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15 posts from April 2012


~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL Video Segment #33: Baked Haddock w/Nicoise Sauce & Saffron Rice ~

PICT2736Yesterday I posted my recipe for ~ Baked Haddock w/Nicoise Sauce & Saffron Rice + (Tips and Techniques for Handling Frozen Fish ~.  Every home cook who enjoys fish has a simple baked recipe in his or her repertoire and this is mine.  You can find the detailed recipe, along with all of my step-by-step directions and photos in Categories 4 or 10!

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

Baked Haddock w/Nicoise Sauce & Saffron Rice

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

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


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

(Recipe, Commentary, Photo & Video courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


~ Baked Haddock w/Nicoise Sauce & Saffron Rice + (Tips & Techniques for Handling Frozen Fish Fillets) ~

PICT2729Every home cook who enjoys fish has a simple baked fish recipe in his or her repertoire and I am no exception.  I started liking fish at an early age, starting with my Dad's salmon patties followed by fish sticks in our school's cafeteria.  Dad made his salmon patties from canned salmon and the school's bread-crumb-coated fish sticks were pre-frozen.  This is not a criticism. Here in Pennsylvania, and especially back in that time period (the 1960's and '70's), fresh fish just wasn't readily available.  Nowadays, our local markets have lovely fresh seafood counters, and, I am a big fan of fresh white fish, namely: cod, flounder, haddock, sole, and, grouper (which is my absolute favorite).  While fresh fish is always better than frozen:

I will never turn my nose up at flash-frozen haddock!

PICT2736Ok.  It's rectangular, which makes it look "fake".  Get over it.  This is a thick, meaty fillet with a mild flavor. I am never without 3-4 of these in my freezer.  The fillets need to be thawed prior to baking, broiling or deep-frying.  Thawing will take 3-4 hours on your countertop, or, overnight in the refrigerator.

The flash-frozen haddock fillets I purchase weigh about 12-14 ounces each, and one is easily enough to feed two people.  "Flash" or "quick" frozen means that it was frozen at sea or within a few hours of being caught, which means it will have a fresher taste than fish frozen a day later.

Why is a frozen haddock fillet rectangular in shape?

Yhst-61230524414527_2204_1265469We can thank Clarence Birdseye for this.  He began experimenting with freezing fish in 1916 and found out that if fish were frozen very quickly, when it thawed it was almost indistinguishable from fresh fish.  He started his company in 1924, with the intention of selling frozen fish, but his real goal was to develop and patent a method of freezing that would launch an entire industry.  He named his company General Seafoods Corporation, which was located on Gloucester's, MA waterfront.  They began with haddock fillets that were tightly-packed and frozen in rectangular cardboard boxes.  By doing this, he eliminated air, which assured complete freezing with no spaces for bacteria to enter.  Birdseye had succeeded in developing a process for freezing food on which an entire industry was founded.  As his company expanded from fish to vegetables, the business was sold and given a new name:  General Foods!

Mel's Super-Easy, Moist & Juicy Baked Haddock Fillet(s)!

PICT2740My recipe for baking haddock is so simple, it is almost embarrassing. In fact I wasn't planning on posting it at all, but:  

Two days ago I posted my recipe for ~ French Riviera-Style Tomato Sauce "a la Nicoise"~ (found in Categories 8, 14, 20 & 22).  I pictured the sauce atop baked haddock and served with my recipe for ~ Spicy Saffron Rice ~ (found in Categories 4, 12 & 14).  

Within moments of posting the Nicoise sauce, I received a comment from a reader asking me to elaborate on the fish in the picture, along with instructions for how to cook it.  A few short moments after that comment, two of my Facebook friends asked for the same information.  So, my friends and readers, here is the recipe, with its two easy steps  and baking instructions:

PICT2731~ Step 1.  Place 1-2, 12-14 ounce, thawed haddock fillets on a disposable aluminum broiler pan. Place 4-5 thin pats of salted butter (a scant 1 tablespoon) over the top of each fillet, fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 a lemon) and a sprinkling of lemon-pepper seasoning.

~ Step 2.  Cover pan with foil and bake on center rack of 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Rest 5 minutes prior to uncovering and serving.

PICT2730Baked Haddock w/Nicoise Sauce & Saffron Rice:  Recipe yields instructions for cooking 1-2, 12-14-ounce haddock fillets, or, 2-4 servings.  Technically, with side-dishes, you should be able to get 3 servings out of each fillet.  That being said, this fish is so delicious, no one can resist going back for more.  Leftovers reheat nicely in the microwave too!

Special Equipment List: 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; paring knife; aluminum foil

PICT2738Cook's Note:  This is one of my family's favorite meals and I would not hesitate a moment to serve it to guests either.  The fish comes out moist, juicy and full of lemony flavor each and every time.  I prepare the recipes for the Nicoise sauce and the saffron rice ahead of time (while the fish is thawing on my countertop).  The haddock bakes so quickly, the sauce and rice don't even have time to cool off!

Joe's 87-year-old mother moved to Happy Valley in 2007.  She loves to eat fish and proclaims this to be her favorite fish meal!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


~ French Riviera-Style Tomato Sauce "a la Nicoise" ~

PICT2740"A la Nicoise" (nee-swahz) is the French phrase meaning "as prepared in Nice", typifying the food found in and around the French Riviera city of Nice.  Be it hot or cold seasonal cuisine, their cooking style is identified with a few integral ingredients which include:  tomatoes, garlic, olives and olive oil.  Anchovies and/or tuna, fresh or canned, are also common additions.  The famous "salade nicoise" contains these basic ingredients, plus: haricot vert (French green beans), onions, tuna, hard cooked eggs and herbs!

Summer1Back in 1997, I took a series of rather intensive French cooking classes which were taught by Chef Eric Sarnow, formerly of Le Bec-Fin in Philadelphia.  He and his wife Claudia had moved to Central Pennsylvania (Spring Mills to be specific), to open their own restaurant which they named The Hummingbird Room. LogoThe restaurant was an instant success, and, a few years later, when Eric decided to open up his restaurant kitchen and teach a series of classes, I was one of the first ones to sign up. As a respectable foodie from Pennsylvania, I was not going to miss the opportunity to learn from this classically-trained French chef... plus, Spring Mills was only 10 miles from my front door! (Eric has since retired and closed his restaurant.)

Nicoise Sauce a la "The Hummingbird Room"

PICT2734This wonderful, versatile, easy-to-make sauce was one of the items we learned to make.  We served it over another dish we prepared that night, which was considerably more difficult: "Supreme de Poulet Farcie" (boned and butterflied, young, tender spring chickens that were stuffed with sauteed spinach, wild mushrooms and tomato concasse, browned in butter then roasted). Nicoise sauce is refreshing change-of-pace from Italian-style tomato sauces.  It is marvelous served over chicken, fish, rice, pasta and/or vegetables.   My recipe for ~ Baked Haddock w/Nicoise Sauce & Saffron Rice + (Tips & Techniques for Handling Frozen Fish Fillets) ~, can be found in Categories 3, 14, 15, 19 or 20!

PICT2731A bit about Nicoise olives: Specifically from the regions around Nice, France, they are a purple-brown to brownish-black species of black olive which are eaten when fully ripe.  They have an assertive, bright flavor, without being strong or overpowering.  Their size is rather small, and, their pit is rather large, which means each olive has very little flesh.  Pitting Nicoise olives is labor intensive, but worth the effort. Luckily, I can purchase high-quality pitted ones locally (pictured here)! 
















PICT27322  35-ounce cans imported, whole, peeled tomatoes, undrained, chopped into large, bite-sized pieces (Note: The brand of tomatoes I purchase is just lovely.  They are packed in a thick tomato puree.  If your canned tomatoes are watery, drain them prior to chopping them.)

8  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

1 1/2  ounces minced garlic cloves

8  ounces stemmed, cleaned and chopped white mushroom caps 

2  cups pitted and coarsely chopped Nicoise olives

1/2  cup dry red wine

2  tablespoons olive oil

2  ounces butter (1/2 stick)

1 teaspoon herbes de Provence (a French spice blend, see Cook's Note below)

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

PICT2734~ Step 1.  Place the tomatoes in a large mixing bowl.  The easiest way to "chop" whole tomatoes into bite-sized pieces is to squish them with your hands.  Tip:  If you keep them underneath the liquid as you squish, the juices won't squirt all over your kitchen!

~ Step 2. Prep the onion, garlic, optional mushrooms and olives as directed.  Separately, set each aside.

PICT2740~ Step 3.  In a 12" skillet, melt the butter into the olive oil over low heat.  Add the onion, garlic and optional mushrooms.  Add the herbes de Provence, salt, pepper and optional red pepper flakes. Adjust heat to saute, until the vegetables are tender and the mushrooms have lost their moisture, about 8-10 minutes.



~ Step 4.  Add the olives and wine to the pan and cook another 1-2 minutes.  

PICT2758~ Step 5. Add and stir in the tomatoes. Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Serve immediately, refrigerate 3-5 days or freeze.  Reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave:

PICT2772 IMG_6440French Riviera-Style Tomato Sauce "a la Nicoise":  Recipe yields 3 quarts (which is enough for 3 of the above-mentioned baked haddock meals).  I freeze it in 1-quart containers, and, each container is enough to sauce 1-pound of cooked pasta too!  You can find my recipe for ~ Simple Pasta "al Tonno e Pomodoro" "a la Nicioise" (Pasta w/Tuna & Tomatoes" "French Riviera-Style" ~ in Categories 3, 14 or 20!

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; mesh strainer (optional); 12" skillet

PICT2777Cook's Note:  Herbes de Provence is a mixture of dried herbs typical of the regions around Provence, France.  The classic mixture contains basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, savory, thyme and sometimes lavender flowers.  It is usually used to flavor fish, meat and vegetable stews, meaning:  it is added before or during the cooking process or mixed with cooking oil prior to cooking in order to infuse the herbal flavors into the food (never after the cooking is complete).

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


~ Kitchen Encounters/WHVL Video Segment #24: Asian Chicken Salad w/Honey-Sesame Pita Crisps ~

6a0120a8551282970b016304b3f7e0970d-800wiYesterday I posted my recipe for ~ Asian Chicken Salad w/Honey-Sesame Dressing ~, which can be found in Categories 2, 3, 10, 13, 14, 17, 19 or 20.  I served this delightful salad with my recipe for ~ A Sweet Little Snack:  Honey-Sesame Pita Crisps ~, which can be found in Categories 1, 2, 5, 13, 17 or 20!

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

Asian Chicken Salad w/Honey-Sesame Crisps

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

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


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

(Recipe, Commentary, Photo & Video courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


~ Asian Chicken Salad w/Honey-Sesame Dressing ~

PICT2732Everyone loves chicken salad, or at least I think everyone does, and every chef or family cook has at least one or two "go to" chicken salad recipes in his or her repertoire.  In the heat of the Summer, nothing is more pleasing than light and refreshing Asian fare, and, whenever I serve my "spaghetti salad" (as my kids affectionately named it), my family comes flocking to the table!

PICT2730A bit about "spaghetti salad":  Back in 1986 my husband and I left our kids with my parents and headed to Japan and Taiwan for two weeks (on a business trip).  A week in Tokyo was our first stop and I immediately fell in love with this city!

While the men were in business meetings, my private escort entertained me nonstop.  She and I toured museums, shopped in the Ginza (Tokyo's equivalent to 5th Avenue), took classes on oragami, flower arranging, doll making, and, attended an actual tea ceremony!

I learned to love eating marinated fish salad for breakfast, kobe beef for dinner and inhaled soba noodles almost every day for lunch.  Upon our return, I wanted to introduce my children to Japanese flavors and thought the soba noodles would be the right place to start.  Soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour, have a bit of a salty taste and I love them.  My kids, "not so much".  One day I substituted good old American spaghetti for the soba and the rest is history... the "spaghetti salad" was born!

PICT2714For the Honey-Sesame Salad Dressing (& Marinade):

1/2  cup vegetable oil

1/2  cup white rice vinegar

2  tablespoons sesame oil

2  tablespoons Golden Mountain seasoning soy sauce (a Thai soy sauce found at your local Asian market)

4  tablespoons honey

2  tablespoons sugar

~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients in a 2-cup measuring container with a tight fitting lid and shake well.

My Two-Cents Regarding Chicken used for Chicken Salad:

Chicken is a very versatile, affordable ingredient, but I rarely use leftover chicken to make chicken salad, unless it is flavored with herbs and spices that complement the chicken salad I am serving.  I like to cook chicken, using different methods, specifically suited to each chicken salad recipe.  For instance, in my recipe for ~ "Hail Caesar" Roasted Chicken Caesar Salad ~ (which you can find in Categories 2, 12 & 19), I follow my recipe for ~ "My E-Z "Real" Roasted Chicken Breasts ~ (which can be found in Categories 3, 19 & 20).  When it came time to develop a recipe for Asian chicken salad (this one), I wanted my chicken to be soft, shreddable and full of authentic Asian flavor, and, I came up with this fool-proof method to achieve just that:

PICT2714For the chicken:

2  large, meaty, boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, about 10-12 ounces each, trimmed of all excess fat, cut in half widthwise to form four relatively even-sized 5-6 ounce portions

6  scallions, white and light green part only, thinly sliced

1/4  teaspoon ground ginger

4  tablespoons honey-sesame marinade, from above recipe

PICT2714~ Step 1.  Cut the chicken in half as directed above.

PICT2716~ Step 2. Slice the scallions as directed, placing 3 sliced scallions in the center of each of two 12" pieces of aluminum foil.  Sprinkle 1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger over the onions.



~ Step 3.  Place one chicken breast (now two pieces), on top of the scallions on each sheet of foil. Vigorously shake the honey-sesame marinade and spoon one tablespoon over each piece of chicken, using 4 total tablespoons of the marinade.

PICT2728~ Step 4.  Carefully and tightly wrap the aluminum foil around the chicken, to form two packets.  If you rip or tear the foil, start over with a new piece of foil.  Place the packets on a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" pan that has been lined with parchment paper.

~ Step 5.  Bake chicken on center rack of preheated 350 degree for 1 hour.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool to the touch, about 1-2 hours.  I like to let mine rest for 2 hours so it can soak in the flavorful juices and take in all of the Asian flavor.  Shred into bite-sized pieces.

PICT2716For the salad:

1  pound spaghetti, or soba noodles, broken in half prior to cooking, cooked al dente, thoroughly drained, rinsed, cooled and "dried" (meaning:  free of water)

3-4  cups shredded chicken, from above recipe

3-4  cups fresh broccoli florets, 

1  cup diced red bell pepper

1 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and light green part only

1 1/4 cups honey-sesame dressing, from above recipe

1 1/2  teaspoons toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

PICT2714~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Do not add salt. Cook the spaghetti until al dente, about 9 minutes.  Do not overcook. Drain and rinse thoroughly under cold running water, to remove all starch and bring spaghetti to room temperature.  Place on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper and set aside to "dry", about 30 minutes, tossing occasionally.  This is important.  Why?  Oily dressing will not stick to wet pasta!

PICT2715~ Step 2.  Place the pasta in a large mixing bowl.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss it with 3-4 tablespoons of dressing, just until evenly coated. Add the shredded chicken, broccoli florets, diced red bell pepper and sliced scallions.  Add the rest of the dressing and toss until mixture is thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours or overnight. Serve chilled, garnishing each portion with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds, accompanied by my recipe for ~ Honey-Sesame Pita Crisps ~, found in Categories 1, 2, 5, 13 & 17:

PICT2736Asian Chicken Salad w/Honey-Sesame Dressing:  Recipe yields 6 main-course servings and 1 1/2 cups of dressing/marinade.

Special Equipment List: 2-cup measuring container w/tight fitting lid; cutting board; chef's knife; aluminum foil; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; 8-quart stockpot; colander; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; plastic wrap

PICT2740Cook's Note:  To try another great Summertime pasta salad recipe of mine (this one is full of authentic Greek-style flavor), you can find my recipe for ~ Shrimp & Pasta Salad w/Lemony Garlic Dressing ~ in Categories 2, 10, 14 or 15!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


~ A Sweet Little Snack: Honey-Sesame Pita Crisps ~

PICT2723Back in 1980, shortly after Joe and I moved into our home on Belmont Circle, I invited a group of our tailgate women to lunch.  It was a Summer afternoon and I decided to serve Asian fare.  I made teriyaki beef skewers for appetizers and small bowls of wonton soup started the meal.  For my main course I served my recipe for ~ Asian Chicken Salad w/Honey-Sesame Dressing ~ (which is going to be my next blog post).  The night before the luncheon, I felt the menu was lacking "crunch", but alas, Asian food is not customarily served with bread, so no recipes came to mind.  That being said, I knew how to make various versions of pita crisps, and, had pita bread on hand, so, I decided to experiment with a new idea.  On the very first attempt, this recipe for Honey-Sesame Pita Crisps was developed, and, they were/are a delicious and crunchy accompaniment to my salad.  At lunch the next day, everyone asked for my recipe!

PICT2719This past week, I've posted two very special recipes of mine that go hand-in-hand together:

~ In Praise of Perfectly Baked Pita (Pocket) Bread ~, in Categories 2 & 5, and;

~ Hummus... Yummus.  Nothing Ho-Hum about This! ~, in Categories 1, 14 & 15.

PICT2716I am neither suggesting or recommending that you need to bake pita bread to make these crisps.  Store-bought pita works just fine, but  if you do happen to have a few homemade ones leftover, this recipe is the perfect use for them. That being said, if you think hummus is great with any kind of pita bread (which it is), just wait until you put some hummus on these crisps.  The combination of honey (on the crisps) and garlic (in the hummus) is sweet and savory at its best!

PICT2714For the pita crisps:

6  6" round Thomas' Sahara pita pockets, white/unflavored (Note: This is my favorite brand for this recipe folks and I've tried many.)

8  ounces salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (a soft, spreadable consistency), 2 sticks

1  cup honey

2  tablespoons sesame seeds

~ Step 1.  Position oven rack to upper third and preheat the broiler.

PICT1156 PICT1149~ Step 2. Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut each of the pita breads, around its circumference, to form 2 discs.  You will have 12 total discs.

~ Step 3.  Line two large 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with a sheet of parchment paper.  Place two large cooling racks on the parchment.

PICT2715~ Step 4.  On the "inside" of each piece (the "inside" being the rough side that was originally the inside of each bread), spread a thin layer of butter, about 1 1/2 teaspoons.  Next, spread a thin layer of honey over the butter, about 1 1/2 teaspoons. Sprinkle sesame seeds evenly over the top, about 1/2 teaspoon.

PICT2712~ Step 5.  Cut each circle into 8 wedges and arrange them, side-by-side, without crowding or overlapping, on the rack in the pan. Place under broiler until bubbly and golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Watch carefully, as they can and will burn easily.  Repeat this process, alternating the 2 pans and 4 cooling racks until all pita crisps are broiled and completely cooled (on the 4 cooling racks):

PICT2714A Sweet Little Snack:  Honey-Sesame Pita Crisps:  Recipe yields 8 dozen pita crisps.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 4, large cooling racks; cutting board; butter knife; chef's knife

PICT1195Cook's Note:  Store completely cooled pita crisps in 2, 1-gallon food storage bags (4 dozen in each bag) that have been slit in several places with the tip of a sharp knife, to allow for air circulation for 2-3 days.  Do not refrigerate!

Extra Cook's Note:   For another great "chip and dip-type snack" also made with pita bread, you can find my recipe for ~ Homemade Boursin w/Parm 'n Pepper Pita Chips ~ in Categories 1, 2, 11 & 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


~ Hummus... Yummus. Nothing Ho-Hum about this! + (How to: Cook Chick Peas & Roast the Garlic too!) ~

PICT2724Hummus is defined as a thick Middle Eastern sauce, but, actually it is more like a dip (for chips) or a sandwich spread (like mayonnaise), made from mashed chick peas and seasoned with garlic and lemon juice.  If tahini (sesame-seed paste) is added to it, its proper name is "hummus bi tahini". Middle Eastern markets all sell it and Middle Eastern restaurants all serve it.  There are as many versions of hummus as there are hummus makers and it is super-easy to make. 

PICT2717My first experiences with hummus some 30+ years ago, were, unfortunately, a waste of calories, as the two hummus makers I knew obviously didn't like flavor or spice. It wasn't until Joe and I were at an NCTA (National Cable Television Association) convention in Las Vegas in 1983 that I experienced the "real deal".  I bought some hummus from a food vendor that was serving it with freshly-baked pita wedges.  I happened to be really hungry at that moment and the pita bread smelled and looked so good I could not resist it, meaning:  the bread.  As for the hummus, I was completely unprepared for what I tasted.  It was amazingly unlike any of the "tasteless glop" I had been exposed to in Central Pennsylvania... full of garlic-y goodness, lemony lusciousness, subtly sesame, and, some secret spice blend called:  za'atar.  

I became a hummus lover.  Big time.

PICT2716Upon our return, the first thing I had to do was learn how to make pita bread.  Yes, I've always been a "gotta learn to make the real deal" kind of cook.  And, learn I did.  At the time, Joe and I had a friend who hailed from Australia.  Colin worked at the same company with Joe, but Colin was also an accomplished cook and he talked me through the "secret" process of successfully making "pitta",  as he called it.  It was not only successful, it was easier than I ever expected it to be.

My recipe for:  ~ In Praise of Perfectly Baked Pita Bread ~, can be found in Categories 2 or 5.

Let's talk chick peas:  canned vs. dried (& freshly cooked).

PICT2714Like many things is life, you only get out of something what you put into it, and, chick peas are no exception. The people who put chick peas in a can are making a lot of money.  The people who put dried ones in a bag are not.  The people who eat chick peas out of can, eat chick peas out of a can.  People who cook dried chick peas, do not eat canned chick peas.  Enough said?  Not yet. The hilarious thing about this bag of dried chick peas is:  nowhere, in any language, does it tell you how the hell to cook them!  No ******** wonder people eat canned ones!

PICT2717Well, as it turns out, the other name for chick pea is garbanzo bean. They are a legume, which means:

#1.  You soak and cook them just like other dried beans, which I am going to show you how to do, and:

#2.  Before you buy a bag of them, eyeball them carefully.  If they appear shriveled or dried up, no matter how long you cook them, they will NEVER get soft.  

These are picture perfect.

PICT2714I'm cooking this entire bag, because what I don't use for hummus will get frozen for future hummus.

2  pounds prepackaged, dried, chick peas

2  teaspoons red pepper flakes

4  quarts cold water.

~ Step 1.  Place chick peas in a large colander and sift through them with your fingertips.  Remove anything foreign:  little twigs or stones sometimes make their way into the bag.  Under cold running water, thoroughly rinse them.

PICT2714~ Step 2.  Transfer the rinsed chick peas to an 8-quart stockpot, add four quarts of water and the red pepper flakes.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a vigorous simmer and cook for 4 minutes.  

Note:  I do not soak my beans overnight.  Instead, I use my own method of quick-soaking, which works like a charm every time:

Every 1 minute of simmering is equivalent to 3 hours of soaking!

PICT2714Remove chick peas from heat.  Add:

2  tablespoons sea salt

Cover and set aside for 4 hours. The chick peas will be soft to the tooth and ready to be cooked!

Note:  The alternative to this method is to soak beans or chick peas in 4 quarts of lukewarm water, 12 hours or overnight, in a covered stockpot.  

PICT2714~ Step 3.  Return pot to stovetop. Add a few cups of additional water, if necessary, to cover chick peas by 1".  Bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat to a simmer and continue to cook until check peas are very soft, 45-60 minutes.

~ Step 4.  Drain, rinse under cold running water and cool completely. Use immediately, store in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, or freeze.

PICT2713Necessary Calculations:

1  2-pound bag of dried chick peas, when cooked, yields 12 cups, and I like to freeze my cooked and cooled chick peas in 1 1/2 cup portions.  Why?  Because:

1, 15 1/2-ounce can of garbanzo beans, when drained, yields 1 1/2 cups, and most hummus recipes are written using 1-2 cans of drained beans.  That being said, when I want hummus, I want hummus, and if I don't have cooked beans in my freezer the canned ones will do just fine!

PICT2717Let's talk garlic:  raw vs. roasted.

PICT2714When I'm making hummus I like to add both.  Roasted garlic, for its smooth, nutty, subtle garlic-y flavor, and, fresh cloves, for their sharp and distinct garlic-y flavor.

2  large heads garlic, roasted

2-4  large garlic cloves

~ Step 1.  Cut 1/4" of the top off two heads of garlic and remove any excess papery skin.  Wrap each head in aluminum foil and roast in a 350 degree oven for 1 1/2 hours.

PICT2713My Hummus Recipe.















2  15 1/2-ounce cans garbanzo beans, well-drained , or 3 cups cooked chick peas

2  large heads garlic, roasted as directed above

2-4 large garlic cloves, run through a press (Note:  Using less than two garlic cloves is not enough garlic.  That being said, more than four is too much garlic.  Make your decision based upon your love of garlic!

1/2  cup tahini paste, roasted not raw (sesame seed paste)

6  tablespoons lemon juice, preferably fresh (about 2, large lemons)

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning

a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of za-atar spice blend, for garnish

PICT2713A bit about tahini paste and za'atar spice blend:  Tahini is ground sesame seeds, similar to peanut butter.  It's smooth and oily, and always needs a good stir before using it.  When using tahini to make hummus, check the label to make sure it is made from roasted sesame seeds.

Za'atar (zah-tar) is the Arabic name for wild thyme and denotes an herb mixture that contains dried sumac and sometimes sesame seeds. Dried sumac has a tart, lemon-y flavor.  Za'atar is delicious sprinkled on yogurt, fish, chicken, rice or any savory dish you enjoy with fresh lemon juice!

PICT2717~ Step 1.  Prep, measure and place all ingredients, as listed in the work bowl of a food processor that has been fitted with a steel blade.  

Note:  If you never roasted garlic before, all you need to do with it (after it has cooled), is pick up the entire head and squish it.  All of the lovely, golden, garlic'y goodness will come oozing out of it!



~ Step 2.  Using a series 15-20 rapid on-off pulses, combine the ingredients.  Turn the motor on and process until smooth, about 15-20 additional seconds.

Note:  Hummus is best if left to sit, at room temperature, for 1-2 hours prior to serving with a drizzle of EVOO and a sprinkling of za'atar.  It will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.  It can be served chilled, but I think it best at room temperature:

PICT2719Hummus... Yummus.  Nothing Ho-Hum About This!:  Recipe yields 3 cups.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot (optional); colander (optional); cutting board; chef's knife; aluminum foil; food processor

PICT2717Cook's Note:  If you are a true-blue hummus lover, I'd say cooking the dried chick peas is they way to go. The finished product has a bit more texture to it than the canned ones (which are "creamier) can offer. As I mentioned earlier, they freeze well, and, add texture and character to salads and main courses too. Plus, while those chick peas are soaking: think of all the fun things you can do with your spare time!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


~ In Praise of Perfectly Baked Pita (Pocket) Bread ~

PICT2721Last Tuesday night I fell asleep with the television on in our bedroom.  I woke up a 12:30AM (Wednesday).  I know it was exactly 12:30AM because the exact second I rolled over to retrieve the channel changer (in order to turn the TV off) the movie Lawrence of Arabia started on TCM. With 2 1/2 hours of sleep "under my belt", I propped up three pillows, snuggled my poodles around me and stayed up to watch this epic film in its entirety, until 4:30AM.  After all, what self-respecting woman could possibly resist spending the night with Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif and a few camels?  Certainly not me!

Images-1This movie is about the life of a British soldier, Lieutenant Colonel T.E. Lawrence and the years he spent in the Negev Desert involved in Middle East politics during World War I. Every time I watch it, I find something in the movie that I've never noticed before.  This time around, for some reason, I found myself intrigued by life at night in the desert... and I don't mean "night life" as in a party.  I can't imagine how Western-culture military men and woman ever manage to adjust to life in the harsh, relentless, horrible environment of the desert...  

150px-Sharif_in_Lawrence_of_ArabiaMuch like this movie depicts, history books have taught us about the Bedouins, who, in ancient times, nomadically roamed the desert in the sweltering heat of the sun.  At sunset, when the temperature dropped, they would make camp, pitch their tents and prepare the evening meal. After putting some meat on a spit to roast, they would mix some powdered grains with water to form a dough, which they formed into small flat loaves of bread.  They cooked these "flat breads" over an open flame in the same vessel they had mixed the dough in.  In addition, by nightfall, the camels-, goats- or sheeps-milk they had been carrying all day in their goatskin or sheepskin bags would have curdled, or churned itself, into a tangy, custard-like substance, hence:  the humble precursors to pita bread and yogurt!

Wadi-Rum-Camel-sunset-1-XLFast forward to Melanie's Kitchen, 2012, & homemade pita bread!  (Quickly mixed in the food processor too!)

I haven't made homemade pita bread in years.  Don't ask me why, because it isn't hard to do. That being said, it's just easier to buy it.  But, ever since last week's movie, baking a batch has been rattling around in my head.  Because our warm, Summer-like temperatures have dropped significantly today, this is the perfect excuse to preheat my oven to 450 degrees and bake some!

PICT2716A bit about pita bread:  Pita is a round leavened flatbread that is consumed all over the world and has a different name in almost every culture.  The word "pita" is a Greek term meaning "flat", but in ancient Aramaic texts the word pita was used to describe bread in general.  Pita is different from other flatbreads in that it has an internal air pocket.  Commercially it is baked in special ovens that reach 700 degrees.  The intense heat causes the dough to expand or puff up very quickly, creating a large bubble of air inside.  As the bread cools, it flattens out, but the pocket remains.  Pita bread is commonly cut into wedges and used for dipping, but, when cut in half, to form two half circles, the pocket is used to hold all sorts of meats, cheeses, vegetables and even salads!


















2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour + 1/4 cup additional bench flour

1  cup unbleached, white whole-wheat flour

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  tablespoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder (optional)

2  packets granulated dry yeast, NOT rapid-rise

1  1/4  cups hot tap water

2  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

olive oil no-stick cooking spray

PICT2715~ Step 1.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, place both flours, the yeast, sugar and sea salt and optional garlic powder.

~ Step 2.  Place the top/lid on the food processor and, using a series of 10-15 rapid on-off pulses, combine the dry ingredients thoroughly, about 10-15 seconds.


~ Step 3.  Measure and have ready 1 1/4 cups of very hot tap water to which 2 tablespoons of olive oil has been added.  With the motor of the food processor running, add the water/olive oil mixture, in a thin stream, through the feed tube, until a ball of somewhat sticky dough forms.  Continue to knead, in the processor, with the motor running, about 30-45 seconds.  This means the dough will spin around in the processor for 30-45 seconds.

~ Step 4.  CAREFULLY remove the dough from the food processor.  The steel blade is as sharp as a knife.  Trust me, you do not want to cut your fingertips on this blade.

Note:  What happens next might seem a bit odd to you, and it is indeed a unique way to rise dough, but once you try it, you'll be using this method to rise all sorts of dough.  Wait until you see how easy/mess free this is...


PICT2724Step 5. Place dough inside a food storage bag that's been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  Zip or twist bag closed and set aside to allow the dough to rise, until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.  You will have about 24 ounces of dough.

PICT2712~ Step 6.  Using a sharp knife and a kitchen scale as a measure, divide the dough into 8 equal parts, 3 ounces each.  Roll into balls and place on a parchment lined baking pan.  Cover with a kitchen towel. Set aside to rest, 20-30 minutes. This will allow the dough to relax, which will make it easy to roll.  In the meantime:

PICT2721~ Step 7.  Place an oven rack on the lowest third of your oven.  Insert a pizza stone, round or square, large or small, it does not matter.  Preheat the oven with the pizza stone in it to 450 degrees. Fill a spray bottle with water.  Experience has taught me: do not omit either the pizza stone or the spray bottle of water!

Hot oven + pizza stone + mister of water = success!

PICT2713~ Step 8.  Do not knead the dough after this point.  Working one at a time, on a lightly floured wooden pastry board, pat and press each ball of dough into a disk.  Using a rolling pin (I prefer a small one), roll the dough into a circle, about 5 1/2" - 6" round and 1/4" thick.

Note:  I bake my pita bread one-at-a-time, for 3-31/2 minutes each, which, all combined is no longer than it takes the average pan of cookies to bake.  Experience has taught me:  if not baked one-at-a-time, all eight will not puff up.  Trust me, or, proceed at your own risk!

PICT2724~ Step 9.  Open the hot oven.  Quickly squirt the pizza stone once or twice with water.  Using a large spatula, place the disc of dough on the pizza stone.  Quickly  spritz the top of the dough once or twice with water.  Bake for 3-3 1/2 minutes or until perfectly puffed up.

Repeat this process, 7 more times, immediately wrapping/covering the pita together in a kitchen towel as each one emerges from the oven:

PICT2757In Praise of Perfectly Baked Pita (Pocket) Bread:  Recipe yields 8, 5 1/2"-6" loaves.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; 2-cup measuring container; 1-gallon food storage bag; kitchen scale; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; large, white, lint-free flour-sack-type kitchen towel; pizza stone; wooden pastry board; rolling pin; spray bottle w/water

6a0120a8551282970b014e87fd6f36970d-800wiCook's Note:  To read my recipe for ~ Roasted Lamb Sandwiches w/Lemon-Mint Mayo ~, using store-bought or homemade pita bread, your choice,  just click into Categories 2 or 20!  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos (except for Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif and a couple of camels, which I found on the internet) courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


~ Shrimp and Pasta Salad w/Lemon-Garlic Dressing ~

6a0120a8551282970b01901c7381cf970bThis refreshing, satisfying main-dish pasta salad is a favorite of mine.  It's full of Greek-style flavors, which Joe and I love, and we especially enjoy eating it during the Summer, in place of a hot meal.  Besides that, it's perfect to serve when I'm entertaining outdoors and want something that holds up well in the heat.  Tonight, however, it's being served for dinner in Melanie's Kitchen for two practical reasons:  Over the past weekend, my family celebrated Russian Orthodox Easter, and, I have a few dozen cooked shrimp leftover in my refrigerator, and; the sun is out with the thermometer rising above 80º this afternoon.  It feels like Summertime here in Happy Valley. 

PICT2740A bit about pasta salad:  It's a dish prepared with one or more types of pasta and most often tossed in a vinegar, oil, or mayonnaise based dressing.  Besides pasta, almost anything can be added to pasta salad (raw, marinated or cooked in any manner):  fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, nuts, seeds, and/or herbs (to name a few).  It is usually served chilled as an appetizer or a main course in the Spring or Summertime, but can be enjoyed year-round too.  

PICT0015I usually make pasta salad just for the sake of making pasta salad, but it is a tasty way to make a meal out of leftovers too.  When properly prepared, pasta salad is awesome. When it is not properly prepared it is awful. Because I've tasted my share of awful pasta salad at picnics and potlucks over the years, whenever I teach a cooking class about outdoor entertaining or tailgating, I always try to include a pasta salad.  Here are my thoughts and tips about pasta salad in general:

IMG_7162Three tips for properly preparing pasta salad:

PICT27201)  1 pound of bite-sized pasta.  My favorite is called "Trio Italiano" and is a combination of tubes, spirals and small shells, which hold the dressing exceptionally well.  Cook as directed in salted water.  Drain it, and, unless the recipe specifically directs you to do otherwise, immediately rinse it under cold water, as pasta that is not rinsed gets sticky and gummy. Transfer it to a parchment-lined baking pan to cool completely and "dry", meaning: free from water, not dried out.

PICT27192)  1 1/2-2 1/2  pounds of additional "add-in" ingredients + fresh or dried herbs.  Use what you like or have on hand and by all means be creative, but make sure the ingredients go well together. Make one "add-in" ingredient the star of the show, meaning:  Add more of it than other add-ins. For instance: Today I am making a Greek-syle pasta salad, so I am using ingredients that are typical of Greek cuisine and 1-1 1/2 pounds of cooked jumbo shrimp are going to be the star of this pasta salad show. In turn, I am using Greek seasoning blend in my dressing.

3)  1 1/2-2  cups of very flavorful dressing and 1/2-1 cup of finely diced onion.  There is nothing worse than an under-dressed, bland, boring-tasting pasta salad except for an over-dressed dripping wet one.  Toss the dressing in, a little at a time, until the ingredients are well-coated and no dressing is puddling in the bottom of the bowl.  In my world, no pasta salad is complete without some diced onion of some sort.  I don't include it in the 1 1/2-2 1/2 pounds of "add-in" ingredients, because I consider onion a requirement for an awesome, full-flavored pasta salad.   

6a0120a8551282970b01630441ffdd970dFor the Lemony-Garlic Dressing:

1  cup red wine vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil

1/4  cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

3-4  large garlic cloves, run through a garlic press

1/4  cup finely crumbled feta cheese 

1  tablespoon Greek seasoning blend

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon black pepper

~ Step 1.  As pictured in the above photo, in a 2-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid, measure, prep and place all ingredients.  Shake vigorously.  You will have 1 1/2 cups of dressing. Set aside for 2-8 hours, at room temperature, to allow the flavors to marry.  If you want to make the dressing farther in advance, and/or use it for another purpose, store it in the refrigerator. Return it to room temperature prior to shaking vigorously and serving.   

Note and warning:  Because this dressing contains fresh garlic, use the dressing within 3 days, as after that, the garlic will sadly begin to grow bacteria that can make you and yours very ill.

PICT2714For the pasta:

1  tablespoon salt 

1  pound bite-sized pasta

~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.  Add the salt.  Sprinkle in the pasta, adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until pasta is al dente, about 9 minutes.  

~ Step 2.  Immediately drain pasta into a colander and run cold water through it until it is cooled to the touch.

PICT2714~ Step 3. Transfer to a baking pan lined with parchment paper.  Set aside to "dry", about 30-45 minutes.

PICT2715For the additional "add-in" ingredients & assembly:

1-1 1/2 pounds jumbo shrimp, cooked, tails-off

4  ounces finely-diced red onion, about 1 cup

1, 6-ounce can small black olives, well-drained, cut in half lengthwise, a generous 1 cup of sliced black olives

8  ounces feta cheese, crumbled, about 1 1/2 cups

12  ounces small Campari tomatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks, about 2 cups, at room temperature (Tip:  Because tomatoes contain a great deal of liquid, I prep them and set them aside while the pasta mixture is chilling in the refrigerator.  At serving time, I drain them of any excess juice and fold them in at the end.)

 a very light grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend, for topping

zest of 1 lemon, for garnish

PICT2714~ Step 1.  In a large mixing bowl, using a large rubber spatula, gently, but thoroughly, combine the pasta, shrimp and onion with 1/2 cup of the the dressing.  Set aside for about 10 minutes, to allow the pasta to absorb dressing.

PICT2718~ Step 2. Fold in the black olives, feta cheese and 1/2 cup more of the dressing.

PICT2715~ Step 3.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours.  At serving time, drain any excess juice from the tomatoes and fold them into the mixture, along with last 1/2 cup of dressing.  

Portion and serve in shallow bowls or on flat plates garnished with fresh lemon zest and topped with a very light grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend:


 Shrimp and Pasta Salad w/Lemon-Garlic Dressing:  Recipe yields 16 cups of pasta salad and 1 1/2 cups of dressing, or 12, 1 1/2 cup servings. 

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid; garlic press; cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; microplane grater

PICT4409Cook's Note:  For complete instructions on how to perfectly cook shrimp, read my recipe for ~ Once upon a time... A Tale about Shrimp Cocktail ~ in Categories 1, 11, 14, 16 or 21, or, watch my my Kitchen Encounters WHVL-TV segment #23 "Mel's Shrimp Cocktail and Cocktail Sauce" found in the left column of my homepage! 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012) 


~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (4/13/12) ~

Culinary Q & A #2So far, April has been a super-busy month here in Melanie's Kitchen. Last weekend we celebrated Joe's family's Catholic Easter.  This weekend, we will celebrate my family's Russian Orthodox Easter. Next weekend, Penn State will play its annual Spring football "Blue-White" scrimmage game.  All three back-to-back weekends are always filled with fun, food, family, friendship, and, most importantly... tradition!  Today = Kitchen Therapy:

PICT2726The highlight of my Italian Easter posts revolved around the making of Crescia, which is a heavy-textured loaf of bread that is jam-packed full of peppery cheese flavor.  Once it is baked, it is traditionally toasted or grilled, then served with an array of Italian meats and cheeses.  It's easy to make in the food processor and it's not just for Easter either.  To read my recipe for ~ Italian Easter:  Peppery Egg & Cheese Crescia ~, just click into Categories  5, 11, 12 & 22!

PICT2727Today, for my Russian Orthodox feast, I just spent the day baking several loaves of Paska.  Paska is an enriched, slightly sweet bread, similar to brioche, and is made with butter, eggs and sugar.

PICT2722I will be sharing and posting my recipe for baking my grandmother's ~ Russian Easter: Orthodox Easter Paska ~, after this very special holiday weekend!

PICT2744Now for something completely different and somewhat bizarre:  

Seven years ago, uh, seven long years ago, my husband Joe sliced the tops off of three grocery-store-bought pineapples. He planted them in pots.  I told him he was crazy, because I felt it was impossible to grow pineapples in Pennsylvania.  For seven years, he has babied these plants, dragging them into our heated garage every Winter.  For seven years, I have complained about the space they take up, not to mention their massive size and weight.  Today, w/3 pineapples, "I apologize Joe"!

PICT2745Enjoy the rest of your weekend everyone, and once again:  To leave a comment or ask a question, simply click on the blue title of any post, scroll to the end of it and type away... or e-mail me directly!

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

(Recipes, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


~ Leftover Ham -- Pass the Ham & Potato Pancakes ~

PICT2723Writing a blog is a lot of fun for a lot of reasons but one of the best is:  On any given day, one post will give me a pulse for what's going through the minds of other foodies.  Yesterday was such a day.  I posted my grandmother's recipe for ~ Leftover Ham?  Pass Me the Deviled Ham Salad ~, which you can find in Categories 2 & 20.  I gave pause before posting that recipe, because, while I love deviled ham, I wasn't sure how many other folks do.  Finally, I decided that I was missing the point.  It was a great family recipe, so up it went, for two reasons:  I had leftover Easter ham in my refrigerator, and; my grandmother always made it for me.  Now that I have a cooking blog, I thought it appropriate to pay tribute to this blast-from-my-childhood-past recipe.

PICT2724Next, I do what I always do, I shared the recipe with my Facebook friends.  They are a fine bunch of fun-loving foodies (of all levels of expertise), and, they are not at all shy about sharing their likes or dislikes with me (in a nice way, of course).  I was fully-expecting a few dislikes or yuks from last night's crowd.  Boy, was I was wrong.  Not only are there a lot of ham salad lovers in my FB world, everyone (of all levels of expertise), who celebrates Easter by serving ham, has leftovers in their refrigerators.

My friend Chef Peter commented that he had "enough ham left to feed the Chinese army", and aside from the "usual suspects", he was wondering if I had any inspiring recipes to suggest.  At that moment, I did not.  I got off-line, watched The Daily Show and Colbert, then, I went to bed. 

Around 3:30AM this morning I remembered this yummy recipe.

PICT2749I grew up eating and loving potato pancakes, but, this is not my family's recipe nor a recipe I developed.  In our family recipe, we hand grind our potatoes and onions.  A couple of years ago, I was researching hors d'oeuvre ideas for St. Patrick's day, and stumbled upon this one.  I adjusted the original recipe "here and there", to suit my taste, but not enough to call it "mine". That being said, I'll tell you what I did do to it (in case you want to change it back):  I added the minced onion and the cayenne pepper, plus, doubled the amount of salt and black pepper.

Since Easter was in the forefront of my mind last night (not St. Patrick's Day), this yummy recipe simply slipped my mind.  Once it popped into my head, I couldn't wait to get into my kitchen this morning and start on this post. Joe and I will be having these for dinner tonight (and the two of us will eat all eight of them), but remember:  they are great for breakfast or lunch too.


















2  generous cups peeled and shredded (not grated) Yukon gold potatoes, patted dry

1/4  cup very thinly sliced green onion tops, green part only

1/4  cup minced yellow or sweet onion

2  large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

1  generous cup small diced, cooked ham, not luncheon meat

1/4  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/8  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2  teaspoon black pepper

3-4 tablespoons corn or peanut oil, for frying

freshly ground sea salt, for topping finished pancakes

additional very thinly sliced green onion tops, for garnish

ketchup, or chili sauce, or hot sauce, for dipping or drizzling (optional), or:

applesauce or sour cream, for topping (optional)

PICT2724~ Step 1.  Peel and grate the potatoes.  Place in 4-6 layers of paper towels, wrap the towels around them and set aside to rest, 10-15 minutes, to allow the paper toweling to absorb their moisture. While potatoes are resting, prep the green onion, yellow onion and ham, setting each aside as you work.

~ Step 2.  In a large bowl, using a fork, beat the eggs.  Add potatoes and onions.  Thoroughly combine.

PICT2727~ Step 3.  Add the diced ham, flour, sea salt, cayenne pepper and black pepper.  

PICT2733Using a spatula, fold to thoroughly combine.





PICT2741~ Step 4.  In a 12" skillet, heat 3-4 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat, just enough to evenly coat the bottom of the pan.

~ Step 5.  Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place 4 level scoopfuls of the potato mixture into the hot oil. Using your fingertips (or a fork and a spoon)  gently press and spread the mixture out to form 4, 3 1/2"-4" potato pancakes.  Continue to fry, over medium-high heat, until golden brown on both sides, turning only once.  This will take about 3 minutes on the first side and 2 1/2 minutes on the second side. Using a spatula, transfer to a paper towel lined plate to drain.  Immediately sprinkle with a grinding of sea salt.  Repeat this process with the second four pancakes.  Serve immediately:  

PICT2749Leftover Ham?  Pass the Ham & Potato Pancakes:  Recipe yields 8,  3 1/2"-4" pancakes or 2-4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler; hand-held box-type cheese grater; paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; fork; large rubber spatula; 2 1/2" ice cream scoop; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; nonstick spatula

6a0120a8551282970b014e880406bf970d-800wiCook's Note:  You don't have leftover ham?  You don't want to buy an entire ham?  You still want ham in your potato pancakes? Cook and dice up a ham steak.  

Extra Cook's Note:  Once the potato pancakes are mixed together, they can be fried in bigger batches, 8 at a time, in an electric skillet, so do not be afraid to double, triple or quadruple this recipe. The only mistake you can make is not making enough.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


~ Leftover Ham? Pass Me the Deviled Ham Salad! ~

PICT2720I don't make this blast-from-my-childhood-past recipe very often, only when I have leftover "real" ham, meaning:  not luncheon meat.  That was a requirement of my grandmother's deviled ham salad recipe and it remains a requirement of mine too.  Her second requirement was:  the ham must be minced.  She ran hers through a meat grinder.  I'll be finely dicing mine as, now that I'm a grownup, I like it just a bit chunkier.  Baba (my grandmother) served it to us kids on cottony-soft hamburger-type buns for lunch, or, let us spoon our own onto Ritz crackers as snacks.  Deviled ham salad might seem like an odd thing for a little girl to like alot, but, alas, I was an odd little girl.  I liked it even better than tuna salad and I liked that a lot too.  Aside from the classic "ham and swiss on rye", to this day, this super-simple treat, is my all-time favorite thing to make with leftover ham.  In fact, I can hardly wait to push publish on this post so I can eat this sandwich!

PICT2714Before starting, I must choose the correct bowl and only one of two will do today:  both of these were my grandmother's.  The smaller of the two was her all-purpose bowl.  It never got put away.  It sat on her kitchen table.  Besides mixing things in it, it held everything from garden vegetables, to fresh eggs, to dinner rolls. The larger one was generically referred to as "the potato salad bowl".  When Baba made deviled ham salad for sandwiches she used the small bowl, which I'll be doing today. That being said, she had a large family to feed and was always on a budget.  Sometimes, in order to stretch the ham salad to feed more people, she'd add cooked elbow macaroni to it and serve it on plates with forks.  On those occasions her potato salad bowl came into play!

PICT2724A bit about the term "deviled":  As far back as the 18th century, the term deviled was used to describe spicy food in general, and more specifically, dishes prepared with cooked eggs, mustard, pepper and any variety of other flavorful additions. Culinarily, the verb "devil" means: to combine food with various hot or spicy seasonings, such as red pepper, mustard or Tabasco, thereby creating a "devilish" dish. Deviled eggs are a a classic example!

Baba's simple, straightforward deviled ham salad recipe!

PICT2716~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, combine:

3  cups finely-diced ham

3  hard-cooked and cooled extra-large eggs, finely diced (Note: Dice the whites and yolks separately.)

1/2  cup finely-diced sweet onion

1/4  cup finely-diced celery

1/2  teaspoon each:  sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper

PICT2718~ Step 2.  Add and fold in:

1/2  cup mayonnaise

2  tablespoons coarse-grain Dijon mustard

2  tablespoons sweet pickle relish

1/2-1  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

~ Step 3.  Refrigerate several hours to overnight. Serve chilled, mounded onto  soft rolls with Swiss cheese and lettuce, or:

6a0120a8551282970b016764fb96e3970b-800wiLeftover Ham?  Pass Me the Deviled Ham Salad:  Recipe yields 6 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula

PICT0998Cook's Note:  For another devilishly delicious recipe of mine that is along the same theme as deviled ham salad, read ~ Creamy, Chunky & Crunchy "Classic" Tuna Salad ~, which can be found in Categories 2 & 14!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


~ Italian Easter: Peppery Egg & Cheese Crescia ~

6a0120a8551282970b0168e9b2a4c8970cAt Easter, Italian cooks bake a very unique egg and cheese bread called crescia (kray-shah), which means "to grow".  As with almost all ethnic recipes, there are as many versions as there are cooks.  My husband Joe and his brother Tom grew up loving this bread, and I must admit to being very intimidated when faced with developing a recipe for the two of them, based upon how they recalled it from their youth in Jessup, Pennsylvania.  After researching many recipes, and talking to a few Italian relatives from Jessup, who actually make the bread (who, I must report, in true Italian "don't reveal any secrets" tradition, have never, not even once, in my thirty-plus years of marriage to Joe, EVER shared a recipe with me that worked perfectly from the get-go), I became crazed.  In my foodie world, I strive to pass on delicious recipes that work, period.  Once I caught onto their "you'll get it right next time dear" attitudes, I no longer allowed the differences between their respective recipe tales affect my ability to cook "their" food, I sneakily started using the similarities in them to develop spot-on Mel-versions that rival the best of theirs.  Similarities:

LocatelliIn Jessup, PA, crescia is made exclusively with Locatelli cheese, period.  Not Parmesan, period. Do not substitute, period.

In Jessup, PA, crescia is made with copious amounts of Locatelli cheese and lots of black pepper, period. Crescia is not cheese- and pepper-flavored bread, it is peppery cheese bread, period.

In Jessup, PA, crescia is made with eggs and butter.  Eggs are used in place of any milk, water or other liquid that typically get added to a bread dough.  They prefer big eggs too.  When it comes to making crescia, bigger is better, period.

A bit about Locatelli cheese:  Made in Lazio, Tuscany, and Sardinia, it is the most famous brand of Pecorino Romano cheese sold in the United States.  These three regions of Italy have ideal pastures and specific breeds of sheep that insure consistent flavor.  Dating back to Roman times, Locatelli is one of the world's oldest cheeses.  In Italian, "Pecorino" means "made from sheep's milk" and "Romano" means "of Roman descent".  Locatelli cheese is made from November thru June and it is aged for a minimum of nine months.  It is pale yellow in color, hard and dense in texture (similar to parmigiano-reggiano) and strong and sharp in flavor with a salty edge.

PICT2713The best crescia dough is very soft and gooey, yet workable:

PICT2718The best advice I received regarding the making of the dough came from my husband's ex-mother-in-law Albina (a lovely Italian woman and wonderful cook):  The consistency of the mixture is best described as "somewhere between a batter and a dough", "very soft and gooey, yet workable".  Adding too much flour, in an attempt to mimic the texture and feel of traditional bread dough, is a mistake, and, the less you work this dough, the better your bread will be.  It will take this dough quite a while to rise or "grow" (sometimes 2-3 hours), and, the doubling in size is more important than the actual time it takes.

PICT2718The following surprisingly-simple recipe produces a very-flavorful, moist, heavy-textured loaf.  Crescia is traditionally grilled or toasted and served with paper-thin slices of Italian specialty meats and cheeses on top of it.  While it is delicious just as it is, grilling or toasting it takes it to decadent.  That being said, in the Preschutti households, we adore it sliced, toasted and slathered with butter for breakfast too.

To make Italian crescia a la Melanie:














1  pound Locatelli cheese

6 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose four, plus 1/2 cup additional flour for kneading, plus 1/4 cup bench flour

6  packets granulated dry yeast, NOT rapid rise

2  tablespoons sugar

1  teaspoon salt

1  tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

1  tablespoon white pepper

1/2  pound salted butter (2 sticks)

1  dozen jumbo eggs, at room temperature

no-stick cooking spray, or butter and flour, for preparing pans

PICT2721~ Step 1.  Using a large chef's knife, chop the Locatelli cheese into 1"-1 1/2" pieces, adding them to the work bowl of a large-capacity food processor that has been fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of deliberate on-off pulses, grate the cheese to a coarse, yet slightly chunky consistency, about 25.  Add the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, black and white pepper to the cheese. Turn on and process, just until combined, about 10-12 seconds.

PICT2719~ Step 2.  In a 2-cup measuring container, melt the butter in the microwave.  Set aside.

~ Step 3.  In a 1-quart measuring container, whisk the eggs together.

PICT2716~ Step 4. With motor running, in a thin stream, through the feed tube, add the butter, then the eggs.  A large, wet, sticky, ugly ball/mass will begin to form.

PICT2725~ Step 5.  Using the aid of a large spoon and your hands, carefully remove the sticky dough from the processor and place it on a generously floured pastry board.

PICT2728Using the heel of your hand, briefly knead the dough, adding about 1/2 cup of additional flour in small amounts, until dough is smooth and no longer sticks to your hands, about 1 minute.

PICT2736Step 6.  You will have 80 ounces of dough.  Using a large chef's knife and a kitchen scale as a measure, divide the dough into 8 equal parts.

PICT2733Note:  I like to quickly cut the dough into 8 parts and then use my kitchen scale to weigh and adjust each piece accordingly.

PICT2737~ Step 7.  You have two choices: Form each piece of dough into a smooth oval-shaped loaf or a round-shaped loaf.  Place each one in a mini, nonstick loaf pan that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray, or a conventional mini-loaf pan that has been buttered and floured. Rectangular or round? This is a choice you'll just have to make for yourself (I make some of each).

PICT2714 PICT2743~ Step 8. Completely cover the loaves with a kitchen towel (not a damp one) and set aside to let rise, in a warm kitchen, until they are nicely risen and have domed tops, about 2-3 hours (give it all the time it needs).

PICT2723~ Step 9.  Bake loaves, all at once, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, 18-20 minutes. Loaves will be honey-colored and have a hollow sound when tapped with the knuckle of your index finger. Remove from oven and cool in pans 5-10 minutes prior to removing from pans to cool completely on a cooling rack, about 2 hours.

Cool completely prior to serving or freezing:

PICT2717Italian Easter:  Peppery Egg & Cheese Crescia:  Recipe yields 8 mini-loaves, 6-8 slices per loaf, 3-4 servings per loaf.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large 20-cup capacity food processor; 2-cup measuring container; 1-quart measuring container; whisk; large spoon; large pastry board; sharp paring knife; kitchen scale (optional but very helpful); 8, 5"L x 2 1/2"W x 2"D, rectangular mini-loaf pans, or 8, 2-cup round mini-loaf pans; large white flour sack-type towel; 17 1/2" x 2 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; wire cooling rack

PICT2721Cook's Note:  The traditional shape for crescia is round, probably because a round-shaped loaf pan encourages a higher rise, or "grow". That being said, when it comes time to slice and toast or grill the bread, rectangular-shaped loaves, in my kitchen, are much more practical.  I make mini-loaves because crescia freezes beautifully, which allows me to have it on-hand all year for wonderful individual-sized grilled cheese sandwiches and appetizers.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


~ Individual Carrot & Horseradish-Cheddar Souffles ~

PICT2714Carrot souffle is a classic side-dish that I associate with Spring and Easter (just as I associate sweet potatoes with Fall and Thanksgiving).  That being said, when I was growing up, the versions of carrot souffle that I and countless other kids encountered were kind of sweet and pudding-like, or, not light and puffy like a classic souffle... and nobody had to tell me twice to eat my carrots when they were served to me in this form.  In our high school cafeteria, it was actually called "carrot pudding", and the lunch lady would scoop it out of a big casserole dish alongside some green beans on ham-slice day.  My mom never made it, but my friend Brenda's mom did: she called hers "carrot souffle" (but it was still a sweet, pudding-like, casserole dish) and served it with thick-sliced Canadian bacon, and, that was just fine by me too.  

PICT2717The recipe I'm posting today is a savory version, and I am preparing it in souffle manner, by folding stiff egg whites into a vegetable and egg yolk puree to aerate it (which causes it to become light and puffy when it bakes).  I came up with this version after eating my share of cheese souffles in more than few French restaurants.  I like to serve some type of carrot dish every Easter, and, a few years back, I simply decided to combine the bite of horseradish cheddar cheese with a hint of sweet maple syrup to create a souffle that is a perfect complement to my maple-glazed baked ham.  In my household, this recipe is now an Easter tradition...

Making individual souffles isn't any more work than making one larger one, I just think the individual ones are a classy, upscale touch to such a festive, sit-down, dining- room celebration!
















2  cups peeled and 1/4"-thick sliced carrots

1/4  teaspoon sea salt, for seasoning the water

1/4  cup heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature

2  tablespoons pure maple syrup, not imitation

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon cracked black pepper

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

3  tablespoons salted butter

3  tablespoon Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1   cup grated horseradish cheddar cheese

3  large eggs, at room temperature (Note:  In this recipe, the egg yolks will be carefully separated from the whites.  A total of 2 beaten egg yolks and 3 whipped egg whites will be used during the course of this recipe.)

1/4  teaspoon cream of tartar

PICT2719~ Step 1.  In a 2-quart saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil over high heat.  Add 1/4 teaspoon sea salt.  Add the carrots, adjust heat to simmer and cook until carrots are fork tender, about 6 minutes.  Drain and rinse under cold running water. Pat carrots dry in a few paper towels to remove excess moisture.  

~ Step 2.  Place the cooked carrots, cream, maple syrup, sea salt, cracked black pepper and optional cayenne pepper in a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Blend until a slightly-coarse puree forms, stopping to scrap down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice during the process, about 45-60 seconds.  Set aside.

PICT2719~ Step 3.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat. Whisking constantly, add the flour and cook for 45-60 seconds.  

PICT2725~ Step 4. Whisk in the carrot puree, adjust heat to simmer and cook an additional 45-60 seconds.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside to cool, until just slightly warm, about 30-45 minutes.


~ Step 5.  Transfer the cooled carrot mixture to a large glass mixing bowl.  Add the grated cheese, and, using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine.  

~ Step 6.  In a small bowl, using a fork, lightly beat the egg yolks.  Add the yolks to the carrot/cheese mixture.  Using the rubber spatula, thoroughly combine and incorporate the yolks.  Set aside.



~ Step 7.  In a medium-sized, glass mixing bowl, on high speed of electric mixer, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until stiff peaks form, about 5-6 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as you whip.





~ Step 8.  Using the rubber spatula, gently fold about 1/4 of the egg whites into the carrot mixture.

PICT2734~ Step 9. Add and gently fold in the rest of the egg whites.  Work as fast and as gently as you can.  Do not stir.  It is a must to keep the mixture light and airy.

PICT2741~ Step 10.  Spoon the mixture into 6, 6-ounce ramekins and place them on a baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Using a light touch, smooth the tops and wipe the sides of drips.

~ Step 11.  Bake on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven 16 minutes, or until light golden brown, puffed up, yet, "jiggly" in the centers.

~ Step 12:  Remove from oven and serve immediately or as close to immediately as possible (although I've never had any that have "shrunk" and cooled go to waste): 

PICT2751Individual Carrot & Horseradish-Cheddar Souffles:  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2-quart saucepan; colander; paper towels; food processor; rubber spatula; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; whisk; large rubber spatula; fork; hand-held electric mixer; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; 6, 4-ounce ramekins 

Cook's Note:  When mixing souffles and beating egg whites, it is important to use super-clean glass or metal mixing bowls exclusively.  Over time, plastic bowls accumulate a greasy residue that can react with egg yolks and prevent egg whites from whipping properly.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


~ My Asparagus, Smoked Salmon and Havarti Tart ~

PICT2707This recipe has been a favorite on my Spring/Easter brunch menu for decades.  I remember the very first time I made it, but I only sort-of remember the specifics.  I know it was back in the late '80's because I took six of them to an early morning collegiate tennis match at the Penn State Tennis Center.  I was a board member for the support group/boosters club and we tailgated before, during and after all home matches and tournaments.  I had to get up before the sun to get them all baked and at the club by 8:00AM, and, I had only seen the recipe in a magazine two days prior to my deciding to make them.  The magazine in question would have been either Bon Appetite, Food & Wine or Gourmet, as they were the only three I subscribed to back then.

PICT2711The recipe caught my eye because it had caraway seeds in the crust.  I love the nutty, anise-y taste of caraway and the first thing I did to change the recipe was double the amount of caraway seed from 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon, which is where it remains today.  Feel free to omit the caraway entirely or adjust the amount to your liking. 

PICT2713The second thing I changed was the cheese.  The recipe called for Swiss Gruyere, which is indeed a fabulous cheese.  That being said, as a caraway seed lover, it just felt "right" to use Danish Havarti w/caraway seeds instead.  What a perfect complement to the caraway in the pastry crust.

The original recipe did not contain smoked salmon (or any meat).  I added this a few years later, when I served the tart at a luncheon for my friend Sally's birthday.  The ladies all loved it, and, nowadays, I almost always make this tart with the salmon in it.  I'm sure some fully-cooked, thinly-sliced and shredded ham would be delicious as a substitute for salmon, just, well -- not quite as elegant.

Making those changes to the original recipe over 30 years ago, from my point of view, allows me to claim this as "my" recipe today.

PICT0370Back in July of last year, I posted my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee: Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry~.  As I talked about in the recipe, this pastry is used for making savory tarts too.  Click into Categories 6, 15 or 22, and prepare one pastry, exactly as directed, adding:  

1/2- 1 teaspoon caraway seed

to the food processor with the initial flour, sugar and salt mixture. When it's time to roll the pastry out:

PICT2706According to the directions, roll into a thin, 11"-11 1/2" circle.  Lift the pastry up and place it into a 10" tart pan w/a removable bottom.  Do not worry about any small rips or tears. Pat and press the pastry into the pan, carefully patching and repairing as you go.  Finally, using your fingertips, press along the top of the pan to cut/remove the excess pastry and create a clean edge. Refrigerate until baking time, 1 hour to overnight.  When company's coming, I often make my tart shell(s) 1-2 days in advance.  

Before preparing the filling, it's worth mentioning that the original recipe didn't include mayonnaise, cayenne pepper sauce or white pepper.  These were adjustments I made.  When making a quiche or a tart, whisking a bit of mayonnaise into the cream mixture adds a lovely tang, and, cayenne pepper sauce adds a subtle bit of vinegary heat. You can thank me later:
















To prepare the tart filling:

2 dozen asparagus spears, medium-thickness, tips cut into 2" lengths and stalks cut into 1/2" pieces, woody stalk ends discarded (about 1 pound)

1  cup smoked salmon, diced (about 8 ounces)

1 1/2  cups grated Havarti cheese w/caraway seeds (about 1/3 pound)

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

3  extra-large eggs

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1  teaspoon lemon juice, preferably fresh, or quality bottled concentrate

1  teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce, more or less, to taste

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

2-3 teaspoons additional Wondra flour, for preparing tart shell

PICT2706~ Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, bring 3/4" of water to a boil with 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.  Add the asparagus tips and pieces.  Adjust heat to simmer, 1 1/2-2 minutes, or until asparagus is just slightly undercooked.  Drain thoroughly and rinse/shock under cold running water to halt the cooking process.  Separate the tips from the pieces and set aside.

PICT2709~ Step 2.  Dice the smoked salmon and grate the Havarti cheese as directed, placing both in a medium mixing bowl as you work.  Add the asparagus pieces (not the tips). Add the 2  tablespoons of flour.  

PICT2711Using 2 forks, toss, as you would a salad, until ingredients  are evenly coated in the flour.  Set aside.

PICT2707~ Step 3.  In a 1-quart measuring container, whisk together the eggs, cream, mayonnaise, lemon juice, cayenne pepper sauce and pepper.

~ Step 4.  Remove the tart pastry from the refrigerator.  Sprinkle a light coating of the additional flour over bottom of shell. Gently spoon the asparagus mixture evenly into the shell.  Do not compress the mixture or press down.  You want it to remain light and airy.

PICT2710~ Step 5.  Arrange the asparagus tips around the perimeter.  Very slowly and in a thin stream, drizzle the cream mixture into the center of the tart, allowing ample time for it to flow into all of the cracks and crevasses.  Do your best to avoid:

PICT2719Drizzling asparagus tips with any cream.

PICT2709~ Step 6.  Place on a baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven, 40-45 minutes, or until golden, puffed throughout and crust is shrinking from sides of pan.




~ Step 7.  Remove the tart from the oven and cool on the baking pan for 30-45 minutes.

~ Step 8.  Via the removable bottom, gently lift the tart from the sides of the tart pan.  Slice into desired-sized portions and serve warm or at room temperature for breakfast, brunch or lunch:  



My Asparagus, Smoked Salmon and Havarti Tart:  Recipe yields 1, 10" tart and 8-10 servings.

Special Equipment List:  10" tart pan w/removable bottom; cutting board; chef's knife; cheese grater; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; colander; 1-quart measuring container; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper 

PICT2710Cook's Note:  Isn't this just perfect for Spring and Easter entertaining?

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)