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12 posts from October 2017

10/31/2017

~ Egg Noodles w/Sautéed Mushroom & Onion Sauce ~

IMG_5078A quick-to-make sautéed mushroom and onion sauce, tossed into some buttered egg noodles was a childhood favorite of mine.  Oddly, I was a child who liked mushrooms -- a lot.  "Noodles & 'shrooms", that's what we called it.  If there's an official name for it, I don't know it.  Sometimes it showed up on our dinner table tossed together in a bowl, as a simple side-dish to a roasted chicken.  Other times it was layered on a platter, as an elegant bed for "skinny" pan-fried pork chops.  Sometimes my mom sautéed the sauce in bacon fat, other times she used butter -- which I liked better.  That said, as a lover of the earthy flavor of sautéed mushrooms, I'm happy to eat this as a meatless meal with a crisp salad, a slice of crusty bread and a glass of wine anytime.

When "nothing fancy" turns out to be heaven on a plate --

IMG_5080Full of buttery, rich unctuous flavor and texture.

For the most part, sautéing is the best way to cook any type of mushrooms.  It enhances their flavor tremendously, it's easy, and, it's relatively quick too, but, rushing the process is something I don't recommend.  Mushrooms are done, when they're done.  Sautéing mushrooms with sweet onions, which get sweeter and sweeter as they cook, is an added treat.  These are two vegetables that play in perfect harmony together.  Add a splash of beef, chicken, vegetable stock or white wine, a bit of subtle spice and a fresh or dried herb -- they're simply irresistible. 

IMG_5038While this humble and rustic Eastern European peasant dish has a creamy, luxurious mouthfeel, it contains no cream or sour cream, so, don't confuse it with Germanic stroganoff-type preparations.  It contains no tomato products or grated cheeses either, so, don't confuse it with Italian mushroom-laced pasta sauces.  Traditionally, this sauce gets served with, tossed into, or, ladled atop homemade egg noodles, but, in a pinch, high-quality, store-bought egg noodles or egg-based pasta work fine -- the mushroom and onion sauce is the star of this show anyway.

IMG_50052  pounds baby/petite button mushroom caps, cleaned*, stems cut off at the base of the cap (stems can be reserved for use in vegetable stock), caps cut into 1/4"-thick slices (Note:  Purchase 2 1/2 pounds mushrooms in order to yield 2 pounds of caps.)

1 1/2  pounds 1/4"-sliced sweet onion, slices cut in half to form half-moon-shaped pieces

8  ounces salted butter (2 sticks)

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1  teaspoon sea salt, more or less, to taste

1/2-3/4 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper, to taste

1  cup white wine, your favorite, the choice is yours

fresh parsley, for garnish

IMG_4996 IMG_4999*Note: Never rinse or soak any type of mushrooms in water to clean them because: they will absorb moisture like a sponge, rendering them mushy when cooked.  If they are dirty, simply brush them (using a soft brush designed specifically for cleaning mushrooms), or, wipe them with a dampened towel or paper towel.  In the case of these baby/petite button mushrooms, they required almost no cleaning.

IMG_5001 IMG_5002 IMG_5007 IMG_5007 IMG_5007 IMG_5015 IMG_5015 IMG_5015 IMG_0080~Step 1.  Slice  mushrooms and onions as directed.  Separately, set both aside.  In 12" skillet, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in the nutmeg, salt and pepper, to evenly season butter.  Add the onions.  Adjust heat to medium- medium-high and sauté, stirring frequently, until onions are soft and translucent and beginning to show signs of caramelization, 12-15 minutes.  Add mushrooms to skillet and continue to sauté, stirring frequently, until mushrooms have lost most of their moisture, about half of their volume, almost no liquid remains in pan, and, some of the mushrooms are turning a light golden brown, 35-40 minutes.

Note:  It is not about how much time this process takes.  It is about what this mixture looks like.

IMG_5027 IMG_5027 IMG_5038~ Step 2.  Add the wine. Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until a smooth, slightly-thickened white wine sauce has formed evenly on the bottom of the pan, 15-20 minutes. Remove sauce from heat, cover the skillet, and, set aside to steep, about 15-30 minutes.

IMG_5039 IMG_5039 IMG_5039 IMG_5039~Step 3.  The timing for cooking egg noodles is dependent upon whether you make them from scratch or purchase them.  Here are my guidelines for some high-quality store-bought ones:  In a 4-6-quart stockpot, cook 12-16-ounces store-bought egg noodles in 3-4 quarts boiling water that's been seasoned with 1-1/2 - 2 teaspoons sea salt, according to package directions.  Drain noodles into a colander and immediately return to the hot stockpot and return pot to the still warm stovetop.  Toss with 4-6 tablespoons salted butter and 3/4-1 teaspoon sea salt.  Toss 2 cups mushroom and onion sauce into 12-16 ounces cooked noodles.  Serve immediately.

When Eastern European 'shrooms & noodles were served:

IMG_5074There was no need for mom to call me to the table twice.

IMG_5085Egg Noodles w/Sautéed Mushroom & Onion Sauce:  Recipe yields 1 quart/4 cups mushroom and onion sauce, which is enough to sauce 2, 12-16 ounce bags of store-bought egg noodles.  Each 2 cups of sauce tossed with 1 bag cooked noodles batch will yield 4-6 meatless main-dish servings, or, 12-16 side-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet w/lid; large spoon; 4-6-quart stockpot; colander

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c800008a970bCook's Note:  Next to sautéed mushrooms, which I use in all sorts of dishes from all over the world, mushroom caps that are stuffed with all sorts of savory concoctions and baked in the oven are one of my favorite hors d'oeuvres to serve (especially around the holidays).  My recipe for ~ Mushrooms Stuffed w/Garlic & Fine Herbs Boursin ~, which is one of many stuffed mushroom recipes in my repertoire, is one that I've shared often over the the years.  Mushroom love.

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

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

10/28/2017

~Crostini w/Bacon, Pickles, Chicken & Honey Mustard~

IMG_4970Write this list of five ingredients down.  Why?  Because together, they make for some stellar snack sandwiches.  Lightly-toasted French baguette slices, crisply-fried bacon, crunchy bread and butter pickles, roasted chicken breast, and, a drizzle of tangy honey-mustard salad dressing (which pulls it all together and complements each and every component perfectly).  Feel free to put a thin slice or two of soft, mellow French Brie underneath the bacon, but, no ooey-gooey melted cheese please.  These sandwiches are best with everything at room temperature.  That said, "you only get out of something what you put into", so, for the best experience possible:

This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c92e1f14970bQuick & Easy Bread & Butter Refrigerator Pickles:

IMG_4659Hey-Honey: Pass the Honey Mustard Dressing:

IMG_3506Would You Like Amish Pasta Salad w/That?

IMG_4990Sweet & Savory Crostini & Pasta Salad.  It's what's for lunch:

IMG_4973Crostini w/Bacon, Pickles, Chicken & Honey Mustard:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many 3"-3 1/2" snack sandwiches as one wants or needs.  That said, because they're hearty, plan accordingly:  2 for me, possibly 3 for a hungrier person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; teaspoon

IMG_3586Cook's Note:  It's no secret that I love sandwiches, or that I put a lot of thought into what it put into my sandwiches.  For another one of my favorite sandwiches, which contains a few of the same ingredients as my crostini (bacon, chicken and honey-mustard dressing), plus a few classic Fall ingredients (apples, cheddar cheese, lettuce and a bit of onion too), try my recipe for Chicken Cheddar, Bacon & Apple Pita Sandwiches.  Yummy!

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

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

10/26/2017

~ Amish Honey-Mustard & Pickle-Relish Pasta Salad ~

IMG_4977Walk into any Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch grocery store or a market that caters to a region with a large Amish population, then, walk up to the refrigerated deli-case.  There you'll find several traditional, high-quality side-dishes:  eggy-rich macaroni- and potato- salads, creamy cole slaw, sweet 'n sour slaw and pepper-cabbage.  Next, take a stroll down the condiment isle and gaze at the array of honey-mustard- and sweet and sour- salad dressings, dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, vinegar-marinated vegetables or mustardy chow-chows (a crunchy vegetable medley in mustard sauce).  Lastly, check out the sweet treats:  streusel-topped Dutch-apple, rhubarb-streusel and shoo-fly pies, crumb cake and coffeecake, apple dumplings, and, sand-tart or snickerdoodle cookies (to name a few).  Eat your sweet and savory heart out.

Med_1145608712-6If you "shop Amish", you know what to expect.  If you're a tourist, be prepared to break your budget, but not because the food is over-priced -- it's not.  You are simply not going to be able to resist wanting to take a taste of everything home with you.  Lucky me.  Not only did I grow up in the Lehigh Valley region Eastern Pennsylvania where a lot this wonderfulness takes place, I married into a family where Nana (grandmother) was Pennsylvania Deutsch.  She, like all women of her persuasion, was an incredible cook.  I was in my late teens and early twenties at the time, but even back then, I was a smart enough cookie to "take advantage" of time spent with her in her kitchen, and enjoyed learning many of her recipes.  I've done very little to make them my own.

Amish macaroni salad recipes are all on the sweet side.

IMG_4981There are plenty of recipes for Amish macaroni salad in cookbooks and on-line.  They're all good, they're all a bit different, but, they're all similar on one point:  Amish macaroni salad is on the sweet side. Nana's recipe contains all the traditional ingredients (macaroni, celery, onion and bell pepper).  That said, she didn't add diced, crunch-tender blanched carrots  (as most traditional recipes do).  She used pimentos instead.  I can only assume for their sweet, tangy flavor and pretty red color.  There's more. Nana's secret was to add honey-mustard salad dressing into the mix, and, it adds absolutely delightful flavor.  This macaroni salad is so delightful, I'm always asked:

"This macaroni salad is special." "What's your secret?"

IMG_49181  pound medium pasta shells

1  tablespoon sea salt, for adding to boiling water for pasta

6  large eggs, hard-cooked 

1  3-ounce jar chopped pimientos

1  cup each:  medium-diced green bell pepper, celery and onion

1/2 cup well-drained and diced bread and butter pickles, preferably homemade, or, high-quality store-bought 

1 1/2  cups mayonnaise

1/2  cup sour cream

1/2  cup honey-mustard salad dressing (not honey-mustard)

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2  teaspoon each:  celery seed, garlic powder, paprika, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_4921 IMG_4925 IMG_4911 IMG_4913 IMG_4915 IMG_4929~Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil and add the 1 tablespoon salt.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Do not overcook.  Drain pasta into a colander and begin adding very cold tap water to cool it to room- or below-room temperature.  Give the colander a few good shakes, to remove excess moisture, then, spread pasta out on a baking pan that has been lined with a few layers of paper towels.  Set aside to "dry", meaning, not dry out, just dry of all moisture.  In a 2-quart saucepan, hard-cook the eggs -- no green rings please.  Drain the pimentos onto a small paper-towel-lined plate too.

*Note:  When chopping eggs for salads like egg, tuna- or pasta-, both of my grandmothers taught me to chop the yolk separately from the white.  It's not necessary, but it does look prettier.  

IMG_4934 IMG_4937 IMG_4938 IMG_4943~Step 2.  Transfer pasta to a large bowl.  Dice eggs, celery, bell pepper, onion and pickles*, placing them in the bowl as you work.  In a medium bowl, stir together the mayo, sour cream, honey-mustard dressing, celery seed, garlic powder, paprika, sugar, salt and black pepper.

*Note:  Because almost all Amish and Pennsylvania Deutsch women make homemade bread and butter pickles, also known as sweet and sour pickles, there's no need to purchase sweet pickle relish.  Finely-diced bread and butter pickles are the best sweet pickle relish you will ever taste.

IMG_4947 IMG_4952 IMG_4955 IMG_4960~Step 3.  Fold the mayonnaise mixture into the pasta mixture.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, several hours to overnight.  Overnight is best.  Keep stored in refrigerator for 7-10 days, adding additional honey-mustard salad dressing, in small amounts, if necessary, to enhance its sweet and savory flavor and creamy texture.  Keep stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Portion into 1-quart containers & store in refrigerator: 

IMG_4964Would you like a crostini w/bacon, bread & butter pickles, roasted chicken breast & honey-mustard w/your Amish pasta salad?

IMG_4973Amish Honey-Mustard & Pickle-Reslish Pasta Salad:  Recipe yields approximately 4 1/2 pounds/3 quarts/12 cups.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot; colander; large baking pan; paper towels; 2-quart saucepan; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcafef88970bCook's Note:  Pennsylvania Dutch cookery does not belong solely to PA and it is not Dutch either.  The term "Dutch" was the early English settlers slang for the German word "Deutsch".  So:  When most people incorrectly say "Pennsylvania Dutch", they should be saying "Pennsylvania Deutsch", crediting the Germanic or German-speaking immigrants from Germany and Switzerland for this cuisine.  The majority of these people were either Amish, Mennonite or Brethren, all of which were considered "Anabaptist". They were fleeing the mountains of Switzerland and southern Germany to avoid religious persecution and established several communites in the Lehigh Valley.  Why? Thank William Penn for his free-thinking, open-door, equal-opportunity-for-all of any religion or race politics.  Pennsylvania set an example for the other colonies, who all had established an official "State" religion.  Pennsylvania:  The first to welcome people of all beliefs and walks of life.

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

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

10/23/2017

~ The Ideal Cubano: La Ideal's Cubano Sandwich ~

IMG_4884Almost all famous sandwiches got their iconic status thanks to the working class people -- Cuba's Cubano is one such sandwich.  In the early 20th Century, vendors who were stationed inside the workplaces, sold hot meat and cheese sandwiches to the workers.  When these workers made their way to the USA, usually to regions in Southern Florida, they, like all immigrants, brought their recipes and traditions with them -- that included their institutional but beloved Cuban sandwich.

Pan-cubanoA bit about the Cubano:  Like all sandwiches, it starts with the bread. Cuban bread is light and crusty -- alot like a French bread loaf.  Cuban bakeries baked through the early AM hours and delivered the bread to customers by hanging it on a nail outside their door.  Because Cuban bread had a short shelf life, Cuban sandwiches were typically made within a few hours of receiving it.

The Cuban bread gets sliced down the middle hoagie- or submarine-style, then slathered with yellow mustard.  Thinly-sliced deli-style dill pickles, Swiss cheese and ham get layered on, followed by shards of mojo-marinated Cuban-style pulled pork roast.  Traditionally, mustard is the only condiment added (although after-the-fact, it's not unusual for some folks to add mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato).  While a Cubano can be served cold, it's almost always heated in a sandwich press (a panini grill) until the cheese is melted and the bread is grilled to golden.

IMG_2214A panini press is basically a double-sided appliance that cooks both sides of a sandwich at once. Much like a grill pan, the grids of a panini press give these sandwiches their signature grill marks.  There are several good brands, in all price ranges, on the market.  My Cuisinart Griddler is about 5 years old.  It doesn't take up too much space, controls heat perfectly, and, I love it. This gadget has earned its rightful place on my kitchen counter. 

Much like the Philadelphia cheesesteak, Cubano enthusiasts say the most authentic version is found in the Tampa, Florida region, where the Americanized version of the sandwich is said to have originated.  Today I'm featuring the Cuban Sandwich recipe from my favorite Cuban cookbook:  Eating Cuban, written by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs, copyright 2006, and, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang.  As the cover says, "120 Authentic Recipes from the Streets of Havana to American Shores".  As I say, "120 Authentic, Spot-On Cuban Recipes that Work in the American Home Kitchen".  The photography is super-gorgeous as well.

While Eating Cuban is my favorite Cuban cookbook --

IMG_4812Thanks to great recipes in all seven of the cookbooks I purchased in Florida, I've been able to bring the unique taste of Cuban spice into my home kitchen. Because my experiences with Cuban cuisine are limited to trips to Miami, without them, how would I learn that "mojo (MOH-hoh)" means "sauce" in Spanish, and, in Cuban cooking, it's a sauce made with olive oil, garlic, cilantro, mint and oregano leaves, cumin and bitter orange juice.

La Ideal's Cuban Sandwich.  As per Eating Cuban:

La_ideal2Located in what was once an old grocery store, La Ideal is a favorite neighborhood hangout for members of Tampa's Cuban-American community.  The scene is animated and relaxed.  Regulars chat from table to table, but the feeling is inclusive, with visitors made to feel like members of the family.  A dynamic force behind the atmosphere at La Ideal is Majito, Mario Aguila Jr. Majito's dad.  Mario Sr. moved his family to the United States from Cuba in 1966.  After ten years in New York City, the family settled in Tampa, Florida and opened La Ideal.  In 2005, Mario Sr. sold La Ideal to Luis and Juanita Tejada.  The ownership has changed, but Mojito has stayed on at the front of the house, and with Juanita in charge in the kitchen, the food is still great. Cuban sandwiches (Cubanos), toasted in a large sandwich press, are a specialty of their house.

IMG_4875For each sandwich (which can be assembled and wrapped in plastic wrap 1-2 hours prior to grilling, which is convenient if you're making them for a crowd):

1  4 1/2"-5" section of a loaf of very fresh French bread that has been trimmed of ends then cut into lengths that will accommodate panini press (Note: La Ideal's recipe uses an 8"-9" section of bread.  That said, in the home kitchen, I find a 4 1/2"-5" section to be more manageable.)

1  tablespoon yellow mustard

1  tablespoon mayonnaise

1  dill pickle, cut into 2 long, thin strips, or, 2-4 dill pickle chips

2  thin slices deli-style Swiss cheese

2  thin slices deli-style ham

1/2  cup pulled and diced or thinly-sliced mojo-marinated Cuban-style pork roast (3-4 ounces)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grill grids on panini press

IMG_4847 IMG_4851 IMG_4852 IMG_4855 IMG_4860 IMG_4865~Step 1.  To assemble sandwiches, trim ends from bread, cut into desired sized sections, then split sections in half lengthwise.  Spread mustard on cut side of each bottom half and mayonnaise on each top half.  Layer pickle slices on top of mustard, then add 2 slices Swiss cheese, 2 slices ham, and finally, a generous pile of pulled pork.

IMG_4871 IMG_4878 IMG_4883~ Step 2.  Preheat the grill press to medium-high and when light goes on, spray grids with no-stick.  Place assembled sandwich on hot grill grids.  Place top of press directly on top of sandwich.  Firmly, but gently, using the press's handle, press down on the sandwich for 45--60 seconds.  You are NOT trying to squish the sandwich to oblivion.  You ARE trying to put just enough pressure on it to steam and crisp the bread a bit.  Let go.  Continue to cook until crisp, golden and cheese is melted, 4-6 minutes.  Use a spatula to remove sandwich from grids and allow to rest 1-2 minutes prior to slicing and eating.

The only thing more beautiful than an assembled Cubano...

IMG_4870... is a grilled Cubano.  Patience -- let it rest a minute or two.

IMG_4879And every bite of a Cubano is an absolute delight: 

IMG_4907The Ideal Cubano:  La Ideal's Cubano Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to assemble and grill as many Cubano sandwiches as desired.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; serrated bread knife; panini press; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd0c433e970bCook's Note:  Those of you who know me know I consider a high-quality, well-constructed sandwich to be the perfect, well-balanced, portion-controlled meal.  For me, a sandwich is much more than just putting a few ingredients between two slices of bread to stave off a hunger attack.  Like meal making, sandwich making requires thought, and, I consider myself to be a very thoughtful sandwich crafter.  For my own famous grilled-sandwich recipe, I invented this one just for me.  Try my recipe for ~ Roasted-Chicken Caesar-Salad Focaccia Panini ~.

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

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

10/20/2017

~ Citrusy, Garlicky & Herbaceous: Cuban-Style Mojo ~

IMG_4836My experiences with Cuban food, all good ones, are limited to a few trips to Miami. "Mojo (MOH-hoh)" means "sauce" in Spanish, and, throughout the Caribbean, depending on where you are in the Caribbean, this sauce, from place to place, is very different.  In Cuban cooking, it's a sauce made with olive oil, garlic, fresh cilantro, mint and oregano leaves, cumin and Seville (bitter/sour) orange juice.  Thanks to great recipes in the seven Cuban cookbooks I purchased in Florida, I've very-happily been able to bring the unique taste of Cuban spice into my home kitchen:

IMG_4812Mojo is a common marinade for Cuban-style pulled pork, pork roast, pork chops and other meats. Once you've finished marinating the meat, you simmer the marinade on the stovetop, then serve it with or atop the meat.   That said, not all recipes require marination.  Some simply require mojo.

IMG_4666To make 1 cup of Cuban mojo (which can be made ahead, stored in the refrigerator and reheated in the microwave or  stovetop), to use in any Cuban recipe that requires mojo for dipping or drizzling:

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion + 2  tablespoons olive oil (not pictured in this photo)

6  tablespoons olive oil

6  tablespoons orange juice  

1/4  cup  lime juice

1/2  cup minced, fresh cilantro

IMG_48312  tablespoons minced, fresh mint

1  tablespoon minced, fresh oregano, no woody stems

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press 

2  teaspoons ground cumin

1/4  teaspoon dried Mediterranean oregano leaves

1/2  teaspoon each:  fine sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

~ Step 1.  In a small bowl stir together the 6 tablespoons oil, citrus juices,  minced fresh herbs, pressed garlic and dried spices.

IMG_4731 IMG_4732 IMG_4739 IMG_4743~Step 2.  In 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until it's beginning to caramelize, 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly during the last 3-4 minutes to prevent scorching.  Add the olive oil/citrus juice mixture.  Adjust heat to a steady, rapid simmer and continue to cook, stirring constantly for 4-5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Serve atop Mojo-Marinated Cuban-Style Pulled Pork Shoulder:

IMG_4783Side-Dish -- Cuban-Style Mojo Black Beans & Rice:

IMG_4823Citrusy, Garlicky & Herbaceous:  Cuban-Style Mojo:  Recipe yields about 1 cup.  Double, triple or quadruple the recipe without fail or compromise (just use an appropriate-sized saucepan).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; citrus juicer; garlic press; 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan; large spoon

IMG_7003Cook's Note:  The Carolinas hold a unique position in terms of Southern barbecue because theirs is believed to be the oldest form of American barbecue.  For a period of time I had family who lived in both North and South Carolina, so I became familiar with "their many styles" of pulled pork.  There's more.  No two cooks make their sauce the same and everybody is a critic.  ~ My Carolina-Style Pulled-Pork BBQ (Oven Method) ~ is:  my recipe, the way I like it.  It's been tailgate tested and tailgate accoladed too.

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

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

10/17/2017

~ Side-Dish: Cuban-Style Mojo Black Beans & Rice ~

IMG_4820Roast requires a side-dish.  Beef, goat, lamb, poultry or pork -- it's kind of mandatory that a side or sides be served with it.  Think about it, even if you're just making sandwiches out of the roasted meat, you still want some sort of side-dish (a soup, a salad, a starch and/or a vegetable, or, something as simple as a some potato chips and a pickle).  If the roast is a dish you've been making for years, the accompaniments require little thought -- you know the options, your family's preferences, and, you choose from recipes you know.  That said, if the roast you're preparing is "foreign to you" or "new to you and yours", deciding on what to serve with it can be confounding.  I know, I had to get creative this week after I made some Cuban-style pulled pork. If I do say so myself, using what I already had on hand in my pantry, in conjunction with some of the ingredients from the pork, worked out terrific -- "my side" was in keeping with the country of origin too.

IMG_4828Pulled pork is popular in many parts of the Caribbean, and, when cooked in the traditional manner, just like throughout The Barbecue Belt here in the USA, they go:  whole hog, low and slow, over carefully-tended wood-fired heat sources for a long period of time.  That said, depending on where you are in the Caribbean, it is seasoned and/or sauced differently.   The first time I ordered Cuban-style pulled pork, which arrived in the form of their signature Cubano sandwich, I ordered it because I like pulled pork.  What I didn't know was how uniquely-different it would be from the Southern-style barbecue I was used to.  The difference between a Carolina-style pulled pork sandwich and a Cuban-style pulled pork sandwich is astounding -- the bold citrus and fresh herb flavors (in place of vinegar) were up my alley.  I knew I needed to figure out how to make it at home -- in a manner that didn't require an entire hog or building a barbecue pit.

IMG_4812My experiences with Cuban food are limited to a few trips to Miami. "Mojo (MOH-hoh)" means "sauce" in Spanish, and, in Cuban cooking, it's a sauce made with olive oil, garlic, fresh cilantro, mint and oregano leaves, cumin and bitter orange juice.  Thanks to great recipes in the seven Cuban cookbooks I purchased in Florida, I've been able to bring the unique taste of Cuban spice into my home kitchen.

IMG_4783Cuban-style pulled pork was the first Cuban recipe I tried.  I decided upon it, not just because I loved it in Miami, but because I already had a tried-and-true oven-method for making Carolina-style pulled pork. After several trips to a few Miami restaurants, I knew that a lot of Cuban food is served with yellow rice -- made yellow with the addition of annatto (an orange-red powder or food coloring derived from the seeds of the achiote tree).  I also knew that a lot of Cuban food is also served with black beans as a side-dish.

I don't claim the following recipe to be authentic Cuban.  I claim it to be a quick and tasty way to transform Cuban pulled pork into a kid-friendly, family-style meal -- simply by using a store-bought Spanish rice mix and a can of black beans (both of which are always on hand in my American pantry).  I prepare the rice as the package directs, and, I simmer the black beans in some of the mojo from my Cuban-style pulled pork, which infuses the beans with the same flavor as the pork.

IMG_47581  8-ounce box Goya Spanish rice mix

1  15-ounce can black beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed

3/4  cup mojo sauce, from pulled pork (See Cook's Note below.)

IMG_4816 (1)~ Step 1.  In a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan, prepare the rice as directed on box, remove from heat, cover and set aside. Transfer to a warmed serving bowl and set aside.  Wash saucepan and return to stovetop.

IMG_4763 IMG_4767 IMG_4770 IMG_4771 IMG_4773 IMG_4779~Step 2.  In a small colander, under cold running water, rinse the black beans, then place them in saucepan.  Add mojo, adjust heat to simmer simmer and cook until almost no liquid remains in pan, 10-12 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Stir beans into the rice, or, serve beans atop a bed of rice, or, serve separately and let everyone stir them together on their plate -- with Cuban-style pulled-pork, roast pork or pork chops.

Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves & lime wedges:

IMG_4823Side-Dish:  Cuban-Style Mojo Black Beans & Rice:  Recipe yields 4 cups rice/1 1/2 cups beans/4-6 servings. 

Special Equipment List:  1 1/2-2-quart saucepan w/lid; 1- 2- cup measuring container; large spoon; small colander

IMG_4666Cook's Note:  Mojo is not just a marinade for Cuban-style pulled pork and other meats.  To make about 1 cup of mojo, to use in any Cuban recipe that requires mojo for dipping or drizzling:

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion + 2  tablespoons olive oil (not pictured in this photo)

6  tablespoons olive oil

6  tablespoons orange juice  

1/4  cup  lime juice

1/2  cup minced, fresh cilantro 

IMG_48312  tablespoons minced, fresh mint

1  tablespoon minced, fresh oregano, no woody stems

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press 

2  teaspoons ground cumin

1/4  teaspoon dried Mediterranean oregano leaves

1/2  teaspoon each:  fine sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

~ Step 1.  In a small bowl stir together the 6 tablespoons oil, citrus juices, fresh-minced fresh herbs, pressed garlic and dried spices.

IMG_4731 IMG_4732 IMG_4739 IMG_4743~Step 2.  In 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until beginning to caramelize, 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly during the last 3-4 minutes to prevent scorching.  Add the olive oil/citrus juice mixture.  Adjust heat to a steady, rapid simmer and continue to cook, stirring constantly for 4-5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

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

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

10/15/2017

~ Mojo-Marinated Cuban-Style Pulled-Pork Shoulder ~

IMG_4783My experiences with Cuban food, all good ones, are limited to a few trips to Miami.  I know that "mojo (MOH-hoh)" means "sauce" in Spanish, and, in Cuban cooking, it specifically applies to a sauce made with olive oil, garlic, fresh cilantro, mint and oregano leaves, cumin and bitter orange juice.  I also must say that without more than a few well-written recipes in the seven Cuban cookbooks, that I purchased during my visits to Florida, I'd stand little chance of bringing the unique taste of Cuban spice into my home kitchen -- they've all contributed to my recipes:

IMG_4812Pulled pork is popular in many parts of the Caribbean, and, when cooked in the traditional manner, just like throughout The Barbecue Belt here in the USA, they go:  whole hog, low and slow, over carefully-tended wood-fired heat sources for a long period of time.  That said, depending on where you are in the Caribbean, it is seasoned and/or sauced differently.   The first time I ordered Cuban-style pulled pork, which arrived in the form of their signature Cubano sandwich, I ordered it because I like pulled pork.  What I didn't know was how uniquely-different it would be from the Southern-style barbecue I was used to.  The difference between a Carolina-style pulled pork sandwich and a Cuban-style pulled pork sandwich is astounding -- the bold citrus (in place of vinegar) and herb flavors were right up my alley. I knew I needed to figure out how to make it at home -- in a manner that didn't require an entire hog or building a barbecue pit.

Pork_101_final_b-fixedA bit about the pork:  "Boston butt", is a bone-in cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the "pork shoulder" from the front leg of the hog.  It got its name in pre-Revolutionary War New England:

Butchers in Boston left the blade bone in this inexpensive cut of pork shoulder, then packed the meat in casks called "butts". They sold the pork shoulders individually to their customers, and, when they got popular, they began shipping "the butts" Southward and throughout the Colonies. Simply stated:  the way the hog shoulder was butchered, combined with "the butt" they arrived in, "the butt's from Boston", evolved into the cut's name "Boston butt".

IMG_4670For the meat and marinade:

1  7-8  pound bone-in Boston butt pork shoulder roast, untrimmed (do not remove fat cap)

3/4  cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish

3/4  cup orange juice, preferably freshly-squeezed with the zest from 1 orange stirred in 

1/2  cup lime juice, preferably freshly-squeezed

1  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, some stem included is fine

1/4  cup minced, fresh mint leaves, leaves only

2  tablespoons minced, fresh oregano leaves, leaves only, no woody stems

8  large garlic cloves, run through a press 

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon dried Mediterranean oregano leaves

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_4673 IMG_4680~ Step 1.  Prep ingredients as directed, placing in a 2-gallon Ziplock bag as you work.  Briefly toss marinade to combine, then, add pork to bag.  Seal and marinate in refrigerator overnight, stopping to flip bag over (to turn roast) as often as possible/whenever convenient.  Overnight is best.  Remove the bag from the refrigerator and return the roast and marinade to room temperature 1-2 hours.  Preheat oven to 320º-325°.

IMG_4683 IMG_4686 IMG_4690 IMG_4720 IMG_4715~Step 2.  Remove roast from bag and place it, fat-side-up, on a rack in a roasting pan.  Reseal bag and refrigerate remaining marinade until roast is out of the oven and resting.  Roast meat, uncovered on center rack of preheated oven, 7-8 hours, or until an instant-read thermometer placed several inches into the thickest part of the meat in 2-3 places reads 190°-195°.*  Remove from oven, seal pan with foil, and allow roast  cool enough to be manageable to pull with your fingertips (about 1-1 1/2 hours). Reminder from Mel:  Remove the marinade from the refrigerator during this rest period.  

*Note:  After the first 60-75 minutes of roasting, loosely place a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the fat cap (after it is nicely-browned).  This will shield it from over-browning or burning.

IMG_4726 IMG_4729 IMG_4731 IMG_4732 IMG_4736 IMG_4743 IMG_4739~Step 3.  Remove and discard the foil and transfer the roast to a large carving board.  Pour the drippings from the bottom of roasting pan into a fat/lean separator.  Add the lean portion of the drippings, about 1/4 cup, to a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan.  Add 2 cups diced yellow or sweet onion to the saucepan, adjust heat on stovetop to medium- medium-high and cook until there is almost no liquid left in the bottom of the saucepan and onions are beginning to caramelize, 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly, to avoid scorching, during the last 3-4 minutes.  Add all of the marinade to the onions.  Adjust heat to a steady, rapid simmer and cook, stirring constantly for 4-5 minutes.  Remove mojo from heat.

IMG_4747~ Step 4.  Using your fingertips or a pair of meat claws designed to pull or shread meats (available on Amazon), do as follows:  Begin by pulling the roast into 5-6 large chunks and pieces that have naturally formed during the lengthy cooking process, meaning, if you tried to pick the entire roast up, it would almost naturally fall apart into 5-6 pieces.  Next, pull each chunk into large, succulent, strands, doing your best to keep them bite-sized (not small and stringy).  Some folks prefer to use a cleaver to chop the meat into pieces -- the choice is yours.  While working remove and discard any pieces of gristle, but, hang onto all the caramelized, crispy, full-flavored and fatty brown exterior bark.

Drizzle w/mojo sauce & serve w/mojo black beans & rice:

IMG_4801Side-Dish: Cuban-Style Mojo Black Beans & Rice:

IMG_4804Mojo-Marinated Cuban-Style Pulled-Pork Shoulder:  Recipe yields 8+ cups pulled pork/8 servings/8 pulled-pork sandwiches/16 Cubano sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; citrus juicer; garlic press; 2-gallon Ziplock bag; roasting rack; roasting pan; instant-read meat thermometer; aluminum foil; carving board; fat/lean separator; 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan

IMG_7003Cook's Note: The Carolinas hold a unique position in terms of Southern barbecue because theirs is believed to be the oldest form of American barbecue.  For a period of time I had family who lived in both North and South Carolina, so I became familiar with "their many styles" of pulled pork.  There's more.  No two cook's make their sauce the same and everybody is a critic.  ~ My Carolina-Style Pulled-Pork BBQ (Oven Method) ~ is:  my recipe, the way I like it.  It's been tailgate tested and tailgate accoladed too.

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

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

10/12/2017

~ Homemade Bread and Butter Pickle Hot Dog Relish~

IMG_4694How 'bout them Yankees?  Even though my sandlot days of being the only girl (and a lefty batter) in a neighborhood of boys are a far and distant memory, I still chuckle that, when they were choosing sides way-back-when, I was always one of the first.  I couldn't throw or catch for crap, but it never seemed to matter.  I typically hit the ball head on, strong, and long, and, I ran fast.

I am typically not an avid watcher of America's favorite past-time (because college football is my gig this time each year), but, plenty of my family members are, and, it's pretty hard to ignore the chatter around the dinner table.  A lot of great baseball in general is being played this year.  While I'm by no means in a position to comment on any stats or any team, I can tell you: a hot dog with homemade B&B pickle relish atop it is a bona fide over-the-fence game-winning home run.    

So, in the event you're sitting on your grandmother's vintage bread and pickle recipe, and you want to make the pickles, but you wonder what you will do with all of them -- hot dog relish is the ticket to your tailgate.  It's not even a recipe.  Simply chop up those crunchy sweet and sour pickles, and, voila:  the best sweet pickle relish known to man- or woman-kind.  Take it from me, a gal who believes she was a hot dog in a past life.  Skip the store-bought stuff.  Hot diggity dog.

Full of mustard seed, onion & aromatic allspice & cloves:

IMG_4698Bread & butter pickles make the best quick-pickle relish ever:  

IMG_4709Homemade Bread and Butter Pickle Hot Dog Relish:  If it never occurred to you -- it's a yummy use for homemade or store-bought bread and butter pickles.  The Hebrew National all-beef hot dogs pictured in the above photos are served on potato rolls and topped with Texas-Style Chili Sauce, Gulden's brown mustard, diced-red onion & drained, diced bread & butter pickles.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_4654Cook's Note:  Quick-pickling in small batches, instead of traditional water-bath canning a great way to make short work of making bread and butter pickles.  You can have the brine made and the cucumbers sliced and in the jars in less than an hour.  Once refrigerated, they're ready to eat, and, they will stay crunchy in your refrigerator for 7-10 days.  Click here to get my recipe for ~ Quick & Easy Bread & Butter Refrigerator Pickles.  Never miss the chance to enjoy a great hot dog. ~ Melanie Preschutti.

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

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

10/09/2017

~ Quick & Easy Bread & Butter Refrigerator Pickles ~

IMG_4660When I was a kid, during the late Summer and Fall, my grandmother, my great aunt, and my mother used to can -- a lot.  There were days when one of their respective kitchens was filled with boxes of fresh fruits or vegetables and huge pots, and, the dining room table was lined with neat rows of freshly-sterilized mason jars -- dozens and dozens of them.  They'd start at sunrise and wouldn't stop until each one of those jars was filled.  I enjoyed those nights, snuggled in my bed, forcing myself to stay awake to hear "the pop" of each jar lid (the indicator of a proper seal).

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09671996970d PICT0196As a kid, those were fun times for me.  I found the process fascinating, but, I wasn't the one doing the work.

As an adult, while I do can a few fruits and vegetables in the traditional manner (peaches and red beets to name two), I honestly do not love the exhausting, time-consuming process -- I also do not have a sister and/or a daughter to stand by my side and help.  I much prefer quick-pickling in small batches or freezing in large quantities, if or when either process can be applied without compromise (peaches do not freeze well, and beets are best pickled or canned in the traditional manner).

What's the difference between pickling & quick-pickling?

IMG_4654Pickle comes from the Dutch=Deutsch=German word "pekel", which means "brine" (not "cucumber" as is easy enough to assume).  A brine is nothing more than a mixture of vinegar, water, salt, sugar, and usually, some dry spices or fresh herbs. Depending upon the solution, pickled foods can take on all sorts of colors and flavors.  Pickled foods can be sweet, sour, sweet and sour, or spicy.  At the the whim of the cook, any of them can be piquant or pedestrian.

Pickling per se is canning.  It's easy but time consuming.  Get out the big canning pot and special utensils, boil the mason jars to sterilize them, add the appropriately-prepped fruit, vegetables or food to the jars, add the brine, immerse jars in boiling water for a designated amount of time, then, remove from the water bath and let cool until the lids "pop", which means they are properly sealed.  In the case of water-bath-canned anything, if stored in a cool, dry place, the food can last for a year or two. Pickling/canning dates back to medieval times and is how our ancestors preserved all types of food prior to refrigeration. Without refrigeration, food spoiled quickly and pickling was a means of preserving it for out-of-season use or transporting it for a long journey.

Quick-Pickling is considerably easier than traditional pickling and almost any raw or blanched vegetable can be quick-pickled.  All that's needed is a saucepan, any type of clean jars, vinegar, sugar and a few herbs and/or dry spices.  The prepped vegetables get placed in the jars, the seasoned vinegar-sugar mixture gets simmered in the saucepan for a few short minutes, then the solution (sometimes boiling hot, sometimes completely cooled, so follow the recipe on this point) gets ladled over the veggies in the jars.  The lids get placed on the jars and the quick-pickled food gets stored in the refrigerator until they get eaten or up to two weeks.  Because the shelf-life is short and the jars take up refrigerator space, quick-pickles are usually made in small batches.

What are bread & butter pickles?

IMG_4640Bread and butter pickles, also known as sweet and sour pickles are on the sweet end of the pickle spectrum, but not quite as sweet as sweet pickles, and, decidedly different than the sharp bite of dill pickles.  They're typically crinkle-cut sliced, which makes them ideal for topping hamburgers and a variety of sandwiches.  I often serve them as a side-dish, and, occasionally, dice them to add to salads or mince them to add to relishes.  Interestingly enough, my family never made homemade bread and butter pickles.

We lived in Eastern Pennsylvania, the land of the Pennsylvania Deutsch (the German-speaking people who immigrated to PA and surrounding areas, along with their many, many, pickle recipes).

Ihwx.5431a462-d5ca-41c9-b47c-74fa6bfd7bc9.500.500In the tradition of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, the Wos-Wit brand has been canning delicious relishes, dressings, preserves and various garden vegetables. Beginning in the 1940's, as a small farm producing Pennsylvania Dutch products by canning the excessive vegetable bounty, the Pennsylvania Dutch label "WOS-WIT" ("what do you want") has a rich and extensive history. Originally owned by John and Dorothy Kresge, in 1983 the business was sold to Paul Zukovich, a long time farmer who now operates the canning facility on his 80 acre farm: Grouse Hunt Farms. His family continues to use all of the Kresge's original recipes. 

Wos-Wit Bread & Butter Pickles contain all the traditional ingredients and no artificial preservatives:  sliced cucumbers, vinegar, sugar, onions, red peppers, salt, tumeric and spices.

IMG_4626

For the brine mixture:

1  cup distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)

1  cup distilled apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)

2  cups granulated sugar

1/4  cup pickling or Kosher salt

1  tablespoon mustard seeds

1/2  teaspoon each:  celery seeds, dry mustard, red pepper flakes and ground turmeric

8  whole allspice berries

8 whole cloves

IMG_4631 IMG_4635Step 1.  To prepare brine, stir all ingredients together in a 2-quart saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat, adjust heat to a steady simmer and cook 3 full minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly while prepping vegetables:

IMG_4643For the cucumber mixture:

3  pounds cucumbers, 1/4"-thick sliced into coins, preferably crinkle cut

1/2  pound small-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup small-diced red bell pepper

~ Step 2.  Prep vegetables as directed placing them in a large bowl as you work.  Add all the warm-hot brine and stir.  Refrigerate for 6-8 hours, stirring frequently.

~ Step 3.  Remove bread and butter pickles from the refrigerator.  Using a slotted spoon transfer pickles to desired-sized, mason-type jars (although any type of lidded jar will work just fine), lightly-packing them into each.  Using a small ladle, add brine to the neck of each jar of pickles.  

Seal jars & keep stored in refrigerator for 7-10 days:

IMG_4662Quick & Easy Bread & Butter Refrigerator Pickles:  Recipe yields enough pickles to fill 40 total ounces/8, 5-ounce mason jars were filled today.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; 2-quart saucepan; large spoon; large slotted spoon; small ladle; desired sized mason-type jars with tight-fitting lids

6a0120a8551282970b01901ee05043970bCook's Note:  When I was growing up, there was almost always a jar of pickled eggs in our refrigerator.  If there wasn't, it was time to make more.  To this day, my mother's recipe for   ~ Pretty in Pink: Pennsylvania Dutch Pickled Eggs ~, is one of my favorite snacks. They are made via the quick-pickling method too, and, here in my Happy Valley kitchen, I make them with our own home-grown home-canned red beets.

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

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

10/07/2017

~ Nothing Fancy: Old-Fashioned Autumn Apple Pie ~

IMG_4609The best apple pie recipes aren't fancy -- they're special.  Just put one in the oven and see what happens.  Word travels fast.  Everyone wants a slice of old-fashioned appleiscious goodness. "It's as easy as apple pie."  Truth told, that's a kind of misleading statement.  Baking a really good apple pie is not as easy as "A, B, C", "one, two three" or even "snap, crackle, pop".  Too many people think that just because they've baked an apple pie it automatically qualifies for awesome apple pie status.  It does not.  I have encountered more than a few nasty renditions:  from overcooked to undercooked, sickeningly sweet to vapid, and, soupy to pasty -- anything but the "pleasant and accommodating" experience Mark Twain painted in his 1885 novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (the sequel to his 1876 novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer).

IMG_4608Pastry, apples, sugar & cinnamon & into the oven it went.

The phrase "it's as easy as pie" originated over a century ago when almost every American homemaker baked pies several times a week.  It was a task so familiar, it was done without any real effort.  When it came to apple pies, they used the apples that grew in their climate and adapted the recipes of their family's heritage to suit those apples.  More often than not, they picked them off of a tree in their backyard or bartered for a basket from their neighbor.  They did not have the luxury of walking into a market and choosing from five or six varieties (from the hundreds of varieties mass produced in the world today).  It really was a kinder, gentler time and "as easy as pie."  Pastry, apples, sugar and cinnamon and into the oven it went.  No complaints.

An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but, according to the experts, all apples are not created equally.  

IMG_3132"Because an apple tastes good doesn't make it pie-friendly."

PICT1581Nowadays, everybody is a critic. Experts will tell you, "just because an apple tastes good does not make it pie-friendly."  For example: My favorite eating apple is the soft-fleshed, creamy McIntosh, and, while I use them to make pies (because my grandmother made great pie with them), a quick internet search will tell you they're not ideal. My husband grows Fugi, Macintosh and Granny Smith's in our backyard -- they all taste great and do well in our Central PA climate.  Fuji's are relative newcomers to America's apple scene.  They're crisp, sweet and, similar to the Red Delicious, are best eaten raw in salads and slaws.  As for the Granny Smith, originally from Australia, with its bright-green skin, tart taste and crisp texture, not only is it pie friendly, it is wonderful when cooked with savory foods (like onions) or served with salty foods (like cheese). I could go on -- and on -- there are hundreds of varieties of apples in the world, with about 60 of them mass grown in America.  My point is:  before you put an apple in a pie, try to find out if it is pie-friendly, or, find a recipe that makes it pie-friendly.  I'm using freshly-picked Macintosh apples today.

IMG_45272   9" pie pastries for a double-crust pie, preferably homemade pie pastry (pâte brisée)

7  cups peeled and thinly-sliced Macintosh apples, from 7-8 apples

1  tablespoon lemon juice

1/2  cup granulated sugar

1/2  cup lightly-packed light brown sugar

4  tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/4  teaspoon ground ginger

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  tablespoon salted butter, softened

1  large egg white, ideally at room temperature

additional granulated sugar

IMG_4531 IMG_4538 IMG_4540 IMG_4544~Step 1.  Roll and fit one 9" pie pastry in the bottom of a 9" pie dish.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim it to hang slightly over the perimeter (about 1/8").  Set aside.  Peel and slice the apples, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  Add the lemon juice to the bowl and toss to coat the apples.  In a medium-bowl, stir together the sugars, flour, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and salt.  Add the sugar mixture to the apples and toss to thoroughly combine.

IMG_4547 IMG_4551 IMG_4553 IMG_4556~Step 2.  Spoon the apple pie filling into the pie pastry, mounding it slightly towards the center. Dot the top of the pie filling with the softened butter.  Place the second pie pastry over the top, and, using the kitchen shears, trim it around the perimeter to match the bottom pastry.  Using your fingertips, seal the two crusts together and form a decorative edge all the way around.

IMG_4562 IMG_4565 IMG_4568 IMG_4570~Step 3.  Using a fork, whisk egg white until frothy.  Using a pastry brush, paint the smooth surface of top crust (not the decorative edge) with egg white, then, using your fingertips, sprinkle a light coating of sugar over the glossy top.  Using the sharp tip of a knife, poke a few small holes in the top pastry (to allow steam to escape as pie bakes).  Bake on center rack of 350° oven until golden brown and bubbly, 55-60 minutes, stopping to give the pie a quarter turn every 15 minutes, to insure even browning.  Place on wire rack to cool completely, about 3-4 hours, prior to slicing.

Bake on center rack of 350° oven 55-60 minutes:

IMG_4579Place on wire rack to cool completely, 3-4 hours:

IMG_4577Slice & serve ever-so-slightly warm or at room temperature:

IMG_4600Take a bite of old-fashioned appleicious goodness:

IMG_4619Nothing Fancy:  Old-Fashioned Autumn Apple Pie:  Recipe yields 1, 9" double-crust pie/8-10 servings.

Special Equipment List:  pastry board; rolling pin; 9" pie dish, preferably glass; kitchen shears; cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; large spoon or spatula; fork; pastry brush; sharp paring knife; wire cooling rack

IMG_4589Cook's Note:  The Pennsylvania Deutsch are famous for their streusel-topped pies, and one of my all-time favorites is their Dutch Apple.  Click on the link to get my recipe for ~ Dutch Apple, Sour Cream & Walnut-Streusel Pie ~.

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

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

10/05/2017

~ Caprese: Tomato, Basil and Fresh Mozzarella Bites ~

IMG_4506I'm crazy for caprese, and, while these caprese bite appetizers are a bit fussy to make, they're fussy in a fun way.  That said, when armed with a serrated knife and a grapefruit knife and spoon, I can hollow out the centers from about two dozen, 1" cherry tomatoes in about ten minutes (it's not rocket science).  They're fun to eat too.  Just pop the entire thing into your mouth -- all things caprese are compacted into one bite, and, there's no toothpick to throw away afterward.

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd422b86970bThat said, we all have our quirks. I'm no exception.  Today's example: I love Italian dressing or vinaigrette, but I don't love creamy Italian dressing.  I don't love Balsamic dressing or vinaigrette, 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 -- until they discontinued it, which caused me to come up with my own: 

IMG_3924For the balsamic & basil mayo:

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1  tablespoon balsamic vinegar

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

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

In a small bowl, thoroughly stir together all ingredients.  Refrigerate one hour (or several days -- it stays fresh a long time) prior to serving.

IMG_4520For the caprese bites:

shredded romaine lettuce leaves, to use as a stabilizing bed for the appetizers as a whole 

as many 1" cherry tomatoes as you want appetizers, hollowed out as instructed in my post ~ How to: Hollow Out Tomatoes ~ 

bocconcini (small, fresh mozzarella balls), 1 per cherry tomato

small-medium-sized, fresh, whole basil leaves, 1 per cherry tomato

balsamic mayonnaise, for dipping, drizzling or dolloping (from above recipe)

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for garnish

IMG_4486 IMG_4489 IMG_4495Step 1.  Make a bed of lettuce on a serving plate. Arrange the hollowed out tomatoes on top of the lettuce.  Place a small-medium-sized, whole basil leaf in the cavity of each tomato, allowing the pretty leaf tip to stick up straight above the rim of the tomato about 1/2".  Place one bocconcini on top of the basil leaf and gently push down on the cheese to secure it in place.  Garnish each appetizer with a dollop of balsamic mayonnaise and a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Serve same day made.

Serve ASAP or the same day they are made:

IMG_4515Caprese: Tomato, Basil and Fresh Mozzarella Bites:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many appetizers as desired and 1/2 cup balsamic mayonnaise.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; grapefruit knife; grapefruit spoon

IMG_3860Cook's Note:  For a variation on the same caprese theme, might I suggest you try a moist, juicy, chicken 'burger (containing diced onion, garlic and fresh basil instead of breadcrumbs).  Just click on this link to check out my recipe for ~ Grillmarked: Ground Chicken Caprese-Style Burgers w/Balsamic Mayo ~. They're made in a grillpan on the stovetop (so you don't have to worry about bad weather grilling days to make 'em), and, they're drizzled with my balsamic mayonnaise too. 

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

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

10/03/2017

~The Incredible Edible Caprese Chicken Meatball Sub~

IMG_4450You do not have to be Italian or Italian-American to fall in love with an ooey-gooey, cheesy-saucy meatball submarine sandwich.  That said, while meatballs can be made with any type of ground meat or poultry, when most folks dream about the perfect meatball sub, they associate it with traditional Italian-style ground beef meatballs.  That is not the case with today's recipe -- we're using ground chicken infused with lots of onion, garlic, basil, egg and fresh bread crumbs.  What does that do?  It adds moisture and full-throttle flavor to an otherwise dry, lackluster protein.  

There is no right or wrong way to make a meatball sub sandwich.  Technically speaking, all one needs is a submarine-shaped roll, sauce-simmered meatballs and a good melting cheese.  

IMG_4429I use medium-textured, Italian rolls with a thin crust.  Why?  If the meatballs (which are the star of the show) were made right, they will be moist and melt-in-your-mouth tender.  I don't want to fight with a tough, crusty roll trying to get to my delicate meatballs and melted cheese.  I try to purchase unsliced rolls so I can top-split them, and, I don't like them toasted.  Texturally, I want to effortlessly glide through a meatball sandwich with some of everything in every bite.

IMG_4389A 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 spaghetti and meatballs simmered in a warm, garlicy, homemade crushed-tomato and basil sauce served with  bocconcini (small, fresh mozzarella balls) and some crusty bread is Italian-American caprese-style comfort food.  It's divine.

Whenever I make my caprese-style chicken meatballs --

IMG_4440I make my chicken caprese meatball sub sandwiches the next day.

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 each sandwich (in order of assembly):

1  6"-6"1/2" long semi-soft Italian submarine roll, preferably top-split

4  thin slices deli-style mozzarella cheese, or, 2 slices deli-style mozzarella cheese + 2 slices deli-style provolone cheese, your choice

1/4  cup (a generous 1/4 cup) 1/4"-1/2" diced fresh mozzarella cheese

1/2-3/4  teaspoon finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1  tablespoon chiffonade of fresh basil leaves, 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_4282~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 and absorb flavors from the sauce for 30-60 minutes.

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.

IMG_4477 IMG_4482~ Step 6.  To assemble each sandwich, split a roll short of opening it up into two pieces and place on a broiler-type pan.  Arrange 4 slices deli mozz on the roll.  Place 4 hot meatballs on top of the mozzarella.  Top meatballs with a generous 1/4 cup small-diced fresh moss and add a sprinkling of freshly-grated Parm-Regg.  Place 5 1/2"-6" under preheated broiler until cheese is bubbly and melted, about 2-3 minutes.

I believe you know how to "glide through it" it from here:

IMG_4466The Incredible Edible Caprese Chicken Meatball Sub:  Recipe yields instructions to make 3 dozen (36-38) 1 1/2"-round meatballs /8 sandwiches.

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; appropriately-sized broiler-type pan

IMG_3860Cook'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 Melanie Kitchen/Copyright 2017)