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12 posts from April 2019

04/30/2019

~ Savory Brioche French Toast w/Fried Ham & Eggs ~

IMG_1118Once a year, the day after Eastern European Orthodox Easter to be specific, my mother made one of my favorite breakfasts:  savory French toast.  To make it, she soaked thick slices of the round loaf of leftover paska (a brioche-type bread enriched with milk, eggs, butter, sugar and salt) in a tangy, whole-grain mustard-laced milk and egg mixture.  She served it with lightly-fried slices of baked ham (also leftover from Easter), soft-yolked, sunny-side-up eggs, and a fresh chive garnish (which grew in dad's garden).  Mom made this but once a year because that was when she had the very-specific ingredients at her fingertips -- and we all looked forward to it.  

IMG_1141Because I make brioche in my bread machine, the long task of baking brioche from scratch is eliminated.  This enables me to make this breakfast more than once a year, switching ham for bacon or sausage on occasion, and, substituting fried eggs with poached (when I'm inclined to steam asparagus and make hollandaise in my blender to accompany it). Like mom and dad, I always have chives growing in my garden.

Sweet and savory French toast is common in European countries.  The French words for "French toast" are "pain perdu", meaning "lost bread", because it is a way of reviving bread which becomes dry after a day or two.  The basics of any French toast recipe are pretty simple:  Thickly-sliced, 2-3-day old bread is dipped into a flavored egg/cream sweet or savory mixture, then fried in a skillet containing a coating of oil or a combination of butter and oil.  When executed correctly, it emerges from the skillet crisp and golden brown on both sides with a creamy center. 

IMG_1046For the savory French toast:

6,  3/4"-thick slices, 2-3 day old bread machine brioche

4  jumbo eggs

1  cup half and half

2  tablespoons whole-grain mustard

1  teaspoon each:  dry English mustard, Herbes de Provence and sea salt

1/2  teaspoon peppercorn blend 

4-6   tablespoons peanut or corn oil, for frying

IMG_1103For the ham, eggs & garnish:

12  thinly-sliced baked-smoked ham slices, sautéed in 1 tablespoon salted butter (2 slices ham per slice French toast)

6  jumbo eggs, seasoned with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, lightly-sautéed in the drippings left from sautéing the ham slices (1 sunny-side-up egg per slice of French toast)

snipped fresh chives, for garnish

6a0120a8551282970b0147e0e131e0970b~ Step 1.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice the bread.  This is a picture of my bread-machine brioche.  If you have a bread machine, I obviously encourage you give this recipe a try.  If you are not using my brioche, I recommend that whatever bread you are using be sliced to the thickness of 3/4".  If it is thinner or thicker, it will affect the frying time and texture.  In my opinion:  All French toast starts with properly, 3/4"-thick sliced brioche.

IMG_1048 IMG_1048Step 2.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk the eggs, half and half, whole grain mustard, English mustard, herbes de Provence, sea salt and peppercorn blend.  For six slices of bread, the magic measurement is 2 cups of liquid.

IMG_1053 IMG_1053 IMG_1060 IMG_1060 IMG_1060~Step 3.  Arrange bread slices in 13" x 9" x 2" casserole -- overlapping is ok.  Pour egg mixture over bread and wait 2-3 minutes.  Flip bread slices over on their second sides and wait another 2-3 minutes.  Flip the bread over again, then, maybe once more, to make sure each slice is thoroughly coated and almost all liquid has been absorbed.  Briefly set aside.

IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069~Step 4.  Preheat just enough oil to thinly-coat the bottom (about 1/16") of a 16" electric skillet over 260°-275° (medium on the stovetop).  Add the egg-soaked bread and gently cook, about 2-3 minutes per side, using a spatula to flip it over only once, until golden on both sides.  Turn the heat off and transfer the French toast to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Serve French toast w/ham slices, fried eggs & mustard for dipping:

IMG_1124Savory French toast is a sublime way to celebrate ham & eggs:

IMG_1152Got leftover French toast?  Try my French toast BLT sliders:

IMG_1192Savory Brioche French Toast w/Fried Ham & Eggs:  Recipe yields 3 large servings or 6 smaller servings. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 16" electric skillet; spatula; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d18d60ff970cCook's Note: I won't lie, I don't love steak and eggs for breakfast.  I don't hate it, I just like bacon, sausage or ham better in the morning -- there is just something about porcine in the AM that makes me happy.  That said, I do like a steak omelette for dinner.  In fact, it's one of my favorite 'breakfast for dinner' meals. Don't try to psychoanalyze this -- it makes no sense.  Let's move on. ~ Steak, Peppers & Cheddar Chimichurri Omelette ~.

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

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

04/27/2019

~ Five Ways to Enjoy Slovak-Style Stuffed Cabbage ~

IMG_3304When it comes to making cabbage rolls, like meatloaf or meatballs, most cuisines have a traditional recipe for them, and, all make use of on-hand ingredients.  For instance:  If they live in an area suited for raising sheep, lamb is in their cabbage rolls.  If they live in a climate where vegetables grow year round, you'll find veggies like bell peppers and chunky tomatoes in them.  I will, however, go out on a limb and state:  when I say "cabbage roll", you should say "Eastern European", because that is the cuisine they're hands-down most commonly associated with.

Known as holubki to me and many of you*, stuffed cabbage rolls are beloved in every Eastern European household.  Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), cooked rice, steamed green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce.  Because they are labor-intensive, too often they're reserved for holidays or special occasions.  That said, those of us in Eastern European inner-circles know there are other ways to bring this knife-and-fork savory comfort food to the weekday table in almost half the time.

*Note: Here are some other names for stuffed cabbage rolls as per Wikipedia: golubtsy (Russia); golabki (Poland); halubcy (Belarus); holubtsi (Ukraine); kohlroulade (Germany & Austria); sarma (Balkans & Turkey).  The literal translation of the word holubki is:  "little doves" or "little pigeons".

1) Classic Cabbage Rolls on the Stovetop or in the Crockpot:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0d76434970c2) Unstuffed Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls in the Crockpot:

IMG_59393) Slovak-Style Stuffed Cabbage Soup w/Mini-Meatballs:

IMG_09104) Slovak Unstuffed Cabbage Stew w/Ground Beef & Rice:

IMG_10365) Slovak-Style Vegetarian Cabbage & Tomato Soup w/Egg Noodles:

IMG_0965"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/24/2019

~Slovak Vegetarian Cabbage & Tomato Lover's Soup~

IMG_0945I come from a long line of cabbage lovers.  Known as kapusta in Eastern European inner circles, a week rarely passes that cabbage doesn't make it's way onto the dinner table in some form.  Like my mother, the vegetable bin of my refrigerator is rarely without a head of green cabbage in it. Braised cabbage and carrots and butter-braised cabbage with egg noodles were two of our family's favorite side-dishes.  Mom's stuffed cabbage rolls (made on the stovetop or in the crockpot) and my grandmother's stuffed cabbage soup with mini-meatballs (or with ground beef and rice) were two of our favorite main-dish meals.  That said, her cabbage soup recipe is thick and hearty enough to be served as a meatless meal too -- bring on the bread and butter.

IMG_6742For my nicely-seasoned easy-to-make cabbage-soup:

IMG_0813For the cabbage and tomato soup and soup base:

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1  quart tomato or V-8 juice (Note:  My preference is V-8.  The choice is yours.)

1  quart vegetable stock (Note:  My family is not vegetarian and we prefer ours made with beef stock.)

1 quart water

2  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (Note:  My grandmother used this beloved soup in place of tomato sauce or tomato paste -- and trust me it is wonderful.)

4  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, undrained

2  15 1/2-ounce cans diced-tomatoes, undrained

IMG_0801 IMG_0801 IMG_08011  3-pound head green cabbage, cored and cut into 6 wedges, wedges cut into 1/2"-wide egg-noodle-type strips

IMG_0814 IMG_0814 IMG_0814~ Step 1. Making the soup/soup base.  In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the oil, salt and black pepper.  Add the diced onions.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the onions in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830~Step 2.  Add the tomato or V-8 juice, stock, water, tomato soup, undrained mushrooms and diced tomatoes.  Bring to a steady simmer, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat.  Stir in the cabbage (pot will be quite full), partially cover the pot and cook until cabbage is tender and lost about half its volume, about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep, while preparing the meatballs as directed below, or, overnight in the refrigerator.  If you have the time, overnight is best, not to mention convenient.

Try it with my mom's homemade egg noodles in it too:

IMG_0965Slovak Vegetarian Cabbage & Tomato Lover's Soup:  Recipe yields Recipe yields 5 quarts soup/12-16 1-1/2-2 cup servings + more if 1-1 1/2 pounds cooked egg noodles are added.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale (optional); wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed9264970dCook's Note: When I was growing up, I don't ever remember eating canned soup (except for Campbell's tomato soup which to this day I love), but, I do remember eating a lot of wonderful soups.  My maternal grandmother made a lot of soups, but one in particular, her heavenly chicken soup served with homemade noodles was served at her kitchen table on Sunday's after church more times than I can count. It is chicken soup for the soul.

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

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

04/22/2019

~ Slovak Unstuffed-Cabbage Stew with Beef & Rice ~

IMG_1036While I was growing up and thru to today, my mother's stuffed cabbage rolls (made on the stovetop or in the crockpot) and my grandmother's stuffed cabbage soup with mini-meatballs were two of our family's favorite main-dish meals.  The latter is the easier of the two ways to bring this traditional Eastern European comfort food to the table, but, I am here to tell you, there is a third, even easier method: Stir sautéed and nicely-seasoned ground beef and cooked rice to the easy-to-make cabbage soup base.  From start to finish, it's on the table in 45 minutes.  That said, even though the rice is precooked (steamed or boiled, your choice), it is going to absorb a good bit of the broth, which give this meal a thick, stew-like consistency.

For my nicely-seasoned easy-to-make cabbage-soup base:

IMG_0813For the cabbage and tomato soup and soup base:

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1  quart tomato or V-8 juice (Note:  My preference is V-8.  The choice is yours.)

1  quart beef stock

1 quart water

2  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (Note:  My grandmother used this beloved soup in place of tomato sauce or tomato paste -- and trust me it is wonderful.)

4  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, undrained

2  15 1/2-ounce cans diced-tomatoes, undrained

IMG_0801 IMG_0801 IMG_08011  3-pound head green cabbage, cored and cut into 6 wedges, wedges cut into 1/2"-wide egg-noodle-type strips

IMG_0814 IMG_0814 IMG_0814~ Step 1. Making the soup/soup base.  In a wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the oil, salt and black pepper.  Add the diced onions.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the onions in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822~Step 2.  Add the tomato or V-8 juice, beef stock, water, tomato soup, undrained mushrooms and diced tomatoes.  Bring to a steady simmer, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat.  Stir in the cabbage (pot will be quite full), partially cover the pot and cook until cabbage is tender and lost about half its volume, about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep, while preparing the meatballs as directed below, or, overnight in the refrigerator.  If you have the time, overnight is best, not to mention convenient.

IMG_0991For the meat and rice mixture:

3  pounds ground beef (90/10)  

2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon cracked black pepper

2  seasoning packets from 1  box of G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (Note: This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a pantry staple of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand in my pantry so I can duplicate her recipes.)

1 1/2  cups uncooked long-grain white rice, steamed in a rice steamer or cooked on stovetop

IMG_0992 IMG_0992 IMG_0992 IMG_0992 IMG_0998 IMG_0998~Step 1. Cook the rice your favorite way.  On the stovetop the common formula is: bring 2 cups water + 2 tablespoons butter or oil to a boil over high heat for every 1 cup of long-grain white rice. Slowly sprinkle the rice into the boiling water, give it a quick stir, adjust heat to a gentle simmer, cover pot and allow to simmer, without lifting the lid off the pot, 22-24 minutes.  When I am cooking rice on the stovetop, I always use a pot with a glass lid, so I can keep a careful eye on the process.  You will know the rice is finished when the bubble slow to an almost halt and small holes, where the bubbles were rising to the surface, have formed.  Remove from heat and use a fork to rake through the rice to separate the grains.

IMG_1004 IMG_1004 IMG_1004 IMG_1004 IMG_1014 IMG_1014 IMG_1014 IMG_1014~Step 2.  In a 12" skillet place the ground beef and use a spatula to break it up a bit.  Season the beef with the salt, pepper and G. Washington's seasoning.  Over medium heat, cook the beef, stirring constantly and breaking it up into bits and pieces with the spatula, until it has lost it's pink color and is just steamed through, about 6-8 minutes. Do not overcook the beef, do not brown the beef, simply render the fat from it.  Turn the heat off.  Using a few wadded-up paper towels, blot up the greasy liquid.  Add the rice to the skillet.  Stir the two together and remove from stovetop.

Note:  The reason to gently cook the ground beef in a skillet before adding it to the soup is to remove a good deal of its fat.  If you're questioning why this is not done in the case of stuffed cabbage soup w/mini-meatballs, here's the answer:  The meat and the rice in that soup are added uncooked -- the rice absorbs the fat/juices from the meatballs as they cook in the soup.  

Stir beef & rice mixture into stew & simmer 5-10 minutes:

IMG_1027Slovak Unstuffed-Cabbage Stew with Beef & Rice:  Recipe yields 5 quarts cabbage soup base/8 quarts total soup/12-16 hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale (optional); wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; 12" nonstick skillet; 2-quart saucepan w/lid or electric rice steamer; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcd8fbfd970bCook's Note:  After the Easter holiday, each and every year, my mother always reserved the bone from her baked ham, being careful to leave a copious amount of meat clinging to it.  For another delightful and traditional Eastern European soup, try ~ My Mom's Traditional Ham, Cabbage & Potato Soup ~. 

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

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

04/20/2019

~ Slovak-Style Stuffed-Cabbage Soup with Meatballs ~

IMG_0910Known as holubki to me and golabki to many of you, stuffed cabbage rolls are beloved in every Eastern European household.  Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), cooked rice, steamed green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce.  Because they are labor-intensive, too often they're reserved for holidays or special occasions.  That said, those of us in Eastern European inner-circles know there's another form of this knife-and-fork meal that brings this savory comfort food to the weekday table in half the time. Get out the bowls and spoons and meet my grandmother's sublime stuffed cabbage soup.

Soup w/meatballs swimming it is common in many cultures:

IMG_0916Soup with meatballs swimming it?  It's common in almost all cultures, and, there is a common reason for it too.  In the history of food, and throughout all the documented ages, meat was for the wealthy.  In spite of that, savvy cooks minced or ground unwanted scraps or lesser cuts of meat and combined them with inexpensive binders like breadcrumbs or rice, a liquid or egg, plus some common-to-the cuisine seasonings.  They are to be commended for developing great-tasting meatball recipes which allowed the poorer classes to partake in a diet richer in protein.

When it comes to making cabbage rolls or meatballs (most cuisines have a traditional recipe for both), folks make use of on-hand ingredients.  For instance:  if they live in an area suited for raising sheep, you'll find lamb in their cabbage rolls, or, if they live in a climate where vegetables grow year round, you'll find things like bell peppers and chunky tomatoes in theirs.  I will, however, go out on a limb and state:  when I say "cabbage roll" or "cabbage roll soup", you should say "Eastern European", because that is the cuisine they're hands-down most associated with.

For my nicely-seasoned easy-to-make cabbage-soup base:

IMG_0813For the cabbage soup base:

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1  quart tomato or V-8 juice (Note:  My preference is V-8.  The choice is yours.)

1  quart beef stock

1 quart water

2  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (Note:  My grandmother used this beloved soup in place of tomato sauce or tomato paste -- and trust me it is wonderful.)

4  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, undrained

2  15 1/2-ounce cans diced-tomatoes, undrained

IMG_0801IMG_0801IMG_08011  3-pound head green cabbage, cored and cut into 6 wedges, wedges cut into 1/2"-wide egg-noodle-type strips

IMG_0814 IMG_0814 IMG_0814 ~Step 1.  Making the soup base.  In a wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the vegetable oil, salt and black pepper.  Add the diced onions.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the onions in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0822IMG_0822IMG_0822IMG_0822 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834~Step 2.  Add the tomato or V-8 juice, beef stock, water, tomato soup, undrained mushrooms and diced tomatoes.  Bring to a steady simmer, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat.  Stir in the cabbage (pot will be quite full), partially cover the pot and cook until cabbage is tender and lost about half its volume, about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep, while preparing the meatballs as directed below, or, overnight in the refrigerator.  If you have the time, overnight is best, not to mention convenient.

For my spice-is-right ground beef & rice meatballs:

IMG_0852For the meatballs:

3  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

2  teaspoons dehydrated minced garlic

2  teaspoons dehydrated minced onion

2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1  cup uncooked long-grain white rice, not "Minute rice" 

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

2  large eggs

IMG_0855 IMG_0855 IMG_0855 IMG_0855 IMG_0855~Step 1.  Mixing the meatballs.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl along with the dehydrated minced garlic and onion, salt and pepper, and, contents of the G. Washington's seasoning packets.  Using your hands, mix to combine.  Add the rice and mix again.  Add the eggs, and, you guessed it, give the whole thing one last very, very thorough mix.

IMG_0872 IMG_0872~ Step 2. Forming the meatballs. Using a 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, form balls and roll between the palms of hands into 1" meatballs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking pan as you work.  If you have the time, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-3 hours, to give rice time to soften.  There will be 10+ dozen meatballs.

IMG_0890 IMG_0890 IMG_0890~Step 3.  Cooking the meatballs. Return soup base to a simmer over medium-high heat.  One or two at a time, drop meatballs into simmering soup (do it this way to keep soup simmering).  When meatballs have been added, adjust heat to a gentler simmer, partially-cover pot and cook 20-25 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow soup to steep, about 30-60 minutes, prior to serving.  

IMG_0922Note:  If you have the time, refrigerate the entire pot of soup overnight, then, reheat gently on the stovetop, because, like many things, this soup tastes even better the next day.  There's more.  It freezes great. The entire batch will fill four, two-quart sized freezer containers with tight-fitting lids.  In either case, the rice is going to continue to absorb some more of the moisture, so, be prepared to add a bit more beef stock during the reheat process.

Cabbage rolls served soup-style -- it's what's for dinner:

IMG_0907Simply sublime, simply divine -- to the very last slurp:

IMG_0918Slovak-Style Stuffed-Cabbage Soup with Meatballs: Recipe yields 5 quarts cabbage soup base/8 quarts total soup/10-11 dozen small 1"-round meatballs and 12-16 hearty main-dish servings.  

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale (optional); wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop; 2, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans or 1, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper

IMG_0734Cook's Note:  Keeping in mind that Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner, here's another recipe along the same lines as today's, with a completely different flavor profile.  If you've ever traveled South of the American-Southwest border, you have encountered albóndigas (which means meatballs in Spanish).  This meatball soup, with a rich history, made its way to Mexico via the Spanish conquistadors.  Try my luscious ~ Sopa de Albóndigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup ~.

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

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

04/17/2019

~ An All-Purpose Mexican-Style Soup or Soup Base ~

IMG_0788 2My kitchen is no different than anyone elses.  The cuisine we're in the mood changes from day to day -- Asian, French, Greek, Indian, Italian, Jamaican or Texican (to name a few of our favorites). For the past few days, we've been hungry for Tex-Mex, and, like all of our other favorites, having an all-purpose marinade, a seasoning blend or two, along with a sauce for dipping or drizzling, suited specifically to this South-of-the-border flavor profile, makes meal prep easy, not to mention creative and fun.  Trust me, any way you cook it, every dish prepared in the home kitchen doesn't have to be authentic, classic, or traditional.  It just has to look and taste great.

To make my all-purpose Mexican-style soup or soup base:

IMG_06522  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil

1  tablespoon fajita seasoning, homemade or store-bought (Note:  Fajita seasoning is the perfect all-purpose seasoning blend for this all-purpose Mexican-soup or soup base.  After all, its purpose is to season beef or chicken and all the yummy vegetables that typically season fajitas -- the all same ingredients included in this recipe.)

1  1/2 -2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2  large cloves garlic, run through a press

1 1/2-2  cups peeled and sliced or diced carrots

1  cup diced celery

2  quarts chicken stock

1  quart beef stock

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

1/2-3/4-ounce bouquet garni of cilantro

1/2-1  teaspoon sea salt, to taste (optional) (Note:  Depending on the amount of salt in the fajita seasoning, which varies from recipe to recipe and manufacturer to manufacturer, it may or may not be necessary to add additional salt to the soup stock.)

IMG_0656 IMG_0656 IMG_0656~ Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the achiote oil and fajita seasoning.  Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the vegetables in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666~Step 2.  Add the chicken stock, beef stock, fire-roasted tomatoes, and cilantro.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer and cook until carrots are soft, about 20 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep for 1-2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.  Overnight is best.

A tasty foil for many a Mexican-style soup meal. 

IMG_0763Add another veggie or two (we like black beans and corn)...

IMG_0769... perhaps some cooked & shredded chicken or beef too...

IMG_0771... & maybe some deep-fried corn tortilla wisps for garnish:

IMG_0779Try my Sopa de Albóndigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup):

IMG_0734An All-Purpose Mexican-Style Soup or Soup Base:  Recipe yields 4 quarts soup/soup base.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; vegetable peeler; kitchen-safe twine; 8-quart wide-bottomed stock pot w/lid; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c807903f970bCook's Note:  When I use my crockpot, it's not because I have no time to cook, it's because what I'm letting it cook for me, without compromise, is really good.  It's no secret, I've never been a crockpot kinda gal, but, over the past few years I've mellowed.  For one of our family's favorite Tex-Mex-style soups, try ~ Easy-Does-It: Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup ~.  Using pantry staples, this recipe takes almost no time to put in the crock and tastes reminiscent of a tasty trip South of the border.

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

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

04/15/2019

~ Sopa de Albóndigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup) ~

IMG_0734Soup with meatballs swimming in it -- it's common in almost all cultures, and, there is a common reason for it too.  In the history of food, and throughout all the documented ages, meat was for the wealthy.  In spite of that, savvy cooks minced or ground unwanted scraps or lesser cuts of meat and combined them with inexpensive binders like breadcrumbs or rice, a liquid or egg, plus some common-to-the cuisine seasonings.  They are to be commended for developing great-tasting meatball recipes which allowed the poorer classes to partake in a diet richer in protein.

IMG_0697Albóndigas = meatballs, in Spanish.  Albunduq = hazelnut or small, in Arabic. 

In the case of this soup, albóndigas is the Spanish word for meatballs, and, this now-deemed Mexican soup meal traces its roots back to the sixth century, when Islamic influence dominated Southwestern Europe.  In the thirteenth century (700 years later), Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquered these Muslim-occupied territories, and, over time, Islamic culinary traditions naturally integrated into the Spanish-style of eating.  After that, albóndigas soup made its way to Mexico via the conquistadors.  I mention this informative trail of historical breadcrumbs because, at first glance, some might question one or two ingredients that don't fit the presupposed profile for Spanish and/or Mexican cuisine -- I know, I questioned it the first time I made this soup.

Hazelnut-sized Spanish meatballs contain a protein + rice & egg (to bind) & mint.

The earliest of recipes used lamb, along with rice and mint to make the meatballs.  In Spain, lamb transitioned to beef, pork or chicken.  In Mexico, beef, chicken and/or chorizo became the predominant proteins. In the language of any cuisine, this is easy to understand as ingredients are always dependent upon the geography and climate of the region.  That said, while the proteins changed with the landscape, two constants remained in the making of albóndigas: rice and mint. Imagine small, minty meatballs swimming around in a light but nicely-seasoned chicken broth, with colorful orange carrots, red tomatoes and a green vegetable (green beans, peas or spinach are common), or, black beans and sweet corn kernels (what I like to use).

For my nicely-seasoned & easy-to-make Mexican-style soup base:

IMG_0652For the Mexican-style soup base:

2  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil

1  tablespoon fajita seasoning, homemade or store-bought (Note:  Fajita seasoning is the perfect all-purpose seasoning blend for sopa de albóndigas and for seasoning the albóndigas too. After all, its purpose is to season beef or chicken and all the yummy vegetables that typically season fajitas -- all the same ingredients included in this recipe.)

1 1/2-2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1 1/2-2  cups peeled and sliced or diced carrots

1  cup diced celery

2  quarts chicken stock 

1  quart beef stock 

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

1/2-3/4-ounce bouquet garni of cilantro

1/2-1  teaspoon sea salt, to taste (optional) (Note:  Depending on the amount of salt in the fajita seasoning, which varies from recipe to recipe and manufacturer to manufacturer, it may or may not be necessary to add additional salt to the soup stock.)

IMG_0656 IMG_0656 IMG_0656~ Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the achiote oil and fajita seasoning.  Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the vegetables in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666~Step 2.  Add the chicken stock, beef stock, fire-roasted tomatoes, and cilantro.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer and cook until carrots are soft, about 20 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep for 1-2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.  Overnight is best.

For my spice-is-right Mexican chorizo & ground beef meatballs: 

IMG_0701For the Mexican-style mini-meatballs:

1/2  pound chorizo sausage

1/2  pound 85% lean ground beef

2  teaspoons fajita seasoning, homemade or store-bought

2  teaspoons dried mint leaves

6  tablespoons uncooked long-grain white rice

1  large egg, raw

IMG_0683 IMG_0683 IMG_0683Step 1.  In a medium mixing bowl, place the Mexican chorizo sausage, ground beef, fajita seasoning, dried mint leaves and rice.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.  Add the egg and combine again.

IMG_0692 IMG_0692 IMG_0692~Step 2.  Using a 1" ice-cream scoop as a measure, form balls and roll between the palms of hands into 3/4" meatballs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking pan as you work.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2-3 hours, to give rice time to soften a bit.  There will be 5-dozen meatballs.

IMG_0713For the add-in's and garnishes:

1  cup well-drained and rinsed black beans*

1  cup well-drained sweet corn kernels

minced cilantro or cilantro sprigs

*Note:  In the Fall/Winter months, I like to add spinach.  In the Summer, when my garden produces them, I add green and yellow zucchini.

IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710~Step 3.  Bring soup to a simmer over medium-high heat.  One or two at a time, drop meatballs into simmering soup (do it this way to keep soup simmering).  When meatballs have been added, adjust heat to a gentler simmer, partially cover pot and cook 10-12 minutes.  Add black beans and corn and simmer, uncovered, 2-3 more minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow soup to steep, about 30-45 minutes, prior to serving.

Ladle into soup bowls & garnish as you wish:

IMG_0737So delish you'll want another dish:

IMG_0752Sopa de Albondigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup):  Recipe yields 4 quarts soup/soup base, 5 dozen small 3/4"-round meatballs and 8-10 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; vegetable peeler; kitchen-safe twine; 8-quart wide-bottomed stock pot w/lid; large spoon; 1" ice-cream-type scoop; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c807903f970bCook's Note: When I use my crockpot, it's not because I have no time to cook, it's because what I'm letting it cook for me, without compromise, is really good.  It's no secret, I've never been a crockpot kinda gal, but, over the past few years I've mellowed.  For one of our family's favorite Tex-Mex-style soups, try ~ Easy-Does-It: Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup ~.  Using pantry staples, this recipe takes almost no time to put in the crock and tastes reminiscent of a tasty trip South of the border.

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

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

04/12/2019

~ The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Marinade ~

IMG_0647The hamlet of Endwell, the village of Endicott, and, the city of Binghamton.  What do these three places in upstate New York have in common?  They each own a piece of the claim to creating a sandwich unique to their area, and, popularizing it to the point to hold an annual three-days-in-August food festival and hot-air balloon rally that attracts over 100,000 people to celebrate.  The "Spiedie" comes from the Italian word "spiede", as-in cubes of skewered meat cooked on a "spit".

Spiediefest08_400x400An Italian immigrant, Camillo Lacovelli is said to have introduced the original spiedie to Endwell, NY, in the early 1930's. Via his brother, Agostino "Augie" Lacovelli, who put spiedies on his Augie's Restaurant (located in Endicott) menu in 1939, they gained local popularity.  Augie's son Guido Lacovelli, continued the family business into the 1990's, owning as many as 26 restaurants at the peak of his career.  It was only natural for the spiedie sandwich to make its way to the big city of Binghamton -- its initial appearance was in 1947 at the still very popular Sharky's Bar & Grill, owned by Peter Sharak.  The rest is history.

Binghamton is the spiedie capital of the world.  

IMG_0614The secret to a great spiedie is the tangy and tart marinade.

IMG_0465Visiting this region of New York and not eating a spiedie would be tantamount to a foodie traveling to Philadelphia or Chicago and not eating a cheesesteak sandwich or an Italian-beef sandwich. My classic spiedie recipe consists of cubes of marinated chicken, pork, beef, veal or lamb, skewered, char-grilled and served in a soft, hoagie-type roll (or a slice of Italian bread), with a bit of extra sauce (simmered marinade) drizzled on top.  The marinade is the star of the show and is similar to Italian dressing (oil, vinegar, paprika and a variety of Italian spices, including mint in many versions), which quickly caramelizes when it hits the grill, keeping the meat cubes tender on the inside.  

For a tasty store-bought version, Lupo's is the brand I recommend, and, was the flavor profile I used to come up with my own recipe.  That said, while the original Italian-style spiedie marinade is the most popular, spiedie marinades have crossed cultural borders.  Variations in the marinade make it possible to make and serve them Asian-, Greek-, Jamaican-, Tex-Mex-, etc., style, and, eaten straight off the skewer or in salads or stir-fries, they're not limited to sandwiches anymore.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad35bca62200c 6a0120a8551282970b0223c8493631200c IMG_1279My marinade = enough to marinate 5-6 pounds 1"-cubed boneless, skinless chicken thighs or tenderloins, pork blade steak or pork tenderloin, or, nicely-marbled beef steak.  Because marinade works exclusively as a flavorizer, not a tenderizer, I avoid meat like chicken breasts, pork loin and sirloin steak, which tend to get tough.

In all cases, marination is a flavorizer not a tenderizer...

IMG_0624For 2 1/2 cups marinade (enough for 5-6 pounds meat cubes):

3/4  cup  corn oil

3/4  cup malt vinegar

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or high-quality store-bought organic lemon juice not from concentrate

2  tablespoons sugar

2  teaspoons Italian seasoning

2  teaspoons dried mint

1  tablespoon garlic salt

1  tablespoon onion salt

2  teaspoons paprika

2  teaspoons sea salt

IMG_0627 IMG_0627~ Step 1.  To make marinade, in a 1-quart "shaker" container (the type used to shake salad dressing in order to stabilize it) or jar with a tight fitting lid, place all ingredients as listed.  Cover and shake container.  If you have that time, set the marinade aside for several hours, or overnight, to allow the flavors time to marry.  It may be prepared several days in advance, and, like any vinaigrette, stored in the refrigerator indefinitely too.

IMG_0477Note:  After marinating the meat, the leftover marinade may be transferred to a small 1-quart saucepan and gently simmered 3-4 minutes to use as a flavorful sauce for dipping or drizzling over finished sandwiches -- and a wee drizzle goes a long way.  There's more.  For a sweeter version of the simmered sauce, add 2 tablespoons honey to the mixture -- be aware that sweet marinades can and will burn or boil over quickly on the grill or stovetop, so be sure to watch carefully. 

&, the length of marination time does not affect the grilling time.

IMG_0483Try my classic Italian-style spiedies w/bell peppers & onions:

IMG_0544Or, my Tex-Mex-marinated spiedies w/Texican barbecue sauce:

IMG_0568The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Marinade:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups marinade for 5-6 pound chicken, pork or beef cubes.

Special Equipment List: 1-quart measuring container w/pourer top and lid, or, 1-quart jar w/tight-fitting lid; 2-gallon ziplock bag

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0909e769970dCook's Note:  For a similar sandwich, which isn't a spiedie because the meat doesn't get marinated, my recipe for ~ Herbed Pork Skewers w/Apricot-Mustard Sauce ~ is a keeper.  That said, in the event you'd like to transition it into a spiedie that uses pork tenderloin (it would be easy to do), my step-by-step directions will show you how to slice and fold the pork slices (not cut it into cubes), which keeps this cut of pork super-tender.

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

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

04/10/2019

~ The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Sandwich ~

IMG_0614Endicott, NY, is off the beaten path for some, which is why the spiedie sandwich just might be the best sandwich a lot of folks never heard of.  The odd part is, growing up with parents who pretty much stuck close to their home in Eastern, PA, as a family we actually made it to New York every now and then, and, everyone in our family, including grandma, loved a spiedie sandwich.  It was back in the 1960's, and, I was so young, I didn't even know I was eating an official spiedie.

B146b8f0f761201051e282db4e01d334--seneca-dodge-dartMy grandmother, my mom's mother, had a  friend who lived in Endicott New York (a town West of Binghamton).  For 6-8 years, once every Summer, our family of four plus grandma, arranged ourselves in dad's brand-new all-white, 1960 Dodge Dart Seneca and headed North.  It was a long day (we left early in the morning and returned late in the evening), but just before arriving at our destination, we stopped to eat spiedies for lunch (our hostess always made dinner).

^^^ I stole this photo after an internet search for a white, four-door, 1960 Dodge Dart Seneca.

As Philadelphia, PA = the cheesesteak capital of the world, &, Chicago, IL = the Italian-beef capital of the world...

IMG_0465The spiedie is a sandwich local to the Binghamton area, and, visiting this region and not eating a spiedie would be like traveling to the Philadelphia or Chicago and not eating a cheesesteak sandwich or an Italian-beef sandwich.  Simply put, a spiedie consists of cubes of marinated chicken, pork, beef or lamb, skewered, char-grilled and served in a soft, hoagie-type roll (or a slice of Italian bread), with a bit of extra sauce (simmered marinade) drizzled on top.  The marinade is the star of the show and is similar to Italian dressing (containing oil, vinegar, paprika and a variety of Italian spices, including mint in many versions), which quickly caramelizes when it hits the grill, keeping the meat cubes tender on the inside.  For a tasty store-bought version, which will give you a flavor profile to follow, should you be inclined to make your own, Lupo's is the brand I recommend.

... Binghamton, NY = the spiedie capital of the world!

IMG_0604"Spiedie" comes from the Italian word "spiede", as-in skewered food cooked on a "spit".  As for their origin, three people seemed to have played a part in their creation and popularization.  An Italian immigrant, Camillo Lacovelli claims to have invented the original spiedie in Endwell, NY. Via his brother, Agostino "Augie" Lacovelli, who put spiedies on his Augie's Restaurant (located in Endicott) menu in 1939, they gained local popularity.  Augie's son Guido Lacovelli, continued the family business into the 1990's, owning as many as 26 restaurants at the peak of his career.

  And this Italian-heritaged sandwich has plenty of variations. 

IMG_0544It was only natural for the spiedie sandwich to make its way to the big city of Binghamton -- its initial appearance was in 1947 at Sharky's Bar & Grill, owned by Peter Sharak.  The rest is history and Binghamton, is now the spiedie capital of the world, with an annual three-day Spiedie Festival and Balloon Rally that attracts over 100,000 people.  While the original Italian-style spiedie is still the most popular, spiedies have crossed cultural borders.  Variations in the marinade make it possible to make and serve them Asian-, Greek-, Jamaican-, Tex-Mex-, etc., style, and, eaten straight off the skewer or in salads or stir-fries, they're not limited to sandwiches anymore.

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 9.34.22 AMFor my version of the Classic Italian Spiedie Sandwich:

IMG_0480For the meat:  

2 1/2-3 pounds boneless chicken thighs or tenderloins, or pork blade steak (trimmed of excess fat) or pork tenderloin, cut into 1" cubes, marinated as directed below (Note:  Nicely-marbled steak or leg of lamb options too.)

2  each:  green and red bell peppers, sliced into 1" squares* 

1  large sweet onion, sliced into 1" squares*

*Note:  While a classic Italian spiedie is traditionally just marinated and grilled meat placed in an Italian roll or on slice of Italian bread, bell pepper and onions are classic Italian ingredients, and, my family will not allow me to make Italian spiedies without them.  The choice is yours. 

IMG_0624To make 1 1/4 cups marinade (enough for 2 1/2-3 pounds meat cubes):

6  tablespoons  corn oil

6  tablespoons malt vinegar

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or store-bought organic lemon juice, not from concentrate

1  tablespoon sugar

1  teaspoon Italian seasoning

1  teaspoon dried mint

1 1/2  teaspoons  garlic salt

1 1/2  teaspoons onion salt

1  teaspoon paprika

1  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_0597 IMG_0597~ Step 1.  To make marinade (which can be prepared several hours or days in advance), in a 2-cup "shaker" container (the type used to shake salad dressing in order to stabilize it), place all ingredients as listed.  Cover and shake container.

Note: After marinating the meat, the leftover marinade may be transferred to a small 1-quart saucepan and gently simmered 3-4 minutes to use as a flavorful sauce for dipping or drizzling over finished sandwiches -- and a wee drizzle goes a long way.  There's more.  For a sweeter version of the simmered marinade/sauce, add 2 tablespoons honey to the mixture, but, be aware that a saucepan containing a sweet marinade can and will burn or boil over quickly on the grill or stovetop, so be sure to watch carefully.   In the case of ALL things marinated: 

Marination is a flavorizer not a tenderizer, &, the length of the marination time does not affect the grilling time.

IMG_0467 IMG_0467 IMG_0467 IMG_0467~Step 2. Place chicken or pork cubes in a 1-gallon ziplock bag. Add the marinade and seal the bag.  Marinate the chicken or pork cubes, in the refrigerator, for 6-12-24 hours (the longer the better), stopping to squish the bag occasionally (if convenient), throughout the process.

IMG_0483~Step 3.  To assemble 16, 8" bamboo skewers, thread one marinated meat cube, followed by one slice each of green bell pepper, onion and red bell pepper.  Continue alternating meat cubes and vegetable, until each skewer contains 4 cubes of meat and 3 groups of peppers and onion.  To this point, spiedie skewers can be assembled several hours and up to a day in advance of grilling.

IMG_0491~Step 4.  To grill skewers on an outdoor gas grill (or indoors using a grill pan), arrange skewers, side-by-side, on grill grids over direct heat on medium-high heat of gas grill, or, on grill grids of a large grill pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop. The heat on all grills and stovetops is not even close to being created equal, so be sure to monitor the process, which, is easy to do and goes relatively quickly.

IMG_0496 IMG_0496 IMG_0496 IMG_0496~Step 5.  Grill (all at once or in batches depending upon the size of grill or grill pan), turning four times, until meat is cooked through and light golden on all sides, and peppers are showing signs of light charring around the edges.  On grill or in grill pan, this will take about 14-15 total minutes.

Unthred onto buns & serve w/marinade for dipping or drizzling:

IMG_0546The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Sandwich: Recipe yields 16 skewers, enough for 8 large hoagie-sized sandwiches or 16 smaller hot-dog-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 2-cup "shaker" container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; 1-gallon ziplock bag; 16, 8" bamboo skewers; gas barbecue grill or large grill pan

IMG_0568Cook's Note:  Variations in the marinade make it possible to serve spiedies Asian-style, Greek-style, Jamaican-style, etc, so, do not hesitate to be creative.  Allow me to suggest you try my ~ Texican-Style Pork Steak and Bell Pepper Spiedies ~.  These are marinated in a tangy lime- and cilantro-laced marinade and accompanied by my ~ Easy Sweet & Spicy Tex-Mex-Style Barbecue Sauce ~. 

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

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

04/08/2019

~ Texican-Style Pork Steak and Bell Pepper Spiedies ~

IMG_0537My grandmother, my mother's mother, had a close friend who lived in Endicott New York (a village just West of Binghamton).  For a period of six-eight years, once every Summer, our family of four plus grandma, arranged ourselves in my dad's all-white, 1960 Dodge Dart Seneca and headed North.  It was a very long day (we left early in the morning and returned late in the evening), but just before arriving at our destination, we stopped to eat spiedies for lunch (our hostess made us dinner). Our family, including grandma, loved the classic Italian spiedies in Endicott -- Dad and I liked ours made with pork, while my brother, mom and grandma preferred theirs with chicken.

This was us (photo of Dodge Dart Seneca is carped from internet):

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49eb600200b

As Philadelphia, PA = the cheesesteak capital of the world, &, Chicago, IL = the Italian-beef capital of the world... 

IMG_0465The spiedie is a sandwich local to the Binghamton area, and, visiting this region and not eating a spiedie would be like traveling to the Philadelphia or Chicago and not eating a cheesesteak sandwich or an Italian-beef sandwich.  Simply put, the classic Italian spiedie consists of cubes of marinated chicken, pork, beef or lamb, skewered, grilled, and served in a long, soft roll (or on a slice of Italian bread), with a bit of sauce (simmered marinade) drizzled on top.  The marinade is the star of the show and similar to Italian dressing (containing oil, vinegar, lemon, paprika and a variety of Italian spices, including mint in most versions), which quickly caramelizes when it hits the grill, keeping the meat tender on the inside.  For a tasty store-bought version, which will provide a flavor profile, if you're inclined to make your own, I recommend Lupo's.

... Binghamton, NY = the spiedie capital of the world!

"Spiedie" comes from the Italian word "spiede", as-in skewered food cooked on a "spit".  As for their origin, three people seemed to have played a part in their creation and popularization.  An Italian immigrant, Camillo Lacovelli claims to have invented the original spiedie in Endwell, NY. Via his brother, Agostino "Augie" Lacovelli, who put spiedies on his Augie's Restaurant (located in Endicott) menu in 1939, they gained local popularity.  Augie's son Guido Lacovelli, continued the family business into the 1990's, owning as many as 26 restaurants at the peak of his career.

  And this Italian-heritaged sandwich has plenty of variations. 

It was only natural for the spiedie sandwich to make its way to the big city of Binghamton -- its initial appearance was in 1947 at Sharky's Bar & Grill, owned by Peter Sharak.  The rest is history and Binghamton, is now the spiedie capital of the world, with an annual three-day Spiedie Festival and Balloon Rally that attracts over 100,000 people.  While the original Italian-style spiedie is still the most popular, spiedies have crossed cultural borders.  Variations in the marinade make it possible to make and serve them Asian-, Greek-, Jamaican-, Tex-Mex-, etc., style, and, eaten straight off the skewer or in salads or stir-fries, they're not limited to sandwiches anymore.

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 9.34.22 AMArmed w/a cuisine-appropriate marinade, I make spiedies several ways throughout the grilling season.  Today = Tex-Mex-Style.

IMG_7102To make 1 1/4 cups marinade:

3/4 cup achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) vegetable oil*

6  tablespoons white vinegar

6  tablespoons lime juice, fresh or high-quality organic lime juice

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1  tablespoon dried Mexican oregano and Mexican-style chili powder

2  teaspoons each: garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  cup minced cilantro leaves

*Note:  Achiote oil, which is readily available everywhere, has annatto added to it, which is what gives it its signature pretty orange color, and, ever-so-slight hint of earthy, musty, peppery flavor. Annatto is the seed of the achiote tree, which is indigenous to Central and South America.  The seeds are usually ground to a powder or steeped in oil prior to adding to all sorts of Spanish-style fare.  If you don't do a lot of this type of cooking, don't buy it, or, if you don't want the orange color added to the dish you are serving, simply substitute vegetable oil without compromise.

IMG_7103 IMG_7103 IMG_7108 IMG_7108~Step 1.  In a small capacity food processor or blender, measure and place all ingredients as listed:  vegetable oil, vinegar, lime juice and all of the dry spices.  Mince and add the cilantro. Process or blend, until smooth, about 15-20 seconds.  Marinate pork for 6-12-24 hours.

Note:  After marinating the pork, the leftover marinade may be transferred to a small 1-quart saucepan and gently simmered for 4-5 minutes to use as a very-flavorful sauce for dipping or drizzling over the finished sandwiches -- a little goes a long way.  There's more.  For a sweeter version of the marinade (or the simmered sauce), add 2 tablespoons honey to the mixture -- be aware that sweet marinades can and will burn or boil over quickly on the grill or stovetop, so be sure to watch carefully under either circumstance.  In the case of ALL things marinated: 

Marination does not affect cooking time, it is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.

IMG_0467To marinate the pork:

2 1/2-3  pounds pork blade steak*, trimmed of excessive outer fat and cut into 1" cubes, two 3/4"-1"-thick steaks cut by your butcher as directed below

all marinade, from above recipe

6a0120a8551282970b0223c8493631200c-1*Steaks cut from the pork shoulder are marbled with lots of fat and rich with collagen, which, like the roast, makes them extremely flavorful.  

Because overcooking renders them dry and tough, this quick-cooking cut is perfect for the grill, sauté pan or broiler.  Choose pinkish-gray steaks that are generally the same size and thickness (3/4"-1" thick is ideal), and, have been trimmed of excessive fat from the fat-cap-side. The four steaks pictured here, weighing a total of 6.48 pounds, cost $10.87.  That's a whole lot of economical porcine wonderfulness -- especially if you've got a big family.

IMG_0471 IMG_0471 IMG_0471~Step 1. Place pork cubes in a 1-gallon ziplock bag. Add the marinade and seal the bag.  Marinate the pork, in the refrigerator, for 6-12-24 hours, stopping to squish the bag occasionally (if convenient), throughout the process.

IMG_0480To assemble and grill 16, 8" pork steak skewers:

2  each:  green and red bell peppers, sliced into 1" squares 

1  large sweet onion, sliced into 1" squares

all of the marinated pork cubes, from above recipe

8  Italian-cheesesteak-type rolls, thick-sliced Italian bread, or, 16 brioche hot dog rolls, your choice

IMG_0483~ Step 1.  To assemble 16, 8" bamboo skewers, thread one marinated meat cube, followed by one slice each of green bell pepper, onion and red bell pepper.  Continue alternating pork cubes and vegetable, until each skewer contains 4 cubes of pork and 3 groups of peppers and onion.  To this point, spiedie skewers can be assembled several hours and up to a day in advance of grilling.

IMG_0491~Step 2.  To grill skewers on an outdoor gas grill (or indoors using a grill pan), arrange skewers, side-by-side, on grill grids over direct heat on medium-high heat of gas grill, or, on grill grids of a large grill pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop. The heat on all grills and stovetops is not even close to being created equal, so be sure to monitor the process, which, is easy to do and goes relatively quickly.

IMG_0496 IMG_0496 IMG_0496 IMG_0496~Step 3.  Grill (all at once or in batches depending upon the size of grill or grill pan), turning four times, until pork is cooked through and light golden on all sides, and peppers are showing signs of light charring around the edges.  On grill or in grill pan, this will take about 14-15 total minutes.

Unthred onto buns & serve w/Texas-Style Barbecue Sauce...

IMG_0568... drizzled over the top of this mouthwatering sandwich: 

IMG_0583Tex-Mex-Style Pork Steak and Bell Pepper Spiedie:  Recipe yields 16 skewers, enough for 8 large hoagie-sized sandwiches or 16 smaller hot-dog-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small capacity food processor; 1-cup measuring container; 1-gallon ziplock bag; 16, 8" bamboo skewers; gas barbecue grill or large grill pan

6a0120a8551282970b0224df3140c6200bCook's Note: The pork blade steak is my new-to-me muse -- in my own words, it's a bone-fide kick-butt man-sized pork chop.  Known as pork steak, pork butt steak or pork blade steak, and similar in taste and texture to close-kin country-style spareribs, they were invented in St. Louis, MO, and are a Midwest staple.  As a country-style spare-rib lover living in central Pennsylvania, I ask the Sam's Club butcher to custom-cut these inexpensive, lesser-to-unknown-to-my-community steaks for me.  Give 'em a try!

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

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

04/05/2019

~Easy Sweet & Spicy Tex-Mex-Style Barbecue Sauce~

IMG_0526Simmer down.  I am well aware that authentic Texas-style barbecue requires no sauce, and, its purist fans proclaim perfectly-smoked beef, poultry or pork is so lip-smacking fantastic sauce ruins it. I'm neither here to disagree nor apologize -- I'm just a Yankee gal that likes a special or secret sauce with, or on, almost everything that comes off a grill or out of a smoker.  There's more. I have absolutely no idea what might constitute the perfect Tex-Mex-style barbecue sauce, I'm simply here to share my culinary concoction of sweet and savory pleasing-to-me perfection.

Specific to no one dish, but loyal to the cuisine du jour.

My kitchen is no different than anyone elses.  The cuisine we're in the mood changes from day to day.  Be it Asian, Greek, Italian, Jamaican or Texican (to name a few of our favorites), having an all-purpose marinade or dry rub, along with a sauce for dipping or drizzling, suited specifically to the flavor profile for any cuisine, makes meal preparation for any family easy, not to mention creative and fun.  Trust me when I tell you, any way you cook it, every dish prepared in the home kitchen doesn't have to be authentic, classic, or traditional.  It just has to look and taste great.

IMG_04222  8-ounce cans tomato sauce

1/4  cup light-flavored molasses

6  tablespoons Worcestershire

1  tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1  teaspoon dry English mustard

1  teaspoon Mexican oregano

1/2  teaspoon each:  ground cinnamon and cumin

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon each: garlic and onion powder

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

IMG_0426 IMG_0426 IMG_0426 IMG_0426 IMG_0426~Step 1.  Place all ingredients as listed in a 1-quart saucepan.  Bring to a steady simmer over medium heat and continue to cook, stirring constantly, 5-6 minutes.  Sauce will be thick, but not too thick -- perfect for dipping or drizzling on almost any Tex-Mex-style grilled meat, poultry or pork.  Place in a food storage container and store in refrigerator up to 3-4 weeks.

Try my Texican-style Pork Steak & Bell Pepper Spiedies

IMG_0519Easy Sweet & Spicy Tex-Mex-Style Barbecue Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups barbecue sauce.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart saucepan; spoon; appropriate-sized food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b019102de4b79970cCook's Note: I'm a sauce-a-holic.  I think almost everything tastes better with a perfectly executed sauce on top of it, underneath it or to the side of it.  I think a saucier (a person who devotes oneself to the art of saucemaking) is the most valuable person in the kitchen. From appetizers to desserts, a simple or sophisticated sauce not only enhances food, it can mask a minor mishap or mistake.  ~ Kansas City BBQ Sauce:  Sweet, Spicy & Smokey ~, is one of my favorites.

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

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

04/03/2019

~Spicy Southwestern-Style Candied Sweet Potatoes~

IMG_0389April showers bring May flowers, tick-tock, and so starts the prime-time grilling season.  Across the country, home cooks and grill-masters are already concocting their secret recipes for sweet and savory wet sauces and spice-is-nice dry rubs.  Once the chicken and ribs start hitting the grill grids, neighborhoods everywhere will be filled with the ethereal smell of barbecue.  Get out the paper plates and napkins, place the side-dishes on the table, pop a beer and pull up a chair.

Speaking of side-dishes (notice how I snuck that in), while Northeastern Deutsch-Amish potato-salads, macaroni-salads and coleslaws reign undeniably supreme (as far as cold, starchy side-dishes to eat during the Summer season), if you're looking for a hot option, in place of the ever-popular Midwestern baked bean- and/or baked-corn- casserole, allow me to suggest some spicy-and-syrupy Southwestern-style candied sweet potatoes to go with your poultry or porcine.

Times change, people change, &, candied sweet potatoes aren't just for Easter ham & Thanksgiving turkey anymore.

As a kid, I never understood why our family didn't eat sweet potatoes more often.  Mom served them twice a year.  Once in the Spring, with our Easter ham, and, once in the Fall, with our Thanksgiving turkey -- at both holidays, a table full of family and friends ate them enthusiastically. Even though I didn't waste a lot of time pondering this situation as a child, when I got older, I asked my mom.  She served them twice a year because her mother served them twice a year.

0-Yucatan-peninsula-on-the-map'Tis true.  Most of us don't start thinking about sweet potatoes until the leaves turn color in the Fall, and, I was in that rut too, until I attended an outdoor wedding with a pig-roast reception several years ago. While I don't remember if the wedding was in July or August, I can't forget the big platters, heaped with chunks of perfectly-cooked porcine surrounded by creamy sweet-potatoes enrobed in a brown-sugar-, cinnamon-, clove-, cumin- and cayenne-laced sauce.  What's not to love.

The main difference between Mexican-style candied sweet potatoes & all other American-regional candied sweet potatoes is...

The catering team was a Texican-American man and a woman who hailed from the Yucatan Peninsula. The camotes enmielados, or Mexican-style candied sweet potatoes, were remarkable.  My friend and mother-of-the-bride was kind enough request the recipe details on my behalf. Interestingly, the method is not that different from making Southern-style or any type of candied sweet potatoes -- even the spices (sans the earthy cumin and spicy cayenne) are similar.

... Piloncillo (or Panela) -- Mexican brown cane-sugar cones.

IMG_0331I was pleasantly surprised to find them on the shelves of my grocery store. As it turns out, piloncillo is a brown form of Mexican sugar known for its strong molasses flavor (which comes from the sugar being left unrefined, not from adding molasses).  In Mexican cuisine, it's used in recipes that are enhanced by a strong molasses flavor (beverages, gingerbread, flan, etc.). Sometimes sold in bricks, it's mostly packed in 2-, 4- or 8-ounce cones, but, if you can't find piloncillo, dark brown sugar may be substituted. That said, recipes using piloncello are always weight specific, so substitute brown sugar accordingly.

For this Southwestern version of Mexican candied sweet potatoes:

IMG_03422 1/2-3  pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, ends trimmed, cut into 1 1/2"-thick discs

1  8-ounce piloncillo cone

1  cup water

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, more or less, for heat, to taste

IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349~Step 1.  Rinse the potatoes under cold water to remove any grit.  Trim off the woody ends, then, slice the potatoes into 1 1/2"-thick discs.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, place the water and all spices.  Add the sweet potato discs (it is ok to stack them in two layers) and the whole piloncillo cone, making certain the piloncillo cone makes contact with the water.  

IMG_0363 IMG_0363 IMG_0363 IMG_0363~Step 2.  Cover pan.  Bring water to a rapid simmer over medium- medium-high heat. Adjust (lower) heat to a gentle but steady simmer and continue to cook for 30 minutes. Remove lid. Insert the tines of a fork into the tops of one or two of the potatoes.  If the lid has remained on the pan throughout the entire cooking process, the potatoes will be be steamed-through and tender to their centers, and, the piloncillo cone will be completely dissolved.  Turn the heat off.  Using a slotted spatula, transfer the potatoes from the sugary-liquid to a shallow serving bowl.

IMG_0377 IMG_0377 IMG_0377~Step 3.  Return the sugary-liquid, which is still quite thin, to a steady simmer and cook, uncovered, 5-6 minutes, to thicken to the consistency of maple syrup.  Remove from heat and drizzle the syrup over the sweet potatoes.  Serve ASAP with grilled chicken, pork chops or blade steaks, or, pulled pork.

Serve w/grilled poultry or porcine & watch the crowd to go wild:

IMG_0395Spicy Southwestern-Style Candied Sweet Potatoes:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; 1-cup measuring container; fork; slotted spatula

IMG_0277Cook's Note:  Anything a Russet potato can do, a sweet potato can do better.  Put a baked sweet potato on a plate and I require little else. On occasion, I microwave-bake one 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.  This applies to twice-baked potatoes too, and, for another year-round sweet potato treat, you should try my recipe for ~ Twice-Baked Fully-Loaded Texican Sweet Potatoes ~.

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

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