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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

05/22/2019

~Three Great Tips for Making the Perfect Pasta Salad~

IMG_1685My mom always made pasta salad for Memorial Day.  It was classic 1960's-style -- rotini pasta with some cubed salami, pepperoni and American cheese, sliced black olives, diced onion and tomato dressed with store-bought Wishbone Italian dressing.  It wasn't gourmet, it wasn't even particularly pretty to look at, but, because it was prepared correctly, it was remarkably delicious. Our Memorial Day picnic, at our reserved picnic table, at Lakewood Park in Barnesville, PA, would have been incomplete without the pasta salad.  Mom's light green Tupperware container went in and came out of the cooler several times throughout the day while us kids ran back and forth between the amusement park with its rides and our grassy spot across lane by the pool.

6a0120a8551282970b014e88e6661e970dLakewood Park was an amusement park established in 1916 and was known as a nature retreat.  In its heyday, it boasted a very large wooden coaster and kiddie coaster in addition to the Wild Mouse ride. In fact, the park was broken into two sections with adult rides on one side and children's rides on the other.  It had a long miniature train ride that circled the park, a hand-carved Miller & Baker designed carousel and a 150-yard in-ground cement pool. Its Grand Ballroom was the host of big bands which included The Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, as well as celebrity performers like Dick Clark and Doris Day.  The Theater hosted countless theater companies.  It was a mecca for 68 years and was well-known for its annual Bavarian Beer Festival.  Sadly, it closed during the '80's, but that was well after I had moved to Happy Valley, so my remembrances of it as a bustling, busy, noisy, hot, sticky amusement park are crystal clear and that's how I want them to stay.  Thanks to the Joel Styer collection for this nostalgic postcard peek back in time.

When properly prepared, pasta salad is awesome.  When not properly prepared, pasta salad is awful.  Because an awesome pasta salad is a crowd-pleasing staple during the Spring and Summer, and, because I've tasted my share of awful pasta salad at picnics and potlucks over the years, when I teach a class about outdoor entertaining or tailgating, I try to include a pasta salad recipe in order to share my tips for a fork-friendly, properly dressed, full-flavored, pasta salad with:

A perfect ratio of pasta to add-ins to dressing = perfect pasta salad.

A bit about pasta salad:  It's a dish prepared with one or more types of al dente cooked pasta tossed in a highly-flavored vinegar-, oil-, or mayonnaise-based dressing.  Besides the pasta, almost anything (raw, marinated or cooked via any manner) can be added to pasta salad:  fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, nuts, seeds, and/or herbs (to name a few).  Pasta salad is served chilled as an appetizer, a side-dish or a main course for brunch, lunch or dinner. While it can be served any time of the year, it's particularly popular in the Spring and Summer.

#1)  One pound al dente cooked, drained, rinsed, water-free pasta.

IMG_1670Use fork-friendly, bite-sized pasta shapes that hold dressing.  

One pound fork-friendly, bite-sized pasta.  My favorite is called "Trio Italiano" and is a combination of tubes, spirals and medium shells.  Any one on its own holds the dressing and collects small bits of add-in ingredients exceptionally well, so the choice is yours.  Cook the pasta to al dente, as directed in salted water, about 9-11 minutes.  Drain it into a colander, and, unless the recipe specifically directs to do otherwise, immediately rinse it under cold water.  Pasta that is not rinsed of its starch gets sticky and gummy.  Transfer pasta to a parchment-lined baking pan to cool completely and "dry", meaning, free from water, not dried out, about 30 minutes.

#2)  1 1/2-2 pounds tasty "add-ins" that complement each other.

IMG_1666Even-sized & bite-sized fork-friendly slices or cubes work best.

1 1/2-2 pounds additional "add-in" ingredients + fresh or dried herbs.  Use what you like or have on hand and by all means be creative, but make sure the ingredients go well together. Make one "add-in" ingredient the star of the show, meaning:  Add twice as much of it than other add-ins -- like most folks, I typically choose to do this with a protein (shrimp, tuna, chicken or turkey being my favorites), but, if it's a vegetarian pasta salad, choose one vegetable and allow it to bathe in the limelight.  That said, when adding vegetables like asparagus or carrots and cauliflower and/or broccoli florets, be sure to blanche them in boiling water for 1-3 minutes, then shock them in cold water (to half the cooking process, so they are crunch tender (rather than rock hard).

#3)  1 1/2-2 cups very-very-flavorful dressing.

IMG_1672Add more flavor to the dressing, not more dressing for flavor.

1 1/2-2  cups of very, very flavorful dressing.  There is nothing worse than an under-dressed, almost dry, bland, boring-tasting pasta salad, except for  bland-tasting, over-dressed dripping wet one.  When it comes to dressing for pasta salad, taste it prior to adding it.  If it doesn't pack-a-bunch of flavor, it needs more seasoning -- a bit more seasoning than you think you need.  For perfect pasta salad, for flavor: always add more flavor to the dressing, not more dressing to the salad -- that's how over-dressed pasta salad wrecks occur.  Toss the dressing in, a little at a time, until the ingredients are well-coated and no dressing is puddling in the bottom of the bowl.  Set the dressed salad aside for 15-20 minutes and give it stir.  If it needs more, add it.  Rule of thumb: Right up until serving time, you can't always add more -- you can never remove too much.

Shrimp & Pasta Salad w/Lemon-Garlic Dressing:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a45f0f9d200cGreek Pasta Salad w/Tapenade, Tuna & Tomato:

IMG_1653Amish Honey-Mustard & Pickle-Relish Pasta Salad:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09d0f92c970dThree Great Tips for Making the Perfect Pasta Salad:  Recipe yields approximately 16 cups of pasta salad/ 1 1/2 cups dressing/12, 1 1/2 cup servings. 

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid; cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; misc. other items depending on the recipe

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c877664f970bCook's Note: Did you know that pasta salad could be served as an hors d'oeuvre?  These yummy little appetizer-snacks go to a lot of Summer picnics and a few early Fall tailgates too.  The best way to describe them is individual and portable portions of chop-chop pasta salad, and, most people can't keep their hands off them.  They can contain anything, as long as the ingredients play well together and are chopped into small morsels prior to judiciously drizzling (not drenching), with a cuisine-appropriate dressing just prior to spooning the salad into the shells and serving.  ~ Jumbo Shells Stuffed w/Shrimp Chop-Chop Salad ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019 

05/19/2019

~Mediterranean-Style Olive Tapenade & Feta Omelet~

IMG_1728I declare:  I love briny tapenade in an omelete.  Throw in a few salty crumbles of feta cheese, place it on a bed of bright green baby arugula or baby spinach leaves and garnish with a few diced tomatoes -- what's not to love.  I could eat this savory, meatless delight for breakfast, lunch and dinner -- there's seriously no need for bacon or or sausage with this breakfast.  Toast points go nicely, but, please skip the orange or grapefruit juice -- they're just wrong.  This omelet pairs perfectly with a bloody Mary for breakfast, a glass of white wine for lunch, and, a pilsner of beer for dinner.  Life in this food world with this flavor-packed omelet in it is very, very good.

Meet my favorite big fat Greek-style omelet:

IMG_1735As a bigger fan of fluffy American-style omelettes vs skinny French omelettes, and, as an advocate for savory breakfasts over cloyingly sweet breakfasts, this egg-cellent little number is one of my ideal ways to break the fast -- and, trust me, it tastes every bit as good as it looks.  

Put the coffee on, roll up your sleeves & break an egg.

IMG_1688For the savory Greek-style omelette:

3  extra-large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1/4  cup half and half

15 grinds each: freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

4-6 tablespoons finely-diced red onion 

4-6  tablespoons my recipe for Briny, Garlic & Herbaceous Greek-Olive Tapenade

4-6 tablespoons feta cheese crumbles

1-2  teaspoons salted butter

For the optional accompaniment and garnish:

1  medium handful baby arugula leaves, baby spinach leaves may be substituted

6-8  cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters, quarters cut in half

IMG_1690 IMG_1690 IMG_1690 IMG_1690~Step 1. Crack the extra-large eggs into a 1-cup measuring container and add enough half and half to total 3/4 cups total liquid (about 4 tablespoons).  Add the sea salt, peppercorn blend and diced red onion.  Use a fork to whisk vigorously, until thoroughly combined.

IMG_1699 2 IMG_1699 2 IMG_1699 2 IMG_1699 2 IMG_1706~Step 2. In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Use the fork to briefly rewhisk the egg mixture, then pour it into the warmed skillet. By patiently manually lifting, lowering, and tilting the pan on and off the heat, allow the eggs to set a bit up and around the sloping sides of the skillet -- about 45 seconds over low heat w/no pressure to rush.

IMG_1709 IMG_1709 IMG_1709~Step 3.  Increase heat to medium.  In various spots around the entire perimeter of the skillet, slip a thin spatula under the setting eggs.  In each of those spots use the spatula to lift the eggs up, while, at the same time, tilting the pan in the direction of the spatula to allow the remaining liquid to flow down and into the setting eggs -- about 45 seconds over medium heat w/no pressure to rush.  The surface of the omelette should be semi-moist and glistening with no liquid or little liquid puddling on the top. 

IMG_1714 IMG_1714 IMG_1714 IMG_1714~Step 4.  Decrease the heat to low.  Scatter the tapenade, in a half-moon shape, over half of the omelette, then, scatter the feta on top of the tapenade.  Give cheese about 45 seconds to soften over low heat with no pressure to rush -- feta cheese does not melt like other cheeses. Using a large spatula, lift the empty side of the omelette up and over the cheesy side of the omelette.  

Transfer from skillet to plate & serve w/arugula & diced tomato:

IMG_1724Feel free to cut it in half & share the love (or not):

IMG_1750Meditterranean-Style Olive Tapenade & Feta Omelet:  Recipe yields instruction to make one hearty, Greek-style omelette/1-2 servings.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; fork; cutting board; chef's knife; 8" nonstick skillet; large thin spatula; large wide spatula

IMG_1277Cook's Note: For those who don't know, mustard is more than just a condiment that goes on your hot dogs.  Mustard is to an omelette, what mustard is to macaroni and cheese, potato salad and/or almost any creamy salad dressing one can mention:  A secret ingredient that provides a subtle but uplifting zing to the flavor of the end result. ~ Tangy Mustard- and Chive-Laced Cheese Omelette ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/17/2019

~ Greek Pasta Salad w/Tapenade, Tuna and Tomato ~

IMG_1653Americans cherish the Summer.  The deck chairs come out, the cooler fills with ice, the shorts go on, everyone slides into their flip-flops, and then, spends as much time in the fresh air and sunshine as possible.  Some play sports while others garden, some like to swim while others prefer to sun bathe, but, each and every one loves to eat -- and a forkful of food simply tastes better in the great outdoors.  Here in the Northeast, the land of four seasons, Summer has finally arrived and I'm kicking it off with a refreshing, main-dish pasta salad that is dressed with tapenade.  Relatively speaking, its easy to make, mixes together quickly, and, travels well too.

Perfect for your next All-American Summer holiday or get-together.

IMG_1658A bit about pasta salad:  It's a dish prepared with one or more types of pasta and most often tossed in a vinegar, oil, or mayonnaise based dressing.  Besides pasta, almost anything can be added to pasta salad (raw, marinated or cooked in any manner):  fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, nuts, seeds, and/or herbs (to name a few).  It is usually served chilled as an appetizer or a main course in the Spring or Summertime, but can be enjoyed year-round too.  

"Tapenade" derives from the Provençal word for caper, "tapeno".

IMG_1521Hailing from the Mediterranean and dating back to Roman times, a traditional tapenade contains few ingredients:  black olives, caper berries, anchovies, garlic, olive oil, pepper, an occasional herb and/or a squirt of fresh lemon.  The texture of tapenade is personal, ranging from puréed or pounded to a paste, to finely-minced or slightly chunky. The tools of the trade used to achieve the desired texture range from the ancient mortar and pestle to the ordinary chef's knife and/or the high-tech food processor.  Tapenade should be allowed to rest a few hours prior to serving at room temperature, and, when stored in the refrigerator, the oil will preserve it for up to a month.  

IMG_161412  ounces bite-sized, fork-friendly pasta, cooked al dente as package directs (Note:  Large shells are perfect because they trap and hold all of the ingredients exceptionally well.)

1  cup my recipe for Briny, Garlicy & Herbaceous Greek-Olive Tapenade

1  12-ounce can solid white tuna packed in water, well-drained and broken into fork-friendly bits and pieces (Note:  Because the tapenade contains olive oil, this is a circumstance when tuna packed in water, which I prefer anyway, is preferable.)

3/4-1  cup diced red onion, 3-4 ounces 

3/4-1  ounces feta cheese crumbles, 4-6 ounces

1-1 1/2  cups cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters, 10-12 ounces

IMG_1601 IMG_1601 IMG_1601 IMG_1601~Step 1.  In a 4-quart stockpot bring 3 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.  Add 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Sprinkle in the pasta, adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until pasta is al dente, about 9-11 minutes.  Immediately drain pasta into a colander and run cold water through it until it is cooled to the touch. Transfer pasta to a baking pan lined with parchment paper.  Set aside to "dry", about 30-45 minutes, meaning: free from almost all of the water, not dried out.

IMG_1618 IMG_1618 IMG_1618 IMG_1627 IMG_1627 IMG_1627 IMG_1627 IMG_1627~Step 2.  Transfer cooked, drained, cold and dry pasta to a large bowl.  Add, and using a large rubber spatula, fold in the tapenade.  Allow to rest about 5-10 minutes to let the pasta soak in some of the briny olive flavor.  Fold in the tuna and onions, followed by the feta cheese.  If serving immediately, stir in the tomatoes too, but, if serving later, stir them in just prior to serving.

Note:  This pasta salad is full-flavored and perfectly-dressed (because my tapenade is homemade, I know it contains a nice amount of olive oil).  That said, in the event you are substituting store-bought tapenade, it may need a bit more dressing -- simply toss in 2-4 tablespoons olive oil, or 2-4 tablespoons store-bought Greek-style salad dressing.

Serve chilled w/beer or white wine for brunch, lunch or dinner: 

IMG_1644Greek Pasta Salad w/Tapenade, Tuna and Tomato:  Recipe yields 3 pounds deli-style pasta salad/2 quarts/8 cups/6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart stockpot; colander; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula

IMG_1588Cook's Note:  When I make tapenade, I make enough to last because I use it in several ways.  It's fantastic is place of tomatoes on a ~ Bacon, Lettuce, Tapenade & Chicken Club Sandwich ~ for lunch, and, in or on a French-style cheese omelette for breakfast too.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melaie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)