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12 posts from March 2018

03/30/2018

~Vegetarian Herb Gravy for Whatever Floats the Boat~

IMG_6314An all-purpose gravy that goes well on almost anything?  You betcha.  One basic recipe, made with a few pantry staples, and, in a few minutes (tick, tock), voila:  a great gravy that carnivores and vegetarians can sit down to enjoy, together, in harmony.  Yes indeedy, sans pan drippings, a luxurious gravy to drizzle over all things gravy goes on:  chicken-fried or smothered anything, meatloaf or hamburger steaks, open-faced bread-, biscuit- or waffle- sandwiches, French fries or poutine, rice or noodles, steamed or roasted vegetables, etc., etc., etc.  Read on:

Got drippings leftover from a roast?  Add them along w/the stock.

IMG_6287Like a chameleon adjusts its color to suit the environment, this gravy graciously accepts any carnivorous flavor you've got.  

If you've got meat-eatin' pan drippings leftover from your favorite roast beef, lamb, pork or chicken, run them through a fat-lean separator, discard the fat, and by all means, add them along with the vegetable stock.  Like a chameleon adjusts its color to blend in with its environment, this gravy graciously accepts any carnivorous flavor you've got to add.  Whether a vegetarian or not (and I am not), in a hurry with no worry, this recipe yields a luscious and generous two cups.  

IMG_62474  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper

1/2  teaspoon each:  garlic powder and onion powder

2  teaspoons herbes de Provence

2  cups unsalted vegetable stock, homemade or high-quality store-bought Kitchen Basics brand

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, or a favorite steak sauce

1  4-ounce can, sliced mushrooms, drained (optional)*

* Note:  1/2-1 cup sautéed fresh mushrooms may be added, if it's an extra step you want to take.

IMG_6249 IMG_6249 IMG_6249~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, place and stir together the flour, salt, pepper, garlic and onion powders, and, herbs de Provence.  In a two-cup measuring container combine the vegetable stock with the Worcestershire sauce.

IMG_6258 IMG_6258 IMG_6258 IMG_6258~Step 2.  In a small 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Add and whisk in the seasoned flour mixture until a thick paste forms.  Increase heat to medium- medium-high. Whisking constantly, cook the roux for 1-1 1/2-2 minutes, until bubbling and foamy.

IMG_6275 IMG_6275 IMG_6275~ Step 3.  Add the vegetable stock and Worcestershire mixture. Whisking constantly, bring to a boil over high heat.  If adding the optional mushrooms or pan drippings, add them at this time too.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until gravy is thickened, 4-5 minutes.  

Float your favorite vegetarian's boat & serve ASAP:

IMG_6288Vegetarian Herb Gravy for Whatever Floats the Boat:  Recipe yields 2 cups + more if mushrooms or pan drippings are added.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan; whisk; fat-lean separator (optional); gravy boat

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d08b91a3970c 7.07.19 AMCook's Note:  At some point, all cooks encounter a hot liquid that needs to be thickened -- a soup, a stew, a sauce or a gravy (sometimes even a pudding or pie filling).  Not knowing how to do this can ruin a recipe. This fundamental task is one I always try to teach in my cooking classes. Why? Because I've come to learn it confounds a lot of home cooks:  ~ How to:  Make a Roux or a Slurry (to Thicken Liquids) ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/27/2018

~Gone Bananas: Double Banana Pudding Poke Cake~

IMG_6159Retro recipes with a history to report or a story to share, are fun for me to write.  While plenty of versions for this particular cake are available on the internet, my reason for adding "mine" is two fold:  plenty of present day cooks have no idea what a poke cake is, and, this particular one is, one of three poke cake recipes my mom made when I was growing up in the 1960's and '70's. Because banana pudding is classic and traditional Southern fare (a layered dessert of vanilla cookies, sliced bananas, vanilla pudding and meringue), that would indeed qualify this banana-pudding poke cake for Southern-style status, but poke cakes in general are not Southern.

Banana-pudding poke cake is Southern-style.  Poke cakes per se are not Southern.

IMG_6166Jell-O's poke cake recipes were very trendy in the 1970's.

Thanks to some savvy, now-retro, Jell-O ads in various woman's magazines in the latter 1960's and early 1970's, poke cakes started showing up on dessert tables at America's picnics and potlucks.  My mother subscribed to Women's Day and Redbook, and, I know these publications to be the sources for her three poke cake recipes (banana, chocolate and lemon).  As a working mom, this type of crowd-pleasing cake was quick-and-easy for her to make using just a few store-bought convenience items:  a boxed cake mix, a compatible flavor of Jell-O pudding, and, a tub of non-dairy whipped topping.  Additionally (more-often-than-not), most poke cakes got garnished with crunchy cookies (ex: vanilla, chocolate or lemon), which were often crushed to crumbs.

As a family, all of us loved mom's pudding poked cakes.  

IMG_6056Poke cake per se:  It's a cake baked in a 13" x 9" x 2" cake pan.  While the cake is still quite warm (almost hot), the handle of a wooden spoon is used to poke a goodly-number of evenly-spaced holes into the surface -- like a drill boring holes in a block of wood.  Not-quite-set-yet pudding gets poured or ladled over the holier-than-thou surface, which drizzles down and settles in the holes, filling them up to the top.  The entire surface then gets slathered with a layer of non-dairy whipped topping -- as much as the cake pan has room left to accommodate. Served after a few hours in the refrigerator, my mom's poke cakes were so puddingly-rich and whipped creamily-delish, she often scooped portions into bowls rather than slicing and plating.

Jello-cake-recipe-1978-purple-poke-cake-1-630x850All that said, poke cakes aren't all poked with a wooden spoon and drizzled with a box of prepared pudding.  Some get poked with a toothpick and drenched with a box of prepared gelatin -- my mom never experimented with the creative color schemes of gelatin-themed poke cakes. There's more and fast forward to present day.  Bakeries and home cooks are starting to revisit retro poke cake recipes, updating them with impressive, high-quality buttery-rich scratch-made cakes drizzled with fancy French pastry creams, fruity mousses or chocolate ganache, finished with freshly-whipped real-deal cream. Whether store-bought or scratch-made: all poked cakes are a fun time waiting to happen. 

Dad's favorite:  Gone Bananas Banana Pudding Poked Cake.  

IMG_6030Mom amped up the banana-flavor in her version of the original Jell-O recipe -- which explains why my dad went bananas for this cake:

Besides the requisite 1 cup water, 1/3 cup vegetable oil and 3 large eggs, she added 1, 3.4-ounce box instant banana pudding, 2 teaspoons banana flavoring (I use pure extract), along with 1 additional egg (to add the extra moisture necessary for the dry pudding). Mom's favorite cake mix: 1 Duncan Hines yellow mix.

IMG_6032 IMG_6032~ Step 1.  Spray the inside of a 13" x 9" x 2" clear glass baking dish with no-stick cooking spray. Using a hand-held mixer and a large rubber spatula, prepare the cake mix as the package directs, adding the additional box of banana pudding, banana extract and egg.  Bake cake on center rack of preheated 325° oven 22-24 minutes, until puffed through to the center and a cake tester, when inserted in several spots, comes out clean.  Remove cake from oven and place on a wire rack to cool, for 5-6 minutes.

IMG_6051 IMG_6051~ Step 2.  Be brave.  Using the handle of a wooden spoon or the handle of a similarly-shaped spoon, poke holes, quite a few of them, in random but evenly-spaced spots, straight through to the bottom of the cake.  My cakes got poked 54 times.

IMG_6038Mom always amped up the flavoring in the banana pudding too:

2  3.4-ounce boxes instant banana pudding

2  teaspoon banana extract

1  quart whole milk, cold

IMG_6060~ Step 3. Whisk all ingredients together until smooth.

IMG_6064 IMG_6064 IMG_6076~ Step 4.  Do not wait for the pudding to fully thicken. Within 1 minute, begin ladling it over the surface of the poked cake, allowing it to drizzle down into the holes.  Allow cake to continue to cool, uncovered, for 1 hour. Cover baking pan with its lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

IMG_6105 IMG_6105~ Step 5.  Place 1, 11-12-ounce box Nabisco Nilla Wafers, in a 1-gallon food storage bag and zip or twist it closed.  Using your hands or a small rolling pin, crunch or crush the cookies into bits and pieces.  While there will be some fine crumbs, crunchy cookie pieces combined with some crumbs are ideal.  Remove about 1/2-3/4 cups of the cookie crumbs and pieces from the rest and set them separately aside to use at serving time. 

IMG_6129 IMG_6129 IMG_6129 IMG_6129~Step 6.  Spread 1, 8-ounce container Cool-Whip Non-Dairy Whipped Topping* over top of chilled cake, to top of baking dish -- an offset spatula makes this very easy.  Evenly sprinkle cookie crumbs over all and refrigerate, uncovered until serving time, several hours or overnight. Slice and serve cake, garnishing each portion with a few fresh banana slices and a sprinkling of the reserved crunchy cookie crumbs.  Store leftovers in refrigerator up to 3 days (the cookie crumbs on top of the cake get soft, but even 3 days later, this cake is still super-delicious).

*Note:  8 ounces heavy cream and 1 tablespoon sugar, whipped to a very stiff state using a hand-held electric mixer, may be substituted without compromise in any poke cake recipe.

Remove from refrigerator, slice & serve chilled...

IMG_6123... garnished w/banana slices & crunchy cookie crumbs.

IMG_6163Poke a fork in it & go bananas:

Gone Bananas Double Banana Pudding Poke Cake:  Recipe yields 16-20 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 13" x 9" x 2" cake pan, preferably clear glass w/lid; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack; handle of a wooden spoon or a similarly-shaped spoon handle; 1-quart measuring container; wire whisk; soup ladle; plastic wrap; 1-gallon food storage bag; small rolling pin; offset spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07e5756c970dCook's Note:  If you want to make today's banana pudding poke cake using a scratch-made cake instead of a store-bought mix, I must suggest my recipe for ~ A Sweet Cream Cake:  A Dream of an Easy Cake ~.  Simple, straightforward and scrumptious, this poundcake-ish yet light, dream-of-an-easy-cake recipe should be committed to the memory of every cook who ever entertained the thought of a boxed mix in a time of crisis.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/24/2018

~ How to: Perfectly Reheat a Leftover Slice of Pizza ~

IMG_6077Pizza is a staple in my kitchen, and, as a wife and mother who is well-known for craving a "slice of 'za" at midnight, leftover pizza is not something I throw away.  More often than not, it's a few slices of my beloved homemade pie, on rare occasions it's delivery, and, snack pizza, the kind we quickly put together on flatbread (like pocketless pita, Naan and English muffins) are, like bread, milk and eggs, omnipresent in my refrigerator or freezer.  That said, I am not a fan of cold pizza.

IMG_6084I prefer my serving of pizza to be hot with a crispy crust and ooey-gooey cheese melting on the top.  Sadly, it impossible to relive the glory of a freshly-baked hot-off-the-pizza-stone pizza.  One minute you're eating it crispy and pliably fresh, a half hour later, it has achieved leftover status -- and, it is impossible to roll back the clock on a slice of pizza.  Up until a few weeks ago, my pizza-fate was to buck up and talk myself into the joy of eating tasty but second-rate reheats.

IMG_6195Oven or toaster-oven reheats, besides taking to too long to preheat the oven, got me a crispy crust, but, as for the cheese and any toppings, they emerged funkily compromised and shriveled. Microwave reheats, which are fast as can be, rendered me ooey-gooey cheese and plump toppings, but, OMG, the crust -- a soggy shell of its former self for the first few bites transitions (frighteningly fast) to a stone tablet fitting for Moses by the last few bites.  What's a gal to do?

Place a lidded nonstick skillet on the stovetop.

The skillet method, which I came across accidentally, is, to put an appropriately-sized nonstick skillet on the stovetop, big enough for a slice or two to sit flat in the bottom.  There is no need for any no-stick spray or oil (although a splash of olive oil will render an extra-crispy crust, so use it if that's what you want).  Why it works:  A skillet on the stovetop heats up much faster than the oven, and, almost as fast as the microwave, and, while the bottom crust crisps up, the lid traps the steam which melts the cheese and keeps the toppings moist.  Tip:  If you have a glass lid, use it.  It's a great way keep an eye on the process without letting the precious steam escape.  

IMG_6133 IMG_6133 IMG_6133The specifics:  Place pizza slice in pan over medium heat and put a lid on it. Allow it to cook for 5-6 minutes, then check the bottom of the crust.  If you want the crust crispier or the cheese meltier, cook it 1-2 more minutes. Take into account:  A room temperature slice reheats faster than a cold slice, and, the type and thickness of crust, the quantity of cheese + toppings, and, the heat on stovetop all affect timing.

Making the leftover-pizza-world better one-slice-at-a-time.

IMG_6104How to:  Perfectly Reheat a Leftover Slice of Pizza:  Recipe yields instructions to perfectly reheat leftover slices of pizza on the stovetop.  It's brilliant!

Special Equipment List:  appropriately-sized nonstick skillet w/lid

IMG_6192Cook's Note:  Used in the making of the snack pizza in the photos (which I prepared and baked yesterday, then refrigerated overnight in order to write today's reheated post):  

1, 8"-round Boboli pizza crust; 8 deli-slices provolone cheese; 1/4 cup diced sweet onion; 4 small Campari tomatoes, thinly sliced; 1, 4-ounce jar sliced mushrooms, well-drained; a sprinkling of Italian seasoning blend.  

Assemble pizza in order listed and place directly on rack of 350° toaster oven and bake 8-9 minutes. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/21/2018

~The McDonald's-Style Big Mac Cheeseburger Salad~

IMG_5964When my foodie friends (people who like to cook, can cook and cook often), start talking about a yummy salad made in the style of McDonald's iconic Big Mac, I listen.  I listen because these are friends I listen to, and, because I have been known to indulge in an occasional Big Mac.  Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun is, in my opinion, the yummiest cheeseburger creation in the takeout-lane of the drive-thru fast-food circuit.

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 6.55.21 AMSeptember 1968 -- The Bic Mac was invented in Pittsburgh by a McDonald's Franchise Owner named Jim Delligatti.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2ddfc8a970c-800wiIt cost 45 cents.

IMG_6020The Big Mac, designed to compete with the Big Boy Restaurant chain's Big Boy Burger, had two previous names that failed:  Aristocrat and the Blue Ribbon burger.  The "Big Mac" was named by Esther Glickstein Rose, a 21-year old secretary working at corporate headquarters.  The "two-all beef patties" slogan was created by Keith Reinhard and his creative group at advertising agency Needham Harper and Steers.  The Big Mac, which contains two 1.6-ounce patties along with an array of other components was placed on a three-part bun because testing proved it too sloppy to eat otherwise.  As for the "secret sauce", which is indeed a variant of Thousand Islands dressing, in 2012 McDonald's stated, "the primary sauce ingredients are not really a secret, and have been available on-line for years (sans specifics -- cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc.):  mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish and yellow mustard whisked together with vinegar, garlic and onion powder and paprika."

As one who believes she invented the chili-cheddar-cheeseburger salad, I cannot believe it never occurred to me to transfer my beloved Big Mac from bun to bowl.  In my food world, if given a choice, I'm the kinda girl who prefers to plant my roasted chicken breast or grilled strip steak atop a well-appointed salad, rather than position it next to a twice-baked fully-loaded baked potato, creamy potato salad or crunchy cole slaw.  It has nothing (zero) to do with cutting carbohydrates (my homemade croutons make up for the carbs) -- I just love the combination of perfectly-cooked hot-and-juicy protein atop a cold-and-crisp full-of-greens-and-goodies salad.

Part One:  Two all-beef patties topped w/yellow American.

MaxresdefaultAll McDonald's hamburgers are 100 percent beef with an 80/20 lean-to-fat ratio. The beef used in the burgers comes from whole cuts of forequarter and flank meat from the cow. In their kitchen: The burgers are never flipped, as the flat-topped mechanism that cooks them has a matching flat-topped top which, when lowered, cooks them on both sides at once (clam-shell-type style). All McDonald's hamburgers are topped with deli-sliced yellow American-processed cheese blend made from milk, milk fats and solids -- it melts great and make no mistake, it is not yellow cheddar.

Note:  Beef is beef and patty means disc.  That equates to 'burgers, not ground beef crumbles -- in my kitchen, two 3-ounce slider-sized patties per salad -- it's not a Big Mac unless it's got two. Once topped with the signature American-processed yellow cheese, a lid goes on long enough to melt it (tick,tock) -- this keeps the 'burgers hot-and-juicy, a la McDonald's flat-top-cooked 'burgers.

IMG_6853Newsflash:  McDonald's is almost ready to release never-frozen burgers this Spring. They've already quietly rolled-out their “fresh” beef burgers to test in Dallas, Tulsa, Miami, Orlando, and Nashville. Over the next month, the rollout-test will expand to Los Angeles, Houston, and San Francisco.  The rest of us will get to try them sometime May. In the beginning, they will be limited to a just a few of their sandwiches, and while the Big Mac will not be one of them, I have no doubt that never-frozen burgers will be a popular menu item.  It's all I ever use in my kitchen and I'm sticking with never-frozen beef today:

IMG_5912 IMG_5912 IMG_5912~ Step 1.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, form and place 8, 3-ounce, 2 1/2"-round, all-beef patties (1 1/2-pounds total ground beef) over medium-high heat --  I use a fat ratio of 90/10.  Don't add any oil or butter to skillet -- ground beef contains enough fat to do its thing.  Ever-so-lightly, season the patties with salt and pepper, and cook until barely-browned and just short of being cooked through, turning only once, about 4 minutes per side.  Do not overcook.  Error on the side of slightly-undercooking.

IMG_5924 IMG_5924 IMG_5924 IMG_5924 IMG_5924 IMG_5924~Step 2.  Turn the heat off.  It's 8 slices American-processed yellow cheese you'll need next. It's quick to melt to the perfect state without browning or drying out. Cut or break each slice into four quarters.  Arrange four quarters (1 slice) to fit atop each burger.  Place lid on  skillet, adjust the heat to low, and wait for cheese to melt, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and place two patties atop each salad as directed below.

Part Two:  Special Sauce.  Thousand Islands dressing -- not.

Tmg-facebook_socialMany folks assume the special sauce is Thousand Islands dressing. It's an easy assumption to make, as the two are similar enough -- mayonnaise-based and pickle-relish laced.  That said, I write a food blog, which made it necessary for me to head to the Golden Arches, in order to deconstruct a few Big Macs, so I could taste-test secret sauce side-by-side bottled store-bought and homemade Thousand Islands dressing.  The special sauce is indeed different.  It's more yellow than pink and more pungent too, which, (just as McDonald's stated), results from some brand of ordinary yellow ballpark-type mustard.

Fun secret sauce fact:  In our recent past, McDonald's lost the formula to their secret sauce, and, for a number of years it gradually grew "less special".  As a result, in 2004, the CEO scrapped the product and collaborated with the California supplier who had helped develop the original sauce -- they reconcocted the sauce.  End of story fact:  We now enjoy reconcocted secret sauce.

IMG_59051  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup each: ketchup and sweet pickle relish

1  tablespoon yellow mustard

1  teaspoon white vinegar

1/2  teaspoon each:  garlic and onion powder and paprika

IMG_5901Whisk all ingredients together, cover and refrigerate 1 hour.  Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Part Three:  Lettuce, pickles, onion & sesame seeds sans bun.

IMG_5935For each salad (in each of 4, 6" salad plates, layer and arrange):

2  generous cups iceberg or romaine lettuce pieces

1/2  cup each: dill pickles, well-drained and 1/2"-diced, and, 1/2" chopped sweet onion

2  3-ounce hot-and-juicy burgers

1/2  teaspoon lightly-toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

1/4  cup secret sauce, for drizzling and dipping

IMG_5938 IMG_5938 IMG_5938 IMG_5938~Step 1.  Layer and arrange the veggies, plant the burgers, drizzle with dressing, then stick a knife and fork in it.  If you're thinking this salad could be more colorful, you'd be right, it could be -- but you would be wrong. This carefully-thought-through monochromatic melange of complex and conflicting flavors needs nothing else.  Adding anything else -- wouldn't be a Big Mac.

While special orders don't upset us, no tomatoes please:

6a0120a8551282970b01a511c4835a970c'Tis true and trust me, no one loves tomatoes more than me -- no one. So, if a tomato-loving Big Mac aficionado knows enough to not special order tomatoes on her sandwich, I'm sure not going to add them to my Big Mac salad -- nor am I going to write a recipe telling you it's a forgivable offense.  In all seriousness, the special sauce is all about contrasting flavors playing in harmony, and, the acidity in tomatoes just "breaks the spell".  

Dill pickles, not tomatoes, belong in a Big Mac salad.

IMG_5981Enjoy a homemade salad The McDonald's way today!

IMG_6002The McDonald's-Style Big Mac Cheeseburger Salad:  Recipe yields instructions to make 4, hearty main-dish salads.

Special Equipment List:  whisk; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" skillet w/lid, preferably nonstick; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0984a3a7970dCook's Note: Would you like chili instead?  As one who raised three boys with a Wendy's joint just a few miles down the street from us, my recipe for ~ Kids' Stuff:  Mel's Wendy's Chili Con Carne ~ was one of the first fast-foods I needed to find a way to duplicate at home.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/19/2018

~ Teriyaki-Style Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare-Ribs ~

IMG_5862How you cook spare-ribs is your business.  Here in Happy Valley, sometimes we smoke 'em, sometimes we grill 'em, occasionally I make them in the oven, and, recently, I've started experimenting with slow-cooking them.  Past that, even if you aren't a fan of crocket science, it might interest you to know that Japanese-seven-spice blend and teriyaki sauce, when substituted for traditional Tex-Mex rubs-and-mops is a delicious alternative to typical ribs -- give 'em a try.

IMG_5816Do not confuse spicy "Japanese-seven-spice" powder with aromatic Chinese five-spice powder.  They are completely different.  "Shichimi togarashi", originated in Japanese apothecaries in the 17th century after chiles were introduced to Japan as medicinal.  The ratios in each blend (like all homemade spice blends) vary a bit, but, all contain: cayenne, sesame seeds, orange peel, ginger, szechuan pepper, poppy seeds and seaweed.  While the cayenne and szechuan pepper aren't incendiary, once the blend is applied or added to food, it is anything but low-key or ho-hum.

I won't lie, the machinations of making ribs in a slow cooker never seemed right -- like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  I've seen people bend entire racks, slice and stack sections, even cut them into individual riblets   That type of rib abuse is why I never attempted it, but, as a person who likes my ribs fall-of-the-bone tender, there was never a doubt the slow cooker could achieve that.  After all, just like a Dutch oven placed on the stovetop or in the oven, it's what slow cookers do, tenderize meat -- especially the cheap, tough cuts.  The lid seals and traps the heat and moisture in the pot, preventing evaporation and heat loss, which provides plenty of time for everything-that-can-make-meat-tough (the muscle, connective tissue and fat) to break down.

IMG_3106Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for baby-back ribs (trimmed to fit into it's bottom), to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

IMG_3175I bought two.  Simmer down.  At about $45.00 each, it wasn't that big of an investment.  My rational was: Joe buys baby-back ribs vacuum-packed at Sam's club.  Each package contains three racks.  After eye-balling the dimensions of the Crockpot Casserole, I knew with certainty, that between the two of them, I could slow-cook all three racks -- to feed a crowd.  With basketball's March Madness in full-court-press and PSU still alive, I was happy to plug them in today.

Important Note:  Armed with two crockpot casseroles, for my own purposes, I am slow-cooking three very large racks of baby-back spare-ribs this afternoon.  That said, past this sentence, the recipe is written for one crockpot casserole which will accommodate two small racks of ribs.

IMG_3118Because the inside bottom dimensions of the casserole are approximately 11" x 6", that requires cutting each rack of baby-back ribs into either 2, 11" lengths (cut each rack in half), or, 3, 6" lengths (cut each rack into thirds).  Besides being more manageable, I chose 6" lengths because they are a perfect portion for each person.

IMG_5760 IMG_5760 IMG_5760 IMG_5760 IMG_5765 IMG_5765~Step 1.  To prepare the ribs for seasoning, pat them dry in some paper towels and remove the silverskin from the underside of each rack.  If you don't know how to do this, read my post ~ How to: Remove the Silverskin from Spareribs ~.  Using a large chef's knife, slice each rack into thirds.  Unless you like generally like food spicy (firey-hot), judiciously (lightly sprinkle) each section, top and bottom, with Japanese Seven-Spice.

IMG_3143 IMG_3143 IMG_3143Step 2.  Spray the inside of the crock casserole with no-stick cooking spray. Arrange the ribs to fit, in a single layer, slightly-overlapping in a spot or two if necessary.  (For my two-crock purposes, four of the largest sections and five of the smallest sections, fit snugly and nicely between the two crocks respectively.)

IMG_5775 IMG_5775 IMG_5775 IMG_5775 IMG_5775 IMG_5775~Step 3.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle 3/4 cup teriyaki sauce, homemade or thick-consistency store bought* over the tops of ribs. Cover crockpot. Cook on high for 2 hours, then, low for 2 hours. The tip of a knife or the tines of a fork, when pierced between any two ribs will glide through and come out on the other side.  If desired, adjust heat to keep ribs warm for up to 1 hour prior to finishing them as directed.

IMG_5807* Note:  Homemade teriyaki sauce is thick and drizzly.  At its thinnest, it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and, at the discretion of the cook, in many cases thicker than that.  That said, many store-brought brands are watery (similar in consistency to soy sauce), and, they will not work in this recipe.  Ideally, the teriyaki sauce should be similar in consistency to a hearty barbecue sauce.  What I keep on-hand and my store-bought recommendation is: Mandarin brand teriyaki sauce

IMG_5800 IMG_5800~Step 4.  Preheat broiler with oven rack positioned about 5" under the heat.  Line a large baking pan with aluminum foil, then place a sheet of parchment in the bottom of pan.  Remove lid from crockpot.  One-at-a-time remove the ribs.

IMG_5765 IMG_5765~Step 5.  Arrange ribs, side-by-side and slightly-apart (no overlapping) on prepared baking pan. Using a pastry brush generously paint the the tops with additional teriyaki sauce (about 3/4 cup). Place under the broiler 3-4 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and starting to show signs of light browning.  Watch carefully.  All teriyaki sauces contain some form of sugar, which goes from lightly-browned to burned quickly.  If a thicker coating of teriyaki is desired, brush tops a second time and return them to the oven for 1-2 more minutes.

Plate 'em & serve 'em for dinner (w/plenty of napkins)...

IMG_5858... atop teriyaki-dressed noodles tossed w/a veggie stir-fry:

IMG_5880Teriyaki-Style Slow-Cooker Baby-Back-Spare Ribs:  Recipe yields 2-4 servings per casserole (allowing 1/3-1/2-rack per person).

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; crockpot casserole; 1-cup measuring container; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; pastry brush

IMG_3220Cook's Note:  In the event you're looking for a traditional Tex-Mex-type barbecue rubbed-and-sauced recipe for spare-ribs, my recipe for ~ Bone-Suckin' Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare-Ribs ~ was not only the maiden-voyage of my crockpot casseroles, they were the inspiration for today's Japanese teriyaki-style ribs. There's more:  I've developed recipes for ~ Low & Slow-Cooked Crockpot Casserole Meatloaf ~ and ~ Warm & Cozy Crockpot Casserole Rice Pudding ~ too!  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/17/2018

~Fresh vs. Canned: How Pineapple Reacts w/Protein~

IMG_5757It's natural to assume fresh fruit is better than canned, and, if you're eating fresh pineapple, fresh not only tastes better, it is indeed better for you and your digestive system.  That said, nothing is more disheartening than taking the time to prepare a marinade for your favorite protein made from fresh pineapple juice, or, folding a cup or two of diced pineapple into a favorite casserole and have the protein rendered mushy. The cause is an enzyme found in fresh-cut pineapple.

No matter how you slice it, dice it, or hollow it out:

IMG_5885Why did my marinated meat (poultry, seafood or fish) turn to mush?

IMG_5589The enzyme's name is bromelain (in papaya it's called papain and does the same thing), and it is a powerful tenderizer.  It plays a key role in the digestive process, most notably, breaking down tough protein chains -- it's sold in supplement form in health food stores as a digestive aid. It's why:  1) Pineapple processors wear gloves and masks (as it eventually eats away at the flesh on the hands and face).  2) When cutting up pineapple, if poked by a spiny edge, it's common to develop itchy skin &/or a sore.  3) Pineapple, on its own, won't form a jam or jelly.

Bromelain, the enzyme in fresh pineapple, is a powerful tenderizer.

IMG_5684Tenderizing protein is good to a point, but, when fresh pineapple juice is used in or as the marinade, the enzyme works fast -- in as little as 30 minutes for poultry and meat, and, in the case of fish, 10 minutes. That's great if time is short and the clock is ticking.  That said, if fresh pineapple chunks are stirred into a casserole, if left to sit just 1-2 hours prior to baking, it renders the protein mushy -- a problem when things need to be done in advance.  While keeping the marinating protein or the casserole mixture refrigerated will slow the enzyme activity down:

Here's the information every cook needs to know:

IMG_5708Bromelain is heat-inactivated.  This means:  If fresh pineapple is cooked first, separately from the protein, (prior to marinating it with or stirring it into raw or cooked protein), the bromelain gets neutralized -- this neutralization is achieved during the canning process, and, can also be achieved by grilling pineapple chunks or pieces, or, simmering fresh pineapple juice, crushed pineapple or pineapple purée.  So, if you want to buy some time in order to marinate your protein a few hours ahead or put your casserole together the night before, either cook the fresh pineapple first, or, without compromise, bypass the fresh produce department and head to the canned-fruit aisle.

Oh My Thai Chicken and Pineapple-Fried-Rice Casserole:

IMG_5746"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018) 

03/15/2018

~ Thai Chicken and Pineapple-Fried-Rice Casserole ~

IMG_5746Thai-Malaysian pineapple-fried-rice is a classic Thai dish that's easy to get addicted to.  It's divine. Grains of fragrant jasmine rice bejeweled throughout with bits of golden pineapple, cashews and raisins -- it's a taste unlike the fried rices of China and Hawaii.  It's a staple item on the menu of most Thai-American eateries, the choices being pineapple-fried-rice, or, pineapple-fried-rice with chicken or prawn.  It can be served in a pretty bowl as a side-dish or a main-dish, or, as they do in the tradition of Thailand, baked and served in a carved-out fresh pineapple.

IMG_5739A hearty 4-season casserole w/all the taste of the tropics:

IMG_5749If you're a fried rice fan, you're gonna love my American-home-kitchen version of the iconic Thai fried rice.  Every bite is a bit different. Sometimes the sweet and savory combination of pineapple and chicken stands out. Other times, the herby-spicy flavor the cilantro, chiles and onions shine through.  Still others, the contrasting textures of the the rice, raisins and nuts blow you away.  Considering the yummy end result, this dish, relatively speaking, isn't difficult to prepare.

Using fresh vs. canned pineapple in recipes containing protein:

IMG_5708Fresh vs. canned pineapple:  If this is a meal you would like or need to prepare a day ahead, without any compromise to the recipe, bypass the fresh pineapple in the produce department and head to the canned-fruit aisle of your grocery store.  

Why?  Fresh pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, a natural tenderizer (in papayas it's called papain and does the same thing).  It plays a key role in the digestive process, most notably, breaking down tough protein chains. Culinarily, when used as or in the marinade for protein, it does the same thing -- quickly.  Read on:

Tenderizing any protein is good to a point, but, be forewarned, if the assembled casserole is left to sit for just 1-2 hours prior to baking, it can render the chicken (the protein) mushy.  Keeping the chicken mixture refrigerated will slow the enzyme activity down, but, here's the information you need to know: bromelain is heat-inactivated.  This means:  If fresh pineapple is cooked separately from the other ingredients first, (prior to marinating it or cooking it with protein), the bromelain is neutralized -- this neutralization is achieved during the canning process, and, can also be achieved by grilling pineapple pieces or simmering crushed pineapple or pineapple purée.

Fresh = Assemble & bake immediately.  Canned = Can be assembled a day ahead.

IMG_5684Oh my Thai chicken & pineapple-fried-rice casserole:

IMG_56314  pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders, diced into bite-sized 1/2"-3/4" pieces 

1 1/2  cups thinly-sliced green onion, white and light green parts only

8-12  small, minced, bird chile peppers, more or less, your heat choice

1  ounce cilantro, some leaves and some stems

2  20-ounce cans sliced pineapple, packed in 100% juice, well-drained (1 can puréed in food a processor, 1 can diced into bite-sized pieces

1  15-ounce box golden raisins

8  ounces whole, unsalted cashews, roasted on center rack of 350º oven oven for 10-12 minutes until lightly-toasted and fragrant, or, "dry-fried" in a skillet or wok*

1/4  cup sesame oil

1  teaspoon white pepper

1 1/2 cans (1 can + 1/2 can) from 2, 14 1/2-cans coconut milk

3  tablespoons Maggi seasoning

6  tablespoons Squid brand fish sauce

6  tablespoons light brown sugar

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole (Note:  Use 1, 4-quart casserole, or, 2, 2-quart casseroles, not, a 3-quart 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.)

4  cups uncooked jasmine rice

1/4-1/2  cup additional minced, fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Mae Ploy brand sweet chili sauce, for dipping or drizzling

IMG_5623 IMG_5623 IMG_5623 IMG_5623~Step 1.  Prep ingredients as directed:  Trim and dice chicken tenders into bite-sized, 1/2"-3/4" pieces.  Thinly-slice white and light green parts of green onions and mince the bird chiles.  Mince cilantro — prep and set aside some additional minced cilantro, for garnish, as well.  

IMG_5604 IMG_5604 IMG_5604 IMG_5604~Step 2.  Place 1 can of the pineapple slices in a food processor fitted with steel blade and purée (there will be about 1 1/2 cups). Dice second can of pineapple into bite-sized pieces (there will be about 2 cups).  Roast cashews on center rack of 350° oven until lightly-toasted and fragrant, about 12 minutes, stopping to stir about every 5 minutes, or, "dry-fry" in a skillet or wok:

6a0120a8551282970b019103c69803970c 6a0120a8551282970b0192ab8f1e2c970d 2*Note:  In Asian cuisines, the method of quickly-cooking an ingredient, be it nuts, seeds, meat or even seafood, without adding oil or fat to the wok or skillet is referred to as "dry frying".  I mention this so if you come across a recipe that instructs to "dry-fry cashews", you will understand the process.

IMG_5641~ Step 4.  Start the rice to steaming just prior to cooking the chicken mixture.  By the time the rice is done, the chicken will be done too. 

Using the cup/measure from the steamer, place the rice in steamer. Using the same cup/measure add 4 cups cold water and give it a quick stir. Turn steamer on. When rice steamer shuts off (which takes about 15-18 minutes depending upon how much rice being steamed), open the lid and rake through ice with a fork to separate the grains.  While the rice is steaming, cook the chicken mixture.

IMG_5633 IMG_5633 IMG_5633~ Step 3.  Heat sesame oil in a large 14” skillet.  Stir in the white pepper and add the chicken, scallions and bird chiles.  Increase heat to sauté until chicken is just steamed through, about 6-8 minutes.  Do not overcook or brown.

IMG_5648 IMG_5648 IMG_5648 IMG_5648 IMG_5658 IMG_5658~Step 4.  Stir in the pineapple purée, coconut milk, Maggi seasoning, fish sauce and sugar. Adjust heat to simmer gently and continue to cook until mixture is foamy around the edges, about 6-8 minutes.  Remove pan from heat and stovetop.

IMG_5664 IMG_5664 IMG_5664 IMG_5664 IMG_5674~Step 5.  Stir in the diced pineapple, cashews, raisins and cilantro.  In large scoopfuls, add and fold all the steamed rice into the chicken mixture in pan.  Allow to sit in pan, 10-15 minutes, stirring every 2-3 minutes.  Rice will absorb excess liquid and mixture will thicken.  Transfer to a 4-quart casserole* or two 2-quart casseroles* sprayed with no stick cooking spray.

Note:  I recommend using clear glass casserole(s) in order to clearly monitor browning process.

IMG_5683 IMG_5683 IMG_5683Step 6.  Spray 1-2 pieces foil with cooking spray. Place foil, prayed side down, over casseroles and seal foil tightly.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 30 minutes.  Uncover and bake 15-20 more minutes, or until lightly-browned and bubbling.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 5-10 minutes prior to serving.

Work this main-dish casserole into your family's meal rotation:

IMG_5701Or make & share with friends at your next get-together:

IMG_5704Thai Chicken and Pineapple-Fried-Rice Casserole:  Recipe yields 4-quarts; 16 cups; 16-20 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife, food processor, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, skillet or wok; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon 4-quart casserole dish, or, 2, 2-quart casseroles, preferably clear glass; electric rice steamer; fork; aluminum foil

IMG_5282Cook's Note:  In Thailand, small, lean chickens are skewered, cooked over charcoal and sold as street food.  This doesn't mean they're inferior,  it means they're different from what we purchase in America. In my Thai-American version of another Thai classic, the chickens are plump, juicy and melt-in-your mouth tender.  To learn more, click on this link to get my recipe for ~ Thai-Style Oven-Roasted Barbecued Half Chicken ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/12/2018

~Greek Hummus, Steak & Arugula-Salad Pita-Pizzas~

IMG_5549Everyone knows anything one can sandwich between two slices of bread can be tucked into a pita pocket to eat on the run.  Almost everyone knows that the flat round pita (or any flatbread) is a great foil for all sorts open-face knife-and-fork sandwich meals too.  What all busy moms know is: if the ingredients on the pita are amicable to being baked in the oven, and you refer to it as pizza, it's a sure-fire way to get children to venture into trying just about anything.

It's called "bending the rules for the common good", and, when my kids were young, I did it in creative ways.  If it looks like a sandwich and it's eaten like a sandwich, it must be a sandwich -- even if it is not between the definitive two slices of bread.  If it looks like a pizza and it's eaten like a pizza, it must be a pizza -- even if it doesn't have the typical tomato sauce and cheese on it. That said, in a world when no two family members will ever agree on sandwich stuffings or pizza toppings, make-your-own personal-size pockets or pizza for dinner is a solid solution.

IMG_5224My Greek-style pita pizzas, inspired by my recipe for ~ Greek-Style Flank-steak Salad or Pocket Sammies ~ start with a slathering of hummus and a layer of mozzarella. Next up, onion, briny olives and feta, and a few cherry tomatoes.  When these show-stopping snack-pizzas emerge from the oven, a mix of lightly-dressed arugula leaves and diced cucumber with bits of rare-cooked flank steak top them off. If you've made my steak salad, all you need is pita bread and hummus to quickly turn leftovers into pizza.* 

IMG_5462Greek pizza per se refers to the type of dough/style of crust -- in the same way New York-Neopolitan- or Sicilian-, Chicago- or Detroit-, or, St. Louis- styles refer to theirs. Greek-style crust is baked in a shallow, heavily-oiled pan, instead of directly on the bricks of a pizza oven, which renders it somewhat thick and puffy with a crispy, fried-like exterior and a tender, chewy interior, and, it's referred to as "Greek pizza" even when it has non-Greek toppings.  Because pita bread is common to all sorts of Greek-style sandwiches (like the iconic Greek Gyro Beef & Lamb Pita Sandwich), I'm gonna call it a day and suffice it to say:

IMG_5568My pita pizzas are sophisticated Greek-style savory w/snazz.

*Note:  I won't lie.  Making these with ingredients leftover from my salad is quick and easy.  That's what I'm doing today.  That said, if you're looking for a sophisticated pizza snack to serve as an hors d'oeuvre,  making them in multiples and slicing them into wedges is well-worth the effort. 

IMG_54992 pita pockets, whole-wheat or white, your favorite brand

4-6  tablespoons hummus

4  slices deli-style mozzarella cheese

1/4  cup very-thinly-sliced (shaved) red onion

6-8  Greek kalamata black olives, well-drained and  cut in half

6-8  pimiento-stuffed Spanish green olives, well-drained and cut in half

6-8  grape tomatoes cut in half tomatoes

1/2  cup crumbled feta cheese, divided (1/4 cup for pizza, 1/4 cup for salad)

3/4-1  cup baby arugula leaves

1/4-1/2  cup peeled and diced Kirby cucumber

2  tablespoons Greek-style vinaigrette, preferably homemade, or high-quality store-bought

1  teaspoon Greek seasoning blend

6-8 small flank steak roulades, marinated in Greek-style vinaigrette as directed here and broiled as directed below (Note:  Feel free to skip the steak and serve these Greek pita pizzas a meatless meal.):

IMG_5061 IMG_5061 IMG_5061 IMG_5061 IMG_5061~Step 1.  Position oven rack about 8" underneath heating element and preheat broiler.  Remove the room temperature flank steak from the marinade and place on an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom).  Place the flank steak under the broiler and cook for 8-9 minutes, until steak is golden brown and bubbly. Remove from the oven and flip steak over.  Return to broiler and cook 8-9 more minutes, using an instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness after 8 minutes. Remove from oven when it reaches an internal temperature of 130°-134°.  Allow to rest 10-15 minutes prior to slicing*.

*Note:  My favorite way to serve my Greek salad is with warm steak.  For my pita pizzas, it's best made with steak that's been chilled and returned to room temp (take it out of refrigerator about an hour prior to slicing), so, wrap the cooked steak in plastic wrap, refrigerate it, and slice it later.

IMG_5150 IMG_5150~ Step 2.  Slice meat in half lengthwise, then thinly-slice each half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into thin (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips.  Roll each meat strip up roulade-style*, placing them in a bowl as you work.

*Note:  A roulade (roo-LAHD) is a fancy French term for a thin slice of raw or cooked meat rolled around a filling then secured with some kitchen twine or a toothpick.  If the meat is raw, the roulade is cooked after rolling, if the meat is cooked, the roulade is ready for serving.

IMG_5485 IMG_5485~ Step 3.  Typically the roulades are used as they are in my Greek salad.  Leftovers are stored in my refrigerator.  To turn yesterday's leftovers into today's pizza topping, "chiffonade" them (a Fancy french word meaning "to cut into ribbons").

IMG_5501 IMG_5501 IMG_5501~ Step 4.  Place two pita breads on a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan that has been lined with parchment. Use a knife to slather the top of each pita with 2-3 tablespoon hummus, to within 1/4" of the edge of the perimeter.

IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507~Step 5.  Place two slices mozzarella cheese (atop the hummus) on each pita.  Scatter with shaved red onion, then arrange Greek and Spanish olives, followed by grape tomatoes over the cheese.  Sprinkle on half the crumbled feta.  Bake pita pizzas on center rack of 350º oven until mozzarella is melted and feta is just starting to show signs of browning, 11-12 minutes.

IMG_5524 IMG_5524~ Step 6.  While the pita pizzas are in the oven baking, in a medium bowl, toss the remain feta crumbles, arugula leaves and diced cucumber with 2 tablespoons of the Greek vinaigrette and 1 teaspoon Greek seasoning blend.  Remove pizzas from oven.  Plate pizzas and serve pizzas, whole or cut into wedges, topped with salad.

Cut into wedges & served as sophisticated appetizers:

IMG_5586Left whole & served as a hearty, personal-sized pizza meal:

IMG_5562Greek Hummus, Steak & Arugula Salad Pita-Pizzas:  Recipe yields instructions to make 2 Greek-style pita pitas/8 appetizers/2 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper

IMG_0451Cook's Note: I surely didn't invent the word pizz'alad, but it is catchy. That said, I'd been kinds making various versions of them at home for my kids for years (Philadelphia cheesesteak, Buffalo chicken and Texican taco to name three), before publications like Eating Well, Bon Appetít and Food and Wine started using this trendy term to describe a pizza with a salad on top.  Click here to get my basic (Crazy for Caprese) recipe for ~ Pizza' alads:  Salad Pizza (Pizza w/a Salad on Top) ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/09/2018

~ T.G.I. No-Fuss-Friday Greek Pizza for Mel Tonight ~

IMG_5456I'm Mel -- I cook all week -- on weekends too.  I cook for my family, friends, and, friends-of-friends. I even cook on TV, and it's all fun, but, every once in a while, I have occasion to cook for myself. Tonight is such a night, and, I am going Greek and easy and super-good.  Why cook for myself when I don't have to?  Because, with little effort, calorie for calorie, my food tastes much better than over-priced, lack-luster take out or delivery -- in the case of tonight's pizza, it's faster too.

IMG_5479When it comes to pizza just for me, I don't want to spend time kneading the dough and waiting for it to rise. When I'm craving crust, I want the end-in-sight as close-to-now as possible.  That said, pre-made pizza crusts and canned pizza dough, in my opionion, were not one of the best inventions of the 20th century. They taste like cardboard -- In my heart, I believe they contain cardboard.  There is one exception:

Boboli.  It's not only a very good and tasty product, it mimics the texture and thickness of Greek pizza nicely.

IMG_5482Boboli have been around for years now, and, for very good reason: Boboli gave us a great product at a reasonable price, and, to prove it, they've stood the test of time.  In my kitchen, they've been kid-tested and mother-approved too.  I've also used Boboli as a tasty, uniform foil to test many of my pizza sauces, cheese options and topping combinations.  I individually wrap a 2-pack of their mini 8" crusts in plastic.  I thaw one out in minutes, and, minutes later (tick, tock), I'm eating pizza for me -- with a slice or two for tomorrow too.

What exactly is authentic Greek-style pizza?

IMG_5421Greek pizza per se refers to the dough/style of crust -- the same way New York-Neopolitan- or Sicilian-, Chicago- or Detroit-, or, St. Louis- styles do.  Greek-style crust is butter- not olive-oil based, then, patted into and baked in a shallow, heavily-oiled pizza pan (not a deep-dish pan), instead of directly on the bricks of a pizza oven.  This renders it well-formed (not free-form) and somewhat thick with a fried-like exterior and a chewy interior.  This type of crust is referred to as "Greek pizza" even when the pizza comes with non-Greek topping options -- which are offered at "pizza-and-pasta"* or "house-of-pizza"* Greek-owned pizza joints (*code words signifying the eatery you are entering is not a classic Italian restaurant, but a classic Greek restaurant offering some Italian-style food).

IMG_5434Greek pizza toppings, as one would expect, revolve around authentic, common-to-the-cuisine Greek ingredients.  If tomato sauce is used, it is thick and tangy with a strong taste of garlic and oregano. Hummus or red pepper hummus are two other popular sauce options.  As for cheeses, it starts with deli-style mozzarella (to provide the ooey-gooey affect) and ends with crumbled feta (which softens but doesn't melt, for the classic briny edge). Other options include red onion, fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, a variety of Greek-style olives, marinated artichokes, and sometimes, fresh greens like spinach or arugula leaves. Wisps or chards of Gryro-style super-thinly-sliced roasted meats (marinated lamb and/or beef) replace Italian-style ground or cured meat options (beef, sausage, pepperoni and/or salami).

Atop 1, 8" Boboli pizza crust, layer:  5 slices deli-mozzarella, shaved pieces of red onion & sliced Campari tomatoes, 5 coined Kalamata & 5 pimiento-stuffed Spanish-style olives, feta cheese crumbles & a generous sprinkling of Greek seasoning blend:

IMG_5426Place pizza directly on rack of 425º toaster oven & bake for 8-10 minutes: 

IMG_5448Slide pizza from rack to plate then wait (tick, tock) 3-5 minutes, &, slice & eat:

IMG_5460T.G.I. No-Fuss-Friday Greek Pizza for Mel Tonight:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1, 8" Greek-style Boboli pizza/6 slices, enough to feed 1-2 people

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; toaster oven (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e0bba4970cCook's Note:  I surely didn't invent the word pizz'alad, but it is catchy. That said, I'd been kinda making various versions of them at home for my kids for years (Philadelphia cheesesteak, Buffalo chicken and Texican taco to name three), before publications like Eating Well, Bon Appetít and Food and Wine started using this trendy term to describe a pizza with a salad on top.  Click here to get my basic (Crazy for Caprese) recipe for ~ Pizza' alads:  Salad Pizza (Pizza w/a Salad on Top) ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/07/2018

~ Sweet Heat: Peanutty Thai Sweet Chili Vinaigrette ~

IMG_5379Mae Ploy brand sweet chili sauce, known in Thailand as "nam chim kai", "dipping sauce for chicken", is a staple in my refrigerator.  We use it as a dipping sauce for all sorts of things -- from lettuce wraps and spring rolls to deep-fried chicken wings, coconut shrimp and batter-dipped vegetables, almost everything tastes better with the sweet heat of this sauce.  Here in my American kitchen, my family affectionately refers to it as "the ketchup of Thailand."  

Using sweet chili sauce in conjunction w/the right ratio of other Thai staples renders a vinaigrette no store brand can compete with.

IMG_53421/2  cup Mae Ploy brand sweet chili sauce

2  tablespoons Golden Mountain brand Thai seasoning soy sauce

1  tablespoon Squid brand Thai fish sauce

1  tablespoon lime juice, fresh or high-quality bottled concentrate

1  tablespoon Jiff extra-crunchy peanut butter

2  teaspoons ginger paste

1  teaspoon garlic paste

2  tablespoons peanut oil

1  tablespoon sesame oil

2  tablespoons rice vinegar

~ Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients, as listed, in a 1-2-cup measuring container with a tight fitting lid and a pourer top.  Shake vigorously until peanut butter is completely dispersed and has rendered the vinaigrette a slightly-creamy texture.  Peanut butter is a flavored-stabilizer.  Like Dijon mustard in a classic vinaigrette, it slows the inevitable separation process down.

Full of sweet heat, citrusy sour & salty peanutty lusciousness:

IMG_5380Try it on my Thai-Style Oven-Roasted Barbecued Chicken Salad:

IMG_5395Sweet Heat:  Peanutty That Sweet Chili Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 1 cups vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List:  1-2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid & pourer top

IMG_5282Cook's Note:  My recipe for ~ Thai Style Oven-Roasted Barbecued Half Chicken ~, is the ingredient that takes my chicken salad recipe over-the-top.  In Thailand, it's a very small, whole or half chicken that's been marinated in a soy-and-fish-sauce-based coconut-creamy, cilantro-greeny mixture laced with fragrant lemongrass, ginger, garlic and scallions.  My Americanized version is plumper, juicier and melt-in-your mouth tenderer too. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/05/2018

~ Thai-Style Chicken Salad w/Sweet Chili Vinaigrette ~

IMG_5395Mae Ploy brand sweet chili sauce, known in Thailand as "nam chim kai", "dipping sauce for chicken", is a staple in my refrigerator.  We use it as a dipping sauce for all sorts of things -- from lettuce wraps and spring rolls to deep-fried chicken wings, coconut shrimp and batter-dipped vegetables, almost everything tastes better with the sweet heat of this sauce.  Here in my kitchen, we affectionately refer to it as "the ketchup of Thailand."  Using it in conjunction with the right ratio of other Thai pantry staples renders a vinaigrette no store-bought brand can compete with.

IMG_5282A salad is only as good as the ingredients that go into it, and my Thai chicken salad is no exception. It starts with my Thai-Style Oven-Roasted Barbecued Chicken.  In the wide, wide world of food, almost every culture has a favorite way to serve grilled chicken. In Thailand, that would be gai yang.  Those are the Thai words for grilled chicken, more specifically a very small, whole or half chicken that's been marinated in a soy-and-fish-sauce- IMG_5327based coconut-creamy, cilantro-greeny mixture laced with fragrant lemongrass, ginger, garlic and scallions. Throughout Thailand, the recipe for gai yang does vary from cook-to-cook, but not very much.  In my Americanized version, the chicken emerges from the oven plump, juicy and melt-in-your mouth tender -- not to mention infused with authentic Thai flavors. Whenever I make it, 2-3 times a year, I make one extra -- to make this salad.  

Oh my Thai.  Sigh.  While I never make my salad without my special Thai BBQ chicken, if pressed to recommend a time-saving substitution (and I know some of you are going to ask), sans all of the wonderful flavor you'll be missing out on, head for a store-bought rotisserie bird.

To make 1 cup of my Peanutty Thai Sweet-Chili Vinaigrette:

IMG_5342

1/2  cup Mae Ploy brand sweet chili sauce

2  tablespoons Golden Mountain brand Thai seasoning soy sauce

1  tablespoon Squid brand Thai fish sauce

1  tablespoon lime juice, fresh or high-quality bottled concentrate

1  tablespoon Jiff extra-crunchy peanut butter

2  teaspoons ginger paste

1  teaspoon garlic paste

2  tablespoons peanut oil

1  tablespoon sesame oil

2  tablespoons rice vinegar

~ Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients, as listed, in a 1-2-cup measuring container with a tight fitting lid and a pourer top.  Shake vigorously until peanut butter is completely dispersed and has rendered the vinaigrette a slightly-creamy texture.  Peanut butter is a flavored-stabilizer.  Like Dijon mustard in a classic vinaigrette, it slows the inevitable separation process down.

To make two, hearty, main-dish Thai-style chicken salads:

IMG_53452 1/2-3 cups cooked chicken, removed from 1/2 of 1, 3 1/2-4-pound Thai-Style oven-roasted barbecue chicken (leg, thigh, breast & wing meat from half a chicken), crispy skin left on or removed (your choice), pulled into bite-sized chards and pieces or sliced into thin strips 

IMG_51301  whole head hearts-of-romaine, the "hearts" being the inner leaves from the typical bushy head (about 6-8 ounces total weight), leaves torn into small, bite-sized pieces or cut chiffonade-style (into 1/2" strips or ribbons), washed, dried (preferably through a salad spinner) and chilled until very crisp

3/4-1  cup store-bought broccoli slaw, a mixture of shredded broccoli, carrots and red cabbage

3/4-1  cup halved cherry tomatoes

3/4-1  cup peeled and peeled and diced Kirby cucumber, 1/2 of a cucumber

1/2-3/4  cup thinly-sliced green onion, tender white and light-green parts only

1/2  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves

1/2  cup chopped and lightly-roasted, unsalted peanuts

1/2-1  cup Peanutty Thai Sweet Chili Vinaigrette, from above recipe

IMG_5349 IMG_5349 IMG_5349 IMG_5349 IMG_5362 IMG_5362 IMG_5362 IMG_5395~Step 1.  In each of two salad plates, compose the salad by dividing, layering and arranging ingredients in the following order:  the romaine chiffonade briefly tossed together in each bowl with the broccoli slaw, followed by the sliced green onion and diced cucumber.  Pile on the pulled or sliced chicken pieces and grape tomatoes then generously garnish each salad with a sprinkling of cilantro leaves and roasted peanuts.  Drizzle on the vinaigrette and stick a fork in it ASAP.

Drizzle on the vinaigrette & give it a decent dose too...

IMG_5379... then stick a fork in it & eat this special Thai salad ASAP:

IMG_5412Thai-Style Chicken Salad w/Sweet Chili Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 1 cup vinaigrette, and, 2, hearty, main-dish salads.

Special Equipment List:  1-2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid & pourer top; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler

IMG_6958Cook's Note:  Cold main- or side-dish pasta or noodle salads of the American type are not something I gravitate toward.  That said, serve me one bursting with Thai-Asian flavors, you don't have to call me twice to the table.  My recipe for ~ Cold 'Chicken Noodle Salad' w/Thai Peanut Sauce ~ is a delightful combination of lo-mein noodles with wisps of chicken, matchstick carrots and green onion scattered throughout.  It's lunch-box kid-tested and mother approved too.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

03/03/2018

~ Thai-Style Oven-Roasted Barbecued Half Chicken ~

IMG_5282In the wide, wide world of food, almost every culture has a favorite way to serve grilled chicken. In Thailand, that would be gai yang.  Those are the Thai words for grilled chicken, more specifically a very small, whole or half chicken that's been marinated in a soy-and-fish-sauce-based coconut-creamy, cilantro-greeny mixture laced with fragrant lemongrass, ginger, garlic and scallions. Throughout Thailand, the recipe for gai yang does vary from cook-to-cook, but not very much.

Not to be confused w/authentic Thai gai yang...

IMG_5323... mine = American chicken infused w/authentic Thai flavor.

05302013-grilled-free-range-chicken-largeIn Thailand, small, lean chickens are skewered, cooked over charcoal and sold as gnaw-off-the-stick street food*.  In my American-kitchen version, the chickens are plump, juicy and melt-in-your mouth tender.

Oh my Thai.  Too many Americans have the preconceived notion that Thai food is super-spicy -- fiery hot. It's not.  Like anything, one can make it super-spicy if one desires, but, if you ever eat a few meals in Thailand or in a Thai home kitchen, one quickly learns that Thai cuisine is an addictively well-balanced blend of sweet, sour, salty and subtle heat, with a bit of a citrusy, bitter edge.

There's more.  Aromatic herbs (like basil, cilantro and/or mint) and spices (like chile, galangal, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and/or scallion), all add to the unique aroma- and flavor-infusing process that distinguishes Thai food from others.

*The chickens raised in Thailand are small, lean and boney (scrawny) with an intense (gamey) flavor.  This does not mean they're inferior.  It means they are different from what we purchase in an American market.  If I cannot purchase a similar product here, it makes no sense for me to try to duplicate it.  That said, I sure can produce a Thai-style barbecued chicken that'll taste amazing.

Making the marinade & marinating the chickens:

All Thai recipes for barbecue chicken begin by making the marinade -- from this standpoint, my recipe is authentic.  Traditionally, many of the ingredients get pulverized in a stone mortar and pestle, but, here in my American home kitchen, I make short work of this laborious process by using my food processor -- why wouldn't I or anyone who owns a pulverizing machine not use it.

IMG_5080For the chickens and the marinade:

2  3 1/2-4-pound frying chickens, as even in size as possible, split in half, backbones removed, 4 pieces total (Note:  I call in advance and ask my local butcher to do this for me.)

4  ounces coarse-chopped green onion, tender white and light-green parts only

2 ounces coarse-chopped, fresh cilantro stems and/or roots (Note:  Save the delicate leaves for garnish.  The majority of the bold, earthy flavor is housed in the roots and/or stems.)

2  ounces coarse-chopped, fresh lemon grass, tender white and light-green parts only

2  ounces peeled and coarse-chopped fresh ginger root

1-1 1/2  ounces, whole, fresh garlic cloves (6-10, large whole cloves)

8-10  small Thai bird chile peppers, red, green or a combination of both (Note:  These are small but mighty.  I grow them in our garden and keep them on-hand in my freezer.  Because they are so hot, I hold each one by the stem and use a pair of kitchen shears to "snip it" into whatever I'm cooking -- this keeps the heat from getting on my hands -- or worse, in my eyes.)

3  tablespoons Thai Squid brand fish Sauce

3  tablespoons Thai Golden Mountain brand seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons sesame oil

2  tablespoons firmly-packed palm sugar, or light brown sugar

1  13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk

IMG_5083 IMG_5083 IMG_5083 IMG_5083 IMG_5083 IMG_5083 IMG_5083 IMG_5083~Step 1.  Prep green onion, cilantro, lemon grass, ginger, garlic and chile peppers, as directed, placing each one in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade as you work.  Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses, very-finely mince the ingredients.  Open the processor lid and use a spatula to scrape down sides of work bowl.  In a small bowl, stir together the fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, and brown sugar, to dissolve the sugar.  Add the sugar mixture to the work bowl, followed by the coconut milk.  Process again, using a series of 10-20 rapid on-off pulses followed by the motor running for 30-45 seconds.  There will be 3 3/4-4 cups marinade.

IMG_5103 IMG_5103 IMG_5103 IMG_5103 IMG_5103~Step 2.  Place each split chicken in a heavy-duty 2-gallon-sized food storage bag, positioning the halves so the sharp bones will face the inside once the bag is sealed.  Pour half of the marinade (about 2 cups) into each bag. Gather the bag tightly up around the chicken and twist or zip closed.  Using your hands, massage the bags, until each chicken is thoroughly coated in the marinade.  Allow to marinate in the refrigerator 6-8 hours (minimum), overnight, or up to 48 hours (maximum) -- remove from refrigerator 1 hour prior to roasting.

IMG_5245 IMG_5245 IMG_5275 IMG_5278~Step 3.  To roast, insert a wire rack in the bottom of a large 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan, then place a sheet of parchment paper on the rack.  Open each bag of chicken. One-at-a-time lift each half chicken up and out, allowing the excess marinade to drizzle back into the bag*, then arrange the halves, side-by-side on the rack in prepared pan.  Roast, uncovered on center rack of 350º oven, 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a tip of a knife.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 10-15 minute, prior to serving.

*Note:  Do not discard the marinade in bags.  It will be used to make the sauce (recipe below).

Making & reducing the dipping & drizzling sauce:

What could be better than an aromatic, pump, moist, melt-in-your-mouth-juicy half chicken roasted in the oven?  How about a coconut-creamy, cilantro-dreamy to-die-for sauce.  Quickly and easily made on the stovetop from the marinade the chickens marinated in, plus a few on-hand additions, if your family is like mine, don't hesitate to make a double batch of this sublime sauce.

IMG_5249For the Sauce (use all marinade reserved from above, plus the following):

1  13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk 

3  tablespoons Thai Squid brand fish sauce

3  tablespoons Thai Golden Mountain brand seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons sesame oil

2  tablespoons firmly-packed palm sugar, or light brown sugar

1  packet Herb-Ox instant,  IMG_5254granulated chicken bouillon (1, small foil packet)

6-8  kaffier lime leaves (Note:  I purchase these unique flavor-packed leaves at my Asian market and keep them on-hand in my freezer. When it comes to Thai cooking, these are what gives it its signature herby-citrus flavor.)

IMG_5246 IMG_5246 IMG_5257~ Step 1.  Place all leftover marinade you can retrieve from the bags in a wide-bottomed chef's-type pan. Stir in the the coconut milk, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, palm or brown sugar, instant bouillon and lime leaves.  Bring to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, then adjust heat to gently simmer. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until nicely-thickened and reduced by about one-third, about 20 minutes.

The rice, the garnishes & serving up supper:

Jasmine rice, a fragrant-scented rice, is a very-important staple-ingredient in the Thai kitchen.  It's got a heavenly aroma, and, a lovely, fluffy texture when cooked.  In my kitchen, a simple bed of this freshly-steamed white rice, scattered with bits of sweet and tart pineapple, crunchy oven-roasted peanuts and delicate cilantro leaves are all I need to complete my family's Thai feast. 

IMG_5273For the rice and garnishes:

4  cups uncooked jasmine rice, 8 cups after steaming

2  cups diced pineapple (from 1 medium-large fresh pineapple)

1  cup chopped and lightly-roasted, unsalted peanuts

1/2  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves (reserved from above)

all  the sauce, for dipping and drizzling, prepared on stovetop as directed above

IMG_5263 IMG_5263 IMG_5263 IMG_5263 IMG_5287~Step 1.  On each of 4, 9"-10" warmed dinner plates (big plates for this big meal work best), prepare and make a bed of 2-cups jasmine rice. Scatter 6-8 tablespoons diced pineapple, 3-4 tablespoons chopped peanuts, and, 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves.  Top each portion with one split-chicken half and a small bowl of sauce for dipping and drizzling.

Oh my Thai-American oven-roasted barbecued half chicken:

IMG_5288When Thai flavors meet this American girl's kitchen:

IMG_5316My family's food world is a bigger, better place indeed:

IMG_5297Thai-Style Oven-Roasted Barbecued Half Chicken:  Recipe yields 4 very-hearty Thai-American servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; rubber spatula; 1-quart measuring container; 2, heavy-duty 2-gallon food storage bags; 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan; wire cooling-type rack; parchment paper; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon; electric rice steamer (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1ea2794970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8604f55970bCook's Note: For another classic Thai street food recipe (small marinated cubes or thinly-sliced chicken or pork threaded onto bamboo skewers and grilled), which can semi-easily be duplicated in the American home kitchen, try my recipe for ~ Thai-Style Chicken or Pork Satay w/Peanut Sauce ~.  It's family-friendly and a tailgate favorite of adults and most kids too.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)