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12 posts from March 2017


~ Detroit-Style Brick Cheese & Pepperoni Pan Pizza ~

IMG_7304Pizza.  It's one of my favorite foodie subjects.  Next to a cheese shop, a pizza shop is one of my favorite places to hang out.  Give me a slice and some suds and my day is made.  I like thick pizza, thin pizza, round pizza and square pizza.  I like pizza with just sauce and cheese, or, piled high with a melange of toppings.  I like white pizza and stuffed pizza too.  "No matter how you slice it, I've never met a pizza I didn't like", is one of my favorite sayings.  There's more.  I get downright giddy when I come across a new-to-me pizza -- one I've never heard of.  That happened four days ago.  I came across a recipe for Detroit-style pizza, so, on Amazon, I ordered the "special" cheese, and, the "special" pans too.  The cheese arrived yesterday, the pans today.

Detroit-Style Pizza =  A Rectangular, Deep-Deep-Dish, Pan Pizza.  Detroit-Style Pizza = A Descendant of Sicilian-Style Pizza.

The history of Detroit-style pizza is a tale about a man and his (idea of a) pizza pan, and, pizza-loving residents of the Motor City have been fighting over a corner slice of this pizza since 1946. Gus Guerra, owner of a neighborhood bar, Buddy's Rendezvous, decided to "throw" his wife Anna's mother's Sicilian-style pizza dough into a unique, rectangular-shaped, deep-sided, blue-steel pan that was originally used to hold auto parts. Topped with pepperoni, Wisconsin brick cheese and sauce (in that order), Gus's pizza emerged with a thick, soft, airy crust with a crispy exterior and caramelized edges.  It would soon be affectionately named Detroit Pizza. The legend is that Gus was given his initial pans from a friend and customer who worked in an auto factory.

IMG_7188Brick cheese is white to pale yellow in color and can range from sweet, buttery and mild when young, to strong, sharp and savory when aged.  It  melts great, which means it can be used in a wide variety of dishes.  For starters, it goes great with crackers and fruit. It's the kind of cheese you want on your pizza, in your mac n' cheese, in your grilled-cheese sandwich, and, potatoes gratin (scalloped potatoes).

Detroit-Style Pizza is all about the pan man -- the "man pan"!!!

IMG_7217Lloyd Pans & Kitchenware, a Wisconsin-based company, manufacturers several styles of pans for pizzerias all over the world, including all of the top 10 pizza chains in the USA.  Their pans revolutionized how pizzas are baked -- their pans improve the quality of the pizza by providing the ability to achieve excellent results by all who use them.  From thin crust to pan pizza, deep dish and flatbread, their pans make great pizza.  They require no seasoning, minimal or no oiling, and, the permanent, Dura-Kote, easy-release finish, safe to 700° F., will never flake or chip off.

IMG_7286A bit about my version of Detroit-style pizza:

Th(<Photos of "properly" charred pizza courtesy of Detroit Pizza Company.)

Admittedly, mine does not have the classic charred edges of a Detroit pizza -- I don't like charred cheese -- or anything, so, please excuse me if Loui3-500x375I didn't spread the cheese cubes to the point of touching the sides of the pan so they would melt and burn to make and bake a pizza I wouldn't eat for the sake of a few photos.

My Detroit-style pizza is simply deep golden, just the way I like it.  That said, everything else about my pizza is "as it should be".  My crust is crunchy on the outside and light and airy on the inside.  It is layered in the the traditional manner too:  sliced pepperoni first, cheese cubes second, and sauce third.  There's more: It's got just enough of the mandatory spicy pepperoni and pepperoni-grease layer below the buttery, rich taste of Wisconsin's one-and-only brick cheese (not to mention my homemade, spicy and garlicy pizza sauce).  Please:  Feel free spread that cheese to the edges of the pan if it is a classic, charred-around-the-edges pizza you crave

Making the dough, assembling & baking two pizzas. 

I love my recipe for Sicilian-style pizza dough.  Sometimes I mix it by hand, sometimes I make it in the food processor, and, other times, like today, I use my bread machine.  That said, I never change the recipe.  It's foolproof.  The best way I can describe the crust of a Sicilian pizza is:  It is thicker and breadier than Neapolitan-stype pizza.  The dough, which is proofed twice, the second time in the pan, gets a crispy, almost "fried" bottom due to an ample amount of oil in the pan -- yes, this is a pizza that gets baked in the pan.  In Sicily, it's called sfincione, which means "thick sponge", as the dough absorbs a bit of the oil on its bottom and a bit of sauce on its top.  

IMG_3835For the dough:

1 1/2  cups warm water

2  tablespoons olive oil

4 1/2  cups all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon each:  garlic powder, Italian seasoning and cracked black pepper

1  packet granulated dry yeast

2-4  additional tablespoons olive oil, for preparing baking pans

IMG_7233For the toppings:

1/2  pound pepperoni, sliced into 1/8"-thick coins, 24 slices per pie

1 1/2  pounds 1/2" cubed brick cheese, 12 ounces per pie

2  cups pizza sauce, preferably homemade (Note:  My recipe for ~ Preschutti Pizza, Part I:  Our Favorite Sauce ~, is in Categories 8, 12, or 22.)

a sprinkling of dried oregano 

IMG_3843Step 1.  To prepare the dough, place all of the items in pan of bread machine in the order listedexcept for the yeast.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation ("a well") on top of the dry ingredients, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer.  Place the yeast into the indentation.  Insert the pan into the bread machine, plug IMG_3846the machine in, press the "Select" button, choose the "Pizza Dough" cycle, then press "Start".  You will have 2 pounds of dough, proofed once and ready to use, in about 55 minutes.

IMG_7220While the dough is rising in the machine, using a pastry brush or a paper towel, generously oil 2, 14" x 10" Detroit-style pizza pans with the additional 2-4 tablespoons olive oil.

IMG_3859IMG_3869Step 2. Remove dough from bread machine pan and divide it in half.  The best way to do this is with a kitchen scale.  The dough will be slightly sticky, yet very manageable (easy to work with).

IMG_7227 IMG_7228 IMG_7239 IMG_7241~Step 3.  Place one piece of dough on each pan and let rest for 10-15 minutes.  Pat and push the dough evenly into the bottom and slightly up the sides of the prepared pans.

IMG_7246 IMG_7249 IMG_7253~ Step 4.  Place/arrange 24 slices of pepperoni on top of each crust.  Sprinkle 12 ounces of cheese cubes on top of the pepperoni on each pie.  Set aside 1 hour, to give the crusts time to rise for the second time. Using a tablespoon, dollop sauce over the top of each pie, about 3/4-1 cup per pie (I like to put a dollop of top of each slice of pepperoni).  Do not spread the sauce around.  Sprinkle with oregano.

~ Step 5.  Bake pizzas, one-at-a-time on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 20-22 minutes, or until bubbling and golden on top (and slightly charred around the edges if the cheese cubes have been spread to touch the edges of the pan as discussed above).  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack.  Using a large spatula placed under one side of the pie, gradually tip the pan and guide/slide the pizza onto a wire rack to cool about 5-6 minutes prior to slicing and serving.

Going into preheated 375° oven to bake 20-22 minutes:

IMG_7257Hot out of the oven & out of the pan:

IMG_7262The first crispy, crunchy, light & airy, spicy, cheesy slice: 

IMG_7315Detroit-Style Brick Cheese & Pepperoni Pan Pizza:  Recipe yields 2, 14" x 10" Detroit-Style Pizzas, 6-8 slices each pie.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; 2-cup measuring container; bread machine; 2, 14" x 10" Detroit-style pizza pans; paper towels; wire cooling rack(s)

IMG_4246Cook's Note:  For another truly unique deep-dish pizza that also requires a special pan and a specific type of dough to make the crust, ~ My Second-City Chicago-Style Deep-Dish Pizza ~ recipe can be found in Categories 2, 17 or 19.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)


~ Blessed are the Cheesemakers: Try Brick Cheese ~

IMG_7199Cheese.  It's one of my favorite foodie subjects.  I'd rather spend time in a cheese shop than a bakery any day of the week.  Give me a choice between a doughnut and a chunk of cheddar and I'm off to the pantry to get a box of crackers.  I like hard cheeses, soft cheeses, young cheeses and aged cheeses.  I like expensive imported cheeses, cheap American processed cheeses and a whole host of cheese balls and cheese spreads.  "Say cheese", is one of my favorite things to say from behind the camera.  There's more.  I get downright giddy when I come across a new-to-me cheese -- one I've never heard of.  That happened two days ago.  I came across a recipe that called for Wisconsin Brick Cheese, so, I ordered some on Amazon.  It arrived today.

"Say cheese!"  Meet my next-door neighbors -- the dairy cows! 

IMG_0279What is brick cheese?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Pic24Brick cheese is an all-American cows-milk cheese from Wisconsin dating back to 1877.  It was created by John Jossi, a 12-year-old, Swiss-born, cheese-making immigrant who came to America with his parents in 1857.  Two years later, at age 14, young Jossi was operating a small Limburger factory in Richwood, Wisconsin.  After marrying the daughter of a local cheesemaker, in 1873 he moved to New York, where he worked in a large Limburger plant.  There, he came up with the concept of making a cheese made with curd that was drier than that used for Limburger that could be pressed into the shape of bricks.  In 1877, he returned to Wisconsin where, in a newly-built plant, he started making Brick Cheese.  In 1883, he turned the factory over to his younger brother, who later sold it to Kraft, and fortunately, the legacy lives on. (Photo courtesy of

IMG_7188Brick cheese is white to pale yellow in color and can range from sweet, buttery and mild when young, to strong, sharp and savory when aged.  It  melts great, which means it can be used in a wide variety of dishes.  For starters, it goes great with crackers and fruit. It's the kind of cheese you want on your pizza, in your mac n' cheese, in your grilled-cheese sandwich, and, potatoes gratin (scalloped potatoes).

Store brick cheese in the warmest part of your refrigerator -- on the door or to the front of a shelf. If wrapped well and kept away from moisture, this cheese lasts for a long time -- several weeks or one-two months.  Once unwrapped, plan on using it within two weeks, and, if it develops a strong or offensive oder, discard it.  Recommended substitutions for brick cheese are Jack or Havarti.

IMG_7206Blessed are the cheesemakers @ Cheesers:

IMG_7214Blessed are the Cheesemakers:  Try Brick Cheese:   Recipe explains what brick cheese is and yields instructions for using and storing brick cheese.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife and/or cheese grater

IMG_0311Cook's Note:  "Juustoleipa" (hoo-stah-lee-pah), nicknamed "squeaky cheese", is another favorite of mine. Read my post: ~ Bread Cheese:  A Very Old Baltic Breakfast Treat ~ in Categories 9 or 16.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)


~ Lidia's Big, Golden, Crunch-a-licious, Sugar Cookie ~

IMG_7147Question.  Have you ever been tempted to bake one giant cookie?  The one you're looking at here is an oval, about 12" long and 10" wide.  It's a thing of beauty.  It's sugar cookie perfection. No need to chill or roll dough or cut cookies.  No nothing.  It eliminates all the nonsense involved with baking sugar cookies.  Second question.  How many times have you bought sugar cookies to process, or sugar cookie crumbs to use ready-made, to make a cookie crust for a pie or a cheesecake or sprinkle between the layers of a parfait?  Admit it, we all do -- no one in their right mind bakes sugar cookies with the sole intent of processing them to crumbles or crumbs.  

IMG_7153What if I told you that, via a food processor, in 3-4 minutes, you could mix and have one big beautiful brown-sugar cookie baking in the oven for a short 11-12 minutes, and, after it cools, besides have a fantastic scratch-made cookie to break into snacks, with 1 additional minute of processing, you'd have 3 1/2-4 cups of superb, crumbles or crumbs.  Trust me, it's true.

IMG_7159In a word, this recipe is:  Brilliant.  Here's how I got it:

The year was 2007 and I had the pleasure of working for and with the one-and-only Lidia Matticchio Bastianich for a few days.  She was here in Happy Valley to promote her then latest book Lidia's Family Table along with her upcoming cooking series at our local PBS-TV station, WPSU.  As WPSU's cooking consultant at that time, my job was to manage all celebrity cooking demonstrations:  provide and organize all hardware, prep and ready all the ingredients for the chef's personal on-camera demonstration, plus, prep and cook all the food he or she was demo-ing for a studio audience of 85-100 people to taste, and, decorate "the set" as well.      

IMG_7106 IMG_7103In prep for Lidia's demo, behind the scenes, me and my team of two, in my home kitchen and on-site, prepared: 13 quarts Simple Vegetable Broth (p. 288) in order to prepare 12 quarts Basic Risotto (p. 224), and, 2 quarts Balsamic Vinegar Reduction Glaze (p. 39), in order to prepare Roasted Acorn Squash Salad (p. 38) which required slicing and roasting 3 dozen acorn squash.  For dessert we poached 24 pounds of apples for 95 Apple Crisp Parfaits (p. 404), which required 8 cookies/24 cups of Sugar Cookie Crumbles (p. 406) and 6 quarts of whipped cream.  

Get your mise en place -- this recipe moves fast!

IMG_7110Even though Lidia intended this recipe for making sugar cookie crumbles or crumbs, this is a great-tasting cookie.  It's buttery-rich, and delicately-crisp with cinnamon and vanilla undertones.  It hard to resist breaking it into pieces just to snack on. There's more. Baking one big sugar cookie is a ton of fun -- kids love it.  And, for those of you, like me, who hate rolling and cutting sugar cookie dough, trust me, you're gonna love this recipe.  And yes, of course you can make "normal" 3"- 5" -sized round cookies.

Tip from Mel:  If you want to make more than one cookie, two or three for example, don't double or triple the quantity in the food processor.  Process the ingredients for one cookie and put it in the oven to bake.  While the first one bakes, process the ingredients for the second one, and so on.

IMG_71143/4  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2  cup granulated sugar

2  tablespoons light brown sugar

1/2  teaspoon cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

4  ounces salted butter, cut into cubes and kept cold (1 stick)

2  tablespoons + 1 teaspoon cold water +  2 teaspoons vanilla extract, for a total of 3 tablespoons liquid

IMG_7117 IMG_7118 IMG_7120 IMG_7123 IMG_7126~Step 1.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with the steel blade, place the flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Using a series of 10-12 rapid on-off pulses, process to combine.  Remove butter cubes from refrigerator and sprinkle them over the sugar mixture in the processor.  Using a series of 35-40 rapid on-off pulses, process until sandy and grainy. Sprinkle the water mixture over the mixture.  Using a series of 10-12 rapid on-off pulses, process until mixture is just moistened but still grainy.

IMG_7131 IMG_7133~ Step 2.  Transfer/dump mixture onto a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Using your fingertips, do not press down.  Keep mixture loose.  Roll and spread the grains around to form and 10" x 8" oval, being sure to fill in any large "holes" with grains of dough -- small holes will fill in as the cookie bakes.

IMG_7144~ Step 4.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 8 minutes. Rotate pan, back to front (to insure even baking), and continue to bake an additional 4-6 minutes.  Read the following "Note" carefully:  

Note:  Four minutes longer will produce a cookie with crunchy sides and a chewy center, perfect for snacking on.  Six extra minutes will yield a crunchy cookie perfect for making crumbles  or crumbs.  

Cookie will be golden all over with deeper golden edges.  Remove from oven. Place pan on a wire rack and cool completely, 1-2 hours.  Transfer cookie to wire rack to expose the bottom to air and crisp up a bit more, 1-2 hours.  Cookie(s) can be prepared 1-2 days in advance and stored, uncovered, at room temperature.  Break into bite-sized snacks, crumble them or process them to crumbs to use in desserts.  Cookie crumbles or crumbs can be stored in the freezer.

One big golden sugar cookie?  Break it up.  Got milk?

IMG_7165Lidia's Big, Golden, Crunch-a-licious Sugar Cookie:  Recipe yields 3-4 cups crumbs or crumbles.

Special Equipment List:  paring knife; food processor; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; wire cooling rack

Cook's Note:  Traditional sugar cookies.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)


~ Spring Forward: Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier ~

IMG_7078Known in Eastern European circles as "Salad Olivier" or "Salad Olivye", and, "Russian Salad", there are as many variations of this refreshing side-dish or main-dish salad as there are cooks who are willing to take the time to do a precise job of uniformly cubing, dicing and properly cooking the components.  What this salad looks like is as important as how it tastes.  For young Eastern European girls, who were almost always required to assist their mother and grandmother in the family kitchen, it was how they honed their knife skills for later in life in their own kitchens (while the menfolk were out and about teaching their boys how to fish, hunt, gather and farm).

IMG_7059A look back in this famous potato salad's history:

Hermitage_Restaurant_in_MoscowThe original salad was invented in the 1860s by Lucien Olivier, the chef of the Hermitage, one of Moscow's most prestigious restaurants.  The regular clientele's love for his salad caused it to become the Heritage's signature dish, and, before long, renditions were being prepared in kitchens all across Russia.  The recipe for his "Provençal dressing" (the mayonnaise concoction), a  well guarded secret, has never been revealed, although it is believed to have been made with French wine vinegar and Dijon mustard -- cooking in the style of France was quite trendy during that period.  (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

At the turn of the 20th century, one of Olivier's sous-chefs, Ivan Ivanov, attempted to steal the recipe.  Olivier was suddenly called away from the kitchen, which gave Ivanov the opportunity to take a look at the prepped ingredients (mise en place) and deduce with reasonable certainty, what to put in the famous dressing.  Shortly thereafter, Ivanov went to work as the chef at Moskva -- a restaurant of somewhat lesser prestige.  There, Ivanov started selling his version, "Russian Salad", then, sold his recipe for publication, which made "Russian Salad" a household term.   

The Hermitage restaurant closed in 1905, and the Olivier family left Russia, returning to Lucien's homeland of Belgium.  One of the first printed recipes for Olivier salad, appearing in 1894, called for half a poached grouse, two potatoes, one large cornichon, 1 teaspoon capers, 3-4 olives, 1/4 cup cubed aspic, and, 1 1/2 tablespoon Provençal dressing (the mayonnaise concoction), and, 3-4 lettuce leaves.  Because these ingredients were hard-to-come-by, expensive and seasonal, ordinary home cooks gradually replaced them with cheaper and more readily available ones.

Be creative, but try to stay-true to this recipe's humble past.  This vintage salad truly is on-hand farm-to-table fare.

IMG_7079In its basic form, this salad consists of a fork-friendly melange of cubed and cooked potatoes, carrots, peas and eggs -- all of the ingredients are previously cooked.  The creamy dressing, which is mayonnaise-based, contains finely-diced sweet or dill pickles or capers -- previously-cooked ingredients.  Occasionally an herb common to the Eastern European climate is added to it too (dill, chives, parsley).  All the ingredients were and still are inexpensive items found in Eastern Europe's rural farm communities. Because meat was and still is expensive, it is common for vintage recipes for this salad that contain protein to include wild game or game birds -- which they hunted in the countryside.  There's more.  For those lucky enough to raise cows, sheep or pigs, farm-raised meat or cured meats and sausages were and are commonly added as well.

Traditionally, this "salat" was reserved for large gatherings: religious or national holidays, special community events and/or family celebrations, and, it was served all year long.  With or without meat or poultry added to it, it was served as an hors d'oeuvre atop toast points, by itself as a light lunch or snack, or, as a starter-course or side-dish to a hearty meal.  For the most part, I associate it with Spring, so, I like to serve this pretty-to-look-at salad as a side-dish on my Easter buffet table, then, as a main-dish the next day -- by adding cubes of  leftover holiday ham to it.  

This salad is best prepared a day ahead and refrigerated overnight -- time for the potatoes to soak up the flavor of the dressing, and time for all the other flavors to marry too, is time well spent.

IMG_7037For the salad ingredients:

1 1/4  pounds peeled and 1/2" cubed gold potatoes (3 cups after peeling and cubing)

6  ounces frozen cubed carrots and peas (1 1/2 cups) (Note:  Most vintage recipes for this salad call for canned peas and carrots -- we can do much better than that nowadays.)

4  extra-large hard-cooked eggs, whites diced separately from the yolks

1-1 1/2 cups trimmed and 1/2" cubed previously-roasted meat or poultry (my two favorites are baked ham or roasted chicken), traditional but optional*

1-1 1/2 cups Provençal dressing, recipe below (Note:  Prepare the dressing prior to cubing and cooking the vegetables.)

freshly-ground sea-salt and peppercorn blend, for garnish

Libbys-vienna-sausage-41262*Note:  While I'm preparing this salad as a side-dish today, most recipes call for some type of meat or poultry to be added -- one type of meat throughout the salad, not a combination of different types.  In Russia, the meat that is most often added, and it is very popular so don't roll your eyes, is a mild-flavored, fine-grained, soft sausage that resembles bologna.  Here in the USA, the small, Vienna sausages (which come in cans) are the most common substitute for this type of bologna.

IMG_6409 IMG_6413 IMG_6424 IMG_7044~Step 1.  Peel cube and place the potatoes in a 4-quart stockpot with enough cold water to cover by 1".  Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt to the water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to gently simmer for 3-4 minutes, until potatoes are just fork tender.  Drain into a colander and immediately begin running cold water through the potatoes to halt the cooking process and return them to room temperature.  Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain thoroughly.

IMG_7048 IMG_7050~ Step 2.  Place the frozen peas and carrots in the 4-quart stockpot with enough cold water to cover by 1".  Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar to the water and bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to simmer and blanch, 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Drain into colander and immediately begin running cold water through them to halt the cooking process and return them to room temperature.  Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain thoroughly.

IMG_7055 IMG_7070~ Step 3.  In a large bowl, place the diced potatoes, peas, carrots and egg whites.  Add 1 cup of the Provençal dressing.  Using a large spatula, toss to enrobe the vegetables in the dressing.  If you are adding meat, add it now, and toss it with the vegetables.  Gently fold in egg yolks.  Add additional dressing, by tablespoonfuls, until salad is dressed to your liking.  Cover and refrigerate several hours to overnight.

For the Provençal dressing (the mayonnaise concoction):

My recipe evolved over time, with the final "tweek" being:  I'm wed to adding dried or fresh dill (if it is in season) to the mixture.  It makes perfect sense, as dill pairs so well with the peas, carrots, potatoes and eggs.  Personally, I think that whatever recipe you are making:  mine, your grandma's, a friend's or a stranger's, dill is the ingredient that takes this recipe over the top.

IMG_7021For the Provençal dressing:

1  cup mayonnaise

1/2  cup finely-diced sweet gherkins or sweet pickle relish or a cominbation of both

1/4  cup very-finely diced shallot or sweet onion

1  tablespoon each:  Dijon mustard & sherry vinegar

3/4 teaspoon dried dill weed

IMG_70161/2  teaspoon sugar

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_7017Step 1.  In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients as listed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours or overnight prior to using. Overnight is best.  

Salad Olivier, when made as a side-dish, pairs great w/many of my favorite sandwiches, especially the Bierock:

IMG_7091Spring Forward:  Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups of Provençal dressing and 5-6 cups of potato salad (depending upon if you added the optional meat or not).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; colander; paper towels; large rubber spatula

IMG_7006Cook's Note:  Eastern Europeans know a thing or two about tasty sandwiches too.  To learn about a popular but obscure German-Russian classic,  just click into Categories 1, 2, 5, or 12 to read my post ~ Bierock:  A savory Meat, Cabbage & Onion Turnover ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017) 


~Bierock: A Savory Meat, Cabbage & Onion Turnover~

IMG_7006In the case of the Eastern European bierock, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.  Unlike pizza, hot dog, hamburger and taco, the word bierock conjures up no image in the mind of many foodies.  It's worth mention there is no mention of it in The Food Lover's Companion or The Oxford Companion to Food.  There's more.  Even if you did grow up in or around an Eastern European household or community (I did), there is a good chance you have no idea if a bierock is animal, vegetable or mineral (I didn't).  The reason is:  the rather obscure bierock is credited specifically to the German-Russian Mennonites that lived along the Volga River of Russia.

Experts say we have Russia's most famous empress, Catherine the Great, to thank for the bierock.  In 1763, she offered incentives for Germans to settle in the portion of her empire along the Volga River. Things changed for them, when, in the 1870's, Alexander II decreed that these now German-Russian citizens would have to pay higher taxes than others and spend years serving in the military.  They moved to regions of Argentina and the Plains States of America (Nebraska, the Dakotas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas and Oklahoma).

IMG_6969Bierock (pronounced bürrock not beer-rock), is an enriched, sweetened yeast-dough, portable pocket sandwich.  The bread dough (similar to brioche because is contains milk, egg and sugar), fully-encases a savory filling containing seasoned and cooked ground or minced meat (usually beef or pork), shredded cabbage or sauerkraut, diced onions and sometimes grated carrots.  The loose-meat filled sandwich, approximately the size and  shape of a round hamburger bun, gets baked in the oven until golden, and, because the crust is bread rather than pastry, it can be eaten hot, warm, at room temperature, and, it reheats well too.  While a bierock can be shaped in almost any way the cook desires (to resemble a small elongated hot-dog roll, a half-moon or a crescent), it is worth mention that a square-shaped bierock is often referred to as a runza -- especially in Nebraska where it is trademarked by Nebraska-based Runza Restaurants.

IMG_6983A bit about my "byurek" recipe for "bierocks":

My first encounter with a bierock came in the 1990's, except, I had no idea I was eating a bierock. Joe and I were invited for cocktails by new acquaintances, a couple we met at the tennis courts. Ed hailed from Chicago.  Ed was a mathematician and a tournament level chess player, and, his father, who owned a butcher shop, was of this specific German-Russian heritage -- the meats, sausages and cheeses from Ed's dad were amazing.  Ed's wife served "byureks" that evening (her spelling), along with an amazing sour-cream dressed chopped potato salad -- both paired great together along with our beer and vodka-based cocktails. It wasn't until a few years later, while in a bar in Illinois, that I saw the word "bierock" on the pub grub menu and "put two and two together".  In retrospect, I now wonder if her spelling, byurek, was phonetic -- an intentional attempt to help me to pronounce the word properly.   My filling recipe (below) is the one Lubov gave to me.  The bread dough is my own, as, Lubov used frozen bread dough.

Part One:  Preparing the Bierock Filling

IMG_6900Whatever recipe you use, bierock filling, which contains just three basic ingredients and seasoning, is quite easy to make.  In the case of my recipe, it's easy to commit to memory "two" ("too" -- pun intended).  I have two tips to offer too:  #1)  Liberally season the mixture -- nothing is worse than a bland-tasting bierock.  #2)  Prepare the filling several hours in advance -- it's best if the filling is at room temperature at assembly time.  There's more.  The filling can be made in large batches, portioned into 1-quart size food-storage containers and frozen.  Once thawed and at room temperature, this is enough to fill 1 1/2 dozen bierocks (1/4 cup filling per sandwich).

IMG_6853For my easy-to-remember two of everything bierock filling:

2  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

2  pounds green cabbage, prior to coring and shredding

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion (1, 12-ounce onion)

2  teaspoons garlic powder

2  teaspoons each:  sugar & salt

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

Note:  If you've never tasted a bierock, think of it as a well-seasoned loose-meat sandwich. Purists like me will be the first to tell you NOT to add cheese to the sandwich under any circumstances -- it's just wrong.  That said, if, after the cabbage cooks down, you feel the need to add a bit of extra seasoning to the meat mixture, purists like me will look the other way if you add 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce to the filling mixture near the end of the cooking process.

IMG_6757 IMG_6760 IMG_6855 IMG_6860 IMG_6863~Step 1.  Note:  I'm using one-half of a 4-pound head of cabbage, sliced into 2 quarters today.  Alternatively, a 2-pound head, sliced into 4 quarters is the same thing.  

Using a large chef's knife remove the cores from the cabbage quarters.  Slice each quarter into 1/4" slices, then chop through the slices to cut the cabbage into chards and pieces.  This appears to be a lot of cabbage but it will lose most of its volume during the cooking process. Dice the onion as directed.

IMG_6868 IMG_6871 IMG_6872 IMG_6877~Step 2.  Place the ground beef, onion, and 1 teaspoon each of the the garlic powder, sugar, salt and pepper in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot over medium-high heat.  Cook until the beef, using a spatula to break it up into small bits and pieces as it cooks, until it's just cooked through -- until it has lost its pink color but shows no signs of browning -- about 8-9 minutes. Using a small ladle, remove and discard the liquid from the bottom of the pot, about 8-12 tablespoons.

IMG_6881 IMG_6885 IMG_6886 IMG_6889~Step 3.  Add the cabbage and season it with the remaining 1 teaspoon each of the garlic powder, sugar, salt and pepper.  Continue to cook, using a large spoon to keep the mixture moving, until cabbage has lost most of its volume, yet is green, sweet and tender, about 10-12 minutes. Taste after 8-9 minutes -- now is the time to add the optional 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce if you think it's necessary.  Do not allow the cabbage or the meat to brown. Cover the pot, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature, 4-6 hours.

Part Two:  Preparing the Brioche-type Bread Dough

Put down that package of frozen bread dough.  I am proud to say I have simplified this process so everyone, folks who don't have a clue how to bake bread and those who don't want to bake bread, can make beautiful bierocks from scratch.  In my opinion, the perfect bread for any type of soft sandwich roll is brioche -- an enriched dough made from butter, eggs, milk, salt, sugar and flour.  I make and rise my own recipe for brioche dough in the bread machine, which turns making bierocks (or any bread or rolls) from a chore to a breeze.  It doesn't get any easier than this.

IMG_68941  cup whole milk

6  tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes 

5  tablespoons sugar

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

2  extra-large eggs

4 1/4  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons granulated dry yeast (1 packet), not rapid-rise yeast 

IMG_9056Step 1.  Always follow the instructions that came with your bread machine -- they all vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer.  This is the rectangular-shaped bread pan that came with my machine.  The paddle (which will do the kneading), has been inserted.  The instruction manual states to always insert the paddle  in this exact  position before adding any ingredients, so I do.

IMG_9059IMG_9062IMG_9064IMG_9065IMG_9068IMG_9073~Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, heat the milk until steaming.  This is quickly and easily done in the microwave.  Add the sugar, salt and butter to the hot milk.  Using a fork, stir until butter has melted.  Pour  this mixture into the bread pan.

IMG_9076IMG_9083Step 3.  In the same 1-cup measure and using the same fork, whisk the egg to lightly beat it.  Add the beaten egg to the milk mixture in bread pan. Note:   "Wet ingredients first/dry ingredients second" is a rule in bread machine baking.

IMG_9085IMG_9087IMG_9099Step 4.  Add the flour to bread pan.  Do not mix or stir.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation in the top of the flour, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer.  Add/pour the yeast into the indentation.

IMG_9102IMG_9104IMG_9105Step 5.  Insert bread pan into machine and press down until it is "clicked" securely in place. Close lid and plug machine in. Press "select" and click through the list of options until you reach the "dough" option. Press "start".  In my machine, my dough will have been kneaded and have gone through a first rise in 1 1/2 hours.

IMG_6905Step 6.  While the bread machine is preparing the bread dough:

Line 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper, ready a pastry board, a small rolling pin, a 1/4 cup measure, and, if you have one, get out your kitchen scale. Preheat oven to 350° with oven rack positioned in the center.

Part Three.  Assembling & Baking the Bierocks 

IMG_9114 IMG_6911 IMG_6912Step 1.  When the dough cycle is done, lightly oil your fingertips with some vegetable oil, remove the dough from the bread machine's bread pan (which will not be hot), briefly knead the dough in your oiled fingertips to form it into a smooth ball, then, place it on a kitchen scale.  You will have 2 pounds, 4 ounces of dough.  Divide the dough into 18, 2-ounce pieces -- I simply tear it into pieces with my fingertips.

IMG_6925 IMG_6929 IMG_6930 IMG_6934~Step 2.  Do not over think this.  Using a small rolling pin or your fingertips, on a pastry board, pat and press each piece of dough into a 4 1/2'-5"-round, about 1/4" thick.  Measure and place 1/4 cup of firmly-packed filling mixture in the center.  Pick up the North and South sides of the dough and overlap them. Pick up the East and West sides of the dough and overlap them.

IMG_6935 IMG_6942 IMG_6945 IMG_6948~Step 3.  Arrange the bierocks, well-apart and seam side down, on the parchment-lined baking pans.  Allow to rise, uncovered, for 45 minutes.  Do not shorten or skip this second rising time.

IMG_6906 IMG_6951 IMG_6957 IMG_6968 IMG_6961~Step 4.  Just prior to baking, using a fork, whisk 1 large egg with 1 tablespoon water.  Using a pastry brush, paint the entire surface of each bierock.  Place pan of rolls in preheated 350° oven, until golden brown, 16-18 minutes -- the seams will seal themselves as they bake. Using a thin spatula, transfer rolls to a cooling rack to cool 15-20 minutes or longer, prior to serving hot, warm or at room temperature.

Attention Happy Valley residents.  "Beer-rocks" have nothing to do w/The All-American Rathskeller or Rolling Rock beer -- but they'd be perfect pub grub served in that iconic joint!

IMG_6996Bierock:  A Savory Meat, Cabbage & Onion Turnover:  Recipe yields 8 cups/2 quarts filling and 2 pounds, 4 0unces brioche bread dough.  One quart (4 cups) of filling and two pounds, 4 ounces of dough is enough to make 1 1/2 dozen sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; spatula; small ladle; large spoon; bread machine; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; kitchen scale; pastry board; small rolling pin; pastry brush; thin spatula; wire cooling rack

IMG_4021Cook's Note:  If you are wondering if pizza dough can be substituted in place of brioche bread dough, in honesty, it cannot.  If you want to stuff pizza dough with something, try my recipe for ~ Mel's Rotolo di Pizza (Stuffed Pizza Rolls/Bread) ~.  You can find this recipe in Categories 1, 2, 11, 12, 17, 18 or 22.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)


~ Simply: My Butter-Braised Cabbage & Egg Noodles ~

IMG_6830Throughout Eastern Europe, cooks make a side-dish that basically consists of green cabbage and egg noodles.  It's quick-and-easy, totally-delicious, unpretentious, old-world comfort food.  I simply refer to it as "cabbage and noodles" or "cabbage noodles", because every country has their own ethnic name and spelling for it and every cook is adamant that "their people" invented it -- the Eastern Europeans are no different than the French or the Italians in that respect.  Sigh.

IMG_1863Wikipedia has an entire page devoted to halusky, haluski, halushki, haluska etc.  They define them as "thick, soft, dumplings or noodles", and, "the name can refer to the dumplings themselves or the complete dish.".  I grew up eating the old-world ~ Slovak Grated Potato & Onion Dumplings ~, and we called them haluski.  When we were eating today's recipe, the version containing egg noodles and cabbage, we called them "easy haluski". You can find my haluski recipe in Categories 4, 12 or 14.

Cabbage is a staple in the Eastern European diet.  It's cheap, available all year, and, it stays fresh in the root cellar or vegetable drawer of the refrigerator for a long time.

IMG_6742In any given Eastern European household, the cabbage is braised using the same basic stovetop method, but, past that, it's made to that family's liking.  Some cooks braise it in bacon fat and add crisply-fried chards of bacon to the dish.  Other cooks, like my mom and grandmother, braise the cabbage in butter, because, believe it or not, some folks don't think everything tastes better with bacon -- we think everything tastes better with butter. Almost everyone adds onions and some folks add bits of garlic too. Everyone seasons the dish with salt and pepper, and, occasionally a few caraway seeds.  In my family's kitchens, freshly-sliced or a jar of well-drained sliced mushrooms are often added -- because we are mushroom lovers. 

IMG_6750In any given Eastern European household, the egg noodles, which are cooked separately and often made from scratch, are typically flat, wide-ish strands.  That said, for a simple weeknight side-dish, cooking a bag of store-bought egg noodles isn't a compromise.  Please try to use egg noodles, not pasta, and, if you've got cooked noodles leftover from soup, this is a tasty way to use them up.  Once cooked, the noodles are tossed with the cabbage and the dish is served, many times with a dollop of sour cream on top.  In my grandmother's kitchen, it was her go-to side-dish for ham, roast pork, pork chops, pork sausage or kielbasa. Feel free to add sliced or diced cooked meat to the mixture to serve it as a main-dish as well.

IMG_6841My family's version of butter-braised cabbage & egg noodles:

IMG_67721  stick salted butter

8  ounces yellow or sweet onion, sliced into thin, half-moon shapes

1  4 1/2- or 6-ounce jar sliced mushrooms, well-drained (optional)

2  teaspoons garlic powder

2  teaspoons sea salt

1-2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

1  small, 2-pound head green cabbage or 1/2 of a large 4-pound head

12  ounces wide, flat egg-noodles, cooked and drained as package directs

sour cream, for serving tableside

IMG_4955Note:  I like to use my 16" electric skillet to make cabbage and noodles.  It controls the heat perfectly, and, has the capacity to hold a voluminous amount of raw cabbage (which shrinks as it wilts), along with the cooked and drained egg noodles when they get tossed in at the end.  If you don't have one, use a wide-bottomed, 8-quart stockpot on the stovetop.

IMG_6774 IMG_6777 IMG_6780 IMG_6783~Step 1.  Slice the onion, as directed into 1/4"-thick half moon shapes, then cut the half moons in half to shorten them up a bit.  In skillet over low heat (150°), melt the butter.  Add the sliced onions, optional mushrooms, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Increase heat (200°) to gently cook, stirring frequently until the onion begins to soften.  While onions and mushrooms are cooking: 

IMG_6757 IMG_6760 IMG_6763 IMG_6764~Step 2.  Cut the head of cabbage in half and cut each half into quarters.  Slice each quarter into 1/2"-wide strips, then, cut some of the particularly longs strips in half to shorten them into fork-friendly pieces, keeping in mind they will lose moisture and shrink a bit when cooked.

IMG_6786 IMG_6787~ Step 3.  Add the cabbage to the onion mixture. Using two large spoons, toss, like a salad, to coat the cabbage in butter and onions.  Put lid on skillet.  Adjust heat to medium (225º) and cook, stirring frequently until cabbage is tender and "to the tooth", about 15-18 minutes.  Lower heat if necessary to keep the cabbage from browning.

Note:  Some versions of this recipe do call for browning the cabbage a bit.  Feel free to do so, but know that unlike onions, which, due to their high sugar content get sweeter as they caramelize, cabbage, does not.  Cabbage which contains some sugar but not a lot, gets a bitter edge to it when fried -- I don't care for it.  I like my cabbage cooked until just tender, still sweet and green.

IMG_6789 IMG_6790 IMG_6795 IMG_6800 IMG_6808~Step 4.  While cabbage is braising, on the stovetop bring 2 1/2 quarts of water to a boil in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot.  Add 1 tablespoon salt to the water.  Add the noodles and cook, according to package directions, until "to the tooth".  Drain noodles into a colander and give it a few vigorous shakes to remove excess water.  Add the hot egg noodles to the cabbage mixture and toss to thoroughly coat the noodles in the buttery cabbage mixture.

Cover skillet & allow to rest 5 minutes prior to serving.  

IMG_6813Totally-delicious, unpretentious, comfort food:

IMG_6815Simply:  My Butter-Braised Cabbage & Egg Noodles:  Recipe yields 4-6 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife;  16" electric skillet or wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot; two large spoons; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; colander

IMG_2890Cook's Note:  Another side-dish I just love is:  ~ My Grandmother's Braised Cabbage and Carrots ~. In this recipe, the raw ingredients are placed in a casserole dish and and put in the oven to braise.  You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 4, 12, 19 or 20.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)


~ Kids' Stuff: Mel's Copycat Wendy's Chili Con Carne ~

IMG_6712Quality time.  Sitting at Wendy's with one, two or all three of our kids for lunch.  When school was out for the Summer, I did that about twice a week.  We'd all get in my car to run errands, drive a short mile to the traffic light that exited our neighborhood and intersected with our town's busiest four-lane main thoroughfare, and there, to the left of that light sat:  Wendy's.  I've always contended its placement was purposeful.  Our Park Forest neighborhood was a well-planned maze of tract houses on tree-lined streets with sidewalks, and, almost every house contained: children.  On our cul-de-sac alone, six of the eight dwellings housed a total of 22 children, and, no matter what street you lived on, unless you were willing to travel in the opposite direction which added 4-5 miles to the trip, no one could escape the neighborhood without passing:  Wendy's.

F52b682e15cf90e54d18c7034905e46dThat meant, every mom or dad with kids in the car, every time they stopped at that light, got asked the same question, "can we eat at Wendy's?"  Most times we sat at a table inside and occasionally we used the drive-thru, but yes, promising my kids they could eat at Wendy's if they behaved themselves and physically helped me do the grocery shopping, etc., worked like a charm.  In terms of fast-food chains, which I am by no means a fan of, I rate Wendy's rather high.  Let's suffice it to say, if, to the left of that traffic light there had been a McDonald's or a Taco Bell instead of a Wendy's, my kids wouldn't have been so fortunate.  Period.

It's worth mention that to this day a large percentage of Wendy's employees are teenage kids from that neighborhood working part-time after-school or Summer jobs.  When he was sixteen years old, that included our youngest son too -- who was their employee of the month once!

Where's the beef?  Etched in American advertising history.

Clarapellar_1_Everyone's familiar with the Wendy's success story.  In 1968, at the age of 35, Dave Thomas sold his KFC restaurants back to Kentucky Fried Chicken and in 1969, fulfilled his lifelong dream by opening his own restaurant in Columbus Ohio:  Wendy's Old-Fashioned Hamburger Restaurant.  Named after his daughter Melinda "Wendy" Thomas, they got immediate attention from the industry because they sold made-to-order square-shaped hamburgers made from fresh, never frozen, beef -- a higher quality product at a competitive price.  They were the first to offer choices for health conscious folks, including salad bars (which came along in 1979).  In 1984, using an elderly actress named Clara Peller, Dave's "Where's the Beef" commercial took America by storm.  After appearing in over 800 Wendy's commercials himself, by 1990 Dave Thomas was a household name.

Wendy's chili:  chocked full of their beef, beans & veggies:

IMG_6659When I was lunching with my boys indoors on those lazy, crazy Summer days back in the 1980's, while they were eating their 'burgers and fries and slurping their chocolate Frosty(s), my meal consisted of the salad bar, a cup of chili and a diet cola.  I'd skip the salad dressing and spoon the chili right atop my heap of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions.  I loved it and I never felt that I was eating something that wasn't healthy.  Wendy's chili was something I genuinely enjoyed.

In the latter 1980's, my mom came across a copycat recipe for Wendy's chili in Women's Day magazine.  Except for the addition of the Tostitos salsa, which I added at the behest of our middle son, the recipe is unchanged.  I won't lie.  I have several recipes for chili in my repertoire, but, this one, kid-tested and mother approved, like Dave Thomas, is a success story.  It pleases everyone.

IMG_67013  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

IMG_65922 cups medium-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup medium-diced green bell pepper

1  cup medium-diced red bell pepper

1  tablespoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon each:  sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper

1  14 1/2-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained

1  15-ounce can tomato sauce

1  15 1/2-ounce jar medium-heat Tostitos salsa (Note:  The original recipe did not call for salsa.  It called for 2, 15-ounce cans tomato sauce.  That choice is yours.)

1  40-ounce can red kidney beans, well-drained (Note:  The original recipe called for 1, 16-ounce can red kidney beans, well-drained, and 1, 16-ounce can pinto beans, well drained. Feel free to make that substitution, however, I personally like the flavor of red kidney beans better, and, in the case of the extra 10-ounces, more is better.)  

1  tablespoon chili powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

2  teaspoons dried Mexican oregano

1/2  teaspoon black pepper 

IMG_6597IMG_6598IMG_6600Step 1.  In a 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot, place  ground beef, onion, bell pepper and garlic powder, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté, using a spatula to break the meat up into bits and pieces, until meat is cooked through and almost no liquid remains in bottom of pot, 15-20 minutes.

IMG_6602IMG_6605IMG_6607Step 2.  Add the undrained diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, drained kidney beans, chili powder, ground cumin, Mexican oregano, salsa and black pepper.  Adjust heat to a steady, gentle simmer, partially cover the pot and continue to cook, 30-45 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside, to steep, 30-45 minutes.  

Note:  If you have the time to make the chili a day ahead and reheat it, it tastes even better.

Where's the beef?  In this chili "con carne".  Chili "w/meat":

IMG_6715Truth.  I've always had a secret love affair w/Wendy's chili:

IMG_6723Kids' Stuff:  Mel's Copycat Wendy's Chili Con Carne:  Recipe yields 4 quarts chili con carne.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; spatula; ladle

IMG_6693Cook's Note: Whether your a fan of the show or not, everyone is a fan of chili mac.  My recently posted recipe for ~ Walking Dead:  It's Chili & Mac 'n Cheese. Together ~, has always been made with my copycat Wendy's chili recipe.  My boys claim it's the best chili mac around!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)


~ Walking Dead: It's Chili & Mac 'n Cheese. Together. ~

IMG_6693On Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead, while scouting around in search of food and guns, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira), fall through a rooftop into a room filled with just that, guns and miscellaneous canned foods and military RTE (ready-to-eat) meals.  Rick goes full-blown romantic on Michonne.  After the obligatory sex, they eat a candlelit feeding-frenzy dinner and Rick presents her with a surprise, and it's not jewelry -- it's one last type of RTE meal. "I've been waiting to show you this one," Rick says, "It's chili. And mac 'n cheese.  Together." The scene wasn't over a moment when I told Joe I was going to write a blog post about chili mac.

IMG_6659Chile Mac:  Retro favorite of the RTE meal & Hamburger Helper.

Hamburger Helper entered the marketplace in 1970, and Chili Macaroni Hamburger Helper entered the marketplace in 1971.  Packaged by General Mills and sold as a part of the Betty Crocker brand line of products, the mascot is a "helping hand" named "Lefty" -- a four-fingered, left-handed, white glove with a face.  In its basic form, each box contains dried pasta and packets of powdered sauce and seasonings.  The contents get combined with browned ground beef and water or milk to create a meal.  Over the course of a short few years other flavors (Lasagna, Bacon Cheeseburger, Philly Cheesesteak, Beef Stroganoff etc.) were added, along with variations like Tuna Helper and Chicken Helper, and, Asian Helper (which contains rice in place of pasta). Others, like Fruit Helper (a dessert product made with canned or fresh fruit) and Pork Helper (pork fried rice and pork chops w/stuffing), were discontinued shortly after their introduction.

DSCF7973Hamburger Helper wasn't an option for me as a little kid.  It wasn't invented until I was 15. Hamburger Helper, although invented, wasn't an option for our three boys either.  I wouldn't allow it.  Mean, mean, me? Mean, mean them.  My kids would brag to me about every one of the great Hamburger Helper-flavored dinners they ate at their friends' houses after school.  They begged me to buy it. That infuriated me, mostly because I made a one-skillet hamburger and pasta dinner for them, mostly from scratch, just like my mom made it for them -- using her quick and easy A7e0c9a2-a041-4e8a-a8da-394e61edaeb2_2.47412931566ce0a4e5bb2914097704dbground beef chili recipe, canned beans and pantry staples, spices, cooked macaroni and grated cheese.  I served it to their friends after school in my kitchen too -- often.  I can only hope those kids went home and bragged to their mothers that I made my own Hamburger Helper from scratch. Mean, mean me.  Sad but true.

Today's recipe hasn't been 'out-of-the box' in at least 25 years.  

IMG_6646Pun intended.  Thank-you Rick Grimes for the inspiration!

Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 8.48.26 AMEven though Hormel has been selling its canned chili since 1935 and Kraft has been selling their boxed macaroni and cheese since 1937, to this day I have never tasted either one.  During the 1960's my mom made her own version of macaroni and cheese on the stovetop for my brother and I who were entering our teen years.  For her mac 'n cheese she used one of two '60's era products:  Cheez-Whiz or Velveeta.  She didn't start making chili until the 70's, when she was a grandmother.  She made it for my sons when they came to visit.  The recipe she used was one she clipped out of a Women's Day magazine -- it was supposed to be a copycat of Wendy's chili (the fast-food chain founded by Dave Williams in 1969) -- she and my dad both love Wendy's chili. Because it is both simple and tasty, hers is the recipe I use to make my chili mac with one addition.  When Tostitos introduced their restaurant-style salsa in 1995, my sons couldn't get enough of it.  At the behest of our middle son, I began adding a jar of Tostitos salsa to the chili.

IMG_6655"It's chili.  And Mac 'n Cheese.  Together."  ~ Rick Grimes

IMG_6592For Mom's Wendy's-Style Chili (Recipe yields 3+ quarts -- use 1 quart today today, freeze 2 quarts  for two more chili mac meals):

2 - 2 1/2  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

1  cup medium-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup medium-diced green or red bell pepper, or a combination of both

2  teaspoons garlic powder

3/4  teaspoon each:  sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

1  15-ounce can tomato sauce

1  15 1/2-ounce jar Tostitos salsa, medium or hot, your choice

1  40-ounce can red kidney beans, well-drained

1  tablespoon chili powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1  teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

1/2  teaspoon black pepper

For Mel's Mom's Wendy's-Style Chili Mac:

1  pound elbow macaroni, cellentani, penne or other tubular pasta

4  tablespoon salted butter, cut into pieces and softened

1  15-ounce jar Kraft Cheez Whiz, softened in the microwave, or, Velveeta, cut into cubes

1  quart chili, from above recipe (4 cups)

IMG_6597 IMG_6598 IMG_6600~ Step 1.  In a 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot, place  ground beef, onion, bell pepper and garlic powder, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté, using a spatula to break the meat up into bits and pieces, until meat is cooked through and almost no liquid remains in bottom of pot, 15-20 minutes.

IMG_6602 IMG_6605 IMG_6607~ Step 2.  Add the undrained diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, drained kidney beans, chili powder, ground cumin, Mexican oregano, salsa and black pepper.  Adjust heat to a steady, gentle simmer, partially cover the pot and continue to cook, 30-45 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside, to steep, 30-45 minutes.  

Note:  If you have the time to make the chili a day ahead and reheat it, it tastes even better.  Yum.

IMG_6613 IMG_6622 IMG_6626 IMG_6628 IMG_6642 IMG_6652 IMG_6656~Step 3.  While the chili is steeping, in an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil, add 1 tablespoon salt to the water and add the pasta.  Cook, as the package directs, until al dente.  Drain the pasta into a colander and immediately add it to the the still hot stockpot and return the stockpot to the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter pieces and Cheez-Whiz or Velveeta cubes and stir or toss until cheese is melted.  Ladle 1-quart/4cups of the chili into the pasta, stir, and serve.

Winner, Winner Chili Mac Dinner:

IMG_6662Chile Mac.  Perhaps as great as a retro recipe can get.

IMG_6668Walking Dead:  It's Chili & Mac 'n Cheese.  Together.:  Recipe yields 3+ quarts, enough for 3 chili mac meals, 6-8 servings of chili mac per meal.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; spatula; ladle; 8-quart stockpot; colander; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b017c34d41d3e970bCook's Note:  Please don't confuse chili mac with ~ Cincinnati Chili: My Holiday Bowl Game Tradition ~.  In 1922, two Northern Greek immigrant brothers, Tom and John Kiradjieff, opened a small Greek restaurant in Cincinnati called "The Empress". The restaurant struggled until they began serving chili made with spices common to their culture, which was ladled over a mound of spaghetti, and called: "spaghetti chili".  They soon began serving it with a variety of toppings, or, "five 6a0120a8551282970b017d3f030e4a970cways".  When ordering Cincinnati chili, here is the protocol:

~ chili only ("one-way")

~ a mound of spaghetti topped with chili ("two-way")

~ spaghetti topped with chili and lots of shredded yellow cheese ("three-way")

~ spaghetti, chili, cheese and diced onions ("four-way")

~ spaghetti, chili, cheese, diced onions and separately cooked kidney beans ("five way").

Another popular way to serve it is called the "cheese Coney".  This consists of chili ladled onto a hot dog (in a steamed bun) and topped with cheese (topped with diced onion and/or mustard)!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017) 


~ Irish Eyes are Smilin' on Mary's Irish Soda Bread ~

IMG_6538My Irish soda bread recipe was given to me 20-25 years ago by my close friend Mary.  Mary Teresa Howe and her husband Joe hailed from Buffalo, NY, then moved to and raised their family here in Happy Valley, PA.  For almost two decades, my husband Joe and I had the pleasure of sharing many good times with them.  From football tailgates to holiday cocktail parties and all sorts of family celebrations, the Howe's enjoyed entertaining and being entertained.

Mary and Joe were of proud Irish heritage and every year on St. Patrick's Day, all of us in their inner circle enjoyed being Irish too.  No matter where or how we celebrated, Mary's Irish soda bread was always on the menu, even if Mary didn't make it.  Why?  Because every one of us had Mary's recipe, which was passed down from her mother via her grandmother.  One couldn't taste this soda bread and not ask for the recipe.  I asked for it the first time I tasted it -- at an elegant sit-down Sunday brunch, with my husband and parents, in Mary and Joe's dining room.  

"May the road rise to meet you and the wind be always at your back.  May the sun shine warm upon your face, and, may the rain fall soft upon your fields.  Until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand." ~ An Old Irish Toast

IMG_6532A bit about Ireland's three traditional soda breads:

These traditional breads "came to be" as a result of the country's limited ingredients and economic hardships.  The climate supported the growth of soft wheat, which didn't work well in yeast breads, so, out of necessity, the soft wheat was mixed with buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) to leaven the dough.  Baking soda, when mixed with buttermilk, which contains lactic acid, acts as a rising agent.  The round-shaped, rustic-looking loaves were originally hearth baked, either free form on a griddle (a baking pan) or in a pot oven (a lightly-greased baking dish), at a high temperature.  In essence, soda bread is indeed an easy, quick and inexpensive method of basic bread baking with an absolutely delicious end result.

IMG_6543White, brown and currant.  White soda bread simply means the bread is prepared using white or unbleached all-purpose wheat flour. Brown soda bread means whole wheat or stone-ground wheat flour has been used exclusively, or, has been mixed with some of the white or unbleached flour.  Currant soda bread, which is my personal favorite, is white soda bread that has dried fruit, and/or raisins or currants added to it.  Mary always referred to currant soda bread as "spotted dog".  It was traditionally served with butter and jam for breakfast on special occasions or holidays because: dried fruits, raisins and currants were special treats that were hard to come by.

A bit about the signature cross on top & soda bread tips:

Just before going into the oven, soda bread is always marked with deep cross on the top. Depending on the recipe and how sticky the dough is, after baking, some crosses are distinctly more visible than others, but, trust me, everyone marks the bread.  Lore has it the cross is to ward off evil and release good fairies.  Culinarily, the cross allows for better air circulation, enabling the bread to get the best rise in the oven.  The key to making any type of soda bread is to work as fast as you can, doing as little as possible to the dough.  Unlike yeast breads, kneading is virtually unnecessary and the dough itself should reman a wet, sticky, ragged mess right up until the moment it goes into the oven -- a hard concept for us non-Gaelic gourmets to grasp.  As per Mary, "Don't linger and don't overwork the dough.  Mix it and keep it a sticky mess. If the dough isn't sticking to your hand and fingertips, you've added too much flour and the loaf will be dry."

What about recipes containing eggs, baking powder, vegetable shortening or yeast?  They're out there, &, they are delicious, but they are not traditional Irish soda bread.

IMG_64822  pounds unbleached, all-purpose flour, weighed not measured, plus 6-8 additional tablespoons

2  tablespoons sugar

4  teaspoons firmly-packed baking soda

2  teaspoons salt

4  tablespoons salted butter, cut into small pieces and kept cold

1  quart buttermilk, whole is best, but 1%- 2% will work

1  15-ounce box golden raisins

IMG_6484 IMG_6489 IMG_6495~ Step 1.  Place the raisins in a medium-sized mixing bowl and add all of the buttermilk to the bowl.  Set aside for 30-60 minutes.  Note:  You can skip this "soaking" step, but this will indeed soften and plump the raisins a bit.

IMG_6500 IMG_6497 IMG_6504~ Step 2.  In a large mixing bowl, briefly stir together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt.  Add the cold butter pieces, and, using a pastry blender and a paring knife, quickly "cut" the butter pieces into the dry ingredients, until evenly dispersed throughout flour mixture.  This process should take less than 1 minute.

IMG_6507 IMG_6510~ Step 3.  Using a large spoon or spatula, form a large well in the the center of the flour mixture.  Do your best to make it large enough to hold all of the buttermilk/raisin mixture.  Using the same spoon or spatula, working as quickly as you can, gradually incorporate/fold the dry ingredients in the liquid center.  A wet dough that resembles a very thick oatmeal will form.  Again, this entire process should take less than 1 minute.

IMG_6515 IMG_6517~ Step 4.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the additional flour over top of the dough.  Using the heel of your hand, begin gathering and pushing down on the dough, giving the bowl a quarter turn each time you gather and push.  Continue process of adding flour, just until you can manageably pull and split the still sticky and ragged dough into two equal parts and lift each one from bowl.  Don't overwork it.  This too should take less than 1 minute.

IMG_6519 IMG_6521 IMG_6526~ Step 5.  Form each dough half into a rough looking round loaf.  Place them well apart on a large, parchment-lined baking pan, or, in 2, 9" round, parchment-lined pie dishes.  I prefer the pie dishes, but, there is no wrong decision here.  Using a very sharp knife, slash a deep X, about 3/4" into the top of each loaf.

IMG_6535~ Step 8.  Bake on center rack of preheated 400° oven, 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350° and continue to bake an additional 20-22 minutes.  The bread will be quite brown, crusty, and, have a hollow sound when tapped with your knuckle.  Remove the bread from the oven and allow the loaves to rest, on a rack on the pan or in the dishes, 10 minutes, prior to transferring to the rack to cool completely. Cool for at least 1 hour prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.

No matter how you slice it, Mary's bread is just as it should be:

IMG_6553A cripsy crust on outside w/a chewy & moist center.

IMG_6578Irish Eyes are Smilin' on Mary's Irish Soda Bread:  Recipe yields 2, 10"-round loaves and 16-20 slices each loaf. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; pastry blender; large spoon or spatula; 2, 9" round pie plates or 1, 17 1/2" x 11 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; chef's knife

IMG_4496Cook's Note:  Doesn't this photo look succulent?  It is, and, I made it in the crockpot too!  To get my recipe for ~ Another Crockpot Corned Beef & Cabbage Recipe ~, just enter "Corned Beef & Cabbage" as Search words, or, click into Categories, 2, 9, 11, 19 or 20.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/2017)


~ Happy at Last: Crispy Deep-Fried Hashed Browns ~

IMG_6467Has anyone ever met a plate of hashed browns they didn't like?  Quite frankly, I've never met anyone, when faced with a plate of these crisply-fried, golden-brown potato morsels, who is ambivalent about them.  In fact, my encounters with hash browns in homes and eateries reveal: One can never make enough.  Folks eat them first and they eat them all.  Therein lies the problem for home cooks.  How to make a decent-sized quantity of these potatoes, per person, in a timely manner without compromising their signature restaurant-quality crispy texture.

IMG_6448"Hash" is derived from the French "hacher" meaning "to chop".

Hashed brown potatoes are personal.  They mean different things to different people. It revolves around how the potatoes are prepped:  shredded, cubed, julienned or riced.  I prefer the prettier--to-look-at fork-friendly cubes to the semi-stuck together others.  Perhaps that's because I prefer the task of cubing potatoes to the others.  Perhaps it's because when my mother made potato pancakes, she shredded the potatoes, when she made French fries she julienned them, when she made home fries, the potatoes were cut into thin, round slices, and, when she riced potatoes, that meant potato cakes were showing up on the dinner table.  Last but not least, when mom made hashed browns or potatoes for corned beef hash, she cubed the potatoes. That was that. I'm guilty as charged:  a culinary creature of habit who does it the way I was taught.

Restaurants with large flat top griddles have a big advantage over the home cook in that the large flat surface gives the potatoes all the room they need to spread out in a single layer, which allows the moisture to evaporate from them very quickly.  This, plus the minimal amount of butter and/or oil needed on this surface, renders them crispy on the outside with a fluffy, creamy inside. I'm not going to lie -- this type of perfection is hard to duplicate in a skillet in the time kitchen.

PICT5244My decision to move my cubed potatoes for hashed browns from the skillet to the deep-fryer was an easy one.  I had guests coming for a relaxing Sunday brunch -- three couples that had traveled to Happy Valley the previous day for a Penn State football game.  My game plan was to serve made-to-order omelettes, sausage links and bacon strips, and, hashed brown potatoes. The egg mixture for the omelettes was whisked together, my omelette filling options were ready, and, the sausage links and bacon strips were staying warm in the oven.  I was cubing my potatoes for the hashed browns, when my husband Joe walked into the kitchen.

"Why don't I just deep-fry those for you and make twice as many in half the time?" ~ Joe

IMG_6424My husband deep-fries a lot of things for me and he is very good at it.  We refer to ourselves as "fearless fryers".  Truth be told, I use my deep-fryer more than I use my crock pot.  In the case of too many appetizers and snacks to mention,  if they're not deep-fried, the end result is compromised.  That said, I long ago gave up deep-frying in a pot of oil with a candy thermometer clipped to it on the stovetop.  The relatively inexpensive investment in a countertop deep-fryer was a wise one.  It controls the temperature, and, there's no smell, stress or mess either.

"Will deep-fried hashed browns still be hashed browns?  Oh heck, give it a try."  ~ Mel

IMG_6430Over the years I'd read every word the experts had to say about making hashed brown potatoes. I learned a lot from giving many of their tips a try.  I made hashed browns with gold, red and Russet potatoes.  Sometimes I peeled the potatoes, sometimes I didn't.  I soaked potatoes in cold water, squeezed excess water out of potatoes, and, pre-cooked potatoes via par-boiling and microwaving.  I dabbled in using bacon fat, duck fat, clarified butter, butter and/or extra-virgin olive oil with an occasional splash of truffle oil.  Sometimes I added onions or caramelized onions.  All versions were good, some were better than others -- none were a disappointment.

I rarely experiment on my guests, but, the end result was a great success.

IMG_6436The end result was a success.  In the time it took me to make two omelettes in two pans, about 5-6 minutes each, two servings of potatoes cooked to perfection in 12 minutes.  I savored the freedom of not having to babysit a third skillet.  Instead, my potatoes swam happily in the oil and emerged evenly browned, crispy and golden on the outside and creamy on the inside. Because they were not double-fried (like classic French fries), they really were the texture of hashed browns.  I did indeed make twice as many in half the time, and, they were fresh out of the fryer just as my omelettes were coming off the stovetop.  My guests ate them all without a question.  

To soak or not to soak:  On that particular morning, the potatoes did soak in a bowl full of cold water for 15-20 minutes, as I wanted them prepped before my guests arrived, but, even that is not necessary.  On any given day for just Joe and I, I simply cube and fry without any soak at all.

IMG_6409 IMG_6413 IMG_6424~ Step 1.  For every two servings, peel & 1/2" dice 1 pound gold potatoes. Golds are my favorite. Use what you like best.

IMG_6430 IMG_6436 IMG_6438~ Step 2.  Preheat corn or peanut oil in a deep-fryer to 365°-375°.  Add 1 pound of cubed potatoes to the fryer basket.  Close the lid, set the timer and fry for 12-14 minutes, until gloriously golden to your liking.  The timing will vary as per your deep-fryer and the type of potatoes you choose to use.  Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and sprinkle IMMEDIATELY with freshly-ground sea salt.

Two half pound servings of hashed browns comin' right up!

IMG_6464Happiness:  Deep-Fried Hashed Brown Potato Cubes:  Recipe yields instructions to make 2, 8-ounce servings of hashed browns at a time in 12 minutes with no stress and no mess.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; deep-fryer; paper towels

IMG_3779Cook's Note:  Making authentic French fries is an art.  To learn how I do it, read my post ~ Do You Want (Perfect "French") Fries with That? ~.  Enter the search words "French fries" or click into Categories 2, 4, 15, 20 or 21.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017) 


~ For those times when you just gotta have: Frittata ~

IMG_6383Breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or late night snack, a frittata is a relatively-easy quick-to-make, hunger-satisfying meal.  It tastes great served hot, warm, at room temperature or cold, and, leftovers reheat beautifully in the microwave, which make it perfect for those who brown bag lunch.  A bit of slicing, dicing or chopping is typically required, but it's minimal, and, since frittata can be a tasty way to use up yummy leftovers, there are times when no knife is necessary.

IMG_6402As per my Italian girlfriend Eileen, her mom and grandmother made frittata to stretch leftovers -- to turn them into a family-friendly meal. There was no set recipe, and, sometimes it resembled a big mess that tasted really good.  "Hai fatto una frittata", loosely translates to "something like a mess", "you've made quite a mess", or "something a bit crazy". She went on to explain that while frittata was never a formal meal that would be served to guests, in their community, meatless versions were regularly served for dinner during lent.

Learning to make a frittata is a valuable culinary lifeskill.

Commonly referred to as "the Italian version of an omelette", a frittata is a concoction of whisked eggs and cream, sliced, diced or chopped previously-cooked vegetables, meat or seafood and/or grated cheese.  I prefer to compare it to a custard-like quiche without a crust rather than an omelette because, like a quiche, a frittata is traditionally round and rather thick -- not at all elongated and comparatively flat (like the French and American omelettes I've encountered).  There's more.  I think of an omelette as something that goes from stovetop to table in a few short moments -- that's not the case with a frittata, which takes 30+ minutes.

IMG_6345Start it on the stovetop in a oven-safe skillet & finish it in the oven, or:

assemble the ingredients in a casserole & bake it in the oven. 

IMG_6358The egg mixture is poured into the same oven-safe skillet (usually cast-iron), the vegetables and or meats have been cooked or placed in.  The Frittata is started on the stovetop for a few moments, just long enough to allow the bottom of the mixture to solidify a bit, then finished in a moderate oven for 30-45 minutes depending on its size and the recipe.  That said, a frittata can be prepared in the skillet entirely on the stovetop, or, in a casserole entirely in the oven (usually to make a large-size frittata).  Frittata can be served directly from the pan, but, family-friendly-sized frittata is often inverted onto a platter, to reveal its golden crust, then sliced into wedges.

IMG_6362Add vegetables or a combination of vegetables, as long as they are cooked first.

Sautéed vegetables or a medley of vegetables, any kind you like, can be added, as long as they are cooked in some manner first.  Why?  Vegetables, particularly those that contain lots of liquid, unless cooked first, will render the frittata watery.  Root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, won't fully-cook if not given a head start on the stovetop.  Onions and/or garlic are almost always added. Other options include asparagus, broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, peas, and/or mushrooms.  They all work great.  Extremely watery vegetables, like tomatoes, summer squash and and zucchini work well too, but the extra step of seeding prior to sautéing is recommended.

Add previously cooked & diced or shredded meats or seafood too. 

When it comes to meat or seafood, the same rules apply:  if it's cooked first it can be added. Leftover diced porcine, like ham or sausage crumbles, along with crispy-fried bacon bits are my three meaty favorites, and, crab meat or shrimp, or both, are divine.  My teenage boys liked frittata made with diced salami or pepperoni as a late night snack.   That said, if you like to eat steak with your eggs, by all means, throw in slivers of that leftover roasted or grilled red meat. Feel free to disagree, but, for my taste, poultry has no place in a frittata -- there is just something about chicken or turkey in an egg dish like this that I find unappealing (save it for a sandwich).

With a formula, a frittata can be made for two, a few or a crew.

IMG_6287The Italian word "frittata" derives from the word "friggere", which roughly means "fried".  This is why frittata is traditionally associated with a skillet, namely a cast-iron skillet.  If a casserole dish is more convenient, by all means use one -- simply season and sauté your fillings ingredients in a skillet, and toss them into the bottom of a casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick spray, add the whisked egg and cream mixture and bake as directed.   To make three sizes of frittata in either an oven-safe, deep-sized cast-iron skillet or in a casserole, measure as follows:

10" cast-iron skillet or 3-qt. casserole = 12 ex.-large eggs, 1 cup cream, 6 cups filling*

8" cast-iron skillet or 2-qt. casserole = 9 ex.-large eggs, 3/4 cup cream 4 1/2 cups filling*

6" cast-iron skillet or 1 1/2-qt. casserole = 6 ex.-large eggs, 1/2  cup cream 3 cups filling*

*I don't include grated melting cheese (American, cheddar, gruyère, fontina or mozzarella) or crispy-fried bacon bits in the filling total because neither adds a lot of overall volume.  Add 1 cup, 3/4 cup or 1/2 cup cheese, &/or, 1/2 cup, 1/4 cup or 2 tablespoons bacon bits.

Bake @ 325º:  6" skillet/20 min.; 8" skillet/25 min.; 10" skillet/30 min.

Add 6-8 minutes extra baking time for any frittata baked in a casserole dish.  Why?  A frittata started in the skillet is hot -- a frittata assembled in the casserole is not. 

IMG_6400Tips from Mel:  You can substitute half and half or whole milk, but anything less than full-fat dairy renders a rubbery rather than an unctuous frittata.  The worst mistake to make is to overbake a frittata.  If it's deep-golden on top, it's over-cooked in the center.  It should light in color and barely set, so, be sure to check it often during the cooking process.  Season your filling ingredients appropriately when sautéing them, to taste, with salt, pepper and/or herbs or spices. The same goes for the egg mixture:  whisk in the salt and pepper before pouring it into the skillet or casserole. Adding cheese?  Choose one with a good melting quality.  Aged cheeses, like Parmesan or Pecorino, which add sharp, salty flavor, don't melt great, but work nicely grated over the top of the finished frittata.  Never stir the frittata after the egg mixture has been added.

For three sizes of my Italian Sausage, Peppers 'n Onion Frittata:

IMG_62912, 1 1/2 or 1  cup diced, previously cooked meat or seafood (Note:  In the case of  hot or sweet Italian sausage, start with 16-, 12-, or 8- ounces, prior to sautéing.)

1, 3/4 or 1/2  cup diced sweet onion

3, 2 1/4 or 1 1/2   cups diced, cooked vegetables or a combination of vegetables, your choice (Note: I'm using green bell pepper, red bell pepper and mushrooms today.

sea salt and coarsely-ground black pepper, for lightly seasoning vegetables 

1, 3/4 or 1/2  cup grated melting cheese (Note:  I'm using yellow cheddar today.)

12, 9 or 6  extra-large eggs

1, 3/4 or 1/2  cup cream

3/4, 1/2, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and coarsely-ground black pepper, for seasoning egg mixture

diced grape tomatoes, for garnishing frittata

minced parsley, for ganishing frittata

finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnishing frittata

IMG_6295 IMG_6299 IMG_6302~ Step 1.  Using an old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater, whisk the eggs, cream, salt and pepper together.  Set aside.

IMG_6307 IMG_6311 IMG_6313 IMG_6316~Step 2.  Place the sausage in an appropriately sized skillet over medium-high heat.  Sauté, using the side of a spatula to break the meat into small bits and pieces, until cooked through, about 6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the sausage from the skillet to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain, allowing the flavorful drippings to remain in skillet.

IMG_6318 IMG_6321 IMG_6324 IMG_6325 IMG_6328 IMG_6329~Step 3.  Adjust heat on stovetop to medium.  Add the  onion, bell peppers and mushrooms.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Using the spatula to stir almost constantly, sauté until vegetables have lost about half of their volume and are just starting to show signs of browning (which means they are becoming very flavorful), about 6 minutes. Adjust heat to low.  Add and stir in the sausage, then sprinkle the grated cheese over the top.

IMG_6332 IMG_6335~ Step 4.  Drizzle in egg mixture and allow to cook on low for 2 minutes.  Do not stir.  Place in 325° oven to bake, until puffy and very lightly brown, about 20 minutes for a 6" skillet, 25 minutes for an 8" skillet and 30 minutes in a 12" skillet.

Inverted or not, cool in skillet about 15 minutes prior to slicing:

IMG_6376For those Times When You Just Gotta Frittata:  Recipe yields instructions to make 3 sizes of frittata.  In frittata language, each egg used = 1 serving.  In my kitchen:  12 egg frittata = 10-12 servings.  9 egg frittata = 6-8 servings.  6 egg frittata = 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 2-cup measuring container; old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater (optional); appropriately sized oven-safe skillet or casserole of choice; spatula; large slotted spoon; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01a5118fde1c970cCook's Note:  For a variation on the today's eggy theme, one of my family's favorite dinners is my recipe for ~ An End of Winter Ricotta & Spinach 'Pizza' Quiche ~.  You can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 2, 3, 12, 14, 19 or 20.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)


~ Pizza alla Puttanesca with Puddles of Mozzarella ~

IMG_6240Gutsy-flavored puttanesca and marinara sauce have always been my two favorite pasta sauces. They are both relatively quick-to-make and they freeze great, so, I always have them on hand. There's more.  When these two pasta sauces are allowed to simmer a bit longer than usual, until they reduce and get extra thick, both become my two favorite pizza sauces.  Marinara-based pizza sauce is my all-purpose pizza sauce because it plays well with all sorts of cheese and topping combos.  In the case of puttanesca-based pizza sauce, it is the star topping.  A homemade crust, puttanesca sauce and two-types of mozzarella cheese -- that's it.  Period.

Pizza gets made once a week in our household.  Usually Friday, sometimes Sunday.  Over the years, I've developed a few types of dough to make several types of pizza:  Neapolitan-, Sicilian, Chicago-, and St. Louis- style (to name four).  I also came up with an all-purpose dough to make short work of some uniquely-topped creations:  Philadelphia cheesesteak pizza, Buffalo chicken pizza, Pizz' alads, and, Puttanesca pizza.  The ingredients for the dough knead and rise in the bread machine in 55 minutes.  In the meantime, I simply prepare the topping du jour.  

Part 1:  Making My A-1 All-Purpose Bread-Machine Pizza Dough

This is my easy, all-purpose pizza dough -- although it wasn't easy for me to come up with it, as it took several rounds of experimentation.  Like my other 'za dough recipes, this one had to meet my requirements for this type of pizza.  What I wanted from this dough was a high-quality, quick-and-easy time-saving New York-Style pizza dough for those times when I want/need this popular type of pizza in a relative hurry with no worry -- if you have teenage kids, you know what I'm talking about.   Depending upon how large you want the pie, you can make it thicker, thinner, or somewhere in between.  It can be round or square and it can be baked in a pan or on a stone too.  It's versatile.  It is, simply put, a great all-purpose pizza dough for novice pizza makers and busy folks who want to skip pizza delivery, or worse, that horrible store-bought pizza dough.  

IMG_6209Thanks to the combination of all-purpose and high-gluten "00" flour, plus the addition of just the right amount of semolina flour to give it a bit of resilient chew, it turns out two crispy-bottomed pies with tender chewy centers -- it's pliable enough to hold and fold each slice in half too!

IMG_6458For the pizza dough:

1  cup warm water

1  tablespoon olive oil

1  teaspoon sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  cup all-purpose flour

1  cup "00" flour

1/2 cup semolina flour

1  packet granulated yeast, not rapid-rise yeast

IMG_6462IMG_6464                                      ~ Step 1Place the water, olive oil, sugar and sea salt in the the bread pan of the bread machine.

IMG_6472Add the all-purpose flour, "00 flour" and semolina. Using your index finger, make a well in the top of the flour and add the yeast to it.  Note:  When making any type of bread machine dough, always add the wet ingredients first and the dry ingredients last.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d16e1e61970cStep 2.  Insert the bread pan into the machine.  Close the lid and push the "select" button.  Then choose the "pizza dough" cycle. Push the "start" button.  While the machine is running, ready your kitchen scale and pastry board.

IMG_6481When the machine signals, remove pan of fully-risen dough from the machine.  In my machine this takes 55 minutes.

(During this 55 minutes, prepare the puttanesca pizza sauce as directed below.)

IMG_6492IMG_6483Step 3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured pastry board and briefly knead it into a smooth ball.

IMG_6488Place the ball of dough on a kitchen scale.  You will have 20-21 ounces.  Divide in half and form dough into 2, 10-10 1/2-ounce balls.

IMG_6683Step 4.  Using a paper towel, oil 2, 12" round pizza pans or 2, 12" x 9" rectangular pans with about 2 tablespoons olive oil on each pan. Place one ball of dough on each pan and allow to rest, about 10-15 IMG_6687minutes -- to give the gluten time to relax.  Thirty minutes is ok too.

Note:  For demonstration purposes, I'm make one round and one square pizza today, and, I'm not using fancy, expensive pans either.

IMG_6695Step 5.  Pat and press dough evenly across bottoms and evenly up sides of pans. I do this in 3 parts taking 15-20 minutes, allowing dough to rest 5 minutes each time before patting and pressing again.

IMG_6182Step 6.  To top each of two puttanesca pizzas, on each crust, place8 slices deli-style mozzarella cheese.  Add and spread 1 1/4 cups puttanesca pizza sauce (recipe below) over the top of the mozzarella. Arrange 8 ounces small, fresh mozzarella balls (that have been sliced in half), or, pieces of sliced fresh mozzarella over top. Lightly sprinkle dried oregano over tops.

IMG_6190Step 7.  At this point, pizzas can be baked, one-at-a-time on center rack of  a 375 degree oven that has been heated with a pizza stone in it, or, you can let them rise in the pans for 1 to 2 hours prior to baking, which, if you have the time, is worth the wait. This allows you to assemble the pizzas ahead, which is really nice, and, it allows the crust to rise a second time, rendering it nice and airy, which is nicer.

IMG_6201Step 8.  Place each pan of pizza on pizza stone for 6-8 minutes. Using a spatula, lift a corner of the pie up and using your other hand (via a pot holder or mitt), tilt pan and slide pie off the pan onto the stone. Continue to bake for 6-7 more minutes, for a total of 12-15 minutes baking time.  Crust will be lightly-brown and cheese will be molten. Using a pizza peel, transfer pizza to a rack to cool for 3-5 minutes, to allow the cheese to set up a bit, prior to slicing and serving.

Part 2:  Making My "Star Topping" Puttanesca Pizza Sauce

Garlic, onion, capers, anchovies, olives, red pepper & oregano!

IMG_60931/4  cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup medium-diced yellow or sweet onion

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon cracked black pepper

2  2-ounce cans anchovy fillets, packed in oil, well-drained & diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2  tablespoons tomato paste

1  teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1/4  cup large non-pareil capers

1 cup sliced or chopped pitted black olives

1  teaspoon sugar

1  tablespoon minced, fresh oregano leaves

zest of 1/2-3/4 lemon for adding to sauce + the additional zest for garnishing finished pizza

IMG_6095IMG_6096IMG_6098IMG_6101IMG_6104IMG_6108~Step 1.  Heat olive oil in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add onion, salt and black pepper.  Adjust heat to gently sauté, until the onion is soft, stirring frequently, about 6 minutes.  Add anchovy fillets and garlic.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until anchovies have disappeared into mixture and garlic is soft, about 3 minutes.  Add and stir the tomato paste and red pepper flakes into the mix.  Cook for 1 more minute.  Add the crushed tomatoes, capers, black olives and sugar.

IMG_6111IMG_6113Step 2.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially cover the pot and continue to cook until thickened and pizza saucelike, about 15 minutes. Stir in the oregano and lemon zest and continue to cook an additional 5 minutes.  Yield:  6 cups.

Puttanesca pizza.  From first gutsy-flavored slice...

IMG_6249... to last gutsy-flavored last bite.  You get the picture:

IMG_6277Pizza alla Puttanesca with Puddles of Mozzarella:  Recipe yields 2 pizzas, and, 5 cups puttanesca pizza sauce, enough to sauce 4 pizzas. 

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; bread machine; kitchen scale (optional); 2, 12"-round pizza pans or 2, "13" x 9" baking pans (or one of each); paper towel; pizza stone; large metal spatula; pizza peel; large cooling rack; cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan

IMG_6123Cook's Note:  Puttanesca sauce: Called "sugo" alla puttanesca, meaning, "sauce" in the stye of a prostitute.  The word "puttanesca" derives from the Italian word "puttana", meaning "whore".  Puttana comes from the Latin word "putina", meaning "stinking". Whether truth or myth, research revealed three stories that, when referencing "whores" and "stinking", most couldn't resist mentioning: 1) Puttanesca was a cheap dish "working girls" could cook from the cupboard between "customers".  2) When referencing "stinking", the sauce's strong aroma would lure men from the streets into houses of ill repute.  3)  The dish was served to men awaiting their turn.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)