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7 posts from September 2019

09/18/2019

~ Mrs. T's Pierogy, Kielbasa & Sauerkraut Casserole ~

IMG_4413One doesn't need Eastern European roots to enjoy pierogi, but, if you are of Eastern European heritage, you grew up knowing they're much more than a potato-and-cheese stuffed, half-moon shaped dumpling.  Pierogi can be stuffed with all sorts of savory or sweet fillings to serve as a snack, side-dish, main-dish or dessert.  They can be boiled, baked, sautéed, deep-fried or grilled -- some recipes can be transitioned to the microwave or slow-cooker.  They can be made ahead and frozen too.  About the only thing you can't do with pierogi is put them in a sandwich.  

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4d35df2200bPierogi (singular and plural, meaning:  one pierogi, three pierogi, a dozen pierogi), along with the holupki (stuffed cabbage rolls) are a staple in my life   Between my maternal great-grandmother, both grandmothers, two great-aunts, four aunts, my mother, the ladies at our church and the ladies at all the other churches, my family was never at a loss for homemade pierogi.

AboutustruckMrs. T's Pierogy (intentionally spelled by them with a "y" instead of an "i"), was founded in 1952 by Ted Twardzik in the town of Shenandoah, PA -- which interestingly, is a short "stones throw" from my Hometown of Hometown, PA.  Ted's mom, Mary Twardzik, aka Mrs. T., loved to cook for her family and everyone loved her handmade pierogi.  After graduating from college with a IMG_4357degree in business and working at a New York accounting firm, Ted, who fondly remembered the ladies sitting around his mother's kitchen table making pierogi, and the lines of people wrapped around the local churches to buy their pierogi*, decided it was the perfect food to mass-market in grocery stores.  He moved back to Shenandoah and named his company after his mother.  A true success story.

*Ted's fond memories of pierogi making were no different than mine or pretty much anyone else of Eastern European heritage.  My grandmother used to take orders and sell hers by the dozens from the mom and pop grocery store she owned and operated.  Everyone does loves pierogi.  

As my family called it, "Mrs. T's One-Skillet Casserole":

IMG_4421By the 1960's Mrs. T's Pierogy would, on occasion, make their way onto my family's dinner table, but, only in the form of a popular and easy-to-throw-together one-skillet casserole.  I don't know if it was a recipe that appeared on the Mrs. T's box, but, I do know that lots of local-to-our-area cooks were serving it during that era.  A crockpot version eventually came along, which, my dad's sister tried.  It tasted good, but, due to the addition of chicken stock (which I find oddly out of place), it turned out a bit "soupy" -- my Aunt and my mom agreed that wasn't an ideal result. 

IMG_43622  ounces/1/4 cup/1/2 stick salted butter

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

3/4-1  cup small-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  12 1/2-ounce box frozen (do not thaw) Mrs T's classic-cheddar mini-sized pierogi (28 to a box), or, 1 16-ounce box Mrs. T's full-size pierogi (12 to a box)

1  12-ounce ring Polish kielbasa, cut into 28-30, 1/2"-thick slices

1  pound high-quality sauerkraut, undrained

1-1 1/2 cups Colby-Jack cheese blend (4-6 ounces)

1/2  cup sour cream, stirred together with 2 tablespoons water to a drizzly consistency, for topping casserole

1/4  cup minced, fresh parsley leaves, for garnishing casserole

IMG_4368 IMG_4368 IMG_4368 IMG_4368 IMG_4368~Step 1.  Dice the onion and mince the parsley as pictured.  In a small bowl or ramekin, thoroughly stir together the sour cream and water until its a smooth, drizzly consistency.  If you have a small plastic squirt/condiment bottle, transfer the sour creamy mixture to it -- it makes for a prettier presentation.  Slice the kielbasa as directed and set aside. 

IMG_4359 IMG_4359 IMG_4384 IMG_4384 IMG_4384 IMG_4384 IMG_4392 IMG_4392 ~Step 2.  In the bottom of a large, deep, 12" skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Stir in the onion powder, salt and pepper, to season the butter. Add the frozen pierogi, kielbasa and onion. Increase heat to medium- medium-high and sauté, stirring constantly with a slotted spoon or spatula until onion is soft, translucent and just short of browning, about 4-5 minutes.  

IMG_4397 IMG_4397~ Step 3.  Add the sauerkraut.  Adjust heat to a gentle simmer and cook until pierogi are fully-cooked, another 4-5 minutes. Sprinkle cheese over top, adjust heat to low, cover skillet and allow the cheese to melt, about 1 minute.

IMG_4412~ Step 4.  Remove skillet-casserole from stovetop.  Place on the table, drizzle with sour cream and garnish with minced parsley.  Use a large slotted spatula to scoop onto plates and serve immediately.  My mom always served it accompanied by a loaf of high-quality seeded or unseeded rye bread and butter.  Leftovers reheat nicely in the microwave.

Scoop onto plates & taste some coal-cracker comfort food:

IMG_4422Mrs. T's Pierogy Kielbasa & Sauerkraut Casserole:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; ramekin; spoon; small squirt/condiment bottle (optional); large, deep 12" skillet w/lid; large slotted spoon or spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4820b9d200dCook's Note:  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.  Here are my family's favorite ~ Five Ways to Enjoy Slovak-Style Stuffed Cabbage ~.

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

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

09/15/2019

~ The Perfectly-Seasoned 16-Minute Broiled Burger ~

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4ad5929200dOn busy weeknights, or when I'm just plain pressed for time, popping a flank steak, a couple of pork blade steaks, or a few burgers under the broiler frees up my hands and some time to set the table, toss a salad or fix a side-dish and collect a couple of condiments.  In exactly 18-, 22- or 16-minutes respectively (17 minutes if we want  cheeseburgers), dinner is on its way to the table. To those who contend that broiling is not the ideal method for cooking any of the above, I say "poppycock".  Position the oven rack 5 1/2"-6" underneath the heat source, purchase steaks or make burgers within my pounds/ounces recommendations, then, time them as directed.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0998dfa6970dAfter the first moist, juicy perfectly-cooked bite, you'll convert.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a481e824200cFor my all-purpose  'burger seasoning:

2  teaspoons fine sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon beef bouillion

6a0120a8551282970b0240a481e9a8200c-120wiStir spices together. Makes a scant 2 Tbsp.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95a3ee5970bFor the burger patties:

3  pounds lean, fresh-never-frozen, ground beef (85/15)*

*Note:  The best 'burgers are made with freshly-ground meat meaning: not out of the freezer and thawed.  I am not here to tell you not to freeze ground meat.  While it works great for things like sloppy Joe's, tacos and chili, freezing does compromise the taste and texture of 'burgers.

IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2~Step 1. Using a kitchen scale, divide the meat into 6, 8-ounce portions. Form each portion into a 5"-5 1/2"- round disc, approximately 1/2" thick. Place three patties on each of two 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pans (the kind with corrugated bottoms).  Using your fingertips, lightly season tops of patties with the seasoning blend.

IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211~Step 2.  To broil the 'burgers to nice, moist and juicy medium- medium-rare, place the pans of seasoned patties, side-by-side, 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler for exactly 8 minutes.  Remove from oven, use a small spatula to flip patties over, lightly-season second sides and return to broiler for 8 more minutes.  Do not overcook.  

IMG_4340 IMG_4340~Step 3.  To make cheeseburgers, remove from oven, place one or two slices of cheese-of-choice (this is yellow American) atop each burger and return to broiler, just until cheese melts, less than 1 minute, watching carefully during this time.

Serve ASAP w/favorite 'burger condiments, &, chips or fries:

IMG_4761The Perfectly-Seasoned 16-Minute Broiled Burger:  Recipe yields instructions to perfectly-broil 6, 8-ounce hamburgers or cheeseburgers/6 servings.

Special Equipment List: kitchen scale; 2, 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e448b8970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e4490f970cCook's Note: To make 1 1/2 cups of My Copycat McDonald's Special Sauce:

1  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup each: ketchup and sweet pickle relish

1  tablespoon yellow mustard

1  teaspoon white vinegar

1/2  teaspoon each:  garlic and onion powder and paprika

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

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

09/12/2019

~ My Copycat Primanti Brothers Secret Slaw Recipe ~

IMG_4281On occasion I go to Pittsburgh.  Just like every city there's plenty of sights to see, entertainment to be had, and, of course, lots of food.  While Pittsburgh offers its share of show-offy fine-dining experiences, The Steel City, in my opinion, is known more for its blue collar, working man's fare. One of the most well-known, and most popular examples is Primanti Brothers -- trendsetters in sandwich making since 1933.  When in Pittsburgh, you'll also notice that eating "alla Primanti's", "in-the-style Primanti's" (huge, overstuffed sandwiches topped with slaw and fries) surrounds you.

IMG_4298Primani's 'slaw is vinegar-based and basic.  Seriously folks.  Think basic. This slaw is an unembellished monochromatic mixture of shredded green cabbage (no carrots, bell peppers or onions) -- 100% resemblant of the many variations of Pennsylvania Deutsch (the German speaking people of Pennsylvania) coleslaw recipes.  The dressing needs no special or fancy ingredients -- as far as I can tell, just green cabbage and a well-balanced dressing containing vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, a touch of celery seed, and some generic vegetable oil.  I add a tad of whole grain German-style mustard to my recipe, to stabilize it -- I can't be certain, but they might too.  

Try my copycat -- it's damned close, & only takes 5 minutes.

IMG_4268For my easy copycat Primanti's coleslaw:

6  cups store-bought shredded green cabbage (10 ounces)

3  tablespoons each:  granulated sugar and white vinegar

1/2  teaspoon each: sea salt & coarse-grind black pepper

1/4  teaspoon celery seed

1  tablespoon whole-grain mustard

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_4269 IMG_4269 IMG_4269 IMG_4269~Step 1.  Place the shredded cabbage in a medium bowl.  In a 1-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top, add the rest of the ingredients, as listed.  Put the lid on tight and vigorously shake the container, to thoroughly combine and emulsify the dressing.  Add all of the dressing to the cabbage.  Using a large slotted spoon, stir to thoroughly combine.  Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.

Try it on My Copycat Primanti Brothers Pitts-burger Sandwich

IMG_4313My Copycat Primanti Brothers Secret Slaw Recipe:  Recipe yields 3 cups coleslaw.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; large slotted spoon

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4d060ef200bCook's Note:  Looking for some pub grub to snack on while sipping your suds and waiting for your Pitts-burger?  Well, the 'Burgh made ~ Beer-Batter-Dipped Deep-Fried Zucchini Sticks ~ famous too. Heck, Pittsburgh is the land of deep-fried almost anything, and, I for one could make a meal of these things.

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

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

09/09/2019

~My Copycat Primanti Brothers Pitts-burger Sandwich~

IMG_4297On occasion I go to Pittsburgh.  Just like every city there's plenty of sights to see, entertainment to be had, and, of course, lots of food.  While Pittsburgh offers its share of show-offy fine-dining experiences, The Steel City, in my opinion, is known more for its blue collar, working man's fare. One of the most well-known, and most popular examples is Primanti Brothers -- trendsetters in sandwich making since 1933.  When in Pittsburgh, you'll also notice that eating "alla Primanti's", "in-the-style Primanti's" (huge, overstuffed sandwiches topped with slaw and fries) surrounds you.

Pittsburgh_Strip_District_Primanti_BrosNow a chain, the original shop is located at 46 18th Street, know as Pittsburgh's Strip District -- a stretch along the Allegheny River once filled with factories, warehouses and produce yards.  Brothers Joe, Dick and Stanley opened their diner to serve the late-night and early morning workers loading and unloading fish, fruit and vegetables, as well a the long lines of incoming and outgoing truckers carrying the products to outlying destinations. 

IMG_4235The idea behind their signature sandwiches (which were ordered out-loud by the customer from a list on a chalkboard, by number not name to save time), was to combine the sandwich with the side-dish, overstuffing both into hoagie rolls, then tightly wrapping them in newspaper, so they could be handed off to each customer as they came off the line.  This was devised to accommodate the truckers, so they could drive with one hand, while eating with the other.

IMG_4247 IMG_4264Primanti Brothers puts fries and coleslaw on all of their sandwiches. On our first visit to their local Happy Valley restaurant, Joe and I ordered and split the "The Pitts-burger Big Bro". It consisted of (double the meat of The Pitts-burger Classic) two nicely-and-noticeably seasoned, provolone-topped, ample-sized all-beef patties, tomato slices, plus, skin-on real-not-frozen French fries and their signature vinegar-based cole slaw, served on thick-sliced Italian bread (not a hoagie roll). It was nicely presented, manageable without being overly messy, and we both enjoyed it a lot (I want to try their pizza next), but, I won't lie, the 'burger patties were a bit dry, and truth told: I'd much rather my fries skin-off and served to the side.  But, it's all about the experience, right?

Part One:  Make the coleslaw first -- if possible, the day before.

IMG_4281Primani's 'slaw is vinegar-based and basic.  Seriously folks.  Think basic. This slaw is an unembellished monochromatic mixture of shredded green cabbage (no carrots, bell peppers or onions) -- 100% resemblant of the many variations of Pennsylvania Deutsch (the German speaking people of Pennsylvania) coleslaw recipes.  The dressing needs no special or fancy ingredients -- as far as I can tell, just green cabbage and a well-balanced dressing containing vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, a touch of celery seed, and some generic vegetable oil.  I add a tad of whole grain German-style mustard to my recipe, to stabilize it -- they might too.  Give this recipe a try -- it's damned close, and only takes 5 minutes.

IMG_4268For my easy copycat Primanti's coleslaw:

6  cups store-bought shredded green cabbage (10 ounces)

3  tablespoons each:  granulated sugar and white vinegar

1/2  teaspoon each: sea salt & coarse-grind black pepper

1/4  teaspoon celery seed

1  tablespoon whole-grain mustard

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_4269 IMG_4269 IMG_4269 IMG_4269~Step 1.  Place the shredded cabbage in a medium bowl.  In a 1-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top, add the rest of the ingredients, as listed.  Put the lid on tight and vigorously shake the container, to thoroughly combine and emulsify the dressing.  Add all of the dressing to the cabbage.  Using a large slotted spoon, stir to thoroughly combine.  Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.  Yields 3 cups.

Part Two:  Make the seasoning & cook the 'burgers:

IMG_4264Primanti's 'burgers are indeed nicely-seasoned -- it's part of the whole taste-bud experience.  And, once again, the seasoning, like the slaw, is a basic mixture.  Seriously basic.  I chose to use my own all-purpose 'burger seasoning, which, contains inexpensive ingredients that everyone has on hand in their pantry.  Even though I can, I'm not going to do any 'burger bashing here.  I'm just going with my own 'burgers, made my own way, with fresh, not frozen beef patties.

Primanit's refers to their all-beef patties as hamburger steak.  On that theme, I like to use a 2:1 ratio of 85/15 (85% lean/15% fat) ground beef and food processor ground flank steak. Feel free to use all 85/15 ground beef -- they'll taste great, but the texture will be slightly different.

IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4670 IMG_4670 IMG_4670~Step 1.  Place 2 pounds ground beef (32 ounces)in a large bowl. Cut 1 pound flank steak (16 ounces) flank steak into 1 1/2" chunks.  Place the chunked steak in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade -- depending upon the size of the food processor, working in two batches may be necessary.  Using a series of 30 rapid on-off pulses, process/grind/mince the meat.  Place the ground steak in the bowl with the ground beef.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine the two.

IMG_4197For my Pitts-burger burgers:

3 pounds beef and steak mixture from above, or, 3 pounds lean ground ground beef (85/15), your choice, either tastes great

my all-purpose 'burger seasoning (recipe below)

12  slices provolone cheese

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39dd665200dFor my  'burger seasoning:

2  teaspoons fine sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon beef bouillion

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39dd66f200dStir spices together. Makes a scant 2 Tbsp.

IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2~Step 1. Using a kitchen scale, divide the meat into 6, 8-ounce portions. Form each portion into a 5"-5 1/2"- round disc, approximately 1/2" thick. Place three patties on each of two 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pans (the kind with corrugated bottoms).  Using your fingertips, lightly season tops of patties with the seasoning blend.  

IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211~Step 2.  To broil the 'burgers to nice medium- medium-rare, place pans 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler for exactly 8 minutes.  Remove from oven, use a small spatula to flip patties over, lightly-season second sides and return to broiler for 8 more minutes.  Remove from oven, place two slices of provolone atop each patty and return to broiler just until cheese melts, less than 1 minute.

Note: Feel free to grill your burgers outdoors, or cook your burgers to your liking via your favorite method.  My instructions for cooking burgers in an electric skillet to imitate a flat-top griddle, or cooking burgers in a skillet on the stovetop are two other options.  That said, if you want to get these six, or even more burgers cooked at once without compromise, the broiler works great.

Bread + 'Burger + Fries + 'Slaw + Tomato = Pitts-burger.

IMG_4313Primanny's, as it is pronounced w/a fluent 'Burgh accent...

IMG_4336... is as influential to Pittsburgh's culinary history as Heinz ketchup & Klondike bars.  The entire shebang goes together.

IMG_4319My Copycat Primanti Brothers Pitts-burger Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to make 3 cups slaw and 6, large hearty sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  small bowl or ramekin; spoon; kitchen scale; 2, 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pans w/corrugated bottoms; small spatula; 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; large slotted spoon

6a0120a8551282970b0192ac404b1a970dCook's Note:  Looking for some pub grub to snack on while sipping your suds and waiting for your Pitts-burger?  Well, the 'Burgh made ~ Beer-Batter-Dipped Deep-Fried Zucchini Sticks ~ famous too. Heck, Pittsburgh is the land of deep-fried almost anything, and, I for one could make a meal of these things.

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

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

09/07/2019

~Humble & Homemade Oaty Hobnob Biscuit Cookies~

IMG_4185One thing I know about the Brits, they love their biscuits.  Go into any shop that sells groceries and/or baked goods -- the one item you know with certainty you can find is a package of biscuits. Hobnobs is the brand name of one of the most popular British biscuits.  Essentially a crunchy-crumbly oatmeal-shortbread cookie (as opposed to a fluffy, buttery American biscuit), McVitie's launched Hobnobs in 1985 and a chocolate coated version in 1987, which is not too long ago in terms of British biscuit history.  While it's customary to enjoy 'em with tea, I love 'em with milk.

Long story short, my experience with hobnobs is limited.  Back in the latter 1990's, I ate the better part of a package on the train ride from London to Wales.  I recall buying them from a vendor-stall selling magazines.  Cued up in front of me was a woman who added a package to her reading material.  When I reached the cashier, I did the same.  "When in Rome."  They were delightful.

IMG_4193Hobnobs are definitively not your grandmother's oatmeal cookies.

IMG_4136Hobnobs get their texture from oats and their flavor from golden syrup, which is a British baking staple. Amber-colored Golden syrup, like corn syrup, prevents sugar crystals from forming, which is why either is great to use for making caramel and some candy.  Unlike corn syrup, Golden syrup, isn't blatently in-your-face sugar.  It has a rich, caramel-y buttery flavor, which makes it a great substitution for corn syrup when baking. Unlike corn syrup, Golden syrup can be hard to find outside of high-end specialty shops here in the States.  I buy it on-line, and yes, honey can be substituted, but know it won't yield the same flavor.

Hobnobs are buttery-rich, salty-sweet oatmeal-shortbread cookies.

IMG_41401  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2  cup white whole-wheat flour

1 1/2  cups old-fashioned oats

1 1/2  teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

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

1  cup sugar

2  tablespoons whole milk

1  tablespoon Golden syrup

IMG_4142 IMG_4142 IMG_4142 IMG_4142~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the all-purpose flour, white wheat flour, old-fashioned oats, baking soda and salt.  In a large mixing bowl, on medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, scraping down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula throughout the 2-3 minute process.  Lower mixer speed and beat in the milk and Golden syrup.  Remove the mixer -- you won't need it any more.

IMG_4150 IMG_4150 IMG_4150~ Step 2.  Using the rubber spatula, in 2-3 increments fold the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, making sure to thoroughly combine after each addition.  A thick, somewhat crumbly cookie dough will have formed.

IMG_4159 IMG_4159 IMG_4159 IMG_4159~Step 3.  Using a 1 1/2" cookie scoop as a measure, place firmly-packed flat-bottomed balls of dough, well apart, onto each of  3, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment (place 12 dough balls on each pan of this size).  Using the bottom of a glass, a ramekin, or, your fingertips, lightly press down to flatten the tops of each ball of dough.

IMG_4172 IMG_4172 IMG_4172~ Step 4.  One-pan-at-a-time, bake cookies on center rack of 300º (not a typo) oven for 24-26 minutes.  Cookies will be lightly-golden in color on their bottoms, around the edges and on their tops -- well-made hobnobs are a uniform golden color throughout.  Remove from oven and cool on pan 1-2 minutes prior to using a spatula to transfer to a wire rack to cool completely -- cookies crisp up while they cool.

Buttery rich, salty & sweet, crunchy-crumbly perfection: 

IMG_4182Hobnobs are how the biscuit-cookie crumbles:

IMG_4188Humble and Homemade Hobnob Biscuit Cookies:  Recipe yields 3 dozen, 2 1/2"-3" round biscuit cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0224df349c26200bCook's Note: Another cookie that falls into the "tea and biscuit" catagory is shortbread.  Melt-in-your-mouth, buttery-rich, slightly-salty and not-too-sweet, every bite of one of these humbly-crumbly understated cookies is akin to an extravagant indulgence -- the amuse bouche of the sweet treat kind.  ~ Buttery Candied-Pecan and Toffee Bit Shortbread ~

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

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

09/04/2019

~ Nacho Mama's Buffalo Chicken Sheet-Pan Nachos ~

IMG_4111Research has revealed that nachos made their debut in Northern Mexico in the 1940's when a large group of hungry servicemen wandered into a restaurant where Ignacio Anaya was cooking. The savvy chef quickly threw some cheese over a big pan of leftover tortillas.  When it emerged from the broiler, he scattered his creation with jalapeño peppers.  When he presented the soldiers with his group-sized appetizer, after devouring it, they took it upon themselves to spread the word. Popularity came fast, and, along the way, nachos acquired an assortment of toppings.

IMG_4092Nowadays, the tortilla chip, just like the pizza crust, can be used as a foil for all sorts of creative takes on traditional Tex-Mex-style nachos. Anything that can be adapted to make a pizza can be transitioned to nachos: Philly cheesesteak nachos, Cincinnati chili nachos, Carolina pulled-pork nachos, Jamaican jerk nachos, Buffalo chicken nachos, etc. There's no trick to it.  Pick one innocuous cheese with great melting qualities, Monterey Jack is my all-purpose choice, then, season the protein accordingly and pick the toppings, meaning, stick to the flavor profile. Interestingly, no one is surprised by  fusion-food nachos -- they just can't wait to try 'em.

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

While nachos can be as homemade or semi-homemade as you want, we can all agree, you only get out of something what you put into it, but, when the hankering for nachos hits, no one wants to wait longer than the time it takes to preheat the oven, visit the pantry and open a beer. That said, if one it willing to take the time to deep-fry fresh corn tortillas, instead of opening a bag of tortilla chips, nachos become a great deal better.  There's more.  If you're willing to season, grill and shred the chicken, instead of using leftover chicken or a store-bought rotisserie chicken, you've just kicked them up another notch.  Finish them off with a drizzle of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing and Frank's RedHot Wing Sauce, and you'll feel like you scored the game-winning touchdown.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4907b77200bThat's easy.  That's what I said, until I watched Alton Brown (on The Food Network) make nachos, and, from him I learned how to build better nachos. First, he used a sheet pan to increase the surface area so the tortilla chips can sprawl out (no more crowding them in a 13" x 9" casserole for me).  Second, he took ample time to top them, almost one chip at a time, to make sure that every chip had the perfect ratio of cheese to toppings.  Once you do it his way once, there's no going back.

Building better nachos, one tortilla chip at a time.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a46bde46200dIn my kitchen, nachos aren't always a snack.  Sometimes they're a meal. When I serve 'em as a snack, I make them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheet pan that's been covered with foil and a sheet of parchment -- so cleanup is a snap.  When I serve 'em as a meal, I make 'em the same way, but, layer them in my oven-safe ceramic skillets -- a bit of cleanup, but a great presentation. One sheet pan feeds 6-8 people snacks. The same ingredients feed four as a main-dish in four 6 1/2"-7" skillets.

Nacho Mama's Buffalo Chicken Sheet-Pan Nachos.

IMG_407430  5"-round fresh corn tortillas (about 1 pound, 4 ounces), or 1, 16-ounce bag store-bought restaurant-style tortilla chips

2-2 1/2  pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, 6-7 large thighs

Frank's RedHot Buffalo-Ranch Seasoning Blend, for seasoning chicken thighs

8  ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 3 cups)

3/4-1  cup chopped matchstick carrots

3/4-1  cup small-diced celery

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

3/4  cup Hidden-Valley Ranch Dressing

3/4  cup prepared Frank's RedHot Wing Sauce, not Franks RedHot, or your favorite brand of wing sauce

IMG_9304 IMG_9307 IMG_9314 IMG_9314~Step 1.  To deep-fry fresh tortillas, divide tortillas into two stacks and cut each stack into six wedges.  Heat corn or peanut oil in deep-fryer, according to the manufacturer's specifications, to 375º.  When the deep fryer is ready:  Fry 2 stacks (two sixths) of the tortilla triangles for 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Chips will be lightly-browned and puffed in spots. Transfer to a large baking pan that's been lined with 3-4 layers of paper towels. Using a spatula, quickly and randomly separate the chips into a single layer and lightly salt their tops ASAP.  Repeat process 5 more times.

IMG_4044 IMG_4044 IMG_4044 IMG_4062 IMG_4062 IMG_4067 IMG_4067~Step 2.  On a flat surface, open the chicken thighs up so they lay flat and lightly-season them on both sides with the seasoning blend. Grill thighs over medium indirect heat of outdoor gas grill (or over medium- medium-high heat in grill pan on stovetop), flipping them over every 3 minutes, until just cooked through, about 25-30 minutes.  Remove from grill and dice the thighs into smallish bits and pieces -- not big chunks.

IMG_4076 IMG_4076 IMG_4076 IMG_4076 IMG_4076~Step 3.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil and a sheet of parchment.  To assemble the nachos, arrange chips across bottom of pan, in a semi-single layer, allowing them to overlap and double-up occasionally.  Scatter the shredded Jack cheese evenly over the chips, followed by the chicken, sliced green onion and blue cheese crumbles.

IMG_4096 IMG_4096 IMG_4096 IMG_4096~Step 4.  To bake and properly garnish the nachos, place on center rack of 350º oven and bake until Jack and blue cheeses are melted and bubbly, about 9-10 minutes. Remove from oven. Without any hesitation, scatter the diced carrots and celery over the top, followed by a drizzle of Ranch dressing and a drizzle of RedHot wing sauce.  Serve immediately.  Go eat!

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

IMG_4107Place pan on table or cocktail table & get out the napkins:

IMG_4115Snack your way from the outside of pan to center of pan:

IMG_4131Perfect ratio of chips & cheese to toppings?  You be the judge!

IMG_4129Nacho Mama's Buffalo Chicken Sheet-Pan Nachos:  Recipe yields 6-8 snack-size servings/4 main-dish servings.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a442e6e9200cCook's Note: Undercover nacho tester.  I suppose it could get boring, but every eatery I've ever been to makes this Tex-Mex pub-grub staple a bit different  From nibbling on basic nachos topped with melty cheese sauce, to digging-into nachos-grande, nachos-supreme or ultimate-nachos piled high with a plethora of enough stuff to qualify for full-meal status, yes, I think undercover nacho tester could be my dream job.~ Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos ~

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

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

09/02/2019

~ Old-Fashioned Applesauce and Spice Bundt Cake ~

IMG_4035There's nothing like the aroma of a spice cake baking on the eve of the Fall season.  We can all agree that an applesauce and spice cake is even better.  A one-bowl cake that can be mixed in minutes with just the aid of a whisk and a rubber spatula is better yet.  This recipe appeared in our local newspaper 20+ years ago (it was that long ago because we lived in another house).  It was our local Grange Fair's baking contest winner.  It touted a gingerbread-like texture containing all the flavors of Fall (cinnamon, ginger and cloves), and, it was so spot-on, I made no changes to it, except for one substitution:  Please Pass My Homemade Crockpot Applesauce.  As for the addition of a drizzly caramel-apple flavored glaze, 'twas my idea* and it came later, but is not a requisite to enjoying this delightful cake with your AM coffee, in your lunchbox, or after dinner.

* The original recipe called for a dusting of Confectioners' sugar, and, that is all the cake needs. 

This cake is simple, straightforward, no nonsense & on point.

IMG_4016Bundt cakes are perhaps my favorite cakes to bake.  Even the words "bundt cake" sound warm and inviting.  Simply saying "bundt cake" evokes happy, fond memories from kinder, gentler times. I'm not saying that humble sheet cakes and grandiose layer cakes don't have a place in this food world -- they do and they're delicious.  I'm merely suggesting that bundt cakes have more gravitational pull (haha) than other cakes -- even an unembellished bundt cake will pull more people to the dessert buffet than the other cakes.  That said, a 13" x 9" x 2" pan will work fine.  

Don't' have a bundt pan?  A 13" x 9" x 2" pan will work just fine.

IMG_3957For the cake:

2 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon salt

2  teaspoons baking soda

1  teaspoon baking powder

2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

1  teaspoon ground ginger

1/2  teaspoons ground cloves

3/4  cup sugar

3/4  cup dark brown sugar

2  cups applesauce, preferably homemade

6  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  teaspoons pure apple extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  large eggs

no-stick spray, for preparing bundt pan

IMG_3997For the (optional but highly recommended) drizzly caramel-apple drizzle:

1 1/2  cups Confectioners' sugar

1  tablespoon caramel flavoring

1  teaspoon pure apple extract

3-4  tablespoons whole milk, 3 tablespoons will be needed, add the rest, in small increments, if necessary, to control consistency

IMG_3959 IMG_3959 IMG_3959 IMG_3959 IMG_3959 IMG_3959~Step 1.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the unbleached flour, baking soda and baking powder.  Add and whisk in the ground spices (cinnamon, ginger and cloves), followed by both the granulated and brown sugars.  Using the whisk, push the dry ingredients to the sides of the bowl to form a large empty well in the center.

IMG_3972 IMG_3972 IMG_3972 IMG_3972 IMG_3972 IMG_3972~Step 2.  Into the well, place the applesauce, oil, both extracts and eggs.  Starting in the center of the well, whisk so as to beat the eggs and blend the wet ingredients.  Using wider strokes, gradually whisk in all of the flour and spice mixture.  Whisk until a thick smooth batter forms, 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Using a large rubber spatula transfer/dollop the batter into the bottom of a 10" bund pan that has been sprayed with no-stick.

IMG_3988 IMG_3988~ Step 3.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325º oven for 40-45 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in several spots throughout the deepest part of the center comes out clean,  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool, in pan, 20-30 minutes, prior to inverting cake out onto rack to cool completely, about 1 1/2-2 hours.

IMG_4000 2 IMG_4000 2 IMG_4000 2 IMG_4000 2 IMG_4000 2 IMG_4000 2~Step 4.  To prepare the glaze, in a 2-cup measuring container, stir together the Confectioners' sugar, extracts and 3 tablespoons of milk.  Add additional milk, if and as necessary, by teaspoonfuls until a smooth, drizzly consistency is reached.  Cover with plastic wrap and set glaze aside for about 15 minutes -- this will ensure an extremely smooth glaze.  If you have a plastic squeeze bottle, transfer the glaze to it.  To glaze the cake, using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle the glaze over the surface of the cake.

Allow the glaze to "dry" (harden up a bit -- about 2 hours):

IMG_4022Slice, serve & savor the first taste of Fall:

IMG_4042Old-Fashioned Applesauce and Spice Bundt Cake: Recipe yields 1, 10" bundt cake, and, depending on how thick or thin you slice it, 16-20 servings.

Special Equipment List: whisk; large rubber spatula; 1, standard-size 12-cup bundt pan; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack; 2-cup measuring container; spoon; plastic wrap; plastic squeeze bottle (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b022ad373eeb6200cCook's Note: Spice is always nice, but, let's all admit, when the cool weather hits, the aroma of spices baking in the oven or braising on the stovetop simply smell better -- they go from smelling mouth-wateringly good to ethereal.  As for my ~ Apple Candied Pecan & Cheesecake Bundt Cake ~, tender, calories-be-damned.  In this cake you'll find a batter loaded with diced tart apples and candied pecans sandwiched between two slightly-sweet cream cheese, cheesecake-esque layers.

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

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