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12 posts from November 2017

11/30/2017

~ Spin Off: My Kentucky Hot Brown Mac and Cheese ~

IMG_0988When it comes to television, we all know what a spin-off is.  A favorite character or two breaks from the original show to start another show with no change to their name or relationship to the original show.  Maude was a spin-off of All in the Family, Rhoda a spin-off of Mary Tyler Moore, and, Better Call Saul a spin-off of Breaking Bad.  Under the right well-thought-through circumstances, spin-offs can be a resounding successes.  The concept is the same for recipes.

I love it when this happens, and, in the case of today's recipe, my turning a decadent open-faced turkey sandwich recipe into a luscious macaroni and cheese meal, the chances of it not being resoundingly successful were minimal.  I only needed to eat a real-deal Kentucky hot brown once to realize that by swapping some cooked pasta for the bread, a terrific pasta entrée would be born.  That one change to this traditional Derby Day favorite meal had me off to the races.  

Another changeable option would be to use cheddar cheese sauce in place of the Mornay sauce. It's acceptable, but the dish needs to be renamed: Pittsburgh's Devonshire-Style Mac and Cheese.  Why?  The Devonshire, which originated at the English-atmosphered Stratford Club in 1934, was a spin-off of Kentucky's hot brown and was topped with  cheddar cheese sauce.

If you've got Mornay (Gruyère and Parmesan) Cheese Sauce:

IMG_1004Oven-broiled skillet macaroni and cheese is moments away.  

IMG_0929The Kentucky hot brown, invented in 1926 by Fred K. Schmidt at The Brown Hotel in Louisville, unlike many other famous sandwiches, was no accident.  It was created, from some carefully-selected, well-thought out ingredients, to please his late-night crowd (as an alternative to the ham and eggs on toast meal that was already on his late-night menu).  It was a sort-of spin-off of the British Welsh rarebit and Scotch woodcock (a fondue-like cheese sauce "on toast").

When Mr. Schmidt created his sandwich, roasted and sliced turkey was a rarity, as turkey was usually reserved for holiday feasts -- at the time, turkeys were only sold during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season and had just become available to restaurants all year long.  What he came up with was: an open-faced sandwich consisting of oven-roasted sliced turkey on white or brioche bread, covered in Mornay (Gruyère cheese) sauce and a few pimentos or tomato slices plus a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.  It goes under the boiler for a few short minutes, until the bread is toasted around the edges and the sauce is bubbly and beginning to brown. Served hot out of the broiler, crisply-fried bacon strips and a parsley garnish go on just before serving.

In the traditional style of the Kentucky hot brown, I'm not even altering the way the dish is layered and broiled.  Mornay sauce, rich with milk, Gruyère and Parmesan cheeses makes a fantastic, alfredo-esque sauce for pasta.  That said, my choice to use tubular penne, instead of stranded fettuccini, is no accident.  The sauce flows freely into the tubes of this is fork-friendly pasta dish, which is an integral part in keeping with a typical macaroni-and-cheese-inspired theme.

Get out your favorite 8" oven-safe skillet:

IMG_0959Place 2 cups cooked & well-drained penne in the bottom:

IMG_0960Top w/6-ounces pulled roasted turkey or poached chicken:

IMG_0967Drizzle 3/4-1 cup warm Mornay sauce over the top:

IMG_0973Six sliced grape tomatoes (or some pimientos) are nice:

IMG_0976Sprinkle w/2 teaspoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano:

IMG_09816" under the broiler for 6-8 minutes it goes, lightly-browned & bubbly it emerges, add some bacon bits & a parsley garnish:

IMG_0982It's not deja vu, it's hot brown meal number two!

IMG_1035Spin Off:  My Kentucky Hot Brown Mac and Cheese:  Recipe yields instructions to construct and broil one hot and hearty main-dish macaroni and cheese dinner.

Special Equipment List:  appropriately-sized saucepan; colander; cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; 8" oven-proof skillet

IMG_3032Cook's Note:  How many versions of macaroni and cheese are there? I'm guessing about as many recipes as there are cooks out there, and, if they're anything like me, all of us have several versions in our repertoire.  ~ My Stovetop Green Chile Chicken Mac & Cheese ~, which gets made and served out of the the same pot it is cooked in, uses a cheese sauce made with Monterey Jack w/Jalapeño Cheese.

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

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

11/28/2017

~ The Classic Kentucky Hot Brown Turkey Sandwich ~

IMG_0931Simply known as "the hot brown", or "Louisville hot brown", this Kentucky sandwich is a culinary legend.  Invented in 1926 by Fred K. Schmidt at The Brown Hotel in Louisville, unlike many other famous sandwiches, this one was no accident.  It was specifically created, from some carefully-selected, well-thought out ingredients, to please his hungry late-night crowd.  It was a sort-of spin-off of the British Welsh rarebit and Scotch woodcock (a fondue-like cheese sauce "on toast").

We're not talking deli-turkey & store-bought cheese sauces.

IMG_0834The original, now classic, hot brown was an open-faced sandwich consisting of oven-roasted sliced turkey on white or brioche bread, covered in Mornay (Gruyère cheese) sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, then placed under the boiler until the sauce began to bubble and brown. Crisply-fried bacon strips and a few pimentos were added at serving time.  Let me be very clear,  we're not talking about deli-meat and store-bought cheese sauces.  

When Mr. Schmidt created his sandwich, roasted and sliced turkey was a rarity, as turkey was usually reserved for holiday feasts -- at the time, turkeys were only sold during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season and had just become available to restaurants all year long.  The Hotel's dance band played each night from 10:00PM-1:00AM, and he wanted to offer something different to his after-the-dance customers.  What he came up with was a unique alternative to the typical ham-and-egg-on-toast suppers available to late night clientele at that time -- it's why the original did not contain ham.  It quickly became the choice of 95% of the customers to the hotel's restaurant, but, from 1971 to 1985, while the hotel was sadly shut down, it was hard to find elsewhere.

Cold Browns, Prosperity Sandwiches & Turkey Devonshire:

IMG_0849Variations on the original hot brown included a version in which Chef Schmidt, upon request, would include a slice of baked ham along with the turkey, and, as alternative garnishes, sliced tomatoes and/or sautéd  sliced mushrooms.  

The cold brown, which is rarely served anymore, consists of an open-faced rye bread sandwich topped with chicken or turkey, hard-cooked egg, lettuce, tomato and a generous drizzle of Thousand Islands salad dressing.  

At St. Louis's Mayfair Hotel, the 1930's Prosperity Sandwich, strikingly similar to the original hot brown, got named as a snarky joke about President Hoover's (POTUS #31 -- 1929-1933) incessant Great Depression-era promise:  "prosperity is just around the corner".  In Pittsburgh, at the English-atmosphered Stratford Club, Frank Blandi's 1934 twist on the hot brown, The Devonshire, was topped with  cheddar cheese sauce in place of the Mornay sauce.

Get out your favorite 8" oven-safe skillet:

IMG_0853Overlap 2 thick-sliced brioche bread slices in the bottom:

IMG_0867Arrange 6-8 ounces pulled or sliced turkey atop bread:

IMG_0872Drizzle 1/2-3/4 cup warm Mornay sauce over the top:

IMG_0884Four tomato slices (or some diced pimientos) are nice:

IMG_0889Sprinkle w/2 teaspoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano:

IMG_08926" under the broiler for 6-8 minutes it goes, lightly-browned & bubbly it emerges, add 3 slices bacon & a parsley garnish:

IMG_0893Eat, drink & be very, very merry:

IMG_0937The Classic Kentucky Hot Brown Turkey Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to construct and broil one large, hot and hearty, open-faced sandwich.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; 8" oven-proof skillet

IMG_0737Cook's Note:  While writing this post, I took a break to research the finer-points of open-faced sandwiches. Why?  In the true sense of the word, open-faced sandwiches, technically, aren't sandwiches.  Unlike traditional sandwiches, they never sandwich anything between two slices of bread, and typically, they don't get picked up to eat with the hands.  To learn more about this, read my post ~ Some Hot & Savory Open-Faced Sandwich History ~.  

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

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

11/25/2017

~ A Classic Mornay (Gruyère and Parmesan) Sauce ~

IMG_0839The modern-day Mornay sauce we enjoy is a béchamel sauce (a classic, French roux-based cream sauce, not to mention the last of the original, five French mother sauces to be invented). Shredded Gruyère and grated Parmesan cheeses get melted into the béchamel at the end.  I like to refer to this easy-to-prepare "secondary sauce" ("a spin-off" of one of the originals) as: "the mother of all cheese sauces."  That said, named after the Duke of Mornay (who lived during the late 16th and early 17th Centuries), the sauce was originally prepared using a velouté sauce (a slightly-thinner, stock-based sauce thickened by a white roux), because béchamel hadn't been invented yet. The new-to-them béchamel, rich with cream or milk (instead of stock), gave it a luxurious, silky texture -- it was quickly recognized by professional chefs as an improvement.  

IMG_2537 IMG_3032A common variation on Mornay is cheddar sauce, substituting white or yellow* cheddar for Gruyère -- this kid-friendly version was one of my secret weapons, as I used it to top veggies and as a sauce for my stovetop mac and cheese.  Eggs Mornay, a variation on the classic eggs Benedict is superb, but, WARNING, Mornay is frowned upon as a sauce for fish or seafood.

Variations on Mornay sauce -- they vary slightly, not a lot.

When making Mornay sauce, chefs use hard or semi-hard cheeses exclusively -- cheeses that grate or shred relatively easily.  Soft, sticky cheeses like, brie, blue, goat and fresh mozzarella, or wet cheeses like cottage and ricotta, simply do not melt to the proper creamy consistency.  Now is not the time to count calories or cut back on fat either.  When choosing cheese, avoid the words "half the calories" and "lower in fat", and, use only dairy cream, half-and-half or whole milk.

*A classic French Mornay sauce is made w/white-colored cheeses & ingredients:

IMG_07764  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons all-purpose, unbleached flour

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

2 1/2  cups whole milk, plus an additional 1/4-1/2 cup milk, if necessary, to adjust consistency at the end of the cooking process

1 small, yellow or sweet onion (about 5-6 ounces)

4  whole cloves

2 small, whole, bay leaves

8  ounces shredded Gruyère cheese (about 2 cups)

4  ounces finely-grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)

IMG_0778 IMG_0778 IMG_0778 IMG_0778~Step 1.  Peel a small onion and "stud" it with the cloves ("push them in like thumb tacks").  In a small bowl, stir together the flour, nutmeg, salt and white pepper.  Using a hand-held box grater, shred the Gruyère, and, using a microplane grater, finely-grate the Parmesan.

IMG_0789 IMG_0789 IMG_0789 IMG_0789~Step 2.  In a 3-quart saucier, melt butter over low heat.  Add the seasoned flour.  Whisk constantly until flour is incorporated into butter and a thick, pasty mixture has formed, about 30 seconds.  Continue to whisk for another 1-1 1/2 minutes, lowering the heat if necessary, to keep the roux from browning -- this additional cooking time will remove the raw flour taste.

IMG_0795 IMG_0795 IMG_0795 IMG_0795~Step 3. Adjust heat to medium-low and slowly drizzle in the milk, whisking constantly, to work out any lumps.  Add the onion, clove-studded-side-down, then the bay leaves.  Allow mixture to come to a simmer, whisking constantly, 3-4 minutes. Continue to simmer, whisking constantly, an additional 3-4 minutes, until a nicely-thickened and smooth béchamel sauce has formed.

IMG_0807 IMG_0807 IMG_0807 IMG_0807~Step 4.  Adjust heat to low.  Add the Gruyère and Parmesan cheeses to the saucier and whisk constantly until cheese is completely melted and sauce is smooth, 2-3 minutes.  Whisk in additional milk, in small increments, only if necessary, until desired consistency is reached. Remove onion and bay leaves.  Use sauce as directed in recipe.  You will have 1-quart.

Rich & ready to be used in any recipe requiring cheese sauce: 

IMG_0834A classic Mornay (Gruyère and Parmesan Sauce:  Recipe yields 1 quart/4 cups Mornay sauce. Gently reheat room temperature leftover in the microwave, stirring occasionally and adjusting consistency by adding additional milk.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; hand-held box grater; microplane grater or food processor; 3-quart saucier or saucepan; whisk; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d23924fb970cCook's Note: Béchamel looks a lot like Mornay (it's pictured here in the same ramekin, with the same background).  It's not perhaps my favorite of the five mother sauces, it is my favorite.  ~ Plain, Simple, Unpretentious Basic White Sauce ~.  Read the post. 

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

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

11/23/2017

~ Some Hot & Savory Open-Faced Sandwich History ~

IMG_0737There's no time like the week after Thanksgiving to dive into a discussion about open-faced sandwiches.  After all, a great percentage of our United States's population just spent the weekend making hot, open-faced sandwiches using their leftover turkey, dressing and gravy.  I'm no exception.  Shortly after sitting down to write my recipes for Kentucky's Classic Hot Brown and Pittsburgh's Original Devonshire, two iconic hot turkey sandwiches, both with rich histories (and my next two posts), I took a break to research the finer-points of the open-faced sandwich.  Why? Technically, open-faced sandwiches aren't sandwiches in the true sense of the word.  Read on:

Unlike traditional sandwiches, open-faced sandwiches never sandwich anything between two slices of bread, & typically don't get picked up to eat with the hands.

IMG_0722The definition & origin(s) of the open-faced sandwich.

According to Wikipedia, an open-faced sandwich, also known as an open-face sandwich, bread platter, or, tartine (a fancy French word for an open-faced sandwich made with spreadable ingredients), consists of a single slice of fresh bread with one or more foods piled on top.  During the middle ages in 15th Century England, thin slices of coarse-grained bread, called "trenchers" were used as plates.  At the end of the meal, the food-soaked trencher was eaten by the diner (referred to as a "trencherman"), fed to a dog, or, given to a beggar.  Trenchers were not only the harbinger of today's open-faced sandwiches are they were the first disposable plates.

The precursor to the English open-faced trencher is:

IMG_0411The Scandinavian-style served-cold open-sandwich.

The precursor to the English open-faced sandwich (not known to the English at the time), is the iconic Scandinavian open sandwich (Danish:  smørrebrød, Norwegian:  smørbrød, Swedish: smørgäs), consisting of one buttered piece of bread, usually whole-grained rye,  topped with thinly-sliced cold items (cheese, steak, ham, turkey, shrimp, smoked salmon, caviar, cooked eggs, bacon, herring, fish filets, liver pâté, etc.).  A condiment, such as mayonnaise, or a mayo-based dressing was/is usually included too.  In the 17th Century, naturalist John Ray, wrote about what he experienced while in the Netherlands:  "In the taverns, beef hung from the rafters, which they cut into thin slices to eat with bread and butter, heaping the slices upon the butter."  

Versions of the cold Scandinavian-type open sandwich are served all over the world.  That said, in Great Britain, open sandwiches are rare outside of a Scandinavian delicatessen, except for the famous Welsh rarebit and Scotch woodcock (a fondue-like cheese sauce "on toast"), historically served at the colleges of the University of Cambridge. The hot, hearty and somewhat messy-looking open sandwich, usually consisting of warm, sliced meat and a generous drizzle of gravy, or leftover sliced meat reheated in simmering gravy, is the traditional sandwich in poorer Eastern European countries, where they are eaten with a knife and fork for breakfast, lunch or dinner -- to turn leftovers into a meal.  The latter is the type of open-faced sandwich, I grew up eating.

IMG_0730When to call the food police about your open-faced sandwich:

130328_FoodPoliceBadge-picIn the United States, in the court case of White City Shopping Ctr., LP v. PR Rests, LLC, 21 Mass. L. Rep. 565 (2006), the judge ruled that to be called a true sandwich (from a legal perspective) the dish must include at least two slices of bread.  In many restaurants, many open-faced sandwich do not meet this criteria, although most served in diners and restaurants here in the Northeastern states where I live generally do pile the meat and gravy atop two overlapping slices of bread.  Oh my.  I'll no longer be throwing the term "open-faced sandwich" loosely around. Important:  before you pick up your knife and fork: 

If on your dish doesn't appear two slices of bread, (side-by-side or slightly-overlapping), you're only being served "half-an-open-faced sandwich".

IMG_0759"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

11/20/2017

~ Thanksgiving to Tailgate: Stuffing Stuffed 'Shrooms ~

IMG_0690For the family cook, entertaining for Thanksgiving is a labor of love, but, if he or she is a college football fan too, that can mean entertaining for a tailgate party as well, which can be overwhelming.  That said, if you've got a game plan in place in advance, transitioning your formal Turkey Day feast into a relaxing tailgate on your coffee table, can be almost effortless.  One of my gameday-after-the-holiday tailgate menus is:  stuffing stuffed mushrooms with turkey-club sliders.

IMG_0658Any leftover stuffing* recipe can be used to stuff mushrooms.  I Love My Mom's Cracker Stuffing Casserole.  It's lightly and nicely seasoned, and, crushed saltine crackers that have been soaked in milk replace the usual breadcrumbs. That said, when it comes to using leftover stuffing to stuff mushrooms, I try to avoid using any of the crispy browned outside edges

Note:  Typically, uncooked stuffing is a bit too loose to stuff into mushroom caps -- you can't pile it high enough, and, even if it is of a more viscous consistency (sticky or gluelike), in the time it requires to fully-cook the stuffing to a food-safe temperature (most recipes contain raw eggs), the mushroom caps tend to get overcooked.  I recommend using leftover, cooked stuffing. 

IMG_0680Any size mushrooms can be used, but, the larger the mushroom cap, the more stuffing you'll need, and, the cooking time will be a bit longer too.  I like to use 1 1/2"-2"-size white button mushroom caps, and, I choose even-sized ones to insure they cook evenly.  I serve them as appetizers.  That said, larger caps easily turns these two-bite snacks into a fun and filling side-dish to an open-faced turkey sandwich.  

Transitioning a Turkey Day side-dish to a tailgate appetizer:

IMG_0664 IMG_0664 IMG_0664 IMG_0664 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7ffe322970b~Step 1.  Using a damp paper towel, gently wipe any dirt from caps.  

Note: Never wash or soak fresh mushrooms in water as they absorb moisture like a sponge and will become mushy.  Using your fingertips, remove the stems, being careful not to break or crack the caps.  Using a sharp paring knife, trim the perimeter of the caps. Place caps, side-by-side, on a baking pan that has been generously sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.

Using an appropriately-sized ice-cream scoop (1 1/2" scoop was used today), place a generous scoop of stuffing into each mushroom cap.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven, 18-20 minutes.

Remove 'shrooms from oven & place on serving platter:

IMG_0682Drizzle w/turkey gravy & top w/a dollop of cranberry sauce:

IMG_0686What a yummy transition from Turkey Day to tailgate:

IMG_0696Thanksgiving to Tailgate:  Stuffing Stuffed Mushrooms: Recipe yields instructions to make as many mushrooms (appetizer- or side-dish-sized) as you have stuffing for.

Special Equipment List:  paring knife; appropriately sized baking pan; appropriately-sized ice-cream scoop

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d23f7cf3970c IMG_2214Cook's Note: Stuffing waffles. Made on the waffle grids of my Cuisinart Griddler, waffles made from leftover stuffing and topped with reheated thanksgiving leftovers (sweet potatoes, pulled turkey breast, gravy and cranberries sauce) is:  The breakfast of champions, and, I've got a family full of them.~ The Morning After: Thanksgiving Stuffing Waffles ~ are the best Turkey Day leftovers.

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

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

11/18/2017

~ My Twenty-Five Minute Chicken Thigh & Rice Soup ~

IMG_0555During the past few months, due to the illness of a family member, I've had to cook and eat more than a few meals in a hurry and on the run.  Even with a sort-of unlimited budget, I found out quickly how time constrictions affect purchasing decisions.  I'd never shopped the aisles of "quick cooking" or "instant" before.  I'd always had all the time needed to leisurely cook breakfast, lunch or dinner, so, I admittedly found this frustrating.  That said, I had decided early to look upon the drive-through windows as last resorts.  Successes intermingled with failures, but, before long, I was preparing a few good-tasting, satisfying meals using new-to-me convenience foods.

Six-plus years of writing a food blog has taught me that no recipe is too easy to write about.  As long as it tastes really, really good, it will undoubtedly "hit a home run" with someone "out there". It took me years to learn this, and, I believe it is one of the best lessons I've learned.  Simply stated: One-going-on-two generations never learned to properly cook or food shop, and, they're just realizing the ramifications of it.  It's why, when I temporarily found myself in my own "situational food conundrum", I decided to scribble down these seemingly insignificant recipes as I was experimentally testing and eating them, along with a few of my thoughts on my experience too.

Sharing is sharing & any tested, tasty recipe is worth sharing.

IMG_0568Some high-quality earthy stock, a few full-flavored chicken thighs, a jar of sliced mushrooms & some heat-in-the pouch rice = a nicely-seasoned completely satisfying soup meal. 

IMG_05301 1/2-2  cups Kitchen Basics unsalted vegetable stock, chicken stock may be substituted (Mel's commentary on and critique of this product:  I fell in love with with the rich, earthy flavor of their vegetable stock.  I loved it so much, I didn't even try their other flavors -- it's the perfect foil for additions of uncooked chicken, beef or seafood. Kudos to folks at Kitchen Basics!)

1 4 1/2-ounce jar Green Giant sliced mushrooms, undrained (optional, but recommended) 

1  1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

4-5 boneless skinless chicken thighs, about 1 1/2 pounds

1 8.8-ounce pouch Uncle Ben's Ready-Rice (Mel's commentary on and critique of this product: Ready in the microwave in 90 seconds.  It's not perfect, meaning, freshly steamed rice is better, so if you have leftover rice use it, but, when this is stirred into soup, it works and tastes great.)

fresh parsley leaves, for garnishing each portion (an optional but nice, homey touch)

IMG_0533 IMG_0533 IMG_0533 IMG_0533~Step 1.  In a 2-quart saucepan, place the chicken thighs with enough stock to cover.  Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially cover the pot and continue to simmer gently for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thighs are cooked through.

IMG_0546 IMG_0546~ Step 2.  Remove saucepan from heat and transfer thighs to a cutting board.  Using a large chef's knife, chop the thighs into bite-sized chunks or small bits and pieces (your choice), returning them to the soup stock as you work -- the thighs are going to be unbelievably tender.  They will cut like butter.  Note:  The alternative to this is chopping the chicken prior to simmering it.  Doing that will indeed shorten the cooking time (by about 10 minutes), but, for me, it is more appealing to chop a cooked thigh than a raw one.

IMG_0544~ Step 3.  Heat the pouch of rice as the package directs:  1) Squeeze package to separate grains.  2)  Tear two inches, along the tear line at top of package, to provide a vent for steam to escape.  3)  In microwave, heat package on high for 90 seconds.  4)  Remove from microwave using the appropriately marked "cool touch" area on the untorn side.

Divide rice between 2-4 soup bowls, add soup, garnish & eat:

IMG_0566Relatively quick & simply-divine comfort food on the run:

IMG_0572My Twenty-Five Minute Chicken Thigh & Rice Soup:  Recipe yields 4 luncheon-sized cups of soup, 2 large dinner-sized bowls soup.

Special Equipment List: 2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; cutting board; chef's knife; ladle

IMG_0526Cook's Note:  Another one of my newly-invented favorite quick meals involved simmering 2 cups of vegetable stock with 2 handfuls of frozen mixed vegetables, then, at the end, dropping a block of dried instant ramen noodles (sans the seasoning packet) into the saucepan.  Three minutes later I was eating a luscious lunch.  It was wonderfully satisfying.  To learn more, ready my post: ~ Confessions from an Instant Ramen Noodle Junkie ~.

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

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

11/15/2017

~ Confessions from an Instant Ramen Noodle Junkie ~

IMG_0495While watching a late-night episode of "Locked Up" on MSNBC last night, I learned an interesting fact about those super-curly square-block instant ramen noodles:  They are the #1 selling item in prison commissaries.  That didn't surprise me as much as the reason:  Prisoners buy them for the seasoning packets, not the noodles.  It seems that prison cafeteria food is so lacking in salt, those packets get sprinkled on or stirred into almost everything.  Get in my my soup!  I learn something new every day (or night).  In my kitchen, we use the noodles, not the seasoning packets.

IMG_0502Amongst other things, in the course of a year, I make several soup stocks:  beef, chicken, Thai chicken, veal, shrimp and vegetable.  They're carefully-simmered, seasoned to suit my palate, portioned into containers and stacked neatly in my freezer.  As every well-seasoned cook will tell you, homemade stock turns an ordinary meal into an extraordinary one.  There's more:  If I get a soup craving, I thaw a 2-cup container of stock, simmer it with a handful or two of frozen mixed vegetables, then, I drop a square block of ramen noodles into the saucepan.

  2 cups soup stock + 2 handfuls of frozen mixed vegetables +

IMG_0526a block of instant ramen = (3 minutes later), a luscious lunch. 

Perhaps it's because I never had to live on instant ramen noodles in college that I agree with a Japanese poll done in 2000:  They voted "dried noodle blocks" their best invention of the 20th century -- noodles that simply need to be cooked or soaked in boiling water before eating.  The main ingredients used in dried noodles are usually wheat flour, palm oil and salt.  The ingredients in the seasoning packets are salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), seasonings and sugar.  

Invented by Momofuku Ando of Nissin Foods in 1958, these inexpensive (cheap) dried noodle blocks are created by flash-frying cooked noodles (the main method used in Asian countries), and, air-drying (to sell to Western countries).  Both types have a shelf-life of well over a year, and, while they might not look like it in their dry state, they have higher elasticity than other types of noodles (like udon or flat noodles).  They cook up perfectly in a short 3-4 minutes too.

51rTOVjBYwL._SY450_Instant Ramen Trivia includes: When first introduced, instant ramen was considered a luxury item in supermarkets.  It's the #1 selling item in prison commissaries, and, guards are permitted to provide hot water to cook them in the cells. Only "Oriental" and "Chili" flavors of Nissin ramen are vegetarian.  David Chang, founder of the Momofuku restaurant empire, reminisces about uncooked ramen sprinkled with seasoning as an after-school snack. "Ramen" is the Japanese word for the Chinese word "lo mein".  China consumes more instant ramen than any other country.  The Japanese consider ramen their best invention. It would cost about $150 to eat instant ramen for every meal.  There is a museum in Yokohama, Japan, dedicated to the history of "cup noodles", called The Cup of Noodles Museum.  The first noodles eaten in space were instant ramen noodles.

Three minute instant ramen noodles...

IMG_0514... sans the seasoning packet:  Get in my soup! 

IMG_0519Confessions from an Instant Ramen Noodle Junkie:  Recipe yields 2, 2 cup servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan; colander (optional); soup ladle

IMG_9113Cook's Note:  Much like learning to make sushi, learning to make real-deal ramen noodles is a highly-respected art form in Japan.  I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to experience both of them on a trip to Tokyo back in the 1990's.  To learn a bit more about the rich history of real-deal, scratch-made ramen, read my recipe for ~ Cooking 101 for One: Asian Ramen & Steak Salad ~. This cold salad is another one of my favorite quick-to-make lunches (when I've got some leftover steak).

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

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

11/13/2017

~ Dare to be a Square: Individual Breakfast Frittatas ~

IMG_0468As an egg lover, for me, a frittata is a relatively-easy quick-to-make hunger-satisfying meal any time of the day -- for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or late night snack.  It tastes great served hot, warm, at room temperature or cold, and, leftovers reheat beautifully in the microwave.  A bit of slicing, dicing or chopping is typically required, but it's minimal, and, since frittata can also be a tasty way to use up leftovers from a previous meal, in some instances, no knife is required.  In my food world, making individual-sized frittatas, a perfectly-portioned quick-as-heck protein-packed meal or snack that I can reheat and eat in seconds, is an efficient use of my time. 

IMG_0418My girlfriend Elaine is a Pampered Chef representative.  Over the years, from time to time, I've purchased gadgets and specialty items, and, I've never been disappointed in the quality.  A few weeks ago, while browsing through the catalog, when I came across these "individual brownie pans", with shallow, "square cups" (for folks who want four crispy sides on each and every brownie), I ordered two.  

That said, I didn't buy them with the intent of baking brownies.  I bought them to make individual frittatas because:  the size (2 1/2" x 2 1/2") and depth (1") of each cup makes for perfect portions that cook up evenly each and every time.  If you've ever baked individual frittatas in traditional muffin tins, you know that the depth and shape of that cup is not exactly ideal for this eggy concoction.

IMG_6400To know a traditional frittata, is to love any frittata.

IMG_6345Commonly referred to as "the Italian version of an omelette", a frittata is a concoction of whisked eggs and real-deal cream, sliced, diced or chopped always-previously-cooked vegetables, meat or seafood and/or grated cheese.  I prefer to compare it to a custard-like quiche without a crust rather than an omelette because, like a quiche, a frittata is traditionally round and rather thick -- not at all elongated and comparatively flat (like the French and American omelettes I've encountered).  There's more.  I think of an omelette as something that goes from stovetop to table in a few short moments -- that's not the case with a frittata, which takes 30+ minutes.

IMG_6358The egg mixture is poured into the same oven-safe (usually cast-iron) skillet the vegetables and/or meats have been cooked or placed in.  The Frittata is started on the stovetop for a few moments, just long enough to allow the bottom of the mixture to solidify a bit, then finished in a moderate oven for 30-45 minutes depending on its size and the recipe.  That said, a frittata can be prepared in the skillet entirely on the stovetop, or, in a casserole entirely in the oven (usually to make a large-size frittata).  Frittata can be served directly from the pan, but, family-friendly-sized frittata is often inverted onto a platter, to reveal its golden crust, then sliced into wedges.

IMG_6362Sautéed vegetables or a medley of vegetables, any kind you like, can be added, as long as they are cooked in some manner first.  Why? Vegetables, particularly those that contain lots of liquid, unless cooked first, will render the frittata watery. Root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, won't fully-cook if not given a head start on the stovetop. Onions and/or garlic are almost always added. Other options include asparagus, broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, peas, and/or mushrooms. They all work great.  Extremely watery vegetables, like tomatoes, summer squash and and zucchini work well too, but the extra step of seeding prior to sautéing is recommended.

IMG_6376When it comes to meat or seafood, the same rules apply:  if it's cooked first it can be added. Leftover diced porcine, like ham or sausage crumbles, along with crispy-fried bacon bits are my three meaty favorites, and, crab meat or shrimp, or both, are divine.  My teenage boys liked frittata made with diced salami or pepperoni as a late night snack.   That said, if you like to eat steak with your eggs, by all means, throw in slivers of that leftover roasted or grilled red meat. Feel free to disagree, but, for my taste, poultry has no place in a frittata -- there is just something about chicken or turkey in an egg dish like this that I find unappealing (save it for a sandwich).

Making individual frittatas is efficient & just plain smart.

The Italian word "frittata" derives from the word "friggere", which roughly means "fried".  This is why frittata is traditionally associated with a skillet, namely a cast-iron skillet.  If a casserole dish is more convenient, by all means use one -- simply season and sauté your fillings ingredients in a skillet, and toss them into the bottom of a casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick spray, add the whisked egg and cream mixture and bake as directed.   Making individual-sized frittatas is not much different than making a frittata in a casserole, but, you've got to know the capacity of the cups in the pans, and, shorten the cooking time, to accommodate the smaller size of each one. Each square cup in this Pampered Chef pan holds slightly less than 1/2 cup, so, to fill all twelve, I need 6 cups total filling -- the same amount used for a frittata baked in a 1 1/2-quart casserole.

IMG_62911  cup diced, previously cooked meat or seafood, or, 8-ounces uncooked ground beef or sausage (Note:  I'm using sweet sausage today.)

1/2  cup diced sweet onion

1 1/2   cups diced, cooked vegetables or a combination of vegetables, your choice (Note: I'm using green bell pepper, red bell pepper and mushrooms today.

sea salt and coarsely-ground black pepper, for lightly seasoning vegetables 

3/4  cup grated melting cheese (Note:  I'm using yellow cheddar today.)

6  extra-large eggs

3/4  cup cream (Note:  You can substitute half and half or whole milk, but anything less than full-fat dairy renders a rubbery rather than an unctuous frittata.)

1/4 teaspoon sea salt and coarsely-ground black pepper, for seasoning egg mixture

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

sliced or diced tomato, cilantro leaves & your favorite hot sauce, for garnish & accompaniment

IMG_6295 IMG_6295 IMG_6295Step 1.  Using an old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater, whisk the eggs, cream, salt and pepper together.  Set aside.

IMG_6306 IMG_6306 IMG_6306 IMG_6306~Step 2.  Place the sausage in an appropriately sized skillet over medium-high heat.  Sauté, using the side of a spatula to break the meat into small bits and pieces, until cooked through, about 6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the sausage from the skillet to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain, allowing the flavorful drippings to remain in skillet.

IMG_6318 IMG_6318 IMG_6318 IMG_6318 IMG_6318 ~Step 3.  Adjust heat to medium.  Add onion, bell peppers and mushrooms.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Stirring almost constantly, sauté until vegetables have lost about half of their volume and are starting to show signs of browning (which means they are becoming flavorful), 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the sausage.  Remove from heat.

IMG_0422 IMG_0422 IMG_0422 IMG_0422 IMG_0445~Step 4.  Spray the inside of each "square cup" with no-stick spray. Portion some of the vegetable/meat mixture into the bottom of each one, about 3 tablespoons in each. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon grated cheese over the top of the vegetable meat mixture.  Using a fork, briefly rewhisk the egg mixture, and, slowly, in a thin stream, gently fill cups to just short of the top.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven 16-18 minutes, until puffed up in centers. Remove from oven and cool in pans about 5 minutes prior to using a thin spatula to serve. Frittatas deflate and firm up as they cool.  Garnish w/tomato, cilantro & your favorite hot sauce.

Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 16-18 minutes:

IMG_0440Cool in pans 5-6 minutes prior to serving:

IMG_0448Frittatas will deflate a bit & firm up as they cool:

IMG_0460Garnish w/tomato, cilantro & serve w/your favorite hot sauce:

IMG_0483Dare to be a Square:  Individual Breakfast Frittatas:  Recipe yields 6-12 servings/1-2 per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 2-cup measuring container; old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater (optional); appropriately sized oven-safe skillet or casserole of choice; thin spatula

IMG_9460Cook's Note:  In the event you need to feed a lot of people for breakfast or brunch, an eggy casserole is always a crowd pleaser.  ~ My Big Baked Denver Omelette Brunch Casserole ~, which is in actuality a frittata disguised under a different name, is an example of a frittata baked in a casserole dish.  It contains ham (in place of sausage) and has a distinctive Southwestern flair.  It's been a favorite of our tailgate group for years.

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

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

11/11/2017

~ My Mom's Old-Fashioned Home-Canned Peach Pie~

IMG_0405The Summer peach season is long over, but, in my kitchen, that is not a reason to not bake a peach pie.  Yes, you can use canned peaches to make a peach pie, and, if the peaches are home-canned with love, the pie is just as good, if not better, than a pie made with fresh peaches. I'm not joking.  Women have been doing it for generations.  They water-bath-canned large quantities of fruits and vegetables so the family could enjoy them during the cold weather months.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09671996970dMy mother's pantry was never without home-canned peaches.  My grandmother had a green thumb, and, in her smallish, in-town back yard, for as many years as she lived there, her peach tree gifted us with some the best peaches I have ever tasted -- I'm not just saying that because she was my grandmother. The peaches were exquisite, and, she did a stunning job of canning them.  They were pretty as a picture and tasted even better -- "to the tooth" (not at all mushy) and pleasantly, not cloyingly, sweet.

I do not know if it was my grandmother, mother, or someone else of their time who came up with our family's canned peach pie recipe.  What I do know is there isn't much to it.  After all, the hard work was done up front in the canning.

Every slice is plump w/peaches, nicely-spiced, & ...

IMG_0384... a canned-peach pie is one of the easiest pies to make too.

IMG_03052   9" pie pastries for a double-crust pie, preferably homemade pie pastry (pâte brisée)

7  cups sliced or chunked, very-well-drained canned peaches (Note:  If using store-bought peaches, drain 3, 29-ounce cans packed in light syrup.  Once I drain the liquid, I put the peaches on a paper-towel-lined plate for a few minutes, to remove as much excess liquid as possible.)

2  teaspoons lemon juice

2  teaspoons pure peach extract (optional)

1/2  cup granulated sugar

5  tablespoons minute tapioca

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

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, for sprinkling on top of pie prior to baking

IMG_0307 IMG_0307 IMG_0307 IMG_0307~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.  Thoroughly drain the peaches, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  In a medium-bowl, stir together the sugar, tapioca, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Add the lemon juice and peach extract too.  Using a rubber spatula, gently toss to thoroughly combine the peaches with the tapioca/sugar/spice mixture.

IMG_0326 IMG_0326 IMG_0326~Step 2.  Spoon the peach 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 overhang of the bottom pastry (about 1/8").  Using your fingertips, seal the two crusts together and form a decorative edge all the way around perimeter.

IMG_0335 IMG_0335 IMG_0335 IMG_0335~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, 50-55 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, 50-55 minutes:

IMG_0359Place on a wire rack to cool completely, 3-4 hours:

IMG_0355Slice & serve ever-so-lightly warm or at room temperature:

IMG_0379And enjoy a peachy-keen taste of Summer all year round:

IMG_0408My Mom's Old-Fashioned Home-Canned Peach 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 rubber spatula; fork; pastry brush; sharp paring knife; wire cooling rack

IMG_4817Cook's Note:  Back in the 1990's, I was given this recipe, ~ Alice's Super-Simple Georgia Peach-Pie Cobbler ~, from a tailgating girlfriend.  Alice hailed from Atlanta. She made no secret of the fact that she detested the sport of cooking -- which complicates things for a woman in a tailgate group like ours. That said, she participated and prepared something good each week, and, this recipe is even easier than making a canned-peach pie!

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

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

11/09/2017

~ Caribbean-Style Sweet Potato & Black Bean Stew ~

IMG_0295A steaming hot and hearty stew on a cold day.  Almost nothing is more comforting than it, except perhaps, enjoying it in front of a roaring fire listening to the wind howl and watching the snow flakes fall.  As a lover of sweet potatoes, I am always on the lookout for a scrumptious new way to prepare them, so, quite a few years ago, when I came across this recipe in January (amongst the pages of a in-flight-magazine on my way to a land of sunshine, palm trees and sandy beaches), I was intent on having it -- I'm the one who tore that page out of your magazine, and I'm not sorry.

IMG_0287It was a joy to add it to my recipe box along with another of my favorite cold-weather stew-type dishes, Winner-Winner Crockpot Dinner: Sweet Potato & Ground Beef Chili, and side-dishes like Maple-Smashed Sweet Potatoes, Sweet Potato & Caramelized Onion Casserole, Sweet Potato & Apple Stuffing for Poultry or Pork, and, Spicy, Crispy Oven-Roasted Sweet Potato Fries, plus, two of my signature desserts: a Seriously-Simple Sweet Potato & Apple Cobbler, and a Sophisticated Sweet Potato & Frangelico Tart.  I do adore sweet potatoes.

IMG_5635Sweet potatoes were introduced to North America when Columbus brought them from the island of St. Thomas, where this large, edible root (belonging to the morning-glory family) is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most widely grown commercially are a pale sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety Americans erroneously call "yam" (the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato).  The pale sweet potato has a thin, light yellow skin and pale yellow flesh.  Its flavor is not sweet, and after cooking, it's dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato.  The darker variety (pictured here in my photograph) has a thicker, dark orange skin and vivid-orange colored center flesh.  When cooked, it has a very sweet flavor and a very tender, creamy texture. Note:  The dark-skinned, orange-colored variety is the only kind I use in all my recipes.

When buying sweet potatoes, choose firm ones without cracks or bruises.  Because I'm often planning to bake them, I pick even-sized ones so they will all cook in the same amount of time.  While they shouldn't be stored in the refrigerator, they do need to be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place.  If the temperature goes above 60 degrees, they'll begin to sprout, get woody and/or shrivel.  Cooked sweet potatoes, if stored in the refrigerator last for about a week.  Like regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are always eaten cooked, and, you can cook them by all the same methods you cook a potato:  bake, boil, fry, grill, roast, microwave or deep-fry.

IMG_02382  tablespoons aceite de achiote, achiote-flavored vegetable oil (vegetable oil with annatto)

1/4  teaspoon ground allspice

1/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoons red pepper flakes

7-8  cups peeled and 3/4" diced sweet potatoes (1 3/4-2-pounds diced sweet potatoes from 2-2 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes)

1 3/4-2  cups medium-diced sweet onion (8 ounces)

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

1  cup vegetable stock (8 ounces)

1  13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk

1/4  cup jerk-flavored barbecue sauce, your favorite brand

2  15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained 

1  recipe for my aromatically-spiced yellow Caribbean coconut rice (Be sure to read Cook's Note below.)

fresh, chopped cilantro leaves, for garnish

IMG_0242 IMG_0242 IMG_0242 IMG_0242 IMG_0257 IMG_0257~Step 1.  Place achiote oil in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot over low heat.  Stir in all of the spices (ground allspice, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, garlic powder, sea salt and red pepper flakes), to season the oil.  Add the diced sweet potatoes and onion.  Adjust heat to medium- medium-high and cook, stirring frequently (almost constantly), until the sweet potatoes are softening and the onion is soft, 7-8 minutes.  Add and stir in the diced tomatoes, vegetable stock, coconut milk and jerk barbecue sauce.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and allow to cook, uncovered, until sweet potatoes are fully-cooked, 12-15 minutes.

IMG_0251 IMG_0251 IMG_0251 IMG_0270 IMG_0272~Step 2.  While the stew is simmering, rinse and drain the black beans.  Remove and place 3/4-1 cup of the beans on a plate.  Using a vegetable masher, mash that 3/4-1-cup portion of the beans.  Add all of the beans, whole and mashed, to the pot.  Stir well, reduce heat to simmer, slowly, for 3 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot, and, allow stew to steep for 1-1 1/2 hours.  This will allow time for the flavors to marry and the broth to thicken (the whole and mashed beans are going to absorb some of the liquid, transforming it from soupy to stew-like).

Thick & chunky, rich & nicely-spiced, steaming hot & hearty:

IMG_0293Add a scoop of rice to your bowl, ladle in some stew, &, dig in:

IMG_0297Caribbean-Style Sweet Potato Stew & Black Bean Stew:  Recipe yields 2 quarts, and, 8 very hearty servings when served over rice.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; large spoon; colander; vegetable masher

IMG_5162Cook's Note:  This rice is so good, I'm at a loss for words (imagine that) to adequately describe it.  It gets its pretty yellow color from aceite de achiote (achiote-flavored vegetable oil) and bijol seasoning.  Click here to get my recipe for ~ Aromatically-Spiced Yellow Caribbean Coconut Rice ~. Tip from Mel:  Because the stew cooks so quickly in the stockpot, I like to prep the ingredients for the rice before cooking the stew, then cook the rice during the hour the stew is steeping.

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

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

11/06/2017

~ Caribbean-Style Pork Chops and Onions w/Sauce ~

IMG_0183Porcine arrived in the Caribbean (on the island of Cuba to be more specific) when Columbus landed in 1492.  It's been a favorite meat ever since, and, if you've ever spent time on a Caribbean island, you know there are pork dishes galore to choose from on restaurant menus, and, to eat on the beaches.  Ever heard of "Pig Beach", also known as "Pig Island", officially known as "Big Major Cay"?  Located in Exuma, an Island in the Bahamas, a colony of feral pigs roam around, swim freely, and, are fed by the locals and tourists.  One tale claims the pigs were dropped off by a group of sailors with failed plans to return.  Another story says the pigs swam to shore after a shipwreck, surviving on the the excess food that washed to shore.

IMG_0185Does pork taste better on a Caribbean island?  Yes.

IMG_0235Pork does taste better on a Caribbean island.  At first, I thought it was my imagination -- I told myself everything tastes better on an Island beach after three drinks.  Next, I assumed it had to do with their unique rubs, marinades and seasonings, which are full of garlic, herbs, spices and citrus, resulting in the super-moist, tender texture.  Then I learned that in the Caribbean, pigs are fed "palmiche", the fruit of the palm tree, which is an exceptional food for pigs, and, it indeed makes the meat more flavorful.  The majestic and stately "royal palm", which bears fruit all year long, is native to Cuba and is also their national tree.  Peasants, known as pollards, climb to the tree tops to cut off the fruit (palm nuts), which grow in big clusters.  The tenderer shoots and hearts-of-palm are used in soups, salads and all sorts of other yummy dishes as well.

IMG_4783I am not claiming to be an authority on Caribbean cooking, nor am I claiming this to be authentic -- I never ate a pork chop on any island because I was too busy feasting on their many other pork dishes, grilled shrimp and jerk chicken.  That said, I know enough about the flavor profile of their mojo-marinated pulled pork shoulder, and, I have enough of "the right stuff" on hand to be able to put together a recipe for a fine Caribbean pork chop (the way I imagine one to be -- worthy of a table in the sun under the shade of a palm tree).  The reason I decided to come up with a chop recipe today is:  it's just Joe and I for dinner -- an entire pork shoulder is simply too much food and too many leftovers for just us two.

IMG_01238  center-cut, 3/4"-thick, bone-in pork-loin-chops (Note:  The thickness of the pork chops is important.  Thinner = less cooking time.  Thicker = more cooking time.)

1/2  cup orange juice

1/4  cup lime juice

1/4  cup dry, high-quality sherry

6  garlic cloves, run through a press

1 teaspoon Cuban seasoning blend (a blend of dehydrated onion, garlic, bell pepper, oregano and cumin)

1/2  teaspoon bijol seasoning

1/2  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper 

6  tablespoons aceite de achiote, achiote-flavored vegetable oil (vegetable oil with annatto)

1  very large sweet onion, cut into 1/4"-thick rings (12-16 ounces total onion rings)

1  recipe for my aromatically-spiced yellow Caribbean coconut rice (See Cook's Note below.)

cilantro leaves, for garnish

IMG_0129 IMG_0133 IMG_0137 IMG_0137 IMG_0148~Step 1.  Place the pork chops in a heavy-duty, 2-gallon-size food storage bag, then place the bag in a 13" x 9" x 2" non-reactive (not-metal) baking dish.  In a 1-2-cup measuring container, place the orange juice, lime juice and sherry. Press the garlic into the citrus juice. Stir in the Cuban seasoning, bijol seasoning, ground cumin, dried oregano, salt and pepper.  Add the marinade to the bag in the baking dish.  Seal the bag and marinate in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours, "flip-flopping" the bag, whenever convenient.  Remove pork chops from refrigerator and return to room temperature, about 1 hour prior to cooking them as follows:

IMG_0151 IMG_0151 IMG_0151 IMG_0162~Step 2.  Heat oven to "warm".  Place enough achiote oil in a 16" electric skillet to thinly-coat bottom of skillet.  Heat skillet to 225º-250º.  Transfer each pork chop to the skillet, allowing the excess marinade to drizzle back into the bag as you work.  Reserve marinade.  Sauté pork chops until light golden on both sides and cooked through, 7-8 minutes per side, turning only once. Transfer chops to a casserole or arrange on an oven-safe serving platter, and, place in oven.

IMG_0167 IMG_0167 IMG_0167Step 3. Add the onions to the skillet and give them a light sprinkle of additional salt and pepper.  Sauté onions until light golden, but not limp, 5-6 minutes.  Remove the onions from the skillet and arrange them on top of chops. Place the baking dish (or oven-safe platter) on center rack of preheated oven to keep warm.  

IMG_0176 IMG_0176~ Step 4.  Add the reserved marinade to the skillet. Adjust heat to a steady simmer, and stir constantly, until a slightly-thickened sauce forms, about 1-2 minutes.  Remove onion-topped chops from oven, drizzle the sauce over all and serve ASAP. 

Serve drizzled w/sauce accompanied by Caribbean Rice...

IMG_0204

... preferably, at a table, under the shade of a palm tree.

IMG_0107Caribbean-Style Pork Chops and Onions w/Sauce:  Served with rice, recipe yields 8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  1, heavy-duty, 2-gallon size food storage bag; 13" x 9" x 2" non-reactive (not-metal) baking dish; 1-2-cup measuring container; garlic press; spoon; 2-cup measuring container; plastic wrap; 16" electric skillet

IMG_5162Cook's Note:  This rice is so good, I'm at a loss for words (imagine that) to adequately describe it.  It gets its pretty yellow color from aceite de achiote (achiote-flavored vegetable oil) and bijol seasoning -- two of the ingredients used in my pork chop recipe too.  Click here to get my recipe for ~ Aromatically-Spiced Yellow Caribbean Coconut Rice ~. Tip from Mel:  Because the pork chops cook so quickly in the skillet, be sure to prepare the rice while the pork chops are marinating.

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

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

11/03/2017

~Aromatically-Spiced Yellow Caribbean Coconut Rice~

IMG_0093Rice is nice.  I like rice -- a lot.  Next to the earthy potato, it's one of nature's greatest gifts to my side-dish world, not-to-mention a staple food for a large part of the world's population.  Extra-long-grain white-, basmati-, jasmine-, wild-, arborio-, and, Thai-sweet-sticky- rices are staples in my pantry.  You'll also find a stash of Uncle Ben's Long Grain & Wild Rice, Rice-a-Roni, and, Goya Spanish-Style Yellow Rice (all boxed-mixes complete with seasoning packets) in there too.  

IMG_5098Rice has always been a part of my life, but, growing up, my mom and grandmother didn't get too creative with it -- it was always stovetop-cooked, long-grain white, served plain, or, with brown butter and sautéd onions stirred into it.  

It was the outside world (a result of all the traveling that Joe and I have done), that contributed all the creative and exotic rice recipes to my recipe box.  That said, it was my mom who taught me how to cook  PICT3936perfect white rice on the stovetop. Mom even bought me a 4-quart stockpot with a glass lid (just like hers), which allows me to keep an eye on the cooking process (which is "half the battle" when it comes to simmering perfect rice every time).  

Fast forward to the mid-1990's, which is when I got exposed to now one of my favorite countertop appliances:  the electric rice steamer.  A Korean girlfriend, Oki Lee, brought one full of perfectly steamed rice to a tennis club fundraiser -- it changed my life.  It's indispensable to me, and, for the most part, I have transitioned all of my rice recipes from stovetop to 6a0120a8551282970b0176168db7d9970csteamer.  To make rice in an electric steamer:  using the cup/measure from steamer, place rinsed rice in steamer.  Add an equal amount of water, a 1-to-1 ratio of rice-to-water. Briefly stir, close lid and turn steamer on.  Do not uncover during steaming process.  In 18-20 minutes, perfectly cooked rice -- and, the steamer will keep it warm for several hours.  It can be used to steam other vegetables too.  Click here to learn how I steam broccoli and cauliflower in a rice steamer.

Coconut milk and aromatic spices give this rice its exotic flavor. Yellow coloring comes from achiote oil and bijol seasoning.  

IMG_5162It's an unbelievably delicious sweet & savory side-dish to all sorts of Caribbean-style pork, poultry, fish or seafood dishes.

IMG_51211  13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk + enough water to total 2 1/4 cups liquid

2  cups basmati or extra-long-grain white rice

3-4  tablespoons aceite de achiote, achiote-flavored vegetable oil (vegetable oil with annatto)

1  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/2  teaspoon bijol seasoning

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon ground cumin

1/4  teaspoon ground allspice 

2  cups finely-diced sweet onion

1  cup finely-diced red bell pepper

1  cup raisins

4-6  tablespoons minced, fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

IMG_5136 IMG_5136 IMG_5136 IMG_5136~Step 1.  Place the rice and the coconut milk/water mixture in rice cooker and give it a stir.  Close the lid, plug steamer in and turn it on.  While rice is steaming, prepare vegetable/raisin sauté as directed below.  When rice is finished steaming, rake through it with a fork, to fluff it up.

IMG_5125 IMG_5125 IMG_5125 IMG_5125~Step 2.  In a 10" skillet, place enough oil to coat bottom, 3-4 tablespoons.  Add and stir salt, pepper, bijol seasoning, cinnamon, cumin and allspice into oil.  Heat over medium heat, then add onion, bell pepper and raisins.  Stir to combine and adjust heat to sauté, until onion and pepper are softened, but still crunch tender, and, raisins are soft and plump, 5-6 minutes.  Turn heat off.

IMG_5149 IMG_5149~ Step 3.  Transfer steamed rice to vegetable mixture in skillet.  Using a large spoon, combine thoroughly.  Serve this delightfully sweet and savory rice with, or use as a bed for, grilled or roasted Caribbean-style poultry, pork or seafood. 

Stir steamed coconut-rice into vegetable/raisin mixture:

IMG_5156Coming up next: Caribbean-Style Pork Chops & Onions:

IMG_0090Aromatically-Spiced Yellow Caribbean Coconut Rice:  Recipe yields 8 cups rice/8-16 side-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 10" skillet, preferably nonstick; electric rice steamer

6a0120a8551282970b017eeac6e1a6970dCook's Note:  Sometimes we cooks take the simplest of things for granted.  We intuitively know what spices, herbs, vegetables and/or fruits to add to a pot of fluffy white rice to turn it into a spectacular side-dish.  We use this inexpensive grain as a foil to stretch a meal that feeds 4 into a meal that feeds 6-8.  From region to region, even here in the U.S.A. there are different ways to cook white rice.  One of my favorites, from New Orleans is: Commander's Kitchen's Recipe for: "Boiling" White Rice.

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

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