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16 posts from June 2011


~ Around Town, Road Trips & Encounters ~

Scan Mel's goin' on the road!!!  I am pleased to announce that starting in August, Kitchen Encounters will be adding a new blog Category:  Around Town, Road Trips & Encounteres.  Enough of you have asked me enough of times to please visit, critique, comment on and post about local restaurants, farmer's markets, current events and foodie activities that I finally decided:  Why not!

My plan is to do this on a "regularly irregular basis", depending upon my availability and what happens to be happening in State College and the surrounding areas.  That being said, if any of you local Kitchen Encounters followers have any suggestions, let me know and I'll do my best to accommodate your request!

As per each individual circumstance or situation, some of my visits will be scheduled in advance and others will be impromptu.  What this will NOT be is a forum for any bashing or bad-mouthing, and, any comments on this blog to that effect will not be tolerated.  What this WILL be is a laid-back, good-spirited, well-intentioned, entertaining, fun way for me to introduce my community's local food culture and my favorite foodie friends to all of you!

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

(Commentary and Photo courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL Video Segment #12: Mel's Moist, Juicy, Grilled Thai-Style Turkey Burgers~

IMG_8235Yesterday I posted my recipe for ~ My Moist, Juicy, Grilled Thai-Style Turkey Burgers ~.  This flavor-packed recipe will erase every memory of dried, tasteless turkey burgers from your mind. You can find the detailed recipe with all of my step-by-step directions and photos in Categories 2, 3, 10 or 13!

If you'd like to watch my Kitchen Encounters TV segment, just click on the following link:

My Moist, Juicy, Grilled Thai-Style Turkey Burgers

To watch all of my other Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV cooking segments, go to the listing found on the left side of the home page of this blog, and, click on the blue title of any one, or:

Tune in to WHVL-TV's Centre of It All Show, which airs every Sunday morning at 11:30AM on local Comcast channel 14!


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

(Recipe, Commentary, Photo & Video courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011) 


~ Thai-Style Grouper w/Spicy Tropical Fruit Salsa, Cilantro-Coconut Sauce & Steamed Jasmine Rice (A Short Video/Slideshow, 00:57) ~

PICT5262 Yesterday I posted a fabulous Summertime recipe for preparing my absolute favorite white fish: grouper.  I like to call grouper "the lobster of the ocean-fish world"!

If you like fish and Thai flavors as much as I do, this meal is destined to become one of your favorite Summer meals too!

To view a short video/slideshow of how I prepare this pink-tinged, firm-textured, mild-flavored fish:

Download Thai-Style Grouper w_Spicy Tropical Fruit Salsa, Cilantro-Coconut Sauce & Steamed Jasmine Rice-Medium_2

To read my recipe for ~ Thai-Style Grouper w/Spicy Tropical Fruit Salsa, Cilantro-Coconut Sauce & Steamed Jasmine Rice ~, along with all of my step-by-step directions and photos, click into Categories 3, 13, 14 or 21!

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

(Recipe, Commentary, Photo and Video courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


~ Thai-Style Grouper w/Spicy Tropical Fruit Salsa, Cilantro-Coconut Sauce & Steamed Jasmine Rice ~

PICT5280 This is one of my favorite Summer meals.  If you love fish and Thai flavors, this is destined to be one of your favorite Summer meals too.  If you've never tasted grouper, you are in for a treat.  It is a lean, meaty/thick, pink-tinged fish with a firm texture and a mild, unique flavor somewhere between bass and halibut.  For me, grouper is the lobster of the ocean-fish world. They're marketed whole, as well as in fillets and steaks, but because its skin has a very strong flavor, it should always be removed before cooking it.  Whenever I am lucky enough to come across grouper, or my fish monger gets some, I change my plans for dinner that night and go with grouper. Grouper is a member of one of the largest fish families: the sea bass family.  It's found in the waters off Florida, the Gulf of Mexico as well as the North and South Atlantic. When properly prepared, it cooks up plump, juicy, moist and succulent with a "firm flaky break" that will knock your socks off!  

PICT5146 I personally like my broil 'n bake method for preparing it, but it is also excellent when pan-fried, poached or steamed.  Because of its firm texture, it is perfect for chowders or soups and in the Southern states, where grouper is readily available, grouper sandwiches or blackened grouper sandwiches are very popular.  If you aren't lucky enough to have grouper and still want to give this delicious meal a try, I recommend substituting sea bass or mahi-mahi.  While my recipe has a long name, once the salsa is made and refrigerated (and with the right tools this only takes about 30 minutes), a task I like to do several hours or a day ahead, baking the fish, making the sauce and steaming the rice are super easy!

PICT5076 For the Spicy Tropical Fruit Salsa:

12-16  ounces diced fresh pineapple (1, large, ripe pineapple)

12-16  ounces diced mango (2 large,  ripe mangos)

1-1 1/2  pounds diced papaya (1 large "Caribbean Red" papaya)

1-1 1/2 cups diced red onion

2-3  minced jalapeno peppers w/seeds, more or less, to taste

1 cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, no stems included

2  limes, all juice and all zest

1/2  teaspoon sea salt



PICT5131 ~ Step 1.  If you don't have a pineapple slicer, which is a nifty, inexpensive gadget that makes short work of getting a pineapple peeled, sliced and cored ($20.00):

Using a large chef's knife, remove the top and bottom from the pineapple.  Slice down the sides to remove the tough skin.  After that, using a paring knife, be sure to remove all of the brown, nubbly spots.  Slice the pineapple into 1/2"-3/4" slices and dice the slices into bite-sized 1/2"-3/4" pieces.  That being said, if you want to buy a whole fresh pineapple at your market that has been pre-peeled and cored for you, you have my blessing!

PICT5105 ~ Step 2.  Peel, slice and dice the mangos.  I am here to tell you, if you don't have a mango splitter, this is a nifty, inexpensive little gadget that makes short work of splitting a peeled mango, easily removing its odd-shaped large pit.  While I like my pineapple slicer, I love my mango splitter and I recommend investing in one ($12.00).  Once the mango has been peeled and the fruit removed from the large pit, slice the mango into 1/2"-3/4" strips and dice the strips into bite-sized 1/2"-3/4" pieces.

PICT5100 ~ Step 3.  In the above picture of the ingredients, notice how much yellow color my papaya has in it. That is how you can tell how ripe it is.  Green=not ripe.  Half green/half yellow=ripe.  

Using a large chef's knife, slice the papaya in half.  Using a tablespoon, scrape out and discard the seeds. Slice the halves into 1/2"-3/4" strips. Peel the strips and dice the fruit into bite-sized 1/2"-3/4" pieces.

PICT5115 ~ Step 4.  As you dice each fruit, place in a large mixing bowl as you work.  Dice the red onion and mince the jalapeno peppers and cilantro leaves, adding them to the bowl. Zest the limes, adding it to the bowl along with its juice and the salt.   PICT5118 Thoroughly combine all, cover with plastic wrap & refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.  

Note:  This recipe for the salsa makes quite a bit, 10-12 cups.  I purposely wrote the recipe this way because my family loves leftovers the next day (as a refreshing chance of pace from tomato-onion-bell pepper salsa) to eat with cheesy Tex-Mex nachos or atop grilled chicken quesadillas. That being said it is equally delicious served with my recipe for ~ Crunchy Thai-Style Deep-Fried Coconut Shrimp ~, found in Categories 1, 11, 13 or 14!

PICT5139 For the Cilantro-Coconut Sauce:

1  13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk

1  tablespoon lime juice

1  tablespoon Thai fish sauce

2  tablespoons Thai soy saice

1  tablespoon sesame oil

2  tablespoons Thai palm sugar, or light brown sugar

1  tablespoon Wondra flour

1  cup chopped cilantro leaves

PICT5135 ~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients, as listed, in the work bowl of a food processor that has been fitted with the steel blade.  With motor running, process until smooth and bubbly, about 20-30 seconds.

PICT5145 ~ Step 2. Transfer the mixture to a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan. Over low heat, bring to a gentle, steady simmer and continue to cook until mixture is slightly thickened, about 2-3 minutes.  Cover and remove sauce from heat and remove salsa from the refrigerator (the salsa is best if it is at room temperature when served).    

Note:  Don't be inclined to add or adjust the spices in this purposely subtly-flavored sauce. Remember... we're serving this with the Spicy Tropical Fruit Salsa.  When the two mix together the flavor is going to do a dance in your mouth!

PICT5152 For the Grouper:

1  grouper fillet, 1/2-2 pounds

2  tablespoons butter, thinly sliced

juice of 1 lime

freshly ground sea salt

no-stick cooking spray

PICT5171 ~ Step 1.  Spray an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom with no-stick spray.  Slice the grouper in 5-6 portions and place it in the pan.  Slice the butter into thin pats and place them on top of the fish.  Squeeze lime juice over all and season with a light grinding of sea salt.  Trust me when I tell you:  this type of pan is the best for this!

PICT5180 ~ Step 2a.  Place pan of grouper, 8" under preheated broiler to broil for 10 minutes.  Fish will be turning opaque, but will still be pink in the center.  Remove from oven and reset oven to bake at 325 degrees. Tightly cover pan of fish with aluminum foil and return to oven to bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and rest 5 minutes prior to serving immediately.

~ Step 2b.  The moment the fish goes under the broiler: Using the cup/measure from an electric rice steamer, place 3 cups of Thai jasmine rice along with 4 cups of water (measure the water using the same cup you measured the rice with).  Turn steamer on.  Both the fish and the rice will cook in about the same period of time.  How easy was that!

~ Step 3.  To serve, portion and make a bed with a generous cup of steamed rice on each warmed serving plate.  Place a piece of fish on top of the rice, drizzle sauce over the fish and top with salsa.  In true Thai-style, I like to top my dish with a sprinkling of toasted cashews or peanuts (as pictured below and at the top of this post).  That being said, with or without the nuts, this is a feast you are not going to want to miss!

PICT5262 Thai-Style Grouper w/Spicy Tropical Fruit Salsa, Cilantro-Coconut Sauce & Steamed Jasmine Rice:  Recipe yields 5-6 portions of fish, 2 cups of sauce, 6 cups of rice and 10-12 cups of salsa.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; paring knife; pineapple slicer (optional); mango splitter (optional); tablespoon; large rubber spatula; food processor; 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan w/lid; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum pan w/corrugated bottom; electric rice steamer

Cook's Note:  I won't lie.  If you are lover of Thai food or are entertaining lovers of Thai food, this dish is a fine-dining, restaurant-level, elegant and exquisite meal!

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

(Recipe, Commentary & Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


~ Holy Guacamole -- It's the Second Day of Summer. ~

6a0120a8551282970b015433345133970cNot too long ago, we were told the world was coming to an end.  Well, Holy Guacamole!  We are all still here and enjoying another fabulous Summer.  One of the things I enjoy the most about Summer is making garden salsa from an array of vegetables that have been freshly-picked right out of my husband Joe's garden.  That being said, whenever I make salsa, the avocado lover in me comes out and I feel compelled to make guacamole to accompany the salsa.  Even though avocados are available year-round, for some reason I gravitate to them in the Summer.  When I'm alone and don't have to cook for anyone else, I often slice and eat one for lunch along with a tomato (right out of the garden) and a sprinkling of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

Next to the tomato, meet my favorite fruit:  the Hass avocado.

PICT4940 The most popular avocado is the California Hass, which rhymes with "pass" (which is frequently mispronounced and mispelled "Haas").  This pear-shaped fruit weighs in at about half a pound and has bumpy, rough, dark greenish-black skin (it was known early on as an alligator pear).  It is known for its silky, rich, buttery texture and mild, nutlike flavor.  It is the only avocado variety to be grown year-round, represents about 80% of all avocados sold in the world and generates more than $1 billion in revenues in the US each year.  Trust me, after a taste test between the Hass and the smooth-skinned variety (like Forida's leafy-green Fuerte, pictured here), there is no comparison in flavor and texture:  Hass wins, and this tree, a member of the laurel family, has a bitter-sweet history.

220px-Persea_americana_fruit_2All Hass avocado trees descended from a single "mother tree" that was raised by a mail carrier named Rudolf Hass, of LaHabra Heights, CA.  Hass purchased the seedling tree from a grower named A.R. Rideout, who grew and experimented growing and developing many varieties of avocados.  Hass tried unsuccessfully to graft another variety onto it and planned on cutting the tree down until his children talked him out of it.  Since his kids loved the tree's fruit and the tree gave a good yield, he named it after himself and patented it in 1935.  That same year, Hass entered into a business with a Whittier, CA nurseryman to grow and promote his avocados. Regrettably, Rudolf Hass died in 1952, never realizing the global impact his beloved avocados would have on all of us.  

Sadly, Hass's original tree died after a long struggle with root fungus and was cut down in 2002.

PICT4946 Avocados ripen best after picking. A perfectly-ripe Hass avocado will be darkish green (it will have lost its bright green color) and firm to the the touch with an ever-so-slight give when gentle pressure is applied.  If an avocado seems even the slightest bit soft, it is over-ripe. When a knife is run through and around it, it will literally cut like butter and the two halves will separate cleanly with a gentle twist.

Note:  If you have no alternative but to purchase under-ripe (hard) avocados:  to speed up the ripening process, place them in a paper bag and set aside, at room temperature, for 1-2 days.  Most times, overnight on the countertop will do just fine.  To increase the shelf life of ripe avocados, store in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.  But, and this is an important but:  once an avocado is opened and the edible flesh is exposed to air, it discolors rapidly.  To minimize discolorization, I advise adding diced, cubed or sliced avacado to the dish being served at the very last moment.  Tossing cubed, sliced mashed or smashed avocado flesh with citric acid, like lime or lemon juice, helps delay discoloring, but not much more than an hour or two (trust me).

PICT4952 The pit (which in reality is a seed that can be planted to grow an avocado tree and is another blog post) is cleanly and easily removed by holding the pitted half of the avocado securely in the palm of your hand.  Using a chef's knife, give the pit a somewhat forceful tap with the center of the knife blade. Then, one gentle twist of the knife and the pit is out.  Proceed to:  

Peel away the skin and slice or dice in any manner you want! 

PICT4954To quickly cube or slice the pitted/seeded avocado, for applications like adding to salads: Simply score the soft flesh into desired-sized cubes and scoop them with an ordinary tablespoon. When planning to mash or smash the edible flesh (for dishes like guacamole), skip cubing the avocado and simply scoop the flesh out in very large pieces.

Avocado Fiction:

Burying the avocado pit in your guacamole will keep the dip from discoloring.  BYI:  Some information should be banned from the internet!

Note:  In my recipe for chunky-style guacamole (below), the addition of some bottled green chile sauce (salsa verde), in addition to the traditional lime juice, increases the shelf life for up to 24 hours (it adds a bit of heat too).

Guacamole Ingredients #1















8  ripe Hass avocados, halved, pitted, scooped and coarsely smashed, not mashed

2 limes, all juice (about 1/4 cup fresh lime juice) and all zest from both limes

1  teaspoon salt, more or less to taste

8  tablespoons bottled green chile sauce (salsa verde), your favorite brand, hot or mild

1 1/2-2  cups seeded and diced, ripe, garden-fresh tomatoes

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

3/4-1  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves

PICT4962 ~ Step 1.  Using a microplane grater, zest the limes.  Add the zest, along with 2-3 tablespoons of juice and 1 teaspoon of salt to a large mixing bowl.  Stir to combine and dissolve the salt.  



PICT4971 ~ Step 2. As directed and pictured above, slice the avocados in half and remove their pits. Using a tablespoon, scoop the soft centers into the bowl containing the lime juice, zest and salt as you work.  

Using a pastry blender and a large rubber spatula, coarsely smash, then fold and thoroughly combine the avocados with the juice, zest and salt mixture.  Fold in the chile sauce (salsa verde).

PICT4981 ~ Step 3.  Prep the tomatoes, onion and cilantro as directed, adding them to the bowl as you work. Using the large rubber spatula, fold until all of the ingredients are thoroughly combined.  Taste and add more chile sauce and/or salt to your liking.  Note:  I control the "heat" and "garlic" flavors by using the green sauce/salsa, because fresh/raw jalapenos and garlic cloves are both very harsh in texture and taste.

~ Step 4.  Place a layer of plastic wrap on the surface of the guacamole, to protect it from exposure to the air.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4-6 hours prior to serving, to allow the flavors time to marry.  Serve chilled to accompany all sorts of Tex-Mex dishes like natchos, burritos, fajitas, quesadillas, etc., or, just plain 'ole taco chips.  To read my recipe for making homemade ~ Deep-Fried Torilla Chips (Totopos) ~, just click into Categories 2, 3 or 17.

PICT4982 Holy Guacamole -- It's the Second Day of Summer.:  Recipe yields 6-8 cups of guacamole.

Special Equipment List:  microplane grater; cutting board; chef's knife; ordinary tablespoon; pastry blender; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b014e8954a826970dCook's Note:  I know it seems like this recipe makes a lot of guacamole but I am here to tell you, it is so good, that if you are entertaining 6-8 people, plan on them eating it all.  If you are entertaining a small group, I've written the recipe so it can easily be cut in half.  That being said, because I get an extra day of shelf life with my guacamole recipe, leftovers are most welcome.  Meet my Lettuce, Tomato, Onion & Guacamole on Brioche sandwich!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


~ It's a Dad Thing: My Dad's Strawberry Soup ~

PICT4915 Let me start by wishing all of you dads, step-dads and soon-to-be dads a very Happy Father's Day!  It took me a bit of pondering to decide what to write about in honor of the Father's Day holiday.  There is a list a mile long of wonderful things I can tell you about my dad, but when I tried to narrow it down to one, this is a memory that kept coming to the forefront:  During the Summer vacation from school, my dad did almost all of the cooking for our family of four.... breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Back then (the early 1960-'s), "day-care" wasn't even a word in the English language yet, and, lucky for my brother and I, my mom and dad weren't advocates for shipping their kids off to Summer camp.  They chose to handle things so David and I were cared for by one parent or the other 365/24/7, or at the very least, a doting grandparent or two!

PICT3758 My mom worked year-round between the hours of about 8:00AM- 3:00PM.  During the school year, she would make us breakfast, and if you want to know more about that, you can read my Mother's Day post ~ It's a Mom thing:  My Mom's Perfect Oatmeal ~, found in Categories 9 & 16.  

During the Summer, my dad rescheduled his work week to "second shift" between the hours of about 4:00PM-12:00Midnight.  He'd come home from work at about 12:05AM, go to sleep, wake up 7-8 hours later and spend the day with us two kids.  Breakfast made by dad was almost always eggs and toast. Lunch was often something like Campbell's tomato soup and a fried bologna sandwich. As for dinner, at the very least, my dad would have all the food prepped and/or well-underway when my mom got home, around 3:15PM.  This gave us 45 minutes to ALWAYS sit down, EVERY NIGHT for dinner, TOGETHER as a family (which by today's family-dining standards are like episodes of The Donna Reed Show, Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver)!

Did I forget to mention that during the Summer my dad also did all of the grocery shopping? Well, he did.  On Tuesday mornings, we'd take a five-minute ride down The Hometown Hill and shop at Tamaqua's A&P, Genetti's or both.  Afterwards, dad would take us to The Texas Lunch, which was located on Broad Street, the town's main thoroughfare, for chili dogs. As for deli-meat, Reuben's was where we stopped on our way out of Tamaqua proper to get hard salami, bologna, cheese and dill-pickles.  Lastly we would head back up The Hometown Hill and keep on going another 5 minutes, towards the town of McAdoo, to The Valley Meat Market, the butcher shop.  Thirty or forty dollars later, we'd arrive home with 6-8 total bags of groceries and enough food for the entire week!   

Pic24 On Wednesdays, Dad would take us to The Auction, which was located in the suburb of Hometown, where we lived (and they still live). The Auction was located next to Skylane's (a state-of-the art bowling alley at the time) and across the street from Vitali's, an Italian restaurant.  I personally never saw anyone auction anything off, but I suppose it had to have started out as a bona fide auction for it to be called that.  The Auction was what we refer to today as: a year-round, indoor-outdoor, local farmer's market.  Here is where we bought a lot of our produce and all of our fruit.  Many things have changed back in the Tamaqua area, but today the original/newly named Hometown Farmers Market is not only still there, it is bigger than ever, covering over 12 acres, attracting 6,000-10,000 customers per Wednesday, who purchase fresh produce along with all sorts of flea-market and specialty-type items!

PICT4878 Every year in June, after school let out for the Summer, strawberries just happened to be in season.  At The Auction, my dad would buy four pints (roughly 2 pounds) per week, as long as they were available.  On those Wednesdays, we'd arrive home and he'd immediately make a lovely dessert which he called "Strawberry Soup", and, he made it just the way his mother had always made it for him. The recipe couldn't be easier, but it also couldn't be more delicious.  My brother and I would pretty much clean our plates of whatever was being served for dinner that night, just because we didn't want to risk being denied "the soup"!

PICT4887 Once we got home, dad hulled the strawberries, sliced them into 1/4" pieces, put them in a large bowl and stirred in 4-6 tablespoons of sugar, depending upon how sweet the berries were. After that, he'd cover the bowl and let them macerate about 20-30 minutes, until they softened and got very shiny and juicy.

Note:  Culinarily, macerate and marinate mean basically the same thing, except:  the word macerate is used when referring to fruit, while marinate is used when referring to proteins or vegetables.

PICT4893 Using a hand-held vegetable masher, Dad would smash the berries until they were soupy but still chunky.  Trust me when I tell you, you must use a hand-held vegetable masher for this task to get the desired consistency.  The one pictured here is about 35 years old and is identical to my dad's. If you keep the words "soupy" and "chunky" in mind, you'll know when to stop smashing!

PICT4899 Lastly, stir in some light cream, about 4-6 tablespoons.

PICT4906 Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator until well-chilled, several hours or overnight.  Ladle into shallow bowls, garnish each with a "fanned" strawberry and eat!


PICT4930 It's a Dad Thing:  My Dad's Strawberry Soup:  Recipe yields 4 cups or 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large mixing bowl; large spoon; hand-held vegetable masher; plastic wrap

 Cook's Note:  As both my mom and dad told me yesterday, my dad's mother always made her strawberry soup using light cream.  You can make it richer by using half and half, or, you can lighten it up by making it with whole milk!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

(Photo of The Hometown Farmers Market courtesy of The Hometown Farmers Market/Copyright THEIRS)


~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (6/17/11) ~

Culinary Q & A #2 It is the end of another really busy and really fun week here at Kitchen Encounters.  Each year, June 15th in our household is the official opening day of our grass tennis court and our tennis season.  This also coincides with the start of Wimbledon and two great weeks of grass court tennis on TV.  Joe and I enjoy doubles, which means that between now and the end of September, I'll be cooking and posting a few recipes for courtside or poolside entertaining and dining!

PICT4853 In honor of this event, I posted my recipe for ~ June 15th:  It's Time for Mel's "Big Pink Drinks" ~!  

PICT4696 To get the recipe for this super delicious cocktail, just click into Categories 10, 11 or 16. On Wednesday, Melanie's Kitchen had our ninth shoot with WHVL-TV.  We kicked off approaching the height of the summer season with another recipe we serve annually on opening day of our court.  To read my recipe for ~ How to: Grill Great Sizzling Summertime Pizza ~, click into Categories 2, 10, 14 or 15.  To view a short video/slideshow showing my method for grilling pizza:

Download How to_ Grill Great Sizzling Summertime Pizza-Medium

Kitchen Encounters had one great comment this week and it comes from my assistant Jeanne:

PICT4032 C.  Jeanne says:  Ken and I love your recipe for the ~ Broiled Wild Sea Scallops w/Broiled Brown Butter ~ (found in Categories 14, 20 & 21).  We've made them twice and I will never cook scallops any other way again. They really do come out perfectly cooked every time!  I wanted to let you know that yesterday I decided to try an experiment.  Using the same dish, I poured the same brown butter mixture over six boneless, skinless chicken thighs (instead of scallops) and put them under the broiler.  Just like the scallops, I broiled them for 10-12 minutes. Unlike your scallop recipe, I did turn the thighs over and broiled them for an additional 8-10 minutes on the second side.  They were absolutely delicious!

A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Jeanne this is really good to know!  Thanks for feedback and for submitting the comment so we can share this information with everyone!!  Nice work!!!

Have a nice weekend everyone, and once again:  To leave a comment or ask a question, simply click on the blue title of any post, scroll to the end of it and type away!

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

(Recipes, Commentary, Photos and Video courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

~ How to: Grill Great Sizzling Summertime Pizza (A Short Video/Slideshow, 01:16) ~

PICT4795Have you been avoiding or hesitant about attempting to grill pizza? Can't figure out how to keep the crust from burning while the cheese melts? Worry no more. Yesterday, Kitchen Encounters posted my easy, foolproof method for successful grilled pizza every time!

To view a short video/slideshow of how we do it here in Melanie's Kitchen:

Download How to_ Grill Great Sizzling Summertime Pizza-Medium

To read my method for ~ How to: Grill Great Sizzling Summertime Pizza ~, along with my step-by-step instructions and photos, click into Categories, 2, 10, 14 or 15.

PICT4811 No matter what season of the year it is, in my household pizza is always in season... and after you give my method a try, it will be in yours too!

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

(Recipe, Commentary, Photos and Video courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL Video Segment #10: How to: Grill Great Sizzling Summertime Pizza ~

6a0120a8551282970b014e8934d147970d-800wiYesterday I posted my recipe for ~ How to:  Grill Great Sizzling Summertime Pizza ~, which is a fantastic way to entertain your guests in the heat of the Summer months.  You can find the detailed recipe, with all of my step-by-step directions and photos in Categories 2, 10, 14 or 15!

If you'd like to watch my Kitchen Encounters TV segment, just click on the following link:

How To: Grill Great Sizzling Summertime Pizza

To watch all of my other Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV cooking segments, go to the listing found on the left side of the home page of this blog, and, click on the blue title of any one, or:

Tune in to WHVL-TV's Centre of it all Show, which airs every Sunday morning at 11:30AM on local Comast channel 14!


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

(Recipe, Commentary, Photo & Video courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


~ How to: Grill Great Sizzling Summertime Pizza ~

6a0120a8551282970b017d4280256f970cWe're quickly approaching the height of the Summer season here in Happy Valley.  Everyone is spending time outdoors and eating fresher and lighter food.  That being said, every once in a while my family wants pizza.  For about 4-5 Summers now, instead of turning on my ovens inside, I've been grilling personal-sized pizzas outside.  Truthfully, we think they rival even the best pizza shops in this college town (and this town is full of pizza shops).  It took me a couple of tries to come up what I consider to be the best method for grilling perfect pizza every time:

Crispy crust, gooey cheese & toppings representing the taste of Summer!

PICT0551 My family loves my homemade pizza crust, and so have all of the students I have taught to make it in my cooking classes.  So, one afternoon I decided to put it to the test and see how it would fare on the grill... and it worked fantastic!

I make it in the food processor in less than 5 minutes.  Yes, I said less than 5 minutes.  To read my recipe for ~ Preschutti Pizza, Part II:  Our Favorite Crust ~, click into Categories 5 or 12.  That being said, feel free to use your own recipe or favorite store-bought dough.  Note:  This is a method for grilling pizza today rather than an exact recipe!

PICT4766~ Step 1.  Depending on how much dough you have, line one or two 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper and spray the paper with no-stick spray. Once your dough is mixed and has risen, using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide it into 3-ounce portions and roll it into balls.  My dough recipe yields 18 personal-sized pizza crusts.  Using your fingertips, pat, press and push each ball of dough to form a crust about 6" round.



~ Step 2.  Line one more baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  As you form the crusts, place/layer them on the pan, four to a layer, interleaving the crusts with parchment paper that has been sprayed with no-stick spray on BOTH SIDES, meaning: all of the parchment paper touching the crusts must be sprayed!

PICT4786 At this point, the pan of crusts can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours or overnight.

~ Step 3.  Because the uncooked crusts tend to "shrink up" a little, just before grilling each one, I like to give it a second brief pat and press, stretching it to between 6"-7" round.

PICT4782 ~ Step 4.  Preheat your grill to high. Place desired number of crusts on the grill and cook until golden brown grill marks appear on the first side. Using a long-handled grilling spatula, flip crusts over and grill again, until golden brown grill marks appear on the second side. This should take just 1-2 minutes per side, but depending upon just how hot your grill is or gets, could take as long as 3 minutes per side.

PICT4795 Note:  Grilled and completely cooled crusts can be prepared 1-2 days in advance of topping, cooking and eating the pizzas.  Cover them with plastic wrap or store them in a large food storage bag.  Grilled and completely cooled crusts can also be frozen.

PICT4799  To cook pizzas on the grill: Preheat grill to high.  Top pizzas and place them on a disposable aluminum broiler pan, the kind with the corrugated bottom. Place on grill, close the lid and cook until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 3-5 minutes.  Placing the crusts on this type of pan diffuses the heat really well, which insures your crust won't burn in the time necessary to melt the cheese.  It also prevents flareups caused by cheese and/or sauce dripping down into the flame.  Now that we've grilled the crusts and know how to cook the pizzas, I'd like to share some of my ideas for toppings with you!

PICT4705 #1.  Sauces:  I like to give my family and guests three sauces to choose from.  My favorites are Parmesan-Alfredo, basil-pesto and tomato-basil, which just happen to be the three colors in the Italian flag!  

Note:  While I make my sauces from scratch, feel free to use your favorite bottled brands.  You can read my recipe for ~ Preschutti Pizza, Part I: Our Favorite Sauce ~ by clicking into Categories 8, 12 or 22.  I'll be posting the others in the near future!

PICT4709 #2.  Fresh vegetables.  Feel free to use any fresh vegetables that you like, just remember to slice them very thin and/or chop them into bite sized pieces. My four favorites are blanched, fresh broccoli florets, shaved Vidalia or sweet onion, small, sliced Campari tomatoes and white button mushroom caps. Occasionally I like to take the time to roast and slice some red and/or green peppers too!

PICT4714 #3.  Marinated vegetables.  My favorite duo is broken/coarsely chopped Kalamata olives and sliced artichoke hearts, but two other great suggestions are anchovies and sun-dried tomatoes!

PICT4720 #4.  Proteins.  It's Summertime folks... save the pepperoni and sausage for the Winter months.  I like the taste of freshly grilled boneless, skinless chicken thighs (which have been cut into thin strips) and small shrimp (which were steamed using some fresh lemon juice and bay leaves)!

PICT4729 #5.  Cheeses.  Real Parmigiano-Reggiano is a must. Three accompanying options which work and taste great on grilled pizza are fresh mozzarella, goat and/or feta.

PICT4735 My tip for quickly and easily slicing soft, fresh mozzarella into thin and even slices is to cut the cheese ball into quarters and use an egg slicer!

PICT4755 #6.  Fresh herbs and dried spices. My favorite herb is fresh basil leaves, picked right out of the garden and torn into pieces. Rosemary, thyme and oregano work quite well too.

PICT4722 As for dried herbs, I keep them simple, relying upon my highly-flavored sauces to spice my pizzas up.  A sprinkling of garlic powder, an herb blend and some red pepper is all I require.  Once the pizzas are off the grill:  drizzle with EVOO, slice and eat!  

PICT4811 How to:  Grill Great Sizzling Summertime Pizza:  The recipe for my pizza dough yields 18 personal-sized pizza crusts.

Special Equipment List:  2-3, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; 5-6, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheets parchment paper; no-stick cooking spray; kitchen scale; plastic wrap (optional); cutting board; chef's knife; egg slicer; long-handled grilling spatula; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pans w/corrugated bottoms; cutting board; chef's knife or pizza cutter

PICT4807 Cook's Note:  What happens if you have grilled pizza crusts leftover or want to take one or two out of the freezer and don't want to heat up your grill?  Top and bake them in a 375-400 degree oven for 5-8 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly.  To insure the crust gets as crispy as it does on the grill, place them on a rack in a baking pan!

PICT4808 Extra Cook's Note:  The topping combinations pictured in the three pizzas today are my favorites:  basil-pesto w/olives, artichokes, shrimp and mozzarella; Parmesan-Alfredo w/broccoli, tomato, chicken, mozzarella and basil, and; tomato-basil w/mushrooms, onions, mozzarella and basil.  Before going onto the grill, they were all sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Italian seasoning blend and red pepper flakes.  Once off the grill, they were drizzled with EVOO!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


~ June 15th: It's Time for Mel's "Big Pink Drinks" ~

PICT4696 Tomorrow is June 15th, which is a sort-of celebration each year at the Preschutti household.  It is the official opening day of our tennis court and our tennis season.  As long as the sun is shining, we will invite a few friends over, play doubles, make grilled pizzas (our annual opening-day menu) and drink pink drinks...

Joe and I built our dream home and current residence in 1996 (after our sons had either gone off to college and/or moved into their own apartments).  In November, right after we moved in and immediately after our sons' initial visit and house tour, they affectionately named our new home "The Big Pink".  The witticism being:  Mom, now done raising three sons, tastefully decorated her new house in shades of pastel pink and burgundy, full of polished brass and glistening stainless steel, with white, cherry and navy accents, or, "mom just built a house we don't stand any chance of ever being allowed to move back into"!

PICT4679 The following Summer, mid-June to be precise, the kids were all back to see the opening of our backyard grass tennis court.  The tennis court was/is "my husband's baby", meaning:  while I was designing, building and decorating the house, he spent months working with Penn State's turf management group to install the only grass tennis court in the state of PA between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.  On opening day, we invited about 30 of our tennis friends, coaches and pros for an entire day of doubles matches, food and beverages. After each of the matches, our sons witnessed the players/our friends, both men and women, sitting and relaxing in the courtside gazebo, slowly sipping "seemingly house-color coordinated" pink lemonade and opined that to be "a bit too much". Then... they tasted my ladylike pink drink (which they had been sarcastically making fun of just a few moments before).  They immediately named it "Mom's Big Pink Drink"!

Over the past 14 years, I've prepared and served this drink countless times for every kind of occasion and celebration... serving it out of plastic jugs at picnics, barbecues and tailgates to crystal punch bowls at birthday parties, bridal showers and festive holidays!

















1  packet  Crystal Light pink lemonade-flavored, soft drink mix

6  cups water (I like to use bottled water)

1  cup cranberry juice

1  cup Absolut Kurant-flavored vodka

1/2  cup Seagram's Lime-twisted gin

1/2  cup Bacardi light rum

1  split of champagne (a bottle 1/4 the size of a standard champagne bottle)

fresh strawberries and/or lime slices, for garnish

~ Step 1.  Measure, mix and stir all ingredients, except champagne, together in a 2 quart pitcher. Fill tall glasses or glass mugs with ice, add pink drink mixture to glasses, filling each glass a little more than 3/4 of the way.  Top each drink with a generous splash of champagne and decoratively garnish with a fresh "fanned" strawberry and a slice of lime.  Throw the strawberry into the bottom of the glass (which is a simply decadent treat at the end of the drink), squeeze/add the lime and imbibe!


June 15th:  It's Time for Mel's "Big Pink Drinks":  Recipe yields 2 1/2 quarts, or, 8-12 pink drinks (depending upon the size of the glasses)

Special Equipment List:  1-gallon pitcher; 1-cup measuring container; long-handled stirring spoon

Cook's Note:  In all seriousness, these are addictive.  Be responsible.  Do not drink and drive.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


~ Bone Suckin' Salsa Chicken w/Spiced Couscous ~

PICT4588 This was such a fun recipe to develop and write.  A couple of years ago, my son Jess introduced me to a product called Bone Suckin' Sauce, which he was serving with ribs on that particular day at his home in Pittsburgh.  I've never been shy about admitting that I love to make my own homemade condiments, sauces and gravies.  That being said,  I am the first to admit that when I run into a product or a line of products, superior in taste and quality, I use them proudly in my kitchen. Bone Suckin' products are made in Raleigh, NC, in keeping with true North Carolina-style and I love them all.  They have their own Facebook page and are a very interactive company, encouraging their fans to submit recipes.  A few months ago, the owner of the company and I exchanged a few e-mails, regarding my recipe for Bone Suckin' Shrimp Wrapped in Bacon, and I offered to come up with some other unique recipes for them.  Today being a sweltering hot Friday here in PA, I decided to stay in the comfort of my air-conditioned kitchen and spend a relaxing afternoon cooking up something new and fun, not to mention quick and easy, using another one of their products!  

PICT4521What I came up with is the following recipe, specifically created to use their Bone Suckin' Big Chunks Style Salsa.  My criteria?  I wanted something off the beaten path, meaning:  come up with a recipe using a fantastic jar of salsa in a manner that wasn't associated with nachos, quesadillas, or any Tex-Mex/BBQ'd food in general.  I wanted to prove just how versatile salsa can be.  Moreover, I wanted to use it as a decidedly important ingredient in a main-course/dinner recipe.  So, I decided to take Bone Suckin' Salsa on a trip half way around the world and introduce it to the fragrant spices and flavors of Morocco and North Africa!

In countries like Algeria, Turkey, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, couscous (a small, granular, semolina pasta) is traditionally served underneath a stew containing meat, poultry, vegetables, almonds and dried fruits such as apricots, dates, currants and/or raisins. Algerians like to add tomatoes to the stew and Tunisians spice theirs up with the fiery hot-pepper-based "harissa sauce".  The following recipe, uses this chunky salsa in place of tomatoes.  As for the "heat", I decided to take a bit of ground chipotle chile pepper along on the trip.  What I "fused" together, is truly a delicious, easy-to-make, family-style dinner!

PICT4518For the chicken:

12  large, boneless, skinless, chicken thighs

flour, ground chipotle pepper, ground cinnamon and sea salt

4  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

4  large garlic cloves, minced

1/2  cup sweet white wine

1  16-ounce jar Bone Suckin' Salsa, Big Chunks Style

4  tablespoons honey

For the spiced couscous:

1  10-ounce box instant couscous, or 1 3/4 cups instant couscous

2  cups water

4  tablespoons salted butter

1/2  cup diced, dried apricots

1/2  cup golden raisins

1  teaspoon sugar

3/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground chipotle pepper

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted, for garnish (place in a baking dish in a 350 degree oven for about 6-8 minutes)

PICT4533 ~ Step 1.  Place the chicken thighs, top/smooth side up, on a clean work surface.  Generously sprinkle the tops with flour and a light sprinkling of chipotle pepper, cinnamon and sea salt.  Let rest, about 10 minutes, to give the flour time to absorb moisture from the chicken.





~ Step 2.  In a 12" chef's pan, melt the butter into the olive oil over low heat. Arrange the thighs, floured/seasoned side down in pan. Sprinkle flour on second side of chicken followed by a light sprinkling of chipotle pepper, cinnamon and sea salt.  Adjust heat to medium-high to saute and cook until chicken is golden brown on the first side, about 10 minutes.

PICT4544 Using a metal spatula, flip the chicken thighs over and add the diced onion and minced garlic to the pan, distributing it between and around the thighs, rather than on top of them.  Continue to saute, until the chicken is golden on the second side, about 10 minutes.



~ Step 3.  Add the wine to the pan. Using a metal spatula (working underneath each piece of chicken without flipping it over) deglaze the pan by loosening all of the browned bits and pieces from the bottom of the pan.





~ Step 4.  Add the Bone Suckin' Salsa and the honey.  Using a spoon or the metal spatula, distribute it over, around and between the chicken thighs.  Adjust the heat to a gentle, steady simmer, cover the pan and continue to simmer for 20-25 minutes.





Remove pan from heat and set aside, covered, while preparing the couscous according to the following directions: 






~ Step 1.  In a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil along with the butter, diced apricots, raisins, sugar, cinnamon, chipotle pepper and sea salt.






~ Step 2.  Remove from heat and sprinkle in the box of couscous. Briefly stir, cover the saucepan and set aside for 5-6 minutes.







~ Step 3.  Uncover the pot and using a fork, fluff the couscous by gently raking through it with the fork. Fluffing incorporates air and imparts volume.

To serve, portion 1 cup of couscous into each of 6 shallow pasta bowls. Top each portion with 2 chicken thighs. Distribute the sauce evenly over the top of all and garnish with a tablespoon of toasted almonds:



Bone Suckin' Salsa Chicken w/Spiced Couscous:  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" chef's pan w/lid; 1-cup measuring container; metal spatula; 1 1/2-2 cup saucepan w/lid; large spoon; fork

Cook's Note:  Can you make this recipe using another brand of salsa?  Of course you can, but Bone Suckin' Salsa is so good I can't imagine why you'd want to!  Can't find Bone Suckin' Salsa in your grocery store?  Order it on-line at!

Extra Cook's Note:  To view a short video/slideshow about how to prepare this fun and delicious recipe:   Download Bone Suckin' Salsa Chicken w_Spiced Couscous-Medium!  Enjoy!

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

(Recipe, Commentary, Photos and Video courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


~ Couscous: What it is and How to Cook and Use it ~

6a0120a8551282970b015432d85dde970cI love this wonderful, versatile, pasta (NOT a grain) and I've been cooking and serving it for many years.  I particularly like to serve it with chicken or fish.  While children love it as a simple weeknight side-dish (mine did), when paired with the right entree, I think it is regal enough to be served at an elegant dinner party.  While teaching a cooking class last summer, it surprised me to learn how many folks have never tried it because they believe it to be difficult to prepare. Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Busy cooks rely upon couscous as a "secret" time-saver. 

6a0120a8551282970b014e891c5978970d 12.01.28 PMCouscous 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 sauce", 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 bread to scoop it from the common platter.

6a0120a8551282970b01538f29344b970bFinely milled Moroccan couscous (pictured below) 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, it's important not to confuse the two.

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 around in while cooking and absorbing moisture, couscous does not.  Cooking acini de pepe in the same manner would result in a starchy, sticky product.

6a0120a8551282970b015432d82396970cTraditional couscous cooking is NOT what we are 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 5 minutes, so be certain to check to make sure this is what you are purchasing.  Just like its counterpart, when properly cooked it is very light and fluffy.  The following is my basic, plain, unembellished recipe for couscous:

PICT4454 1 3/4 cups instant couscous (or 1, 10-ounce box)

2  cups water or stock (beef, chicken, vegetable etc.)

4  tablespoons butter, cut into pieces

1/2  teaspoon salt


~ Step 1.  In a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan bring 2 cups of water and 4 tablespoons of butter to a boil over high heat.







~ Step 2.  Gradually sprinkle/add the couscous to the boiling water. Remove the pot from the heat. Using a large spoon, give the couscous a brief but thorough stir. Cover the pot and set it aside for 5-6 minutes.





~ Step 3.  Uncover the pot and using a fork, gently fluff the couscous.  I describe fluffing as gently raking through the couscous to separate its "grains" and incorporate air, which imparts volume.






~ Step 4. Serve immediately as an accompaniment to  anything you would serve rice with.  As I mentioned above, I particularly like to serve couscous with fish or chicken. That being said, here is a picture of my Couscous & Dilled Summer Squash stuffed tomatoes. You can find my recipe for ~ Dilled Summer Squash, Zucchini & Onion Saute ~ in Categories 4 & 14.You can read my instructions for ~ How to:  Hollow Out Tomatoes for Stuffing Them ~ in Categories 4 & 15!

Dilled Summer Squash & Zucchini #15

Couscous:  What is is and How to Cook & Use it:  Recipe yields 5 cups of cooked couscous or about 4-6 servings.

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

Cook's Note:  Cover and refrigerate leftovers.  To reheat and serve:  return to room temperature, reheat in the microwave and re-fluff with a fork just prior to serving.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


~ Mel Meets Solaire: the Portable Infrared Gas Grill ~

PICT4406 Last weekend (over the Memorial Day Holiday), our son, his wife and our grandson visited GrandMel and JoePa here in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania.  In years past, my son Jess (who is an expert griller and smoker) would bring his Weber smoker and spend the entire day in our gazebo tending to his fire and several racks of baby back spareribs, while my husband Joe would fire up his big Viking gas grill and barbecue the chicken, steaks, sausages, etc.  This year, because I now have a cooking blog, Jess surprised me by bringing his new toy, which he was pretty sure I would "get into" very quickly and want to share with all of you.  He was right!  

Meet Solaire's "Anywhere" grill:  it weighs about 20 pounds and boasts 14,000 BTUs of infrared power.  It runs on small 1.4-ounce cylinders of Coleman propane, which cost less than $4.00 each and because you'll be using the "high" setting on this grill a lot, will last for about 4 hours. While Solaire has many grills to choose from, the size of this portable model is just perfect for campers and tailgaters, apartment dwellers, single people or married couples, not to mention cooking instructors like me...

PICT4424 As they say, "first impressions are everything" and this little grill makes a great first impression.  Take it from a woman who lives in a world full of well-made, glistening stainless steel appliances, the curb appeal of this grill gets an A+ from me.

A bit about infrared grilling:  An infrared grill is going to cook differently than a traditional gas grill.  On a traditional grill, the hood gets closed so the air around the food gets heated to help cook the food, which has a tendency to dry food out.  With infrared, which is very hot, radiant heat, the food gets heated directly, so for the most part you cook with the hood open.  Because of the intense, uniform heat, the food sears (locking in moisture) and cooks more quickly than a traditional gas grill and emerges tender and succulent.  The Solaire people provide an extensive list of guidelines for cooking and timing all sorts of food, but as with all grills you've got to "personally make friends with your heat source" and then, through your own experience, cook to your own liking and degree of doneness.

PICT3855My son and his family returned to Pittsburgh, but I did manage to talk him into leaving the grill with me until their next visit so I could conduct my own experiments. I could not wait to try out this grill!  

After almost a week of rain here in PA, yesterday the sun came out and so did the grill.  Because this grill is so gosh darn cute and sexy, I decided to put it to "the steak test" first, to see if it could or would live up to my expectations.

I decided to make two 1 1/2"-thick Porterhouse steaks for Joe and I for dinner.  I couldn't go to the butcher shop, because it was Sunday, so they were right off of the grocery store shelf.  I gave them ample time to come to room temperature and sprinkled them on both sides with a grinding of my favorite steak seasoning:  simple sea salt and peppercorn blend.  I preheated the grill on "high", with the hood closed. Solaire recommends 3 minutes, I preheated it for 5, just to be safe.  So, let's say preheat for 3-5 minutes.

PICT4319 ~ Step 1.  Place the steak on the grill grids, at a 45 degree angle, meaning: not lined up with the grill grids themselves.  I'm placing the steak at an angle because I'm going after the pretty crosshatch pattern that every great steakhouse achieves.  

Cook the steak, with the hood open, for 1 minute-1 minute 10 seconds... I'm also going after the perfect rare to medium-rare steak that every great steakhouse achieves!



~ Step 2.  Using a pair of tongs, pick the steak up and reposition it at a 45 degree angle opposite to the original position.  

Continue to cook the steak, with the hood open, for 1 minute-1 minute 10 seconds.






~ Step 3.  Using the tongs, flip the steak over, placing it at the same 45 degree angle it was on in Step 1.

Continue to cook the steak, with the hood open, for another 1 minute-1 minute 10 seconds.

Note:  This picture illustrates just how red the infrared burner gets.




Step 4.  One last time, using tongs, pick the steak up and reposition it at a 45 degree angle opposite to the original position.

Continue to cook the steak, with the hood open, for 1 minute-1 minute 10 seconds.





~ Step 5.  Using the tongs, transfer the steak to a serving plate, cover with aluminum foil and allow to rest 8-10 minutes prior to slicing and serving.

This was an extremely delicious "steak test" and I can't say enough good things about Solaire's portable "Anywhere" grill.  My steak turned out exactly the way I wanted it to, in under 5 minutes, and, it really was steakhouse quality!

PICT4437 So... today for lunch I decided to try my hand at a Solaire burger. Today, however, I did put a really high-end, 8-oz. burger made of a mixture of Kobe beef and Kurobuta pork on. These burgers are made available to me via a close chef/friend of mine.  I cooked the burger exactly like I cooked the porterhouse, only slightly longer, about 3 minutes per side including crosshatching.  I'm not just impressed, I'm hooked...


Mel Meets Solaire:  the Portable Infrared Gas Grill:  Recipe yields instructions to cook the perfect 1 1/2"-thick, rare to medium-rare Porterhouse steak.

Special Equipment List:  Solaire portable "Anywhere" grill; tongs; digital timer (optional but most helpful); aluminum foil

Cook's Note:  When the day comes that I sadly have to return this little gem back to its rightful owner, my son, I can tell you straight out that Melanie's Kitchen won't be without one for very long!  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


~ Another Sloppy Joe? There is one? You Betcha! ~

6a0120a8551282970b015435c1c582970cWhere I grew up, where I live now, and pretty much where a lot of you live, a sloppy Joe sandwich is a nostalgic sandwich made of sauteed ground beef, celery, onion and a sweet/savory ketchup sauce served on a cottony, soft white hamburger-type roll.  For the most part, moms and working-moms everywhere have their mother's or grandmother's recipe tucked away in their recipe box, where it will remain unchanged until they pass it along to their children and grandchildren.

PICT4150 This sandwich dates back into the 1940's, during World War II, when people were trying hard to cut expenses and keep their families fed.  Inexpensive ground beef was well-suited to being mixed with other ingredients "to stretch it", so it would feed more people.  Women had been cooking with ground meat since the early 1900's, making things like patties, meatballs and meatloaves, so it is easy to envision how this sloppy sandwich evolved.

So, how did this sandwich come to be named Joe?  During the depression, "ordinary Joe's" walked the streets of towns and cities everywhere in search of a job.  Kind-hearted restaurant owners, chefs, and family cooks, would offer this loose, sloppy, tasty, satisfying, warm and comforting sandwich made of inexpensive ground meat for little or no money, hence the name. 

Imagine my surprise and shock when I learned first hand there is an entirely different sandwich that also goes by the name of sloppy Joe.  It happened back in the early '80's. Along for the ride on one of Joe's business trips, he and I found ourselves lunching in a deli on Long Island.  On their menu:  an entire list of sloppy Joe sandwiches -- "Joe's" as they referred to them.  Shut my mouth wide open!?!  We of course cornered our waiter and quizzed him on his sloppy Joe knowledge.  He smiled politely and understandingly, then kindly gave us his matter-of-fact explanation (because this was obviously not the first time he had been asked this question):

PICT4201 In the Greater New York area, also know as the Tri-State Area (New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, New York-Pennsylvania) a sloppy Joe is a completely different sandwich than what the rest of us have stereotyped in our minds.  It is a very large, layered sandwich, containing three slices of bread (usually rye and/or pumpernickel), two or three varieties of paper-thin sliced deli-meat, cheese and a dressing such as Russian or Thousand Island. FYI:  Thousand Island is a variation of Russian Dressing and the two can be used interchangeably as per preference.  Cole slaw is usually put on the sandwich, which makes it very sloppy indeed, but I like to serve it to the side so folks can make their own choice.  In this photo the assembled sandwich is technically ready to eat.  I, however, prefer to wrap my sandwiches in foil and bake them just long enough to heat them through and melt the cheese.

Sloppyjoeimage So, how did this "other" version of the sloppy Joe come to be named Joe?  This sloppy Joe was named after a sandwich served at Joe's Bar & Eatery in Old Havana, Cuba -- an eatery made famous by Earnest Hemmingway who frequented it often.  In 1934, Robert Sweeney, a former mayor of Maplewood, NJ, visited Joe's B&E and ate a triple-decker sandwich he liked so much he asked a friend at the Town Hall Deli in South Orange, NJ, to recreate it. The rest is history, and as for the rest of the story:  there seem to be as many versions of this sandwich as their are recipes for the above-mentioned ground meat sandwich.  The original Town Hall Deli in South Orange NJ, which first opened its doors in 1927, is known and credited as "the birthplace of the sloppy Joe sandwich".  The owner of THD was kind enough to give me permission to post this picture of their most popular Joe sandwich and I can't thank Tony enough.  "The Favorite" is made with roast beef and turkey (roasted on the premises), Swiss cheese, cole slaw and their family's top-secret recipe for Russian dressing. Since I have lots of family in NJ, I'm planning to take Tony up on his offer to pay them a visit one of these days to write a post about his deli.

So, what did Joe and I eat that day for lunch in that Long Island delicatessen?  A "No. 5 Joe":  pastrami, turkey, ham and swiss on pumpernickel and rye breads slathered with Thousand Island dressing.  So, how was the No. 5 Joe?   "As amazing as a sandwich can be".

 Mel's "No. 5 Deli-Joe" w/Thousand Islands or Russian Slaw  

PICT4160 ~ Step 1.  The only thing I didn't like about the original sandwich was: the dressing on the sandwich didn't match the dressing on the cole slaw. Call me picky, but if I'm mixing "two creamy's" together on one plate, I want them to taste similar or at least complement each other, so I came up with this.

For every 2 sandwiches you are making:

2  cups store-bought, bagged, cole slaw mix, the best available

1/4  cup finely diced yellow or sweet onion

1/2  teaspoon cracked black pepper

4  tablespoons bottled Thousand Islands or Russian salad dressing, the best available

Using a rubber spatula, combine all ingredients.  Cover and refrigerate while preparing the sandwiches according to the following directions:

PICT4167 ~ Step 2.  Make a trip to the best deli counter you can find.  No matter what deli meat you are purchasing (and feel free to get creative and substitute your favorites for those I am using), politely as the deli person to slice the meat and cheese as thinly as possible, but not so thin that it falls apart.  Follow by asking him/her to please take the time to stack it neatly, which helps at assembly time.

For every 2 sandwiches you are making:

6  slices Pepperidge Farm, Deli-Swirl, Rye & Pump bread, or your favorite brand

16  thin slices pastrami

16 thin slices turkey breast

4  thin slices deluxe ham

16  thin slices Swiss cheese

4  ounces butter (8 tablespoons, or 4 tablespoons per sandwich)

bottled Thousand Island salad dressing, the best available

PICT4181 ~ Step 3.  For each sandwich you are making:  In a 12" nonstick skillet melt 4 tablespoons of butter over low heat.  Add 3 slices of bread, increase heat to medium-high to grill bread until golden brown, about 1 1/2-2 minutes per side, turning only once.

Note: Before grilling bread for the next sandwich,  use a few paper towels to wipe the skillet clean.

PICT4185 ~ Step 4.  I like to transfer my grilled bread slices to a surface that has been lined with 2-3 layers of paper towels.  Begin the layering process by placing 2 slices of Swiss cheese on one slice of bread, followed by:

PICT41892 slices of pastrami, 4 slices turkey breast, 1 slice ham, 2 slices pastrami, 2 slices Swiss cheese and top with a second slice of bread.

On top of the bread, repeat the layering process again with:

PICT41982 slices Swiss cheese, 2 slices pastrami, 4 slices turkey breast, 1 slice ham, 2 slices pastrami, 2 slices Swiss cheese and top with the third and last slice of grilled bread.  

Secure the sandwich with 4 wooden sandwich picks or ordinary toothpicks.






~ Step 5.  Using a sharp, serrated bread knife, gently slice each sandwich in half, without applying any pressure from your fingertips or palm to the top of the sandwich, meaning:  slice without pressing down.  Wrap each sandwich, or each half a sandwich, in aluminum foil.  Sandwiches can now be set aside for up to an hour before baking and serving.

~ Step 6.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Place wrapped sandwiches on center rack of oven and bake until the cheese is melted and sandwiches are heated through, about 12-15 minutes. Serve ASAP with Thousand Island dressing for dipping, drizzling or slathering, along with the Thousand Island slaw to the side.

And don't forget the pickles!


Another Sloppy Joe? There is one? You Betcha!:  Recipe yields instructions to make 2 sandwiches.  Each sandwich is very hearty and will easily feed 2 people.  Recipe yields 2-4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; rubber spatula; 12" nonstick skillet; paper towels; 8 wooden sandwich picks; serrated bread knife; aluminum foil

Cook's Note:  These sandwiches are fantastic to take to a Summer picnic or a Fall tailgate.  Wrap them in aluminum foil as directed above and reheat them on the upper rack of any grill, just until the cheese melts.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

(Photo of the Town Hall Deli's "The Favorite" Joe, courtesy of Town Hall Deli/Copyright THEIRS)


~ School's Out: Time for the Good Ole' Sloppy Joe ~

PICT4150It's June and I'm letting the kid in me come out today. What I most remember about June in the 1960's was that last school bus ride to the end of Ye Old Hauto Road and my brother's and my half-mile walk home. We'd enter the kitchen door and place our lunch boxes and our report cards on the kitchen counter.  We'd run into our respective bedrooms and trade in our school clothes for play clothes.  I'd emerge in a pair of shorts, a frilly tank top and a pair of brand new white Keds. David would emerge in pair of shorts, a white T-shirt and a pair of brand new high-top black Keds.  I'd have a carrying case of Barbie dolls in my hand, while he'd be wearing an army helmet and carrying a plastic machine gun.  Dad made sure our bike tires were pumped up, mom "read us the riot act", and after that, our household transitioned to full-scale summer mode.

While we had a Tamaqua mailing address and went to the Tamaqua Area Schools, my family didn't live in Tamaqua proper.  My parents built their home in the suburb of Hometown. That meant that my brother and I weren't "townies", which meant that we couldn't just walk to The Bungalo, Tamaqua's community pool, to swim.  My parents and a lot of their 'burb friends were members of a place affectionately named by its members: "The Commodore Boat Club".  It was a short 10-minute drive from Hometown to Barnesville.  Don't go getting excited, it was man-made lake with a small sand beach, and, there wasn't a boat anywhere to be found.  

Lakewood A bit of background:  If you google Lakewood Park PA, here is what you'll find:  Lakewood Park was a large 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 look back into time.

PICT4139 On the other side of Lakewood was a lake/park called Lakeside Park. Lakeside was a lake. One side of the lake was a public beach with public swimming and on the other side of the lake was a private beach with private swimming, or, "The Commodore Boat Club".  The beaches were man-made sand beaches, but beyond them were groves of trees, picnic tables and pavilions. There were no concession stands, which meant no ice cream sandwiches or snow cones.  If you were a kid, it was a place you went with your parents, not a place your parents sent you to entertain yourself.  Members arrived equipped with their charcoal grills and coolers of beverages.  Members knew all the other members and their kids.  Wherever the kids happened to be at the time, those parents fed those kids.  My mom was the "sloppy Joe mom", because she didn't like to grill.  The pavillions had electricity, so she would plug in her electric skillet and reheat the Joe's.  We went to The Commodore several days a week and:  My mom's sloppy Joe's were to us kids at The Commodore what a Happy Meal at McDonald's is to kids today.

This is one of those no-nonsense, timeless, nostalgic, comfort-food recipes that gets passed down from generation to generation via the family recipe box and for the most part remains unchanged.  If you're a professional chef, the family cook, or just cook out of necessity, you have no doubt made these simple sandwiches for someone, for some event, or, for some get-together -- simple, straightforward and scrumptious as well as sweet, savory and sloppy.

















6  pounds extra-lean ground beef (90/10)

1 1/2  pounds diced yellow or sweet onion

12  ounces diced celery

1 1/2  teaspoons celery seed

1 1/2  teaspoons garlic powder

1  tablespoon sea salt

1  tablespoon cracked black pepper

3  cups ketchup

6  tablespoons yellow mustard

8-10  tablespoons dark brown sugar

4  tablespoons apple cider vinegar

soft, "Wonder-type" sandwich rolls 

PICT4076 ~ Step 1.  Place the ground meat in a 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides (or an 8-quart stockpot).  Prep the onion and celery, placing them in the pan as you work.  Add the celery seed, garlic powder, salt and pepper.




~ Step 2.  Using a large spoon or spatula, give the mixture a thorough stir.  Make sure all of the vegetables and the spices are evenly incorporated into the meat.  Saute, over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until meat has lost all of its red color and is steamed through, about 20-30 minutes.

PICT4086 ~ Step 3.  Remove pan from heat. Using a soup ladle, remove and discard as much of the fat/liquid from the meat mixture as possible.

Note:  When I remove the pan from the heat, I like to place it on a folded kitchen towel, so that the pan is tipped to one side.  This allows the juices to flow to the low side of the pan, making them very easy to remove.

PICT4089 ~ Step 4.  Return the pan to the stovetop and add the ketchup, mustard, brown sugar and apple cider vinegar.

Once again give the mixture a thorough stir to combine all of the ingredients.




~ Step 5.  Adjust heat to a steady but gentle simmer.  Partially cover the pan and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thickened, about 30 minutes.  

To serve, ladle about 1/2-3/4 cup of warm meat mixture onto each roll.





6a0120a8551282970b015432ba25f3970c-320wi~ Step 6.  Like my mom, I like to make a big batch of sloppy Joe mixture (which I did today), portion it into 4, 4-cup size containers and freeze them for easy weekday meals.  

Note:  Each container of meat mixture will fill 8 hamburger-roll size sandwiches or 6 larger-size rolls like the ones pictured in the first picture of this post.  

Whatever time of year it is, it's always time for a sloppy Joe.

IMG_4467School's Out:  Time for the Good Ole' Sloppy Joe:  Recipe yields 4-quarts of meat, enough for 24 large or 32 small sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon; soup ladle

Cook's Note:  This recipe is written so you can cut in in half to make a smaller batch, but you can also double it and make it in a 12-quart stockpot without any compromise.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)

(Postcard-Photo of Lakewood Park courtesy of the Joel Styer collection/Copyright his/theirs)