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12 posts from April 2018

04/30/2018

~ Sink or Swim: Mexican Drowned-Beef Sandwiches ~

IMG_7307Tacos and tortas -- two staples of Mexican cuisine.  They are to Mexico's culture what pizza and hamburgers are to America's -- you can't pass through a city or a town where you can't find either. If you're an American cook with a fondness for Mexican fare, like me, you most likely have a recipe-or-six for tacos (American-style ground beef tacos, grilled-beef tacos al carbonshredded-pork carnitas tacosshredded-pork tacos al pastorchicken tacosfish tacos, etc.).  That said, how many Mexican torta recipes do you have in your repertoire?  I'm guessing not too many, or none.  Sink or swim:  there is no time like the present to add one.

Torta ahogada.  Culinarily, "torta" can mean several things: in Spain it refers to a "pancake", in Latin America it's a "cake", in Central America it's an "omelette", and, in Mexico it's a "sandwich" -- the kind that, unlike the taco, fits the culinary definition of anything edible placed between two slices of bread.  Generally speaking, in Spanish "ahogada" means "drowned", "drenched" or "drunk". Putting two and two together, today's recipe is:  a Mexican sandwich, drowned or drenched in a spicy sauce, with a reputation for being a sure-fire cure for the common hangover.

Savory marinade + spicy sauce + the proper roll + protein of choice. All the components for Mexican-style sandwich perfection.

IMG_7122The drowned sandwich (torta ahogada) was invented in Guadalajara in the early 1900's.  It was literally a mistake, a "slip-of-the-hand", so to speak.  Don Ignacio "Nacho" Saldaña, was a thirty year old who just started working for one of the city's largest vendors, Luis De La Torre, at his central plaza location, which was managed by De La Torre's father. As per Saldaña, a customer requested extra sauce on his pork sandwich, and, senior IMG_7367De La Torre accidentally dropped the sandwich in the container.  "It's drowned", the customer cried, but, after eating it and declaring how good it was, the son began selling torta ahogadas in all of his eateries. Saldaña eventually saved enough money to open his own restaurant at the corner of Madero and Indepence Streets, where, now, five decades later and well into his 80's, he's still selling the iconic sandwiches.

By simple word-of-mouth this IMG_7255humble, mess-of-a-pork and lightly-grilled- or raw-onion sandwich quickly grew in popularity.  Before long, vendors all across the city were touting their versions, by tweaking the recipes for the Mexican-style marinade for the protein and/or the firey, tawny-red ahogada sauce -- not a lot, just enough to claim them their own. Variations on the presentation followed, with some serving the sauce in a bowl to the side, while IMG_7317others began slathering the all-important semi-firm textured bolillo roll with condiments like refried beans or guacamole prior to drowning.  Still others took it one step further, by offering beef, chicken or shrimp options as a substitute for pork.  The proper way to eat a drenched sandwich, served in a bowl (in a restaurant) or in a bag (on the street) is with the hands -- in Mexico, it often comes to you along with a pair of plastic gloves.  

Today, I'm making mine using beef.   Flavorful, juicy, tender and perfectly-cooked flank steak

IMG_7400For 4 hearty sandwiches:

1  2-pound flank steak

1/2  cup my recipe for A Basic Mexican Marinade for Beef, Pork or Poultry

1 1/2  cups my recipe for Ahogada Sauce for Mexican Drowned Sandwiches

1  very large sweet onion (12-14-ounces), cut into 1/4"-thick rings

2  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil*

4  bolillo, ciabatta or other crusty, 6" long sandwich-rolls, halved, and if desired, lightly-toasted or grilled

guacamole and tortilla chips, for accompaniment

*Note:  Achiote oil, which is readily available everywhere, has annatto added to it, which is what gives it its signature pretty orange color, and, ever-so-slight hint of earthy, musty, peppery flavor. Annatto is the seed of the achiote tree, which is indigenous to Central and South America.  The seeds are usually ground to a powder or steeped in oil prior to adding to all sorts of Spanish-style fare.  If you don't do a lot of this type of cooking, don't buy it, or, if you don't want the orange color added to the dish you are serving, simply substitute vegetable oil without compromise.

IMG_7185 IMG_7185 IMG_7185 IMG_7185 IMG_7185~Step 1.  Prepare the marinade as directed in recipe.  Place the flank steak in a 1-gallon food storage bag and add 1/2 cup of the marinade. Seal the bag.  Using your fingertips, squish the bag a bit, to push the steak and the marinade around enough to thoroughly coat the steak in marinade.  Refrigerate for 6-12 hours or overnight -- overnight is best.

~ Step 2.  Prepare the ahogada sauce as directed in recipe.  It's easy to make, and, it freezes well too, so, make the whole batch and freeze the leftovers to have on hand for two more meals.

IMG_7219 IMG_7219 IMG_7219 IMG_7219 IMG_7219 IMG_7219~Step 3.  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 flank steak under the broiler and cook 8-9 minutes, until 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 steak from oven when it reaches an internal temperature of 130°-134°.  Allow steak to rest 10-15 minutes.

IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235~Step 4.  While steak is resting, peel and slice onion into 1/4" thick rings.  Heat oil in a 10" skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions and lightly season them with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, about 15 grinds salt and 25 grinds pepper.  Continue to cook until onions are soft but not mushy, 4-5 minutes, gently flipping them in the skillet with a fork or two forks during the process.  Remove from heat and set aside.

IMG_7260~ Step 5.  Slice the rested-but-warm steak in half lengthwise, then thinly-slice each half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips. Yield: enough to amply fill (stuff) four, hearty, 6"-long sandwiches.

Note:  Broiling steak just before assembling the sandwiches is best, but, if it must be made ahead, reheat uncut steak gently in microwave 60-90 seconds.

IMG_7271 IMG_7271 IMG_7271 IMG_7271 IMG_7271 IMG_7271 IMG_7271~Step 6.  To assemble the sandwiches, slice the rolls in half, then place the bottom half of each in a wide, shallow bowl.  Divide and heap the meat evenly atop the four "bun bottoms", followed by an even layer of onions (reserve a few onions for garnish at the end).  I like to add the guacamole and tortilla chips to my "bowls" at this time.  Before placing the top on each sandwich, pull a bit of the soft bread from their centers with your fingertips -- this forms a dome which helps keep the meat and onions in place while eating these sandwiches (see photo below).  Using a small ladle, drizzle a scant 1/2 cup warm sauce over each sandwich, garnish with a few of the reserved onions and serve ASAP.

Drizzle w/sauce, garnish w/onions, &, serve ASAP:

IMG_7376Try the traditional Torta Ahogada Drowned Pork Sandwich too:

IMG_7575Sink or Swim:  Mexican Drowned-Beef Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 4 large, hearty sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; 1-gallon food storage bag; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; instant-read meat thermometer (optional); serrated bread knife; small ladle

IMG_6600Cook's Note:  A well done flank steak is not well done at all.  Flank steak, while it lends its succulent flavorful self to indoor cooking beautifully, if the lean and sexy flank steak is not quickly-cooked and served rare- medium-rare it is not worth eating. While I occasionally pan-sear it, my favorite method is to cook it under the broiler.  My foolproof method takes all the guesswork out of it too:  ~ Melanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak ~.  You're gonna love it.

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

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

04/28/2018

~ Ahogada Sauce for Mexican Drowned Sandwiches ~

IMG_7356In Spanish, "ahogada" means "drowned", "drenched" or "drunk".  Culinarily it refers to a super-spicy, tawny-red sauce that gets poured over Mexican-style chopped, sliced or shredded, beef, pork, chicken or shrimp "tortas" ("sandwiches").  The working-mans-lunch is served on a semi-firm bolillo roll, in a bowl, "bien ahogada", "well drowned" (immersed end-to-end).  It has the reputation of curing the common cold or a bad hangover, and, is believed to be a way to sweat-out an infection too.  For those who can't handle the heat, the sandwich can be ordered "media" ("medium"), with a higher ratio of tomato sauce added to tame the peppery sauce.

Any sandwich that gets drowned or dunked in sauce...

The drowned sandwich (ahogada torta) was invented in Guadalajara in the early 1900's.  It was literally a mistake, a "slip-of-the-hand", so to speak.  Don Ignacio "Nacho" Saldaña, was a thirty year old who just started working for one of the city's largest vendors, Luis De La Torre, at his central plaza location, which was managed by De La Torre's father. As per Saldaña, a customer requested extra sauce on his pork sandwich, and, senior De La Torre accidentally dropped the sandwich in the container.  "It's drowned", the customer cried, but, after eating it and declaring how good it was, the son began selling torta ahogadas in all of his eateries.  Saldaña eventually saved enough money to open his own restaurant at the corner of Madero and Indepence Streets, where, now, five decades later and well into his 80's, he's still selling the iconic sandwiches.

IMG_7354... is a sandwich dependent on a great sauce.

By simple word-of-mouth this humble, mess-of-a-pork and lightly-grilled- or raw-onion sandwich quickly grew in popularity.  Before long, vendors all across the city were touting their versions, by tweaking recipes for the marinade and/or the sauce -- just enough to call them their own. Variations on the presentation followed, with some serving the sauce in a bowl to the side, while others began slathering the roll with condiments like refried beans or guacamole prior to drowning.  Still others, they took it one step further, by offering marinated beef, chicken or shrimp options as a substitute for pork.  My all-purpose recipe for ahogada sauce, which is made with vegetable stock, is hot-but-not-too-hot and pairs perfectly with any protein you choose to use.   

My all-purpose American-girl's version of the signature sauce:

IMG_71272  tablespoons achiote-vegetable oil, or plain vegetable oil

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce & Gravy flour (or unbleached, all-purpose flour)

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1  tablespoon Mexican-style chili powder

1  tablespoon Mexican-style oregano leaves

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2  cups high-quality unsalted vegetable stock

2  tablespoons lime juice, fresh or high-quality bottled not from concentrate

2  tablespoons white vinegar

1  15 1/2-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained

1  15-ounce can tomato sauce, to taste, add more for less heat

1  4 1/2-ounce can green chiles, undrained

3  chipotle canned chiles in adobo, add more for more heat

1  tablespoon adobo sauce, from canned chipotles in adobo, add more for more heat 

IMG_7135 IMG_7135 IMG_7135 IMG_7135~Step 1.  In a small bowl, measure and place all of the dried herbs and spices as listed.  In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the flour.  Whisking vigorously and constantly, cook until the roux is very thick, smooth and bubbly, 1-1 1/2 full minutes.

IMG_7146 IMG_7146 IMG_7146 IMG_7146~Step 2.   Thoroughly whisk in the dried herbs and spices.  The mixture will be grainy, lumpy and bumpy.  Slowly and in a thin stream, whisk in the stock, followed by the lime juice and vinegar.

IMG_7166 IMG_7166 IMG_7166 IMG_7166~Step 3.  Add and stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, green chiles, chiles in adobo, and adobo sauce.  Using a large spoon (lose the whisk), give the mixture a thorough stir, adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, and, continue to simmer, stirring frequently for 10-12 minutes.  Turn the heat off.  Partially-cover the pot and allow to steep, to allow flavors to marry, 30-60 minutes.

IMG_7200 IMG_7200 IMG_7200 IMG_7200~Step 4.  Once the sauce has cooled a bit, using a hand-held immersion blender, or a food processor, or, a blender, process the sauce to desired consistency, smaller bits and pieces, or smooth, about 2 minutes.  That said, if you prefer chunky sauce, more like salsa, feel free to skip this step.  If you've followed my recipe, you will have a little over 5 1/2 cups.  There's more.  This sauce, freezes well.  I portion it into 2 cup containers, each enough to sauce 2-3 sandwiches.

5 1/2 cups, which freezes well = 4 meals of 2-3 sandwiches each. 

IMG_7217Sink or Swim:  Mexican Drowned-Beef Sandwiches. 

IMG_7307And the traditional:  Torta Ahogada Drowned-Pork Sandwich

IMG_7575Ahogada for Mexican Drowned-Style Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 5 1/2 cups sauce, enough to drown 8-12 hearty sandwiches/8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List: 4-quart saucepan w/lid; 2- cup measuring container; whisk; large spoon; hand-held immersion blender, or food processor, or blender (your choice)

IMG_7122Cook's Note:  In the food world, in every cuisine, the layering of flavors, or continuity of flavor throughout the dish being served, is extremely important.  In the case of Mexican-style torta ahogadas, the process begins with a marinade.  Check out my recipe for ~ A Basic Mexican Marinade for Beef, Poultry or Pork ~.  It can be made,  along with the sauce a day ahead, which renders sandwich-making-day a breeze.

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

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

04/26/2018

~ A Basic Mexican Marinade for Beef, Pork or Poultry ~

IMG_7122As a fan of Mexican-Texican food, I find myself improvising occasionally.  Not, of course, when I'm preparing one of their many classic dishes (like low and slow roasted pork carnitas or tacos al pastor)  -- they require specific ingredients and a traditional method of cooking.  Improvisation enters my food world when I'm preparing one of my flash-in-the pan meals (a meal where the protein gets quickly grilled, grill-panned, pan-seared or broiled).  This all-purpose marinade, which contains many flavors basic to Mexican-Texican fare, is my secret to imparting that all-important extra-layer of flavor into into my meal -- without overpowering it or competing against it.

Simple, straightforward & scrumptiously to the point:

IMG_710212  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil (3/4 cup)*

6  tablespoons white vinegar

6  tablespoons lime juice, fresh or high-quality organic lime juice not from concentrate

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1  tablespoon dried Mexican oregano and Mexican-style chili powder

2  teaspoons each: garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  cup minced cilantro leaves

*Note:  Achiote oil, which is readily available everywhere, has annatto added to it, which is what gives it its signature pretty orange color, and, ever-so-slight hint of earthy, musty, peppery flavor. Annatto is the seed of the achiote tree, which is indigenous to Central and South America.  The seeds are usually ground to a powder or steeped in oil prior to adding to all sorts of Spanish-style fare.  If you don't do a lot of this type of cooking, don't buy it, or, if you don't want the orange color added to the dish you are serving, simply substitute vegetable oil without compromise.

IMG_7103 IMG_7103 IMG_7103 IMG_7103~Step 1.  In a small capacity food processor or blender, measure and place all ingredients as listed:  vegetable oil, vinegar, lime juice and all of the dry spices.  Mince and add the cilantro. Process or blend, until smooth and emulsified, about 15-20 seconds.  Marinate beef, pork or poultry for 6-12-24 hours, and, fish or shellfish, 15-30 minutes, or as recipe directs.

Note:  After marinating the protein, the leftover marinade may be transferred to a small 1-quart saucepan and gently simmered for 4-5 minutes to use as a very-flavorful sauce for dipping or drizzling over all sorts of steaks, pork chops, chicken breasts or thighs -- a little goes a long way. There's more.  For a sweeter version of the marinade (or the simmered sauce), add 2 tablespoons honey to the mixture -- be aware that sweet marinades can and will burn or boil over quickly on the grill or stovetop, so be sure to watch carefully under either circumstance. 

Marination (which does not affect the cooking time), is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.

IMG_7115A Basic Mexican Marinade for Meat, Pork or Poultry:  Recipe yields 1 1/4 cups marinade.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small capacity food processor or blender, 1-cup measuring container; 1-quart saucepan (optional).

6a0120a8551282970b01a73df31934970dCook's Note:  When a recipe specifies a marinade, use it.  It's been developed to enhance that specific dish.  Example:  My recipe for ~ Tequila-Lime Skirt-Steak Fajitas (Tacos al Carbon) ~.  In this recipe, tequila and jalapeños get added to the marinade along with a generous amount of my homemade fajita seasoning blend.

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

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

04/24/2018

~ Mexican-Style Shrimp Cocktail (a Salad in a Glass) ~

IMG_7071Cóctel de camarónes.  That's Spanish for cocktail of shrimp.  If you're a fan of Southwestern spice, but never tasted a shrimp cocktail prepared Mexican-style, I recommend giving this Southwestern perfect-for-Summer twist on the classic a try -- plenty of plump, tender, poached (sometimes lightly-grilled) shrimp, swimming around in a citrusy, tomato, cilantro and spicy-hot sauce, containing pieces of diced avocado, cucumber, onion and jalapeño.  It's a snazzy fork-friendly salad in a glass, not to be confused with its cousin, ceviche, which contains raw, cooked-via-marination fish and/or shellfish mixed with spices, citrus juice, vegetables and/or peppers. 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07aaa2a5970dTraditional shrimp cocktail, as we know it today, originated in the early 20th century, with oysters, not shrimp, being the original "cocktail hour" shellfish.  They were typically served in tiny cups as appetizers. The oysters were topped with a spicy ketchup-based sauce containing horseradish and Tabasco, which paired great with martinis and a handful of other pre-dinner cocktails.  Then, along came the 1920's:  the decade of Prohibition.  Bars and restaurants all across America were faced with a lot of idle stemware, until, a savvy bartender or restaurant owner somewhere got the idea to serve his/her shellfish appetizers in the cocktail glasses that were once used to serve alcoholic beverages.  The transition from oysters to whole shrimp did not happen in order to put the "tail" in "cocktail appetizer".  It came about to please the ladies.  The whole shrimp, complete with the pretty little red tail, served as a handle which enabled women to daintily pick-up, dip and eat.

6a0120a8551282970b0162fd15720a970dThe first mass produced shrimp cocktail was introduced to the American marketplace in December of 1948.  Sau Sea brand Shrimp Cocktail was invented in New York City by two entrepreneurs by the names of Abraham Kaplan and Ernest Schoenbrun.  The pair borrowed $1,500 dollars from relatives to start retailing individual, 5-ounce portions of ready-to-eat shrimp cocktail, packed in reusable, glass jars, for about 50 cents a piece.  It was just after WWII and frozen/pre-packaged foods and meals were just beginning to gain popularity.  Their timing could not have been better.   Their risky decision to try to take a restaurant delicacy and make it available to the masses paid off big time.

My experiences & my recipe for Mexican-Style shrimp cocktail:

I won't lie, I've only ever eaten Mexican-style shrimp cocktail in the Southwest three times, in this order: Tempe, AZ, Albuquerque, NM, and, San Antonio, TX.  Without being at all critical, because I know recipes vary from region to region, I least liked the Texican version.  The shrimp, lightly-grilled, were a bit dry, and, the sauce was ketchupy, meaning a tad too thick and sweet, not like what I'd experienced prior.  It wasn't bad, it was different, but, did result in my cutting back on the ketchup, then switching to chili sauce in my own version.  I simply preferred the sauces with a fresher-edge -- in the style of Mexican Pico de Gallo (Salsa Fresca/Fresh Salsa)

IMG_6990For the shrimp:

2  pounds extra-large shrimp (21/25 count) thawed if frozen, peeled, deveined tails left on  

(Note: I buy both fresh and frozen shrimp, but I always try to purchase tail-on, shell-on, deveined shrimp. To thaw frozen shrimp safely, place them in a bowl of very cold water and in about an hour they'll be completely thawed.)

3  cups water

2  cups white wine

1  large, juicy lemon, cut in half

4  medium-sized bay leaves

IMG_6993 IMG_6993 IMG_6993 IMG_6993~Step 1.  Place the wine and water in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan.  Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the pan, then throw in the rinds too.  Add the bay leaves.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the shrimp.  When the water returns to a boil, cook for exactly 1 minute.  Do not overcook.

IMG_7009 IMG_7009 IMG_7009~ Step 2.  Drain the shrimp into a colander and rinse under very cold water until shrimp are cool to the touch but still warm warm in their centers, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Transfer shrimp to a 6-cup food storage container. Squeeze whatever liquid is left in the lemon rinds over the shrimp, then place the rinds and the bay leaves in the bowl.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, several hours or overnight.

Note:  This cook-and-chill method is my secret to succulent, perfectly-cooked flavorful shrimp.

IMG_7020For the Mexican cocktail sauce:

1  15-ounce can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained

1/4  cup Heinz chili sauce

1-2  tablespoons Mexican-style hot sauce, your favorite brand

1-2  tablespoons lime juice, preferably fresh

2  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1  jalapeño pepper, seeds and white ribs removed, finely-diced

3/4  cup thinly-sliced scallions, white and light green parts only

3/4  cup diced sweet onion

1/2  cup minced cilantro leaves, mostly leaves, some stems ok

IMG_7024 IMG_7024 IMG_7024 IMG_7024~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the tomatoes and chili sauce.  Add the hot sauce and lime juice, 1 tablespoon each.  Stir, take a taste, then, add more of one, the other, or both, to taste.  Add the garlic, jalapeños, scallions, onion and cilantro.  Stir, cover, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, to allow flavors to marry.  There will be about 3 cups thick, chunky Mexican cocktail sauce.

IMG_7045For the add-ins and garnishes:

3  cups cooked and chopped shrimp, from above recipe

1  cup peeled, seeded and diced English cucumber 

2  ripe, Hass avocados, diced (add to bowl ofshrimp cocktail or each portion of shrimp cocktail at serving time)

1/4  cup minced cilantro leaves and lime wedges, for garnish

IMG_7037 IMG_7037 IMG_7037 IMG_7037~Step 1.  Remove the chilled shrimp from the refrigerator.  Sort through them, and, depending upon how many portions of shrimp cocktail you plan to serve, reserve a few of the prettiest ones, 2 per portion, and set them aside, to use as garnish.  Remove the tails from the rest and chop them into 2-3 bite-sized pieces each, placing them in the bowl of chilled cocktail sauce as you work.  Add the diced cucumbers.  Stir, cover and return the shrimp cocktail to the refrigerator again, to allow the flavors to marry, about 1 hour.  There will be 6 cups shrimp cocktail.

Just prior to serving, top w/fresh-diced avocado:

IMG_7065Serve garnished w/cilantro, lime wedge & whole shrimp: 

IMG_7073Mexican-Style Shrimp Cocktail (a Salad in a Glass):  Recipe yields 6 cups shrimp cocktail prior to adding the chopped avocado and garnishes/6-8 start-to-a-meal-sized 1-ish cup servings or 4 larger 2-ish cup luncheon-sized servings.

Special Equipment List:  3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; colander; 1-gallon food storage bag;  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7ee5f51970bCook's Note: Shrimp cocktail is not just an American delicacy.  The British refer to it as "prawn cocktail" and have been serving it as long as we have, but there it's served with a creamy cocktail sauce called Marie Rose sauce, or, Mary Rose sauce. My version of ~ The Prawn/Shrimp Cocktail w/Marie Rose Sauce ~ is fashioned after the one I fell in love with at Browns restaurant while in London in 1983. Give this "across the pond" recipe a try.

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

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

04/21/2018

~ Easy Does It: Mexican Chicken & Spicy Rice Soup ~

IMG_6960For the most part, I find recipes made from a melange of leftover "this and that" to be a compromise.  With every forkful, they remind me I'm eating a week's worth of leftovers, repurposed to make me feel less guilty about their inevitable demise.  After a few bites, I find myself wishing I'd left well enough alone: made a sandwich out of the chicken, cooked a steak to go with last night's rice, or, eaten the blanched broccoli and carrots hand-to-mouth as a snack.  

"Waste not, want not."  It's admirable -- rah-rah-zis-boom-bah and count me in.  That said, it's my opinion that foodies with the need and/or desire to repurpose leftovers to feed themselves and their family need to be supplied with better recipes for leftovers.  This is not an elitist statement. It's hard-core-culinary honesty.  While generic chicken-rice-veggie casseroles with the standard cream-of-cheesy profile are tasty-to-a-degree, I long-ago vowed to turn my leftovers over to science -- so I could experiment creatively, with my own recipes that don't scream "leftover".

Got chicken?  Got Rice?  Got thirty minutes?

IMG_6963A great soup that doesn't taste one bit like leftovers.

IMG_6903For the soup:

2  tablespoons corn or vegetable oil

1 1/2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon each: ground cumin, granulated garlic powder, dried Mexican Oregano, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

1  4 1/2-ounce can chopped green chiles, undrained

1  15-ounce can fire-roasted, diced tomatoes, undrained

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

4  cups chicken stock

2  cups leftover cooked Goya yellow rice mix, prepared as package directs with the addition of 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes to the water while the rice cooks

2-3  cups generically-seasoned* poached- or roasted- and shredded chicken breast &/or thigh meat (*Note:  This recipe is full of Mexican-style flavor.  Obviously, last night's leftover Indian- or Thai-spiced chicken have no place here.)

IMG_6944For the toppings:

Mexican crema, about 1 tablespoon per serving (sour cream may be substituted without compromise)

1/4-1/2 cup minced cilantro leaves, about 1-2 teaspoons per serving

lime wedges, 1 per serving

tortilla chips, for accompaniment (optional but highly recommended for a crunchy side-snack to your soup-dinner)

IMG_6906 IMG_6906Step 1.  In a 4-quart sauce placed over low heat, heat, warm the oil.  Add the diced onion, ground cumin, granulated garlic powder, Mexican oregano, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper. Give the mixture a good stir, then increase heat to medium- medium-high and sauté until the seasoned onion is soft and translucent, 5-6 minutes.

IMG_6913 IMG_6913 IMG_6913 IMG_6913 IMG_6927 IMG_6927~Step 2.  Stir in the chopped green chiles, the fire-roasted tomatoes and the (drained and rinsed) black beans.  Add the chicken stock, adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue to cook for 15-20 minutes.  This is a well-seasoned broth.

IMG_6936 IMG_6936 IMG_6936~ Step 3.  Stir in the cooked rice and the shredded chicken.  The moment the soup is steaming and showing signs of returning to a simmer, turn the heat off.  Cover the saucepan and allow the soup time to steep on the still hot stovetop for 15-20 minutes, to allow the flavors just enough time to marry.

Ladle into desired-sized bowls & garnish each portion...

IMG_6968... w/crema, cilantro & lime is nice.  Leftovers?  No way.  

IMG_6973Easy Does It:  Mexican Chicken & Spicy Rice Soup:  Recipe yields 2 generous quarts of easy-to-make soup/4-6 hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; ladle

IMG_0749Cook's Note:  For another Mexican-style soup, one that's all it's crocked-up to be, my recipe for ~ Crockpot Chicken & Enchilada Soup ~, is one you gotta try.  Set it, forget it and six hours later, this enchilada-style soup is ready to be topped with habanero cheddar, deep-fried tortilla whisps and a dollop of crema.

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

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

04/18/2018

~ Roasted Chicken, Strawberry and Brie Sandwiches ~

IMG_6876Looking for a pretty-as-a picture Spring-Summer sandwich to serve at a ladies lunch or brunch -- one that, once they taste it, will appeal to the men-in-your-life as well?  You found it.  Tender and juicy, sliced or pulled, poached- or roasted- chicken breast, served on freshly-baked buttermilk biscuits or toasted English muffins is divine.  Topped with a fresh strawberry vinaigrette, it's sublime.  There's more.  A woman, by the name of Helen Corbett, a food-service mananger for Neiman Marcus, is to thank for promoting several unique strawberry dishes in a big way:

IMG_6836During the 1970's, the chicken, spinach and strawberry salad with poppyseed dressing, and, the strawberry-chicken and Brie sandwich with strawberry mayonnaise were made famous in the Zodiac Room of Neiman Marcus's flagship store in Dallas. The Zodiac also featured giant popovers with a creamy-dreamy strawberry and herb butter. I had the pleasure of eating lunch there on several occasions, and it was those Neiman Marcus salads and sandwiches that caused me to experiment with strawberries, in place of tomatoes, in salad and sandwich recipes using a variety of other greens and proteins too.  It was only natural that I would experiment with sweet and savory salad dressings and vinaigrettes containing strawberries too.

The star of this sandwich is this dazzling strawberry vinaigrette:

IMG_6687For my strawberry vinaigrette:

8-10  ounces fresh strawberries, cut into quarters (8-10 ounces after removing leafy green tops)

10  tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup honey

1/4  cup strawberry jam or strawberry preserves

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

6  tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689~Step 1.  Place the strawberries in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses followed by the motor running for 15-20 seconds, puree the strawberries.  Add all the remaining ingredients, except for the vegetable oil.  With motor running, process until thoroughly combined and smooth.  With motor running, through the feed tube and in a slow, steady stream, drizzle in the vegetable oil.  Dressing will be smooth and emulsified, and, there will be a generous 2 1/2 cups.  Leftovers (if there is leftover vinaigrette) store great in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

Before making my sandwiches, read this ground-rule carefully:

Please refrain from putting bacon on these sandwiches.  Contrary to popular belief, everything does not taste better with bacon and the refined flavors of this sandwich will be overpowered by it. Ok, go ahead, put bacon on it, but if you do, skip the herbed-Brie, head for the blue cheese, name it after any number of bacon and blue cheese sandwiches, and, don't tell anyone you got the inspiration for your generic sandwich from me.  No bacon.  Got it?  Good.  Now proceed.

IMG_6852For the sandwiches:

8  biscuits, preferably freshly-baked and warm, sliced in half, or, lightly-toasted English muffins, or, small, soft sandwich rolls, sliced in half, your choice

1/2-3/4-pound wedge of herbed-Brie, 1/4" sliced, then sliced to fit one layer of Brie on the bottom of each sandwich

1/2-3/4  cup chopped candied pecans, or lightly-toasted and coarsely-chopped, pecans or walnuts (1-1/2 tablespoons per sandwich)

1  cup each:  chiffonade of romaine lettuce (or iceberg lettuce), sliced or diced fresh strawberries, and, thinly-sliced red onion (cut into half-moon shapes, half-moons cut into thirds), tossed together, (1/3-1/2 cup lettuce/strawberry and onion mixture per sandwich) 

2  whole roasted- or poached- chicken breast halves, pulled into bite-sized pieces

strawberry white-balsamic vinaigrette (from above recipe)

IMG_6856 IMG_6856 IMG_6856 IMG_6856 IMG_6863 IMG_6863~Step 1.  Slather the bottom of each biscuit with a scant tablespoon of strawberry vinaigrette. Place 4-5 small pieces of sliced herbed-Brie on the bottom of each biscuit half, sizing them to fit. Scatter a generous tablespoon of the chopped nuts over the cheese.  Top with a generous 1/3-1/2 cup of the lettuce, strawberry and onion mixture.  Heap a generous mound of pulled or thinly-sliced roasted or poached chicken, about 1/4 of a chicken breast, which a lot of meat) atop the lettuce mixture.  Drizzle with dressing and garnish with a few more nuts.  Top with the other half of the warm biscuit.  Serve each sandwich, as soon as possible, with additional strawberry-vinaigrette to the side for dipping or drizzling.

A pretty little sandwich with an interesting history.  Sweet.  

IMG_6895Roasted Chicken, Strawberry and Brie Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 2 cups strawberry vinaigrette and 8 biscuit- or English-muffin-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor

IMG_6809Cook's Note:  If it's something more carnivorous you crave, you can make today's chicken sandwiches substituting my perfectly-cooked 18-minute flank steak for the chicken, or, you can try my ~ Strawberry, Steak, Blue-Cheese and Arugula Salad ~ (which gets its sweet & savory crunch from candied pecans.  Trust me when I tell you, sweet, tart strawberries (used in place of tomatoes) hold their own quite well against bold-flavored meat like steak and lamb.

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

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

04/15/2018

~Tangy-Sweet Strawberry White-Balsamic Vinaigrette~

IMG_6772Strawberries are no stranger to salads -- spinach and strawberry salads with poppyseed dressing were trendy on restaurant menus in the 1970's.  Those salads caused me to experiment with strawberries, when appropriate, in place of tomatoes, in salad recipes using a variety of other greens and proteins too.  It was only natural that I would experiment with sweet and savory salad dressings containing strawberries too.  This vinaigrette recipe is the one that captured my strawberry loving heart.  My Strawberry, Steak, Blue-Cheese and Arugula Salad (pictured in the background), is not only perfect for Spring, it's dazzling dressed with this vinaigrette:

IMG_6687For my strawberry vinaigrette:

8-10  ounces fresh strawberries, cut into quarters (8-10 ounces after removing leafy green tops)

10  tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup honey

1/4  cup strawberry jam or strawberry preserves

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

6  tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689~Step 1.  Place the strawberries in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses followed by the motor running for 15-20 seconds, puree the strawberries.  Add all the remaining ingredients, except for the vegetable oil.  With motor running, process until thoroughly combined and smooth.  With motor running, through the feed tube and in a slow, steady stream, drizzle in the vegetable oil.  Dressing will be smooth and emulsified, and, there will be a generous 2 1/2 cups.  Leftovers (if there is leftover vinaigrette) store great in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

For drizzling or dipping, even on an all-strawberry salad: 

IMG_6792Tangy-Sweet Strawberry White-Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups strawberry-balsamic vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; appropriately-sized food-storage containers with tight-fitting lids.

IMG_5827Cook's Note:  I have no idea who prepared the first salad.  Whoever it was, I'm guessing it was an accident, and likely a result of hunger.  Gathered from fields, around streams and in wooded areas, greens, an herb or two, mushrooms, flowers and berries and/or seeds would stave off hunger.  As time passed, a pinch of salt, later, a squirt of citrus, next a splash of vinegar, last: oil.  To learn what I know about vinaigrette, read:  ~ In the Beginning:  Demystifying Basic Vinaigrettes ~.

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

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

04/13/2018

~ Strawberry, Steak, Blue-Cheese and Arugula Salad ~

IMG_6752Strawberries aren't just for dessert, and, if the Northeast ever gets a break in the weather, the local strawberry season will be just around the corner.  That said, the California-grown Driscoll's strawberries I found in the grocery store yesterday are plump and sweet, and, one of the man-sized flank steaks my husband picked up at Sam's Club today are going to team up for a hearty, sweet-and-savory, main-dish salad for a delightfully-carnivorous Sunday dinner this evening.

IMG_6671Strawberries are no stranger to salads -- spinach and strawberry salads with poppyseed dressing were trendy on restaurant menus back in the 1970's.  Because of those spinach salads, I began experimenting with strawberries, when appropriate, in place of tomatoes, in select recipes.  There's more.  When it's a main-dish salad I'm wanting, unlike many, who pair salads containing strawberries with mild-flavored proteins like chicken or shrimp, as a card-carrying carnivore, trust me when I tell you, the strawberry holds it own next to bold-flavored meats like beef and lamb.

Something sweet, savory, salty & super-crunchy too:

IMG_6682For the salad:

1  2-2 1/2-pound flank steak, broiled and rested as directed in my recipe for Melanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak

IMG_51303-4 whole heads hearts-of-romaine, the "hearts" being the inner leaves from the typical bushy head (about 12-16 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

2-3  cups baby arugula leaves

1-1 1/2  cups very thinly-sliced (shaved) red onion, cut into half-moon shapes, half-moons cut in halves or thirds

2-2 1/2  cups ripe, hulled strawberries, sliced 1/4"-thick

1-1 1/2  cups blue cheese crumbles

1-1 1/2  cups (about 8-ounces) store-bought or homemade candied pecans

IMG_6571 IMG_6571 IMG_6571 IMG_6571 IMG_6595~Step 1.  Place a 2-pound flank steak on a disposable aluminum broiler pan and season with sea saltand peppercorn blend.  Place 5 1/2"-6" under preheated broiler for exactly 9 minutes.  Remove from oven, flip steak over (there's no need to season the second side), return to broiler and cook 9 more minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 9 minutes.  Holding a chef's knife at a 30º angle, slice steak into thin, 1/8"-1/4" thick strips. Note:  This is enough meat for one large or six individual, main-dish salads.  To make it ahead, wrap cooked, rested and unsliced flank steak in plastic and refrigerate overnight.  Return to room temperature, about 30 minutes, then warm it (warm not hot) in microwave, about 90 seconds.

IMG_5152~ Step 2.  Slice flank steak in half lengthwise, then, while holding the knife at a 30º oven, thinly-slice each half into thin (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips. Roll each strip up roulade-style*. *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_6712 IMG_6712 IMG_6712 IMG_6712 IMG_6732 IMG_6732 IMG_6805~Step 3.  To assemble one large or six individual-sized salads, on one large platter or six salad plates, layer and arrange the ingredients, in the following order:  The greens (romaine and arugula that have been briefly tossed together), red onion, strawberries, beef roulades, blue cheese and candied pecans. Drizzle with strawberry vinaigrette (recipe below) and serve with additional dressing at tableside:

IMG_6772All dressed up in a tangy & sweet, very-berry vinaigrette:

IMG_6687For the strawberry vinaigrette:

8-10  ounces fresh strawberries, cut into quarters (8-10 ounces after removing leafy green tops)

10  tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup honey

1/4  cup strawberry jam or strawberry preserves

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

6  tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689~Step 1.  Place the strawberries in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses followed by the motor running for 15-20 seconds, puree the strawberries.  Add all the remaining ingredients, except for the vegetable oil.  With motor running, process until thoroughly combined and smooth.  With motor running, through the feed tube and in a slow, steady stream, drizzle in the vegetable oil.  Dressing will be smooth and emulsified, and, there will be a generous 2 1/2 cups.  Leftovers (if there is leftover vinaigrette) store great in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

IMG_6809Tied-together in every delightfully-colorful Springtime bite:

IMG_6812Strawberry, Steak, Blue-Chees and Arugula Salad:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups dressing and 6-8 large, main-dish servings of salad.

Special Equipment List: 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom); cutting board; chef's knife; food processor

IMG_1104Cook's Note:  Want a super-easy super-strawberry Spring-Summer dessert to serve after your salad? Nothing could be finer than my super-special recipe for ~ Creamy-Dreamy No-Bake Strawberry Key-Lime Pie ~.  Think Spring.  Sigh.

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

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

04/10/2018

~My 18-Minute Philly-Dilly Flank-Steak Cheesesteaks~

IMG_6664Knowledge is power.  As the 2018 "Dilly-dilly" Bud Light, Super Bowl commercial spiked in popularity, then filtered into the mantra for the Eagle's super-bowl victory parade in the form of "Philly-dilly", my curiosity caused me to research it -- and I'm glad I did.  I'm here to report "dilly" is a real word, and, as per Merriam-Webster, it's a noun that comes from an obsolete adjective that refers to something "delightful", "remarkable" or "outstanding", which describes with perfection:

My latest take on the cheesesteak -- The Philly-Dilly.

IMG_6532

If you have never eaten a cheesesteak sandwich in Philadelphia proper, you've never eaten a cheesesteak.  Like the soft pretzel, the iconic Philly cheesesteak just tastes better in The City of Brotherly Love.  Whether you're standing outside on a sticky-hot sidewalk next to a street vendor in Summer, or inside, doing the "Philly lean" over a counter in a sweaty-windowed sandwich shop in Winter, the experience, on several levels, cannot be duplicated elsewhere.  Many have tried, many have come remarkably close, but everyone agrees:  Philadelphia owns this sandwich.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07e2ba65970dA Philly cheesesteak is always made with high-quality, nicely-marbled, thinly-sliced, rib-eye steak. For example:  This 1"-thick rib-eye would be cut, while partially frozen, lengthwise into 5-6 thin steaks.  The meat gets cooked quickly, on a large lightly-greased flat-top griddle, getting chopped up as it cooks.

IMG_6562The flank steak, in terms of taste, texture and price holds its own next to any premium steak, plus, it's the perfect alternative for the home cook who wants to cook the steak indoors.  While I occasionally pan-sear it, my favorite method is to cook it under the broiler.  My foolproof broiler method takes all the guesswork out of it too.

Trust me when I tell you, my Philly-dilly's are dilly-dilly.

IMG_6600I'm only making one cheesesteak, in an 8" nonstick skillet today, because one is all I can eat, and, I'm on-my-own for dinner this evening.  I'll make more sandwiches tomorrow, with the leftover flank steak (enough for five more cheesesteaks), when Joe gets back home.  I've included my instructions for reheating leftovers in the recipe below. That said, to prepare multiple (2-4-6) sandwiches, be sure to use an appropriately-sized 10"-, 12"- or 14"-skillet to feed your family or friends.

While steak broils in the oven, onions caramelize on the stovetop.

IMG_6633For each 6" cheesesteak:

2  teaspoons salted butter

1/2  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

2-3  super-thin-slices deli-style provolone, or Velveeta if it's yellow cheese you crave

3/4  cup thinly-sliced rare-cooked and still-warm flank steak, prepared as directed in my recipe:  Melanie's 18-Minute Perfectly-Cooked Flank Steak

choice of optional toppings:  1/4 cup mild or hot, well-drained yellow pepper rings, sautéed bell peppers or mushrooms, &/or, 2-3  tablespoons red tomato-based pizza-type sauce

1  6"-8" high-quality, semi-firm Italian or brioche submarine-shaped roll

IMG_6571 IMG_6580 IMG_6580 IMG_6580 IMG_6595~Step 1.  Place a 2-pound flank steak on a disposable aluminum broiler pan and season with sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Place 5 1/2"-6" under preheated broiler for exactly 9 minutes.  Remove from oven, flip steak over (there's no need to season the second side), return to broiler and cook 9 more minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 9 minutes.  Holding a chef's knife at a 30º angle, slice steak into thin, 1/8"-1/4" thick strips. Note:  This is enough meat for six cheesesteaks.  To make it ahead, wrap cooked, rested and unsliced flank steak in plastic and refrigerate overnight.  Return to room temperature, about 30 minutes, then warm it (warm not hot) in microwave, about 90 seconds.  Slice and proceed with recipe as written.  While flank steak is broiling and resting, caramelize the onions as follows:

IMG_6628 IMG_6628 IMG_6628 IMG_6628 IMG_6531~Step 2.  In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt butter over low heat.  Add the diced onions.  Adjust heat to medium, medium-high, to gently and slowly sauté, stirring frequently until onions are caramelized to desired degree of pretty brown, 16-18 minutes, regulating the heat carefully during this process.  Adjust heat to low and arrange provolone slices over the onions, followed by the still-warm sliced flank steak.  

If desired, sprinkle a favorite topping or two over the top of the meat to customize your sandwich to your liking.  When cheese has melted, about 30-45 seconds, remove skillet from heat.

IMG_6532IMG_6532IMG_6532IMG_6532~Step 3.  Place your favorite roll (split open) on a piece of aluminum foil.  With the aid of a spatula, while tilting the skillet on an angle, slide/push the contents of the skillet directly into the roll, much like you would slide an omelette from pan to plate.  Wrap the sandwich tightly in the foil and set aside, about 1 minutes, to give the roll time to steam/soften a bit.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice the sandwich in half (a diagonal is nice), remove the foil and serve immediately. 

Delightfully, remarkably, outstanding?  You betcha.

IMG_6544It's a dilly of a cheesesteak -- It's a Philly-Dilly Cheesesteak!

IMG_6554My 18-Minute Philly-Dilly Flank-Steak Cheesesteaks:  Recipe yields 6, 6"-8" flank-steak w/caramelized-onion cheesesteaks.

Special Equipment List:  11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; cutting board; chef's knife; appropriately-sized nonstick skillet; spatula; aluminum foil; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7c6bf05970bCook's Note:  Another take on the cheesesteak, and a favorite here in my kitchen, is my recipe for  ~ Philadelphia-Style Cheesesteak-Pizza a la Mel ~.  While it is luscious topped with my recipe for ~ Melanie's 18-Minute Perfectly-Cooked Flank Steak ~, I've written it with other options too.

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

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

04/07/2018

~ Melanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak ~

IMG_6600When I want a perfectly-cooked, rare- to medium-rare steak, one that gets cooked indoors, next to the elegant filet mignon, the rustic flank steak is my choice.  That said, in terms of taste, texture, versatility and price, without compromise, hands-down the flank steak wins on all points -- which is why I purchase one or two almost every week.  In my food world, there's plenty of room for premium Delmonicos, NY strips, porterhouse and T-bones too, but, in terms of cooking steak indoors vs. grilling steak outdoors, those cuts typically "just don't do it" for me like filet or flank.

IMG_6557About this flat, oval-ish,  1"-1 1/2"-thick, stringy-grained steak:

6a0120a8551282970b019b00f22770970bA well done flank steak is not well done at all.  Flank steak, while it lends its succulent flavorful self to indoor cooking beautifully, if the lean and sexy flank steak is not quickly-cooked and served rare- medium-rare it is not worth eating. While I occasionally pan-sear it, my favorite method is to cook it under the broiler*.  My foolproof method takes all the guesswork out of it too.  Read on:

My rule of thumb is to purchase the biggest flank steak I can find -- two pounds is perfect, but, if I come across one that's larger, into my cart it goes.  I'd be crazy not to spend the extra pennies, and, it's not because bigger is better.  It's because leftovers go into sandwiches and onto salads -- zero waste.  Depending on the recipe du jour, sometimes I marinate flank steak, sometimes I don't.  When it comes to flank steak, absorb this: marination (which does not affect the cooking time), is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.  Perfectly-cooked flank steak is super-tender with zero marination.  Example:  my marinated Greek-Style Flank Steak Salad or Pocket Sammies.

* Note:  I have electric ovens and none of mine have a hi or low setting for the broiler.  With the door cracked (which is how broiling, a from-the-top-down dry-heat-method of cooking, is done in an electric oven), an oven-thermometer reads 325-ishº throughout the cooking process.

Place a 2-2 1/2-pound flank steak on a corrugated broiler pan -- allow to come to room temperature, about 20-30 minutes:

IMG_6570Season top with freshly-ground sea salt & peppercorn blend -- alternatively, season with a favorite steak seasoning:

IMG_6571Place 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler for exactly 9 minutes -- 5 1/2"-6" is a key measurement when broiling a flank steak:

IMG_6576Remove flank steak from oven:

IMG_6580Flip steak over (season second side if you like more spice):

IMG_6581Return to oven & broil exactly 9 more minutes:

IMG_6585Remove from oven & allow steak to rest for 9-10 minutes.

IMG_6587Holding knife at a 30° angle, slice flank steak  across the grain -- into thin, 1/8"-1/4"-thick strips of succulent, beefy lusciousness:

IMG_6595Use hot or cold as directed in recipes for appetizers or main-dishes, &/or, in sandwiches, on salads & even pizza:

IMG_6597Melanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak:  Recipe yields instructions to broil the perfectly-cooked rare- medium-rare flank steak/4-6-8+ servings (depending on how it's served -- as appetizers, in sandwiches, on salads or as a main-dish -- and what it is served with).

Special Equipment List:  11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; cutting board; chef's knife

6a0120a8551282970b019b01135f38970dCook's Note:  My recipe for ~ Open-Sesame Flank Steak w/Garlic-Ginger Sauce ~, when served over steamed white rice with a simple vegetable stir-fry, is packed full of Asian flavors and classic flank-steak texture.  Two flanks steaks, with a marinade that gets simmered and served as a sauce for dipping and drizzling at serving time, easily feeds 6-8 people for a lot less money than Chinese takeout.

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

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

04/05/2018

~ Pasta with Butter and Cheese and Sweet Sausage ~

IMG_6507The Italians came up with the cure for the late-night movie-watching snack-attack centuries ago: Pasta al burro con formaggino (pasta with butter and cheese).  It's a no-nonsense, feed-me-now-snack, a quick-to-make side dish, and, it's a delicious foil for flavorful pasta sauces too.  Choose any shape of pasta (short, fork-friendly shapes work best), and, if you have a link or a patty of breakfast sausage on-hand, not only do the flavors melt into the mixture like they were born to be there, without almost any extra effort, it transforms the dish into a hearty meal for one or two.

A simple, straightforward, feed-me-now snack or meal:

IMG_6453For 1-2 snack-attack servings:

6  ounces pasta of choice

1  teaspoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

4  ounces sweet or hot sausage, a patty (pulled into pieces), or, a link (cut into coins), your choice

4  tablespoons salted butter

3/4  teaspoon each: garlic powder & coarse-grind black pepper

1/4 cup finely-grated Parmigiana-Reggiano, + extra for garnish

IMG_6467 IMG_6467 IMG_6467 IMG_6467~Step 1.  Put a great movie on the kitchen TV or plug-in to your favorite tunes.  Reach into the pantry, pick a pasta (short shapes work better than strands in this dish) and simmer 6 ounces of it, according to package directions, in a 2-quart saucepan of boiling water to which 1 teaspoon of sea salt has been added, until al dente, about 10 minutes.  Drain cooked pasta into a colander.

IMG_6480 IMG_6480~ Step 2.  While pasta is cooking, place a small nonstick skillet on stovetop.  Adjust heat to medium-high, add the sausage pieces or coins and cook until golden, about 6 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside until pasta is cooked.

IMG_6476 IMG_6476 IMG_6489 IMG_6489~Step 3.  Immediately after draining the cooked pasta in the colander, return the steaming pasta to the still hot saucepan and place it back on the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter pieces, garlic powder, black pepper and grated cheese.  Using a large spoon, toss until butter is melted and spices are incorporated.  Add the cooked sausage and any of its drippings, and, toss again.

Transfer to a bowl, or, two smaller bowls (to share)...

IMG_6504... sit down, put your feet up, &, enjoy the rest of the movie.

IMG_6517Pasta with Butter and Cheese and Sweet Sausage:  1 hearty main-dish servings or 2, smaller snack-sized servings.

Special Equipment List:  microplane grater (for finely-grating cheese); 2-quart saucepan; small-sized colander; small, 8" skillet or omelette-type pan, preferably nonstick; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f6a67a970bCook's Note:  For another one of my "what I cook just for me" recipes, you'll be missing out if you don't check out my recipe for my ~ Dad's Eastern Europe Meets America Mac & Cheese ~.  Italians no-longer have the market cornered on all-things pasta, and, this one, while a bit quirky, is a to-die-for must-try.

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

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

04/02/2018

~ The Japanese Take on Salisbury Steak: Hambagu ~

IMG_6411Japanese hamburger steak.  If it doesn't sound very Japanese, it's because its origin is not.  It's an all-American-inspired dish that's been culinarily Japanized and popularized by Japanese home cooks and yoshoku chefs (restaurants that serve Japanese versions of American- and European-style food).  It's a spin-off of our American bunless hamburger steak (aka the plump mini-meatloaf-esque knife-and-fork salisbury steak smothered in savory gravy).  It's so popular with both children and adults, it has earned a spot in classic bento-boxed lunches throughout Japan. 

Make no mistake though, hambagu is Japanese cuisine, so, substitutions like American Worcestershire in place of Japanese Worcestershire, or American pepper in place of Japanese pepper, are simply not going to render an authentic hambagu experience.  Mind your "ga's" and "gu's" too -- a "hambaga" (hahm-bah-gah) is what you order at a Japanese McDonald's. "Hambagu" (hahm-bah-goo) is a get-out-your-chopsticks and pull-up-a-chair, family-friendly, melt-in-your-mouth-tender, juicy meat patty drizzled with a tangy sweet sauce and served over rice. 

IMG_6442Japanese hambagu patties = a 1:1 ratio of beef to pork.

IMG_6322The secret to the traditional, juicy, flavorful Japanese hamburger steak patties is a 1:1 ratio of beef to pork. I grind my own (which only takes a few seconds in the food processor), and, I use a combination of 1 pound well-marbled Delmonico (rib-eye) steak and 1 pound pork tenderloin.  

Note:  If you skip the pork and use only beef, the patties will be good, but noticeably different.  All-beef patties will be dryer and less flavorful  -- more like a hambaga than true hambagu.

"ソース" = "sauce" in Japanese. "とんかつソース" = Tonkatsu.

Tonkatsu = the Japanese take on American steak sauce.

IMG_6369If you've ever gone into a Japanese market (which I have), and said, “I'd like a bottle of sauce”, you'd be handed a bottle of dark sauce that you think you're familiar with.  This "ソース" ("sauce") is what's referred to as Worcestershire in Japan. Unlike “sauce” in English, in Japan ソース refers to a dark, semi-thick line of sauces, such as: ウスターソース (Worcestershire Sauce), 中濃ソース (Vegetable & Fruit Sauce Semi-Sweet), and, とんかつソース(Vegetable & Fruit Sauce/Tonkatsu Sauce.  Other sauces, like soy, teriyaki, tomato or mayonnaise, etc., are called by their names -- not referred to generically as "sauce".

IMG_6407Note:  The sauce popularly used on hambagu is store-bought tonkatsu. It's a 100% vegetarian, uniquely-flavored, dark-colored, tangy, sweet-and-savory thick-and-drizzly sauce containing water, corn syrup, sugar, distilled vinegar, tomato paste, salt, rice-starch, apple purée, soy, prune paste, carrot, onion, spices and lemon juice.  While there are many recipes for mimicking tonkatsu in the home kitchen,  I liken the task of attempting to do that: like trying to duplicate your favorite A-1-type steak sauce at home.  

That said, in the Japanese home kitchen and in Japanese restaurants, tonkatsu (the sauce) is also the traditional condiment for tonkatsu (the meal), which is a breaded and fried pork cutlet.

My 5-minute food processor method for mixing the meat:

IMG_6336For the hambagu pattie mixture:

3/4  cup Japanese panko bread crumbs

6  tablespoons whole milk

1  pound well-marbled steak, cut into 1" cubes

1  pound pork tenderloin, cut into 1" cubes

4  ounces small-diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1 cup)

1  large egg

1  tablespoon Bull-Dog brand Japanese Worcestershire sauce (Note:  American Worcestershire sauce is onion-, anchovy-, garlic- and tamarind-flavored.  Japanese Worcestershire, while the same thin consistency and dark color as American Worcestershire, is flavored using the same ingredients as  tonkatsu.  Japanese Worcestershire sauce and tonkatsu sauce are 100% vegetarian, American Worcestershire is not.)

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon Japanese green pepper

3-4  tablespoons vegetable oil, for frying hambagu patties

3/4-cup Bull Dog brand tonkatsu sauce, for drizzling on patties

steamed white rice, to accompany hambagu patties

choice of garnishes:  crispy Asian-style fried onions (my favorite), sautéed onions &/or shiitake mushrooms, grated daikon

IMG_6343 IMG_6343~ Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the panko breadcrumbs and milk.  Set aside, until the breadcrumbs absorb the milk, soften, and become pasty, about 5 minutes.  While the breadcrumbs are softening:

IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324~Step 2.  Cube the delmonico steak and the pork tenderloin, placing the cubes in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade as you work. Dice the onion and add it to the work bowl along with the beef and pork cubes too.

IMG_6353 IMG_6353 IMG_6353~ Step 3.  Using a series of 40 on-off pulses, grind the meat and mince the onion. Add the pasty panko, whole egg, Japanese Worcestersauce, salt and Japanese pepper.  Using a second series of 30 on-off pulses, incorporate the wet ingredients and spices into the meat mixture.  Transfer meat mixture to a 1-gallon food storage bag and refrigerate 1 hour and up to overnight, to allow flavors to marry.

IMG_6372 IMG_6372~Step 4.  There will be 2 3/4 pounds meat mixture. Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide the mixture into 8, 5 1/2-ounce, 3 1/2"-round, plump, smooth* discs.  Place a thin-coating of oil in a 12" nonstick skillet and add the patties.

*Hambagu patties are thicker than American Salisbury steak, and, they're more refined looking too. Generally speaking, their smooth, almost manufactured appearance, comes from the addition of the pork -- mixing the meat in the food processor adds to an even more-perfect presentation.

IMG_6387~ Step 5.  Fry the patties over medium-, medium-high heat, until lightly-browned on the first side, about 6-7 minutes, flip burgers over, place a lid on the skillet and cook until lightly-browned on the second side, about 6-7 minutes.  

Note:  Placing the lid on the skillet during the cooking of the second side is the Japanese secret to keeping the patties plump and juicy.

IMG_6390 IMG_6390 IMG_6390 IMG_6390~Step 6.  Using a spatula, transfer the patties to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.  Add and stir the tonkatsu sauce into the pan drippings in the skillet.  Adjust heat to simmer for about 30-45 seconds, then transfer/pour the sauce into a small bowl.  Serve over steamed white rice with steamed or blanched vegetables of choice and tonkatsu sauce for dipping or drizzling.

Serve atop white rice & vegetables w/a drizzle of tonkatsu:

IMG_6428The Japanese Take on Salisbury Steak:  Hambagu:  Recipe yields 8, hearty servings (if served over rice with vegetables) and 1 cup sauce for dipping and drizzling.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 1-gallon food storage bag; kitchen scale (optional); 12" skillet, preferably nonstick, w/lid; spatula; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08c2da5c970dCook's Note:  Once a week, when mom or dad went grocery shopping, my brother and I were allowed to pick one TV Dinner, which we would eat on Thursday.  To this day, I associate Thursdays with TV Dinners.  Happy Thursday,  my recipe for: ~ Upscale TV-Dinner-Style Salisbury Steak & Gravy ~. Some things can't be changed.

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

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