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15 posts from September 2011


~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (9/30/11) ~

Culinary Q & A #2I can't say goodbye to September without thanking all of you for all of the great feedback on my series of Oktoberfest "snack food" posts.  It seems my recipes for ~ Fun w/Fall Fruit: Apple and Pear Hors D'oeuvres; Kielbasa:  The "Other" Oktoberfest Sausage; Pretty in Pink:  Pennsylvania Dutch Pickled Eggs; and, Bring on the Rueben Sliders... and some Beer too! ~, struck a chord with many of you and I thank you for singing my praises!  

I particularly appreciated a comment I received from a friend and reader of mine, Carol, who told me, "Mel, you know I always enjoy your blog, but I think 'Oktoberfest week' just might be your best work yet... I thoroughly enjoyed every post and appreciate all of the research you did in order to write those fun-to-read, informative stories!" 

NationalLogo With Germany's Oktoberfest 2011 (Sept. 17th - Oct. 3rd) coming to a close this Sunday,  I want to remind all of you that October here in the USA is National Apple Month.   Growing up in Northeastern PA, very close to the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, I am announcing that I am kicking off my October posts with a recipe that is very close to my heart:  ~ Old-Fashioned, Pennsylvania, Apple Dumplings ~.  Look for this absolutely luscious dessert post tomorrow!!!

I had one great question this week here at Kitchen Encounters and I'm pretty sure the answer will be of interest to all of you:

PICT0810 Q.  Larry says and asks:  Melanie, I am a single man who "stumbled" onto your blog looking for a recipe for fettuccine Alfredo.  My wife passed away almost two years ago and I've had to learn to cook for myself.  I'm getting better at it, and I want to tell you the step-by-step pictures you post with each recipe help me a lot.  I've noticed that sometimes you say to use (for example), "12 ounces of peeled and sliced carrots", while in another recipe you'll say to use (for example), "1/2 cup of peeled and sliced carrots".  Can you explain why?  Should I buy a kitchen scale?  PS: My grandson and granddaughter enjoyed the Alfredo very much!

PICT2816 A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Larry thank you so much for taking the time to e-mail me your kind feedback.  I work very hard to make each post "a mini-cooking class", and you just did a great job of validating my hard work!

I am quite a stickler for weights and measures... because I like my recipes to result in the same flavor and texture each and every time I or someone else prepares them!

Let me start by advising you not to bake without weighing and measuring very carefully.  That being said, weighing and measuring has its place in cooking too.  For the most part, when a recipe calls for a small quantity, 1/2-1-2 cups, a little more or a little less won't affect the outcome of your recipe too much.  When you get into larger quantities, quantities above 2 cups, weight rather than measure works best.  

For instance:  1 pound of carrots will weigh less than 1 pound after trimming and peeling, meaning:  if a recipe calls for 1 pound of trimmed and peeled carrots, you need to buy more than 1 pound of carrots. One pound of trimmed and peeled carrots, when weighed, will always be 1 pound of carrots, meaning:  no matter how you slice or dice them, you will always have 1 pound of carrots.  On the other hand, if a recipe calls for "3 cups of peeled and sliced carrots", you will find that each and every time you slice 3 cups of carrots, the weight of each batch will vary a bit. In the scheme of things, in some recipes, these differences of "a half cup here" or "a cup there" add up.  They can and will be the difference between your recipe turning out like mine or not. Kitchen scales are not expensive and I highly recommend that you invest in one.  Once you use it a few times, you will not want to cook without it!

PICT1557 Life is full of choices.  Making the right choice is not as important as trying to figure out how it will affect you in the end.  To insure the best results when baking and cooking, I highly recommend weighing and measuring as often as posssible!

Have a nice weekend everyone. 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 and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


~ Bring on the Reuben Sliders.. and some Beer too! ~

PICT1393The classic Reuben sandwich consists of rye bread, Swiss cheese, thinly sliced/shaved corned beef, sauerkraut and Russian dressing.  The Rachel sandwich is a variation that substitutes pastrami for the corned beef, coleslaw for the sauerkraut and Thousand Island for the Russian dressing.  Someone, somewhere, decided turkey would be a viable substitute for corned beef or pastrami when making a Rachel, so, if turkey is your thing, order your Rachel that way!

Foundingfathers As you know, I often like to do a little research about the history of the recipes I share with you.  I thought the story behind the classic Reuben would be interesting and straight-forward: Most likely named after someone named Reuben who accidentally put some sauerkraut on a corned beef sandwich and made history.  I was wrong. Official claim to the name of this sandwich has been in dispute for 90+ years. In my opinion, both claims seem to have some share in its name, but I lean towards Claim to Fame #1. You be your own judge and jury:

Claim to Fame #1:  Reuben Kulakofsky, a Lithuanian grocer from Omaha created a sandwich consisting of corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut on Russian rye bread for his poker buddies.  From 1920-1935, "the committee" as they called themselves, played weekly poker at The Blackstone Hotel.  The hotel's owner, Charles Schimmel was a member of the group. Schimmel put the sandwich on the hotel's lunch menu and named if after its creator, "Reuben". In 1956, Fern Snider, a former waitress at the Blackstone entered "The Reuben" in a national sandwich competition and won.  I, for one, am grateful to Fern for doing that!

PICT4225 Claim to Fame #2:  Arnold Reuben, a German owner of Reuben's Delicatessen in New York City, invented the "Reuben's Special" in 1914. Late one night, a leading lady of Charlie Chaplin came into the deli and said, "Reuben, make me a sandwich.  I'm so hungry I could eat a brick." The sandwich he presented to her consisted of:  rye bread, Virginia ham, roast turkey, Swiss cheese, cole slaw and his own house-made Russian dressing.  Upon tasting it, the lady said, "Reuben, this is the best sandwich I ever ate.  You should call it the Annette Seelos Special." Reuben replied, "The hell I will, I'm calling it the Reuben's Special"!  (Note:  This is a picture of my version of another well-known sandwich, which has is origin in East Orange, NJ.  It is quite hearty and very similar to Reuben's Special. To read another great sandwich story and my recipe for ~ Another Sloppy Joe?  There is One? You Betcha! ~, click into Categories 2 or 10!).

PICT1321A bit about sauerkraut:  Although sauerkraut (German for "sour cabbage") is thought of as a German invention, Chinese laborers building The Great Wall of China over 2,000 years ago ate it as standard fare.  Chinese sauerkraut, made from shredded cabbage fermented in rice wine, eventually found its way to Europe, where the Germans and Alsatians adopted it as a favorite staple. Today's sauerkraut is made in the same manner: by combining shredded cabbage, salt and some spices, then allowing the mixture to ferment.  It is packaged in jars and cans and is found in almost every supermarket.  The best sauerkraut is sold by the pound in delicatessens, as well as in the refrigerated section of grocery stores, where it is packaged in plastic bags.  All sauerkraut should be rinsed in cold water before being cooked in casseroles, served as a side-dish, or, topping  sandwiches... like the famous Reuben!

PICT1316For the Slider Sandwiches and Sauerkraut:

2  12-ounce loaves, Pepperidge Farm, Party, Jewish Rye bread slices

1/2  pound Havarti cheese, w/caraway seeds, coarsely grated

1  pound thinly sliced corned beef, sliced into 1/4"-1/2" strips

1  pound deli-style sauerkraut

1  cup peeled and diced Granny Smith apple, more or less, about 1 apple

1/2  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick butter)

1  teaspoon Jane's Original Krazy Mixed-Up Salt, or sea salt to taste

1  teaspoon Jane's Original Krazy Mixed-Up Pepper, or freshly ground peppercorn blend to taste

1/4  teaspoon white pepper

2 sticks additional butter, for grilling sandwiches

PICT1345 For the "Russian" Dressing:

Note:  Russian and Thousand Island dressings are similar, with Russian dressing being more Ketchup-y. I'll share my made-from-scratch versions with you at some point in time, but today I'd much rather share my favorite recipe for my super-easy Russian dressing:

3/4  cup Thousand Island Dressing, your favorite brand

1/2  cup Heinz chili sauce

PICT1351 Stir together. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside while preparing the sauerkraut and sandwiches. Refrigerate any leftovers.  Makes 1 1/2 cups.  To prepare the sauerkraut:

PICT1329 ~ Step 1.  Place the sauerkraut in a colander.  Thoroughly rinse it under cold water.  Allow it to drain for about 15  minutes.  Dice the apple and onion as directed.  For these sliders, I like to prep a small, slightly larger than 1/4" dice.  Set aside.

~ Step 2.  In a large skillet, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in Jane's salt, pepper and white pepper.  Add the diced apple and onion.

PICT1331 ~ Step 3.  Adjust heat to saute until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

PICT1336 Add the 'kraut and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover skillet and set aside.

PICT1362 To assemble and "grill" the sliders:

~ Step 1.  Using a hand-held box grater, grate the cheese as directed. Using a chef's knife, slice the corned beef into strips.

Note:  To this point, the sauerkraut, the cheese and the meat can all be prepped and refrigerated 1 day ahead of time.

PICT1369 ~ Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, melt 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) of the butter over low heat.  Add 12 bread slices.  Increase heat slightly, to gently fry, until slices are golden brown on both sides, about 45-60 seconds per side.  Transfer bread to a paper towel lined plate to drain.  

Wipe out the skillet and repeat this process 3 more times with the remaining butter and bread slices.

PICT1385 ~ Step 3.  On each of two 12" x 9" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper:

Arrange 12 slices of bread.  In the following order, top with:  cheese, corned beef and sauerkraut.





~ Step 4.  Top each slider with a bread slice and tightly seal each pan with a sheet of aluminum foil.

Note:  Sliders can be assembled 1-2 hours prior to heating and serving.  FYI, I place them on two smaller pans rather than one large one so I have the option of baking and serving them at two intervals!

~ Step 5.  Bake sliders on center rack of preheated 300 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and sliders are heated through.  Remove from oven.  Lift the top slice of bread from each sandwich, drizzle with Russian dressing and serve immediately, planning on 2-3 sliders per person:

PICT1411Bring on the Reuben Sliders... and some Beer too!:  Recipe yields 24 sliders and 1 1/2 cups of Russian dressing.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; colander; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides & lid, or large skillet w/lid; large spoon; hand-held box grater; 12" nonstick skillet; 2, 12" x 9" baking pans; parchment paper; aluminum foil

PICT1279 Cook's Note:  Besides a frosty mug of beer, serve these sliders in true Oktoberfest tradition with my recipe for ~ Pretty in Pink:  Pennsylvania Dutch Pickled Eggs ~, which can be found in Categories 1, 4 & 12!

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

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


~ Pretty in Pink: Pennsylvania Dutch Pickled Eggs ~

6a0120a8551282970b01901ee05043970b-1Pickling isn't just for cucumbers.  Pickling is a process that dates back to medieval times and was used as a means to preserve all types of food.  Without refrigeration, food spoiled quickly and pickling was a means of preserving it for out-of-season use or transporting it for a long journey. The word "pickle" comes from the Dutch (German) word "pekel", which means "brine", and a brine is nothing more than a mixture of vinegar, water, salt, sometimes sugar and/or spices.  Depending on the brining solution, pickled foods can take on all sorts of colors and flavors:  Pickled foods can be sweet, sour or spicy, as well as subtly-flavored with herbs such as dill or thyme.

315EM295STL._SL500_AA300_ When I was growing up, the women in our family pickled a vegetable mixture called "chow-chow".  Chow-chow is a mustard-flavored, mixed-vegetable-and-pickle relish, which I acquired a love for as I got older.  A lot of different types of  garden vegetables can be used to make chow-chow, but my mom and grandmother stuck to crunchy ones like blanched carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers and green beans.  Nowadays, my mom buys chow-chow and it's no surprise that she chooses Wos-Wit.  All of their products are made on a family farm in Schuylkill County, PA, which is where my parents live and where I grew up.  Notice the label?  It says "Pennsylvania Dutch".  I'm here to make it clear that Pennsylvania Dutch cookery does not belong solely to PA and it is not Dutch either.  The term "Dutch" is slang for the German word "Deutsch". So: When we say Pennsylvania Dutch, we mean Pennsylvania Deutsch and are crediting the Germanic or German-speaking people for this delicious cuisine.  Read on:

IMG_1219The other thing my family and I pickle are eggs and I absolutely adore these.  There are a lot of recipes for pickled eggs, but the ones we make and I love are the Pennsylvania Dutch version, which are sometimes called pickled-beet eggs or red-beet eggs.  In our Eastern European family, my mom and grandmother serve/served them once a year as a side-dish for the Easter holiday.  But, in our local German community, pickled eggs were/are a very popular tavern food and are commonly found sitting in large jars on bar tops next to the beer taps all over Pennsylvania... which makes them a perfect knosh to serve for this week's Oktoberfest celebration.  It takes 3-4 days for them to turn pink so, let's get started:

PICT0902For the pickled eggs:

1  dozen extra-large eggs, hard-cooked and peeled

1  14 1/2-ounce jar small, whole red beets or sliced red beets, not pickled red beets

3/4  cup beet juice, reserved from above jar

3/4  cup white wine vinegar

1/2  cup firmly-packed light-brown sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt


PICT0915~ Step 1.  Hard-cook and peel the eggs.  To read my recipe for ~ A Little Thing Called: Boiling Eggs ~, click into Category 15.

 ~ Step 2.  Drain the beets and set them aside.  Place 3/4 cup of the beet juice into a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan along with the wine vinegar, light brown sugar and salt. If you are shy of 3/4 cup of beet juice, just make up the difference with water.  Bring mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring almost constantly.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool about 30 minutes.

PICT0923 ~ Step 3.  In a 1-quart, wide-mouth canning jar, layer, place and alternate the eggs and the red beets.

PICT0929 Pour the still slightly warm brine mixture over the  top of the eggs and beets, stopping when the jar is filled to capacity. You might have a bit of brine leftover, which can be discarded.





~ Step 4.  Seal the jar and refrigerate for 24-48 hours or longer (up to six weeks).  The pickled eggs in the the next picture have been in my refrigerator for 4 days:


The pickled eggs are ready to slice and eat, but I have an added treat for you:

If you like deviled eggs, you can make Pickled-Deviled Eggs and they are ohhh sooo good.  Here is all you need to do:

PICT1288 ~ Step 1.  Slice the pickled eggs in half.  Place the pickled egg yolks in the work bowl of a food processor that has been fitted with the steel blade. Arrange the pickled egg "whites" on a serving platter.  Add:

2  tablespoons minced, fresh dill

1/4  teaspoon (heaping) each:  sea salt and white pepper

3/4  cup mayonnaise

24 large capers, for garnish (optional)

Note: DO NOT be inclined to enhance this deviled-egg filling with Dijon mustard!  The pickled eggs have already taken on the oh-so-wonderful, tangy flavor of the brine!  You're good to go!

PICT1290 ~ Step 2.  Process with several rapid on-off pulses, then turn the motor on and process until the mixture is smooth, about 15-20 seconds.

PICT1297 Transfer the mixture to a pastry bag that has been fitted with a small star tip (or tip of choice).

~ Step 3.  Twist the pastry bag closed at the top and decoratively fill the empty egg "white" shells, forming a mound as you work towards the centers.  Garnish each pickled-deviled egg with a caper.  Place 5-6 toothpicks in 5-6 eggs, spaced randomly but well apart, to support a "tent" of plastic wrap to cover the eggs. Refrigerate 1-2 hours, or overnight.  Serve chilled:

PICT1307 Pretty in Pink:  Pennsylvania Dutch Pickled Eggs:  Recipe makes 1 dozen pickled eggs/24 deviled-egg appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan; 1-quart, wide-mouth canning jar w/lid; food processor (optional); 10" Ateco #3118 pastry bag fitted w/small star tip (optional)

PICT1051 Cook's Note:  Besides a big 'ole stein of beer, serve pickled eggs alongside  ~ Kielbasa: The "Other" Oktoberfest Sausage ~.  Find that recipe in Categories 1, 11 or 12! 

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

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


~ Kielbasa: The "Other" Oktoberfest Sausage ~

6a0120a8551282970b015435b4d00d970c-800wiOktoberfest, Germany's world-renowned annual fall festival, takes place in Munich.  This year it runs from September 17th to October 3rd.  When I hear the word Oktoberfest, I automatically think of copious amounts of traditional German food, beer swilling, lots of partying and lederhosen.  While I have never been to Munich when these festivities are in full-swing, I do have some experience drinking and eating in an authentic Oktoberfest-type beer tent. Lakewood Park (a now defunct amusement park located in Barnesville, PA) was about a 15-minute ride from my parents house.  In the late 1970's-1980's, each year it hosted The Bavarian Beer Festival, which was touted as the best Oktoberfest in the state of Pennsylvania!

6a0120a8551282970b017d424f59c4970c-800wiI've always enjoyed German food, probably because it is a close cousin to the Eastern European food I grew up eating:  sauerkraut, pickled eggs, potato pancakes (and all things potato), horseradish, hot mustard, pickles (and all things pickled), rustic caraway rye and dark pumpernickel breads were foods I encountered on a regular basis.  There were no discernible differences in the way my mom braised a pork roast and my mom's friend Mrs. Schmidt braised one. They both produced great apple cake, apple pie, apple sauce (and all things apple).  The difference surfaced in type of sausage we Eastern Europeans added to our 'kraut compared to what the German's added:  kielbasa.

(~ Pretty in Pink:  Pennsylvania Dutch Pickled Eggs ~ can be found in Categories 1, 4 or 12!)

Before I go any further, let there be no mistake about this:  The Germans are indeed the culture that gets claim to the title of Sausage-Making King.  How could the inventors of the Frankfurter (or Wiener) not be king... and I for one will be forever grateful for this.  They are responsible for an impressive list of other sausages as well:

Blutwurst:  (blood sausage) diced, cooked pork and blood (very short shelf life, not for the faint-of-heart)  

Bockwurst:  plump, lightly-seasoned (leeks, chives or green onions), white-colored, finely-ground veal with a little pork added; fresh or occasionally lightly-smoked

Bratwurst:  moderately-seasoned, white-colored, finely-ground pork/or sometimes veal; fresh or smoked

Cervelat:  heavily-seasoned, smoked beef or pork (safe to eat without further cooking)

Knockwurst:  well-seasoned (garlic), pink-colored, pork and veal (sometimes beef is added); lightly-smoked

Note:  The most common seasoning in German sausages are salt, white pepper (not black) and mace.  German sausage makers use a light-hand when it comes to spicing, with each having their own spice blend.  Common additives are cumin, coriander, cardamom, marjoram, thyme, sage, caraway, garlic and cloves.  Authentic versions do not contain parsley.

These sausages can all be boiled, broiled, grilled, panfried, and yes, even deep-fried.  Germans like to serve theirs warm with sauerkraut, potato-bacon salad, dark bread and beer!

Kielbasa:  The "Other" Oktoberfest Sausage

PICT0940 My family comes from a long-line of kielbasa makers or friends of kielbasa makers.  "Kielbasa" is the Polish word for "sausage" but it's commonly called Polish sausage. And, just like its German cousin the "wurst", it can come to you in many forms.  So, don't ever wander into a Polish-owned butcher shop and order "a ring of kielbasa", because you will be asked "what kind", and after that, you'll most likely have ten or more types to choose from!

Each type of kielbasa has a second Polish name attached to it (for instance:  Kielbasa Krakowska, lightly seasoned with allspice, bologna-looking in appearance and served in the same manner).  That being said, the one I'm focusing on here today is the one we are most familiar with.  It is also the one our immigrant ancestors brought with them to America:  Polska Kielbasa Wedzona. Within the sausage making community, each maker takes some/limited liberties with his or her meat or spice blend, but the basics and the method for Kielbasa Wedzona have been well-defined for centuries:

~ It is made with all pork or a mixture of pork and beef (80/20) and seasoned with salt, black pepper, sugar, garlic and marjoram.

~ The meat is cured before it is mixed with the spices and stuffed into all-natural hog casings.

~ Traditionally, it is cold-smoked for 1-2 days.

Because I come from a long-line of kielbasa makers, I am here to tell you I never buy my kielbasa vacuum-packed in the grocery store.  I won't "name names", but I demand the REAL DEAL my friends.  Manufacturers can and do put anything they want into their sausage (and my blood boils when I see turkey on the ingredients list).  I am here to tell you, if you taste "it" side-by-side a real, Polish-butcher-made kielbasa, you'll walk away from the packaged "stuff" too!

A very close personal friend of mine for many years, Jamison Steffen, Executive Chef of The American Ale House & Grill, right here in State College, is my source for what I believe to be the best quality kielbasa in Pennsylvania.  Don't take this statement lightly folks.  In Eastern PA, where I grew up, my mom got hers from a butcher in Shenandoah.  In Scranton, where Joe grew up, his mom got hers from a butcher in Dixon City.  Both are indeed excellent.  That being said, after tasting the kielbasa I get via Chef Jami, both moms have put me in charge of obtaining kielbasa for their family.  Jami has nothing but the highest praise for the E J Weiss Co., a butcher shop located in Johnstown, PA and I couldn't agree more! 

PICT0945 When my kielbasa arrives it is not in 12" links or 1-pound rings.  It is also not vacuum-packed.  It is a thing of Polish beauty... a 5-pound rope of perfectly seasoned, meaty, garlicy goodness.  To make it more user-friendly, I just find a crease and slice through it, to form 5-6 rings.  If you prefer links, just slice each ring in half at the other end.  I will cook what I intend to use today and freeze the rest for another time!

PICT0949 I'm having some friends over this evening for an Oktoberfest tailgate after today's Penn State game against Eastern Michigan and we're serving kielbasa instead of brats! I'm serving it as an appetizer with some hot mustard for dipping!

~ Step 1.  Using the tip of a very sharp knife, across the surface of each ring or link, poke a series of shallow slits, spacing them randomly, about 1 1/2" apart.

PICT0958 ~ Step 2.  My all-time favorite way to "cook" kielbasa (it really just needs to be heated through) is to briefly simmer it.  This method keeps it plump, juicy and succulent!

Place desired number of links (I'm making 3) in a skillet (I'm using a 5.5-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides).  Add 1/2" of water to pan.  Bring to a boil over high heat.

PICT0967 ~ Step 3.  Adjust heat to a gentle simmer. Cover pan and continue to simmer 10-12 minutes. The little holes you poked in the casing will have opened up a bit and there will be liquid bubbling out of them.  

Note:  If the casing on the kielbasi begins to split or tear:  the kielbasi will be still be edible, but slightly overcooked.  Error on undercooked!

~ Step 4.  Remove from heat.  Using a pair of tongs, remove kielbasa from pan and transfer to a platter.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Allow to cool at least 10 minutes prior to slicing and serving hot, warm, at room temperature or chilled:

PICT1009 Keilbasa:  The "Other" Oktoberfest Sausage:  Recipe yields instructions for perfectly cooking authentic Polish Sausage.

Special Equipment List:  paring knife; skillet w/lid, sized accordingly; tongs; plastic wrap

PICT1206 Cook's Note:  A really refreshing, simple appetizer that pairs perfectly with kielbasa (or brats) and hot mustard is my recipe for ~ Fun w/Fall Fruit:  Apple and Pear Hors D'Oeuvres ~.  You can find it by clicking into Category 1!  

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

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


~ Fun w/Fall Fruit: Apple and Pear Hors D'oeuvres ~

PICT1091Today is the first day of Fall.  As a foodie, I don't need CNN or my Facebook newsfeed to remind me. My Central PA Culinary Calendar (CPCC) announces Fall to me with crispy-crunchy apples and super-succulent pears.  All I have to do is walk outside to pick apples from Joe's tree, and, up until a few of days ago we had our own pears too.  This past Saturday, Joe announced to me, "Mel, we have really good pears this year.  I'm going to pick them tomorrow."  As fate would have it, as we slept that night, a big black bear jumped the electric fence that separates Joe's gardens from the dairy farm next door. THE PEAR BEAR ate every last pear on Joe's entire tree!!!

PICT0985 I like to eat as many apples and pears "as is", within 2-3 days, right from the trees, while they are perfectly ripe.  Perfectly ripe means something slightly different to everyone.  For me, I prefer apples when they have that "crunchy-crispy bite".  Pears, well, I like them best when they "cut like butter".  The shelf life for pears is much shorter than apples, so, on any given day, I'll choose one or two juice-dripping pears before I eat an apple!  

PICT0562 That being said, after a day or so, I do get get a tad bored with just a plain apple or pear.  To change things up a bit, I like to chop them into salads.  Both apples and pears pair well with all sorts of salad dressings and vinaigrettes.  I like to refer to them as "my tomatoes of the Fall"!

To read my recipe for ~ A Roasted Beet, Apple, Onion, Orange & Toasted Walnut  Salad ~, just click into Categories 2, 4 or 14!

I also REALLY, REALLY enjoy fresh PICT1072apple and pear slices when used in place of crackers or toasts as a base for tasty snacks or appetizers. During Fall fruit season, I make a quick trip to one of my favorite downtown State College gourmet food places: The Cheese Shoppe.

I've been buying my cheese from Bill Clark for over 30 years now and no grocery store can compare to the quality of his cheeses or his expertise in choosing the right one for you.  His made-to-order cheese trays are absolutely gorgeous too.  

To make these appetizers, you'll need a wedge of soft horseradish cheese, about 6-8 ounces, and, a piece of 2% truffle mousse, about 6-8 ounces. You'll also need 1 apple and 1 pear.

~ Step 1.  About an hour before you are ready to serve your hors d'oeuvres, remove the cheese and mousse from the refrigerator.  It is important these be at room temperature. 

PICT1214~ Step 2.  Use an apple corer/slicer to quickly slice the apple and pear into 8 wedges. Next slice each wedge in half to produce 16 "thinner" apple and pear slices.

PICT1239 Place the fruit slices in a medium mixing bowl with some ice cubes and enough very cold water to cover the fruit.  Add the juice of 1 lemon.  Set aside 10-15 minutes.

PICT1091 ~ Step 3.  Fit a 10" pastry bag with a small-medium star tip.  Remove the apple slices and pat them dry with paper towels.  Fill the pastry bag with horseradish cheese and decoratively pipe cheese on their tops.  Rinse out the bag and refill it with the truffle mousse.  Remove the pear slices and pat them dry with paper towels.  Pipe the mousse over the pear slices.  Decoratively arrange on a large serving platter and serve immediately.

Note:  Work as quickly and as carefully as you can.  You want the hors d'oeuvres to be pretty, but you need to realize that apple and pear slices, even ones that have been immersed in acidic lemon water will start to turn brown after 30-40 minutes.  So, overlook a few imperfections here and there... you're going to wow your guests with these!

PICT1206Fun w/Fall Fruit:  Apple and Pear Hors D'oeuvres:  Recipe yields 16 apple hors d'oeuvres and 16 pear hors d'oeuvres.

Special Equipment List:  apple corer/slicer; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" Ateco No. 3118 pastry bag fitted w/small-medium star tip; paper towels

Cook's Note:  If you don't have a pastry bag and/or are intimidated by using one, just put the softened cheese and mousse in two pretty bowls.  Serve the fruit slices to the side and let people assemble their own hors d'oeuvres!

Apple-Pear Puree #1 (Intro Picture) Extra Cook's Note:  In the event your apples and pears start to get a bit over-ripe, check out my recipe for ~ Simply Silky Smooth Spiced Apple & Pear Puree ~.  You can find it by clicking into Categories  4, 8, 18 or 22!

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

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


~ Tuning Up for Tailgate Thursday: Take a Trip Back Twenty-Five Years in PSU Tailgating Time, Part 3: Tailgating, Not the Military, Builds Character ~

6a0120a8551282970b0133f327fe9f970b-800wiYes folks, this really is a picture my husband Joe took of the Goodyear Blimp hovering over Melanie's Kitchen.  For some reason, whenever it is visiting Penn State, we are lucky enough to have it overhead for a few hours the morning of game day.  There are no words for me to describe to you what it is like to entertain guests on your patio before a Penn State home game with THE BLIMP majestically circling overhead! 

Kitchen Encounters is back with part three of a five-part series I am posting for the first five Penn State home football games this year.  In honor of Penn State's 125th anniversary, I'm taking a nostalgic look at what my tailgate group was cooking up twenty-five years ago.  The year was 1986. Penn State was celebrating its 100th anniversary.  It was the year we won our second national championship.  Back in '86, we were all in it to win it... and so we did!

Okt8 The menus I am sharing in this series are the actual pages from a tailgate newsletter I "published" for every home game, using just an electric typewriter and a copy machine.  I then hand-addressed large envelopes and snail-mailed a copy to every woman in our very organized tailgate group. For you "kiddies", we had no computers back then... "cut and paste" really meant "cut and paste".  That being said, our tailgate was the place to be and we partied like it was 1999 without even knowing we were doing it.  Since Oktoberfest in Germany runs from September 17th thru October 3rd this year, this menu is as timely today as it was twenty-five years ago.  So, get in the spirit:  Put on your lederhosen, polish up your stein, cook up some authentic German food, pitch a beer tent and enjoy this week's game!

In Part  1:  The Business of Tailgating, I talked about what kind of planning and organization it took for our team of Happy Valley residents to host a finely-tuned, Penn-State classy tailgate that fed 50-60 people two fine meals for every game... a pre-game brunch and a post game dinner. In Part 2:  The Roads All Lead to Beaver Stadium, I took a look at how tailgating at this legendary landmark universally brings folks together and forms unlikely friendships that can and do last a lifetime.  To read both of these posts, just click into Categories 16 or 17!

Part 3:  Tailgating, Not the Military, Builds Character

Scan If you live in Happy Valley and you tailgate at Beaver Stadium, euphoric really is the only word you can use to describe game day.  It's euphoric because everyone around you is in the same state of good-spirited anticipation and excitement as you are.  Even the cranky lady I buy my weekly lottery ticket from is in a good mood on game day!

For Joe and I and the other members of our tailgate group, the regimen starts on Friday afternoon when all of our respective guests arrive for the weekend.  By the time company arrives, for the most part we have all completed our assignments for tomorrow's game day tailgate.  That being said, once your guests arrive you still have to feed 'em.  Back then, our group even had a plan in place for that:

Scan 1 We each took a turn throwing a party.  Yes, instead of subjecting ourselves to more cooking or long waiting lines in crowded local restaurants, we each took a turn and invited everyone and their guests for Friday Night in Happy Valley Happy Hours.  Each member did it "their way", meaning: one couple made a big cheese and veggie tray and grilled Stan's signature sausage sandwiches out on their deck; another couple liked to buy a keg and a dozen or so pizzas and we gathered in Rich's 3-car garage; when my turn came, I took a couple of casseroles out of my freezer, made a salad and let everyone gather in our downstairs Penn State rec room.  There was electricity in the air. We were comrades, camped-in and readying ourselves for game day:

Scan 2 Which could not arrive soon enough for our regiment of  true-blue tailgaters.  Once again, we didn't fuss over our guests at our homes. Duane had strategically parked the RV at the stadium.  We Florence Nightingales  arrived with thermos's of coffee, bloody-marys and rationed breakfast at the stadium.  Everyone resumed the previous evening's festivities with conviction and military resolve!

While the women packed up breakfast gear with steely speed that comes only with experience, the men allocated tickets and seating assignments. Don't ask me how they did it, but they always managed to make sure everyone who wanted to sit together, sat together.  We were locked, loaded and ready for action.  And off we marched into battle...

... breaking ranks, signing off and entering the stadium at our appointed entrance gates.  We were meticulously on time, as not one of us wanted to miss the Blue Band march downfield or their drum major perform his famous flip.  Back in those days, we were allowed to leave the stadium at half time and it was "every man for himself" to get back to our beverage coolers for some much needed "hydration therapy"!  

Penn-State-Panoramas-Mount-Nittany-Panorama-PS-P-X-00005xlg After the game our troops trickled back to camp where we rejoiced together in our victory or agonized over our defeat.  Whatever the circumstance, the doors to the RV swung open, the "mess" tables went up and the camp stoves were lit.  Ice cubes tingled, beverages flowed, snacks were passed and our dinner simmered or sizzled. While the sun set on Mount Nittany and the traffic dwindled on the expressway, each week we took great, great pride in being, "out... standing in our field"!

Stay tuned for Part 4 of my series which I'll be posting on October 6th.  But, until then, look for my next few Kitchen Encounters posts when I'll be posting some crowd-pleasing Oktoberfest hors d'oeuvres that are sure to please your guests for the PSU Indiana game on October 1st!


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

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

(Print of "Mount Nittany Panorama", which hangs in Melanie's downstairs Penn State Kitchen, can be purchased on-line at


~ My NY Deli-Style Jewish Apple 'n Almond Cake ~

6a0120a8551282970b017d416a5fde970cWith Fall comes apples and all I have to do is walk into our backyard to get mine.  I rarely start the apple season by baking pie or strudel because I happen to like this relatively easy-to-make cake better.  There are lots of recipes for this cake floating around, all delicious, and almost every family has a baker that makes that family's favorite version.  The basic recipe gets baked in a tube pan and the batter contains orange juice and vegetable oil.  It is a very moist, dense, not overly sweet, yellow cake with a mixture of apples and cinnamon in the center as well as on top. 

PICT0707 My version started with a recipe my mom was given by a woman she worked with back in the 1960's.  My mom was a very-well-liked supervisor of a design department in the clothing industry and worked with people from very diverse backgrounds.  It was not unusual for her to come home with a pie, a cake or a confection that someone had baked for her.  Every once in a while, mom would come home with what she called a "Jewish" apple cake.  We'd have it for dessert that night, for breakfast the next morning, and, find the last of it in our school lunch boxes.  It was years before I found out it was called "Jewish" because it contained no dairy, which makes it a perfect dessert to serve for Kosher holidays and celebrations. 

My ultimate version of this cake evolved.  As my palate became more sophisticated, so did my cake:  I stopped using bottled orange juice and switched to fresh, plus, all of its flavorful zest. When I began experimenting with citrus oils, orange oil got added for one more layer of decadent flavor. Then, one day while having lunch in a Long-Island deli, I ate a version that contained a lot more apples than I had been using as well as almonds -- there was just no turning back from that.
















8  cups peeled, cored then chopped into bite-sized chunks, tart baking apples, such as: Cortland, Granny Smith or Winesap, or a combination of apples, about 2 1/2 pounds of chopped apples

1  cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted and completely cooled

2  cups total sugar, 1 cup for the apples and 1 cup for the batter

1  generous tablespoon ground cinnamon

3  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  tablespoons baking powder

1/4  teaspoon salt

4  extra-large eggs, at room temperature

1  large orange, all of its zest and 1/4 cup of fresh orange juice

2  teaspoons pure orange oil

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon pure almond extract

1  cup vegetable oil

1-2  tablespoons butter, at room temperature, and, 4-6  tablespoons flour, for preparing tube pan 

PICT0637 ~ Step 1.  You must have a 10" tube pan with a removable bottom for this recipe.  Don't confuse it with a bundt pan, as removing the cake from a bundt pan is not a pretty sight.

Generously butter the entire inside of the pan, including the center tube.  Add the flour.  Holding the pan over the sink or trash can, shake, twist and turn the pan until the flour has evenly coated the entire surface, including the center tube.  Shake out and discard any excess flour.  Set aside.

PICT0642 ~ Step 2.  Prep apples as directed, placing in a medium mixing bowl as you work.  Add the almonds, 1 cup of sugar and the cinnamon. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the mixture until apples are evenly coated and the sugar is dissolved. Zest and juice the orange.

~ Step 3.  In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

PICT0644 ~ Step 4.  In a second large mixing bowl, add the eggs, orange juice, orange zest, orange oil, extracts, vegetable oil and the second cup of sugar.

PICT0649 On medium-high speed of a hand-held electric mixer, beat until the oil is thoroughly incorporated, about 1 minute.

PICT0654 ~ Step 5.    Reduce the mixer speed to low.

Add the flour/baking powder mixture. You can add it gradually, but I just put it all in at once.

Continue to mix on low speed, constantly scraping down the sides of the bowl with the spatula, until the flour is thoroughly incorporated and a thick, spoonable batter has formed, about 1 minute.

~ Step 6.  THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!  Using a large slotted spoon, remove and place half of the apple mixture in a medium mixing  bowl.  Take them from the top of the bowl.  Allow all of the juices to remain with the rest of the apple mixture in the bottom of the bowl.  The apples we just removed are the apples that will go on top of the cake.  Set them aside!

PICT0661~ Step 7.  Using a large spoon, place half of the batter in the bottom of the prepared pan, spreading it around as you go.  Give the pan a few firm back and forth shakes to make sure the batter is evenly distributed.

PICT0664~ Step 8. Using a large spoon distribute the second half of the apple mixture, the mixture in the big bowl WITH the  juices, along WITH all of the juices, over the batter.

PICT0667 ~ Step 9.  Spoon and spread the second half of the cake batter over the apple mixture, doing your best to get it evenly distributed.

PICT0670 ~ Step 10. Distribute the remaining half of apples evenly over the top.

PICT0674 ~ Step 11.  Bake cake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted at several spots comes out clean. This is a very dense, moist cake, so don't worry if it takes another 5-10 minutes to finish baking.  

Remove from oven, place on a cooling rack and set aside to cool, in pan for 15-20 minutes...

PICT0682... The cake will be starting to shrink away from the sides of the pan. Using a sharp knife, completely loosen cake from sides of pan. Holding onto the tube portion of the pan, lift and transfer the cake, on the tube portion of the pan, to a cooling rack to cool completely, about 2 hours:

PICT0689 Using a sharp knife, loosen the cake from the bottom of the pan, carefully invert it onto the cooling rack, then invert it again onto a serving plate to slice and serve:

PICT0715 My NY Deli-Style Jewish Apple n' Almond Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  10" tube pan (not a bundt pan); cutting board; vegetable peeler and/or paring knife; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; microplane grater; hand-held electric mixer; large slotted spoon; large spoon; cake tester or wooden skewer; cooling rack

PICT0741 Cook's Note:  This cake is not only a great dessert, it is wonderful served like a coffee cake for breakfast the next morning.  Personally, I like to place my slice in the toaster oven and when it comes out, let a pat or two of butter melt over the top.  You can thank me later!

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

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


~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (9/16/11) ~

Culinary Q & A #2 Since our last Culinary Q&A Fall arrived here in Happy Valley.  The temperatures have dropped to the point where my kitchen doors are open during the day and my sweater goes on in the evening; the Penn State football and tailgate season is in high-gear, and; the vegetables in Joe's garden are dwindling to a manageable pace! 

Fall is probably my favorite time of year.  On second thought, Fall is definitely my favorite time of year:

As busy as I am, I just naturally pick up the pace in Fall. I do more and for some reason everything seems easier to do.  My warm-weather mindset (be prepared to switch gears at any moment due to whatever fruits and vegetables are coming out of the garden and/or the weather) changes to a more focused and disciplined mindset.  Those of you who know me, KNOW I am a natural planner.  I love lists, checklists, time-frames and deadlines... and Fall is the perfect time of year for these things.  I am truly "in my element" in the Fall!

PICT3465 How do I know it is officially Fall? The tomatoes have been turned into sauce, the peaches are preserves and the peppers are pickled.  The  squash and pumpkins are almost at their peak. Root vegetables like carrots and red beets are in a basket on my kitchen porch and apples are almost ready to be picked from our tree!

PICT0482 Comfort food, the kind that gets cooked with lots of love is being served.  ~ My Mother's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubki) ~ was my first choice to feature Fall, and, it goes without saying I made them using cabbages from Joe's garden. You can find this recipe in Categories 3, 12, 17, 19 or 22.  For a quick look at how I prepare this delicious, ethnic meal, click here to view a short video/slideshow:

Download My Mother's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubki)-Medium

I had no idea what a "buzz" this post would cause.  My blog stats skyrocketed, my Facebook friends were sharing and chatting about it and I spent a couple of hours on-line that evening accepting compliments and answering questions.  One of my favorite compliments came from my Facebook friend Naomi, who after reading the recipe wrote, "THANK'S MEL! If I can't figure out how to make these now, you're going to have to write a Cabbage for Dummies book"!

Which brings us to my Culinary Q&A for this week, which comes from one of my regular Kitchen Encounters readers.  He posted a lovely comment and a couple of excellent questions regarding the stuffed cabbage recipe I just talked about:

PICT0518 C.  PSUinBOSSTON says:  Mel - I want you to know I am extra special excited to make this.  I know I don't always post feedback, but I (at least try to) make almost every recipe you post (my sister and I have found your bacon cooking tip from last year to save loads of time and effort and are very grateful).  This one has me especially excited.  I have had to travel a lot for work lately, and have had to have countless uninspired hotel and airport meals. This looks like the antidote!

One question:  I typically prefer to grind my own beef, but 95/5 looks leaner than I could accomplish.  Which is more important?  It's probably a placebo effect that grinding my own beef tastes that much better, but would you give that up to get 95/5?

Next question:  Turkey meatloaf.  Love ground turkey as a substitute, like meatloaf.  Can't get my turkey meatloaf to be anything other than boring.  What key ingredients will "excite" my turkey meatloaf?!?!?!

A.  Kitchen Encounters:  PSUinBOSSTON!  Flattery will get you everywhere!!!  I could not be happier to hear that you and your sister are enjoying my blog and cooking my recipes.  It is comments like this that make all of the care I put into this worthwhile.  Thank-you!!!

Texas Chili Dogs #5 (Processed Meat) I too like to grind my own beef in the Cuisinart and it is not a placebo effect.  It really does taste better.  I also think it has a better texture.  All the way around, it is:  a better product!

That being said, when I made my stuffed cabbage a couple of days ago, I simply asked my butcher to grind a sirloin tip roast for me, but, that is just my preference.  I have made this recipe using extra-lean (90/10) and lean (85/15) and is works perfectly, so don't give my 95/5 standard a second thought.  I also want you to know, your question prompted me to go back into my post and add that "note" to the recipe!  By all means, grind your own meat!!!

PICT5482 As for turkey meatloaf, I use the same mixture to make turkey meatloaf that I used to make ~ My Moist, Juicy, Thai-Style Turkey Burgers ~,  found in Categories 2 or 13.  The meatloaf comes out so moist, succulent and full of flavor, no one will guess it was made with turkey.  So, if you like Asian flavor, I suggest you and your sister give that recipe a whirl!

Have a nice weekend everyone.  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)


~ A Roasted Beet, Apple, Onion, Orange & Toasted Walnut Salad w/: My Favorite Vinaigrette ~

PICT0562 It is a rainy, gloomy, typical start-of-Fall day here in Happy Valley, but I don't care.  I'm brightening up my dinner table this evening with a salad full of vibrant Fall colors and hear me: this tastes just as good as it looks.  I suppose it is my official transition into the Fall season because I am using the last batch of our garden's red beets (which I roasted yesterday) and the first batch of our apples just picked from of our backyard tree!

PICT0530 I am also using one of my favorite vinaigrettes which I always have on hand in my refrigerator.  This is my "house" salad dressing so to speak, and I've been asked for this recipe almost as many times as I've made it.  It isn't the ratio for a typical vinaigrette, but I'll never change it!  

Here's what you'll need:

1  cup red wine vinegar

1/2  cup vegetable oil

1/2  cup sugar

~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid, combine all ingredients.  Set aside until serving time.  Shake vigorously just before tossing desired amount into salad.  

PICT0544 For the salad:

10  cups chiffonade of romaine hearts (1/2" strips or ribbons), about 2 heads of  crisp romaine hearts, washed, dried and well-chilled (Note:  If you have beets with beautiful greens, chiffonade and substitute 2,3,4 cups of beet greens for a portion of the romaine.  I'm using all romaine today because at this point in our beet season, my greens left a lot to be desired.)

6  large, roasted, beets, 1/2"-3/4" diced, about 1 1/2 pounds of roasted beets (Note:  You can read my recipe for ~ Roasted Beets (Plain, Spiced or Smoke-Flavored) ~ in Categories 12 or 15.  This being said, if you do not have the time to roast fresh beets, feel free to substitute well-drained home-canned beets.  Store-bought beets will be a bit of a compromise, but even at that, this salad will still be delicious.)

2  large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and 1/2" diced, about 1 1/2 cups

1  medium red onion, shaved into very thin slices, about 1 1/2 cups

1  8  1/2-ounce can whole, mandarin orange segments, packed in light syrup, well-drained and well-chilled, about 1 1/2 cups

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, lightly toasted (Note:  Place the chopped walnuts in a shallow baking pan and roast in a 350 degree oven until lightly toasted and fragrant, about 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool completely.)

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for topping salad

PICT0545 ~ Step 1.  Prep all of the salad ingredients as directed.  In a large mixing bowl, place the beets, apples, onions and mandarin orange segments.

~ Step 2. Vigorously shake and add 1/2-3/4 cups of the vinaigrette.  Add it to taste, but don't drown them in it. Using two forks or two spoons, toss to combine and set aside.

~ Step 3.  Remove greens from refrigerator and place in a second large bowl.  Vigorously shake and add 1/2-3/4 cups of the vinaigrette.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss to combine.  Taste.  If you think the greens need a bit more vinaigrette, add it in small amounts, to taste.  That being said, if there is dressing puddling in the bottom of the bowl, you've added too much!

PICT0560 ~ Step 4.  On each of 6-8 chilled salad plates, place a generous 1 1/2-2 cups of greens.  Briefly retoss and evenly distribute the beet-apple mixture over the greens.  Sprinkle walnuts and freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend over every portion.  Serve immediately with additional dressing at tableside: 



A Roasted Beet, Apple, Onion, Orange & Toasted Walnut Salad w/: My Favorite Vinaigrette: Recipe yields 6-8 side servings of salad and 2 cups of vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid; cutting board; chef's knife; paring knife and/or vegetable peeler

Cook's Note:  When I have absolutely gorgeous oranges, bursting with flavor and juice, I will supreme two, cut the segments in half and use them in place of canned mandarin oranges.  That being said, beets and apples are Fall fruits, and oranges here in Central PA this time of year are not at their best. Truthfully, I've never had anyone ask me why I didn't use fresh oranges in this salad (because they are all too busy eating it), plus, the cute little mandarins are fork and user friendly!

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

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


~ Roasted Beets (Plain, Spiced or Smoke-Flavored) ~

PICT3465 Fall has definitely arrived here in Central Pennsylvania because the apples on Joe's trees are ready to be picked and he just harvested a beautiful batch of beetroots (also known as table beets, garden beets, red beets or just plain beets).  When presented with a basket of freshly picked beets, many folks might react negatively.  Not me.  I adore red beets.  That is probably because I grew up in a family where red beets were not a misunderstood vegetable. Everyone in our family loved them and the womenfolk knew how to cook them the right way. Just like my husband Joe, my Eastern European Baba (my grandmother), my Tettie (her sister) and my mother grew the super-sweet "dark reds" in their gardens and the three of them got together once a year to can/pickle them.  As a kid, I mostly just enjoyed watching their hands turn deep pink as they were peeling and slicing their cooked beets!

For the most part, these ladies used their canned beets at Easter to make delicacies like pickled eggs and a fiery hot horseradish-beet condiment that every one of us slathered on our ham sandwiches (they grew their own horseradish too).  In my Aunt Tootsie's house (my mother's sister Marie) in New Jersey, borscht was a Fall/Winter staple. I have since eaten borscht in restaurants and other Russian households, but no one makes it nearly as well as my aunt. I'm happy to report I have all of these recipes written down and I will be posting them right here on Kitchen Encounters in the not too distant future!

PICT3295 It's  no surprise that when I went out into the world I was happy to try new ways to cook and enjoy red beets.  Beets can be boiled, braised, roasted or sauteed and can be used in both savory and sweet applications.  Even the leafy beet greens are tasty.  Similar to Swiss chard and cooked in the same manner, saute or braise and add them soups or toss into pasta!

Personally, I think red beets are best when roasted (rather than simmered), and today I'm going to show you just how easy this is to do.  I particularly like roasted beets served cold in salads. Sometimes I just slice them into discs, arrange them on a plate, drizzle with a simple vinaigrette and top with some freshly ground peppercorn blend.  This picture is of ~ My Roasted Beet, Candied Bacon, Shaved Onion & Creamy Horseradish Dressed Steak Salad ~.  You can find this delicious recipe in Category 2!

PICT0196 Like my mother and grandmother, I too can/pickle red beets.  My mother simmers her beets and cans them "as is".  I like to roast mine and spice them by adding a cinnamon stick and a few whole allspice to the brine in each jar (just before closing the lids and slipping them into the water bath).  If you don't have freshly roasted beets, home-canned beets are a great substitute for them in almost any culinary application.  

That being said, I have recently acquired a taste for smoked beets (and smoked vegetables too).  I have a stovetop smoker that I used to smoke salmon and trout in, but that requires soaking wood chips, etc.  So with this first batch of garden beets, I decided to conduct an experiment.  I wanted to see if I could impart fragrant spice or smoke flavor into beets during the roasting process.  So: I roasted two bunches of beets, placing fragrant spices in one and a bit of liquid smoke in the other.  I am pleased to report it worked just great!  

PICT3432 ~ Step 1.  If you're buying beets at the store, you'll notice they usually come 3-4 to a bunch.  Because I like to handle beets as little as possible, I leave them in their original bunch, rinse them under cold water and pat them dry with a paper towel. Using a pair of kitchen shears, snip the greens off about 1"-2" from the tops, but leave the tails on the beets. 

PICT0157 ~ Step 2.  For plain beets:  Place the beats from each bunch (3-4 beets) on a 19"-20" sheet of aluminum foil.  Drizzle 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil over each bunch of beets.  

PICT0163 ~ For spiced beets:  Add half of a cinnamon stick, 4-5 allspice & 4-5 cloves.

PICT0171For smoked beets:  Add about 1/2 teaspoon (+/-) liquid smoke.

PICT0167 ~ Step 3.  Tightly seal the beets in the aluminum foil, making sure there are no rips or tears in the packets that would allow steam to escape.  Note:  Packets of beets can be placed directly on oven rack to roast,  but I recommend putting them in a baking dish or on a baking pan.  This makes the steaming hot packets easier to remove when they are done! 

PICT3198 ~ Step 4.  Roast on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool in the packets or until you can comfortably handle them with your hands, about 1 1/2-2 hours.  Do not open the packets while the beets are cooling.

~ Step 5.  Peeling beets is really easy, but know that "things" are going to turn pink.  You can wear a pair of disposable latex gloves, but I do not.  Good old soap and water easily removes the stains from hands and cutting board.

PICT0183 ~ Step 6.  Using a paring knife, slice the top and the root ends off each beet.  To peel the beets use either a vegetable peeler or a paring knife. It's all about what you feel most comfortable with. My husband Joe prefers a vegetable peeler (see picture above) while I choose to use a paring knife.

Slice, dice, quarter, julienne or grate... do whatever your recipe directs with your perfectly roasted red beets

PICT3214 Roasted Beets (Plain, Spiced or Smoke-Flavored):  Recipe yields as many beets as you want to roast.   One beet about 2 1/2" round will yield about 1 cup of quartered and large diced beets.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; aluminum foil; baking dish or baking pan; paring knife; vegetable peeler (optional)

PICT0562 Cook's Note:  Roasted beets can be made up to a week ahead.  After peeling, I place them (whole) in a ziplock bag and keep them in the vegetable bin of my refrigerator.

This is a picture of ~ A Roasted Beet, Apple, Onion & Toasted Walnut Salad w/My Favorite Vinaigrette ~ which I often make with leftover roasted beets.  You can find this recipe in Categories 2, 4 or 14.  Trust me, this salad tastes as good as it looks... the colors of Fall in PA all on one plate!  All I am saying, is give beets a chance!!!  

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

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


~ My Mother's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubki) (A Short Video/Slideshow, 01:56) ~

PICT0482 When I posted this recipe yesterday I never imagined the HUGE response it would get.  The hits to my blog skyrocketed, a lot of my Facebook friends were sharing the post with their friends, and I spent several hours responding to praise and accolades via blog, FB and e-mail.  It is indeed a lengthy post and took me two very long days to shoot all of the step-by-step photographs, edit them and compose the post. As one of my readers (who thanked me profusely for the detailed directions) wrote, "if I can't make these now, you'll have to write a book about cabbage for dummies"!

PICT0518 There is a lot to be said for documenting heirloom recipes and keeping traditions alive, which I try to do quite a bit of here at Kitchen Encounters.  To read the recipe for ~ My Mother's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubki) ~ (in all of its glory), just click into Categories 3, 12, 17, 19 or 22!

To watch a short video/slideshow:

Download My Mother's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubki)-Medium

If you've not made stuffed cabbage because you don't have the time, that is justified.  BUT, if you've not made cabbage rolls because you've been intimidated by the process:  Following this recipe will be just like having your grandmother or mother standing next to you showing you how to do it!

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

(Commentary, Photo and Video courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2010)


~My Mom's Sublime Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubki)~

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0d76434970cMy mom's stuffed cabbage rolls are more than just a family favorite.  They are the best rendition of this Eastern European, ethnic classic that I can provide to you.  Her holubki (pronounced ho-loob-kee) are requested by our family and get served for almost all holidays.  Whenever my husband Joe and I are visiting my parents she makes a pot of them just for Joe (who would live on holubki if he could or I would let him).  Mom learned how to make stuffed cabbage "on the job" from her mother (my Coaldale Baba who lived in Coaldale, PA), just as I have learned to make them from my mom... which makes me a third generation stuffed cabbage cooker.  

Scan Back in the 1980's and 90's, when she and my dad tailgated with us for all Penn State home games, each year our tailgate group planned an entire Slavic menu around mom's holubki.  Mom would pack up her pots and come to State College and she and I would have a holupki cooking marathon the day before that game.  This is no lie, when mom was making her legendary cabbage rolls, everyone in our group invited guests and we always fed over 60 tailgaters that week. 

I am well aware of how many variations of cabbage rolls exist.  I just finished doing a search on the internet and my head is spinning out of cabbage roll control.  Most cuisines have some sort of cabbage roll in their repertoire, just like they have their own version of crepes, dumplings, flatbread, etc.  Each cuisine makes use of ingredients and resources they have on hand.  For instance:  if they lived in an area suited for raising sheep, you'll find lamb in their cabbage rolls, or, if they lived in climate where vegetables grow year round, you'll find things like bell peppers and chunky tomatoes in theirs.  I will, however, go out on a limb and state:  when I say "cabbage roll", you should say "Eastern European", because that is the cuisine they are most commonly associated with.  While my Eastern European family refers to them as holubki, here are some other names you'll run into as per Wikipedia: golubtsy (Russia); golabki (Poland); halubcy (Belarus); holubtsi (Ukraine); kohlroulade (Germany & Austria); sarma (Balkans & Turkey).  My mother tells me the literal translation of the word holubki is:  "little doves" or "little pigeons".

IMG_3309What all stuffed cabbage rolls have in common is:  They consist of cooked cabbage that has been wrapped around a meat-based filling (traditionally beef, lamb or pork) which has been seasoned with onion, sometimes garlic and spices common to the culture.  A grain of some sort is used to bind the mixture together, with rice or barley being the two most common. Cabbage rolls are rustic, peasant-food and this dish originated as a IMG_3304way to use leftover food. Because of this, you'll sometimes come across versions using ingredients like hard-cooked eggs, sauteed mushrooms and/or pickled cabbage (sauerkraut).  Once the cabbage leaves are stuffed, they can be baked, simmered or steamed in a covered vessel and are eaten warm accompanied by a sauce.  Eastern Europeans top theirs with very simple tomato-based sauces and occasionally a dollop of sour cream. This is a one-dish meal, so don't worry about serving anything else.

If you have hesitated to make stuffed cabbage because you don't have the time to do them justice, that is justified.  On the other hand, if you've hesitated to make stuffed cabbage because you think they're too difficult, once you've visually seen how it is done (first hand or via step-by-step pictures), you'll wonder why you've waited so long.  Each step in itself is really easy... trust me.  And, like most somewhat time-consuming, slow-cooked comfort food made with lots of love, they actually taste better if made a day or two ahead of time.  I have more good news for you: they can be frozen, so if you can make the time, do what I do and make a triple batch:

Part One:  Choosing, Coring and Cooking the Cabbage

PICT0293~ Step 1.  Choosing cabbage.  My mom pretty much made stuffed cabbage whenever she found really nice cabbage at The Hometown Farmers' Market or in the Tamaqua A&P, usually in the Fall and Winter months.  I remember her saying to me, "look for 3, young, tender, medium-sized, pretty green-colored heads that do not have any splits or tears in them".  I have nothing to add to these instructions.

My husband grows his own cabbage (pictured here) and for some reason the heads seem to be much larger than what I see in the store.  The size of the head does not affect how many leaves you will get, but it does indeed affect how many stuffed cabbage rolls your are going to get, which affects how much filling you need to make.  Here is my estimation of what to expect:

1 large head of cabbage will yield:  14-16 large-sized stuffed cabbage rolls requiring 1/2 cup of filling each (Note:  When my mom is faced with large heads of cabbage, she cuts these large steamed leaves in half, so she ends up with 28-32 medium-sized cabbage rolls requiring 1/4 cups of filling each.  She prefers smaller rolls.  I happen to like larger ones, so I do not do this.)

1 medium head of cabbage will yield:  14-16 medium-sized stuffed cabbage rolls requiring 1/4 cup of filling each.

Yesterday, I steamed one large head of cabbage and 1 medium head of cabbage and ended up with 16 large cabbage rolls, 16 medium-sized cabbage rolls and just 1/2 cup of meat filling leftover, so I know the recipe I am sharing with you today is as accurate as humanly possible.

PICT0306 ~ Step 2.  Coring cabbage.  The core is what holds the cabbage leaves to the head.  In order for the leaves to separate easily during the steaming process it is necessary to remove the core.

PICT0296 With a sharp knife, cut around the core to a depth of about 1 1/2"-2", or enough to start a separation of the outer leaves.  

PICT0328 ~ Step 3.  Cooking Cabbage.  In a wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot, bring 8 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Gently lower the first head of cabbage into the water.  The cabbage is going to want to float, so, using a long-handled fork, hold it underwater for a minute or two to allow the boiling water to begin flowing through the cracks and crevices between the leaves.

PICT0343 Do not force or pry the leaves loose. Each leaf is ready to pull away from the head when the fork can easily lift it away.  Once each cabbage leaf is free of the head, depending upon its thickness, it will require 15-45 seconds more in the water bath. Each leaf should be just tender enough to fold in half without cracking, yet still firm enough to form a container for the meat filling without tearing.  Pay attention.  The large outer leaves will cook more quickly than the small inner leaves.

PICT0360 ~ Step 4.  For each head of cabbage I am cooking I line one 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with plastic wrap.  As I take the cabbage leaves out of the pot, I fold them in half and arrange them on the pan. 

PICT0380 It's ok to layer leaves, but my rule is:  one pan per head of cabbage.  

~ Step 5.  RESERVE 3-QUARTS OF THIS FLAVORFUL WATER FROM THE CABBAGE STEAMING PROCESS!  WE'LL BE USING IT AS THE BASE TO MAKE OUR TOMATO SAUCE!  I am so happy my grandmother taught mom and I this "trick", because it is so much better than using water, stock or broth to simmer/cook stuffed cabbage in.

Part Two:  Making the Meat Filling

The following recipe makes enough filling for 3 medium-sized heads of cabbage or one large head and one medium head (like I made yesterday).  I always make enough stuffed cabbage so I can freeze one or two 13" x 9" x 2" baking dishes of it and I highly recommend you do too.  But, in the event you are only cooking one medium-sized head of cabbage (for about 16 medium-sized stuffed cabbage rolls), you'll want to make one-third of the following recipe, which is easy to do and I've included those calculations for you too.

6a0120a8551282970b015435664f98970c6  pounds freshly ground sirloin (95/5), or 2 pounds per head of cabbage (Note:  Sirloin is my preference, but this recipe can be prepared using extra-lean (90/10) or lean (85/15) without compromise.)

1  pound uncooked, long-grain white rice, or 3/4 cup per head of cabbage

3  cups finely diced yellow or sweet onion, or 1 cup per head of cabbage

4  ounces butter (1 stick), or 1/3 stick per head of cabbage

2  seasoning packets from 1  box of G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix, or 1/2 teaspoon G.W's seasoning mix per head of cabbage (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand in my pantry so I can duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's readily available to me at my local grocery store and on-line as well.)

1 1/2  tablespoons salt, or 2 1/2 teaspoons per head of cabbage

2  teaspoons black pepper, or a generous 1/2 teaspoon per head of cabbage

6  extra-large eggs, preferably at room temperature, or 2 eggs per head of cabbage

PICT1503 ~ Step 1.  Place the ground sirloin in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

~ Step 2.  Place rice in rice cooker with 3 cups of water (use a standard measuring cup for the water, NOT the measuring cup from the rice cooker). Turn on, to steam.  When the rice cooker shuts off, the rice will be firm and slightly undercooked.  If you're cooking rice on the stovetop, be sure to slightly undercook it!

PICT0255 ~ Step 3.  While the rice is steaming:  Prep the onion as directed.  

~ Step 4.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the seasoning packets, salt and pepper.  Add the onion and increase heat to saute, until it is soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Do not allow onions to brown. Remove from heat.

PICT0268 ~ Step 5.  In a medium-large mixing bowl combine the steamed rice with the butter and onion mixture.

Set the mixture aside, stirring occasionally (to avoid clumping) until the mixture is cool enough to handle with your hands, about 1 hour.  In the meantime:




~  Step 6.  Add the eggs to the ground sirloin and, using your hands, thoroughly combine.

PICT0288 Add the cooled rice mixture to the meat mixture and thoroughly combine.  Once again the best way to do this is with your hands.  Trust me on this point, no spoon or spatula please.

Part Three:  Making the Sauce

This incredibly-simple, brothlike-sauce is truly what sets my family's stuffed cabbage apart from the rest. Each and every time someone asks mom or I, "what is in this wonderful sauce", I sooooo enjoy the look on their face when one of us says, "Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup".  Yes folks, I just revealed another one of the best kept secrets of the WWII generation. Stop rolling your eyes and put that fancy can of San Marzano tomatoes back in your pantry.  

PICT0429For three heads of steamed cabbage, in a 6-8-quart stockpot, place:

3  quarts "cabbage water", reserved from above

4  10 3/4-ounce cans Campbell's condensed tomato soup

1  6-ounce can tomato paste

1  teaspoon sugar

1  tablespoon salt

1  tablespoon black pepper, more or less, to YOUR taste

Note:  My family likes our sauce slightly spicy because it balances out the not-very-spicy cabbage rolls.  If you're in doubt about how much to use on your "maiden cabbage roll voyage", start with half as much pepper.

~ Step 1. Bring sauce mixture to a steady simmer over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Continue to simmer about 5-6 minutes or until smooth.  Taste.  If you decide to add more pepper, continue to cook another minute and taste again.  Remove from heat, cover the pot and set aside.

Part Four:  Assembling and Cooking 

Assembling stuffed cabbage is fun and it goes quite quickly.  As for cooking, like I mentioned above, they can be baked, simmered or steamed.  My grandmother and mother always layered them in a huge pot and simmered them in the sauce... and they are oh so wonderful cooked in that manner.  That being said, after all of this work, no matter how hard they or I tried, cabbage rolls cooked in this fashion tend to break down or fall apart, especially if your eating them on the second day.  I wanted to achieve the same flavor my family does, with a better texture and a premiere presentation.  I decided to change things up a bit.  I've never looked back:

~ Step 1.  Spray one to three 13" x 9" x 2" glass or ceramic baking dishes with no-stick cooking spray, depending upon how many cabbage rolls you are preparing.

PICT0401 ~ Step 2.   On a flat work surface, place one cabbage leaf, concave side down, and using a paring knife, trim the thick core vein from the center of it.  Depending upon the size and thickness of each cabbage leaf, this core vein can/will be large or  quite small.  

Note:  This step should not be omitted because it makes the rolling process a lot easier and the finished product more user friendly.

PICT0407 ~ Step 2.  Flip the cabbage leaf over, concave side up.  Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place one or two scoops of filling in the center of each leaf.  

Note:  Leaves from a large head of cabbage will require two scoops (or 1/2 cup of filling) while medium-sized leaves will need just one scoop (or 1/4 cup of filling).

PICT0414 ~ Step 3.  Lift and wrap the left and right sides of the cabbage leaf around the meat filling.

PICT0415 Lift and fold/wrap the core end up over the filling...

PICT0416 ... "roll the roll over", until seam side down.

PICT0425 Continue the process until all cabbage leaves are stuffed, arranging them, seam-sides-down in the prepared pans as you work. Eight large rolls or 16 medium rolls will fit nicely into each pan.

Preheat oven to 300-325 degrees.

PICT0443 ~ Step 4.  This picture shows you how to arrange the 16 medium-sized cabbage rolls in each pan. No matter how many stuffed cabbage rolls are in each pan, ladle sauce to within 1/2"-3/4" of the top of the dish, about 3 cups in each. Cover and seal each with aluminum foil. Leaving this headspace at the top is important as steam will build up during the cooking process.

PICT0457 ~ Step 5.  Bake on center rack of preheated oven for 2 1/2-3 hours, or until starting to lightly brown on the top.  This is referred to as:   braising.

Remove from oven.  Uncover and ladle 1-1 1/2 additional cups of warm sauce into each dish. Recover with the foil and let rest about 30 minutes prior to serving...

... as is/family-style or portioned into individual warmed serving bowls.

Eastern European family-style comfort food at its best:

6a0120a8551282970b0154356c8a69970cMy Mom's Sublime Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubki):  Recipe yields 16 large cabbage rolls and 13 medium-sized cabbage rolls, or an amount calculated in the above recipe.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife and/or paring knife; 12-quart stockpot; long-handled fork; 1-3, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; plastic wrap; electric rice steamer (optional); 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon; 6-8 quart stockpot w/lid; 1-3, 13" x 9" x 2" baking dishes (preferably glass or ceramic); 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; soup ladle; aluminum foil

Cook's Note:  Do not be intimidated by this crazy-long post.  I merely wanted to give everyone a birds-eye view of what to do when making cabbage rolls.  That being said, each and every step, steaming the cabbage, mixing the meat, and making the sauce can be done one day ahead of assembling and cooking without any compromise in flavor or texture!

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

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


~ Tuning Up for Tailgate Thursday: Take a Trip Back Twenty-Five Years in PSU Tailgating Time, Part 2: The Roads All Lead to Beaver Stadium ~

Beaver Stadium #1 If you're are wondering what you are reading, this is part two of a five-part series I am posting for the first five Penn State home games this football season.  In honor of Penn State's 125th anniversary, I've decided to take a nostalgic look at what us true-blue tailgaters were cooking-up twenty-five years ago.  The year was 1986 and the world was a kinder, gentler place.  Penn State was celebrating its 100th anniversary. It was the year we won our second national championship.  Back in 1986, we were all in it to win it... and so we did!  

The menus I am sharing with you in this series are the actual pages from a tailgate newsletter I "published", Xeroxed and snail-mailed to our tailgate group throughout that very memorable year.  You see, my children, BYI, we had no cell phones or computers back then, just land-lines and typewriters, and, "cut and paste" meant just that.  OMG:  There was no Food Network or Cooking Channel either.  We womenfolk combed through our recipe boxes, clipped recipes from magazines and paged through cookbooks for our ideas... surfing was something one did at the beach.  As for the menfolk, beer had been invented, they did have cable and couch-potato channel changers, but alas, there was no BTN, so... off to the stadium you and your family go!!! 

Last Thursday, my post was about what kind of planning and organization it took for our team of Happy Valley residents to host a signature, finely-tuned, Penn State-classy tailgate that fed 50-60 people two meals for every game... a pre-game brunch and a post game dinner.  To read Part 1:  The Business of Tailgating, just click into Categories 16 or 17!  Without further adieu:

Part 2:  The Roads All Lead to Beaver Stadium

ScanJoe and/or I have driven by Beaver Stadium at least 20 times a week for over 36 years.  I suppose it's no different than someone who nonchalantly says, "I walk past Carnegie Hall on my way to work every morning", unless that person becomes a musician because of concerts he/she experienced there.

I wonder how many Penn State tailgaters ever stop to think about how much impact Beaver Stadium has had on their life.  FYI:  In this town, being invited to become a permanent member of a well-established tailgate group is a big-deal and commitment.  I was 26 and Joe was 33 when that happened to us.  Just like we didn't know we were going to win the national title in '86, we didn't have a clue these folks would become life-long friends, confidants and allies!

Scan 1 The crazy part is, if it hadn't been for tailgate, I'm pretty sure this diverse bunch of people would never have naturally gravitated to each other. Joe and I were the "new kids" in the group, with almost everyone else being "old enough to be our parents".  In fact, after we joined, we were having so much fun we asked my parents to join and they were solid members for over ten years!

In terms of diversity, what we had was a mix of old-school English, German, Irish, Italian, and Eastern Europeans who were all brought together by food and football, or, football and food... and cocktails!

Instead of letting any petty ethnic differences separate us, we chose to embrace and utilize them and threw some legendary tailgates that still keep us all proudly roaring!

Scan 2 The food was so good that annual tailgates like Slavic, Oktoberfest, Little Italy and Irish were demanded by everyone in our group.  From a culinary standpoint, I was literally a "kid in a candy store" and soaked up every recipe I could wrap my foodie-forming brain around.  For me, this was:  "the perfect storm"! 

"No matter what road in life you are traveling on, if it leads to Beaver Stadium, you'll be a much better person and cook!" ~ Mel.

I hope you've enjoyed reading Part 2 of this five-part series.  Part 3 will be coming your way on Thursday, September 22nd.  But, until then, look for my next Kitchen Encounters post when I'll be posting the crowd-pleasing winning recipe from our above 1986 Slavic tailgate menu!


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

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


~ A Gingered Shrimp & Ramen Noodle Slaw-Salad ~

PICT3631Right now it is a relaxing Friday afternoon, but in a few short hours Melanie's Kitchen will be anything but quiet.  It's is hard to believe that today it is the eve of the Labor Day weekend. Where did my Summer go?  One or two more weeks of August would have gone a long way to help me avoid the harried feeling I am experiencing right now.  Let me explain:  For many of us living here in Happy Valley, this weekend is not exactly an end-of-Summer, relaxing Labor Day weekend followed by the first day of school on Tuesday.  It is the start of the Penn State football season, and the kickoff is scheduled for Noon tomorrow at Beaver Stadium!

PICT3616 I've actually got it kind of easy for this years season opener as my guests (just four) aren't arriving until the morning, so I don't have dinner to cook tonight.  That being said, I still have to put a few things together for our tailgate basket. Since the weather is still quite warm here in Central Pennsylvania (calling for 80 degree temperatures with 80% humidity tomorrow),   I've decided to serve this cold, Asian, main-dish salad, which is dressed with a flavorful ginger-soy sauce.  I also want to point out that this flavor-packed, main-course salad would also be a wonderful meal to serve at your Labor Day picnic, plus, leftovers can go in your kids (or your) lunch boxes the next day -- it's delish!  

Scan Gingered Shrimp is a recipe my husband's sister-in-law Kathy made and brought to our tailgate back in 1986.  Yes folks, everyone at tailgate, including myself loved it so much it is being blogged about here at Kitchen Encounters twenty-five years later!  

Kathy served it as an appetizer that September morning, placing toothpicks in the shrimp and arranging them on a bed of lettuce.  

Here's the play-by-play of how it evolved into an equally popular Melanie's Kitchen main-course:

PICT3641 When the appetizers disappeared, I noticed that people were still picking on the bed of lettuce. The sauce from the shrimp had dripped down into it, and it tasted great.  I decided to develop a cabbage slaw, dressed with the same sauce as the shrimp, and, I wanted it to be easy to make so I used a bag of store-bought cole slaw mix and a bag of store-bought match-stick carrots.  Then, to tie the two together, to make it a meal, I thought, "who doesn't love Asian noodles".  I'm familiar with all kinds of Asian noodles, but since this was Penn State tailgate, I decided to go with what the college kids eat: ramen noodles!

PICT3470 Before getting started, notice that we'll be using minced ginger and minced scallions for the shrimp, the slaw and the noodles.  So, when shopping, make sure you buy enough!

The easiest way to mince ginger is in the food processor.  You can do all of it at once or in small batches, the choice is yours. After the ginger is peeled, chop it into 1/2"-3/4" pieces.

PICT3479 Place the pieces in the processor and after a series of about 30 rapid on-off pulses, you'll have all the minced ginger you'll need!

I prefer to mince my scallions by hand.  Once again, you can mince them all at once or in small batches, the choice is yours! 



For the Gingered Shrimp (5 1/2-6 dozen):

2  pounds large shrimp (31-40 count), peeled and deveined, tails on or off, your choice (Note:  If you're using frozen shrimp, thaw them and have them at room temperature.)

2  cups white wine, preferably sweet

2  cups water

1/2  of a lemon and its juice

For the Ginger-Soy Sauce (makes 1 cup):

6  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce, no substitutions

1/4  cup minced, fresh ginger, about a 1 1/2 ounce piece of ginger root

1/4  cup minced, fresh scallions, white and light green part only (reserve greens for garnish)

1/4  cup rice vinegar, no substitutions

2  tablespoons white wine, preferably sweet

2  tablespoons sugar

For the garnishes:

1  cup unsalted peanuts, chopped and lightly roasted/toasted

1 cup very thinly sliced scallion greens (reserved from above)

PICT3498 ~ Step 1.  Place the wine and water in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan. Squeeze the lemon juice into the mixture and add the lemon as well.  Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil.

~ Step 2.  Add the shrimp.  When the mixture returns to a boil, cook for 30-45 seconds.  Remove from heat and drain shrimp into a colander.  Do not rinse.  While shrimp are cooling and draining:

PICT3503 ~ Step 3.  In a small 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan, combine the soy sauce, minced ginger and minced scallions.  Bring to a simmer and continue to cook about 3 minutes.  

PICT3507 ~ Step 4. Turn heat off. Stir in the rice vinegar, wine and sugar.

Note:  This same sauce will be used throughout this recipe.  DO NOT make it in one large batch as it will not pour or distribute evenly.

PICT3512 ~ Step 5.  Place the warm shrimp in a 2-quart baking dish (rectangular or square).  Add the sauce and using a large spoon, stir to combine.

PICT3525 That being said, I like the mess free option and just put everything in a 1-gallon food storage bag!

Refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight. Stir or toss occasionally.

IF YOU THOUGHT THAT WAS EASY, just wait until you prepare the rest of this recipe!!!

PICT3540 For the Asian Cole Slaw:

2  pounds store-bought cole slaw mix

10-ounces store-bought match-stick carrots

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

 ~ Step 1.  Prepare a double batch of the ginger-soy sauce, stirring in 2 tablespoons sesame oil at the end. Refrigerate sauce about 1 hour.

PICT3548Step 2.  While the sauce is coming to room temperature, in a large mixing bowl, using your hands, combine the slaw mix, carrots and onion.  Add the cooled sauce, and, using your hands again, thoroughly combine.

~ Step 3.  Cover and refrigerate for 4-6 hours or overnight.  Stir or toss occasionally.  While the Asian slaw is chilling:

PICT3555 For the Ramen Noodles:

3  3-ounce packages ramen noodles, your favorite brand, seasoning packets reserved for another use or discarded

4  cups water

~ Step 1.  In the same 3 1/2 quart chef's pan you cooked the shrimp in, bring the water to a boil over high heat.


PICT3561 ~ Step 2.  Add the ramen noodles, just as they are, all stuck together in their block shape, to the boiling water.

PICT3565 ~ Step 3.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and cook, about 3-4 minutes, or until al dente and "stringy".  Remove from heat.  

PICT3576 ~ Step 4.  Drain noodles into a colander and rinse under the coldest water possible until the noodles are cold.

~ Step 5.  Line a small baking pan (12" x 9") with 2-3 layers of paper towels.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, quickly snip the noodles into random-sized, user-friendly lengths, 4"-5"-6", not small pieces. Allow noodles to drain on the paper towels for 5-10 minutes.

PICT3584 ~ Step 6.  Add the noodles to the Asian slaw.  The fastest and easiest way to thoroughly combine this mixture is to use your hands.  

~ Step 7.  Cover and return the Noodle Slaw-Salad to the refrigerator for 1-2 hours or overnight.  This will give the noodles time to soak up some of the slaw dressing along with all of its flavors.  While the Noodle Slaw-Salad is is the refrigerator:

Chow Mein #29 (Toasted Peanuts) ~ Step 8.  Prep the garnishes. Chop about 1 cup of unsalted peanuts, place them in a small baking pan and roast them in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, or until lightly toasted and fragrant. Remove and cool completely.  

Next, thinly slice about 1 cup of scallions greens.

~ To serve:  On individual plates or on one large platter, make a bed of the Noodle Slaw-Salad.  Decoratively arrange the shrimp over the top.  Garnish with a sprinkling of toasted peanuts and scallion greens.  Serve cold!

PICT3614Gingered Shrimp & Ramen Noodle Slaw-Salad:  Recipe makes 8-10 main-course servings, or 16-20 smaller luncheon-sized, small "cup or bowl" servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor (optional); 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides; colander; 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan; 2-quart baking dish; large spoon; 1-gallon size food storage bag (optional); 12" x 9" baking pan; paper towels; kitchen shears

PICT3620Cook's Note:  This is a perfect recipe to make when your cooking for a large group or gathering and/or when your faced with entertaining outdoors during the warm weather months... truly a refreshing change of pace for a picnic or a tailgate!

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

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


~ Tuning Up for Tailgate Thursday: Take a Trip Back Twenty-Five Years in PSU Tailgating Time, Part 1: The Business of Tailgating ~

Scan Yes, 'tis true:  This coming Saturday at Noon, when the pigskin gets kicked-off in Beaver Stadium, we Penn State fans will embark on our 125th year of true-blue temporary insanity.  For those of us who live right here in Happy Valley, or within a couple miles of the actual crime scene, we can report there is no exaggeration regarding the electricity that is in the air just before each and every game!

I've lived here since 1974 or for 36 years.  Back then, I was young bride of 19 and after moving into our apartment (the day after our wedding on August 31st), I immediately started planning our first tailgate and never looked back.  A lot has happened over the past 36 years of my life, but tailgate has always been there, each and every year, like sand through the friggin' hour glass of life, gently reminding me:  it's time to par-tay!

Having been a foodie for the same number of years, no matter how you add this up, it is a lot of tailgates.  (I'm bragging a bit, but if there were actual money in tailgate planning, I'd have enough bucks to pay for some decent housing facilities in Paternoville.)  And, once again this year, in true tailgate tradition, just the other night, while sitting in the hot tub with my husband Joe, I say, "hummmm, it's time to decide what I'm serving for Saturday's tailgate... got any suggestions honey?"  He answered, "look in that tailgate book of yours."  He was referring to my stack of tailgate notebooks where I keep menus, lists, contact numbers, etc.  He went on to tell me to specifically look in my tailgate notebook from 1986, which is a compilation of tailgate newsletters I "published" for and sent to our tailgate group 25 years ago for Penn State's 100th "Century of Excellence" football season!  

WHAT A GREAT IDEA!!!  Where were you 25 years ago?  Do you remember what you ate at tailgate even last year?  Well, neither do I, but I have proof positive of what our tailgate group feasted on for this memorable National Championship season because I took the time to write all of the menus down... and they are prehistoric-looking my friends, meaning:  precomputer. Using just a typewriter and a copy machine, I sent these out on a weekly basis to the members of our group!

So, for each home game this year, I am going to post one of these newsletters and chat with you about what was going on in our Penn State minds way back when.  The following day, (on Fridays) I'll do a blog post about the dish that stole the show on that particular menu.  Today, in Part 1 of this series, I'm going to share with you what tailgating for tailgaters who reside here in Happy Valley is like. Without further adieu:

Part 1:  The Business of Tailgating

1986 Tailgate Page 1 In 1986 we just knew a National Championship was at hand.  Don't ask me how we knew, we just did. We finished the season at 11-0 the previous year with a heartbreaking loss to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.  Joe and I were there, with seats directly in front of the Oklahoma band.  That's all I have to say about that!

That being said, almost our entire team was back in '86. From the moment our RV parked in its spot directly across from the stadium, we could feel the ground underneath it swaying from the swagger of the fans... fans just like Joe, me and everyone else in our RV that morning!

Our core group of four women had met early in August to plan our menus.  Carol, Jean, Joan and myself came up with themes, combed through our recipe files and whatever cookbooks we had on our shelves... there was no internet or Food Network back then.  We took into consideration each persons skill level and time constraints before assigning the dish they were were expected to make that week.  To avoid traffic and waiting lines in local restaurants, our group ambitiously planned to serve brunch prior to each game and dinner afterward!

ScanOnce the recipes were chosen, I put them in the newsletter, cutting and pasting them the old-fashioned way. Each team member checked their snail-mail on Monday AM to receive their assigned recipe(s) and instructions for the upcoming week's game!

Each of our ten core couples did their part too. We all annually contributed a flat dollar amount. A portion paid for the inspection of and gas for Duane's RV, which he drove in from Harrisburg for each home game.  The rest of the money was used to buy paper products, cleaning supplies and LOTS of ice on an as-needed basis.  All of this organization and "high finance" was indeed necessary.  On a weekly basis, our core group of ten couples all had company/guests coming into town for the weekend and our tailgate almost always fed 50-60+ people.  On the Saturday of each home game at Beaver Stadium, we were are own little blue & white lovin', self-sustaining community!

Scan 1 Each person made their recipe in a quantity necessary/appropriate to feed that weeks crowd, and it was noted on the newsletter in what quantity we expected it.  The cost of food for these satellite dishes was that person's/couple's weekly donation.  I usually made the main course (because I was the one who owned giant pots and chafing dishes), but even if I did not, whoever made the main course kept their grocery receipt and got reimbursed for the cost of the food. So, for example, if I made lasagna to feed 60 and my ingredients cost $200.00, Stan, our tailgate's toastmaster and Grand Poobah took a headcount and divided $200.00 by 60, which equals less than $3.50 per person.  Gourmet fare so inexpensive even McD's couldn't compete with our tailgate!

Scan 2 Now if this is starting to sound like a dictatorship you've got it all wrong. There was a lot of freedom. Everyone was free to swap out with anyone else for any reason at all. That being said, we had a couple of women who loved to bake and requested to be on dessert duty every week... a service of self-expression which was yummily appreciated by all of us!

"Back in 1986 we were all in it to win it... and so we did!" ~Mel.

I hope you've enjoyed reading Part 1 of this five-part series.  You can look for Part 2 next Thursday, but until then, look for my next Kitchen Encounter's blog post when I'll be posting the crowd-pleasing winning recipe from our above 1986 Hawaiian tailgate menu!


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

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