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My Recipes-of-the-Week are featured here on my Home page. You can find 2000 of my kitchen-tested recipes using the Recipes tab, watch over 125 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

02/18/2020

~ Baked Lemon-Pepper Cod w/Ritz Cracker Topping ~

IMG_9248In New England, baked cod with crunchy Ritz-cracker topping is everywhere.  The first time I tasted this delightful dish was in the restaurant of the Killington Resort's, VT ski slope.  Most eateries, from big city restaurants to small town diners, have it on their menu.  Recipes for this cracker-topped fish-dish don't vary much.  Butter-soaked coarse-crushed Ritz crackers get patted atop fresh cod fillets (or other white fish).  Into the oven they go for 15-20 short minutes.  The dish is so popularly commonplace, many fish markets sell plastic containers of preprepared butter-and-crumb mixture.  The end result gets garnished with some minced parsley and a squirt of fresh lemon juice.  It's super-easy to make and is often described as soul-satisfying comfort-food.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d14796ef970cBecause the fish portions are topped with a healthy-dose of rich, crunchy-buttery cracker crumbs, it doesn't require much in the way of a starchy side-dish. That said, should you want one, my recipe for ~ Fluffy Lemon & Pepper Rice for Fish &/or Seafood ~ does complement it nicely.  I, however, prefer to serve my version of the dish with a side or atop some steam-in-bag green beans along with a dollop of spicy stewed-tomato sauce and a lemon wedge.  Despite the decadent topping, it's flaky, flavorful and refreshingly light.

IMG_9188This main-dish fish-dinner couldn't be easier to prepare.  That said, every cod fillet varies in thickness -- one end is thicker than the other. Once portioned, the thick sections take 1-2 minutes longer to bake than the thin sections.  For this reason, I prepare this dish in individual au gratins rather than in a casserole. This allows me to remove the thinner portions from the oven 1-2 minutes prior to the thicker portions.

Four ingredients & an awesome fish dinner 30-minutes later:

IMG_91896-8  4"-5" cod fillet portions (2, 1-pound cod fillets)

3  dozen Ritz crackers, no substitutions that I'm aware of

6  tablespoons salted butter (Note:  The common ratio is 2 tablespoons melted butter to every 1 dozen crackers.)

lemon-pepper seasoning

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole or au gratin dishes

lemon wedges and parsley sprigs, for garnishes

steamed green beans and stewed tomato sauce, for accompaniments

IMG_9197 IMG_9197 IMG_9197 IMG_9199~Step 1.  Using a few paper towels, pat the fish fillets dry.  Check the fillets for pin bones by running your fingertips along the mid-to-edge of the top surface.  To remove any pin bones, give each one a gentle tug with a pair of needle nose pliers -- they are easy to remove.  Using a large chef's knife, slice each cod fillet into 3-4, 4"-5" portions, for a total of 6-8 servings.

IMG_9203 IMG_9203 IMG_9203~ Step 2.  Arrange fillets in casserole or au gratin dishes that have been sprayed with no-stick. Sprinkle with seasoning.

IMG_9227Tip from Mel:  This works really well.  When you get to the thin portions of the fillet, if you trim and stack them (two thin pieces of fish, one on top of each other) instead of one thin one all by itself) you can achieve the volume of one thick portion and all the fillets will cook at the same time. The presentation will be pretty and the end result won't be compromised.

IMG_9208 IMG_9208 IMG_9208 IMG_9208 IMG_9208~Step 3.  Place the crackers in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Using a small rolling pin, crush them to the size of coarse breadcrumbs.  In a 1-cup measuring container, melt the butter in the microwave.  Pour the butter into the bag of cracker crumbs.  Using your fingertips, massage the bag until butter is evenly incorporated into the still-loose cracker crumbs.

IMG_9225 IMG_9230 IMG_9230 IMG_9230 IMG_9230~Step 4.  Using a 2-tablespoon measure, evenly distribute and pack 3-4 tablespoons crumb mixture atop the fillets.  Bake fillets, uncovered, in preheated 350º oven until just cooked through, 15-17 minutes, keeping in mind that thinner fillets will cook faster than thicker fillets.  Fish will be opaque throughout and will flake easily with a fork.  Serve immediately.

Baked cod fillets will be opaque & flake easily w/a fork:

IMG_9268

Savor this quintessential fish-dish of New England:

IMG_9277Baked Lemon-Pepper Cod w/Ritz Cracker Topping:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; needle nose pliers or tweezers; cutting board; chef's knife; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole or 6-8 individual sized au gratin dishes; 1-gallon food storage bag; small rolling pin; 1-cup measuring container; 2-tablespoon measure

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28064ff970cCook's Note: As a kid, I adored frozen fish sticks and canned stewed tomatoes -- I still do.  That said, as a grownup, I much prefer the taste of a sweet, fresh, white fish fillet paired with a few acidic, fresh tomatoes.  Sometimes I bake them in parchment with thyme and white wine, and sometimes I broil them drizzled with melted butter and a bit of lemon and pepper. Tonight I'm using a method similar to shallow poaching, except:  extra-virgin olive oil is used in place of the traditional liquid.  This recipe is simple enough to serve for a weeknight meal at the kitchen island, and, elegant enough to serve for a fancy-schmancy dinner in the dining room:  ~ Luxurious Cod Bathed in EVOO w/Fresh Tomatoes ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

02/15/2020

~Five EZ All-Purpose Starchy Weeknight Side-Dishes~

IMG_9182Choose from any number of proteins we American cooks make for dinner via various methods on a busy weeknight.  Examples:  roasted chickengrill-panned steaks or pork chops, slow-cooker spareribs, pan-seared ham slices, broiled fish fillets, steamed or poached shellfish, etc.  I refer to these as flash-in-the pan meals because they go from oven or cooktop in relatively short order.  All you need is a side-dish -- a seriously scrumptious all-purpose side-dish.

Rice is nice & potatoes are great.

Rice is nice and potatoes are great.  Rice is nice.  That said, looking at the above example-list of proteins we American cooks make for dinner via various methods on a busy weeknight, for me, there's one or two items that, meh, rice doesn't do it for me.  Potatoes are great.  When it comes to potatoes, I adore them, but, unless it's a microwave-baked potato, potato dishes in general require more machinations than the average person has patience for at the end of a workday. Me?  Lazy?  No, I'm not, but, after a full day of work and housework, peeling potatoes?  Nah.  

Pasta is fine, noodles are perfect & couscous is awesome. 

Pasta is finenoodles are perfect, and couscous is awesome.  Pasta is fine.  That said, once again, looking at the above example-list of proteins we American cooks make for dinner via various methods on a busy weeknight, for me, there's one or two that, meh, pasta doesn't do it for me.  Noodles are perfect.  They cook and drain in short order, and, a few pats of butter plus a spice or three turns them into a side of go-with-almost-anything comfort food at it's best. Couscous is all-to-often overlooked, but, these tiny little grains of semolina pasta literally go from stovetop to table in five short minutes and are the easiest option for all occasions.

Nice & Easy Basic All-Purpose 30-Minute Rice Pilaf:

IMG_9083EZ Small-Batch Quick-Chill Sheet-Pan Potato Salad:

IMG_8878Better than Store-Bought Stovetop Mac & Cheese:

IMG_8987Egg Noodles & Broccoli in Spicy Garlic-Butter Sauce:

IMG_8809Sweet & Savory Spiced Couscous & Golden Raisins

IMG_9156"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

02/12/2020

~Sweet & Savory Spiced Couscous & Golden Raisins~

IMG_9157My pantry always has a container of couscous in it.  Funny thing is, I went from not knowing what the heck it was, to serving it a lot, in a very short period of time.  Living in a large college town is a wonderful thing -- all the specialized markets and eateries reflect its diversity.  Back in the 1980's I walked into a newly-opened Middle Eastern market and walked out with a couscousiere and two boxes of couscous.  That same day, I fell in love with couscous literally, "instantly".

6a0120a8551282970b014e891c5978970dCouscous is often referred to as Moroccan, but this is incorrect.  It is equally a dish of Algeria, Turkey, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, which all claim to be the home of couscous. Couscous, resemblant of and often confused with grain, is actually tiny coarsely-ground semolina pasta. Making and cooking couscous in the traditional manner is a time consuming process. It requires time and patience, 2-3 rounds (2-3 hours) in a special steamer to achieve this. The steamer, called a couscousiere, is similar to a colander placed over a large pot. Simply put, while a thick, hearty stew slow simmers in the large lower pot, the couscous steams on the top.  Perfectly-cooked to-the-tooth (al dente) couscous is light, fluffy and loose-grained, not sticky, gummy or gritty.    

Unless couscous is being served with warm milk as a porridge for breakfast, cold in a salad, or, incorporated into a dessert, it is served underneath the above mentioned stew which contains a meat or poultry, plenty of vegetables, toasted almonds, dates, currants and/or raisins, along with an array of fragrant spices.  Moroccans often add saffron, Algerians like to add tomatoes, and Tunisians spice theirs up with the fiery hot-pepper-based harissa sauc", which is sold in in Middle Eastern markets.  The steamed couscous is heaped onto a common platter with the stew ladled on top of it.  Diners typically use pieces of flatbread to scoop it from the common platter.

IMG_9128Cooking traditional couscous is NOT what I am focusing on here today. For the most part, the couscous sold in our Western supermarkets has been pre-steamed, then dried, and is referred to as instant couscous, and there is no shame in this kind of easy -- especially when it is so versatile and down right delicious.  Unlike its counterpart, it cooks very quickly, in about five short minutes, so be certain to check to make sure this is the product you are purchasing. Just like its counterpart, when properly-cooked instant couscous is very light, fluffy and loose-grained.  

Meet my basic, five-minute recipe for instant couscous: 

IMG_912110  ounces instant couscous (about 2 3/4 cups)

2  cups water

4  tablespoons salted butter

1  tablespoon honey

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1  cup golden raisins

IMG_9122 IMG_9122 IMG_9122~ Step 1.  In a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan bring the water, butter, honey, cinnamon, salt and  raisins to a full boil over high heat.

IMG_9140 IMG_9140 IMG_9140 IMG_9140 IMG_9140 IMG_9151~Step 2.  Gradually add the couscous to the boiling mixture.  Using a large spoon, give the couscous a brief, thorough stir.  Turn heat off. Cover saucepan and allow to sit 5-6 minutes. Uncover.  Using a fork, gently "fluff"  couscous -- gently rake through it to separate the "grains" and incorporate air, which imparts volume.

Try it served w/fried or roasted chicken drizzled w/honey:  

IMG_9164Sweet & Savory Spiced Couscous & Golden Raisins:  Recipe yields 6 cups.

Special Equipment List:  1 1/2-2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; fork

6a0120a8551282970b01538f29344b970bCook's Note: Instant couscous is the cousin to the larger-sized Israeli couscous (pictured here), which is sometimes referred to as pasta pearls.  It is often toasted in a skillet with a bit of EVOO and/or butter to bring up a lovely nutty flavor when cooked.  Israeli couscous is similar in size to the pasta shape called acini di pepe.  While cooked couscous and acini di pepe can be used interchangeably in a lot of applications, do not confuse the two when it comes time to cook them.

Here's why:  While couscous is considered a pasta, pasta is not considered couscous and cannot be cooked like couscous.  Unlike how pasta is prepared (a mixture of semolina and water), couscous is not kneaded, which means the gluten is not released.  So, while pasta requires a lot of boiling water for it to tumble in while cooking and absorbing moisture, couscous does not. Cooking acini de pepe in the same manner as couscous would result in a starchy, sticky product.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)