Hot & Sticky Honey Wings:  Recipe yields 20-24 appetizers/4-6 servings/4-6 wings per person.

Special Equipment List:  poultry shears; 1-gallon ziplock bag; outdoor gas grill or grill pan on stovetop; tongs; silicon (high-heat safe) pastry brush

IMG_0990Cook's Note:  To make my Asian Broccoli Slaw w/Honey-Sesame Dressing, in a medium bowl, place:

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

For the dressing, whisk together:

1/4  cup each: vegetable oil and white rice vinegar

1  tablespoon each: sesame oil and Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons honey

Add all of the dressing to slaw, toss together and refrigerate until well-chilled  1-2 hours or overnight.

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

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

09/23/2017

~ My Thai-Inspired Sesame Chicken Thigh Paillards ~

IMG_4059Once upon a time there was a woman in Happy Valley Pennsylvania who was planning to make chicken Milanese for dinner.  "In the style of Milan", it refers to a thinly-sliced and lightly-pounded protein dredged in flour, dipped in egg, then coated with breadcrumbs.  It's quickly-sautéed in butter and/or olive oil until golden. It's crispy outside, juicy and fork-tender inside, and, after squirt of lemon and a parsley garnish it's served the moment it comes out of the skillet.  It couldn't be easier, especially when cooking for just two.  I refer to it as one of my flash-in-the-pan dinners.  

IMG_7761(Italian Chicken Milanese - top photo.  Thai-style Milanese - bottom photo.)  I cook several flash-on-the-pan meals just for us two, and, we adore classic Italian Milanese.

That said, as that day progressed, I wondered if I could fuse the concept of Milanese with another cuisine? Namely, Thai-Asian.  You betcha. After I pounded the chicken thighs, I started by substituting sesame and peanut oil for butter and olive oil.  I whisked Thai seasoning soy and fish sauces into the egg mixture, instead of adding salt and pepper to the flour dredge. The decision to use IMG_4049Japanese panko breadcrumbs in place of Italian-style breadcrumbs was a no-brainer.  A garnish of lime and cilantro, instead of lemon and parsley finished my new dish off, and, I served it atop freshly-steamed jasmine rice with a side of broccoli, instead of my saffron rice which contains peas.  When we sat down to dinner, we were thrilled with our Thai-style Milanese -- complete with my homemade Thai peanut sauce  for dipping and drizzling too.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb098fc7e8970dA bit about paillard (PI-yahrd):  This fancy French word means "to pound", and, references a lightly-pounded portion-sized slice or medallion of meat, poultry or seafood that gets quickly sautéed. A paillard is not madly smashed to smithereens.  Pounding should make it wider and thinner, with the point being to pound it in a manner that makes it even in thickness --  to break down the fibers, to tenderize it, and, to make it cook evenly.  It's done with a flat-sided meat mallet, not a sharp, pyramid-toothed gadget guaranteed to pulverize.  To those who smack away using the back of a heavy skillet, while the bravado is amusing, it's less than affective, as you can't concentrate the necessary force directly on the places that need it to do a truly expert job.

The taste and texture of lightly-pounded paillards is an extra step well worth the effort. I find it to be a time-saver too.  The time it takes to pound six boneless skinless chicken thighs, including the time to get out a cutting board, the plastic wrap and a flat-sided meat mallet is about five minutes. Once done, cooking the paillards is considerably faster and easier, had I not taken the time.

IMG_39746  large boneless, skinless chicken thighs (Note:  This is approximately the equivalent of 3, boneless, skinless chicken breast halves that have been butterflied to form 6 pieces/portions.)

~ Step 1.  Place the thighs between two large layers of plastic wrap and lightly pound with the flat side of a meat mallet to a thickness of more than a 1/4" and less than 1/2".

IMG_3980 IMG_3982~ Step 2. Remove and discard the top layer of plastic wrap and lightly sprinkle the tops of the perfectly-pounded thighs with:

Wonder Quick-Mixing flour for Sauce and Gravy (a granular flour which doesn't clump),  or, ordinary all-purpose flour

IMG_3990~ Step 3.  Allow the chicken to rest 5-10 minutes, to allow the flour time to absorb moisture from chicken.  

During this rest time, sprinkle a light layer of flour in the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 12", 3-quart casserole, and, in a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, vigorously whisk together:

4 large eggs with 1  tablespoon Thai seasoning soy sauce and 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce.

IMG_3992 IMG_3996 IMG_3998 IMG_4002~Step 4.  Pick up each piece of chicken and place, floured side down in the lightly-floured casserole. Flour the second sides (now the top sides) and set aside another 5-10 minutes.  Add the whisked egg mixture to the casserole and allow the chicken to rest in the egg mixture, using a fork to stop and "flip-flop" chicken around in the eggs two-three times for 5-10 last minutes.

IMG_4011 IMG_4012 IMG_4016~ Step 5.  In each of two, shallow 9" pie-type dishes, place 1 cup panko breadcrumbs.  Place three chicken thighs in each dish and coat in crumbs, taking time, 3-5 total minutes, to stop and "flip-flop" them, 2-3-4 times, to evenly and completely coat.  Taking time to do this "right", insures the crumbs will stay in place as they sauté -- because they've absorbed lots of moisture from the egg mixture.

IMG_4019 IMG_4025 IMG_4031 IMG_4038 IMG_4034~Step 6.  In a 16" electric skillet over low heat (225°), heat 6 tablespoons peanut oil with 2 tablespoons sesame oil.  Increase heat to medium- medium-high (240°-250°). Add the cutlets to skillet.  Sauté gently until light-golden in color on both sides, turning only once, about 6-7 minutes per side, adjusting the heat as needed to prevent over-browning (which will dry them out). Season tops with freshly-ground sea salt and serve immediately.

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

Serve atop steamed jasmine rice w/Thai peanut sauce:

IMG_4063Garnished w/a lime wedge & a sprig of cilantro.

IMG_4072My Thai-Inspired Sesame Chicken Thigh Paillards:  Recipe yields 6 servings.

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

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

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

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

09/20/2017

~ Start Dunking: Double-Raisin Bran Cereal Cookies ~

IMG_3767If you're one of the few, the proud and the many who adore Kellogg's raisin bran, this cookie recipe is for you.  I'm sure the recipe is a Kellogg's original too, because I remember sitting at my mother's kitchen counter the day she made them, for me, the first time.  It's odd, but, as a child, when all the other kids were reaching for the Frosted Flakes and Sugar Pops, the only two cold cereals I would eat were: Kellogg's Raisin Bran and Special K exclusively.  That 1960's Winter afternoon, which was a snow day off from school, we decided to experiment with something new: Raisin-Bran cookies (instead of our usual Quaker's oatmeal cookies), as printed on the box.

Trust me, these are full-throttle full-of-raisin cookies:  

Our cookies turned out great, but we both agreed they needed more raisins, so, next time around, they became double-raisin bran cookies.  It was fun, quality mother-daughter time back then, and, to this day, when I'm down to near-the-end of a box of Raisin Bran, I use the last couple of cups to treat myself to these cookies.  They're crispy around the edges with chewy centers, not overly sweet, and, perfect for dunking in a glass of milk or enjoying with my morning coffee.  If you're looking for a cookie to serve or take to a breakfast or brunch, these are indeed the ones:

IMG_3778Crunchy outside & chewy inside w/bits of bran too.

IMG_37143/4  cup salted butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature, very soft

1/2  cup firmly-packed light brown sugar

2/3  cup sugar

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  cups Kellogg's Raisin Bran cereal

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

1  cup additional raisins

IMG_3716 IMG_3720 IMG_3723 IMG_3724~Step 1.  In a large mixing bowl, starting on low speed of hand-held electric mixer and working your way up to to high speed, combine the butter, and sugars until light-colored and fluffy, about 1 full minute.  Crack in the eggs, add the vanilla, then, continue to mix until creamy, 30-45 seconds.

IMG_3728 IMG_3731 IMG_3734 IMG_3739~Step 2.  Add Raisin Bran.  With mixer on medium, while scraping down sides of bowl with spatula, thoroughly incorporate the cereal, 45-60 seconds..  Mixer will effectively chop bran flakes into smaller bits and pieces.  Lower mixer speed to low and add flour, baking soda and salt. Continue mixing and scraping bowl until flour is incorporated and a thick cookie batter forms.

IMG_3742 IMG_3746 IMG_3749 IMG_3756~Step 3.  Remove the mixer -- you won't need it anymore.  Add the raisins.  Use the spatula to fold them into the cookie dough.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place 12 balls of dough onto each of 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.

IMG_3760 IMG_3762 IMG_3773~ Step 4.  One pan of cookies at a time, bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven, 12-13 minutes, until puffed up through to their centers and nicely, but not overly, golden brown.  Remove pan from oven.  Using a metal spatula, immediately transfer each cookie to a wire rack to cool completely, 45-60 minutes.

Raisin Bran cookies.  I love thee.  The few, proud & many:

IMG_3786Start Dunking:  Double-Raisin Bran Cereal Cookies:  Recipe yields 2 dozen cookies

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

IMG_5181Cook's Note:  We all agree that a muffin is at its best as soon as it can be eaten -- as soon as it has cooled enough to pick it up with your fingertips and pull it apart.  For me, a warm muffin with a slather of softened butter or cream cheese is the ideal breakfast.  Check out my recipe for ~ Make the Batter ahead: Buttermilk & Bran Muffins ~.  Make the batter ahead and bake the muffins up fresh -- the whole batch or 1-2 at a time.  FYI:  These are full of Raisin Bran and raisins too!

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

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

09/18/2017

~ Balsamic Mayonnaise: The Other Italian Dressing ~

IMG_3916We all have our quirks.  I'm no exception.  Today's example:  I love Italian dressing, but I don't love creamy Italian dressing.  I don't love Balsamic dressing, but I do love creamy balsamic dressing -- especially if it is mayonnaise-based.  Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike creamy Italian or regular balsamic dressings, I simply have my (quirky) preferences.  While I often make my own, like most folks, for convenience sake, store-bought dressings have earned a place in my kitchen.  There is always a bottle of Wishbone Light Italian dressing on the door of my refrigerator, and, for a time, I happily kept a jar of Hellmann's Balsamic Mayonnaise there too.

999999-68400318217Hellmann's introduced their balsamic mayonnaise in 2013 -- a new product in celebration of their 100th anniversary.  A recent internet search revealed it was discontinued -- shocking, because the same search revealed there are a lot of folks, like me, who loved the stuff.  I even came across a discussion in an on-line "foodie chat place" where folks were attempting to duplicate the recipe.  This was not surprising, as, for those of us who loved it, there was more to it than just a basic stir together of mayo and balsamic vinegar.  Once I finished sharing my recipe with those in need, I decided to take a few moments to share it with you all too. 

Toss into salads or pasta salads, slather on subs or clubs or:

IMG_3947anything your creamy-balsamic-dressing heart desires. 

IMG_37061/2  cup mayonnaise

1  tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/4  teaspoon onion powder

1/4  teaspoon dried basil (Note:  I used dried basil today.  That said, depending what I'm serving this on or with, I sometimes substitute dried Mediterranean oregano or Italian seasoning blend.

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

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

In a small bowl, thoroughly stir together all ingredients.  Refrigerate one hour prior to serving.

IMG_3711I adore it on my Caprese-Style Ground Chicken Burgers:

IMG_3854Balsamic Mayonnaise:  The Other Italian Dressing:  Recipe yields 1/2 cup balsamic mayonnaise.

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

IMG_1418Cook's Note:  If you'd like to know the history behind America's two most famous brands of mayonnaise, check out my post ~ Spreads go Bread to Bread: Duke's vs Hellmann's ~.

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

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

09/15/2017

~Grillmarked: Ground Chicken Caprese-Style Burgers~

IMG_3854Today is a glorious day in mid-September, but unless we get a wealth of warm weather and sunshine for at least two more weeks, it's probable that I picked the last substantive batch of our garden's tomatoes this morning -- and it's been a banner year.  While walking my basket of dew-covered beauties back to my kitchen, I passed by my last full-leafed basil plant, the one I've been saving for that celebratory "last caprese day" of the season.  Today ended up being the day.

IMG_6487While I'm always, and I mean always, in the mood for a classic caprese salad (sliced same-day-picked garden tomatoes, fresh buffalo-milk mozzarella cheese, basil leaves, a drizzle of fruity olive oil -- occasionally a splash of balsamic vinegar too -- freshly-ground sea salt and pepper), I reminded myself how much Joe was looking forward to my thick, juicy chile cheddar cheeseburgers w/chile-lime mayo for an early dinner on our deck tonight.  A promise is a promise, and, when a man's got cheeseburgers on his mind, it's pretty hard to change it. Then it not only rained, it poured.

The move indoors opened the topic up for discussion, which was convenient because I'd had "this caprese thing" rattling around in my head all morning.  Very diplomatically, I said, "How about chicken-burgers done in the grill pan instead.  I've got all the stuff on-hand to make them caprese-style.  We can make cheeseburgers anytime."  Joe's response:  "Sounds like a plan."  Joe likes plans.  Dinner was divine -- Joe still got a great burger and I quelled my caprese craving:

IMG_3873A moist, juicy chicken burger full of caprese flavors + a drizzle of some awesome balsamic mayonnaise = a great burger.

IMG_3795For the chicken burgers:

2  pounds chicken breast tenderloins, sliced into 1"-1 1/2" pieces

1  medium yellow or sweet onion, medium-diced, 6-7 ounces, about 1 1/2 cups 

2  large garlic cloves

1/2  cup chiffonade of fresh basil leaves

1  extra-large egg

1/2  teaspoon dried basil leaves

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

16  slices deli-style mozzarella cheese, or, 8 slices deli-style mozzarella cheese + 8 slices deli-style provolone cheese, your choice

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grill pan

For the assembly and garnishes:

8  burger rolls of choice

2-3 cups shredded romaine lettuce, a generous 1/4 cup per sandwich

16-24 tomato slices, 2-3 per sandwich depending upon size of tomatoes

balsamic mayonnaise (Note:  See Cook's Note at end of recipe.)

16-24 large, whole, fresh basil leaves, 2-3 per sandwich

IMG_3800 IMG_3802 IMG_3807 IMG_3812 IMG_3815~Step 1.  Slice and place the chicken piecess in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, along with the diced onion and basil chiffonade.  Using a series of 20 rapid on-off pulses, coarsely-grind the chicken, along with the onion and basil.  Add the egg, dried basil, sea salt and pepper to work-bowl of processor.  With processor motor running for 10-15 seconds, incorporate the egg and spices throughout the now finely-ground chicken.  Refrigerate 1-2 hours.

Note:  You will have a little over 2 1/2 pounds chicken mixture.  The mixture will resemble the soft "sticky" consistency of a meatloaf mixture rather than a typical burger mixture.  This is intentional. Because ground chicken is naturally dry when it is cooked, extra moisture must be added to the poultry mixture at the outset, and, it was done in the form of onion, garlic and fresh basil.

IMG_3819 IMG_3822 IMG_3824~ Step 2.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper.  Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide poultry mixture into 8, 5-ounce portions, form the portions into 3 1/2"-round x 3/4"-thick discs, placing them side-by-side on pan.  While you can form the burgers, like you would less-sticky hamburgers, using your hands, if you have a 3 1/2" food ring and a tablespoon, it'll be incredibly easy (and you won't get "sticky chicken goo" all over your fingers and palms of hands).  Cover pan with plastic wrap and partially-freeze burgers for 55-60 minutes, no longer than that.

Note:  Partially freezing the burgers makes them easy to handle when it comes time to put them on the grill pan (or on the grids of a gas grill outdoors).  Do not freeze the burgers completely. You want them just firm enough to easily lift off the parchment while maintaining their shape.

IMG_3827 IMG_3836 IMG_3842 IMG_3849~Step 3.  Spray grill pan with no-stick cooking spray and place over medium heat on stovetop. Place as many chicken burgers as will comfortably fit (without crowding pan) on the grill grid. Cook, turning only once, until burgers are golden on both sides, about 13-15 minutes per side, lowering the heat if and when necessary to keep them from over-browning or burning before they cook through to their centers. Safe temperature = safe-to-eat poultry:  use an instant-read meat thermometer to insure burgers have reached an internal temperature of 165°.  

IMG_3914Once an internal temperature of 162°-165º has been reached, adjust heat as low as it will go, top each burger with 2 mozzarella slices, cover the grill pan and wait for cheese to melt, 1-1 1/2 minutes.  

Note:  Grill pans don't come with lids.  The lid to my 16"-quart Cuisinart stockpot fits on my Cuisinart grill pan.  Can't find a lid? Cover the pan with a piece of foil.

Note:  To cook on an outdoor gas grill, preheat grill to medium.  Place burgers, side-by-side, either over indirect heat or on the upper rack of grill (if you have one).  Close lid and allow to cook 13-15 minutes.  After 13-15 minutes, open the grill lid.  Using a long-handled grilling spatula, flip burgers over.  They will have firmed up and be golden brown on the first side.  Close the grill lid and continue to cook on the second side for 13-15 minutes, or, to an internal temperature of 165°.

Some assembly required:

IMG_4160Bun, shredded lettuce, burger, tomatoes, mayo & basil:

IMG_3860Pick it (or half of it) up in your mitt:

IMG_3883Savor each & every end-of-caprese-season bite:

IMG_3890Grillmarked:  Ground Chicken Caprese-Style Burgers:  Recipe yields 8 large, hearty caprese-style chicken burgers & 1/2 cup balsamic mayonnaise/1 tablespoon mayo per burger.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; kitchen scale; 3 1/2" food ring and tablespoon; grill pan w/lid; instant-read meat thermometer

IMG_3711 IMG_3706Cook's Note: To make 1/2 cup balsamic mayo, in a small bowl, stir together:

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1  tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4  teaspoon each:  garlic powder, onion powder, dried basil, coarsely-ground black pepper and sea salt

Refrigerate 1 hour prior to serving.

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

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

09/13/2017

~ Thai-Style Chicken-Tender Peanut-Butter Red Curry~

IMG_3692Peanut butter?  Yep.  Pulverized wok-roasted peanuts are commonly served with or in Thai food, and:  Oh my Thai -- if you love Thai food, as I do, you want this recipe in your recipe box.  If you cook Thai food, as I do, even if only on an occasional basis, I'm guessing you already have everything you need in the Asian section of your pantry and refrigerator to make this meal without making a special trip to your local Asian market.  Is this an authentic Thai recipe?  Yes and no. Yes, in that the flavors are authentic Thai.  No, in that I took a few shortcuts (mostly in the form of a can of store-bought red curry paste and some Jiff extra-crunchy peanut butter), but, nothing that a Thai cook would call me out on. Ok, perhaps a few Thai cooks would call me out, but, too bad. I'm an American gal in an American kitchen and I love Thai food.  To my Thai friends, be flattered.

IMG_3687In my food world, curries are comfort food.  Served steeping hot over or with freshly-steamed rice, they're perfect for the crisp, cold days of Fall and Winter.  Once the ingredients are prepped, which typically takes me about 30 minutes, Thai curries are relatively quick and easy to prepare. They can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish (never a combination, but, one can be substituted for another, so feel free to do so), and they range in texture from very soupy to very thick and stewlike.  That said, they differ from other curries (like Indian and Jamaican), in that they rely upon a variety of freshly-made pulverized "wet" curry pastes rather than "dry" curry powders.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0904d5f8970dNowadays, busy cooks, even Thai cooks, purchase canned curry pastes, and, the ones sold in Asian markets are of high-quality. That said, savvy Thai cooks add a few things to store-bought curry paste to brighten and personalize the flavor -- which is exactly what I've learned to do.

Today's stewlike red chicken curry recipe is a dish I was taught to make back in 1993 by a Home Economist from Thailand living in Happy Valley with her husband Fu. Kanya and I became foodie friends fast, and, over the course of two years, I had the priviledge of learning how to combine Thai ingredients to properly balance the classic four Thai flavors -- hot, sour, sweet & salty -- and serve them in authentic Thai style too.

Two time-savers: canned curry paste & peanut butter:

IMG_36292 1/2  pounds chicken breast tenderloins, sliced into 1"-1 1/2" pieces

1  8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, well-drained

6  tablespoons sesame oil

2  teaspoons curry powder

1  teaspoon powdered turmeric

1-1 1/2  4-ounce cans Thai red curry paste (Note:  Red curry paste is your heat gauge.  Use 1 can for less spice, 1 1/2 cans for medium spice, and, 2 cans for a lot of spice.  I use 1 1/2 cans.)

1 1/2  cups medium-diced red bell pepper

1  cup thinly-sliced green onion, white and light-green part only (diced yellow or sweet onion may be substituted

1  15-ounce can straw mushrooms, well-drained, 1 generous cup

1  13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk

1  tablespoon Thai fish sauce (Note: Thai fish sauce is the "salt" of Thailand.)

2  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce (Note:  Thai soy sauce differs from Chinese soy sauce, so, make sure the label reads "seasoning soy" or "Thai soy" sauce.)

2  tablespoons Thai palm sugar or light brown sugar 

4  tablespoon crunchy-style peanut butter

3/4  cups chopped, wok-roasted peanuts, from 1 cup blanched, unsalted peanuts (Note: See Cook's Note at end of post.

4-6  fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves  (Note:  I keep fresh ones in my freezer and dried ones in my pantry at all times.)

1  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

6  cups steamed jasmine rice (Note:  This allows 1-1 1/2 cups steamed rice per person.)

IMG_3638 IMG_3640 IMG_3645~ Step 1.  Slice and place the chicken cubes in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, along with the well-drained water chestnuts.  Using a series of about 20 rapid on-off pulses, coarsely grind the chicken and rough chop the water chestnuts.  Remove from work bowl and set aside.

IMG_3652 IMG_3654 IMG_3658 IMG_3661~Step 2.  In a 16" electric skillet, heat 6 tablespoons of sesame oil over 250° (medium-high on the stovetop).  Add the red curry paste, curry powder and powdered turmeric.  Using a large nonstick spoon, work the wet curry and the dry spices into the sesame oil and cook until curry paste is bubbling and fragrant, about 30-45 seconds.  Add chicken/water chestnut mixture, bell pepper, scallions and straw mushrooms.  Stir until ingredients are evenly-coated in curry and spices.

Note:  I prefer to use a 16" electric skillet to prepare this type of Thai curry dish for my family. Why?  It has the capacity to make enough to feed 6-8 people + enough surface area to produce a rather quick evaporation of liquid, which thickens the curry, and, it controls the heat perfectly too (a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight-deep sides on the stovetop may be substituted).

IMG_3665 IMG_3670 IMG_3671 IMG_3684~Step 3.  Sauté, stirring constantly, until chicken is cooked through, 6-8 minutes.  Add and stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, seasoning soy, palm or light-brown sugar, peanut butter, kaffir lime leaves and 1/4 cup of wok-roasted peanuts.  Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined and curry sauce is uniform in color, 1-2 minutes.  Adjust heat to simmer gently but steadily, about 220°-225° (medium on the stovetop), until curry sauce is nicely thickened, about 15-20 minutes. Turn heat off, cover skillet and allow to steep while steaming rice and mincing cilantro garnish. 

"When in Rome."  A bit of Thai-style mealtime etiquette:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1eb32ea970cWe've all heard the saying, "when in Rome, do as the Romans."  It means, when in a foreign country, or, being entertained by foreigners:  respect their customs.  In Thailand, meals are served family-style.  Each dish is served in its own vessel, and, after the food is on the table, everyone sits down together.  The food is passed and it's impolite to take too much of any one item at one time, but, it's very polite to go back for seconds or thirds.  There's more.  Because Thai food is bite-sized (sliced, diced, chopped, or pulverized), you will never find a knife on a Thai table.  For a proper Thai place setting:  a plate and/or bowl, a fork and a spoon, and, a water glass.

Portion some rice in a bowl, top generously w/chicken curry, then, garnish w/a sprinkling of peanuts & cilantro: 

IMG_3686Oh my Thai -- that very first Thai-licious forkful:

IMG_7164Thai-Style Chicken-Tender Peanut-Butter Red Curry:  Recipe yields 9-10 cups thick, hearty, stewlike curry/6-8 servings.  Leftovers freeze, thaw and reheat (in the microwave) really well.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 16" electric skillet w/lid or 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides on stovetop; large nonstick spoon; electric rice steamer (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0904fbcf970d 6a0120a8551282970b01bb0904fc13970dCook's Note: To wok-roast the peanuts, place a thin coating of sesame oil in bottom of a wok and swirl to coat the wok a few inches up the sides -- the amount of oil will vary depending upon size of  wok. Heat over medium-high, add peanuts and stir-fry, stirring constantly, until golden, 1-2-3 minutes.  Cool and chop the nuts.

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

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

09/10/2017

~ Chicken, Cheddar, Bacon, Apple & Honey Mustard ~

IMG_3586Write this list of five ingredients down.  Why?  Together, they are a stellar Fall sandwich (or salad) combination.  Piled high between two slices of bread or tossed together in a bowl, along with some thinly-sliced onion and a few greens, they constitute a complete and salivatingly satisfying meal -- savory, sweet, and ever-so-slightly-salty, with plenty of meaty protein, tangy cheese, tart fruit and crisp vegetables.  It all gets pulled together with a drizzly dressing made of honey, mustard and mayonnaise, which complements each and every component perfectly.  

I like to stuff everything into a pita pocket, but, I have been known to serve 'em up on homemade cheddar biscuits, when I've got time and am inclined to bake biscuits.  Served on either, it's an exquisite sandwich.  That said, I put some thought into the "construction", meaning:  the order in which the ingredients would be layered.  While sandwiches can be as simple as "catch-as-catch-can", "grab the stuff and out the door you run", all sandwiches are not created equal:  

Some are hot and some are cold.  Some need to be eaten ASAP and some can be wrapped and transported long distances.  Some are neat and can be picked up to eat, others are sloppy and require a knife and fork.  In the case of this sandwich, I wanted it layered in a manner that kept it from deconstructing itself as I ate it -- I wanted it to stay relatively intact to the very last bite.  

IMG_3575A great sandwich is a properly-constructed sandwich:

For each sandwich:

1  pita pocket, sliced in half to form 2 half-moon shapes

2-3  tablespoons honey-mustard dressing, a generous 1 tablespoon per half sandwich

2  slices sharp yellow cheddar cheese, sliced in half to form 4 triangles, 2 triangles per half sandwich

2  very-thin slices red onion, sliced in half to form 4 half-moon shapes, 2 half-moon shapes per half sandwich

12 thin slices poached or roasted chicken breast, 6 thin slices per half sandwich

2  slices oven roasted bacon or pan-fried bacon, each slice cut into 4 pieces per half 

6  crisp and crunchy, in-season, unpeeled and thinly-sliced, half-moon-shaped apple slices, your favorite Fall apple, 3 half-moon-shaped slices per half sandwich 

4-6 generous tablespoons shredded iceberg lettuce (or your favorite crisp greens), about 2-3 tablespoons shredded lettuce per half sandwich

additional honey-mustard dressing, preferably homemade, for dipping or drizzling

potato chips or potato salad, for accompaniment

IMG_3545 IMG_3549 IMG_3555 IMG_3559~Step 1.  Slice 1 pita pocket in half and open each half up.  Using a teaspoon or a butter knife, slather the inside, top and bottom, of each pita half, with about 1 generous tablespoon honey mustard dressing.  Cut 2 slices yellow sharp cheddar cheese in half to form 4 triangles and layer 2 pieces of cheese in the bottom each pita half.  Cut 2 very-thin slices red onion in half to form 2 half-moon shapes.  Place/distribute 2 of the half-moons, atop the cheese in each half.

IMG_3563 IMG_3569 IMG_3570 IMG_3574~Step 2.  Atop the onion, arrange 6 thin slices poached or roasted chicken breast meat in each pita half.  Atop the chicken, arrange 4 quarter-pieces bacon (1 slice bacon cut into 4 pieces).  In each pita half, arrange 3 thin half-moon shaped apples slices atop the bacon.  Atop the apples slices in each pita half, "stuff" 2-3 tablespoons shredded lettuce.  It's pretty as a picture:

Drizzle w/additional honey-mustard dressing & serve:

IMG_3596Absolutely fantastic to the very last bite: 

IMG_3616Chicken, Cheddar, Bacon, Apple & Honey Mustard:  Recipe yields instructions to construct 1 pita sandwich/2 halves per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; teaspoon or butter knife

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd0c433e970bCook's Note:  Those of you who know me, know I love roasted chicken, and, I truly do roast two chickens almost every week, just to have the meat on-hand for sandwiches and salads.  It's so much better than salty, store-bought deli-meat chicken. During the Fall and Winter months, I love to bake focaccia too, to have on-hand for sandwiches.  Got roasted chicken and focaccia too?  Check out my recipe for ~ Roasted-Chicken Caesar-Salad Focaccia Panini ~. It's more than worth the effort.

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

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

09/07/2017

~ Hey, Honey -- Pass the Honey-Mustard Dressing ~

IMG_3523Honey mustard.  It's one of the simplest condiments in the food world to make, and, I bow to the mustard makers that invented it.  In my kitchen, I use it as a salad dressing, a sandwich spread, a dip for vegetables, and occasionally, a glaze for baked ham.  In the '80's, when my kids were in elementary school, there was always a jar of it on my refrigerator door.  When we were traveling, if an eatery had chicken tenders and honey-mustard sauce on their list of menu options, my three boys were happy campers -- given the choice, all three of them preferred it to ranch dressing, so, that's quite an endorsement.  As for me, I love it on onion rings and Philly-style soft pretzels.

IMG_3500A bit about honey:  The earliest written reference to honey dates back to the Egyptians in 5500 B.C., but, honeybees were making honey long before historical records were written.  Only relatively recently, mid 19th Century, did sugar become available and affordable to the average Westerner.  Prior to that, it was a very expensive luxury for the wealthy, because it had to be imported over long distances. Honeybees native to Asia, were brought to the New World by the Colonists in 1622, and honey was their primary sweetening agent for tea, cakes, cookies and candies. Once it got introduced to the Native Americans, honey became a popular item to trade too.

IMG_3502A bit about mustard:  Mustard is the world's oldest manmade condiment. There are recipes for mustard that date back to 42 A.D. in Roman writings, but, it wasn't popularized until their seeds were exported to Gaul (France).  By the 13th Century, food peddlers were selling their homemade mustard concoctions all over France, and, in the 16th Century, legal protection was given to the mustard makers and their secret recipes (which varied greatly from maker to maker).  In time, a few mustard makers began experimenting with substituting green grape juice ("verjus" -- "green juice") for vinegar, which produced a milder taste we now associate with their white-wine-made Dijon.

IMG_3514A bit about honey-mustard:  It was only a matter of time before the mustard makers added a bit of honey to sweeten their Dijon a bit, to gentle it down even further.  Next, French chef's began adding their mayonnaise (a French invention) to the honey-mustard, along with other ingredients:  various herbs (basil, dill, rosemary, thyme), garlic and even chile peppers for some heat. I'd say that was the unofficial start of the honey-mustard dressing/sauce industry, and, to this day, honey mustard dressing is typically made using just three ingredients: Dijon mustard, honey, and, mayo. That said, there are many types of honey-mustard because there are many types of honey and mustard.

Three seriously basic "staple" ingredients:

IMG_3490Honey + Dijon + Mayonnaise = Honey Mustard Dressing

IMG_3495To make basic honey mustard dressing, in a 2-cup size food-storage container, whisk together:

1/4  cup honey

1/4  cup Dijon mustard

1/4  cup high-quality mayonnaise

Taste.  If you want it sweeter, whisk in more honey, by the teaspoonful, to please your palate.  You've just made honey-mustard dressing.

IMG_3497My favorite add-ins, which are entirely optional, are:

1/8  teaspoon black pepper

1/8  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8  teaspoon paprika, or smoked paprika (if it's a smokey flavor I'm looking for occasionally)

Cover and refrigerate, for at least one hour, to allow the flavors to marry.  The dressing will thicken up a bit in the refrigerator too.

The perfect consistency to drizzle over salad or use as a dip:

IMG_3528Poached or roasted chicken chef salad anyone?

IMG_3534Hey, Honey -- Pass the Honey-Mustard Dressing:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup salad dressing or dipping sauce.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup size food storage container w/tight fitting lid; whisk

IMG_5989Cook's Note:  No matter how easy or complicated, recipes that have a history or a lore are always on my short list of blog posts to share because, for me, they are the most fun to write.  My recipe for ~ Pretty in Pink: Thousand Islands Salad Dressing~ is one such recipe.  It's also yet another salad dressing/sandwich spread/dipping sauce that I am never without.

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

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

09/05/2017

~ Butter-Rum Frosted Banana-Walnut Spice Cookies ~

IMG_3470Spice is nice, particularly in spice cakes and spice cookies, and, when Summer turns to Fall, I find myself gravitating to spiced sweet treats.  I generically refer to them as the "apple pie spices" -- you know the ones -- spice rack essentials.  They're exotic and aromatic, and, they play oh-so-well together:  allspice, cinnamon, clove, ginger, and nutmeg.  Sometimes I choose just one or two, other times I use three or four, occasionally I use all five.  That said, I'm always reminding folks to use them judiciously, as, too much of any one, is overpoweringly wrong.

These spice cookies are puffy & light, &, cake-like.  

IMG_3439They soak up milk or coffee faster than crunchy cookies.

These cake-like cookies are lightly and nicely, yet noticeable spiced.  If you're not a fan of cookies with a soft cake-like texture, move along without expressing any criticism.  For a dunker like me, a cake-like cookie soaks up my milk or coffee faster than any crunchy cookie does, and, near the tailend my beverage, it has acquired a pleasant tinge of spice -- spiced milk or coffee -- yum.

IMG_3370For the dry ingredients:

3 3/4  cups all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon baking powder

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon ground ginger

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, place and stir together all of the above dry ingredients.  Set aside.

IMG_3379For the wet ingredients and add-ins:

1 1/2  cups sugar

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

1  large egg, at room temperature

2  teaspoons pure banana extract

1  teaspoon butter-rum flavoring

1 1/4-1 1/2  cups fork-mashed bananas, from 3 large, over-ripe bananas (Tip from Mel:  If the bananas are not soft enough to mash easily with a fork, they are not IMG_3397ripe enough to use for banana bread, cake or cookies.)

1 3/4 cups chopped, lightly-toasted walnuts (total throughout recipe, 1 1/2 cups to add to cookies, and a generous 1/4 cup, reserved and ground, for sprinkling on finished cookies as directed below)

~ Step 2. Chop and place walnuts on a small baking pan as you work.  Place on center rack of 350º oven or toaster oven for 5-6 minutes, until lightly-toasted and fragrant.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool, 20-30 minutes.  Remove and reserve a generous 1/4 cup walnuts.

IMG_3374 IMG_3383 IMG_3388 IMG_3392~Step 3.  Using a fork, in a 2-cup measuring container, mash 3 large, peeled overripe bananas. You should have 1 1/4-1 1/2 cups mashed bananas.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, place the sugar, butter, egg and extracts.  On medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream the ingredients together, constantly scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula for 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Add bananas, increase mixer speed to high and thoroughly incorporate.

IMG_3399 IMG_3401 IMG_3403 2 IMG_3408~Step 4.  Lower mixer speed to medium-low.  In two parts, add the dry ingredients (the flour/spice mixture), mixing thoroughly while scraping down the sides of the bowl with the spatula each time. Remove the mixer.  Add the nuts and use the spatula to fold them into the cookie dough.

IMG_3422 IMG_3423 IMG_3427 IMG_3429~Step 5.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place firmly-packed balls of cookie dough, well apart, 12 on each of three 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.  One-pan-at-a-time, bake on center rack of 350º oven, 12-13 minutes until puffed up through to the center and lightly-browned.  Remove from oven.  Using a thin spatula, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Repeat this process two more times with remaining pans of cookies.  Prepare cream cheese frosting and frost/top cookies as directed below.

Remove from oven & transfer to wire rack(s) to cool...

IMG_3444... prior to frosting & topping cookies as directed below:

IMG_6408For the cream cheese frosting :

8  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1  cup Confectioner's sugar

2  teaspoons butter-rum flavoring

1  tablespoon milk

1/4  cup chopped lightly-toasted walnuts, reserved from above 

IMG_3447 IMG_3452~ Step 1.  In a small-capacity food processor, place the walnuts.  Using a series of of 12-15 rapid on-off pulses, followed by the motor running for 8-10 seconds, grind the walnuts to a fine-grained "sprinkleable" consistency.  Set aside.

IMG_3464 IMG_3453 IMG_3456 IMG_3462~Step 2.  Place the cream cheese, butter-rum flavoring and Confectioners' sugar in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 12-15 rapid on-off pulses, followed by the motor running for 8-10 seconds, process until it's got an ultra-smooth consistency, adding milk, by the teaspoonful, if necessary, to reach the desired consistency -- I added 1 teaspoon today.

IMG_3478~ Step 3.  Place the wire rack of cookies atop a piece of parchment or paper towels.  Using a knife, spread some frosting over the top of each cookie (do not dip the cookie top into the frosting).  While the frosting is still moist, sprinkle ground nuts over the the frosted cookies. The parchment paper or paper towels will collect the excess underneath.  Allow cookies to sit, uncovered, for several  hours, to give the frosting time to set.  

Spread frosting over tops of cookies & sprinkle w/ground nuts:

IMG_3476Fall has arrived.  Are you ready for some spice?

IMG_3482Butter-Rum Frosted Banana-Walnut Spice Cookies:  Recipe yields 3 dozen, 2 1/2"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; small baking pan; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 3, 17 1/2" x 11 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; wire cooling rack; butter knife; mini-food processor; food processor

IMG_6433 IMG_9233Cook's Note: It's never to early to start thinking about your holiday cooking baking.  For two more of my favorite lightly- and nicely-spiced cake-like cookie recipes, one for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas, click on the following links to my posts for:  pumpkin cookies and eggnog cookies.

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

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

09/02/2017

~How to: Make Roasted Chicken Carcass Soup Stock~

IMG_3267As unappetizing as the two words chicken carcass sound, culinarily, those are the words that describe what's left of a boned chicken (what's left after the meat has been removed from the bones), and, truth told, whether the carcass is raw or has been roasted, there is a ton of flavor in those bones.  There's more, and this is important:  Discarding a chicken carcass without extracting the flavor from it is such a waste it should be a crime.  Whether I have raw ones (which I rarely do) or roasted ones (which I often do), even if I don't have time to "deal with them" immediately, I put them in a bag in the freezer and make a date with them for another time.  

IMG_8322One of the benefits of roasting two chickens each week, is my ability to make a lot of "roasted chicken carcass soup stock".  Yes, I really do roast two chickens almost every week.  Rotisserie chicken is not my "gig" -- I find it to be overly greasy and I don't feel well after I eat it. Instead, I choose to put two six-pound chickens on a rack in a pan in a 350º oven for two hours.  When they come out, we enjoy one hot meal (usually with gravy and mashed or roasted potatoes), and, for the rest of the week, I have leftovers for sandwiches and salads.

IMG_3084 IMG_3088 IMG_3091~ Step 1.  Carve and remove the white breast meat and dark leg/thigh meat from both roasted chickens.  Using your fingers, remove and discard as much of the roasted skin from the two carcasses.  Place the carcasses in a 16-quart stockpot.  If the chickens have been roasted as per my directions, there will be some flavorful dripping in the bottom of the roasting pan.  Pour the drippings into a fat/lean separator, add the lean portion only to the stockpot, then, discard the fat portion.

IMG_3096~ Step 2.  To the stockpot with the carcasses and drippings, add:

10  quarts cold water

1  1/2  pounds large whole, peeled yellow or sweet onions

1  1/2-2  pounds whole, peeled carrots*

3/4  pound whole celery stalks

4  tablespoons dried parsley

4  tablespoons sea salt & 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely-ground black pepper

*Note:  If this seems like a case of "carrot excess", it is.  I love lots carrots in my soup, and, since I use this stock to make soup, I cook a lot of them, all at once.  When portioning the stock into containers for the freezer, I place a few whole cooked carrots in each container.

IMG_3099 IMG_3104~ Step 3.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Unlike making soup with meat-on whole chickens or raw chicken carcasses, there will be very little of the whitish/gray foamy matter that floats to the surface.  That said, if some surfaces, use a large slotted spoon or skimmer to remove and discard it.  Adjust heat to a gentle ready simmer. Continue to simmer, uncovered for 3 hours.  The soup will have reduced quite and bit, which will render it tastily rich.  Turn the heat off, cover pot and allow soup to steep for 3 more hours.

IMG_3107~ Step 4.  There will be 7-7 1/2 quarts of perfectly-seasoned chicken-soup stock.  Ladle the stock through a fine mesh strainer into desired-sized food storage containers (for the freezer) or jars (for the refrigerator).  These are 2-quart sized containers into which some of the whole, cooked carrots have been placed.  Use immediately as directed in recipe, or, refrigerate stock for up to 1 week, or keep frozen for 6-8-12 months.

Loads of rich, roasted flavor from roasted chicken carcasses:

IMG_3086Liquid gold-- Perfect for an upcoming chilly day lunch: 

IMG_3257How to:  Make Roasted Chicken Carcass Soup Stock:  Recipe yields 7-7 1/2 quarts perfectly-seasoned chicken-soup stock.  Simply add some diced celery, onion, and/or potatoes and simmer until veggies are tender.  Add cooked homemade egg noodles and it's time to eat.

Special Equipment List:  16-quart stockpot w/lid; fat/lean separator; large slotted spoon or skimmer; soup ladle; fine mesh strainer

6a0120a8551282970b015392bcbb3e970bCook's Note:   Making chicken stock to use all year long is a big event in my kitchen.  I usually make it on one of the coldest days of the year, so that I can use the great outdoors (a secure area on my patio), to refrigerate the entire 24-quart stockpot overnight.  To get my recipe for chicken stock made with whole, meat-on-the-chickens chicken-soup stock, click this link to read my post ~ It's National Chicken Stock Day -- In Mel's Kitchen ~.

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

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