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12 posts from March 2019

03/31/2019

~ Twice-Baked Fully-Loaded Texican Sweet Potatoes ~

IMG_0277In my food world, as far as I'm concerned, anything a Russet potato can do, a sweet potato can do better. Put a baked sweet potato on my plate and I require little else.  Truth told, on occasion, I microwave-bake one just for me, to eat in place of dinner -- a pat or three of butter, a grind or two of sea salt and peppercorn blend, tick-tock, I'm fed.  I love sweet potatoes, and, when it comes to baked potatoes, I will always choose a creamy sweet potato over a fluffy Russet potato.

For me, as recent as three decades ago, sweet potatoes were reserved for Thanksgiving dinner. We had three boys and during the '80's and into the '90's, the Russet ruled the roost.  If Joe was grilling steaks for dinner, my twice-fried French-fries or twice-baked potatoes, loaded with bacon, cheddar and broccoli, were our family's favorite side dishes.  That said, when Joe was traveling, every now and then I'd make the kids twice-baked taco taters, loaded with cheddar, American-style ground-beef taco meat topped with sour cream and salsa, for dinner. 

Making twice-baked potatoes is a method, not an exact recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08596ffe970dA twice baked potato is exactly what the name implies:  It's a potato that gets baked in the oven twice.  After the first bake, the potato is sliced in half and the light, fluffy soft-center is carefully scooped out, leaving the shell/the potato skin undamaged. The cooked center is then mashed, mashed-potato-style, with butter, salt, pepper and/or various seasonings and creamy options like sour cream, yogurt and/or cream cheese.  Then the fun begins:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a014be200dAdd-ins, absolutely anything you want, usually family-friendly favorites (like the combination of bits of crispy chopped bacon and blanched chopped broccoli topped with shredded cheddar cheese in photo above), get folded in.  The flavor-packed potato mixture is scooped back into the the potato skins and baked a second time, which makes the skin crispy and melts the cheese on top -- they're the Rolls Royce of the baked-potato world.  For me, anything a Russet potato can do, a sweet potato can do better, except for one thing:

When baking or twice-baking sweet potatoes, because the tough sweet potato skin is a less than desirable eating experience, there is no reason to take the time to roast them in the oven -- the microwave does it in half the time.  That said, the reverse is true for Russets -- when oven-roasted correctly, they emerge with a crispy, edible skin, which the microwave cannot achieve.

An inconvenient truth:  A sweet potato is not a yam.

IMG_8026A bit about sweet potatoes:  Sweet potatoes were first introduced to North America when Columbus brought them over from the island of St. Thomas, where this large edible root (which belongs to the morning-glory family) is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most widely grown commercially are a pale sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety Americans erroneously call "yam" (the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato).  The pale potato has a thin, light yellow skin and pale yellow flesh. Its flavor is not sweet, and, after being cooked, the pale sweet potato is dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato. The darker variety (pictured above) has a thicker, dark-orange skin and vivid-orange, sweet flesh.  When cooked it has a very sweet flavor and a creamy texture. The dark-skinned, orange-colored variety is the only kind I use in my recipes.

IMG_5635When buying sweet potatoes, choose plump, firm even-sized ones with no cracks. Like regular potatoes they should never be stored in the refrigerator, but do need to be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place. If the temperature is above 60 degrees, they'll begin to sprout, get woody and/or shriveled.  Cooked sweet potatoes, if stored in the refrigerator, last about a week.  Like regular potatoes, sweet potates are always eaten cooked, never raw.

My recipe = cheese on the bottom & top of the filling.

Great twice-baked potatoes or twice-baked sweet potatoes are not pot-luck or a place to throw your leftovers -- they are usually very-well conceived.  I've tasted a lot of creative versions and the best combinations always contain some type of cooked meat, poultry or porcine, a vegetable or two, and, grated cheese.  That said, I've never tasted a low-calorie or low-fat version of a twice-baked potato that had a purpose.  Who in the world counts calories when eating these?

IMG_0224For 6-8 twice-baked fully-loaded sweet potatoes:

6-8  large 15-16-ounce sweet potatoes

6-8  ounces finely-shredded Mexican cheese blend

6-8  ounces queso blanco or queso fresco cheese, minced or crumbled

4  cups chorizo sausage filling, prepared as directed below:

IMG_0191For 4 cups chorizo sausage filling:

3/4-1  pound Mexican-chorizo sausage

3/4-1  cup thinly-sliced scallions, white and light-green parts only

1/2-3/4  cup minced, fresh cilantro

3/4-1  cup rinsed and well-drained black beans (half a 15-ounce can)

3/4-1  cup well-drained sweet corn kernels (half a 15-ounce can)

IMG_0270For the accompaniments (about 1 tablespoon each per potato) and final garnish:

1/2  cup Mexican crema or sour cream

1/2  cup avocado crema or guacamole

1/2  cup pico de gallo or salsa fresca

minced cilantro leaves or thinly-sliced scallion tops, for garnish

IMG_0226 IMG_0226 IMG_0226~Step 1.  To microwave-bake sweet potatoes, use the tines of a fork to prick the skin of their tops in several (5-6) spots.  Arrange potatoes, side-by-side on a microwave-safe plate and cook, as per the instruction booklet of your microwave.  My GE Advantium oven bakes four potatoes at a time, according to size and weight (small, medium or large).  Today's potatoes should be done in 18 1/2 minutes.  If they are not, I will finish cook them on express (high) in 1 1/2-2 minute increments until they are.  

IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194~Step 2.  To make the chorizo sausage filling, place sausage in a 10" nonstick skillet and use a nonstick spatula to break it up into rough pieces.  Add the scallions and cilantro.  Adjust heat under skillet to medium- medium-high and gently sauté until sausage is just cooked through, 5-6 minutes, continuing to use the spatula to break sausage up into small bits and pieces as it cooks. Add and stir in the black beans and corn, and continue to cook, 1 more minute.  Remove from heat and transfer chorizo sausage filling to a paper-towel-lined plate to thoroughly drain.

IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234~Step 3.  Remove potatoes from microwave and set aside 5-10 minutes to cool slightly.  At a slight angle, vertical-slice the left and right ends down to within 1/4" of bottom of potato.  Horizontal-slice through the middle of the potato down to within 1/4" of bottom.  Use a fork to loosen and fluff the tender interior.  Using your fingertips, sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of Mexican cheese blend into the cavity, followed by a generous 1/2 cup of the sausage filling, followed by about 2 tablespoons of the queso fresco cheese.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and return to microwave to express cook 30-60 seconds.  Serve immediately.

Serve ASAP (w/guacamole, crema & salsa fresca): 

IMG_0304Don't wait or hesitate -- Stick a fork in it & dig in:

IMG_0322Twice-Baked Fully-Loaded Texican Sweet Potatoes:  Recipe yields 6-8 large, hearty, main-course, what's-for-dinner servings.

Special Equipment List:  fork; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula; paper towels; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c11477200bCook's Note:  Sweet potatoes are a fantastic substitution for Russets in potato- or baked-potato- soup too. That said, when it comes to sweet potato soup, think "savory soup" not "sweet dessert" and season accordingly. Sweet potato soup needs no sugar, brown sugar or honey -- sweet potatoes are full of flavor, texture and are naturally sweet. When served as a savory starter to a meal -- no cinnamon or nutmeg please.  Herbes de Provence, cracked black pepper and a kiss of fresh rosemary does it all.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/28/2019

~Mexican Chorizo Sausage & Scrambled Egg Burrito~

IMG_0110If hearty, protein-packed eating is the perfect start to the day, Texicans make the best breakfasts. While I occasionally enjoy a steak-and-egg omelette, serve me a Ham-Packed Denver Omelette instead and I'm doin' a happy dance.  Porcine (bacon, sausage and ham) have always been at the top of my what-meat-to-eat-with-my-AM-eggs list, and, I'm here to tell you, Mexican-chorizo is quickly becoming my new muse.  If like me, you enjoy a bit of huevos rancheros or chorizo con huevos kinda heat to start your day, this type of chorizo has cha-cha-cha.

IMG_0031It's worth mention that aside from the bright-to-tawny red color, Mexican chorizo and Spanish chorizo are not the same, so, purchase with precision.  Mexican chorizo is a fresh, ground-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold loose or in a casing, it is raw and must be cooked before eating it. Spanish chorizo is a dried and fully-cured or semi-cured chopped-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold in a casing, fully-cured is fully-cooked and can be eaten as is, while semi-cured requires cooking prior to eating.

The chorizo con huevos "hearty hangover breakfast burrito"...

IMG_0109I'm not touting this one as traditional, I'm touting it as fantastic. Traditionally, fried chorizo sausage crumbles get doused with a scrambled egg mixture and the two are served as one, as a scrambled egg breakfast -- Chorizo con Huevos (Mexican Sausage Scrambled Eggs) is a traditional Mexican breakfast.  It's commonly served with some refried beans and/or rice along with a soft-flour- or pliable-corn- tortilla, but, that's the extent of the fanfare.  I won't lie, it wasn't my eggstraordinary idea to roll these scrambled eggs up in a refried-bean-and-cheese-lined flour tortilla to serve burrito-style with a drizzle of warm queso and cool salsa.  My pub-owning friend Toni (Antoinette), a Mexican-American gal from San Antonio, TX, created it as her signature "hearty-hangover breakfast-burrito" which, once on her menu, was soon available all day long.

... is not traditional, but it's fantastic, &, it's how I serve it.

IMG_0034For 2 servings Mexican sausage and scrambled eggs:

1/3  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage (roughly 5-5 1/2 ounces)

6  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions

3  tablespoons minced cilantro

3  jumbo eggs 

3  tablespoons milk

1/8  teaspoon salt

IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 ~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together eggs, milk and salt.  Set aside.  Place the sausage in an 8" nonstick skillet along with scallions and cilantro.  Cook over medium- medium-high heat until sausage is cooked through, about 5-6 minutes, using a nonstick spatula to break sausage up into small bits and pieces as it cooks.  

IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052~Step 2.  When the sausage is cooked through pour egg mixture over sausage mixture, then use the spatula to scramble the eggs into the sausage. Remove from heat, cover skillet and set aside while prepping the burrito as directed.  These scrambled eggs, on their own without the beans, cheese and flour tortilla are eggstraordinary.

IMG_0071For two chorizo con huevos breakfast burritos:

2  large, 9 1/2"-10" burrito-sized soft flour tortillas

1  cup creamy-style refried beans

1 1/2  cups finely-shredded Mexican-style cheddar-Jack cheese blend

all of the chorizo con huevos (scrambled eggs), divided into two portions, from above recipe

For the recommended accompaniments and/or garnish options:

warm chile con queso (or store-bought salsa con queso) and cold pico de gallo (or store-bought salsa fresca), Mexican crema (or sour cream) and/or avocado crema (or guacamole), and, thinly-sliced scallion tops and/or cilantro leaves 

IMG_0073 IMG_0073 IMG_0073 IMG_0073~Step 1.  To assemble first burrito, place one tortilla on a plate or flat work surface.  Using a butter knife, distribute half the refried beans evenly over surface  Sprinkle half the shredded cheese evenly over surface.  Spoon and mound half the still-warm but not steaming-hot scrambled eggs, in a tubular shape, in the center of the tortilla.  Repeat this process with the second burrito.

IMG_0093 IMG_0093 IMG_0093~Step 2.  To wrap each burrito, lift side closest to you up and over top enough to tuck the end under the eggs on the opposite side.  Next, fold left and right sides of tortilla up and towards the center, to seal the burrito at either end.  Last, roll the tortilla over, so that it sits, fully-encased, seam side down.  To finish-cook burritos, wrap in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and heat in the microwave for 1-1 1/2 minutes, or, in 350º oven 6-8 minutes, just long enough to warm through and melt the cheese.

I'm not here to compete (w/other recipes), I'm just here to eat:

IMG_0129Try Chorizo con Huevos (Mexican Sausage & Scrambled Eggs):

IMG_0157Mexican Chorizo Sausage & Scrambled Egg Burrito:  Recipe yields instructions to make 2 large burritos/2 large servings or 4 smaller servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 8" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula; butter-type knife; plastic wrap; serrated bread knife

IMG_9652Cook's Note: ~ Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Scrambled-Egg Quesadillas ~.  Put a plate of these on the table any time of day and you'll have 'em eating out of your hand. They've got everything anyone could want in terms of Tex-Mex flavor and texture. Creamy refried beans, gooey cheddar-Jack cheese, and, Sriracha- cilantro- and scallion-laced scrambled eggs between crisp-tender flour tortillas. Top with pico de gallo, Mexican crema and/or guacamole -- who could possible ask for more? 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/25/2019

~ Chorizo con Huevos -- Mexican Sausage and Eggs ~

IMG_0144Porcine (bacon, sausage and ham) have always been at the top of my what-meat-to-eat-with-my-AM-eggs list, and, I'm here say, Mexican-chorizo is quickly becoming my new muse.  Chorizo con huevos, a Mexican sausage and scramble egg breakfast staple, is as delightful to eat as it is easy-to-prepare. Traditionally, fried chorizo crumbles get doused with a scrambled egg mixture and the two are served as one, as a protein-packed scrambled egg breakfast.  It's commonly served with some Mexican adobo rice, refried beans, and, soft flour or pliable corn tortillas. That's the extent of the fanfare.  It's simple, straightforward, slightly spicy, and, seriously filling.

IMG_0031It's worth mention that aside from the bright-to-tawny red color, Mexican chorizo and Spanish chorizo are not the same, so purchase with precision.  Mexican chorizo is a fresh, ground-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold loose or in a casing, it is raw and must be cooked before eating it. Spanish chorizo is a dried and fully-cured or semi-cured chopped-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold in a casing, fully-cured is fully-cooked and can be eaten as is, while semi-cured requires cooking prior to eating.

Chorizo con Huevos (Mexican sausage & eggs) for two:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb086c5071970dI'm preparing two servings today, but, by simply doubling or tripling, etc. the recipe, and increasing the size of the skillet accordingly, it serves a crowd as quickly as it feeds two. Having made it for my tailgate group, when served with rice, beans and tortillas, I can tell you with certainty that six times the recipe (do the math), if prepared in a 16" electric skillet will easily feed twelve.

IMG_0034For 2 servings Mexican sausage and scrambled eggs:

1/3  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage (roughly 5-5 1/2 ounces)

6  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions

3  tablespoons minced cilantro

3  jumbo eggs 

3  tablespoons milk

1/8  teaspoon salt

IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk eggs, milk and salt.  Set aside.  Place sausage in an 8" nonstick skillet along with scallions and cilantro.  Cook over medium- medium-high heat until sausage is cooked, 5-6 minutes, using a nonstick spatula to break sausage up into small bits and pieces as it cooks.

IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050

~Step 2.  When the sausage is cooked through pour egg mixture over sausage mixture, then use the spatula to scramble the eggs into the sausage. Remove from heat and serve with Mexican-style rice, refried beans and soft flour or corn tortillas.

If hearty, protein-packed eating is the perfect start to the day...

IMG_0157... Mexicans & Texicans make the best breakfasts.

IMG_0172Try my Mexican Chorizo Sausage & Scrambled Egg Burrito too:

IMG_0110Chorizo con Huevos -- Mexican Sausage and Eggs:  Recipe yields 1 large or 2 small servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 8" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a44b3164200cCook's Note: ~ Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Scrambled-Egg Quesadillas ~.  Put a plate of these on the table any time of day and you'll have 'em eating out of your hand. They've got everything anyone could want in terms of Tex-Mex flavor and texture. Creamy refried beans, gooey cheddar-Jack cheese, and, Sriracha- cilantro- and scallion-laced scrambled eggs between crisp-tender flour tortillas. Top with pico de gallo, Mexican crema and/or guacamole -- who could possible ask for more?

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/22/2019

~ My Brown-Sugar-Crusted Corned Beef Sandwiches ~

IMG_0013Everyone I know associates corned beef and cabbage with St. Patrick's Day, but, tick-tock, I'd rather show up a day or two later for a corned beef sandwich.  Truth told, Joe and I like corned beef sandwiches enough for me to buy corned beef a few times a year.   That said, I typically don't serve them Rueben-style (with the 'kraut).  We two prefer to eat ours made grilled-cheese-style with a big scoop of Russian- or Thousand Islands-dressed potato salad or cole slaw to the side.  Having made Rachel sandwiches for our green-for-a-day holiday, I was thrilled to find corned beef BOGO'd yesterday because I knew what dinner and this blog post was going to be.

Meet my amazing sugar-crusted corned beef brisket:

IMG_9995What does "corned" mean & what is a corned beef brisket?

6a0120a8551282970b0147e2f8418d970bA bit about corned beef:  Corned beef is beef brisket that has been brine-cured in a solution of salt and water typically used for pickling or preserving food.  Brisket is the cut of beef taken from the breast section under the first five ribs.  It is sold without the bone and divided into two sections.  The flat-cut has minimal fat and is more expensive than the more flavorful point-cut. 

Brisket requires long, slow cooking and is best when braised.  The term "corned" comes from the English use of the verb "corn", meaning: a process in which small particles, such as grains of salt have been added to liquid.  Two types of corned beef are available and depend upon the butcher and/or the region.  Old-fashioned corned beef is grayish-pink in color and very salty.  New-style, the kind that is vacuum-sealed that most of us purchase, has less salt and is a bright rosy red.

Cooking corned beef in any slow cooker works great, but: 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b31910200bMeet 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 6a0120a8551282970b022ad393e564200d 22" 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 two corned beef briskets, side-by-side and in a single layer, to cook evenly, in comfort -- spa-style -- I love it when I trust my gut, as it worked beautifully.  There's more:

At about $45.00, it wasn't that big of an investment.  The crock is 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".

Making Corned Beef in Crockpot's Casserole Crock:

IMG_99491  cup water

2  3 1/2-4-pound flat- or point-cut corned beef

1 1/2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

3/4  teaspoon ground allspice

2  whole bay leaves

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4  cup dark brown sugar

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 1/2-3  cups additional dark brown sugar, for finishing under broiler

IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954~Step 1.  Remove brisket from package (discard seasoning packet) and rinse meat under cold water.  Spray inside of Crockpot casserole with no-stick cooking spray, add 1 cup water to the crock, then, place the corned beef, side-by-side without overlapping, in bottom.  Distribute and scatter the onions, all of the spices, the brown sugar and the crushed tomatoes on top of the two roasts.  Cover and cook on high for four hours.

IMG_9973 IMG_9973 IMG_9973 IMG_9973 IMG_9986 IMG_9991 2~Step 2.  Uncover the crock.  Using a fork and the aid of a spatula, carefully flip the meat over.  Put the lid back on and continue to cook on high for two more hours.  Turn the crockpot off.  Using the fork and spatula, carefully transfer each brisket to a plate to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Spoon 3/4-1 cup brown sugar over the surface of each brisket*, then, use your fingertips to pat and press it down to form a thin coating over the surface. 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c771f1cd970b~ Step 3.  Place each sugar-crusted brisket on a rack in a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole containing about 1/4" tepid tap water in its bottom.  

Note:  Adding the water to the bottom of the casserole will prevent any melting sugar that drips to the bottom of the dish from smoking or burning on contact, which in turn makes cleanup a lot easier.  

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c771f220970b~ Step 4.  Place one or both casseroles* on center rack of 350º oven until sugar is bubbling and golden, 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest, uncovered, about 15 minutes, to allow the sugar to harden and form a crunchy crust.

*Note:  I sugar-crust and bake one, storing the uncrusted one in the refrigerator to use later or freeze.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0fbf417970c~Step 5.  After the meat has rested, carve the corned beef by first slicing it in half, with the grain (which keeps it from falling apart), to form two easier-to-manage pieces.  Next slice each half, as thick or thin as you like it, cutting it against the grain (which gives it a shred-y kind-of falling-apart texture). Serve it warm, at room temperature or even cold:  It's fantastic.  To make the sandwiches:

IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_0003 IMG_0003 IMG_0003~Step 6. For each sandwich, cut 2 slices of rye, pumpernickel or swirl bread in half to form 4 pieces.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over low heat.  Add bread to skillet and immediately top each half-slice with 2-3 very-thin slices Lacey Swiss cheese per half-slice.  Increase heat to medium-low, to slowly grill the bread on the bottom and melt the cheese on the top, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat or turn the heat off.  Heap thinly-sliced sugar-crusted corned beef atop two halves, top with the remaining two half-slices of cheese-topped bread and serve.

Serve ASAP w/Russian-dressed potato salad & pickles:

IMG_0020My Brown-Sugar-Crusted Corned Beef Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 2 corned beef briskets, and, enough meat to make 4-6 thick, hearty sandwiches per brisket.

Special Equipment List:  fork; spatula; Crockpot casserole; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1be3dad970cCook's Note: I never make just one corned beef brisket.  Simply stated: It is 100% counter-productive. While I can make two in my crockpot casserole, in one big pot, in three hours, I can make three:  one to eat that day, one for sandwiches during the week, and, one to cube and freeze in 3, 1-pound packages, which, is enough to make 3 hearty corned beef hash breakfasts. Check out my recipe for ~ The Lazy Lady's Corned Beef Hash ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/20/2019

~ Russian or Thousand Islands Potato Salad or Slaw ~

IMG_9940Tick, tock.  The Summer season is fast approaching and once we Americans fire up our outdoor grills, we'll be faced with more reasons than we can count to whip up a big bowl of the family's favorite tried-and-true mayonnaise-based potato and egg salad or creamy-crunchy coleslaw. That said, because one can never have too many variations on potato salad or coleslaw, consider dressing either of them with spicy Russian- or sweet Thousand Islands- dressing.

Your preference is your choice -- swap 'em out as you please:

IMG_9934For 5 cups Russian or Thousand-Islands-dressed potato salad or coleslaw:

5-6 medium-large Russet potatoes, baked in the microwave until fork-tender, cooled, peeled and 1/2"-3/4" diced, or, 1 16-ounce bag store-bought coleslaw mix

4  ounces diced celery or matchstick carrots (celery for potato salad/carrots for coleslaw)

3/4-1  cup diced red onion, for either potato salad or coleslaw, add to both

1-1 1/2  cups Russian or Thousand Islands salad dressing, preferably homemade as per either of my recipes (Note:  Be wary of substituting even high-quality store-bought dressings as they vary greatly in taste and consistency.  Ken's SteakHouse is the brand I recommend.)

IMG_9944~Step 1.  Place the diced potatoes (or slaw mix), and, celery (or carrots), along with 1 cup onion and 1 cup dressing-of-choice in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine. Add additional dressing in small increments until desired consistency is reached. Transfer to a 2-quart size food-storage container, cover and refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight (overnight it best). This simple formula makes 5-6 cups of potato salad or coleslaw relatively quickly.

Note:  Use this dressing-to-ingredients ratio as a guideline.  Do you like diced bell peppers in your coleslaw?  How about chopped hard-cooked egg in your potato salad?  If so, add whatever you like, just know you'll need a bit of extra dressing in order to coat any extra add-in ingredients.

Whether it's Russian or Thousand Islands, either makes... 

IMG_9913... a great side-dish to my Rueben or a classic Rueben...

IMG_0030... & a fantastic topper for a Rachel-My-Way sandwich.

IMG_9857Russian or Thousand Islands Potato Salad or Slaw:  Recipe yields 5-6 cups potato salad or coleslaw.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d495a2970cCook's Note: In the Greater New York area, a sloppy Joe is a different sandwich than what the rest of us have stereotyped in our minds.  It is a very large, layered sandwich, containing three slices of bread (usually rye and/or pumpernickel), two or three varieties of paper-thin sliced deli-meat, cheese and Russian or Thousand Island dressing.  ~ Another Sloppy Joe? There is one?  You Betcha! ~.  It always comes with a side-serving of potato salad or coleslaw too.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/17/2019

~ Green-for-the-Day Pistachio Pudding Bundt Cake ~

IMG_9541A green cake is not something one sees everyday, but, a green cake would obviously be an ideal dessert to serve for your St. Patrick's Day celebration.  That said, this recipe came into my life for a very different celebration -- my bridal shower.  My (now retro) signature color was a pale shade of prissy avocado green.  A close friend of my mother offered to bake the cakes -- three, three-layer cakes decoratively slathered with a lovely shade of pastel-green frosting presented on three graduated-height cake pedestals.  Agnes loved to bake and was a wonderful baker.

Use a boxed cake mix?  In the case of this cake -- you betcha.

IMG_9549The cakes tasted as good as they looked, and, a few weeks later, in August, for my 21st birthday, my mom to asked Agnes to bake the same cake, as, the peridot, my birthstone, is also a similar green color.  As it turns out, Agnes was headed to Florida to visit her sister (meaning she couldn't bake the cake), so, she gave my mom the recipe, which, surprisingly used a boxed cake mix. Agnes explained, "You can't make this cake from scratch, it just doesn't come out the same."

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d11b9142970c 6a0120a8551282970b01bb07e5756c970dAgnes was correct.  I tried transitioning this recipe into my recipes for double-vanilla cake or cupcakes, and, sweet cream sheet cake, and, it doesn't come out the same.  As for the flavorings, both cakes tasted great, but, the pudding alters their density, which is why baking is considered a science, and, why you are getting a recipe using a boxed cake mix from me.  As my grandmother said often, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Simply enjoy this easy cake recipe just as it is.

It can't be made from scratch -- it won't come out the same.

IMG_9444For the cake

1  15.25-ounce Duncan-Hines classic yellow boxed cake mix

1  3.4-ounce package Jell-O instant pistachio pudding

4  large eggs

1/4  cup vegetable oil

2  teaspoons pure pistachio extract

1  teaspoon pure almond extract

1 1/4  cups water

2  drops green food coloring (optional)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

IMG_9446 IMG_9446 IMG_9446 IMG_9446 IMG_9446~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place the dry cake mix and instant pudding. Add the eggs, oil and extracts.  Add the water followed by the optional food coloring (because of the pudding, the cake will still be a pale green without the food coloring).  Over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the mixture until thick and smooth, about 2 minutes.

IMG_9460 IMG_9460 IMG_9460~Step 2.  Transfer batter to a bundt pan prepared with no-stick cooking spray.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven 50-55 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in several spots comes out clean.  Remove cake from oven and cool, in pan, 15-20 minutes, prior to inverting onto rack to cool completely, about 2 hours.

IMG_9484For the cream-cheese drizzle:

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups Confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons pure pistachio extract

1  teaspoon pure almond extract

1  drop green food coloring

2  tablespoons milk, plus 1-2 teaspoons more, if necessary

1/4  cup lightly-toasted and finely-ground pistachios

IMG_9487 IMG_9487 IMG_9492 IMG_9492~Step 1.  In work bowl of mini-food processor, grind the pistachios and set aside.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, place all the remaining ingredients:  the cream cheese, Confectioners' sugar, extracts, food coloring and 2 tablespoons milk.  With motor running, process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice during the process.  Process in additional milk, by teaspoonfuls, to reach desired drizzly consistency.

IMG_9496 IMG_9496~ Step 2.  Transfer the drizzly glaze to a 1-cup measuring container with a pourer spout or into a plastic squeeze bottle/condiment dispenser.  Using a slow back and forth motion, drizzle all of the glaze evenly over the top of the cake.  While the glaze is still shiny and wet, sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top.

Slice & serve for any occasion requiring a green dessert:

IMG_9508St. Patricks's Day, a bridal or baby shower, or, an August birthday:

IMG_9536Green-for-the-Day Pistachio Pudding Bundt Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; rubber spatula; cake tester; wire cooling rack; mini-food processor; food processor

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8dffe67970bCook's Note: For a few of my St. Patrick's Day celebratory main-dish meals, allow me to suggest you try my: ~ Easy Cottage Pie (Beef) & Shepherd's Pie (Lamb) ~, ~ Brown Sugar Crusted Corned Beef Sandwiches ~, or, ~ Another Crockpot Corned Beef & Cabbage Recipe ~.  That said, whatever you choose to serve, be sure to serve it with ~ Irish Eyes are Smilin' on Mary's Irish Soda Bread ~ slathered with  Irish butter.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/15/2019

~ The Secret's in the Slaw Rachel-on-Rye Sandwich ~

IMG_9857I crave a Reuben sandwich once or twice a year.  The Rachel sandwich, on the other hand, is: standard operating procedure in my kitchen.  My refrigerator is rarely without some super-thin sliced deli turkey breast and/or pastrami, and, my favorite Lacey Swiss cheese -- it often has a container of semi-homemade or deli-style coleslaw in it too.  That means, with a slice or two of lightly-toasted Jewish-style rye bread, a Racheal sandwich is only a few short minutes away.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed603d970dWhen I crave a Reuben sandwich, I'm more inclined to make one or all of the components from scratch: bake a loaf of homemade bread-machine rye bread, slow-cook a crockpot corned beef, stovetop-simmer sauerkraut, and, stir together some Russian or Thousand Islands salad dressing. It's a production, but, because I don't live anywhere close to a NY-style deli that can begin to make this sandwich the way I like it, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

The Lovely Rachel-on-Rye made-my-way to make-my-day... 

IMG_9865 2When I crave a Rachel Sandwich, on the occasions when I have some leftover perfectly-roasted turkey breast, I use it.  That said, high-quality deli-style turkey breast and/or pastrami is no compromise. And, after shopping the deli-counter, I reach for a bag of slaw mix instead of a container of prepared coleslaw. Why?  When I'm planning on lunching on Rachels for the week, instead of using my five-minutes-to-make Russian or Thousand Islands dressing as a spread for the bread, I use it to dress the slaw instead -- and it is amazing.

... the secret's in the slaw & it's amazing.

IMG_9805For each Rachel-my-way sandwich:

2  slices Jewish-rye bread, deli-swirl bread may be substituted

2  tablespoons salted butter

4  thin slices Lacey Swiss cheese

8 thin-slices pastrami

8 thin-slices turkey breast

2/3  cup creamy Russian- or Thousand Islands-dressed coleslaw, from recipe below, or your favorite deli-style slaw

IMG_9787For a weeks worth of coleslaw (Note:  I'm using Russing dressing today, but use Thousand Islands all the time too.  Both are great.):

1  16-ounce bag coleslaw mix

4  ounces matchstick carrots

1-1 1/2  cups Russian or Thousand Islands salad dressing, preferably homemade as per either of my recipes (Note:  Be wary of substituting even high-quality store-bought dressings as they vary greatly in taste and consistency.  Ken's SteakHouse is a good one, but it pales in comparison to my own Russian dressing.)

IMG_9788 IMG_9788 IMG_9788 IMG_9788 IMG_9788~Step 1.  Place slaw mix, carrots and 1 cup of the dressing in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine.  Add additional dressing in small increments until desired consistency is reached. Transfer to a 2-quart size food-storage container, cover and refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best. Recipe yields 5 cups.

IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811~Step 2.  Cut the 2 slices of bread in half to form 4 pieces.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Add bread to skillet and increase heat to medium-high, to gently grill, until slices are light golden on both sides, 45-60 seconds per side.  Transfer the lightly-toasted bread to a toaster-oven sized disposable aluminum broiler pan.

IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9841~Step 3.  Top each of two halves with one large slice of Swiss cheese (folded in half to fit the bread).  Place two folded slices pastrami atop the cheese.  Place four folded slices turkey breast atop the pastrami, followed by one more large folded-in-half slice of Swiss atop the pastrami. Top with the remaining two half slices of lightly-grilled rye bread, to form two half sandwiches.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven or toaster oven, until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 6 minutes.  Remove from oven, lift the top slice of bread from each half sandwich and top each half with about 1/3 cup of coleslaw.  Serve immediately accompanied by potato chips and or pickles.

Top with slaw & eat as soon as you can wrap a hand around it:

IMG_9883The Secret's in the Slaw Rachel-on-Rye Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to build 1 deli-style sandwich/1-2 servings.

Special Equipment List:  large rubber spatula; 1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula; 2-quart size food storage container w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; nonstick spatula; toaster-oven-sized disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom)

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d495a2970cCook's Note: In the Greater New York area, also know as the Tri-State Area a sloppy Joe is a completely different sandwich than what the rest of us have stereotyped in our minds.  It is a very large, layered sandwich, containing three slices of bread (usually rye and/or pumpernickel), two or three varieties of paper-thin sliced deli-meat, cheese and a dressing such as Russian or Thousand Island.  ~ Another Sloppy Joe?  There is one?  You Betcha! ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/12/2019

~Russian Dressing & How it Differs from 1000 Islands~

IMG_9913It's almost understandable why most home cooks don't know what the difference between Russian and Thousand Islands dressing is, but, it's head-scratchingly odd that many restaurant chefs don't.  Truth told, when I order a Rueben or a Rachel sandwich, one dressing or the other, whichever is offered, will do nicely -- they're both favorites of mine.  That said, when a menu states Russian dressing, I expect Russian dressing and vice versa.  These two condiments, while they can be used interchangeably as a matter of preference, are not interchangeable.

While Russian dressing is not Russian, it is a compilation of ingredients very common to the cuisine of Russia.

In my food world, the most pronounced difference between the two is huge: Russian dressing contains horseradish (no surprise if you're familiar with Russian cuisine). When was the last time your Thousand Islands dressing tasted of horseradish?  Never, and if it did, it was Russian dressing.  Next, Russian dressing contains paprika (again, no surprise) . When was the last time your lemony-sweet Thousand Islands dressing had a spicy-earthy edge to it?  Never, and if it did, it was Russian dressing.  Past those two differences, the two are quite similar, right down to their mayo-base, the use of a tomato product, pickles or pickle relish, and, some optional hard-cooked egg (every single ingredient on this list is common to everyday, run-of-the-mill Russian cooking).

Russian dressing requires horseradish & paprika.

IMG_9768Both dressings are all-American early-1900's condiments with Russian dressing coming along prior to Thousand Islands (and being sold commercially since 1910).  There's no doubt in my mind the creator of Thousand Island dressing knew he or she was concocting a spin-off of Russian dressing.  That said, Russian dressing has been seemingly tossed aside in favor of its sweeter counterpart.  It's literally disappearing from menus and supermarkets, while Thousand Islands takes over -- even McDonald's "secret sauce" is undisputedly a variation on the recipe.  The one pictured here in the photo is the best of the few I can find in my supermarket, but, even though it has a spicy edge to it, it doesn't have the requisite horseradish on the ingredients list.

IMG_9889Nowadays, both dressings are used primarily as a sandwich spread, but, I'm here to say either is fantastic in place of the blue cheese dressing on a classic wedge salad.  There's more. Whenever I'm making a Rachel sandwich, which requires cole slaw, instead of using the dressing as a spread for the bread, I use it to dress the slaw instead -- and it is amazing.  That said, a Russian dressing recipe documented in a 1910 catering book recommends it as an alternative to vinaigrette to dress tomatoes, asparagus and other blanched vegetables, and hard-cooked eggs.

The earliest Russian dressing was created by James Colburn, a wholesale grocer of Nashua, NH, in early 1910, and, it's said by some to have originally contained caviar, which was later replaced by pickles to dress a version of the classic Russian Salad Olivier.  That said, by 1914, Colburn was manufacturing and distributing it to retailers and hotels.  Thousand Islands Dressing traces its roots to, and is named for, the upper St. Lawrence River region between the Unites States and Canada.  A few claims to its invention exist, but it's believed to be the creation of a fishing guide's wife, Sophia LaLonde.  It has a romantic history that includes a castle and a heart-shaped island, and, was made famous by Chef Oscar Tschirky of the Waldorf Astoria. The earliest print references to it appear in 1912.

Full-throttle Russian dressing is not for the faint-of-heart.

IMG_97611/2  cup horseradish mayonnaise, the best available, preferably Russian Zakuson brand

2  tablespoons chili sauce, or a bit more, to taste

2  tablespoons sweet pickle relish, or a bit more, to taste

1  teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon paprika

1/4  teaspoon turmeric

IMG_9770 IMG_9782~Step 1. Place all of the ingredients in a 2-cup food storage container.  Stir to thoroughly combine the dressing.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.  Overnight is great because it gives the flavors time to marry.

Thousand Islands Dressing is dainty & pretty in pink.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb097cd673970d1  cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chili sauce, or a bit more, to taste, ketchup may be substituted

1/4 cup sweet pickle relish, or a bit more, to taste

1  hard-cooked egg, white and yolk separated and minced separately (optional)

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, or a bit more, to taste, lemon juice may be substituted

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8d9b4d3970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8d9b4d3970b~Step 1.  Place all of the ingredients in a 2-cup food storage container.  Stir to thoroughly combine the dressing.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.  Overnight is great because it gives the flavors time to marry.

Enjoy Russian- or Thousand Islands- spread on any sandwich...

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed603d970d... most notably, the Rueben (above) or the Rachel (below):

IMG_9865Russian Dressing & How it Differs from 1000 Islands:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup salad dressing/sandwich spread

Special Equipment List: 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d495a2970cCook's Note:  In the Greater New York area, also know as the Tri-State Area a sloppy Joe is a completely different sandwich than what the rest of us have stereotyped in our minds.  It is a very large, layered sandwich, containing three slices of bread (usually rye and/or pumpernickel), two or three varieties of paper-thin sliced deli-meat, cheese and a dressing such as Russian or Thousand Island.  ~ Another Sloppy Joe?  There is one?  You Betcha! ~

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/09/2019

~ That's a Wrap: Big Beautiful Chili-Cheese Burritos ~

IMG_9721Inform the family you've got chili simmering on the stovetop -- you won't have to call them twice to the dinner table.  Tell the family you're making chili-cheese burritos for dinner -- you won't have to call them at all.  They'll all be sitting around the table waiting to eat.  Tick, tock.  Once assembled, if individually wrapped in plastic or in aluminum foil, they're great to take to school or the office. They reheat perfectly in the microwave or in the oven, and for tailgate, I reheat the foil-wrapped packets on hot grill grids.  The chili-cheese burrito is how one gets to eat chili in a sandwich.

6a0120a8551282970b0177446bc1ca970dA bit about burritos:  A burrito is a portable sandwich found in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.  It consists of a large flour tortilla that has been wrapped or folded to fully encase a filling. Before serving, it gets lightly-grilled or steamed, to soften the tortilla.  Refried beans, Mexican rice and meat (or a meat mixture) are typically the only fillings used, and, burritos are served unembellished, in order for them to be eaten with the hands.   In Spanish, "burrito" means "little donkey", coming from the word "burro", which means "donkey".  

During the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921), in the El Paso area, a street-food vendor named Juan Mendez sold tacos at his street stand.  Because of the war, for safety sake, it became necessary to continually pack up and move his stand/street-cart from place to place.  He began using his donkey to transport him and his food.  In order to keep the food warm as it traveled, Juan had the idea of wrapping it in large flour tortillas.  His food invention became so popular, consumers began traveling to him from other places around the Mexican border in search of:

The "burrito", or: "the food from the little donkey"!

Taco-bell-chili-cheese-burritoChili-cheese burrito, it's all in the name:  chili or chili con carne and shredded cheddar cheese encased in a large flour tortilla -- absolutely nothing more, nothing less.  

Back in the 1980's, my kids loved Taco Bell's Chilito (the name was later changed to the Chili-Cheese Burrito when the company became enlightened to the derogatory Spanish definition of the word "chilito" -- an embarrassing marketing blunder to say the least). I found it to be barely palatable.

The chilito and the chili-cheese burrito contained a homogenous mixture of mystery-ground-beef seemingly pressure-cooked in some sort of dry-seasoning-blend mixed with water and hot sauce -- it had the consistency of something one would expect to come out of a can.  Enough said.  If you're one of the many in search of a copycat of their "secret-menu" recipe (even though discontinued, it's said Taco Bell still makes these upon request), you're in the wrong place.

IMG_9756For each chili-cheese burrito:

1  large 9 1/2"-10" burrito-sized soft flour tortilla

3/4  cup finely-shredded Mexican-style cheddar-Jack cheese blend

2  tablespoons minced, fresh cilantro leaves

2  tablespoons very-thinly sliced scallions

1/2  cup thick* Texas-steak chili or chili con carne

1  tablespoon corn, peanut or vegetable oil

pico de gallo (or salsa fresca), Mexican crema (or sour cream) and/or avocado crema (or guacamole), for accompaniment and/or garnish

* Note:  In order to pick chile-cheese burritos up in your hands to eat them sandwich-style, the chili needs to be thick (not overly juicy or soupy).  If that is the case, stir 1 tablespoon ground restaurant-style corn tortilla chips into every 1 cup warm chili. After a few minutes, the chips will absorb the excess moisture and thicken the chili.  Still soupy?  Add more ground tortilla chips.

IMG_9682 IMG_9682 IMG_9682 IMG_9682 IMG_9682~Step 1.  To assemble each burrito, place one tortilla on a plate or flat work surface.  Sprinkle the shredded cheese evenly over the surface, followed by the cilantro and scallions.  Spoon and mound the chili, cold or slightly-warm but not steaming-hot, in a tubular shape, in the center of the tortilla.  Repeat this process until all burritos are assembled.

IMG_9675 IMG_9675 IMG_9675 IMG_9696 IMG_9696~Step 2.  Place oil in a 10"-12" nonstick skillet and use a paper towel to spread a thin-coating of oil across the bottom and slightly up the sides. Lift and place one assembled tortilla into skillet.  Over low heat, cook until cheese has melted enough to adhere to the surface, less than 1 minute. Remove from heat and return tortilla to plate or flat work surface.

IMG_9700 IMG_9700 IMG_9700 IMG_9700~Step 3.  To wrap the burrito, fold the left and right sides of the tortilla up and over the chili.  Next, fold the side of the tortilla closest to you up and over the top.  Turn the plate around (so the open side is facing you), then lift the last flap up and over the top. Roll the tortilla over, so that it sits seam side down.  To finish cook the burritos, tightly-wrap each burrito in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and heat in the microwave for 45-60 seconds, or, in a 350º oven for 6-8 minutes.

Remove from microwave or oven & slice into three ASAP...

IMG_9711... & gobble 'em up garnished w/your favorite toppings:

IMG_9753That's a Wrap:  Big Beautiful Chili-Cheese Burritos:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1 large burrito/3 pieces/1 serving.

Special Equipment List:  10"-12" nonstick skillet; paper towels; 1-cup measure; plastic wrap or aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d26b186e970cCook's Note: Hamburger Helper entered the marketplace in 1970, and Chili-Mac Hamburger Helper entered in 1971.  Packaged by General Mills and sold as  part of the Betty Crocker line of products, the mascot is a "helping hand" named "Lefty" -- a four-fingered, left-handed, white glove with a face. Each box contains dried pasta and packets of powdered sauce and seasonings.  For my scratch-made recipe:  ~ Walking Dead:  It's Chili & Mac and Cheese Together ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/07/2019

~ Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Quesadillas ~

IMG_9657Dinner-for-breakfast or breakfast-for-dinner, put a platter of these portable five-bite snacks on the table at any time of day and you'll have everyone eating out of your hand.  They've got it all -- everything anyone could want in terms of Tex-Mex start-to or end-of the day flavor and texture. Creamy refried beans, gooey cheddar-Jack cheese, and, Sriracha- cilantro- and scallion-laced scrambled eggs sandwiched between crisp-tender flour tortillas.  Topped with a bit of pico de gallo, a drizzle of Mexican crema and a dollop of guacamole, who could ask for anything more?

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d15ed99a970cQuesadilla (keh-sah-DEE-yah):  A round, flat, cooked-until-soft corn or flour tortilla, folded in half to form a half-moon with a savory filling sandwiched in the center.  It is fried on a well-seasoned cast-iron comal (a flat, round griddle), using no or very little oil, although in many modern kitchens, mine included, a grill pan is a common substitution.

IMG_9556Almost any cooked and chopped or shredded meats and/or vegetables can be used as a filling for a quesadilla (fish and seafood are not typically used) -- the meats and vegetables must always be cooked first because a quesadilla cooks in a few short minutes.  That said, since "queso (KAY-soh)" is the Spanish word for "cheese":  a quesadilla is a container for ooey, gooey melted cheese.  Be sure to purchase:

your favorite brand of 8" round taco-size soft flour tortillas

IMG_9571For the scrambled eggs* for each quesadilla:

1  teaspoon salted butter

2  jumbo eggs + a pinch of salt

2  tablespoons milk

2  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions

1  tablespoon minced, fresh cilantro leaves

2-3  teaspoons Sriracha sauce

*These herbaceous scrambled eggs, on their own without a flour tortilla:  are eggstraordinary. 

IMG_9572 IMG_9572 IMG_9572 IMG_9572 IMG_9572~Step 1.  Slice the scallions and mince the cilantro.  In a 1-cup measuring container, whisk together the eggs, pinch of salt and milk.  Add the scallions and cilantro and whisk again.  Add the Sriracha and whisk one last time.   I add 2 teaspoons Sriracha for myself.  I add 3 teaspoons when making these quesadillas for my heat-seeking husband Joe. 

IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580~Step 2.  Melt butter in an 8" nonstick skillet over low heat.  When butter is foamy, pour in the egg mixture, and, scramble away for about 1 minute.  Remove eggs from heat, cover and set aside.

IMG_9594To assemble/cook each quesadilla:

1  tablespoon corn or canola or vegetable oil

1  taco-size soft flour tortilla

6  tablespoons creamy refried beans

8  tablespoons finely-shredded Mexican cheddar-Jack cheese blend

all the scrambled eggs, from above recipe

IMG_9602 IMG_9602 IMG_9602 IMG_9602~Step 1.  Slather the tortilla with refried beans, then scatter shredded cheese evenly over the top. 

IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597~Step 2. Place oil in a 10" nonstick skillet.  Use a paper towel to coat the bottom and sides of pan with the oil.  Adjust heat on stovetop to medium- medium-low.  Lift and carefully place the tortilla in the skillet.  Using a spoon, place the scrambled eggs over half of the surface (think half-moon of scrambled eggs).  Cook until cheese is melted and bottom of tortilla is golden brown, but not brittle, about 1 minute.  Lift the "empty" side of the tortilla up and over the side with the eggs.  Slide quesadilla from skillet to plate or cutting board.

IMG_9672For my favorite accompaniments and garnishes:

pico de gallo or store-bought salsa fresca

Mexican crema or sour cream

spicy avocado crema or store-bought guacamole

thin-sliced scallion tops and/or minced, fresh cilantro leaves

~Step 1.  Use all of them, none of them or some of them.  Your choice.

Have a moment of mouthwatering patience (tick, tock)...

IMG_9623... you gotta wait 1 minute before slicing it into three wedges.

IMG_9625Salsa fresco, Mexican crema & Wholly guacamole!  Let's eat:

IMG_9660Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Quesadillas:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1 breakfast quesadilla/3 hearty pieces/1 serving.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1 cup measuring container; fork; 8" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula; 10" nonstick skillet; paper towels; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0945149d970dCook's Note:  At risk of sounding sexist:  Buffalo wings are man food. To state it another way, if I'm inviting a group of women to my home for lunch, serving chicken wings is "off the table".  If I'm inviting men, chicken wings are "on the table". That said, for a casual gathering for men and women, there are ways we can all work together to include user-friendly buffalo-style snacks and appetizers for all to enjoy: ~ Spicy Blue-Cheesy & Buffalo-Chicken Quesadillas ~  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/05/2019

~ Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos ~

IMG_9362Undercover nacho tester.  I suppose it could get boring, but, because every eatery I've ever been to makes this Tex-Mex pub-grub staple a bit different, I'd be willing to risk running into some occasional repetition and hard-earned heartburn.  From nibbling on basic nachos consisting of deep-fried corn tortillas topped with melty cheese sauce, to digging-into nachos-grande, nachos-supreme, fully-loaded nachos or ultimate-nachos piled high with a plethora of enough savory stuff to qualify for full-meal status, yes, I think undercover nacho tester could be my dream job.

Research has revealed that nachos made their debut in Northern Mexico in the 1940's when a large group of hungry servicemen wandered into a restaurant where Ignacio Anaya was cooking. The savvy chef quickly threw some cheese over a big pan of leftover tortillas.  When it emerged from the broiler, he scattered his creation with jalapeño peppers.  When he presented the soldiers with his group-sized appetizer, after devouring it, they took it upon themselves to spread the word. Popularity came fast, and, along the way, nachos acquired an assortment of toppings.

Use homemade or store-bought ingredients, or a combo of both.

6a0120a8551282970b01a73df7e18c970dWe can all agree, you only get out of something what you put into it, but, when the hankering for nachos hits, no one wants to wait longer than the time it takes to preheat the oven, visit the pantry and open a beer. That said, if one it willing to take the time to deep-fry fresh corn tortillas, instead of opening a bag of tortilla chips, nachos become a great deal better.  There's more.  If you're like me, fully-loaded nachos require (must have) meat or protein, and here are a few options:  

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0984a3a7970dMy family's favorites (and the two most common additions) are American-style kid-friendly ground-meat taco filling or chili con carne -- and both are always on hand in my freezer.  That said, white chicken chili or Texas-style steak chili (as long as they are thick and chunky not stringy and soupy), and, the filling for classic pork carnitas are all excellent alternatives.  In fact, any protein concoction that works when served in a crispy taco shell will work. 

Nachos need a perfect ratio of cheese to toppings on each chip.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d10e0e73970cThat's easy.  That's what I said, until I watched Alton Brown (on The Food Network) make nachos, and, from him I learned how to build better nachos. First, he used a sheet pan to increase the surface area so the tortilla chips can sprawl out (no more crowding them in a 13" x 9" casserole for me).  Second, he took ample time to top them, almost one chip at a time, to make sure that every chip had the perfect ratio of cheese to toppings.  Once you do it his way once, there's no going back.

Building better nachos, one tortilla chip at a time.

IMG_9298In my kitchen, nachos aren't always a snack.  Sometimes they're a meal. When I serve 'em as a snack, I make them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheet pan that's been covered with foil and a sheet of parchment -- so cleanup is a snap.  When I serve 'em as a meal, I make 'em the same way, but, layer them in my oven-safe ceramic skillets -- a bit of cleanup, but a great presentation. One sheet pan feeds 6-8 people snacks. The same ingredients feed four as a main-dish in four 6 1/2"-7" skillets.  

Make movie night or TV tailgate special w/fully-loaded nachos. 

Make these nachos as homemade or semi-homemade as you want.  For example:  I rarely make them without deep-frying the tortillas -- it's a simple task that makes a huge difference.   In the Summer, when my vegetable garden is at its peak and local sweet corn is in season, my pico de gallo is homemade and my corn kernels are shaved straight from the cobs of leftover cooked corn.  If I don't have the time or inclination, I use store-bought salsa con queso without hesitation. Don't like black beans?  Don't complain to me.  Use kidney or pinto beans or skip the beans.

IMG_9322  

26  5"-round fresh corn tortillas (about 1 pound, 4 ounces), or 1, 16-ounce bag store-bought restaurant-style tortilla chips

1 1/2  cups chile con queso or 1, 15-ounce jar store-bought salsa con queso, warmed slightly in the microwave (Note:  The cheese options for nachos vary.  Ultimately, that decision lies with the cook.  While shredded cheddar is the most common, I'm not a fan of it on it's own, as, cheddar, while tasty, is not a great ooey-gooey melting cheese unless it is mixed with a great melting cheese like Monterey Jack or jalapeño Jack.)

3-3 1/2  cups American-style ground-beef taco filling, warmed slightly in the microwave (Note:  All taco filling is not created equal. My chunky beef recipe is full of onion, garlic, bell pepper and tomatoes, and, seasoned with my homemade Tex-Mex taco seasoning blend.  If you decide to use chile con carne instead, omit the can of black beans below.)

1  8-12-ounce jar pickled, sliced jalapeño wheels, well-drained, liquid reserved (3/4-1 cup)

1  15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and well-drained (1 1/2-2 cups)

1  15-ounce can whole corn kernels, well-drained (1 1/2-2 cups)

8  ounces shredded jalapeño Jack cheese (about 3 cups)

1  cup pico de gallo or store-bought salsa fresca, well-drained

1  cup spicy avocado crema, a 10-second task to process mixture of 1 cup mashed, ripe Hass avocado (store-bought Wholly Guacamole may be substituted) with 6  tablespoons Mexican crema and 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce

1  cup Mexican crema or sour cream, thinned to a drizzly consistency by stirring in 4-6 tablespoons liquid reserved from pickled jalapeños

1  cup thin-sliced scallions, white and light green parts, for final garnish

IMG_9304 IMG_9304 IMG_9304 IMG_9304~Step 1.  To deep-fry fresh tortillas, divide tortillas into two stacks and cut each stack into six wedges.  Heat corn or peanut oil in deep-fryer, according to the manufacturer's specifications, to 375º.  When the deep fryer is ready:  Fry 2 stacks (two sixths) of the tortilla triangles for 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Chips will be lightly-browned and puffed in spots. Transfer to a large baking pan that's been lined with 3-4 layers of paper towels. Using a spatula, quickly and randomly separate the chips into a single layer and lightly salt their tops ASAP.  Repeat process 5 more times.

IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325~Step 2.  To assemble the nachos, arrange chips across the bottom of the pan, in a semi-single layer, allowing them to overlap and double-up occasionally.  Drizzle and plop blotches of warm queso over the surface of the tortilla chips.  By generous teaspoonfuls, plop blotches of the warm taco-filling over the cheese. Arrange the jalapeño slices over the taco-filling.  Scatter the black beans, followed by the corn kernels over the jalapeño slices and taco-filling.  Sprinkle the shredded jalapeño Jack over all.

IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348~Step 3.  To bake and properly garnish the nachos, place on center rack of 350º oven and bake until jalapeño Jack cheese is melted and bubbly, and, sweet corn is showing signs of light-browning, about 6 minutes. Remove from oven.  Without any hesitation, plop blotches of the well-drained pico de gallo over the top, followed by a drizzle of my avocado crema and Mexican crema.  Sprinkle the sliced green onion over all and serve immediately.

Place pan on table or cocktail table & get out the napkins:

IMG_9360Snack your way from the outside of pan to center of pan:

IMG_9398Perfect ratio of chips & cheese to toppings?  You be the judge!

IMG_9415Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos:  6-8 snack-size servings/4 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; deep-fryer (optional); hand-held cheese grater; colander; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheet pan or 6, 8" oven-safe ceramic skillets; aluminum foil; parchment

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3904a89200dCook's Note: Mango salsa, full of sweet heat, is a favorite of mine served with nachos that are made with jalapeño Jack cheese. Prepared as an alternative to pico de gallo, in the event you are a sweet-heat-seeking-missile like me, try my ~ Sweet Heat:  Island-Style Mango or Pineapple Salsa ~. When mangos are in season and inexpensive, it's a wonderful alternative to what we associate with traditional Summertime salsa.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/03/2019

~ Using Natural and Dutch-Process Cocoa Powders ~

IMG_9274It's not a matter of what's on-hand in the pantry, what mom or grandma used, brand recognition or cost.  There is a difference between natural and Dutch-process cocoa powder, and, it is rocket science.  The word is "acidity".  Those of the mindset the two can be used interchangeably, babbling on about it being mostly a matter of preference (I have witnessed it said many times), are contributing to recipe failure -- which is the number one reason why some folks hate to bake.

Embedded_raw_cocoa_beans_toxicThe cocoa bean is a dried, fatty seed found inside a 10"-12" cocoa pod, and, each pod is home to 30-50 beans. Once the beans are roasted and shelled, a product called cocoa nibs remain. The nibs get milled to produce cocoa liquor, which gets pressed to extract the cocoa butter, which leaves a solid called a cocoa press cake. Cocoa powder is the powder created from pulverizing the press cake.  

All chocolate is naturally acidic.  Until the mid-1800's there was only one type of cocoa powder: Natural cocoa powder.  It has a pH (acidity level) between 5 and 6, which gives it its sharp, slightly-bitter edge (and light brown color).  Then, along came Coenraad Johannes van Houten, a Dutch chocolate-maker, who discovered a way to process the cocoa nibs to neutralize the acid. Dutch-process cocoa powder is washed with a potassium carbonate solution, which neutralizes the pH (the acid) to 7, which gives it a smooth, mellow taste (and dark brown color).

Natural = predominantly baking powder.  Dutched = predominantly baking soda. 

IMG_9277Because natural cocoa powder (like Hershey's) is acidic and Dutch-process (or "Dutched") cocoa had its acid removed, it's seriously important to follow the recipe. Typically, recipes calling for natural cocoa powder are leavened predominantly by baking soda, while recipes calling for Dutch process, which doesn't react well with an alkaline leavener like baking soda, rely heavily on baking powder.  

When a recipe specifies both baking powder and baking soda, know it has been written in a manner that the cocoa's acidity and the natural acids in the ingredients list strike a balance.

Go natural --  Must Have Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a48f48c9200bGo Dutched -- Chocolate, Buttermilk & Sour Cream Pound Cake:

IMG_9251"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)