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13 posts from November 2012


~ Two-for-One Effortless Straightforward Side-Dishes: Roasted Caraway-Seeded Carrots & Red Potatoes ~

6a0120a8551282970b017ee5cea67b970dRoasted chicken or turkey?  Pot roast or prime rib?  If you're making gravy (or not), these two super-easy, quick-to-put-together, cook-at-the-same-time, seriously-delicious side-dishes will turn your weeknight table into a holiday.  Too many discriptive words in the last sentece? Too bad.  These two accompaniments to dinner deserve all the accolades I can give.  This dynamic duo has appeared on my dinner table more times than I can count, and, I have no recollections of there ever being any leftovers.  In my family, they get eaten like candy!

6a0120a8551282970b0147e13c129b970b-800wiSo, last Thursday, when a reader (Susan) e-mailed to ask if I could post or recommend a really simple side-dish to serve for her husband Peter's birthday on Sunday, December 2nd, I promised Susie I would publish this recipe today!  

BTW:  Susan is serving him my recipe for ~ Perfect Prime Rib (Standing Rib Roast) ~, which you can find in Categories 3, 11 or 21, at a sit-down dinner for 10 people!

Happy 65th Birthday Peter!!!

IMG_4330Before I post the recipe, I'd like to add that I got it from my grandmother (Baba), who always served both for Sunday dinner with either her braised chicken or pot roast.  In our Eastern European family, we all love caraway seeds, most especially in homemade rye bread.  While caraway seeds add great flavor to these two side-dishes, feel free to omit them if they are not "your cup of tea".  My recipe for ~ Yankee Pot Roast ~ can be found in Categories 3, 19 or 20!

To prep and roast these two super-simple side-dishes:

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.

IMG_4257Roast both casseroles, side-by-side, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 15 minutes, for 1 1/2 hours.

Note:  Casseroles can also be roasted in a 375 degree oven, for about 1 hour.

Remove from oven when:

6a0120a8551282970b017c32f903a7970b-320wiThe carrots are cooked through and caramelizing, and, the potatoes are tender and lightly-browned!


Remove both from the oven, transfer to serving dishes and serve immediately (within 5-10 minutes)!

Two-for-One Effortless Side-Dishes: Roasted Caraway-Seeded Carrots and Red Potatoes:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings per casserole.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2, 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dishes; large spoon

Cook's Note:  Both the carrots and the potatoes can be prepped, tossed in the olive oil/onion mixture and covered with plastic wrap, 1-1 1/2 hours prior to baking and serving.  Do not, however, refrigerate either prior to baking.

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

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


~ Simple Pasta "al Tonno e Pomodoro" "a la Nicoise" (Pasta "w/Tuna & Tomatoes" "French Riviera-Style")~

IMG_6479After the Thanksgiving "mashed potatoes and gravy" holiday, and, before the Chrismas "cookies and candy" holiday, I just want to cook a couple of lighter and brighter, feel-good meals.  If I lived in a warmer climate, this would include include fresh garden vegetables and grilled chicken or fish.  Here in Central PA, it is 26 degrees today, and, there is a coating of snow on the ground. That's ok by me.  I'm going to step into my pantry and when I emerge, I'm going to have the ingredients in-hand to cook one of my cold-weather-cozy, lighter and brighter favorite meals!

When classic Italian cuisine...

IMG_6426"Al tonno e pomodoro" is the Italian phrase meaning "tuna with tomatoes", and it refers to a warm pasta dish (usually spaghetti or penne), tossed with a cooked tomato sauce to which canned tuna (packed in oil) has been added. The tuna can be the high-end kind that comes perfectly-packed in a pretty glass jar, or, budget-friendly, canned, "sorry Charlie", StarKist, but it must be packed in oil!

Meets classic French cuisine... 

6a0120a8551282970b016765cbba72970b-320wi"A la Nicoise" (nee-swahz) is the French phrase meaning "as prepared in Nice", typifying the food found in and around the French Riviera city of Nice.  Be it hot or cold seasonal cuisine, their bold cooking style is identified by a few integral, extremely healthy, ingredients which include:  tomatoes, garlic, olives and olive oil.  Anchovies and/or tuna are common additions. These components are used in various forms:  fresh for salads, or cooked, for sauces, etc.

It's Amore...

I love "al tonno e pomodoro" and I love foods prepared "a la Nicoise", so, it didn't take me long to figure out a way to combine the two to create one light, bright, bold-flavored dish.  "Light", you ask?  While many classic Italian and French recipes are known for their rich, decadent, calorie-packed portions, because all of the ingredients in my recipe are really quite good for you, this is a dish you can eat and fall in love with... without the guilt (well, maybe just a little guilt)!
















6a0120a8551282970b0168eacefd93970c-120wi2  35-ounce cans imported, whole, peeled tomatoes, undrained, chopped into bite-sized pieces (Note:  The brand of tomatoes I purchase is just lovely.  They are packed in a thick tomato puree.  If your canned tomatoes are watery, drain them prior to chopping them.)

8  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

1 1/2  ounces minced garlic cloves

8  ounces stemmed, cleaned and chopped white mushroom caps

2  cups pitted and coarsely chopped Nicoise olives (Note:  in the event you don't have these on hand, canned and well-drained black olives may be substituted.  It's a bit of a compromise, but the end result will still be delicious.)

1/2  cup dry red wine

2  tablespoons olive oil

2  ounces butter (1/2 stick)

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

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon cracked black pepper

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

12  ounces "canned" tuna, packed in oil, well-drained, and broken into bite-sized pieces

6a0120a8551282970b015432779207970c-320wi1  pound spaghetti or penne pasta

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, for boiling the pasta

4  ounces butter (1 stick), cut into pieces, at room temperature, for tossing the pasta

1/2  cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for topping pasta 

6a0120a8551282970b0168eacf186c970c-320wi~ Step 1.  Place the tomatoes in a large mixing bowl.  The easiest way to "chop" whole tomatoes into bite-sized pieces is to squish them with your hands.  Tip:  If you keep them underneath the liquid as you squish, the juices won't squirt all over your kitchen!

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

6a0120a8551282970b016765ce4177970b-320wi~ Step 3.  In a 12" skillet, melt the butter into the olive oil over low heat.  Add the onion, garlic and optional mushrooms.  Add the herbes de Provence, salt, pepper and optional red pepper flakes. Adjust heat to saute, until the vegetables are tender and the mushrooms have lost their moisture, about 8-10 minutes.


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

6a0120a8551282970b016765d692f3970b-120wi~ Step 5. Add and stir in the tomatoes. Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook, uncovered, until thickened, about 30 minutes.

~ Step 6.  Cover and remove from heat.  Do not add tuna at this time.

6a0120a8551282970b01538ea3e9e6970b-320wi~ Step 7.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling bowl.  Add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.  

Gradually add the pasta to the water, in order to keep the water boiling and the pasta separated.  

Adjust the heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until pasta is al dente, 8-12 minutes, depending upon the type of pasta you are cooking.

6a0120a8551282970b01538ea4296a970b-320wi~ Step 8.  Drain the pasta into a large colander and immediately return it to the still warm stockpot, and, place the stockpot back on the still warm stovetop.

Add the butter.  Using two forks or two spoons toss, as you would a salad, until the butter is completely melted and the pasta is evenly coated.  Cover pot and allow to rest on stovetop, 1-2 minutes, to allow the pasta to aborb all of the butter.

IMG_6457~ Step 9.  Add 3 1/2-4 cups of sauce to the cooked pasta.  Using two forks or two spoons toss as you would a salad, until the pasta is evenly coated in the sauce.

~ Step 10.  Add the tuna and gently toss, until it is incorporated throughout, being careful not to break up any chunks.  Portion into 4-6 warmed pasta bowls and top each with a sprinkling of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese: 

IMG_6460 IMG_6440Simple Pasta "al Tonno e Pomodoro" "a la Nicoise" (Pasta "w/Tuna & Tomatoes" "French Riviera-Style:  Recipe yields 3 quarts of sauce (enough for 3 meals), or, 1-quart of sauce for each 1-pound of pasta cooked (which serves 4).  This sauce freezes great, but, do not add the 12-ounces of tuna to any one of them until it is thawed and reheated. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; mesh strainer (optional); 12" skillet; 8-quart stockpot; colander; microplane grater

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

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

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


~ Mel's E-Z, Crazy-Good, London Broil, Steak Salad~

IMG_6340Last Tuesday I got a request from a new reader which totally got my attention and made my heart go pitter-pat.  It took me less than a second to decide it would be my very first post after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.  One thing this blog is teaching me is:  Every recipe, no matter how simple, if it is good eats, and, it is made at home with love, has a place in this food world!  

Roger says and asks:  I am a 41-year-old, recently-widowed, elementary school teacher raising 9-year-old twin boys.  We all eat lunch together in the school cafeteria (which is convenient), but, because I have almost no cooking skills, it is all I can do to resist taking the easy way out at dinnertime too:  the drive through.  Can you recommend a quick-to-prepare, satisfying, sort-of kid-friendly meal that gets some fresh vegetables on the table (to replace the fries), using a budget-friendly piece of beef (to relace the burger)?

6a0120a8551282970b0168e94ef875970c-800wiI stumbled onto your blog last week. I was looking for an easy way to cook chicken breasts and your recipe for ~ My E-Z "Real" Roasted Chicken Breasts & Gravy ~ (which can be found in Categories, 3, 19 or 20) came up.  I've made them twice. I admit to serving them with a jar of store-bought gravy (not your homemade gravy), microwaved baked potatoes and a box of frozen vegetables, and, we three REALLY love this meal!  Thank-you!

Kitchen Encounters:  Roger, let me start by saying:  I am totally impressed with your honesty and find it admirable that, in the best interest of your boys, you are doing your best to avoid that drive through window.  Back in the days when I was cooking for three little boys, even me, an accomplished cook, kept a few super-easy-to-prepare, kid-friendly recipes in my recipe box!

IMG_6200A bit about London broil:  While this sounds fancy and expensive it is not.  London broil was not invented in England and it is not a specific cut of beef.  It refers to the method of preparing it, which could not be easier.  London broil once referred to flank steak, but nowadays it almost always means, and is sold as, a 2"-thick piece of top round.   IMG_6213At $6.00 per pound (very budget-friendly), this 2-pound piece will easily feed the three of you with enough of leftovers for a sandwich meal the next day.  Because it's so lean, there is almost no waste, but, trim it of any fat you do find. Lean also = a tough cut of meat, so, it's time to make a quick marinade:

What is a marinade and what does it do?

IMG_6226A bit about marinating:  This is a very simple process whereby meat, fish and/or vegetables are soaked in a flavorful, acidic liquid for several hours to absorb flavor, and in the case of tough cuts of beef, tenderize them.  Because all marinades contain an acid (lemon juice, vinegar or wine), which reacts with aluminum, always marinate in a glass or stainless steel container, or, a simple food storage bag.  In the case of a 2"-thick piece of top round, a minimum of two hours (1 hour per 1") or overnight in the refrigerator.  FYI:  When fruits are similarly soaked, the word used is "macerate".

6a0120a8551282970b01774325ec6d970d-320wiFor the marinade/salad dressing:

1  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/2  cup vegetable oil

1/4  cup sugar

2  tablespoons Dijon mustard, or:

IMG_6217If an on-hand pantry ingredient will make things easier:

1  16-ounce bottle of store-bought Italian dressing...

... will work just fine too!

~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid, place all ingredients as listed. Vigorously shake until thoroughly combined.  Or, skip making the white balsamic marinade/dressing entirely and purchase a bottle of your children's favorite Italian dressing!

IMG_6223~ Step 2.  Place the meat in a 1-gallon food storage bag and add 3/4 cup of marinade.  Place meat in refrigerator for 2 hours, or overnight (until after school the next day).  Set remaining salad dressing aside, while preparing the salad, tomorrow after school, as directed below:

While the meat is marinating, it's time to prep the salad:

IMG_6229You've got a lot of leeway here. Here's my favorite basic must-have combination (which feeds 4):

2  heads romaine hearts, sliced into 1/4" ribbons

1  pound Compari tomatoes, cut into wedges

1  cucumber, peeled and diced

1/2 of a sweet onion, diced

IMG_6238~ Step 1.  Prep all ingredients as directed, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  BTW:  Slicing a head of romaine into "little ribbons" is culinarily referred to as "chiffonade".

Note:  Feel free to add any other of your family's favorite in-season ingredients.  Things like chopped celery, diced bell peppers and shredded carrots are great options!

IMG_6252In our house,  a couple of on-hand pantry ingredients & some cheese round out the perfect steak salad:

1  2-ounce can sliced black olives, well-drained

1 cup store-bought croutons

4  ounces crumbled blue cheese

Note:  Add your family's favorites. Things like roasted red peppers and/or marinated artichoke hearts and cheddar cheese taste great!

IMG_6258~ Step 2.  Add any canned or marinated pantry ingredients to the salad at this time. I'm adding black olives today. Cover and refrigerate the salad until serving time.

Note:  Do not be inclined to add any cheese or croutons until just before you toss and serve the salad, as they will just become mushy.  Do not be inclined to prep your salad a day in advance.  All of the fresh ingredients will lose their crisp and fresh integrity if left in the refrigerator for more than 2 hours. 

Broiling the London broil couldn't be easier!

IMG_6273~ Step 1.  Remove the meat from the marinade, discarding the marinade remaining in the bag. Place the meat on an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan...  




... Place the pan on an oven rack positioned about 6" underneath preheated broiler to broil:  for 9 minutes on the first side, until very lightly browned.

IMG_6297 IMG_6303~ Step 2.  Remove meat from oven, flip it over and return it to the broiler. Continue to broil, until golden brown on the second side, about 12 minutes, or, until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the meat reaches 130 degrees.

~ Step 3.  Remove meat from oven, cover with aluminum foil and set aside to rest prior to slicing, about 10-15 minutes, to allow the juices to redistribute themselves.

IMG_6314~ Step 4.  Remove the salad from the refrigerator.  Add any optional cheese and the croutons.  Add 1/2-3/4 cup of dressing, and, using two forks or two spoons toss until the ingredients are lightly and evenly coated in dressing.

~ Step 5.  Holding your chef's knife at a 30 degree angle, slice the meat, across the grain, into thin, even-sized slices.  Traditionally, the meat is sliced as thinly as possible and no more than 1/4"-thick!

Meet perfectly cooked, medium-rare London broil

IMG_6378Mel's E-Z, Crazy-Good, London Broil, Steak Salad:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings and 1 3/4 cups marinade/salad dressing.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid; 1-gallon food storage bag; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom;  instant-read meat thermometer (optional)

IMG_6340Cook's Note:  To serve, portion the chilled, dressed and tossed salad onto 4-6 serving dishes.  Arrange a few slices of warm meat on each plate and garnish with some freshly ground peppercorn blend.  Serve remaining dressing at tableside!

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

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


~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (11/23/12) ~

Culinary Q & A #2I hope everyone is recovering nicely from their Turkey day food induced comas.  Like a lot of you, Joe and I wrestled with taking the entire day off (from cooking) and ordering takeout, vs., leftovers.  The leftovers won.  We couldn't resist a complete reheat of yesterdays dinner. We two took our plates into the family room, put our feet up in front of the TV and both remarked it was every bit as good as it was yesterday, and the poodles agreed!

6a0120a8551282970b0162fe3acbf4970d-800wiOn Monday morning it will be time to switch gears and share a few more of my recipes for Christmas and New Years with you.  In addition to those recipes, a few of you have submitted some VERY intriguing requests, and, I am looking forward to getting them posted as quickly as possible. My foodie friends, December on KE is going to be a fun month!  BTW Tim:

~ A Make-Ahead Christmas Morning Hot Chocolate ~ can be found in Categories 9, 11 or 16!

Earlier this week, I recieved a question from a friend and a reader regarding pasta machines.  I chose to feature it on todays Friday Q&A, because:  making homemade pasta just happens to be one of the things I have planned for a December post.  How timely and coincidental is that!

Q.  Marilyn asks:  Melanie, I've got another gadget question.  I need advice on purchasing a pasta machine.  Mine died today (after 22 years).  It was fully-loaded, and ready to extrude, when it made a wierd sound and quit.  I had thawed the frozen marinara sauce (your recipe) from my Summer garden tomatoes and wanted fresh pasta.  I know you make your own "noodles", but thought you might have a pasta machine too.  I would appreciate your advice!

IMG_6035A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Let me start by saying I hope you and yours enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday.  I love you and all of your foodie comments here on KE!

Making all sorts of homemade pasta is one of my specialties, and, as you can see from this picture, I am at no loss for gadgets to prepare it. I've even taught two classes about pasta making!

IMG_6043If it is an electric driven machine you are looking for, I recommend investing in the attachment for your stand mixer.  I have the pasta-maker attachments for both my Cuisinart stand mixers and my KitchenAid stand mixers.  Stand mixers have heavy-duty motors that are built to last a lifetime and simply put:  they will never let you down!

IMG_6038That being said, my favorite way to make pasta is by hand.  It is how I learned to do it thirty-some years ago.  For some reason, I feel that the hand-crank machines give me hands-on control of the process (+ I don't have to worry about it "making a wierd sound and quitting on me").

The best ones are sold as The Atlas Pasta Machine, or, The Atlas Pasta Machine by Marcato.  These extremely well-built, stainless steel demons cost around $100, which is quite reasonable, since they too will last you a lifetime!

I'm really looking forward to posting a homemade pasta recipe or two for you in December, and, once again, thank you so much for all of your great comments here on KE!

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

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

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


~ A Holiday Tradition: My Bourbon Street Pecan Pie~

IMG_5964Pecan pie is almost always associated with a holiday, most noteably, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  In my foodie world, if I was limited to making one pie for Thanksgiving, it would be pecan pie.  It is so rich and crunchy and yummy, it could and should be classified as candy. Aside from an occasional "nut", I've never met anyone who didn't want a teensy-weensy slice!

IMG_5955A bit about pecan pie:  A staple throughout the South, it is said to have been invented by the French who settled in New Orleans, after being introduced to pecans by our Native Americans. But, no written recipes for it can be found prior to 1897, and, The Joy of Cooking didn't include it until 1940.  This pie, featuring corn syrup or molasses, was made famous to us Americans by the makers of Karo syrup.  They say that it was a 1930's "discovery" of a "new use for corn syrup" by a corporate sales executives wife!

A bit about me and pecan pie!

300px-2009-0301-NOLA-001-CommandersPalaceBelieve it or not, I had never tasted a homemade pecan pie prior to 1982. Over New Years, Joe and I had traveled to New Orleans to watch Penn State win the National Championship over Georgia.  My first bite of real-deal pecan pie was at Commander's Palace, a NOLA landmark since 1880, and, one of the best restaurants I have ever had the pleasure to dine in.  BTW:  Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse are two of its most famous kitchen alumnni!

I noticed a slice of pecan pie being delivered to a neighboring table and immediately decided upon it as my my dessert.  I am here to tell you, it tasted as good as it looked.  It was sweet, but not too sweet, rich, but not too rich, not gunky nor runny.  It was silky, crunchy and seasoned with a bit of vanilla a splash of bourbon.  All of the horrid pecan pies from my past (especially the ones that contain chocolate, which is complete overkill) flashed before my eyes.  It took me a few tries, but, I came up with a recipe that is now an "event" on my Thanksgiving dessert buffet!

It's time to make me some pecan pie!

6a0120a8551282970b01538fc607a9970b-320wiWhenever I am making a pie, and especially a pecan pie, I always take the time to make homemade pie pastry.  If I do say so myself, I make a super-flaky pie pastry and I highly recommend you try my recipe for ~ Making Pate Brisee: Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~, found in Categories 6, 15 & 22. After all, my pecan pie recipe deserves all of the the love that only a homemade crust can give!

6a0120a8551282970b014e89cac02f970d-320wiPrepare and roll the pastry as directed and place in a 9" pie or quiche dish.  Using one knuckle and two fingertips, form a decorative border around the perimeter of the dish.  Set aside (at room temperature) while preparing the following pecan pie filling:

Note:  The crust can be formed and placed in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight, but, it must be returned to room temperature prior to filling and baking.  I recommend removing it from the refrigerator just before you start to make the pie filling.

IMG_5809For the pecan pie filling:

1  pound pecan halves

1  cup dark corn syrup

1/2  cup dark brown sugar

1/4  cup bourbon whiskey

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

3  large eggs

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

4  tablespoons salted butter, melted (Note:  Salted butter really does set this pie filling  apart from most others.)

IMG_5813~ Step 1.  Choose and set aside 60 of the prettiest, even-sized pecan halves you can find.  Set aside.  

IMG_5821~ Step 2. Chop the remaining pecans into random bits and pieces.   You will have about 2 1/2 cups.

IMG_5831~ Step 3.  In a large bowl, whisk together the corn syrup, brown sugar, bourbon, vanilla and salt.

~ Step 4.  Whisk in the eggs and flour.  

IMG_5838~ Step 5.   On stovetop or in microwave, melt the butter and vigoroulsy whisk it into the mixture.  

IMG_5847 IMG_5842~ Step 6. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in all of the chopped pecans.  

~ Step 7.  Transfer all of the pie filling into the prepared pie crust. The pie will be filled to the top of the dish, which is exactly where you want it to be. 

IMG_5855~ Step 8.  Decoratively arrange the remaining pecan halves over the surface of the pie.  You might have a few leftover.

~ Step 9.  Bake pie on center rack of preheated 350 oven for 25 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 degrees, loosely place a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the pie and continue to bake for 25 more minutes.  Remove from oven, place on a rack and cool completely, 3-4 hours, prior to slicing and serving:

IMG_5866A Holiday Tradition:  My Bourbon Street Pecan Pie:  Recipe yields 1, 9" pie or 8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  9" pie or quiche dish;  cutting board; chef's knife; whisk; large rubber spatula; aluminum foil; cooling rack 

6a0120a8551282970b0162fbe4af98970d-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my "event" pies on my Thanksgiving dessert buffet, you can find my recipe for ~ From a Potato to My Southern Sweet Potato Pie ~ in Categories 6 or 18.  It's great made with butternut squash as well!

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

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


~ A Sweet Potato & Caramelized Apple Casserole ~

IMG_5802It was Thanksgiving morning 1997.  I was watching Good Morning America on my kitchen TV.   Wolfgang Puck was their guest chef.  He prepared this casserole, which he proclaimed to be his favorite way to eat sweet potatoes on Turkey Day.  I adore sweet potatoes and am always looking for new ways to cook them.  I quickly grabbed a piece of parchment paper from one of my baking pans and scribbled down the recipe as he spoke.  I made the casserole that very day and it was every bit as good as Wolfgang proclaimed it to be.  It's been on my Thanksgiving table or buffet ever since, and, it is a great side-dish to serve with pork roast or pork chops too.

IMG_5635A bit about sweet potatoes:  Sweet potatoes were first introduced to North America when Columbus brought them over from the island of St. Thomas, where this large edible root (which belongs to the morning-glory family) is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but, the two most widely grown commercially are a pale sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety Americans erroneously call "yam" (the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato).  The pale sweet potato has a thin, light yellow skin and pale yellow flesh.  Its flavor is not sweet, and after being cooked, the pale sweet potato is dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato.  The darker variety has a thicker, dark-orange skin and vivid-orange, sweet flesh.  When cooked it has a very sweet flavor and a creamy texture.  The dark-skinned, orange-colored variety is the only kind I use in my recipes.

IMG_6171When buying sweet potatoes, choose plump, firm, even-sized ones with no cracks or bruises. They should not be stored in the refrigerator, but they need to be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place.  If the temperature goes above 60 degrees, they'll begin to sprout, get woody and/or shrivel.  Cooked sweet potatoes, if stored in the refrigerator last for about a week.  Like regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are always eaten cooked, never raw.















2 1/2-3  pounds peeled and very-thinly sliced (1/8"-1/4"), dark-skinned, deep-orange sweet potatoes (Note:  Always use a chef's knife with a stainless steel blade when cutting sweet potatoes.  Why?  A knife with a carbon steel blade will react with the potatoes and cause them to discolor quickly.  The discoloration is not harmful, but it is unappetizing.)

2  cups heavy or whipping cream

1/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

2  pounds peeled, cored and thinly-sliced Granny Smith apples 

8  ounces butter (2 sticks)

2  tablespoons sugar

8  ounces golden raisins

1/2  cup plain dry breadcrumbs

no-stick cooking spray

IMG_5667~ Step 1.  Prep the sweet potatoes as directed, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  Add the cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and white pepper.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss as you would a salad, until the sweet potatoes are evenly coated.  Set aside, tossing occasionally, while prepping and caramelizing the apples as follows:


~ Step 2.  Prep the apples as directed.  Do not try to do this in advance and be inclined to toss them with lemon juice to prevent discoloring.  If some of the apples start to turn a bit brown while you are working, worry not.  They are going to brown in the pan in a few minutes.  

In a 12" skillet melt the butter over low heat and stir in the sugar.  Fold in the apples and raisins...


... Increase heat to saute, stirring frequently, until the apples are turning golden brown and the raisins are plump, about 25-30 minutes.  Watch carefully during the last few minutes, as they can and will quickly go from browned to burned.

The mixture will look a little bit like hash browns.  Remove from heat and set aside about 10 minutes.

IMG_5707~ Step 3.  Spray a 2-quart casserole dish with no-stick spray.  Arrange two layers of potatoes in the bottom of dish (about half of the potatoes).

IMG_5714~ Step 4. Distribute all of the caramelized apples evenly over the top of potatoes.

IMG_5722~ Step 5.  Arrange two more layers of potatoes over the top of the apples.

IMG_5730~ Step 6. Drizzle all of the cream mixture remaining in the bowl evenly over the top of the casserole.

IMG_5739~ Step 7.  Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the top.

Note:  At this point, casserole may be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 2 days prior to baking.  Remove from refrigerator and return to room temperature (1-2 hours) prior to baking as directed.

IMG_5742~ Step 8.  Bake, uncovered on center rack of preheated 325 degree oven, 1 1/2-2 hours, or until cooked through and breadcrumbs are nicely browned.

Note:  Watch the progress carefully after 75 minutes.  Loosely cover with aluminum foil, if necessary, to prevent breadcrumbs from burning.

Remove from oven and rest 15-30 minutes prior to serving, to allow juices to stop bubbling and set up:

IMG_5772A Sweet Potato & Caramelized Apple Casserole:  Recipe yields 8-12 side-servings.

Special Equipment list:  2-quart casserole dish, preferably see-through glass; cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick

6a0120a8551282970b014e8858f3e9970d-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my favorite sweet potato side-dishes, you can find my recipe for ~ Smashed Maple Sweet Potatoes ~ in Categories 4 or 18.

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

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


~ Beehive Mashed-Potato Bread-Stuffing Casserole ~

IMG_5556Back in 1974, I was introduced to this amazing side-dish casserole by my neighbor in my first apartment. Toni (Antoinette) was/is a beautiful Mexican-American woman who had just moved to Pennsylvania from San Antonio, Texas, with her Texas-cowboy husband Tom and their son Sean. I had just moved to Happy Valley from Eastern, PA, as a new bride.  We two women loved to cook and became fast friends.  I have many great memories of the two years I spent being her next door neighbor (including Tom teaching me how to shoot a cross-bow).  The first time I tasted this casserole, I fell in love with it. She served it one evening with a fall-apart-tender braised venison roast from a deer that Tom had hunted down after the Thanksgiving holiday.

IMG_5583It took me less than a minute to ask her for the recipe, which, she explained had been in her family for generations.  She was quick to add that it can be made a day or two in advance.  The bottom layer of the casserole is a basic bread stuffing, complete with celery and onions that have been sauted in butter and spices.  The celery and onions form a "sort of" middle layer.

IMG_6140The top layer of the casserole consists of dollops of super-flavorful, mashed potatoes that sometimes have white cheddar cheese added to them. The casserole is baked until the bread stuffing is browned and bubbling on the bottom and the potatoes are lightly-browned on the top. Toni explained that her grandmother named the dish "beehive potatoes" because when the butter drizzles down through the cubed bread, it is resemblant of the inside of a beehive.

Mashed potatoes?  Stuffing?  Enough for 16 people?

 All in one casserole dish?

And... it can be assembled 2 days ahead of time!?!

In 1986, when I was planning my first Thanksgiving dinner in my our new home, for our entire family, it took me less than one minute to put this make-ahead casserole on my menu. Everyone, including my mother and grandmother, asked for the recipe.  Beehive potato casserole has been on my Thanksgiving table or buffet every year since then, and, this year is no exception!

IMG_5436For the bread stuffing:

1  pound loaf potato bread, or "Wonder"-type bread, 3/4"-1" cubed

1  pound diced yellow or sweet onion

8  ounces diced celery

8  ounces butter (2 sticks)

1  teaspoon poultry seasoning

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

IMG_5480For the mashed potatoes:

5  pounds peeled, rinsed, then cut into 1" chunks, gold potatoes

1  tablespoon salt, for seasoning water

4  ounces butter, at room temperature (1 stick)

4  jumbo eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

1  teaspoon sea salt, for seasoning potatoes

1  teaspoon white pepper

1  pound store-bought, pre-grated sharp white cheddar cheese

IMG_5438~ Step 1.  Spray a 4-quart casserole dish (not a 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole) with no-stick spray.  Prep the bread as directed, evenly distributing it in the dish as you work.  The casserole will be a little more than half full.  Set aside.  

~ Step 2.  Prep the onion and celery as directed.  Set aside.

IMG_5454 IMG_5446~ Step 3.  In a 12" skillet, melt the butter over low heat and stir in the poultry seasoning, salt and pepper.  Add the onions and celery.  Adjust heat to saute, until the onion softens, about 4-6 minutes. Remove from heat.



IMG_5461                                        ~ Step 4. Using a large slotted spoon remove and evenly distribute the onion/celery mixture over the bread in the casserole.  The bread should be completely covered.  Drizzle any remaining butter evenly over all.  

IMG_5469~ Step 5.  Using the back of the spoon, press the mixture down into the dish, until the casserole is half full.  Set aside.

IMG_5430~ Step 6. Prep & place potatoes in an 8-quart stockpot with enough of cold water to cover.

IMG_5494~ Step 7.  Bring potatoes to a boil over high heat.  Add the 1 tablespoon of salt.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook, until potatoes are al dente, meaning:  cooked through but with a bit of texture left in their centers, about 8-10 minutes.

Note:  This timing is going to vary depending upon the size you have chunked your potatoes.  

IMG_5501 IMG_5496~ Step 8. Drain potatoes into a colander. Immediately return the hot potatoes to the still hot stockpot and return the pot to the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter and cheese.  Give the mixture a stir and cover the pot, until the butter has melted, about 5 minutes.

IMG_5512 IMG_5506~ Step 9. Remove pot from heat and set aside to cool about 5-10 minutes.  In 1-cup measuring container, whisk together the eggs. Uncover the pot, drizzle in the eggs and add the salt and white pepper. 

IMG_5534~ Step 10.  Using a hand-held vegetable masher, smash and mash the potatoes until desired consistency is reached.  In my house, we like them left a bit chunky in this casserole.  Take a taste!

Note:  These aren't your typical light and smooth mashed potatoes. They are going to seem thick and heavy, but, the eggs are going to make them cook up light and airy!

IMG_5539~ Step 11.  Begin scooping the potatoes onto the top of the bread stuffing mixture, evenly distributing them and mounding them slightly towards the center.  Do not press down on them.  

IMG_5544Using the side of the spoon, form decorative peaks across the surface of the potatoes.

IMG_5545Note:  At this point, casserole may be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 2 days prior to baking.  Remove from refrigerator and return to room temperature (1-2 hours) prior to baking as directed.

Bake, uncovered, on center rack of 325 degree oven, 45-60 minutes, or, until bread stuffing and top of the potatoes are lightly-browned and the celery/onion mix is bubbling.

Note:  Watch the progress carefully after 45 minutes.  The bread stuffing can and will quickly go from browned to burned.  This is why I recommend the use of a clear glass casserole!

IMG_5594Beehive Mashed-Potato Bread-Stuffing Casserole:  Recipe yields 12-16 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; chef's knife; 4-quart casserole dish, preferably see-through glass (not a 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole); 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; large slotted spoon; vegetable peeler; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; 1-cup measuring container; fork; hand-held vegetable masher

6a0120a8551282970b015436418497970c-800wiCook's Note:  For another make-ahead potato side-dish that has been in my family for generations: ~ Tettie's Baked-Mashed-Potato Stuffing Casserole ~, can be found in Categories 4, 12 or 18.  Tettie was my Great-Aunt Mary!

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

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


~ The Countdown to the Big Turkey Day Feast Begins (Melanie's Top 10 Tips to Not Let it Drive You Crazy)~

IMG_5419My countdown to Thanksgiving has started, how about you?  For the next week, I'll  be adding several of my favorite Turkey Day recipes to those already posted here on KE. Yesterday I received a phone call from a reporter from our local newspaper.  Heather Hottle is writing an article for The Centre Daily Times about holiday entertaining (which will appear, in this Saturday's CDT).  The article is not featuring me, it is mentioning me, but it was fun to be interviewed.  She was given my name by an acquaintance (thank-you Jessica) and she asked if I would be willing to share any tips I have for hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for a large group of people (20-24).  Little did she know, I know everything there is to know about this particular subject.  Let's start here:  

Thanksgiving is my favorite foodie holiday.

Thanksgiving is food, family, friendship, fun & football.

IMG_5357A bit about my credentials:  I've been orchestrating our familys' Turkey Day feast for 36 years now. For ten years, from 1986-1995, it was an elegant, sit-down, family-style, evening meal at our home in Belmont Circle, and, I always had 16-24 guests.  From 1996-present, it's been an elegant, sit-down, buffet-syle, evening meal here at our home on Gaylord Lane, and, I always have between 16-24 guests.

IMG_5376A bit about my Thanksgiving Day game plan (1996-present):  We open our downstairs Penn State Room (rec room) bar at Noon and immediately start serving Stan's Bloody Mary's. Coincidentally, our guests arrive at Noon.  Football games are on, and remain on, on as many TV's as we have at the time, all day long.  Pool shooting is encouraged, all day long, and some folks bring their own stick.

IMG_5370At 1:00PM I serve a hearty soup and sandwich "du jour" combo for lunch. The soup is ladled, by each guest, into a cup (not a bowl), so they can walk around freely.  The sandwiches, always served on slider-sized buns, are on a large platter, awaiting random pick-up. From 2:00PM-6:00PM, I pass a hot hors d'oeuvre every hour,  which I serve personally, because it gives me a chance to talk to every person.

IMG_5362From 6:00PM-7:00PM, a small group of guests (who have been hand-picked and enlisted-in-advance) help me place food on the pre-determined, post-it-noted spots on the buffet line.  From 6:00-7:00, Joe is occupied carving two turkeys, and, occasionally a ham.  Yes we carve our turkey ahead of time, as, carving at tableside is seriously messy and way over-rated.  Dinner is at 7:00PM-ish, or when Joe comes down the stairs and presents the bird to a line of cheering fans

IMG_5381When the eating subsides and the menfolk start to nod off to sleep, a second small group of hand-picked and enlisted-in-advance female worker bees assist me in an organized gathering of dishes, glassware and flatware.  When that's done, we proceed to present my signature "five-pie dessert buffet" around 9:00PM.  After that, some folks leave, others head upstairs to bed, and others... well some of us like an all-night party.

How do I manage to do this?  A little thing called:  organization.

Another Day at the Office #1Tip 1.  Be your own best friend. Be the CEO of your Thanksgiving feast. Only you know what you can do, what you are willing to do, and, what your skill-level and space constraints are.  Don't compete with or compare your Turkey day feast to anyone elses.  Your house?  You(r) rule(s).  Serve whatever you please, combining simple  and show-stopping recipes with style and stunning presentation.

~ Tip 2.  Evaluate your kitchen equipment, hardware and serving pieces.  Before you plan what to eat, you've got to know what you're going to cook it in.  Only have one oven?  The turkey is going to make use of it for most of the day, so plan around it.  Don't have two 8-quart stockpots?  Don't serve a soup if you'll be needing that pot for making the mashed potatoes.  Only have service for eight guests?  It's time to hit a thrift shop or borrow some plates from Verna. 

Thumbnail~ Tip 3.  Put a guest list together, then, plan a menu, then, write a grocery list.  Invite your guests one month in advance and give them two weeks to respond: R.S.V.P. While you are waiting for them to respond, plan your menu, including all beverages and bags of ice.  Once you have a head-count, go over your recipes and calculate how much of every item you need and write a detailed grocery list. BTW: don't forget to include extra cleaning supplies, paper towels and toilet paper on that list.

~ Tip 4.  Place orders for as many things in advance as you can. Never shop at the "eleventh hour". Need two even-sized turkeys? Oysters? A special triple-cream, truffle Brie? Dial the phone. Grocery stores and gourmet markets are happy to take your order. 

6a0120a8551282970b0163027e727b970d-320wi~ Tip 5.  Make and freeze as many things in advance as you can. Prepare your chicken or vegetable stocks, and, any cooked apple or cranberry sauces and chutneys up to six months in advance and freeze them.  Did you know that pie crusts can be prepared, rolled flat, interleaved with parchment paper, stacked and frozen six months in advance too?  Same goes for a lot of hors d'oeuvres... many can go straight from freezer to oven.

IMG_3306~ Tip 6.  Do the prep on as many fresh ingredients as you can in advance.  Four-five days before the holiday, add up how much of each you are going to need and prep it. Chop your onions, celery, carrots and bacon.  Mince your garlic, slice your mushrooms, and, cube your bread.  Put each one in a food storage bag in the refrigerator until it's time to cook.  You're going to feel like a chef on turkey day.

6a0120a8551282970b0162fbe4af98970d-800wi~ Tip 7.  If you need help, ask for help.  If you don't need help, ask for help.  On Thanksgiving, everyone wants to help. The trick is to manage the help wisely.  If you know you need five pies and only have time to make four, and if mom really does make the best apple pie, call her and ask her to bring it. If someone offers to bring a dish, and, you really don't need anything, tell them you'd appreciate an extra pair of hands clearing the table. 

IMG_5385~ Tip 8.  Set your table or buffet table 2-3 days in advance.  Serving your meal piping-hot at the designated time is a breeze if your table is set with your serving pieces in place.  Post-it notes remind me what goes into each one.  If serving buffet-style, remember, plates go at the beginning of the buffet line and flatware and napkins go at the end. Why?  So people aren't juggling their forks and napkins while trying to fill their plates with food. 

IMG_5392~ Tip 9.  Anticipate the mess and cleanup.  Find an out-of-the way place (a garage) for a large trash can, but, don't allow guests (especially after a cocktail or two) on their own where cleanup is concerned.  I've lost more than a few forks under these circumstances.  Place a table next to the garbage can with clear instructions on it, and, NEVER let a stranger load your dishwasher.

IMG_5397~ Tip 10.  Anticipate leftovers.  At Thanksgiving I always make more food than I need because I look forward to leftovers the next day as much as everyone else does.  I also don't want to deny my guests their fair share.  Initially invest in 2-3 small, inexpensive, reusable, food-storage containers for every guest on your list.  It is a good thing, but, DO NOT feel the need to invest in new containers every year.  Do what I do, and explain:  "If you return your containers next year, I'll refill them for you."  Now, I just buy a few for newcomers to the clan.

Confused about how much poultry to purchase?

Want to know how to roast it and make gravy too?

6a0120a8551282970b013488ff54f0970c-800wiYou can find

~ Portioning Poultry:  A Chart/Guide that Will Help ~


~ Roasting Poultry & Making Gravy Too:  My Own Techniques & Oration  ~ 

 right here on Kitchen Encounters by clicking into Categories 15 or 18!

IMG_5425Cook's Note:  Under the best of circumstances, you are going to be physically exhausted the day after cooking and hosting a large Thanksgiving feast.  Trust me, I've played in local tennis tournaments and three days on the courts in the hot sun does not prepare you for this.  Sit back, relax, relish in your victory and "let them eat Chinese takeout".

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

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


~ The Crown Jewel of Chinese Food: Peking Duck ~

IMG_5259Joe and I love Chinese food and have eaten it all over the world, including in China.  Take me to a city with a Mr. Chow and you will find me there eating their signature Peking duck.  Mr. Chow is an upscale restaurant chain founded by restaurateur Michael Chow, the son of Chinese Peking Grand Master Zhou Xingang.  He opened his first Mr. Chow in London in 1968, the second Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills in 1974, and, the third Mr. Chow in New York in 1978.  Joe and I have eaten in all three of them.  Others have subsequently been opened, and, they are all on my bucket list.  Alan Richman of GQ Magazine describes Mr. Chow as "an establishment that cannot be defined by customary standards but must be appreciated for its sheer fabulousness." For me, Mr. Chow set the standard for Chinese-American cuisine by which I judge all others.

200px-Dry_for_5_hours_croppedA bit about Peking duck:  Peking duck is one of China's national foods and dates back to the Imperial era. Sometimes called Beijing duck, this is an elaborate Chinese delicacy that takes days to prepare.  It starts with air being pumped between a duck skin and flesh and hung overnight to dry.  The duck is then blanched in boiling water to tighten the skin and begin rendering the fat.  Next, it gets coated with a honey mixture and hung for another day, until the skin is dry and hard.  After the duck is roasted, the skin becomes deep golden and intensely crisp.  While hot, it is cut into very thin slices or strips and served with ultra-thin, crepe-like pancakes referred to as: "Peking doilies", "Mandarin" or "moo shu" pancakes.  It is accompanied by minced scallions and Peking sauce. Peking sauce, also called hoisin sauce, is a thick, reddish brown sauce that is used in Chinese cooking for both a stir-fry sauce and as a table condiment.

In Imperial times, the crispy skin and pillowy fat was reserved for nobility (who wrapped it in the Mandarin pancakes, garnished with scallions and a sweet/salty sauce).  The meat and bones was given to the peasants for use in soup and stocks.  Nowawdays, savvy diners do not miss the opportunity to enjoy the whole bird:

What to expect from your restaurant experience:

IMG_5190Depending on the locale, this meal is going to cost upwards of $75 for a full duck (and in most places you can only order the full duck).  Seek out a restaurant that specializes in Peking duck. Unless they advertise that you can walk in to dine on this delicacy, always make reservations. When it comes to Peking duck, most establishments require 1-2 days notice from you, to give them ample time to prepare it.

IMG_5316Peking duck is traditionally served in two courses, which, is more than enough to feed two people, but not enough to feed four.  Joe and I make short work of the entire meal. Typically the server will bring the duck whole to your table.  He or she will carve/shave thin slices of the crispy duck skin and some meat for you to eat wrapped in some ultra-thin Mandarin pancakes that have been slathered with a bit of hoisin sauce and garnished with some scallions.  This is the first course.  

The remaining meat on the duck is then sliced in your presence. The second course is:  eat the remaining duck as is, or, for a small upcharge, have the chef prepare it for you in a stir-fry, lo-mein or fried-rice dish.

Why in the wide, wide world of foodie sports...

... would I (or anyone) want to try to make Peking duck at home?

In my foodie world, when I love a dish as much as I love this one, I won't stop until I figure out a way to make it for me and mine, in a manner that makes it doable for you too.  At first, because certain aspects of preparing Peking duck can't be duplicated in the home kitchen, the task of preparing this exquisite Chinese specialty in my own kitchen seemed daunting to me.  It took a bit of trial and error, combined with the knowledge of a couple not-so-classic culinary techniques to develop a method that produced everything I was looking for:  duck with crispy skin and moist, flavorful, sliceable meat.  Trust me when I say, no part of this is hard, it is just time consuming. Join me, as I attack this fun, two-day, one-of-a-kind foodie project head on:

Part One.  How to:  choose, wash, trim & dry the duck.

IMG_4993Choosing the Duck

Peking duck is made using a special breed of Beijing white ducks.  They are fed several times a day, for about 36-45 days, until they reach their ideal weight, which is about 5 1/2 pounds.  I am here to tell you, it is easier to procure live Bekijing white ducklings, than it is a dressed duck.  Since I am not interested in raising the ducks for this recipe, I am substituting what is available to me in the market:

2  5-5 1/2  pound "Long Island" ducklings (Note:  In 1873 a New York merchant named Ed McGrath brought duck eggs back from China and had them hatched.  The ducks took to the climate and todays Long Island ducks are all said to be decendants of the Beijing duck. )

IMG_5004Washing & Trimming the Duck 

Working in your kitchen sink, using a pair of kitchen shears,  carefully open the packaging (you do not want to cut or tear any of the skin) and remove the ducks.  

Remove the necks and giblet packets from the main cavity of the birds.  Place them in a food storage bag and refrigerate.  I am going to show you how to make my recipe for ~ Rich Asian Duck Stock ~ with them in my next blog post, and it will be found in Categories 13, 15 or 22.

IMG_5010Under cold running water, thoroughly rinse the birds, inside and out, until the water draining through them into the sink is running clear.

IMG_5014Using some wadded up paper towels, pat the ducks dry, inside and out.  Do this two or three times, to get as much of the excess water out of them as possible.

IMG_5026Transfer ducks to a cutting  board.

Ducks are a notoriously fatty bird. To diminish the fat and encourage a crispy skin, using the kitchen shears, trim all of the excess fat from around both ends of the body cavity.  Using some more wadded up paper towels, once again, thoroughly dry the duck, inside and out.  The duck to the front has been properly trimmed, the duck to the back has yet to be trimmed.

IMG_5045 IMG_5029Using your fingertips, begin loosening and separating the skin from the meat on each side of the duck breast. Do this carefully, you do not want to break the skin. This goes quite quickly once you get the hang of it.

Note:  Don't have long fingers (like me)?  The handle of a wooden spoon is a good tool for this.

IMG_5052Drying the Duck via Air-Chilling

Inflating the skin using a bicycle pump and hanging the ducks in front of a blowing fan overnight, is not my idea of good time.  I'm also not a proponent of leaving them at room temperature that long.  I'm using a method I've used to achieve a crispy skin on chickens:

IMG_5055Stuff the duck cavities with paper towels.  Place the ducks on a rack in a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with a sheet of parchment paper or aluminum foil. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 8-12 hours, replacing the paper towels occasionally. Note:  Overnight is best, but if you only have 8 hours, everything will be just fine.

Part Two.  Preparing the spice rub & aromatic stuffing mixture.

At this point, the Chinese apply a mixture of maltose (a sugar of sorts) and soy sauce to the surface of the duck and then let it hang for a second night.  Granted, it does add to the mahogany color of the duck, but, it is such a wet, sticky, disgusting mess, I refuse to deal with it.

I called upon two techniques I use when preparing a dish called Cripsy Aromatic Duck (which is a Chinese dish that gets its cripsy skin from deep-frying the duck).  What do these two additions do to enhance this recipe in the home kitchen?  Besides maintain your sanity:

1)  The spice rub contains salt and sugar.  The salt is going to absorb moisture out of the skin and the sugar is going to help caramelize it.

2)  The aromatics (which are not meant to be eaten) go into the cavity of bird while it roasts. They're going to impart a lovely flavor into the duck meat, and, keep it moist too.

IMG_5070 IMG_5071For the spice rub:  In a small bowl, combine:

4  teaspoons sea salt

4  teaspoons sugar

2  tablespoons Chinese five-spice powder

Transfer mixture to a small, standard-sized spice jar and set aside.  This is going to make it easy and mess-free to apply.

IMG_5082For the aromatic stuffing mixture:

6  ounces coarsely-chopped green onion, white and light green part only (about 2 cups)

4  ounces peeled and chopped, fresh ginger (about 1 cup)

2  ounces peeled and chopped, fresh garlic (about 1/2 cup)

coarsely-chopped peel from 2, large, 10-12-ounce oranges

2  tablespoons Chinese five-spice 

Prep as directed, placing in a medium-sized bowl as you work.  Stir to combine all ingredients.

Part Three.  Preparing the honey glaze/dipping sauce.

IMG_50872  1/2  cups honey

2  1/2 cups low-sodium soy sauce, or Thai seasoning soy sauce

1  1/4  cups rice vinegar

2  tablespoons Sriracha sauce

Place ingredients in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, stir, and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Adjust heat to simmer gently and cook until sauce thickens and is reduced by about a third, about 25-30 minutes. Carefully regulate and pay close attention to the heat.  This mixture can and will boil over quickly.  

IMG_5090The glaze will coat the back of a wooden spoon, or, when drizzled onto a plate, hold its integrity when you run your finger through it.  

Remove from heat, cover and set aside, at room temperature, until it is time to glaze the duck.

Part Four.  Spice rubbing, stuffing & steaming the duck.

IMG_5101 IMG_5093After about 16 hours of air-chilling in the refrigerator, my ducks are back on the counter. The skin is taught, still soft to the touch (but considerably dryer than the spongy state it was in yesterday at this time), and, has taken on a bit of a tawney color.  In my humble opinion, they are a thing of beauty.

Remove and discard the wads of paper towels from the breast cavities.

At this point, the next Chinese process is to render excess fat from the duck.  They do it by blanching it in, or, ladling boiling water over the duck.  Wrestling with whole ducks in a pot of boiling water?  How big of a stockpot do I need for that? Ladling enough of boiling water over whole ducks until fat renders out?  How much boiling water do I need and how long will that take?  Besides sounding a like great way to get burned and win a free trip to the emergency room, that, is just a pain my foodie ass, and, I refuse to deal with it.  Listen up my foodie friends:

IMG_5105Did Mel say steaming the duck?

While Peking duck purists will surely initially disagree with my solution to this problem, I am here to tell you that lightly-steaming the duck prior to roasting it works on so many levels:

Excess fat not only renders out, it has a place to go (it drips down into the pan); the skin tightens up around the duck (like it is supposed to do), plus; my duck meat is getting infused with all of the great flavors of the spice rub and the aromatics at the same time.

IMG_5112Double two 20" x 12" x 4" disposible aluminum pans to form one sturdy pan.  Place a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling rack in the pan.  Add 2 quarts of water to the pan.  Pick up the rack the ducks are on and place it on top of the rack in the pan. Evenly distribute and shovel the aromatics into the breast cavities of both ducks, then, sprinkle all of the spice blend over the top of them.  Set aside, for about 1 hour.  

Note:  This "rest period" will allow the sugar and salt in the spice rub to begin to work its magic!!!

IMG_5116Tightly seal the pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, making sure there are no rips or tears.  If there's even the smallest puncture, start over with a new piece of foil.  Place over two burners of stovetop over high heat. When you hear the water boil, turn the heat to low or extra-low. Allow the ducks to steam for 1 hour.

IMG_5120Remove the roasting pan from the heat and uncover.  Remove the rack with two ducks on it, but not the rack that was underneath them. Pour off and dispose of the water and rendered fat that had dripped down into it.  Return the rack with the ducks on it to the rack in the roasting pan.

Note:  These ducks are not the least bit browned or cooked through. That's spice rub your looking at.

Part Five.  Glazing and roasting the duck.

IMG_5134 IMG_5145Using a pastry brush, paint the ducks with the honey glaze until all of the visible skin/surface is coated. Set aside for 15 minutes.  

Repeat this process, three more times, waiting 15 minutes in between each glazing, for a total of 4 glazings and a total of 1 hour of time:

IMG_5158Roast these perfectly lacquered ducks on center rack of preheated 375 degree oven as follows:

Roast at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Paint ducks with a light coating of additional glaze.

Return to oven and roast in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees.

Paint ducks with a light coating of additional glaze.

Return to oven and roast in 325 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for 30 minutes prior to thinly slicing and serving:

IMG_5184Perfectly cooked, medium-rare, sliceable duck w/a crispy skin:

IMG_5221The Crown Jewel of Chinese Food:  Peking Duck:  Recipe yields 2 ducks or 4 servings, and, about 4 cups of honey glaze/dipping sauce.  Note:  You will use about 1 cup of the sauce glazing the duck, and, about another cup at the table for spreading on the Mandarine pancakes, dipping and/or drizzing.  The leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator indefinitely and are a great condiment to have on hand for all sorts of other Chinese dishes.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; lots of paper towels; large cooling rack; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling racks; parchment paper or aluminum foil;  cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; 2, 20" x 12" x 14" disposable aluminum roasting pans (doubled to form one sturdy pan); heavy-duty aluminum foil; pastry brush

IMG_4955Cook's Note:  Want to learn ~ How to:  Make Mandarin-Style (Moo Shu) Pancakes ~?  You can find my recipe in Categories 2, 3, 13, 15 & 22.

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

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


~ How to: Make Mandarin-Style (MooShu) Pancakes~

IMG_4956It's "Chinese Week" here on KE.  I woke up on Monday morning wanting Asian food, and, more specifically, I wanted:  Moo Shu Pork.  If you've never eaten "moo shu" (which means "shredded" in Chinese), the best way I can describe it is:  Moo shu is to Asian cuisine, what the fajita is to Mexican cuisine.  In a nutshell: Strips of shredded beef, chicken or pork, and vegetables, are quickly stir-fried (fajita=grilled or sauteed), topped with spicy hoisin sauce (fajita=salsa) and wrapped burrito-style in a thin, warm, flour pancake (fajita=flour tortilla). In both cases, besides being fun to eat, they are a flavor-packed way to get a good dose of healthy vegetables!

IMG_4707My recipe for ~ Chinatown's Famous Moo Shu (Shredded) Pork ~ is quite authentic.  I have been making it for years and everyone just loves it (and you can find it in Categories 2, 3, 13 or 19).  Over the years, I have, however, gotten lazy with one aspect of its preparation. I've been purchasing Mandarin pancakes at our local Asian market. There is nothing wrong with that. They're almost as good as homemade, so, if you can find them, don't hesitate to purchase them!

ImagesWe live in a college town, and, because of that, we have many great ethnic food stores here in Happy Valley, including three sophisticated Asian markets.  I was shocked to find out that none of them had any Mandarin pancakes in stock (next to soy sauce, how dare an Asian market run out of such a thing).  There were none in the frozen Asian section of any of our grocery stores either.  So, why did this seemingly bad news excite me?  Because I write this cooking blog.  It gives me a great idea for another post, a chance to feature an interesting cooking technique, and, share it with you.  Now I can't wait for you to see how fun and easy it is to make these:

IMG_47688  ounces unbleached, all-purpose flour (about 1 3/4 cups), plus additional bench flour for dusting work surface

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  cups boiling water

sesame oil

~ Step 1. In a large bowl, stir the flour and salt together.  In the microwave, heat water to boiling.

IMG_4784 IMG_4774~ Step 2. Add the boiling water to the flour. Using an ordinary tablespoon, stir the liquid into the flour until a wet, ragged mixture forms, about 1 minute.




IMG_4789                                                               ~ Step 3. Gather the dough up and form into a rough looking ball. Using the heel of your hand, turning the bowl a quarter turn each time you push down, knead the dough until a smooth ball forms,  (add a bit of bench flour, as necessary to keep ball from sticking to the bottom of the bowl), about 3 minutes.

IMG_4804~ Step 4.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside 30-45 minutes.  Remove dough from bowl and place on a lightly-floured work surface.  Using your hands, roll the ball into a 12" log/cylinder.

IMG_4816~ Step 5.  Using a serrated bread knife and a light touch, saw the log into 12, 1" pieces.  Have patience, take it a bit slow, you do not want to squish the pieces of dough.  In the event you do squish a piece or two, just stand it up on its side and form it back into a round shape.

IMG_4827~ Step 6.  Turn each piece of dough, cut side up, lightly dust each piece with flour and using the palm of your hand, press down to form 12, 3" round discs.

IMG_4843~ Step 7.  Lightly brush the top of six discs (half of them) with sesame oil, meaning:  do not brush all of the discs with oil.

IMG_4848~ Step 8. Place the six remaining discs on top of the oiled discs, to form six pairs.

IMG_4868 IMG_4850~ Step 9. Using the heel of your hand, compress the discs to form 6, 4"-4 1/2" discs.

~ Step 10.  On a lightly-floured surface, roll each pair into a 6 1/2"-7" pancake.  Place pancakes (do not stack them but slightly overlapping is ok), on a platter.

IMG_4910~ Step 11.  Place an ungreased 10" nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  One at a time, cook each pancake, until opaque and beginning to beginning to bubble across its surface, about 60 seconds on the first side, and...

IMG_4918... 30 seconds on the second side, until brown spots appear.

~ Step 12.   Remove each pancake from the skillet, and, while it is still hot, using a thin spatula (I just use my fingertips), find a seam and gently pull it apart, to form two pancakes.  Stack the finished pancakes on top of each other and keep them covered with a piece of plastic wrap, to keep them from drying out, until all pancakes are cooked and separated: 

IMG_4919How to:  Make Mandarin-Style (MooShu) Pancakes:  Recipe yields 12 pancakes, or, six servings.

Special Equipment List:  ordinary tablespoon; 2-cup measuring container; plastic wrap; large cutting board; serrated bread knife; pastry brush; rolling pin; 10" nonstick skillet

IMG_4955Cook's Note:  Tradionally, at serving time, warm moo shu pancakes are folded into quarters and placed on a large platter or portioned onto individual dishes!

Extra Cook's Note:  Pancakes can be stored in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, or, interleaved with wax paper and frozen for up to six months. Reheat, covered with plastic, in microwave, about 30 seconds.

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

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


~ Chinatown's Famous Moo Shu (Shredded) Pork ~

IMG_4728After a week of cooking and posting comfort food, I woke up this morning wanting a complete change of palate.  When that happens, it almost always means I want Asian food.  This is one of my "oldie but goodie" Chinese recipes, and, it also just so happens to be the very first Chinese dish I ever tasted!  Here's my humorous, childhood tale (as best as I can recollect it):

Chinese_architecture_Vector_ClipartI was about 10 years old and found myself in a Chinese restaurant in Washington D.C.  I had never been in a Chinese restaurant before, nor, had I ever eaten Chinese food.  I was on a week long sight-seeing "educational/cultural" tour of the D.C. area with my Uncle Al, Aunt Claire and their three children (ages about 10, 8 and 6).  I loved every moment of that trip, until that last night, when my Uncle and Aunt thought they were going to "treat" us kids to "something special"!

I did not want to try anything on the menu (I was a picky pain-in-the-foodie-ass back then).  I wanted a hamburger and I was not alone.  My cousins were not behaving any better.  Before it got too ugly, the waiter (who must have had a degree in child psychology) stepped in.  We four miscreants, reluctantly and with reservation, agreed to try his "Chinese hamburger".  What arrived at the table, just for us kids, was a somewhat large plate of shredded beef.  It was mixed with other things, but we could recognize the carrots.  What happened next, changed the evening.  Each one of us was given our own plate of three ultra-thin pancakes (what kid doesn't love pancakes).  We all filled our pancakes with the "Chinese hamburger", rolled them up, and, ate our dinner.  It took a few years before I learned that "moo" didn't mean beef/cow in Chinese!!!

Preparing moo shu?  All ingredients are shredded not chopped!

IMG_4707A bit about "moo shu" or "mu shu": Meaning "shredded" in Chinese, moo shu hails from Northern China and first appeared in US restaurants in the latter 1960's.  In its traditional form, the dish consists of shredded pork (with beef, chicken or shrimp being perfectly acceptable options), wood ear mushrooms and day-lily buds.  The dish is seasoned with ginger, garlic, scallions, white pepper and soy, hoisin and/or oyster sauces. Because wood ear mushrooms and day lily buds are hard-to-find ingredients (even in their dried forms), modified Chinese-American versions of moo shu often include shredded shiitake mushroom caps (to replace the wood ears) and shredded egg pancake, to replace the color and texture of the day lily buds. Common additions to the recipe are:  shredded bamboo shoots, carrots, a cabbage of some sort (Bok choy, green, or Napa), and, occasionally, bean sprouts.  It is important to note that even in China, recipes for moo shu vary from cook to cook and chef to chef. The dish is traditionally served with a small dish of hoisin sauce and several thin, steamed "moo shu" or "Mandarine-style pancakes".  One-at-a-time, a thin layer of hoisin sauce is spread on each pancake, then it is topped with a bit of meat mixture, quickly wrapped up and eaten immediately (before the pancake gets soggy).  When preparing mu shu, remember:  all ingredients are shredded!

Moo Shu Pork is China's favorite moo shu and mine too!

Do not be afraid of, or intimidated by, the length of this recipe.  Each part is quite easy and fun, and, before you know it, you are going to be eating one of the best meals China has to offer.  So, make a list, take a trip to your local Asian market and get started:

Part One:  Trimming & Marinating the Meat

For the pork and its marinade:

IMG_45052  pounds pork tenderloin, beef tenderloin or chicken tenders, trimmed of all fat and silverskin, sliced as thinly as possible, sliced into 1/4" thick medallions, then, medallions sliced into thin strips

3  tablespoons Lee Kum Kee premium dark soy sauce

2  teaspoons firmly-packed cornstarch

IMG_4510~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce and cornstarch.

IMG_4516~ Step 2. Trim and slice the pork tenderloin as directed above and place it in a one-gallon food storage bag as you work.  Add the soy mixture to the bag, zip or twist the bag closed and toss until all of the pork is evenly coated. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

Note:  If you have the time, retoss the mixture every 20-30 minutes.

Part Two:  Making the Brown Sauce 

For the brown sauce:

Note:  This delicious, versatile sauce can be made a few days before you make your moo shu.  It yields 1 1/2 cups, which is exactly the amount you are going to need for this recipe, but, it is a great sauce to keep on hand in your refrigerator to use in all sorts of other Asian dishes.  In our house, we use it in place of hoisin sauce.  I often times make a double batch of it just because I like to keep it on hand at all times.  By the way, it takes less than five minutes to make!
















2  tablespoons cold water

1 1/2  teaspoons firmly-packed cornstarch

6  tablespoons Lee Kum Kee premium dark soy sauce

8  tablespoons Lee Kum Kee hoisin sauce

1-2 tablespoons oyster sauce

2  tablespoons Chinese black vinegar (also known and labeled as Chinkiang vinegar)

2  tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar

2  tablespoons Chinese rice wine

2  tablespoons sesame oil

3  tablespoon sugar, more or less, to taste (Note:  I use 3.)

2  teaspoons white pepper, more or less to taste (Note:  I use 2.)

6a0120a8551282970b0148c7a5f446970c-320wi~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, whisk together the cold water and cornstarch until smooth.

~ Step 2.  In a 2-quart saucepan, combine all of the remaining sauce ingredients and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat.  Whisk the cornstarch mixture into the simmering sauce and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the the sauce is "drizzly" and slightly thickened, about 30-60 seconds. Remove from heat, cover and set aside for 1-2 hours.

Part Three:  Making the Shredded Egg Pancake 

For the shredded egg pancake:

Note:  Many recipes for moo shu instruct to make nothing more than chopped scrambled eggs, and, you can do that.  It won't affect the taste of the moo shu, but it will affect the texture. Remember, the eggs are being added to imitate the color and texture of the day-lily blossoms. Taking an extra moment to make this pancake is going to make a great final presentation!

IMG_45296  large eggs at room temperature

6  tablespoons water

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon white pepper

1  tablespoon sesame oil

~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, vigorously whisk the eggs, water, salt and white pepper together.

~ Step 2.  In an 10" nonstick skillet, heat the oil over low heat.  Add the eggs and increase heat to medium.

IMG_4550 IMG_4541                                       ~ Step 3.  In the style of preparing an omelette, using a thin nonstick spatula, begin pushing the egg solids to the center of the skillet as they form, allowing the liquids to flow to the bottom and outside of the skillet.  Continue this process until almost no liquid remains on the top of the egg pancake.  

IMG_4557 IMG_4564~ Step 4. When almost no liquid remains on the top of the eggs, place a plate over the top of the skillet and invert the egg pancake onto the plate.

~ Step 5.  Immediately slide the egg pancake, cooked side up, into the hot pan, to allow the bottom to cook, about 30-60 additional seconds.

IMG_4571 IMG_4565~ Step 6. Slide the fully-cooked pancake from skillet onto a cutting board and allow to cool about 20-30 minutes.  Cut the pancake like you would draw a tic-tac-toe board, then, slice each square into 1/4" thick strips. Transfer to a plate, cover with plastic wrap and set aside until serving time.

Part Four:  Some Easy Veggie Prep, then, the Stir-Fry! 

IMG_4579For the stir-fry vegetables:

2-3  tablespoons minced, fresh garlic, more or less, to taste

4-6  tablespoons minced, fresh ginger, more or less, to taste

12  ounces very thinly sliced scallions, white and light green parts only (Note:  This is 12 ounces total throughout the recipe.  Six ounces will be used for the stir-fry and 6 ounces for wrapping and garnishing.)

10  ounces store-bought, matchstick carrots (French-cut julienne of carrots)

12-14 ounces store-bought, shredded cole slaw mix

1  ounce dried wood ear mushrooms, reconstitued as directed below:

6a0120a8551282970b0148c7a5d489970c-320wi IMG_4581Place the dried mushrooms in a 2-cup measuring container and cover with very hot tap water. Set aside for 15-20 minutes.  Pour off/discard the water and place the mushrooms on a paper-towel lined plate to drain thoroughly, about 5-10 minutes.  Lastly, cut them into 1/4"-1/2" strips and set aside until you're ready to make the stir-fry!

For the stir-fry:

3  tablespoons sesame oil

3  tablespoons vegetable oil

all of the marinated pork, prepped as directed above

all of the stir-fry vegetables, prepped as directed above

half of the brown sauce (the other half used as directed below)

all of the shredded egg pancake, prepared as directed above

For serving and garnish:

24 store-bought moo shu wrappers, or, homemade Mandarin pancakes (Note:  My recipe for ~ How to: Make Madarine-Style (Moo Sho) Pancakes ~ can be found in Categories 2, 3, 13, 15  or 22.)

half of the brown sauce, at tableside, for spreading on pancakes, dipping and/or drizzling

6  ounces additional thinly-sliced scallions, at tableside, for garnish

IMG_4587~ Step 1.  Add the sesame and vegetable oils to a 14" chef's pan or stir-fry pan.  Heat the oils over medium-high and add the garlic and the ginger.  Saute, stirring constantly, until both are fragrant and just short of beginning to brown, about 15-20 seconds.

Add the bagged pork and all of the marinade to the pan...

IMG_4599... continue to stir-fry, stirring constantly with a large slotted spoon or spatula, until the pork is opaque in color and almost cooked through, about 2-3 minutes.

Note:  Now as crazy as this is going to sound, at this point, you can turn the heat off, cover the pan, and allow it to sit on the stovetop for an hour or so, until you're actually ready to finish off the stir-fry and eat!

IMG_4609~ Step 2.  Add half, three-quarters or all of slaw mixture (I like lots and add them all) and mushrooms to the sauteeing pork. Stir to thoroughly combine all of the ingredients.

~ Step 3.  Increase heat to high and stir-fry, stirring constantly, until the carrots and slaw mix are slightly softened, but still crunchy, about 2-3 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_4623~ Step 4.  A little at a time, spoon in brown sauce and stir until the ingredients are lightly and evenly coated, with no sauce puddling in the bottom of the pan.

IMG_4639Note:  Taste after each addition. Stop adding sauce when the mixture tastes right to you.  I added 1/2 (3/4 cup) of the sauce.

IMG_4650 IMG_4642~ Step 5. Add the shredded egg pancake. Gently toss, like you would a salad, until the egg is evenly distributed throughout the meat mixture.

Note:  Taste the mixture, it should be flavorful but not overly flavored. Resist the urge to add more sauce, as:  more will be added at the table!

Part Five:  Assembling and Eating

IMG_4660 IMG_4656~ Step 1.  On each moo shu pancake, spread about 1 tablespoon of the additional brown sauce.  

~ Step 2.  On top of the brown sauce, place about 1/2 cup of the moo shu pork filling, followed by a light sprinkling of scallions.

IMG_4673 IMG_4666~ Step 3. Wrap and roll the pancake around the filling like you would a burrito.  

~ Step 4.  Drizzle with a bit more brown sauce and a sprinkling of scallions.  It's time to pick it up and eat, or, slice in half and eat:

IMG_4750Chinatown's Famous Moo Shu (Shredded) Pork:  Recipe yields 12 servings, allowing 1/2-3/4 cup of filling (depending on if you add 1/2-3/4 or all of the slaw mixture) on each of 2 moo shu pancakes per person (24 pancakes total). Recipe also yields 1 1/2 cups of brown sauce.  

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small bowl; small whisk; 1-gallon food storage bag; 2-quart saucepan w/lid; 10" nonstick skillet; thin nonstick spatula; 2-cup measuring container; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid, or a stir-fry pan, or a wok (although when writing this recipe, it was my goal to show you you do not need a fancy pan to make a great stir-fry); large slotted spoon or spatula; spoon or ladle

6a0120a8551282970b017c31935db1970b-800wiCook's Note:  For another one of my family's favorite Asian dishes that uses the same delicious brown sauce we made today, try my recipe for ~ Chinese Chicken Chow Mein a la Melanie ~.  You can find out why it is "a la Melanie" by clicking into Categories 3, 13 or 19!

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

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


~ A Chinese Staple: Real-Deal Basic Brown Sauce ~

IMG_4625Before I get caught up to my neck in posting Turkey Day recipes here on Kitchen Encounters, I've decided to dedicate this entire next week to Chinese food.  I don't know exactly why, except that every year at this time, I feel the need for a classic Chinese feast prior to my traditional Thanksgiving feast.  In some odd foodie way, one feast seems to make me enjoy the other feast more, and, vice versa.  Just yesterday, Joe said, "Isn't it time for some Chinese food?!?" 

Welcome to:  Chinese Feast Week on Kitchen Encounters!

6a0120a8551282970b017c31935db1970b-800wiBecause we love it, Joe and I eat our fair share of Chinese food, and, we've eaten it all over the world, including in China.  I am, in fact, a Chinese food snob.  Don't mention a Chinese buffet to me -- I won't go. 

Here in Happy Valley, PA, because we are a college town, we always have several acceptable Chinese-American eateries to choose from (most of which pander to the fast-food palates and budgets of college students). Over the years, these establishments open, close and fly-by-night faster than you can say "General Tso".  Joe and I have one well-established, favorite, "real-deal" Chinese restaurant that has stood the test of time, and, we frequent The Golden Wok regularly.  I plan on doing a blog post featuring them in the very near future!

An ode to Chinese brown sauce:

6a0120a8551282970b01774381887b970d-800wiBecause I have my menu in-hand for the upcoming week, I know I must start by making a batch of brown sauce.  Brown sauce is a regularly-used condiment in the Chinese-American kitchen. It is used in many of the most common restaurant dishes, and, almost any type of "feed-me-fast stir-fry" you can think up can be quickly sauced and ready to eat in minutes, in your own home kitchen, if: you keep a stash of brown sauce on-hand in your refrigerator.  

If you're looking for an authentic, classic "who invented Chinese brown sauce" recipe, you are not going to find one.  There are as many recipes for Chinese brown sauce as there are people who cook Chinese food.  Some use beef stock (which to me limits the versatility of this sauce), some include garlic and ginger (which is overkill since most Chinese dishes already include them), most include sugar and white pepper, and, all are thickened to a desired consistency using cornstarch.  The key is to find one that speaks to you.  Here is my very own recipe:
















2  tablespoons cold water

1 1/2  teaspoons firmly-packed cornstarch

6  tablespons Lee Kum Kee premium dark soy sauce

8  tablespoons Lee Kum Kee hoisin sauce

1-2  tablespoons oyster sauce

2  tablespoons Chinese black vinegar (also known and labeled as Chinkiang vinegar)

2  tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar

2  tablespoons Chinese rice wine

2  tablespoons sesame oil

3  tablespoons sugar, more or less, to taste (Note:  I use 3.)

2  teaspoons white pepper, more or less to taste (Note:  I use 2.)

6a0120a8551282970b0148c7a5f446970c-320wi~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, whisk together the cold water and cornstarch until smooth.

~ Step 2.  In a 2-quart saucepan, combine all remaining ingredients. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat.  Whisk the cornstarch mixture into the sauce and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is "drizzly" and slightly thickened, about 30-60-seconds. Remove from heat, cover, and set aside to come to room temperature, about 1-2 hours.

IMG_4975~ Step 3.  Use as directed in specific recipe, or:  

Transfer to a food storage container with a tight fitting lid and refrigerate almost indefinitely or:

Make a double or triple batch and freeze it in 1-2 cup containers to have whenever you need it!

A Chinese Staple:  Real-Deal Basic Brown Sauce:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups Chinese brown sauce.

Special Equipment List:  whisk; 2-quart saucepan; 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

IMG_4728Cook's Note:   Coming next on KE? Check out my recipe for a classic ~ Chinatown's Famous Moo Shu (Shredded) Pork ~ in Categories 2, 3, 13 or 19!

Extra Cook's Note:  As pictured above, you can find my recipes for ~ Chinese Chicken Chow Mein a la Melanie ~ in Categories 3, 13 or 19, and, ~ Leftover Rice?  Use it to Make Chinese Fried Rice! ~ in Categories 3, 4, 13 or 14.  Both are a great reason to keep some of my brown sauce on hand!

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

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


~ Culinary Q&A & Kitchen Therapy Too (11/02/12) ~

Culinary Q & A #2November is here and in three short weeks we'll be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner.  It's no secret that Thanksgiving is my favorite foodie holiday, and, I'm looking forward to sharing quite a few more of my Turkey Day recipes with you!

In the meantime, I would be most thankful if:  in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, everyone on the East coast gets electricity restored to their homes and hot meals on their dinner tables ASAP!

Over the past few weeks Kitchen Encounters has been receiving a lot of great comments on many of my posts, and, as you know, I answer each and every one of you.  This past week, I received two that I've decided to answer today (on my weekly Friday Culinary Q&A)!

IMG_4337Q.  Jill asks:  Mel, your recipe for the Yankee Pot roast looks to-die-for.  I noticed that you instructed to coat the meat with Wondra flour before you seared it.  Is there a reason you coated the meat with flour prior to searing, and, is there a reason you used Wondra, rather than ordinary all-purpose flour?  I've used Wondra to thicken soups and sauces, but never to dredge meat.

IMG_4484A.  Kitchen Encounters:  I love Wondra flour.  I've been using it for at least twenty-five years, and, it's recently starting to garner some well-deserved foodie attention!  

The General Mills Company (Gold Metal Flour) introduced Wondra Instantized (instant) Flour in 1963. The flour is put through a process called agglomeration (without adding chemicals to it) which turns the particles into uniform granules. It pours freely, easily, and dust-free (which I really like).  It disperses and dissolves almost instantly, without clumping, when stirred into IMG_4492hot or cold liquids, which makes it perfect for lump-free thickening of soups, sauces and gravies.

When I am braising poultry or meat, I always coat it in some flour before searing it.  Because of the flour, the food doesn't just brown, it gets a brown crunchy coating, and, Wondra flour makes that coating even crunchier.  Want gravy with that?  Coating the food with flour before you brown it gives your gravy a great head start!

(Note:  To get my recipe for ~ Yankee Pot Roast:  Simple, Sensible, Scrumptious (w/Mushroom Gravy & Roasted Carrots & Potatoes) ~ just click into Categories 3, 19 or 20!) 


IMG_4447Q.  Rose says and asks:  Melanie, I made your Peanut Butter Cup pie yesterday and it came out great.  I admit to buying a prepared cookie crust (pie shell), but, oh my, the kids just loved that pie!  

In the recipe you made mention of using an offset pastry spatula to spread the filling in the pie shell. What does offset mean?



A.  Kitchen Encounters:  The pastry spatula and the offset pastry spatula are two of a baker's secret weapons.  Both of these thin, flexible, stainless steel spatulas come in many blade lengths (from 4"-14").  An offset spatula has an angled blade, which makes it easy to spread soft ingredients to a smooth surface without touching the food with your fingers.  An offset spatula is also great for serving food, because it easily slides underneath slices of cake or pie, and... wider offset spatulas make flipping things like pancakes and burgers a breeze too!

(Note:  You can find my recipe for ~ Treat Yourself to a Slice of Peanut Butter Cup Pie + (How to:  Make a chocolate cookie crust & ganache!) ~ in Categories 6, 11, 15 or 22!)

IMG_4986Enjoy your weekend everyone, and once again:  To leave a comment or ask a question, simply click on the blue title of any post, scroll to the end of it and type away... or e-mail me directly!

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

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