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12 posts from September 2018

09/30/2018

~ Chick Flicks and Curried Chicken Salad Croissants ~

IMG_3497It's no secret I'm a movie buff.  I've watched movies every day since I was ten-ish. My favorites, old or new, are based on true-stories, history or best-selling books.  My least favorites are star-warrian and science-fictionous, and, I have no interest in fantasy or animation.  I enjoy a good whodunnit crime drama or an occasional action-packed adventure but won't watch horror-infused slashing-for-shock-value movies. Comedies and satires are great, but, romantic, tear-jerking or feel-good chick flicks are better.  You know the ones -- those you can't pay the guy in your life to sit and watch with you (but it would be worth the price of admission just to watch him watch).

A well-made chicken salad is divine & we all have preferences. 

IMG_3522Just like I have preferences in movies, I have preferences in chicken salads. I prefer white-breast- over dark-thigh- meat, roasted chicken over poached, greasy rotisserie chicken makes me cringe, and, I want my chicken hand-pulled instead of diced or cubed, because the latter looks plasticy and fake.  Error on the side of under-dressing mine, as I want to taste the chicken, but yes, by all means, please add some lightly-toasted seeds or nuts for crunch.  I enjoy it served as a forkable salad or as a sandwich, but, if served as a salad I want it on tender soft lettuce leaves, and if served as a sandwich, I want it on soft-textured bread --  bibb lettuce and croissants are ideal.

When it comes to chicken salad, it's all about the chicken.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c92e1f14970bJulia Child said, "you can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by their roast chicken." I concur. If chicken is dry, I won't touch it.  It's gotta be moist, fork tender, nicely-seasoned, and, for chicken salad, snowy white. Poaching breasts or tenders in a mild court bouillon accomplishes that (and feel free to do it), but, there is nothing tastier than the juicy white meat pulled away from the breast bone of a perfectly-roasted whole chicken:  ~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken ~.

The following recipe is written to make two servings.

Because I prefer to eat chicken salad after being chilled 2-4 hours or the same day it's prepared, although the next day is ok too, I don't much enjoy it past that point, so I only make as much as I need, which is enough for 2 days.  As written, my recipe makes two very generous servings -- three smaller servings.  Want to make more?  Do the math with the help of this:

1/2 of a whole chicken breast split in half = about 8-9 ounces

8-9 ounces chicken breast = about 2 cups pulled chicken

2  cups pulled chicken breast = about 2 servings

2  servings my curried chicken salad = about 2 3/4-3 cups

2 servings = enough to generously fill 4 mini or 2 large croissants 

IMG_34351/2 of a whole roasted chicken breast, pulled into bite-sized pieces, about 2 cups

1/2  cup medium-diced celery

6  tablespoons raisins

3  tablespoons  small-diced roasted & salted cashews

1/2  cup high-quality mayonnaise

2  tablespoons Major Grey's original chutney

2  teaspoons Madras curry powder

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated onion flakes

2-4  soft bibb lettuce leaves per salad or sandwich, depending on size of lettuce leaves

IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441~Step 1.  Place chicken, celery, raisins and cashews in a medium bowl. Set aside.  In a small-capacity food processor fitted with steel blade, place mayonnaise, chutney, curry powder and onion flakes.  With motor running, process until thoroughly combined, 45-60 seconds.  Using a rubber spatula, transfer mayo mixture to chicken mixture and gently fold all the ingredients together.  Cover and place in the refrigerator until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.

Served in a pretty bowl on a bed of lettuce leaves with a fork...

IMG_3527... or on a croissant as a light and dainty tea-type sandwich:

IMG_3483There's something about a chick flick & a curried chicken croissant.

IMG_3513Chick Flicks and Curried Chicken Salad Croissants:  Recipe yields 2 3/4-3 cups curried chicken salad.

Special Equipment List:  Cutting board; chef's knife; small capacity food processor; rubber spatula; 3-4-cup size food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08ba4581970dCook's Note:  ~ A Peachy All-White-Meat 'Melanie' Chicken Salad ~ is another example of how persnickety I am about my chicken salad.  This one is modeled after the famous Marshall Field's department store's chicken salad dressed with their Maurice dressing.

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

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

09/28/2018

~ Cinnamon 'n Raisin Bread Cinnamon-Swirl Muffins ~

IMG_3417There's nothing like waking up to the ethereal smell of freshly-baked cinnamon rolls.  That said, if you're the cinnamon-roll baker, unless your family sleeps until Noon, "pulling that off" means getting up long before dawn -- yawn.  My happy little twist on classic cinnamon rolls, which lets a pre-programmed bread machine mix and proof my recipe for cinnamon-raisin bread dough, will get you an extra 55-minutes of AM snooze time.  Tick, tock.  It's smooth and stress-free sailing after that.  The super-manageable dough pats out easily, store-bought cinnamon-sugar gets sprinkled on top, roll, slice and in the muffin tins they go to proof.  Poof -- bake and your done. 

A super-easy to "pat, roll & slice" bread machine dough...

IMG_3413... baked in muffin tins & a caramel glaze too!

IMG_33251  cup whole milk

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

6  tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces, preferably at room temperature

2  extra-large eggs, preferably at room temperature, lightly beaten

4 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

5  tablespoons cinnamon-sugar

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

1  cup raisins*

5-6  tablespoons additional cinnamon-sugar, for sprinkling on prepared dough

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin tins

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fce19046970b* Note about adding raisins:  Most bread machines have an "add-in basket" with a 1/2 cup capacity, which adds dried fruits and/or nuts during the baking cycle. Because the  pizza dough cycle is used to knead and proof (not bake) the dough, the machine won't add them. Do not use the add-in basket.

6a0120a8551282970b01a5119139f9970c 6a0120a8551282970b01a511913afd970c~ Step 1. 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 said to always start with the paddle in this position before adding any ingredients, so I do.

IMG_3330 IMG_3330 IMG_3330~ Step 2.  Cube the butter as directed and set aside to soften, about 30 minutes, or, quickly soften or melt it in the microwave.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, salt, cinnamon-sugar and raisins.

IMG_3337 IMG_3337 IMG_3337 IMG_3337 IMG_3337 IMG_3348 IMG_3348 IMG_3348~Step 3.  In a 1-cup measuring container, heat milk and vanilla extract in the microwave until steaming.  Add the butter cubes.  Using a fork, stir until butter is melted.  If milk is steaming and butter is soft, this will only take a minute.  Add the liquid mixture to the bread pan.  Using the fork, whisk the eggs in the 1-cup measuring container, then add the eggs to the bread pan too.

IMG_3354 IMG_3354 IMG_3354 IMG_3359 IMG_3359 IMG_3359~Step 4.  Add the flour to the bread pan, spooning it right on top of the wet ingredients.  Do not mix or stir.  Using your index finger, make a small well in the top of the flour (but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer).  Add the yeast to the well.  Insert the pan into the bread machine, plug the machine in, press the "Select" button, choose the "Pizza Dough" cycle, then press "Start".  In 55 minutes, you'll have cinnamon-raisin bread dough.

IMG_3362 IMG_3362 IMG_3362 IMG_3362 IMG_3379 IMG_3379 IMG_3379~Step 5.  While  dough is kneading and proofing in bread machine, spread a bit of bench flour over the top of a large, 20" x 16" pastry board.  Remove the proofed dough from bread machine (the pan won't be hot) and transfer dough to the bench-flour covered board.  Using your fingertips, pat and press dough across the board, into a 1/2"-thick rectangle measuring approximately 18" x 14".  I do this with my fingertips (this dough is extremely manageable).  If you need the aid of a small rolling pin (which you should not), that's ok, just use a very light touch.  Generously sprinkle 5-6 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar over the surface to within 1/2" of the perimeter on all four sides.  Starting at the side closest to you, roll the dough, as tightly as possible, jelly-roll-style, into a cylinder.  Position the cylinder, seam-side-down on an end-to-end angle, then, pat, form and stretch it to a even-sized-throughout length of 22"-24".  This is ALL very, very, very (about 15-minutes-of-time) easy to do.

IMG_3385 IMG_3385 IMG_3385 IMG_3385 IMG_3397 IMG_3397 IMG_3397 IMG_3397~Step 6.  Spray the inside of 24, standard-size muffin cups with no-stick spray.  Using a serrated bread knife and a light touch, cut the cylinder into 1" thick slices, placing the slices, one in each muffin cup, as you work.  I yielded a grand total of 22 today.  Cover with a lint-free kitchen towel and set aside to rise for 1 hour.  Uncover and bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven, until "tops have popped" in their centers and rolls are lightly-browned, a short 14-16 minutes.  Do not over bake. Remove cinnamon rolls from oven and immediately transfer rolls from muffin cups to a wire rack to cool completely, 1-1 1/2 hours, prior to glazing (if desired) as directed below.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0884d1fb970dFor the optional sugary glaze:

2  cups Confectioners' sugar

3-4  tablespoons whole milk

1  tablespoon caramel flavoring

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d16ad7f5970c~ Step 7. In a small mixing bowl combine all ingredients together until smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for about 5 minutes. Stir again.  Mixture will be thick, smooth and ribbonlike.

Drizzle glaze over barely-warm or room-temp swirl muffins...

IMG_3416... & put a big pot of coffee on for breakfast!

IMG_3423Reheat (1-2 day leftovers) in microwave, 10-12 seconds, uncovered.  Follow the steamy swirl.  

IMG_3425Cinnamon 'n Raisin Bread Cinnamon-Swirl Muffins:  Recipe yields 22-24 cinnamon 'n raisin-bread cinnamon-swirl muffins.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine; paring knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; large pastry board; serrated bread knife; standard-sized muffin tins, enough for 22-24 muffins; wire cooling rack; pastic squirt bottle, for applying glaze (optional) 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1879fba970cCook's Note:  Can I interest you in a make-ahead breakfast casserole to go with your cinnamon-swirl muffins?  My ~ Big Baked Denver Omelette Brunch Casserole ~, full of ham, cheese and veggies, is my favorite  crowd-pleasing recipe. 

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

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

09/24/2018

~ Mom's Crockpot Casserole Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ~

IMG_3304If you grew up in an Eastern European family, you grew up eating stuffed cabbage rolls -- known as "holupki" to me and "golumpki" to many of you.  From weeknight family-style dinners to holidays or special occasions, this beloved meal is a staple on the table.  Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), rice or grain, green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce.  If you grew up in an Eastern European family and you currently write a blog, you proclaim your family's stuffed cabbage to be the best.  I fall into the latter category and I am no exception.  My mom's stuffed cabbage rolls are the best.

A bit about Crockpot's Casserole Crocks:

IMG_2900 2Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vessel for cooking cabbage rolls, side-by-side and in a single layer, to cook evenly, in comfort -- spa-style.

IMG_2899 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3923c31200dI bought two. At about $45.00 each, it wasn't that big of an investment.  The crocks are the shape of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, with the inside bottom dimensions of the crock being approximately 11" x 7" x 3". My rational: These are going to be awesome for making a slow-cooker version of my mom's holupki. I couldn't wait to plug 'em in.

Making Stuffed Cabbage in Crockpot's Casserole Crocks:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08f1f655970d1  large, firm head green cabbage without splits or tears (about 4 pounds)  (Note:  1 large head of cabbage will yield:  20-24 large-to-medium-sized stuffed cabbage rolls requiring 1/2-1/3 cup filling each.)

3  pounds lean ground beef (85/15)

2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1  cup uncooked long-grain white rice, not "Minute rice" (8 ounces)

2  medium-sized yellow onions, about 6-ounces each, finely diced (about 2 cups)

1  seasoning packet from 1  box of G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (1/2 teaspoon salt may be substituted)  (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand in my pantry so I can duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's readily available to me at my local grocery store and on-line as well.)

2  large eggs, beaten 

For the sauce mixture:

4  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (2 cans per casserole crock)

4  cups water (2 cups per casserole crock)

all the water reserved from steaming the cabbage leaves (about 3/4 cup, divided between the two casserole crocks)

3 teaspoons each:  salt  and coarsely-ground black pepper (1 1/2 teaspoons in each casserole crock)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole crocks

IMG_5795 IMG_5795 IMG_5795 IMG_5795 IMG_5809 IMG_5809 IMG_5809 IMG_5809 IMG_5816 IMG_5816 IMG_5816 IMG_5816~Step 1.  Mixing the meat.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly over the top.  Using a large spoon or your hands, mix to combine. Measure and sprinkle the rice over the top, then, give that a thorough mix too.  Finely dice the onion, add it along with the G.Washinton's seasoning packet and mix again.  In a small bowl, using a fork, beat the eggs, add them, and, you guessed it, give the whole thing one last very thorough mix.

IMG_3043 2 IMG_3043 2~ Step 2.  Coring the cabbage.  The core is what holds the cabbage leaves to the head.  In order for the leaves to separate easily during and after the steaming process, it is necessary to remove the core.  With a short-bladed coring knife, cut around the core to a depth of about 1 1/2"-2", or enough to start a separation of the outer leaves.

IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174~Step 3.  Microwave-steaming the cabbage leaves.  Place the cored head of cabbage, cored-side down, in a large mixing bowl.  Add 1 1/2 cups water to the bowl.  Do not cover.  Microwave on high for 12 minutes.  Remove from microwave.  With the aid of a fork and your fingertips, remove the loose outer leaves (3-4) from the the head.  Return to the microwave, on high, for 4 more minutes.  Remove from microwave and remove more loose outer leaves (4-5).  Continue this process of microwaving and removing leaves, 3-4 more times, until the size of the leaves become too small to affectively stuff and roll.  Reserve the core of the cabbage, along with the cabbage (acidulated) water too.  The entire steaming process typically takes about 28-34 minutes.

Tip from Mel:  About halfway through the process, use a pair of kitchen shears to trim and remove more of the core, which is now soft.  This will make removing the inner leaves easier.

IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3245~Step 4.  Filling and rolling the cabbage leaves.  Generously spray the inside of both casserole crocks with no-stick cooking spray.  On a flat plate or work surface, place one cabbage leaf, convex side down, and using a paring knife, trim the thick core vein from the center of it. Depending upon the size and thickness of each cabbage leaf, this core vein can/will be large or quite small, but be sure to do it as it makes the rolling process easier and the finished product prettier.  Flip the cabbage leaf over, concave (cup) side up.  Using a 1/2 cup measure, scoop filling in the center of the leaf.  Lift side of the leaf closet to you up and over the filling, then lift and fold left and right sides of the leaf up and over the meat filling.  Continue to roll the filled leaf over until it sits seam side down.  Arrange the cabbage rolls, side-by-side, seam-sides-down in the prepared crocks as you work -- one dozen will fit in the bottom of each casserole crock.

Note:  It goes without saying that not all cabbages or cabbage leave are created equal.  My measurements today are for a large head with large outer and medium inner leaves.  Smaller heads yield smaller leaves, so the amount of filling must be downsized too -- 1/3 cup filling for medium leaves and 1/4 cup for small leaves -- sounds silly, but the leaves will let you know.

IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260~Step 5.  Saucing and slow-cooking the cabbage rolls.  Pour 2 cups of water over the tops of the cabbage rolls in each casserole, then divide and add the reserved cabbage water to each crock casserole too.  Spoon and spread the contents from 2 cans tomato soup over the tops of the cabbage rolls, then sprinkle 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 1/2 teaspoon pepper over the top of the soup in each one.  Cut the remaining core into eight wedges and arrange 4 wedges atop both casseroles.  Place the lids on the crocks and cook on high for 2 hours, low for 3 hours, then on warm for 1-2 hours, to allow the cabbage to soften a bit more and all the flavors to marry.

IMG_3277 IMG_3277 IMG_3277~Step 6.  Immediately after placing casseroles on warm setting, remove the cabbage wedges and set them aside.  Trust me, the cabbage-wedge lovers are going to like the texture of the wedges removed sooner than later.

My mom's crockpot-cooked stuffed cabbage rolls:

IMG_3309A forkful of slow-cooked childhood comfort food:

IMG_3317Coming soon to a freezer or lunchbox near you:

IMG_3209Mom's Crockpot Casserole Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:  Recipe yields approximately 24 cabbage rolls and 8-12 servings at 2-3 per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; short-bladed coring knife; large microwave-safe bowl; long-handled fork; kitchen shears; 2 crock casseroles

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1d82c2f970cCook's Note:  Mom's stuffed cabbage rolls were always cooked on the stovetop -- crockpots hadn't been invented yet.  That said, when she did buy a crockpot in the 1970's, her ~ Unstuffed: Deconstructed Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ~ were just as popular with our family, and, they took her a lot less time to make.

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

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

09/21/2018

~ Steaming & Separating Cabbage in the Microwave ~

IMG_3200Being a gal of Eastern European decent, I'm kind of a connoisseur of cabbage.  While cabbage eating isn't limited to Eastern European cuisine, it is indeed associated primarily with it.  In my family alone, from hot side-dishes like butter-braised cabbage and carrots and cabbage and egg noodles, to cold side-salads like creamy cole slaw and vinegary pepper slaw, to main-dish ham, cabbage and potato soup and stuffed cabbage rolls, I do not believe my mother's refrigerator was ever without a head of cabbage in it.  "Kapusta" or "cabbage" was a staple.

Cabbage is a staple in every Eastern European kitchen.

IMG_6742When I was a kid watching my mother and grandmother process cabbage, all I remember thinking was, "this is hard work".  Cabbage, no matter what they were making with it, had to be hand-cut or processed -- there were no short cut methods.  Back then, there were no food processors or microwave ovens.  When it came to steaming the cabbage leaves from the head to make stuffed cabbage rolls, it required carrying a big pot of water from the sink to the stovetop and standing over the steaming pot throughout the process -- it was literally a hot and heavy task.  Sigh.

Fast forward to present day.  I'm a home cook who's never been a huge fan of the microwave -- I've never cooked a meal in it from start-to-finish.  Not even once.  That said, as a serious home cook, I do consider the microwave oven a serious appliance which plays a significant role in the preparation of certain aspects of meal preparation, the reheating of leftovers, and, it sure is a time-savor with regards to certain culinary tasks:  steaming cabbage leaves is one such task.

One head cored cabbage + 1 1/2 cups water in a big bowl.

IMG_3043 2 IMG_3043 2~ Step 1.  Coring the cabbage.  The core is what holds the leaves to the head.  In order for the leaves to separate easily, during and after the steaming process, it is necessary to remove the core.  With a sharp short-bladed coring knife, cut around the core to a depth of 1 1/2"-2", or enough to start a separation of the outer leaves.

IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3185 IMG_3193 IMG_3193~Step 2.  Microwave-steaming the cabbage leaves.  Place the cored head of cabbage, cored-side down, in a large mixing bowl.  Add 1 1/2 cups water to the bowl.  Do not cover.  Microwave on high for 12 minutes. Remove from microwave.  With the aid of a fork and your fingertips, remove the loose outer leaves (3-4) from the the head.  Return to the microwave, on high, for 4 more minutes.  Remove from microwave and remove more loose outer leaves (4-5). Continue this process of microwaving and removing leaves, 3-4 more times, until the size of the leaves become too small to affectively be of use in the specified recipe.  The steaming process typically takes about 28-34 minutes.

Tip from Mel:  About halfway through the process, use a pair of kitchen shears to trim and remove more of the core, which is now soft.  This will be easy and make removing inner leaves easier.  

Use as directed in specific recipe:

IMG_3197Mom's Crockpot-Casserole-Cooked Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:

IMG_3309Steaming & Separating Cabbage in the Microwave:  Recipe yields instructions to steam and separate leaves from a head of green cabbage using the microwave.

Special Equipment List:  short-bladed coring knife; 1-cup measuring container; large bowl; long-handled fork; kitchen shears

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d26c64c6970cCook's Note:  Throughout Eastern Europe, cooks make a side-dish that basically consists of green cabbage and egg noodles -- my family often added mushrooms too.  It's quick-and-easy, 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 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.

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

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

09/19/2018

~Lo & Slow-Cooker Jerk-Style Baby-Back Spare-Ribs~

IMG_2998Jerk seasoning was/is the dry spice blend used to season jerky, and Jamaican jerk seasoning, known for the flavors of allspice, cinnamon, cloves, thyme and Scotch bonnet pepper, is perhaps the most famous.  Throughout the Caribbean, islanders preserved/cured their spice-rubbed meats by drying them in the intense sun or over a slow fire -- this allowed the meat to be taken on long journeys and eaten as is or reconstituted in boiling water.  The word most likely transitioned to the verb, "jerking", in reference to the way the meat gets "jerked" around on the grill as it cooks.

The machinations of making ribs in a slow cooker never seemed right to me -- kind of like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  I've watched people bend racks, slice and stack sections, even cut them into individual ribs.   That type of rib abuse is why I never attempted it, but, as a person who likes my ribs fall-of-the-bone tender, there was never a doubt the slow cooker could achieve that.  After all, just like a Dutch oven placed on the stovetop or in the oven, it's what slow cookers do, tenderize meat -- especially the cheap, tough cuts.  The lid seals and traps the heat and moisture in the pot, preventing evaporation and heat loss, which provides plenty of time for everything-that-can-make-meat-tough (the muscle, connective tissue and fat) to break down.

IMG_2900Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for baby-back ribs (trimmed to fit into it's bottom), to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

IMG_2899I bought two.  At about $45.00 each, it wasn't that big of an investment. My rational: Joe buys baby-back ribs vacuum-packed at Sam's club -- three racks per pack.  After eye-balling the dimensions of the Crockpot Casserole, I knew with certainty, that between the two, I could slow-cook all three racks -- to feed a crowd.  I bought them for last year's tailgate season, and, the moment they arrived, I couldn't wait to plug my two new toys in.

Important Note:  Armed with two crockpot casseroles, for my own purposes, I am slow-cooking three very large racks of baby-back spare-ribs this afternoon.  That said, it's worth noting that two small racks of ribs will fit in one crockpot casserole and affects nothing about the recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09fc9b13970dBecause the inside bottom dimensions of the casserole are approximately 11" x 6", that requires cutting each rack of baby-back ribs into either 2, 11" lengths (cut each rack in half), or, 3, 6" lengths (cut each rack into thirds).  Besides being more manageable, I chose 6" lengths because they are a perfect portion for each person.

The "jerk" in jerk comes from the Spanish word via the Peruvian word "charqui", the noun for dried strips of meat now called "jerky".

In a (coco)nutshell, jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica.  It was developed by African slaves who escaped into the mountains of Jamaica after the British captured this island paradise from Spain in 1655.  Forced to adapt to their new surroundings, the Maroons (the name given to the escaped slaves) made use of the foods nature provided, by pulverizing the edibles they gathered into a fiery pasty rub.  By adding fruit and/or citrus juice, the fiery pasty rub became a spicy basting and dipping sauce.  When thinned down with a bit of drinking water or the milk from a coconut, the spicy sauce became a highly-flavored wet marinade -- over time, items from trades, like vinegar and/or rum were transitioned into the mixture.  Once rubbed and/or marinated, the meat or game they hunted was then slowly cooked over a smoking pimento-wood fire. Originally used for pork, it's now common to "jerk" chicken, beef, fish and seafood too.

Scratch-made or store-bought marinade?  Your choice.

IMG_2186The Jamaicans have cornered the market on marketing high-quality, bold-flavored dry spice blends and rubs, wet pastes and marinades, barbecue, steak and hot pepper sauces.  In a pinch there's no shame and little compromise in using them.  When it comes to making my jerk-style baby-back spare-ribs, I like to use a wet marinade (as opposed to a paste), and, when time is short, it's the Walkerswood brand that I reach for.

IMG_5761Note:  The following is recipe my copycat of theirs.  It makes  4 1/4 cups (36 ounces), which is about the equivalent of 2, 17-ounce bottles of store-bought (34 ounces), about 5 cups.  Two cups marinade is enough to marinate 3 large or 2 small racks of baby back ribs -- two cups is also enough to marinate 2 whole chickens that have been split in half (4 half chickens) to make jerk chicken.  I'm freezing the rest for a round of jerk on another day.

Making my all-purpose don't worry, be happy jerk marinade:

IMG_2156

8  ounces large-diced red onion (about 2 cups)

4  ounces diced green onion (about 1 cup)

2  ounces large-diced ginger root (about 1/3-1/2 cup)

1  ounce whole garlic cloves (about 6 large cloves)

4  Scotch bonnet peppers, with seeds, stems removed

1  cup lime juice, preferably fresh or high-quality organic, not from concentrate

1  cup malt vinegar

1/4  cup mild-flavored molasses

1/4  cup dark rum

2  tablespoons dried thyme leaves

6  teaspoons ground allspice

6  teaspoons ground cinnamon

2  teaspoons ground nutmeg

1  teaspoon ground cloves

4  teaspoons sea salt

4  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1/4  cup vegetable oil

IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159~Step 1.  Prep and place red onion, green onion, ginger, garlic and Scotch bonnets in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses, very-finely mince the ingredients.  Open the processor lid and use a spatula to scrape down sides of work bowl.  Add the lime juice, vinegar, molasses, rum and all dry spices.  Process again, using a series of 10-20 rapid on-off pulses.  With motor running, through feedtube, drizzle in the oil, then process with motor running 30-45 more seconds.  There will be a generous 4 cups marinade.

 Prepping, marinating & slow-cooking the ribs:

IMG_5760 IMG_3109 IMG_3109 IMG_3109~Step 1.  To prep ribs for marination, remove from packaging, pat dry in some paper towels and remove the silverskin from the underside of each rack.  Don't know how?  Read ~ How to: Remove the Silverskin from Spareribs ~.  Using a large chef's knife, slice each rack into thirds.

IMG_2841 IMG_2841 IMG_2841~Step 2.  Stack the rib sections inside of a 2-gallon food storage bag that has been doubled for extra strength protection against leaks from sharp bones poking through.  Add two cups of the marinade (homemade or store-bought) to the bag.  Seal tightly.  Using your fingertips, squish the bag of rib section to evenly distribute the marinade.  Do this a few times until the ribs are thoroughly coated.  Place in the refrigerator 4-6 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.  Up to 48 hours is even better.

IMG_3143 IMG_2912 IMG_2912 IMG_2912~Step 3.  Spray the inside of the crock casseroles with no-stick cooking spray. Arrange the rib sections to fit, in a single layer, slightly-overlapping in a spot or two if necessary.  Four of the largest sections and five of the smallest sections, fit snugly and nicely between the two crocks respectively.  Use a spoon to distribute the marinade remaining in the bag over tops of ribs.

IMG_2916 IMG_2916 IMG_2919 IMG_2919 IMG_2925 IMG_2925 IMG_2925~Step 4.  Cover the crockpot. Cook on high for 2 hours, then, on low for 1-1/2-2 hours, depending upon your preference for doneness (to-the-tooth to fall-off-the bone). That said, the tip of a knife or the tines of a fork, when pierced between any two ribs should easily glide through and come out on the other side.

IMG_2935 2 IMG_2935 2~Step 5.  Preheat broiler with oven rack positioned about 5" under the heat.  Line a large baking pan with aluminum foil, then place a sheet of parchment in the bottom of pan.  Open crockpot and remove the ribs, arranging them slightly apart on the baking pan.  Finish ribs off under the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until bubbly and brown. 

Serve w/Cool & Crunchy Island-Style Jerk-Seasoned Slaw:

IMG_3029Tex-Mex ~ Bone-Suckin' Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare Ribs ~:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ea3f57970d-800wiAsian ~ Teriyaki-Style Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare Ribs ~:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9598585970bLo & Slow-Cooker Jerk-Style Baby-Back Spare-Ribs:  Recipe yields 2-4 servings per casserole (allowing 1/3-1/2-rack per person).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; food processor; large rubber spatula; paper towels 2, 2-gallon food-storage bags; crockpot casserole; 1-cup measuring container; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; pastry brush

IMG_2298Cook's Note:  Prefer rice with your ribs?  In Jamaica, they make a dish, coconut rice, and it's served as a side-dish to fiery Caribbean-style chicken- or shrimp- curry dishes and jerk-seasoned meats.  This is my twist on it. In my recipe for ~ Island-Style Bejeweled Coconut & Black Bean Rice ~, I substitute black beans for pigeon peas (because I adore black beans), then, at the end, I bejewel it with the sweet flavors of ginger, mango, papaya and pineapple.

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

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

09/17/2018

~Tips and Things to Know about Granulated Gelatine~

IMG_2552Gelatine.  Dating back to Egyptian times, it's a substance derived from the processing of animal collagen (beef and/or pork).  That's important to know, as, I'm surprised by how many home cooks are under the mistaken impression this colorless, flavorless, pure-protein is vegetarian.  The word "gelatine" comes from Latin word "gelatus", which means "jellied".  Before the invention of our modern day forms (granulate and, sheet or leaf), gelatine was considered a sign of wealth.  It took hours of tedious work to render and clarify the collagen from cattle hides, pig skins and bones so it could be used in fancy sophisticated aspics, molded salads and elegant desserts.  It meant the host or hostess had the means to support a kitchen staff with well-honed culinary skills.

Gelatine granules & sheets -- same product?  Yes & no.

IMG_2874Today I'm focusing on granulated gelatine -- the kind that comes in a box of four packets.  The kind that's been dried and broken up into individual grains that makes it easy to measure.  Sheet gelatine (also known as leaf gelatin), of which I am a big fan, is made from gelatine that has been dried in flat sheets.  While sheets result in a clearer, more transparent final product, they are, in essence, just a different name for the same product.  That said, most recipes for the home kitchen were written by our mothers and grandmothers, who used the granulated gelatine packets. Granulated gelatin is easily found in grocery stores and is common to home cooks.  Sheet gelatin is found in specialty shops or on-line and is more common to professional chefs and bakeshops.

Substituting sheets for granules?  Sure, but, not so fast. 

IMG_2863In my kitchen, "if the recipe ain't broke, don't fix it", and, I'm here to tell you, substituting sheets for granules, due to the fact the strength of sheets varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and country to country (these are made with pork in Germany), the substitution of sheets in time-tested vintage recipes calling for granules is a tricky business which can end in disappointing results.  I do not recommend it for the average home cook.  If a recipe calls for sheets, by all means use them as directed, but don't off-handedly use them as a substitution for granules.

My general rule of thumb for substitution is based solely upon the brand of sheet gelatine I purchase: 1 sheet = gelatin to thicken 1/2 cup liquid; 2 sheets = gelatin to thicken 1 cup liquid; 6 sheets = gelatin to thicken 3 cups liquid; 6 sheets = 1 packet (1 tablespoon) gelatin granules.

A bit of history about powdered, sheets, granules & Jell-O too:

IMG_2858Unflavored, dry, powdered gelatine, "Cox's Gelatin", became available in 1845 from the J&G Company of Edinburgh, Scotland, and exporting to the USA began the same year.  Also in 1845, Peter Cooper, secured a US patent for a gelatine dessert powder called "portable gelatine", but, nothing would be done with this patent for another 50 years.  In 1895, he sold the patent to Pearl Walt, a cough syrup maker.  Together with his wife May, they experimented with adding fruit syrups (strawberry, raspberry, orange and lemon) to gelatine powder mixed with sugar.  May renamed the 88% sugar product, Jell-O, but, they were unsuccessful in selling it, and, sold the name and business to Orator Francis Woodward in 1899.  In 1904 the Jell-O-girl, holding a tea kettle in her left hand and a box of Jell-O in her right (just add hot water) was introduced.  

That said, in 1890, Charles Knox, of Jamestown NY, after watching his wife make calves' foot jelly, decided that a prepackaged, easy to use gelatine mix was what American housewifes needed.  In 1894 (a year prior to the portable gelatine powder patent), Charles developed the world's first pre-granulated gelatine, by experimenting until he found a process that dried unflavored gelatine into sheets.  He hired salesmen to travel door-to-door to sell and show housewives how to use it.  The sheets, however, fell by the wayside, when he rocked-the-world and introduced unflavored, granulated gelatine packets, which required no hands-on training for the home cook to use the product with extremely successful, almost foolproof, results.

 Tips & things to know about granulated gelatine packets:

IMG_2853Measuring:  If a recipe calls for a specific number of gelatine packets, empty and use the contents from the specified number of packets (1 packet, 2 packets, etc).  If a recipe calls for a specific measurement (1 teaspoon, 2 teaspoons, etc), open the packet(s) and measure the contents with a measuring spoon. One packet will firmly set 2 cups of liquid that, if desired, can be unmolded at serving time.  One packet will softly set 3 cups of liquid that cannot be unmolded at serving time.

1 packet (1/4 ounce) = 1 scant tablespoon (3 teaspoons)

1 packet will firmly set 2 cups liquid

1 packet will softly set 3 cups liquid

IMG_2876 IMG_2876 IMG_2876 IMG_2876 IMG_2893Blooming (hydrating) and warming (melting):  All gelatine must be softened prior to using.  The softening process is called "blooming".  It's done by sprinkling 1 packet gelation (or specified teaspoon measurement) over 1/4 cup cold water (or specified cold alcohol-free liquid) and setting the mixture aside, without stirring or whisking, "to bloom", 5-10 minutes. Once bloomed, heat/warm the gelatine, as directed.  This can be done on the stovetop, but my favorite method is to place "bloomed" gelatin, which is now very thick, in the microwave. Warm it without allowing to simmer or boil, 10-12 seconds, to 100°-110º, until melted  -- this insures gelatine will be evenly distributed throughout whatever it's added to.

Troubleshooting to insure a successful end result:

My gelatine didn't set.  If a gelatine-based dish doesn't set properly, the gelatine either didn't melt all the way or the gelatine mixture boiled.  If not melted all the way, simply heat it a few seconds longer.  If boiled, any type of gelatine loses its thickening power and won't set correctly.  

My gelatine clumped.  Avoid adding melted gelatin to ice-cold liquid or purée, as it could cause the gelatine to clump or seize -- work with warm, room temperature or moderately cool ingredients that have been removed from the refrigerator 30-45 minutes prior to adding gelatine.  

My end result is rubbery.  It's worth noting that foods set with any type of gelatine get stiffer the longer they sit, so, what was softly- and perfectly-set on Monday will be less wobbly and more rubbery on Thursday.  Gelatine desserts are best served 24-48 hours after preparation.

Pretty in Pink:  Easy, Elegant Strawberry Mousse:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07fed657970dPanna From Heaven:  A Divine Mango Panna Cotta:

IMG_2687"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

09/14/2018

~Toasted-Coconut-Kissed Butter-Rum Mango Cream~

IMG_2815In terms of relatively quick-to-make no-bake desserts, this five-ingredient show-stopper takes the cake. It's refreshingly-light and smooth-as-silk with a trio of flavors everyone loves about the Caribbean islands accounted for in every creamy bite -- mango, rum and coconut.  It's thickened by super-stiff whipped cream -- no eggs or gelatine.  No one needs to know these didn't take all day to make.  Serve 'em right after they're put together to quell a craving, or make 'em a day ahead to impress a few friends, just make 'em -- they are truly a don't worry, be happy dessert.

IMG_2810Fall back fifty years.  Peaches and cream.  Freshly-picked sliced peaches dolloped with soft-peaks of freshly-whipped sweetened cream. When I was growing up it was one of my favorite straight-up, unembellished, Summer,desserts. My grandmother's peach tree produced the best peaches, and, every year, after my dad picked them, mom would slice 'em, dollop 'em and serve 'em on our front porch at dusk -- where, a few nights in a row, we'd gobble 'em up listening to the chirp of the crickets. Peachy-keen memories indeed.  

It's not hard to see how easy it was to transition from peaches to mangos and come up with this tropical-flaired dessert.

IMG_27174 ripe mangos, split, pitted, fruit fruit removed from flesh and 1/2" diced, then puréed (as directed below), chilled

4  cups heavy cream, chilled

4  tablespoons sugar

2  tablespoons butter-rum extract

1/2  cup sweetened, flaked coconut, lightly toasted (fine-chopped and lightly-toasted cashews are a nice substitution) 

IMG_2743 IMG_2743~Step 1.  Spread coconut across bottom of small shallow baking pan and place on center rack of 350° oven until lightly-toasted, about 7-8 minutes stopping to stir with a spoon every 2-3 minutes (to insure even toasting).  Set aside to cool.

IMG_2722 IMG_2722 IMG_2722 IMG_2722~Step 2.  With the aid of an Oxo mango splitter-pitter, split and pit the mango.  Use a tablespoon to scoop the fruit from the flesh of each half.  Don't have a mango splitter?  Get one ($12.00).

IMG_2749 IMG_2753 IMG_2753 IMG_2753~Step 3.  Dice the fruit into 1/2" pieces, placing two-thirds of it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and setting the other one-third aside.  If you have a kitchen scale, now is a great time to use it.  Place 16 ounces in the food processor and set aside 8 ounces -- it you have 1-2-ounces of mango leftover, add it to the processor.  With motor running, process the mango to a smooth purée, about 45 seconds.  There will be 1 3/4-2 cups purée.

IMG_2766 IMG_2766 IMG_2769 IMG_2769~Step 4.  Place the sugar and butter-rum extract in a large bowl.  Give it a stir and allow it to sit for 3-5 minutes, to flavor and start to dissolve the sugar.  Add the cream.  Starting on lowest speed of hand-held electric mixer and working up to highest speed, whip the cream until very, very stiff, using a large rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl throughout the process, about 6 minutes.  Remove and set aside (in the refrigerator) 2 cups of the whipped cream.

IMG_2781 IMG_2781 IMG_2785 IMG_2787~Step 5.  Gently fold the mango purée into the whipped cream, in 4-5 increments.  Ladle the mango cream evenly into 6, 2-cup dessert bowls or glasses (these are stemless wine glasses).  If you have the time at this point, refrigerate for 30-60 minutes -- if you don't it'll be just fine.

IMG_2787 IMG_2787 IMG_2787 IMG_2787~Step 6.  At serving time, distribute a few diced mango cubes over their tops, followed by a few dollops (1/2 cup each) of the reserved whipped cream and a sprinkle of toasted coconut.

Impress a few family or friends w/a taste of the tropics:

IMG_2808Oh my butter-rum mango cream.  Sigh.

IMG_2835Toasted-Coconut-Kissed Butter-Rum Mango Cream:  Recipe yields 6, 1-cup-ish size servings.

Special Equipment List:  small shallow baking pan; mango pitter-splitter; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; kitchen scale; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula

IMG_2700Cook's Note:  Panna cotta is a softly-set dessert containing three ingredients:  cream, sugar and galatine. A fourth, flavoring, isn't necessary to achieve perfection, but, a splash of vanilla (or any other flavoring) takes it over-the-top. Some technique is involved (while the name implies 'cooked cream', the ingredients are only warmed enough to dissolve the gelatine and sugar), but it is quickly learned and requires knowing a bit about gelatine. ~ Panna from Heaven:  A Divine Mango Panna Cotta ~.

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

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

09/11/2018

~ Panna from Heaven: A Divine Mango Panna Cotta ~

IMG_2687Pretty as a picture and impressive indeed, "panna cotta" (Italian for "cooked cream") is, perhaps, the easiest of all the sweetened-cream-based, ramekin-molded type desserts.  That said, unlike recipes for puddings, pastry creams, custards and egg-custards, (like creme caramel or creme brûlée), in the case of panna cotta, a bakeless sweet treat, the cream is thickened with gelatine, rather than eggs.  Like all the aforementioned sweetened-cream desserts, every occasion, from blue-jean casual to high-heel upscale, is the right occasion to serve this dessert.

Panna cotta is a delicate, softly-set dessert containing three ingredients:  cream, sugar and galatine. A fourth ingredient, flavoring, isn't necessary to achieve panna cotta perfection, but, a splash of vanilla (or any other flavoring) takes it over-the-top.  There's some technique involved (while the name implies 'cooked cream', the ingredients are only warmed, just enough to dissolve the gelatine and sugar), but it is quickly learned and requires knowing just a bit about gelatine.

Things to know about gelatine packets & troubleshooting too:

IMG_2552I'm using granulated gelatine, the kind that comes in a box of four gelatine packets.  Gelatine sheets, which I am a big fan of, can be substituted, but, in the case of panna cotta,  I've been making it for over 40 years using the packets, and, in my kitchen, if the recipe ain't broke, don't fix it.  Here's a few things to know about the packets:  

1 packet (about 1/4 ounce) = 1 scant tablespoon (3 teaspoons).  

If a recipe calls for a specific number of gelatine packets, use the contents from the specified number of packets.  If a recipe calls for a specific measurement, open the packet(s) and measure the contents with a measuring spoon. One packet will firmly set 2 cups of liquid that, if desired, can be unmolded at serving time. One packet will softly set 3 cups of liquid that cannot be unmolded at serving time. Troubleshooting:  If a gelatine-based dish doesn't set properly, the gelatine didn't melt all the way or the gelatine mixture boiled. If boiled, it loses its thickening power and won't set correctly.

For the oh-so-divine mango-fruit layer:

IMG_25554 ripe mangos, split, pitted and fruit 1/2" diced*, then puréed

6  tablespoons mango juice from the mangos, or store-bought mango nectar, or, water

3  teaspoons granulated gelatine, 1 teaspoon for every 1 cup purée

*Note:  All fruit is not created equal. You'll need 3 cups of puréed mango fruit for this recipe.  In order to insure you'll have it, you'll need 4 mangos.  Yes, you might have a bit of leftover purée.  Deal with it.

There's more. Any fruit that purées well can be substituted to make today's panna cotta dessert. That said, keep in mind that certain fruits (figs, guava, kiwi, papaya and pineapple) contain an enzyme (bromelain) that prevents gelatine from thickening or thickening properly.  In order to use them, the puree must be simmered, as cooking (or the canning process) destroys the enzyme.

IMG_2571 IMG_2571 IMG_2571 IMG_2571 IMG_2571~Step 1.  Prepping the glasses and the pans.  I am using 12, 6-ounce (3/4-cup-size) glass punch-type cups.  I am fitting them into the cups of 12, standard-sized muffin cups.  I am tipping /angling each one against the side of the muffin cup.  To do this without them moving or slipping throughout the process, I am propping them up with, believe it or not, with 24 sour-cherry sour-ball candies -- two per muffin cup.  Old-fashioned cat's-eye marbles work well too.  Feel free to use some wadded up paper or paper towels, but, it won't be quite so precise.

IMG_2722 IMG_2722 IMG_2722 IMG_2722~Step 2.  With the aid of an Oxo mango splitter-pitter, split and pit the mango.  Use a tablespoon to scoop the fruit from the flesh of each half.  Don't have a mango splitter?  Get one ($12.00). 

IMG_2559 IMG_2559 IMG_2559 IMG_2559~Step 3.  With the aid of a sharp knife and a cutting board, 1/2" dice the mango fruit as directed, placing the fruit in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade as you work. With motor running, process to a smooth purée, about 20-30 seconds.  You will have 3+ cups purée.  Be sure to measure it precisely.  Transfer purée to a medium bowl and set aside.

IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2618~Step 4.  Place 6 tablespoons mango juice, nectar or water in a 1-cup container.  Sprinkle gelatine granules over the top of the liquid and set aside to "bloom" for 10 minutes.  Do not stir.  Place gelatine, which is now thick, in the microwave.  Melt it, without allowing it to simmer or boil, 10-15 seconds (do not stir), then a second round of 10-15 seconds (do not stir).  Add the melted gelatine to the fruit purée. Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly (I mean thoroughly) stir the gelatine into the purée.  If you have a large squeeze bottle with a twist-on cap, the kind used to shake and distribute salad dressing, now is the time to use it.  Transfer the purée to the container -- it works great.

IMG_2620 IMG_2620 IMG_2620~Step 5.  Dispense the purée, through the squeeze bottle into the cups, dividing it equally between the cups.  This is 100% stress free and mess free, so much better than trying to spoon or ladle it in.  Place the pans of mango-purée filled cups in the refrigerator to chill until well set, six hours to overnight.

For the traditional panna-from-heaven panna cotta layer:

IMG_2697Panna cotta, said to hail from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, is, to say the least, delicate -- so fragile it can barely support itself (although it does). It has a silky-smooth mouthfeel and melt-in-the-mouth texture.  It's dependent on gelatine.  Too little and the mixture won't set.  Too much and the mixture won't have it's signature "wobbly-jiggly" texture -- it will be gummy.  I use cream (no milk or half-and-half), and a cream-to-gelatin ratio of 1 teaspoon gelatin for every 1 cup cream -- if you choose to substitute milk, or half-and-half for a lower-fat version, it can cause complications with the amount of gelatine to add.  As for sugar, I use 2 tablespoons for every 1 cup cream.  It's foolproof perfection and I've got my creamy recipe committed to memory.

IMG_26333  cups heavy or whipping cream (divided into two parts, 1 1/2 cups and 1 1/2 cups, throughout recipe)

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1  teaspoon pure mango extract*

1/4  teaspoon salt

3  teaspoons granulated gelatine

6  tablespoons sugar

*Note:  If using another fruit purée (peaches, strawberries or bananas for example) substitute another flavor.  Butter rum is always yum.

IMG_2635 IMG_2635 IMG_2635 IMG_2635 IMG_2644 IMG_2644 IMG_2644~Step 1.  Place a 3-4-quart saucier or saucepan on the unheated stovetop. Add 1 1/2 cups of the cream (one-half of the cream). Add and thoroughly stir in the vanilla extract, mango extract and salt.  Sprinkle the gelatine granules over the top.  Do not stir.  Set aside 10 minutes.  Gelatin will swell and appear wrinkly.

IMG_2651 IMG_2651 IMG_2651 IMG_2651 IMG_2659 IMG_2659 IMG_2659~Step 2.  Turn the heat under the saucier to medium-low. Sprinkle the sugar atop the gelatin. Using a large spoon, begin stirring, and continue to stir for 3 full minutes, keeping the heat low to prevent the mixture from steaming or boiling.  Put the fingertip of your index finger and thumb into the tepid mixture to see if you can feel any grit.  If you feel any grit, the sugar is not completely dissolved -- stir for another minute.  Remove from heat and set aside, to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Transfer cream mixture to a 1-quart measuring container with pourer spout (a big measuring cup).

IMG_2670 IMG_2670 IMG_2670 IMG_2670 IMG_2678 IMG_2678 IMG_2678~Step 3.  Remove the pans of mango-purée gelatine from the refrigerator.  Remove the candies or marbles from the bottom and sit the cups upright.  Carefully, in a thin steady stream, pour the panna cotta mix into the empty side of each cup, until the purée gelatine is completely covered.  Return the pans to the refrigerator and keep them there until the panna cotta is set, 4-6 hours or overnight.

Oh my panna cotta.  You bring out the perfectionist in me: 

IMG_2690Oh my panna cotta perfection in every bite:

IMG_2711Pan From Heaven:  A Divine Mango Panna Cotta:  Recipe yields 12, 3/4 cup servings.

Special Equipment List:  mango splitter-pitter; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 1-quart measuring container; large squeeze condiment container with twist-on cap; 3-4-quart saucier w/rounded sides or a 3-4-quart saucepan; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07fed657970dCook's Note:  Other fruits can be substituted for mangos to make today's panna cotta dessert (peaches, strawberries and bananas are three of my favorites).  That said, any fruit that purées well, can be used to make a mousse too (a similar technique in that gelatine is used to set the fruit purée, but, instead of cooking the cream with gelatine, freshly whipped cream is carefully folded into the mixture to make it light and airy.  By all means, give my ~ Pretty in Pink:  Easy, Elegant Strawberry Mousse ~.

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

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

09/08/2018

~ Sweet Heat: Island-Style Mango or Pineapple Salsa ~

IMG_2486In my food world, one of the most common background noises is the chatter of friends or family talking about the great price they scored on a basket or flat of prime produce.  It's big news.  Last week I was the one bragging about the flat of perfect mangos I toddled into my kitchen with.  At 2-for-$1, it was exciting news.  On par with fresh pineapple, mangos are my favorite exotic fruit. Similar in taste and texture to peaches, my first taste of this juicy stone fruit came in Thailand, where a mango hedgehog* was served, compliments of the hotel, every morning with breakfast.

In my kitchen, there's no such thing as a surplus of mangos.

IMG_2438The color of a mango is not an indicator of its ripeness.  Similar to the avocado, a ripe mango will give slightly when pressed.

IMG_2471Mango salsa, full of sweet heat, is a favorite of mine served with nachos made with jalapeño Jack cheese. That said, it's a show-stopper topper for Mexican Baja-style fish or seafood tacos, and, I serve it alongside Jamaican-style jerk chicken or pork too.  When I don't have mangos, I make it with pineapple.  Yes, of course it can be made with a combination of both, but, I prefer it with one or the other. While I'm generically referring to this condiment as salsa, technically it is a fruit-based pico de gallo.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08763663970dIn Mexican, "pico de gallo" literally translates to "rooster's beak". Native Mexicans of the Sonoran region explain that serrano chile peppers, a key component of the dish, resemble a rooster's beak.  Also referred to a "salsa fresca",  pico de gallo is a carefully concocted mixture of diced, fresh, uncooked "salad" ingredients: tomato, onion, cilantro, serrano peppers, salt and lime juice.  I simply swap mangos for tomatoes (in my pico de gallo recipe) to make mango salsa.

6 or 7 diced ingredients + 1 bowl = fresh & rustic salsa...

IMG_2446... with a crisp, clean burst of sweet & spicy heat in every bite.

IMG_2447For the mango pico de gallo:

3-3 1/2  cups 1/2"-diced split and pitted ripe mango flesh/fruit, from 3 ripe mangos, or diced pineapple

1  cup small-diced red bell pepper

3/4  cup each: small-diced red onion and minced, fresh cilantro

1-1 1/2-2  tablespoons fine-diced red serrano chile pepper, for mild, medium or hot, heat control 

1 1/2-2  tablespoons lime juice, fresh or high-quality store-bought not from concentrate

1/2-3/4  teaspoon sea salt, to taste

IMG_2722 IMG_2722 IMG_2722 IMG_2722~Step 1.  With the aid of an Oxo mango splitter-pitter, split and pit the mango.  Use a tablespoon to scoop the fruit from the flesh of each half.  Don't have a mango splitter?  Get one ($12.00).

IMG_2451 IMG_2451 IMG_2451 IMG_2451 IMG_2451 IMG_2451~Step 2.  Place the diced red onion, red bell pepper, and serrano chile pepper in a medium bowl.  Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.  Stir, then set aside about 10 minutes.  Add and stir in the cilantro, followed by the diced mangos (or pineapple).  Set aside at room temperature for 10 more minutes, then, stir and taste.  Add the additional salt and/or lime juice if you feel the mixture needs it -- I added no salt or additional lime juice today.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 6 hours, to allow flavors to marry, prior to serving chilled or at room temperature.  While the mango or pineapple pico de gallo is marinating, stir it 3-4 times throughout this time, whenever it's convenient.

As a condiment to Caribbean-style plantain chips...

IMG_2482... or a topper for Texican-style jalapeño Jack nachos...

IMG_2523... mango or pineapple salsa lights my sweet & savory fire:

IMG_2513Sweet Heat:  Island Style Mango or Pineapple Salsa:  Recipe yields 4 cups salsa.

Special Equipment List: mango splitter-pitter; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; 4-cup food-storage container w/tight fitting lid

Mango_hedgehog*Cook's Note:  In order of largest to smallest mango production, India, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean (followed by frost-free areas of the USA) lead the world.  Because of it's large center pit and thick skin, unlike the peach, in order to eat this juicy fruit out-of-hand, the "hedgehog" technique is applied.  Once split and pitted, the flesh is scored into squares, then each concave half is picked up and the skin is pressed to a convex shape with the thumbs.

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

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

09/05/2018

~Jerk-Style Chicken & Slaw on Coco Bread Sandwich~

IMG_2371Don't worry, be happy -- especially if you've got some leftover Jamaican-style jerk chicken (or pork) on hand.  Warm or chilled, removed from the bones and pulled into succulent, bite-sized chucks and pieces, this full-of-Island-style aromatically-flavored poultry (or meat), when piled high on one of their signature freshly-baked and opened, rich-and-flaky coco bread sandwich rolls, is magnifique.  A slice of tomato or grilled pineapple and a heap of jerk-slaw takes it over the top.

IMG_2339Coco bread is an enriched Jamaican yeast bread that's a cross between a thin sandwich roll and a thick pocket bread. It's said the name comes from coconut due to its texture (a hard outside with a soft inside), not because coconut and/or coconut milk are ingredients (traditionally it contains neither). Like any bread, it can be eaten alone, broken apart and slathered with butter or dipped into Jamaican shrimp-,  chicken- or pork- curry dishes, it often used as a container for hot, savory, often sloppy fillings, by hollowing out the pocket with the fingertips to increase the size of the cavity.  I'm using it today in the same manner I would use a sandwich roll -- sliced to make a sandwich.  I purchase mine online from www.luciniasgourmetfood.com, a bakery in Long Island, NY.  They arrive fresh, six, 6-ounce individually-wrapped breads, which I freeze.

Herein lies the secret to my jerk-seasoned slaw:

IMG_2395Leave it to the Jamaicans.  I can't think of another exotic-to-me cuisine that does a better job of making my life easier.  I mean, seriously, they've cornered the market on marketing high-quality, bold-flavored dry-spice blends and rubs, wet pastes and marinades, barbecue, steak and hot pepper sauces, etc. -- when it comes to cooking Jamaican fare at home, some of their store-bought time-savers make me ponder why anyone would want to concoct "it" from scratch. Example:  A high-quality jerk barbecue sauce can transform a dollop of mayonnaise into a flavor bomb with one squirt.  Therein lies the secret to the dressing for my jerk-seasoned slaw.

IMG_231914  ounces bagged coleslaw mix

4  ounces bagged matchstick carrots (about 2 cups)

4  ounces very-thinly-sliced (shaved) red onion (about 1 cup)

1  cup mayonnaise, chilled

1/4  cup Jamaican jerk BBQ sauce

1  tablespoon malt vinegar

1  teaspoon mild molasses

1/2  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper

IMG_2326 IMG_2326 IMG_2326 IMG_2326~Step 1.  Slice red onion as directed, cut into half-moon shapes, then cut half-moons into thirds. Set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, jerk barbecue sauce, malt vinegar, molasses and Scotch bonnet pepper.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in coleslaw, carrots and onion.  Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.  Serve chilled.

For six of my over-the-top Jamaican-jerk chicken sandwiches:

IMG_23476  Jamaican coco bread rolls

2  heads Bibb lettuce, soft leaves removed (5-6 leaves per sandwich, depending on size)

2-3  ripe, garden-fresh tomatoes, sliced (2-3 slices per sandwich, depending on size)

2-3  half Jamaican Spice-is-Nice Oven-Roasted Jamaican-Jerk Chickens, warm or chilled, meat pulled from bones (about 5-6 cups, about 1/2-3/4 cup per sandwich)

1/2  cup Jamaican-jerk-seasoned barbecue sauce (1 generous tablespoon per sandwich)

3  cups Jamaican jerk-seasoned slaw, from above recipe (1/3-1/2 cup per sandwich)

IMG_2350 IMG_2350 IMG_2350 IMG_2350 IMG_2350 IMG_2350 IMG_2350 IMG_2350~Step 1.  Layer and assemble each sandwich as follows:  1 warm cocoa bread roll, split (Lucina's coco breads get reheated in the microwave for 1 minute); 5-6 soft lettuce leaves, 2-3 tomato slices; 1/2-3/4 cup pulled chicken; a generous drizzle of barbecue sauce; 1/3-1/2 cup slaw.  

Put a lid on it & serve this mouthful-of-happiness ASAP:

IMG_2416The Jerk Chicken & Slaw on Coco Bread Sandwich:  Recipe yields 6 large sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; whisk

IMG_1245Cook's Note:  Interestingly enough, ~ Don't Worry, Be Happy: Jamaican Beef Patties ~, an empanada-esque pastry is often stuffed inside a coco bread.  It seems odd to me too, but, when in Jamaica, don't question their food, just do as the Jamaican's do.  Eat.

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

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

09/03/2018

~Crunchy & Creamy Island-Style Jerk-Seasoned Slaw~

IMG_2407Coleslaw -- creamy and crunchy, sweet, savory and nicely-spiced, coleslaw is a make-my-day side-dish and my favorite sloppy-sandwich topper.  There's more.  By swapping out a few herbs and spices, coleslaw, "the chameleon of side-dishes", any coleslaw recipe can be prepared to complement any cuisine.  How convenient is that.  I came up with this version to serve with Jamaican-style jerk fare.  This simple, lip-smacking recipe has got a bit of coat-your-throat heat.

Herein lies the secret to my jerk-seasoned slaw:

Leave it to the Jamaicans.  I can't think of another exotic-to-me cuisine that does a better job of making my life easier.  I mean, seriously, they've cornered the market on marketing high-quality, bold-flavored dry-spice blends and rubs, wet pastes and marinades, barbecue, steak and hot pepper sauces, etc. -- when it comes to cooking Jamaican fare at home, some of their store-bought time-savers make me ponder why anyone would want to concoct "it" from scratch. Example:  A high-quality jerk barbecue sauce can transform a dollop of mayonnaise into a flavor bomb with one squirt.  Therein lies the secret to the dressing for my jerk-seasoned slaw.

IMG_231914  ounces bagged coleslaw mix

4  ounces bagged matchstick carrots (about 2 cups)

4  ounces very-thinly-sliced (shaved) red onion (about 1 cup)

1  cup mayonnaise, chilled

1/4  cup Jamaican jerk BBQ sauce

1  tablespoon malt vinegar

1  teaspoon mild molasses

1/2  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c959048b970bNote about adding pineapple:  I love pineapple as much as anyone, and, occasionally I add 1 1/2 cups diced pineapple to this recipe. It's scrumptious.   That said, pineapple contains an enzyme (bromelian) that is a powerful tenderizer.  Experience has taught that when adding pineapple to this slaw, unless you want coleslaw with a funked-up texture, it needs to be folded in just prior to serving (1-2 hours is ok).  To learn more, read my post ~ Fresh vs. Canned:  How Pineapple Reacts w/Proteins ~. 

IMG_2326 IMG_2326 IMG_2326 IMG_2326~Step 1.  Slice red onion as directed, cut into half-moon shapes, then cut  half-moons into thirds. Set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, jerk barbecue sauce, malt vinegar, molasses and Scotch bonnet pepper.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in coleslaw, carrots and onion.  Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.  Serve chilled.

Try my Island-Style Jerk-Seasoned Salsa, piled high on...

IMG_2387... my Jerk-Style Chicken & Slaw on Coco Bread Sandwich:

IMG_2371Crunchy & Creamy Island-Style Jerk-Seasoned Slaw:  Recipe yields 5-6 cups coleslaw.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; whisk; large rubber spatula

IMG_2298Cook's Note:  In Jamaica, they make a dish called coconut rice and peas -- it's usually served as an accompaniment to Caribbean-style chicken- or shrimp- curry dishes and jerk-seasoned meats. This is sort of not it.  This is my twist on it. In my recipe for ~ Island-Style Bejeweled Coconut & Black Bean Rice ~, I substitute black beans for pigeon peas (because I adore black beans), then, at the end, I bejewel it with the sweet flavors of ginger, mango, papaya and pineapple.

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

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

09/01/2018

~ Island-Style Bejeweled Coconut & Black Bean Rice ~

IMG_2306 2In Jamaica, they make a dish called coconut rice and peas -- it's usually served as an accompaniment to Caribbean-style chicken- or shrimp- curry dishes and jerk-seasoned meats. This is sort of not it.  This is my twist on it.  In Jamaica, beans are called peas, more specifically, pigeon peas -- they’re a staple in Indian, African, Latin and Caribbean cooking and are sold canned, dried or fresh.  In the Caribbean islands, kidney beans are a common substitution, which is a good, because, up until recently, pigeon peas were not something I could find in my Central PA stores.  While I like kidney beans (a lot), I love black beans, so, I use them.  We cool so far?

Traditionally, the rice is cooked on the stovetop, rice-pilaf-style.  That means, the dish (liberally seasoned in the style of the cuisine being cooked) is simmered in a flavored liquid (like meat, poultry or vegetable stock), instead of plain water -- as the rice cooks it absorbs an array of flavors.  Prior to adding the liquid, the process often starts by briefly sautéing the rice and/or some vegetables (like onion and garlic) in some butter or oil.  "In the style of the cuisine being cooked" means:  use seasonings and add ingredients common to the country of origin.  In the case of Jamaican-style rice and peas, besides the rice and peas, those ingredients would be: onion, garlic, Scotch bonnet pepper, thyme, chicken stock and/or coconut milk.  We cool so far?

For convenience w/o compromise, try my rice steamer method:

Rice steamer vs. stovetop.  I love my rice cooker/steamer and I'm pretty certain everyone else who owns one does too.  These modern marvels take all the guesswork out of cooking rice on the stovetop.  I use mine for steaming broccoli and cauliflower too.  By using dried herbs and spices in place of fresh, which kept the flavor profile the same as the Jamaian-style stovetop version, trust me when I tell you, my rice steamer version compromises neither flavor nor texture. After learning that ginger and brown sugar are sometimes added to the stovetop version, I took it upon myself to bejewel my version, island-style, with bits of candied fruit common to the Caribbean:  ginger, mango, papaya and pineapple.  It's over-the-top great.  We cool so far? 

IMG_22332  cups basmati rice

1  15 1/2-ounce can coconut milk + water to total 2 1/2  cups

1  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2  teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder and salt

1/4  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper powder

1  15 1/2-ounce can black beans, well-drained and rinsed, or:  

1 15 1/2-ounce can well-drained green or black pigeon peas*, or, kidney beans

IMG_2431 IMG_2431 IMG_2431*A bit about pigeon peas:  About the same size as a black bean, with the same nutty taste and grainy texture of all beans (not at all the taste and texture associated with green peas), feel free to use them.  If you use a brand packed in coconut milk, feel free to use the coconut milk they're packed in too.

IMG_2288To bejewel Coconut & Black Bean Rice island-style:

2  tablespoons small-diced candied ginger

2  tablespoons small-diced candied mango

2  tablespoons small-diced candied papaya

2  tablespoons small-diced candied pineapple

IMG_2248 IMG_2248 IMG_2248 IMG_2248~Step 1.  Using the measuring cup from the rice cooker, measure and place 2 level cups rice in steamer basket.  Using the measuring cup from the rice cooker, measure and add the coconut milk/water mixture to the steamer basket with the rice.  Rinse and drain the black beans.

IMG_2258 IMG_2262 IMG_2262 IMG_2262 IMG_2262 IMG_2262 IMG_2262~Step 2.  Add the dry spices (thyme leaves, garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and Scotch bonnet pepper powder to the rice and coconut milk in the steamer basket and give the mixture a thorough stir. Add the black beans and do not stir.  Close lid on the rice cooker and turn it on.  When rice cooker shuts off, open lid and immediately rake through rice with a fork to separate the grains.

~Step 3.  To bejewel the rice, which adds sweet, tart and edgy zing, stir in the candied ginger, mango, papaya and ginger.  Rake the candied fruits into coconut and black bean rice and serve.

IMG_2290 IMG_2290 IMG_2290

Bejewel: a verb meaning to ornament or encrust, as if with jewels.

IMG_2298Want Oven-Roasted Jamaican-Jerk-Chicken with this?

IMG_2059Island-Style Bejeweled Coconut & Black Bean Rice:  Recipe yields 5 1/2-6 cups.

Special Equipment List: electric rice cooker/steamer; measuring cup from rice cooker; small colander; spoon; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_2130Cook's Note: Bananas and plantains -- they resemble each other, and they're related too.   I eat a banana every morning, but, I can't say the same for the plantain.  By accident or out of curiosity, if you've ever tasted a raw plantain, you knew you weren't eating a banana.  That said, when sautéed, the taste and texture of the yellow plantain is remarkable.  ~ Sweet & Caramelized Island-Spice Yellow Plantains ~ is another side-dish common to the fiery curry dishes and jerk-seasoned meats of the Caribbean islands.

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

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