Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 02/2010

« April 2018 | Main | June 2018 »

7 posts from May 2018

05/31/2018

~ Chinese-American Restaurant-Style Pepper Steak ~

IMG_8491A few days ago, one of my Facebook friends posted a photo of her dinner, Chinese pepper-steak, and, for a few days, just like that song that gets stuck in your head, I walked around wishing everything I ate was pepper steak.  As a kid in the 1960's, it was one of the first Chinese-American restaurant dishes I was introduced to, and, as a young bride in the mid 70's, it was the first Chinese-American dish I made in my own kitchen.  By the time the '80's rolled around, I had three boys in elementary school, and, pepper-steak was in our meal rotation several times a year.

#1.  Chinese-American pepper-steak = thinly-sliced beef steak, bell peppers & onion tossed in a pepper & soy-sauce-based stir-fry sauce.

Pepper-steak* features very thin strips of beef steak cooked with sliced green and/or red bell pepper and onion, seasoned with garlic, ginger, pepper and soy sauce -- more pepper than traditionally used in other Chinese dishes.  Bean sprouts and/or water chestnuts are common additions. The soy-sauce-based stir-fry sauce is thickened with cornstarch, and, the consistency of the finished dish, lightly-sauced to slightly-soupy, is determined by whether the pepper-steak will be served atop rice or noodles (which are, by design, there to absorb the excess sauce).

The dish originated in the Fujian Province in China where it was made with lightly-seasoned, readily-available, inexpensive pork -- in China, quality beef is a luxury for the working class. Americans began making the dish when soldiers began returning home from World War II (research reveals at least as early as 1948).  Due to the public's overwhelming dissatisfaction with the wartime rationing of red meat, the transition from pork to beef was almost immediate -- red meat in the USA was considered the prime source of energy for the working man, and, its mere presence on a dinner plate with a starch and a vegetable, the definition of a proper meal.

#2.  Chinese tomato-beef = thinly-sliced beef steak, fresh tomato, bell peppers & onion in a tomato & soy-sauce-based stir-fry sauce. 

*Note:  Any recipe for Chinese-American restaurant-style pepper-steak is effortlessly turned into Chinese-American beef with broccoli (by substituting broccoli florets for bell peppers), but neither should be confused with Chinese tomato-beef, a recipe similar to pepper-steak (containing bell peppers and onion) that includes fresh tomato and a tomato product, usually ketchup, in the stir-fry sauce mixture.  Tomatoes aren't native to China, but, the Chinese fell in love with them, and, Americans embraced China's tomato-containing dishes.  Tomato-beef = a signature example. 

IMG_8399 IMG_6400The 1972 Edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook was gifted to me at my bridal shower in 1974. The recipes can be considered basic, and relatively quick and easy, but, the most important thing to know is:  the recipes work -- a big motivating factor to a young cook.  Nowadays, it is my starting point for many now-retro recipes.  Their recipe for pepper-steak (p. 295), with minor changes over time, remained my go-to recipe for several years.  Then:

^^^ In 1987, Executive Chef Henry Haller, the chef at the White House for first families Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Regan, published The White House Family Cookbook, featuring favorite family meals and reminiscences from each of the five President's he served at the pleasure of. 

One menu, from a surprise Valentine's Day party Betty Ford hosted for her POTUS husband (who had been a Naval officer stationed in the Asiatic-Pacific during World War II), included her take on Chinese-American pepper-steak (p. 207).  Mrs. Ford's steak struck such a chord with public, the White House printed it on White House stationery, in order to meet the volume of requests.

IMG_8489Betty Ford's Pepper-Steak (mostly a la Melanie):

In the White house, Mrs. Ford's version was prepared with 2-2 1/2-pounds beef tenderloin/filet mignon, @ $15-$20 per pound, a costly $$40.00-$50.00.  That's AOK and definitely superbly-wonderful (and I'd use tenderloin in a heartbeat for a fancy-schmancy special occasion with an Asian theme), but, for my family's weeknight dinner table, @ $3.50-ish per pound, a properly-sliced $7.00-$8.00, 2-2 1/2-pound flank steak will do just fine.  There's more.  Mrs. Ford's recipe surprisingly did not contain any ginger, so I added it for her.  She, oddly, used dry sherry, which, for authenticity sake, I substituted equal amounts Chinese rice wine and Chinese rice vinegar for. I tripled the amount of soy sauce and added the water chestnuts too.  Haha.  Carry on.

IMG_8409For the steak and bell pepper stir-fry:

2-2 1/2 pounds flank steak

1  tablespoon garlic paste

2  tablespoons ginger paste

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground peppercorn blend (120 grinds)

1/2  cup stir-fry sauce, to use as marinade, from recipe below

3/4  cup thinly-sliced scallions, white and light green parts only

2-3  tablespoons sesame oil

1 1/2  cups  julienne of green bell pepper (1 large bell pepper)

1 1/2  cups julienne of red bell pepper (1 large bell pepper)

1  8-ounce can water chestnuts, well-drained (about 3/4 cup)

steamed white rice, for accompaniment

IMG_8403For the stir-fry sauce:

1/2  cup high-quality unsalted vegetable stock

6  tablespoons soy sauce

2  tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar

2  tablespoons  Chinese rice wine

2  tablespoons sugar

2  tablespoons firmly-packed cornstarch

IMG_8406In a 1-cup measuring container, stir all ingredients.

IMG_8410 IMG_8410 IMG_8410 IMG_8424~Step 1.  Using a large chef's knife, cut the flank steak, with the grain, in half lengthwise.  Holding the knife at a 30° angle, cut both halves, with the grain, into very thin, 1/8"-1/4" strips.  

IMG_8435 IMG_8435 IMG_8435~ Step 2.  Place the beef strips in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Add the garlic paste, ginger paste and coarsely-ground peppercorn blend.  Give the stir-fry sauce a thorough stir and add 1/2 cup of it to the bag of sliced steak.  Seal the bag and squish the meat around until thoroughly coated in the sauce.  Set aside to marinate*, 30-60 minutes at room temperature, or, 8-12 hours/overnight in the refrigerator.

Note:  A common misconception is:  to marinate is to tenderize.  It doesn't work that way.  In the food world, marinades for proteins act as flavorizers, not as tenderizers, meaning:  the longer you marinate, the more flavor will be infused into the beef.  If you are pressed for time, even 15-minutes will go a long way to flavoring the finished dish.  Moral of the story:  The tenderness of the protein being cooked is dependent entirely upon knowing the proper cooking method.

IMG_8441 IMG_8441 IMG_8441 IMG_8441 IMG_8441~Step 3.  In a 12" nonstick wok, stir-fry pan or skillet, heat the oil over medium-high -- just enough to coat bottom and/or sides of pan you're using.  Add the steak, along with all of its marinade and the scallions. Using a large slotted-spatula, stir-fry/sauté the beef strips until lightly-browned around their edges and a bit pink-tinged towards their centers, about 2 1/2-3 minutes maximum.  Use the slotted spatula to transfer steak to a medium-large bowl, allowing all of the excess juices to drizzle back into the skillet.  Do not overcook the steak.

IMG_8455 IMG_8455 IMG_8455 IMG_8455 IMG_8455~Step 4.  Add the bell pepper strips to the beef drippings remaining in skillet.  Stir-fry/sauté until crunch-tender and still brightly-colored, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Do not overcook vegetables.  Error on the side of undercooking them.  Using the slotted spatula, transfer the vegetables into the beef in the bowl, allowing all of the excess juices to drizzle back into the skillet.

IMG_8473 IMG_8473 IMG_8473 IMG_8473 IMG_8473~Step 5.  Thoroughly stir and add the remaining stir-fry sauce to the juices remaining in the pan and stir constantly until the sauce is bubbling, glistening and nicely-thickened, about 30-45 seconds.  Pour the luscious brown sauce over the steak and vegetable mixture and toss, like you would a salad, until steak and veggies are evenly coated.  

Serve immediately over steamed white rice or cooked lo-mein.

IMG_8500Pick up a pair of chopsticks -- practice makes perfect!

IMG_8507Chinese-American Restaurant-Style Pepper Steak:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 12" wok, stir-fry pan or nonstick skillet; large slotted spatula

IMG_1901Cook's Note:  In a food world full of famous Chinese dishes, chow mein and lo mein are two noodle dishes that every Chinese chef knows how to prepare, but, are hard for non-Chinese cooks to distinguish between.  It's commonly thought the difference lies in the type of noodle. It doesn't. The noodles are the same -- fresh Chinese egg noodles. Translated, "mein" means "noodles", "chow mein" means "fried noodles", and, "lo mein" means "tossed noodles" -- the exact same noodles. To learn more, read my post ~ The difference between Chinese Chow Mein and Lo Mein ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/28/2018

~ Happy Valley Spinach Dip for Your Vegetable Tray ~

IMG_8382In the mid-1950's and throughout the '60's, everybody who entertained was serving French onion dip with their celery and carrot sticks.  This simple concoction of Lipton dehydrated onion soup mix and sour cream was a year-round staple on picnic and cocktail tables.  Said to have been created by an unknown French cook somewhere in Los Angeles in 1954, as a kid, I loved the stuff.  In the 1970's, due to the invention of dehydrated ranch-dressing packets, another dip began appearing at gatherings all across America:  Hidden Valley Ranch spinach dip.  As a young bride, I loved the stuff.  Throughout the 1980's, as a mom, I used it as an enticement to attempt to get my kids to eat fresh vegetables.  Truth told, the less of it they ate equated to more for me.

IMG_8386Fifty years ago, Ranch Dressing or Ranch Dip didn't exist.

Ranch dressing packets quickly became a staple in home kitchens everywhere.  Over time, I created my own copycat version of these beloved seasoning packets here in my Happy Valley, PA kitchen.  I must have done a pretty good job, because every time I make my spinach dip someone asks for my recipe.  It's the dip-of-choice at our Penn State tailgate every Fall, and, it's on my Memorial Day munchie menu this afternoon.  If you have the time, prepare it a day ahead, to give all of the great flavors time to marry.  If you are inclined to make the spice blend from scratch (recipe below), you can make small adjustments to my recipe to suit your palate.  That said, whether the spice blend is home-concocted or out of a store-bought packet, there is no comparison between the flavor of my at-home made spinach dip and the pre-made under-seasoned glop sold in plastic containers in the deli-cases of most grocery stores.

The hidden history of Ranch Dressing & Ranch Dip:

6a0120a8551282970b0191045547dc970cA 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.

6a0120a8551282970b01901e5f6bb4970bHenson 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.

90982In 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, they developed ranch dip packets, and, the rest is history.

My Happy Valley version of the Hidden Valley ranch dip packet:

6a0120a8551282970b0192ac1ece24970dFor my dry spice blend (yields 3 tablespoons -- equivalent to 1, 1-ounce packet dry dip mix):

1  teaspoon dried, minced garlic

1 teaspoon dried, minced onion

1  tablespoon dried chives

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

IMG_8361For the additions to the spice blend or 1 seasoning packet store-bought:

2  cups sour cream or mayo, or, a combination of both

2  10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained, about 1 1/2 cups

1  8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained, patted dry and small diced, about 3/4 cup

1  4-ounce jar sliced pimientos, drained and small diced, 1/2 cup

IMG_8345 IMG_8345~ Step 1.  I can think of many instances to use fresh spinach, but spinach dip is not one of them -- frozen chopped spinach yields the right amount every time and there is no need to cook it.  Thaw the spinach overnight in the refrigerator or in a colander placed in the sink with cold water dribbling over it.  Once thawed, wad the spinach up in several layers of paper towels and squeeze it as hard as possible to remove as much liquid as possible.  Kept tightly covered in the refrigerator this task can be done a day in advance.

IMG_8348 IMG_8348~ Step 2.  Drain and dice the water chestnuts. Wad them up in some paper towels and pat and press them dry too.  Allow the pimientos to drain on a paper-towel-lined plate, then dice them about the same size as the water chestnuts. 

IMG_8366 IMG_8366 IMG_8366~ Step 3.  Place the spice blend, along with the sour cream and/or mayo, water chestnuts and pimientos in a 2-quart size food storage container.  Give the mixture a thorough stir.  Using your fingertips, pull the spinach into small, loose, bits and pieces, adding them to the bowl as you work.  Thoroughly stir the spinach into the dip.  Cover and refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight, to allow the flavors to marry.  Overnight is best.

No bread bowl please --  I dislike crumbs in my leftovers.

IMG_8380Scooped up with a veggie or slathered on a cracker -- dig in.

IMG_8392The Ultimate Spinach Dip for Your Vegetable Tray:  Recipe yields 4 cups spinach dip.

Special Equipment List: paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; paper towels; 2-quart food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; large spoon

IMG_3031Cook's Note:  While I do not like versions of spinach dip containing cream cheese, I do like high-quality block cheeses, cheese logs or homemade cheese dips served alongside my spinach dip.  For a cheesy spread that pairs perfectly with spinach dip, vegetables and crackers, check out my recipe for ~ Southern Comfort:  Classic Pimento Cheese Spread ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/22/2018

~ Buttery Candied-Pecan and Toffee Bit Shortbread ~

IMG_8199Shortbread.  Melt-in-my-mouth, buttery-rich, slightly-salty and not-too-sweet, every bite of one of these humbly-crumbly understated cookies is akin to an extravagant indulgence -- the amuse bouche of the sweet treat kind.  From one or two sitting atop a paper napkin next to a cup of caffeine, to hundreds piled high on shiny trays at a celebration, shortbread has earned its place on the table of any occasion.  In my food world, every day and its accompanying problems has the potential to turn out ok, as long as there are a few shortbread to nibble on in the cookie jar.

A day w/shortbread in the cookie jar is a good day: 

IMG_8191Throughout the United Kingdom, shortbread has been a tradition at tea time since medieval days. As the name implies, shortbread contains shortening in the the form of butter, plus sugar and flour -- more specifically, one part sugar, two parts butter, and, three parts white flour.  After this super-easy to make dough is mixed together, it can be be baked in several forms.  Many home cooks pat the dough into one or two flat, round discs that get cut into wedges as soon as they emerge from the oven.  Most manufacturers bake it in rectangular molds then cut it into fingers.  Because the dough holds shapes very well, it's ideal for either cut- or drop- cookies that can be patterned/decorated with the simple tines of a fork or an elaborate stamp.  It's common for various extracts, citrus oils and/or aromatic spices to be used as subtle flavorings.  In all cases, shortbread is baked in a moderate oven to render its signature pale ever-so-slightly brown color.

IMG_8193Candied pecans + English toffee bits = the perfect additions.

IMG_81131  cup salted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature, very soft

1/2  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  large egg, at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

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

1  cup  finely-chopped candied pecans (from 4 ounces candied pecans)

1/2  cup English toffee bits

IMG_8118 IMG_8118 IMG_8118 IMG_8118 IMG_8118 IMG_8118~Step.  In a large bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, salt, egg and extract, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula during the process, about 1 minute.  Reduce mixer speed to low.  Gradually, in 3-4 increments, thoroughly incorporate the flour, about 2 minutes.  Remove mixer.  Using the spatula, fold the candied pecans and toffee bits into the cookie dough.

IMG_8142 IMG_8142 IMG_8142 IMG_8142 IMG_8142 IMG_8142~Step 2.  Ready a pastry board with some bench flour, then get out a rolling pin and a 2"-round cookie cutter.  Line 3-4 large baking pans with parchment.  With no need for exacting accuracy, divide dough into three parts and form each part into a disc shape.  Sprinkle a bit of bench flour on the pastry board, place a disc of dough on top of the flour, sprinkle it with a bit of flour, then roll it to a thickness of about 3/8".  Cut the dough into rounds.  Place the rounds of dough about 1" apart on parchment-lined pan.  Set the scraps of dough aside.  Repeat this process with remaining two discs of dough, then, gather all the dough scraps together, form a fourth disc and repeat the process again, and again, using all dough.

IMG_8160 IMG_8160 IMG_8160 IMG_8160~Step 3.  Place one pan in the refrigerator for 18 minutes.  Remove it from the refrigerator and place on center rack of 325° to bake for 18-20 minutes, until cookies are light golden on the bottoms and sides.*  Remove from oven and cool on pan about 1-2 minutes.  Using a thin spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely, 1-2 hours.  Repeat this process until all cookies are baked.  *Note:  While one pan of cookies is baking, start chilling another one.

Make & bake a big batch & cool completely on a wire rack:

IMG_8175Pile 'em into your favorite cookie jar to nibble on until gone:

IMG_8206Buttery Candied-Pecan and Toffee Bit Shortbread:  Recipe yields 4-4 1/2 dozen, 2"-round cookies

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; pastry board; small rolling pin; 2"-round cookie cutter; 3-4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; thin metal spatula; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09614461970dCook's Note:  I developed a crush for English toffee in London the 1990's.  There was a Confectioner across the street from our hotel and it was the first place I wandered into on my way to take a bus tour of the city.  While the sweet treat in this photo is something that typically gets made around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, if you'd like to learn a bit more about English toffee, read my post ~ Old-Fashioned Chocolate & Almond Buttercrunch ~.  My freezer is rarely without a bag of English toffee bits in it.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/19/2018

~Summer's Coming Fresh-Fruit & Pastry-Cream Tarts~

IMG_8107One whirl around the produce section of the grocery store and it becomes crystal clear that Summer is coming to my Northeast.  There are fresh berries galore and they're plump, juicy and super-flavorful -- my indicator that our own locally-grown berries will be appearing in our farmers' markets in a few weeks. I couldn't decide between the blackberries or the strawberries, so I bought 'em both, then I picked up a fresh pineapple too.  My plan is to serve them as unadulterated and au natural as possible -- by using them "as is" in small, fresh fruit tartlets.

IMG_8103A bit about making fresh fruit tarts in general: 

IMG_8104The tart pastry.  It doesn't take too much longer to make 21-24 small, 3" individual-sized tartlets than it does to make two, large, 10-12" ones. Both are seriously pretty to look at, and they taste the same too, but when serving times rolls around, the individual-sized ones win.  That said, I won't call the food police if you use store-bought pie pastry.

The pastry cream.  Some people dream about chocolate.  I dream about pastry cream. It's both decadent and naughtily-seductive. Desserts containing this luxurious egg-custard are at the top of my favorite-sweet-things short list. To make 21-24 tartlets, cut the recipe provided below in half (to make 4 cups) and substitute banana extract for some of the vanilla extract.

The fruit & the glaze.  Choose the freshest, prettiest fruit available -- any kind or combination will work. To make 21-24 tartlets today, I used a pint each of strawberries, large blackberries and pineapple chunks. It's not an exact science, and, I had some of all three leftover.  The glaze is a concoction of 1/2 cup pineapple jam and 2 tablespoons water.

How to:  Cut, Form & Bake Pie-Pastry Tartlet Shells:

IMG_9602Sweet Dreams:  Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream):

IMG_8037A combo of berries &/or fruit + a light-colored jelly or jam:

IMG_8042To assemble & glaze 21-24, 3"round fresh-fruit tartlets:

IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8048 IMG_8048 IMG_8048 IMG_8048~Step 1.  Place the empty tart shells on a large baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.  Spoon and spread a generous two tablespoons pastry cream into each shell. Decoratively arrange the fruit atop the pastry cream, slicing or dicing fruit, if necessary and on an as-needed basis, to fit -- the fruit you choose will determine the configuration.  Each one of these tartlets contain: 1 large whole blackberry, 2 halves of 1 whole strawberry, 2 chunks pineapple diced. Place the tartlets in the refrigerator to chill, 1-2 hours prior to glazing as directed below:

IMG_8083 IMG_8083 IMG_8083 IMG_8083~Step 2.  To make the glaze, place 1/2 cup of a light-colored jelly or jam in a 1-quart saucepan with 2 tablespoons water.*  Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly.  Once simmering and thoroughly combined, 15-20 seconds, remove from heat and allow to cool about 10 minutes. Using a pastry brush and a light touch, dab glaze onto fruit to coat.  Refrigerate glazed tartlets, uncovered, 1-2 hours prior to serving.  Tarts are best served the same day they are assembled.  

*Note:  I used pineapple jam today, because I used pineapple to top my tartlets.  That said, for a clear, all-purpose glaze that complements all fruit, apple jelly is my go-to choice.

Refrigerate tartlets, uncovered, 1-2 hours prior to serving:

IMG_8106Summer's Coming Fresh-Fruit & Pastry-Cream Tarts:  Recipe yields 21-24 3"-round tartlets.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-2 large baking pans; parchment paper; 1-quart saucepan; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c906c921970bCook's Note:  When I've got a whole lot of plump and juicy store-bought or home-grown strawberries, when I'm finished eating them out-of-hand and before I make ~ Super-Easy Strawberry Preserves ~ in my bread machine, ~ Seriously Simple & Sweet:  Fresh All-Strawberry Pie ~ is my favorite use for these short-seasoned Summer berries.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/17/2018

~ Is there a Perfect Condiment for Sweet Potato Fries ~

IMG_8018No and yes.  Like the classic French fry, the perfectly-cooked sweet potato fry, with its crispy exterior and creamy interior, in an oddly chameleon-esque fashion, pairs well with almost anything that qualifies as a condiment-like dip or a vinegary sauce.  In my food world, sweet potato fries are also the ultimate side-dish to pork chops, ribs, and pulled-pork sandwiches.  Also, the flavorful sweet potato more-than-holds-its-own against any of the bold barbecue sauces used to complement porcine.  All that said, when I get a hankering to eat a small batch of sweet potato fries, all by themselves, just for their flavor and texture, I've got a go-to, mild and creamy, tangy and sort-of-sweet dip that turns a small basket of fries from a satellite side-dish into a meal.

Save the honey for mustard.  Mix maple syrup into the ketchup.

IMG_7935Just like honey and mustard go hand-in-hand, so goes maple syrup and ketchup.  Stir a bit of mayo into either:  it's a sweet-and-savory, lip smacking honey-mustard- or maple-ketchup- condiment or salad dressing you've got, and, it can be mixed-up in literal seconds.

6  tablespoons ketchup

3  tablespoons mayonnaise

1-2  tablespoons maple syrup

IMG_7921 IMG_7921~ Step 1.  This should be self-explanatory, but, I'll document the instructions anyway.  Measure and place all ingredients, as listed, in a small bowl. Give it a stir and use immediately or store in the refrigerator indefinitely.  Yield:  about 3/4 cup.

Try a basket of my pan-fried sweet potato fries for lunch:

IMG_8010Is there a Perfect Condiment for Sweet Potato Fries:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup maple-ketchup mayo.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b0223c84b391f200cCook's Note:  When you need more sweet potato fries than one large skillet can hold, sweet potato fries can be successfully oven fried. Tossed in oil, they cook, all at once, in a single layer on a sheet pan. There's more.  Because oven-roasting is a dry-heat method, they can be seasoned with any spice blend to complement any meal.  To learn how I do it, read my post ~ Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/15/2018

~ Everybody in the Skillet: Perfect Sweet Potato Fries ~

IMG_8001Sweet potatoes -- of the kind that don't come out of a can and end up with marshmallows on top. I've had a love affair with this root vegetable since my first trist with a sweet potato that didn't come out of a can and have marshmallows on top.  While I have a high-enough I.Q. to discern why once-upon-a-time in-the-history-of-canned-vegetetables, cooked sweet potatoes were put in those cans, in my lifetime, I will never be smart enough to figure out why those marshmallows got purposefully or experimentally plopped on top.  Some answers are best left to the imagination.

A sweet potato is not a yam & vice versa.

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

IMG_8026Sweet potatoes can be cooked via all the same methods all-purpose spuds can.  Baked, boiled, deep-fried, grilled, oven-roasted, microwaved, and, last but not least, pan-fried.  When it comes to sweet potatoes, I am a bone fide lover of this healthy super-food, and, when it comes to cooking and eating them, I love them in any form, any time of year.  I am an equal-opportunity sweet potato eater.  Pan-fried sweet potato fries, which pair great with so many things (especially poultry and pork) are relatively quick easy to make, but I'm not going to lie, if it's a big family you need to feed and need more than four side-servings, oven-roasting will get you the bigger batch.

One 1-1 1/4 pound sweet potato = 12-14-ounces fries.

IMG_7938 IMG_7938 IMG_7938 IMG_7938 IMG_7938~Step 1.  When making fries, for the least amount of waste, choose large potatoes with a long, plump, oval-ish shape -- the one in this photo weighs 1 pound, 2 ounces..  The sweet potato is a hard, meaning solid, vegetable to slice.  To shape the fries, using a large chef's knife, start by trimming the ends of the potato, to make a stable base at either end.  Once that's done, stand the potato up on the stable base and use the knife to work around the exterior, shaving the tough exterior skin from the orange flesh.  After that, with the potato still standing upright, slice the potato, lengthwise, down through the center, to split the potato into two halves. Slice each half, lengthwise into 1/4"-thick planks.  Slice the planks into 1/4" thick strips (fries).

IMG_7953 IMG_7953 IMG_7953 IMG_7953 IMG_7968 IMG_7968 IMG_7968 IMG_7968~Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, heat 3 tablespoons, corn, peanut or vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Add the cut fries.  After about two minutes, when they begin to sizzle, use a spatula to carefully turn them, to coat them in the oil -- at this point the potatoes will be softening. Continue to sauté the sweet potatoes, gently turning them every 45-60 seconds, until starting to brown on all sides, about 8-10 minutes.  Allow the process to continue, another 4-7 minutes (for a total cooking time of 12-15 minutes), turning the fries frequently, until they turn a deeper shade of brown, transferring them, a few at a time to a paper-towel-lined plate, on an as-needed basis -- this process will go quickly.  When all fries are on the plate, sprinkle generously with sea salt.

Is there a perfect condiment for the perfect sweet potato fry?

IMG_8018No and yes.  Like the classic French fry, the perfectly-cooked sweet potato fry, with its crispy exterior and creamy interior, in an oddly chameleon-esque fashion, pairs well with almost anything that qualifies as a condiment-like dip or a vinegary sauce.  In my food world, sweet potato fries are also the ultimate side-dish to pork chops, ribs, and pulled-pork sandwiches.  Also, the flavorful sweet potato more-than-holds-its-own against any of the bold barbecue sauces used to complement porcine.  All that said, when I get a hankering to eat a small batch of sweet potato fries, all by themselves, just for their flavor and texture, I've got a go-to, mild and creamy, tangy and sort-of-sweet dip that turns a small basket of fries from a satellite side-dish into a meal. 

Save the honey for mustard.  Mix maple syrup into the ketchup.

IMG_7935Just like honey and mustard go hand-in-hand, so goes maple syrup and ketchup.  Stir a bit of mayo into either:  it's a sweet-and-savory, lip smacking honey-mustard- or maple-ketchup- condiment or salad dressing you've got, and, it can be mixed-up in literal seconds.

6  tablespoons ketchup

3  tablespoons mayonnaise

1-2  tablespoons maple syrup

IMG_7921 IMG_7921~ Step 1.  This should be self-explanatory, but, I'll document the instructions anyway.  Measure and place all ingredients, as listed, in a small bowl. Give it a stir and use immediately or store in the refrigerator indefinitely.  Yield:  about 3/4 cup.

Try a basket of sweet potato fries for lunch:

IMG_8010Or some sweet-potato fries as a side to that pork steak:

IMG_7718Everybody in the Skillet:  Perfect Sweet Potato Fries:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1-2 large servings fries or 3-4 small side-servings, and, 3/4 cup maple-ketchup mayo.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; spatula; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01bb099f5ac0970d-800wiCook's Note:  When you need more sweet potato fries than one large skillet can hold, sweet potato fries can be successfully oven fried. Tossed in oil, they cook, all at once, in a single layer on a sheet pan. There's more.  Because oven-roasting is a dry-heat method, they can be seasoned with any spice blend to complement any meal.  To learn how I do it, read my post ~ Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/12/2018

~ The Perfectly-Broiled 22-Minute Pork Blade Steak ~

IMG_7718The pork blade steak is my new-to-me muse -- in my own words, it's a bone-fide kick-butt man-sized pork chop.  Known as pork steak, pork butt steak or pork blade steak, these bone-in steaks are cut from the shoulder of the pig -- the same part of the porcine used to make pulled pork. Similar in taste and texture to close-kin country-style spareribs*, they were invented in St. Louis, MO, and are a Midwest staple.  As a country-style spare-rib lover living in central Pennsylvania, I ask the Sam's Club butcher to custom-cut these inexpensive, lesser-to-unknown-to-our-locale steaks for me.  Perhaps this post will help them to catch on "out here in the counties".

*Country-style ribs are cut from the blade end of the loin close to the shoulder. They're meatier than other ribs.  They contain no rib bones, but contain parts of the shoulder blade bone.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d8b199970c"Pork butt" or "Boston butt", is a bone-in cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the "pork shoulder" from the front leg of the hog. Smoked or barbecued, Boston butt is a southern tradition.  This cut of meat got its name in pre-Revolutionary War New England:

Butcher's in Boston left the blade bone in this inexpensive cut of pork 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f1af75970dshoulder then packed and stored the meat in casks called "butts". They sold the pork shoulders individually to their customers, and, when they got popular, they began shipping "the butts" Southward and throughout the Colonies.  Simply stated:  the way the hog shoulder was butchered, combined with "the butt" they arrived in, evolved into the name "Boston butt".

IMG_7412Steaks cut from the pork shoulder are marbled with lots of fat and rich with collagen, which, like the roast, makes them extremely flavorful.  

Because overcooking renders them dry and tough, this quick-cooking cut is perfect for the grill, sauté pan or broiler.  Choose pinkish-gray steaks that are generally the same size and thickness (3/4"-1" thick is ideal), and, have been trimmed of excessive fat from the fat-cap-side.

The four steaks pictured above, weighing a total of 6.48 pounds, cost $10.87.  That's a whole lot of economical porcine wonderfulness -- especially if you've got a big family with big appetites. Depending on the recipe du jour, sometimes I marinate these steaks, sometimes I don't.  When it comes to pork blade steaks, absorb this: marination (which does not affect the cooking time), is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.  Please know: these steaks are super-tender with zero marination.

* Note:  I have electric ovens and none of mine have a hi or low setting for the broiler.  With the door cracked (which is how broiling, a from-the-top-down dry-heat-method of cooking, is done in an electric oven), an oven-thermometer reads 325-ishº throughout the cooking process.

IMG_7401 IMG_7401~ Step 1.  Place 2, 3/4"-1"-thick, bone-in pork butt blade steaks, about 1 1/2-1 3/4-pounds each on a corrugated broiler pan -- allow to come to room temperature, 20-30 minutes.  Season tops with freshly-ground sea salt & peppercorn blend.

IMG_7445 IMG_7445 IMG_7445 IMG_7445 IMG_7443 IMG_7443~Step 2.  Place steaks 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler for exactly 11 minutes -- 5 1/2"-6" is a key measurement when broiling pork blade steaks.  Remove steaks from oven, flip steaks over, season the second sides with a bit (not too much) more sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Return to oven and broil for exactly 11 more minutes.  Remove from oven, set aside, and allow steaks to rest, in pan, for 10-12 minutes.

IMG_7454IMG_7454IMG_7454IMG_7454Step 3.  To slice and/or dice steaks, in order to eat them or to use as directed in a specific recipe, slice each rested-but-warm blade steak, on a diagonal, in half lengthwise -- half bone-in, the other boneless.  If desired, thinly-slice the boneless half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips, then, if recipe directs, dice the strips.  Carve meat away from bone on the second half, then slice and/or dice that meat too.  Serve ASAP.

Goes great with Southwestern Slaw & Sweet Potato Fries:

IMG_7710To learn how how to perfectly pan-sear a pork blade steak:

IMG_4501The Perfectly-Broiled 22-Minute Pork Blade Steak:  Recipe yields instructions to broil a pork blade steak/1-2 servings per steak (depending on how it's served -- as appetizers, in sandwiches, on salads or as a main-dish -- and what it is served with).

Special Equipment List:  11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_6597Cook's Note: For another cut of meat, this time beef, that loves life under the broiler, check out ~ Melanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak ~.  In terms of taste, texture, versatility and price, without compromise, hands-down the flank steak wins on all points -- which is why I purchase one or two almost every week. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)