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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


~Eight Delightfully Delicious Rice-a-Roni Dinner Ideas~

IMG_0296Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat, was a savvy entrepreneur's son's take on rice pilaf.  Italian born immigrant Domenico (Charlie) DeDomenico moved to California in 1895 to open a fresh produce store.  After becoming a successful businessman, he married Maria Ferrigno, an immigrant from Salerno, Italy, where her family owned a pasta factory.  In 1912, Maria persuaded Charlie to set up a similar business in the Mission District of San Francisco.  Gragnano Products, Inc., was born and began delivering pasta to Italian restaurants and stores throughout the area.

Maria and Charlie's sons, Paskey, Vince, Tom and Anthony worked in the family business, and, in 1934, Paskey changed the name to the Golden Grain Macaroni Company. Tom's wife Lois fell in love with a pilaf recipe she received from an Armenian immigrant, Mrs. Pailadzo Captanian, which she served at a family gathering.  After tasting the unique pilaf, which was made by sautéing a combination rice and pasta in butter before adding chicken broth and seasonings, Vince went to work developing a new product.  In 1958, his creation, named Rice-a-Roni, was introduced to the NW United States as "The San Francisco Treat".  Four years later, in 1962, it went nationwide.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a5229337200bComing up with copycat recipes for three flavors of made-at-home Rice-a-Roni (chicken, beef and Spanish-style) made for a fun few days.  Truth told, I love developing copycat recipes -- I'm good at it too. From sea to shining sea, as items we've come to take for granted disappear from our store shelves, many have reached out to express appreciation for these recipes. There's more.  Many have reached out to request more copycat recipes. ~ Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix & My Copycat Recipe ~  is one example.

~ Spicy Creole-Style Shrimp and Rice-a-Jamba Roni ~

IMG_0911~ Cajun-Style Chicken, Sausage & Rice-a-Jamba Roni ~

IMG_1009~ Oh-My-Goodness-Good Retro Rice-a-Burger Roni ~

IMG_1156~ Homestyle Chicken and Vegetable Rice-a-Roni Pilaf ~

IMG_1459~ Oh My Long Grain & Wild Rice-a-Roni Turkey Dinner ~

IMG_2205~ Mexican-Style Rice-a-Roni and Chorizo Meatballs ~

IMG_1873~ Easy Chinese-Style Pork-Fried Rice-a-Roni Stir-Fry ~

IMG_1365~ Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings & Rice-a-Roni Bowls ~

IMG_2469"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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


~ Slightly-Spicy Garlic-Butter and Herb Penne Pasta ~

IMG_2363In terms of the easiest-to-make, nicely-spiced, full-of-flavor pasta dish that serves as a foil for almost any Italian-American entrée that contains or is gonna get sauced with red gravy, this is it -- chicken, veal or eggplant Parmesan and chicken cacciatore are off-the-top-of-my-head examples. While you might be temped to toss some Parmesan cheese into this at the end, I don't recommend it.  Trust me, not everything tastes better with cheese riddled through it.  Save the cheese to top the dish in its entirety (even when serving it as a side-dish or eating by itself).

Penne for your thoughts?

IMG_2357Penne is short, tube-shaped fork-friendly durum-wheat pasta shape that originated in Campania, a region in Southern Italy.  Next to spaghetti, it's one of, if not the, most well-known and popular shapes. In Italian circles, it's sometimes referred to as mostaccioli, which references an Italian dish that features this shape.  Dishes made with penne frequently show up on restaurant menus at Italian eateries, especially here in the USA -- we Americans and Italian-Americans have a bone fide love affair with it. The name "penne" comes from the word "pen", which resemble the angled ends of the tip of a quill pen.

Everything tastes better with fork-friendly penne!

IMG_23281  pound penne pasta

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning water for pasta

8 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick, cut into 8-12 pieces)

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, slightly more or less, for heat

IMG_2334 IMG_2334 IMG_2334 IMG_2334~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot, bring 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon salt, followed by the penne.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until pasta is al dente, about 10-11 minutes.  Turn heat off and remove pot from heat.  

IMG_2346 IMG_2346 IMG_2346 IMG_2346~Step 2.  Drain pasta into a colander and immediately return the steaming hot pasta to the still hot stockpot and place the pot back on the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter pieces, garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend and red pepper flakes.  Using a large spoon stir until butter has melted and pasta is enrobed in a flavorful garlic-butter and herb sauce.  Plate and serve immediately. 

Try it w/my Crockpot Hunter's-Style Chicken-Thigh Cacciatore:

IMG_2392Slightly-Spicy Garlic-Butter and Herb Penny Pasta:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart stockpot; colander; cutting board; paring knife; large spoon; microplane grater

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4e50139200dCook's Note: Choose from any number of proteins we make for dinner.  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. Try my ~ Egg Noodles & Broccoli in Spicy Garlic-Butter Sauce ~.

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

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


~ Crockpot Hunter's-Style Chicken-Thigh Cacciatore ~

IMG_2392In the style of the hunter, aka the catcher.  Traditional cacciatore was a thick, rustic stew prepared primarily when the hunter bought home "white meat" to feed his family -- partridges, pheasants or rabbits.  In Italian, the word "cacciatore" means "hunter", and, the term "alla cacciatore" means "in the style of the hunter".  The Italian-American term infers a chicken stew prepared with mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, olives, herbs and red wine. It's pretty easy to imagine how the dish transitioned from game birds and rabbits in Italy to chicken here in America.

Traditional cacciatore is prepared on the stovetop.

Cacciatore is a slow-cooked stew that's traditionally prepared on the stovetop -- the culinary term is "stovetop-braised".  It starts by heating some olive oil in a large skillet.  The "white meat" (I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs) gets dusted with salt, pepper and flour, sautéed until golden brown on both sides, then removed from the skillet.  The pan gets deglazed with the red wine and the flavorful juices are used to sauté the earthy vegetables.  After that, the chicken is returned to the pan, tomatoes are added, and the mixture gently simmers, low and slow, for 1 1/2-2+ hours.

Chicken cacciatore, essentially a slow-cooked stovetop stew, as it turns out, is a delightful dish to cook in the crockpot too.

Because cacciatore is essentially a slow-cooked stew, it is a dish that adapts very well to the crockpot.  That said, for the best flavor, texture and presentation, begin by browning the chicken thighs in some oil in a skillet on the stovetop before putting them in the crockpot.  Past that, all the ingredients, as listed below, just get layered on top of the browned chicken.  The crockpot gets turned to high, and four hours later:  Luscious, succulent chicken thighs swimming in a thick, rich, divinely-seasoned vegetable-laced sauce are ready to serve atop of bed garlic-butter pasta. 

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 12 large chicken thighs, to slowly cook in sauce, evenly and in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

IMG_2279To brown the chicken and sausage:

12  large boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1  pound country-style breakfast sausage links

Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauce and gravy, for dusting chicken thighs

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for seasoning chicken thighs

4-6  tablespoons olive oil, for browning chicken thighs

1/2  cup inexpensive port wine, for deglazing pan

For the vegetable additions:

1  cup diced onion

1  cup peeled and diced carrot

1  cup diced red bell pepper

1  4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, well-drained

1  4-ounce can sliced black olives, well-drained

For the sauce and spices:

1  6-ounce can tomato paste

1  tablespoon Italian seasoning blend

2  teaspoons dehydrated minced garlic

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 1/2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241~Step 1.  Place the chicken thighs, as is (meaning do not unroll them), smooth sides up, on a plate or platter.  Lightly dust their tops with flour, following by a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend. Set aside. Place 4-6 tablespoons olive oil, enough to coat bottom, in a 12" skillet.  Add the sausage links. Over medium-high heat, brown the sausage, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Remove the sausage links from the skillet and set aside.

IMG_2245 IMG_2245 IMG_2245 IMG_2245 IMG_2257~Step 2.  Add the chicken thighs, smooth flour-dusted sides down, to the hot skillet.  Dust the undersides of thighs with flour and lightly-season with sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Adjust heat to sauté, until chicken is golden on both sides, turning only once, about 15-20 minutes (8-10 minutes per side.  While the chicken is sautéing, quickly slice the sausage links into 1/2"-thick coins.  Using a pair of tongs, remove the thighs from the skillet and arrange them, in a single layer, in bottom of crockpot.  Scatter the sausage coins over the chicken.

IMG_2261 IMG_2261 IMG_2261~ Step 3.  Add the wine to the drippings in the skillet. Over medium-high heat, use a large spoon or spatula to deglaze the pan by scraping the stirring to loosen the browned bits from the bottom, cooking and stirring for about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and pour the mixture over the chicken and sausage in crockpot.

IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2295 IMG_2295 IMG_2295~Step 4.  Scatter the vegetables, the diced onions, carrots, red bell peppers over the chicken thighs and sausage, followed by the well-drained sliced mushrooms and black olives.  Dollop the tomato paste atop the vegetables, followed by the seasonings and the crushed tomatoes.  Using the back of a large spoon and a light touch, spread  crushed tomatoes to the edges of the crock.

IMG_2304 IMG_2304 IMG_2311 IMG_2317 IMG_2317~Step 5.  Cover the crockpot and cook on high for 4 hours.  Remove the lid from Crockpot casserole.  Using a large slotted spoon, gently remove the chicken thighs to a large plate or platter, allowing excess sauce to drizzle back into crock.  Give the sauce a thorough stir.  Portion and serve chicken and a ladle-full of sauce atop garlic-butter and herb pasta.

Serve sauced atop garlic-butter and herb penne pasta:

IMG_2412Crockpot Hunter's Style Chicken-Thigh Cacciatore:  Recipe yields 12 chicken thighs/6 servings and 2 quarts of sauce.

Special Equipment List: 12" nonstick skillet; tongs; cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon or spatula; vegetable peeler; large slotted spoon; ladle

IMG_2363Cook's Note:  To make my slightly-spicy garlic-butter and herb penne pasta:  Over high heat, cook 1 pound penne as package directs, to al dente. Drain thoroughly and return hot pasta to hot stockpot on still warm stovetop. Add 8 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick, cut into pieces), 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend3/4 teaspoon sea salt, and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Stir until butter has melted and pasta is coated.

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

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


~Oh My Long Grain & Wild Rice-a-Roni Turkey Dinner~

IMG_2205As a creature of habit, Sunday is my day to roast something -- sometimes it's a long and lean eye-of-round beef roast, others times it's one or two plump roasting chickens or the biggest whole turkey breast I can find.  Oddly, this "roast du jour" is rarely our Sunday dinner.  I do it to have on hand to round-out a quick-to-make weeknight dinner or two, or to slice and eat in place of deli-meat in weekday sandwiches.  Today I'm talkin' winner-winner flash-in-the-pan turkey dinner.

Let's talk winner-winner flash-in-the-pan turkey dinner.

IMG_2223A box or three of Uncle Ben's long-grain & wild rice mix was a staple in my mom's pantry and I've carried on the tradition with Rice-a-Roni's version.  It and its seasoning packet combine to make a quick side-dish that generically (without additions) pairs well with almost anything (beef, poultry or pork).  By adding a vegetable or two to the mix during the last few minutes of the cooking process, it can be turned into a deliciously-easy one-skillet meal -- in less than 30 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a5229337200bIn the case of this long-grain & wild Rice-a-Roni turkey dinner dinner recipe, I'm not posting one of my copycat recipes for Rice-a-Roni, meaning,  I'm using the boxed mix and seasoning packet just as they are.  By simply adding several on-hand kitchen-, pantry- and freezer-staple vegetable additions. It's these additions that turn this boxed mix into an absolutely-delightful super-easy-to-make one-skillet dinner: one cup each of diced celery, onion and apple, a can of sliced mushrooms, and a bag of frozen sweet potatoes.

IMG_2131Oven-Braising a Whole Turkey Breast couldn't be easier. Oven-braising is a cooking method that combines moist and dry heat.  The process starts on the stovetop (in a Dutch oven), where it is seared in fat or oil, to seal in the juices (in the case of an oven-braised turkey breast, there is no need for this cumbersome task). The vessel of food is then placed, tightly covered, at a high, low, or combination of high and low heat, to braise in the moist heat created inside the vessel.

Long grain & wild rice + apples, celery, onion, mushrooms & sweet potatoes -- what a sweet and savory combination. 

IMG_2168For the Long-Grain & Rice-a-Roni Turkey dinner:

3  tablespoons salted butter

2  4.3-ounce boxes Long Grain & Wild Rice-a-Roni Rice + seasoning packets

1 1/2  cups peeled and diced apple

1  cup diced onion

1  cup diced celery

3 1/3  cups water, which includes 1/2 cup liquid from 1, 4-ounce can sliced mushrooms (from below), 3 1/2 total cups liquid

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon poultry seasoning

1  4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, well-drained

1  9-ounce bag brown-sugar-seasoned steam-in-bag sweet potatoes, steamed according to package directions

1  oven-braised turkey breast, sliced

homemade or store-bought turkey gravy, your favorite brand, warmed, for dipping or drizzling, for accompaniment

applesauce sauce, for accompaniment

IMG_2173 IMG_2173 IMG_2173 IMG_2173~Step 1. Over low heat, melt the butter in bottom of pan.  Prepare the long-grain and wild Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, starting by stirring the long-grain and white rice into the melted butter, while stirring constantly for about 1 minute until mixture is foamy.  Stir in the diced apple, celery and onions and cook about 1 more minute, again, stirring constantly.

IMG_2185 IMG_2185 IMG_2185Step 2. Slowly add the water to pan --  steam will billow up, so, be careful. Add the seasonings (the packet from the box, plus the 1 teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning).  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, 1-2 minutes.  Adjust heat to a simmer gently.

IMG_2191 IMG_2191 IMG_2191 IMG_2191~Step 3. Cover pan and adjust heat to gently simmer until rices are cooked through and have absorbed almost all liquid, 25-30 minutes.  Do not uncover pan during this time.  Add sweet potatoes and mushrooms.  Cover and let residual heat to heat sweet potatoes and mushrooms, about 5 minutes.  Uncover and gently stir potatoes and mushrooms into rice mixture.

Good enough to put on anyone's table for dinner:

IMG_2209Oh My Long Grain & Wild Rice-a-Roni Turkey Dinner:  Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon; 2-cup measuring container

6a0120a8551282970b0240a500475e200d 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c92e1f14970bCook's Note: Everyone and anyone who cooks has an opinion on roasting chicken, and, mine is quite basic.  Two chickens, two hours. Read all about:  This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken. For a variation on the same Rice-a-Roni theme, try my recipe for ~ Homestyle Chicken and Vegetable Rice-a-Roni Pilaf ~.

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

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