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My Recipes-of-the-Week are featured here on my Home page. You can find 1000+ of my kitchen-tested recipes using the Recipes tab, watch nearly 100 Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV segments using the TV Videos tab, join the discussion about all of my creations using the Facebook tab, or Email your questions and comments directly to me--none go unanswered. "We are all in this food world together." ~Melanie

05/09/2018

~Creamy, Cheesy & E-Z Chile-Lime Refried Bean Dip~

IMG_7906I love a starry night.  Sitting outside in the warm Summer air, watching the sun set and listening to my next-door neighbors, the dairy cows, lowing in the pasture -- it's peaceful.  That said, on some Summer nights, Thursdays during June, July and August, a band plays "up on the mountain" (the ski slope to the other side of the cow pasture).  Weather permitting, on those toe-tapping evenings, if you stop by, you'll find a snack or three on the table next to the cooler of Corona.

My neighbors, music on the mountain, &, bean dip. 

IMG_0279This easy bean dip is one of my favorite Summer appetizers and it's also one of the easiest to make -- a handful of ingredients that I always have on-hand.  Served alongside some homemade or high-quality spicy pico de gallo, citrusy guacamole and crispy tortilla chips, these four small-bowl Texican snacks, in place of one big dinner, are just fine by me.  There's more.  Bean dip is filling.  A little goes a long way.  That's why I make it in two smaller two-cup-size crocks rather than one bigger casserole -- one for tonight and a spare (to bake and serve over the weekend).

Summer nights are right for a simple snack like bean dip.

IMG_78261  16-ounce can refried beans

1  4 1/2-ounce can diced green chiles (undrained)

2  tablespoons salsa verde (green salsa), hot or mild

2  teaspoons lime juice

4  tablespoons Mexican crema (or sour cream)

1-1 1/2  teaspoons ground cumin

1/2-3/4  teaspoon each: garlic powder and onion powder

8  ounces shredded pepper Jack cheese, about 2 cups (Note:  Monterey Jack cheese is a great melting cheese.  If hot peppers in your cheese is not your thing, substitute plain Jack, but, refrain from block cheddars as they won't melt to the creamy consistency that Jack does.)

Mexican-style hot sauce, your favorite brand, for accompaniment

lime wedges, for garnish

Basic refried beans or frijoles refritos = well-fried beans.

Refried beans, or frijoles refritos, are a traditional Mexican side-dish made with twice-cooked beans.  The beans (pinto or kidney) are boiled, thoroughly drained, mashed or smashed while they're still warm, then cooked a second time.  Much like making mashed potatoes, basic spices are added, to taste, while mashing or smashing to the desired smooth to slightly-lumpy state. Once blended, the mixture is placed in a skillet containing melted lard, shortening or vegetable oil. The amount of fat added controls their thick-and-creamy to slightly-soupy texture.  Store-bought refried beans are mashed and ready-to-eat, use as directed in any recipe, or, reheat in a skillet to serve as a side-dish.  A common misconception is that refried beans are vegetarian -- not so, unless the can is clearly labeled "vegetarian".  Why?  Many store-bought brands do contain lard.

IMG_7828 IMG_7828 IMG_7828~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, place and stir together the beans, chiles, salsa, lime juice, crema and spices.  There will be 3 cups bean dip.  Divide the mixture between two 2-cup crocks or place into a shallow 1-quart shallow casserole.  Set aside about 15-30 minutes, to give the flavors a bit of  time to marry.  

IMG_7840 IMG_7835 IMG_7835 IMG_7835~Step 2.  Use a hand-held box grater to grate the Jack cheese and preheat oven or toaster oven to 325°.  If you are baking one crock of bean dip, top it with 3/4 cup of cheese, meaning: don't top the second crock with the shredded cheese until just prior to baking it.*  If baking the 1-quart casserole, distribute all the cheese, the full two cups evenly over the top of it.

*Note:  Store remaining crock and bowl of cheese, covered, in refrigerator for 1-3 days.  Return dip to room temperature, 30-45 minutes prior to topping with cheese and baking as directed. 

IMG_7871~ Step 3. Place on center rack of 325º oven or toaster oven and bake until cheese is melted and crock/casserole is bubbling and browning around the edges and heated through, 16-18 minutes.  Remove from oven, top with a splash of hot sauce and a few squirts of fresh lime juice.  Serve immediately, accompanied by lots of tortilla chips. 

A handful of ingredients, mixed in one bowl, come together to make this scrumptious Mexican-restaurant-style bean dip.

IMG_7876Creamy, Cheesy & E-Z Chile-Lime Refried Bean Dip:  Recipe yields 4 cups.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held box grater; large spoon; 2, 2-cup size crocks or ramekins or a shallow 1-quart casserole

IMG_7394Cook's Note:  In its earliest form, Monterey Jack was made by the Mexican Fanciscan friars of Monterey, Alta California during the 18th century.  California businessman David Jack sold their cheese locally, and, before long, this semi-hard, 1-2-month aged, mild, white, creamy cow's milk cheese came to be known as "Jack's cheese".  Eventually other ranchers began mass-producing "Monterey Jack".  A common misspelling is Monterrey Jack, in confusion with the Mexican city of  Monterrey.

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

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

05/06/2018

~ Mexican-Style Adobo Rice (Meatless Spanish Rice) ~

IMG_7804Mexican rice became a staple on our family's table back in the 1980's.  Whenever we ate in a Mexican restaurant, remarkably, our three kids would eat the side-dishes:  the muli-colored veggie-bejeweled rice, the murky-earthy slightly-soupy refried beans, and, the bright-green garlic-laced guacamole.  Without complaint or prodding, they'd slather and scoop 'em onto and into tacos, fajitas, carnitas (or whatever else they were eating), along with red or green salsa and the bottled hot-sauce du jour.  Go figure, and, "shut my mouth wide open."  I started stocking my pantry with whatever Texican-type ingredients I could find in our Central, PA grocery stores. 

The biggest difference between Mexican rice and Spanish rice (as per me) is akin to the difference between a side-salad and a chef's salad.  Both contain similar ingredients, but, the first gets eaten alongside the main course, while the latter is the main course. If anyone has a better description, I'm all ears, but, the bottom line:  both are Spanish.  When I think "Mexican rice", I think "tawny-red-tinged, onion-and-garlic laced, side-dish riddled with bits of vegetables (beans, corn and/or tomatoes, or peas and carrots)".  When I think "Spanish rice", I think "protein-packed Mexican rice, chocked full of chards or chunks of meat, poultry or shellfish as a main-dish".     

Kid-tested mother-approved Mexican rice (arroz Mexicano):

IMG_7807If anyone's got qualms with my definition of basic Spanish-type rice, simmer down. I'm not of Spanish heritage or related to anyone who is.  I am, however, savvy enough to know there are differences between Mexican- and Spanish- rice recipes.  While the word Mexican refers to one Spanish-speaking country, Spanish encompasses many countries, islands and territories on several continents, not to mention several states and cities right here in the USA.  That means, when you come across an authentic recipe for a specific dish follow the recipe as written.

IMG_76882  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil

1  cup diced sweet onion

2  cups extra-long-grain or long-grain white rice

1  teaspoon each:  garlic powder and sea salt

1/2  teaspoon each:  ground cumin and jalapeño pepper

3  cups vegetable stock* 

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

3/4  teaspoon Goya adobo all-purpose seasoning with pepper

1-1/4  cups cooked corn kernels

*Note:  I use high-quality unsalted vegetable stock to make Spanish rice -- it allows the flavors of the spices to take center stage.  Feel free to substitute beef or chicken or seafood stock, to complement the dish/meal being served, but, if the stock is salted, adjust my recipe, "to taste".

IMG_7743 IMG_7743 IMG_7743 IMG_7743 IMG_7743 IMG_7743~Step 1.  Heat oil in a 4-quart saucepan over medium- medium-high.  Stir in the garlic powder, cumin  jalapeño pepper and salt.  Add the onion. Adjust heat to sauté, stirring constantly, until onion is softened, 4-5 minutes.  Add rice and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until grains are coated in oil and mixture is steaming, about 3 minutes.

IMG_7759 IMG_7759 IMG_7759 IMG_7759~Step 2.  Stir in the diced tomatoes, followed by the vegetable stock and the adobo seasoning. Stir thoroughly and bring mixture to a boil over high heat.  When mixture comes to a boil, adjust heat to a slow, steady simmer, cover the pot and continue to simmer gently until rice has absorbed the liquid, about 20-22 minutes.  Do not lift the lid during the simmering process.  

Tip from Mel:  When I cook rice I like to use a saucepan with a glass lid. This makes it easy to keep an eye on the progress without allowing the steam to escape -- and it works perfectly.

IMG_7771 IMG_7771 IMG_7771~ Step 3.  Turn the heat off and allow rice to sit, covered on the stovetop for 2-3 additional minutes. Uncover the saucepan. Using a fork, gently rake through the rice with a fork to gradually separate the grains, starting at the top and working down to the bottom of the saucepan.  Add the corn kernels and gently rake them into the rice.  The residual heat from the rice will heat the corn kernels through.  

Serve ASAP w/beef, chicken, pork, fish or shellfish:  

IMG_7793Mexican-Style Adobo Rice (Meatless Spanish Rice):  Recipe yields 8 cups rice/8, 1-cup servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart measuring container; 4-quart saucepan w/lid (preferably a glass lid); large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01a511add1cc970cCook's Note: The 1905 chef's salad. Never heard of it?  Read on.  The Columbia Restaurant, a chain of six or seven restaurants in The Sunshine State, is a 4th-generation family-owned business specializing in Spanish food.  To say it's a tourist attraction is true, we ate there and as tourists on the recommendation of a native Floridian.  Now, if I'm in Florida and there's a Columbia within striking distance, I'm going there just for the ~ 1905:  It was a very good year for a salad. ~

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

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

05/04/2018

~ Spicy Mexican Ahogada-Style Grilled Shrimp Tacos ~

IMG_7659If you're like me, an American cook with a fondness for Mexican fare, 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.).   Today I'm adding another one, and, the inspiration for my creation came from the signature sandwich of Guadalajara:  the Torta Ahogada (in Mexico, "torta" means "sandwich" and "ahogada" means "drenched", "drowned" or "drunken").  After eating these famous tortas for our Cinco de Mayo celebration, it occurred to me that making these shrimp tacos tonight might be a fine use for the leftover Mexican marinade and ahogada sauce.  I was, spot-on, right.

To glibly dismiss Cinco de Mayo as an all-American drinking-holiday: is a display of unresearched ignorance.  Read on:   

"Cinco de Mayo" (Spanish for "fifth of May") is a celebration held on May 5.  While it is celebrated nationwide in the United States, celebrations are also held in parts of Canada, the Caribbean, Australia, England, France, and South Africa.  In Mexico, "El Día de la Batalla de Puebla" ("The Day of the Battle of Puebla"), considered a military holiday, is primarily celebrated in the state of Puebla.  The date has been observed in the United States since 1863, as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride, and, to commemorate the cause of freedom and democracy during the first years of the American Civil War.  In Mexico, while it is not a National holiday (banks and schools stay open), in the state of Puebla, the date is observed to commemorate the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. Contrary to widespread popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day, the most important and patriotic National holiday in Mexico (September 16).  

The degree to which Mexico celebrates this holiday varies from community-to-community, which is no different than the degree to which we Americans celebrate some of our lesser holidays (example:  May Day).  Furthermore, to state (to me) that Mexicans in Mexico do not know what Cinco de Mayo is, is: stupid.  Those are the facts kiddies.  Got 'em in your head?  Let's cook.

Part One:  Making a crunchy Southwestern slaw.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d15c6b91970cFor the Southwestern slaw:

4  cups store-bought coleslaw mix, a mixture of green & red cabbage & matchstick carrots

3/4  cup each: thinly-sliced green onions, white and light green part only, and, minced cilantro

2-3  tablespoons finely-diced jalapeño pepper, 2-3 tablespoons after removing seeds and ribs

3  tablespoons each: fresh lime juice and honey

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7d2a9c2970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7d2a9c2970b 6a0120a8551282970b01bb0876d40e970d 6a0120a8551282970b01bb0876d40e970d~Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk the lime juice, honey and salt.  Using a rubber spatula, stir in the scallions, cilantro and jalapeños.  Fold in the slaw mix.  When mixture is thoroughly combined, refrigerate 4-6 hours, or overnight, stopping to stir every now and then, until serving chilled.

Part Two:  Marinating & sautéing/grill-panning the shrimp.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f32485970b2  pounds jumbo shrimp (16/20 count), peeled, deveined, tails off (Note:  To learn more, read my post, ~ Purchase Shrimp by their "Count" not their "Size" ~.)

1/2-3/4  cup my recipe for ~ A Basic Mexican Marinade for Beef, Pork or Poultry -- Great for Shellfish too. ~, which takes about 5 minutes to whisk together  

IMG_7610 IMG_7610 IMG_7610 IMG_7610~Step 1.  Prepare the marinade as directed in recipe.  Peel, devein and remove the tails from the shrimp, placing the shrimp in a medium bowl as you work.  Add 1/2-3/4 cup of the marinade and thoroughly stir.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to marinate, 2-4 hours or up to 6-8 hours, restirring the shrimp a few times during the process.  Remove shrimp from refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to sautéing/grill-panning, according to the following instructions:

IMG_7628 IMG_7628 IMG_7628 IMG_7628~Step 2.  Place a 12" nonstick grill-pan over medium-high heat.  Don't have a grill pan?  Use a 12" skillet.  Using a large slotted spoon transfer the shrimp from the marinade to the grill pan. Discard the remaining marinade.  Grill-pan the the shrimp over medium-high heat, using a nonstick spatula to flip and turn them, for 6 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Use a slotting spoon to transfer shrimp from the grill-pan to a bowl or a plate.  Discard any juices remaining in grill-pan.   

Part Three:  Making ahogada-crema & assembling the tacos.

IMG_76438  taco shells, preferably freshly deep-fried using high-quality store-bought fresh corn tortillas

all of the Southwestern slaw, from above recipe

all of the marinated and cooked shrimp, from above recipe

1/2  cup  recipe for ~ Ahogada Sauce for Mexican Drowned Sandwiches ~, stirred together w/1/2  cup Mexican crema (or sour cream)

IMG_7645 IMG_7645 IMG_7645 IMG_7645~Step 1.  Arrange deep-fried taco shells on individual plates or all of them on a platter.  Scoop some chilled Southwestern slaw into each shell, top the slaw with 6-8 still-warm and juicy shrimp, then, drizzle ahogada crema generously over all.  Garnish with a sprig of cilantro and enjoy.

Assemble as follows:  taco shell, a scoop of Southwestern slaw, 6-8 shrimp, & a generous drizzle of ahogada crema:

IMG_7666Celebrate a nicely-spiced ahogoda-shrimp-taco holiday:

IMG_7680Spicy Mexican Ahogada-Style Grilled Shrimp Tacos:  Recipe yields 8 large, hearty tacos.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; whisk; plastic wrap; large slotted spoon; 12" round or square nonstick grill pan; nonstick spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7d2d12e970bCook's Note: When it comes to fish tacos made with grilled or pan-fried fish fillets, you can make them with the fish you like best -- almost any type of fresh fish can be added to a fish taco.  That will not work for the batter-dipped, deep-fried fish taco -- thin filets and/or delicate fish will not hold up to the rigors of deep-fat-frying. For me, cod is hands-down my favorite.  You only live once, so, I suggest you these divine ~ Beer-Batter-Dipped, Deep-Fried, Cod-Fish Tacos ~.  Cinco de Mayo!

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

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

05/02/2018

~ Mexico's Torta Ahogada Drowned-Pork Sandwich ~

IMG_7564Torta 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 sauce.  A traditional torta ahogada is a fried-pork and onion sandwich drenched in a spicy red sauce, and, this Mexican working-man's lunch has a reputation for being a sure-fire cure for a hangover.

IMG_7587Tacos 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.

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 De IMG_7367La 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.

Two days ago I posted my recipe for ~ Sink or Swim:  Mexican Drowned-Beef Sandwiches ~ using flavorful, juicy, tender and perfectly-cooked flank steak (pictured above).  Today, I'm make the traditional torta ahogada, using pork blade steaks -- a pork butt (shoulder) cut into steaks.

IMG_7412Steaks cut from the pork shoulder are marbled with lots of fat and rich with collagen, which, like the roast, makes them extremely flavorful.  

Because overcooking renders them dry and tough, this quick-cooking cut is perfect for the grill, sauté pan or broiler.  Choose pinkish-gray steaks that are generally the same size and thickness (3/4"-1" thick is ideal), and, have been trimmed of excessive fat from the fat-cap-side.

Note:  These 4 steaks, weighing a total of 6.48 pounds, cost $10.87.  That's a whole lot of economical porcine wonderfulness -- especially if you've got a big family with big appetites.

Because overcooking renders them tough, this quick-cooking pork steak is perfect for the grill, grill pan, sauté pan or broiler.

IMG_7512For 6 hearty sandwiches:

2  3/4"-1"-thick, bone-in pork butt blade steaks, about 1 1/2-1 3/4-pounds each

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

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*

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

additional achiote oil, for the diced-pork-and-onion sauté at assembly time

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_7408 IMG_7408 IMG_7408 IMG_7408 IMG_7408~Step 1.  Prepare the marinade as directed in recipe.  Place the blade steaks in a 1-gallon food storage bag and add all of the marinade. Seal the bag.  Using your fingertips, squish the bag a bit, to push the steaks and the marinade around enough to thoroughly coat the steaks 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_7477 IMG_7477 IMG_7477 IMG_7477~Step 3.  Remove steaks from refrigerator and return to room temperature, 30-45 minutes. Position oven rack 7 1/2"-8" under heating element and preheat broiler.  Remove room temp blade steaks from marinade and place on an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom).  Place steaks under broiler and cook 11 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Remove from oven and flip steaks over.  Return to broiler and cook 11 more minutes, using an instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness at 10 minutes. Remove steaks from oven when they reach an internal temperature of 140°-145°.  Allow steaks to rest 10-15 minutes.

IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235 IMG_7235~Step 4.  While steaks ares 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_7493 IMG_7493 IMG_7493 IMG_7493~Step 5.  Slice each rested-but-warm blade steak, on a diagonal, in half lengthwise -- half bone-in, the other boneless. Thinly-slice the boneless half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips, then dice the strips.  Carve the meat away from the bone on the second half, then slice and dice that meat too.  Place the diced meat in a bowl and repeat process with the second steak. Each steak, depending upon the size of the bone (large or small), will yield 2 1/2-3 cups diced pork, enough to amply fill (stuff) six, hearty, 6"-long sandwiches.

Note:  To this point, all the components for these unique sandwiches (the sauce, the onions and the pork) can be prepared several hours to one day ahead of assembling and serving.

IMG_7514 IMG_7514 IMG_7514 IMG_7514 IMG_7514 IMG_7514 IMG_7514~Step 7.  To prepare the spicy fried-pork-and-onion filling, in an appropriately-sized skillet (8", 10" or 12", depending on how many sandwiches you plan to assemble at one time), heat 1-2-3 tablespoons achiote oil over medium-high heat.  Add 1 cup diced pork per sandwich and sauté until meat is heated through and fat is crisping up, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Stir in 2 tablespoons of the ahogada sauce per cup of meat.  When steaming, fold in 1/3 cup (5-6 tablespoons) sautéd onions per cup of meat.  Remove from heat.  

IMG_7532 IMG_7532 IMG_7532 IMG_7532 IMG_7532 IMG_7532~Step 8.  To assemble each sandwich, choose a bowl, slice a roll in half, then place the bottom in the bowl.  Using your fingertips, pull a bit of the soft bread from the center of the top of the roll and set aside -- this forms a dome that helps keep the filling in place while eating (see photo below).  Slather the "bun bottom" with guacamole.  Heap the warm meat mixture evenly atop the guacamole.  I like to add extra guacamole to the bowl at this time.  Place the top on the sandwich.  Using a small ladle, drizzle a scant 1/2 cup warm sauce over the top, garnish with a few leftover onions, add some tortilla chips to the dish and eat.

Drizzle generously w/warmed sauce, garnish w/onions...

IMG_7575... &, serve, ASAP w/more guacamole & tortilla chips:

IMG_7601Mexico's Torta Ahogada Drowned-Pork Sandwichs:  Recipe yields 6 large, hearty sandwiches.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d167b2a6970cCook's Note: The Portuguese people eat these pork sandwiches like we Americans eat burgers -- anytime and anywhere.  The bifana is so popular, McDonald's even launched the McBifana in Portugal. Never heard of the bifana? There's no shame in that -- we Americans don't always have access to authentic Spanish-style recipes. Click here to get my recipe for ~ The Bifana:  A Perfect Portuguese Pork Sandwich ~, and, here for the ~ Papos Secos: Portuguese Dinner/Sandwich Rolls ~ recipe.

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

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

Stay tuned -- it's going to be a very tasty week on KE!

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)

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)

02/28/2018

~ Greek-Style Flank Steak Salad or Pocket Sammies ~

IMG_5213I'm going Greek today.  It happens a few times a year -- my lust for lemon and garlic and oregano combined with crumbly feta cheese and/or creamy Greek yogurt takes over.  Thank goodness I have a few excellent recipes go to.  Sometimes I'm inclined to quash my craving by incorporating shrimp, other times I choose lamb, chicken is not off limits, but, one of my all-time favorites is flank stank.  When duly-marinated and rare-cooked via broiling or grilling, it is a carnivorous Greek goddess's dream come true.  I adore this hearty, main-dish salad topped plenty of crunchy herb-bread croutons, and, the only thing I enjoy more:  stuffing this salad into a pita pocket. 

IMG_5021Let me start by saying, my homemade Greek salad dressing (recipe below) turns this salad or sandwich from ordinary to extraordinary.  My secret ingredient is high-quality lemon-infused olive oil, with which even fresh lemon juice cannot compete.  That said, when one is using vinaigrette-type salad dressing to marinade meat, poultry or seafood, the marinade gets thrown away (unlike other types of marinades which get simmered on the stovetop and used as a sauce for dipping and drizzling).  

IMG_5029For that reason, I marinate my flank steak in a high-quality, store-bought Greek vinaigrette-type dressing containing no artificial flavorings or preservatives, but, a lot of spices that complement my own dressing.

IMG_5036In a 1-gallon ziplock bag, marinate for 4-6 hours at room temp or overnight in the refrigerator:

2-2 1/2 pound flank steak, in

1  cup Gazebo Room Greek dressing and marinade

"Gazebo Greek" is a fine product and I feel a lot less guilt pouring the store-bought marinade down the drain after the steak has marinated in it as opposed to my homemade dressing.

My Big Fat Greek Lemony-Garlic Salad Dressing:

6a0120a8551282970b019aff4d8c8b970d 21  cup red wine vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

1/2  cup sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

3-4  large garlic cloves, run through a garlic press

1/4  cup fine-crumbled feta

1  tablespoon Greek seasoning

1/4  teaspoon each:  sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid, place all ingredients.  Shake vigorously. You will have 1 1/2 cups of dressing. Set aside for 2-8 hours, at room temperature, to allow the flavors plenty of time to marry.

Note:  If you want to make the dressing further in advance, store it in the refrigerator and return it to room temperature prior to serving.  Because this dressing contains fresh garlic, use it within 3 days, as after that, the garlic can begin to grow bacteria that can make make you ill.

My Big Fat Greek Flank Steak Salad:

IMG_51571  2-2 1/2-pound flank steak, marinated as directed above and cooked as directed below

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

1  cup very thinly-sliced (shaved) red onion

1 1/2  cups peeled and diced Kirby cucumber, 1 large cucumber

3/4  cup pimiento-stuffed green Spanish olives, well-drained and cut in half

3/4  cup pitted Greek kalamata olives, well-drained and cut in half

1 1/2-2  cups grape tomatoes, cut in half

1 1/2-2  cups crumbled feta cheese, 6-8 ounces

1 1/2-2  cups homemade croutons (for salad), or, pita pocket bread (for sammies)

1 1/2  cups salad dressing, from above recipe

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 this salad is while the flank steak is still warm.  That said, it is uncompromisingly-delicious served with steak that has been refrigerated overnight and returned to room temperature (take it out of the refrigerator about an hour prior to slicing it), so, feel free to wrap the cooked steak in plastic wrap, refrigerate overnight, and slice it the next day.

IMG_5150 IMG_5152~ 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_5162 IMG_5162 IMG_5162 IMG_5162 IMG_5162 IMG_5162 IMG_5162 IMG_5162 IMG_5202~Step 3.  In each of 6-8 individual salad plates, compose the salad by dividing, layering and arranging ingredients in the following order:  lettuce chiffonade, shaved red onion, diced cucumber, steak roulades, green olive-, kalamata olive- and grape tomato halves.  Sprinkle feta cheese crumbles over the top of each salad and top with a few crispy croutons.

Bring on the dressing, have a seat & hand out the forks:

IMG_5217Or, stuff it all into a pita pocket or two & eat 'em on the run:

IMG_5224Greek-Style Flank Steak Salad or Pocket Sammies:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups dressing and 6-8 large, main-dish servings of salad, or, 6-8 pita pocket sandwiches (12-16 half sandwiches).

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; 1-gallon food storage bag; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable aluminum broiler pan; instant-read meat thermometer; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_9864Cook's Note: For me, it's impossible to walk past a vendor selling gyros -- the iconic Greek sandwich.  My first gyro encounters were limited to the Jersey Shore in the latter 1960's and Mr. Krinos (a friend of my cousin) explained they were, Greek-style, a combo of beef and lamb wrapped in a pocketless pita with lettuce, tomato and onion, and, served with a cucumber-yogurt-based tzatziki sauce.  Here's my recipe for ~ My Greek Gyro-Style Beef & Lamb 'Burger' Pitas ~.

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

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

02/25/2018

~Bread Machine Herbed-Pizza-Dough Sandwich Loaf~

IMG_5007Can your favorite pizza dough be turned into a loaf of bread?  I have no idea -- it's your recipe. With certainty, I can tell you:  my slightly-adjusted Sicilian-style pizza dough recipe can be turned into an amazing loaf of savory, slightly-firm-textured bread, and, what's more, I let the bread machine do all the work for me.  Imagine the ingredients for your favorite submarine- hoagie-type sandwich piled high between two slices of herbed-pizza-bread, or, an herbed-pizza-bread grilled cheese or panini, or, crispy herbed-pizza-bread croutons tossed into your favorite chef's salad.

Put all ingredients in pan & let the machine do the work.

IMG_5044Walk away & come up with a sandwich plan or two.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d7ca6f970cFor the dough:

1 1/2  cups warm water

2  tablespoons olive oil

4 1/2  cups all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon each:  garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend and coarse-grind black pepper

1  packet granulated dry yeast

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin tins

IMG_4990Step 1.  To prepare the dough, place all ingredients in pan of bread machine in the order listed, except for the yeast.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation ("a well") on top of the dry ingredients, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer.  Place the yeast into the indentation.  It is important to keep the dry yeast away from the wet ingredients until it is time for the machine to knead them together, because the liquid ingredients will prematurely activate the yeast.

IMG_5001~ Step 2.  Insert bread pan into bread machine and press down until it is "clicked" securely into place.  Close the lid and plug the machine in.  Press "select" choose "white bread".  Press the "loaf size" button to select "2-pound loaf".  Press the "crust control" button and select "light crust".  Press "start".  Depending on the make and model of your bread machine, you will have a 2-pound, fully-baked loaf of herbed-pizza-dough bread ready and waiting for you in 3 hours.

IMG_4204~ Step 3.  Walk away.  Do not lift the lid to check in on the kneading, rising or baking process.  Don't do it.

When bread machine signals the bread is done, carefully open the lid.  Using a pot holder, remove the bread pan from the machine by using the handle to lift it up and out.  Turn the bread pan at about a 30-45 degree angle and gently shake/slide the loaf out onto its side.  Turn the loaf upright and place it on a wire cooling rack to cool completely. 

IMG_4208Note:  If the kneading paddle (which is steaming hot) happens to remain in the loaf after you've removed the loaf from the pan, unless you have a pair of culinary tweezers, completely cool the loaf before removing it.

~ Step 4.  This is a photo of a 2-pound loaf taken the moment it has been removed from the bread machine.  At first glimpse it's a bit overwhelming, but I assure you, you're going to fall in love with this bread.  Once cooled, which takes about 3 hours:  Starting at the top, slice the loaf in half, to form 2 smaller, 1-pound loaves.  Two for one:  eat one, freeze one for later.

Because a sandwich is only as good as the bread:

IMG_5015Be all that you can be.  Be a sandwich-making hero(ine)...

IMG_5057... or a salad-composing, crouton-topped king or queen:

IMG_5213Bread Machine Herbed-Pizza-Dough Sandwich Loaf:  Recipe yields 1, 2-pound loaf bread, which is equivalent to 2, 1-pound sandwich loaves.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine; pot holder or oven mitt; wire cooling rack

IMG_4335 IMG_4127Cook's Note: More fun news. After using the bread machine to knead my herbed pizza  dough recipe (which only takes 55 minutes), you can use the dough to make ~ Baked-in-Muffin-Tin Slider-Size Pizza Dough Rolls ~ to make my  ~ Super Sausage-Pizza Sliders on Pizza Dough Rolls ~.

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

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

02/22/2018

~ Japanese Teriyaki Meets American Chicken Wings ~

IMG_4956Chicken wings are all-American and teriyaki is an all-Japanese method of cooking.  Trust me when I tell you, if you walk into a restaurant in Japan, you aren't likely to find teriyaki chicken wings on their menu.  That said, Japanese teriyaki sure does turn out a really good version of American chicken wings, however, unlike our traditionally-prepared wings, which are typically plunged into the hot oil of a deep fryer, teriyaki wings, in order to render their signature fall-off-the-bone tender interior with a slightly-crispy, sticky exterior, they require a kinder, gentler treatment. 

As a lover of Asian fare, teriyaki-in-general is one of my favorite ways to cook.  Teriyaki is as well known outside of Japan as sushi or ramen is, so, most American people, kids included, will give "teriyaki anything" a try.  A bottle of teriyaki sauce has been a staple condiment in my pantry for as long as I've had a pantry, standing right next to the elites:  Heinz ketchup, French's mustard, Hellman's mayonnaise and Lee & Perrin's worcestershire sauce.  That said, teriyaki sauce is seriously simple to make, and, it can be customized to suit your family's taste.  I typically prepare a double- or triple-sized batch, then keep what I don’t use in the refrigerator, so it's ready to reheat the next time a "teriyaki anything" craving hits me or mine -- as often as once a week.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f3cb15970dTeriyaki (tehr-uh-yah-kee):  Teriyaki is a Japanese term referring to a method of cooking beef, chicken, fish or seafood marinated (in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic and/or ginger) prior to being grilled, broiled or stir-fried. "Teri" is the Japanese word for "luster", and it is the sugar in the marinade that gives the food its "teri" or shiny glaze.  It's interesting to note that in Japan, there is no official teriyaki sauce.  Teriyaki sauce was invented by the early Japanese settlers to the islands of Hawaii.  They created:

A slightly-sweet nicely-thickened marinade/basting sauce using local, readily-available, easy-to-acquire Hawaiian products.  For example: pineapple juice (in place of the mirin or sake of their homeland) and wild garlic (in conjuction with ginger they brought with them), mixed with soy sauce and thickened with cornstarch.  The subject at hand (beef, chicken, fish or seafood) is marinated for a minimum of 30 minutes, longer for a more pronounced flavor, then cooled.

IMG_4945Because teriyaki sauce is sweet, a portion of the marinade is typically reserved to use as a dipping sauce served w/the dish.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f3cd81970dFor the teriyaki sauce:

1/2  cup tamari soy sauce or soy sauce

1/2  cup mirin (a cooking wine made from rice) or sake (sometimes thought of as beer because it's made from grain, but classified as a wine)

1/4 cup white or brown sugar or honey

1  tablespoon each: garlic and ginger garlic paste

4  teaspoons cornstarch or potato starch

4  teaspoons cold water

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2dade8b970cStep 1.  In a small bowl, whisk together the cold water and cornstarch until smooth.

Step 2.  In a 1-quart saucepan, stir together the tamari or soy sauce, mirin or sake, and, white or brown sugar or honey.  Add the garlic and ginger. Bring to a steady simmer over medium heat and cook about 1 minute.  Whisk cornstarch mixture into the sauce and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is drizzly but slightly-thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and use as directed in recipe.

To use as a marinade:  Cool teriyaki sauce to room temperature, or chill, prior to using as a marinade.  Keep any unused marinade, the stuff not used as a marinade for raw protein, stored in a tightly-covered container in the refrigerator for several weeks.  Any marinade used as a marinade must be reheated and simmered for 3-5 minutes prior to refrigerating and reusing.

Arrange 16-20 drumettes &/or wingettes in an 8" x 8" baking dish (save those flavorful wing tips for making chicken stock):

IMG_4899Add cooled teriyaki sauce & marinate at room temp 2-4 hours, or, overnight in the refrigerator, then return to room temperature:

IMG_4905Place in 325° oven for 2 hours, stirring every 20-30 minutes -- yes, the wings will slowly & gently simmer in & suck up flavor:

IMG_4910Remove from oven & reset oven to broil w/rack 5"-6" under heat:

IMG_4918Using tongs, remove wings from marinade, allowing excess liquid to drizzle off & place on a baking pan lined w/foil & parchment:

IMG_4921Broil until bubbly & charring, turning once, 3 minutes per side.  Allow wings to rest, on pan, for 4-6 minutes -- just do it.

IMG_4930Serve w/a bowl of the the super-flavorful warm marinade remaining in baking dish for dipping &/or drizzling:

IMG_4964Perfectly-cooked & simply delish:

IMG_4969Japanese Teriyaki Meets American Chicken Wings:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups teriyaki sauce and 16-20 chicken wings.

Special Equipment List: 1-quart saucepan; whisk; poultry shears; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; tongs

IMG_3870 IMG_4890Cook's Note:  While related by sauce, when it comes cooking anything teriyaki-style, depending on what it is, each food gets treated and cooked a bit differently.  Two examples are my recipes for ~ Open Sesame:  Japanese Teriyaki Steak Skewers ~, and, ~ Japanese-Style Oven-Broiled Teriyaki-Style Cod Fish ~. 

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

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

02/20/2018

~Japanese-Style Oven-Broiled Teriyaki-Style Cod Fish~

IMG_4896Eat more fish.  I've heard it too many times to count, and, I've preached it too many times to count.  Joe and I love fish, especially white fish, so, for me, keeping it in our weekly meal rotation is easy.  That said, serving it to people who've determined they dislike fish, or worse, trying to entice children to try fish, can be a tricky, fishy business.  On such occasions, teriyaki fish fillets or fish skewers, served with a veggie stir-fry and some rice, is my go-to "just try it" fish dinner.

As a lover of Asian fare, teriyaki-in-general is one of my favorite ways to cook.  Teriyaki is as well known outside of Japan as sushi or ramen is, so, most American people, kids included, will give "teriyaki anything" a try.  A bottle of teriyaki sauce has been a staple condiment in my pantry for as long as I've had a pantry, standing right next to the elites:  Heinz ketchup, French's mustard, Hellman's mayonnaise and Lee & Perrin's worcestershire sauce.  That said, teriyaki sauce is seriously simple to make, and, it can be customized to suit your family's taste.  I typically prepare a double- or triple-sized batch, then keep what I don’t use in the refrigerator, so it's ready to reheat the next time a "teriyaki anything" craving hits me or mine -- as often as once a week.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c94a9feb970bTeriyaki (tehr-uh-yah-kee):  Teriyaki is a Japanese term referring to a method of cooking beef, chicken, fish or seafood marinated (in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic and/or ginger) prior to being grilled, broiled or stir-fried. "Teri" is the Japanese word for "luster", and it is the sugar in the marinade that gives the food its "teri" or shiny glaze.  It's interesting to note that in Japan, there is no official teriyaki sauce.  Teriyaki sauce was invented by the early Japanese settlers to the islands of Hawaii.  They created:

A slightly-sweet nicely-thickened marinade/basting sauce using local, readily-available, easy-to-acquire Hawaiian products.  For example: pineapple juice (in place of the mirin or sake of their homeland) and wild garlic (in conjuction with ginger they brought with them), mixed with soy sauce and thickened with cornstarch.  The subject at hand (beef, chicken, fish or seafood) is marinated for a minimum of 30 minutes, longer for a more pronounced flavor, then cooled.

IMG_4883Because teriyaki sauce is sweet, a portion of the marinade is typically reserved to use as a dipping sauce served w/the dish.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d4eeed970cFor the teriyaki sauce:

1/2  cup tamari soy sauce or soy sauce

1/2  cup mirin (a cooking wine made from rice) or sake (sometimes thought of as beer because it's made from grain, but classified as a wine)

1/4 cup white or brown sugar or honey

1  tablespoon each: garlic and ginger garlic paste

4  teaspoons cornstarch or potato starch

4  teaspoons cold water

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c94aa195970bStep 1.  In a small bowl, whisk together the cold water and cornstarch until smooth.

Step 2.  In a 1-quart saucepan, stir together the tamari or soy sauce, mirin or sake, and, white or brown sugar or honey.  Add the garlic and ginger. Bring to a steady simmer over medium heat and cook about 1 minute.  Whisk cornstarch mixture into the sauce and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is drizzly but slightly-thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and use as directed in recipe.

To use as a marinade:  Cool teriyaki sauce to room temperature, or chill, prior to using as a marinade.  Keep any unused marinade, the stuff not used as a marinade for raw protein, stored in a tightly-covered container in the refrigerator for several weeks.  Any marinade used as a marinade must be reheated and simmered for 3-5 minutes prior to refrigerating and reusing.

IMG_4871For the cod fish skewers:

1 1/2  cups teriyaki sauce, from above recipe, to be used to marinating fish, and, to be reheated after marinating the fish, to use as dipping sauce

1-1 1/4- pound cod fish fillet, cut into 1" cubes

8  8"-long wooden skewers

lightly-toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

IMG_4854~Step 1.  Place the cod fish fillet, flat, on a a sheet of plastic wrap.  As best you can, fashion it into a rectangle (tucking the thin ends underneath on either side), then wrap it tightly, so it holds that rectangular shape. Place the fish fillet, flat, in the freezer for 1 1/2-2 hours, just long enough to firm it up or semi-freeze it, which will make it seriously easier to cube.

IMG_4857 IMG_4857 IMG_4857 IMG_4857~Step 2. Remove the cod from the freezer, unwrap it, and, using a large chef's knife, cut it into 1" cubes, placing the cubes, in a single layer, in an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish as you work.  Add the teriyaki sauce.  Place in the refrigerator and allow to marinate for 1-2 hours (2 is better).  

IMG_4867 IMG_4867 IMG_4872 IMG_4872 IMG_4872 IMG_4872~Step 3.  Line a 17 1/2" x 2" baking pan with aluminum foil then place a piece of parchment atop the foil.  One-at-a-time, thread 4-5 cubes of fish through their centers onto each of 8, 10" long wooden skewers, to within 3" of the top of each skewer  (which will serve as handles when it's time to flip the fish skewers over), arranging the skewers, in a single layer, about 1/2" apart (they should not be touching each other) on the pan. Place the pan of fish skewers 5"-6" under preheated broiler.  Cook until gently sizzling, lightly golden and nicely-firm to the touch, turning only once, about 7-8 minutes on the first side and 5-6 minutes on the second side (give or take a minute or two depending upon the heat of your broiler.

Note:  I don't recommend using a grill pan for fish.  Experience has taught: unlike grilling meat, chicken or seafood, no matter how much no-stick spray I apply to the grill pan, fish wants to stick. 

IMG_3787 IMG_3787~Step 4.  When the fish is finished marinating, pour the marinade from the baking dish into a 1-1 1/2-quart saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and continue to simmer gently for 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Plate, garnish & serve ASAP atop a bed of steamed white rice...

IMG_4890... w/a veggie stir-fry & teriyaki sauce to the side for dipping. 

Japanese-Style Oven-Broiled Teriyaki-Style Cod Fish:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups teriyaki sauce, and, 4 servings when served with stir-fried vegetable and steamed white rice.

Special Equipment List:  plastic wrap; cutting board; chef's knife; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; 8, 10" wooden skewers

IMG_3837Cook's Note:  Place a platter of these appetizers on the cocktail table and I'll bet they disappear before bets can be taken on how long it will take them to disappear. Put a platter of them on the dinner table alongside a fresh vegetable stir-fry and some steamed white rice, and, when served as a family-friendly dinner, they won't last any longer either.  My recipe for ~ Open Sesame:  Japanese Teriyaki Steak Skewers ~, is a keeper-of-a-recipe you and yours are sure to love.

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

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

02/18/2018

~Moist & Juicy Breaded & Deep-Fried Chicken Cutlets~

IMG_4757Breaded chicken cutlets are a big time-saver for a working parent.  By keeping a bag on-hand in the freezer, after a quick thaw in the microwave, any number of kid-friendly meals can be put on the family dinner table in less than an hour.  That said, the chicken cutlets found in the frozen-food section of the grocery store, are, for the most part:  terrible.  From way-too-much-cardboard-esque-breading to skinny, dried-out and rubberlike, I find them reprehensibly unpalatable.  

When I was raising three boys, after trying two (maybe three) brands of frozen, breaded chicken cutlets, and proceeding to throw all the remains away, they were added to my list of store-bought items I simply refused to buy for my kids.  Trust me, when it comes to kids, when you put your foot down to time-saving junk like the USA's favorite brand of boxed macaroni and cheese, all-things that help hamburger, and, chicken cutlets, you'd better have a show-stopping alternative.

Tenderize the most tender part of the chicken:

IMG_4676 IMG_4676 IMG_4676For about $14-$15 at a any of my local markets, I can purchase a "value pack" of 6-pounds chicken breast tenderloins, It contains approximately 3o tenderloins, which when breaded and deep-fried, are good-sized cutlets -- one or per two person.  When I get them home, I arrange them side-by-side, on a large cutting board, between two sheets of plastic wrap.  Using the flat-side of a meat mallet, I lightly-pound them, with "lightly" being the key word here -- do not smash them to smithereens.   Start-to-finish, this process takes less than five minutes and renders them fork tender.

Set up the deep-frying assembly line (left to right):

IMG_4687Chicken tenderloins, prepped as directed above.

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 2 cups dry pancake mix.

One loaf-pan containing 2 1/2 cups pancake mix whisked with 22 ounces beer (Note:  Beer lends wonderful flavor with yeasty undertones to the breading.  That said, if I can't convince you that the heat of the deep-fryer will evaporate all the alcohol, feel free to substitute club soda.)

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 2, 8-ounces boxes panko breadcrumbs.

Deep-fryer w/corn or peanut oil heated to 360° according to manufacturer's specifications.

Misc:  forks, 3-minute timer, wire cooling rack, paper towels, sea salt grinder.

IMG_4709~ Step 1.  When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer (or club soda). Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken a bit, to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer (or club soda) to maintain a very drizzly consistency.

IMG_4685~ Step 2.  This step is actually optional, so skip it if you like.  When it comes to chicken cutlets, I prefer the texture of my panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs) to be less coarse.  To make that happen:

Place panko in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses, process these super-crispy breadcrumbs to finer crumbs.

Fry Baby Fry -- It's all about Fearless Frying:

IMG_4718 IMG_4718 IMG_4718 IMG_4718 IMG_4718~Step 1.  Working in batches of 2 cutlets at a time, dredge each paid in the dry pancake mix to coat it on all sides.  Note:  I fry 2 at a time because that is what fits comfortably in the basket of my fryer without overcrowding it.  Next, move up the assembly line, and, one-at-a-time dip each cutlet into the batter.  As you lift each one out of the batter, hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the batter to drizzle back into the bowl.  As you batter dip each cutout, place it into the dish of panko. Dredge both of the cutlets in the panko ASAP.

IMG_4735 IMG_4735Step 2.  One-at-a-time, and with the aid of a fork, carefully lower the pair of breaded cutlets down into the 360° oil and into the fryer basket.  Close the lid and allow cutlets to deep-fry for 3 1/2-4 minutes.  Chicken cutlets will be a beautiful golden brown and just cooked through.  Do not overcook -- residual heat will continue to cook them.

IMG_4743Step 3.  Open fryer lid and slowly lift basket up and out of deep-fryer.  Transfer cutlets to a wire rack in a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Tip:  To transfer the cutlets, simply tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack.  Using tongs is a mistake -- an easy way to damage their crust.  Once out of the fryer, immediately sprinkle cutlets with freshly ground sea salt and repeat this process until all cutlets are breaded and fried.

IMG_4757~ Step 4.  Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, as directed in specific recipe.  To freeze, place completely cooled cutlets on a large baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Freeze, uncovered, several hours to overnight (overnight is best). Transfer frozen cutlets to a ziplock bag.  When needed, thaw and reheat room temperature cutlets in a 350° oven until just heated through, about 10 minutes.

Slice & add to a favorite main-dish salad in lieu of croutons:

IMG_4808Serve Asian-style w/a veggie stir-fry, white rice & dipping sauce:

IMG_4793And please pass the lightly-sauced-pasta w/cheesy parmigiana:

IMG_4766Moist & Juicy Breaded & Deep-Fried Chicken Cutlets:  Recipe yields instructions to batter-dip, bread, deep-fry and freeze chicken cutlets.

Special Equipment List:  large cutting board; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; 1, 9" x 5" x 4" loaf-type baking dish; whisk; forks; 3-minute timer; wire cooling rack; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d25243da970c 6a0120a8551282970b0192ac404b1a970dCook's Note: Batter dipping works great for other meats and vegetables too.  During the Summer zucchini onslaught, try making my ~ Batter-Dipped Panko-Crusted Deep-Fried Zucchini ~, and, in the Fall, my ~ Deep-Fried Pork Fingers w/Bone Suckin' Sauce ~ are a delightful alternative to ribs for a tailgate in front of the TV.

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

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

02/16/2018

~ Warm and Cozy Crockpot Casserole Rice Pudding ~

IMG_4654Hear me out -- rice pudding made in the crockpot or slow cooker is never, EVER going to be competitive in a contest with the super-creamy-textured stovetop-cooked rice pudding made with Arborio-type rice simmered in a custard-esque cream and tempered-egg mixture.  It won't happen and ignore those who promise it will -- but, don't let this information lower your expectations.  Rice pudding made in the crockpot is simply scrumptious, and, seriously easy to make too, so:

On the days when the machinations of hovering over rice pudding made on the stovetop is just too much fuss...

IMG_4642... simply allow the crockpot to do the work for you.

IMG_45861  cup fragrant jasmine rice, or long-grain white rice

1  cup dark raisins

1  cup sugar

5  cups half-and-half, plus up to 1/2 cup additional cream, if desired

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1  tablespoon butter-rum flavoring

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

4  tablespoons salted butter, melted

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing crock casserole

IMG_4630 IMG_4630 IMG_4630 IMG_4630~Step 1.  In a fine mesh strainer, thoroughly rinse the rice under cold running water for one full minute, gently shaking the strainer as you rinse to make sure all the grains get rinsed and drained.  Spray the inside (bottom and sides) of crock casserole with no-stick spray.  Add the rinsed rice, raisins, sugar, half-and-half, vanilla extract, butter-rum flavoring, cinnamon and salt to the crock.  Using a large spoon, give the mixture a gentle but thorough stir.

IMG_4600 IMG_4600 IMG_4600 IMG_4600 IMG_4636 IMG_4636~Step 2.  In microwave, melt the butter and drizzle it over the top of the rice mixture.  Do not stir. Place the lid on the crock, adjust heat to high and cook for 3 hours.  Turn the crockpot off, and allow the mixture to steep for 1 more hour, to allow rice to absorb excess moisture.  Give the mixture a stir.  If you want it a bit creamier, stir in up to 1/2 cup additional half-and-half.  Serve warm or at room temp.  Reheat individual portions gently in the microwave along with a splash of additional half-and-half stirred into each one (if desired).

Curl up on the sofa w/a good book or a great movie...

IMG_4658... & 4 hours later, enjoy a bowl of warm & cozy happiness:

IMG_4664Warm and Cozy Crockpot Casserole Rice Pudding:  Recipe yields 6 cups.

Special Equipment List:  fine mesh strainer; Crockpot casserole or another 3 1/2-4-quart slow-cooker; 1-quart measuring container; 1-cup measuring container; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b017d42943ffe970c-800wiCook's Note:  ~ My Creamy, Orange-Kissed Arborio Rice Pudding ~.  Technically, while rice pudding is not a custard per se, this type of rice pudding is prepared in the manner of custard, which is:  a sweetened egg/milk mixture that has been cooked gently on the stovetop or baked in a low oven. Stirred custards are usually made in a double boiler, while baked custards get cooked in a warm water bath, which is not the case in most rice pudding recipes. That said, "custard" was the best term I could think of to describe its preparation.

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

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

02/14/2018

~ Creamy-Coconut & Spicy-Hot Jamaican Pork Curry ~

IMG_4558Throughout the Caribbean, porcine reigns supreme, and, when it comes to perfectly-balanced, bright, slightly-sweet and spicy-hot curry blends, the Jamaicans have cornered the market.  That said, the world is full of curries, they are all different, and, for the home cook, it's almost impossible to prepare an authentic curry outside of the region it's prepared in, within its country of origin.  Why?  Because outside of the United States, curry is not a store-bought dried spice blend or wet paste that produces a predictable end result.  They're hand-made, mortar-and-pestle pulverized, dry or pasty concoctions of spices or herbs, the amounts of which vary to suit the palate of each family or cook -- on a daily basis -- Jamaican cooks are no exception.

Curry is anything but generic.  Culinarily, it's a complex topic:

"Curry" is a catch-all English (British) term used in Western cultures to denote stewike dishes from Southern and Southeast Asia, as well as Africa and the Caribbean. Dishes called curry are relatively easy to prepare and can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish. Seasonal vegetables can be included, or, the dish can be made only of vegetables (vegetarian). Some curries cook quickly, others cook slowly, some are thick, some are thin, many are economical weeknight meals, while others are expensive and reserved for celebrations.  Most curries are cooked in large shallow skillets or woks with lids, and, most curries are paired with some type of white rice.  

IMG_4551Curries can be "wet" or "dry".  What is common to wet curries is the use of cream, coconut milk or yogurt, and occasionally stock, to prepare the sauce ("kari" is the Indian word for "sauce").  They don't tend to be overly-thickened (gravylike), and, they aren't spicy hot (although they can be). This evolved out of necessity.  Water was often scarce and/or its use in cooking had to be avoided, so, the "creamers" were used as a silky, rich, substitution for water, not as a thickener. Dry curries are cooked in very little liquid in sealed pots.  Almost all of the liquid evaporates during the lengthy cooking process, leaving the ingredients heavily coated in the spice mixture.

The case for using commercial curry powders or pastes.

There are kitchen decisions that only the cook can make, and, in the American kitchen, for the average American cook, convenience typically triumphs over authenticity.  That said, it's not because the average American cook is lazy or uncreative.  In my case, I purchase high-quality blends or pastes because, on any given day, all the ingredients necessary to make a dry blend or a wet paste are not always available at the same time.  There's more.  Some concoctions contain ten or more sometimes-pricey ingredients, which after being mixed together, do not have a long shelf life, so, a portion of my investment and hard work can end up being thrown away.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d287a355970cCurry powders and pastes cannot be used interchangeably.

Curry blends and pastes are not created equal.  For example:  When I make curry, sometimes I make Thai curry (which requires green, red or yellow paste), sometimes I make Indian curry (which relies on garam masala), and, sometimes I make Jamaican curry, which has its own flavor profile.  Know the country of the curry you're preparing and don't substitute one type for another.

Jamaican-Style Curry Powder.

Jamaican curry powder contains allspice and Indian-style curry powder does not.  Indian curry powder contains cardamom and mace, Jamaican curry powder does not.  All Jamaican curries contain coconut milk, but only South Indian curries do.  Jamaican curries tend to be spicy and sweet while Indian curries are mild and slightly tart.

Tonight, creamy, spicy Jamaican curry is what I am craving:

This four-season recipe makes a good-sized quantity, twelve dinner-sized servings (or sixteen+ luncheon-sized servings). That sounds like a lot, but, leftovers reheat perfectly, so the little bit of extra slicing and dicing is worth the extra effort -- plus, it freezes well too.  There's more.  Like many stews, it tastes even better the second day, so, it can be made ahead and served with freshly-steamed rice without compromise -- which is convenient if you're entertaining. That said, if you don't want leftovers, cut the recipe in half (and prepare it in a smaller skillet).

IMG_33711  bone-in Boston butt pork roast, about 7-8 pounds total

4  tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil, for preparing skillet

2  teaspoons sea salt, total throughout recipe, 1 teaspoon for seasoning meat and 1 teaspoon for seasoning vegetables

2  cups each:  1/2" diced green and red bell pepper

IMG_45401-1 1/2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup chopped cilantro leaves + plus additional leaves for garnish

2  14 1/2-ounce cans diced tomatoes, well-drained

6  tablespoons hot Jamaican curry powder

2  teaspoons garlic paste

2  teaspoons ginger paste

1/2  teaspoon habanero powder IMG_4227(Note:  Jamaicans typically use fresh Scotch Bonnet chilies for heat, which I don't always have access too, but, the slightly-citrusy flavor of incendiary habanero powder, which I keep on my spice rack, is a marvelous substitute.)

3  14-ounce cans coconut milk, shaken or stirred prior to using

6  cups uncooked jasmine rice, or, 12 cups steamed jasmine rice, cooked via your favorite method

IMG_3376 IMG_3376 IMG_3376 IMG_3376 IMG_3376~Step 1.  Remove pork from packaging.  Trim off "fat cap" layer. Starting at bone-free-end, cut into 3/4"-1"-thick steaks, then, cut steaks into 1"-1 1/4" chunks.  When you get to the bone-in-end, do your best to cut around the bone, cutting the meat into 1"-1 1/4" chunks.  As you work, discard any chunks that are almost all fat.  When finished, there will be 4+ pounds of trimmed, nicely-marbled pork.  The goal is to have well-marbled pieces, not, fat-laden chunks.

IMG_3411 IMG_3411 IMG_3411 IMG_3411 IMG_3411~Step 2.  Place and heat the 1/4 cup oil in a 14" chef's pan over medium-high heat.  Add the pork cubes and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the sea salt.  Adjust heat to sauté, using a large spatula to stir frequently, until meat is lightly-browned on all sides, and almost no liquid remains in bottom of pan, about 18-20-22 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_4225 IMG_4225 IMG_4225 IMG_4225~Step 3.  Prep the green and red bell peppers, onion and cilantro as directed, placing them in the chef's pan as you work.  Add the diced tomatoes, curry powder, garlic paste, ginger paste and remaining 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Add the coconut milk and stir to thoroughly combine.

IMG_4243 IMG_4243 IMG_4243 IMG_4243 IMG_4243 IMG_4243~Step 4.  Over medium- medium-high heat bring mixture to a rapid simmer, stirring frequently.  Once simmering, adjust heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently for 40-45 minutes, until nicely thickened.  Turn heat off, cover pan, and allow the curry to steep on the warm stovetop, another 40-45 minutes to allow the flavors time to marry.  Steam rice while curry steeps and serve warm curry over steamed rice.

Serve warm curry over freshly-steamed white rice:

IMG_4559A creamy-rich & spicy hot bowl of Jamaican love: 

IMG_4564Creamy-Coconut & Spicy-Hot Jamaican Pork Curry:  Recipe yields 4-5 quarts/16-20 cups pork curry mixture/12 large dinner-sized servings or 16+ smaller luncheon-sized servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon; electric rice steamer (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fc4526c4970bCook's Note: I do not profess to knowing a lot about India or being an authority on authentic Indian cuisine.  I have never had the opportunity to travel there, however, I have had the pleasure of having been entertained, on several occasions back in the early 1980's, in the home of a neighborhood couple, who just happened to hail from India.  My recipe for ~ Easy Indian Curry in a Hurry w/No Worry ~, is a testament to one of the many wonderful dishes I was introduced to at their dinner table.

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

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

02/11/2018

~Pork Butt Blade Steaks w/Peachy Keen BBQ Sauce~

IMG_4501Known as pork steaks, pork butt steaks or pork blade steaks, these bone-in steaks are cut from the shoulder of the pig -- the same part of the porcine used to make pulled pork.  Similar in taste and texture to close-kin country-style spareribs*, they were invented in St. Louis, MO, and are a Midwest staple.  As a country-style spare rib lover living in central Pennsylvania, I ask my butcher to custom-cut these inexpensive, lesser-to-unknown-here steaks for me.  Perhaps this post will help them to catch on "here in the counties", and start showing up in our local markets.

*Country-style ribs are cut from the blade end of the loin close to the shoulder. They're meatier than other ribs.  They contain no rib bones, but contain parts of the shoulder blade bone.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d35058970c"Pork butt" or "Boston butt", is a bone-in cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the "pork shoulder" from the front leg of the hog. Smoked or barbecued, Boston butt is a southern tradition.  This cut of meat got its name in pre-Revolutionary War New England:

Butcher's in Boston left the blade bone in this inexpensive cut of pork 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ec4b35970dshoulder then packed and stored the meat in casks called "butts". They sold the pork shoulders individually to their customers, and, when they got popular, they began shipping "the butts" Southward and throughout the Colonies.  Simply stated:  the way the hog shoulder was butchered, combined with "the butt" they arrived in, evolved into the name "Boston butt".

IMG_4424Steaks cut from the pork shoulder are marbled with lots of fat and rich with collagen, which, like the roast, makes them extremely flavorful.  

Because overcooking renders them dry and tough, this quick-cooking cut is perfect for the grill, sauté pan or broiler.  Choose pinkish-gray steaks that are generally the same size and thickness (3/4"-thick is ideal), and, have been trimmed of excessive fat from around the fat-cap-side.

Note:  These 8 steaks, weighing a total of 8.05 pounds, cost $14.33.  That's a whole lot of economical wonderfulness -- especially if you've got a big family with big appetites to feed.

Because overcooking renders them tough, this quick-cooking pork steak is perfect for the grill, grill pan, sauté pan or broiler.  

IMG_4462As for seasonings, salt and pepper is all they require, but, they play well with dry seasoning blends or wet marinades too -- and, they love to be slathered with BBQ sauce at the end.

Choose side-dishes to complement the seasonings used & set the table:

Pork steaks cook to an internal temp of 145° in a short 5-6 minutes per side.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c87ff653970bThere are no words to tell you how well my Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce for Poultry or Pork, which is made with my Perfect Peach Preserves from the Bread Machine (which I keep on hand in my freezer) and a host of aromatic spices (allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and mace to name a few), pairs with these pork steaks. Store-bought peach preserves will work just fine too, so, don't let that sway you from taking the few minutes to make this divine sauce for your pork blade steaks.

How to cook great pork steak indoors on a grill pan:

IMG_4426 IMG_4426 IMG_4426Step 1.  I'm demo-ing one steak today, so I'm using my 10"-round grill pan.  To cook 4 steaks at once, I use my bigger double-burner-sized grill pan.  To cook 8 steaks at once, I use both of my double-burner grill pans.

IMG_4432 IMG_4432 IMG_4432 IMG_4432 IMG_4432 IMG_4432 IMG_4432~Step 2.  Spray a grill pan with no-stick spray and place over medium-high heat.  Place a 3/4"-thick, room-temperature pork butt blade steak on the hot grill grids.  Season with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, about 5 grinds of salt and 10 grinds of peppercorn blend.  If you have a bacon press, place it on top of steak -- this will hold it closer to the heat which makes for prettier grill marks -- if you don't have a bacon press, no big deal.  Cook steak on first side for 5 minutes, or until golden grill marks appear, but do not cook it longer than 6 minutes.  Flip steak over.  Season the cooked first side with salt and pepper, place the optional bacon press back on top and cook for 5 (and no more than 6) more minutes.  Turn the heat off and allow steak to rest, in pan, for 3 minutes.

Slice in half on a diagonal (half bone-in, half boneless)...

IMG_4478... & top w/a big dollop of Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce:

IMG_4475Serve w/a side of my Creamy Crunchy Cole Slaw & dig in!

IMG_4531Pork Butt Blade Steaks w/Peachy Keen BBQ Sauce:  Recipe yields instructions to cook 3/4"-thick pork steaks indoors on a grill pan.

Special Equipment List:  appropriately sized grill pan (a sauté pan may be substituted); large spatula or bacon fork (for flipping steaks over); bacon press (optional)

IMG_3530Cook's Note:  Pork shoulder or pork butt, when trimmed and cut into 3/4"-1" cubes makes marvelous chili.  For one of my favorite New-Mexico-Style versions, try my recipe for Hatch Green Chile Chili with Pork and White Beans.  Make a big batch because it freezes great.

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

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

02/08/2018

~ Super Sausage-Pizza Sliders on Pizza Dough Rolls ~

IMG_4335While these paled in comparison to what historically just might be the best Super Bowl game ever, my game-winning pizza sliders were the hit of our indoor at-home tailgate feast on Sunday. Sausage, mushrooms and onion has long been my favorite carnivorous topping for a pizza, and, when it comes to my signature sliders, the topping combo comes in the form of a patty -- served up on a pizza-dough roll, sloppy with melted mozzarella, marinara, and roasted red pepper too.

IMG_4136The inspiration for pizza-dough-rolls came several years ago.  My mother remarked that my Sicilian-style pizza dough just might make great bread or dinner rolls.  My first reaction was to laugh, but, after thinking about it, I decided it was worth giving the idea a try -- "nothing ventured, nothing gained", as mom always said. Thing is, when I baked them freeform on a flat pan, while they were good, they simply were not as light on the inside.  The muffin tin corrected that, in that:  the shape of a muffin cup, with its steep, gently-sloped sides seriously promotes their rising and developing beautifully-domed tops. (Dinner roll-size on left/slider-size on right.)

IMG_4153I use my favorite herby Sicilian-style pizza dough recipe, and, I typically put some herbs in my dough even when I'm making a basic tomato-sauce and mozzarella-cheese pizza. That said, there are many types of pizza dough.  Feel free to use your own favorite recipe, it should work (no guarantees though) as long as it is Sicilian-style, but please add the herbs to it -- it's the flavored dough that makes these rolls amazing.  If you'd like to try my recipe, you can make my dough via conventional hand mixing and kneading, you can make it via a stand mixer or a food processor, or, you can do what I currently do:  allow the bread machine to do most of the work for me, which simplifies the process considerably.

IMG_4062If you're a person who sits down to dinner and likes to dip your rustic bread in a side of tangy tomato-based pasta sauce or savory American-style gravy, these muffin-tin-baked personal-sized dinner rolls are better than any slice of rustic bread any day of the week -- so be prepared to expand your waistband. To make dinner rolls, simply double the ingredients on the following list and double the baking time too.  Put a basket of these on your dinner table and let the dipping begin.

My savory Super Bowl sammies were so popular on Sunday, they prompted me to write two blog posts detailing my recipes for muffin-tin-baked pizza-dough slider- and dinner-sized rolls.

To make 1 dozen slider-size pizza-dough rolls:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c94cc92e970bFor the dough:

3/4  cups warm water

1  tablespoon olive oil

2 1/4  cups all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon each:  garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend and coarse-grind black pepper

1 1/8 teaspoon yeast granules

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin tins

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d7360e970cStep 1.  To prepare the dough, place all ingredients in pan of bread machine in the order listed, except for the yeast.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation ("a well") on top of the dry ingredients, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer.  Place the yeast into the indentation.  Insert the pan into the bread machine, plug the machine  6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d73637970cin, press the "Select" button, choose the "Pizza Dough" cycle, then press "Start". In 55 minutes, you will have 1 pound, 1 ounce of dough.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c94cc98c970bStep 2. Using lightly-oiled fingertips,  6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d778c2970cremove dough from pan.  Dough will be slightly sticky, yet very manageable.

IMG_4021 IMG_4021 IMG_4021 IMG_4021 IMG_4021 IMG_4021~Step 3. Spray insides of 12, standard-sized muffin cups with no-stick spray. Remove dough from bread pan.  Divide dough into 12, slightly less than 1 1/2-ounce pieces (1 3/8-ounces each is great).  The best way to do this is with a kitchen scale.   In between the palms of hands, form each piece of dough into a ball, placing one in each muffin. Cover the pan(s) with a lint-free cotton towel and allow dough to rise for 30 minutes.

IMG_4116 IMG_4116 IMG_4116~Step 4.  Uncover the pans and bake rolls on center rack of preheated 350° oven, 10-12 minutes, or until lightly-browned and hollow sounding when tapped with the knuckle of index finger.  Do not overcook these rolls. Italian bread is rarely deep-golden in color.  Remove from oven and place pans on a wire cooling rack. Cool rolls in pans 2-3 minutes prior to removing them from pans to wire rack cool completely.

Prepping the toppings for 1 dozen pizza sliders:

IMG_4289For the toppings:

12  slices deli-style mozzarella cheese, cut into quarters

1 1/2-2 cups marinara sauce, homemade or your favorite brand, warmed on the stovetop or in the microwave

24  roasted red pepper pieces, trimmed to fit 12 sandwiches 

12  3"-round pizza-dough slider rolls, from above recipe

IMG_4293 IMG_4293 IMG_4293~ Step 1.  Cut each slice of mozzarella into quarters. From 9 of the slices, stack the pieces on top of each other, 12 stacks of 3 pieces each.  Set the remaining 12 pieces (from 3 slices) aside, separate from the stacked pieces. Drain and trim the roasted red peppers into 24 squarish-pieces and stack the pieces on top of each other, 12 stacks of 2 pieces each.  Warm the marinara sauce and slice the slider rolls. 

For 1 dozen slider-size sausage, mushroom & onion patties:

IMG_41841 1/4  pounds bulk sausage, sweet or hot, your choice

6  ounces small-diced white button mushroom caps, about 2 generous cups

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

1  tablespoon olive oil

coarsely-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, about 10 grinds salt & 15 grinds pepper

IMG_4187 IMG_4187 IMG_4187 IMG_4187 IMG_4187~Step 1.  Place olive oil in a 10" nonstick skillet.  Dice the onion and mushroom caps as directed, placing them in the skillet as you work. Lightly season with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Place over medium heat and stirring almost constantly, cook until the bottom of the skillet is very dry and veggies are just beginning to brown, 8-9 minutes.  Remove from heat cool and to slightly warm or room temperature, 30-45 minutes.

IMG_4215 IMG_4215 IMG_4215~Step 2.  Place sausage in a large bowl and add the cooled mushroom and onion mixture.  Using your hands, mix thoroughly, like you would meatloaf.  You will have about 1 pound, 10 ounces of sausage, mushroom and onion mixture.  Cover sausage mixture with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to firm up a bit, about 30-60  minutes, this will make it easier to divide and form the slider-size patties.

IMG_4265 2 IMG_4265 2 IMG_4265 2 IMG_4265 2 IMG_4265 2 IMG_4265 2~Step 3.  Using a kitchen scale as a measure, place about 1 7/8-2 ounces of the chilled sausage mixture in the center of a 3"-round pastry cutter. Using your fingertips, pat and press the meat into the cutter, to mold a patty.  Repeat this process, 11 more times, placing the patties in the bottom of a 12" nonstick skillet as you work.  Note:  The sausage contains plenty of its own fat, so there is no need for oil or no-stick spray in the skillet.

IMG_4280 IMG_4280 IMG_4280 IMG_4280~Step 4.  Adjust heat on stovetop to medium, and, cook the patties until golden brown on both sides and just cooked through, turning only once, about 6 minutes per side.  Adjust the heat up or down as necessary so as not to overcook -- you want the patties to remain plump and juicy.

IMG_4314 IMG_4314 IMG_4314 IMG_4314 IMG_4314~Step 6.  To melt the cheese on the patties, place one stack of three pieces of mozzarella cheese on top of each sausage patty.  Put a lid on the skillet and wait for the cheese to melt.  This will take 2-4 minutes, depending on how thick the deli-cheese was sliced.  Turn the heat off but keep the lid on the skillet until it's their turn on the slider rolls.

IMG_4306 IMG_4306 IMG_4306 IMG_4306 IMG_4306~Step 7.  On the bottom half of each sliced slider roll, place one piece of the reserved mozzarella cheese.  Spoon a generous tablespoon of warm marinara sauce on top of the cheese.  Top the sauce with one of the warm sausage patties, followed by two roasted red pepper pieces.  Add the top half of each roll and serve sliders while still warm -- ASAP.

Pretty as a picture & tastes even better:

IMG_4345Pick your pizza slider up & give it a gentle squish...

IMG_4361... then proceed to do what you do best: 

IMG_4369Super Sausage-Pizza Sliders on Pizza Dough Rolls:  Recipe yields 12, 3"-round slider-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine (optional); 2, standard-sized muffin pans, enough for 12 muffins/rolls; kitchen scale; wire cooling rack; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" skillet, preferably nonstick; large slotted spoon or spatula; plastic wrap; 3"-round pastry cutter; 12" skillet w/lid, preferably nonstick

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f03571970dCook's Note:  I surely didn't invent the word pizz'alad, but it is catchy. That said, I'd been kind-of making one for years before publications like Eating Well, Bon Appetít and Food and Wine started coining this trendy term to describe a pizza with a salad on top.  Everyone loves a personal-sized pizza, and, for a different,  delicious, not to mention fun twist to "normal" pizza, test your creativity and try your hand at making: ~ Pizz' alads:  Salad Pizza (Pizza w/a Salad on Top) ~.  Be prepared for many accolades! 

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

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

02/06/2018

~Baked-in-Muffin-Tins Slider-Size Pizza-Dough Rolls~

IMG_4148Every sandwich deserves to be served on great bread, so, when I decided to serve these cold submarine sliders alongside my hot and cheesy sausage, mushroom and onion pizza sliders at yesterday's indoor Super Bowl tailgate, I started by making my slider-size pizza-dough rolls.  I've been making these unique rolls, in both slider- and dinner-roll size for several years now. They're chewy and light on the inside with plenty of crusty exterior, and, once folks get a taste of one, "why didn't I think of that", and, "this is amazing", are statements I hear a lot.

Pizza-dough dinner- or slider-size rolls...

IMG_4127"Why didn't I think of that?", &, "These are amazing!"

IMG_4136The inspiration for these came when my mother mentioned that my Sicilian-style pizza dough would make great bread or dinner rolls. My first reaction was to laugh, but, after thinking about it a bit, I decided it was worth giving the idea a try -- "nothing ventured, nothing gained", as mom always said.  Thing is, when I baked them freeform on a flat pan, while they were good, they simply were not as light on the inside.  The muffin tin corrected that, in that, the shape of a muffin cup, with its steep, gently-sloped sides seriously promoted their rising and developing beautifully-domed tops. (Dinner roll-size on left/slider-size on right.)

The shape of a muffin cup, with its steep, gently-sloped sides promotes rising & a beautifully-domed top.

I use my favorite herby Sicilian-style pizza dough recipe, and, I typically put some herbs in my dough even when I'm making a basic tomato-sauce and mozzarella-cheese pizza.  That said, there are many types of pizza dough.  Feel free to use your own favorite recipe, it should work (no guarantees though) as long as it is Sicilian-style, but please add the herbs to it -- it's the flavored dough that makes these rolls amazing.  If you'd like to try my recipe, you can make my dough via conventional hand mixing and kneading, you can make it via a stand mixer or a food processor, or, you can do what I currently do:  allow the bread machine to do most of the work for me, which simplifies the process considerably -- and yields 1 dozen, amazing, 3"-round slider rolls.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c88f4822970bFor the dough:

3/4  cups warm water

1  tablespoon olive oil

2 1/4  cups all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon each:  garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend and coarse-grind black pepper

1 1/8 teaspoon yeast granules

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin tins

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7cda6a1970bStep 1.  To prepare the dough, place all ingredients in pan of bread machine in the order listed, except for the yeast.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation ("a well") on top of the dry ingredients, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer.  Place the yeast into the indentation.  Insert the pan into the bread machine, plug the machine 6a0120a8551282970b01bb0872017a970din, press the "Select" button, choose the "Pizza Dough" cycle, then press "Start". In 55 minutes, you will have 1 pound, 1 ounce of dough.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1579a17970cStep 2. Using lightly-oiled fingertips, IMG_4096remove dough from pan.  Dough will be slightly sticky, yet very manageable.

IMG_4021 IMG_4021 IMG_4021 IMG_4021 IMG_4021 IMG_4021~Step 3. Spray insides of 12, standard-sized muffin cups with no-stick spray. Remove dough from bread pan.  Divide dough into 12, slightly less than 1 1/2-ounce pieces (1 3/8-ounces each is great).  The best way to do this is with a kitchen scale.   In between the palms of hands, form each piece of dough into a ball, placing one in each muffin. Cover the pan(s) with a lint-free cotton towel and allow dough to rise for 30 minutes.

IMG_4116 IMG_4116 IMG_4116~Step 4.  Uncover the pans and bake rolls on center rack of preheated 350° oven, 10-12 minutes, or until lightly-browned and hollow sounding when tapped with the knuckle of index finger.  Do not overcook these rolls. Italian bread is rarely deep-golden in color.  Remove from oven and place pans on a wire cooling rack. Cool rolls in pans 2-3 minutes prior to removing them from pans to wire rack cool completely.

Provolone, salami, pepperoni, turkey, onion, tomato & lettuce:

IMG_4139Put a lid on it & stick a pick in it:

IMG_4153Pick it up & gently squeeze it all together:

IMG_4155The best submarine slider pretty much anywhere:

IMG_4159Baked-in-Muffin-Tins Slider-Sized Pizza-Dough Buns:  Recipe yields 1 dozen slider-sized pizza-dough rolls.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine (optional); 2, standard-sized muffin pans, enough for 12 muffins/rolls; kitchen scale; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2197a72970cCook's Note:  I surely didn't invent the word pizz'alad, but it is catchy. That said, I'd been kind-of making one for years before publications like Eating Well, Bon Appetít and Food and Wine started coining this trendy term to describe a pizza with a salad on top.  Everyone loves a personal-sized pizza, and, for a different,  delicious, not to mention fun twist to "normal" pizza, test your creativity and try your hand at making: ~ Pizz' alads:  Salad Pizza (Pizza w/a Salad on Top) ~.  Be prepared for many accolades! 

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

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

02/04/2018

~ Herbed, Muffin-Tin-Baked Yeast-Bread Dinner Rolls ~

IMG_4062Be prepared to expand your waistband.  If you're a person who sits down to dinner and likes to dip your rustic bread in a side of tangy tomato-based pasta sauce or savory American-style gravy, these muffin-tin-baked personal-sized dinner rolls are better than any slice of rustic bread any day of the week. This (my) bread-machine-mixed dough bakes up chewy and light on the inside with plenty of crusty exterior.  Put a basket of these on your dinner table and let the dipping begin.

When a slightly-adjusted Sicilian-style pizza-dough recipe...

IMG_4043... turns into a dozen Italian-bread-style dinner rolls.

The inspiration for these came when my mother mentioned that my Sicilian-style pizza dough would make great bread or dinner rolls.  My first reaction was to laugh, but, after thinking about it, I decided it was worth giving the idea a try -- "nothing ventured, nothing gained", as mom always said.  Thing is, when I baked them freeform on a flat pan, while they were good, they simply were not as light on the inside.  The muffin tin corrected that, in that, the shape of a muffin cup, with its steep, gently-sloped sides seriously promoted their rising and developing beautifully-domed tops.

I use my favorite herby Sicilian-style pizza dough recipe, and, I typically put some herbs in my dough even when I'm making a basic tomato-sauce and mozzarella-cheese pizza.  That said, there are many types of pizza dough.  Feel free to use your own favorite recipe, it should work (no guarantees though) as long as it is Sicilian-style, but please add the herbs to it -- it's the flavored dough that makes these rolls amazing.  If you'd like to try my recipe, you can make my dough via conventional hand mixing and kneading, you can make it via a stand mixer or a food processor, or, you can do what I currently do:  allow the bread machine to do most of the work for me, which simplifies the process considerably -- and yields 1 dozen, amazing, 3"-round dinner rolls.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c94cc92e970bFor the dough:

1 1/2  cups warm water

2  tablespoons olive oil

4 1/2  cups all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon each:  garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend and coarse-grind black pepper

1  packet granulated dry yeast

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin tins

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d7360e970cStep 1.  To prepare the dough, place all ingredients in pan of bread machine in the order listed, except for the yeast.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation ("a well") on top of the dry ingredients, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer.  Place the yeast into the indentation.  Insert the pan into the bread machine, plug the machine in, 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d73637970cselect the "Pizza Dough" cycle, then press "Start". You will have 2 pounds, 2-ounces of bread dough, ready to use, in 55 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c94cc98c970bStep 2. Using lightly-oiled fingertips, 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7cdae2f970bremove dough from pan.  Dough will be sticky, yet very manageable.

IMG_4021 IMG_4021 IMG_4021~Step 3. Spray insides of 12, standard-sized muffin cups with no-stick spray. Remove dough from bread pan.  Divide dough into 12, slightly less than 3-ounce pieces (2 7/8-ounces each is great).  The best way to do this is with a kitchen scale.   Form each piece of dough into a ball, placing one in each muffin cup. Cover the pan(s) with a lint-free cotton towel and allow dough a short rise, in pans, for 15 minutes.

IMG_4031 IMG_4031 IMG_4031~Step 4.  Uncover the pans and bake rolls on center rack of preheated 350° oven, 20-22 minutes, or until lightly-browned and hollow sounding when tapped with the knuckle of index finger.  Do not overcook these rolls. Italian bread is rarely deep-golden in color.  Remove from oven and place pans on a wire cooling rack. Cool rolls in pans 5-6 minutes prior to removing them from pans to wire rack cool completely.

Serve hot, warm, at room temperature or reheated.

IMG_4043Pull one apart, let the dipping begin...

IMG_4051... & be prepared to expand your waistband!

IMG_4067Herbed, Muffin-Tin-Baked Yeast-Bread Dinner Rolls:  Recipe yields 1 dozen, 3"-round muffin-shaped dinner rolls.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine (optional); 2, standard-sized muffin pans, enough for 12 muffins/rolls; kitchen scale; wire cooling rack

IMG_4153 IMG_4136Cook's Note: If it's a slider-sub you prefer, by making the dough balls half-sized, you can easily make ~ Baked-in-Muffin-Tins Slider-Size Pizza-Dough Rolls ~.  

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

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

02/02/2018

~ An Apple-a-Day & Granola Too, Breakfast for Two ~

IMG_3977If you're not too lazy to peel and slice one apple in the AM, and if you keep a bag of granola in your pantry, a steaming-hot, flavorful and filling breakfast is five-minutes from your fingertips. What I like about this "what I cook for me" recipe is:  everything.  As a kid, I loved stewed apples -- somewhere in between apple pie filling and chunky applesauce, they are less sweet with a less thickened, au natural, taste and texture.  My mother made stewed apples to serve with her pork roast for dinner, but, she'd always set a small bowl aside -- to stir into my morning oatmeal.

While not my mom's old-fashioned oatmeal w/stewed apples...

IMG_3983... it's just as yummy in a faster-food busy-day-breakfast way.

When I was growing up, granola, the kind we buy in our grocery stores nowadays, didn't exist -- ok, it might have existed but no one was marketing it.  Had it been available to me as a kid, I'd have been pouring milk on it, as, for my taste, dry granola, like all dried cereals, no matter how healthy they tout themselves, is not something I sit and snack on -- thank goodness because both are loaded with calories -- up to 250 per 1/2 cup serving.  In fact, the only thing I buy granola for is to make this small-portion, seriously-filling 5-minute-to-make microwave hot-breakfast.

IMG_4015 IMG_39431  6-ounce apple, peeled and cut into 1/4"-thick slices

12  tablespoons Quaker cinnamon-apple-walnut granola, 6 tablespoons per bowl

12  tablespoons whole milk, 6 tablespoons per bowl

2  6-ounce cereal bowls

IMG_3946 IMG_3946 IMG_3946~ Step 1.  Peel, core and cut the apple into slightly-less-than 1/4"-thick slices. Divide the apples between 2, 6-ounce cereal bowls.

IMG_3955 IMG_3955 IMG_3955~ Step 2.  Place the granola on top of the apples, 6 tablespoons in each bowl.  Add the milk, 6 tablespoons in each bowl.

IMG_3967 IMG_3967 IMG_3967~ Step 3.  Cover the bowls so steam cannot escape.  I love these little silicone bowl covers.  Place in microwave on high power for 1 minute, 45 seconds.  The steam that builds up from the cooking apples and milk will soften the granola to a yummy consistency.  Remove from microwave, uncover the bowls and give each portion a thorough stir -- the volume will drop as soon as the steamed cereal hits the hot milk. 

Full of flavor, texture & stick-to-your-ribs happiness...

IMG_3997... a little bowl goes a long way to curb your enthusiasm...

IMG_4003... for the junk-food snacks for the rest of the day.

IMG_4008An Apple-a-Day & Granola Too, Breakfast for Two:  Recipe yields 2 small but hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; 2, small 6-ounce bowls; 2, 4"-round, heat-proof, microwave-safe silicon bowl/cup covers (optional but helpful)

IMG_2731Cook's Note:  I've always liked and started my day with some fruit, in some capacity, in the morning.  For one of my favorite breakfast sandwiches, sans the egg, check out my recipe for ~ Sausage, Apple & Herbed-Brie Breakfast Burgers ~.  I like to go eggless once in a while -- it's a woman's prerogative.

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

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

01/31/2018

~ Low & Slow-Cooked Crockpot-Casserole Meatloaf ~

IMG_3915Meatloaf cooked in the crockpot -- it's not crock-our-world crocket science.  Busy home cooks have been using Betty Crocker's method for slow-cooking meatloaf for decades.  Having been a stay-at-home-mom all my life, I've always cooked my mom's all-beef meatloaf in the traditional manner, by popping it into a 350° oven for about an hour, but, having tasted the crockpot-cooked versions of relatives and friends, I can report:  they're quite good.  For the most part, there's no discernible difference between a crockpot-cooked meatloaf vs. an oven-baked meatloaf.

That said, when it comes to catering to a crowd for a casual get-together, like at an indoor at-home tailgate or a make-and-take church-supper potluck, meatloaf doesn't up-front pop into the average cook's head as an option (at least not into my head) -- the machinations of making multiple meatloaves, freeform or otherwise, gets complicated and sloppy.  Those days are over.  

Crockpot-casserole meatloaf to feed a crowd?  

IMG_3896You betcha & it works great -- 16-20 hearty servings great.

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 wondered if it might be possible to make one large, flattish meatloaf (amounting to three of my traditional meat loaves), and, slice and serve it, like a sheet cake, right out of the crock -- to feed a crowd.  It worked great.

IMG_74774 1/2-5  pounds lean or extra-lean ground beef (85/15 or 90/10)

3  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

6  ounces saltine crackers (1 1/2 sleeves of crackers from a 1-pound box), crumbled by hand into small bits and pieces, not processed to crumbs.

1 1/2  cups milk

4 1/2  tablespoons salted butter

2 1/4  cups small-diced yellow or sweet onion

2 1/4  cups small-diced celery

3/4  cup dried parsley leaves

3  .13-ounce packets G. Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand so I can duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's available at many local grocery stores and on-line.)

2 1/4  teaspoons salt

2 1/4  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing crockpot casserole

IMG_7478 IMG_7478 IMG_7478 IMG_7478~Step 1.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl.  Using a fork, lightly beat the eggs and add them to the meat.  Using your hands (it's the most efficient way), thoroughly combine the two.

IMG_7491 IMG_7491 IMG_7491 IMG_7491 IMG_7511~Step 2.  Using your fingertips, crush the crackers into small bits and pieces, letting them fall into a medium mixing bowl as you work. Add the milk and stir to combine. Set aside about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the crackers to absorb all of the milk.  The mixture will be thick and pasty.  Add the cracker mixture to the beef/egg mixture, and once again, using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_7507 IMG_7507 IMG_7507 IMG_7507 IMG_7507 IMG_7507~Step 3.  In a 12" skillet melt butter over low heat. Add the diced onion and celery along with the G.Washington's Seasoning, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium- medium-high and sauté until both onion and celery are nicely softened, 4-5 minutes.  Stir in the parsley, remove from heat and allow to cool for 30 full minutes.  Add the cool but still-a-little warm vegetable mixture to the meat.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_3143 IMG_3143 IMG_3143 IMG_3143 IMG_3896 IMG_3896~Step 4.  Spray the inside of the casserole crock with no-stick cooking spray.  Scoop the raw meatloaf mixture into the crock, and, using your hands, pat and press it flat, into the crock.  Place the lid on the top and cook on low for 5 hours.  Lift the lid.  The meatloaf will have shrunk back from the sides of the crock and be slightly-domed through to the center.  Using a pair of oven mitts or pot holders, lift the crock from the crockpot and tilt, to drain and discard the excess fatty liquid from the crock.   (A meat baster can be used to remove the liquid if lifting the hot crock scares you.)  Slice and serve, like you would a sheet cake, or, return crock to crockpot cover and keep warm for up to 1 hour prior to slicing and serving.

Think inside the box & dare to be square:

IMG_3904Make one huge meatloaf that feeds a crowd.

IMG_3914Put this in your crockpot-casserole recipe book and cook it! 

IMG_3927Low & Slow-Cooked Crockpot-Casserole Meatloaf:  Recipe yields 16-20 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  fork; 2-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; nonstick spoon or spatula; Crockpot casserole crock

IMG_3221IMG_3175Cook's Note: For another one of my recipes featuring Crockpot's casserole crock, check out my recipe for ~ Bone-Suckin' Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare-Ribs ~. I used two casserole crocks as vehicles for baby-back ribs (trimmed to fit into their bottoms), to slow-cook three huge racks, evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

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

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

01/29/2018

~ Open Sesame: Japanese Teriyaki Steak Skewers ~

IMG_3837Place a platter of these appetizers on the cocktail table and I'll bet they disappear before bets can be taken on how long it will take them to disappear.  Put a platter of them on the dinner table alongside a fresh vegetable stir-fry and some steamed white rice, and, when served as a family-friendly dinner, they won't last any longer.  A bottle of teriyaki sauce has been a staple condiment in my pantry for as long as I've had a pantry, standing right next to the elites:  Heinz ketchup, French's mustard, Hellman's mayonnaise and Lee & Perrin's worcestershire sauce.  That said, teriyaki sauce is seriously simple to make, and, it can be customized to suit your taste.

Served as a tailgate appetizer or a family-friendly dinner...

IMG_3864... it's impossible to make too many teriyaki skewers.

6a0120a8551282970b019104cecf48970cTeriyaki (tehr-uh-yah-kee):  Teriyaki is a Japanese term referring to a method of cooking beef, chicken or seafood that has been marinated (in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic and/or ginger) prior to being grilled, broiled or stir-fried. "Teri" is the Japanese word for "luster", and it is the sugar in the marinade that gives the food its "teri" or shiny glaze.  It's interesting to note that in Japan, there is no official teriyaki sauce.  Teriyaki sauce was invented by the early Japanese settlers to the islands of Hawaii.  They created:  

IMG_3870A slightly-sweet nicely-thickened marinade/basting sauce using local, readily-available, easy-to-acquire Hawaiian products.  For example: pineapple juice (in place of the mirin or sake of their homeland) and wild garlic (in conjuction with ginger they brought with them), mixed with soy sauce and thickened with cornstarch.  The subject at hand (beef, chicken or seafood) is marinated for a minimum of 30 minutes, longer for a more pronounced flavor, then cooled. Because teriyaki sauce is sweet, a portion of the marinade is typically reserved to use as a dipping sauce when the dish is served.

Cook on an outdoor grill, grill pan, or, under a broiler...

IMG_3800... my foolproof preference is a grill pan on the stovetop.

IMG_3723For the teriyaki sauce:

1  cup tamari soy sauce or soy sauce

1  cup mirin (a cooking wine made from rice) or sake (sometimes thought of as beer because it's made from grain, but classified as a wine)

1/2 cup white or brown sugar or honey

2  tablespoons each: garlic and ginger garlic paste

8  teaspoons cornstarch or potato starch

8  teaspoons cold water

6a0120a8551282970b0148c7a5f446970cStep 1.  In a small bowl, whisk together the cold water and cornstarch until smooth.

Step 2.  In a 1-quart saucepan, stir together the tamari or soy sauce, mirin or sake, and, white or brown sugar or honey.  Add the garlic and ginger. Bring to a steady simmer over medium heat and cook about 1 minute.  Whisk cornstarch mixture into the sauce and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is drizzly but slightly-thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and use as directed in recipe.  

To use as a marinade:  Cool teriyaki sauce to room temperature, or chill, prior to using as a marinade.  Keep any unused marinade, the stuff not used as a marinade for raw protein, stored in a tightly-covered container in the refrigerator for several weeks.  Any marinade used as a marinade must be reheated and simmered for 3-5 minutes prior to refrigerating and reusing.

IMG_3726For the flank steak skewers:

3  total cups teriyaki sauce, from above recipe, 3 cups for marinating steak, and, to be reheated to use as dipping sauce

2 pounds flank steak, sliced across  grain into 1/4"-thick strips

30-36  8" wooden skewers

lightly-toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

scallion tops, for garnish

IMG_3729 IMG_3729 IMG_3729 IMG_3729 IMG_3746~Step 1.  Place the whole flank steak, flat, on a large cutting board. Using a large chef's knife held at a 30º angle, cut the meat, across the grain, into 1/4" inch-thick slices.  

~ Step 2.  One-at-a-time, thread each slice of steak onto a 10" long wooden skewer, to within 3" of the top of each skewer, which will serve as a handle for easily flipping the meat over on the grill pan.

IMG_3749 IMG_3749 IMG_3749~ Step 3.  Pictured here are 2, plastic, 1-quart food storage containers.  I got them for free, with the granola I purchase at the grocery store.  My kitchen is never without a stack of them.  With the containers laying on their sides, arrange the meat skewers inside each one, stacking the skewers on top of one another. Turn the containers upright, then, slowly drizzle all of the marinade between the two, 1 1/2 cups marinade in each container.  Place in the refrigerator to marinate the meat for 2-4-6 hours.

IMG_3771 IMG_3771 IMG_3771 IMG_3771 IMG_3771 IMG_3771~Step 4.  When the beef is finished marinating, pour the marinade from the containers into a 1-1 1/2-quart saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and continue to simmer gently for 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

IMG_3769 IMG_3769 IMG_3769 IMG_3769 IMG_3769 IMG_3808 IMG_3808~Step 5.  Spray a large two-burner-sized grill pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Place the pan on stovetop, over two burners, over medium-high heat.  Place the skewers, side-by-side, and cook until sizzling and lightly-golden, turning only once, 3-3 1/2 minutes per side.  Serve hot, warm or room temperature.

Plate, garnish & serve hot, warm or at room temperature:

IMG_3825There's no need for me try to sell you on how good these are:

IMG_3877Open Sesame:  Japanese Teriyaki Steak Skewers:  Recipe yields 3 cups teriyaki sauce and 30-36 teriyaki-steak skewers.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; 1-quart saucepan; small whisk; cutting board; chef's knife; 30-36, 8" long wooden skewers; 2, 1-quart food storage containers, the reusable kind left from store-bought granola and various snacks;  large, 2-burner-sized grill pan placed on the stovetop 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c86dc1e7970bCook's Note: Here in my Pennsylvania kitchen, my family prefers their teriyaki steak threaded onto skewers and cooked on the grill or grill pan.  When it comes to their teriyaki chicken, they prefer it presented stir-fry style.  Click on this link to get my recipe for ~ Dinner's in 20 Minutes:  Teriyaki Chicken ~.

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

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

01/26/2018

~ Deli Corned Beef on Swirl with Sauerkraut & Swiss ~

IMG_3673The Reuben sandwich.  I crave one once or twice a year.  And when I do, I don't waste time baking homemade rye bread, slow-cooking corned beef, long-simmering sauerkraut, or, whisking salad dressing.  I don't try to save time by ordering delivery or take out either -- I don't live anywhere close to a NY-style deli that can begin to make this sandwich the way I like it.  I take the 10-minute drive to the grocery store, pick up the ingredients and pass through the express checkout.  Store-bought everything is fine.  In about 45-minutes, including the drive time, I am eating my sandwich -- heaped with thin folds of meat and sloppy with sauerkraut, gooey cheese and creamy dressing on butter-crisped bread -- and I don't end up with a lot of leftover anything.  

When it comes to the combination of complex, briney flavors people expect on a Reuben, it's best to stick to simple, straight-forward, and most-importantly:  familiar.

IMG_3700The classic Reuben sandwich consists of rye bread, Swiss cheese, thinly sliced/shaved corned beef, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. The Rachel sandwich is a variation that substitutes pastrami for the corned beef, and, Thousand-Island-dressed-coleslaw for the sauerkraut and Russian dressing. Someone, somewhere, decided turkey would be a viable substitute for corned beef or pastrami when making a Rachel, so, if turkey is your thing, order your Rachel that way.

6a0120a8551282970b015391ee84b6970bAs you know, I usually like to do a little research about the history of the recipes I share with you.  I thought the story behind the classic Reuben would be interesting and straight-forward: Most likely named after someone named Reuben who accidentally put some sauerkraut on a corned beef sandwich and made history.  I was wrong. Official claim to the name of this sandwich has been in dispute for 90+ years. In my opinion, two claims seem to have some share in its name, but I lean towards Claim to Fame #1. You be your own judge and jury:

Claim to Fame #1:  Reuben Kulakofsky, a Lithuanian grocer from Omaha created a sandwich consisting of corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut on Russian rye bread for his poker buddies.  From 1920-1935, "the committee" as they called themselves, played weekly poker at The Blackstone Hotel.  The hotel's owner, Charles Schimmel was a member of the group. Schimmel put the sandwich on the hotel's lunch menu and named if after its creator, "Reuben". In 1956, Fern Snider, a former waitress at the Blackstone entered "The Reuben" in a national sandwich competition and she won.  I, for one, am grateful to Fern for doing that.

Claim to Fame #2:  Arnold Reuben, a German owner of Reuben's Delicatessen in New York City, invented the "Reuben's Special" in 1914. Late one night, a leading lady and close friend of Charlie Chaplin came into the deli and said, "Reuben, please make me a huge sandwich.  I'm so hungry I could eat a brick." The sandwich he presented to her consisted of:  rye bread, Virginia ham, roast turkey, Swiss cheese, cole slaw and his own house-made Russian dressing.  Upon tasting it, the lady said, "Reuben, this is the best sandwich I ever ate.  You should call it the Annette Seelos Special."  Reuben replied, "The hell I will, I'm calling it the Reuben's Special".

IMG_3592A bit about sauerkraut:  Although sauerkraut (German for "sour cabbage") is thought of as a German invention, Chinese laborers building The Great Wall of China over 2,000 years ago ate it as standard fare.  Chinese sauerkraut, made from shredded cabbage fermented in rice wine, eventually found its way to Europe, where the Germans and Alsatians adopted it as a favorite staple. Today's sauerkraut is made in the same manner: by combining shredded cabbage, salt and some spices, then allowing the mixture to ferment.  It is packaged in jars and cans and is found in almost every supermarket.  The best sauerkraut is sold by the pound in delicatessens, as well as in the refrigerated section of grocery stores, where it is packaged in plastic bags.  All sauerkraut should be rinsed in cold water before being served as a side-dish, being cooked in casseroles, or, topping sandwiches.

IMG_3628For each deli-style sandwich:

2  slices Pepperidge Farm swirl bread (rye and pumpernickel)

2  tablespoons salted butter

4 ounces shredded Danish Havarti cheese, or Swiss cheese

6  ounces thin-sliced corned beef

4  ounces sauerkraut 

4  teaspoons Russian dressing

IMG_3608For 1 pound (2 cups) sauerkraut:

1  pound deli-style sauerkraut

1/2  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

4 tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick butter)

1/2  teaspoon caraway seeds

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_3596For 1 1/2 cups "Russian" Dressing:

IMG_3599Note: Thousand Island and Russian dressings are similar, with Russian being more ketchup-y. Here's my store-bought way to make Russian:

3/4  cup Thousand Island Dressing, your favorite brand

1/2  cup Heinz chili sauce

IMG_3602Stir the dressing and chili sauce together and set aside while preparing sauerkraut and sandwiches.  Refrigerate leftovers.

IMG_3610 IMG_3610 IMG_3610 IMG_3610 IMG_3610 IMG_3610~Step 1.  Place the sauerkraut in a colander. Thoroughly rinse it under cold water.  Allow it to drain for about 5 minutes.  In a large skillet, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in the caraway seeds, sea salt and black pepper pepper.  Add the diced onion.  Adjust heat to sauté for 3 minutes.  Add the sauerkraut, give the mixture a thorough stir, and continue to sauté, stirring frequently for 6 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Note:  Technically, once  taken out of the package, drained, and rinsed, sauerkraut is fully-cooked and ready to eat.  That said, it's awesome when briefly sautéed with some butter, onion and seasonings.  Skip this step and use it "as is', right out of the colander if that is your preference. 

IMG_3632 IMG_3632 IMG_3632 IMG_3632 IMG_3632 IMG_3632~Step 2.  Cut two slices of bread in half to form 4 pieces.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over low heat.    Add bread to the skillet and increase heat to medium-high, to gently fry, until slices are lightly golden on both sides, 45-60 seconds per side.  Transfer the lightly-toasted bread to a paper towel lined plate. 

IMG_3651 IMG_3651 IMG_3651 IMG_3651 IMG_3651 IMG_3651~Step 3.  Top two of the halves with 2 ounces grated cheese, followed by 3 ounces corned beef, followed by 2 ounces sauerkraut.  Place the untopped halves on top of each to form sandwich halves.  Place on an appropriately-sized baking pan that has been lined with parchment, or, a disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom).  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven or toaster oven, until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 4 minutes.  Remove from oven, lift the top slice of bread from each half sandwich and drizzle with Russian dressing.  Serve immediately with pickles and potato chips.

Lift up the lids (tops) & drizzle w/Russian dressing:

IMG_3694Indulge in crunchy, cheesy, meaty, briny brilliance:

IMG_3718Deli Corned Beef on Swirl with Sauerkraut & Swiss:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups Russian dressing, 2 cups sauerkraut, and, instructions to make as many Reuben sandwiches as you want to make.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; spoon; colander; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides, or large skillet; large spoon; hand-held box grater; 10" nonstick skillet; paper towels; kitchen scale (optional but helpful); appropriately-sized baking pan; parchment paper or toaster-oven sized disposable aluminum broiler pan

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d26416b1970c-800wiCook's Note: I put my ~ Pretty in Pink:  Thousand Island Dressing ~ on deli-style and my own oven-roasted chicken and turkey sandwiches all the time.  To use it in a Rachel Sandwich made with turkey or pastrami, simply use it to dress a bag of store-bought coleslaw mix -- it's truly yummy.

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

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

01/24/2018

~ Hatch Green Chile Chili with Pork and White Beans ~

IMG_3562Having traveled to Mexico and New Mexico, I've eaten green chili a few times -- twice "as is", out of a bowl with tortilla chips, and once, burrito-style (wrapped up in a flour tortilla with avocado, scallion, cilantro and crema).  It was excellent -- different, but excellent.  That said, each time I ate it, I secretly wished there were beans in it -- and maybe a little jalapeño Jack cheese added to the latter one too.  Today's the big day.  White beans are going into my green chili and I can't wait. In many regions of Mexico and New Mexico I'd be cast out on the streets for this, but, within the confines of my Pennsylvania kitchen, I am the chili-verde-with-pork-and-beans-queen.

IMG_3530Native to Northern Mexico, chili verde (green chili) is a green-colored, slow-simmered, broth-based stew made with pork butt, green chile peppers, onions and a variety of herbs and spices. For a citrusy tang, lime juice is typically squeezed over each portion just prior to serving, and, other versions include tomatillos too, for a more pronounced tang, and, a deeper, more complex flavor.  No two cooks make it the same way, so, don't fall prey to recipes claiming to be authentic. 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09b92ca1970dMexican and New-Mexico-style red chili recipes use red ingredients: red chiles or red chile powder and/or red tomatoes. Their green chili recipes use green ingredients:  green chiles or green hatch chiles and tomatillos.  A common misconception is:  green chili is mild and red chili is hot.  Not true.  Both range from mild-and-soothing to knock-your-socks-off hot.

In New Mexico chile peppers grow in abundance everywhere.  It's believed they were brought to NM, from Central America, by the Spanish, in the 1500's.  The most common New Mexican chile is long, narrow and picked while green and is mostly grown from much-coveted heirloom seeds.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9160141970b"New Mexico chiles" can be from anywhere in New Mexico, and, when buying any green or red NM chiles, they're usually offered up as mild, medium, hot, or extra hot, meaning:  not as a specific variety. That said, the Hatch chile is from Hatch, a small village in the southern part of the state, and, while it's not a variety of chile pepper, both inside and outside the state of New Mexico, it's sold as a "Hatch chile". It's become so popular that every Labor Day weekend, Hatch, known as the Chile Capital of the World, hosts the Hatch Chile Festival, which draws more than 30,000 people each year.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9148dda970b"Tomatillo", also called "tomate verde", means "husk tomato" with "verde" meaning "green" in Spanish. The tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family, which, while related to the red tomato family, and remarkably similar in appearance to the green tomato, cannot be used interchangeably with green tomatoes.  It's a staple in every Tex-Mex gardener's garden.  The fruit of the tomatillo is green and relatively small compared to red tomatoes (about the size of a large, cherry tomato).  They grow to maturity inside of an inedible husk (which gets disgarded), and, range in color from pale green to  light brown.  The tomatillo is a staple in Mexican ethnic cuisine.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d29f5e01970cThat said, here in Happy Valley, fresh tomatillos are sometimes hard to find, and, even when I find them, it's always a bit of a hassle to ask the produce manager if I can peel back the husks to insure the fruit is firm (not squishy) and ripe (green).  

In case you don't know, always look for tomatillos that have filled their husks or broken through their husks (photo to right) -- no matter their size, this means they're fully mature. Avoid tomatillos that look withered or dried out (see photo below).

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c91511a8970bOnce you get them home, remove the husks and rinse the tomatillos off (because they will be sticky), then use them as directed (which typically requires simmering or broiling as the first step) and/or store in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life.  That said, high quality canned tomatillos are a staple in my pantry. They've already been simmered until soft -- all I have to do is thoroughly drain them. Speaking in approximations, I've deduced:

one 28-ounce can = 2 pounds fresh

6a0120a8551282970b01a73de6d7cf970d"Pork butt" or "Boston butt", is a bone-in cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the "pork shoulder" from the front leg of the hog. Smoked or barbecued, Boston butt is a southern tradition.  This cut of meat got its name in pre-Revolutionary War New England:

6a0120a8551282970b01a511db8178970cButchers in Boston left the blade bone in this inexpensive cut of pork shoulder then packed and stored the meat in casks called "butts". They sold the pork shoulders individually to their customers, and, when they got popular, they began shipping "the butts" Southward and throughout the Colonies.  Simply stated:  the way the hog shoulder was butchered, combined with "the butt" they arrived in, evolved into the name "Boston butt".

Today's the day.  White beans are going into my green chili.

IMG_33971  bone-in Boston butt pork roast, about 7-8 pounds total

1/4  cup corn oil

2  ounces restaurant-style tortilla chips, crushed to crumbs (a generous 1/2 cup)

1  tablespoon sea salt, total throughout recipe, 2 teaspoons for seasoning pork cubes and 1 teaspoon for seasoning veggies

5  cups medium-diced yellow or sweet onion

3  cups medium-diced green bell peppers

2  tablespoons ground cumin

1  tablespoon dried Mexican oregano

1  tablespoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon ground jalapeño pepper

1  cup fine-chopped fresh cilantro

1  28-ounce can tomatillos, drained of excess liquid without "squishing" the moisture out of the soft tomatillos

1  16-ounce jar Santa Fe Seasons Hatch Green Chile, hot or mild

3  cups chicken stock

1  40-ounce can great northern beans, undrained

IMG_3371 IMG_3371 IMG_3371 IMG_3371 IMG_3371 IMG_3371 IMG_3371~Step 1.  Remove pork butt from packaging.  Trim off bottom fat layer. Starting at the bone-free-end, cut it into 3/4"-1"-thick steaks, then, cut each steak into 1"-1 1/4" chunks.  When you get to the bone-in-end, do your best to cut around the bone, once again, cutting the meat into 1"-1 1/4" chunks.  As you work, discard any chunks that are almost all fat.  When finished, there will be 4+ pounds of trimmed, nicely-marbled pork butt.  The goal is to have well-marbled pieces, not, fat-laden chunks.

IMG_3411 IMG_3411 IMG_3411 IMG_3411 IMG_3411 IMG_3411~Step 2.  Place and heat the 1/4 cup oil in a 14" chef's pan over medium-high heat.  Add the pork cubes and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons of the sea salt.  Adjust heat to sauté, using a large spatula to stir frequently, until meat is lightly-browned on all sides, and almost no liquid remains in bottom of pan, about 18-20-22 minutes.  Turn the heat off. Using a large slotted spoon or spatula, transfer meat to a large bowl and briefly set aside. 

IMG_3453 IMG_3453 IMG_3453 IMG_3453 IMG_3453~Step 3.  Immediately after transferring the meat to a large bowl, use a kitchen scale to weigh 2-ounces of restaurant-style tortilla chips and place them in a ziplock bag.  Using a small rolling pin, crush the chips to crumbs.  Add the chip crumbs to the meat in the bowl.  Using a large spoon, stir to evenly coat the meat in the crumbs.  Set aside.

IMG_3437 IMG_3437 IMG_3437 IMG_3437~Step 4.  Reheat the drippings remaining in the pan over low heat.  Add the onions, bell peppers and dry spices (cumin, Mexican oregano, garlic powder, jalapeño pepper and remaining 1 teaspoon sea salt).  Using a large spoon, stir to coat the veggies in the spices, adjust heat to medium and cook, stirring almost constantly, until vegetables are softened, 5-6 minutes.

IMG_3472 IMG_3472 IMG_3472 IMG_3472 IMG_3472 IMG_3472 IMG_3472 IMG_3472~Step 5.  Add and stir in the chip-coated meat cubes, followed by the cilantro, Hatch chiles, tomatillos, beans and stock, stirring after each addition.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer.

IMG_3500 IMG_3500 IMG_3500 IMG_3500~Step 6.  Partially cover the pan and simmer gently for 2-2 1/2 hours, stopping to stir occasionally every 10-15 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pan and allow to steep for 2-2 1/2 hours, to allow the flavors to marry, prior to serving, or, refrigerate overnight prior to gently reheating on the stovetop and serving the next day.  As it is with all chili recipes, overnight is awesome.

Topped w/lime, green onion tops, cilantro, avocado & crema:

IMG_3537It's easy being green:

IMG_3589Hatch Green Chile Chili with Pork and White Beans:  Recipe yields 4 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 14", 7-quart, chef's pan w/straight deep sides & lid; spatula; large slotted spoon; kitchen scale; 1-gallon ziplock bag; small rolling pin

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a01348970cCook's Note: Like recipes for chili verde, enchiladas are a Tex-Mex specialty that taste a bit different everywhere you eat them too.  In a Mexican-American restaurant or in the home kitchen, they are lightly-fried corn or flour tortillas that have been dipped in a roasted Hatch green chile and tomatillo-based sauce.  The word "enchilada" comes from the Spanish word "enchilar" which means "to add chile pepper to".  To learn more, read my recipe ~ New-Mexico-Style Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas ~.

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

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

01/21/2018

~ Happy Valley PA's Pop's Mexi-Hots Hot Dog Sauce ~

IMG_3352Yesterday was a big day.  During a stop at Meyer's Dairy, I got my first taste of a Pop's Mexi-Hot hot dog, complete with Pop's ground-beef-based and chili-powder-laced sauce, ballpark mustard and diced onion.  Considering what I always tell my friends, "I was a hot dog in a past life", I can't believe I've lived in Happy Valley forty-two years and never tried one.  What I knew about State College's iconic Pop's Mexi-Hots yesterday was zero.  Today, after the fact, it's a different story.

IMG_3370Mexi-Hots is a Pennsylvania, registered, fictitiously-named business, originally filed on February 4, 1948 (the company will celebrate it 70th birthday on February 4th, 2018).  The filing status is active.  The company's principal address, originally on the the corner of College Avenue and Pugh Street in downtown State College and owned by the Carelas family, is currently located at 2390 South Atherton Street -- Pop's Mexi-Hots are now made by and sold at Meyer's Dairy.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0a57be4970cMeet Meyer Dairy.  Founded in 1970 by two  brothers and located just four short miles from my kitchen door, I have been buying milk and ice cream from these folks since the day I moved to Happy Valley in 1974.  Joseph Meyer, the owner explains, "We're farmers, so we produce our own milk.  We put in a drop tank to bring it up from the farm to process and bottle it in our shop."  Over the years they added many varieties of ice-cream, and the flavors change daily. Besides one of their generous cones of the creamy-dreamy stuff, there's plenty of room to sit down and enjoy a Mexi-Hot or a hamburger too.  They sell lots of other local and PA based products too:  grilled stickies from The College Diner, apple butter from the Lions Club and Middleswarth potato chips.

After pondering, calculating, weighing, measuring & testing...

IMG_3324... I believe the force was with me & I couldn't be more pleased.

IMG_3299 IMG_3299My copycat version evolved by combining two vintage recipes (given to me by girlfriends Elaine and Karen), in conjunction with taste testing my experiments alongside Meyer's Mexi-Hots in my kitchen (I brought a six-pack home with me yesterday).  Many vintage recipes claim to be the original -- the two shared with me were no exception. That said, even if a recipe is indeed the original (few are handed out freely and most go rogue via disgruntled ex-chefs or former employees), the rightful-owner of the original will almost never confirm it, and, the point is not worth argument. Their standard retort is, "the secret ingredient is missing".  I can tell you with certainty:  my version is pretty damned close.  Dang close.

IMG_3251

2 1/2  pounds lean ground beef

1  quart water

1/4  cup white vinegar

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

1  pound yellow or sweet onion, cut into 1"-1 1/2" chunks (about 2, medium-large onions)

1/2  pound celery, cut into 1"-1 1/2" chunks (about 5 large ribs)

8  ounces green bell pepper, white rib sections removed and cut into 1"-1 1/2" chunks (about 2 large green bell peppers)

1  tablespoon paprika

6  tablespoons chili powder

1  tablespoon celery salt

2  tablespoons salt

1  tablespoon black pepper

IMG_3253 IMG_3253 IMG_3253~ Step 1.  Let's get crazy over with first.  Place the ground meat in a large bowl and add 1-quart of water and 1/4 cup white vinegar.  Using your hands, squish this all together until a soupy, unappetizing, mess-of-a-mixture forms.  As strange, weird and appalling as this will seem, "back in the day" this was the common treatment for ground meat used in long-simmered, slow-simmered chili-type sauces (and various soup recipes too) -- it kept the texture of the beef soft and steamy, and, the bits of meat separate (as opposed to quickly sautéing it which yields a drier, chunkier, lumpier mixture).

IMG_3261 IMG_3261 IMG_3261 IMG_3261 IMG_3261~Step 2.  In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot, place the vegetable oil.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with the steel blade, place the chunked onions.  Using a series of 18-20 rapid on-off pulses mince the onion. Transfer the minced onion to the stockpot.  Add celery and green pepper to processor.  Using a series of 18-20 rapid on-off pulses, mince the celery and bell pepper together.  Transfer them to the stockpot with the minced onion.  

Note:  The alternative is to take the time to mince (mince -- not fine-dice) the vegetables by hand, transferring them to the stockpot as you work.  The food processor is a huge time-saver.

IMG_3280 IMG_3280 IMG_3280 IMG_3280 IMG_3280 IMG_3280 IMG_3280 IMG_3280~Step 3.  Over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, sweat the vegetables until steaming and soft, 5-6 minutes.  Add and stir in the spices (the paprika, chili powder, celery salt, sea salt and black pepper).  Cook for 1 minute.  Add the soupy meat.  Bring to a rapid simmer, reduce heat to a gentle, steady simmer, then, continue to cook, stirring every 10-15 minutes, for 2 hours.  For best results, place the pot in the refrigerator overnight.  Reheat prior to serving or freezing.

Would you like a side of mac 'n cheese with that?

IMG_3358Scrumptious right down to the last Mexi-hot bite:

IMG_3362Happy Valley PA's Pop's Mexi-Hots Hot Dog Sauce:  Recipe yields a generous 2-quarts/8+ cups Pop's Mexi-Hot hot dog sauce w/each 1 cup being enough to sauce 6-8 hot dogs.

Special Equipment List:  4-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor (optional); 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot w/lid; large spoon

Texas Chili Dogs #2 (4 Dogs Exit Picture)Cook's Note: In the 1950's, 60's and 70's my hometown of Tamaqua had two hot spots to eat hot dogs:  The Texas Lunch and The Coney Island. Trust me when I tell you, Texas-style chili sauce for hot dogs and Mexi-hot-style chili sauce for hot dogs, while similar in appearance, are two entirely different products.  To learn more, and get my recipe, click here:  ~ Mel's Texas-Style Chili Sauce & Texas Chili Dogs ~.

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

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

01/18/2018

~ Bone-Suckin' Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare-Ribs ~

IMG_3221The machinations of making ribs in a slow cooker never seemed right to me -- kind of 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 the Super Bowl coming up in a few short weeks, I couldn't wait to plug them in for their maiden voyages 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_3115 IMG_3115 IMG_3115 IMG_3134 IMG_3134~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. Lightly sprinkle each section, top and bottom, with your favorite seasoning blend or rub.  See Cook's Note at the end of this post for my favorite brand.

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.  As I expected, four of the largest sections and five of the smallest sections, fit snugly and nicely between the two crocks respectively.  Nicely done.

IMG_3161 IMG_3161 IMG_3161 IMG_3161 IMG_3183 IMG_3183~Step 3.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle 3/4 cup your favorite barbecue sauce over the tops of the ribs. Cover the 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 easily 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 in the next step.

IMG_3193 IMG_3193 IMG_3193 IMG_3193 IMG_3193 IMG_3193~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.  Open crockpot and remove the ribs, arranging them slightly apart on the baking pan.  Using a large pastry brush generously slather the the tops with additional barbecue sauce.  Finish ribs off under the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and just starting to to show signs of light browning.  Watch carefully.  All barbecue sauces contain some form of sugar, which can and will go from lightly-browned to burned quickly.

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

IMG_3220... or slice 'em & serve 'em as appetizers (w/plenty of napkins):

IMG_3242Bone-Suckin' 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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0be333d970cCook's Note:  Tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, honey, molasses, mustard, horseradish, lemon juice, onions, garlic, peppers, natural hickory smoked flavor, natural spices, salt and xanthan gum.  It's the xanthan gum, which they used in place of cornstarch as a thickener, that makes it gluten-free and keeps it a transparent light-red color.  Bone Suckin' Sauce hails from Raleigh, NC, and, is the brainchild of Phil Ford. Back in 1987, Phil was trying to copy his mother's recipe for a western North Carolina-style barbecue sauce.  His creation was so delicious his sister-in-law, Sandi Ford, convinced Phil to partner with her and her husband to sell it. It was coined "bone suckin' " because it made Sandi suck on the rib bones to get every last bit of flavor from them -- as it does to all of us.

IMG_3126Extra Cook's Note:  Bone Suckin' Sauce and Bone Suckin' Seasoning and Rub -- together.  Oh.  My.  Sigh.

My pantry nor I would never be caught without this dynamic duo in it -- I buy the sauce by the case.  My family would simply disown me. Created to go together, they're an addictive, well-balanced blend of sweet-savory BBQ perfection -- both are bright, fresh and crisp with a hint of smokey flavor.  For sprinkling and rubbing to dipping, drizzling, slathering, or basting, there isn't anything, from A-Z in the world of barbecue, they're not fantastic on.

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

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

01/15/2018

~ Say Cheese Please: Making Perfect Welsh Rarebit ~

IMG_3073Welsh rarebit -- the original cheese toast.  It's worth mention that I've only eaten what I believe to be the real-deal once.  It was in the latter 1990's, in Wales, in the exquisite Coed-Y-Mwstwr Hotel (coy-dee-moo-ster).   It came to me as a complimentary side to a lovely salad (which I ordered after returning from shopping in the city of Cardiff).  The cheese toast, along with everything else in this hotel, was perfect.  I kicked off my high-heels and enjoyed it in my lavish room, overlooking the How-Green-was-My-Valley countryside, with a very English G&T too.

I gave cheese toast a lot more thought after that trip.  

IMG_3077Welsh rarebit or rabbit = molten cheese on toast. 

Welsh rarebit (pronounced rabbit) is a traditional British dish made by ladling a thickened, sometimes roux-based, cheese sauce over crustless, thick-sliced ever-so-slightly-toasted bread, then quickly broiling the two until the sauce is bubbling and barely-light-golden.  Basic rarebit sauce is made by melting a hard English cheese (like cheddar, gloucester, cheshire or lancashire) with cayenne pepper, English mustard, a splash of Worcestershire sauce, milk and beer.  Another, easier (cheaters) method, it to simply melt sliced cheese atop lightly-toasted bread that has been slathered with mixture of softened butter, mustard, Worcestershire and cayenne pepper. 

Welsh rabbit is the original name, and, the dish is Welsh in origin, dating back to the 1700's.  The Welsh, who are famous for their love of cheese, claim to be among the first to use cheese in various dishes and sauces.  In their food world, the original name, rabbit, was an affectionate way to say, "we prefer eating cheese to eating rabbit".  In their real world, Wales was an impoverished nation and many a Welshman couldn't afford even the cheapest meat.  Others claim the original name, after making its way into English kitchens, was meant to cast aspersions on the Welsh, who were allegedly not adept at catching rabbits -- and "rabbit" changed to "rarebit" spurred by the need for political correctness.  Still others claim the Welsh peasants, who weren't allowed to eat the rabbits caught during the hunts on the estates of the nobles, eating melted cheese and bread as a substitute, named the dish.  Culinary authorities, like Auguste Escoffier, say the spelling was changed from "rabbit" to "rarebit" merely to emphasize it not being a meat dish.

IMG_29932  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons flour

1   teaspoon dry English mustard

1  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2  teaspoon onion salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2  cup milk

1/2  cup beer, your favorite brand 

1 1/4  cups shredded yellow cheddar cheese

1/2"-thick slices brioche-type bread*, preferably my recipe for bread machine brioche

*Note:  Ordinary soft, white sandwich bread will not work in this recipe.  Prior to toasting and broiling, the bread needs to be firm enough to hold the weight of the cheese and not get soggy.

IMG_2995 IMG_2995 IMG_2995~ Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, combine the milk, beer and Worcestershire sauce.  Set aside.  Place the flour in a small bowl and add the dry English mustard, onion salt and cayenne pepper.  Set aside.

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