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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

04/17/2019

~ An All-Purpose Mexican-Style Soup or Soup Base ~

IMG_0788 2My kitchen is no different than anyone elses.  The cuisine we're in the mood changes from day to day -- Asian, French, Greek, Indian, Italian, Jamaican or Texican (to name a few of our favorites). For the past few days, we've been hungry for Tex-Mex, and, like all of our other favorites, having an all-purpose marinade, a seasoning blend or two, along with a sauce for dipping or drizzling, suited specifically to this South-of-the-border flavor profile, makes meal prep easy, not to mention creative and fun.  Trust me, any way you cook it, every dish prepared in the home kitchen doesn't have to be authentic, classic, or traditional.  It just has to look and taste great.

To make my all-purpose Mexican-style soup or soup base:

IMG_06522  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil

1  tablespoon fajita seasoning, homemade or store-bought (Note:  Fajita seasoning is the perfect all-purpose seasoning blend for this all-purpose Mexican-soup or soup base.  After all, its purpose is to season beef or chicken and all the yummy vegetables that typically season fajitas -- the all same ingredients included in this recipe.)

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

2  large cloves garlic, run through a press

1 1/2-2  cups peeled and sliced or diced carrots

1  cup diced celery

2  quarts chicken stock

1  quart beef stock

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

1/2-3/4-ounce bouquet garni of cilantro

1/2-1  teaspoon sea salt, to taste (optional) (Note:  Depending on the amount of salt in the fajita seasoning, which varies from recipe to recipe and manufacturer to manufacturer, it may or may not be necessary to add additional salt to the soup stock.)

IMG_0656 IMG_0656 IMG_0656~ Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the achiote oil and fajita seasoning.  Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the vegetables in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666~Step 2.  Add the chicken stock, beef stock, fire-roasted tomatoes, and cilantro.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer and cook until carrots are soft, about 20 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep for 1-2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.  Overnight is best.

A tasty foil for many a Mexican-style soup meal. 

IMG_0763Add another veggie or two (we like black beans and corn)...

IMG_0769... perhaps some cooked & shredded chicken or beef too...

IMG_0771... & maybe some deep-fried corn tortilla wisps for garnish:

IMG_0779Try my Sopa de Albóndigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup):

IMG_0734An All-Purpose Mexican-Style Soup or Soup Base:  Recipe yields 4 quarts soup/soup base.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; vegetable peeler; kitchen-safe twine; 8-quart wide-bottomed stock pot w/lid; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c807903f970bCook's Note:  When I use my crockpot, it's not because I have no time to cook, it's because what I'm letting it cook for me, without compromise, is really good.  It's no secret, I've never been a crockpot kinda gal, but, over the past few years I've mellowed.  For one of our family's favorite Tex-Mex-style soups, try ~ Easy-Does-It: Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup ~.  Using pantry staples, this recipe takes almost no time to put in the crock and tastes reminiscent of a tasty trip South of the border.

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

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

04/15/2019

~ Sopa de Albóndigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup) ~

IMG_0734Soup with meatballs swimming in it -- it's common in almost all cultures, and, there is a common reason for it too.  In the history of food, and throughout all the documented ages, meat was for the wealthy.  In spite of that, savvy cooks minced or ground unwanted scraps or lesser cuts of meat and combined them with inexpensive binders like breadcrumbs or rice, a liquid or egg, plus some common-to-the cuisine seasonings.  They are to be commended for developing great-tasting meatball recipes which allowed the poorer classes to partake in a diet richer in protein.

IMG_0697Albóndigas = meatballs, in Spanish.  Albunduq = hazelnut or small, in Arabic. 

In the case of this soup, albóndigas is the Spanish word for meatballs, and, this now-deemed Mexican soup meal traces its roots back to the sixth century, when Islamic influence dominated Southwestern Europe.  In the thirteenth century (700 years later), Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquered these Muslim-occupied territories, and, over time, Islamic culinary traditions naturally integrated into the Spanish-style of eating.  After that, albóndigas soup made its way to Mexico via the conquistadors.  I mention this informative trail of historical breadcrumbs because, at first glance, some might question one or two ingredients that don't fit the presupposed profile for Spanish and/or Mexican cuisine -- I know, I questioned it the first time I made this soup.

Hazelnut-sized Spanish meatballs contain a protein + rice & egg (to bind) & mint.

The earliest of recipes used lamb, along with rice and mint to make the meatballs.  In Spain, lamb transitioned to beef, pork or chicken.  In Mexico, beef, chicken and/or chorizo became the predominant proteins. In the language of any cuisine, this is easy to understand as ingredients are always dependent upon the geography and climate of the region.  That said, while the proteins changed with the landscape, two constants remained in the making of albóndigas: rice and mint. Imagine small, minty meatballs swimming around in a light but nicely-seasoned chicken broth, with colorful orange carrots, red tomatoes and a green vegetable (green beans, peas or spinach are common), or, black beans and sweet corn kernels (what I like to use).

For my nicely-seasoned & easy-to-make Mexican-style soup base:

IMG_0652For the Mexican-style soup base:

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

1  tablespoon fajita seasoning, homemade or store-bought (Note:  Fajita seasoning is the perfect all-purpose seasoning blend for sopa de albóndigas and for seasoning the albóndigas too. After all, its purpose is to season beef or chicken and all the yummy vegetables that typically season fajitas -- all the same ingredients included in this recipe.)

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

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1 1/2-2  cups peeled and sliced or diced carrots

1  cup diced celery

2  quarts chicken stock 

1  quart beef stock 

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

1/2-3/4-ounce bouquet garni of cilantro

1/2-1  teaspoon sea salt, to taste (optional) (Note:  Depending on the amount of salt in the fajita seasoning, which varies from recipe to recipe and manufacturer to manufacturer, it may or may not be necessary to add additional salt to the soup stock.)

IMG_0656 IMG_0656 IMG_0656~ Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the achiote oil and fajita seasoning.  Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the vegetables in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666~Step 2.  Add the chicken stock, beef stock, fire-roasted tomatoes, and cilantro.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer and cook until carrots are soft, about 20 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep for 1-2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.  Overnight is best.

For my spice-is-right Mexican chorizo & ground beef meatballs: 

IMG_0701For the Mexican-style mini-meatballs:

1/2  pound chorizo sausage

1/2  pound 85% lean ground beef

2  teaspoons fajita seasoning, homemade or store-bought

2  teaspoons dried mint leaves

6  tablespoons uncooked long-grain white rice

1  large egg, raw

IMG_0683 IMG_0683 IMG_0683Step 1.  In a medium mixing bowl, place the Mexican chorizo sausage, ground beef, fajita seasoning, dried mint leaves and rice.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.  Add the egg and combine again.

IMG_0692 IMG_0692 IMG_0692~Step 2.  Using a 1" ice-cream scoop as a measure, form balls and roll between the palms of hands into 3/4" meatballs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking pan as you work.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2-3 hours, to give rice time to soften a bit.  There will be 5-dozen meatballs.

IMG_0713For the add-in's and garnishes:

1  cup well-drained and rinsed black beans*

1  cup well-drained sweet corn kernels

minced cilantro or cilantro sprigs

*Note:  In the Fall/Winter months, I like to add spinach.  In the Summer, when my garden produces them, I add green and yellow zucchini.

IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710~Step 3.  Bring soup to a simmer over medium-high heat.  One or two at a time, drop meatballs into simmering soup (do it this way to keep soup simmering).  When meatballs have been added, adjust heat to a gentler simmer, partially cover pot and cook 10-12 minutes.  Add black beans and corn and simmer, uncovered, 2-3 more minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow soup to steep, about 30-45 minutes, prior to serving.

Ladle into soup bowls & garnish as you wish:

IMG_0737So delish you'll want another dish:

IMG_0752Sopa de Albondigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup):  Recipe yields 4 quarts soup/soup base, 5 dozen small 3/4"-round meatballs and 8-10 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; vegetable peeler; kitchen-safe twine; 8-quart wide-bottomed stock pot w/lid; large spoon; 1" ice-cream-type scoop; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c807903f970bCook's Note: When I use my crockpot, it's not because I have no time to cook, it's because what I'm letting it cook for me, without compromise, is really good.  It's no secret, I've never been a crockpot kinda gal, but, over the past few years I've mellowed.  For one of our family's favorite Tex-Mex-style soups, try ~ Easy-Does-It: Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup ~.  Using pantry staples, this recipe takes almost no time to put in the crock and tastes reminiscent of a tasty trip South of the border.

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

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

04/12/2019

~ The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Marinade ~

IMG_0647The hamlet of Endwell, the village of Endicott, and, the city of Binghamton.  What do these three places in upstate New York have in common?  They each own a piece of the claim to creating a sandwich unique to their area, and, popularizing it to the point to hold an annual three-days-in-August food festival and hot-air balloon rally that attracts over 100,000 people to celebrate.  The "Spiedie" comes from the Italian word "spiede", as-in cubes of skewered meat cooked on a "spit".

Spiediefest08_400x400An Italian immigrant, Camillo Lacovelli is said to have introduced the original spiedie to Endwell, NY, in the early 1930's. Via his brother, Agostino "Augie" Lacovelli, who put spiedies on his Augie's Restaurant (located in Endicott) menu in 1939, they gained local popularity.  Augie's son Guido Lacovelli, continued the family business into the 1990's, owning as many as 26 restaurants at the peak of his career.  It was only natural for the spiedie sandwich to make its way to the big city of Binghamton -- its initial appearance was in 1947 at the still very popular Sharky's Bar & Grill, owned by Peter Sharak.  The rest is history.

Binghamton is the spiedie capital of the world.  

IMG_0614The secret to a great spiedie is the tangy and tart marinade.

IMG_0465Visiting this region of New York and not eating a spiedie would be tantamount to a foodie traveling to Philadelphia or Chicago and not eating a cheesesteak sandwich or an Italian-beef sandwich. My classic spiedie recipe consists of cubes of marinated chicken, pork, beef, veal or lamb, skewered, char-grilled and served in a soft, hoagie-type roll (or a slice of Italian bread), with a bit of extra sauce (simmered marinade) drizzled on top.  The marinade is the star of the show and is similar to Italian dressing (oil, vinegar, paprika and a variety of Italian spices, including mint in many versions), which quickly caramelizes when it hits the grill, keeping the meat cubes tender on the inside.  

For a tasty store-bought version, Lupo's is the brand I recommend, and, was the flavor profile I used to come up with my own recipe.  That said, while the original Italian-style spiedie marinade is the most popular, spiedie marinades have crossed cultural borders.  Variations in the marinade make it possible to make and serve them Asian-, Greek-, Jamaican-, Tex-Mex-, etc., style, and, eaten straight off the skewer or in salads or stir-fries, they're not limited to sandwiches anymore.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad35bca62200c 6a0120a8551282970b0223c8493631200c IMG_1279My marinade = enough to marinate 5-6 pounds 1"-cubed boneless, skinless chicken thighs or tenderloins, pork blade steak or pork tenderloin, or, nicely-marbled beef steak.  Because marinade works exclusively as a flavorizer, not a tenderizer, I avoid meat like chicken breasts, pork loin and sirloin steak, which tend to get tough.

In all cases, marination is a flavorizer not a tenderizer...

IMG_0624For 2 1/2 cups marinade (enough for 5-6 pounds meat cubes):

3/4  cup  corn oil

3/4  cup malt vinegar

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or high-quality store-bought organic lemon juice not from concentrate

2  tablespoons sugar

2  teaspoons Italian seasoning

2  teaspoons dried mint

1  tablespoon garlic salt

1  tablespoon onion salt

2  teaspoons paprika

2  teaspoons sea salt

IMG_0627 IMG_0627~ Step 1.  To make marinade, in a 1-quart "shaker" container (the type used to shake salad dressing in order to stabilize it) or jar with a tight fitting lid, place all ingredients as listed.  Cover and shake container.  If you have that time, set the marinade aside for several hours, or overnight, to allow the flavors time to marry.  It may be prepared several days in advance, and, like any vinaigrette, stored in the refrigerator indefinitely too.

IMG_0477Note:  After marinating the meat, the leftover marinade may be transferred to a small 1-quart saucepan and gently simmered 3-4 minutes to use as a flavorful sauce for dipping or drizzling over finished sandwiches -- and a wee drizzle goes a long way.  There's more.  For a sweeter version of 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. 

&, the length of marination time does not affect the grilling time.

IMG_0483Try my classic Italian-style spiedies w/bell peppers & onions:

IMG_0544Or, my Tex-Mex-marinated spiedies w/Texican barbecue sauce:

IMG_0568The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Marinade:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups marinade for 5-6 pound chicken, pork or beef cubes.

Special Equipment List: 1-quart measuring container w/pourer top and lid, or, 1-quart jar w/tight-fitting lid; 2-gallon ziplock bag

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0909e769970dCook's Note:  For a similar sandwich, which isn't a spiedie because the meat doesn't get marinated, my recipe for ~ Herbed Pork Skewers w/Apricot-Mustard Sauce ~ is a keeper.  That said, in the event you'd like to transition it into a spiedie that uses pork tenderloin (it would be easy to do), my step-by-step directions will show you how to slice and fold the pork slices (not cut it into cubes), which keeps this cut of pork super-tender.

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

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

04/10/2019

~ The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Sandwich ~

IMG_0614Endicott, NY, is off the beaten path for some, which is why the spiedie sandwich just might be the best sandwich a lot of folks never heard of.  The odd part is, growing up with parents who pretty much stuck close to their home in Eastern, PA, as a family we actually made it to New York every now and then, and, everyone in our family, including grandma, loved a spiedie sandwich.  It was back in the 1960's, and, I was so young, I didn't even know I was eating an official spiedie.

B146b8f0f761201051e282db4e01d334--seneca-dodge-dartMy grandmother, my mom's mother, had a  friend who lived in Endicott New York (a town West of Binghamton).  For 6-8 years, once every Summer, our family of four plus grandma, arranged ourselves in dad's brand-new all-white, 1960 Dodge Dart Seneca and headed North.  It was a long day (we left early in the morning and returned late in the evening), but just before arriving at our destination, we stopped to eat spiedies for lunch (our hostess always made dinner).

^^^ I stole this photo after an internet search for a white, four-door, 1960 Dodge Dart Seneca.

As Philadelphia, PA = the cheesesteak capital of the world, &, Chicago, IL = the Italian-beef capital of the world...

IMG_0465The spiedie is a sandwich local to the Binghamton area, and, visiting this region and not eating a spiedie would be like traveling to the Philadelphia or Chicago and not eating a cheesesteak sandwich or an Italian-beef sandwich.  Simply put, a spiedie consists of cubes of marinated chicken, pork, beef or lamb, skewered, char-grilled and served in a soft, hoagie-type roll (or a slice of Italian bread), with a bit of extra sauce (simmered marinade) drizzled on top.  The marinade is the star of the show and is similar to Italian dressing (containing oil, vinegar, paprika and a variety of Italian spices, including mint in many versions), which quickly caramelizes when it hits the grill, keeping the meat cubes tender on the inside.  For a tasty store-bought version, which will give you a flavor profile to follow, should you be inclined to make your own, Lupo's is the brand I recommend.

... Binghamton, NY = the spiedie capital of the world!

IMG_0604"Spiedie" comes from the Italian word "spiede", as-in skewered food cooked on a "spit".  As for their origin, three people seemed to have played a part in their creation and popularization.  An Italian immigrant, Camillo Lacovelli claims to have invented the original spiedie in Endwell, NY. Via his brother, Agostino "Augie" Lacovelli, who put spiedies on his Augie's Restaurant (located in Endicott) menu in 1939, they gained local popularity.  Augie's son Guido Lacovelli, continued the family business into the 1990's, owning as many as 26 restaurants at the peak of his career.

  And this Italian-heritaged sandwich has plenty of variations. 

IMG_0544It was only natural for the spiedie sandwich to make its way to the big city of Binghamton -- its initial appearance was in 1947 at Sharky's Bar & Grill, owned by Peter Sharak.  The rest is history and Binghamton, is now the spiedie capital of the world, with an annual three-day Spiedie Festival and Balloon Rally that attracts over 100,000 people.  While the original Italian-style spiedie is still the most popular, spiedies have crossed cultural borders.  Variations in the marinade make it possible to make and serve them Asian-, Greek-, Jamaican-, Tex-Mex-, etc., style, and, eaten straight off the skewer or in salads or stir-fries, they're not limited to sandwiches anymore.

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 9.34.22 AMFor my version of the Classic Italian Spiedie Sandwich:

IMG_0480For the meat:  

2 1/2-3 pounds boneless chicken thighs or tenderloins, or pork blade steak (trimmed of excess fat) or pork tenderloin, cut into 1" cubes, marinated as directed below (Note:  Nicely-marbled steak or leg of lamb options too.)

2  each:  green and red bell peppers, sliced into 1" squares* 

1  large sweet onion, sliced into 1" squares*

*Note:  While a classic Italian spiedie is traditionally just marinated and grilled meat placed in an Italian roll or on slice of Italian bread, bell pepper and onions are classic Italian ingredients, and, my family will not allow me to make Italian spiedies without them.  The choice is yours. 

IMG_0624To make 1 1/4 cups marinade (enough for 2 1/2-3 pounds meat cubes):

6  tablespoons  corn oil

6  tablespoons malt vinegar

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or store-bought organic lemon juice, not from concentrate

1  tablespoon sugar

1  teaspoon Italian seasoning

1  teaspoon dried mint

1 1/2  teaspoons  garlic salt

1 1/2  teaspoons onion salt

1  teaspoon paprika

1  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_0597 IMG_0597~ Step 1.  To make marinade (which can be prepared several hours or days in advance), in a 2-cup "shaker" container (the type used to shake salad dressing in order to stabilize it), place all ingredients as listed.  Cover and shake container.

Note: After marinating the meat, the leftover marinade may be transferred to a small 1-quart saucepan and gently simmered 3-4 minutes to use as a flavorful sauce for dipping or drizzling over finished sandwiches -- and a wee drizzle goes a long way.  There's more.  For a sweeter version of the simmered marinade/sauce, add 2 tablespoons honey to the mixture, but, be aware that a saucepan containing a sweet marinade can and will burn or boil over quickly on the grill or stovetop, so be sure to watch carefully.   In the case of ALL things marinated: 

Marination is a flavorizer not a tenderizer, &, the length of the marination time does not affect the grilling time.

IMG_0467 IMG_0467 IMG_0467 IMG_0467~Step 2. Place chicken or pork cubes in a 1-gallon ziplock bag. Add the marinade and seal the bag.  Marinate the chicken or pork cubes, in the refrigerator, for 6-12-24 hours (the longer the better), stopping to squish the bag occasionally (if convenient), throughout the process.

IMG_0483~Step 3.  To assemble 16, 8" bamboo skewers, thread one marinated meat cube, followed by one slice each of green bell pepper, onion and red bell pepper.  Continue alternating meat cubes and vegetable, until each skewer contains 4 cubes of meat and 3 groups of peppers and onion.  To this point, spiedie skewers can be assembled several hours and up to a day in advance of grilling.

IMG_0491~Step 4.  To grill skewers on an outdoor gas grill (or indoors using a grill pan), arrange skewers, side-by-side, on grill grids over direct heat on medium-high heat of gas grill, or, on grill grids of a large grill pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop. The heat on all grills and stovetops is not even close to being created equal, so be sure to monitor the process, which, is easy to do and goes relatively quickly.

IMG_0496 IMG_0496 IMG_0496 IMG_0496~Step 5.  Grill (all at once or in batches depending upon the size of grill or grill pan), turning four times, until meat is cooked through and light golden on all sides, and peppers are showing signs of light charring around the edges.  On grill or in grill pan, this will take about 14-15 total minutes.

Unthred onto buns & serve w/marinade for dipping or drizzling:

IMG_0546The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Sandwich: Recipe yields 16 skewers, enough for 8 large hoagie-sized sandwiches or 16 smaller hot-dog-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 2-cup "shaker" container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; 1-gallon ziplock bag; 16, 8" bamboo skewers; gas barbecue grill or large grill pan

IMG_0568Cook's Note:  Variations in the marinade make it possible to serve spiedies Asian-style, Greek-style, Jamaican-style, etc, so, do not hesitate to be creative.  Allow me to suggest you try my ~ Texican-Style Pork Steak and Bell Pepper Spiedies ~.  These are marinated in a tangy lime- and cilantro-laced marinade and accompanied by my ~ Easy Sweet & Spicy Tex-Mex-Style Barbecue Sauce ~. 

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

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