Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 02/2010

« September 2012 | Main | November 2012 »

14 posts from October 2012


~ Treat Yourself to a Slice of Peanut Butter Cup Pie + (How to: Make a chocolate cookie crust & ganache!)~

IMG_4447Tonight is trick-or-treat night and in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, in all honesty, I completely forgot about Halloween.  Living where we do, we get very few (if any) ghosts, goblins, skeletons, witches, superheros or fairy princesses ringing our doorbell.  Nonetheless, I always have one bag of candy on hand in the event we do get one or two treat seekers.  In fact, there's more than a few packages of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in my freezer because no one came to our door for Halloween last year, or the year before that, either!

IMG_4380Next to the Tootsie Roll, the Kit Kat and the Mr. Goodbar, when I was a kid, these peanut butter and chocolate candies were one of my favorite trick-or-treat night choices! 

When I saw this recipe yesterday over on the Serious Eats website (, my heart went pitter pat.  If you've never checked out their site, it is like a ticker-tape for foodies.  "Almost" every recipe they publish is tested, tasted and approved by their staff!

This Peanut Butter Cup Pie recipe was submitted by Lauren Weisenthal.  She's a graduate of the Artisan Bread Baking & Pastry Arts programs of the French Culinary Institute, and, works in restaurant kitchens and bakeries in both Brooklyn and Manhattan.  I just HAD to make this today!














1  9-ounce box chocolate wafer cookies

3  ounces salted butter (6 tablespoons), melted and cooled (Note from Mel:  Lauren's recipe called for "3 tablespoons of butter", and, instructs to "chill the crust for 20 minutes" without baking it, prior to filling it.  Having done that, I am here to tell you:  it does not work.  The crust is: crummy and falls apart.  I'm thinking it was a typo in her recipe (or the one Serious Eats published), and, it should have read 3 ounces of butter (6 tablespoons).  There is a chance that amount of butter would result in a firm crust without baking it, but, I wasn't going to risk another crust failure today. I'm using and posting my own chocolate cookie crust recipe.  You can thank me later!)

10  ounces heavy cream (1 1/4 cups total), divided in half (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons & 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons)

8  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

4  ounces confectioners' sugar (1 cup)

1/2  teaspoon salt

12 ounces creamy peanut butter (1 1/2 cups) (Note:  Do not use "natural" peanut butter that requires mixing before use.)

5  ounces dark (semi-sweet) chocolate, the best available, chopped into fine pieces

IMG_4365 IMG_4362~ Step 1.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process the chocolate wafers to crumbs, about 15 rapid on-off pulses followed by 15 seconds of processing.

~ Step 2.  With motor running, in a thin stream, add the butter through the feed tube and continue to process until the crumbs are evenly coated in butter, about 15 seconds.

IMG_4372 IMG_4369~ Step 3. Using a large rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the processor bowl and transfer the crumbs to a 10" pie dish.  Using your fingertips and the heal of your hand (or the flat bottom of a measuring-type cup), pat and press the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of the pie dish.  Check to see that the crust isn't too thick or too thin in any spots.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for about 6-8 minutes, or, until firm to the touch and fragrant.  Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool to room temperature.  Crust can be prepared one day in advance.

IMG_4391 IMG_4389~ Step 4.  In a medium mixing bowl, using a hand-held electric mixer, whip the cream until soft peaks form, about 1 minute.  Place in the refrigerator.

~ Step 5.  In a large mixing bowl, with mixer on medium, blend the cream cheese, sugar and salt until smooth.  Add the peanut butter.

IMG_4399Step 6.  With mixer on medium speed, blend the peanut butter into the mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl with the spatula, until mixture is smooth and uniform in color.

IMG_4404~ Step 7. Add the whipped cream and blend again, until  the mixture is thoroughly combined.

IMG_4412 IMG_4409~ Step 8. Transfer the mixture to the chilled pie shell. Using an offset spatula (or just a small metal spatula, the kind you would use to frost a cake), distribute the mixture evenly in and around the pie shell, smoothing the top as best you can.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, 2 hours is better.

IMG_4425 IMG_4417~ Step 9. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a small heatproof bowl.

~ Step 10.  In a small saucepan (or in the microwave), heat the remaining cream until steaming. Do not simmer or boil.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate, set aside for 2 minutes.

IMG_4428 IMG_4426~ Step 11. Using a small whisk or an ordinary tablespoon, vigorously whisk (stir), until all of the cream is drawn into the chocolate and the mixture is smooth, uniform in color and shiny.

Note:  Culinarily this chocolate and cream mixture is referred to as ganache!

IMG_4430~ Step 12.  Pour the ganache over the top of the chilled pie, using a rubber spatula to scrape every last drop of ooey-gooey chocolatey goodness out of the bowl. 

IMG_4435~ Step 13. Lift up the pie dish and tilt it around to evenly distribute the ganache over the top. Return pie to refrigerator for 1-2 more hours, then, slice and eat: 

IMG_4450Treat Yourself to a Slice of Peanut Butter Cup Pie + (How to:  Make a chocolate cookie crust & ganache!):  Recipe yields 16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; large rubber spatula; 10" pie dish; cooling rack; hand-held electric mixer; metal offset spatula or small metal spatula (the kind you would frost a cake with); cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart saucepan; small whisk or an ordinary tablespoon

IMG_4470Cook's Note:  In the event you want to make this pie ahead of time and freeze it, trust me when I say:  This pie keeps in the freezer for 3-4 days, and, without thawing, slices easily and perfectly.  In fact, I like it even better sliced and served frozen.  I could not help but take this picture, just as I took a forkful right out of my freezer drawer! Frozen peanut butter cup pie?  You betcha!

6a0120a8551282970b015436899d11970c-800wiExtra Cook's Note:  Looking for a tasty and spooky main-dish idea for Halloween? Check out ~ A Halloween How to:  Making a Spooky Spider Web Design on top of Soup using Creme Fraiche ~, in Categories 11, or 15!

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

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


~ Yankee Pot Roast: Simple, Sensible, Scrumptious (w/Mushroom Gravy & Roasted Carrots & Potatoes)~

6a0120a8551282970b017c32faf857970bThe power of pot roast is very underestimated.  Why?  Read on.  While I was growing up, I remember eating pot roast on many a Sunday after church.  I'm here to tell you:  I did not like getting up early and going to church on Sunday mornings -- at all. (For the record, I still don't, and, guess what? Praying can be done on your own time, anywhere, at any time of day.  For example: Today, I'm going to be praying over this pot roast for my family, friends, Facebook friends and KE readers to remain safe during Hurricane Sandy tonight and tomorrow.)  But, on the Sundays that my mom popped a beef roast into the oven before we left for church, knowing this meal would be on the table when we arrived home made it worth the trip.  This is very appropriate since pot roast is an American dish born out of the desire for religious freedom.

What is the difference between pot roast and roast beef?

In my mom's kitchen, what we ate for Sunday dinner was (and still is) erroniously referred to as "roast beef".  Because she sears a large chuck roast on the outside, then cooks it, covered, in some liquid for a period of about 3 hours (when it emerges fall-apart tender), it is culinarily and technically:  Pot roast.  This moist-heat cooking method, which can be done in the oven or on the stovetop, is known as braising.  It is usually reserved for larger, tougher cuts of beef, like chuck.  

Roast beef, which is cooked uncovered (using the dry-heat cooking method known as roasting), emerges from the oven with a soft but firm, need-to-be-sliced texture.  This comes from using tenderer cuts of beef from the back of the animal, like:  sirloin, tenderloin and top sirloin. 

511px-BeefCutChuck.svgWhy is it sometimes called: "Yankee" pot roast?

This dates back to colonial New England. When the Pilgims arrived in America from the British Isles (the land of the boiled potato), they brought with them their religious convictions, which demanded a lifestysle of extreme plainness, simplicity and frugality, which transcended to their dinner tables. What they became infamous for eating was referred to as "the boiled dinner".  It was nothing more than a soupy mixture of a tough cut of beef or corned beef, root vegetables and sometimes cabbage, all boiled together in one big pot, until nothing more than a spoon was needed to eat it.  Sound good?  It was not. Thankfully, the New England Boiled Dinner has evolved over two centuries into what, nowadays, is quite a delicious meal.

Savvy Yankee cooks (the term used to describe the descendants of the original settlers to New England), who weren't hell-bent on depriving themselves of all of lifes foodie pleasures, began browning their own lesser cuts of beef in animal fat, seasoning it with salt and herbs, and, adding similar root vegetables to the pot (only closer to the end of the cooking process to ensure the veggies maintained texture).  The highly-seasoned liquid remaining in the pot was thickened with a bit of flour and poured over the top of the meal at the end.  Yankee Pot Roast was born.

It's time to sear the beef.

IMG_4155A bit about searing:  When it comes to making a pot roast, in my kitchen, there is no debate about searing the beef.  Do it.  Period.  Admittedly, it is not my favorite part of the process, but, what you gain in beautiful color, which translates to wonderful flavor, is well worth a few minutes of extra effort (about 15 minutes) + a little spatter and mess.

For the beef:  My first choice is a:

4-5  pound chuck roast, trimmed all all excess fat and tied

IMG_4161~ Step 1.  Generously sprinkle the top of the roast with:

Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy, plus additional flour for coating the second side of the roast

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, plus additional sea salt and peppercorn blend

Allow the flour-topped roast to rest, about 5 minutes, to allow flour time to absorb moisture from the meat.

~ Step 2.  In an 8-quart, enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, heat:

6  tablespoons of olive oil

over medium-high heat.

IMG_4171 IMG_4165~ Step 3. Place the roast, floured side down into the pot.  Immediately season the top with additional flour, salt & pepper.

~ Step 4.  Sear the roast, turning only once until golden brown on both sides, about 4-4 1/2 minutes per side.

IMG_4194 IMG_4180                                          ~ Step 5. Turn  roast on its side and continue to sear it, turning it about every 1-1 1/2 minutes, using a spatula to hold it upright if necessary, until it is browned on all remaining sides.

~ Step 6.  Turn the heat off and transfer the roast to a plate and set aside.

It's time to get the pot roast and the gravy ready for the oven -- but first, we must talk about the roasted vegetables.

IMG_4266Three things about my recipe:  1) Most present day versions for pot roast add tomatoes, canned tomatoes or tomato paste to the pot. My recipe does not.  Why?  Prior to 1814, tomatoes, while they were available, because of the color red, were superstitiously considered evil and poisionous, meaning:  Our forefathers would not have been cooking pot roast with "anything tomato".  They would have used a bit of vinegar or wine as their acid.  So, from that standpoint, my recipe is authentic.  2)  Most authentic versions for pot roast do not include mushrooms.  My recipe does.  Why?  Mushrooms were available, but, like the tomato, no one at the time, besides the French and Eastern Europeans were using mushrooms as an ingredient. Culinarily, anyone who had never been influenced by French or Eastern European cuisine, would never have included mushrooms in their pot roast.  So, from that standpoint, my recipe is semi-authentic.  3)  Most versions for pot roast add root vegetables (of some sort) to the pot and cook the entire meal all at once.  My recipe does not. Why?  Because I don't have too, and, besides that, vegetables that have been roasted separately are so far superior to those cooked in the pot, you don't want to go there with me.  So, from that standpoint, my recipe is not authentic, but it's my recipe.  Enjoy your dinner.

IMG_4195For the pot roast and mushroom gravy:

1/2  cup port wine or red wine, for deglazing the pot after the beef has been seared

1  pound crimini or white button mushroom caps, chopped

12  ounces  yellow or sweet onion, chopped

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

4-5  pound chuck roast, seasoned and seared as directed above

4  cups beef broth

2  whole bay leaves

IMG_4209 IMG_4202~ Step 1. Over medium-high heat, reheat the oil and browned drippings in the the bottom of the pot.  Add the port wine.  Using a nonstick spatula, deglaze the pan by loosening the browned bits and residue from the bottom of the pot.

IMG_4224 IMG_4215                                     ~ Step 2.  Add the mushrooms and onions. Season with the garlic powder, dried thyme leaves and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.  Adjust heat to saute, stirring frequently, until mushrooms have lost about half of their moisture and onions are soft and translucent, about 5-6 minutes.

IMG_4232~ Step 3.  Return the seared beef roast to the pot, along with any red juices it exuded, to the pot.

Note:  If you have seared the beef correctly, there will be less than a tablespoon or two of juices.  You can thank me later.

Add the beef broth and the bay leaves.  The roast should be covered about half way.  Put the lid on the pot.  The hard work is over.

~ Step 4.  Place the pot on the center rack of preheated 325 oven for 4-5 hours, meaning:  about 4 hours for a 4-pound roast, or, about 5 hours for a 5-pound roast.  In the meantime:

It's time to prep and roast my E-Z carrots and potatoes.

IMG_4247Spray each of two 13" x 9" x 2" casseroles with no-stick cooking spray.  

To each casserole, add:

1/4  cup olive oil

1/2  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1  teaspoon caraway seed

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon black pepper

IMG_4251To one casserole add:

2  pounds carrots that have been peeled and sliced into 1 1/2"-2" lengths.

To the other casserole add:

2  pounds unpeeled small, new red potatoes, that have been cut into halves or quarters.

Toss the ingredients in each casserole until they are evenly coated in olive oil and spices.

When the pot roast comes out of the oven, place it back on the stovetop and increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Place both casseroles (of carrots and potaotes) in the oven and roast, uncovered, for 1 hour, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 15 minutes, until:

IMG_4273The carrots are cooked through and caramelizing , and...







... the potatoes are tender, blistered and lightly browned!

Remove both casseroles from the oven and set aside.






It's almost time to eat.

IMG_4308~ Step 1.  Once you've removed the pot roast from the oven, uncover it and take a look.  If it looks anything like this, put the lid back on the pot, set it aside, let it rest in the braising liquid (gravy) for about 60 more minutes, and, proceed with putting the carrots and potatoes into the oven.

~ Step 2.  After 60 minutes, remove the roast from the pot.  Place it on a serving platter and surround it with the lovely roasted vegetables.  Briefly reheat the mushroom gravy, slice and serve the roast with gravy ladled on top of each portion:

6a0120a8551282970b017c32f96bd2970bYankee Pot Roast:  Simple, Sensible, Scrumptious (w/Mushroom Gravy & Roasted Carrots & Potatoes:  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List: 8-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven;  large nonstick spatula;  cutting board; chef's knife; 2, 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dishes; aluminum foil; ladle

IMG_4188Cook's Note:  Because you took the extra time in the very beginning to flour, season and sear your roast, all of that flour has convieniently thickened your gravy for you.  I told you that you could thank me later.  

PS.  Try to resist the urge to process or puree your gravy.  Our forefathers didn't do that to their pot roast either.

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

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


~ Sumptuous Beef-Barley,Tomato-Vegetable Soup ~

6a0120a8551282970b017d3d16a760970cMy relationship with beef-barley soup goes back fifty-some years, and, my own recipe evolved over a period of the last twenty.  It started in my mother's kitchen.  Her recipe is an old-world, Russian-style peasant soup.  It is flavored with bay leaves and contains onion, celery and carrots, but, it is absent tomato products or other vegetables (because my dad won't eat it if she puts tomatoes in it).  My mom never kept homemade beef stock in her freezer, and, she didn't use canned stock either.  She "made stock while making soup", meaning:  after she seared the beef on all sides, she added water, onion, celery, carrots and spices, then, as it simmered, it became beef stock (after the barley was added it became beef-barley soup).  It is simply delicious.

6a0120a8551282970b015392bcbb3e970b-800wiAs a career homemaker and cook, I enjoy spending a "free" afternoon making soup stocks to freeze.  Over the years, I've developed an assortment of distinctive stocks (Asian, beef, chicken, duck, lobster, veal and vegetable), each subtly flavored to enhance the recipes it gets used in.  To date, I've posted my chicken, Thai chicken, veal and vegetable stocks here on KE and they're all in Category 15.

Almost every time I make beef stock, I use the meat and a portion of the stock to prepare beef-barley soup.  When I use beef stock from my freezer (which no longer contains shreds of beef) to prepare beef-barley soup, I cook more beef in the flavorful stock, which makes it really rich, and proceed with the recipe.  Unlike my mother, I add diced-tomatoes and corn, peas or green beans for added flavor, color and texture.  It is simply scrumptious.

IMG_4115Then... about five years ago, along came Carol, my very close friend and neighbor.  One Winter afternoon she dropped by with a container of beef-barley-vegetable soup she had just made. What I learned that day changed my recipe forever.  I was surprised when Carol told me she does not start by searing her meat, and, used canned beef broth, which she seasoned with bay leaves, garlic powder dried parsley, thyme and black pepper.  In addition to that, she added V-8 vegetable juice, diced tomatoes and a bag of frozen vegetables.  It was simply sumptuous.

IMG_4089A bit about barley:  Barley is a high-fiber, high-protein, whole-grain that dates back to the stone ages and boasts health benefits like:  reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and lowering cholesterol.

It has been used throughout the eons in dishes ranging from cereals to breads to soups.  Pearl barley, the kind I'm using, has the harsh bran/hull removed and is then steamed and polished.  Barley comes in three sizes (coarse, medium and fine).  It has a unique, pleasant taste and chewy texture.  It can be used like rice or couscous, and is ideal for soups and stews.  That being said, 98% of the barley grown is the USA will not make it onto your table or into your soup:  it'll be refined to make barley-malt, the key ingredient in beer.

For the beef:  My first choice is a:IMG_4026

4-5  pound beef sirloin top butt roast, preferably tied, or 2 smaller sirloin top butt roasts

Note:  You can substitute a chuck roast, but if you do, be prepared to use a fat/lean separator to defat your soup after you remove the meat from the stockpot to cool (see ~ Step 4).  Then proceed with the recipe as directed.
















3 1/2  quarts canned beef broth (84 ounces), plus additional broth, only if necessary

IMG_41411  46-ounce can V-8 100% vegetable juice, plus additional V-8 juice for leftovers (Tip from Mel:  No matter what you do, beyond the first day you make and serve this soup, the barley is going to continue to absorb liquid.  I always keep a few small cans of V-8 juice in my pantry, and, depending upon how much soup I am reheating the next day, I add a can or two in order to return it to a consistency I like.)

2  14 1/2-ounce cans diced tomatoes

4  whole bay leaves

1 1/2 teaspons garlic powder

2  tablespoons dried parsley leaves

1  tablespoon dried thyme leaves

1  tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

4  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2 cups diced celery

2  cups peeled and diced carrots

1 cup medium, pearled barley*

2  16-ounce bags frozen "classic" mixed vegetetables, unthawed, containing:  peas, corn carrots, green beans and lima beans

*Note:  1 cup uncooked barley = 4 cups cooked barley.  Feel free to adjust the amount of barley you use, however, 1 cup produces a nicely-thickened soup that suits my family's taste.

IMG_4036~ Step 1.  Place 1 cup of beef broth in the bottom of a wide-bottomed, 12-quart stockpot and place the beef on top of the liquid.  Add the rest of the beef stock, the V-8 juice and diced tomatoes. Add bay leaves, garlic powder, dried parsley, thyme and black pepper.  

Note:  Placing a bit of broth in the bottom of the pot before adding the beef roast prevents the bottom of the roast from scorching while the mixture is coming to a boil. After you've added the rest of the beef broth, V-8 juice and diced tomatoes, if the beef is not completely covered in broth, add additional broth, until it is covered.

IMG_4046~ Step 2.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially cover and continue to cook until the beef is very tender and shreddable, about 3-4 hours.

~ Step 3.  While the beef is cooking, prep the onion, celery and carrots as directed.  Set aside.

Note:  The beef stock is going to reduce quite a bit during this time.

IMG_4050~ Step 4.  Remove beef from the stockpot and place on a large cutting board.  Cover loosely with aluminum foil and set aside until cool enough to handle with your hands, about 30-45 minutes.

Note:  If you have used a chuck roast, this is point where you need to use a fat/lean separator to defat your soup broth. 

IMG_4079~ Step 5.  While the beef is cooling, add the onions, celery and carrots to the simmering broth.  When the broth returns to a simmer...

IMG_4086... stir in the frozen vegetables.  


When the broth returns to a simmer...

IMG_4105~ Step 6.  Sprinkle in the barley. When the broth return to a simmer, adjust heat to a gentle simmer, partially cover the pot and continue to simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until barley is cooked through, about 45 minutes.

While the barley is cooking:




~ Step 7.  Uncover the beef.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, remove the twine.  Using a fork, remove all of the excess fat from the perimeter. Discard the twine and the fat.






~ Step 8.  Using a fork, two forks, a fork and a knife, or, just your hands, shred or pull the beef into large, but bite-sized chunks and pieces.  My husband Joe did this for me today, and he used a fork and a knife.

~ Step 9.  When the barley is cooked through, return the meat to the stockpot.  When the soup returns to a simmer, it is time to ladle it into bowls and eat (or, read Cook's Note below): 

IMG_4114Sumptuous Beef-Barley, Tomato-Vegetable Soup:  Recipe yields 8 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  12-quart stockpot w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife; aluminum foil; fat/lean separator (optional); large spoon; kitchen shears; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b0147e18be0ed970b-320wiCook's Note:  If you have the time, when the soup is finished, remove it from the heat, and allow it to steep for 1-2 hours.  If you have even more time, this soup is actually better if refrigerated overnight and briefly reheat it at serving time. Also, this soup freezes great.  I like to portion mine into two-quart containers for quick weekday lunches or dinners.

The above picture is a peek into the top two shelves of my freezer.  Top shelf:  homemade soup stocks (Asian, beef, chicken, duck, lobster, veal and vegetable).  Second shelf:  homemade soups (beef-barley, shiitake mushrom and chicken-vegetable). 

6a0120a8551282970b0147e17039a3970b-800wiExtra Cook's Note:  For another one of my quick and delicious recipes, click into Categories 2, 20 or 22 for ~ Grandma Ann's Easy Chicken Vegetable Soup ~.

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

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


~ One Slider for a Meal? MEAT "The Thurmanator" ~

6a0120a8551282970b017ee4722750970dI admit to having neglected posting any hamburger recipes here on Kitchen Encounters.  This has happened for no other reason than every time I think about posting one of my favorite burger creations, due to a foodie duty, holiday, or a request from a friend or reader,  some other recipe gets put on the top of my "to post" pile.  Today, thanks to a suggestion from a real-deal foodie friend, the hamburger is getting its own day today here on KE.

ImagesThis coming Saturday Penn State is playing Ohio State here in Happy Valley's Beaver Stadium.  Whenever our tailgate is hosting guests from the opposing team, we like to serve one dish that represents their school or the area where they live. Except for those little "Buckeye Balls", which they sell at Walmart (chocolate-dipped peanut butter candies), I had no grand ideas.

6a00e398274e398833017d3c825d84970c-320wiThankfully, I had the sense to ask one of my foodie Facebook friends, Jill Moberg, who just happens to live in Ohio, and, just happens to be an Ohio State fan.  In less than five minutes, she told me about an Ohio State fan hangout in Columbus, The Thurman Cafe, which is rated in the top 5 burger joints in Ohio, most notably for:  

The Thurmanator

a super-sized burger that was featured on an episode of Man vs. Food on The Travel Channel!

It consists of two 3/4 pound beef patties under a half pound of ham and bacon, covered in mozzarella and American cheeses, lettuce, tomato, sauteed mushrooms and onions, pickle slices, pepper slices and mayonnaise.  It was created for the bodybuilders who come to Columbus each year to compete in the Arnold (Schwarzenegger) Fitness Classic!

Woman vs. Food = Thurmanator Sliders

MANageable sandwiches I can tackle for tailgate.

For 12 Thurmanator sliders:

IMG_38903  pounds ground beef (90/10), or, your favorite mixture (Note:  This allows for 2, 2-ounce patties per slider.)

1  pound (8-10 slices) thick-sliced bacon, fried crisp and each slice cut into 3 shorter strips

12  ounces thinly-sliced white button mushroom caps

12  ounces chopped yellow or sweet onion

2  tablespoons butter, for frying mushrooms and onions

2  tablespoons olive oil, for frying mushrooms and onions

1 teaspoon each:  sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper + 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, for seasoning mushrooms and onions

12 slices yellow American cheese

12  slices mozzarella cheese

1  dozen slider-sized rolls

IMG_3948For the condiments:

1/2-3/4  cup mayonnaise

1 1/2  cups chiffonade of baby greens 

12 small tomato slices (Note: No garden tomatoes?  Use small Campari tomatoes.)

24 dill pickle slices

24 banana pepper slices, or any pickled peppers you like

To prep the meat, fry the bacon & saute the 'shrooms 'n onions:

IMG_3884Step 1.  Line 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper. Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide the meat into 2-ounce portions.  Form the portions of meat into 3" round discs, placing each disc on the prepared pans as you work.  For even size and cooking, I like to pat each portion into a 3" round cookie cutter to make the patties.  Cover with plastic and refrigerate until you're ready to broil, grill or pan-fry the burgers.

IMG_3840~ Step 2.  Place one pound of thick-sliced bacon (8-10 slices), slightly overlapping is fine, in a disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom).  Place on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven, 20-25 minutes, or until the bacon is golden brown, crispy and desired degree of doneness is reached.  There is no reason to turn the bacon over. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain and cool.  Cut each bacon slice into thirds.

IMG_3873~ Step 3.  Chop the onions and slice the mushroom caps as directed.  In a 12" skillet melt the butter into the olive oil over low heat.  Add the vegetables, season with salt and pepper, adjust heat to medium-high and saute until cooked through, almost no moisture remains in the pan, and, they are turning nicely brown, but not completely caramelized, about 20 minutes.  Set aside.

IMG_3857~ Step 4.  This is an optional step, but when it comes to slider-sized sandwiches, it is a great Tip from Mel:

Use the 3" round cookie cutter to customize the cheese to fit the tops of the patties.

This is going to prevent flare-ups from excess cheese.  You can thank me later.

As for the excess cheese, chop it up and throw it in a food storage bag. Use it to top a few snack pizzas after the game!

It's time to cook the burgers (& I'm grilling 'em today).

IMG_3905~ Step 1.  Place them on the grill grids over indirect heat and cook them about 3 1/2-4 minutes per side...


... until golden brown on both sides, turning them only once.






~ Step 2.  Put the cheese on top. Top half of the burgers with yellow American cheese and the other half with mozzarella cheese...





... turn the heat off on the grill, close the lid and wait about a minute for the cheeses to melt.

Transfer to a large plate or platter.

It's time to assemble the sliders.

IMG_3960~ Step 1.  Give the bottom of each slider roll a slather of mayonnaise. In the following order, add two tablespoons of lettuce chiffonade, two dill pickle slices and two banana peppers to each one.




~ Step 2.  In the following order add, a mozzarella topped burger, 2 strips of bacon, an American cheese topped burger, about 2 tablesoons of 'shroom mixture and a tomato slice.

Secure each sandwich with a 3"-4" long sandwich pick or wooden skewer.  Pop the top off of your favorite beer and enjoy the game.

One slider for a meal?  You betcha! 

IMG_3999One Slider for a Meal?  MEAT "The Thurmanator":  Recipe yields 12 hearty slider sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; kitchen scale; 3"-round cookie cutter; plastic wrap; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum pan w/corrugated bottom; paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; 3"-4" long sandwich picks or wooden skewers

IMG_3952Cook's Note:  The original recipe called for this sandwich to get topped with deli-style ham.  After a taste test in Melanie's Kitchen, the womenfolk unanimously decided we liked our sliders without the ham.  That being said, you menfolk out there have a right to ham if you want it.  Plan on needing 12-ounces, or, 1-ounce per slider.  

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

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


~ Would You Like Perfect French Fries with That??? ~

6a0120a8551282970b017d3cf61d77970c-800wiI never met a potato I didn't like, but, I've met a few French fries I didn't like.  You know the ones: limp, soggy, and/or greasy.  There is almost nothing worse than a badly prepared French fry. What's so sad about this scenario is:  French fries are really, REALLY, REALLY easy to make.

Nemco_6000A-2_LGI have eaten some very good French fries in swanky restaurants, casual sports bars and all-night diners that pride themselves in fresh-cut fries, but, if I even see those infrared warming lamps, I just know that my French fries, or someone elses, are probably destined for some sort of compromise.  Are you listening McDonalds?  I like your fries, but, even 1-2 minutes under the dreaded lamps kicks them down a notch.  

French fries are meant to be deep-fried and eaten immediately.  Period.

(Note:  I am not bashing infrared heat lamps.  I like them a lot for certain culinary applications.) 

The absolute best French fries I have ever eaten are at places like church festivals, county fares and carnivals.  They're not too thick, not too thin, twice-fried, and, never frozen.  When you stand in line and wait for these fries to to come seething hot out of the deep-fryer, get a quick drain, a sprinkling of salt and handed-off to you in a paper cone, you just know the French fries are going to be awesome.  In my opinion, they are the ideal American French fry.  Why?

The best French fries in the USA are in fact Belgian fries.

IMG_3591A bit about French fries:  It may come as a surprise to you to find out that "pommes frites", meaning "fried potatoes" in French, were not invented by the French, even though, like many other foodie pleasures, the French played a part in making them famous here in the United States.  In 1802, my favorite founding foodie, Thomas Jefferson, after a trip to France, served "potatoes in the style of the French", at a White House dinner party.  All hell broke loose after that, and, as the story goes, before long, these golden strips of glorious goodness were nicknamed:  French fries.

Interesting side note:  Culinarily, the words "to French" mean "to cut food into long thin strips". In French, the word "frite" indicates "to deep-fry", and, my research shows they were serving fried potato strips in the White House, but no one can confirm they were deep-fried.  Click on the photo at the left to read a Historical Note from the book Dining at Monticello.

The story behind "The French Connection" to fries in the USA:

6a0120a8551282970b017d3cf436a0970cIn 1756, war broke out between France and Great Britain.  During The Seven Years War, as it is called, a medical officer by the name of Antoine-Augustine Parmentier was given nothing but potatoes to eat in a prisoner-of-war camp.  In 1748, potatoes were banned by the French government because it was believed they caused leprosy and death (the birth of government regulation, which is fine by me).

Because he did not die, after the war, Parmentier spent the better part of his life changing the minds of government officials regarding potatoes, and, in 1772, potatoes were declared edible for humans and it was made legal to cultivate them. Parmentier began hosting dinner parties and serving potatoes to dignitaries like King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, and, our very own Benjamin Franklin, BUT, there is no documentation to confirm they were deep-fried either. Potatoes soon became very trendy in French social circles, which is where Thomas Jefferson tasted them and the rest is American history.  Long live the beloved potato.

If they're Belgian, how did the French find out about them?

280px-Battle_of_Fontenoy_1745In 1742, The Franco-Austrian War, known as The War of Austrian Succession was going on, and, much of it took place in and around modern day Belgium.  It is believed that the French soldiers were introduced to "les frites" (Belgian fries) by French speaking Belgians and Belgian soldiers.  A couple of decades later, when potatoes were declared edible in France, this was the cooking method the French imitated. This is the explanation that I believe gives Belgians the right to claim the title of: Inventors of French fries.  Why?

The French were not a frying culture prior to this period in history, the Belgians were.

Moreover, a Belgian journalist named Jo Gerard claims that potatoes were fried as early as 1690 in the Meuse valley of the Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium), and, it was the Spanish who introduced the potato to Europe.  Gerard writes, "the inhabitants, especially the poor people, of Dinant and Liege had the custom of fishing in the Meuse river for small fish to fry. When the river was frozen, they would cut potatoes in the form of strips and fried them."  That being said, experts concur that those fries were most likely not deep-fried, because the quantity of fat necessary for deep-frying would have been almost impossible for the peasants to get.

Who REALLY invented twice-fried strips of potatoes?

6a0120a8551282970b017d3cf7056b970cDid the Belgians invent real-deal, deep-fried, twice-fried fries, or, did the French invent the twice-fried technique and teach it to them? No one knows for sure, but, when it comes to food, the French are known for perfecting everything, so I'm not ruling this theory out.  That being said, nowadays, Belgians consume more fries than any country in Europe... with mayonnaise or flavored mayonnaise being their topping of choice (I'll have mine with garlicky, rich, smooth, classic aioli).  

Modern-day Belgians will be quick tell you that after WWI, American soldiers were served fries by Belgians who, once again, coincidentally, all spoke French.

It was these American veterans who named the potatoes French fries. This is probably true, but, because of the "fry" history preceding WWI (mentioned above), it's not how we Americans came to name them French fries.  It does, however, explain the post war boom in the marketing of French fries across the United States.  In my foodie world, always remember:

"Real deal" fries are not fried potatoes, they're deep-fried twice.

IMG_3580I promised you that making French fries is really easy, and it is, BUT, French fries are not just fried potatoes.  There really isn't a recipe. There is, however, a bit of technique involved, plus, a few steps that require some waiting time.  Start by buying some:

russet potatoes, no substitutions (Note:  I'm frying six of them today.) 

Their low-moisture, high-starch content is going to result in the crunchy outside and fluffy inside that every French fry deserves.

6a0120a8551282970b0163055c04a6970d-320wiA bit about the russet potato: Known also as the Idaho or russet Burbank potato (named for their developer, horticulturist Luther Burbank), these common potatoes are specifically lableled "baking". They are long, slightly rounded, with thick, rough skins.  When cooked, they have a pearly white, dry flesh.  Their low moisture, high starch content give them superior baking qualities, plus makes them excellent for making French fries.

6a0120a8551282970b0168eb520bfe970c-800wiAlways choose (preferably hand-pick), medium-large (10-12-ounce), even-sized, very firm potatoes.  Stay away from ones that are spongy, have dark spots and/or a lot of eyes. Store them singularly (not in a plastic bag), in a cool, dry, dark place, and, never, ever, refrigerate.

Trimming, slicing & soaking the potatoes:

IMG_3593Do what you want (I hope you don't), but I like the classic 1/2"-thick, 3"-long, square-tipped, boxy-looking French fries.  Why?  Pointy tips burn, and, I don't like French fries with burnt ends.

IMG_3608~ Step 1.  Begin by cutting both ends from each potato to make two flat surfaces and place the potato upright on one of the sides.  Using a sharp knife, trim the peel from the potatoes.

Note:  Some folks like to the leave the skin on the potatoes.  I do not. Why?  It takes away from the rush I get when golden, crispy-on-the outside, fluffy-on-the-inside fries emerge from the deep-fryer.



~ Step 2.  If you aren't lucky enough to have a European-style, wire French-fry cutter (I bought mine in Germany about 25 years ago), just use a sharp knife and trim your potatoes into 1/2"-thick sticks. It isn't hard, just a little time consuming.

Note:  After slicing, I also discard any particularly skinny pieces of potato.  Call the food police if you must, but they burn too.  I want my French fries to cook evenly.

IMG_3621~ Step 3.  Place your freshly-cut fries in a bowl with enough very cold water to cover them.  I like to add a handful of ice cubes to keep the water cold.  Set them aside for at least one hour or in the refrigerator as long as overnight.  

Note:  The water is not just going to prevent the potatoes from discoloring.  It is also going to remove surface starch from them, which is going to prevent your French fries from getting gummy.

Towel-drying, pre-frying, and twice-frying the potatoes:

IMG_3623~ Step 1.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with 3-4 layers of paper towels.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer potatoes from bowl to pan. Cover with 3-4 more layers of paper towels and place in refrigerator for 1-3-5 hours, to dry and thoroughly chill -- this step is important.

IMG_3634~ Step 2.  Preheat peanut oil in deep-fryer to 325 degrees, according to manufacturer's specifications.  Line a second 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with several layers of paper towels.

Don't have a deep-fryer?  Fill an 8-quart stockpot half-way with oil and insert a frying/ "candy" thermometer.

Note:  If you're doing this on the stovetop, you MUST use a thermometer to control the temperature.  Heat your oil slowly, over medium-low, and proceed, as follows, with caution.

IMG_3648 IMG_3639~ Step 3. Depending upon the size of the basket of your deep-fryer, in 4-6 batches, pre-fry the potatoes, for 3 1/2-4 minutes.  The fries will be blonde in color and limp. Transfer to the paper towels, and repeat until all potatoes are pre-fried.  I did this in four batches.

IMG_3670~ Step 4.  Allow the pre-fried fries to cool to room temperature, 45-60 minutes prior to proceeding.  Make a drink, pace around the house and listen to some music.  

When the potatoes have reached room temperature, increase the heat of the deep-fryer to 375 degrees.

IMG_3725~ Step 5.  Place a large cooling rack in the first baking pan (I do not bother to remove/replace the original paper towels.  I just let them in there to catch the excess oil).

~ Step 6.  Deep-fry the potatoes, in the same number of batches as before, until they are golden brown, about 6-7 minutes. Transfer them to the cooling rack and season them immediatley with sea salt.  Portion and serve French fries immediately.


 Would You Like Perfect French Fries with That???:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held wire French fry cutter (optional); 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; paper towels; large slotted spoon; deep-fryer; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b016766538608970b-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my classic russet potato recipes, click into Categories 4, 10, 15 or 20 and read ~ Dear Perfectly Baked Potato:  Your Crispy Skin and Fluffy Center, Make My Steaks Taste Even Better ~.

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

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


~ Around Town: Mel Visits Herwig's Austrian Bistro ~

IMG_3291I am pleased to report that classic, authentic Austrian food is alive, well, and, thriving at 132 W. College Avenue, located in the heart of downtown State College (Happy Valley), Pennsylvania. I've been listening to more than a few foodies sing the praises of this eatery for more than a few years now, and then, laughingly proceed to tell me to "enter at my own risk", and, be prepared to be "confused", "abused" and "stuffed".  What is that supposed to mean?  

My inner foodie wanted to find out, but, the chicken in me felt the need for backup.  My friend Carol agreed to go with me.  We parked the car, and, while walking to Herwigs, we stopped at "The Nittany Quill", a charming, very-specialized stationery store, to pick up 1-2 greeting cards. As I looked at the clock, I mentioned to Carol that we had an "appointment at Herwigs", meaning: we needed to move on.  The owner laughed loudly, rolled her eyes and said, "you have an appointment at Herwigs???", "wait until Brandy gets a hold of you!!!"  

Within seconds, we walked through Herwig's front doors...

IMG_3079This old world, homestyle, family-owned and operated restaurant just celebrated its 10th anniversay last month.  It has been voted Best Ethic Restaurant for the last six years in a row by the readers of State College Magazine.  People travel from all over the state of PA to eat here: Altoona, Erie, Johnstown, and, just yesterday, while I was there, a table full of men from Harrisburg! 

IMG_3087From the moment you walk through the front doors, you know you are in for a unique experience.  The place is bright, cheery, wide open to the kitchen, loud with the laughter of customers, and, the banter of Brandy (the charming 74-year-old dad/owner) who takes it upon himself to yodel, entertain, and good-heartedly harass every person... while they are eating!

"Be prepared to be easily confused!"

IMG_3051Meet the giant chalkboard.  It's on the wall to the right when you walk in.  It is the only menu you are going to get.  They make everything from scratch daily at Herwigs, and, when something runs out, they cross it off, which on any given day, happens a lot.  They actually TRY to sell out of food, in order to keep it all fresh.  If this sounds charming to you -- IT IS ALL WRITTEN IN GERMAN!

IMG_3070What IS written in English on the giant chalkboard is your first taste of what you are looking forward to when you step up to the counter to order your meal.  Can't decide? They will order for you!  Now, just pick a table, have a seat, and... 

"Be prepared to be happily abused!"

Ds-herwigs-16... while waiting for your food, read the sign on your table:

We ask that you eat ALL of your food.

If you are not able to finish ALL of your food, we offer you the following choices:

You may clean dishes with scrubby bubbles; You may be beaten with a large wooden stick (according to Austrian Culinary Law); We charge you $35 for a box (to take home leftovers), or; You can alert us to your small appetite and we will charge you double and give you half the food!

IMG_3081Got a problem with that???

If this seems overwhelming to you, strap yourself to your seat because: your massive portions of food and Brandy's legendary "shtick" are both about to arrive at your table!

"Be prepared to be gleefully stuffed!"

IMG_3129The first thing we ordered was the "tagesuppe" or, "soup of the day':

Smoked Pork & Yellow Split Pea 

This was the perfect soup for a Fall day.  It had just the right balance of smoky flavor (from pork belly) and texture (from yellow split peas, carrots, onions and a hint of garlic). I always say, "a soup is only as good as the stock that goes into it" and I was assured:  Herwig's soups are only made from "real deal" stocks!  It came with a side-order of:

IMG_3148"butterbrot", or, their in-house, baked fresh daily, homemade "bread of the day w/butter":

Whole-Wheat Beer Bread

This is seriously some of the best bread I have ever tasted.  Brandy's son Bernd is the bread baker, and Bernd told me he used a combination of high-gluten flour and whole wheat flour to make this one.  The addition of beer gives it its signature tangy, sourdough-like flavor!  Don't ask if you can buy a loaf.  The answer is "nein" ("no")!!!

IMG_3168For my main dish, I ordered classic:


My hand-breaded, lightly-pounded veal cutlet, was pan-fried and came to me with its signature cripsy outside and fork-tender inside.  On the same plate: some to-die-for, mustard-based potato salad, plus, a crispy green salad dressed with creamy, house-made buttermilk 'n dill dressing!  I was filling up fast!!!

IMG_3179Carol chose to go vegetarian with:


She received two, crispy, pan-fried patties made with a mixture of potato, egg and cheese.  They were topped with melted Liptauer cheese, a classic Hungarian cheese spread made from mild-flavored sheeps-milk cheese mixed w/herbs and paprika (to give it its signature red color)!  De-lish-ous!!!

IMG_3283In a place that makes as many signature desserts as they do main dishes, choosing one (on a full stomach) requires thought!

Carol went renegade.  Meet:

Bernd's Cinnabaconroll

A giant-sized, freshly-baked, warm, cinnamon roll, with noneother than pieces of crispy bacon strewn throughout the layers! 

IMG_3249I went classic.  Meet:

Gundi's Apfel Strudel

IMG_3062Thinly-sliced tart apples, plump juicy raisins and fragrant spices all rolled up in a flaky pie pastry, baked until golden, sliced & served warm.  OMG!!!  If heaven can be on a plate, this is it!!! 

Now I was in trouble.  I had promised my husband a plate of take-out before I knew the rules!

IMG_3221This is strickly "verbeiten" ("forbidden"), and, at the risk of being beaten with a stick, I found the courage to ask Brandy to choose something for my husband:


He presented me with an assortment platter containing succulent roast pork, homemade bratwurst, braised sauerkraut and a bread dumpling (knodel)!

On the promise that I would return the empty plate, I would receive no beating on this day!!!

To watch a very entertaining TV segment about Herwig's Bistro, that aired on WHVL-TV's Centre of It All show (the same show I do my own KE cooking segment on every week), just click below:

Herwig's Austrian Bistro WHVL-TV COIA Video


It's Time to Meet the Branstatter Family!

IMG_3047In 1982, Herwig, Gundi (his wife) and children Bernd and Uta left their hometown of Igls, Austria to open a bakery in Brisbane, Austrailia.  On the way, they stopped to visit some friends in State College, PA, and fell in love with Happy Valley.  Originally, Herwig ran Herwig's Edelweiss, an Austrian restaurant that was located at the Tussey Mountain Ski Slope in Boalsburg. (On a personal note, back in 1982, Joe and I had only been married two years and ate there many times. We now live just across the street from that same Ski Slope/restaurant where we dined many times as newlyweds.)

The moment I arrived at Herwigs, right after Brandy yodeled, he escorted me to this picture, which hangs behind the counter and began to tell his intriguing tale... 

IMG_3117Meet Herwig ("Brandy") Branstatter: Brandy got his nickname as a result of his last name "Bran"statter. Brandy attended Hotelfachschule (a school for culinary training and hospitality managment), located in Bad Ischl, Austria.  He's also quick to interject that he's a man of many careers: a bartender in Bermuda (where he learned to speak English), an insurance agent in Connecticut, and, the owner of a travel agency in State College too!

IMG_3099Meet Gundi Branstatter:  She is the soft-spoken, mild-mannered, pretty lady in the front of the house.  

Make friends with her!

When she's taking orders, the giant chalkboard is not quite so overwhelming.  She will use a long stick, not to beat you, but to point out suggestions for you.  If you cannot pronounce the item you are ordering correctly, she will pronounce it for you... which prevents starvation and/or beatings!

IMG_3119Meet Bernd Branstatter:  Bernd attended the same culinary school in Austria (it takes 3 years to graduate) that his father Brandy did. His passion for and knowledge of food, combined with his ability to share it, without a "chef-y" attitude, is a gift.  He's a chip off the old block, and, while developing his own legendary "shtick", he is: 

"Committed to the best-quality, fresh, local, ingredients possible!"

HERWIG'S:  Where Bacon is an Herb! (and that's trademarked ):

IMG_3074 IMG_3291Herwig's Austrian Bistro

132 West College Avenue

State College, PA  16801

(814) 272-0738




Note:  Mel awards stars equally for: First Impression, Food, Service, Presentation and Creativity.

I totally understand and thoroughly enjoy the differences between upscale fine dining all the way thru to casual diner fare or rustic outdoor barbecue (and will judge everyone equally), BUT, if your place isn't clean, you'll get no stars from me!

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

(Photos & Commentary courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)


~ The Pigger than Life, Hog Heaven, Pork Sandwich~

6a0120a8551282970b017d3ccff6e1970cIf you've ever been to Iowa (or the midwest in general), even if just for a few seconds, you've learned:  pork rules. The flying pig is the Iowa State Bird, and, corn, which is the exalted hog's favorite food, is the Iowa State Flower.  Pork makes Iowans proud, to the tune of $2.5+ billion dollars added to their state economy each year.  One out of every three hogs in the US is Iowan.

6a0120a8551282970b013487d82768970c-320wiIf you have ever been to Iowa, even if it was just for a layover at an airport, at the very least you have had the astonishing, at-first-glance almost comical, pleasure of watching someone eat one of their famous batter-dipped, deep-fried pork sandwiches, affectionately referred to as the:

BPT (breaded pork tenderloin).  

I say astonishing, because:  the size of the pork cutlet is almost twice the size of the bun, and, honestly, in a food world that is currently under siege against super-sizing, this sandwich is worthy of a call to the food police.  

If you have ever been to Iowa and stayed for awhile, you have no doubt had the pleasure of eating a giant, juicy, astonishingly good BPT, and, you've come to the same conclusion as me:

No good can come from down-sizing certain foodie pleasures.

It just so happens that Penn State is playing Iowa in Iowa's Kinnick Stadium this coming Saturday at 8:00PM.  I've decided to beat them at their own game and serve my version of their sandwiches to my Happy Valley tailgaters when we gather to watch the game, here, on TV. My pork sandwiches are going to be a tad less dramatic to look at, meaning:  a little less overhang around the bun, or, a size that will fit comfortably into the basket of the average home-kitchen's deep-fryer.  Mine are a bit plumper, juicier and porkier than theirs.  New word:  porkier.

6a0120a8551282970b01675eb51084970b-320wiThe moment you bite into this sandwich, the super-crunchy outside breading combined with the super-succulent tender pork inside, is going to rock your world.  Take it from me, there is only one way to achieve the signature super-crunchy outside and a super-tender inside the way they do in Iowa:

Batter dip it and deep-fry it.  

Pan-frying, simply put, will not achieve what this sandwich is all about, so save yourself the exercise in futility.  The pan-fried version will be more akin to a schnitzle... not that there is anything wrong with that (I love schnitzle).

6a0120a8551282970b0154383e5645970c-320wiOut in the midwest, some folks make the breading for this sandwich using dry breadcrumbs while other boast saltine cracker crumbs.  Here I go again:  

Why in the name of crunchiness would anyone want to continue to use old-fashioned breadcrumbs to make a BPT if they knew about panko?  They wouldn't.

Here in my PA kitchen, we did the experiment.  The breadcrumbs and saltines lost.  The end. 

6a0120a8551282970b01675eb49e90970b-320wiThe ties that bind.  Out in the midwest, some folks add tang to the wet/egg mixture by adding buttermilk, others use Dijon mustard.  Pretty much everyone uses seasoned all-purpose flour for the dry coat.  After a showdown between the ordinary egg-milk mixture vs. my trendy beer batter, the beer batter won hands-down.  In fact, it wasn't even a competition. As for my dry coat? Scratch out flour and add pancake mix to the the new playbook too.

IMG_3444Let's talk pork.

IMG_3443You'll need a pork loin* (read about small pork tenderloins below).  I buy an entire 8-9-pound loin, which is quite economical.  I use what I need to make the sandwiches, and freeze the rest to make them again at a later date.

IMG_3462I'm making six sandwiches today. Using a chef's knife, simply slice the pork into 1" thick chops/discs, trimming and discarding the fat as you work.  

Note:  Each piece weighs about 6 ounces after trimming, so plan on starting out with 3 pounds of pork loin for six sandwiches.  

IMG_3452One at a time, place each chop/disc into a 1-gallon food storage bag, and, using a flat-sided meat mallet, pound each into a 1/2" thick, 5" round oval/circle.

The purpose of pounding meat is to tenderize it by making the surface area larger.  Always use a flat-sided meat mallet and be firm but don't go wild.  There is no need to smash the meat to smithereens in order to tenderize it.

*Note:  In the event you want to make a snack-sized or slider-sized version of the BPT, you can use a 1 pound pork tenderloin. Slice disks 1/2" thick and pound to 1/4" thickness.  Reduce deep-frying time by 45-60 seconds. 

It's Time to Deep-Fry!  But first...

6a0120a8551282970b0154384a1015970c-800wiOrganize/set up what I like to refer as a "breading assembly line" as follows (from left to right):

1)  A plate of 6 pounded pork cutlets.  

2)  An 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish containing 2 1/2 cups of pancake mix.  

3)  A large mixing bowl containing 3 1/4 cups of pancake mix whisked together with 2 bottles of your favorite beer.  

4)  An 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish containing 8-ounces of panko breadcrumbs.  

5) A deep-fryer containing corn or peanut oil, preheated to 360 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.  

6)  A baking pan lined with several layers of paper towels and a cooling rack placed on top of the paper towels.  

Note:  You will also need a pair of tongs, a salt grinder (or shaker), and, a timer (if your deep-fryer does not have one).

6a0120a8551282970b01675ec00748970b-320wi~ Step 1.  When everything is measured and in place as listed above, whisk together the pancake mix and beer.  Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the deep-frying process.  This will give the batter time to thicken to a drizzly consistency.  

Note:  If at any time during the frying process the batter gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer or some water.

IMG_3471~ Step 2.  NOW IT'S TIME TO FRY! One at a time, dredge each piece of pork in the dry pancake mix to coat it on all sides.  Give it a gentle shake, to let excess pancake mix fall back into the dish...










... Next, move up the assembly line and dip the pork into the beer batter.  When you lift it out of the batter, give it a second or two to allow the excess batter to drizzle back into the bowl.  Now...





IMG_3478... Move up the line again and dredge the pork into the panko breadcrumbs, making sure it is coated on all sides...

... Slowly lower the pork into the preheated oil in the deep-fryer. Close the lid and cook for 4 1/2-5 minutes... 

Note:  In case you haven't noticed, I've been doing the "breading" process using one hand.  You can use tongs, but trust me, it is faster and easier if you simply use your hand.

IMG_3501... Using a pair of tongs, remove the pork from the oil and transfer it to the rack in the baking pan that has been lined with several layers of paper towels.

IMMEDIATELY, sprinkle with freshly ground sea salt.

Repeat this process until all of the pork is dipped and deep-fried.

In Iowa-style, serve each sandwich on a freshly baked, untoasted Kaiser roll with country-style Dijon, sliced dill pickles and onions:  

6a0120a8551282970b017ee44331cc970dThe Pigger than Life, Hog Heaven, Pork Sandwich:  Recipe yields 6 very large sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon size food storage bag; flat-sided meat mallet; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; 1 mixing bowl; tongs; deep-fryer; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; paper towels; large cooling rack; tongs; kitchen timer (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b0177443dcf8d970d-800wiCook's Note:  Now if this sandwich isn't enough to give you heart palpitations just looking at it, out in Iowa, they typically serve it with a side order of ~ Creamy Baked Five-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese ~, and, you can find my recipe for that in Categories 4, 14, & 17.

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

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


~ Creamy New England-Style Clam&Corn Chowder ~

IMG_3427Chowder is a soup that is thick and brimming with chunky seafood.  It comes from the French word "chaudiere", which refers to the cauldron fishermen make their fresh stews in (with clam chowder being the most popular and the most famous).  New England-style clam chowder is made old-English-style, with cream or milk, and, the broth is rich and silky, NOT, overly thickened with tasteless flour.  Manhattan-style clam chowder (which will be another blog post at a future date) is made with a seasoned, tomato-based broth.  Either style can contain any of several varieties of seafood and vegetables.  Chopping, dicing or mincing the clams is a matter of personal taste.  My recipe for New England-style clam chowder meets all of the criteria: creamy, rich, silky smooth and chocked full of chunky seafood and vegetables -- it is sublime. 

ImagesMy friends in and from New England will probably have a

conniption (a fit of rage, hysteria or alarm)

when they read this next part, but, I'm here to tell you: canned clams really can be substituted for freshly steamed ones with little real compromise in texture or flavor.  How dare I be so bold?  Well my foodies, I make clam chowder both ways.  There are times when Joe and I order a 25-pound bag of top neck or cherrystone clams for the sole purpose of making clam chowder.  Agreed, it is the best.  Other times, we just want clam chowder NOW and have no intention of waiting for the FedEx man to arrive, so, I make it with canned clams.  Not once has anyone lodged a complaint about either "chowdah"!!!

A little bit of New England clam chowder history:

ClamsClams, called "quahogs' in New England,  is from the Narragansett Indian name for them, "poquahock." The scientific name for clams, "mercenaria" comes from the Latin word for "wages".  Native Americans traded clam shells as money, or, "wampum". English settlers to New England, brought along their recipes for fish-milk stews and soon began replacing clams for fish.  Their name for it:  New England clam chowder.

2933356-Union_Oyster_House_2006_BostonBy 1836, clam chowder was on the menu at Ye Olde Union Oyster House in Boston, which is our nation's oldest continuously operating restaurant.  The building is 250 years old, and Daniel Webster, the noted lawyer and orator of the time, who also served as a Congressman and Secretary of State, was a regular at their bar.   He was known to down a tumbler of brandy and water with every plate of six oysters -- and he always ordered at least six plates of six oysters before retiring for the evening.  Why oysters?  Read on: 

A little bit of oyster cracker history too:

IMG_3391Oyster crackers are small, round, salted crackers that, in New England, are served as an accompaniment to oyster stew and clam chowder.  The "original" kind (pictured on the left) are quite hard and taste similar to saltine crackers, just less salty.  The "newer" kind (pictured on the right) are mini-saltines.  Joe likes the ones on the left, I like the ones on the right.

Otc_(1981)The "original" kind were introduced in Trenton, NJ, in 1848, by an English immigrant, Adam Exton.  Exton conceived the idea of baking a cracker that could be served in oyster stew and stay crisp to the last bite.  In those days, oysters were as popular as shrimp are today, and, as the saying back in those days went:  "Six oysters a day will help keep the doctor away!"

The "OTC" brand, or "Original Trenton Cracker" was born in Exton's home kitchen.  He sold his crackers from the back of his wagon along the Trenton streets.  The business grew as the craze for oysters did, and, by the 1860's he owned the Exton Cracker Bakery.  It became famous during the civil war because they were the supplier of these crackers to the entire Union army.  

Before starting:  Read this next part carefully & do the math.

IMG_3038Let me start by saying that my recipe makes a lot:  

10 quarts in a 16-quart stockpot.  

Let me ease your mind by telling you I have written the recipe so you can easily make half:

5 quarts in an 8-quart stockpot.  

That being said, I almost always make the big batch.  Why?  Well, I almost always make it at this time of year, either for tailgate or Thanksgiving, when I have a big crowd to feed (20-30+ people).

IMG_3041For the big batch you will need:

12 cups steamed & shucked clams, about 25-30 dozen, 2-2 1/2" clams, OR:

12 cups well-drained canned clams, from 4, 50-ounce cans, reserve all liquid when draining

Today, I'm using both (half of each):

6 cups of freshly steamed clams and 6 cups of canned clams (from 2, 50-ounce cans, liquid reserved).

Now it's time to make a big batch of my clam & corn "chowdah".

IMG_3299For the big batch, besides the clams, you will need:

1  pound diced yellow or sweet onion

1  pound diced celery

2  ounces minced garlic cloves, or 2  tablespoons garlic powder

2  pounds peeled and diced carrots

8  cups peeled and diced gold potatoes, about 1, 5-pound bag

1  pound thick-sliced bacon, diced

4  ounces butter (1 stick)

2  16-ounce bags frozen corn

1 1/4  cups Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

48  ounces chicken stock, preferably homemade or canned broth (6 cups)

32  ounces bottled clam juice (4 cups), OR, 4 cups reserved liquid from canned clams

16  ounces white wine (2 cups)

6  whole, medium-sized bay leaves

1  teaspoon celery seed

1/2  teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, more or less, to taste

1  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1  tablespoon dried thyme leaves

1  tablespoon sea salt, more or less, to taste

1  teaspoon white pepper

32  ounces heavy or whipping cream (4 cups)

a sprinkling of ground cayenne pepper, per serving, for garnish (optional)

1/2-1  teaspoon minced, fresh parsley, per serving, for garnish (optional)

oyster crackers, your favorite brand, at tableside (optional)

IMG_3306~ Step 1.  Prep the onion, celery, carrots and garlic as directed and set aside.  Prep the bacon as directed and set aside.  Note:  All of these tasks can be done a day in advance of cooking the chowder.

~ Step 2.  When you're ready to cook the chowder, prep the potatoes as directed, place them in a bowl with enough cold water to cover them and set aside.

IMG_3310 IMG_3318~ Step 3. Place bacon in stockpot over medium-high heat and fry, stirring frequently, until it is crisp, about 8-10 minutes. Turn heat off.  Using a large slotted spoon, remove the bacon from the drippings and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

IMG_3327 IMG_3322                                           ~ Step 4. Place the butter into the hot bacon drippings and allow it to melt.  Stir in the onions, celery, carrots and garlic.  

Adjust heat to medium-high and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft and translucent, about 8-10 minutes.  

IMG_3334 IMG_3329                                      ~ Step 5.  Stir in the bacon, frozen corn, and flour.  

Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, an additional 4-6 minutes.  Mixture will be thick and steaming.

IMG_3338~ Step 6.  Add the chicken stock, clam juice and wine.  While mixture is returning to a simmer, stir in the bay leaves, celery seed, cayenne pepper, nutmeg, thyme leaves, salt and white pepper.  

IMG_3340~ Step 7. When the mixture is simmering, drain & add the potatoes.

Adjust heat to simmer gently, until carrots and potatoes are just short of fork-tender (al dente) about 14-18 minutes.

IMG_3365Note:  At this point, soup can be covered and refrigerated a day ahead of "finish cooking". Remove from refrigerator and return to room temperature, 1-2 hours.  Slowly and over low heat, bring to a gentle, steady simmer and proceed as follows:

IMG_3374 IMG_3387~ Step 8. Stir the clams into the simmering soup and adjust heat to an extremely gentle simmer.  Stir in the cream.  Do not allow to simmer or boil.  When mixture is steaming, ladle the hot chowder into warmed serving bowls and serve garnished w/red pepper & parsley, accompanied by oyster crackers, passed at tableside!

IMG_3398Creamy New England-Style Clam&Corn Chowder:  Recipe yields 10 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 16-quart stockpot; large slotted spoon; paper towels; large spoon; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b015390b777ec970b-800wi 6a0120a8551282970b01543498b678970c-320wiCook's Note: For another one of my very special clam recipes + all of my instructions for how to properly clean and steam fresh clams, click into Categories 1, 8 or 14 and read ~ Tarragon, Sweet Onion & Red Pepper Butter for:  Melanie's Wine-Steamed Clams or King Crab Legs ~

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

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


~ Pumpkin Bread+Apples = Autumn Bread Pudding ~

IMG_3031I just love making "quick" breads.  "Quick bread' is an American term that refers to bread that is quick-to-make because:  it doesn't require kneading or rising time.  It originated during the American Civil War, when the demand for food and bread was high.  Innovative cooks began to rapidly produce bread and baked goods that were leavened with baking soda, rather than yeast. Bread pudding, which can be made using any type of bread, was also a way for innovative, frugal cooks to make use of leftover or stale bread, and, I for one am grateful for their invention!

6a0120a8551282970b0133f530c894970b-320wiTwo days ago I made and posted my recipe for ~ Joe's Favorite "Roasted" Pumpkin Bread ~ (pictured just below), which I made from homemade ~ Roasted Pumpkin Puree ~, made from sugar pumpkins Joe grew in his garden (the puree is pictured here)!

You can find both of those recipes in Category 17. About the only thing better than eating this bread on the first day, is using it to make bread pudding on the third.  Because quick bread usually contains some sort of fruit or fruit puree, fragrant spices, and often times raisins and/or nuts:   If you've never thought to make bread pudding with leftover quick bread, I'm here to say... 

Quick bread makes fabulous bread pudding! 

IMG_2917A bit about bread pudding:  It is officially classified as a bread-based, baked dessert made with cubes or slices of bread that get saturated with a mixture of milk, eggs,  sugar, vanilla and spices. Almost every cuisine/country has a version of it, because bread pudding is a product/invention of frugal cooks who wanted to find a use for stale bread.  Bread pudding, which is quick and easy to make, can be assembed and baked in any type of appropriately-sized, 2-inch deep casserole dish (square, rectangular, oval, etc), or, in individual ramekins.  Even though bread pudding is immediately associated with dessert, knowing how to make savory bread pudding as well, is a creative cook's best kept secret:

IMG_2753It is as versatile as quiche and can contain all sorts of meats, cheeses and vegetables ranging from asparagus to zucchini.  Pictured here is my recipe for ~  English Muffin, Sweet Sausage, Eggs & Cheese:  My Super-Simple, Make Ahead Breakfast Casserole ~. Assembly begins with a mixture of cubed English muffins and ends being drenched in a mixture of milk, eggs, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Technically, this is a savory bread pudding, and you can find the recipe in Categories 9, 17 or 20!

Bread pudding is so easy, you "almost" don't need a recipe!

IMG_2933~ Step 1.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with parchment paper and spray the inside of 4, deep, 2-cup ramekins with no-stick cooking spray.  If you do not have 2-cup ramekins, an 8" x 8" x 2" casserole may be substituted.

~ Step 2.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees with oven rack in center. 

IMG_2939~ Step 3.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice:

2, 9-ounce loaves of: ~ Joe's Favorite "Roasted" Pumpkin Quick Bread ~

into 1/2"-3/4" cubes.

IMG_2892Distribute half of the bread cubes (or, the cubes from 1, 9-ounce loaf) evenly amongst the bottoms of the four ramekins.

IMG_2944~ Step 4.  In a 1-quart measuring container, whisk together:

6 large eggs, at room temperature

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

1/2  cup sugar

1 1/2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract, not imitation

1 1/4  cups heavy or whipping cream

Set aside.

IMG_2949~ Step 5.  Peel and core:

2, 7-8-ounce Granny Smith apples 

and chop them into 1/2-3/4" pieces.

IMG_2959Evenly distribute the apples, on top of the bread cubes, in the ramekins.

Using your fingertips, lightly press down on the tops of the apples, to create a bit of extra headspace at the top of each ramekin.

IMG_2971 IMG_2966~ Step 6. Evenly distribute the remaining bread cubes over the top of the apples in the ramekins.

Note:  Because the bread is going to brown as it bakes, at this point, I take the time to place the bread cubes into the ramekins, crust side facing down.  This will prevent over-browning or burning.

6a0120a8551282970b017c3286a053970b IMG_2981~ Step 7. Rewhisk the egg mixture and slowly pour it into the ramekins, giving it plenty of time to drizzle down through all the crevaces until it reaches the fill line/inside lip of each ramekin.

IMG_2994Sprinkle Sugar 'n Cinnamon evenly over all.

IMG_2998~ Step 8.  Set aside for 1 hour prior to baking on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes.  The bread pudding will be nicely browned, puffed up, oozing a few juices and maybe some custard too, but the pudding will be set.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool, about 15-20 minutes, prior to serving warm with freshly whipped cream or ice cream. Leftover bread pudding reheats nicely.  Cover with plastic wrap and reheat in the microwave!

IMG_3011Pumpkin Bread+Apples = Autumn Bread Pudding:  Recipe yields 4 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; 4, 2-cup size ramekins, or an 8" x 8" x 2" casserole; cutting board; serrated bread knife; 1-quart measuring container; whisk; vegetable peeler

PICT0001Cook's Note:  One of my favorite things about bread pudding?  It can be assembled, covered and refrigerated overnight.  Remove it from the refrigerator about 1-1 1/2 hours prior to baking as directed!

Extra Cook's Note: For another one of my favorite bread pudding recipes, click into Categories 5, 9, or 20 for: ~ Blueberry Brioche Bread Pudding for Breakfast ~!

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

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


~ Joe's Favorite "Roasted" Pumpkin Quick Bread ~

IMG_2917I'm kinda of proud to announce that I have never used or cooked with canned pumpkin.  Over the years, I've also had a lot of people tell me they think pumpkin is one of the few foods that is better canned than fresh.  They key word here is "think".  I am one of purists that is here to tell them, and you, if you have ever tasted a light, silky-smooth, custard-like pumpkin pie, made from fresh pumpkin puree, you would rethink that statement.

6a0120a8551282970b0134884fc792970c-800wiMy Great Aunt Mary (my grandmother's sister) lived on a farm and grew her own pumpkins. She was a fabulous baker too.  So, for as far back as I can remember, our family always ate superb pumpkin desserts made from her freshly roasted pumpkin puree.  For the last 15 years or so, my husband Joe has been growing pumpkins in our backyard (which alleviated the need for me to buy them) for I could make:  roasted pumpkin puree.

In the picture above, you'll notice that all of the pumpkins are quite small, except for one.  I like to refer to the large, decorative variety as:  "Jack-o'-lantern pumpkins", the kind we all carve for Halloween.  Joe grows a couple of these every year, just for fun.  Today we're focusing our attention on the small, culinary pumpkins called: "sugar" or "pie" pumpkins.  I always refer to them as sugar pumpkins because culinarily, they are NOT just for pumpkin pie.  They can be used to make all sorts of desserts, as well as pickles, soups and an array of savory dishes.

Tips for Choosing, Using and Storing Pumpkins!

Choose pumpkins with smooth, unblemished skin that is solid and firm (no soft spots).  If the pumpkin you choose is a little green, that is ok.  Kept in a cool spot (not in the refrigerator), it will continue to ripen on its own.  A fully-ripe pumpkin, stored at room temperature, will keep just fine for about a month.  Whether you cut your pumpkin out of your own garden or buy one at the farmers' market, don't us the short stubly stem as a handle for carrying your pumpkin, as, they are quite woody and can snap off quickly under the weight of the pumpkin... in an instant, your carefully chosen, prime pumpkin will be smashed on the ground beneath (or on top of) your feet!

6a0120a8551282970b0133f5306492970b-320wiA bit about sugar pumpkins:  Their average size is from about 4-8 pounds, but as you can see, some are quite smaller and some are quite bigger.  They have a dryer, meatier texture than the Jack-o'lantern pumpkin.  My favorite size is the 4-pound range because they seem to have the perfect ratio of skin, meat and seeds.

6a0120a8551282970b0133f530c894970b-320wiFeel free to research and choose any method you want for making your own pumpkin puree (boiling, steaming, microwaving, or roasting), but in my opinionated opinion, roasting is superior.

You can read my easy, foolproof method for ~ Roasted Pumpkin Puree ~ in Categories 15, 18 or 22, and, after that:  never buy canned pumpkin again.

It's time to Make Joe's Favorite "Quick" Pumpkin Bread!

IMG_2887A bit about quick bread:  Quick bread is an American term that refers to bread that is quick to make because it doesn't require kneading or rising time.  It originated during the American Civil war, when the demand for food and bread was high.  Innovative cooks began rapidly producing bread and baked goods that were leavened with baking soda rather than yeast. 

IMG_2894Nowadays, the leavening agent in quick bread is predominantly double-acting baking powder, sometimes baking soda or a combination of both.  Typically, quick breads contain eggs, flour, salt, fat (butter, margarine, shortening or oil) and leavening. They can be sweet or savory and also contain sugar, fruits, fruit puree, vegetables, vegetable puree and various liquids (milk, buttermilk, fruit juice or stock).  The wet ingredients and the dry ingredients are usually mixed separately in two different bowls.  They are then combined, just prior to baking, mixed briefly (until they just bind together) and immediately baked.  Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, scones, soda bread and waffles fall into the category of quick bread too.

IMG_2818For the pumpkin puree:

3 1/2  cups pumpkin puree, preferably my recipe for ~ Roasted Pumpkin Puree (Note: Canned pumpkin may be substituted but NOT canned pumpkin pie mix.)

For the dry ingredients:

5 1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1  tablespoon baking soda

1  tablespoon sea salt

1 1/2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

1  teaspoon ground cloves

For the wet ingredients:

1  cup butter-flavored vegetable shortening, cut into pieces

4  cups sugar

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

6  large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/3  cups buttermilk (Note:  This will get added along with the dry ingredients, meaning:  it does not initially get beaten into the wet mixture.)

For the dried fruit and nuts:

2  cups currants

2  cups coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts

For preparing the pans:

no-stick cooking spray (for nonstick pans), or, butter (for conventional pans)

IMG_2806~ Step 1.  Chop and place nuts in a shallow baking pan.  Roast on center rack of 350 degree oven, until lightly toasted and fragrant, about 12-15 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 5 minutes.  Set aside to cool.  Don't turn the oven off.

IMG_2825~ Step 2.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves.  Set aside.







~ Step 3.  In a large mixing bowl, place the shortening, sugar and vanilla. Starting on low speed of mixer, gradually increasing speed to medium-high, combine until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

PICT2734~ Step 4. Two at a time, beat in the eggs, until the mixture is thick and smooth.

IMG_2830~ Step 5.  Add all of the pumpkin puree.  On lowest mixer speed, fold the puree into the shortening mixture.








~ Step 6.  In approximately 3 parts (1/3, 1/3 & 1/3) add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to the wet mixture, beating the batter after each addition until smooth, while using the spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl constantly.





IMG_2848~ Step 7. All at once, add the currants and toasted nuts.  Using the spatula, fold until all ingredients are thoroughly combined and a thick chunky batter has formed.




~ Step 8.  Ladle batter evenly into 12 mini-loaf pans (prepared as directed above).

Note:  After the pans have been filled with batter, I like to place each one on a kitchen scale.  Using an ordinary tablespoon I adjust the amount in each pan to ensure even baking and even-sized loaves...

IMG_2860... Today, each pan got 13 ounces of batter.

Additionally, while I bake all 12 loaves on the center rack of a preheated oven at the same time, I place and bake 10 of the loaves on a 17 1/2" x 11 1/2" baking pan. This allows for a quick and easy transfer into and out of the hot oven, as well as prevents heat loss caused by keeping the door open too long!

IMG_2872~ Step 9.  Bake loaves on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, about 30-35 minutes, or until a cake tester (or a toothpick) inserted into their centers comes out clean. Loaves will have risen, be golden brown and starting to pull away from the sides of pans.  Remove from oven and cool, in pans, about 10 minutes, prior to transferring to a colling rack to cool completely:

IMG_2892Joe's Favorite "Roasted" Pumpkin Quick Bread:  Recipe yields 12 mini-loaves.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; shallow 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan; whisk; 12, 5 3/4" x 3 1/4" x 2" (2-cup size), mini-loaf pans; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; soup ladle; kitchen scale (optional); 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; cake tester or toothpick; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b016303e47d73970d-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my delicious quick bread recipes, click into Categories 5, 11 or 22 to learn how to make ~ Macadamia-Mango, Coconut-Rum Banana Bread ~. Just like pumpkin bread, it is great toasted and slathered with butter on a chilly Fall or Winter morning!

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

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


~ English Muffins, Sweet Sausage, Eggs & Cheese: My Super-Simple, Make-Ahead Breakfast Casserole~

IMG_2753It's been said that I am not a morning person.  It's true.  When it comes to mornings, I don't mind being awake, showered and dressed by 8:00AM, but, I do mind being social, energetic and forced into productivity.  My ideal morning is to come downstairs, sit quietly with the newspaper and CNN on TV, sip a glass of iced-tea and come up with my game plan or organize my notes for the day ahead.  Around 10:00- 10:30-ish AM I turn into a very busy and very nice person, who often works very late into the night and into the wee hours of the next morning!

It is for people like me the breakfast casserole was invented!

IMG_2791Like most cooks, I have a few really good main-dish casserole recipes in my repertoire, because: casseroles are the quintessential comfort food.  From church suppers, to pot-lucks, to tailgates, etc., they seem to bring people together and make them feel better.  That being said, I don't come from a long line of "casserole eaters".  In fact, I don't remember my mother ever serving a casserole, EVER. Generally speaking, I honestly don't find casseroles particularly creative, exciting or inventive either.  I do find them good-tasting, and, more importantly: functional.  This is one such recipe.  It is very good tasting and very functional.  It gets put together the night before and when you wake up, all you have to do is bake, serve and eat!

Where did I get this recipe?  Good Question.

Images Images-1I'm not sure.  It could have been a recipe I clipped out of a newspaper or a magazine, or, it could have appeared on a package of sausage. McDonald's had introduced the Egg McMuffin to its national menu in 1975 and I'm convinced this casserole had to be a spin-off from it, because versions of this casserole (made with bacon, Canadian bacon, or sausage) started appearing everywhere.  What I do remember is:  I began serving it in the early 1980's on cold mornings, outdoors at Beaver Stadium, for Penn State tailgates. Everyone loved it... particularly the menfolk.  BTW, it pairs great with Bloody Mary's!

What's not to love about an Egg McMuffin that feeds twelve!

IMG_2659~ Step 1.  Spray a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole with no-stick spray.

~ Step 2.  Split & cut into 3/4" cubes:

1,  12-ounce package English muffins, preferably Thomas'

placing them in the casserole as you work.

IMG_2668~ Step 3.  Melt:

4 ounces salted butter (1 stick)

in the microwave and slowly drizzle it evenly over the top of the muffin cubes.

IMG_2677~ Step 4.  Finely grate:

4 cups yellow cheddar cheese (1 pound)

Sprinkle 2 cups over the muffin cubes and set the remaining 2 cups of grated cheese aside.

Note:  I used store-bought, pre-grated cheese.  This is supposed to be super-simple!

IMG_0612A bit about the sausage:  I like to use:

12, 2-ounce, 2 1/2"-round mini, mild-flavored sausage patties

Why?  Because everyone loves getting an entire sausage pattie in their portion.  If you can't find something similar, substitute 1 1/2 pounds of uncooked bulk sausage!

IMG_2686~ Step 5.  Fry the sausage patties (or bulk sausage) until light golden brown on both sides, turning only once.  Timing will vary, depending on whether they are thawed, or frozen (like mine are today).

Note:  I do not fry my sausage patties until they are fully-cooked, or much worse, to the hockey-puck stage.  They can and will finish cooking as the casserole bakes!

IMG_2688 IMG_2693                                    ~ Step 6. Arrange the sausage patties on the top of the grated cheese, then, top the sausage with the remaining two cups of grated cheese.

The next step is optional:

IMG_2703~ Step 7.  If you'd like to add some "heat" drain:

1, 7 1/2-ounce jar, sliced, green, pickled jalapeno peppers

Scatter or well-place them on top of the casserole.  Another option is to dice them up and sprinkle them on!

IMG_2708~ Step 8.  In a 2-quart measuring container, whisk together:

2  cups milk

12  large eggs, at room temperature

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon black pepper



~ Step 9.  Slowly drizzle the egg/milk mixture evenly over the surface of the entire casserole, working in north to south and east to west directions as you drizzle, which will give the mixture plenty of time to drizzle down through all the nooks and crannies.  Cover and refrigerate 4-8 hours or overnight:



~ Step 10.  Remove casserole from refrigerator 2 hours prior to baking, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the center is puffy and set.  Allow to rest, 15-30 minutes prior to slicing and serving:

IMG_2730English Muffins, Sweet Sausage, Eggs & Cheese:  My Super-Simple, Make-Ahead Breakfast Casserole:  Recipe yields 12 servings (each with its own sausage pattie hidden inside).

Special Equipment List:  13" x 9" x 2" casserole dish; cutting board; serrated bread knife; 1-cup measuring container; cheese grater (optional); 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; nonstick spatula; 2-quart measuring container; whisk; plastic wrap

Thomas_logoCook's Note:  Thomas' English muffins are the ones we Americans love for their "nooks and crannies" that toast up crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.  How they do it is a closely-guarded secret and they've gone to court over it too. However they do it, they've earned their place on my table!

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

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


~ A Hot Dog with a Salad On Top? Only in Chicago! ~

IMG_2647As I've mentioned before here on Kitchen Encounters, aside from a few layovers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, my direct experiences with Illinois are limited to three:  #1)  Piccalilli (a highly-seasoned, bright-green colored, sweet pickle relish), which my neighbor Jane (from Champaign, IL) gave me her recipe for (about 18-20 years ago).  #2)  One Chicago-style deep-dish pizza at Uno's Pizzeria on Rush Street.  #3)  Chicago-style hot dogs in full regalia, which I devoured during those layovers at the airport.  My first Chicago Dog was love at first bite!

Making a Chicago Dog is called:  Dragging it through the garden!

13200A bit about the Chicago-style hot dog:  As the story goes, it got its start from the street vendors who sold hot dogs from their push-carts during the great depression.  For a nickle, a poor person in search of a job could get a hot, delicious meal on a bun consisting of:  

a simmered or steamed all-beef hot dog (no fillers), preferably Vienna brand

a poppy-seeded hot dog bun 

then, topped with a specific combo of ingredients that work in harmony to create a party in your mouth:

Imagesyellow ballpark-type mustard

bright green sweet pickle relish (the color of of kriptonite)

diced sweet onions, preferably Vidalia

two ripe, juicy tomato wedges, not slices

a mildly-seasoned, deli-style, kosher pickle spear

a couple of whole sport peppers, not sliced or diced

                                                                  a dash of celery salt

Without any one of these components, you, my friend, are not eating a Chicago-style hot dog...

Want ketchup on that Chicago Dog?  They'll call the food police!

IMG_2458When I set out to write this post, I wanted it to be authentic as a foodie from Central PA could make it, so, I ordered a couple of ingredients on line, namely, the signature kryptonite-colored pickle relish and the sport peppers.  Penn State is playing Northwestern right here in Happy Valley's Beaver stadium tomorrow and I'm entertaining guests from 'Chi-Town' afterward.  I tried to order poppy-seeded hot dog rolls too, but found them impossible to get.  Then, I had one of my brainstorms:

IMG_2468Every once in a while you will hear me sing the praises of a store-bought mix.  This is such a time.  Today, I am praising Pillsbury's hot roll mix.  As someone who can and does bake their own bread and rolls, I am here to tell you, in a pinch, this mix makes tasty pull-apart dinner rolls and cinnamon buns. I could not think of one reason why it wouldn't do the same for poppy-seeded hot dog rolls, and, I was right!

Now that I've done it once, I'm going to be making "homemade" hot dog (and hamburger) rolls on a regular basis.  The only thing better than a great hot dog is:  a great hot dog served on a fresh, easy-to-make roll!

IMG_2581It's time to put the Pillsbury Dough Boy to work!

IMG_2471~ Step 1.  Stir together, in a large bowl, the contents of:

the hot roll mix, and,

the yeast packet.

Bring to room temperature,

1 large egg, and,

2  tablespoons  salted butter.

IMG_2478Have ready:

1 cup very hot tap water, and,

1/4 cup all-purpose "bench" flour.

~ Step 2.  Using your fingertips, make a well in the center of the dry roll/yeast mixture.  

Add the softened butter to the hot water and let it sit about 15-20 seconds, to soften the butter a bit further, but not melt it completely.  

Add the water/butter mixture and the egg to the hot roll mix.

IMG_2486~ Step 3.  Using your fingertips, begin to mix the dry mixture into the wet ingredients until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and a stickly mass forms.

~ Step 4.  Adding the additional flour, in small amounts as you work, knead the dough in the bowl for about 5 minutes, pressing down and away from you with the heel of your hand, giving the bowl a quarter turn each time you press down.  

IMG_2494~ Step 5.  Shape dough into a ball, cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 5-6 minutes.

~ Step 6.  You will have 28 ounces of dough. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces, each weighing 4 1/2 ounces on a kitchen scale.

IMG_2503~ Step 7.  One at a time, roll form/flatten each piece of dough into a 6" oval...









... fold each oval into thirds, lengthwise, in this manner:

Lift and fold the top side down and into the center.  Using a firm but gentle touch, seal the seam with your fingertips.  Lift and fold the bottom side up and into the center. Using a firm but gentle touch, seal the seam with your fingertips.  Roll the "log" over, seam side down and tuck the left and right sides underneath, to form a hot dog roll!

IMG_2501~ Step 8.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper and lightly grease the parchment with some softened or melted butter.   Lightly sprinkle the parchment with poppy seeds.

~ Step 9.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

IMG_2516~ Step 10.  Arrange the rolls on the pan, about 3/4" from each other.  

Note:  Because these are hot dog rolls, I want them to be soft-sided, and pull-apart.  If you want to use these for sandwich rolls, arrange them farther apart.

Cover entire pan with a lint-free kitchen towel and allow rolls to rise for 15 minutes (not until doubled).

IMG_2523 IMG_2527~ Step 11. Melt 2 tablespoons salted butter in the microwave.  Using a pastry brush and a light touch, one at a time, lightly paint the entire surface of each roll with butter then sprinkle it with poppy seeds.

IMG_2541~ Step 12.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven about 10-12 minutes.  

Note:  Hot dog rolls will be lightly browned and sound hollow when lightly tapped with the knuckle of your index finger, but, they will still seem soft.  This is what you want:

Nice, pillow-y soft, hot dog rolls!

Cool in pan about 5 minutes. Carefully separate and place on a rack to cool completely:



It's time cook and assemble some Chicago Dogs!

IMG_2587A bit about the hot dogs:  The key to the Chicago Dog is to choose an all-beef kosher frank that contains no fillers, no by-products, no artificial flavors and no artificial colors.  For me, this was an easy decision.  These Hebrew National franks are the only hot dogs I eat here in PA.  I been serving them exclusively for many years now, and, I don't think anyone from Chicago will lodge any complaints!

IMG_2594Keep in mind that hot dogs are already fully-cooked.  I've been told that Chicago Dogs are typically simmered or steamed, or, sometimes grilled.  I'm just going to put mine about 8" underneath a preheated broiler for about 6-8 minutes, giving them 1/4 turn, every 1 1/2-2 minutes, to evenly heat them (not brown) on all four sides.

Before cooking your hot dogs (in any manner you desire), prep and have all of your ingredients ready and waiting.  How much of each ingredient you prep will depend entirely on how you want to assemble your Chicago Dog. Here's how I put mine together:

IMG_2597 IMG_2600 IMG_2603




IMG_2626A Hot Dog with a Salad on Top?  Only in Chicago!:  Recipe yields instructions to make 6 hot dog rolls (doubling the recipe is easy), and, the ingredients list to properly make Chicago dogs.

Special Equipment List:  large mixing bowl; fork; plastic wrap; kitchen scale (optional); wooden pastry board; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; lint-free kitchen towel; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b0134892d3b28970c-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my hot dog specialties, you can get my recipe for ~ Mel's Texas-Style Chili Sauce & Texas Chili Dogs ~ in Categories 2, 10, 17 or 22!  

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

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


~ Sweet Home Chicago: Italian Beef Sandwiches ~

IMG_2416Have I ever eaten an authentic Chicago-Style Italian Beef Sandwich?  Technically, no, because I didn't eat it in Chicago, BUT I ate one, more than a few times, in Philadelphia.  I think it counts as enough experience to write this post because they were sold and marketed as Chicago-style Italian beef sandwiches.  I will probably hear a few "boo's" from my Philadelphia friends and readers for my next statement, but:  I like this sandwich better than the Philly's famous cheesesteak.  And, for any of you hard-core Chicagoland folks:  before I decided to post this, I asked the necessary questions of one of my very well-traveled, foodie-writer friends (thank-you Peter), who confirmed that my recipe is pretty dang close to what you'd get in Second City!

IMG_2384Italian Beef Rule #1:  Meat must be melt-in-your-mouth tender!

A bit about Italian beef sandwiches:  The classic Chicago-style beef sandwich is a drippy, wet, mess-of-a sandwich, which is best eaten over a trough.  It is said to have been created by Italian immigrants living and working on the Sout Side (no "h" in South) of Chicago back in the early 1900's.  It was popularized during the 1920's depression by a South-Side butcher named Pasquale Scala.  Scala's sandwich consisted of:  very thinly-sliced/shaved, highly-seasoned, medium-rare roasted beef, that is briefly simmered in a thin, flavorful, specialty sauce made from the meat drippings.  He heaped it onto a sub-type roll and served it topped with fried peppers!

Italian Beef Rule #2:  Sauce must be highly-flavored, yet refined!

A bit about the "sauce":  Nowadays, in a lot of places, the entire sandwich gets plunged into the sauce just prior to serving it to you dripping wet, topped with some spicy giardiniera (a hot pepper and vegetable mixture).  I refer to the liquid as "sauce", rather than "au jus", because I don't want you to confuse the Italian beef sandwich with the French dip sandwich, which gets served with its own somewhat salty juice (au jus) to the side, into which you daintily dip the ends of the sandwich as you eat it.  The sauce for Italian beef is very robust, the key being not to let any one spice or flavor overwhelm it.  I also don't refer to the liquid as a "gravy", because if you are Italian, that's "a tomato-based pasta sauce".  If it's not au jus and it's not gravy:  it's sauce!

IMG_2399Italian Beef Rule #3:  Learn the lingo for ordering Italian beef:

"dry" = no extra sauce gets added to the meat after it has been sauced and placed on the roll

"wet" = extra sauce gets ladled over the meat after it is place on the roll

"dipped" = the entire sandwich, meat and bread, gets submerged in the sauce 

Als1I can't hands-on recommend a place to eat Italian beef in Chicago, but, Al's, which is now a franchise, has been rated #1 consistently for years.  They make their Italian beef using top sirloin and their slightly-spicy sauce is a well-kept secret.  There's standing room eating only at the counter (no indoor seating) + a few picnic tables outside.  Founded in 1938, my reseach indicates that if you're in Chicago and new to Italian beef, this is where to go to give it a try! 

Making Chicago-style Italian beef sangwitches a la Mel...

... it's easier than you think & here's what you'll need:

IMG_2281USE A MEAT THERMOMETER!!! If you do not have one, go buy, beg, borrow or steal one!  Come back and read the rest of this post when you have one in your hand!

For the beef (at room temperature):

1  8-pound top sirloin roast

IMG_2290For the sauce:

6  cups beef stock, preferably homemade (but canned stock works just fine)

1  cup port wine (a sweet, fortified red wine)

1/2  cup Pickapeppa sauce (a Jamaican steak-type sauce), or your favorite steak sauce

1/2  cup Worcestershire sauce


In a 2-quart measuring container, whisk together all of the sauce ingredients.  Set aside.

IMG_2300For the spice rub (combine):

2  tablespoons Italian seasoning blend

1  tablespoon garlic powder

1  tablespoon fine sea salt

2  tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

IMG_2302For the aromatics and fresh herbs:

12-16 ounces coarsely chopped yellow or sweet onion

3-4  ounces each:  coarsely chopped carrot and celery

1-2  4-6" sprigs each:  fresh rosemary and oregano 

4-6  3-4" sprigs fresh thyme

Getting the beef ready for the oven + roasting and resting it:

IMG_2315~ Step 1.  Prep and place aeromatics/herbs in the bottom of 2, 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum pans that have been doubled to form one sturdy pan.  Add 4 cups of the sauce.  Set remainder aside. 

~ Step 2.  Place a 12 1/2" x 11 1/2" sturdy cooling rack into the pan and put the roast, fat-side-up on top of it.

IMG_2318Note:  My measurements are hardware specific.  When roast goes onto rack, no part of it should be touching any of the liquid!

~ Step 3.  Using your fingertips, begin applying the spice to all surfaces of the roast, concentrating on the top first, then the sides afterward, allowing all excess rub to sift down into the sauce mixture!

IMG_2337~ Step 4.  Roast, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, about 2- 2 1/2 hours, or, until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the center, in 2-3 places across the top, reads 125-130 degrees.  Do not overcook.  Do not be inclined to cut or taste even the smallest of pieces or bites... any cut you make in the roast now will result in a loss of a lot of juices! 

IMG_2343~ Step 5.  Tighty seal the entire pan with aluminum foil.  Set aside to rest, about 2 hours.  This allows residual heat to cook roast to medium-rare, and the rest of the juices to drip into the sauce!

~ Step 6.  Uncover pan, remove the roast, wrap it tightly in plastic, place it on a plate and set aside 2 hours prior to slicing.  

IMG_2354Note:  Call me old-school, but, I am not in favor of refrigeration prior to slicing this meat under any circumstances.  In my humble opionion, refrigeration absolutely compromises the flavor and texture of the meat and all of the fat within and surrounding the meat.  I also have it on good authority that authentic Italian beef is always sliced while it is still warm!

IMG_2351~ Step 7.  About 30 minutes prior to slicing meat, place the remaining 4 cups of sauce mixture in a 10" chef's pan with straight, deep sides.






~ Step 8.  Next, transfer all of the highly-flavorful pan juices, about 2-2 1/2 cups, through a fine mesh strainer, into the sauce in the chef's pan (pictured above). Discard the vegetables left in strainer (although I always find myself eating those luscious carrots).

Note:  You will now have 6-6 1/2 cups of highly-flavored sauce for your Italian beef sandwiches!

IMG_2372It's time to slice the beef!

~ Step 9.  In a perfect world, every home kitchen would have an electric meat slicer. This Chef's Choice VariTilt (model 632) will make short work of cutting my entire roast into paper-thin slices in less than 10 minutes.  In my busy kitchen, this time-saving machine paid for itself almost the moment it arrived.  Don't have a meat slicer? Don't fret.  Just pick up a sharp knife and slice the beef as thinly as you physically can, or:

Just slice it to a thickness you like!  It's your dang sangwitch!  

IMG_2399~ Step 10.  Over medium heat, bring the sauce to a gentle simmer.  Slice a firm-textured sub-type roll in half lengthwise.  Using a pair of tongs, grab a portion of beef and swirl it around in the simmering sauce for about 10-15 seconds. Continue this process until sandwich is filled with meat,  placing the dripping wet meat on the roll as you go.  Top with whatever you want, but I like it the classic way, with crunchy, colorful hot giardiniera:



IMG_2446A bit about the giardiniera:  Coming from the Italian word "giardiniere" which means "gardener", culinarily this is a mixture of pickled garden vegetables.  Depending on the type of peppers added to it, the mixure can be mild or spicy/"hot".  It can be chunky-diced (which I like) or small-diced (which Joe likes).  When you're in Chicago, you'll be served the kind Joe likes!

Sweet Home Chicago:  Italian Beef Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 12 large sandwiches and 6-6 1/2 cups of sauce (allowing about 1/2 cup per sandwich for dipping or drizzling).

Special Equipment List:  2-quart measuring container; whisk; 1-cup measuring container, 2, 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pans, doubled to form one sturdy pan; 18 x 10" cooling rack; 10" chef's pan w/straight deep sides; instant-read meat thermometer;  heavy-duty aluminum foil; plastic wrap; fine mesh strainer; cutting board; chef's knife; electric meat slicer (optional but worth the investment if you want to save $$$'s on store-bought deli-meat); tongs

6a0120a8551282970b017c3189181a970bCook's Note:  To get my recipe for ~ Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza ~, which I first tasted at Uno's on Rush Street in Chicago, just click into Categories 2, or 19.  It was an experience of a lifetime!

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

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


~ How to: Season or Re-season Cast Iron Cookware~

6a0120a8551282970b017d3c76f72e970cCast iron is what I refer to as "heirloom cookware".  The cast iron skillet that was handed down to you via your mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother is just as good as the one you bought yesterday.  Many people will take it one step further and say that food cooked in properly-seasoned, well-aged vintage cast iron enhances the flavor of food even more.  I can't prove that claim, because my cast iron was not handed down to me, I bought all of it new:

Back in 2008 I was doing a celebrity chef demonstration with/for Chef John D. Folse, CEC, AAC and author of The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine (along with many other books).  On the list of cookware he required for his demonstration were quite a few different sizes of cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens.  At the time, I owned just 3 cast iron skillets.  That being said, cast iron is so gosh darn economical to buy, the decision to invest in the pieces he needed was an easy one for me to make.  Here's why:  I would never want to disappoint a celebrity chef with a hardware substitution, and, after the demonstration, I would take home a rather lovely set of cast iron cookware that I could tell everyone Chef Folse cooked in.

IMG_2272His list was long enough that I called the Lodge corporation directly to place the order.  Only about half of the pieces were available in their "Lodge-Logic" cookware line, which is cast iron that is seasoned at the factory and ready to use the moment it arrives. So, in order for me to get all of the pieces (in time for the demonstration),  I completed the list by ordering the rest from their "Lodge Original" cookware line, which requires doing the seasoning yourself after they arrive. Do I have a preference between Lodge-Logic or Lodge Original? Absolutely not.  Seasoning a cast iron pan takes a bit of time but it could not be easier.

To season cast iron cookware:

IMG_22501)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2)  Wash in hot soapy water, using a stiff nylon brush, liquid dish detergent and hot water.

3)  Thoroughly rinse and towel dry.

4)  Using a paper towel, thinly coat all of the surface area (interior and exterior) with vegetable oil (or melted vegetable shortening).

5)  Place a sheet of aluminum foil on lowest oven rack (this will collect any drips).

6)  Place cookware, upside down, on center/middle oven rack and bake for 1 hour.

7)  Turn oven off and allow the cookware to cool to room temperature in the oven.

8)  Cookware will be slightly brown (cast iron takes on its classic deep black patina only after years of use) and is now ready to use, however, I recommend, repeating this process two more times.  This extra effort will result in a surface almost guaranteed to resist all rust.

9)  Remove from oven and wipe off any excess oil with a clean, dry towel.

To remove rust spots and re-season cast iron cookware:

IMG_22461)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2)  SCRUB in hot soapy water with a stiff nylon brush, liquid detergent and hot water.

3)  Moisten a steel wool soap pad and scour any particularly nasty rust spots.

4)  Thoroughly rinse and towel dry. Carefully inspect for any specks or spots of remaining rust or residue. If you find even the smallest amount: repeat step 3.

5)  Using a paper towel, thinly coat all of the surface area (interior and exterior) with vegetable oil (or melted vegetable shortening).

6)  Place a sheet of aluminum foil on lowest oven rack (this will collect any drips).

7)  Place cookware, upside down, on center/middle oven rack and bake for 1 hour.

8)  Turn oven off and allow cookware to cool to room temperature in the oven.

9)  Remove from oven and wipe off any excess oil with a clean, dry towel.

To maintain and care for cast iron cookware:

IMG_22521)  The more you use your cast iron, the more you will naturally season it.  It is the original nonstick surface.

2)  Never use soap on cast iron after it has been seasoned.  Never put it in the dishwasher.

3)  Never put hot cast iron in cold water.  Thermal shock can warp or crack it.

4)  After each use, clean it in hot water with a stiff brush and towel dry.  Air-drying promotes rust.

5)  If you're having trouble removing stuck-on food, boil some water in it for a few minutes to loosen it.

6)  While the cookware is still warm from the hot water, wipe a light coat of vegetable oil on all of the interier and exterior surfaces.

7)  Store in a cool, dry place.  If stacking skillets, or placing lids on Dutch ovens, place a layer of paper towels between the pieces.  This prevents surfaces from scratching and promotes air circulation:

IMG_2269How to:  Season or Re-season Cast Iron Cookware:  Commentary yields instructions to properly season cast iron cookware, or, re-season rust-damaged cast iron cookware

Special Equipment List:  stiff brush; steel wool soap pad; lint-free kitchen towel; paper towel; aluminum foil

History_main_imgCook's Note:  Nestled alongside the Cumberland Plateau of the Appalacian Mountains in the town of South Pittsburg, TN, comes the finest cast iron cookware in the world.  Lodge Manufacturing began making cast iron products during the first presidential term of William McKinley. Amazingly, some of the first cast iron frying pans, teakettles and Dutch ovens made over 100 years ago are still in use.  Today, Lodge is still a family owned, family operated business producing the most extensive selection of quality cast iron goods on the market.  Check them out online at: 

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

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