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12 posts from December 2017

12/31/2017

~ Sweet Sausage, Apple & Cheddar Puff Pastry Braid ~

IMG_2453We all have our favorite breakfast and brunch casserole recipes -- I'd be lost without mine. They taste great, they're easy to prepare, and, some can even be made ahead, but, let's face it: casseroles aren't elegant. They're low-key, family-style, comfort food -- the blue jeans of the food world.  Newsflash:  Occasionally, it's necessary to dress up -- and that extends to the food.  If I told you I have a small repertoire of AM meals that make a stunning presentation, taste as good as they look, and, are relatively easy to prepare, would you want the recipes?  I thought so.

From appetizers to entrées to desserts...

IMG_2263... making a puff pastry braid is a valuable skill to have.

IMG_2267For home cooks who like to entertain, don't like to entertain, or, simply don't have a lot of time to entertain, store-bought puff pastry is a high-quality, time-saving ingredient -- especially during the holiday season.  As one who takes the better part of two days to make real-deal, all-butter, high-quality-butter, puff-pastry from scratch (to make Danish for special occasions), trust me, for certain culinary applications, store-bought puff-pastry is a relatively small compromise I am willing to make.  There's two boxes stashed in my freezer at all times.  

Like many, I discovered puff pastry sheets in the 1980's.  Grocery stores were becoming grocery chains, which expanded our choices and selections of long established and new products exponentially.  Cooks embraced this product, and, before long, we were all using it in creative ways to make appetizers, entrées and desserts.  Here's one of my entrées:

IMG_23151  8 1/2-ounce, 9" x 9" store-bought & tri-folded puff pastry sheet

8  ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

1/2  cup 1/4"-diced yellow or sweet onion

1/2-3/4  cup  1/4"-1/2" diced peeled and diced Granny Smith apple

1/2  teaspoon apple pie spice

1  cup shredded white sharp cheddar cheese

1  large egg, for mixing into sausage mixture

1  large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, to be used as an egg wash for assembled pastry braid

~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 375°.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment. Grate the cheese, then return it to the refrigerator.  Dice the onion and apple as directed and set aside.

IMG_2318 IMG_2318 IMG_2318 IMG_2318 IMG_2318 IMG_2334 IMG_2334~Step 2.  Using your fingertips,  pull the sausage into small bits and pieces, adding them to a 10" nonstick skillet as you work.  Add the diced onion to skillet.  Over medium- medium-high heat, sauté, stirring frequently with a nonstick spatula, until sausage is cooked through (without browning) and onion is soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes.  Add the diced apple and apple pie spice.  Continue to sauté, stirring constantly until apple is just beginning to soften, about 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool to almost room temperature, about 30 minutes. -- or longer.

IMG_2341 IMG_2341 IMG_2341 IMG_2341 IMG_2351~Step 3.  To mix the filling, transfer the cooled sausage mixture to a large bowl.  Add the grated cheese and stir until cheese is evenly incorporated throughout sausage.  

In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk one of the eggs.  Add the whisked egg to the sausage mixture, and, using your hands, mix the mixture, as you would a meatloaf.  Set the filling aside while prepping the puff pastry as directed below:

IMG_2146 IMG_2146 IMG_2146 IMG_2146 IMG_2159~Step 4.  Remove pastry from packaging and place, lengthwise, on prepared baking pan.  Using fingertips, carefully open the tri-folded sheet.  Where the pastry was folded, will define three, even-sized thirds, each approximately 9"L x 3"W.  Using a paring knife and a ruler, slice 3"L x 1/2"W "tabs" along the lower and upper thirds of the pastry (18 tabs on each third of the pastry), leaving the center third (which is where the filling will go) uncut.  If at any time while you are slicing the tabs, the pastry gets sticky, return pan to refrigerator for 5-6 minutes to firm it up again (and again).  Cutting the tabs is very easy if the pastry is cold. 

IMG_2358 IMG_2358 IMG_2358 IMG_2358 IMG_2358 IMG_2358~Step 5.  Spoon and place the filling over the center third of the pastry sheet, mounding it towards the center. Starting at one end and working all the way to the other, alternately crisscross the tabs up and over filling.  When you get to the end, trim and remove the last two tabs of pastry, along with any excess scraps of pastry. As per ~ Step 4, if the tabs get sticky or start to stick to the pan, refrigerate for 5-6 minutes, then proceed.  Tuck the ragged edges evenly underneath the pastry braid. Use the two trimmed tabs and ragged edges to seal the open end where you started.  Both ends will now be sealed and tucked -- the ends don't have to look perfect, the puff pastry will bake up beautifully.

IMG_2214 IMG_2214 IMG_2214 IMG_2389 IMG_2398 IMG_2398~Step 6.  In a small bowl, whisk the second egg and water together.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint egg wash over the entire surface of the puff pastry braid.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 18-20 minutes.  Pastry will be golden brown and bubbling and cheese will be just short of oozing from the nooks and crannies. Remove from oven and cool on pan 15-20-30 minutes.  Use a spatula to aid in transferring to a serving plate prior to slicing and serving semi-hot, warm or at room temperature -- it's delish any way.

Cool this culinary work of art 15-20 minutes...

IMG_2432... prior to serving & serving warm or at room temp.

IMG_2466Enjoy every meaty, cheesy & fruity, bite:

IMG_2486Sweet Sausage, Apple & Cheddar Puff Pastry Braid:  Recipe yields 8-10 appetizers/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; hand-held box grater; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; nonstick spatula; paring knife; fork; pastry brush

IMG_2286Cook's Note: For a companion puff pastry braid to serve with your sausage, apple and cheddar pastry braid, allow me to suggest my ~ Cloudberry Jam, Brie & Almond Puff Pastry Braid ~ and ring in the New Year with this pair!

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

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

12/28/2017

~ Cloudberry Jam, Brie, Almond & Puff Pastry Braid ~

IMG_2290Circa 1980-1985 -- better known as the cloudberry jam period of my life.  One of Joe's business associates (a man from Norway temporarily working here in Happy Valley) introduced us to a Norwegian specialty: small squares of grilled bread cheese topped with cloudberry jam.  It was served as an appetizer at a cocktail hosted by Rolf and his Swedish wife. I fell in love with this cheesy treat immediately -- and said so.  When I reciprocated the invitation, I was gifted a jar of the jam, a small brick of bread cheese and a package of stroopwaffes as a hostess gift.

From appetizers to entrées to desserts...

IMG_2263... making a puff pastry braid is a valuable skill to have.

6a0120a8551282970b0177447f484f970dFor several years, I ordered cloudberry jam, six at a clip, via State College's Cheese Shoppe.  I served it with crackers and soft, mild cheeses, like Brie and St. Andre (bread cheese was not readily available to me at the time), at my own parties.  Nowadays cloudberry jam is available on line.  It's still pricey, about $15.00 a jar, but, for a holiday or special occasion indulgence, it's well worth the cost.  

6a0120a8551282970b0177447f3491970d-800wiIt's only recently (within the past 4-5 years) that I've started noticing vacuum-packed, inexpensive, bread cheese being sold in our local grocery stores (Wegman's and Weis to be exact.).  

A bit about cloudberries:  This wild plant, with a very short growing season, grows naturally in cool/cold mountainous regions of the Northern Hemisphere (like Canada and Alaska) and in the Nordic countries 1024px-Cloudberriesof the Baltic states.  The berries, a bit resemblant of raspberries, are soft, juicy and rich in vitamin C. They're used to make jam, juice, cakes, tarts, tea and liqueur.   In Finland, they use the jam as a topping for the above-named squeaky cheese (the nickname for bread cheese).  In Sweden, cloudberry jam is used as a topping for ice cream, pancakes and waffles -- although I much prefer it with cheese.  In Norway, they sometimes mix the jam with whipped cream to make a dessert called "multekrem", or, "cloudberry cream".  Alaskans mix the berries with reindeer or caribou fat, fish oil and sugar to make "akutaq" or "Eskimo ice cream" (now doesn't that just sound appetizingly wonderful) -- not.

IMG_2267A bit about store-bought puff pastry sheets:

For home cooks who like to entertain, don't like to entertain, or, simply don't have a lot of time to entertain, store-bought puff pastry is a high-quality, time-saving ingredient -- especially during the holiday season.  As one who makes all-butter, high-quality-butter, puff-pastry from scratch (to make Danish for special occasions), trust me, for certain culinary applications, store-bought puff-pastry is a relatively small compromise I am willing to make.  There's two boxes stashed in my freezer at all times.  Like many of my friends, I discovered puff pastry sheets in the 1980's. Grocery stores were becoming grocery chains, which expanded our choices and selections of established and new products exponentially.  Cooks embraced this product, and, before long, we were all using it in creative ways to make appetizers, entrées and desserts.  Here's one of my appetizers:

IMG_22691  8 1/2-ounce, 9" x 9" store-bought & tri-folded puff pastry sheet

6  tablespoons cloudberry jam

8  ounce wedge of Brie, cold

1/4  cup lightly-toasted slivered almonds

1  large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, to be used as an egg wash for assembled pastry braid

IMG_2130 IMG_2130~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 375°.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper. Remove Brie from refrigerator.  Without removing packaging (it's easier to slice), cut into 1/4"-thick slices, alternating cutting from the right and left side of the wedge as you slice.  Remove and discard the packaging.  Return Brie to refrigerator.

IMG_2136 IMG_2136~ Step 2.   Place slivered almonds on a small baking pan.  Roast on center rack of preheated 375° oven, until lightly-toasted and fragrant, 5-6 minutes, stopping to stir the almonds around in pan half way through the process (so they brown evenly).  Remove from oven and set aside to cool to room temperature, about 15-20 minutes.

IMG_2146 IMG_2146 IMG_2146 IMG_2146 IMG_2159~Step 3.  Remove pastry from packaging and place, lengthwise, on prepared baking pan.  Using fingertips, carefully open the tri-folded sheet.  Where the pastry was folded, will define three, even-sized thirds, each approximately 9"L x 3"W.  Using a paring knife and a ruler, slice 3"L x 1/2"W "tabs" along the lower and upper thirds of the pastry (18 tabs on each third of the pastry), leaving the center third (which is where the fillings will go) uncut.  If at any time while you are slicing the tabs, the pastry gets sticky, return pan to refrigerator for 5-6 minutes to firm it up again (and again).  Cutting the tabs is very easy if the pastry is cold.

IMG_2171 IMG_2171 IMG_2171 IMG_2171~Step 4.  Place and spread the cloudberry jam over the center third of the pastry sheet.  Arrange a layer of sliced cheese, lengthwise atop the jam.  Cut and arrange a second layer of cheese, atop and in the opposite direction of first layer.  Sprinkle the toasted almonds over the cheese.

IMG_2194 IMG_2194 IMG_2194 IMG_2194~Step 5.  Starting at one end and working all the way to the other, alternately crisscross the tabs up and over filling.  When you get to the end, trim and remove the last two tabs of pastry, along with any excess scraps of pastry.  As per ~ Step 3, if the tabs get sticky or start to stick to the pan, refrigerate for 5-6 minutes, then proceed.  Tuck the ragged edges evenly underneath the pastry braid. Use the two trimmed tabs and ragged edges to seal the open end where you started.  Both ends will now be sealed and tucked -- it doesn't have to be perfect, it will bake up beautifully.

IMG_2214 IMG_2214 IMG_2214 IMG_2214~Step 6.  In a small bowl, whisk the egg and water together.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint egg wash over the entire surface of the puff pastry braid.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 18-20 minutes.  Pastry will be golden brown and bubbling and cheese will be just short of oozing from the nooks and crannies.  Remove from oven and cool on pan 15-20 minutes.  Use a spatula to transfer to serving plate prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.

Cool this culinary work of art 15-20 minutes...

IMG_2276... prior to slicing & serving warm or at room temp.

IMG_2306Enjoy every rich, delightfully-satisfying, beautiful bite: 

IMG_2296Appetizer:  Cloudberry Jam, Brie & Puff Pastry Braid:  Recipe yields 8-10 appetizers/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef'ss knife; small baking pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; paring knife; ruler; fork; pastry brush; large metal spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01bb081b4532970d 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c77698ac970bCook's Note: It wasn't long before puff pastry was available to us cooks, not just in sheets, but in precut shells and cups.  They were another welcome convenience and I embraced them too.  This recipe gets served in baked puff pastry shells. try my recipe for this retro classic,  ~ Seafood Newburg: Shrimp, Scallops & Crabmeat ~.

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

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

12/25/2017

~ Four Kid-Friendly Candy-Bar Cookies of My Youth ~

IMG_2126I happily chose cookies-made-with-candy-bars as this year's 2017 theme for Christmas cookies on Kitchen Encounters, and, I gleefully baked all four.  Reese's, Snickers, Kit Kat and Whoppers. Everyone is well-familiar with this cast of candy-bar characters.  These particular four weren't just chosen at random.  They were my favorite candy bars when I was a kid -- they're close to my heart, and, they're an all-star lineup too.  I know, Whoppers aren't a bar -- whatever, move along. A bite out of any one of them would bring a smile to my face, and, if asked to make a choice, to this day, I couldn't choose a favorite -- just blindfold me and allow me pick one out of hat.

Cookies Made with Candy Bars -- Four Acts of Playful Baking  

Written & produced by Melanie Preschutti

I remember the Summer days when my brother and I and a few of the neighborhood kids would drape a couple of blankets over my mom's backyard clothesline and put on a play -- we performed in front of an audience of none and it was fun.  As the only girl on a street full of boys, it wasn't hard to get the lead roll in our little theater ensemble.  Heck, most times, I got be the playwright and producer too.  Those were good times.  Dim the lights and pull back the curtains:

Act I:  Over-the-Top Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies

IMG_1290Act II:  Chocolate & Peanut-Butter-Snickers Cookie Squares

IMG_1526Act III:  Chewy Coconut & Crispy White-Kit-Kat Cookies

IMG_1838Act IV:  Whoppers Milk-Chocolate Malted-Milk-Ball Cookies 

IMG_2092And to all a good night.  Merry Christmas 2017.

IMG_2121"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

12/23/2017

~ Whoppers Milk-Chocolate Malted-Milk-Ball Cookies ~

IMG_2092Back in the 1970's, a shopping trip with mom to Hazleton, Pennsylvania's indoor Laurel Mall, was not complete without picking up a carton of Whoppers -- conveniently located close to the checkouts in the K-Mart.  I was almost a teenager.  My brother, three years younger, required a stop at K-Mart to appease him -- and it was always our last stop at the mall.  Whoppers were our treat for the thirty-minute car ride home, and, as mightily as we all tried, it was next to impossible for mom, David, and I, not to polish off the contents of that entire milk-carton-shaped container.

Eating candy out of a milk carton = a kid's dream come true.

IMG_1940Produced by The Hershey Corporation, Whoppers are crunchy malted milk balls covered with a milk-chocolatey coating.  They're about 3/4 inch in diameter and, besides their signature malted milk centers, they are known for their unique packaging:  a large, 12-ounce sized milk-carton-shaped box.  They come in smaller 5-ounce boxes too (the size sold in most movie theaters), and, in plastic "fun sized" tubes containing a judicious twelve or three pieces of candy.

IMG_1955In 1939, the Overland Candy Company introduced the Whoppers' predecessor:  Giants.  In 1947, Overland merged with the Chicago Biscuit Company, Leaf Gum and Leaf Machinery.  In 1949, the then Leaf Brands reintroduced the candy under the name:  Whoppers.  In the 1960's, Leaf Brands was purchased by W.R. Grace, which Leaf repurchased in 1976.  Hershey Foods acquired Leaf in 1996, where they continue producing the now iconic Whoppers to this day. 

What is malted milk powder?

6a0120a8551282970b016763395fd8970bIt's a combination of malted barley, wheat flour, malt flour and powdered milk containing additives like sugar and flavorings like vanilla or chocolate.  The term "malt" refers to a process where a grain is placed in a warm environment, allowed to sprout, and is quickly dried to a fine powder. Malted milk powder was invented by a London pharmacist, James Horlicks, in 1869.  His intention was for it to be a liquid supplement for infants and invalids, but it quickly found popularity in unexpected food markets.  Because it was lightweight and nonperishable, explorers like Admiral Richard E. Byrd took it to Antarctica, where he named a mountain range after Horlicks.  Because of its pleasant, sweet taste when mixed with milk, people in general started drinking malted milk for enjoyment.  Mothers, like mine, added it to milk to entice little girls like me (who hated plain white milk), to drink their milk.

IMG_2054These cookies just might be the easiest cookie to make -- ever.

IMG_197112  ounces malted milk balls

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

1  cup lightly-packed light brown sugar

1/4  cup instant malted milk powder

1  large egg, at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon salt

IMG_1959 IMG_1959 IMG_1959~ Step 1.  Place the malted milk balls in a 1-gallon food storage container and seal the bag.  Using the flat side of a meat mallet, give the Whoppers several whacks to break them into random-sized bits and pieces.  Set aside.

IMG_1976 IMG_1976~ Step 2.  In a large bowl, on medium-high speed of electric mixer, place and thoroughly combine butter, light brown sugar, malted milk powder, egg and extract, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula, about 1 minute.

IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982~Step 3.  Remove the mixer -- it won't be needed any more.  All at once, add all of the flour, baking soda and salt. Using the large rubber spatula, thoroughly incorporate the dry ingredients into the butter mixture -- this will take a minute or two, but it's easy to do.  A thick, uniformly-colored cookie dough will have formed.  Add and thoroughly fold in the Whopper pieces.

IMG_2003 IMG_2003 IMG_2003 IMG_2026~Step 4.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop, place 12-15 scoops of cookie dough, well-apart on each of 3, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment.  Work one-pan-at-a-time, meaning:  Chill a pan of cookies in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. When first pan comes of out of refrigerator, place the second pan in. When the second pan comes out, place the third pan in.  When each pan comes out of refrigerator:  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven for 10-12 minutes -- cookies will be very soft but puffed through to their centers, and just showing signs of light-to-medium browning.  Cool cookies, on pan, 3 minutes, allowing them to flatten out and firm up, then, use a thin spatula to transfer them a wire rack to cool completely, 1 hour.

Bake in 350° oven 10-12 minutes.  Cool on pans 3 minutes.

IMG_2022Transfer to wire rack to cool completely, 1 hour. 

IMG_2027Malted milk w/malted-milk ball cookies = a dunkers dream. 

IMG_2096Whoppers Milk-Chocolate Malted-Milk-Ball Cookies:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 dozen 3"-round cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09632331970dCook's Note:  Malted milk powder isn't just for mixing into plain white milk or making malts.  It's delicious in eggnog too.  To ring in the New Year with an adult-friendly, celebratory drink, try my recipe for ~ Thick Creamy Eggnog & Rum Milkshakes 'n Malts ~.

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

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

12/21/2017

~ The Difference Between Chow Mein and Lo Mein ~

IMG_1891Chinese-American fare.  It's a favorite in our house.  About once a week, we either order take-out or delivery from our two favorite places, or, I take the time to make some.  Each of us has our favorite menu item -- the one that we crave and can't wait to plunge our chopsticks into.  For me, it's chow mien or lo mein -- two of China's most iconic dishes.  "What exactly is the difference between the two?"  When I got asked that very question last night, I decided to transcribe the discussion into a blog post today -- while it's still fresh on my mind and I have leftovers.

Mein = noodles.  Chow mein = fried noodles.  Lo mein = tossed noodles.

IMG_1925In a world full of famous Chinese dishes, chow mein and lo mein are two noodle dishes that every Chinese chef skillfully knows how to prepare, but, they're two that are hard for many non-Chinese cooks to distinguish between.  It's commonly thought the difference between the two lies in the type of noodle used. It's not.  The type of noodle is the same -- fresh Chinese Egg Noodles. Literally translated, "mein" means "noodles", "chow mien" means "fried noodles", and, "lo mein" means "tossed noodles" -- the exact same  noodles are used to make both.  

It's the way the noodles are cooked and used during the cooking process that distinguishes the two, but, depending upon the chef who's cooking the dish, or the preference of the person eating the dish, when placed side by side, the differences between how the two can look and taste range from almost identical to dramatically different.  It's all in the details.  Read on:

IMG_1883Similarities = Chinese egg noodles, stir-fried veggies, sauce & protein.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08b463ee970d-120wiA bit about Chinese Egg noodles:  The Chinese have an almost overwhelming variety of noodles to choose from.  Fresh Chinese egg noodles (the four most common being thin or wide wonton noodles, and, Hong-Kong-style chow mein noodles or lo mein noodles), found in all Asian markets (and larger grocery stores) are made with wheat flour and eggs and are yellow in color (which is often attributed to the addition of yellow dye).  Fresh egg noodles are also cooked to the point of only needing to be briefly reheated in a pot of simmering water or broth, and/or, tossed into a stir-fry at the beginning and/or end of the cooking process.  If kept sealed, they keep in the refrigerator about a week, and, once opened, for best results, should be used within 24 hours.

Chow mien and lo mein are 100% Chinese, although after the Chinese brought their recipes to America, they quickly got Americanized.  Initially, this was done out of necessity, using ingredients available to the area it was being prepared in, then, eventually, to suit the tastes of locals.

IMG_1902Example:  The chicken chow mein Americans have to come to expect to eat in our favorite Chinese-American restaurants -- a stewy melange of tender strips or chunks of velvety white chicken and crunch-tender celery, onions, bean sprouts, cabbage and water chestnuts enrobed in a lightly-colored soy and chicken-stock-based sauce -- it's beautifully monochromatic to look at and undeniably delicious.   It's also emblematic of 1950's Chinese-American food, and, there's almost nothing Chinese about it.  

6a0120a8551282970b019b0134f884970dPast the egg noodles, traditional Chinese versions contain a variety of stir-fried vegetables with a brown soy-based sauce, and, can contain beef, pork, chicken, seafood or tofu. When it comes to the protein, "velveting" is an ancient Chinese technique used to coat proteins to protect them from overcooking.  To learn how Chinese restaurant chefs achieve that signature "velvety" soft texture we all love, read my post  ~ How to Velvet (Tenderize) Protein the Chinese Way ~.  

Difference = the preparation of and when the noodles enter the dish.

In the case of chow mein, which means fried noodles, it implies a method in which the noodles are fried at the beginning of the cooking process, set aside, and then added back to the stir-fry at serving time: soft fried = authentic Chinese, crisp fried = Americanized.  The noodles get cooked twice.  As a result, the noodles do not absorb the sauce, which is why chow mien contains a judicious amount of sauce.  Americanized chow mien sauce is light in color and runny.  

In the case of lo mein, which means tossed noodles, it implies a method in which the egg noodles get tossed into the stir-fry at the end of the cooking process.  The noodles get cooked once.  As a result, the noodles absorb some sauce and stay soft while the other previously-cooked ingredients get distributed evenly throughout, which is why lo mein dishes contain a more generous amount of sauce.  American and Chinese lo mien sauce is dark in color and drizzly.

And now for something completely different -- Italian style?

IMG_1860In the case of canned chow mien (which was my first experience with Chinese food as a kid in the early 1960's), it was the creation of Jeno Paulucci, the son of Italian immigrants, who, oddly, had a notion that chow mien seasoned with Italian spices would cater to the palates of European immigrants.  In 1946, Chun King marketed his kettle stewed version -- the meat, seasonings and vegetables got dumped into a kettle and stewed for hours.  All the home cook had to do was put the contents into a saucepan and reheat the stew.  

Each portion got topped with some crispy store-bought chow mien noodles and dinner was served.  If he had paired his Italian-themed chow mien with a box of dried spaghetti-type chow-mien noodles that required boiling, I'd have spent my childhood eating Italian-themed lo mein too. Paulucci's company became so successful selling canned chow mein and chop suey (a similar dish, only served over steamed white rice) that President Gerald Ford quipped, "What could be more American than a business built on a good Italian recipe for chow mien and chop suey." Paulucci sold Chun King in 1966, then it was sold several more times, then dissolved in 1995.

Chow mein or lo mein?  I think I'll have a bit of both!

IMG_1901"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

12/18/2017

~ My Chewy Coconut & Crispy White-Kit-Kat Cookies ~

IMG_1844The first time my mom came home from the grocery store with a bag of white chocolate chips, I was fascinated by them.  "What are you going to do with these?"  It turns out she was going to bake white-chocolate macadamia-nut cookies that Nestlé had printed on their package.  "Daddy loves macadamia nuts."  I knew he was going to love mom's new all-white cookie invention -- I could barely wait for the butter to soften.  Tick tock.  As we two gathered together and measured the list of ingredients, it was mom who schooled me on the fact that white chocolate morsels weren't chocolate at all.  I was fascinated by that too.  I miss those kinder, gentler times.

Nowadays, I dream about these all-white Christmas cookies:

IMG_1809My holiday cookie selections to add to Kitchen Encounters this year were centered around my favorite candy bars from my youth:  Over-the-Top Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies, Chocolate & Peanut-Butter-Snickers Cookie Squares, and today, cookies made with Hershey's white-chocolate-coated Kit Kat wafer cookies.  White chocolate and coconut team up in a sweet treat that pairs two textures together:  chewy coconut and crispy wafers.  There's more: Thanks to a modicum of sugar (just one cup) they're pleasantly, not cloyingly, sweet.  Yummy.

IMG_17481 1/2  cups salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 1/2 sticks)

1  cup packed light brown sugar

1  large egg, at room temperature

2  teaspoons pure coconut extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

IMG_17431 3/4  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

5  ounces packed sweetened, flaked coconut (1 cup)

16  ounces mini-sized white Kit Kat candies, each candy cut into 4 morsel-sized squares

IMG_1753 IMG_1753~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, on medium-high speed of electric mixer, place and thoroughly combine butter, light brown sugar, egg and extracts, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula, about 1 minute.

IMG_1767 IMG_1767 IMG_1767 IMG_1767~Step 2.  Remove the mixer.  All at once, add all of the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using the rubber spatula, thoroughly incorporate these dry ingredients into the butter mixture -- this will take a minute or two, but it's easy to do.  A thick, uniformly-colored cookie dough will have formed.  Add and thoroughly fold in the coconut, followed by the Kit-Kat pieces.

IMG_1774 IMG_1781 IMG_1781 IMG_1781~Step 3.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place 12-15 rounded-scoops of cookie dough, well-apart on each of 3, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.  Work one-pan-at-a-time, meaning:  Chill a pan of cookies in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. When first pan comes of out of refrigerator, place the second pan in. When the second pan comes out, place the third pan in.  When each pan comes out of refrigerator:  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven for 10-12 minutes -- cookies will be very soft but puffed through to their centers, and just showing signs of browning.  Cool cookies, on pans, 5-6 minutes, to firm them up, then, use a spatula to transfer them a wire rack to cool completely, 1 hour.

Bake in 350° oven 10-12 minutes.  Cool on pans 5-6 minutes.

IMG_1789Transfer to wire rack to cool for 1 hour.

IMG_1807I'm dreaming of a chewy coconut & crispy white-chocolate  wafer cookie kinda Christmas morning:

IMG_1859My Chewy Coconut & Crispy White-Kit-Kat Cookies:  Recipe yields 3 dozen, 3"-round cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08a30027970d-800wiCook's Note: There are two kinds of people.  Those who finished their holiday baking and those who haven't started.  If your holiday is under control in a Martha Stewart-esque way, the force is with you and you need no help from me. However, if you just got home from doing all of your gift shopping and find yourself panic stricken and in need of a last-minute cookie recipe, preheat your oven to 325 degrees now for:  ~ My Six-Ingredient Last-Minute Egg-Nog Shortbread ~.

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

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

12/15/2017

~ The China Syndrome: An Easier Chinese Char Siu ~

IMG_1729During December and January, like clockwork, without notice, and, for reasons unknown, I crave Chinese food.  It happens every year.  Sometimes I order take-out or delivery from my favorite two places, and, other times I take the time to make it.  In either case, in my kitchen, I feed my inner-Chinese about once a week.  I affectionately and chucklingly refer to my condition as: The China Syndrome.  All snickers aside, note that a great percentage of my Chinese recipes get posted during the months of December and January.  December of 2017 is no exception.

IMG_1719Char = fork (noun & verb).  Siu = to burn or roast.

IMG_1712If a Chinese restaurant has char siu on their menu, I'm ordering it.  It refers to the Cantonese way to flavor and prepare various cuts of boneless barbecued pork -- loin, shoulder, belly, etc. "Char" means "fork", both noun and verb, and, "siu" (pronounced "sue"), means "to burn or roast".

CharsiuTraditionally long strips of marinated and seasoned boneless pork are skewered with long forks and cooked over an open fire or roasted in a closed oven.  I've experienced real-deal char sui, and, in Hong Kong, siu mei restaurants (establishments that specialize in meat or poultry), display what they offer by hanging it in their windows. 

Everything from its signature reddish-brown-glazed, sweet, sticky, subtle five-spice-and-garlic-flavored, slightly-chewy exterior to its moist, succulent interior is irresistibly addictive.  Once cooked, it is typically sliced and served over rice, drizzled with more of the bright red sauce and/or some soy sauce, or; sliced into matchstick-shaped chards and served in noodle soup, or; minced up to make pork buns (char sui bro). (These two photos courtesy of: wiktionary.org.)  

Red-coloring-for-webThe preparation starts by making the marinade, which imparts most of the flavor to the meat.  It's made from a base of hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, dark and light soy sauces, five-spice powder, rice wine, and, white or brown sugar.  Additional ingredients can include minced garlic, ginger, green onions and a bit of honey or sesame oil.  That's the easy part -- inexpensive, easy-to-locate ingredients.  To achieve the signature red color, red fermented tofu paste, red yeast powder and red yeast rice are added.  To give it a lacquered sheen, malt sugar is brushed over the surface during the last moments of cooking.  That's the hard part -- unless one lives in an area with a large Chinese-American population, or, cooks a lot of char sui on a regular basis, searching for the last four ingredients might not be worth your while.  Here's my easier alternative:

IMG_1566Ah-So is a line of Asian sauces and marinades from Allied Old English, Inc., in Port Reading, New Jersey. The Original Ah-So sauce (sold in glass jars and plastic squeeze bottles) is a sweet, sticky, bright, Christmas-bulb-red marinade/glaze used to make pork and poultry.  It contains corn syrup, corn starch, miso, garlic powder and red food coloring*.  Popular here in the Northeastern United States, it falls into the category of Chinese-American cookery, with its aim being to replicate the signature reddish smoke ring found around the boneless spareribs found on the menus of most Chinese restaurants.

Interestingly enough,  the words "ah-so" come from the Japanese saying, "ah-so desu-ka" ("Oh is that so?) -- Ah-so is a mock-Chinese all-American invented expression.  

On its own, I find Ah-So sauce to be overly sweet (even though the sugar content is unavoidable to achieve the mandatory sheen and slight charring found on char sui).  I find it to be remarkably under seasoned too.  My answer is to use just enough of this sauce to guarantee all of the signature red color and glossy sheen a char sui fan could want, and, add enough of flavorful ingredients to it, to season it to restaurant-quality perfection, meaning:  I doctor the sauce up.

IMG_1595For the pork:

2  1-1 1/2-pound pork tenderloins

For my all-purpose char-siu marinade (Note:  It's great for pork spareribs, cubes or strips of pork loin or pork shoulder, chicken breasts, chicken tenderloins, and chicken wings too.)

1  tablespoon garlic paste

2  tablespoons ginger paste

4  tablespoons Ah-So sauce

2  tablespoons hoisin sauce

1  tablespoon oyster sauce

1  tablespoon Chinese rice cooking wine

3  tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

2  tablespoon honey

1  tablespoon sesame oil

1/2  teaspoon Chinese five-Spice powder

1/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

*Note:  It's not unusual to find a few drops (4-6) of red food coloring added to modern-day char sui recipes.  It will provide the bright red color, but not the sugar content.  Inexpensive, store-bought Ah-So sauce does both, which imparts of the signature sheen and slight charring too. 

IMG_1576 IMG_1576 IMG_1576~ Step 1.  To make 1-cup of my all-purpose char siu marinade, in a 1-cup measuring container, place and stir together all ingredients as listed (garlic paste, ginger paste, Ah-so sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, Chinese rice wine, soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, Chinese five-spice powder and ground cinnamon). Taste and adjust the seasonings to suit yourself, but, I'll be shocked if you want to -- it's delish.

IMG_1599 IMG_1599 IMG_1599 IMG_1553~Step 2.  Place tenderloins in a 1-gallon food-storage bag, add marinade and seal bag. Using your fingertips, squish bag around a bit, until entire surface of the tenderloins are coated. Marinate in refrigerator 24-48 hours.  Remove marinated tenderloins from refrigerator.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with aluminum foil, then, line bottom with a sheet of parchment.

IMG_1612 IMG_1614 IMG_1614 IMG_1614~Step 3.  Remove tenderloins from marinade, allowing the excess to drizzle and drip back into the bag (reserve the excess marinade) and place on prepared baking pan.  Allow tenderloins to return to room temperature and dry off, 1-1 1/2 hours.  Transfer marinade to a 1-quart saucepan.  Over medium heat, bring marinade to a steady simmer.  Stirring constantly, simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, pour into a 1-cup measuring container and set aside. You will have 3/4 sauce for glazing pork (as directed below), plus enough leftover for drizzling atop sliced pork.

IMG_1635 IMG_1635 IMG_1635~ Step 4.  Roast tenderloins on center rack of 350° oven for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and reprogram oven to broil, with oven rack positioned 5 1/2"-6" under heat.  Using a pastry brush, paint a light coating of glaze on the surface of both tenderloins.  Place under broiler for 3 minutes.  Remove from oven, paint with glaze and broil a second time, for 3 minutes.  Repeat the painting/broiling process a third time and remove from oven -- glaze will be bubbling and showing signs of light caramelization (browning) on the surface.  Allow tenderloins to rest 15-20 minutes prior to slicing.

Glaze will be bubbling  & lightly caramelized:

IMG_1648Rest tenderloins 15-20 minutes prior to slicing...   

IMG_1706... or dicing or mincing to prepare ...

IMG_1733... any number of your favorite Chinese dishes:

IMG_1815The China Syndrome: An Easier Chinese Char Siu:  Recipe yields 1-cup all-purpose char sui marinade/2, 1-1 1/4-pound pork tenderloins/3-4 servings per tenderloin/6-8 total servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; spoon; 1-gallon food storage bag; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment; plastic wrap; pastry brush; cutting board; chef's knife

6a0120a8551282970b019b033bb2d9970c 6a0120a8551282970b019b0329627a970cCook's Note: In February of 2010, I had the pleasure of welcoming Chef Martin Yan into my kitchen (to assist him with a cooking demonstration in front of a studio audience of 150 at WPSU-TV).  It was my job to prepare a tasting of the dishes he was demonstrating -- for 150 guests.  Lot's of work?  You betcha.  Lot's of fun?  Absolutely.

These walnut cookies were on the menu, and, as Chef Yan writes in his book Feast:  "These are the flaky short-dough cookies found in Chinese bakeries all over the world.  My version replaces the traditional lard with a combination of butter and shortening, producing a crispier, more tender cookie."  Click here for the recipe ~ Martin Yan's Wonderful Walnut Cookies a la Mel ~.

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

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

12/12/2017

~Chocolate & Peanut-Butter-Snickers Cookie Squares~

IMG_1526Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.  Just when I thought Snickers couldn't be improved upon, I find out they make peanut-butter-Snickers bars.  Yes, my love of milk chocolate and peanut butter struck again for the second time in two weeks -- this time in the form of bar cookies.  By the time you read this post, I will have sliced these into small, three-four bite squares, individually wrapped them in plastic and stacked/stashed them in a corner of my freezer. 

IMG_1287Amongst the foodie cravings I get, believe it or not, chocolate isn't in my top ten.  That said, I confess to having a big weakness for Reese's peanut butter cups and Snickers bars.  There's just something about the combination of mellow milk chocolate and salty peanuts or peanut butter that I find hard to resist.  I love it enough to keep a bag of mini-Reese's cups and a bag of fun-sized peanut-butter Snickers bars in my freezer.  My recipe for  ~ Over-the-Top Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies ~ is a tribute to Reese's peanut butter cups.

Everything I love in each & every bite:

IMG_14493/4  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 1/2 sticks)

2  cups light brown sugar

3/4  cup Jiff extra-crunchy peanut butter

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  cup Quaker old-fashioned oats

1  cup milk chocolate chips

16  fun-size peanut-butter-Snickers bars (Note:  In the event you're using different sized Snickers bars, this is 14 1/2-15 ounces total candy.)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

IMG_1443 IMG_1443 IMG_1443 IMG_1443~Step 1.  While the butter and eggs are coming to room temperature, spray a 10"-square baking pan (preferably with a removable bottom) with no-stick cooking spray, place a 10"-square of parchment in the bottom, then spray the parchment.  Set aside.  Unwrap, then chill the Snickers bars for about an hour.  Once they are cold, which makes them easier to evenly cut, slice each one into four pieces, placing the pieces in a  bowl as you work.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350°.

IMG_1454 IMG_1454 IMG_1454 IMG_1454 IMG_1454 IMG_1480 IMG_1480~Step 2.  In a large bowl, on  medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream together the butter, brown sugar, peanut butter, eggs and vanilla.  Using a large rubber spatula fold in (all at once) the flour, baking powder and salt, followed by the oats, then the chocolate chips.  You will have 5 cups of stiff cookie dough (I measured it for you).  Remove 1 1/2 cups (about one-third) of cookie dough from the bowl.

IMG_1484 IMG_1484 IMG_1484 IMG_1495 IMG_1495 IMG_1495 IMG_1495~Step 3.  Transfer the larger portion of the cookie dough (about 3 1/2 cups) to the prepared pan. Using your fingertips, spread, pat and press it evenly into bottom of pan.  Scatter the chopped Snickers over the surface of cookie dough.  I like to arrange them chocolate sides facing up.  Using an ordinary teaspoon, dollop 3/4-1-teaspoon sized pieces of the reserved 1 1/2 cups of the cookie dough in between and around the candy pieces.  Using your fingertips, lightly-press down across the surface to flatten the dough.  Don't worry about the little empty spaces -- the dough will bake up and fill them in.

Don't worry about the cobbled looking empty spaces.

IMG_1504The cookie dough will bake up and fill them in. 

IMG_1510 IMG_1510Step 4.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven, 24-26 minutes, until puffy and lightly-browned on top.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool, in pan, 1 hour -- or until pan is comfortable enough to handle without burning your hands.  Remove cookie from pan by pushing up on the removable bottom then return the cookie (still on the pans bottom) to wire rack to cool completely, 1 hour, prior to slicing.

Once out of the pan, cool completely prior to slicing...

IMG_1518... into 25, 2" x 2" Snickers bar cookie squares. 

IMG_1522Stack 'em up on a favorite holiday plate & party on:

IMG_1542Chocolate & Peanut-Butter-Snickers Cookie Squares:  Recipe yields 25, 2" cookie squares. Cookies squares, individually wrapped in plastic, freeze and thaw perfectly.

Special Equipment List:  10" x 10"-square baking ban w/removable bottom; parchment paper; cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; wire cooling rack; 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ded3e8970dCook's Note:  To make candy out of milk chocolate and peanut butter, I can't say enough about the recipe I was given by my friend and pastry chef from Ohio:  ~ Confection Perfection:  Theresa's Buckeye Candies ~.  There are a lot of recipes for these famous candies out there, but, they all pale in comparison to Teresa's.

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

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

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

12/09/2017

~ Cranberry and Soy Sauce Glazed Pork Loin Sliders ~

IMG_1415Intermittently halting the holiday preparations to interject an impromptu tailgate party into the festivities is a pleasant break from the hullabaloo.  Who doesn't love kicking back on the couch to watch a game for a few hours -- for me, the feeling is akin to playing hookie from school.  That said, coming up with a menu (after the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone and before the Christmas gluttony begins), is tricky -- for me, it's gotta be low-key, stress-free, easy, and, seriously tasty.

Did you know that sweet and tart whole-berry cranberry sauce (the store-bought stuff), when whizzed in the blender along with a bit of soy sauce, some five-spice powder and sesame oil is a delightful marinade for pork tenderloins?  It is -- with a subtle Asian twist.  There's more.  After cooking a twenty-two pound turkey two weeks ago, and, prior to cooking a eighteen pound standing rib roast two weeks from now, marinating and roasting a package of pork tenderloins and mixing up a package of store-bought broccoli slaw is the culinary equivalent of: easy street.

IMG_1425Part One:  Mixing the Marinade & Marinating the Pork

IMG_1364 IMG_1332~ Step 1.  In a mini-food processor (or blender), whir together until smooth:

12  tablespoons whole-berry cranberry sauce

6  tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

2  tablespoons honey

1  tablespoon sesame oil

1/2  teaspoon Chinese five-Spice powder

IMG_1344 IMG_1344 IMG_1344~ Step 2.  Place 2, 1 pound pork tenderloins in a 1-gallon bag, add marinade and seal bag. Using your fingertips, squish bag around a bit, until entire surface of the tenderloins are coated.  Marinate in refrigerator 24-48 hours.  Remove from refrigerator and return to room temperature, 1 hour, prior to roasting.

IMG_1366 IMG_1366~ Step 3.  Remove tenderloins from marinade (discard remaining marinade) and place on a baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Roast on center rack of 350° oven until an instant-read meat thermometer placed in the thickest part of a tenderloin reads 138º-140°, 25-30 minutes.  Remove from oven and rest 15-20 minutes prior to slicing.  Serve warm meat, on slider rolls, topped with chilled Asian broccoli slaw.

IMG_1399Part Two:  Mixing & Marinating the Broccoli Slaw

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8974027970bNo pretense here.  They day I came across store-bought "broccoli cole slaw mix" (cole slaw mix made with crunchy green broccoli stems instead of green cabbage), my mind immediately raced to the flavors of soy sauce and sesame oil.  Why?  Broccoli is classic Asian.  There's more.  I didn't have to experiment with the perfect dressing for it -- I'd already come up with one for my Asian chicken salad recipe.  After a quick mix of the pre-shredded store-bought raw vegetables and my honey-sesame dressing, Asian slaw perfection was revealed.  The brand I use is organic, and, contains just three crunchy ingredients:  broccoli, carrots and red cabbage. It truly is a high-quality time-saving mixture that any busy cook can and should appreciate.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d220c634970c1/4  cup each: vegetable oil and white rice vinegar

1  tablespoon each: sesame oil and Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons honey

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d220c74e970cStep 1.  In a measuring container w/a tight fitting lid, combine all the liquid ingredients.  Shake vigorously.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb093a6eeb970d 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d220c78f970cStep 2. Place the broccoli cole slaw in a medium bowl and add all of the dressing.  Give it a thorough stir.

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

Sandwich some sliders in between your holiday festivities: 

IMG_1411Cranberry and Soy Sauce Glazed Pork Loin Sliders:  8-12, 3"-3 1/2"-round slider-sized sandwiches (depending upon how much pork you heap on each one) and 4 cups broccoli slaw.

Special Equipment List:  mini-food processor or blender; 1-gallon food storage bag; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; instant-read meat thermometer; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid & pourer top; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8a677ba970bCook's Note:  Buffalo-style everything and anything has become synonymous with game day fare.  So -- If it's buffalo-style you're searching for, or, you simply prefer chicken to pork, and, if you've got a bit more time to spare on the preparation, another one of my game-day crowd-pleasing recipes is: ~ Buffalo-Style Chicken 'n Slaw Sliders ~, appropriately-topped with my ~ Buffalo-Style Blue-Cheese & Celery Slider Slaw ~.  When the time is right, this is one you might want to add to your holiday game-day lineup in the near future.

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

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

12/07/2017

~ Over-the-Top Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies ~

IMG_1287Amongst the foodie cravings I get, chocolate isn't in my top ten.  That said, I confess to a weakness for Reese's peanut butter cups and Snickers bars.  There's just something about the combination of mellow milk chocolate and salty peanuts or peanut butter that I find hard to resist. I love it enough to keep a bag of mini-Reese's cups and a bag of snack-sized peanut-butter Snickers bars in my freezer.  A bite-sized nibble of either one and I am a happy woman. 

0100bdaf-ad5f-4856-acc3-190309dea9b9Two things transpired this week:  I replenished my supply of mini-Reese's cups via Amazon. My candy delivery prompted me to get on the internet and search "Reese's peanut butter cup cookies".  I wanted to see if I could find something other than the original Peanut Butter Cup Cookies that I've made in the past, courtesy of Betty Crocker (pictured here).  I found several on the Hershey corporation's site -- a company website is a good place to start when looking to cook or bake using one of their products.  When I was finished perusing Hershey's recipes, I noticed three or four sites touting a recipe for Over-the-Top-Peanut-Butter-Cookies.  When the blogging community is giving accolades for a common recipe, and more importantly, crediting the source, that's a recipe I'm inclined to try.

The recipe originated at a blog called Real Mom Kitchen.  As Laura explains in her post:  in Utah there is a cookie shop by the name of Over the Top Cookies. Instead of mixing specialty ingredients, like unique candy pieces, into their cookie dough, they scatter them over the tops of the cookies (hence the name of their shop).  What Laura shared was her copycat recipe for their Peanut Butter Cup Collision Cookies -- a peanut butter cookie with peanut butter cups on top.

I wish this recipe had been around when my kids were young.

Besides adding my signature step-by-step photos and detailed instructions, the changes I made to Laura's recipe, while small, are worth noting:  I made the cookies smaller by using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop instead of a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop (which Laura did not specify in her recipe).  My recipe yields 3 dozen, 3"-round cookies.  Laura's yields 18 larger cookies.  I did this for no other reason than a big cookie is too much richness in one sitting for me.  I chose to use crunchy peanut butter too -- a preference of mine.  To insure that all of my cookies baked up identically, I chose to chill each pan of cookie dough for exactly 15 minutes, as well as keep the chopped Reese's cups chilled too, prior to baking -- a technique I highly recommend to you.

IMG_11753/4  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft

1  cup sugar

1  cup light brown sugar

1  cup Jiff extra-crunchy peanut butter

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 1/4  teaspoons baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2  cups milk chocolate chips

45  mini-Reeses peanut butter cups

IMG_1177~ Step 1.  While the butter and eggs are coming to room temperature, unwrap, then chill the peanut butter cups for about an hour.  Once they are cold, which makes them easier to cut, slice each one into four pieces, placing the pieces in a  bowl as you work.  Place the bowl of chilled peanut butter cup pieces back in the refrigerator and keep them chilled for the entirety of the the mixing, and parts of the baking process, meaning:  remove them from the refrigerator on an as-needed basis as you bake.

IMG_1181 IMG_1181~Step 2.  In a large bowl, on medium-high speed of electric mixer, place and thoroughly combine butter, sugar, brown sugar, peanut butter, eggs and vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula, about 1 minute.

IMG_1187 IMG_1187 IMG_1187 IMG_1187~Step 3.  Remove the mixer.  Add the flour, baking soda and salt.  Using the rubber spatula, thoroughly fold in the the flour -- this will take a minute or two.  A thick, uniformly colored cookie dough will have formed.  Add and fold the milk chocolate chips into the cookie dough.

IMG_1200 IMG_1200 IMG_1200 IMG_1200~Step 4.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place 12 rounded-scoops of cookie dough, well-apart on each of 3, 17 1/2" x 11 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper (12 cookies on each pan).  Using the palm of your hand, slightly flatten the tops of the cookies.  When all cookies are on the pans and all the cookies are slightly flattened:

IMG_1221 IMG_1221 IMG_1221 IMG_1221 IMG_1234~Step 5.  Work one-pan-at-a-time, meaning:  Chill a pan of cookies in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. When first pan comes of out of refrigerator, place the second pan in. When the second pan comes out, place the third pan in.  When each pan comes out of refrigerator:  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven for 10 minutes -- cookies will be very soft but puffed through to their centers.  Remove from oven and lightly press 5 pieces of chilled and chopped Reese's cups into the top of each cookie.  Return to oven and bake an additional 3 1/2-4 minutes.  Cookies will be slightly brown around the edges.  Cool cookies, on pans, about 5 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.

Cool on pans 5 minutes.  Cool completely on wire rack.

IMG_1250Cooled Reese's will firm-up-slightly but remain pleasantly soft.

IMG_1262Milk chocolate and peanut butter nirvana:

IMG_1313Over-the-Top Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies:  Recipe yields 3 dozen, 3"-round cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb094ab501970d-800wiCook's Note:  To make candy out of milk chocolate and peanut butter, I can't say enough about the recipe I was given by my friend and pastry chef from Ohio:  ~ Confection Perfection:  Theresa's Buckeye Candies ~.  There are a lot of recipes for these famous candies out there, but, they all pale in comparison to hers.

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

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

12/05/2017

~ My Favorite Big Salad: A Hoagie Chef Sans Bread ~

IMG_1147Let's discuss it over a salad at lunch.  There's no counting how many times I've said those words. One thing is for certain, I said them and I meant them, because: a classically-made chef salad is my favorite item to order on a lunch menu.  Let's be clear -- I don't diet and don't believe in dieting unless it's for real-deal medical reasons.  Eating real and well, anything I want, in moderation + avoiding the drive-thru, has always worked for me.  My opinion of trend-setting self-imposed diets is one you don't want to hear -- you can't handle the truth.  That said, after Thanksgiving and prior to Christmas, I'm ready to eat a few less carbohydrates, so, I eat a few more salads.  It's easy for me to do -- I love salad, and, they do not necessarily have to be fancy-schmancy.  I made the one in the photo this morning.  I'll eat half for lunch and half for dinner. That said, it's harder than one might think to serve me a salad that'll thrill me, and I'm talking about restaurant salads.  

Dear restaurant chef:  Take the salads you serve seriously.

IMG_1146If you bring me a salad with brown-tinged or wet lettuce, or, so help me, hard-cooked eggs with horrid green rings around the yolks, it's going to be sent back to you -- as many times as it takes for your kitchen to get it right.  If I request extra onion and tomato, they'd better be there in force -- piled high for me to sit up and take notice (I am happy to pay extra for extras I ask for).  If I ask for all turkey and no ham, or vice versa, and I find a chard of either, I will know someone picked through a previously-constructed salad and served it to me.  I always ask for my dressing to the side, and, if you do not comply, there's a very good chance I will leave a tip but refuse to pay for your shoddy salad.  And, always remember:  We eat with our eyes first.  Salad is no exception and when mine arrives at the table, you should want it to bring a giant smile to my face.

Make me a great chef's salad:  I'll be loyal to you forever.

IMG_1152Truly I will.  I am of the opinion that:  If a restaurant kitchen can't pull off a proper salad, there's little hope for the rest of their menu.  I don't mind croutons occasionally -- as long as they're made fresh in your kitchen -- if they aren't, leave them out.  Trust me, no one likes cardboard croutons. I don't mind, under the right circumstances, your using deli-meat -- as long they're of high-quality and my salad isn't your reason to use up the "sticky stuff" that's too old to put on sandwiches -- one touch of my fingertip and I will know.  That said, if it's chicken, steak or shrimp you're peddling, it needs to be perfectly-cooked and freshly-cooked -- tender, moist and at the proper temperature -- if it's been previously-cooked and refrigerated, don't serve it to me.   While I would prefer your dressing be made in house, even I have some store-bought favorites in my own refrigerator, so, you get a pass for that -- unless it comes in those horribly silly packets.  Sigh.

Even if it arrives via delivery to me:  Make my dang day.

IMG_1169Yours truly, Your local salad snob.

IMG_1123 IMG_1123 IMG_1123 IMG_1123 IMG_1123 IMG_1123 IMG_1123Iceberg lettuce leaves, diced sweet onion and seedless cucumber, Campari tomato and hard-cooked egg wedges, plus, super-thin-sliced deli- American cheese, turkey breast, deluxe ham and hard salami were used in the construction of this fantastic salad.  The dressing is courtesy of Wish-Bone Lite Italian.

IMG_1155My Favorite Big Salad:  A hoagie Chef Sans Bread:  Recipe yields instructions to construct one classic chef-type salad.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1, 9"-round, shallow, rimmed soup-type or untrimmed pasta-type bowl; 1 condiment dish (coupelle)

IMG_2190Cook's Note:  ~ The Maurice Chef Salad ~ was the #1 selling item in the history of all the Marshall Field's Michigan restaurants.  Composed a bit differently than today's chef salad, this one is indeed: All about the scratch-made Maurice salad dressing -- lemony, laced with sweet pickles and mayonnaise-based.

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

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

12/02/2017

~ Easy Kentucky Hot Brown-Style Naan Snack Pizza ~

IMG_1106I made open-faced Kentucky hot brown sandwiches with some of my leftover Thanksgiving turkey this year.  One thing led to the next:  Kentucky hot brown macaroni and cheese.  Now, today: Kentucky hot brown naan pizza.  Admittedly, I get carried away sometimes.  Hey!  What's a gal with some high-quality, super-yummy leftovers supposed to do?  I learned something too:  My family will eat hot browns any way I can think of to prepare them.  It was a very tasty week.

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.

IMG_1004In the traditional style of the Kentucky hot brown, I didn't alter the way the hot brown mac and cheese got layered and broiled. Mornay sauce, rich with milk, Gruyère and Parmesan cheeses are a fantastic, alfredo-esque sauce for pasta.  That said, my choice to use tubular penne, instead of stranded fettuccini, was no accident.  The sauce flowed into the tubes of this fork-friendly pasta dish -- an integral part of keeping with a typical mac-and-cheese-inspired theme.

Stonefire naan -- It's always on hand in my kitchen.

61d8ed69be506b2fab64fc072c87c0e1I remember when Naan flatbreads first appeared in our market -- original and garlic flavor.  I remember it as being early in the 1980's.  I was well-familiar with naan, as friend and neighbor, an Indian gal, made it almost every day.  My three boys adored it, and, when Stonefire naan showed up in our grocery store, it was they who begged me to buy it.  The leap to making naan pizza as a snack for them was an easy one (they each topped their own personal pizza), and, over the years, it saved me a lot of money on pizza delivery.  

Stonefire naan is baked in a tandoor oven at high heat creating the signature bubbles and smoky flavor found in traditional naan.  Stonefire bakery is a family-owned business of over 40 years. Their flatbreads are made with traditional ingredients and baking methods, containing no synthetic dyes, artificial preservatives, trans fat or hydrogenated oils.

One 7 1/2"-8" free-form naan = a great personal pizza crust:

IMG_1065Slather 6-8 tablespoons Mornay sauce over the top:

IMG_1070Arrange 1/2 cup roasted turkey or poached chicken over sauce:

IMG_1073Sprinkle 1/2 cup grated gruyère cheese over all:

IMG_1079Top with 3-4 sliced grape tomatoes (or pimientos):

IMG_1084A sprinkling of parmigiano-reggiano:

IMG_1088One slice of crisply-fried bacon bits are nice:

IMG_1094Bake in 375° oven, until bubbly & brown, 6-8 minutes: 

IMG_1096Naan:  Never underestimate the power of snack pizza!

IMG_1117Easy Kentucky  Hot-Brown-Style Naan Snack Pizza:  Recipe yields instructions to assemble and bake one personal-sized naan pizza.

Special Equipment List:  spoon; cutting board; chef's knife;  hand-held box grater; microplane grater; pizza peel (optional)

IMG_8081Cook's Note:  From biryani to vindaloo, whenever I cook Indian fare, I can't, in good conscience, serve it without flatbread.  My Indian girlfriends have all explained to me the integral role their many varieties of flatbread (and crepes) play in their very diverse Indian culture and cuisine.  Every Indian cook knows how to make their traditional breads, and, they serve one or more types every day with almost every meal.   ~ Flatbread in a Hurry?  Easy No-Yeast Indian Naan ~.

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

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