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7 posts from August 2019

08/18/2019

~ Batter-Dipped Buffalo Chicken & Blue Cheese Subs ~

IMG_3589In case you haven't noticed, I have my own way of going about all things culinary.  I'm not apprehensive about experimenting within reason, am not afraid of failure, although I hate it when it happens, and, I'm more than willing to play around with a recipe until I get it exactly where I want it to be.  Yes, I'm picky like that.  I'm not big into dieting, never have been and never needed to, but, I refuse to swallow one calorie unless it represents scrumptious taste and pleasurable texture.  In the case of my version of the all-too-often greasy-soggy-mess of an ill-conceived buffalo chicken sub, the end definitely justifies the means, and everything in between.

Batter-dipped & deep-dried vs. grilled chicken strips.

IMG_3110While classic chicken wings get deep-fried, they don't get batter dipped because they've got skin on them, and, it's when that crispy, deep-fried skin gets enrobed in the spicy sauce that the magic happens. Unfortunately, the only way the magic can be enjoyed is to strip it from the flavorful bones using ones teeth, making it remarkably impolite and totally in bad taste (the horror) to transition the actual chicken wing meat to any version of a buffalo-wing-meat sandwich.  Sigh.

IMG_3429Batter-dipping and deep-frying boneless, skinless strips of chicken breast (thigh meat is too greasy), to give them a crispy crust, is a great way to mimic the the crispy skin. Time consuming? Start to finish, batter-dipping and deep-frying a batch of chicken strips (enough for one sandwich) takes about 9-10 total minutes, and, deep-frying a batch of chicken wings (enough for one serving) takes 13-14, so, aside from a little extra mess (three dishes to wash), it's a wash.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2853276970cYes, grilling a boneless, skinless piece of chicken breast or thigh (thighs work fine on the grill), cutting the grillmarked chicken into thin strips and tossing it with some wing sauce is an option -- plenty of restaurants and home cooks do it all the time.  It is indeed tasty (not ideal, but tasty), so, feel free to substitute grilled in place of the batter-dipped, deep-fried chicken used in my recipe.  Texturally, you know your palate will obviously be missing the crunch, and if your ok with that, you have my blessing.

Decided to fry?  Set up an assembly line (left to right): 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a16a94200dNine chicken tenders, 1 1/2 per sandwich, sliced into short 1/2"-wide strips .

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 2 cups dry pancake mix.

One loaf-pan containing 2 1/2 cups pancake mix whisked with 22 ounces beer (Note:  Beer lends wonderful flavor with yeasty undertones to the breading.  That said, if I can't convince you that the heat of the deep-fryer will evaporate all the alcohol, feel free to substitute club soda.)

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 1, 8-ounces box panko breadcrumbs.

Deep-fryer w/corn or peanut oil heated to 375° according to manufacturer's specifications.

Misc:  forks, 3-minute timer, wire cooling rack, paper towels, sea salt grinder.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c615ae200b~ Step 1.  When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer (or club soda). Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken a bit, to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer (or club soda) to maintain a VERY drizzly consistency.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c615fd200b~ Step 2.  This step is actually optional, so skip it if you like.  When it comes to chicken cutlets, I prefer the texture of my panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs) to be less coarse.  To make that happen:

Place panko in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses, process these super-crispy breadcrumbs to finer crumbs.

IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3412 IMG_3412~Step 1.  Working in batches of 2 tenders at a time, slice and dredge the strips in the dry pancake mix to lightly-coat the pieces on all sides. Note:  I fry 2 at a time because that is what fits comfortably in the basket of my fryer without overcrowding it.  Gather up the dredged strips and pile them on a large slotted spatula.  Move up the assembly line, and, lower the spatula of tenders into the batter and swish them around a bit. Lift the spatula full of the strips out of the batter and hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the batter to drizzle back into the bowl.  Move up the assembly line and use your fingertip to drop the chicken strips into the panko.  Return to the bowl of batter with the spatula to retrieve any strips you might have missed.  Using a fork, toss/dredge all of the strips in the panko.

IMG_3420 IMG_3420 IMG_3420 IMG_3420~Step 2.  Two-four at a time, using your fingertips, carefully drop the breaded strips down into the 375° oil and into the fryer basket.  Close the lid and allow tenders to deep-fry for 3-3 1/2 minutes. Tenders will be a beautiful golden brown and just cooked through.  Do not overcook.

IMG_3439Step 3.  Open fryer lid and slowly lift basket up and out of deep-fryer. Transfer tender strips to a wire rack in a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Tip:  To transfer the strips, simply tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack.  Using tongs is a mistake -- it's an easy way to damage their crust.  Once out of the fryer, immediately sprinkle strips with freshly ground sea salt and repeat process until all tenders are dipped and deep-fried.

Assembling the buffalo chicken & blue cheese subs.

IMG_3564For 4, 6"-6 1/2" Buffalo chicken sub sandwiches (listed in order of assembly):

4, 6"-6 1/2" high-quality submarine/hoagie-type rolls, your favorite brand

12-16  soft Boston or bibb lettuce leaves

IMG_30952-2 1/2 cups my recipe for My RedHot-Ranch Slaw, prepared several hours or a day before deep-frying the chicken (Stir together: 8 cups/16-ounces store-bought coleslaw mix, 1 cup peeled and very thin-sliced carrots, 1 cup very-thin sliced celery, 3/4 cup Hidden Valley ranch dressing*, 1/4 cup Frank's RedHot wing sauce.  Refrigerate overnight.)

* Note:  Any high-quality creamy blue cheese dressing may be substituted in place of the Ranch.

1-1 1/2 cups blue cheese crumbles, 1-1 1/4 cups for topping sandwiches and 1/4 cup for garnishing sandwiches 

all the batter-dipped and deep-fried chicken strips, from above recipe (hot out the deep fryer, warm, or, at room temperature, your choice

Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, for drizzling on sandwiches

Frank's RedHot Wing Sauce, for drizzling on sandwiches

IMG_3569 IMG_3569 IMG_3569 IMG_3569 IMG_3569~Step 1.  To assemble the sandwiches, use a serrated bread knife to slice the rolls, placing each one on a plate as you work.  Arrange 3-4 soft Bibb lettuce leaves on each sandwich, to generously cover and protect the soft bread on the inside of each sandwich from the creamy coleslaw that will come next.  Place a generous but judicious layer of the slaw along the bottom of the sandwich -- being aware that this slaw is quite spicy.  Sprinkle a few blue cheese crumbles atop the slaw.  Stuff the sandwich with as many tender strips as it can handle, and, don't be shy about gently pressing them down into the bottom as you work -- the more the merrier. Garnish the top with a few more of the salty blue cheese crumbles.  Drizzle with a bit of the Ranch dressing followed by a drizzle of the RedHot wing sauce.  Serve immediately.

A few tender lettuce leaves, creamy-crunchy-spicy 'slaw, super-crispy chicken, blue cheese crumbles + a drizzle of sauce: 

IMG_3595Batter-Dipped Buffalo Chicken & Blue Cheese Subs:  Recipe yields 4 hearty and hot, warm or room temperature Buffalo chicken sub sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; medium mixing bowl; large slotted spatula; tongs; deep-fryer; wire cooling rack; paper towels; cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0945149d970d 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d22e5f8e970cCook's Note: Buffalo-style chicken recipes, served in any number of ways are 100% always a crowd pleaser -- they're kid-friendly too.  If it's Buffalo-style pub grub your looking for, I recommend you try ~ My Spicy Baked Blue-Cheese Buffalo-Style Chicken Dip ~, or, ~ My 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)

08/15/2019

~ Not Your Mama's Chicken-Parm Garlic-Bread Subs ~

IMG_3466Interestingly, I am not one who believes chicken parmesan, or "chicken parm" as it is affectionately referred to, should be slapped between two slices of bread and eaten like a sandwich.  I simply prefer it on a plate with pasta and a side of garlic bread -- I feel the same way about meatballs.  AND, along the same lines and in the same manner that meatballs got taken away from spaghetti and transitioned to the incredible, edible Italian-American meatball sub, many folks, a few of them in my own family, do not subscribe to my opinion on this point.  

Pollo alla parmigiana:  Chicken- parmigiana, parmesan or parm.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f48aec970dLike its predecessor eggplant parmesan, and its cousin veal parmesan, chicken parmesan is an Italian meal familiar to many living outside of Italy.  For example: Italian-Australians are as fond of it as Italian-Americans, where home cooks, fine-dining restaurant chefs and fast-food eateries take some creative license with it to offer their own variations of the dish (a thinly-sliced or lightly-pounded chicken breast that gets coated in breadcrumbs then baked,  pan-fried or sometimes deep-fried until crispy. A combination of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses get melted over the top followed by a drizzle of tomato sauce and a basil-leaf garnish.  Interestingly, the dish typically doesn't contain as much parmesan cheese as the name would lead one to believe -- it gets its name from the the Italian region of Parma, where it's said the dish hails from.

In the United States, the dish originated in the Northeast.  Recipes were created by Italian-Americans and Italian immigrants looking to take advantage of America's affordable meat market by incorporating chicken into parmigiana.  By the early 1950's, it, was a popular menu item in almost all Italian-American restaurants.  A recipe, using frozen fried chicken patties or cutlets and other processed foods, was published in the 1953 issue of The New York Herald Tribune, which became trendy with the average home cooks of the era.  A decade later, in 1962, a recipe for real-deal chicken parmigiana was featured in The New York Times, and, the rest is history. 

"When ya can't beat 'em, join 'em", so, here I am, making my own kick-ass version of this popular submarine sandwich.  There's more, I'm taking my own creative license (as I should).  I'm batter-dipping and deep-frying my chicken, and, assembling my sandwiches on garlic bread.

My choice of bread crumbs, & why I batter-dip & deep-fry.

6a0120a8551282970b0154383e5645970cWhy in the name of crunchiness would anyone want to continue to use old-fashioned breadcrumbs to make parmigiana if they knew about panko?  They wouldn't.

Meet the first change I made to this classic recipe.  "Panko" is the Japanese word for "bread crumbs", and theirs are considerably crispier and crunchier than our Western ones.  Whats more, they absorb less grease, more flavor and stay crispy a lot longer.  This simple substitution is a game changer.

6a0120a8551282970b01675eb49e90970bThe ties that bind.  After a showdown between the traditional watery egg-milk mixture vs. a trendy beer batter, the beer batter won hands-down.  In fact, it wasn't even a competition.  Who wouldn't want a super-crunchy coating that doesn't fall off or separate from the parmigiana afterwards?  No one.  

My beer batter doesn't use ordinary all-purpose flour either.  I added pancake mix to the new playbook too. Having fun so far?

6a0120a8551282970b01675eb51084970bIn my humble opinion, God put deep-fryers on this earth for a good reason and I now believe that parmigiana might have been at the top of his list -- 'tis true.

Put away that skillet and enjoy the mess-free ease of how this relatively inexpensive (about $60.00) countertop appliance regulates temperature and perfectly cooks each piece of parmigiana. Who wants a crunchy, crispy, stay-put coating on a succulent, moist and juicy piece of chicken or veal parmigiana?  Of course, we all do.

Who wants a stovetop full of grease spatters and a ton of cleanup?  Not me, but this choice remains yours.

Use breast tenderloins & tenderize the tenderist part of the chicken.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2db98c5970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2db98c5970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2db98c5970cFor about $14-$15 at any of my local markets, I can purchase a "value pack" of 6-pounds chicken breast tenderloins, It contains approximately 30 tenderloins, which when breaded and deep-fried, are good-sized cutlets -- one or per two person.  Once I get them home, I arrange them side-by-side, on a large cutting board, between two sheets of plastic wrap.  Using the flat-side of a meat mallet, I lightly-pound them, with "lightly" being the key word here -- do not smash them to smithereens.   Start-to-finish, this process takes less than five minutes and renders them fork tender.  

Tip from Mel:  No matter how many I need for the recipe, sometimes just ten or twelve, I always pound them prior to freezing for future use -- they thaw quickly and are ready in use in minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f49323970dSet up a deep-frying assembly line (left to right):

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f488af970dChicken tenderloins, prepped as directed above.

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 2 cups dry pancake mix.

One loaf-pan containing 2 1/2 cups pancake mix whisked with 22 ounces beer (Note:  Beer lends wonderful flavor with yeasty undertones to the breading.  That said, if I can't convince you that the heat of the deep-fryer will evaporate all the alcohol, feel free to substitute club soda.)

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 2, 8-ounces boxes panko breadcrumbs.

Deep-fryer w/corn or peanut oil heated to 375° according to manufacturer's specifications.

Misc:  forks, 3-minute timer, wire cooling rack, paper towels, sea salt grinder.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f488ea970d~ Step 1.  When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer (or club soda). Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken a bit, to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer (or club soda) to maintain a very drizzly consistency.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512dc9970b~ Step 2.  This step is actually optional, so skip it if you like.  When it comes to chicken cutlets, I prefer the texture of my panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs) to be less coarse.  To make that happen:

Place panko in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses, process these super-crispy breadcrumbs to finer crumbs.

Fry Baby Fry -- It's all about Fearless Frying.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b~Step 1.  Working in batches of 2 tenders at a time, dredge each pair in the dry pancake mix to coat it on all sides.  Note:  I fry 2 at a time because that is what fits comfortably in the basket of my fryer without overcrowding it.  Next, move up the assembly line, and, one-at-a-time dip each tender into the batter.  As you lift each one out of the batter, hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the batter to drizzle back into the bowl.  As you batter dip each tender, place it into the dish of panko. Dredge both of the cutlets in the panko ASAP.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512e04970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512e04970bStep 2.  One-at-a-time, and with the aid of a fork, carefully lower the pair of breaded tenders down into the 375° oil and into the fryer basket.  Close the lid and allow tenders to deep-fry for 3-3 1/2 minutes.  Tenders will be a beautiful golden brown and just cooked through.  Do not overcook -- residual heat will continue to cook them.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512e1f970bStep 3.  Open fryer lid and slowly lift basket up and out of deep-fryer. Transfer tenders to a wire rack in a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Tip:  To transfer the tenders, simply tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack.  Using tongs is a mistake -- it's an easy way to damage their crust.  Once out of the fryer, immediately sprinkle tenders with freshly ground sea salt and repeat this process until all tenders are breaded and fried.

Assembling & baking the chicken-parm garlic-bread subs.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c618fa200bFor 4, 6"-6 1/2" chicken parmigiana sub sandwiches (listed in order of assembly):

4, 6"-6 1/2" high-quality submarine/hoagie-type rolls, your favorite brand

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39c00ac200ca great garlic bread spread for great garlic bread, preferably homemade, prepared in advance of baking the chicken parmesan (Stir together: 1 1/2 sticks room temp salted butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, 4 tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

8  slices deli-style, sliced provolone cheese

a sprinkling of Italian seasoning blend

a sprinkling of red pepper flakes

6  batter-dipped, panko-crusted, deep-fried chicken tenders, warm or at room temperature, cut in half lengthwise to form 12 chicken fingers (3 per sandwich)

1/3-1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, or, 2 slices deli-style mozzarella cheese 

1-1 1/2  cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite store-bought brand

2  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

chiffonade (a French word meaning "thin-strips" or "little ribbons") of fresh basil leaves, for garnish

IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441~Step 1. To assemble the sandwiches, use a serrated bread knife to slice the rolls, placing each one on an aluminum foil sheet as you work.  Slather both sides of the open-faced roll with a generous coating of the garlic bread spread.  Gather the foil up to form a loose, wide-open-at-the-top packet and place packets 5 1/2" under preheated broiler for 1 1/2-2 minutes, until bubbly and golden.  Remove from oven.  Arrange 2 slices of provolone over each roll and lightly season with a sprinkling of Italian seasoning blend and red pepper flakes.  Reset oven to bake at 350º.    

IMG_3454 IMG_3454 IMG_3454 IMG_3454~Step 2.  Slice chicken tenders in half lengthwise, to form thin strips (chicken fingers).  Arrange 3 strips/fingers in the center of each roll.  Top tender strips with either 2 slices sliced mozzarella or 1/3-1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, your choice.  Gather the foil up and around each sandwich and form a tight seal.  Bake on center rack of 350º degree oven for 8-9 minutes. Remove from oven, unwrap and top each sandwich with 4-6 tablespoons marinara sauce, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and a light chiffonade of fresh basil leaf garnish.  Serve ASAP.

Crispy garlic-bread, gooey cheese, tender parm, sauce & basil:

IMG_3479There's no right or wrong way to eat a chicken parmigiana sub:

IMG_3489Not Your Mama's Chicken-Parm Garlic-Bread Subs:  Recipe yields 4 hearty and hot chicken parmigiana sub sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: plastic wrap; cutting board; flat-sided meat mallet; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; 9" x 4" loaf-type dish; tongs; deep-fryer; wire cooling rack; paper towels; aluminum foil sheets; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4768878200cCook's Note: In my food world, there is  no right or wrong way to make or eat any Italian-style sub -- they're pretty straightforward.  In my recipe for  ~ The Incredible Edible Caprese Chicken Meatball Sub ~ my ground chicken meatballs are infused with lots of onion, garlic, basil, egg and fresh Italian-bread crumbs.  What do they do?  They add the requisite moisture and full-throttle flavor to an otherwise dry, rather tasteless, lackluster protein.

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

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

08/12/2019

~ Tex-Mex Chipotle Beef and Chorizo Meatball Subs ~

IMG_3522 2Who doesn't love a meatball sandwich -- I know I do.  Besides a high-quality roll, a well-constructed meatball sub only requires three components:  tender meatballs, a great melting cheese and a savory sauce.  Culinarily, the meatball sandwich is, understandably and correctly, associated with Italian-American fare, with meatballs being a spinoff of meatloaf, which is an all-American invention.  In turn, my Southwestern-Style meatballs, are a spinoff of my Mexican-style beef and chorizo meatloaf (but should not be confused with Mexican albóndigas (albóndiga is the word for meatball in Spanish), which contain rice, not a bread product, as a binder.          

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4996f17200dIt'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.

Ground beef + chorizo = Mexican-Style meatball perfection.

IMG_2628For 6-61/2 dozen meatballs*:

2-2 1/2  pounds lean or extra-lean ground beef (85/15 or 90/10)

1  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

4  ounces saltine crackers (1 sleeve of crackers from a 1-pound box), crumbled by hand into small bits and pieces, not processed to crumbs.

1  cup milk

3  tablespoons salted butter

3/4-1 cup whole corn kernels, shaved from cooked or grilled corn on the cob, or, well-drained canned corn kernels

3/4-1  cup thin-sliced green onion, white and light green parts only

3/4-1 cup small-diced green bell pepper

3/4-1  cup small-diced red bell pepper

1/2-3/4  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves and some tender stems

1  tablespoon chili powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 1/2-2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

IMG_2637 IMG_2637 IMG_2637 IMG_2637~Step 1.  Place ground beef in a large bowl.  If the sausage is in casings, remove the casings then place the sausage in the bowl with the ground beef.  Using a fork, lightly beat the eggs and add them to the meat.  Using your hands (it's the most efficient), thoroughly combine the two.

IMG_2648 IMG_2648 IMG_2648 IMG_2648 IMG_2648 IMG_2648~Step 2.  Using your fingertips, crush the crackers into small bits and pieces, letting them fall into a medium mixing bowl as you work. Add the milk and stir to combine. Set aside about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the crackers to absorb all of the milk.  The mixture will be thick, chunky and pasty -- just perfect.  Add the cracker mixture to the meat/egg mixture, and once again, using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_2631 IMG_2631 IMG_2631 IMG_2631 IMG_2631 IMG_2631~Step 3.  In a 10" skillet melt butter over low heat. Add the corn kernels along with the bell peppers and green onion.  Season with the chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium- medium-high and sauté until peppers are softened but still crunch-tender, 3-4 minutes.  Stir in the cilantro, remove from heat and cool 30 minutes.

IMG_2672 IMG_2672 IMG_2672~Step 4.  Add the cool but still-warm vegetable mix to the meat mixture.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine -- thoroughly!

IMG_3331 2 IMG_3331 2 IMG_3331 2~Step 5.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment, then place a wire rack atop the parchment.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure to portion the meat mixture, roll each portion between the palms of your hands, placing the meatballs atop the wire rack as you work.  Bake meatballs on center rack of 350° oven 25-28 minutes.  Remove from oven, and assemble sandwiches as directed below.

*Note:  This recipe is written to make a lot of meatballs (6-6 1/2 dozen).  Feel free to cut the recipe in half, but, know they freeze great.  At this point, I always use what I need (1/3-1/2) and freeze the rest to have on-hand for one or two additional weeknight meatball-sandwich meals. 

For my easy spicy-tomato & chipotle-chile chili sauce:

IMG_1452For the sauce:

2  tablespoons corn oil

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1/2  teaspoon ancho chile pepper

3/4  teaspoon Mexican-style oregano

1  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

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

2  whole chipotle chile peppers in adobo, plus 1-2 tablespoons sauce from can, to taste

1/4  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, some stems are ok

IMG_1454 IMG_1454 IMG_1454~ Step 1.  In a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan, heat the corn oil over medium- medium-high heat.  Add the diced onion, pressed garlic, ancho chile pepper, Mexican-style oregano, ground cumin, sugar and salt.  Give the ingredients a thorough stir.  Adjust the heat to sauté gently, until onion is softened, 5-6 minutes.

IMG_1465 IMG_1465 IMG_1465 IMG_1465~Step 2.  Add the fire-roasted tomatoes, two whole chipotle chiles and 1 tablespoon sauce from can of peppers.  Stir to combine and adjust heat to simmer gently and steadily, 5-6 minutes. Reduce heat to low, then taste.  For more heat, add another tablespoon sauce from chipotles.

IMG_1475 IMG_1475 IMG_1475 IMG_1475 IMG_1475 IMG_1475 IMG_1475~Step 3.  Stir in the minced cilantro, adjust heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 1-2 more minutes.  Turn the heat off or remove from heat completely.  With the aid of a stick blender (also called an immersion blender), process the sauce to semi-chunky texture.  If you do not have a stick blender and are using a conventional blender, cool the sauce 1 hour prior to processing.  Transfer sauce to food storage container(s) and keep stored in refrigerator.  Reheat gently in the microwave.  Sauce freezes well.

To assemble & bake the Mexican-style meatball sandwiches:

IMG_3359For the sandwiches:

6  6"-6 1/2" submarine/hoagie rolls, the best available, your favorite brand

18-24  slices jalapeño pepper-Jack cheese

2 1/2  dozen meatballs, from above recipe

1 1/2  cups chipotle-chile chili sauce, from above recipe

minced cilantro leaves, for garnish

IMG_3360 IMG_3360 IMG_3515 IMG_3515 IMG_3515~Step 1.  To assemble the sandwiches, use a serrated bread knife to slice the rolls, placing each one on an aluminum foil sheet as you work  Place 3-4 slices of cheese in each roll, to generously cover and protect the soft bread on both sides -- from the sauce that will come later.  Slice 2 meatballs into thirds and place them flat in the bottom of each roll.  Place 4 meatballs atop the meatball slices on each sandwich.  Gather the foil up and around each sandwich and form a tight seal.

IMG_3375 IMG_3375~ Step 2. To bake and serve the sandwiches, place sandwiches, side-by-side on center rack 350º oven for 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven. Remove the foil and drizzle chipotle-chile chili sauce over the meatballs, to taste, without drenching the sandwich in sauce -- be aware, this sauce is quite spicy.  Garnish each sandwich with minced cilantro leaves and serve immediately (with additional sauce to the side if desired).

A crispy roll, gooey cheese, tender meatballs & spicy sauce: 

IMG_3525There's no right or wrong way to eat a meatball sandwich:

IMG_3537Tex-Mex Chipotle Beef and Chorizo Meatball Subs:  Recipe yields approximately 6-6 1/2 dozen meatballs/3 cups sauce/enough for 18 sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: fork; 1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; nonstick spoon or spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; wire cooling rack; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; serrated bread knife; aluminum foil sheets

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c926d116970bCook's Note:  In my food world, there is  no right or wrong way to make a meatball sandwich -- they are pretty straightforward.  In my recipe for  ~ The Incredible Edible Caprese Chicken Meatball Sub ~ my ground chicken meatballs are infused with lots of onion, garlic, basil, egg and fresh Italian-bread crumbs.  What do they do?  They add the requisite moisture and full-throttle flavor to an otherwise dry, rather tasteless, lackluster protein.  

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

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

08/09/2019

~Brownbag it with Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Subs~

IMG_3316Whether you're sending kids back to school in a few days, looking for something different to lunch on at your office computer, or yeah baby, a sandwich that will be the hit of your next tailgate party -- this sub has got your back.  It's on my short-list of most-popular in-my-house-made deli-style hoagie- submarine-type sandwiches.  It's extremely easy-to-make and user-friendly too.  Chop and toss the ingredients together in a bowl, stuff 'em into a sub roll just before eating, then go to town. It's akin to feasting on a tuna sub, only full of classic Caesar salad flavors and textures.

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd0c433e970bThe concept of a Caesar salad sub is hardly a new one, but, I'm here to tell you, if you've been wasting time layering lettuce leaves, shaving parmesan and placing thin slices of chicken on a roll with a drizzle of dressing (all are musts when making a chicken Caesar salad panini), it's time to rethink it. Chopped ingredients are easier to eat, and, because each and every bite-sized piece is enrobed in a light coating of creamy Caesar dressing, the end result tastes amazingly better.  The (obvious) key, however, is to load the salad concoction with chicken (lots and lots of chopped chicken) -- because, after all, this is a sandwich, not a salad.  That said, if you're not planning on eating these sandwiches within a few hours of making them, don't add the lettuce until the last moment, because it will get a bit wilty (but it'll still be delicious though).

The key is to load the salad w/lots & lots of chopped chicken -- because, after all, this is a sandwich, not a salad.

IMG_3294For two sandwiches:

1 3/4-2  cups, chopped or pulled into bite-sized pieces, grilled, chicken tenderloins or thighs

1-1 1/2  cups "chiffonade" ("thin strips"/"little ribbons") of romaine lettuce leaves

1  diced hard-cooked egg

1/2  cup small-diced tomato

1/4  cup small-diced red onion

2  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

6-8  tablespoons creamy Caesar dressing, preferably homemade or high-quality store-bought

2  6-6 1/2" high-quality submarine- hoagie- type rolls, the best available

IMG_3297 IMG_3299 IMG_3299 IMG_3299 IMG_3305 IMG_3305~Step 1.  Prep and place the chicken, lettuce, egg, tomato and red onion in a medium bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, toss to combine.  Add the cheese and toss again, to incorporate cheese throughout the mixture.  Gently fold in the dressing, 4 tablespoons at first, 2 more after that, and, the last two if you think you need it. Using your fingertips, pull/remove a bit of the soft bread from the center of each half of the sliced roll, to create a cavity for stuffing as much Caesar filling into the sub sandwich as it can handle.

Stuff a roll w/as much chicken Caesar as it can handle & eat: 

IMG_3320Brownbag it with Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Subs:  Recipe yields 2 light but filling sandwiches.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01a511b10aec970cCook's Note:  Over the past three decades, the Caesar salad, #1) became America's most popular main-dish salad, #2) altered the lettuce industry as demand for romaine has skyrocketed, and, #3) turned the chicken-topped Caesar into the chicken item most frequently found on restaurant menus -- more than wings and chicken fingers. Now considered the All-American salad, it was invented in Mexico in 1924 by an Italian-born Mexican immigrant, Caesar Cardini (a co-owner in a Tijuana restaurant).  Making a classic Caesar salad requires a some technique.  I learned from some experts, then, took what they taught me to create my own  ~ Hail Caesar:  Roasted Chicken Salad a la Melanie ~.

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

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

08/07/2019

~Lighten Up w/a Refreshing Tuna-Mac Garden Salad~

IMG_3277Occasionally, on a day off or a Saturday, my dad would fix his version of tuna salad for us.  On mom's medium-sized meat platter, he'd make a bed of soft garden lettuce leaves, then add a layer of tomato slices followed by a sliced cucumber.  He'd scatter a lightly-drained can of chilled tuna-packed-in-oil over the veggies, followed by a few dollops of cottage cheese.  His creation ended with a sprinkling of salt and black pepper.  Mom would make some rye toast, put a pitcher of iced tea on the table and lunch was served.  It wasn't fancy, but our family of four loved it.

It's a charming story about an easy Summertime recipe. 

We'd each put a slice of toast on our plate, then, with a large scooper-type spatula, top it with a generous portion of dad's salad.  Considering it didn't contain any fresh or dried herbs, special seasonings or flavor-enhancing ingredients, it was amazingly tasty and refreshing.  Nowadays, a proper term for it might be "deconstructed tuna salad".  That said, over the years, I added some onion (dad refused to eat raw onion), sneak in a bit of lemony mayonnaise (dad detested mayonnaise), and, a tad of tangy whole-grain mustard (dad only ate ballpark mustard, and, in all seriousness, only on a fried bologna sandwich or a hot dog).  There's more.  Instead of the unruly layering, I now dice and stir my ingredients together and add some cooked elbow macaroni too -- it's so light and refreshing I don't feel the least bit guilty about taking a second helping.

IMG_3254My mixed-up version of dad's deconstructed tuna salad:

IMG_3184For the tuna salad:

1  5-ounce can high-quality tuna-packed-in-oil, drained

6  tablespoons cottage cheese

2  tablespoons mayonnaise

1  tblsp. whole-grain mustard

1/2  cup  small-diced celery

1/2  cup peeled, seeded & small-diced cucumber

1/4  cup seeded & small-diced tomato

1  teaspoon dried onion flakes

IMG_3225For the macaroni and (optional) shredded lettuce:

1  cup medium shell pasta or elbow macaroni, cooked al dente and drained as directed below

6  cups water + 1  teaspoon sea salt, for cooking macaroni

1  cup shredded crunchy lettuce, iceberg or romaine lettuce work best (optional)

IMG_3187 IMG_3187~ Step 1.  Prep the tuna, celery, cucumber and tomato as directed, placing them in a medium bowl as you work.  Using a large rubber spatula, toss the tuna and vegetables together.  Set to the side while preparing the dressing as follows:

IMG_3190 IMG_3190 IMG_3190 IMG_3190~Step 2.  In a small bowl, place and stir together the cottage cheese, mayonnaise, mustard and dehydrated onion.  Add the dressing to the vegetables.  Using the spatula, fold the two mixtures together until vegetables are evenly enrobed in dressing.  Cover and refrigerate while cooking, thoroughly draining and cooling the macaroni, and, shredding the lettuce as directed below.

IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228~Step 3.  In a 2-quart saucepan, bring 6 cups water to a boil.  Add the salt.  Add the pasta shells and cook until al dente, about 6-7 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Drain into colander and rinse under cold tap water to halt the cooking process. Transfer to and spread pasta shells out on a baking pan that's been lined with parchment.  Drain and "dry" (meaning free from moisture, not dried out), 20-30 minutes.

IMG_3238 IMG_3238 IMG_3238 IMG_3245 IMG_3245 IMG_3245 IMG_3245~Step 4.  Place the cooled pasta shells in a large bowl.  Add the tuna salad to the macaroni.  Use the rubber spatula to fold the tuna salad into the shells.  Shred the lettuce into thin short strips, as thin as you can -- the technical term for this is chiffonade, which means "little ribbons" in French.    Fold the lettuce into the tuna-macaroni salad, followed by the lettuce, cover, and refrigerate until well chilled, 1-2 hours.  It's worth mention that after 24 hours the lettuce will become a bit wilty (still delicious though), so, if preparing salad a day ahead, shred and add the lettuce just prior to serving.

Prefer to skip the pasta shells or macaroni?  No problem:

IMG_3210Lighten Up w/a Refreshing Tuna-Mac Garden Salad:  Recipe yields about 5 cups tuna-macaroni salad.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; rubber spatula; spoon; 4-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; 2-quart saucepan; colander; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c161c2200bCook's Note:  My dad's mac & (cottage) cheese is a comforting, flavor-packed dish that will provide almost instant gratification because it goes from stovetop to table in the time it takes to cook the macaroni. His unusual combination of hot, spicy, buttered elbow macaroni, tossed with cold cottage cheese (he liked farmers' cheese more but began substituting cottage cheese as farmers' cheese started to get harder find)  literally bursts with flavor.  ~ Dad's Mac and Cheese, or:  What I Cook just for Me ~.

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

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

08/05/2019

~Tuna Salad w/Cottage Cheese, Tomato & Cucumber~

IMG_3207I picked a cucumber this morning.  I walked to the the other side of the vegetable garden and picked a couple of tomatoes too.  Checking out the vegetable garden in the early hours of the day, as soon as it's light enough to see, is part of my routine.  My dad used to do the same thing.  He'd come in the house, rinse off whatever he'd picked, put all the "stuff" in the dish drainer, then go out to mow the grass.  Dad thrived on his routines, and, sans the lawn mower, so do I.  While carrying my cucumber and two tomatoes into my kitchen, a childhood memory hit me head on.

IMG_3221A charming story about an easy Summertime recipe: 

Occasionally, on a day off or a Saturday, dad would fix his version of tuna salad for us.  On mom's medium-sized meat platter, he'd make a bed of soft garden lettuce leaves, then add a layer of tomato slices followed by a sliced cucumber.  He'd scatter a lightly-drained can of chilled tuna-packed-in-oil over the veggies, followed by a few dollops of cottage cheese.  His creation ended with a sprinkling of salt and black pepper.  Mom would make some rye toast, put a pitcher of iced tea on the table and lunch was served.  It wasn't fancy, but it sure was healthy, and we loved it.

We'd each put a slice of toast on our plate, then, with a large scooper-type spatula, top it with a generous portion of dad's salad.  Considering it didn't contain any fresh or dried herbs, special seasonings or flavor-enhancing ingredients, it was amazingly tasty and refreshing.  Nowadays, a proper term for it might be "deconstructed tuna salad".  That said, over the years, I added some onion (dad refused to eat raw onion), sneak in a bit of lemony mayonnaise (dad detested mayonnaise), and, a tad of tangy whole-grain mustard (dad only ate ballpark mustard, and, in all seriousness, only on a fried bologna sandwich or a hot dog).  There's more.  Instead of the unruly layering, I now dice and stir my ingredients together, to serve on toast points or crackers.  

IMG_31841  5-ounce can high-quality tuna-packed-in-oil, drained

6  tablespoons cottage cheese

2  tablespoons mayonnaise

2  teaspoons whole-grain mustard

1/2  cup  small-diced celery

1/2  cup peeled, seeded & small-diced cucumber

1/4  cup seeded and small-diced tomato

1  teaspoon dried onion flakes

IMG_3187 IMG_3187~ Step 1.  Prep the tuna, celery, cucumber and tomato as directed, placing them in a medium bowl as you work.  Using a large rubber spatula, toss the tuna and vegetables together.  Set to the side while preparing the dressing.

IMG_3190 IMG_3190 IMG_3190 IMG_3190~Step 2.  In a small bowl, place and stir together the cottage cheese, mayonnaise, mustard and dehydrated onion.  Add the dressing to the vegetables.  Using the spatula, fold the two mixtures together until vegetables are evenly enrobed in dressing.  Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours.

Serve on crackers, with toast points, or, in a sandwich.

IMG_3210Tuna Salad w/Cottage Cheese, Tomato & Cucumber:  Recipe yields 3 cups tuna salad.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f6a67a970bCook's Note: My dad's mac & (cottage) cheese is a comforting, flavor-packed dish that will provide almost instant gratification because it goes from stovetop to table in the time it takes to cook the macaroni. His unusual combination of hot, spicy, buttered elbow macaroni, tossed with cold cottage cheese (he liked farmers' cheese more but began substituting cottage cheese as farmers' cheese started to get harder find)  literally bursts with flavor.  ~ Dad's Mac and Cheese, or:  What I Cook just for Me ~.

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

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

08/03/2019

~Sweet, Savory & Slightly-Spicy Curried Potato Salad~

IMG_3154For most of us, potato salad conjures up memories of exactly what our grandmothers made.  And, for the most part, in terms of ingredients, the recipes for our grandmothers potato salad do not vary much.  Various quantities of the usual suspects:  potatoes, eggs, celery and/or onion, with a dressing made of mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, pepper, sometimes pickles or pickle relish, and, an occasional fresh herb.  Voila:  potato salad.  While we all have our favorite recipe or recipes, when offered potato salad at a gathering, this is the kind we Americans expect to be served.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ca5152200bFrom my Eastern European heritage, in my repertoire, Classic Creamy Potato and Egg SaladBaked Russet-Potato Salad, Red Potato Salad w/Horseradish-Mayonnaise, and, Vintage Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier, are amongst my family's favorites. That said, unlike almost all of our grandmothers, we of subsequent generations began moving or visiting different areas of the US and/or started traveling around the world -- we eat globally and regionally, as well as locally. Our pantries contain spices and ingredients from many cultures, and, because potatoes are a great foil for foodie creativity, it should come as no shock to anyone that potato salad has been fused with flavors from other cuisines.  Example:  My Russet & Sweet Potato Salad w/Chile-Lime Mayo, pairs great with almost any Tex-Mex-style grilled chicken, steak or ribs.

Indian-style potato salad w/chutney, cashews & raisins.

IMG_31183  pounds unpeeled and 3/4" chunked gold potatoes

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 1/2  cup medium-diced celery

1  cup golden raisins

1/2-3/4  cup  small-diced roasted & salted cashews

1  cup high-quality mayonnaise

1/2  cup Major Grey's sweet mango chutney

2  tablespoons curry powder

1  tablespoon dehydrated onion flakes

IMG_3120 IMG_3120 IMG_3120~Step 1.  Slice potatoes into fork-friendly bite-sized 3/4" cubes.  Place in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot with enough water to cover by 1".  Add the salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook until potatoes are fork tender, but still firm and slightly undercooked in their centers, 5-6 minutes.  Remove from heat and drain into a colander.  Do not overcook potatoes.

IMG_3125 IMG_3125~ Step 2.  Drain potatoes into a colander and rinse under cold running water, until cool to the touch. Take enough time to thoroughly rinse the potatoes, as you really want to lower their temperature to halt residual heat from overcooking them. Transfer to and spread potatoes on a baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper and allow potatoes to drain and "dry" (meaning free from moisture, not dried out), 30-40 minutes. 

IMG_3132 2 IMG_3132 2 IMG_3132 2 IMG_3132 2 IMG_3132 2 IMG_3147~Step 3.  Place cooked and cooled potatoes, celery, raisins and cashews in a large bowl. Set aside.  In a food processor fitted with steel blade, place mayonnaise, chutney, curry powder and onion flakes.  With motor running, process until thoroughly combined, 45-60 seconds.  Using a rubber spatula, transfer mayo mixture to potato mixture and gently fold all ingredients together, stopping when everything is enrobed in the creamy dressing.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, 6-8 hours or overnight (is best).

Serve w/my Super-Easy Tikka Masala Roasted Chicken:

IMG_3157Sweet, Savory & Slightly-Spicy Curried Potato Salad:  Recipe yields about 9-10 cups potato salad.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; colander; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; food processor; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3961e07200dCook's Note: Just like I have preferences in movies, I have preferences in chicken salads. I prefer white-breast- over dark-thigh- meat, roasted chicken over poached, greasy rotisserie chicken makes me cringe, and, I want my chicken hand-pulled instead of diced or cubed, because the latter looks plasticy and fake.  Error on the side of under-dressing mine, as I want to taste the chicken, but yes, by all means, please add some lightly-toasted seeds or nuts for crunch.  I enjoy it served as a forkable salad or as a sandwich, but, if served as a salad I want it on tender soft bibb lettuce, and if served as a sandwich, I want it on a croissant: ~ Chick Flicks and Curried Chicken Salad Croissants ~.

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

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