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12 posts from December 2018

12/31/2018

~ Ringing in the New Year Eating Pork & Sauerkraut ~

IMG_7201Anywhere you find a gathering of Pennsylvania Dutch (Dutch=Deutsch=German) or Eastern Europeans (primarily throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and into the Midwest), you'll find them ringing in the New Year by eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day, in order to receive a years worth of good luck, health and prosperity.  It's a combination of tradition steeped in superstition backed up with a dose of practical purpose.  Where I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania, we had a large population of both.  My family was Eastern European, we knew many PA Deutsch folks, and, both cuisines intersected in numerous ways, starting with:  both are porcine-raising cabbage-growing cultures who wrote the book on pork and cabbage recipes.

It's a combination of PA Dutch & Eastern European tradition...

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3caf5dc200bPractical purpose turned into tradition.  Pork and sauerkraut didn't start out as a dish associated with New Year's Day -- it evolved into one.  It was common for individuals in farming communities to raise a backyard pig or three, or raise pigs for a living.  Those who raised pigs slaughtered them in the Fall, because the time-consuming task of butchering a large animal is considerably more food-safe during cold weather months.  In turn, this meant that cuts of pork (hams, sausages, roasts, etc.) were more plentiful in the weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year (so, if one didn't raise a pig, one could purchase or barter for a choice cut).  As for sauerkraut, the cool weather months are prime cabbage-harvesting time, which resulted in pickling vats of it in order to preserve it -- timing is everything, and, after fermenting, the 'kraut was done just in the nick of time for the holidays.

... steeped in superstition & backed by a dose of practical purpose.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3caf5a7200bTradition steeped in superstition.  As any PA Deutsch person will be quick to tell you, "the pig roots forward as it eats", which is a symbol of forward progress (the direction people hope to go in the new year), and, raising a big, fat pig, fed a family for a long time, a symbol of prosperity (which people hope to achieve in the new year) -- this is opposed to "the chicken and turkey scratches backward as it eats", which is a symbol of a year no better, or worse than, the previous one (undesirable to say the least).  As any Eastern European person will tell you, "the long shredded-strands of sauerkraut  symbolize a long, healthy life", and, "freshly-picked cabbage is green, which is the color of cash money, which symbolizes prosperity".  The moral of the story: Place a beautiful, well-seasoned pork roast surrounded by mounds of briny sauerkraut or cooked cabbage on your New Year Day table and you're walking on sunshine until next year.

And it couldn't be a tastier way to embrace a new beginning:

IMG_7211"We are all in the food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

12/28/2018

~ This Spud's for You: Game-On Baked-Potato Salad ~

IMG_6974When one lives in a college town associated with a big-time football program, one has honed the skills necessary to transition from the traditional Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities to ringing in the New Year with a bowl-game tailgate.  It's a tough job but somebody's got to do it, and, here in Happy Valley, PA, the home of Penn State's Nittany Lions, an entire community of fellow blue-and-white-clad cooks are capable of changing lanes with ease.  This year, it's gonna be deli-sandwiches and potato salad on our cocktail table in front of our lunch-timed game-day TV.  We'll serve our good-luck pork-and-sauerkraut for another school's dinner-timed game.

IMG_7017Pieracini's deli-sandwiches & my baked-potato salad.

IMG_6949I've got a favorite Italian, mom-pop-and-family-operated (since 1919) market in my hometown that makes game-winningly delicious hoagie sandwiches, right down to the home-baked Italian rolls they serve them on:  Pieracini's.  With a choice of traditional hoagie, beef, turkey (or an assortment of all three), there are 15-, 30- or 45-piece trays, but, if it's wrap- or pretzel-bread sandwiches you prefer, they too are options -- and reasonably priced.  For a small establishment their menu is big, with a selection of all-homemade hot meals, soups, salads and baked goods too long to mention.       

IMG_7034I won't lie, I am a potato salad snob -- most folks who like potato salad are.  That said, when it comes to potato salad recipes, I have several, using different varieties of potatoes and employing different cooking methods.  When it comes to making potato salad, the best tip I can give anyone is:  follow the recipe, as different potatoes usually require different cooking methods.  In this recipe, I save time by not peeling Russet potatoes, and, while they're "baking" in the microwave for 16-18 minutes, I hard-cook the eggs, chop the onion and celery and collect my spices and refrigerated ingredients.

Clock ticking down to kick off?  Game on with this game plan:

IMG_70705  13-14-ounce Russet potatoes

5-6  extra-large eggs

1  generous cup diced celery

1  generous cup diced yellow or sweet onion

8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) mayonnaise, + 1-2 tablespoons additional mayo, if desired, chilled

2  tablespoons Dijon mustard, chilled

2  tablespoons sweet pickle relish, chilled

1  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon celery seed

IMG_7055 IMG_7055 IMG_7055~ Step 1.  Rinse the Russet potatoes, and, using the sharp tip of a paring knife, pierce their skin in 4-5 spots. Microwave until potatoes are fork-tender, yet still-firm and slightly undercooked.  In my microwave this takes about 18 minutes.  Remove from microwave.  Slice the Russet into 1/2" - 3/4" discs, then, peel back the skins from the discs.  Slice the discs into 1/2"-3/4 chunks, placing them on a baking pan as you work.  Place the potatoes in the refrigerator for 8-10 minutes (or 30-60 minutes if you have the extra time) to quickly cool the potatoes to below room temperature.

IMG_7041 IMG_7041 IMG_7041 IMG_7041 IMG_7041~Step 2.  When potatoes go into the microwave, hard-cook the eggs (either via the link to my method or yours) as directed.  Do not overcook the eggs -- everyone detests those greenish-gray halos around the yolks. Peel and dice the eggs into 3/4" pieces and set aside.  Dice the celery and onions -- small or medium dice, your choice.  Set aside.

IMG_7073 IMG_7073 IMG_7073 IMG_7073 IMG_7081 IMG_7081 IMG_7081 IMG_7081~Step 3.  In a large bowl, using a large rubber spatula, stir together the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, sweet pickle relish, salt, pepper and celery seed.  Add and fold in the celery and onions, followed by the cooled potatoes, and, last but not least, the delicate eggs.  Add 1-2 more tablespoons mayonnaise to adjust creaminess, if desired -- I added none today.

Get the sandwiches & potato salad out, then turn on the TV:

IMG_6952The game's coming on so I gotta run & stick a fork in it:

IMG_7022This Spud's for You: Game-On Baked-Potato Salad:  Recipe yields 12 cups/3 quarts potato salad.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07cebeb8970dCook's Note: For potato salad recipes that suit several occasions, many cuisines and all seasons, check out my repertoire: ~ Spring-Forward Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier ~, ~ Lemony English Pea, Mint and Gold Potato Salad ~, ~  Baked Russet & Sweet Potato Salad w/Chile-Lime Mayo ~, ~ Roast Beef Eatin' Horseradish-Mayo Potato Salad ~, ~ Russian Red-Potato, Beet, Onion & Radish Salad ~, and, ~ The Gold Standard:  Creamy Gold Potato and Egg Salad ~.  

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

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

12/25/2018

~Christmas Cookies 2018 with a Winter White Theme~

IMG_6924Because there are not enough days in the week preceding Christmas for me to bake as many varieties of cookies as I would like, every year my Christmas cookie trays are different.  Each year I pick a theme and bake four kinds.  For example:  Last year I baked Four Kid-Friendly Candy-Bar Cookies of My Youth.  Each cookie contained a different candy bar:  Reeses's Cups, Snickers, Kit-Kat's and Whoppers.  This year, for a small gathering of adults, I chose Winter White -- cookies that pair well with creamy rum-laced eggnog and cream-in-your-coffee or tea.

Home for the Holiday Eggnog-Laced Snickerdoodles:

IMG_6592Let it Snow-Capped Ricotta & Coconut Cookies:

IMG_6707The Holly & the Ivy Tart-Cherry & Pistachio Biscotti:

IMG_6819Over-the-Moon Candied-Pecan & Toffee Crescents:

IMG_6915Merry Christmas to All & to All a Goodnight!

IMG_6928"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

12/23/2018

~ Over-the-Moon Candied-Pecan & Toffee Crescents ~

IMG_6915This version of these buttery rich, melt-in-your-mouth, sweet and salty, crunchy-crumbly-munchie confections, which are loaded with honey-glazed candied pecans and English-style toffee bits, will, if you're not forewarned, glue you to the holiday dessert table.  I call them confections because, while they are classified as a cookie, they have all the panache of a candy.  During the holiday season, these cookies show up in the crescent shape, but, other times of the year, they're typically shaped into rounds and referred to as "tea cakes" or "English tea cakes".

There are as many variations on this English recipe which dates back to the middle ages -- all contain nuts, with walnuts or pecans being the most common, and, authentic recipes never contain baking powder, baking soda, eggs or milk (keep in mind the ingredients available in that time period of history -- baking powder and baking soda did not exist back then).  They are made from the typical middle-ages-type pastry mixture of flour, sugar, ground nuts, butter and water.

Tea cakes, English tea cakes or holiday crescent cookies:

IMG_6823

 

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

1  cup confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons pecan flavoring

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

8  ounces honey-glazed candied pecans

1/2  cup English toffee bits

2 1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

4-6  tablespoons cold water

additional confectioners' sugar, for dusting cookies

IMG_6830 IMG_6830 IMG_6830 IMG_6830 IMG_6830 IMG_6846 IMG_6846~Step 1.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, using a series of 45-50 rapid on-off pulses, pulverize pecans to small bits and pieces.  Transfer to a medium bowl (there will be 1 1/2 cups), then, stir in the toffee bits (to total 2 cups).  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour and salt.  Set aside. Line 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350º.

IMG_6852 IMG_6852 IMG_6852 IMG_6852~Step 2.  In a large bowl, on medium-high mixer speed, cream together the butter, sugar and extracts, 1 minute.  Lower mixer speed, add pecan mixture and fold it into butter mixture, scraping down sides of bowl with a spatula until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, 1 minute.

IMG_6861 IMG_6861 IMG_6861 IMG_6861~Step 3.  Add the flour and salt.  Continue mixing on low speed and scraping down sides of bowl with the spatula, until flour is thoroughly incorporated.  Mixture will resemble coarse crumbs. Remove mixer.  Add 4 tablespoons water and use the spatula to blend it in.  If mixture doesn't come together to form a ball, add 2 more tablespoons water.  Mixture will have formed a ball.

IMG_6870 IMG_6870 IMG_6870 IMG_6870~Step 4.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, roll balls of dough between your fingertips to form 3"-3 1/2" logs.  Shape logs into crescents and place, 1 1/2"-2" apart on prepared pans, 20 on each pan.  Use your index fingertip and thumb to taper either end of each crescent.

IMG_6873Tip from Mel:  For evenly-shaped and sized crescents, which makes for a prettier presentation, place each log into a 2 1/2" round jar lid, use the lid to form the crescent shape, then invert the lid onto the baking pan -- the crescent will drop right out.  The "lid" in this photo is actually the bottom of a red Solo cup which I cut with a pair of kitchen shears. 

IMG_6884 IMG_6884 IMG_6884 IMG_6901 IMG_6901~Step 5.  One-pan-at-a-time, bake cookies on center rack of preheated 350º oven, until puffed and lightly-browned, 12-14 minutes.  Do not over-bake/over-brown.  Remove from oven and cool on pan about 1 minute prior to using a thin spatula to transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely, 1-2 hours, prior to lightly-dusting with confectioners' sugar.

Lightly-dust cooled crescents w/confectioners' sugar & serve:

IMG_6905Over-the-Moon Candied-Pecan & Toffee Crescents: Recipe yields 40-44, 3 1/2" cookies.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; spoon; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 1/2" ice-cream/cookie scoop; thin spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0224df349c26200bCook's Note:  For a different-type cookie with the same theme, my ~ Buttery Candied-Pecan and Toffee Bit Shortbread ~ cookies will disappear almost as fast as you can bake them. Throughout 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.  After this super-easy to make dough is mixed, it can be be baked in several forms.

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

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

12/20/2018

~ The Holly & the Ivy: Tart-Cherry & Pistachio Biscotti ~

IMG_6819Bold and beautiful, bright-red holly berries, clustered amongst shiny, deep-green, pointy-edged ivy leaves, are colors and symbols we associate with Christmas.  Right from the first, meaning the first time my tart-cherry and toasted-pistachio biscotti revealed their sliced selves, I began calling them "holly and ivy biscotti", and, they're a great way to get into the spirit of holiday baking.

One biscotto, three biscotti & my version pales to none:

IMG_6803The word biscotti (three biscotti, one biscotto) originates form the Latin word "biscoctus", which means "twice cooked".  Biscotti, as we know them, are oblong shaped, dry, crunchy biscuit-esque cookies that get baked twice -- once in loaf form and a second time after the loaf is sliced.  That said, the word also references any oven-baked goods that get baked twice, until very dry, so they can be stored for a long time.  In ancient times, this type of non-perishable was useful on long-journeys -- they were a wartime staple of the Roman legions.  Traditionally almond flavored, modern versions have come a long way baby, and my version, which beside the tart cherries and salty pistachios contains pure, organic cherry and pistachio extracts, pales to none. 

IMG_67256 1/2  ounces salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 2/3 sticks)

1  cup sugar

3  extra-large eggs

2  teaspoons pure pistachio extract

1  teaspoon pure cherry extract

1/2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6  ounces chopped dehydrated tart cherries (about 1 1/2 cups)

6  ounces chopped roasted and salted shelled pistachios (about 1 1/2 cups)

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

1  tablespoon baking powder

IMG_6735 IMG_6735 IMG_6735 IMG_6735~Step 1.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper and ready a wire rack that will fit in the pan, a kitchen scale, a 12" ruler and a serrated bread knife.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Chop cherries and pistachios and set aside.  Stir together the flour and baking powder.  Set aside.

IMG_6736 IMG_6736 IMG_6736 IMG_6736 IMG_6736 IMG_6736~Step 2.  In a large mixing bowl, on medium- medium-high speed of electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, eggs and extracts, about 1 minute.  Add and beat in the cherries and pistachios, about 1 minute.  Lower the mixer speed.  In two or three increments, fold in the flour mixture.  Continue to mix until ingredients are thoroughly combined and a sticky, yet manageable dough has formed, about 1 minute.

IMG_6754 IMG_6754 IMG_6754 IMG_6761 IMG_6761 IMG_6761 IMG_6761 IMG_6761~Step 3.  Dust a wooden pastry board with 1-2 tablespoons bench flour.  Turn the dough out onto the floured surface and knead, adding bits of flour, in increments, as necessary, until dough is smooth and no longer sticks to hands.  Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide the dough into 4 equal parts, about 11-ounces each.  On the same lightly-floured surface, use your hands to roll and from each segment into a 10"-long cylindrical log -- this is super-quick and easy to do.  

IMG_6779 IMG_6779Step 4. Transfer logs to prepared baking pan, placing them well apart and super-straight.  Bake logs on center rack of preheated 350º oven 16-18 minutes.  Logs will have doubled in size, will be soft to the touch and lightly-browned, yet, have a hollow sound when gently tapped with the knuckle of index finger -- they will not and should not have a crusty or crisp exterior.  Remove pan from oven and set aside until loaves have cooled enough to handle with your hands,  about 30 minutes.  Do not turn the oven off.

IMG_6786 IMG_6786 IMG_6786 IMG_6786 IMG_6786~Step 5.  Remove logs from pan.  Fit a cooling rack into the baking pan. Using a serrated bread knife, gently but firmly cut the logs into slightly-less than 3/4"-thick slices, 15-16 per log.  Arrange the slices, side-by-side on rack in pan.  Return to oven and bake on center rack of 350º oven, 8-10 minutes, until edges of biscotti are beginning to turn light brown.  Remove from oven and set pan of biscotti aside to cool completely, 1-2 hours or overnight (overnight is best because it gives biscotti a chance to air-dry a crisp up through to their centers).

Note:  Store in an airtight container, separating layers with wax paper, for as long as they last.

Serve 'em w/coffee, cappuccino & espresso, or, dunk 'em in your favorite sweet, red Italian dessert wine: 

IMG_6820The Holly & the Ivy:  Tart-Cherry and Pistachio Biscotti:  Recipe yields 4 1/2 dozen, 3"-long cookies.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; wooden pastry board; kitchen scale; 12" ruler; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; serrated bread knife; wire cooling rack

IMG_6708Cook's Note: Attend an Italian birthday or graduation party, bridal or baby shower, wedding or christening, etc. Name an occasion -- next to the biscotti, ricotta cookies will be on the table, especially during the holidays.  If they aren't served, you showed up at the wrong address.  Every family has a favorite recipe, but, aside from the flavoring, color of the glaze and sugar crystals or jimmies that get sprinkled on top, all recipes are remarkably similar. For another classic Italian Christmas cookie (which is super-easy and served year-round), check out my twist on ~ Let it Snow-Capped Ricotta and Coconut Cookies ~.

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

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

12/17/2018

~ Let it Snow-Capped Ricotta and Coconut Cookies ~

IMG_6708Attend an Italian birthday or graduation party, bridal or baby shower, wedding or christening, etc. Name an occasion -- if it is being hosted in or by an Italian-American family, ricotta cookies will be on the dessert table, especially during the holidays.  If ricotta cookies aren't served, you showed up at the wrong address.  Every family has a favorite recipe, and, while no two recipes are exactly alike, aside from the choice of flavoring, color of the glaze and the decorative sugar crystals or jimmies that get sprinkled on top, all recipes for these beloved cookies are remarkably similar.

6a0120a8551282970b0154383f535b970cI am a big fan of this type of soft cakey-textured and glazed cookie. My recipes for banana-walnut-, pumpkin-spice-, eggnog-, and, all-purpose celebration- cookies, are prime examples.  In the case of the ricotta cookie, there are no rules regarding the flavoring or flavoring combination used.  Lemon or orange in conjunction with a splash of vanilla are the most common followed by almond or anise, but use whatever puts a smile on your face.

Every recipe for ricotta cookies is an easy one.  It is worth noting, however, that no matter what kind of cookie pans/sheets you use, I recommend lining them with parchment paper, to keep the bottoms of the cookies from over-browning, as these are pale, barely-browned cookies.  Also, if you're using dark colored sheets/pans, be sure to lower the oven temperature from 350º to 325º, because dark sheets/pans conduct heat differently than light-colored pans.  Carry on. 

When ya gotta ricotta -- make ricotta cookies!

IMG_6617For the wet ingredients:

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

2  large eggs

2  teaspoons pure coconut extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2  cups sugar

16  ounces whole milk ricotta cheese (2  cups)

1  generous cup sweetened, flaked coconut  

For the dry ingredients:

4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_6665For the glaze and sprinkles:

2  cups confectioners' sugar

3-4  tablespoons milk

2  teaspoons coconut extract

2  teaspoons vanilla extract

4-6  tablespoons coarsely-ground sparkling white sugar crystals,

and/or:

4-6  tablespoons white jimmies, one, the other, or both 

IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622~Step 1.  To mix wet ingredients, in a large  bowl, over medium- medium-high speed of hand-held mixer, cream the butter, eggs and extracts for one full minute, then, add the sugar and mix for another full minute.  Lower mixer speed and fold in the ricotta, followed by the coconut, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula during this entire process.

IMG_6620 IMG_6620 IMG_6620~Step 2.  To mix in the dry ingredients, in a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. On medium-low mixer speed, working your way up to medium, incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients by adding the flour mixture to the ricotta mixture in two-three increments.  When all the dry ingredients are incorporated, a thick, manageable cookie dough will have formed.

IMG_6644 IMG_6644 IMG_6644 IMG_6644 IMG_6644 IMG_6644~Step 3.  Line 4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment and ready a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop.  Using the scoop as a measure, gently drop level balls of dough, well-apart, onto each prepared pan, 15 per pan.  Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time, on center rack of 350º oven, 9-10 minutes.  Cookies should be puffed through to their centers, pale-colored and just showing signs of starting to brown.  Remove from oven and cool in pan about 1 minute prior to transferring to a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.

IMG_6667 IMG_6667 IMG_6667 IMG_6667 IMG_6667 IMG_6667~Step 4.  To prepare the glaze, place the powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Add and stir in the coconut and vanilla extracts.  One tablespoon at a time, add and stir in the milk, until a smooth drizzly consistency is reached.

IMG_6679 IMG_6679 IMG_6679~Step 5.  To glaze and top the cookies, one-at-a-time dip the top (just the top not the sides) in the glaze, lift it out and allow all excess glaze to drizzle back into bowl.  After glazing a dozen cookies, sprinkle the glazed tops with sugar and/or jimmies -- it's important to sprinkle while the glaze is still wet.  Allow cookies to sit on countertop, uncovered, until glaze has hardened, several hours (4-6 hours) or overnight.

Allow glaze to harden several hours or overnight:

IMG_6699Note:  Store cookies in an airtight container, separating the layers with wax paper for up to two weeks.  Once glaze hardens, the tops will stay firm and pretty as long as they are stored.

It really is the most wonderful time of the year: 

IMG_6717Let it Snow-Capped Ricotta and Coconut Cookies:  Recipe yields 4 1/2 dozen 2 1/2"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 4, 17 1/2 x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 3/4" ice-cream/cookie scoop; thin spatula; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08a30027970dCook's Note: There are two kinds of people.  Those who finished their holiday and those who haven't started.  If your holiday is under control, the force is with you and you need no help from me.  If, however, you fall into the category of "just got home from doing gift and grocery shopping" and find yourself in the kitchen in need of a last-minute cookie recipe, preheat your oven to 325º now, take a deep breath and relax.  ~ My Six-Ingredient Last-Minute Shortbread ~ is for you.

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

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

12/15/2018

~Home for the Holiday Eggnog-Laced Snickerdoodles~

IMG_6594The humble snickerdoodle is my all-time favorite sugar cookie.  I've been told it was the first cookie I was ever allowed to taste, so, if my mind hasn't changed by now, it is not likely to happen. A traditional snickerdoodle is a flat, pale-to-golden, crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside cookie made with butter and/or shortening, and, cinnamon and/or nutmeg .  It never (don't go there with this cookie) contains additions like chocolate chips, dried fruit or nuts.  If flavoring is added, it is always a simple and subtle splash of vanilla.  That said, snickerdoodles are the perfect foil for eggnog or eggnog flavoring, and, a splash of rum or butter-rum is delightful too.

IMG_6597Snickerdoodles are German and evolved from "Schnickennudeln", a cinnamon-dusted sweet roll.  I grew up in the Lehigh Valley region of PA, known as "Pennsylvania Dutch Country".  I'm here to say: Pennsylvania Dutch cookery does not belong to PA and it isn't Dutch either.  "Dutch" was the slang word for "Deutsch", so, when people say PA Dutch, they mean PA Deutsch, crediting the many German-speaking peoples for this cuisine.

Eggnog means "eggs in a small cup" & used on both sides of the Atlantic to toast to health.  "Nog" is an English term for a wooden cup.

IMG_6600References to eggnog date back to the 1800's, when, even back then it was served during the Winter holiday season. Known as "egg milk punch", it was and still is a sweetened dairy-based beverage made with milk, sugar, raw egg yolks, whipped egg whites and a splash of rum and/or vanilla extract. Nowadays cream is always included in place of some or all of the milk, because today's milk has a much lower fat content than milk in the 1800's, which had cream on top. Brandy, rum and/or bourbon are almost always added.  The plain truth:  Eggnog tastes better with alcohol in it.  Each finished serving is poured into a punch cup, then it's topped off with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of nutmeg.

IMG_6603Eggnog means "eggs in a small cup", and it is used on both sides of the Atlantic to toast to health.  "Nog" is an old English term for a small wooden cup.  As an English creation, it descended from the hot British drink, posset, made from eggs beaten with milk, sugar and some type of spirit. During that period, alcoholic drinks were served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because it was cooked, posset traveled and adapted well to local tastes wherever it landed.  One such place:  our American colonies -- full of farms, chickens, cows and cheap rum (our signature ingredient). 

Where I grew up, snickerdoodles were served year-round, including the holidays, almost everywhere we went:

IMG_6518For the dry ingredients:

4 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons cream of tartar

1 1/2  teaspoons baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

For the wet ingredients:

2  large eggs

3/4  cup high-quality, store-bought, pasteurized eggnog

1  teaspoon eggnog flavoring

1  teaspoon butter-rum flavoring

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

2 1/4  cups sugar

For sprinkling on the batter-balls:

1-2  tablespoons store-bought cinnamon-sugar

IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6539~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and sea salt.  Set aside.  In a 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to lightly-whisk the eggs, add enough eggnog to total 1 cup, then stir in the eggnog- and butter-rum flavorings.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, place the butter and sugar.  Set aside.  Line 4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment and ready a hand-held electric mixer, large rubber spatula, 1 1/2" cookie scoop and a thin spatula.

IMG_6542 IMG_6542 IMG_6542 IMG_6542 IMG_6542~Step 2.  On medium- medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Lower the mixer speed, and, in a thin stream, incorporate the egg/eggnog mixture. Continuing at low speed, in two or three increments, incorporate the flour mixture until a sticky but manageable cookie batter forms, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.

IMG_6559 IMG_6559 IMG_6559 IMG_6559 IMG_6559~Step 3.  Using a 1 1/2" cookie scoop, gently drop balls of dough, well-apart, 15 on the first prepared pan.  Lightly sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar. Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven 8-10 minutes, or until cookies have puffed through to their centers, look "crackly", and, have just started to deflate a bit.  Watch very carefully after 7 minutes of baking time.  Eight minutes will render a pale chewier cookie, 10 minutes a golden, crunchier cookie -- bake to suit yourself.  Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool, in pan for 1 minute.  Use a thin spatula to transfer cookies to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.  Repeat process, using the remaining three pans and working assembly-line-style, until all cookies are baked and cooled.

Note:  Dont have 4 baking pans?  Reuse the pans you've got and bake as directed, but pans must be completely cool and lined with fresh parchment before placing unbaked balls of cookie dough on them.  Warm pans and/or reused parchment will compromise the end result. 

8 minutes = pale & chewier.  10 minutes = golden & crunchier.

IMG_6570Place a plate of eggnog snickerdoodles & some eggnog next to the tree on Christmas Eve before you go to bed:  

IMG_6592Word on the street is:  Santa loves snickerdoodles & eggnog!

IMG_6611Home for the Holiday Eggnog-Laced Snickerdoodles:  Recipe yields 5-5 1/2 dozen, 2 1/2"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List:  spoon; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; hand-held electric mixer, large rubber spatula, 1 1/2" ice-cream/cookie scoop; thin spatula; large wire cooling rack

IMG_9233Cook's Note:  The best place to buy the best pasteurized eggnog is at your local dairy, and, I'm thrilled that our community's Meyer Dairy makes creamy-dreamy eggnog that is full of flavor and not cloyingly sweet -- they make eggnog ice cream that's just as good too.  For one of my more recent cookie creations, an eggnog-laced cake-like cookie glazed with eggnog frosting, try my recipe for ~ Mel's Happy-Valley Meyer-Dairy Eggnog Cookies ~.

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

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

12/12/2018

~ Wing-Night with Oven-Baked Jamaican-Jerk Wings ~

IMG_6508In our house, chicken wings appear on our table or cocktail table on a regular basis -- like pizza, my kids crave them often, Joe and I do our best to eat them in moderation, and, while each one of us has his or her personal favorite, there is unanimous agreement that once I've agreed to make pizza or wings for supper or snacks, compromise on the type can quickly be achieved -- and many times, the decision simply comes down to how much time I've got to quell their cravings.

IMG_6454How we cook 'em & country of origin is always up for debate: 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09436912970dJoe's Deep-Fried to Perfection Wings or Summertime Grilled Chicken Wings w/Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce and my Seriously E-Z Oven-Fried Chicken Wings are examples of how we cook 'em. Classic Buffalo-Style Wing Sauce is the overwhelming favorite, but, in terms of culinary trips around the world, favorites include winging it with my Chinese Open-Sesame Ginger & Garlic Sauced Chicken WingsJapanese Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings, Thai-Inspired Hot & Sticky Honey Wings, or, today's Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wings.

IMG_6446My Jamaican-style wings are modeled after my recipe for jerk-style chicken.  They get marinated, then, like many marinated wing recipes, they get baked/roasted in a hot 425º oven.  At the end of the process, which can be done several hours in advance of serving, under the broiler they go, for 1-1 1/2 minutes per side, to crisp the skin.  I serve 'em up with a cool and creamy dip that's flavored with store-bought Jamaican-jerk barbecue-sauce.

Jamaican-Jerk 101:  Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3669ed9200cIn 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.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad38d1183200dThe "jerk" in jerk comes from the Spanish word via the Peruvian word "charqui", the noun for dried strips of meat now called "jerky".  Jerk seasoning was/is the dry spice blend used to season jerky, and Jamaican jerk seasoning, known for the flavors of allspice, thyme and 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 over the hot coals as it cooks. Originally used for pork, it's now common to "jerk" chicken, beef, fish and seafood too.  Jerk chicken is obviously the inspiration for my wings.

Wings 101:  Sectioning 5 1/2-6 pounds fresh chicken wings. 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c63c30200b~ Step 1.  Using a pair of poultry shears, cut 5 1/2-6 pounds of wings, at their two joints, into 3 sections:  the drumette, the wing, and the "skinny" wing tip.

Some folks like to fry and eat the wing tips, I do not, but that is your choice.  Without frying the wing tips, this recipe will yield about 4 dozen chicken wings.

The wing tips can be frozen and used to make stock, as while they are "skinny", they are flavorful.

Jamaican-Jerk Chicken meets American Chicken Wings

IMG_6317 IMG_6317 IMG_6317~ Step 2.  Place the sectioned chicken wings in each of two 1-gallon food storage bags, the drumettes in one bag, the wings in the other -- I do this separately because they each have slightly-different cooking times. Add 1 cup Homemade Jamaican-Style Jerk Marinade (or your favorite high-quality store-bought brand) to each bag.  Seal the bags and refrigerate for 4-6 hours or overnight (over night is best).  Remove from refrigerator 1-2 hours prior to roasting and grilling as follows:

IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6350 IMG_6350 IMG_6350 IMG_6350 IMG_6350 IMG_6350~Step 3.  Insert a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" rack in a large, 20" x 12" x 6" disposable aluminum roasting pan, then place a piece of parchment paper on the rack.  Open the bag of the marinated chicken wing sections.  Remove the wings from the bag and arrange them, side-by-side on the parchment.  Bake on center rack of preheated 425º oven 20 minutes.  Remove from oven. With the aid of a fork, flip wings over and return to oven to continue to bake 20 more minutes.  Transfer wings to a paper towel lined plate to drain and set aside.  

IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6392 IMG_6392~Step 4.  Replace the parchment paper and repeat the above process with the drumettes, baking the drumettes for 23 minutes per side (2 minutes longer per side than the wing sections). To this point, all of the wings can be baked and set aside, uncovered for a few hours (2-4) ahead of broiling (as directed below) and serving hot.  

IMG_6399 IMG_6399 IMG_6399~Step 5.  Reset the oven to broil, allowing the oven rack to remain in the center.  Remove the parchment paper from the roasting pan, exposing the wire rack.  Arrange all of the wing sections and drumettes atop the rack.  Return to preheated broiler to crisp the skin, about 1-1 1/2 per side, turning only once.

Four-Ingredient Cool & Creamy Jamaican-Jerk Chicken Wing Dip:

IMG_6328 IMG_6328 IMG_6328~ Step 4.  In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup each: mayonnaise, sour cream, Jamaican-jerk barbecue sauce (your favorite high-quality store-bought brand) and thinly-sliced scallions (white and light green parts only, reserving scallion tops for garnish).  Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Don't worry, be happy -- it's wing night -- Jamaican-style...

IMG_6461... w/crispy-spicy skin, tender-pink meat & cool-creamy dip.

IMG_6500 2Wing-Night with Oven-Baked Jamaican-Jerk Wings:  Recipe yields about 3 1/2-4 dozen chicken wings or 4 dozen appetizers/snacks. 

Special Equipment List:  poultry shears; 2, 1-gallon food storage bags; 20" x 12" x 6" disposable aluminum roasting pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" wire cooling rack; parchment paper; fork; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c03904200bCook's Note:  As an accomplished cook, I've posted all sorts of scratch-made 'za: Thin-crust St. Louis-style, Deep-Dish Chicago-style, Detroit-Style Brick Cheese & Pepperoni Pizza, Philly-Style Cheesesteak PizzaPizza alla Puttanesca, French Caramelized-Onion & Gruyère Cheese PizzaThai-Style Grilled Chicken Pizza, a Blast from My Husband's Past Pioneer-Club Pizza, a Nobody's Pizza for the Somebody in All of Us, a holiday Pizza Wreath, plus, the family recipes for Preschutti Pizza Crust, My Guy's Italian-American Sicilian-Style Pie, and, My All-Purpose Time-Saving Bread Machine Pizza Dough, a host of recipes for making snack pizza using flatbreads (pita, naan, tortillas and boboli) as foils, as well as my Stranger Things: 1980's-Style Retro French Bread Pizza, which is a late-night favorite.

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

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

12/09/2018

~Cool & Creamy Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wing Dip~

IMG_6439Wander into a bar anywhere in America.  Buffalo wings are on the pub grub menu.  No description is necessary.  You know you're getting deep-fried wingettes and drumettes coated in a vivid-red vinegar-based cayenne pepper and melted butter sauce.  They'll arrive with celery and carrot sticks, and blue cheese or ranch dressing.  You'll likely be asked to specify if you want your wings tossed in a mild, medium or hot version of the sauce.  Buffalo wing sauce is a classic.

Chicken wings have come a long way baby.  What started as a late-night snack served by Frank and Teresa Bellisimo in a little place called the Anchor Bar and Grill in Buffalo, NY in 1964, has gone global.  Name a cuisine and you're sure to find a chicken wing recipe to go with it.  Why? Americans love chicken wings.  I've got almost more wing recipes than I can count, each one with a unique flavor profile and a special concoction for dipping or drizzling to serve with them.

IMG_6461My Jamaican-style wings are modeled after my recipe for jerk-style chicken.  They get marinated, then, like many marinated wing recipes, they get baked/roasted in a hot 425º oven.  At the end of the process, which can be done several hours in advance of serving, under the broiler they go, for 1-1 1/2 minutes per side, to crisp the skin.  I serve 'em up with a cool and creamy dip that's flavored with store-bought Jamaican-jerk barbecue-sauce.

Four-Ingredient Cool & Creamy Jamaican-Style Chicken Wing Dip:

IMG_6328 IMG_6328 IMG_6328~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup each: mayonnaise, sour cream, Jamaican-jerk barbecue sauce (your favorite high-quality store-bought brand) and thinly-sliced scallions (white and light green parts only, reserving scallion tops for garnish).  Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Try Wing Night with Oven-Baked Jamaican-Jerk Wings:

IMG_6508Dipped in Cool & Creamy Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wing Dip: 

IMG_6490Cool & Creamy Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wing Dip:  Recipe makes 2 cups dip/enough for 3 1/2-4 dozen chicken wings..

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3809027200cCook's Note:  My repertoire is full of wing recipes. Joe's Deep-Fried to Perfection Wings and Grilled Chicken Wings w/Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce and my Seriously E-Z Oven-Fried Chicken Wings are examples of how we cook 'em. Classic Buffalo-Style Wing Sauce is the overwhelming favorite, but, globally, other favorites include my Chinese Open-Sesame Ginger & Garlic Sauced Chicken WingsJapanese Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings, Thai-Inspired Hot & Sticky Honey Wings, or, Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wings.

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

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

12/07/2018

~Island-Style Jamaican-Italian-American Rasta Pasta~

IMG_6201My only experience with Rasta Pasta, references the original Colorado Springs restaurant. Guy Fieri, host of the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, paid them a visit, and, if you watch enough episodes of this show, you know when Guy is super-jazzed about an eatery.  This was one such episode.  On camera he tried their signature and namesake dish, the Rasta Pasta, a creamy, Jamaican-spiced penne pasta, studded with colorful vegetables topped with jerk chicken.  It was, in fact, the Jamaican take on the Italian-American alfredo primavera topped with grilled chicken, which Guy declared to be "funky" in a winner-winner chicken-dinner way.

4The owners of Rasta Pasta, the Taraborelli family, specialize in fusing two of the unlikeliest of culinary bedfellows:  the island flavors of Jamaica with their Italian-American background.  Yes, you read that correctly.  It's easy to assume the title "Rasta" is associated with Rastafarianism, which would require the fare to be vegetarian -- no meat or shellfish.  No Mon.  It implies the colors of the veggies:  red, yellow and green.

Research revealed a full range of opinions regarding the origin of this dish (which has developed a cult following), as Caribbean restaurants across the USA, many them in New York City which has a large Jamaican population, have a version of rasta pasta on their menu.  They all left me completely up-in-the-air on the subject and unwilling to pass any along.  My best guess:  It is a savvy Jamaican-American cook's creation that got popularized in America, then made its way back to Jamaica, where it quickly became as popular as it is here.  All I can say with certainty:  It's a delicious twist on your typical creamy pasta dish, and, it appealed to me from the start. 

My Coconut-Creamy Island-Style Vegetarian Rasta Pasta.

IMG_6193One of my favorite entrées in an Italian-American restaurant is Fettucchini Alfredo and I always order it a la primavera-style, meaning I'm asking for vegetables to be tossed into it, hence the name of my own recipe, Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo a la Primavera-Style.  I could easily choose to order the Alfredo with the very popular chicken or shrimp options, but, neither appeals to me.  The rich, creamy, parmesan-laced sauce that enrobes the tender strands of al dente egg-pasta and colorful crunch-tender blanched veggies needs no meat or seafood to entice me. That said, carry on mon, feel free to add some Jamaican-jerk chicken or shrimp to this dish.

Making my easy, coconut-creamy, Rasta Pasta Sauce:

IMG_60734  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons, unbleached all-purpose flour

2  tablespoons jerk seasoning

1  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/8  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper powder

2  13 1/2-ounce cans coconut milk

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

1  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081~Step 1.  In a small ramekin, stir together the flour and dry spices: the jerk seasoning, thyme leaves, garlic powder and Scotch bonnet pepper powder. In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt butter over low heat.  Increase heat to medium and stir in the flour, jerk seasoning, thyme leaves, Scotch bonnet pepper powder and garlic powder.  Using a large spoon, stirring constantly, cook until mixture (roux) is thick and bubbly, 30-45 seconds.

IMG_6103 IMG_6103 IMG_6103 IMG_6103~Step 2.  Add the coconut milk, in a slow steady stream, stirring constantly and vigorously.  Stir in the diced tomatoes.  Carefully adjust heat to a gentle simmer (not too high or it will scorch) and continue to cook until smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Turn the heat to low.

IMG_6116 IMG_6116 IMG_6116~ Step 3.  Sprinkle in the Parm-Regg.  The finely-grated cheese will melt evenly, quickly and almost instantly.  Stir until the mixture is smooth and ribbon like.  You will have 6 cups of coconut-creamy, rasta pasta sauce, better than any store-bought sauce packet can deliver.  Cover and remove from heat.

Note:  This sauce can be made 1-3 days in advance, stored in the refrigerator and gently reheated on the stovetop or in the microwave when ready to proceed with recipe.  

Making the penne pasta & sautéing the vegetables:

IMG_612916  ounces penne pasta

4  tablespoons salted butter

3 1/2-4 cups sweet onion, sliced into half-moons then into thirds

1 1/2-2 cups each:  red, orange and green bell pepper strips strips cut in half

1/2  teaspoon each:  garlic powder and dried thyme leaves

3  cups rasta pasta sauce, from above recipe 

IMG_6143 IMG_6143 IMG_6143 IMG_6143 IMG_6143 IMG_6143~Step 1.  In a 12" skillet, melt butter over low heat. Add the vegetables:  onion, and, red, orange and green bell peppers.  Sprinkle the veggies with the thyme leaves, plus, a very light sprinkling of sea salt.  Increase heat to medium-high- to high, to sauté, until veggies are crunch tender, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

IMG_6156 IMG_6156 IMG_6156 IMG_6156 IMG_6156 IMG_6156 IMG_6156~Step 2.  In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil.  Add the pasta. Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer and continue to cook, according to package directions, until al dente (to-the-tooth tender).  Do not overcook the pasta.  Drain pasta into a colander.  Do not rinse the pasta. Immediately return the steaming hot pasta to the hot stockpot and place it on the still warm stovetop.  Add all of the vegetables and all of the buttery juices.  Give the mixture a thorough stir. Add three cups of the Rasta Pasta Sauce, then give the mixture another thorough stir.

Portion into warmed main- or side-dish-sized serving bowls, then garnish w/a sprinkling of Parm-Regg cheese:

IMG_6203Don't worry, be happy, stick a fork in it, &, Rasta Pasta!

IMG_6224Allow me to suggest Rasta Pasta Lobster Ravioli too:

IMG_7622Island-Style Jamaican-Italian-American Rasta Pasta:  Recipe yields 6 cups sauce (enough for 2 meals)/4-6 servings main-dish servings each meal/ 8/12 side-dish servings each meal.

Special Equipment List:  small ramekin; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon or wire whisk; cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet; 8-quart stockpot; colander

6a0120a8551282970b022ad386cf7f200dCook's Note: Throughout the Caribbean, "patties" are a staple, and depending on which country or island they are from or made on, the pastry crusts and the meat fillings (beef, goat, lamb, pork, chicken, fish or seafood) differ quite a bit.  Some crusts are baked, others are fried, and still others are more puff-pastry like than pie-dough like.  ~ Don't Worry, Be Happy:  Jamaican-Style Beef Patties ~ is my take on this Caribbean-Island classic.

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

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

12/05/2018

~ Coconut-Creamy, Island-Style, Rasta-Pasta Sauce ~

IMG_6281One of my favorite entrées in an Italian-American restaurant is Fettucchini Alfredo and I always order it a la primavera-style, meaning I'm asking for vegetables to be tossed into it, hence the name of my own recipe, Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo a la Primavera-Style.  I could easily choose to order the Alfredo with the very popular chicken or shrimp options, but, neither appeals to me.  The rich, creamy, parmesan-laced sauce that enrobes the tender strands of al dente egg-pasta and colorful crunch-tender blanched veggies needs no meat or seafood to entice me.

Jamaican cuisine fused w/Italian-American cuisine?  Yea mon.

IMG_6224If you have a Caribbean-style restaurant in your proximity, a dish called Rasta Pasta is most likely on the menu -- a creamy, Jamaican-spiced penne pasta, studded with colorful vegetables and often served with or to the side of Jamaican-jerk chicken or shrimp.  It is the Jamaican take on the Italian-American Alfredo primavera.  It's easy to assume the title "Rasta" is associated with Rastafarianism, which would require the fare to be vegetarian -- no meat or shellfish.  No Mon.  It implies the colors of the veggies used, which are bell peppers:  red, orange or yellow and green.

IMG_6134Like Fettuccini Alfredo, Rasta Pasta is not hard to make, and, also like Fettuccini Alfredo, there are time-saving store-bought options available.  For Rasta Pasta, the most popular is Knorr's Parma Rosa dry sauce mix.  Simply combine the contents with 1 1/4 cups milk, a bit of butter, plus a tablespoon of Jamaican jerk seasoning blend, simmer it on the stovetop until it thickens, and, voila -- quickie Rasta Pasta sauce.  It is tasty, but, c'mon mon, I can do better than that.

My Coconut-Creamy Island-Style Rasta Pasta sauce:

IMG_60734  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons, unbleached all-purpose flour

2  tablespoons jerk seasoning

1  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/8  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper powder

2  13 1/2-ounce cans coconut milk

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

1  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081~Step 1.  In a small ramekin, stir together the flour and dry spices: the jerk seasoning, thyme leaves, garlic powder and Scotch bonnet pepper powder. In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt butter over low heat.  Increase heat to medium and stir in the flour, jerk seasoning, thyme leaves, Scotch bonnet pepper powder and garlic powder.  Using a large spoon, stirring constantly, cook until mixture (roux) is thick and bubbly, 30-45 seconds.

IMG_6103 IMG_6103 IMG_6103 IMG_6103~Step 2.  Add the coconut milk, in a slow steady stream, stirring constantly and vigorously.  Stir in the diced tomatoes.  Carefully adjust heat to a gentle simmer (not too high or it will scorch) and continue to cook until smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Turn the heat to low.

IMG_6116 IMG_6116 IMG_6116~ Step 3.  Sprinkle in the Parm-Regg.  The finely-grated cheese will melt evenly, quickly and almost instantly.  Stir until the mixture is smooth and ribbon like.  You will have 6 cups of coconut-creamy, Rasta Pasta Sauce, better than any store-bought sauce packet can deliver.  Cover and remove from heat.

Note:  This sauce can be made 1-3 days in advance, stored in the refrigerator and gently reheated on the stovetop or in the microwave when ready to proceed with recipe.

Coconut-creamy bold-flavored Island-style pasta sauce: 

IMG_6125Creamy, pink, pretty & ready to sauce my Rasta Pasta:

IMG_6305Coconut-Creamy, Island-Style, Rasta-Pasta Sauce:  Recipe yields 6 cups sauce, enough to sauce 2 pounds pasta.

Special Equipment List:  3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b022ad37f6db2200cCook's Note: Throughout the Caribbean, "patties" are a staple, and depending on which country or island they are from or made on, the pastry crusts and the meat fillings (beef, goat, lamb, pork, chicken, fish or seafood) differ quite a bit.  Some crusts are baked, others are fried, and still others are more puff-pastry like than pie-dough like.  ~ Don't Worry, Be Happy:  Jamaican-Style Beef Patties ~ is my take on this Caribbean-Island classic.

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

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

12/03/2018

~Sausage and Everything Bagel Breakfast Casserole~

IMG_6054Sausage, egg and cheese bagel sandwiches are my specialty.  I make ten of them every Sunday, wrap 'em in plastic and stack 'em in the refrigerator.  Monday thru Friday (the work week), these ten tasty sandwiches are breakfast for my husband and myself.  When I tip-toe down the stairs in the dark (at the ungodly-dark hour of 4:20AM), I take one out and let it warm up on the counter for about 30 minutes.  After 1 1/2 minutes in the microwave, I'm eating my breakfast.  I repeat the process in the daylight, when my husband makes his appearance in the kitchen.  

IMG_5999That said, occasions arise, which require me to rethink my laid-back AM sandwich scenario, namely: entertaining a group during the tailgate season and/or on holiday weekends. That's when having a few hearty breakfast casserole recipes in my repertroire comes in handy.  This one is simple and straightforward, and, is remarkably resemblant of my sausage and everything bagel sandwiches. Served steaming hot, it is meaty, eggy-rich and cheddar-cheesy too.

The above said, leave this casserole recipe alone.  If you wouldn't put it on your sausage sandwich for breakfast, please don't add it to this casserole. This recipe is a convenient alternative to making breakfast sandwiches to feed a crowd.  Do not be inclined to add onions, mushrooms, bell peppers or tomatoes in an attempt to "gourmet it up" -- just don't do it, it's missing the point.  Those watery additions just muck-up the flavors in the bagel seasoning blend: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dehydrated onion, dehydrated garlic and sea salt. 

IMG_6062A savory make-ahead stay-the-weekend breakfast or brunch casserole -- it reheats like a charm in the microwave.

It's been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  I whole-heartedly believe it, but, I also have strong opinions about it.  The first:  A protein-packed breakfast is better than a sugar-shocked one.  I love pancakes, waffles and French toast as much as the next person, and indulging in them occasionally is divine, but, on a daily basis, I don't believe them to be the best way to start the day.  The second:  In today's busy food world, folks will put down the sweet pop tart in exchange for a savory sandwich if it can be made in advance, or several days in advance. The third:  When entertaining stay-the-weekend guests, keep the morning meal simple and casual -- focus your time and energy on fancy-schmancy upscale fare for cocktails and dinnertime.   

IMG_589910  sandwich-sized sweet sausage links (2 1/4-2 1/2 pounds)

6-8  high-quality New York-style everything bagels (1-1/4-1 1/2 pounds)

12  large eggs (2 1/2  cups when cracked)

3  cups whole milk

3  tablespoons everything bagel topping

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2-3  cups shredded yellow cheddar cheese (8-12 ounces)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

IMG_5817 IMG_5817 IMG_5817~ Step 1. Using a pair of kitchen shears, remove and discard the casings from the sausage links. Using your fingertips, pull the sausage into little pieces, dropping them in a 14" chef's pan as you work.  Over medium-high heat, fry the sausage crumbles, stirring frequently with a large slotted spoon, until just cooked through and beginning to turn brown, 6-8 total minutes.  Turn the heat off.  Using the slotted spoon, transfer the cooked sausage  pieces to a paper-toweled-lined plate to drain and cool.

IMG_5909 IMG_5909 IMG_5909~ Step 2.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice the bagels in half horizontally, then slice the halves into 1/2"-3/4" cubes and pieces, placing the bagel cubes in a large 2-gallon food storage bag as you work.

IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921~Step 3.  Crack eggs into an 8-cup measuring container.  Using a hand-held egg beater, whisk until uniform in color.  Add milk to total 5 1/2 cups of liquid (about 3 cups).  Add the bagel topping, followed by the salt and pepper and beat the mixture again, until all seasonings are thoroughly incorporated into the eggs.

IMG_5947 IMG_5947 IMG_5947~Step 4.  Pour all of the egg mixture from the container into the food-storage bag of bagel cubes.  Seal the bag. Using your fingers, lightly squish (don't mash) the bag in order to get the milk incorporated into bagel pieces.  After that, lay the bag flat on the the countertop, flipping it over every 5 minutes for about 20-30 minutes, to give the bagel cubes time to evenly absorb most of the excess liquid.

IMG_5953 IMG_5953 IMG_5953 IMG_5953~Step 5.  Unseal the bag.  Add all of the sausage pieces, immediately followed by the shredded cheese to the bag.  Using your fingers, lightly squish (don't mash) the bag in order to incorporate the sausage pieces and shredded cheese throughout the moistened bagel pieces.

IMG_5965 IMG_5965 IMG_5965 IMG_5965~Step 6.  Spray a 13" x 9" x 2" (3-quart) casserole with no-stick cooking spray.  Empty the contents of the food storage bag into the casserole.  The casserole will be very full and mounded through to the center.  Using the back of a large spoon, press down to compact and flatten the ingredients into the dish -- it will be filled to the brim.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Remove casserole from the refrigerator 2 hours prior to baking as follows:

IMG_6026 IMG_6026 IMG_6026 IMG_6026~Step 7.  Remove plastic wrap and recover casserole with aluminum foil.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven, 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and remove foil.  Return casserole to oven and bake until puffed up through to the center, golden and bubbling, about 15 minutes.  Serve hot.

IMG_6066~ Step 8.  Got leftovers?  Want to brown bag a piece to enjoy with your coffee at the office?  After the casserole has baked and cooled to room temperature, use a sharp knife to cut into desired-sized squares and wrap each square tightly in plastic wrap.  Keep stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.  To reheat, remove a piece from refrigerator and set it on the counter to warm up a bit 30-45 minutes -- do not remove the plastic wrap.  Reheat, wrapped in the plastic wrap, on high power in microwave for 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Serve hot.   

Full-flavored, steaming-hot, eggy-rich, & cheddar-cheesy:

IMG_6046Sausage and Everything Bagel Breakfast Casserole:  Recipe yields 16-20 servings.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; 12" nonstick skillet; large slotted spoon; cutting board; serrated bread knife; 2-gallon food storage bag; 8-cup measuring container; hand-held egg beater; 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole; aluminum foil; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1879fba970cCook's Note:  If it's a breakfast casserole full veggies you're looking for, ~ My Big Baked Denver Omelette Brunch Casserole ~, which is based on my recipe for ~ My Kinda Cowboy Breakfast:  The Denver Omelette ~ will deliver. 

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

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