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14 posts from July 2013


~ My Japanese Yakitori Story and All the Facts Jack ~

IMG_0449My Yakitori Story (the long and not so short of it):

800px-Matsuya_GinzaBack in 1986 I tagged along on one of Joe's business trips and spent ten days in Tokyo. During the day, while Joe was in business meetings, I passed the time in a variety of ways.  Besides shopping in the Ginza (one of the most luxurious shopping districts in the world), I took classes in flower arranging and origami, attended an official tea ceremony, and, got to see where the exquisite fresh-water Kasumi pearls come from -- purchased a few too.  

A-breathtaking-look-atIn the evenings we were wined and dined by corporate executives in amazing restaurants (too numerous to mention), but, I did eat sushi long before it became an American trend, and, Kobe beef before most foodies in the USA had ever heard of it.  We stayed in the Imperial Hotel (this is a photo of their lobby and grand staircase), which set a standard in hospitality and etiquette that I've never forgotten and can only be learned by experiencing it.

4918145215_0e9e29ae21On the last day of our stay, because of travel arrangements, I went along with the men while they completed their business.  We traveled upwards (up a mountain) into the hills for Joe to "take a look" at an option for a manufacturing facility. There were about 20 women in a room about the size of my kitchen (which is a big 500-ish sq. ft.), sitting in workstations lined up in rows like desks in a one-room schoolhouse.  

Grilling-YakitoriFrom the moment I walked in with the contingent of businessmen, I just knew the women workers were astonished to see a Western woman in the group -- and, I was allowed to speak too -- and, I did.  I greeted each of them.  The facility was spotless, the air crisp and clean, and, these gals made yakitori (on two small charcoal grills) with rice balls for lunch.  We all sat at tables and ate outside as a group.  

The view was breathtaking, the food was excellent, and, historically, it is one of the best foodie memories of my life!  Now let us get to the 'meat' of yakitori making (and there is a lot to learn):

The Yakitori Facts (the long and not so short of it):

I've packed a lot of yakitori info in the next few paragraphs so read carefully:

IMG_0440A bit about yakitori:  "yakitori" literally means "grilled chicken", with "yaki" being the Japanese word for "grilled" and "tori" being the word for "bird/chicken".  The word yakitori was first written in a cookbook in 1643 referencing duck, quail and pheasant.  It became popular after WWII (in the 50's), when American chickens became a common ingredient for the Japanese people.  In Japan, 6"- 8" kebobs of chicken morsels, naganegi (long onions similar to leeks) and green pepper are briefly grilled over hot binchotan charcoal*.  During the grilling process the yakitori is brushed with or dipped into a sweet soy-based sauce called yakitori no tare ("tare" is the Japanese word for "sauce")** at least twice:  once when the food is about 75% cooked and a second time about 1 minute before serving.  When served, shio (freshly ground sea salt), shichimi (a seven-spice chili pepper mixture) and sancho/mountain powder (the dried berry of a type of prickly Ash tree with a tangy lemony flavor) are served at the table for seasoning.  In Japan, yakitori is usually eaten at home, but, it pairs great with drinks too, which is why you'll find it sold as streetfood at izakaya (Japanese tapas-type bars), to office workers scurrying to catch trains or perched on a stool with a beer waiting to catch the train home.  It's easy to understand how yakitori became one of America's favorite Japanese dishes.

In Japan, they skewer and grill like-morsels (all leg, all thigh, all breast, etc.) of almost every part of the chicken, with leg and thigh meat considered the best because it's more juicy and flavorful than the breast.  You simply order your favorite part or parts, by the individual skewer, as many as you want.  Here's a list of what you can expect to find and order from a yakitori menu:

negima (pieces of leg meat)

kashiwa (pieces of thigh meat)

sagari (pieces of breast meat)

sasami (pieces of breast tenderloin)

tsukune (ground, round, chicken meatballs)

harami (very crispy thin strips of meat from the rib/diaphram)

soriresu (soft, juicy morsels of meat found near the thigh joint)

tebasaki (soft, juicy morsels of meat found near the wing joint)

hatsu (whole hearts)

leba/kimo (pieces of liver)

kawa (crispy, chewy skin of the leg, thigh, breast and neck)

nankotsu (cartilage from meatier parts of the chicken:  knee, breast and thigh)

bonjiri (only one crispy tail per chicken and one skewer of these is considered a rare delicacy)

800px-BurningBinchōtan*A bit about binchotan charcoal: Made from oak and kishu binchotan, it is commonly thought that this special charcoal burns particularly hot, but the reverse is true.  It burns at a lower temperature than ordinary charcoal and for a longer period of time.  Because it burns clean and odorless (no smoke or unpleasant smell), it allows the flavor of the food to shine through, which makes it a favorite of yakitori restaurant chefs.  When burning, it releases large amounts of infrared rays, which produces fish, meat and/or poultry with a crispy exterior and moist, juicy center.  If you're into charcoal and want to experiment with binchotan, you'll be happy to know it's available on-line (about $25.00 for a 5-pound bag).

IMG_0549** A bit about yakitori no tare:  A good homemade yakitori sauce is always richer, thicker and more flavorful than a store-bought sauce, but, there are some pretty good brands on the shelves of Asian markets everywhere.  Yakitori sauce is quite easy to make using some easy-to-find ingredients: sake, mirin, dark soy sauce, tamari sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger and IMG_0570occasionally a couple of roasted chicken leg bones.  It is said that some yakitori chefs just keep adding ingredients to their pot of sauce and many have kept one single pot ongoing for over ten years.  This type of "ongoing sauce" process/method produces a particularly rich and flavorful tare sauce because Japanese chefs customarily dip the skewered food directly into the pot of sauce, rather than brushing it on, so the sauce accumulates a lot of additional flavor from the hot chicken juices.

IMG_0465Thanks for reading Part I of III of yakitori week on KE!

Please join me for my next two Kitchen Encounters recipe posts:

~ Japanese 'Yakitori no Tare' (BBQ/Basting Sauce) ~


~ Japanese 'Yakitori' (Skewered & Grilled Chicken) ~

IMG_8360~ We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Commentary and photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)

(Photos of Ginza, Imperial Hotel Lobby & Binchotan Charcoal courtesy of Wikipedia)

(Photos of Japanese Mountainside Road & Array of Yakitori on Grill courtesy of


~ Clock ticking? Wrap it up or make a lettuce wrap! ~

IMG_0351Necessity is the mother of invention!

"Necessity is the mother of invention" is a proverb ascribed to the Greek philosopher Plato and it means:  difficult or impossible scenarios prompt inventions aimed at reducing the difficulty of the task.  We've all been there:  there's only two minutes left on the game clock before you've got to run out the door and you and/or yours are starving.  Lettuce wraps require zero culinary skill, no effort and about one minute of the time remaining on the clock.  I'm rather certain that lettuce wraps were invented by someone in a big hurry and in desperate need of a grab-and-go meal!

IMG_0338What's the difference between a wrap and lettuce wrap?

IMG_0407A "wrap" is a type of roll-up sandwich made with a soft flatbread (usually a tortilla, lavash or pita) wrapped around a cold filling.  

A "lettuce wrap" substitutes a large lettuce leaf in place of the bread (I like Boston "bibb" or iceberg).  

The Mexicans, Armenians and Greeks have been eating wraps for centuries, while lettuce wraps have been eaten in Asian cuisines for centuries.  In the case of both, because neither the bread nor the lettuce leaf contribute any flavor to the meal, the filling or condiments need to provide some extra "zing":

IMG_0334 IMG_0401Anything you would put between two bread slices to construct a cold sandwich can be used as a filling for a wrap or a lettuce wrap, and, anything can be chosen as a condiment as well, but, make sure the flavors complement each other, meaning: Don't pair grilled Thai chicken strips with Mexican-style salsa verde!

IMG_0413It didn't take me more than one wrap to realize that I needed to add substantially more zingy ingredients than I normally would.  Three of my favorite on-hand ingredients are:

Pickled ginger and/or my recipes for ~ My Ultimate Sandwich Topper: Pickled Onions ~ and ~ Summer Soul Salad:  Pickled Cucumbers & Onions ~ which can both be found in Categories 2, 4, 8 or 20!

Unlike creamy condiments (which can make wraps soggy if not used judiciously and correctly) these are full of flavor and crunchy texture!

That's a wrap!

I hope you've enjoyed this short and sweet Sunday afternoon commentary.  I wasn't planning on this "no-recipe quickie-snack" becoming a post, but, I served these for brunch this morning (using grilled chicken thighs from last night's dinner and cucumber salad from Friday's blog post).  Joe said, "Mel, these are delicious", "you should take a few photos and write about them"!

IMG_0353"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 


~Summer Soul Salad: Pickled Cucumbers & Onions~

IMG_0310When I left you on Tuesday, we were discussing the zucchini population in my backyard garden. Today, we are going to discuss the "other" cylindrical, elongated, viney member of the gourd and squash family that creeps along the ground and produces vegetables at an alarming pace for a few weeks every summer:  the salad cucumber, also known as the slicing cucumber!

IMG_0295Like zucchini, cucumbers are made up of a lot of water, with cucumbers containing 90% water. That, is a lot of water.  Unlike zucchini, which require cooking to enhance their bland flavor and fibrous texture, cucumbers have a refreshing, pleasant, slightly melon-like taste, a crisp, juicy texture, and are delicious sliced and eaten raw.  

Both vegetables are at their best if picked when their seeds are still young and tender, about 8" in length, and, both vegetables should be refrigerated immediately after picking, and, kept refrigerated until just before using them (to prevent moisture loss and maintain crispness).

Are all cucumbers created equal?  Yes and No:

IMG_0288All cucumbers are theorectically salad or slicing cucumbers, but some varieties are better suited for harsh brining solutions and the canning process. Known as "pickling cucumbers", they are short and squat (instead of long and lean), have thinner skins, fewer seeds and sometimes have little bumps or "warts" on the skin.

While I like dill pickles, sweet bread & butter pickles, and, spicy gherkins too,  I like pickled cucumbers (also known as pickled cucumber salad) better.  How do pickled cucumbers differ? The process by which they're made and how they're eaten.  The process is quick and they can be eaten as a yummy side-dish-salad all by themselves.  Some people call it cheating, I call it:

Quick-pickling!  It's not the same thing as pickling/canning!

PICT0196Pickling per se is equivalent to canning.  It's easy, but it is time consuming:  Get out the big canning pot and utensils, boil the jars to sterilize them, add your prepped vegetables or food items to the jars, then immerse them in boiling water, remove them from the water bath and let them cool until you hear the lids "pop", which means you've got a tight seal.  In the case of real-deal canned anything, if stored in a cool, dry place, this stuff can hang around for years in your pantry.  It's how our ancestors preserved food prior to refrigeration!

PICT0005Quick-pickling is super easy and almost any vegetable can be quick-pickled.  All you need is any type of clean jars, an acid (usually vinegar), sugar, and some sort of herb and/or spice.

PICT0014To guarantee the sugar dissolves, the mixture gets boiled for a few short minutes. Depending upon the food being pickled, the solution gets ladled into the jars hot or completely cooled. Follow the recipe on this point!

Next, all you do is close the lid on each jar, store them in the refrigerator overnight, and keep them refrigerated for as long as they last.  These quick-pickled onions (which get hot vinegar solution ladled over them to soften them slightly) last almost indefinitely and just keep getting better and better.  Quick-pickled cucumber salad (which gets cooled vinegar solution ladled over it to protect the delicate cucumbers) keeps for about 1 month (but it'll get eaten before that)!

In a pickle?  Quick-pickle some cucumber and onion salad!

It's as easy as "A", "B", "C"!

PICT0009~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart stockpot, stir together, simmer for 3 minutes, remove from heat and cool to room temperature (about 1 hour):

4 1/2  cups rice wine vinegar 

2 1/4 cups sugar

12  whole allspice ("A")

4  whole bay leaves ("B")

12  whole cloves ("C")

IMG_0300~ Step 2.  Very-thinly slice (about 1/8"):

6  8" salad cucumbers (1 cucumber per pint jar)

1  large Vidalia or sweet yellow onion (about 1, 12-ounce onion, 10-11-ounces after peeling)

Lightly-pack the vegetables into 6, 1-pint jars, alternating three layers of cucumbers with two layers of onions, making sure you leave a headspace of about 1/2 inch at the top of each jar after packing.

IMG_0307~ Step 3.  Remove the allspice, bay leaves and cloves from the cooled vinegar mixture.  

Slowly ladle or pour the mixture into the jars, stopping at the point where the 1/2" of headspace begins.

IMG_0310Seal the jars (close the lids) and refrigerate overnight or up to one week prior to serving chilled!

Note:  This is a great side-dish, sandwich topper, or tossed into a garden salad instead of dressing!

IMG_0350Summer Soul Salad:  Pickled Cucumbers & Onions:  Recipe yields 4 1/2 cups of vinegar solution and 6 pints of pickled cucumber & onion salad/2-4 servings per pint.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart stockpot; cutting board; chef's knife; 6 1-pint jars with tight-fitting lids; ladle

PICT0011Cook's Note:  Besides freshly-picked cucumbers and tomatoes, I love onions too, and rare is the day when I'm not cooking with, eating or serving some type of onion.  For another one of my all-time favorite pickled treats, you can find my recipe for ~ Mel's Ultimate Sandwich Topper:  Pickled Onions ~ in Categories 2, 4, 8 and 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 


~ Batter-Dipped Panko-Crusted Deep-Fried Zucchini~

IMG_0376It's that time of year: zucchini season.  If you have vegetable garden or a husband with a vegetable garden, you're looking for creative ways to use them before they fill the vegetable bin in your refrigerator to capacity.  There's all sorts of recipes out there:  zucchini bread, zucchini cake, zucchini muffins, zucchini fritters, zucchini pancakes, zucchini waffles, etc., which are fine if you're looking to sneak a vegetable into your family's diet without them knowing it.

Don't be shy, give it a try, everyone loves a zucchini deep-fry party! 

IMG_1208Personally, I will only eat zucchini that are picked when young and tender (not Guinness Book of World Records huge), and, I like it served on a plate in an identifiable manner:  lightly sauted as a side-dish, or batter-dipped as an appetizer.  Plain and simple:  I am a zucchini snob.

Dilled Summer Squash & Zucchini #9 Dilled Summer Squash & Zucchini #1My recipe for ~ Pure & Simple:  Summer Squash (Zucchini) Saute ~ can be found in Categories 4, 14 & 20.

A bit about zucchini/corgette: Zucchini is a dark green, cylindrical Summer squash which is best harvested around 8" in length, while the seeds are still soft and immature.  Its hybrid relative, the golden (yellow-orange) zucchini is identical is taste and texture.   IMG_9689Although similar in appearance, unlike cucumbers, zucchini is best and is usually served cooked. Culinarily, it is treated as a veggie and presented as a savory dish. Botanically, it is the fruit of the zucchini flower.  All squash is native to Central and South America, but the variety marketed as "zucchini" was brought to the USA by Italian immigrants in the early 1920's.  

A small, "baby zucchini", with the edible flower/blossom attached to it, designates a truly fresh, immature fruit.  Baby zucchini are a delicacy and are sought after by many for its sweet flavor:

IMG_0166FYI:  Batter-dipping, panko-coating and deep-frying zucchini.

PICT5240A bit about batter dipping:  The ties that bind are more important than you think.  After a showdown between traditional watery egg-milk-flour mixtures vs. my trendy beer batter, the beer batter won hands down.  In fact, it wasn't even a competition.  My beer batter doesn't use ordinary all-purpose flour either. The day I started using pancake mix in place of flour, my batter went from ordinary to restaurant-quality extraordinary.

PICT5231A bit about panko coating:  Why in the name of crunchiness would anyone want to continue to use old-fashioned breadcrumbs to coat fish, meat or vegetables if they knew about panko?  They wouldn't.  

"Panko" is the Japanese word for "bread crumbs", and theirs are considerably crispier and crunchier than any of our Western bread crumbs.  What's more, they absorb less grease, more flavor and stay crispy a lot longer.  Panko is the "wow factor" in this recipe.

PICT5244A bit about deep-frying:  In my humble opinion, God put deep-fryers on this earth for a good reason and I now believe that zucchini may have been at the top of his list.

Put away that skillet or pot and enjoy the mess-free ease of how this relatively inexpensive countertop appliance regulates temperature and perfectly cooks each piece of food.

Who wants a super-crunchy and crispy coating on a perfectly-cooked vegetable?  We all do.  Who wants a stovetop full of grease spatters and a ton of cleanup?  No one, especially me, but nonetheless, this choice remains yours.

Now it's time to batter-dip, panko-coat and deep-fry zucchini. 


6  8" zucchini, trimmed of both woody pole ends, cut lengthwise into 4 quarters, quarters cut in half to form 8 wedges, 48 total 3 1/2" wedges

2 1/2  cups pancake mix, for dredging

3 1/4  cups additional pancake mix, for batter 

2  12-ounce bottles beer

2  8-ounce boxes panko breadcrumbs

corn or peanut oil, for deep-frying

freshly ground sea salt

PICT5257~ Step 1, Part A.  Organize what I like to refer to as "a breading assembly line" (from left to right): 1) A plate of zucchine prepped as directed above.  2) An 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish containing 2 1/2 cups of dry pancake mix.  3)  A large mixing bowl containing 3 1/4  cups of dry pancake mix whisked together with 2 bottles of beer.  4)  An 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish containing 1 box panko breadcrumbs.  5)  A deep-fryer containing oil preheated to 360 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.  6)  A baking pan lined with several layers of paper towels.  Note: You'll also need tongs, a salt grinder and a timer (if your deep-fryer does not have one).

IMG_8010~ Step 1, Part B.  When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer. Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process the batter gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer or some water. Also, add additional panko to that dish, as needed, throughout the process.

IMG_0191 IMG_0187~ Step 2.  NOW IT'S TIME TO FRY.  

Eight at a time, dredge the zucchini wedges 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 IMG_0203 IMG_0195and using a small fork, dip the zucchini wedges into the batter.  

As you lift each one out of the batter, hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the excess batter to drizzle back into the bowl.  

After each one is batter dipped...

... Move up the assembly line once IMG_0212again and place it in the dish of panko breadcrumbs.  Dredge the zucchini wedges in the panko breadcrumbs, to evenly coat each one...

Note:  In case you haven't noticed, I've been accomplishing the ongoing "breading task" with a fork held in one hand, keeping my other hand clean, dry and available deep-frying.

IMG_0221 IMG_0214... Carefully place (I use the fork) four of the coated zucchini wedges into the hot oil of the deep-fryer.  

Close the lid and cook for 3 minutes. Using a pair of tongs, remove from the oil and transfer to a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with several layers of paper towels.

IMG_0242IMMEDIATELY, sprinkle with a fresh grinding of sea salt.  Repeat this process until all of the zucchini wedges are coated and deep-fried.

Serve hot (within 5 minutes of coming out of the deep-fryer), warm (within 30 minutes), or, at room temperature (within one hour). Trust me, they will still be very crunchy after 1 hour -- they still be quite crunchy after 2-3 hours too. 

IMG_0396Batter-Dipped Panko-Crusted Deep-Fried Zucchini:  4 dozen appetizers or snacks

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; 1 large mixing bowl; fork; deep-fryer; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; paper towels

IMG_0124Cook's Note:  In my opinion, there is only one suitable dip for my deep-fried green zucchini:  refreshingly cool ranch dressing.  You can find my recipe for ~ Mel's "Happy Valley" "Hidden Valley" Ranch Dressing ~ in Categories 1, 2, 8, 10, 17, 19 & 20, or, by clicking on the Related Article link below.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 


~ Mel's Happy Valley Ranch-Style Salad Dressing ~

IMG_0128A little over 50 years ago no one had ever heard of ranch dressing and now it is America's most popular salad dressing.  We do much more than top our salads with it too.  It is our dip of choice for vegetables, a marinade for our meat or poultry, and, a flavoring in our favorite brands of corn and potato chips.  I buy very little bottled salad dressing in general (although I do keep a bottle of Wish-Bone Light Italian in my refrigerator at all times), but, when my boys were small, I was one of those mom's who kept a stack of Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning packets in my pantry at all times.  Why?  Like many of you, it was the only way I could get my kids to eat their vegetables.

ImagesA bit about ranch dressing:  It is a wholly American invention with a bona fide rags-to-riches story.  In 1954, Nebraska-born Steve Henson (once a homeless child of the Great depression, former plumbing contractor and a cook in Alaska) and his wife Gayle, bought the sprawling, picturesque, 120-acre Sweetwater Ranch in Santa Barbara, CA.  They renamed it Hidden Valley, opened a guest-type dude ranch and attempted to live out their life's dream of entertaining and cooking for their paying guests. But, due to the remote location and lack of funds for advertising, Henson found himself facing bankruptcy. One thing the few guests at the ranch were talking about:  his salad dressing.  Henson had developed the recipe back in Alaska: a garlicky emulsion of mayonnaise, buttermilk, dried herbs and spices.

Hvr_packetHenson knew how popular his dressing was when guests started asking to purchase jars of it to take home with them, but, it wasn't until one of them asked to take 300 bottles back to Hawaii that he saw a business opportunity.  Henson didn't have 300 jars, so he took a few hours to package his dry spice blend in a bunch of envelopes.  He instructed his customer to mix each envelope with 1-quart of buttermilk and 1-quart of mayonnaise.

In 1964, Henson closed his ranch to guests and entered into the salad dressing business full-time.  He assembled a small team of workers in his home and developed a small-scale mail-order business that mailed 75-cent packets of Hidden Valley salad dressing mix to the local community. It wasn't long before he moved into a controlled facility that produced 35,000 packets every eight hours.  In 1972, Henson sold his business to Clorox and the rest is history.

Mel's Happy Valley version of  Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing:

IMG_0129I developed my own version of these beloved seasoning packets here in my Happy Valley, PA kitchen to rival the original.  I must have done a pretty good job, because every time I make this dressing there is rarely any leftover and almost everyone asks me for the recipe.  It is a requested favorite at our Penn State tailgate every year.  If you have the time, prepare it a day before you serve it, to give all of the great flavors time to marry with the mayonnaise and buttermilk.

Can you add fresh ingredients (minced chives, parsley, garlic and onion) to it?  Well of course you can, and I often do, but, I add them as flavor enhancers after the fact, not in place of the dry spices and herbs.  Why?  Because, like Steve Henson, I like to make and keep a few small ziplock bags of my pre-mixed dry mixture on hand in my pantry at all times.

PICT2048For my dry spice blend -- equivalent to one, 1-ounce packet:

1  teaspoon dried, minced garlic

1  teaspoon dried, minced onion

PICT21411  tablespoon dried chives (Note:  Dried chives are not pictured above because Joe dries chives from our garden for me and they are in a large mason jar that didn't fit nicely into this photo.)

1  teaspoon dried parsley

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon celery salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

For the additions:

1  cup buttermilk  (Note:  As directed below, if this dressing is refrigerated for several hours or overnight, it will thicken to a creamy consistency, which I consider the perfect consistency for both dipping and drizzling.  However, if you want a thicker, scoopable consistency, substitute sour cream in place of some of or all of the buttermilk.)

1  cup mayonnaise

IMG_0093 IMG_0084~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, place mayonnaise and all of the dry spices as listed.  Add the buttermilk.

IMG_0105~ Step 2. Whisk until mixture is smooth and drizzley.

IMG_0110~ Step 3.  Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate for several hours or overnight, until nicely thickened (for perfect taste and consistency, overnight is best).

Note:  Dressing may be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week (or the shelf life of the expiration date on the buttermilk).  If fresh ingredients are added, the shelf-life is shortened to 3 days.  For this reason, I stir any fresh ingredients in 1-2 hours prior to serving.  Give the mixture a thorough stir prior to serving chilled.

It goes great with your favorite chicken wings too:

IMG_0148Mel's Happy Valley Ranch-Style Salad Dressing:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups.

Special Equipment List:  medium mixing bowl; whisk; 4-cup food storage container w/lid

PICT2070Cook's Note:  Don't be afraid to create other salad dressings from my Happy Valley ranch dressing -- I sure have!  You can find my recipe for ~ Buttermilk, Blue Cheese 'n Chive Salad Dressing ~ in Categories 1, 2, 8, 10, 19, or 20.  It's great served with steak and a big favorite with chicken wings too!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 


~There's Fruit on the Bottom of My Tapioca Pudding~

IMG_0051Posting this follow-up to Tuesday's tapioca pudding recipe was not on my agenda today.  Welcome to one of my "why didn't I think of this before" foodie moments:

IMG_0035When I reached in the refrigerator this morning, to grab the half-and-half for my coffee, I couldn't miss the small bowl of ~ Tapioca Pudding: Just Like Grandma used to Make ~ sitting next to it.  There it was:  a scant 1-1 1/2 cups of the creamy-dreamy stuff leftover from Tuesday's blog post.  While I wanted to eat it right then and there (all by myself), my conscience got the better of me because Joe loves tapioca pudding as much as I do.  I decided to save it for tonight's dessert, so we could both enjoy it.  The problem:  one cup wasn't going to go very far.  Adding fresh fruit to it was the obvious solution, and, thanks to Joe's blueberry bushes, I didn't even have to drive into town to buy fresh berries!  Read on: 

IMG_7333 IMG_7412A few hours went by, and, when I reached into my freezer, to grab a few ice cubes to put in my iced tea, I couldn't miss those trays of pureed pure-fruit cubes (kiwi, pineapple and strawberry) I had IMG_7490blogged about back in June.  There were frozen bananas in there too. My recipes for ~ Fun w/Summer Fruit:  Fresh-Fruit-Puree Ice Cubes ~, and, ~ Making Citrus Smoothies w/Fresh Fruit Puree Ice Cubes ~ can be found in Categories 6, 9, 10, 11, 16 & 20, or, by clicking on the Related Article links below.  Whizzing a few of these through the blender was going to make a yummy, semi-frozen fruity base for my tapioca pudding dessert.  While I love tapioca and tapioca pudding, many people don't know this starch has no nutritional value of its own.  Meet my easy, accidental, healthy solution to this problem:

IMG_7451In a blender, place:

3  standard-size kiwi, pineapple or strawberry puree ice cubes (I'm using strawberry today.)

1  frozen banana, sliced

4-6  tablespoons orange juice

IMG_7458At serving time (do not do this ahead of time), blend on high speed until thick and smooth, about 30-45 seconds. Portion equally into the bottom of two red-wine-type glasses and freeze for 20 minutes.  Top with tapioca pudding.  Garnish with fresh fruit slices or berries (blueberries, strawberries, kiwi, pineapple or bananas work great).  Serve immediately.

IMG_0060What a cool "it's too hot to cook" breakfast or Summer dessert!

IMG_0079There's Fruit-on-the-Bottom of My Tapioca Pudding:  Recipe yields 2, 1 1/4-cup servings/enough for 2 desserts containing 1/2 cup frozen fruit base and 3/4 cup tapioca pudding. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; blender; red-wine-type glasses

IMG_7925Cook's Note:  For one of my favorite, super-easy-to-prepare and healthy

"it's too hot to cook"

Summertime meals, you can find my recipe for ~ Avocado Cups Filled w/Asian-Twisted Tuna Salad ~ in Categories 2, 14 or 20.  This is great for lunch or dinner!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 


~ Tapioca Pudding -- Just like Grandma used to Make ~

IMG_0035Tapioca (tap-ee-oh-kuh).  You've seen it in your grocery store.  Perhaps you keep some form of it in your pantry.  Tapioca is a starch commonly used as a thickener, and, because it was a staple in my grandmother's and mother's pantries, it is in mine too.  My grandmother used tapioca powder to thicken jelly, quick-cooking tapioca granules to thicken pie fillings, and whole tapioca pearls to make one of my favorite childhood comfort-food desserts:  tapioca pudding! 

220px-Manihot_esculenta_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-090A bit about tapioca:  The name tapioca comes from the South American, Brazilian Tupi name "tipi-oka", which means "starch".  Tapioca doesn't grow on trees like fruit or in the garden like vegetables.  It is extracted from the root of the shrub-like cassava plant (also known as manioc) via a complex process that leaches out the toxins (cyanide) to get to the usable starch.  

The starch is then processed into several forms: powder (flour), granules (flakes) and balls (pearls), with stick form being the least common in the USA.

Cassava is native to South America and the Caribbean, but is grown worldwide, with Brazil, Nigeria and Thailand being three of the biggest producers.  Many cultures, including us in the US, have adopted tapioca for culinary use in their own cuisine.  After rice and maize, cassava is the world's 220px-Manihot_esculenta_001largest gluten-free source of food carbohydrates (it's basically pure starch), but, sadly, because it contains no protein or other nutritional value, this is problematic in countries with malnurished populations that rely upon tapioca as a hunger-statisfying staple.  

IMG_9908The flavor is neutral, which makes tapioca powder (pictured here in the bag and sometimes marketed as tapioca flour or tapioca starch) and tapioca granules (which I purchase in quick-cooking or instant form) a great thickener for both sweet and savory foods.

IMG_9918Whole pearls (which come sized S, M or L), become soft and chewy when cooked, and, lend a whimsical "squishy" texture to smooth puddings and creamy soups. They're fun and kids love them!

IMG_9928If a recipe instructs you to soak tapioca in water prior to cooking it, do it without question.  Upon soaking or cooking, tapioca rehydrates (absorbes liquid) and doubles in size.  Upon cooking, soaked or unsoaked tapioca turns translucent.  

Soaking or not soaking directly affects how long the tapioca will take to cook and how much liquid it will absorb from the mixture it is being cooked in.

IMG_9936If a recipe instructs you to drain and/or rinse the tapioca after soaking, do it without question.  Any remaining liquid is full of starch.  

Draining and/or rinsing will remove some of or all of the starch. This determines how much the tapioca will thicken the mixture it is being added to and cooked in.  

Is this rocket science?  

Well, in a way, yes it is.

Follow the recipe instructions!!!

IMG_0044A bit about instant "minute" tapioca: As per the MINUTE Tapioca company, tapioca pudding was born in 1894 in the kitchen of Susan Stavers.  Mrs. Stavers, a Boston housewife who took in boarders for extra cash, took in an ailing sailor who had brought some cassava roots from his journeys.  Hoping to soothe the sailor's upset stomach, she made a sweet, delicious pudding from the roots.  To create a smoother consistency, Stavers took the sailor's suggestion and processed the roots through a coffee grinder. The pudding turned out smooth, and Susan received rave reviews from her other boarders.  Soon, Stavers began regularly grinding tapioca, packaging it in paper bags and selling it to the neighbors.  John Whitman, a newspaper publisher, heard of Susan's process and pudding, bought the rights to Susan's recipe, and, the MINUTE Tapioca Company was born.  It became part of General Foods in 1926 and Kraft Foods in 1989!

Is my Grandmother's recipe special?  Yes, it is special to me!

Is her recipe unique to the culinary world?  I am not sorry to report it is not.  It is quite ordinary, which is why I love it so much.  Without exception, my grandmother followed the recipe on the back of a box of small pearl tapioca. Of course I've experimented with "jazzing" it up a bit, especially when I want to serve a dessert that represents and complements a tropical theme.  If this idea appeals to you:  substitute coconut milk in place of milk, vanilla beans scraped from 1 whole pod instead of vanilla extract,  some lime zest, plus, a shot or two of coconut-rum!  

Make a memory -- make tapioca pudding for your family today!

IMG_99471/2  cup small pearl tapioca 

3  cups whole milk

1/4  teaspoon salt

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1/2  teaspoon vanilla extract (almond extract or coconut extract are nice substitutions)

1/2  cup sugar

1/4  teaspoon lemon oil (optional)

IMG_9951~ Step 1.  In a small mixing bowl, using a fork, whisk the eggs together and set aside.  

IMG_9959~ Step 2.  In a small, 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan stir together the tapioca, milk and salt.  Place over medium-high heat and stir constantly until the mixture simmers rapidly.  

IMG_9971 IMG_9963~ Step 3. Adjust heat to barely simmer and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 5-6 minutes, gradually adding the sugar during this time.

~ Step 4.  Briefly remove tapioca mixture from heat and stir 4-6 tablespoons of the hot tapioca mixture into the eggs (this is called "tempering" and will prevent eggs from curdling).  Add/stir the egg mixture into the tapioca mixture... 

IMG_9992 IMG_9973... return tapioca to stovetop and simmer very gently, stirring constantly until smooth and thickened, about 5-6 minutes.

Note:  The above cooking times vary depending on how low the heat on your stove can be set.

IMG_9998~ Step 6.  Remove from heat and cool, uncovered, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  

~ Step 7.  Stir in the vanilla extract and optional lemon oil.  Allow to cool, in saucepan, uncovered another 15 minutes.

~ Step 8.  Transfer to a serving bowl or portion into individual serving dishes. Serve warm, or cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight and serve chilled.  

You will have 2 generous cups of luscious tapioca goodness:

IMG_0017Tapioca Pudding --  Just like Grandma used to Make:  Recipe yields almost 3 cups, or 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  small 1 1/2-2 quart saucepan;  fork; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b017d42943ffe970c-800wiCook's Note:  I'm here to reveal a personal secret with you today:

Creamy desserts are a weakness of mine and I have an ongoing love affair with another equally delicious comfort-food pudding, and this one comes from my husband Joe's side of the family!

You can find ~ My Creamy, Orange-Kissed Arborio Rice Pudding ~ recipe in Categories 6, 12, or 21!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 


~The Best of Kitchen Encounters (Me) on WHVL-TV~

A.  Kitchen Encounters LogoI would just be out-and-out lying if I did not say that I love what I do.  In August of 2010, I started Kitchen Encounters in an attempt to share thirty-plus years worth of writing and testing my original recipes with the outside world.  I knew little about the actual workings of the internet or Facebook, nor did I care (that is what my technology-educated husband is for).  I've never placed myself in competition with other bloggers or websites for stats.  I do not compare myself with published authors either, as, I feel the world is changing, and, while they are clinging to the old demands their publishers require of them, credible foodies like myself, armed with a camera set to auto-focus, have the freedom to accomplish anything (I do all of my own stunts). What I did know about myself:  When it comes to cooking, I know my stuff, it's well-documented, and I can hold my own in a room amongst the best (even if at my age I'm not the fastest knife in the West)!

WHVL Setting Up #6Within three months of starting my Kitchen Encounters blog, a unique opportunity presented itself. Thanks to my close friend Scott, I was introduced to the management of a local, fledgling TV station:  WHVL. Admirably, they wanted to include a cooking segment, on their Sunday AM Centre of It All Show, as part of their original programming (which no one in our area does, including our local PBS station, WPSU).  

I became WHVL-TV's "Resident Foodie Mel Preschutti".

Forty-five segments later (and a lot of training and experience that only comes by actual doing):

Their three favorite episodes of me on TV aired this morning!

(click on the blue line/link below to watch)

The Best of WHVL-TV's Kitchen Encounters #1

We're a hard working group of people with a purpose and I'm proud to be associated with them. I'd be out-and-out lying if I did not also say, "I love watching me on TV" on Sunday mornings. Oh, by the way WHVL-TV:  Thanks for saving all of those blooper reels for the Christmas Party!

PICT0008"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipes, Commentary, Video & Photos Courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)


~ Chocolate Ganache: What It is & How to Make It! ~

IMG_4430Ganache (gahn-AHSH) is a fancy word that scares a lot of novice foodies.  I won't lie, there was a time in my foodie life when it scared me too.  So, when I got this question e-mailed to me from a reader yesterday, I decided to take a few minutes this afternoon to write a blog post about it!

IMG_9635Q.  Lynn says and asks:  I was given a quart of pie cherries by my neighbor and  I made your ~ Sour Cherry and White Chocolate Bread Pudding ~ yesterday (without the dehydrated sour cherries because I didn't have any). It was the first time I have ever made bread pudding and I couldn't believe how easy it is.  My family gobbled it up.  My husband loves white chocolate and his birthday is next week.  I found a recipe for an easy almond torte, which gets served chilled with warm chocolate sauce.  I would like to top it with ganache instead. Do you think that would work?  I have never made ganache and am hoping you have an easy recipe for it.  Also, can I make ganache with white chocolate chips instead of dark chocolate chips?

A.  Kitchen Encounters:  Lynn!  You made my day with your comment and feedback.  Allow me make your day by telling you: Yes, even though I haven't seen your torte recipe, I'm rather certain you can top it with ganache, especially since it gets served chilled;  Yes, you can make ganache with white chocolate, although I recommend using high-quality chocolate to make any type of ganache rather than run-of-the-mill chocolate chips* and;    

Ganache is so easy to make you almost don't need a recipe!

IMG_9901*A bit about chocolate chips:  Chocolate chips are made to be somewhat heat-resistant.  They have less cocoa butter than high-quality chocolate, which means that when you melt them, they end up being grainy and do not set up properly.  They're fine to use in recipes that are supposed to have actual "chocolate chips" in them:  cookies, muffins, ice cream, etc.  They should be treated and used like candy rather than couverture (professional quality coating chocolate).

A bit about ganache:  Ganache is a rich frosting/filling classically made with semisweet chocolate and heated heavy cream which are stirred together until the chocolate has melted to a dense chocolate cream.  The mixture is cooled to lukewarm then poured over cakes or tortes to create a glassy-smooth surface (occasionally butter is added to make it glossier).  When cooled to room temperature, the mixture can be whipped to twice its volume, to a mousse-like consistency,  then piped onto cakes and into pastries as well.  Chilled ganache is what classic chocolate truffles are made of.  A small amount of liqueur or flavoring can be added if desired.

Ganach recipes can vary slightly in the ratio of chocolate to cream.  Here is my standard recipe:

IMG_44175  ounces dark (semi-sweet) chocolate, the best quality available to you, at room temperature, chopped into small pieces

1/2  cup heavy or whipping cream + 2 tablespoons

Note:  Double or triple the recipe, depending on how much ganache is needed.  Just remember to increase the size of the mixing bowl to allow plenty of room for stirring.

IMG_4425~ Step 1.  Chop the chocolate as directed and place in a small heatproof bowl.

~ Step 2.  In a small saucepan (or in the microwave), heat the cream until steaming, but not boiling.  Do not allow to simmer or boil.

~ Step 3.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and set aside for 2 minutes.

Note:  I always time this.  Two minutes is the magic number!

IMG_4426~ Step 4.  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.

~ Step 5.  Cool to desired temperature and use as directed in recipe. 

Note:  Culinarily, this bowl of ooey-gooey chocolately goodness is referred to as ganache!  How easy was that!!!

IMG_4428Chocolate Ganache:  What It is & How to Make It!:  Recipe yeilds 1 1/4 cups.

Special Equipment List:  heatproof bowl; 1-cup measuring container; small saucepan (optional); whisk or tablespoon

IMG_4450Cook's Note: Looking for a crowd pleasing, family-friendly, easy-to-prepare dessert and reason to make ganache?  My recipe for ~ Treat Yourself to a Slice of Peanut Butter Cup Pie ~ can be found in Categories 6, 11, 15 or 22.  This can be made several days in advance of serving too!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 


~ My Buttery Sour-Cream Sour-Cherry Pound-Cake ~

IMG_9853Pound cakes are a personal thing.  I would never proclaim to have the best pound cake recipe, because almost everyone's mother or grandmother made the best pound cake they ever tasted and I am no exception:  my grandmother made the best pound cake I ever tasted.  Like all pound-cake-baking grandmas, she used the same basic pantry ingredients as everyone else (flour, sugar, butter and eggs) then embellished her cake with ingredients common to her heritage.  Being of Eastern European descent (Russian), those ingredients included sour cream, sour cherries and dried sour cherries, all of which are very common to Russian cuisine!

IMG_9649My grandmother didn't own a bundt pan, she owned a tube pan.  Why? Because she was baking long before two women from Minneapolis approached the Nordic Ware founder, H. David Dalquist (in the 1940's), to ask him if he would produce a modern version of the IMG_9683German Gugelhupf pan.  In 1950, the bundt pan (the "t" was added to the name for trademarking purposes) was sold for the first time. My mom bought one sometime in the latter 1950's and this is her pan -- one of the originals -- cast in unembellished aluminum!

The bundt pan itself, didn't gain in popularity until a woman by the name of Ella Heifrich won second place in the 1966 Pillsbury Bakeoff with her "Tunnel of Fudge" cake!

I only remember my mom using this  IMG_9688pan during the 1960's to make bundt cakes from recipes she clipped out of magazines like Redbook and Women's Day.  She never made my grandmother's pound cake in a bundt pan, and, to this day, neither do I!

To learn the difference between a bundt pan and a tube pan, read my post ~ Bakeware Essentials:  A Bundt Pan & A Tube Pan ~ in Categories 6, 15 & 16, or, by clicking on the Related Article link below!

A bit about pound cake ("quatre-quarts" in French, meaning "four fourths":  Originally, this fine-textured loaf-shaped cake was made with 1-pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs, plus a flavoring, most commonly vanilla.  This is the original recipe, nothing more, nothing less.  Over the years, variations evolved, mostly adding leaveners like baking powder and baking soda to encourage rising, resulting in a less dense cake.  Vegetable oil is sometimes substituted in place of some of the butter, to produce a moister cake.  "Sour cream pound cake", substitutes sour cream in place of some of the butter, to produce a moister cake with a pleasant tang too!

It's time to bake a pound cake, just like grandma used to make!

IMG_96926 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

1  cup salted butter (yes, salted butter), at room temperature, very soft (2 sticks)

3  cups sugar

1  tablespoon wild cherry brandy

1  teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1  cup sour cream

1/2  cup dried/dehydrated sour cherries

1 1/2-2  cups pitted, fresh sour cherries, sliced in half

1-2  tablespoons additional butter, for preparing pan

1-2  tablespoons additional flour, for preparing pan

1  tablespoon confectioners' sugar, for dusting top of cake

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

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

IMG_9696~ Step 2.  Separate the eggs and set aside.  Place the cherry brandy, almond and vanilla extract in a small bowl.  Combine the flour and baking powder and set aside.  Pit and slice the cherries and set aside. Make sure all other ingredients are measured and in place.

IMG_9713~ Step 3.  In a large mixing bowl, on medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

~ Step 4.  Beat in the egg yolks, one-two at a time, beating well after each addition, about 30 seconds each time, again, scraping down the sides of the bowl.  Add the cherry brandy and extracts and beat again, about 30 seconds.

IMG_9724 IMG_9732~ Step 5. Lower mixer speed and blend in flour mixture, in 3 parts, alternately with the sour cream, in 3 parts, beating well after each addition, again, scraping down the sides of the bowl .

IMG_9736Remove mixer. Wash, dry and replace beaters.

PICT0019 IMG_9750~ Step 6.  In a second mixing bowl, beat the egg whites on high speed of electric mixer (with clean beaters), until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes. 




IMG_9739                                         ~ Step 7. Using the spatula, fold the dried cherries into the batter. 

IMG_9764Add and gently but thoroughly fold in all of the egg whites.


IMG_9769~ Step 8. Using the spatula, fold the fresh cherries into the batter.

IMG_9787Spoon batter into pan, turning the pan with each scoop, to insure even distribution....  

... then keeping pan on countertop, give it a few firm back and forth shakes to even out the batter.

IMG_9796~ Step 9.  Bake cake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for about 65-75 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted at several spots comes out clean.

IMG_9799Remove from oven, place on a cooling rack and cool, in pan, for 15-20 minutes...

... cake will be beginning to shrink away from the sides of the pan, but not completely free of it.

IMG_9813~ Step 10.  Using a sharp knife, carefully run it between sides of cake and outside perimeter of pan, to insure it is completely free of pan.

IMG_9816Grasping tube portion of pan, lift and transfer cake, to a cooling rack to cool completely, about 3 hours...

IMG_9827 IMG_9819... using the same knife, loosen the cake from the bottom of pan, just like you did the sides.  

Carefully invert the cake onto a large, round, serving plate.  

Using a fine mesh strainer and a teaspoon, lightly dust to top with confectioner's sugar.  

Slice and serve: 

IMG_9891My Buttery Sour-Cream Sour-Cherry Pound Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  10" tube pan (not a bundt pan); cherry pitter; cutting board; paring knife; large rubber spatula; hand-held electric mixer; 2 large mixing bowls; very large spoon; cake tester or wooden skewer; cooling rack; small, fine mesh strainer; ordinary teaspoon

PICT0731Cook's Note: ~ My NY Deli-Style Jewish Apple 'n Almond Cake ~ is another example of a dense cake which I also prepare in a 10" tube pan, and, as it should, my recipe specifies that for you.  Why? Because I've made it in a bundt pan, and it creates too heavy of a crust for this yummy, moist cake (just look at it).  You can find my recipe in Categories 6 or 9!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos Courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)


~ Bakeware Essentials: A Bundt Pan & A Tube Pan ~

IMG_9649Before I post my next recipe, which is going to be a sour-cherry sour-cream pound-cake baked in a tube pan, I decided to answer two frequently asked questions in my cooking classes:

#1:  "What is the difference between a bundt pan & a tube pan?"

Let me start by saying:  be sensible.  If you wouldn't change the recommended time and temperature guidelines for a recipe, why change the recommended pan.  If a recipe specifically says to use a bundt pan, use it, and, if a recipe specifically says to use a tube pan, use it (especially if the author or source of the recipe, like me, has taken the time to provide a photo to illustrate its success).  Although these two pans may appear similar (because they both have a hollow tube in the center), using them interchangeably requires consideration because:  the success or failure of the recipe just might (not always but many times) depend on the pan!  

Here's what you need to know before making the decision:

IMG_9658A bundt pan is a round-bottomed, heavily-constructed, tube pan with decorative, fluted sides and bottom.

IMG_9662The design makes it ideal for dense cakes, like pound cakes and coffeecakes, that upon baking take on the attractive design of the pan without sticking when the cake is removed from the pan.

IMG_9650A typical tube pan, also known as an angel food cake pan, is a deep, smooth-sided, slightly-angled, flat-bottomed baking pan with a tube in the center that facilitates the baking of angel food and sponge cakes, which contain a lot of whipped egg whites, at a low temperature.  

IMG_9653The pan was designed with a removable bottom, to make it easy to remove these delicate cakes from the pan.

#2:  "Can a bundt pan and a tube pan be used interchangeably?

IMG_9649Although both pans have a tube in the center which promotes, rising, even baking and easy slicing, you can't bake light, delicate cakes (like angel food and sponge) in a bundt pan (their batter will stick to the designs), but you can bake heavy, dense cakes (like pound cake and coffeecake) in a tube pan

IMG_9667In the case of both bundt pans and tube pans it is worth noting:  they both come in a range of size (9", 10, etc.) and depth (3"-4", etc.), as well as volume (10-cup, 12-cup, etc.). Never assume the pan is correct without checking either or both the size and/or volume!  

Whether or not you are substituting one pan for the other, always be sure you are using the right size pan!

IMG_9675When it comes to size, baking pans are always measured across the top, not the bottom.  Just place a ruler across the center of the top of the pan.  This is a 10 1/2" pan. When it comes to volume,  use a 1 cup measure and fill the pan to the top.  This is a 14-cup pan.  When adding batter to the pan, never add batter any farther up the sides of the pan to within 1"-1 1/2" of the top. This is a 14-cup bundt pan with a maximum capacity of 12 cups...

PICT0667... and how far the pan gets filled varies depending upon the type of cake being baked, how much it is going to rise (which depends on the type of leavening agents), and, how much of a dome is desired.  Most recipes are specific about this point, so always follow the directions, but in the event they do not:

If in doubt, don't fill the pan more than 1 1/2" from the top!

Because "tube pans" (generic for "any pan with a center tube" vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, many imported from different countries, and many more passed down from generation to generation, the pans are not always uniform.  A quick internet search for "tube pan" will reveal 100's of choices of varying shapes (some are square), some with removable bottoms (some without), some straight-sided (some fluted), and, a variety of sizes too.  A small difference in size (1/2") shouldn't affect results.  Here is a helpful chart to use as a guideline:

Most Common Bundt Pan Sizes & Volume:

6 1/2" x 3 1/2" = 5 1/2 cups 

7 1/2" x 3" = 6 cups

8 1/2" x 3 1/2" = 7 cups

9" x 3" = 9 cups

10" x 3 1/2" = 12 cups

9" x 4 1/2" (classic Nordic Ware shape) = 15 cups

Most Common Tube Pan Sizes and Volume:

6" x 3" = 4 cups

9" x 3" = 10 cups

10" x 4" = 16 cups 

PICT0689Words of wisdom:  Never exchange a different size or volume tube-type pan (or any type of cake pan) for the size specified in the recipe. Why? You stand a chance of creating a big problem rather than than a great cake.  If the pan is wider, the depth of the batter will decrease and cake will bake more quickly.  If the pan is narrower, the depth of the batter will increase and the cake will take longer to bake.  In both cases, the texture of the cake being baked will likely be affected.

PICT0731~ My NY Deli-Style Jewish Apple 'n Almond Cake ~ is an example of a dense cake which I also bake in a 10" tube pan, and, as it should, my recipe specifies that for you.  Why? Because I've made it in a bundt pan and it creates too heavy of a crust for this yummy, moist cake (just look at it).  You can find my recipe in Categories 6 or 9!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)


~ Sour Cherry and White Chocolate Bread Pudding ~

IMG_9635I'm celebrating the July 4th weekend celebrating sour cherries!  

IMG_9348If you are an avid cook and/or baker, you too would be celebrating if you were me, because you know how special these cherries are to a foodie.  My husband presented me with 58 pounds of sour cherries, which he picked from our backyard cherry tree over the past weekend!

PICT0520Besides a couple of my ~ I can't Lie, this is Real Sour Cherry Pies ~ (recipe in Category 6), and, a big PICT0009batch of ~ 'Tis True:  Sour Cherries Do Make the Best Jam ~ (recipe in Categories 8, 9 & 22), I dried a few pounds of them too!  

IMG_9490~ Culinary Jewels: Dehydrated Sour Cherries ~ can be found in Categories 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 15 & 20, or, by clicking on the Related Article Link below!  

6a0120a8551282970b015391cb26eb970b-320wiA bit about bread pudding:  Sweet bread pudding is officially classified as a bread-based, baked dessert made with cubes or slices of bread that get saturated with a custardlike mixture of milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and spices. Every cuisine has a version because it is the invention of frugal cooks who wanted to find a use for leftover or stale bread!

IMG_4017Almost any type of bread can be used to make bread pudding (as long as it is 2-3 days old) including:  French-style baguettes, rustic Italian loaves, and, even quick breads, like banana bread.  That being said, my favorite is brioche (pictured in the above two photos), and you can find my recipe ~ Bread Machine Basics & My Brioche Recipe ~ in Categories 5, 15 & 18. 

Bread pudding, which is quick and easy to make, can be assembled and baked in any type of appropriately sized, 2-inch deep caserole dish (square, rectangular, round, 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, 18 or 20!

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

Today, I'm using fresh, pitted sour cherries in conjuction with dried sour cherries + some white 'chocolate' chips and toasted almonds too, to make one of my favorite bread pudding recipes:

IMG_95064  cups fresh, pitted sour "pie" cherries, macerated in:

4  tablespoons wild cherry brandy for 30-45 minutes.  Plus:

1/2  cup dried sour cherries

1/2  cup white 'chocolate' chips

1/2 cup lightly-toasted almonds

PICT0007This recipe is the perfect use for leftover brioche and for this recipe, you'll need between 16-20 ounces (1-1 1/4 pounds), or, half of a 2-pound loaf, sliced into 1/2" cubes. The bread must be 2-3 days old.

PICT0005I've kept this half loaf wrapped in plastic in my refrigerator with the full intention of making bread pudding!

PICT0002~ Step 1.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper and spray the inside of 8, deep, 2-cup ramekins with no-stick spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

~ Step 2.  Pit and macerate the cherries in the brandy for 30-45 minutes.  Lightly toast the almonds in a 350 degree oven about 8-10 minutes, then cool to room temperature.  

Cube the bread as directed and pictured above and place about 3/4 cup of cubes in the bottom of each prepared ramekin.

IMG_9524 IMG_9530 IMG_9534~ Step 3.  Place 1/2 cup of cherries in each ramekin, followed by 1 tablespoon of dried cherries, 1 tablespoon 'chocolate' chips and 1 tablespoon almonds over the cherries.

IMG_9537Using a tablespoon, gently but firmly, press down on the top of each filled ramekin, to create a headspace for next layer of bread cubes.  I like to create 1/2"-3/4" of headspace.

IMG_9542~ Step 4. Top each ramekin with an additional 1/2 cup of bread cubes.

Note:  Because the bread is going to brown as it bakes, at this point I take a moment to turn as many cubes as possible crust side down. Cutting the crusts off the bread bread at the start is an option too! 

PICT0004~ Step 5.  In an 8-cup measuring container with a pourer spout, whisk together:

1  cup sugar

8  large eggs + 4 large egg yolks, at room temperature

2 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature

2  teaspoons pure almond extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

PICT0008~ Step 6.  Slowly pour the egg mixture into the ramekins, giving it plenty of time to drizzle down through all the cracks and crevaces until it almost reaches the fill line/inside lip of each ramekin.

~ Step 7.  Set aside for 30-45 minutes.  During this time, occasionally press down on the tops to help the top bread cubes to absorb the custard mixture.

PICT0003~ Step 8.  Sprinkle Sugar 'n Cinnamon evenly over the tops of all.  Wipe any excess from the rim of each ramekin as you work.

~ Step 9.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes.  The bread pudding will be nicely browned, puffed up, oozing some cherry juices/custard, and, the pudding will be set.

Serve warm, with or without freshly whipped cream or ice cream.  Leftover bread pudding reheats nicely.  Cover with plastic wrap and gently reheat in the microwave!

IMG_9581Sour Cherry and White Chocolate Bread Pudding:  Recipe yields 8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  17 1/2 x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 8, 2-cup size ramekins; cutting board; serrated bread knife; 8-cup measuring container; whisk

PICT0001Cook's Note: Within the next week or two, Joe's highbush blueberry bushes are going to start gifting me with fruit too.  My recipe for ~ Blueberry Brioche Bread Pudding for Breakfast ~, can be found in Categories 5, 6, 9 or 20! 

IMG_2917~ Pumpkin Bread + Apples = Autumn Bread Pudding ~ can be found in Categories 5, 6, 9, 18 or 20! 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)


~ Culinary Jewels: Dehydrated Sour (Pie) Cherries ~

IMG_9401I am a fruit lover and I've been baking with dried fruits for as long as I've been baking, which is almost 40 years.  I grew up watching my grandmother add dried apricots, dates and raisins to all sorts of Eastern European baked goods.  I was a young mom of three small boys when the trail mix craze began.  My kids liked the brand that included dried bananas, pineapple and papaya. Back in those pre-internet days, if I wanted to make homemade trail mix for our family, catalog shopping was my source for buying dried fruits and nuts, and, one of my favorite sources was American Spoon Foods, where I came across dried blueberries, cherries and cranberries.  Soon afterward, I began adding them to pies, cookies and quick breads, as well as rice dishes, salads and sauces.  Back in the 1980's  that was considered quite creative and gourmet.

IMG_9451Nowadays, dried fruits are available almost everywhere, but they're still pricey:  about $12.00-$15.00 a pound, depending upon what fruit your purchasing.  I've never complained about cost, because, while dehydrating is super easy, it is super time consuming, and, at the end of the day, it doesn't yield a large quantity (which is a let down the first time you do it).  So, for me, to buy a bag of dried fruit the moment I have a need for it (which happens quite often in my foodie world), as opposed to waiting 8-10+ hours for it to dehydrate, is, for the most part, a justified expenditure.

2000:  The year I decided to buy a dehydrator.

IMG_9447Fifteen years ago, my husband and I built a home and moved ten short miles from our previous home (in a planned development, complete with children riding bicycles on sidewalks and block parties), to our new home (with a few acres of ground around us, dairy cows for neighbors and a ski slope to look at). We moved from the suburbs to bona fide farm country.  

IMG_9449Joe took up gardening as a hobby, and, he took it seriously.  He took it too seriously.  He planted two large vegetable/herb gardens, a row of grapevines, and, a few fruit trees: apple, "pie" cherry, peach, plum and pear.  When one finds oneself facing an excess of "free" fruits and vegetables (produce one doesn't pay for), one must find ways not to waste it:  I purchased a dehydrator.

IMG_9463My Nesco 1000 watt dehydrator came with 4 trays, but up to 30 trays can be stacked on top of each other, on it, at one time. If you have a lot of produce to dehydrdate at one time, be sure to order the optional extra trays (I have 30). Place the food on as many trays as needed, always in a single layer and slightly apart. This allows the air to freely circulate and insures the food dehydrates evenly.

IMG_9472Read the instuction manual.

The temperature used depends on the food you are drying.  In the case of cherries, which I am demonstrating today, 1 1/2 pounds of washed and pitted sour cherries required 3 trays.  The dehydrator, as per the instruction manual (for most fruit), gets set to 135 degrees. At they end of the day (about 8-10 hours later), the yield is about 1 1/2 cups of dried cherries.  I should have made more -- we ate these.

Can't quite justify purchasing a dehydrator + additional trays?

IMG_9476It's just as easy to dehydrate fruits & veggies in your oven.

IMG_9481The only equipment necessary is a baking pan with a rack inserted into it.  This is a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan.  In the case of small-sized fruit, 1/2"-grid-type racks work great, as the food, as it shrinks, can't fall down onto the pan.

IMG_9355I place a piece of parchment underneath the rack.  This is optional, but if the food happens to drip, it makes cleanup a breeze.

1 1/2 pounds pitted, sour cherries

are spaced evenly apart on the rack in this photo.  Preheat your oven as low as it will go, 150-200 degrees.

IMG_9367Note:  It is ok to dehydrate two pans at one time, if they will fit on the center rack together.  Placing two pans on two racks, can be done, but it requires swaping the pans on the racks every two hours.

At the end of the day (about 8-10 hours later), each pan will yield about 1 1/2 cups dried cherries.

IMG_9486Note:  Cherries done in my oven take 8-9 hours to dehydrate and cherries done in my dehydrator take 9-10 hours.

Whether the cherries are dried in a dehydrator or in the oven, the standard test for doneness is: cherries will be 1/3-1/2 of their original size, leathery in appearance and slightly sticky.

Remove trays from dehydrator or IMG_9490pans from oven and allow to cool to room temperature, on trays or racks in pans, 1-2 hours.  (Tip from Mel:  I often just turn the dehydrator or oven off and let them cool to room temperature right in the oven or in the dehydrator for several hours or overnight.)  Transfer and store cherries in an airtight container for several days (3-4), or, for a longer shelf life, freeze them in zip lock bags to have on hand all year long.

Dehydrated sour cherries -- culinary jewels indeed.

IMG_9409Culinary Jewels:  Dehydrated Sour (Pie) Cherries:  Recipe yields 5-6-ounces/1 1/3-1 1/2 cups dried tart cherries.

Special Equipment List: food dehydrator w/additional add-on trays (optional), or: 17" x 12 1/2" baking pan(s); cooling rack(s), preferably grid type; parchment paper (optional)

Oatmeal & Sour Cherry Cookies #1 (Intro Picture)Cook's Note:   Over the course of the next few days, I'm going to show you a few recipes using dried sour cherries.  In the meantime, my cookie recipe for ~ Oatmeal & Savory Dried Sour Cherry Sensations ~ can be found in Category 7.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013) 


~ Sour Cherry Season!!! (Late June thru Early July) ~

PICT5308In my opinion, sour cherries are one of the most regal, refined fruits you will ever eat.  My grandmother simply referred to these ruby-red jewels as "pie cherries", but, if you are on a quest to purchase them, they are sometimes marketed as "tart cherries".  Joe and I live at a high elevation here in Central Pennsylvania, which I have come to learn is ideal for them, which is why our tree thrives, and thrives, and thrives.  That being said, even in this ideal environment, the sour cherry season is quite brief with the cherries being ready to pick at the very end of June or the very beginning of July.  Picking them is a bit tricky, as they are at their absolute best if left on the tree until you think they will begin to spoil if left there one more day, while at the same time getting them all picked, at once, before the birds devour an entire tree of cherries for you!

Joe spent this past weekend "up a tree" -- his sour cherry tree!

1010437_520457528013296_662635763_nA bit about sour cherries vs. cherries in general:  Sour cherries should not be confused with their cousins, the reddish-black Bing cherry and the peachy-blush Rainier cherry.  These two sweet cherries (which are larger and firmer than sour cherries) are great for eating "as is" like any other fresh fruit, but they do not make for great baked desserts.  When sour cherries are cooked, they become quite sweet, plus, they hold their shape better than their sweet relatives.  Sour cherries are a bit too tart to eat more than just a few out-of-hand, but they make superb preserves, pies and cobblers.  That being said, I make a marvelous sweet-and-savory sauce by cooking sour cherries with reduced duck stock.  It is absolutely decadent served with roast duck or pan-seared duck breast, pheasant or quail!

IMG_9348 PICT5314Once the cherries are picked, you have no more than 24-48 hours to "use them or lose them", which is why, while you can find them at local farmers markets, you will rarely find them in grocery stores.  This year, our now 15-year-old tree broke its previous record and presented us with 56 pounds of delectable goodness!  

What in the world do I do with all of these cherries?  Read on:

I think I know why Founding Foodie George Washington chopped down his father's cherry tree...

... his mother made George "pit" all of those dang cherries!!!

PICT5333I admit to having been overwhelmed the first year our tree bore fruit.  But, by the next year, I had done my homework and invested in the best dang cherry stoner money could buy:

The Westmark Cherry Stoner is made in Germany and no cherry pitter is faster or more efficient at removing the stones from a lot of cherries without bruising the fruit.  In about 4 hours, we literally had all of these cherries ready for baking and/or freezing.

This nifty little gadget is a bit pricy ($55.00-$65.00), but, if you have a lot of any type of cherries to process, this machine is for you!

PICT0523Once the stones are out of the cherries, I weigh, portion and pack 2 pounds of cherries into plastic ziplock food storage bags.  Two pounds, or about 6 cups, is what I deem necessary for one sour cherry pie.  I freeze each individual bag flat and I do not stack the bags on top of each other until they are frozen, so the ones at the top do not crush the ones at the bottom.

PICT0464Note of importance:  When it's time to bake a pie, or use cherries in a baked dessert, do not allow them to thaw to room temperature because too many juices ooze out of them.  I place my frozen cherries in a large mixing bowl and let them partially-thaw, to a "pliable but slightly frozen, icy state", stirring them occasionally.  This takes about 20-30 minutes.  In this photo, the cherries are soft and pliable on their outsides yet still frozen on their insides.  Notice, there is no juice PICT0534puddling in the bottom of the bowl!

In my foodie life, there are many things I attest to loving and they're not often desserts (I'm not a big sweet treat or chocolate eater, so fruit desserts are my favorite.).  In my foodie life, a sour cherry pie made the same day Joe picks the cherries from our tree is at the very top of my Summer dessert list.  

You can find my recipe for ~ I Can't Lie, this is Real Sour-Cherry Streusel Pie ~ in Category 6!

PICT0520"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)